The Adventure of the Glass Pipe – Caleb McGhee
July 28, 2022
My companion and I were somewhat “hard up,” as the saying goes, not having had a good case in months. I of course could economize, yet the profound boredom and lassitude of my friend’s soul, his ennui as the French call it, had reached a breaking point. His original vice of cocaine had picked up, now progressing to smoking crack, and we were forced to pawn some of the furniture. How often I chided the man as he sat rocking in his favorite armchair, scanning the same page of Punch for two hours!
“Ah, Watson, my valued friend,” he would tell me, “Take this fiver to Jackson at once, I need a few more ‘rocks’ for this evening.”
I would sigh and initially refuse, yet Holmes always had his way. I would even convey messages and notes of promised payment between my friend and his supplier, it shames me to admit.
I need not say that a profound relief spread over my faculties when a harried young man appeared in our study one evening. Holmes at once ceased his rocking for a moment and looked him over, declaring, “Ah, what could this American gentleman want?”
The young man looked flabbergasted and asked, “Why, how did you know I was from the States?”
“Quite simple: the pleats of your trousers are quite rare and only seen in those made in a few plants in New Jersey. The American Blue Book of Garment Manufacturing will tell you as much. Of course, you might have bought these pants off an American, but the peculiar way you roll the cuffs up is really only done on the other side of the Atlantic. Your accent merely confirms my guesswork.”
The young man’s mouth hung open for a moment, and I could not help but chuckle. While I had often seen Holmes’s peculiar reasoning faculty perform such miracles, I had never gotten used to the shock it presented to strangers. The young man quickly regained his composure and introduced himself.
“I have been so rude not to introduce myself. I am Whalen Peabody, of Buffalo, New York. I have been here in London for eight months now, working a clerical position at a transatlantic shipping company. I have run into something of a difficulty and believed it would be best to consult you—I saw your name mentioned in the newspapers a few months ago in connection with the famous Hawkbriar affair.”
“Ah, that,” Holmes said meditatively, pulling a crackpipe from the cushions of the sofa.
Remembering how we had hardly escaped with life and limb intact in that perilous case, I interjected, “I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Peabody, but if you are going to put us on anything as dangerous as the Hawkbriar affair, you had better have a hefty payment.”
As Holmes heated up the pipe with a Bic lighter, Peabody frowned for a moment, then said:
“Sir, I have little in the way of money, but the case I present to you requires little labor. I can offer you thirty pounds in my savings, and—”
I interrupted him, crying, “Oh, that’s really a paltry sum, you wouldn’t dare waste our time for such a trifling amount!”
Holmes put down his crackpipe and lifted his hand to silence me, ropes of smoke shooting from his nostrils:
“Watson, we are in sore need of monetary upkeep. I have no desire to pawn off the divan, though I will if circumstances worsen.”
“But I gave it to you as a gift! I inherited it from my beloved aunt.”
“Then let us allow Peabody to proceed. If it is truly an effortless case, I could easily exert my cerebrum for what he is offering.”
“Sir, I do not wish to bring my personal circumstances into view, but, as it stands, I must. I have throughout my life been oppressed by a severe, crushing loneliness, not in the way of friendship as much as the company of the opposite sex.”
“I could tell that already, judging by your abominable haircut and the vile tone of your skin,” Holmes interjected.
Unfazed, young man continued:
“I had no success in upstate New York and believed that I might find a wife yet in some foreign land. It was among my principal inducements to go overseas for the firm of my father’s most cherished childhood friend. Nonetheless, I discovered that the dames of London were as cruel as those of Buffalo or even Utica. I have not had a date in my eight months here, and even the whores shoot me down.”
Holmes had begun to vibrate and rapidly uttered something about learning a few dance steps: he moved to the center of the floor and demonstrated the tango of the Argentines, which he had discovered some years back in his esoteric studies. I frankly wished for the spectacle to conclude, hoping that these strange flailings in the orange light of the fireplace would end as soon as possible; our young visitor grew noticeably disturbed, and I had to stop him from leaving. Once I got Holmes back on the sofa, dabbing the foamy saliva from the corners of his lips, Peabody resumed his tale:
“Sir, though I admire your abilities and consider them finer than any waltz I ever seen, I am on the path, I think, to finding a wife. Another young clerk at the office introduced me to a Chinese syndicate when I told him of my problems. This syndicate is composed of the wisest Easterners in London, and I trust their minds like that of God. They are in the process of finding me a wife in exchange for a simple chore.”
“An whass that,” Holmes gasped from the couch.
“It is all quite simple. You see, my friends in the Syndicate have an imperfect grasp of our English tongue. They can make themselves understood, of course, but their abilities are still wanting. I have been copying out articles from the Encyclopedia Brittanica for them, simplifying the language such that even a child could read it, making sure to define all difficult terms. They compare these with their own volumes and find their knowledge enriched, though they still have a little trouble! I simply want you to accompany me on with these deliveries, Mr. Holmes, and ensure that these people are the ‘real deal’ as we Americans say. I want a wife badly and have no wish to be duped.”
Holmes gazed into the distance for a moment, an abstract, wet expression on his face, as if puzzling over Peabody’s story.
He came to a decision:
“Watson, we will accompany him. When’s your next delivery, Peabody?”
“3:00 PM Wednesday, on St. Cuthbert row.”
“The day after tomorrow, then. We will meet you at the omnibus stop and come along. I’m certain this Syndicate shall prove most interesting, Watson.”
“Indeed it must,” I replied. After Peabody left, I spent several hours attempting to get Holmes from the floor. He believed he had dropped a few fragments of crack and was attempting to find them in the carpet.
Holmes and I wore anonymous Ulster coats and bowlers to disguise our identities. He had pressed the revolver into my hands, as he did so often anymore, telling me that I might have to use it. In previous years it would have disquieted me but, as he sent it with me whenever I went out to buy crack, it no longer had the same emotional weight. Still, I feared some trouble. We met Peabody at the omnibus stop and took a descending path through those London streets: how circuitous and foggy are the paths of this town of four million souls! He led us down some steps to a basement room and made a special knock.
A Chinaman in a long red robe opened the door and admitted us. “You bwing fwends,” he asked Peabody, who nodded. I patted the revolver in my coat and walked in last. Several other Chinamen stood around a barrel, caressing their black braids and speaking incoherently. Holmes twitched, not having had a hit of crack in several hours, but remained stoic while Peabody handed a sheaf of handwritten papers to a random Chinaman. All of them laughed and chattered in their sing-song language. Acting as interpreter, Peabody said, “Ah, gentlemen, they’re wanting us to come up for dinner. Would you care to dine?”
Holmes hesitated for a moment, running his fingers through his greasy, unbrushed hair, and half-shouted, “I don’t see why not. They had better have some egg rolls, though.”
We were ushered up to a dining room on the first floor. The Chinamen gave us bowls of soup which were far too hot to eat; waiting for them to cool, I saw a Chinaman hand Peabody a piece of paper covered by both English words and Chinese characters. “You,” he said, “will soon be putting the shoe on the foot.” He smiled coyly and walked away. Holmes asked to see the paper and looked it over.
“By Jove,” he cried, “These are all Chinese idioms for the, er, marital act! I have never seen these before. Why, they must be some sort of dialect. Tell me, Peabody, do you truly want to ‘put the shoe on the foot’?”
Like a bashful child, Peabody gulped and, after a moment, said, “Well, yes.”
“I fear, lad, that it may be a long time until this foot is shod, though I hope I am wrong.”
The Chinamen brought out a plate of eggrolls. Holmes took the first bite and spit it out, saying that you could find better provender at the worst of London’s many Chinese restaurants. He sourly gulped down the bowl of wonton soup, and I feared for the worst.
The next day, Holmes and I were pacing about a small park, waiting to meet his crack dealer. We paused on a green hill—Holmes saw something moving in the bushes and begged me to grab my revolver, though it turned out to be a tramp waking from the previous night’s debauchery. “Simply a test, Watson,” he said to save face. “I just wanted to keep your wits sharp.”
I muttered in agreement and mentioned yesterday’s case; a strange smile played over his lips, and he declared, “Ah, I believe I have quite gotten to the bottom of this Chinese Syndicate. There are three facts to keep in mind, Watson. First, did you observe anything unusual about Peabody’s name?”
“Why, it seemed a normal American appellation, nothing unusual at all.”
“My friend, Whalen Peabody died in 1793, in Buffalo, New York.”
“I don’t comprehend.”
“In the B section of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, in the article on Buffalo, New York, it gives a brief history of the town, mentioning one Whalen Peabody as a city father, a trader who had visited London and had many dealings with Britain. He died at the ripe age of 91, having left his fortune to a special fund, a fund to marry off old maids.”
“These are disturbing coincidences, Holmes, and I fear our young friend may be an impostor. He’s paid us though, correct?”
“He sent over half today and promised the rest in exchange for a special service. Allow me to state these two further facts, and then we will decide on our course of action.”
“Second, this Syndicate is no more Chinese than you and me. I have a passing knowledge of both Mandarin and Cantonese, and what they spoke was simply gibberish. Their robes were as fake as their braided wigs, and they had applied coarse yellow makeup to their faces. The food they presented was not home-made either. I had eaten similarly bad eggrolls at a Chinese restaurant a few blocks over and had been sickened by them.”
“I loathe to interrupt you, but when did that happen?”
“It was last month, when I was wandering the streets half-crazy from that bad shit Jackson sold me. I had grown hungry and craved a delicious Chinese meal.”
“Of course, of course, continue.”
“Well, our third piece is—”
We were interrupted by Jackson, Holmes’s crack dealer. A tall, nervous youth in a threadbare vest, he had the habit of appearing ‘out of nowhere.’ He said that he had the substance and demanded to be paid. Hand in my pocket on my revolver, I saw that great mind exchange a few pounds for a sandwich bag of white rocks. He curtly thanked him, and the dealer disappeared.
“Well, that will get me through the next two days if I ration it right. Why don’t we head back to Baker Street?”
“But the third clue, Holmes!”
“Oh, yes, Peabody was wearing a disguise. I didn’t call him ugly for nothing. He was putting us on. That hairstyle and face were the work of an inept actor, and I’m surprised you didn’t catch it. He is certainly not who he seems.”
As we were walking back to Baker Street, we stopped at a corner store to purchase a glass pipe. Holmes handed the money over to the man behind the counter and told me, “This ‘Peabody’ wants us to meet him at the very same park tomorrow evening, a little past dusk. He says it has something to do with his Syndicate. If we attend, he will give us the other fifteen pounds. I, however, have a little more planned.”
“In any case, you must not smoke too much.”
“But of course, Watson, but of course,” he said tremblingly.
Holmes and I wore the same Ulsters and bowlers, and tonight I gripped my pistol tightly. Even Holmes carried a gat, telling me many times on the way over, “By God, Watson, I shan’t allow these thugs to jump me. Heed my words: I’ll merk a son of a bitch if need be. You just watch me. I’m serious, you just watch me.” His eyes burned with a fervency I had never seen before, and the yellow tone of jaundice had crept into them. I decided that, after this affair was over, I would ensure that he sought treatment.
While we sat on the appointed park bench, Holmes produced his pipe and took a few hits of crack, puffing broadly. Even in the dim light of the gaslamps I could tell that he was maddened by the drug. He rocked forward and muttered something low to himself about “getting the drop on these MFs, man.”
A shapeless figure appeared in the dark, startling me but not Holmes, who had superhuman control at this moment. My friend asked, simply, “Do you wish to put the shoe on the foot?”
“Indeed I do, indeed I do,” the voice answered.
It was none other than the false Whalen Peabody. Holmes lit a match to confirm his identity, illuminating his face along with those of four “Chinamen” behind him. Holmes convulsively smiled and dropped the match, reaching for his revolver and springing up. He fired once into the air and screamed, “Get down, get down all of you or I blow your brains out!”
They screamed pitifully and dropped down, knowing that he would shoot. I lazily produced my own revolver and pointed it at the crew, apologizing on occasion and saying that it was simply Holmes’s idea.
“Now,” he said, “I want all of you to remove that foolish makeup.”
They did as they were told, and I saw Jackson the crack dealer along with a few unfamiliar faces. Holmes grinned at me, not taking the gun off his targets, and asked, “Well, Watson, have you uncovered the mystery?”
Quite ashamed, I admitted that I hadn’t, surreptitiously safteying my pistol.
“It’s all very simple. Jackson has been quite angry at me over some unpaid money and plotted a scheme of revenge. He would continue supplying me with crack all while plotting to jump me and beat me, robbing me blind and injuring me so that I would never again trouble a narcotics dealer. Several of his carny friends had spent time in the navy and suggested they dress as Chinamen, taking care to disguise Jackson as a native-born confederate. Unfortunately, they never had the opportunity. Fearful, I began sending you out to fetch my crack. They would need another strategy.”
“Jackson had read several of my adventures and took inspiration from the case of the Red-Headed League. He flipped at random to Buffalo, New York in the Encyclopedia Brittanica and got his identity. He would imitate an American by the name of Peabody. His companions helped him develop his story and disguise, and he showed up at Baker Street to lure me to get beaten. He knew there was a likelihood of you accompanying me, but his gang was prepared to beat you as well, knowing that I value you and would be doubly hurt by your suffering.”
“Nonetheless, they saw the outline of the pistol in your pocket: these coats are quite thin, after all, and the pistols bulky. Thus they had to change plans. Did you notice how long it took for dinner to get made? They sent one of their numbers a few blocks over to pick up some soup, eggrolls, and other foodstuffs, the other members staying in the basement to rethink their plan. They handed Jackson a page from a draft of a pornographic novel one of them had been working on based on his time overseas, starting the whole business of the ‘shoe on the foot.’”
“They hoped to lure us here tonight to beat us with hidden cudgels. Jackson lost no money, having gotten his fifteen pounds back, but he was still enraged that he had to give me more crack cocaine. Tonight he hoped he could exact his revenge. He didn’t expect me of all people to be armed! Isn’t that right, Jackson?”
The fellow on the ground sobbed and begged to be let go: he would do anything and agree to anything to keep his life. Holmes chuckled coldly and forced him to hand over another bag of crack, putting the barrel of the pistol on his forehead.
“I have many connections in Scotland Yard, Jackson. If you so much as lay a hand on me, I’ll send you to the stony lonesome. I’ll pay when I pay. If you even dare short me or stint on giving me some rock, man, you’ll wish you were dead. You hear me bro?”
Jackson nodded, while several of the false Chinamen began to weep. Though we kept our pistols on them, Holmes allowed them to walk off, satisfied that he had gained supremacy. They slinked off to the park’s borders, dissolving into the night.
“A fine case, eh?” Sherlock asked me.
“I suppose,” I said, finding the whole matter craven and distasteful.
“Back to Baker Street, then. I’ve a veritable windfall of rock begging to be smoked.”