The Paramount Predicament of Poached Penguins

When I look back at my life thus far both that which preceded my acquaintance with Sherlock and that which has transpired since, I am acutely aware of how comparatively well traveled I have been. Some of the urchins that Holmes counts among his Irregulars have never been outside of London and may never make it as far as Dartford, Uxbridge, or even Stratford. Not only have I had the opportunity to see much of British Isles proper I have had the luxury of traveling to other parts of the empire as well as the continent and beyond. There are those in our society who travel abroad every holiday and twice in betwixt and might pity me as I do those poor souls who are unknown captives of their own city and having had dealings with many of the aristocratic class I can, without hesitation, say that I pity them as well though for other reasons. I do not now mention my travels as means of comparison to those vapid individuals who traverse their life oblivious to their fellow men nor to elevate myself above those same men who are content to be born, live and die within the confines of London.

I know that in many ways fortune has smiled upon me however I am also aware that my travels have never been for holiday, not that they weren’t at times without their enjoyment. I spent much time in Afghanistan, a brutishly beautiful country, as a member of Her Majesty’s army and one can hardly be faulted for ignoring the beauty of a place when he’s being shot at.

There has also been many an excursion that was the result of, or interrupted by, a case that Sherlock was investigating. I am particularly reminded of an Italian holiday that was a guise for a consultation with the Vatican and an “incontinent” pope which necessitated an egress from Rome that was less than pleasant for all those concerned. I believe I have written about our further dealings with His Holiness elsewhere.

The case notes which I consult as I write this and which have lead to the preceding ruminations are those of a strange encounter indeed which lead us to an even more exotic place; one I had never hoped to visit and never wish to return to but I fear I am putting the cart before the horse, as it were, and should start as is customary, at the beginning.

Sherlock and I would receive many letters in any given month. These letters were from the occasional admirer, a few from solicitors, others from those requesting Holmes to solve trivial mysteries and some were even for me. I would on occasion take it upon myself to organize these letters in such a fashion and in such a way that Sherlock could quickly respond to or burn those that were under his purview and I could rescue from the flames those that I wished to keep or felt we needed to respond to as our civic duty.

I was engaged in this activity when Holmes walked into the room. It is a curious thing that when living with Sherlock Holmes I often felt, even when doing the most menial or innocent of activities, the need to explain myself as if I had been caught committing a heinous crime and so when he appeared I clumsily explained to him that I was organizing my letters. In reference to some mail of his that had been piling up unopened up on the mantle and smelled of lavender I suggested that times were such that people didn’t correspond with each other as much as they could or should though judging by Sherlock’s quick agreement he could see through my veiled attempt at prodding him into responding or at least opening his letters that I could, perchance, happen upon them later and steal a glance at the contents.

As it was I had to settle with bringing his attention to another letter that had recently arrived for him. Had I been paying attention I would have discovered there was no scent of lavender which would have lead me to the conclusion that the letter could not possibly have been from this same enigmatic person however Holmes knew straight away that it was something else. He waggled the letter back and forth wafting the lack of fragrance to his nostrils and toyed with my curiosity by play acting that he didn’t know how to use the letter opener I offered him.

Once the letter was opened I was disappointed that it wasn’t from the same I.A. that I knew the others letters must be from. It was instead a queer note that would lead us on our next adventure and it read thusly:

Dear Sherlock Holmes

You idiot, you couldn’t find me if you were John Carpenter –

Sherlock, you’re so dumb, this place is so big, you wouldn’t. . .

I was personally offended as the letter was both insulting and authored by someone other than I had expected and who had such a small level of literacy that I was glad we did not have to read any further as something in those few lines lead Sherlock to believe, and rightly so, that we needed to travel to the Antarctic.

Presuming that he would want to leave immediately I presented him with his parka forthwith and also donned my own. This proved to be only slightly premature as it was October and what would have been a cool summer breeze had turned into a chilling one. Knowing how he can focus on a case and forget the sundry necessities of life I had to dress him as well but this is a normal thing that flatmates do for each other and even though Sherlock protested that I reminded him of his mother is not unusual in any way. He suggested we take a biplane which though in recent years have begun to be powered on their own and prove to be a promising means of travel in those days were little more than boxkite with seats that were towed behind a ship and were the cheapest form of travel as they could be set loose once near the destination and the ship wouldn’t actually have to stop.

The journey was long and I was more than once thankful for both Sherlock’s company and the parkas we donned before leaving; however, some four weeks later we arrived and our “biplane” was released and we coasted to a noisy and bumpy landing on the southern most continent.

The beauty of the place was the first thing I noticed. It was pristine and clean and cold and, much like Afghanistan, it was a brutal beauty. The only thing to interrupt what seemed like a view to infinity where oily black feathers that formed tiny slicks of their own on the ice and what appeared to be bloody tuxedos lying hither and thither.

There was also a pile of hate-mail that had been addressed to someone the composer referred to as “batman.” I commented that whomever had written them must have been a joker and Holmes responded that they were a bane though of whom I don’t know. We began to digress into a conversation about scarecrows and animals when Holmes noticed the eggs and a snow stained sign which read “preserve.” I immediately, and incorrectly, deduced that a crime must have been committed by a gang of jam makers in formal attire but was fortunate enough to keep these thoughts to myself. Holmes rightly deduced that this had been a penguin preserve and the poor creatures had been poached much like Sherlock and I later did to the abandoned eggs as we were famished from our travels.

I suggested we inquire at the camp of scientists in hope they had noticed something whilst out making their measurements and field observations and Sherlock agreed.

I had thoughtfully wired ahead and there was a dogsled waiting for us. Sherlock expressed his desire to drive the team of dogs to the camp however being a military man I felt I had more experience in such matters. I suggested we flip a coin instead and Holmes asked me, in a somewhat patronizing tone, if that was really what I wanted to do. I am nothing if not a man who says what he means and I responded that I did indeed. To say I was surprised when Sherlock flipped the coin into the air does not do justice to the befuddlement I actually felt as the coin froze in mid-air and did not fall back to earth.

I have thought much about this and have yet to be able to create a cogent theory as to how it happened the best I have been able to come up with is that there must have been a tremendous fog that met an extreme cold front and froze just above us which the coin lodged itself in. I have never encountered such a phenomenon before and am thankful of that. The end result is that Sherlock led the dog team and we continued to the science camp where we found a dreadful scene.

I know from my own experience that isolation can be hard on a man but I had no idea how hard it could be. This science team had been isolated from the rest of the civilized world for so long that they had formed their own social structure and it was based solely on empiricism proving to me that if such a thing were every applied to English society we would become a cold uncaring race but I will let you judge for yourself.

We met two scientists who were, it soon became clear, were the only two scientists left in the camp. We introduced them the dogs whose names I forget aside from Bartholomew with whom I still correspond to this day. Holmes mentioned the penguins and the scientist said they had seen them as well and they believed they had been clubbed though they had yet to discover what instrument had actually been used to bludgeon these helpless creatures. The scientist explained that they had been beating each other with various items and analyzing the bruising in an attempt to discover what had occurred.

As a doctor I am familiar with the scientific method and my exposure to Sherlock has only made my use of it more fruitful; however, this seemed extreme and even more so when we were told that the rest of the scientists had perished from their wounds, all in the name of science! As a test of their sanity Sherlock asked if they were the only two people left on the Island (knowing full well that Antarctica is a continent) which lead to a discussion of islands vs. continents and ended with one of the scientists declaring that the Earth was an island afloat in the space which is the water of the universe.

It was, at this point, clear to me that these scientists were mad as even with the penguins we found that three in ten had survived but only two scientists in twenty were left living. I assumed this was because of the methods used to poach the birds but Sherlock somehow knew it was intentional and began to toy with two men by talking of the Earth being the third planet from the Sun as he knew that the number three was important. One of the men then suggested that the reason there were so few of them left was that in all their “experiments” they had yet to duplicate one aspect of the crime and that was the mysterious presence of the word “Louisville” on all the carcasses.

They struck their fellow scientist with varying velocity and at varying angles and had yet to be able to reproduce the word. Holmes asked the men if they enjoyed baseball but they only engaged in cross stitch and knitting which was, in my mind, further evidence of their depravity. Knowing we had run out of real estate with these two men Sherlock and I headed to the interior of the continent to “speak with the spirits of Antarctica” which I took to mean he wanted to have a pipe somewhere private.

We took the dogsled toward the pole and I soon discovered that Holmes intended to find it. I don’t know how far or how long we traveled but I do remember the cold. I could feel very little of my body and that I could feel seemed to me to be a block of ice. You need to understand that it is in this state that my mind interpreted what followed.

I’m sure Sherlock must have, as I had initially thought, smoked a pipe and spoke aloud his thoughts but in my frost bitten daze I saw him talking with the spirits of the continent who were mildly upset that Holmes had interrupted their snogging. (Incidentally I awoke next to Bartholomew who, I am sure, saved me from several amputations though sharing heat is the extent of what we did regardless of what you may hear from other sources.) Sherlock explained that we were there to ask about the crime. The spirit said they were especially concerned as the penguin was the mascot of Antarctica. Another spirit arrived and asked if we were looking for the “Kringle guy” and I suggested that perhaps we might be better off with some polar bear cubs but either way we were in the wrong place. Sherlock seemed to have an epiphany and we returned to the camp.

As we approached the camp we could see the two men we had met before. They were hypothesizing that the penguins could have killed each other and that the reason they looked down so often was because of guilt and what looked like an affectionate hug was just an attempt to stab another penguin in the back. One of the men then declared that he didn’t want to kill the other but would do so for Science. The other seemed to be rather upset about some stolen sardines and I believe Holmes and I arrived just in time to prevent them from killing each other.

Holmes then began to explain the maze of deduction he had wandered through. He explained that at fires he though all of a group called the “Cubs” had lost their mind but then realized that it must have been one, particularly cute cub that had committed the crime. We began to lose the scientist in their remembrance of their fallen colleagues especially one they called “topher.” Sherlock was unimpeded by their revere however and continued to explain that he, at one point, thought the culprit may have been Christopher Cub-lombus. I got caught up by the scientist’s musings and stated that my favorite newsman was one I had encountered whose name was Bryant Gumble. The other scientist said his favorite footballer was someone named Kobe.

I then suggested we should start naming people who were considered “cubs” and the scientists both agreed and suggested that I start. The only names that I could conger up were both people who had been cubs but were no longer including a former rookie. Someone commented that poaching penguins was a rookie mistake and I concurred.  Whoever had killed the penguins most likely had lured them in with their stunning good looks.

We continued in this way which proved to irritate Holmes enough that he finally declared that the perpetrator was none other than Chris Bryant. What seemed to be around about declaration was actually a clever rouse by Holmes to flush out Mr. Bryant and to my surprise one of the scientists declared that he was in fact the young, handsome ballplayer.  He also explained that he had slaughtered the penguins in an attempt to raise his batting average.

Sensing Holmes’ pity for the young cub I suggested we flip a coin to decide if we should take him in or let him go all the while knowing that the coin would most likely get stuck in mid-air once again. We all agreed and I flipped the coin into the air but before it could lodge itself in the frozen fog Mr. Bryant struck it with his bat and it the coin sailed toward our biplane which must have landed on a methane pocket of some kind as when the coin struck it there was an explosion. In the confusion that followed Mr. Bryant escaped however I attest to this day that Holmes’ pity got the best of him and he let the poor bastard go.

We stayed as guests of the last scientist for a few more days until a scheduled supply ship arrived and we could leave and though there was much that Mr. Bryant might somehow redeem himself and the cubs it was not to be, at least not that year. Someday I may put ink to paper and write of our further encounters with the handsome criminal and the other exotic places that Holmes and I have visited. Now however I fear I must stop writing and start a fire as I have grown inexplicably cold and Bartholomew isn’t here to warm me.

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