IT WAS a few days before the start of the new year. The biting cold had once again disrupted my slumber and I was unaccustomedly late for breakfast. I found Holmes lounging upon the sofa in a purple dressing-gown, a pipe-rack within his reach upon the right, and a pile of crumpled morning papers, evidently newly studied, near at hand.
As we waited for Mrs Hudson to bring us her delicious array of breakfast fare I warmed my hands before the crackling fire, for a sharp frost had set in, and the windows were thick with ice crystals. When I brought myself to peer upon the wintry scene outside, I noticed the forlorn sight of a former soldier, Sergeant Perkins, seated on a blanket close to Grubb and Sons, Solicitors. The poor man had lost a leg at Spion Kop, and his abandonment by the Crown required him to rely on the generosity of passing strangers.
Upon the arrival of my steaming hot porridge, and in keeping with the spirit of the season, I instructed our landlady to take my oats directly to our monopede hero, with a cashmere blanket I had brought back from Kandahar. Holmes later donated some Cumberland sausage, a fried tomato and a portion of black pudding to the grateful ex-serviceman.
Since Christmas the metropolis had been unusually quiet. The perfidious railway servants were once more refusing to work, thus preventing the movement of people and goods. As a consequence Holmes and I had time to reflect upon the adventures of the dying year to enable me better to chronicle the achievements of the world’s greatest detective, and more accurately record some of our exploits which had thwarted the worst intentions of the criminal fraternity.
Holmes’s recollections allowed me to add more details to The Masquerade of the Malignant Masks, in which the deviousness of the infamous Sage gang sought to choke the life out of healthy individuals; The Curious Case of the Reluctant Regulator, describing how corrupt civil servants colluded with those who gave dangerous concoctions to unsuspecting members of the public; and The Mysterious Missile at Przewodow which proved that the United States and the United Kingdom colluded to destroy the supply of Russian gas to Europe.
One story which I have yet to begin, and which will be perhaps the most alarming of all, concerns the origins of the criminal virus hysteria which has caused so much death and destruction during the past three years.
For a long time I believed that Professor Moriarty was the spider at the heart of this web of evil, but of course Holmes had used his deductive powers to come closer to the truth of the matter.
‘One must look, my dear Watson, past the stream of lies and the waves of deception which have flowed from the newspapers to hide this monstrous crime.
‘Nearly ten years ago, the United States government’s Defence Research Agency began to research the potential uses of Messenger ribonucleic acid. As a medical man, you will be aware that it is a single-stranded molecule of ribonucleic acid which corresponds to the genetic sequence of a gene, and is then able to synthesise protein. It is a process I have replicated several times here in this very room. Some of those involved at the start may well have had noble intentions, but they have, for many years, been duped by those who are in league with devils.
‘Whilst the interference with an individual’s DNA has the potential to improve a life, the production of the mutated proteins can cause immeasurable harm and should never be used indiscriminately.
‘It seems that the United States encouraged this research in countries bordering Russia to enable them to build a medical weapon which could target certain ethnic groups. An unscrupulous villain named Fauci then financed scientists in China to take part in the infamy.
‘Eventually, some criminal companies came into possession of the medical invention and they needed to search for its market.’
‘By Jove, Holmes! Was Fu Manchu involved in the plot?’
‘There is nothing to suggest his involvement, Watson, but there is a cast of the most despicable villains the world has ever seen who have become partners in the evil. They have done so to accrue unimaginable wealth and through a craven lust for power.
‘You will recall, Watson, that Victor Frankenstein’s creature was intelligent and articulate. You will remember that it was human intolerance that caused it to become a monster. I am afraid that the originators of Messenger ribonucleic acid have unwittingly given human monsters the tools to pervert science, truth and decency, and as a consequence they have destroyed many hallowed institutions. I fear they will stop at nothing to destroy civilisation.
‘The evidence has been under the noses of those who cared to look. They were so brazen that they even advertised their intent at their Event 201 meeting three months before the start of their plan.’
‘Of course, Holmes! They began their attack in January ’20.’
‘Precisely, Watson, but few wanted to make the obvious connection, because so many have profited from the crime.’
With those disturbing words ringing in my ears, Holmes suggested we clear our heads with a brisk perambulation around Regent’s Park. As we passed the shivering Perkins, we exchanged some merry quips and gave him the remains of the previous evening’s chicken carcase.
The day ended on a happier note. After a splendid dinner which included pea and ham soup, roast partridge and trifle, we settled down for three games of Cluedo. Naturally, I was no match for the deductive excellence of my partner. On each occasion Holmes quickly identified the murderer as Professor Whitty, in the laboratory, with a syringe. I had no hesitation on congratulating my friend and reminding him of his outstanding powers of investigation and deduction.
Holmes then suggested that on condition that we could assist him to ascend the staircase, we should invite Sergeant Perkins to our room to share a glass or two of brandy and a mince pie.
‘Excellent!’ I cried.
‘Undoubtedly,’ said he.