How to make a few million




1: Locate a bandwagon.

2: Leap on it.

3: Push the driver off.

4: Seize control of the reins.

5: Set course for the golden city on the hill. 

How to put this into practice?

Here’s how! 

You’ve probably noticed that there’s a glut of historical detective stories around at the moment. There are ancient Roman and Chinese detectives, modern Italian ones, Russian ones, and so on. There is even a Babylonian astrologer turned proto-proctologist who is hovering around the bottom of the best seller charts. This is not only a popular bandwagon, but a seriously overcrowded one, and it’ll collapse any day now under the weight of all the people aboard. Some of the smarter operators are therefore adapting the bandwagon by taking actual historical personalities, and modifying them for use as detectives. Thanks to the marketing departments of our great publishing houses, Julius Caesar, Alfred the Great, Wenceslaus of Prague and Assurbanipal are all due to emerge shortly in the new guise of part-time gumshoes. Solomon too, of course. The direction of the new bandwagon is therefore obvious, but the question remains: how do you become an actual pacesetter? After all, we’re not just aiming for bestsellerdom, but for Harold Robbins status here. The traditional answer to this problem is apply the bandwaggon to a hitherto unexploited genre. In this case, we’ll use Horror, although science fiction or even lit. would do just as well.  

Before we start, here’s another consideration. If you want to make really big bucks you have to stay ahead of the pack. Again, the resourceful and career-minded writer has a ready recourse available. This is to re-use someone else’s hard work, and to give the public some more of a character they know and love. You could choose Alice, or Philip Marlow, for example, but they would be rather difficult to bring off. Something a bit simpler is clearly called for. Sherlock Holmes, perhaps. 

So, how about combining the idea in the first paragraph with that in the second? 

We’ve now got a clear story-writing programme laid out, and it only remains to apply a text to it. Pay careful attention, and I'll show you how it's done:   


by sir A****r C***n D***e AND ROPKIND SCHARF 

I had almost lost touch with my friend Holmes. My war wound, contracted in Afghanistan many years before, had been causing me much pain, and I was forced to remain in bed for several months. Eventually, I felt able to get about again, and, feeling the need for some adventure after a long period of enforced idleness, hailed a cab and proceeded to Baker Street.  

“Watson!” My friend called out the very moment I entered the door. 

“Good Heavens! Holmes! How did you know it was me?” 

“It was elementary, my dear Watson. I have known you for years, so your face is entirely familiar to me.” 

As always, once Holmes had explained his method, his conclusion was obvious.  

“Have you seen the Morning Post today? I fancy the news it contains will bring some excitement our way” he continued, passing me the aforementioned periodical.  

I looked at the headline on the first page. 

“Grisly Horror in North Norfolk!” it trumpeted, with more vulgarity than was usual for this august publication. As I perused the article below the headline, it became apparent that there was some justification for the sensationalism. Apparently a child had been found near Sandringham, with her throat almost ripped out, as if by some savage beast. This was apparently the third such murder in as many weeks in this part of the world. The remainder of the front page informed the reader that Her Majesty the Queen was about to leave her residence in East Anglia for Osborne House. 

“Do you make anything of it, Holmes?” I enquired. 

“Beyond the fact that we will shortly be visited by our colleague, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, I have formed no opinion” he replied. 

“Surely you don’t mean that he suspects us of involvement in this gruesome affair Holmes?” I enquired, hoping the tremor in my voice would be inaudible to him. 

“Calm yourself, Watson. Even Lestrade is not capable of imagining that I, who have been fully engaged upon the cases of the Czarina’s Ocarina and the Mountebank Millions here in London for the last month, and only resolved them both late in the evening yesterday – they were inextricably intertwined – that I could simultaneously have perpetrated a foul series of murders over one hundred miles away. No Watson, the reason for Lestrade’s imminent visit is this. It is evident that Scotland Yard has made no progress in the case. If they had, there would have been some speculation as to the culprit and their motivation in the press. Can you imagine a chatterbox like Lestrade remaining silent in the presence of a journalist, unless he had nothing to say? It is evident that Scotland Yard has no idea as to the cause of these terrible events. But hark! I hear footsteps outside! It is Lestrade himself, or I’m a Dutchman! 

It was indeed Lestrade, and Holmes’ prognostication of the reason for his visit proved entirely accurate.  

“And so, Mr, Holmes, I should be most grateful if you would make a short trip to Norfolk. As I said, it is only because I would value a second opinion, but nevertheless, this would be a considerable service” Lestrade concluded.  

“Of course, Lestrade. It will be a pleasure. I took the liberty of consulting Bradshaw’s Railway Timetables shortly before Watson’s arrival, and there is an excellent train which leaves Liverpool Street at ten o’clock tomorrow morning. I bid you good day”  

By the early afternoon of the next day, Holmes and I were comfortably ensconced in the Arundel Arms Hotel in Norwich, and I was finishing an excellent lunch while Holmes left me to purchase a newspaper. I was startled when he burst into the dining room in a highly agitated state, calling 

“Come Watson! There is not a moment to lose! We must return to London at once!” 

“But why Holmes? We have only just arrived here in Norfolk!” 

“To get the Southampton Express from Waterloo, and thence by the Isle of Wight Ferry to Ryde! There has been a terrible development!” he shouted, flinging at me the “Daily Telegraph” he had just purchased. 

“Another Horrible Killing: This time on the Isle of Wight!” the headline almost shrieked, below which were the details of a further vile murder, of a young lady of twenty-two years of age.” 

Pausing only to collect our bags, which we had fortunately not had time to unpack, we raced to the station. The ten minutes we had there to wait were sufficient for Holmes to send a telegram to the police on the island which said: “Coming soonest. On no account touch corpse murder victim or conduct autopsy. Holmes” 

Such is the speed of the modern railway, we were able to enter the police station at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight only six hours later. We were immediately introduced to a gathering of local policemen, under Sergeant Carter, and of detectives from Scotland Yard, including Lestrade himself. All were ashen faced.  

Carter greeted us without formality. 

“Thank you for coming, Mr. Holmes. You will need to see the corpse, I imagine, but I must warn you it is not a pretty sight. Dr. Watson, as a medical man perhaps you will be able to cast some light on this terrible affair. 

It was as Carter said. The state of the young lady’s corpse was indeed terrible, and beyond description in these pages. It transpired that she had been named Sybil Thorndike, and was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen herself. She had accompanied the royal party to the island in connection with the Queen’s journey to her residence at Osborne House. Her Majesty was reported to be deeply distressed at these sanguine events, but already in mourning, and to have taken the decision to return to Buckingham Palace.  

Holmes looked grimmer than I had ever seen him before, much more so, and strode out of the room saying

“Come Watson, we can do no more here. We must return to London at once.”

As he walked, I could hear him muttering something about an old university friend called Von or Van something, but the rest of the name was indistinct. 

We completed our journey back to Baker Street in silence. Holmes was obviously preoccupied with the problem, and I did not think it right to disturb him. After all, what could I offer him, but observations of the nature of “Look Holmes! There’s a cow!” I held my peace.  

In London, I returned to my wife and home, and did not see Holmes for two days. During this time, there was another ghastly outrage near Victoria Station. The Queen was reported to be so distraught at the news that she had departed for Windsor Castle. 

I arrived in Baker Street just in time to catch Holmes packing again.

“Ah Watson! You’re just in time! We must fly to Windsor. With luck, we will be able to prevent the next of these dreadful killings!” 

How Holmes knew Windsor would be the location of the next of these murders, I did not then understand, but a dreadful possibility began to gnaw at me. Was it conceivable there was some connection between these events and the movements of our beloved sovereign? We had started in Norfolk, near the palace of Sandringham: thence, we had proceeded to the Isle of Wight, near the royal household at Osborne House, and from there to London, and Buckingham Palace. And now Windsor, and another royal residence. Could it be imagined that the perpetrator was among Her Majesty’s courtiers? Was it even possible Her Majesty herself was fleeing in fear of her own life? As I considered these hitherto unimaginable possibilities I felt my heart palpitate. 

Holmes did not enlighten me. He did, however, inform me that he had received a most satisfactory telegram from that foreign colleague I had heard him mention leaving Ventnor, and that the “old boy”, as Homes referred to him, was now retired, and too unwell to join us, much as he would have liked to, but that he had been most informative. Beyond this, Holmes said nothing. He remained graver than I had ever seen him before. All he said, and he said this three times, was: 

“These are dark matters, Watson. Much darker than you can imagine.” 

Windsor is only a short journey from London. When we arrived at our hotel, Holmes insisted on a room with a view of the castle, even though a better one on the opposite side of the hotel was available at half the price. I protested, and Holmes silenced me saying 

“Watson, sometimes I feel that you are a great one for spoiling a ship for a ha’porth of tar.” 

With that he left the hotel, and returned about an hour later, bearing a new purchase, which it transpired was a telescope. He then busied himself setting it up on the window sill of our room. Sometimes my friend bewilders me. 

“Holmes, you have just told me this is the gravest case of your career, and that you are dealing with an evil immeasurably greater than that of Moriarty himself. Is this the right time to take up astronomy? As you yourself once observed, your brain is not made of elastic. Can you really afford a distraction like this at such a time?” 

Holmes made no reply, but betrayed certain signs of irritation. He spent the night with his eye to the telescope. 

The next morning, his face was even grimmer. We left the hotel, Holmes carrying a lantern and a large carpet bag which appeared to contain some tools. Evidently the telescope had not been his only purchase of the previous day.

He was so preoccupied, he spoke not a word, but we entered the castle through the visitors’ gate. Once inside, Holmes glanced around to ensure we were unobserved, and opened a small, unmarked door. We entered. 

“Holmes, I think this is the way to the private apartments.” 

“Indeed Watson. That is where our mission takes us.” 

A little later, we found ourselves descending a stone staircase. 

“Holmes, these stairs can only lead us to the crypt. That place is forbidden to all save the crowned heads of Europe!” 

“You are correct Watson. You have your service revolver with you I trust?” 

What I have to write now, I write with the greatest reluctance, but it was Holmes’ dying wish that this story be told. The truth, he said, no matter how terrible, must always be told. I can only console myself with the hope that a story so terrible can only be the product of a disordered imagination, but I fear, and know in my heart, that what follows is a faithful record of what actually transpired. 

With apprehension, and heavy hearts, we entered the crypt. Inside was a sight that was not meant to be seen by profane eyes – the stone sarcophagi of all the kings and queens of England from William the Conqueror onwards. One of these is always empty. This is the one that is prepared for the current sovereign against the day of their demise. That is the one that we approached. As we drew nearer, the air became musty and unwholesome. It started to smell of decay and death, smells I knew well from my medical experience. And yet, there was also something uncanny, something unspeakable, something I had never experienced before in my life, and something I have no wish ever to experience again. As we drew nearer, I could see the ground around the sarcophagus had been frequently walked on of late, and the lid was slightly ajar. The miasmic air improved slightly, for there was a small window that was open about twenty feet above our heads. 


Holmes whispered, in an urgent tone, 

“As you value your life, nay your very soul, no matter how outrageous, how sacrilegious, my next actions may appear to you, do not interfere with them! What we confront now, is nothing other than the International Confraternity of Vampires!” 

So saying, with one mighty heave, Holmes forced the lid right off the sarcophagus, and onto the floor where it shattered. He lifted his lantern above his head, and peered into the tomb. There was a figure, a small, rotund figure, inside. It hissed at him: 

“ssssssSherlock Holmessssssss! I have heard sssssssso much about you! Would you care to join usssssssss – you would be an outsssssssssssssstanding member of our society – or mussssssssssssst I tear your throat out like I did to all those other meddling hussssssssssssssssssssiessssssssssssssssss?” 

Windsor Castle as seen by Holmes and Watson. The light at the top of the tower is coming from the window used by the Queen


So saying, it sat up, and projected an indescribable stream of foul vomit directly at Holmes. 

Holmes gasped in horror as the vile stream enveloped him, and extracted a small silver crucifix from his waistcoat pocket. 

“Here is my answer!” he shouted, and the figure shrank back into its coffin, uttering a ghastly shriek as it did so. Seizing his opportunity, Holmes opened the carpet bag, and extracted a sharpened wooden stake, and a mallet. The stake he forced against the breast of the figure, and Holmes raised the mallet high in the air.  

“I pronounce an anathema upon you, Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha!” He shouted. “May this stake forever pin you to the ground, like a butterfly in a glass case in the South Kensington Museum! May you never rise again, Victoria of the Undead! And Watson! You must understand – our queen is a vampire! She contracted this terrible condition through her ill-advised marriage to a foreigner! The reason I purchased that telescope was to observe her flying from that little window above our heads in search of fresh victims. The Queen must die again!!” 

So saying, he smote the stake with the mallet, and drove it straight into the chest of our Queen-Empress! 

Her Majesty screamed one final sentence in a way I have never heard anyone scream before:  

“Albert - I’m coming!” 

Holmes’ fears that I would interfere with his actions proved completely groundless. I was transfixed with horror even more than the Queen had been transfixed by his stake. I collapsed. 

And awoke with a start. Holmes was waving smelling salts under my nose.  

“I thought this would happen, and brought these against the eventuality” he said, returning a glass phial to the carpet bag.  

Of Holmes’ subsequent secret trial on charges of high treason, regicide, and trespass upon a royal domain, and of his miraculous acquittal, and of the search for a double of the Queen, in which Holmes provided the most material assistance, and of the destruction of the royal corpse, in which Holmes again provided the most material assistance, I must pass over in silence. This is my record of the most remarkable, and terrible, case in the career of Sherlock Holmes.