Chapter 8: Another Disguise

Holmes and Watson share a flat
at 221B Baker Street, London.
"How do you know they've followed me?" Buckingham Slate asked Sherlock Holmes.

"When I closed the curtains, they looked as though they were about to enter the shop. Now they're lounging in the doorway, smoking. They're not shopping, Bucky!" Holmes replied.

"I took all the evasive action I could think of," said our guest.

"I have no doubt you did," Holmes answered, gesturing toward the disguise Slate had worn. "But they're not going into the shop, so we had better assume they're waiting for you."

"What can we do now, Mr. Holmes?" the Scotland Yard detective asked.

"Take off your shoes and put them here," said Holmes, sweeping everything off the coffee table. "I'll be back in a minute or two," he continued.

"Mrs. Hudson!" he called, as he hurried out of the flat.

Buckingham Slate's face showed a measure of surprise and two of consternation. "I wouldn't question him," I said. "In all the years I've known Holmes, I have seen him do a great many things that appeared crazier than this, and he had good reasons for all of them, sir."

Holmes returned almost immediately with a shoeshine kit and dropped it on the coffee table, saying, "Your chances of giving these window-shoppers the slip would be better if your shoes were black, Bucky. Watson, can you help? I'll be back as soon as I can." Again he hurried out the door, while Bucky and I went to work on his shoes.

"I can't make head nor tail of this, Dr. Watson. Can you?" Slate asked.

"I can't say I do, Bucky," I replied, "but I'd be astonished if we don't find out very soon." We scrubbed and polished, as Holmes had requested, and before long, just as the shoes were beginning to look almost black, Holmes returned -- carrying one of Mrs. Hudson's dresses!

"I think this will fit you, Bucky," the great detective smiled.

"And won't it be a lovely bit of irony?" he added, giving me a wink which I didn't understand until later.

"Off with your shirt and trousers, Bucky!" Holmes commanded, "and pack yourself into this dress." As Slate disrobed, Holmes handed me Mrs. Hudson's overnight bag and said, "Put his clothes in here, Watson, but keep the tattered jacket and the hat-wig-beard separate."

Homes turned to Slate and continued. "You mustn't come here again, disguise or no, for a very long time. We'll need other arrangements for meeting. Do you know Harrington's Pub in Twickenham Road? No? Well, you can find it easily enough, and we can meet there. The proprietor, Michael Harrington, is a former schoolmate of mine, and he keeps a room free for me -- my consulting room away from home, if you like. We'll arrange to meet through the newspapers."

Holmes threw me another wink. "Another lovely irony," he said, mouthing the words, rather than saying them.

"When you want to see me, place an ad in the Times classifieds. I'll give you the wording. Change the day to tell me when you want to meet, place the ad so it will run at least 24 hours ahead of time, and arrive at Harrington's Pub on the evening of the named day, as close to 8 o'clock as possible. Go to the bar and ask for the proprietor. When you find Mr. Harrington, tell him I sent you, and he will know what to do. Have you got all that?"

Bucky nodded. Holmes wrote a few words on a sheet of paper, folded it up and handed it to him. "Just change the day of the week; copy the rest of the message verbatim. All right?" Slate nodded again.

"Good job squeezing into that dress, Bucky!" Holmes said. "Now put on this bonnet and let's see how you look."

"Ridiculous, sir!" Slate announced upon seeing himself in the glass.

"You would have looked even worse with brown shoes," said Holmes, "but with black on your feet, this impromptu outfit may be good enough to fool them." He stepped into the doorway and shouted, "Mrs. Hudson? Are you ready?"

"Just a moment, Mr. Holmes," our landlady's voice returned.

Holmes stepped back into the room and said to Slate, "Bucky, you and Mrs. Hudson are going to go for a walk. She'll bring you a shawl. Cover as much of yourself as possible. You are feeling cold, aren't you?"

Slate looked at me and rolled his eyes. "I guess so, sir. Whatever you say, Mr. Holmes."

"That's the spirit, Bucky," Holmes continued. "You'll go out the front door and turn right. Half a block down on your right, you'll find a coffee shop. Walk in, sit down, and order a piece of pie. Then take Mrs. Hudson's overnight bag and go to the ladies' room.

"As soon as you're safely out of view, change into your own clothes. Put the dress, the bonnet and the shawl in Mrs. Hudson's bag and leave it under the sink. Slip out the back door and you will find a cab waiting there -- I've already arranged the cab. While you're doing all that, Dr. Watson and I will keep the men in the window occupied.

"Mrs. Hudson will wait for the pie and eat it, then go to the ladies' room, retrieve her bag from under the sink and bring it back here. Is that all clear?"

Slate nodded again and Holmes clapped him on the back, saying, "If you do half as good an acting job on your way out as you did on your way in, you'll be fine."

Mrs. Hudson arrived, wrapped Bucky in a long shawl, and said, "Mr. Holmes, you ask the most unusual favours! But as long as you say it's for a good cause, sir, I'll go out and eat a piece of pie for you any day!"

"May I take my other disguise with me, Mr. Holmes?" Slate asked.

"No, Bucky, we're not finished with it," said Holmes. "You'll get it back in due course. Are you ready? Now make it convincing for the first few seconds and you should be all right."

We watched as Mrs. Hudson and her frail companion made their way down the stairs and out into Baker Street. The men in the doorway paid no heed as the two elderly women turned and shuffled slowly toward the coffee shop. "So far, so good, Watson," Holmes said. "Now it's our turn. Give me your jacket and hat, and put these on."

He handed me Slate's tattered jacket and his hat-wig-beard and threw one more wink my way, saying, "Let's take those window-shopping yobos for a spin."