THE BEST OF THE SCOTLAND YARDERS
We took a cab to Scotland Yard where Gregson was happy as always to receive us.
“It distracts me from the paperwork, gentlemen,” he said, gesturing towards the various notes and forms that adorned his desk, “and in truth the affair is such a bizarre one I would appreciate any input you may have. I certainly don’t know what to make of it.”
He proceeded to describe the details of De Montfort’s last hours, while I made notes and Holmes listened intently.
“Bizarre indeed,” Holmes agreed, “and the second inexplicable thing I have heard today.” He offered me a quick smile. “But then, as Watson will insist on telling his readers, explaining the inexplicable has become something of a theme. I don’t suppose we might be allowed to see the body?”
Gregson scratched at his moustache. “Highly irregular of course, but I can’t see there’s anyone who’d object, seeing as it’s you.”
“Excellent!” Holmes declared.
I was only to glad to leave Scotland Yard. To me, with its raucous mixture of criminals being processed and officers trying to keep the peace, it has always felt like a factory floor. A foundry for crime perhaps. For certainly, only the most na"ive of citizens could look on the long rows of unfortunates queued before the duty officer or scuffling together in the holding cells and think they were looking at the rehabilitated. For many of London’s criminals, the time spent in the police stations and gaols of the capital were simply brief respites on the long road of their criminal career.
Holmes, Gregson and I made the short journey to the Metropolitan Morgue, a dismal edifice of soot-stained brick and dirty tile. Like many of the city’s poorer hospitals, the stench when one crossed the threshold was of disinfectant combined with old blood and rotting flesh, the living attempting to eradicate the dead. While I had no doubt that the morgue officers made every effort to keep a clean laboratory, there was only so much you could do when your drawers were forever filling with the cadavers of yet more unfortunates. There were the bloated bodies of those fished from the Thames, and the half-rotted (and often half-eaten) remains of those dumped in the darker corners of our city or the tunnels underneath it. When I am in one of my darker moods – what Holmes would describe as a “brown study” – I often think we live in a city built on the bones of the dead.
“Welcome, gentlemen,” Cuthbert Wells said, a police surgeon of our acquaintance, “what brings you back amongst the ranks of the brutally deceased?”
“We wish to examine what remains of Hilary De Montfort,” Holmes responded.
“Then you are only just in time,” Wells replied, “his family are impatient to claim him for their own.” He smiled. “There is snobbery even beyond the mortal coil,” he explained, “and they do not like the company their son has fallen into.”
Holmes glanced around at the cold halls. “I am not sure I blame them.”
“Come now, Holmes,” laughed Wells, “you have dabbled in less salubrious quarters, I’m sure.”
“If we could see the body, then?” Gregson interrupted, impatient to be at the business in hand.
“But of course, gentlemen,” Wells replied. “Follow me.”
He led us through to one of the small dissecting rooms. The body of young De Montfort was laid out on the slab beneath its heavy sheet.
Holmes whipped the cloth back so as to fully appreciate the state of the corpse beneath. Even my famously cool friend couldn’t quite hide his surprise at how battered the body was, drawing a quick breath between clenched teeth.
“The poor fellow is in a bad way. Watson, your opinion?”
I took his place at the dead body’s side and, as was always the way once about the business of my profession, all emotional response to the man before me vanished, to be replaced by the cold, automatic response of the pathologist. I like to think that I am not a man who is without a sense of empathy – indeed according to Holmes it is something I possess to the point of distraction – but once reduced to a biological puzzle on the mortician’s table, a body becomes just that. You are a thing of ligature marks and contusions, a book to be read from. I have never caught a glimpse of the human soul in an empty cadaver.
“If I didn’t know better,” I said, “I would suggest he died from a considerable fall. The last time I saw such wounds was when my wife and I went hiking in Wales.” I looked up towards my fellows. “Something of a marred holiday as Mary and I stumbled on a young man who had fallen from the Blorenge.”
“We wondered if he was the victim of several assailants,” commented Gregson, “if a handful of men gave him a sound kicking...”
“...Then the wounds would have been quite different,” explained Wells. “The majority of the damage is caused by one, relatively even, blow.”
“Such as one would expect had a man fallen from a great height,” I agreed, “or perhaps had something dropped upon him.”
“Then you would expect a more even crushing of the bones,” Wells said, “whereas the damage here is shallow yet dramatic.” He clapped his hands together. “The bones are shattered, the bruising prodigious.”
“Which doesn’t make any sense,” Gregson said.
“The inexplicable it is then,” Holmes said.
We left the mortuary bound for Grosvenor Square. Holmes gazing out of the cab window and refusing to enter into our discussions as we moved through the city streets. He had thoughts of his own and had never been one to suppress them for the sake of public chat.
“I fear this is going to be a mystery that remains so,” Gregson said. “An investigator needs some fuel to fire him and this affair exists in a vacuum.”
“Surely you must have been close to the truth when you suggested he was attacked by a gang of roughs,” I said. “A base crime of opportunity, ruffians eager for what he may have carried in his purse?”
“It was my first thought, for we could not locate his purse,” Gregson admitted, “but murderers like that don’t chase their quarry through the streets, they leap out of a dark corner, strike quickly, then fade away.”
I thought about it for a moment. “Unless one of the attackers was known to De Montfort?” I suggested. “Perhaps a member of staff at one of the clubs? Working with a gang, tipping them off as to who would make rich pickings on their way home? If that were the case they could hardly allow him to escape. Say they attacked him but he broke free – hence he was seen running through the streets by your eyewitness – but they ran him to ground in Grosvenor Square, determined to silence him in case he informed the police of their involvement.”
“It’s a workable hypothesis, Doctor,” the inspector agreed, “and one that had occurred to me.”
Of course it had, I thought, amused at the fact that Gregson couldn’t bear to allow another to appear to have one up on him.
I looked to Holmes for some small sign of corroboration but he was still in the depths of his own thoughts, watching the buildings fly by beyond the cab window.
Once we arrived at the square, Holmes was quick to snap out of his daze, hopping down from the cab and dashing off into the snow.
“I’m afraid there will be little to see, Mr Holmes,” Gregson said, following at a distance.
“Certainly any useful story the ground may have chosen to tell has all but been erased,” Holmes agreed. “But it’s valuable to get a sense of the place.”
He looked around, pointing his cane before him like the needle of a compass as he surveyed the park and pictured the night before. “De Montfort enters from the north via Brook Street,” he said, “running towards the centre.” He followed in what must have been the young man’s footsteps. “Why, I wonder?’
“Presumably he was trying to shake his pursuers,” I said.
“If you were being chased through the streets by a gang of ruffians, Watson,” my friend replied, “then surely you would stick to the main thoroughfare? All the while shouting for assistance?”
“I suppose you would,” I admitted.
“So he entered the park for a reason,” Holmes insisted. “One that he felt might save his life.”
“Can we really look for logic in the man’s last panicked movements?” asked Gregson. “Surely he was simply running scared?”
“No,” Holmes replied, “his flight wasn’t random. According to your evidence he was walking from Knaves on St James’s Street to Salieri’s on Brook Street. If he was simply running in fear he would hardly have gone so far out of his way. He came here for a reason.”
“Which was?” the inspector asked, not without a degree of irritation.
“If I knew that, Gregson,” Holmes replied, “I would hardly still be stood here.”
He gave Gregson a brief smile and then began to stride towards the south exit. “Come, Watson,” he shouted, “time to consult an expert.”