“How do you define the word ‘grotesque’?”
— The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge
9. Another Strange Murder
The next morning I rose late and was discouraged to find Sherlock Holmes was still in his bed. I had retired late the evening before. Not wishing to leave Holmes alone I stayed up with him as he sat by the open window staring out into the darkness. I read by the light of the lamp until at last my eyes grew so heavy I was forced to retire to my room. I suggested to Sherlock Holmes that he too should try to get a good night’s sleep, but his response was a low groan, and I left him in the sitting room. At what hour Holmes had retired I could not say, but I was certain that it was quite late.
Not desiring to wait until my friend awoke, I rang the bell and gave an intimation that I was ready for my breakfast. It was soon brought up by our housekeeper, along with the morning paper. As I ate my ham and eggs, I glanced over the newspaper and an article on the front page immediately took my attention. The rather gruesome heading was ‘Macabre Murder At Butcher Shop.’ The story that followed filled me with a horror even more than the heading.
The second strange murder in almost as many days has occurred late last night in the most peculiar of all places, a butcher shop on Endell Street. Mr. Johann Diekle, owner and proprietor of Diekle’s Fine Meats, was shocked and amazed to discover a body in his butcher shop freezer early this morning when he opened his shop at six o’clock. Mister Diekle reported to police that all was right as it should be in his establishment when he closed his shop at nine P.M. the night before.
What makes this murder even more horrendous was the mutilated condition in which the body was found. A number of appendages had been severed from the body, including fingers and toes. A ritualistic symbol had also been cut into the victims skin.
Readers will remember the recent horrible murder discovered at a London icehouse, where a similar crime was committed.
Though Scotland Yard would not confirm it, it is the opinion of some that these are a series of murders that were committed by a dangerous satanic cult. We of London can only hope that this is the last of the tragedies and we may sleep peacefully in our beds.
Inspector Peter Huggins . . .
My reading was interrupted by knock on the door. I was surprised that there would be a caller so early in the morning. Putting down the paper I rose and walked to the door. Opening it, I was somewhat astounded to see the very man whose name I had just read, Inspector Peter Huggins. He stood in the door with a totally despondent, and abashed look upon his face. He removed his hat and spoke lowly and with great respect.
“Good morning, Doctor Watson,” he said. “Might I have a word with Mr. Sherlock Holmes?”
“Mr. Holmes is not yet risen,” I said, ushering him inside the room. “Won’t you come in and have a cup of coffee while I rouse him?”
“But will he see me?”
“I am sure he will,” I uttered lending the man whatever hope I could.
I gave the door to Holmes’s room a knock then walked in. He was still asleep, so I gave him a shake and said: “Rouse yourself, Holmes. There is someone here to see you.” Walking to the window, I raised the blind which allowed the bright morning sun to spill into the room.
With a moan and a groan Holmes rolled over and covered his head.
“Come along, Holmes, the game is afoot.”
“What is it?” he finally asked.
“Huggins is here to see you. I believe it is urgent.”
“There has been another murder.”
Holmes was up and dressed in two minutes. He entered the sitting room in his mouse-coloured dressing gown and approached Huggins and I who were drinking our coffee.
Huggins quickly rose as Holmes entered the room and stood uneasily as my friend sat in his chair while motioning the C.I.D. man to sit opposite. I stood close by, my elbow resting on the mantle, holding the morning newspaper.
“I understand there is some urgency in which you wish to see me, Inspector,” Holmes spoke.
Huggins nodded and retained a submissive manner. “Yes, Mr. Holmes. Please allow me to apologize for the unprofessional, and ungracious manner in which I treated you previously. I would not blame you one bit if you refused to talk with me.”
“Tut, tut,” said Holmes with a wave of his hand. “All that is past us now. Personally I work best if I conduct myself sine ira et studio. We will start afresh. So, off you go at scratch and tell me all about it.”
“Well, sir, as you know I believed the mendicant, Mately, had murdered Mr. Westerbrook, but you most likely know that sometime late last night there has been a similar murder.”
I reached over and handed Holmes the newspaper indicating the article of the latest tragedy. Holmes glanced over it as Huggins continued.
“Since the murder occurred with Mately in custody, it exonerates the man and I plan on releasing him today, but I wished to speak with you first before I did so.”
“You believe Mately may still be linked with Mr. Charles Westerbrook’s murder, and now may be linked with the death of the American, Patrick Flynn?” Holmes asked.
“How do you know the name of the murdered man?” Huggins asked with some urgency. “I did not release the identity to the press. How could you possibly know about Flynn and that he was an American?”
“Let us stick to one question at a time, shall we?” Holmes spoke. “You still have reservations regarding Mately.”
“Well, to be honest, Mr. Holmes, I am not totally convinced of Mately’s innocence despite this recent murder. He may have an accomplice. This latest murder may have been committed for the express purpose of trying to give Mately the impression of being guiltless.”
“No, no. That simply will not do, Inspector,” Holmes uttered. “Let me assure you, it is completely safe to release Mately. I trust you are preserving the crime scene until I view it personally.”
“Yes, Mr. Holmes. The butcher, Diekle is not happy about being kept out of his freezer, so if we might go there now?”
“Quite right, Inspector Huggins. Let us go, and view this cold killing.”
Inspector Huggins had a cab waiting and the three of us climbed inside and off we went.
Huggins fidgeted inside the cab, as if desperate to question Holmes, but seemed reluctant to do so. It had taken considerable humility from the younger man to come to Holmes and ask for help, especially after the way he had rebuffed my friend’s council. Huggins was now treading lightly, well aware that he was fortunate that Holmes was even in the cab. Finally Huggins skewed up the courage to questioned Holmes as delicately as possible.
“I would appreciate it, Mr. Holmes, if you could tell me how you knew the murder victim was Patrick Flynn? We of the C.I.D. knew his name from the papers we found on the body, but as I said, I though it best not to release his name to the press.”
Holmes repressed a grin. “It is one of my little pleasures to be able to surprise people, and I do believe I have done so.”
“Yes, sir, you have,” Huggins said.
“Doctor Watson and I spoke with Mr. Patrick Flynn just the other day.”
“How is that possible?” Huggins asked incredulously.
“I was able to track Flynn down from a description I received from the hotel clerk at the Langham.”
“Amazing,” Huggins uttered.
“Elementary,” said Holmes.
“No,” Huggins said. “I meant it was amazing I did not follow up as you did. I abhor sloppy police work, especially when it is my own.”
“Then docket the instance and learn from it,” said Holmes. “As for Flynn, he and Westerbrook were business partners in North America. He claimed to know nothing pertaining to the details of Westerbrook’s murder. I did not believe him. Like Westerbrook, I believed Flynn was not being totally forthcoming. I was not overly surprised to learn that Flynn suffered the same fate as Westerbrook.”
“Is there anything else you can tell me, Mr. Holmes, that may help in this case?” Huggins asked.
“Yes there is,” replied Holmes, “but seeing that we have reached our destination, perhaps we can discuss it at a later date.”
We exited the cab and stood in front of a respectable looking establishment. Over the door hung a large sign that read ‘Diekle’s Fine Meats’. Huggins opened the door and ushered us in. My nostrils were immediately assaulted by pungent aroma of dead animal flesh. Behind the counter stood a rather large middle-age man who was dressed in a stained white apron, and was obviously the proprietor.
The butcher regarded Huggins with disdain and spoke with a strong German accent tinged with anger.
“When do you finish with my freezer? I must go in and get my meat.”
“Soon, Mr. Diekle,” Huggins said in a placating tone. “After these gentlemen view the scene you may have your freezer back.”
We walked past by the counter and Holmes paused briefly to look down at the butcher’s feet. Huggins led us back into the large walk-in freezer where a constable stood guard, presumably to keep anyone out until we arrived. Holmes bade us stop and wait while he walked to the rear of the freezer. Even from my position I could see the body of Patrick Flynn dressed in the same suit of clothes as when he sat in our sitting room. Carefully Holmes walked to the body examining the floor which was covered in sawdust. He brought out his tape measure, and measured off several areas on the floor. He then gathered up some grey dust from the floor and placed it into a small envelope he took from his pocket. Behind some boxes Holmes found a piece of cloth. He examined it closely even to the point of smelling it, then put the cloth in his pocket. Finally, he approached the body again and leaned in close and examined the corpse intently. He looked beneath Flynn’s coat and ran his fingers over the dead man’s scalp.
After several moments Holmes called to us and said: “You may both come in now.”
Huggins and I approached the body and I was instantly reminded of the pictures of the Westerbrook murder scene. They were practically identical. The killer, or killers had cut off the exact number of toes and fingers as he had from the previous victim. There, of course, was the slit across Flynn’s eyes, and there too was the triangle cut into the man’s left cheek. Covering the entire body was a grey frost that made the already horrid scene even more frightful.
“There was no weapon found at the scene or on the victim’s person?” Holmes asked the C.I.D. man.
“No, Mr. Holmes. No weapon was found.”
“Undoubtedly you found a gold sovereign in the victim’s mouth,” Holmes said to the Inspector.
“Yes, Mr. Holmes, but as before we refrained from telling that fact to the newspapers.”
“I presume there is a bullet wound in his stomach?” I asked.
“That is my presumption, Dr. Watson. I did not wish to examine the body too closely until Mr. Holmes viewed it, but I will wager there is a bullet wound on Flynn the same as Westerbrook.”
“There are two bullet wounds on the body,” Holmes stated casually. “One in the belly, and one in the chest. You can tell from the blood stains beneath his coat.”
“What is that odour?” I said.
“Whiskey,” Holmes said simply.
I leaned in closer to the body and realized Holmes was correct. The smell of whiskey mixed with the animal flesh made a very distinct odour.
“How was entry gained?” Holmes asked Huggins.
“The rear door to the butcher shop was forced, Mr. Holmes. It opens up into an alleyway.”
“There seems little else to be seen here,” Holmes stated. “You may have the body removed now, Huggins. Let us go look at the point of entry.”
We walked to the rear of the shop and found the door which did indeed open onto an alleyway. The passage was long and wide with many doors and windows opening onto it. We allowed Sherlock Holmes to enter the alley first so he might examine it in his singular way. Even from where I stood, traces of blood could be seen upon the ground.
“Halloa!” exclaimed Holmes. “What’s this?” He bent down and picked up a small, worn leather pouch trailing two long leather strings with frayed ends. Holmes held it high for us to see, and for some unknown reason he suspended it for a long period of time and kept it exposed for the entire time we remained in the alley.
“What is it?” I asked.
Sherlock Holmes opened the pouch and poured out the strange contents into the palm of his gloved hand. Huggins and I gathered around to view such a bizarre collection as one was able to imagine, for there before us were two smooth, dark pebbles, a small feather, a dried and bleached bone belonging to a small animal, no doubt, what I took to be a canine’s tooth, and finally what appeared to be a rather large gold nugget about the size of the tip of a man’s thumb.
“I say, Holmes, what is all that?” I asked intrigued.
He did not answer, but continued to hold the contents in his outstretched hand for a few moments, then almost dramatically he replaced them one by one in the leather pouch. His behaviours were not unlike a magician’s flamboyant actions when performing a trick. We remained in the alley for a while longer as Holmes continued to probe around a bit more, all the while holding onto the leather pouch.
“It is clearly evident that entrance to the shop was through here,” Holmes began as he examined the door and latch. “The lock was manipulated probably with the aid of a knife. Flynn was carried in here by his killer.”
“How do you know that?” Huggins asked.
“Flynn’s footprints cannot be plainly found anywhere; not here nor in the freezer. There are traces that a man’s feet were partially dragged into the freezer, which leads me to suspect Flynn was partially unconscious when brought here. There were only two sets of full footprints near the body, that of the butcher, and those of the killer. The good Doctor very likely saw me pause to examine the butcher’s shoes before we entered the freezer. He has rather large feet, and it is quite easy to differentiate his large shoes from the small boots our killer wears, which also means he is not a tall man. He drags his feet in a most peculiar manner which leads me to suspect he is crippled in some way.”
“Please, Mr. Holmes, not that theory again. I cannot believe a cripple did this,” Huggins said in a way as not to offend Holmes’s deduction.
“Believe it or not, Inspector,” Holmes uttered. “I did not say the man was weak. As a matter of fact, our man is very strong, and not only in physical strength but of will. He is meticulous in his methods. Though he is strong, he was barely a match for the young and powerful Patrick Flynn who, as I stated previously wounded his assailant. Both Flynn and Westerbrook had sustained a blow to the head. A cursory examination of Flynn’s skull revealed a sizable lump. I believe the killer knocked them insensible and carried them to the locations where the bodies were found.”
“Carried them from where?” Huggins asked. “He carried them and was not seen by anyone? I find that very difficult to believe.”
“I did not wish to infer he carried his victims a great distance. The killer most likely lured them close to the locations where they were found. Westerbrook had a note delivered to him the evening he met his death. The two locations were scouted out with care. The killer carried Flynn down the alley, set the body there while he opened the door. He carried Flynn into the shop, placed him in the freezer and began his grizzly work.”
“If this man is so meticulous in his work, why the second gunshot in Flynn?” Huggins asked.
“As I stated earlier, Flynn has two gunshot wounds. The killer most likely wounded Flynn before they entered the alley. Presumably there was a confrontation elsewhere, and both men sustained wounds. I believe Flynn’s chest wound occurred before he was brought here.”
“How do you know that?” I asked Sherlock Holmes.
“The stomach wound, also found in the first victim, is as symbolic as the other wounds, hence the chest wound was not done in the freezer, but in a prior struggle between the two men.”
“Surely if the stomach wound was delivered in the freezer, the butcher would have heard the shot,” Huggins proposed.
Holmes shook his head and removed a piece of cloth from his pocket. “The gunshot to Flynn’s stomach was muffled with the aid of this rag I found in the freezer. On examining it, I both smelled and witnessed gunpowder residue and holes that the bullet made in the material. On closer examination of Flynn’s stomach wound, we will very likely find fragments of the rag around the bullet hole, but very little powder since that was absorbed by the rag.
“This was done, of course, so not to rouse the butcher who was asleep just upstairs. The killer had much work ahead of him, and he did not wish to be disturbed or interrupted. He tied and gagged his victim and proceeded to mutilate Flynn with a very sharp knife. The killer was not content to simply kill his victims but wished them to suffer in a most singular manner, and the killer wished to witness it. He smoked a pipe while he watched. I found a burnt match and pipe tobacco that I could not identify. I am, as you may be aware, well acquainted with one hundred and forty different cigarette, pipe, and cigar ash, but this one was very different. I believe the tobacco is foreign– most likely some strange Canadian blend.
“Sometime before they arrived, Flynn and his killer struggled, and I believe Flynn wounded his man, yet despite this, the killer still managed to subdue Flynn and get him here, all which leads me to conclude the man possesses not only great physical strength but also the most resolute of wills.”
“But how do you know the killer was wounded?” Huggins asked.
“I happened to observe a small trace of blood in the freezer several paces from the body where I believe the killer sat and smoked a pipe. Only after Flynn was dead did the killer leave the butcher shop the same manner he exited. He paused here for a moment, which is indicated by several drops of his own blood. It was here he dropped this.” Here Holmes held up the leather pouch again.
“But what is it?” Huggins asked.
“I am not certain,” said Holmes. “But I suspect it came loose earlier, perhaps during a struggle with Flynn, and finally dropped off the killer’s person here in the alley. Since there is nothing more to be learned here, Inspector, I would suggest you return with us to Baker Street where we can discuss this case in the comfort of our rooms.”
Huggins went to decline the offer but Holmes was persistent.
“Inspector, I believe it would be in your best interest if you come with us. There is something I have yet to tell you about this case that may assist you.”
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