Inspector Stanley Livingstone Stanley and I stood in the sitting room at 221b Candlestick Maker Street, waiting for Shylock Humes to emerge from his bedroom.
I had donned my Littlehampton waterproof coat with detachable 24 inch cape, in navy worsted serge. I was forced to wear the worsted one. My bestest coat had been at the Chinese laundry for a week or two, along with my Harris Tweed duck-shooting outfit. Inside, I felt the comforting weight of my service revolver, which was secreted about my person.
As well as chasing up the Chinese laundry, I made a mental note to have the gun seen to. These secretions were surely a bad sign.
It was odd to be standing in a sitting room, I thought. I recalled the converse instance when there had been standing room only on the Golders Green Express omnibus, and an elderly Jewish pawnbroker had sat on the floor in order to obtain a discount. Life was full of these thought-provoking instances, if we only had an eye to behold and a mind to ponder, I mused.
My reverie was interrupted by the stentorian tones of Inspector Stanley Livingstone Stanley. "Doctor Flotsam, there is something wrong here. Why is he taking so long to get ready?"
"Ah, Inspector", I replied, "a lady always does take her time."
"Mr Humes is not a lady, is he?" enquired the policeman.
"No", I replied. "But he is a master of disguise and legerdemain, and I think we might profitably ally him with the fair sex in all their mystery, don't you think?"
The Inspector threw me a baffled look. I caught it and put it in the pocket with my revolver, in case it should come in useful later. "I have no idea what you are talking about, doctor", he said. "You're starting to sound like him. But it's too quiet in there, it's not right."
"Very well, Livingstone Stanley", I said. "I'll take a look." I opened the door of Humes' bedroom, to discover that the room was empty. My friend was nowhere to be seen. His ulster and sou'wester lay on the rumpled bed. The turkey rug was rumpled too, as were the curtains. The window was open, allowing the bray of a costermonger and the cough of a consumptive child prostitute to add to the sinister atmosphere I am trying to evoke.
Livingstone Stanley sprang into action. Eventually. First he had to consult his Inspector's Vade Mecum and take extensive notes, which he then compared to the relevant section of the handbook.
"By Jove! What a sinister atmosphere! This is the kind of rumpling that bodes ill for the rumplee", declared our visitor. "There are signs here of an expert rumpling criminal at work: the ulster, sou'wester, bed linen, turkey rug and curtains are all most dreadfully rumpled. We must lose no time in tracking down Mr Shylock Humes, for there is further rumpling afoot, if I am any judge."
"I am largely with you as far as the presence of the rumpling goes, Livingstone Stanley", I said. "But I cannot accompany you in your deductive extrapolations, Vade Mecum or no. You have very little experience as a judge of rumpling, if I am any judge. Furthermore, I cannot believe that my friend would be so easily carried away by a mere rumpling felon - not Shylock Humes, who has stood toe to toe with Professor Morris Varty, and only recently worked successfully for Friedrich Wilhelm Franz Leopold Felix Albert Heinz Hans Heinrich Glubensblatter, the Hereditary Grubenburg Meiningenhesse of Mittelfloppen, in the Adventure Of The Shrunken Lederhosen.
"Besides, it is going too far to describe a sou'wester as 'rumpled'. Did you ever try to rumple a sou'wester? I thought not. Well, I have. While we were awaiting the critical telegram during the denouement of The Adventure Of The Thirteen Bakers, I attempted a playful rumpling of my friend's sou-wester. I speak as one chastened by experience, Inspector, for the sou'wester simply refused to rumple. It kept springing back. It quite ruined the effect.
"I had hoped to surprise Humes with a cry of 'you cannot go out in a rumpled sou'wester, Humes, you will lose all respect'. I could hardly say 'you cannot go out in a sou'wester that, refusing to rumple, simply sprang back into shape, Humes, you will lose all respect', now, could I?
"However", I conceded, "I agree that we must lose no time in discovering what has befallen Shylock Humes. Unless we succeed in this, we shall be on our own in the story, and we could hardly carry it ourselves, conspiratorial winks and interesting conversations about rumpling and sou'westers notwithstanding.
"It is surely the mercurial enigma of Shylock Humes that the readers would be looking for in these accounts, were anybody to read this rubbish, which they don't, but that hardly obviates the point, since the hypothetical reader (and what other kind is there?) would be even less likely to waste their time on this drivel if Shylock Humes were absent for large expanses of the narrative, off doing his deductions in secret while we blundered drearily about. It would be The Bound Of The Haskervilles all over again."
Thus, after I had roused the Inspector from the deep slumber into which he had fallen during my soliloquy, we rushed downstairs, admiring the rush matting that Humes had recently had laid down the stairs, and we lost no time in thus rushing downstairs (I had left my watch at home, and Inspector Stanley Livingstone Stanley's watch had stopped, so we really did have no time to lose).
Emerging onto Candlestick Maker Street, we were surprised to see a dusky-hued foreign-looking gentleman standing by the two-horse brougham in which the Inspector had arrived. This surprising personage was dressed in what seemed to be the dark blue coat, golden epaulettes, ceremonial sword, knee breeches and buckled shoes of a high-ranking naval officer of some distant banana republic. Sporting a cocked hat in navy blue with gold braid trim and an extravagant ostrich plume, he cut a somewhat ludicrous figure amid the bustle, mud and snow of Candlestick Maker Street, and a gaggle of street urchins ran off as we approached.
"Buenas dias, senores", he said, bowing briskly. "I am, how you say, hinstructed to hoffer hyou thees, how you say, htelegram, thank you." Bowing again, he handed me the missive, which I read in this way
The game is afoot. Gone to Artichoke Mansions, Cripplewell, in search of man who won't be there or anywhere. Two Dirk Shrynkers are germane. Go with Admiral Chumpitaz of Bolivian Navy as far as Bladder Lane then take waiting cab to Consumption Alley and wait for me at Pox And Gusset Inn. SH.
I handed the telegram to Livingstone Stanley. "What do you make of it, Inspector?" I asked.
"Why does he always say 'the game is afoot' doctor?" asked the baffled policeman.
"Well", I explained. "It all started with The Adventure Of The Twelve Inch Woodcock, and it seems to have stuck since then. It's one of his favourite catchphrases. Personally, I find it somewhat vainglorious, and I hate woodcock, but that's Humes for you."
"And what's all this about 'two Dirk Shrynkers', eh?" continued Livingstone Stanley. "It's pure Double Dutch to me."
I smiled. "Perhaps that's exactly the point", I suggested. "And at least we know Humes is at large and not encarcarated at the lair of some master-rumpler. Unless of course this is all a hoax. But even if it is a hoax", I added hastily, suddenly appallingly aware that we could ill afford yet another nonsensical narrative non sequitur, "even if it is indeed a hoax, we have little alternative but to follow the instructions provided."
"I fear you are right, doctor Flotsam", admitted Livingstone Stanley. "And it would be just the kind of trick he would pull, jumping out of his window and running off on a fresh scent and leaving us to do his leg work and talk about woodcocks and sou'westers and ride in a two-horse brougham to Bladder Lane with a Bolivian Admiral. Why do we do it, doctor, eh?"
"Well, Livingstone Stanley", I replied. "I am put in here for contrast and to provide verisimilitude, lest the reader look askance at Shylock Humes as a mere whim or freak. As for your good self, well, to put it plainly, you are here to make him look good."
"All right, doctor", sighed the Inspector. "No need to rub it in. Let's get on with it then."
"Dearest senores, hyour carriage, it hawaits hyou", interrupted the Bolivian, who we were to address as Admiral Chumpitaz. "Please to step haboard, queridos marineros, this galeon senorial!" He bowed again, beckoning us into the interior of the brougham.
Once we were inside, the Admiral joined us, folding down one of the front corner seats facing ours. He banged on the roof and cried "elevar el ancla!" and the driver whipped on the horses.
What brings you to England, my dear Admiral?" I asked.
"Hah yes, it is one beeg sheep, oh yes, senor", laughed Admiral Chumpitaz.
"Sheep?" asked Inspector Livingstone Stanley. "Are you dealing in livestock?"
"Ha, no, senor", grinned the Bolivian. "We are journeying to the how you say Annual Convention of Not Quite Correct Things, oh yes, senores! It is famous the world over, and especial to lands who have a great navy but no how you say sea!"
"What the f..." began Livingstone Stanley.
I interrupted him in the nick of time. "Ah, yes, Admiral. I have heard of this convention. It is hosted by Colonel Clavicord, late of the Bengal Dancers. It is reputed to represent the cream of things that are not quite correct, and is a veritable Mecca to the outre and the eccentric."
"Senor", said Admiral Chumpitaz, "I no entender what is thees very table of Mecca, but thees ees yes my puerto de destino, oh yes."
Livingstone Stanley frowned. "Tell me, Admiral. I thought you lot were bereft of a coastline since you came off somewhat the worse in your recent skirmish with the Chileans over all that bird manure? So how comes it that you are able, as it were, to afford a proper navy with admirals and all? Come on now, chummy, spit it out. You're looking at 15 months hard time if you don't sing like a canary. You'll never see the light of day again if you don't cough up smartish, the jury won't believe a feller like you, fresh off the banana boats got up in stolen clobber..."
"Inspector!" I interrupted. "Please, man, this isn't the time."
"Sorry, doctor", said Livingstone Stanley. "It's the training what we had at the Training College at Oswaldtwistle. When in doubt, the old copper lingo kicks in. It works a treat down the Yard, but it is a bit silly sat here in a two-horse brougham with a Bolivian Admiral."
"Oh yes, senor hinspector de policia de Londres indeed, we have how you say fine navy. We have our three ships who are in the reed beds of Lake Titicaca where they are how you say fortificated. When we are not in battle with these giant frogs of Lake Titicaca, we are also to grapple the terrible capybaras of Titicaca who are a great enemy."
Looking at the Inspector's face, I felt it politic to engage him in conversation. "Didn't you have an uncle in the Navy, Inspector?" I asked.
"What? Oh yes, Uncle Pillsbury: he intended to join the Navy to forget, he did, doctor."
"What was he trying to forget? A woman?"
"Well, there's the thing. The Naval bureaucracy is so bloated and unmanageable, that it took months and months to process his application. It was after Nelson's day, you see, and there wasn't such a demand for manpower. Anyway, it took so long for them to offer him a ship, that, by the time they did, he'd forgotten what it was that he was joining to forget.
"So in the end he didn't need to join. Of course, 20 years later, he went and remembered what it was he had been trying to forget all those years ago, but by this time, he was too old for the Navy. Life's funny like that.
"His first name was Mafeking."
"Mafeking?" I asked.
"Yes, it's a battle."
"But that battle hasn't been fought yet", I corrected. "It's a siege battle in the Second Boer War, which doesn't start until 1899.
"He was born premature", explained Livingstone Stanley. "They reckoned that accounted for everything."
I looked at the Inspector, and then across at Admiral Chumpitaz of the Bolivian Navy, scourge of the capybara, as our two-horse brougham lurched its way through the wintry streets, bound for Bladder Lane, en route to the villa of Colonel Clavicord, late of the Bengal Dancers and Doyen of not quite correct things.
Only the vast, throbbing convolvulus that was the gigantic jellyfish brain of my friend Shylock Humes could bestride such a world as this.