The Paganini Deal
The Paganini Deal
by Brad Keefauver
“Thank you kindly, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” the old peddler said softly as the detective walked away from the oddly eclectic market stand. Holmes barely heard him, but was so caught up in his purchase that he didn’t think twice about his name being spoken. Watson’s works had gotten his name spread about widely enough that it came up more than he would have liked. The thought Holmes didn’t think was that his face was not as nearly well known as his name.
The violin in his hands fairly tingled with potential. Three pounds was a bit high for so humble and worn an instrument, but there was something about it, some details he could not immediately recognize, that told him there was something more to this instrument, some secrets he could discover, whether by cross-referencing works in his own choice library or at the British Museum. Sherlock Holmes had purchased more than another violin to regale Watson with a few tunes on the odd evening of relaxation. He had purchased a mystery.
Absorbed in the possibilities, Sherlock Holmes found himself on Titchfield Street when a woman touched him on the arm.
“I don’t usually introduce myself to strange men on the street,” she said, “but I felt compelled to meet you. My name is Mrs. Roland Clipstone.”
Holmes’s senses came up to full alert at the oddness of the encounter. The woman was well-dressed, with all the details one saw in a doctor’s wife from a Kensington Street household: Four servants, no trees in the small backyard, a husband who avoided tobacco, and a cat that was past its prime.
“Sherlock Holmes,” he replied. “Is there something I can assist you in?”
The woman flushed and held out a gloved hand.
Holmes took it between his thumb and fingers, did an abbreviate bow of just his head and neck, and released the curious offering. The strangeness of this woman’s behaviour was starting to intrigue him.
“Are you a reader?” he asked.
“I rarely have time for reading,” Mrs. Clipstone replied, more breathless than the situation called for. “Needlework is my primary indulgence. But, I just . . . well, here you came, down the street!”
“Streets are an excellent way to get from one place to another,” Holmes observed. “Can I help you in some way?”
She flushed and averted her eyes. “I really shouldn’t say. I have . . . I don’t know why . . . You are just so . . .”
A constable had seen Holmes and Mrs. Clipstone from across the street and bustled his way over to join them.
“Is everything all right here, Mr. Holmes?” he asked.
“Jenkins,” Sherlock Holmes identified the officer, “I am attempting to determine that.”
“Well, I am here to help,” Jenkins enthusiastically piped up. “Any way I can. You know how much we all admire you down at the station house.”
“Thank you,” Sherlock Holmes said. Something in the young constable’s manner was as strange as the woman’s.
“Any part we can play, I always say,” Jenkins laughed.
Mrs. Clipstone put her gloved hand on Holmes’s arm. “Any part we can play. I agree.”
“Perhaps you’d like to accompany me to Baker Street, where I can gather Watson to hear your full story,” the detective suggested. “I think the doctor’s opinion might be quite helpful in your case.”
“Whatever you’d like, Mr. Holmes.”
“The more the merrier, right?” Jenkins agreed.
Mrs. Hudson had just brought a late evening cup of coffee up when Dr. Watson heard all the footsteps coming up the steps.
“My word,” the landlady muttered and both she and the doctor turned toward the door.
Five women of varying ages and social classes, a constable, an old campaigner, and finally Sherlock Holmes entered the sitting room, carrying a violin.
“I have clients, it seems,” Holmes said, “and a mystery.”
“Ooo, there’s no mystery, luv,” one of the women cooed.
Dr. Watson looked across the assembled group with his medical eye, and that of a man who had seen much of the world, which was the more helpful view.
Sherlock Holmes seemed to be doing his best to ignore that all five of these new visitors were touching him in some way. Holmes was holding his every emotion in that tight control he used at the most horrific crime scenes, but Watson, who knew him best, could see the inner emotions heating up beneath that cover. And they just made his friend all the more alluring. There was nothing odd at all about what was going on here.
Mrs. Hudson had found her way over to her tenant and was working at the buttons on his vest.
“Let me put your things away, Mr. Holmes. You don’t want to damage anything in getting on the case.” Mrs. Hudson’s voice had a purr to it that Watson had never heard before.
The new clients began to assist her. Holmes did not move as his eyes darted everywhere, attempting to gather data that just wasn’t there. Their hands were all over him.
And then Watson saw it.
That first look of fear in those keen gray eyes.
Sherlock Holmes had no idea what to do.
John Watson grabbed his service revolver from his desk drawer and fired it into the wall, plaster dust exploding over everything within a five foot radius.
“OUT!” he shouted. “GET THE BOGSWALLOP OUT OF OUR HOUSE!”
Watson fired a second time, with similar effect, to punctuate his statement.
Whatever spell the assembled mob was under broke, and they scurried out the door and down the steps in apologetic horror. Even Mrs. Hudson went with them.
Sherlock Holmes gave himself a shake, straightened and re-fastened his clothes, and gave a heavy sigh.
“Thank you, Watson. You are the steady hand in a bad situation.”
“What was that, Holmes? Why are you suddenly inspiring such passion in people?”
“I have no idea. All I did was walk back to Baker Street. Had the streets been more heavily populated, I shudder to think at the result.”
Watson leaned forward. “You mean to tell me that was everyone you met on the street?”
“Other than a horse and a blind man, yes.”
Dr. Watson just shook his head, perplexed. “Sit down and catch your breath, Holmes. I’m going to go make amends with Mrs. Hudson, and assure her that I’m not going to shoot her.”
Watson wandered away in search of the landlady, while Holmes decided upon the basket chair and dropped into it.
He hadn’t noticed the woman sitting in the chair opposite him until he landed in his seat.
She was new.
That was his first impression of her.
Young, yes, but more than that. With the fine blonde hair of a newborn babe, smooth, perfect flesh that seemed to have never been touched by sun, time, or even her own hand. Her purple dressing gown looked uncannily like his own on the first day he had brought in home from the clothier and taken it out of the box. Her Persian slippers, likewise. Every single thing about this woman and her person seemed so new as to have just come into existence mere seconds before.
“The possibilities were quite tempting, were they not?” the new woman asked him in a familiar voice.
Holmes narrowed his eyes.
“All of those people, there for your pleasure. Even Watson would have joined in eventually. You’re a man of great imagination, great vision for the possibilities. You could have played out so many of them this evening. And they would have loved it, every one of them. You could have woken up tomorrow sated beyond any contentment you have known. You have to admit . . . tempting, no?”
The new woman smiled as if she had seen every bit of what might have been, and found it delightful.
Sherlock Holmes placed his fingertips together in that steepled pose that one might have thought was his meant for prayer. His eyes were downcast, and, after a moment, he raised them to look at the new woman.
“I was with a girl, during a long break from school when I was young. And the next day, I wanted more. It’s what we do, you know. We want more.”
His visitor chuckled.
“But you stopped there. You could have had more, but you stopped there. What an unlikely man you are, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.” The new woman’s eyes sparkled with green fire. “I find it interesting that I have found my way into your hands.”
Holmes took a long, slow look at her and felt what she offered. He wished to hear more of that voice.
“Tell me more. What makes me so interesting?”
The unnamed woman nodded, pleased with him.
“You’re a musician, and yet you are so much more. And this fellow you live with has no music in his soul whatsoever. He plays the pistol like he was born to it, however.”
That voice was like music, Holmes felt. He could close his eyes and listen to her all night long. He had heard her before, distantly, but here she was, close enough to touch. And he knew her. Oh, how he knew her.
“Paganini died of syphillis, did he not?”
She shrugged. “They do sometimes.”
“I can see how that would happen.”
“It’s not intentional, of course.”
“Not on your part, no.”
“The bargain I offer is a very simple one. Some mistake it for more. And it’s so tempting to take advantage of such a sweet soul as myself.”
Holmes nodded, and gazed deep into the blazing green of her eyes.
“Yet you would take a man’s life,” he said.
“What is any marriage but a bargain for someone’s life? What else do you have to offer me? Soul is a fleeting currency. Love is a fleeting currency. A life contains both, and I sense yours is going to last longer than most.”
“I hear Watson’s tread upon the stair, you’d best be gone before he comes back.”
“As, you don’t want to share me?” the new woman laughed. “But you will. You’ll take up the bargain, and you will. Pity he won’t ever feel it the way he should, though. Philistine.”
It was Holmes’s turn to chuckle. He looked over at the door to see Watson come in, and when he looked back to the chair opposite, he saw the old violin, right where he had dropped before sitting down.
Sherlock Holmes picked up his newly purchased violin and gestured for Watson to take a seat.
“Is Mrs. Hudson all right?”
“A little shaken, but no more than normal. She’ll send word to the wall man in the morning,” the doctor said as he settled in his chair.
“A sturdier Scotswoman the Highlands never bred. I fear your stories have made me far too popular, Watson. I may have to retire to somewhere less populace one day.”
“Do you think those women will be back?”
“I’m sure they’ll wake in the morning feeling a little silly and think no more of it. Sometimes the a musician holding his chosen instrument can have that effect — have you seen this violin I carried home tonight?”
“No. Things were a bit distracting.”
Holmes tucked the violin up under his chin, stifled a laugh as it tickled him there, and gently ran his fingers along its neck. “Feel like hearing this new girl sing, Watson? I think you’ll enjoy her voice. Her name is Jinn.”
Watson chuckled at Holmes’s whimsical words. “There’s no harm in that.”
And Holmes began to play.