Zhang Heng and Holmes entered the living hall, and 221 Baker Street was as Mrs. Hudson had described-unusually crowded.
Apart from the familiar faces of Gregson and Lestrade, even the deputy chief of police was there, and it was plainly written on his face that he was in a rotten mood. Seeing their chief pace back and forth by the window, none of the officers dared ensconce themselves on the settee either.
So, the whole group of men stood around the drawing-room. Though plenty of seating was available, no one dared to rest their bums. It was quite a funny sight, except that no one was laughing-every face in the room displayed an expression of grim and solemnness.
Only when Holmes walked in did the group unanimously let out an audible sigh of relief.
“It looks like none of you have been sleeping well these days,” said Holmes. “Lestrade, did you have oatmeal and omelet for breakfast?”
“It’s not the time for jokes!” the small, wiry inspector smiled bitterly.
The deputy chief looked up at Holmes like a drowning man clutching at a straw. He marched toward the private detective, offered a hand, and chriped cordially, “I’ve heard a lot about you! Lestrade, Hopkins, and the others often mentioned you, telling me that you’re the best detective London has ever seen, possibly even Europe! Also, we haven’t had the time to thank you properly for your assistance in the Thames case.”
“Oh, it is all but a minor matter.” Holmes returned the chief’s handshake before motioning his guest to take a seat.
Only when their deputy sat down did the rest of the Scotland Yarders finally rest their feet.
The deputy chief had apparently done his homework before coming to Baker Street. It was already informed of the Eastern detective who worked alongside Holmes—the reason why he made no comment on the matter and dove straight into the issue at hand. He looked at Holmes with eyes filled with anticipation.
“I believe you are aware of the reason for our visit.”
“The Whitechapel homicide,” Holmes smiled, reaching for his pipe. “I saw it in the newspapers.” He paused for a minute, then continued, “Left-handed, male, between the ages 30 and 40, not the most steadfast of characters, unstable, is traditional and conservative.”
“How could you tell?” The deputy chief shook his head, looking stumped but impressed. “We haven’t even presented the case to you. Or, could you have covertly been to the scene? In fact, information published on the papers has been somewhat tweaked, not to conceal the truth, but to curb unnecessary unrest from brewing among the public.”
Holmes pointed at a picture of the article with his pipe. “This might have been edited, but the picture is real. All my inferences are based not on the article’s description but rather on the handwriting on the letter sent to the publisher.”
“Oh?!” The deputy chief exclaimed, bemused. “You could tell all from the handwriting alone?”
“Of course. Just like art, a good graphologist can see beyond the literal word.”
The deputy chief looked skeptical, so Holmes took the initiative to explain his deduction. “I won’t talk about age—it’s going to be rather troublesome. If you’re really interested to know, look it up in the paper I published two years ago. There is an obvious disparity between the handwriting of the old and the young. Theoretically, the age of an author could be told from their handwriting. Of course, learning all these takes a lot of practice. Telling apart the handwriting of a male and female is elementary since each gender has thier own aesthetic deviations. A lefty is easy to tell as well. Notice those ink stains on the letter? When you write with your left hand, the side of palm tends to rub against the paper, which is why there are smeared blotches all over the letter.”
“Then what about the theory of the killer being weak of character, unstable and conservative? How were you able to tell?” asked the deputy chief in even more intrigue than he already was.
“Notice that the tall letters are not the same height as the short ones-see how his d’s look like a’s, and the i’s and e’s are the same sizes. People with strong personalities tend to write with a clear distinction between the short and tall alphabets. As presented here, this shows the exact opposite of that. Similarly, you can see that his k’s are all written in different sizes, implying that he has an unstable personality. But the capitals are elegant, an indication he is a conservative person.
“That’s everything I could deduce from the handwriting. But your doubts are not unfounded, and since there no evidence points to the writer of this letter being the murderer, we cannot rule out the possibility of someone trying to meddle with the police.”
The deputy chief candidly responded, “You have proven more than once that you are good at what you do. I’ll be frank here and tell you that the police are under great pressure to solve this case, not only from the parliament but also from Her Majesty the Queen herself. She has decreed that we solve the case within a specific period, but so far, we haven’t found any leads yet. You know what the East End is like-complicated and a cespool of criminals and their offspring. Gregson and his men have identified a few suspects, but one after another, they were ruled out. Now, we have… lost our bearings, so we’ve come to you for help. If we can solve the case on schedule, we will reward you handsomely!”
“You’re too kind,” Holmes nodded, bowing politely. “I happen to be very interested in this case if I say so myself—even if I don’t get paid, I would still do it.”
The deputy chief was ecstatic to hear the private detective’s answer. “That’s absolutely wonderful! This is the best thing I’ve heard all day! It’s almost noon now, and I’ve booked a table at a restaurant for you and your friend…”
Holmes interrupted the deputy, “I’m the type who forgets everything else the moment he starts working. Thus, there is no need to eat. In fact, we should begin now, if possible.”
“Oh? That’s even better, even better!” the deputy chief nodded vigorously. “I heard that you know Lestrade and the lot. If there’s anything you need, just give them the orders then. As long as it’s within our capability, we will do our best to provide you whatever assistance you require.” Lestrade and other officers flushed with embarrassment. It wasn’t as if the Scotland Yarders hadn’t approached Holmes for help; it was because it made them look ignominiousthey might as well have publicly announced the incompetence of London police. On top of that, they could also clearly hear the disapproving tone in their deputy chief’s voice when he mentioned the Yarders.
Holmes said nothing about it, though. Getting up from his seat, he said, “Well, gentlemen, if that’s the case, let’s get to work!”