Friday, September 22, 2017

The Case of Stagger-Lee by David W Landrum

David W Landrum transports Sherlock Holmes to the swinging scene of 1960s London in a case narrated by his new assistant, Dr. Ophelia Turnberg.

Sherlock Holmes Case #1, 1966

Narrated by his assistant, Dr. Ophelia Turnberg

You heard the music everywhere you went back in those days. Almost everyone under the age of twenty-five carried those small, portable transistor radios, so you heard the music in parks and out on the street. Restaurants and stores played it. As I sat down to keep my dinner date with Holmes, I heard a song I had heard a lot lately - one of the "top 40 hits" as they were called - playing over speakers in the restaurant.

There've been so many girls I have known

I've made so many cry and still I wonder why

It was "Heart of Stone" by the Rolling Stones. While I wondered if I was becoming a fan of popular music, Holmes walked into the restaurant. Before he sat down in the booth he looked at me and said what I knew he would say.

"You too, Dr. Turnberg?"

I had worn a minidress that morning - white with black stripes. I shifted nervously in my seat.

"I'm afraid so. I got tired of standing out when I walked down the streets - and tired of looking like a prude. All the women are wearing them these days."

"And you're a dedicated follower of fashion. You do justice to it." He slid into his seat.

"I take it we have a new case."

He looked out from behind a menu he had been perusing.

"We have a murder to investigate. The police are stumped, so they called me. The first matter at hand is to examine the body of the victim. But we'll do that after we dine."

I had bangers and mash and ale plus a double whiskey after I finished eating. I was a little drunk when I left.

As I headed for the door, I looked up and met the eyes of a young woman sitting at a table sipping tea. She looked like a cover girl for the mod/Mersey style: short skirt, knee socks, white blouse, tie, her long hair parted down the middle. Her appearance radiated British/Celtic with blue eyes, red hair, and freckles. She smiled at me and said "Hello." This un-English friendliness surprised me so much I only got out a perfunctory "Good morning" as I rushed by her. But then, not wanting to fit the stereotype of a "fast American" (I had been called that by local people when I was stationed in Germany), I stopped and went back to her table.

"Sorry to rush by," I said. "We Americans are always in a hurry, unfortunately. My name is Ophelia."

"Daisy," she replied, and we briefly clasped hands.

"I like your outfit. I especially like the tie."

She fingered the men's tie she had on. "Part of the costume. I've got a photoshoot this morning - with the Beatles!"

"Wow! How did you rate that?"

"My boyfriend works in the music industry. He got me in - the other three girls are professional models."

"Good to have connections."

"Sometimes. Did I hear your friend call you 'Doctor'?"

"You heard correctly. I am a physician. I just got licensed to practice over here."

"Good. If I get hurt, I'll have to call you."

We laughed. Daisy talked a bit more and then said our good-byes. Just as I got to the door I thought I might ask for her phone number so I could call her up and invite her over some time. When I turned, the table where she had been sitting was empty. Her tea cup sat on the top, but I did not see her.

Must have gone to the john, I thought. Or, as they call it over here, I corrected myself, the loo.



In the cool and quiet of the police morgue, I looked at the body. I could not determine why they would be stumped. It was a simple cause of death: gunshot wound, bullet entered through the chest, ripped through the heart, missed the spine and emerged through the victim's back. The victim was a male about 30 years old. Holmes told me he worked in the music industry and his name was Dalton Miles.

"Well, at least that gives it a little glamour." I noticed the entry wound. "Big bullet," I commented. "Do you have the slug?"

Holmes gave it to me. It was in a plastic evidence jar.

"A .44 caliber," I said. "That's odd."

"Why?"

"Most people don't pack .44s. They make too much noise. I worked at Wishard Hospital, which is located in a crime-ridden area of Indianapolis. Most of the gunshot wounds I saw there were from .38s. That seems to be the weapon of choice for thugs and criminals. They're small and easy to conceal. They don't make as much noise as a .44. Of course, they also don't pack as much punch."

"I see." He studied the bullet and the wound carefully. I looked at the medical report. "So the bullet went clean through him?"

"It did. That's more why most criminals carry .38s. You want the bullet to tumble when you shoot someone. It does more damage that way. The .44 has more velocity. This one went straight through." I paused and then added, "Of course, it did what the gunman wanted it to do."

"Most certainly."

"You say he was in the music industry?"

Holmes nodded.

"What kind of groups did he produce for?"

"He was a producer for a lot of groups and more for blues music - not Mersey Beat like you hear the Beatles and the Dave Clark Five do; more like what you hear from the Rolling Stones and the Animals."

"Do we have any leads?"

"None at all - at least not yet." After a moment Holmes asked, "By the way, Dr. Turnberg, do you own a handgun?"

As a matter of fact, I did. While living in Indianapolis and driving to work through a crime-ridden area six nights a week, I bought a Baretta 92G. I actually had to use it once when some would-be robbers surrounded me on the hospital parking lot. When I pulled out the gun, they said I was bluffing and found out I was not. They tried to push me down. I wounded two of them. The other one ran. They eventually sued, but the courts ruled the shooting was justified. I took the 92G with me to Vietnam and had brought it to England as well. I knew I could get in trouble for not having the firearms certificate UK law required, but I felt safer with a gun near in the house. In Vietnam, I had used it to kill two Viet Cong sappers who slipped into our base, were planning to bomb a barracks and, unfortunately for them, broke into the private bedroom where I slept, thinking it would be a good point from which to operate.

"I do." I smiled. "Why? Do you think I killed him?"

He laughed. "Good heavens, no. I don't rule anyone out, but you have no motive and were probably home with your children when the crime occurred, so you have an alibi."

At the scene of the crime, we looked over the other evidence. When the bullet emerged, it had hit a glass and shattered it. The victim was standing by a desk - one of those old things the Victorians called a "secretary" with lots of cubby-holes in which to stuff papers and letters. The glass, Holmes told me, was not sitting on the surface of the desk but was set in one of the cubbyholes.

"That's it. We don't have much to go on."

With no more to look at, we parted. I reminded him he had a date to come to my house and meet my children that night. Holmes is absent-minded. He said he was looking forward to it but I could tell he had forgotten all about it and would not have shown up if I had not reminded him.



I had been working for Holmes five months. I'd come from Vietnam with a shrapnel wound barely healed and a case of what the medical profession called Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I didn't want to go back to the United States with its race riots and all the political unrest, so instead of going home, I settled in London, hoping to make a new life in the UK.

Of course, I needed a job. I had applied to practice medicine in England, but had no word on the matter, so I answered an ad that said "Physician needed to assist private investigator." I called and we made an appointment to meet at small pub. He raised his eyebrows when he saw me. This annoyed me and I started the interview in a way that normally would have ruined my chances of getting the job.

"What's wrong, sir? You've never seen a woman doctor before?"

He smiled. "I'm sorry. I have seen female physicians, but I've never actually spoken to one."

"Well, you are speaking to one now. Please tell me about the job. If you don't want to hire me because of my gender, say so and I'll go my way. I do have other prospects for employment to examine."

Actually, I did not and was rapidly running out of money. London was an expensive place to live even back then. I had a military pension coming, but bureaucracy is always slow and I hadn't seen a cent of it as yet.

"Of course. May I see your file?"

I handed him the folder I had brought. To my further annoyance, he read it out loud.

"Ophelia Rosaline Turnberg." He looked up. "Charming name - a rather odd assortment of referents there."

"My mother taught Shakespeare. She asked my father for his two favorite women from the plays. He supplied the names; she put them on my birth certificate."

"Charming. You graduated from Indiana University Medical School and served in Vietnam in the Women's Army Corps. You were wounded in the Battle of Khe Sanh. You were awarded the Army Medal of Valor for your service in that battle. Afterwards, you received an Honorable Discharge for medical reasons."

A grenade had ripped open my shoulder. I injected myself with morphine, stitched the wound closed, and stood for the next eighteen hours treating wounded men (and a few women, nurses) until I collapsed. I woke up in a hospital, found out I had come close to dying of shock and would be given a medical discharge.

"Next you -"

"Mr. Holmes, isn't it?" I interrupted. He looked up. "If you're going read my whole file, it will get rather boring because it's long. This is a public place and I would rather not have the facts of my life narrated for everyone to hear. I would appreciate it if you would simply go through the records and determine if you're interested in hiring me."

By then I had decided I did not want the job and wanted nothing to do with this man. Abashed, he read through my resume. The waiter came and we ordered drinks. I had a double whisky. I really couldn't afford it (at London prices) but wanted it anyway. When Holmes finished reading my file, he looked up at me.

"Impressive credentials."

"Thank you."

"I have one question. Are you married?"

"I'm divorced. My husband and I split up five years after I graduated from medical school. I went in the Army to get away from it all."

"No children?"

"Two children. I let my sister care for them when I got the assignment to Vietnam. I plan to bring them here as soon as I'm financially stable." Amanda and Todd were ten and twelve and had lived with me through my first years in the military. I left them with Hannah when I went to Vietnam. Of course, they wanted their mother. I needed to bring them here as soon as possible.

"I see. I only wanted to know because you may get calls at odd hours. When I need you, Mrs. Turnberg, I will need you at once."

"I plan to arrange child-care - in fact, I want to hire a live-in nanny. That's why I need to be properly compensated. And I would prefer to be addressed as 'Doctor.'"

"Of course," Holmes said. "Are you licensed to practice in the United Kingdom?"

I had registered with the General Medical Council; since English was my native language I did not have to appear before the Professional Linguistic Assessment Board. My permit to practice as a private physician had arrived two days ago. Of course, I had no patients and as of yet had not explored any job possibilities. The Socialized Medicine thing complicated matters. I told him as much.

"You will be properly compensated, I assure you." He glanced down at my resume and then up. "If I haven't been so crass and obnoxious as to drive you away, I would like to offer you the job." As I recovered from my astonishment, he wrote something on a scrap of paper and slid it toward me. I unfolded it. He had written the amount of my salary. I thought he had made a mistake.

"Is this accurate?" I asked, turning the paper up so he could see it. I thought perhaps he had accidentally added an extra zero to the sum.

He double-checked it. "Not enough?" he asked, looking up in bewilderment.

The amount was four times what I had decided I was willing to work for.

"No, I just wanted to be certain you had written it correctly," I said, hoping I had not lost the job by questioning what he had put down. "I think it's a generous salary and would be happy to take the job." I added, now feeling somewhat abashed at my rudeness, "If you still would be willing to hire me."

He said that he would, gave me an envelope with a thousand pounds in notes so I could "get set up," as he put it, and told me he would be contacting me in in the next couple of weeks. He took leave and I sat there, wondering if I had only imagined the whole thing. If I had not been holding the envelope with the money in it, I would have doubted the event even took place, gone to a psychiatrist, and told him I was delusional due to my traumatic experience in the army. Instead, I ordered a second whiskey, drank it down, went back to my apartment, called my sister, and told the children I would be bringing them to London in the next few days.

After five months, I felt I knew him a bit better, but not a lot better. He remained mysterious, eccentric, and, at times, exasperating.

The salary Holmes paid had enabled me to find a spacious (by British standards), furnished home in Fulham. Amanda and Todd had nice rooms. I had a spacious bedroom on the second floor. We hired a live-in nanny named Lavender, a blonde London girl who was tall - very tall, over six feet - beautiful, and who dressed in the latest style, which was either embroidered bell-bottoms or impossibly short dresses. She played harmonica quite well and delighted the kids with her ability to do any song they hummed, even if she had never heard the tune before. She said she played in a blues band at a small club in Soho. When Mr. Holmes arrived for supper that night she excused herself, saying she had a gig. The kids wanted to go see her play. As mothers usually do, I said we might even though I had no intention whatsoever of taking them there.

I thought the children might not like Holmes. He can be eccentric. He is not married and has no children of his own. I told them he was a little "odd" and they needed to be polite. As it turned out, he charmed them, first by bringing both of them gifts in the form of their favorite LPs. I had mentioned what they liked one day in passing, never imagining he would remember. The children wanted to play them immediately, I said no, we had a guest; Holmes said he would not be offended at all and would enjoy hearing them. Rubber Soul, Catch Us If You Can, The Hurdy-Gurdy Man, and A Hard Day's Night lent the (not unpleasant) background music for our meal. Holmes captivated the children by reciting, with considerable drama, "Jabberwocky," and told them the stories of Dick Whittington and his cat, Boudicca, and Jack Straw's peasant revolt. I began to feel like a third wheel.

When we finished our dessert, the kids clamored to go and hear Lavender's band. Holmes immediately said he would like to as well and I knew an objection would be futile. I changed out of the slacks and sweater I had on to something more fashionable and hip, we caught a taxi, and came to a storefront club called The Fifth Demention Club (that is how they spelled it).

The place was smoky, but we got a table by a door where there was more ventilation. Lavender, beautiful as ever, stood up front with a guitarist, bass player, and a drummer playing congas. She played harmonica and did vocals in her high, haunting voice. I hadn't listened to the blues a lot but, like most Americans, had heard the standards: "The Thrill Is Gone," "Bake My Biscuits," "Baby Please Don't Go," and "Stormy Monday." The kids listened with fascination. When the band took a break, Lavender came over to our table. Flushed with the excitement of performance, she kissed Amanda, Todd, and me, and, when introduced to Holmes, gave him a kiss as well. We talked. Holmes excused himself and headed for the men's room. Moments later, I saw Daisy walk up.

She had on tie-dyed bell bottoms and a paisley print blouse.

"Daisy!" I exclaimed and introduced her to everyone. My kids, who, like most children, think their mother the most stodgy, un-hip person on the globe, were impressed that I knew someone so mod and fashionable. She complimented Lavender on her musical ability and asked her if she and her band knew the song "Stagger-Lee."

"Oh, that's an old classic. We'll do it on the next set."

I invited Daisy to sit with us, but she said she had come with friends and needed to rejoin them. Holmes returned.

I was getting tired and the children said they were thirsty and wanted something to drink. I bought whisky for Holmes for me and ginger beer for the kids. By the second half of the show, It was late for them to be out. Lavender went back up on stage to sing. The first song her band did was Daisy's request.

As I headed back with the drinks in a cardboard carrier, I spotted Daisy standing by the exit to the club and listening to Lavender. She smiled, though the smile seemed a bit grim. I decided to go over and say goodnight to her before she left. As the song ended, I walked toward her only to see her fade to a pale outline and then vanish.

I stopped. A couple of dancers bumped into me. Apologizing, I rushed over to where Daisy had been standing.

No sign of her. I looked around, went to the exit door and looked out. It was too foggy to see anything. Closing the door and stepping back I wondered if I was drunk or if the thick tobacco fumes in the club had played tricks with my eyes (which were stinging and watering). Time to go home, I thought. So much cigarette smoke couldn't be good for the children.

I asked Holmes if he wanted to go back to the house with us. He declined, thanked us for our hospitality, and said he wanted to stay at the club a little longer.

"That last song your tall friend sang fascinated me. I want to ask her a few questions about it. I'll say goodnight here and now."

Amanda and Todd hugged Mr. Holmes. Then he did something I did not expect. He gave me a kiss and took his leave.

It was a small, chaste kiss, but the effect it had on me was more than I had ever dreamed. I got hot and - yes, I'll admit it - a little aroused. I didn't know about Holmes. He seemed to have no interest in me, and I never saw him with women. I had wondered if he preferred men, but I did not see evidence for this. He seemed a solitary soul. Maybe he thought shaking my hand or merely thanking me would be crass and kissed me out politeness. Still, I burned from his small endearment. I had calmed down by the time I put the children to bed - or so I thought. When Lavender came back at around midnight, I was still up, reading Joan Lindsay's Picnic at Hanging Rock. Her smile turned to a look of concern.

"Are you all right, Ophelia?"

"Just tired," I said. "Just tired."

Lavender only gave me a curious look.



The next day brought many distractions. I walked Amanda and Todd to school and got there just as the place went into a panic because a child was having a seizure. I identified myself as a physician, saw the girl was going into a diabetic coma and, using the first aid equipment they had on hand, stabilized her until the EMTs arrived. The staff thanked me and asked me if I could be on call for such emergencies. I told them I would be happy to serve them in emergency situations and left my phone number.

I went to the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital to see the girl who had had the seizure. Yvette, who had completely recovered by the time I arrived there, introduced me to her parents, and the physicians in charge of her. We talked and I went my way. Going down the corridor, I did a double-take when I spotted Daisy standing by a door in the hall.

"Daisy," I said. "We keep running into each other! Almost seems supernatural!"

"Maybe serendipitous."

"What are you doing here?"

"I'm visiting a friend."

I noticed the door she stood by. The sign on it read MORTUARY.

"I hope your friends aren't in there," I quipped.

"They're not," she said, oddly intoning the first word. "Tell your friend Lavender I very much appreciate her doing my request last night."

"I'll be sure to tell her."

Then I laughed inadvertently. "Don't do your disappearing act again. It seems like every time I see you, you just sort of vanish."

She shrugged her shoulders. "I'm good at doing that."

"Well, I do need to run. I have an appointment. I'd love for you to come over sometime. My children thought you were 'cool.' And Lavender lives with us during the week. We could all have a little more time to visit and talk."

"That would be wonderful, Ophelia. I would love to if I'm able."

I went my way. This time Daisy did not vanish. When I finally got home, Holmes had left a message for me.

Dr. Turnberg, the note said, meet me in front of the gift shop at Paddington Station at 11:30 this morning. Be certain to be on time, as this is urgent. And bring your firearm.



Rain poured down as I got out of the taxi. I hurried through the station, past the lovely Victorian brickwork and wrought iron arches, finally spotting Holmes and two Bobbies standing by the door of the gift shop. I hurried over to be with them. It was exactly 11:30. He smiled at me.

"You made it. I was getting worried. Our man should be along in a moment. Get your pistol ready."

I had it in my purse. I put it in the pocket of my raincoat so I could access it more easily.

Five minutes later, a stylishly dressed man with long hair came toward us. I thought he must be the suspect and that Holmes and police officers would arrest him on the spot, but the officers pretended to be roughly interrogating Holmes about something. The man hurried into the gift shop. Holmes and the two Bobbies positioned themselves around the door. I put my hand on the Beretta. After only a minute or so, the man, holding a small package, hurried out through the door. One of the Bobbies accosted him.

"Todd Barfield," he said, "I'm placing you under arrest for the murder of Dalton Miles."

The man blinked in astonishment. Then he pushed the Bobbie away and his hand went up toward the left side of the crushed velvet jacket he had on. In a flash I had the barrel of the Beretta against his temple.

"Drop your hands," I shouted. "Lift your hands one inch more and I'll blow you brains out."

He froze. The Bobbies frisked him and removed from the pocket of his coat, a .44 caliber pistol. After they handcuffed him, I put my weapon away.

Holmes beamed with pleasure.

"I think you'll find, gentlemen," he said to the officers, "that this is the murder weapon and your ballistics experts will have no trouble proving as much." He pointed to the package, which one of the Bobbies had taken. "Don't lose that. It's valuable evidence," he said. "I'll speak to the inspector later today." He turned to me. "Thank you, Dr. Turnberg, for your valuable assistance."

I nodded and put the gun back in my purse.

"I must go to the Police Headquarters now. If you can meet me for lunch at the Sawyer's Arms not far from here, I'll explain the details of the case." He smiled again, looking quite pleased with himself and departed, leaving me there all by myself.

I sat down on a bench to recover my presence of mind. Watching the trains go by helped. I had seen enough gun battles in Vietnam and did not want to see any here in the UK. At last feeling better, I went in the gift shop and got a Paddington Bear for Yvette. I would bring it to her before I headed home. Doing a kindness for someone would enable me to distance myself from what had happened today. Such things bring up a lot of darkness from my soul. I have ways of stuffing it back down inside when that happens. Hopefully, someday, I will be able to get it out in the open and deal with it.



I took the tube back to my apartment. I had forgotten to pack lunches for the children so Lavender and I got them ready. I told her to deliver them and take the rest of the day off. I also told her a little about the arrest and that I was meeting Holmes at the Sawyer's Arms for lunch.

"That's a lovely place. I lunch there sometimes with Father. He and Mother used to like to go there on Saturday nights."

Lavender's mother had died two years ago. Besides her father, she had told me, she had two brothers and a sister.

Left alone, the darkness began to gather again. I suppressed it once more. In a foreign country, with this new job, with my children, making a new life in a huge, complex city, I would need to be decisive. I could not let the demons of my past overwhelm me; and I needed to realize that if I worked for Holmes I would often find myself in situations that would summon those demons out of their dark lair and into my heart and mind. I had to be decisive. Decisiveness had always helped me push through fear, hardship, and loneliness. I showered, tried on some new outfits I had bought earlier in the week on a trip to Carnaby Street, picked one, and caught a cab to the Sawyer's Arms.

Holmes was there. I sat down across from him and ordered, on his recommendation, an apple lush (didn't like it - too sweet). He began to tell me about the "unraveling" of the crime we had investigated.

"I was stumped by the case until I heard your tall friend sing at that little music club."

"You mean Lavender?"

"Yes. Charming name. She sang a song called 'Stagger-Lee.'"

I said remembered the song but didn't know the lyrics.

"Well, it's about two men who were gambling. One cheats the other. The man who was cheated kills the other man. It's an old blues classic from 1917 - still popular. Your Mr. Pat Boone recently recorded a version of it. As she sang the song, I noticed several parallels to the case we were investigating - far too many to be coincidental. Especially the line, Stagger-Lee shot Billy. He shot that poor boy so bad / That the bullet went through him and broke the bartender's glass."

"He staged the song as he murdered the man?"

"He orchestrated the whole thing. In the song, Stagger-Lee used a .44. The bullet went through his victim and broke a glass. And the man he shot pleads, Stagger-Lee, quit coming - O please don't take my life! I've got three little children and a very sickly wife. I think he tormented his victim and enjoyed watching his wretchedness."

"But how did you know it was Barfield?"

"The field was narrow. Blues are not particularly popular in England, but a few groups - I mentioned the Rolling Stones and the Animals - do music that is influenced by blues. I got the names of some of the production people they work with and ended up with a list that included Barfield."

"I see. How did you know he would be at Paddington station? And how did you know the time?"

"The gift shop was where he bought the glass he strategically placed behind Mr. Miles as he re-enacted the song. Though it shattered, I managed to reconstruct it enough to see the inscription PADDINGTON STATION, LONDON. The glass was something everyone who dealt with him knew about - a sort of good luck charm or talisman he kept on his desk. I contacted my informants in the music industry and managed to get his schedule. He's a busy man, riding the crest of the boom in popular music, and his time is at a premium. He had an hour free, 9:30 to 10:30 today. The shattered glass could have connected him to the crime, so he took the only time he had free to purchase one identical to the old one just in case he came under investigation. He and Miles both knew blues quite well. Miles would know, once Barfield repeated the lyrics, what was going to happen to him. With all the pieces in place, the conclusion was obvious. The police just called to tell me he made a full confession. He had lost money to Barfield, just like the song suggested. All the pieces fit and the crime is solved. And" - he paused - "he apparently killed his girlfriend, Daisy Blake."

Shock and grief seized me. I started to say I had seen her just this morning, but Holmes spoke before I could get the words out.

"They found her body not far from the pub where we first discussed the case. Forensics experts said she had been dead three days."

My head spun and my vision started to fade. I think I did in fact faint but recovered quickly enough that I did not fall over. Holmes saw the look on my face.

"Dr. Turnberg?"

I shook my head. "No, I'm all right." I didn't want him to know the thoughts running through my mind like tigers and elephants. "I suffer from a condition called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's a result of being in combat - sort of like what they used to call shell shock. Having to use a gun this morning made it manifest just a bit - I've already had a couple of small seizures like the one I just experienced. But I'm all right. Go on. I want to hear about this."

"She had been shot with a .44 caliber pistol. Barfield said she had been having an affair with Miles and he had killed her for that reason - and then killed Miles for his liaison with Daisy and for winning all his money."

Just as he finished, Lavender came in. Beside her walked a man I assumed was her father.

Seeing Lavender and meeting her father enabled me to recover - not from PTSD but from the realization I had been conversing with a woman three days dead.

Holmes invited them to sit down and to join us for lunch. I tried to behave normally and seem to have pulled it off. I gained enough stability to see how Lavender, a woman without guile, had set this up as an introduction and attempted date-match. Well, that was okay. Maybe I needed a date-match. She was embarrassed because she could tell I saw through her poorly-hidden subterfuge. I squeezed her hand to let her know I was not angry. I greeted her father, who made a very good impression on me. As the four of us ate lunch, the rain lashed at the windows of the pub.



I attended Daisy's funeral. It was open casket. No mistaking: the girl who lay there was the one with whom I had conversed three times.

My mother always liked the line from Hamlet by William Shakespeare, There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Sometimes she would quote that line when I would ask her about things that didn't make sense to me or seemed beyond rational explanation. I had never seen a ghost. Given the number of people I knew who had died in Vietnam, I dreaded the thought that ghosts might exist. Apparently, they did. I know it could not have been a delusion. Luckily, Lavender and the children did not learn about Daisy's death.

Holmes seemed the complete rationalist, so I said nothing to him. If I had, he would probably say it was my disorder kicking up and I should visit a psychiatrist. I had certainly thought of doing that. But if you have been through trauma and survived, you end up with a quite a lot of discernment about your state of mind. You acquire this because you must constantly determine your level of your mental stability and assess to what degree negative experiences have adversely affected you. I knew I was not psychotic or delusional. I never believed in God or the supernatural. But the supernatural fits the old cliché about pornography: I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. I had seen it. It had been real and not the coinage of my brain. She had come back from the dead; or, more precisely, she had lingered after her death to give Holmes the clue needed to solve the crime - the song she asked Lavender to sing; the blues tune about the murder that Barfield acted out when he killed Miles, right after he killed Daisy.

He told me later that Barfield had hidden her body in the closed-off sewer of an abandoned building where he and some of his friends used to gather to play blues. If Barfield had not confessed, Holmes said, the police would probably never have found it. And we would not have had sufficient evidence to arrest Barfield.

As I slowly recovered from the unsettling experience of meeting a ghost, I got to know Lavender's father a bit. Like most Americans, I harbored stereotypes about English men. I saw them as either fat, bald, and jolly like Winston Churchill; or snobby and effete like David Niven. He was neither. Tall, strong, well-spoken, he impressed me. He owned a small brewery that supplied high-quality beer for many pubs in London. He had done quite well for himself but confessed to me he had trouble raising teenagers. Lavender was the oldest of his children. The other three were still at home. As I got to know Lavender better, I could tell that the hurt she felt at her mother's death went deep. It went deep in her father as well. With her father, this was both a bad and a good thing. Piers and I haven't gone very far in our relationship. Things are shaping up very well, but I'm cautious. I've been burned too many times to go near a fire without a lot of trepidation.

Because I did not want to completely leave off being a doctor, I began taking private patients, though I knew I would continue working for Holmes. Maintaining a small practice, I told him, would keep me current on medicine, which is always changing and developing new techniques; and I said I would keep my practice small and selective so it would not interfere with my role in his investigative enterprises. With my medical practice going well and my long-awaited government pension finally making payments, I had enough money to live well in London. But I would be a fool to walk away from the ridiculously inflated salary Holmes paid me. I would stick with it. He was a fascinating man. I liked solving crimes. And I felt I had to continue doing so for Daisy and for those like her - the exploited, the victimized, the wronged.

I would continue as long as he would have me employed.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for a good story. It would be interesting to see it expanded into a novella or a novel - so that even greater tension and uncertainty could be woven into it - and maybe seeing Holmes bark up the wrong tree before solving the crime? Ceinwen

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  2. Compelling characterization of Dr Turnberg, Lavender, and - of course - the ghost of Daisy. I know Holmes is traditionally an enigma, but somehow I wanted a bigger picture of him. Ingenious plot, but for me rather top-heavy with ballistics and biographies, but the writing style is smilingly quirky, and puts me in mind of Christopher Fowler's Bryant & May series. More Holmes please!
    B r o o k e

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  3. i enjoyed this, especially the appearances of Daisy and the style of writing as well as the case and how it was solved.
    Some parts I found twee; some of the dialogue and the introduction of Yvette. But these are minor quibbles!

    Mike McC

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  4. Well done. Ophelia is an original variant of Doctor Watson. I like the way the story hinges on Stagger-Lee (possibly my favorite blues) and on Picnic at Hanging Rock (though that part isn't spelled out).

    Definitely feels like the start of a series.

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