In honor of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I have written my very first piece of fiction, introducing my completely original character, Professor Horatio Sterling. Any resemblance to Sherlock Holmes is completely coincidental.
I do hope you like it. I am thinking of turning it into a novel. Perhaps if I put in a couple of chase scenes, some flashbacks, and lots more adverbs and adjectives I could stretch it out another two hundred pages or so.
I am considering the idea of pursuing a career as an action adventure writer. Should I quit my day job as a Temporal Anthropologist? Please, do tell me what you think.
It was a dark and stormy night. Of course, it is normally dark at night, but this particular night was also stormy. The thunder thundered in the distance and lightning flashed through the window of my flat on the Strand. That’s in London, largest city in the world in 1893. This is where I live and work and eat and sleep and all those other things I do.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Professor Horatio Sterling, Detective. I wasn’t always a detective. I was once a professor at Cambridge with degrees in history and anthropology. I combined the two to create a course on the History of Anthropology. Anthropology was a new science, so it wasn’t a long course--the textbook was only 20 pages long. For some reason the class was quite popular.
However I got bored. I decided the world needed a crime fighter to fight--well, crime. I would use my knowledge of anthropology and the interworkings of human society as well as my knowledge of history and the follies of men to battle those who had a history of being anti-social.
“It certainly is dark and stormy tonight,” said Dr. Dullard as he gazed out the window. Dr. Obadiah Dullard was my room mate. I’m not sure exactly what sort of doctor he was, for he didn’t seem to do anything but follow me around. Still he helped pay the rent. Dullard also didn’t get in my way. He was a quiet man who wasn’t distracting. Being shorter and less handsome than me, he didn’t distract from me at all.
There was a knock at the door. I opened it to find a short, squat toad-like figure. It was our landlady, Mrs. Underhill. Her personality was as unpleasant as her looks. There was no Mr. Underhill. We weren’t sure if he was dead or had just run away.
“Some one at the front door wants to see you.” Her beady eyes glowered.
“Please show them up, Mrs. Underhill.”
She grunted her assent, then turned and yelled down the staircase, “All right, you can come up. And wipe your ruddy feet, this isn’t a pig sty.” Mrs. Underhill gave me one last glower, then disappeared into whatever hole it is she disappears into. I sometimes wonder how many clients she has scared off.
I heard the pitter-patter of dainty feet on the stairs. An image of an angel danced into the room on satin tippy-toes, her arms undulating like a dieing swan.
“Do forgive me, but I came straight from ballet class. We were rehearsing “Goose Lake”.”
“Yes, it’s Swan Lake choreographed for amateurs.”
“Ah, I see. I’m sure you make a lovely goose. Nice tutu by the way.”
“Thank you.” She fluttered her lush lashes. “My name is Lady Madeline Chesterfield. Are you Professor Horatio Sterling, the brilliant consulting detective?”
“At your service, Madame. Please have a seat. Would you like a cup of tea?”
“That would be delightful. This outfit isn’t very warm and it is so dark and stormy out tonight.”
I turned to my sidekick. “Dullard, would you mind?”
“Not at all, old boy. Anything for the lovely lady.” Dullard grinned and set about his task.
I studied Lady Chesterfield carefully. I have to do that in my profession, to sum up my clients. She was a magnificent example of the English Rose. Her skin was like alabaster, smooth and white. Her large blue eyes were like twin pools a man wanted to dive into. Her perfectly formed jaw curved into her elegant neck. Her firm white bosoms--
“Professor Sterling!” Lady Chesterfield gasped.
“Oh, sorry. Do forgive me. It’s this blasted first person narrative. I never know when I’m thinking out loud.”
“Oh, I see. At least you used the word bosom and not something cruder.” Lady Chesterfield looked down and sighed disappointed. “Personally I always thought they were too petite. Men seem to prefer more ample ones.”
“Not at all.” Dr. Dullard pushed past me to hand the lady a cup of tea on a saucer. “It is a common fallacy that large breasted women are more amorous than small breasted ones. It is a well known medical fact that the human breast has the same number of nerve endings whatever it’s size. The larger the breast, the more dispersed the nerve endings; while the smaller, the more concentrated. Thus the smaller breasted woman is more easily stimulated and--” Dullard stopped and noticed my raised eyebrow. “What wrong, Sterling?”
“I don’t think that is appropriate small talk for a lady like Lady Chesterfield.”
“Sorry, I meant no offense. I was speaking only as a medical doctor. I took Mammary Classes, you see. The lady seemed distressed. I only wished to set her mind at ease.”
Lady Chesterfield blushed. “That is quite all right. It is reassuring, Dr.
--Excuse me, but who are you?”
I cleared my throat to cover up my embarrassment at my terrible social faux pas. “I do beg your pardon, Lady Chesterfield. Let me introduce my associate, Dr. Obadiah Dullard. He’s harmless.”
Dullard held out his hand to her. “Charmed to meet you, I’m sure.”
“Yes, well, you can let go of her hand Dullard and we will get down to business.” I turned my full attention to our guest. “So, Lady Chesterfield, what brings you to our humble abode?”
“Please forgive me for calling at this ghastly hour, but I don’t want my father, Lord Chesterfield, to know I came here. He would be devastated if he knew that I knew that he is in the most direst of straits.” Lady Chesterfield pulled out a perfumed lace handkerchief and dabbed her eyes.
“There, there, everything will be all right. I always solve my cases.” I pulled up a chair and sat down so I wouldn’t look so intimidating. Dullard followed my example. “What sort of strait is your father in?”
“I believe some one is trying to blackmail him.”
“Why do you think that?”
“I went into my father’s study to get a penny postage stamp. He keeps them in his desk. I tried to open the roll top, but it was locked. Father never locks it. I remembered where he kept the spare key. When I opened it I saw a letter sitting there.” She handed me a letter. I took it and read:
Dear Lord Chesterfield,
I know your deepest darkest secret. I’m sure you know the one of which I speak of. I know all about Paris and a certain woman and her relationship to another certain woman. I will reveal the truth to the world if you do not give me the plans to the XZY-56 weapon. You may have built it to protect Britain from her enemies but I want it to conquer the world! Bwah-ha-ha! You will meet me Friday at midnight underneath the marble arch in Hyde Park with the plans. Don’t be late. Bring no one with you…or you’ll be sorry. The stars will be in my favor, not yours!
(None of your business)
Dullard stood up to look over my shoulder. “Did he actually write ‘Bwah-ha-ha’ in the letter?”
“Not ‘he’ Dullard, but ‘she’!” I handed the paper to him. “See the hand writing, the flourishes of the letter, the perfect penmanship, the hearts dotting the i's? This shows a feminine hand, and one of good breeding and education, a member of the gentry itself.”
Lady Chesterfield cleared her throat nervously. “Erm, that is my hand writing.”
“You!” I was aghast. “You are blackmailing your own father! For shame!”
“No, Professor Sterling. I copied the letter to show you exactly what it said. I had to leave the original so father wouldn’t know I saw it.”
“Oh yes, of course. Do forgive me.”
Tears spilled out of Lady Chesterfield’s eyes like a water faucet with a busted spigot. “My poor father! He is a dear sweet man who would never hurt anyone.”
“Then what’s he doing creating weapons?” Dullard asked.
I told Dullard to hold his tongue with a commanding glare. I turned back to Lady Chesterfield. “Your father is a scientist?”
Lady Chesterfield nodded. “Yes. He only created the weapon to protect us from those nasty Germans who want to take over England and rule us!”
“Aren’t we now?” Dullard frowned. “I thought the royal family was German?”
“Dullard, if you don’t mind.” I glared even harder. He shrugged and sat back down.
Lady Chesterfield mopped up her damp face. “Father is above reproach. He spends all day in his laboratory.”
“What about, your mother? Have you told her?” I asked.
“Mother died in childbirth with me. I’m the only child. Father never remarried. Poor father had to raise me all by himself alone. Well, him and the estate’s large domestic staff. Please, please help me, Professor Sterling. You are my only hope.”
I will admit, I can’t refuse a lady in distress. “Yes of course, Lady Chesterfield. Don’t you worry. I will bring this dastardly cad to justice.” I stood up and struck a heroic pose to put her mind at ease.
Lady Chesterfield blew her nose and smiled. “Thank you, thank you, Professor Sterling. I will see you are repaid handsomely.”
“Don’t worry about the money, Lady Chesterfield. I will do this for Queen and Country!”
Dullard snorted. “A few quid might be nice. Maybe you could pay the rent for once.”
I ignored Dullard. “Do you mind my asking what your father’s birth date is, Lady Chesterfield?”
“5th of May 1849. Why? Any reason you want to know that?”
“Perhaps no reason, my dear. Perhaps every reason.”
“Well, you’re the detective.” Lady Chesterfield stood up. “You must excuse me, but really I must be getting home before Father gets suspicious. Thank you so much, Professor Sterling. You are a wonderful man.”
I flashed her that smile that always caused rooms to light up. “It is quite all right, my dear lady. Being wonderful is my job.”
Lady Chesterfield took her leave, giving me one last admiring glance. I stepped over to the window, and watched her enter a gold trimmed carriage with a driver and footman dressed in tuxedoes.
“I say, Sterling,” said Dullard at my elbow. “This is a sticky wicket. Do you think you can find this blackmailer?”
“Elementary, my dear Dullard. I shall simply use my massive brain. Why do you think I have to wear an extra large top hat?
“I thought you just had a fat head.”
“No fat, Dullard. All muscle, I assure you.”
“So you’re a musclehead?”
“And now I must flex those muscles. Dullard, put on the tea kettle. This is a seven cup problem!”
Dullard nodded. “Yes, you will have a problem if you drink seven cups of tea in one setting. All right, I’ll get the water heated.”
“Good man, faithful Dullard!”
Dullard mumbled something and left the window. I continued to stare into the brooding sky, pondering the task at hand. Would the dawn bring the light of enlightenment or would it simply bring a dark and stormy day?
The next day at precisely 2:04, I stood outside a dingy shop in Cheapside, a part of London that lived up to it’s name. Taped to the dirty window from the inside was a sign that read “Magi Bertie Snodgrass. Tarot readings and astrology charts while you wait.”
The ever present Dr. Dullard shook his head. “What are we doing here?”
“I believe I will have my horoscope done.”
“But this is the third astrologer this morning, and you keep giving them the wrong birth date. I thought you were born in March!”
Dr. Dullard wasn’t the cleverest, or the strongest, or the bravest of men, but he had one indispensable attribute. I knew I could always count on him for comic relief.
“Trust me, Dullard, it would take too long to explain.”
I pushed my top hat forward for a more intimidating effect and turned the door knob. Bells hanging down as a primitive security system, jangled as I pushed open the door. Dr. Dullard followed and stood behind me as I waited for the proprietor. The scent of exotic incense did little to cover the smell of boiled cabbage.
A small weasely looking man came through India print drapes covering the door. He was dressed in a blue robe painted with stars. “Ah, seekers of wisdom, how may I help you.”
“I wish to have my horoscope done.”
“Of course, sit down.” He motioned us to a small, beat-up, round table with chairs.
“I take it you are Snodgrass?”
“Magi Snodgrass.” He motioned to a framed certificate on the wall from Madame Excelsior’s School of the Arcane Arts and Dentistry.
“Yes, of course. Do beg your pardon.” I sat down.
Snodgrass pulled out a pencil and paper. “So what is your name, sir.”
“Erm, John Smith.” I said cleverly.
“Where were you born?”
“And what is your birth date?”
“5th of May, 1849.”
Snodgrass’s eyes got big. “Really? That’s the same date I was born!”
“Small world. I need to find out the best time of the month for cheating and betrayals. Would you know that?”
Snodgrass’ eyes got even bigger. “Erm…” He grabbed his charts and got very busy. “Moon will be in Gemini this Friday at midnight.” He looked up. “Why do you ask? Sneaking out on the wife?”
“Perhaps.” I mentally fenced with him. “Tell me, has anyone else been to you wanting that information?”
“No, don’t recall anyone.”
“That’s all I need to know. What do I owe you?”
“Here’s a quid.” I tossed a sovereign at him. “Thank you for your time.” I turned and left the establishment.
Dullard chased after me. “So where do we go now? Where’s the next fortune teller?”
“We will go to Scotland Yard and speak with Inspector Hector. I have all the information I need, old chap.”
“Really? What information is that?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Please! I won’t tell anyone.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you, Dullard. I just can’t tell you.”
“Why?” Dullard whined like a small child.
“Because it would ruin the dramatic effect!”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot.”
The next night at 11:45 I was hiding behind a bush watching the Marble Arch at the northeast corner of Hyde Park. With me was the ever faithful Dullard along with Inspector Hector of Scotland Yard and Lady Madeline Chesterfield, now dressed in something far warmer than a tutu. It was getting a bit crowded behind the bush.
“Do you have your men in position, Inspector?” I asked in a commanding whisper.
“I have half of Scotland Yard hiding behind every bush, tree and statue in the vicinity. Your blackmailer won’t be able to get away.”
“Good! Lady Chesterfield, did you give that sleeping draught Dr. Dullard gave you to your father?”
“Yes, I put it in his tea. Father was snoring peacefully when I left. But what will happen when father doesn’t show up?”
“Not to worry. I will take his place at midnight. Wearing your father’s coat, and with this pillow stuffed under it, the blackmailer won’t know I’m not Lord Chesterfield until it’s too late!”
Lady Chesterfield turned pale. At least I assumed she turned pale. It was dark, you know. “Oh, Professor Sterling, what if the criminal is armed…with a gun…with bullets. Aren’t you putting yourself in danger?”
“I giggle at danger! I thumb my nose at death! Not to worry, my lady. I was trained in Japan in the martial arts of the ninjas.”
Dullard looked at me. “I thought you said you learned martial arts from Shaolin priests in China?”
“Oh, that was the year before.” I waved him off. “Now if you will excuse me, I have an appointment with a knave.” I stood up and masterfully walked over to the marble arch, now devoid of the really ugly statute of Lord Wellington, a small but necessary city beautification measure.
I stood under the arch and struck the pose that Lord Chesterfield would have struck, using my extraordinary acting abilities. I had studied with the National Shakespearean Academy, the year before the Shaolin priests martial arts classes, and the year after the waltzing lessons.
After a few minutes a shadowy figure came out of the shadows and scuttled across the road. He sidled up next to me. “Sppt! You got the XZY-56 weapon plans I asked for?”
“Oh, I got what you are asking for all right!” I threw off Lord Chesterfield’s coat, and ripped off the pillow.
The blackmailer managed to pull out a gun, despite the fit of sneezing caused by the flying feathers. Before he could pull the trigger, I used an old Shaolin priest trick. “EEEEE-YOW!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
My attacker dropped the gun and grabbed his ears, yelping in pain.
I tackled the culprit, knocking him to the ground. I rolled him on his stomach and clamped handcuffs on his wrists. “Ha! Squealing Pig Kung-Fu! Works every time!”
Dr. Dullard and Lady Chesterfield and Inspector Hector and Sergeant Walker and Officer Clancy and Officer--oh, I’m not going to name all thirty of them. Trust me, a whole bunch of people came running up.
“Well done, Sterling!” Inspector Hector congratulated me. “Now we need to find out who the criminal is.”
“I knew that yesterday.” I rolled the prone figure over. “Inspector Hector, meet Bertie Snodgrass!”
Dr. Dullard’s mouth flew open like it always does. “How did you know, Sterling?”
“Elementary, my dear Dullard! He hinted who he was in the letter.”
“He signed it, “none of your business” if I recall correctly.”
“You hear but don’t listen, you look but don’t see, you touch but don’t feel, you sniff but don’t smell--” I stopped when I saw I was quickly loosing my audience here. “Do you remember the line about the stars?”
“The stars will be in my favor not yours?” Dullard quoted.
“Precisely! Is this not just the sort of thing an astrologer would say?”
“I don’t know. People are always thanking their lucky stars.”
“But why those stars and why would they be in Snodgrass’s favor and not Lord Chesterfield’s.”
“Huh?” Dullard looked lost.
“Snodgrass and Lord Chesterfield share the same stars! They are in fact twins!”
Lady Chesterfield frowned. “But he doesn’t look anything like father or anyone else in our family.”
“Not biological twins, but astrological twins!”
“What?” Dullard looked even more lost.
“Snodgrass and Lord Chesterfield were both born on the same day in the same time zone, thus making them astrological twins. All these years Snodgrass, the loser, consoled himself that his pathetic life wasn’t his fault, but the edict of the stars. Then he finds out, probably read it in the Times, that Lord Chesterfield has the same astrological chart. Snodgrass can’t even chalk it up to Chesterfield being manor born, because he is also a brilliant scientist. Snodgrass finds his world in shambles, his self image ground into the dirt. He wants to destroy Chesterfield. He spies on him, finds out all his secrets. So he decides to use Chesterfield’s own invention to make himself even greater than Chesterfield ever was.”
“Blast your eyes!” cried Snodgrass. “How did you figure all that out?!”
“Yes, how DID you figure all that out?” Dullard by now looked totally baffled. “How did you come to that conclusion from that one sappy line? It doesn’t make any sense at all. That won’t stand up in court.”
Inspector Hector slapped Dullard on the shoulder. “Not to worry, lad! We have Snodgrass’s confession and Sterling’s sterling reputation to back it up!”
“My hero!” Lady Chesterfield threw her arms around me.
Two officers lifted Snodgrass to his feet. Snodgrass snarled at me. “Curse you, Sterling. You may have stopped me from taking over the world, but I can still destroy Lord Chesterfield and that which he holds most dear.”
“You won’t be able to do it from prison.” I pointed out.
Snodgrass gave a nasty laugh. “I’ll do it right here! The truth is Lord Chesterfield never married. His precious daughter is illegitimate!”
Lady Chesterfield let go of me and stepped back. “No! No!” Her arm flew to her forehead as she struck a melodramatic pose appropriate to the occasion.
“It’s true!” Snodgrass lips curled in a cruel smile. “Your father spent a couple of years in Paris. Dated an actress until they broke up. Nine months later at the door of his Paris flat is a basket with a baby and a note, saying the woman has left for America and Chesterfield can raise his own brat!”
“Then poor father didn’t even get the chance to marry mother.”
“Doesn’t matter, lamikin. You are still a the fruit of a illicit affair!”
Poor Lady Chesterfield buried her face in her hands. “Oh no! Now I can never marry. Who would want me knowing I am born out of wedlock!”
“Erm, excuse me.” Dullard tugged at her sleeve. “I mean it’s hardly your fault. Sounds like a big mix-up to me. I would marry you.”
“Dullard,” I said, trying to be patient. “That’s all very noble, but I’m sure Lady Chesterfield was hoping for a husband from the gentry, not an out of work doctor who has to share a room.”
“Yeah, well--I’m gentry. I’m a lord.”
“What!? Dullard that’s not funny. Your father was a soldier in India.”
“Yeah, Colonel Albert Dullard, also known as the Earl of Dunderwick.”
“You really are a lord?”
“On my daddy’s side. I’m a prince on my mother’s side.”
“Yeah, daddy married the local Raja’s daughter.”
“You can’t be a prince,” I protested.
“Well, in name only. Grandfather surrendered Pumbah to the British without a fight in exchange for being allowed to keep most of the diamond and ruby mines.”
“WHAT!!” I shook my head to clear it. “Wait a minute, if you are a lord, a prince and filthy rich, why did you get a medical degree?”
“Those other titles I was born with. They don’t mean anything. The doctor degree I had to earn. I did it to prove I was someone.”
“Well, that would explain why you never work and always seem to have money. But why are you sharing a couple of lousy rooms in Mrs. Underhill’s boarding house with me.”
Dullard grinned at me. “To meet girls.”
“To meet girls?”
“Yeah, detectives always attract young beautiful high class women as clients. And Victorian detectives never get the girl like 20th century detectives. No, it’s the sidekick that gets to marry the clients. Didn’t you ever read Sherlock Holmes?”
Lady Chesterfield put her arm in Dullard’s. “So, you’re titled and have part interest in some diamond and ruby mines?”
“No, sole heir. I know I’m not exciting like Sterling here, but I would be a doting husband, catering to your every whim and covering you with expensive presents.”
Lady Chesterfield leaned closer. “You know, you are kind of sweet. You take anything else besides Mammary Classes.”
“Oh yes! I took all the anatomy classes. I know the human body--intimately.”
“Come along, sweetheart.” Lady Chesterfield led off Dullard. “I want daddy to meet you.”
“No!” Snodgrass protested. “This isn’t suppose to end like this. It isn’t fair!”
“Oh, shut up!” I whirled around and glared at Snodgrass. “I don’t know what you’re complaining about. I’m the hero! I’m suppose to get the girl!” I turned to Inspector Hector. “Take the twit in. I’m going home.”
I walked away across the park, bathed in shadows, back to my flat. My name is Horatio Sterling. I am a detective. It is a lonely life, full of danger, that has no room for family or bridge clubs or Sunday socials. I am a lone wolf. I am the wind. I am--short on cash. I wonder if Dullard can loan me a few quid for the rent tomorrow?