This story is by Bradley Harper and won an honorable mention in our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Bradly is a retired Army Pathologist whose first novel has just been accepted for representation. A Knife in the Fog involves Arthur Conan Doyle and Professor Joseph Bell, Doyle’s model for Sherlock Holmes, in the hunt for Jack the Ripper. Look for it soon!
The following correspondence was discovered when a safe deposit box with a one-hundred-year deposit was opened upon the expiration of said deposit. As your firm originally established the account, I have forwarded it to you in hopes you may find a legal recipient.
If you are unable to find anyone entitled to it, as a member of the Board of Directors of the Victoria and Albert Museum, we would gladly accept this message from Sherlock Holmes’ arch nemesis Professor Moriarty. This recounting of his first encounter with Holmes, composed while en route to his final, and fatal rendezvous with him at the Reichenbach Falls, is a priceless piece of British history. Be assured we would proudly display his version of their first meeting with the public, which would grant The Professor’s wish that his voice be heard beyond the grave.
15 April, 1891
Special train, en route to Lucerne
Johnathon Hopkins, Esq.
495 Pall Mall
This will probably be the final letter you receive from me. Whether or no, I suspect your services as my solicitor are at an end. My final instructions regarding the disposition of my earthly effects are already in your custody. I ask you to enclose the attached letter into my safe deposit box, with instructions it not be opened for one-hundred years. I should like for it to be posted as a Letter to the Editor of The Times, as my rebuttal to Doctor Watson’s slavish depiction of his companion, Sherlock Holmes.
A century should be long enough that no shame may accrue to my long-deceased relations, but short enough that my name may still be remembered. As I have no doting Watson to tell my side of our encounter, and neither publisher nor public to please, it falls to me to tell the true version of events.
I thank you for your loyal service. You will find your final remittance in the safe deposit box, in an envelope addressed to you.
If I survive the following week, I shall however, require the services of a more than competent barrister. We shall discuss that requirement when or if I find myself returned to London.
In closing Sir, I would advise you to choose your friends with care, but your enemies even more so.
Professor James Moriarty
15 April, 1891
To the Citizens of the Twentieth Century,
As I pursue the man who has destroyed everything I have labored decades to achieve, I marvel that my first encounter with Sherlock Holmes was scarcely six months ago. I had heard of the difficulties he was causing various of my competitors and I admit to a flagrant case of Schadenfreude, the unseemly enjoyment of the suffering of others. I bore Mister Holmes no ill will at the time, the enemy of my enemy … you understand. My feelings towards him changed however after his intrusion into my own affairs—starting with that deuced case of the Red-Headed League.
It was the ninth of October, 1890, when I inspected the tunnel in the basement of the pawnshop, after John Clay informed me he was two days from entering the vault of the City and Suburban Bank. I was only recently ensconced as the head of the London criminal underworld. I therefore saw this project as my opportunity to cement my position, and earn the respect of even the most disreputable members of British Society.
John Clay was one of my more capable lieutenants, and I had great plans for him. Putting him in charge of this undertaking was a means for me to advance his experience, and thus usefulness to me. A man of impeccable breeding, he could be an insufferable boor at times. Fortunately, as we are of the same social class, he tolerated my instructions with little outward dissent.
Everything seemed as it should. The imbecile pawnbroker Jabez Wilson’s greed was matched only by the bright hue of his red hair, and so was easily distracted into the absurd task of copying the Encyclopedia Britannica at the rate of four pounds a week. Clay’s improvisation of the Red Headed League to get Wilson out of the way while the tunnel was constructed, is evidence my faith in him was well-founded. I felt I had taken everything into consideration, and my calculations felt as secure as any differential equation of calculus.
Regretfully, I left two things out of my formula: the extent of Wilson’s greed, and Sherlock Holmes.
Never one to leave things to chance, I queried my “consultants” within the Metropolitan Police Force, to see if any rumor had reached them of our intended pillage of the bank. There really is no honor among thieves, and a miscreant caught for one offense, is quick to tell of another’s in hopes of lessening their own punishment. Men will talk in their cups or to their wives or lovers, (or both.) Given the size of the fortune that awaited us on the far side of the vault walls—thirty-thousand pounds worth of gold “Napoleons” on loan from the Bank of France—I wanted no last-minute alarms.
Assured all was well, I decided to accompany my rogues that fateful night. I did so partly to bolster their morale, partly to savor the victory with them, and to ensure the spoils were accurately accounted for. I am a cautious man by nature, so despite my expectation that the night would go exactly as I had planned, I “took precautions,” though not in the way Doctor Watson is known to do while accompanying Holmes on one of his lurid escapades.
I was as excited as a bride on her wedding day. The funds awaiting me would do much to extend my network of informers, and the acclaim I would earn for this bold venture would bring many new allies to my organization. I shivered in the cool, dank basement, whether from the autumn chill or my anticipation, and savored the smell of the freshly turned earth. It was the smell of success.
I hung back as my second man, Archie, swung the pickax the final few times. John Clay went forward into the darkness with Archie close behind while I listened for any alarm from the darkness ahead, or above.
I was about to enter the vault when a lantern flared and I heard Clay exclaim, “Jump, Archie, jump, and I’ll swing for it!”
Then an arrogant voice stated calmly, “It’s no use, John Clay. You have no chance at all.” I did not know it yet, but I had just heard the voice of that accursed Holmes for the first time.
Archie, fortunately for me, ran back into the basement and up the stairs as fast as he could, but as he reached the landing I heard the entrance of the pawnshop above crash open. Archie’s abrupt appearance threw the Bobbies off balance for just a moment, giving me a chance to step into the shadows. I knew the gaping hole into the bank vault would draw the eyes of the excited constables so that they would not search the basement thoroughly right away.
A Police Inspector with Archie in tow, kept his wits about him, but as one Bobby raced through the opening. I, attired as a Police Constable, closely followed. In the poor light of the vault, one more uniformed figure, face poorly discernible by the light of a bull’s eye lantern, was indistinguishable from his fellows. With the other Bobby remaining in the pawnshop basement, the number of Bobbies on each side of the opening seemed appropriate.
In the dark I had the leisure to study Mister Holmes and his sycophant Doctor Watson at close range. In his narratives in The Strand, Watson portrays Holmes as dismissive of any fame he might earn as a detective. A load of rubbish, to make the man appear more agreeable. In truth, I found him quite boastful and arrogant. In other circumstances, he and John Clay would be fitting companions.
Holmes and Clay exchanged compliments, as though they had just completed a game of tennis, and I found their attempts to out-flatter the other most irritating. To them it was but a contest to see who was the cleverer, while I fumed in the dark, sorely missing the vast sum which had just eluded my grasp.
Others have remarked upon the similarities in appearance between Holmes and myself. In the dark, it was difficult to appraise facial features. I can only say that we are taller than average, slender, and more intelligent than the vast majority of humanity. That he uses his gifts to bring ruin upon me appears monstrous, especially as I contemplate what a splendid partnership we could have forged.
I learned later of Holmes’ older brother who was generally perceived as being even more intelligent, so I believe he is driven by a child-like need to exceed his sibling. Such deep-rooted needs can lead to obsession and madness, to be sure, but are often the hallmarks of greatness as well. In Holmes’ case, I feel the two are inextricable.
Once Clay and Holmes had finished preening in front of one another, I was directed by the Inspector within the vault to lead Master Clay to the waiting police wagon. Clay’s eyes and mine met for an instant, but he proved my trust in him, and kept mum. He knew I would spare no expense in his defense, as did Archie, who was already in the wagon when I, along with two real constables, rejoined them. As no funds were lost by the bank, prosecution would not be overly vigorous. I knew whose ear to whisper into, and whose palm to grease, to ensure my thieves would get the best defense and poorest prosecution possible.
I told the Bobbies I would report back to Inspector Jones, still in the vault, then slipped away into the darkness. I confess to some small satisfaction that no one noticed an extra constable at the scene. Uniforms have proven a useful means to turn invisible before, and since.
It was a bitter loss, but in my profession the cost of doing business. In hindsight, my ability to offer some protection to my men strengthened my credibility among the criminal class, and the loyalty of my followers. My personal reputation was also enhanced as the tale of my walking among the constabulary and beneath the very nose of Sherlock Holmes, only to stroll freely away, was shared within the criminal underworld. A master mariner learns to turn every wind to his advantage.
Thus, my maiden encounter with Mr Holmes would appear at first blush to have been a resounding victory for him. I am proud to say that I eked out a stalemate which was all the sweeter as he was unaware of how I turned this setback to my advantage.
Sadly, I am not always so skillful, or he was more so. In any event, our growing animosity will soon reach its climax. The sight of the Alps announces my imminent arrival in Lucerne, where my associate will post this letter to my retainer. Then I will use Colonel Moran’s skill as a hunter to drive my quarry to ground, and exact a reckoning for all the damage he has caused me. I trust this narrative may serve as a “message in a bottle,” revealing the true story of our duel of wits, when the Earthly Statute of Limitations is long past and our bones turned to dust.
Will our names outlive us, I wonder? If I am linked to his demise, then Holmes will have done me a favor I can never repay, and this time I may have to award him a stalemate.
Professor James Moriarty