“What little bit is that, sir?”

The white-haired apothecary has only a slightly disguised grin on his face.

“There might be a spot of interest in it for you.”

Bell knows this boy well, this lad after his own heart, and is aware that the newspaper article will fascinate him. He holds it up so Sherlock can see it, but keeps it just beyond his grasp.


Sherlock’s eyes widen and he reaches out. Bell pulls the paper back. Then he smiles and hands it over. Holmes dives into the article.

“Scotland Yard admits that a ransom note was indeed received from the kidnappers of Victoria Rathbone yesterday, but Lord Rathbone, having refused to pay the required sum, at first forbade the message to be made known. However, it seems that the Force, and the redoubtable Inspector Lestrade, he of the remarkable Whitechapel and Crystal Palace solutions, have convinced the distinguished gentleman to allow them to make a statement ‘simply in order to aid the pursuit of the culprits.’ The trail, it seems, is stone-cold and members of the public may be of help. The Metropolitan Police shall be speaking to representatives of the press at their White-Hall offices tomorrow, directly at the noon hour.”

“You may be away from both school and this establishment tomorrow morning, until one hour past midday,” says Bell the instant he sees that Sherlock has finished reading.

The singular boy has frightened the old man many times since he came into his employment, and not just because of those dangerous solo trips deep into spooky Rotherhithe during the Brixton Gang case, or even the growing competence of his right cross to the jaw. It’s the boy’s disposition that unsettles him – his moods can grow disturbingly dark. Friendless and inward, Sherlock can descend instantly into silence, his mind far away. There have been times when he has been virtually immobile, like a sort of living cadaver, sitting here at the laboratory table while they take their meals. His gray eyes grow narrow and distant, his face alarmingly pale, and his breathing barely palpable.

This lad needs stimulation, thinks the apothecary. He needs it the way an opium addict needs the narcotic jolt of the poppy seed.

The old man observes Sherlock as he sets down the paper. He is not frightened for him today.

The boy’s face is lit up.

Scotland Yard’s famous offices are in White Hall not far from Trafalgar Square in the center of stinking, eardrum-popping London. But Sherlock pays little attention to the rush of rumbling omnibuses and sprite hansom cabs, the advertising signs, the desperate poor, or even the celebrated faces. His mind and his senses are riveted on what will take place outside the redbrick exterior of the Yard, and what he hopes to hear from the mouth of the police spokesman who will break the silence on the Rathbone case. He imagines what he would do if he were to pursue this case: he would be alert for even a whiff of a clue, of something that could open the tiniest of cracks in this mystery. This could be his one chance.

The mouth that does the announcing doesn’t belong to an underling. This is not a time for those low on the pecking order to be seen. It sits under the bushy mustache of the one and only Inspector Lestrade. And the mouth is not upturned as it speaks. It is more like a line. Lestrade is not in a happy mood. And his attitude is not lightened when he notices young Holmes standing at the rear of the crowd of reporters. It is the first truly chilly morning of the season and one of those thick, bitter-tasting fogs has settled in. Lestrade squints out at the boy. If he had the time, he would have the meddlesome half-Jew removed.

“Master Holmes,” says a familiar voice right next to him.

“Master Lestrade, your stealth is growing. Your approach escaped me.”

The Inspector’s son smiles. Though he is at least three or four years older than Sherlock, he is barely taller, and inherited, ferret-like features are unfortunately evident in his face.

“This one is said to be unsolvable, you know.”

“I am only an interested observer.”

“Ah! A mere observer…. Nevertheless, you may be intrigued to know that there are still no real clues.”

“That may soon change.”

“Were someone such as you to try a little investigating on this case, Holmes, I would wish them good luck, but my father will triumph this time, you can take that to the Bank of England.”

The older boy walks away, with a grin. He snakes through the crowd and back toward a spot near his father on the temporary podium, which creaks as he ascends it.

But Sherlock is watching someone else. He’s spotted a bespectacled young man in a brown coat and black top hat near the front, who turns and sees him too. There is a moment of recognition. Sherlock recalls him instantly – the reporter from The Times, the man who saw him in the midst of the action during the dramatic final moments of the Crystal Palace case, but then was silenced by the older Lestrade. The boy has since learned that the man’s name is Hobbs.

Lives in central London, thinks Sherlock, in the old city, age twenty- four, five foot five, not much more than a hundredweight, perhaps nine and a half stone … yet flabby … father is a clerk … not given to bravery … could be used again for my purposes in a pinch. He has picked up clues from the man’s frock coat, the make of his spectacles, and his physical attitude. But he chides himself for making plans. Just listen to what the police have to say. Make mental notes for future cases. Such puzzles as this aren’t for you to solve. Not yet.

“Gentleman,” begins the senior Lestrade in a booming voice, “you have been called to Scotland Yard this noon hour to aid the authorities in the solution of a most heinous crime, that of the abduction of Victoria, dear daughter of the esteemed Lord Rathbone of the upper House, seized two weeks prior to the last instant of August, early evening, approximately five fortnights past, whilst minding her own business riding with her coachman in Hyde Park upon Rotten Row.”

He pauses for dramatic effect.

“I hold in my hand a ransom note …”

Though he brandishes it high in the air like a trophy and the sun even co-operates by suddenly shining past the breaking clouds and glowing through the fog, none of the reporters offers the intake of breath he hoped for, so he goes on.

“It reads …

Lord Rathbone:

I have captured your daughter. She is breathing … but perhaps not for long. You may save her life by preparing a quarter-million pounds in small bank notes immediately, and placing said sum at my command when and where I say. You shall be notified of the details of this exchange within three days. Failure to comply will result in your daughter’s execution before the sun sets that day. Be assured that I shall not be made a fool of … though I may make a fool of you.

I remain,

The Enemy”

As the reporters write furiously, Lestrade begins to exhort them to publish this “evil” note verbatim, to encourage their readers to search its contents for clues, and to report anything they know to the Force.

But Sherlock Holmes is ignoring the detective’s drivel. He is focused on a series of distinctive points he’s heard and an enormous one he’s seen. First, there is the fact that this ransom note comes after more than two and a half months of absolutely no communication, but then suddenly puts a very short deadline on its target; secondly, since the note insinuates that there is just one fiend at work, there’s a high probability of there being several; thirdly, the money asked for is gargantuan (making it almost impossible for Rathbone to comply on time), and fourthly, the abductors seem to want to taunt the rich man, again making it difficult for such a man as he to accede to their demands. But the most important clue is the visual one. It is so good that it scares the boy – it is almost irresistible.

As Inspector Lestrade holds the paper high in the air for the reporters to observe and the noon-hour sun

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