It was a cold wintry evening when I last called upon my friend Mr Sherlock Holmes. I found the great detective in his usual pose, hunched over his writing desk, a smoldering pipe in hand. He glanced at me coolly.
“I see you haven’t had much luck at the dog track,” he said.
I gasped, for I had indeed just lost the sum of four pounds at the Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium.
“How did you guess?” I asked incredulously.
“I guessed nothing,” Holmes replied. “All my conclusions were drawn from simple inference.”
He pointed to a bright-green stain on my pant leg.
“That stain could only have been produced from pickled relish,” he said. “And that condiment is only served with frankfurters. It is obvious, therefore, that you recently partook of that particular dish.”
“That follows logically,” I agreed. “But how did you know that I ate my frankfurters at a dog track, of all places?”
“What other conclusion could I have drawn, given the location of the relish stain? It’s on your lower pant leg. You clearly ate your meal while in a standing position. It was stadium fare. And the only stadium open during this season is the dog track.”
I shook my head with admiration. Even though I had spent decades chronicling the great man’s feats, I was still often awed by his deductive prowess.
“But how,” I begged, “did you know that I had lost money at the races?”
He rolled his eyes, as if the question was too simple to merit a response.
“Your shoulders are covered in precipitation,” he said. “And I can tell by the scuffs on your loafers that you have been walking for some distance. Surely, had you any funds at your disposal, you would have hired a hansom cab to transport you back to London. It therefore stands to reason that the track has, as the expression goes, cleaned you out.”
I laughed with delight.
“It always seems so simple when you explain it to me!” I cried.
“Everything is simple,” he said, “when you view it through the lens of rational deduction.”
I glanced at his desk, which was piled high with papers.
“May I ask why you have sent for me?”
“I will require your assistance,” he said, “in solving a most unusual case.”
“Does it have anything to do with the prime minister’s recent kidnapping?”
“Actually,” he said, “it’s a personal matter. Something with Alyssa.”
“Oh,” I said.
Alyssa was Holmes’s girlfriend. They had been romantically involved for several months now. I, personally, had never particularly enjoyed the woman’s company. She was rather rude to Holmes, I felt. For instance, she only expressed interest in his cases when celebrities, such as the royal family, were involved. And she rarely exhibited any affection toward him unless she was asking him for money. Still, despite Holmes’s extraordinary powers of observation, he seemed unable to notice Alyssa’s shortcomings. He frequently referred to her as his ‘angel’, a term I thought uncharacteristically figurative for a man of his scientific bent.
“I was looking through her overnight bag,” Holmes explained, “and I found this spotted tie in the bottom.”
I examined the tie in the glare of Holmes’s gas lamp. It was stained with what appeared to be lipstick.
“This tie is not mine,” Holmes said. “And yet, for reasons not yet understood, it appeared inside her bag.”
I nodded awkwardly.
“Huh,” I said. “What do you make of that?”
“I haven’t yet solved the conundrum,” he confessed.
“Maybe you should ask her?” I suggested. “Where is she now?”
“With her personal trainer, Jeremy,” he said. “They meet on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. For her thumb.”
“Yes, she strained her thumb knitting.”
I squinted at him.
“Wasn’t that, like, two years ago?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Isn’t that a lot of therapy for a thumb?”
“Well, her thumb is very badly strained,” Holmes explained. “Jeremy says her rehabilitation could take years. And the exercises he puts her through are rather strenuous. When she comes home from her sessions, she’s always exhausted and dazed. She usually heads straight for the bath and then goes right to bed. Sometimes she sleeps for over twelve hours.”
A long time passed in silence. I waited patiently for the detective to arrive at what appeared to me to be an obvious conclusion. But it was as if the gears of his deductive wheels were jammed.
“Perhaps someone is trying to dodge the fabric tariff by smuggling garments into the British Empire,” he said. “And they are sneaking them into Alyssa’s bag.”
“I’m not sure that follows,” I said.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve found male apparel in her bag,” he continued. “I’ve found socks, too. Big ones. Like the kind of socks a big man would wear. A big, athletic man.”
“Like a trainer?”
“I wonder if Moriarty is involved,” he said, ignoring me. “That dastardly criminal is just the man to perpetrate a smuggling scheme!”
“I don’t think this has to do with Moriarty,” I said.
“I should hope not,” he said. “I would hate to see him ensnare my sweet Alyssa in one of his evil plots. Her life is already hard enough. Why, just last night she found out she has to go away for nine days for a thumb therapy retreat.”
“You know,” he said. “One of those thumb retreats they have now, for when people have problems with their thumbs.”
“I don’t think that’s a thing,” I said.
“Of course it’s a thing,” he snapped. “Alyssa’s going on one.”
“Is Jeremy going with her on this trip?”
“Of course,” Holmes said. “He’s her trainer. It follows logically.”
“Where’s the retreat?”
“It follows logically,” he said again.
He reached for a syringe and injected himself with liquid cocaine.
“Whoa,” I said. I could tell from the serum’s viscosity that it was stronger than his customary ‘7 percent solution’.
“What percent was that?” I asked.
The detective ignored me. He had begun to pace rapidly across his flat, his bony hands twitching at his sides.
I was considering telling him some of my inferences about Alyssa when a light knock sounded on the door. It was she. Her brow, I noticed, was damp with perspiration and she had a serene smile on her face.
“Darling!” Holmes cried. “How were your thumb exercises?”
“My what?” she replied.
“Your thumb exercises,” he repeated.
“Oh,” she said. “Right. They were good. Listen, I need some money for that trip.”
“Of course,” Holmes said. “It follows.”
He reached into his wallet and produced a thick bundle of banknotes.
“It follows,” he mumbled, more to himself than anyone else.
I glanced out the window. A broad-shouldered man in athletic gear was standing on the corner of Baker Street, a sly grin on his face.
Alyssa pocketed the money, blew Holmes a kiss, and then ran down the stairs. Through the window I saw her skip across the street and into the muscled arms of her lover.
Holmes was back at his desk, the spotted tie in his hand.
“Maybe it was Moriarty,” he said, again.
I took a seat beside my friend and patted him gently on the back.
“Maybe,” I said.
From the collection The Last Girlfriend on Earth and Other Love Stories
Simon Rich is a graduate of Harvard University, where he was president of The Harvard Lampoon. Shortly afterwards he became a writer for Saturday Night Live. He now works for Pixar. His novels Elliot Allagash and What in God’s Name? and the story collection The Last Girlfriend on Earth are published by Serpent’s Tail. Read more.