The art of writing Sherlock Holmes stories, ala Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as pastiche, like Holmes own art, combined reality with imagination. With this Muse the latter most abundant. To define as much of the former as I possibly could, I lived in London for a third of the year in the fall of 2018, and the fall and winter of 2019, to collect research for my books. I have some hopes for 2020. Like every step of this journey through time, the city of London left an indelible impression.
One spot beckoned in this brilliant town where without invitation or calling beforehand, I could always find like-minded and welcoming people, and at the most famous address in the world, No. 221B, Baker Street.
A mecca for people from every corner of the planet. The most lively and much apotheosized Sherlock Holmes Museum closed at 6:00 p.m., and became an unassuming doorway in the midst of glorious Westminster. Yet, during the time when most Londoners were enjoying a pint at their favorite pub, Holmes and Watson devotee’s reverently smiled, laughed, and posed in top hats, pipes, derbies, and deerstalkers in front of this doorway. Far into the wee hours, many celebrating folk have pressed their phones into my capable photographer’s hands.
Baker Street in 2018 was once again undergoing change and for the traveller was in a sorry state, with closed and emptied, graffiti-ed businesses right across the street. The Sherlock Holmes Inn had abandoned Baker Street altogether. Tremendous street corner repairs and rerouted traffic made it difficult to find one’s way on foot or via cab. A real street filled with foot traffic grime, homeless and city soot, not a spic-and-span Disney Boulevard where falling leaves never reach the ground. Garbage spilled on the dirty sidewalks and Abbey National’s thirteen-foot tall Holmes’ statue was hidden at a minor tube exit around the corner, not even on Baker Street or near the museum with its doorway into another time.
Like the London of Holmes’ day, Baker Street wasn’t so clean or pretty. Until one gathered by the door with others of similar ilk who loved the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Some shy, some brash, all were reverent, and took photos as a remembrance of their quest, and carried close to heart in the locket of their phones. Some looked to the first-floor windows for a moving shadow. Most touched the door, to make the illusion real.
Spoken in every language:
“You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive?”
“How on earth did you know that?”
“Will you please take my photo?”
“Of course! Where are you from?”
“Tokyo, Philadelphia, Manchester, Tel Aviv, Grenoble, Istanbul, Berlin, Nicaragua, Sudan, Budapest, Warsaw, Bari, Moscow, Bonn, Scotland, Trinidad, Namibia, Delhi, Brooklyn, Yorkshire . . .”
“Wait, first the hat.”
“Just one more.”
“A good one.”
“Thank you, Ta, Grazie, Asante, Mamnoon, Toda Raba, Sağol, Obrigado, Danke, Shukriyaa, Okuhepa Ndangi, Cпасибо, Sukran, Merci . . .”
This informal and ever-changing international community joyfully arrived every night outside this doorway to our most auspicious fantasy world. It was just a door, an entrance or an exit with the symbols 221B above it. What drew us here? What do we expect?
The rain has stopped, but the fog is rising, the door opened and two gentlemen burst out, one is pocketing his service revolver, the other calling “Cab!” in a voice that could be heard clearly to Marylebone Road. And would they stop a moment for a photograph?
Superheroes might do so after a month without a case, or during a pea-super fog, but today we were the irregulars as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson raced from the door, tipped their hats to the ladies among us, and leaped into the carriage. The horse’s hooves clashed and sparked on the sidewalk as they sped on to bring justice to our world.
All that our 21st-century phones captured was the black of the cab back as it disappeared down Baker Street. And we who still stood on the curb, jumped, danced, high-fived, cheered, hugged, smiled, kissed our dates, shook hands, slapped backs, and stared dumbfounded into the whirl of autumn leaves thrown up by the departing cab. As we once again acknowledged tonight’s community of believers in the impossible.
Published December 2018, The Serpentine Muse Literary Journal of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes with some slight changes. NO. 221B, BAKER STREET AFTERHOURS ©2018
Gretchen Altabef is an MX author of Sherlock Holmes Novels who strives to emulate Doctor John Watson’s and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary styles. Her first novel Sherlock Holmes: These Scattered Houses is both a historical novel and murder mystery, solved as only Holmes can. The sequel Sherlock Holmes: Remarkable Power of Stimulus is a Sherlock Holmes adventure with heart.