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Fiction, © Copyright 2000, Jim Loy
"Coleslaw, a cab has drawn up outside, and a distinguished looking gentleman has gotten out. He is looking around at the house numbers."
"Yes, my dear Blithering, he is obviously a client. Please position the 'third degree lamp' over the visitor's chair. I just need to finish up this experiment." There was a flash of light, and a "FOOM" from Coleslaw's chemistry set. He straightened up, and I saw that his face was black and smoking. "There, quite satisfactory." He sat in his favorite chair, a bewildered expression on his face. Black smoke rose from his hair, ears, and nostrils.
Just then there was a knock on our door, and our landlady, Mrs. Longsuffering escorted a young lady into our sitting room, introducing her as Miss Mindless Dolt. Coleslaw and I exchanged confused glances. I could see that his mind was working furiously in an effort to determine how the distinguished gentleman that I had seen from our window had been transformed into the lovely young lady who sat before us. Coleslaw and I rushed to the window, where we saw the distinguished gentleman exit the tobacconist's shop on the opposite side of the street, and enter his cab, which then moved away down the street. We resumed our chairs.
The young lady looked me in the eye and said, "Please Mr. Coleslaw, you must save my Reginald."
I interrupted her, and corrected her mistake. "My name is Dr. Blithering. This is my friend Sherbert Coleslaw."
The lady blurted out, "My God, I didn't know that Mr. Coleslaw was a Negro!"
Coleslaw corrected her misconception, "I have been experimenting with disguises." He wiped his face with his kerchief, turning the cloth from white to black, and hardly changing the black color of his face. "Perhaps you should tell us why you are here, for I can deduce nothing about you except for the obvious facts that you are in great distress, that you are American, from Trenton, New Jersey, unless I am very much mistaken, that you are here in London visiting relatives in Devonshire, that you have met a young man who you hope to marry, that you rode in a buggy to the train station, rode next to the window while on the train, and rode in a cab here to 112C Dead End, and that you tripped upon the third step of our stairway just now."
Both Miss Dolt and I stared at Coleslaw in astonishment. Miss Dolt exclaimed, "Why Mr. Coleslaw, you are either a magician or you have followed me from Trenton. You are right in every way. How did you ever guess all that?"
"I never guess, as that would be a violation of the Consulting Detective's Oath." He briefly put his hand over his heart. "The fact that you are in great distress can be deduced by the fact that your tears have noticeably dampened Mrs. Longsuffering's carpet. You have also shredded my copy of the Times, no mean feat, as my monograph on that very subject shows. The fact that you are from America is, of course, obvious from the typically unattractive twang in your speech. In particular, you either have an exceedingly grating speech impediment, or you are from New Jersey." Miss Dolt blushed slightly. "Also, I can tell by your casual posture, as you sit there, that you are either from New Jersey or that you are a common prostitute."
I leaped to my feet in protest, "Coleslaw!"
"Gesundheit." He chuckled, and went on, "Besides that, a certain smoky stench emanates from your clothing, which also tends to confirm New Jersey."
I forbore to point out that black smoke still rose from Coleslaw's nostrils.
Coleslaw continued, "You have on your boots no fewer than 109 layers of mud which allows me to trace your movements for the last few months. The first fifty or so layers are quite extensive and are easily identified as belonging in Trenton, New Jersey, Forty-Ninth Avenue, somewhat west of the center of the city. The next layers of mud are typical of Devonshire, leading me to deduce that your ocean voyage was remarkably free of mud. The Devonshire mud on your boots comes from seven miles or so from the seaside. My cross-referenced notes show that there is a Dolt family at just that address in Devonshire. So I deduce that you are visiting relatives in Devonshire. The last layers of mud tell me which train stations you have visited today, and your exact path through London to our doorstep. The fact that you sat next to the window on the train can be deduced by the flatness of one side of your hair, and the fact that an insect (musca domestica, it would seem) has been smashed against your cheek, where it still resides." Miss Dolt quickly wiped the insect from her cheek. Coleslaw continued, "The fact that you tripped upon the third step of our stairway can be deduced from the fact that all new visitors trip upon that step. Mrs. Longsuffering would probably have that step repaired except that she is Cockney, and therefore derives pleasure from the pain of other people. I also deduce that you have recently met a young man whom you hope to marry, because you implored us to save your Reginald. Now unless 'my Reginald' is some obscure example of American slang, that name would seem to belong to a person. Reginald is not a name typical of New Jersey. In fact, there is a celebrated case, coincidentally in Trenton, New Jersey, of a man who was lynched by a mob, merely because his name was Reginald. Therefore I deduce that you have met this young man since your arrival in England. Also you are wearing a rather tasteful engagement ring, which would imply that it is of British, not American, design. Ta-daaa!" Coleslaw waited for the usual sounds of admiration, with a self-satisfied smirk on his face.
Instead, Miss Dolt said, "Oh, that was real simple, then."
I concurred, "Yes, quite simple indeed. It really seemed quite clever until you explained it, Coleslaw. Why, I see now that any fool could have done it."
A new cloud of smoke rose from Coleslaw's nostrils. That trick was much more impressive than his commonplace account of his own deductions, and Miss Dolt clapped her hands and squealed in delight. Once again, I marveled at Coleslaw's wonderful talent for putting a client at ease. Coleslaw said with well-disguised good cheer, "Yes well, maybe you had better tell us of your Reginald and his problem."
Miss Dolt spoke American. But I will here attempt to translate it into readable English. "We went to England, my brother Tom and me, on a real big ship. We were staying with our cousins, the Devonshire Dolts. Then I met Reginald Buckingham Smythe III. It was love at first sight. He got down on one knee and proposed marriage to me. My brother Tom was real mad about that. He said that Reginald was just after my money. Reginald doesn't have much money. The reason for this is that he is supporting several women of ill health, as well as a friend of his who works at the racetrack. Reginald has borrowed several thousand dollars from me. He's such a good man. Anyway, Reginald got real mad back at Tom, and said, 'I will shoot and kill you like the loathsome American dog that you are.' Reginald didn't mean it, of course. But I did figure that I had to stand between Tom and that pistol that Reginald was waving around. Reginald pushed me out of the way and pointed his pistol at Tom, and shot him dead. Oh, Mr. Coleslaw, I know it looks real bad for my Reginald."
"On the contrary, the fact that you yourself saw Reginald shoot and kill your brother Tom is the strongest evidence that I have heard in favor of his innocence. Have no fears. Blithering and I will soon clear your Reginald."
"Oh thank you Mr. Coleslaw. You have given me real hope." Coleslaw escorted her to the door.
Once she was gone, Coleslaw grasped his head with his hands and exclaimed, "God, that accent! I thought I was going to die." I had to agree that I too had a excruciating headache. Coleslaw asked, "Well Blithering, what do you make of Miss Dolt's singular narrative?" I agreed that it was indeed a narrative, but was not singular.
We both completely forgot about the case until about a week later, when Miss Dolt again called upon us. "Oh, Mr. Coleslaw, it's too late. They have hanged my Reginald for murdering Tom. It's too late!"
"Please calm yourself, Miss Dolt. The fact that your Reginald has been hanged for the crime is the strongest evidence that I have yet heard in favor of his innocence."
Author's note: This story is a parody, a typical attempt to make fun of some Sherlock Holmes cliches. Part of the motivation for the story is the Coleslaw-Gesundheit joke, which led to my choice of the detective's name.
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