Sherlock Holmes sat at his desk, in the easy manner in which I had become accustomed, his hand lazily roaming over the mousepad, his eyes half closed. It appeared that he was dozing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having just returned from the field after successfully solving the Siberian Potato Mystery, Holmes was simply doing what he does best; nothing.
"Nothingness is an art in and of itself," the inspector once told me as we traveled home from the City of Pawtucket, after transporting a kindly old man to the hospital there. "It is the idleness between action that fertilizes the soul."
The inspector was doing a grand job of fertilizing when the bell tipped, and we started a new adventure.
"Rescue 5 and Engine 7, a still alarm," blared the loudspeakers, alerting the brigade of an emergency. The overhead flourescents came to life, filling the gloomy quarters with brilliant light. We had no time to bask in the brightness, however.
"Come Dr. Watson!" said Sherlock, as full of enthusiasm as he was the first day we met, some twenty-one years ago. "There's a game afoot!"
"Rescue 5 and Engine 7, respond to The Providence mall, for a request for medical aid, nature unknown."
"A mystery to go along with the emergency. Splendid!" my old friend said, instantly alert. He doffed his hat, stashed his pipe in his inside pocket and slid the long brass pole that began at the second story ceiling and ended at the base of the apparatus floor, next to our vehicle.
Through the afternoon crowd of workers we traversed, dodging pedestrians and pushing vehicles to the side with our lights and sirens. The mall is a stately building, covering an entire city block. The land once housed a prison, and it is said that the last man executed in Rhode Island was hanged on the very spot. Perhaps his ghost roams these grounds, the place has see a fair amount of tragedy over the years.
Shoppers scattered as our team hastily made way toward the victim, led by a private security officer of the mall's employ.
"She's a lively one, she is," he told us with a wink. "You'll have your hands full. And don't get too close, or so will she!"
Our patient sat in a chair in the corner in the security office of a large department store, an anchor store if you will. She was a portly woman, her clothing unwashed, and her hair bedraggled.
"What is the problem, Miss," said Sherlock.
"You ain't close enough," she hooted, and reached toward the inspector with grimy mitts. "Come here, big boy, I got somethin' for ya!"
"I think not," said Holmes, "though I am flattered, I never mix work with pleasure."
"She said she was having chest pains," said the security man, his face flushed. "She was a bit frisky with her hands, I might add!"
Sherlock Holmes stood there then, and watched our patient. He has a way of seeing things while doing so that the untrained eye cannot detect. When he spoke, the gathering had no choice but to listen, his was a commanding voice.
"You are Esmeralda, are you not?" he asked.
"How you know my name?" replied the patient with a look of shock and worry upon her dirty face.
"That is none of your concern. This is the simplest of cases, It appears." Sherlock was in his glory as he addressed the crowd that had formed.
"You came to the mall to fill your purse with merchandise that you had no intention of paying for. Prior to your shoplifting trip, you met an old acquaintance and shared with him a jigger of brandy. Inside your purse are a pair of socks, and a pair of jockey shorts with the price tag from this very store firmly attached. You are not having chest pain now, nor were you ever, you grew anxious that yon security man witnessed the theft. Feigning an illness to divert the attention of the constablary is a doubly heinous crime, the punishment quite severe," admonished the inspector.
"I didn't mean no harm, sir, i was jus funnin. I wasn't gonna take them socks, they jus lookt so purdy a settin there on the shelf, they found their way into my purse!"
The security man reached into the purse, and removed the socks in question.
"And the undies?"
"I got no idea how they got there!" she howled with delirium. "Imagine that, mens undies in my purse!"
"We'll be taking her off of your hands, Inspector," the guard said. "And thank you for cracking the case."
"I'm afraid not my good man. This is a wily one. Her attorney is likely on retainer, and she will claim we caused her chest pain to increase until she could no longer breath. Sadly, we must take her to the infirmary to be medically cleared."
With that, and the help of the men from the fire engine, we put her on the stretcher and were gone. The fight had left Esmeralda as soon as we removed her from the store, and the crowd had dissipated. She certainly was colorful until that time, and at times some harmless play can be good for the spirit.
We brought her to the closest hospital, where they knew her well, and transferred care to their capable hands.
Just like that, we were back where it all began, in the office on Baker Street.
"Tell me Dr. Watson, what did you see upon arrival on scene?"
"I saw an elderly lady who may have been homeless sitting in a chair stating she was having chest pains."
"As did I," said Holmes. "But I also saw that she wore no socks under her shoes, and noticed the unmistakable aroma of ginger brandy on her breath."
"Moriarity!" I exclaimed. "The only man within the city limits who still drinks that wretched brew!"
"Elementary, my Dear Watson. The same Moriarity who charms the ladyfolk into doing things they would rather not. When we last saw our erstwhile friend he had been released from the hospital after falling into a ditch, Do you remember his words as he left the lot?"
"I do. He said they cut off his underwear!"
"They may be wretches, Dr. Watson, but they are human beings," said Holmes, his hand back on the mouse and his eyes half closed.
"Until the next one," I said, letting myself out of his office, leaving my friend alone to fertilize his soul.
I've yet to figure out how he knew her as Esmerelda. But that is another mystery for another day.