I have a confession to make. More of an admission, really, for ‘confession’ implies wrongdoing, and I have done nothing of the sort. On the contrary, I have achieved much in my decades-long career and will leave behind a legacy that endures long after I have breathed my last.
So what if it was all based on a lie?
Is it better to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, or the wrong thing for the right reasons? That is a question that plagues me now in my retirement, with nothing to occupy my mind but the deeds of the past and the actions of a young man that now seem questionable in the distorted shadow of memory.
I don’t seek absolution, nor even understanding. No, I will tell of my tale purely in the hope of finding some comfort in the healing power of confession. If I come to be judged as a result, as I surely will, I ask only that my revelations not tarnish my life’s work and all the good I have done along the way. None of which would have happened, were it not for that fateful day, nearly 50 years ago…
London, in 1874, was a magical place; the beating heart of a mighty empire with no shortage of opportunities for the young and ambitious. Being both, I knew greatness awaited me, which made being booted out of the Royal College of London partway through my second year as an undergraduate something of a setback. It could only have been the doing of the cunning Professor Moriarty. I suspect he felt threatened by my remarkable intellect. That my grades were consistently below-par and that I spent most of my time in pursuit of wine and women seemed to me, a mere 20 years of age at the time, largely beside the point. Blame, I felt, lay squarely with the perfidious professor.
Newly untethered from the textbooks, I resolved to find a way to put my unique talents to use. With the gift of being able to make commonplace assertations sound profoundly meaningful, I was able to convince anyone of anything. It was to my chagrin, then, that I discovered such abilities were not in high demand. I may well have become a con-man, or, better yet, a government official like my brother, had I not stumbled my way into a murder investigation in early December of that magical year.
Mycroft, seven years my senior and well on his way to a successful career in public service by then, took pity on his younger brother and found me temporary employment with the General Post Office. 1874 was the year they decided to repaint all the mailboxes in London red, and as a result, the GPO needed extra hands to see the mail was delivered on time. So, I became a postman.
With my gift of the gab, I quickly befriended all the residents on my route, including the charming young Mrs. Westerby who lived in the mansion on the prestigious Hawthorne Estate. The lovely lady took something of a liking to me, so it came as quite a shock when I arrived to deliver the mail on that cold, blustery morning and, instead, found her hanging from a ceiling beam, as dead as a doornail.
I’ve seen my share of dead bodies in the years since, even put a few in the ground myself when required, but that was my first encounter with death and the experience was quite unnerving, to say the least. I did what any upstanding citizen in my place would have – I told a passing cyclist to summon the authorities at once and waited around to assist the law in any way I could.
A detective arrived within minutes. His prompt response, however, was the only impressive thing about him. He had the unmistakable look of lumbering incompetence that clung to policemen who’re counting the years to retirement. Accompanying him was a young doctor, as required for the attendance of any unnatural death. The man appeared closer to me in both age and intellect.
The detective, who introduced himself as Haldon, took one look at the late Mrs. Westerby, muttered something about an obvious suicide, then thanked me for doing my civic duty in summary dismissal. Had I not known the deceased, I would have gone on my way without another word, but I felt somebody had to speak for the poor woman, and the lumbering lawman before me didn’t look up to the task.
“Excuse me, detective,” I volunteered, “with all due respect, I believe we are looking not at suicide here, but a clear case of murder.” The man regarded me as one would a talking canary, unable to credit what he was hearing. “If you would be so good as to grant me a few minutes to explain, I will enlighten you.” Noting his hesitation, I added, “Thereafter, you can make up your own mind and do with my information as you see fit.”
The request was unusual, no doubt, but Haldon must have concluded there was no harm in hearing what I had to say. If nothing else, it would allow him to claim he’d conducted a preliminary inquiry into the matter. “You’ve got 10 minutes,” he barked. “Better not be a waste of my time.”
Taking the floor for my audience of two, I tried not to look at the ghastly sight of the corpse above me. Easier said than done. I puffed myself up, put on my most distinguished English accent, and, in my element, prepared to work my magic.
“Good sirs,” I began, “I can see how this appears at first glance to be nothing more than a case of suicide, but the job of a detective is to do more than just glance, isn’t it? If you look closely, really open your eyes, you will see the hallmarks of cold-blooded murder before you.”
If Haldon registered these veiled insults to his professional ability, he didn’t show it. He merely gestured for me to continue.
“How high would you say the ceiling is?” I asked the pair. “Ten feet? More? If this dear woman took her own life, how ever did she get way up there on her own? I see no ladder in evidence, so unless she flew, we have here unmistakable proof of the involvement of another party.”
I could tell Haldon wanted to argue in a face-saving effort to distract from his having overlooked the obvious, but he couldn’t deny my logic and so settled for a stiff nod.
“And, if that isn't proof enough,” I continued, “where is the dog?”
“What dog?” Haldon asked irritably. “I don’t see any dog.”
“Exactly my point, detective. Sometimes, the fine art of deductive reasoning relies as much on what you don’t see as what you do. This woman, a lonely housewife, would certainly have had a canine companion. Notice how her slippers are chewed? And the scratches on the front door over there? Judging by those, I believe Mrs. Westerby owned a dog. A small terrier, most likely. An indoor pet, to be sure. So, where is it?”
“Are you saying the killer stole her dog?” Haldon asked.
“No, detective. I’m merely pointing out further evidence of additional involvement. I can’t say what happened to the hound, but, I’m sure you agree, it’s conspicuous in its absence.”
The detective apparently didn’t like being made to look a fool on the job - an admittedly easy task, as I was discovering – and he offered me a hostile glare that suggested friendship didn’t lie in our immediate future. “Okay, mister, if you’re so good, who killed her then?”
“Excellent question, detective, but we need to reason it through. It wouldn’t do to jump to conclusions.” I showed admirable restraint in not adding ‘again’ to the end of my statement. I didn’t want to antagonize the man. More than I already had, that is. “First, we need to identify the murder weapon.”
“Oh, come on,” Haldon laughed, “she’s hanging by her neck! If the rope isn’t the murder weapon, I’ll eat my ha – “ He stopped there, seeing my knowing grin and concluding, no doubt, that his homburg would not make for appetizing midday fare.
“The hanging was done only to mislead the investigation,” I stated. “Mrs. Westerby is a natural blonde. The dark, reddish shade of her hair, therefore, must be a result of blood - a clear sign of blunt force trauma to the head. That, and the post-mortem lividity, indicate that she was killed elsewhere and merely strung up for misdirection.”
“Post-mortem what-now?” The man was clearly out of his depth and had no business in police work.
“Post-mortem lividity,” the young doctor said, speaking up for the first time. “When someone dies, their circulatory system ceases operation and all the blood in the body collects at the lowest point, due to gravity.” He pointed to the corpse. “Since there’s no discoloration on her feet and legs, detective, it is my medical assessment that the gentleman is, indeed, correct. She was killed somewhere else.”
“Thank you, doctor.” I was pleased to have my arcane knowledge – acquired from a detective novel I’d read – confirmed by a professional, but I was eager to regain the spotlight. “So, we need to identify the murder weapon.”
“Okay,” Detective Haldon conceded with a sigh, “I’ll get some uniforms to comb the area – “
“Why waste time and energy when we can use logical deduction?” I asked. I then feigned contemplation, extracting my pipe from my coat pocket and nibbling thoughtfully on the stem while regarding the familiar room. “Ah, yes, I see it now. The candelabra.”
“But there is no…”
“Which, like the hound, is curious, don’t you think? Upper-class folk like these, who frequently entertain at home, wouldn’t be caught dead without an antique candelabra on the dining room table.” I winced inwardly at my poor choice of words but pushed on. “Like owning a small terrier, it’s considered de rigueur for their ilk. Ergo, it’s absence is strongly indicative of the fact that it was the object used to bludgeon poor Mrs. Westerby to death.”
“So we’re looking for a candelabra?”
“An antique candelabra. A Louis XIV, sterling silver antique candelabra, I believe, based on the vintages in the wine cellar.”
The doctor gave me a peculiar look, but it was Haldon, more out of his depth with every passing minute, who spoke. “And when we find it – “
“No need for that, detective. It will surface in good time, but the value of identifying the object for us lies only in that it points squarely to the identity of the culprit. We have premeditated murder with an attempt to disguise the act as suicide, no forced entry, which means the killer was known to the victim, and the murder weapon suggests he’d been here before, therefore…” I trailed off, letting the suspense build. I wanted Haldon to ask the question outright.
He did. “Come on, man, out with it then! Who was it?”
“Why, detective, you’ve been looking at him this entire time.” Thoroughly enjoying myself, I let him gape like a goldfish in a bowl before continuing. “That portrait there above the fireplace, see? That is none other than Lord Westerby himself – prominent politician, owner of this fine estate, and husband to the late Mrs. Westerby. He, I think you will find, is the man responsible.”
“Impossible! He’s a public figure! He would never – “
“No, not impossible. Unlikely, yes, and I’m sure that’s why he thought he could get away with it. But, detective Haldon, once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. If you follow my careful line of reasoning, you will see that there can be no doubt that Lord Westerby killed his poor wife.”
“Who are you?” the detective asked, suddenly looking at me as if for the first time.
“Me? No one important. Just a concerned citizen lending a hand. Call me a consultant, if you will.”
“And, if we arrest Lord Westerby – “
“Not if, detective. When. When you arrest him and he confesses, you’ll know I’m right. And yes, of course you can call on me to consult on future investigations. I’d be happy to help.” I added this last on a whim, but Haldon appeared to weigh the consideration carefully. Clearly, the offer of assistance – and the career boost the resulting increase in his solve-rate would provide – proved irresistible to the man.
He nodded, saying, “I just might take you up on that.” He then removed his notepad and began scribbling away, adding, “Alright, off with you boys then. Time for the professionals to get to work.”
I was about to dart in one last quip at that, but the doctor had already walked over and was guiding me to the door. “I’ll see out our friend here, detective,” he said over his shoulder, leading me out into the cold morning air.
We walked in silence towards the gate, where I paused to light my pipe, the doctor glaring at me all the while. When at last I’d succeeded in igniting the match in the howling wind, I took a few long drags, then addressed my companion. “So, what gave me away?”
“The wine cellar. You couldn’t know what vintages were down there. Or that they even had a wine cellar!”
“Ah, yes, I thought I’d erred in mentioning that. You’re quicker on the uptake than Detective Haldon, I’ll grant you that.”
“Before I march right back in there and expose your little charade for what it was,” he said, setting his jaw and glaring all the harder at me, “I wanted to hear your side of it. The truth, if you’d be so kind.”
“Good doctor, of course. The truth, that elusive creature. So ephemeral, and always subject to interpretation. Let’s see then…” I paused for another drag on my pipe. “Consider this, if you will. A purely hypothetical scenario, mind, yet an interesting one nonetheless. If, doctor, you were a lowly postman and you were having extramarital relations with a certain wealthy woman. A married, wealthy woman. And if, in the course of the affair she’d told you she feared her husband was planning to kill her, and, since the man had the habit of talking in his sleep, she knew exactly how he would do it. And if you dismissed these claims only to later find yourself in the midst of the investigation of that very woman’s death, and learned that the whole matter was going to be dismissed as suicide, might you not have done the same to ensure justice was served?”
I puffed away as I watched him mull over what I’d just said. He thought it through, before asking the key question. “Fair enough, but why make yourself look like a detective in the process? Why not just tell the truth and let the police take it from there?”
“And, what, be taken into custody as a suspect? Or, worse, be ignored? Oh no, doctor, that wouldn’t have worked. I had to get Haldon to take me seriously. Making it look like I was solving the case for him seemed the best way.”
“But, this case is going to be huge! It’ll be a media sensation. After this, Scotland Yard will be calling on their new consultant every time they have a difficult case! What will you do then?”
“Mmm, good point. I suppose I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. But,” I added, an idea having just come to me, “I could use a capable assistant. Someone at least as smart as I. A relative rarity, I’ve found.” I stretched out my hand. “What do you say, doctor? Partners?”
The man hesitated only a moment before grinning and shaking on the deal. “I suppose you’ll need someone to keep you out of trouble.” He then formally introduced himself, before asking, “So, what do we do now?”
“Elementary, my dear Watson. Now we go shopping. Image is everything and, if I’m to look the part, I’m going to need a deerstalker hat. You’ll need a pipe as well. Tally-ho, my friend. Greatness awaits!”
And with that, we walked out of the gate together and into the pages of history.
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Brilliant! I can’t believe you’re not a professional- in fact, I don’t believe it. This story was so good, so perfectly worded, and you can’t do anything more than making it a Sherlock story. When I saw Moriarty and the govt. brother of course, like many others, I guessed that it was Sherlock related, but I certainly didn’t think of it as being about Sherlock and Watson themselves! I think it’s amazing how you put their characters in so flawlessly. I’m sure if it wasn’t you who’d written it, I’d have to point out some mistakes. But you m...
Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Who's this Sherlock guy everyone keeps mentioning? Never heard of him... I just wanted to write a detective story 😀 It is bordering on blasphemy to suggest the great detective was nothing more than a good bullshitter... which is what makes it so fun (because that's what I am 😂) I really appreciate your comments, they're so encouraging. Thanks
Wonderful job! I am so jealous of your writer's voice! Lots of range. I guess that is why reading your work is so pleasurable! This is original, engaging, and carries the reader along well. I've said it before and will say it again: there is a career for you in this! Looking forward to seeing a collection!
Thanks. Just give me 50 years or so 😂 I'm very glad you enjoyed it. I'm saving your new one for when I get a chance to fully enjoy it. Can't wait!
No pressure but where is #17? I keep checking but no dice.
Amazing, we're on the same number of stories! So instead of asking the same question, I'll just tell you to reread your comment as if I typed it to you. Nice and easy that way 😃 I'm working on one, just getting it to behave. Or trying to. Writing stories is a bit like herding cats, isn't it? It should be out tomorrow or Thursday morning. The same time as your new one, in other words 🤣🤣 And you don't have to check, literally the first thing I do after hitting submit is run over and tell you. It's a habit by now. But nice to know you check an...
Haha! No chance. I managed to get one out on Saturday because the baby had a long nap. That hasn’t happened since and is unlikely to again! But glad to know you’ll have one up soon 😊⌛️
Shame, I had no idea babies nap so infrequently. I had a goldfish once and it also never slept. And demanded to be fed constantly – twice a week, can you believe it!? So I know exactly how you feel. Responsibility is no picnic. I want to say don’t worry, it’ll get better. But it won’t - you’ve got the terrible twos to look forward to! I actually know very little about it, only that when my mom speaks of it, she pales and gets the faraway look in her eye of the survivor of some traumatic experience, like a war. She went through it three ti...
*screams into the void*
I'm so glad I helped brighten your day. When you're done with the void, I have put up my new story. When you have a chance. No rush 😀
I'll make this comment a little 2 in 1, because The Return of the Usa already features a lot of praise, and just repeating the fact that it's really good historical fiction didn't make much sense to me. Although to be honest it's more than that - obviously it's educational, it's also geographical fiction (made me look up this very beautiful island), and features a rare language (which at first I thought you made up). As if this didn't make you a triple threat already, you come up with a totally original take on Sherlock (going a level up to ...
Ah, bonjour! See? My European is improving every day! Thank you so much for reading and commenting, you're always so encouraging and it means a lot.
You're welcome! Can't wait for your "lights out" story... no pressure there ;)
And thus your creative retellings become a new fan favorite ❤️ Wholly enjoyable, a fresh take on an existing beloved story. Let’s see...who else did this as an author or playwright? Billy Shakespeare? Jeff Chaucer? Johnny Milton? All true. The paragons of literature will now make room to add Captain Blaauw to the pantheon of literary gods. ❤️ your work
Billy? Oh, you mean Will I Am? That dude with the earring? I’ve heard of him. He wrote the script for The Lion King, didn’t he? Although I think he called it Hamlet or something and the original had zero lions (if I recall). There was actually an excellent winning story on here a week or two ago about the play, wasn’t there? All these questions – aren’t rhetorical questions the worst? 😊 Is Paradise Lost worth a read? I worry that if I try it, I’ll be more ‘lost’ than ‘paradise.’ Maybe save that one for a rainy day, then. Thank you for yo...
Butting in on this comment to a) wave at Deidra (👋 you wonderful creature) and b) tell you not to read Paradise Lost. You don’t have room in your life and you’ll never get the time back.
Thank you! That advice sounds like it comes from bitter experience. Learn from the mistakes of others; you don’t live long enough to make them all yourself. So, I’ll do that and forgo Milton for the moment. Since you saved a significant portion of my life, here are some native England creatures as a reward: 👻🐈🦏🐩🦄🐚🐍
University. An entire module on it. The professor was hot though, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. Enjoy this range of South African native creatures: 🦁🕷🦟🦒🦜🌑🥛
A Poem Milton, indeed, was an insufferable bore, The longer you read him— You find there’s just more. It’s really not hard, in case you forget— To make salient points in rhyming couplets. And really that’s just what he does kinda well— But let’s reread Chaucer Not glorify Hell. American creatures: 🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅🦅
Hah! I've always loved Sherlock Holmes and this perspective is a new one I never would have considered. That is hilarious, Jonathan! What a fun read!
Thank you so much. I'm learning that humor can be used to enhance a story without turning the whole thing into a circus. But a good old circus is fun now and then, so that's not to say I won't return to them from time to time. I'm very happy to see you have a new story. Can't wait to check it out.
Brilliant! And so plausible! "With the gift of being able to make commonplace assertations sound profoundly meaningful.." I love the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, so I started to grin hopefully to myself at the mention of Professor Moriarty and the brother working in government. Such a clever use of the prompt. The writing and structure of the story is extremely well done! I even found myself looking up a few words, so thanks for expanding my vocabulary. Also the title - pure gold. The ending was the best part. And at long last (or fir...
Thank you so much. This is largely the product of rewriting - time-consuming, but it makes such a difference. My first draft looked like something produced by a braindead raccoon. Wait, are we allowed to say 'braindead' these days? An intellectually impaired raccoon. I just write it out first time, telling myself the story, then the hard work of refining/rewriting/editing comes in. Given the quality of your stories, I imagine you do something similar. Anyway, thanks for reading!
Braindead is fine, but I heard raccoons prefer to be called masked heros of the night now. Then again, the raccoon that told me that might have been messing with me...
Definitely raccoon propaganda! Don’t listen to them! I have it on good authority, though, that the great white shark is now to be called the sort-of okay caucasian shark. Furthermore, killer whales are now called homicidal aquatic placental marine mammals. Now you know… 🦈🐳
sort-of okay caucasian sharks... bhahahah You could have your own snopes page. It's so hard to tell the truth from propaganda these days. The animals (and me obviously) need you to set things straight! Any truth to the rumors that alligators have a petition going to change their names to Pennywise? If so, wow- they're really embracing their dark side. I just hope they aren't really making a play for the sewers. I'll never be able to walk my dog again. 🐕🐊🎈
The name Pennywise has been deemed offensive. ‘Penny’ attaches a value to the clown’s character and assumes his socio-economic status. ‘Wise’ presupposes a homicidal clown requires a degree of intelligence, which discriminates against learning-disabled clowns with murderous urges. Such labels have no place in our enlightened society. That’s why the author wisely refers to the creature as ‘It’. 🤡 This is amusing because it’s exactly how the world is going. Even if you go out of your way not to offend anyone, you’re depriving them of the basi...
I’m not actually familiar with Sherlock Holmes (I know, I know) but I found this interesting and entertaining anyway. You’re such an educated writer it makes me wonder if you write off the hip or do some research about your stories. Either way they are always impressive. Well done
Thanks. I've always got a couple ideas in mind, then the prompts kind of help me focus in on a particular direction. Here, for example, I'd been wanting to write a detective story with a twist, and when I saw the prompt I immediately thought of old Sherlock. Speaking of ideas, I read your crazy new story yesterday but didn't get to comment because of a power failure. So I'm going on over now because... I don't have any words for it, actually, but I'll try find some anyway.
I loved this one! Fun fact: 'Elementary, my dear Watson' was never actually a dialogue in the books. The moment I saw Dr. Moriarty's name, I knew what this story was going to be about. My favorite part was how the policeman just gaped in foolish astonishment while Holmes 'solved' the case. Great job!
Thank you number 1 fan. I didn't know that fun fact before but came across it while researching (if you can call 10 minutes on Wikipedia 'researching') the story. I now know more about Holmes and London in 1874 than I ever thought I would. I added in the professor just for fans like you, because he doesn't have any relevance to the plot of my story, but given his role later in Sherlock's adventures, I thought he needed a nod. Really glad you enjoyed it and, as always, thank you so much for reading and commenting.
Absolutely brilliant. No idea if it will allowed as it uses someone else’s copyrighted characters so heavily but sheer brilliance nevertheless! I love that you never actually said his name even though there is no other person he could be. The deductions were very well done and the reveal of how he knew was excellent too! Very in character and very cleverly thought through. I think my favourite thing about Sherlock Holmes is how clever everything is with him. I always come away feeling in awe of his intellect - and by extension, the w...
HAVE YOU SEEN THE PROMPTS? Electrical outages?? They ARE reading our threads!
Wait, so you mean my baffling bullshitting ability won’t bring me fame and fortune like a certain fictional detective? 😊 That’s fine. Second stories are like second breakfasts for hobbits – not necessarily necessary, but a necessary necessity when the urge strikes. I don’t even know if that makes sense… Oh well. Hotshots has been revised to ‘mister’ because you are correct. 1874 was a while ago now, and I forgot we probably wouldn’t have said such things back then. I also fixed a ‘woman’ which should’ve been ‘women’ – the e/a plural/singu...
I really don’t see why you can’t write about cannibalistic serial killers in a power outage. That sounds like a great story! I also never said this story wouldn’t bring you fame and fortune, just that Reedsy might not be the one giving it to you. Steven Moffatt found fame and fortune reinventing Sherlock - I don’t see why you couldn’t too. I really liked the prompts this week. I also had an hour or two free this morning to write for one so, if you’re interested, I just put a story up.
Running over right now! Yay!!!!
I love this!
Interesting plotline, I enjoyed the spin of the mystery detective angle. How did you know you wanted to write about a detective? Also, I published my story of the week, “Enigmas of the Shadow Sea” and I’d love to know what you think; open to feedback always.
Hey there Jonathon! Not gonna lie, I took a break from Reedsy and the stories I wanted to get back to most included yours because you're such a talented author. As always, your stories never disappoint, and I loved this. I'm not familiar with Sherlock Holmes at all, but I knew that this was a different take on it, which is super interesting. Was the part where the narrator dismisses his admittion being a confession, and then later referring to it as a confession anyway intentional? I always love your characters, and see a recurring...
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.” Holmes: “That was the curious incident.” Okay you must be a Holmes fan to write this. I'm curious what my dad would think. He was such a fan of Homes he might find this blasphemy or maybe just maybe he would love it as much as I do. Your mind works at a whole other level than mine. You come up with fantastic ideas then have the talent to write them down. I really think that if you tried to write professionally you...
Bold of you to assume I'm regular, good sir. I have a whole battery of shrinks who would disagree 🤣🤣 Can't wait to read your latest! I want to comment properly so it might only be first thing in the morning (which is in the middle of the night for you - time zones are so weird, aren't they?) but will be at the hour of earliest opportunity. Good sir 🧐
I guess I should have called us Irregulars in keeping with the Holmes theme. :-)
I loved this, Jonathan! I don't read a lot of mystery but the way this was written is so captivating! The dialogue is easy to understand and the way you wrote it was so creative. The ending was amazing. All your stories that I've had the privilege of reading have been fantastic and I always learn something new! Hope you're staying safe and that you keep your stories coming!
Just dedicated my latest story to you: “Short Delay in Service” Apologies in advance.
He didn't like being made a fool-admittedly an easy task. That and the affair was best part of the whole thing. Well done. I believe Doyle would approve.
Mysterious story.I love the ending.Wonderful story.Great job keep it up. Would you mind to read my story “The dragon warrior part 2?”(I have still time to edit)