The Best Detective There Was
by Leila Alliu
The name “Richard Strong” until recently was never that popular as far as detectives went. It was a gradual growth of interest, however, when three years ago, the publication of Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes as well as the Whitechapel murders in 1888 gave the British public a sort of morbid fascination with crime. I found more and more people became familiar with Detective Strong (the name I go by) as everyone wanted to know the whereabouts of everyone in their circle. I will not complain — I find keeping a job to be rather convenient, thank you very much. It was only in the past year where I received an influx of new customers.
Like Holmes, I am a private investigator. I do not associate with organisations. Therefore what you will see is the product of my intellect alone. I begin my story with the introduction of a woman known as Mrs. Frederica Barker looking for her husband, who had gone missing.
“Are you Mr. Strong?” She asked at my doorstep. The poor girl was young, around two and twenty, and in such a state of fright when I first beheld her. She was clutching her handkerchief to her heart in a shaking gloved hand.
“That is certainly the name on my postbox,” I responded with a slight grin. “May I ask who you are?”
She introduced herself, and I received her into my home and had her tell me every bit of information she could give.
“He works with Scotland Yard,” she said as she gently dabbed her eyes with the handkerchief. “About five days ago, George told me he would only be gone for a little while. I pressed him that he might tell me where he would be off to, and after such a long while of my begging, he told me he was after some murderer. I asked nothing more after that, only that he may be careful. And now he’s gone!” She let out a quiet sob “He said he would be gone for three days at most and I still haven’t heard from him! Oh, Mr. Strong, please help me find where my George is!”
I gave her a reassuring smile. “I will do my best, my dear. All I need now is some time and a confirmation that you have told me everything.” I glanced down at my notes to make sure I had everything she told me.
“Yes, that is everything. Quite everything. I’m so sorry I haven’t anything more to tell you, but I couldn’t ask where he may be — I didn’t want to know about it.”
“Completely understandable,” I assured.
“Can you really begin an investigation with so little information? I’ve told you barely anything. And if George is in danger…”
“You musn’t worry about such things, Mrs. Barker. Bad for the health. I’ve solved investigations with much less evidence before.”
“Oh, thank you, Mr. Strong! Thank you!”
“You’re very welcome, my dear.” I led the trembling girl to the door. “I will write to you should any breaking event occur. In the meantime, rest assured that a professional will be looking for your husband.”
She smiled- a gentle, graceful smile, and left with a little more confidence in her step.
A week passed from this meeting until I met with her again, to my surprise. You see, I hadn’t asked her to visit, but the girl took it upon herself to come back and ask herself! I swallowed my anger allowing her in, and attempted with all my might to keep my impatience in check. I admit I might not have been very good at it, because as we spoke her demeanour slowly changed from excitedly asking about how far I had gone in the investigation to becoming more shy, reserved, and might I say, frightened. I almost said it served the girl right- she had no right to barge in on such pressing matters.
“Have you any other clients you are assisting?” She asked, eyeing me.
“None at all. Your case is all I have at the moment, and I am working with all due diligence.”
“But again, Mr. Strong, you haven’t told me what you’ve found.”
It was at this moment where I almost, and I say almost, snapped. However, I managed to only take a deep breath.
“The information I have gathered at the moment is not fully conclusive, and I don’t wish to give you any false hopes.”
“Oh,” she said, almost sinking into herself. “If that is all then. And I forgot to say, I’ve been speaking with the colleagues of my husband at Scotland Yard, and they have also looked into the circumstances into his disappearance. Nothing has been found yet, but how wonderful is it that we can have more help?”
This was it- the moment I have had enough.
“That was not necessary whatsoever, Mrs. Barker, not necessary at all,” I firmly stated. Her face fell. “I have told you time and time again that I require no assistance, and that I will inform you of anything in the case, and yet you decide to show up unannounced anyway! I must bid you good day, Mrs. Barker, before you take it upon yourself to continue the investigation yourself.”
She cocked her head, her eyebrows furrowed.
“Good day, Mrs. Barker. You know the exit.”
She slowly rose and led herself out the door like a child after a chastisement. But after recklessly intruding on my investigation, I suppose I had to say such. I listened to the door quietly shut and reveled in the silence to follow.
I did not hear from Mrs. Barker after that. It was easy to guess she was not happy with the work I had done with her case, and turned to Scotland Yard. I dropped the case entirely and decided that Mr. Barker was dead.
A few more days passed from that fateful meeting. I continued with my work, accepting new clients as time moved on. To lose one was a disappointment, I admit, but not the end of the world. There always seemed to be someone going missing, therefore a detective such as myself would not be out of work for long.
There was a part of me that was tempted to go to Scotland Yard and ask after that case. I wondered if they had gotten any farther. I thought it impossible, though stranger things have happened. I decided not to, however. I mean it once more that I do not enjoy associating with organisations such as that one, and I was not planning on beginning over a singular grieving widow.
I was sitting in my home and reviewing a case when I heard a knock at the door. I can still hear that knock.
Upon opening the door, I found a constable with an officer behind him. The grave faces on the both of them could have silenced a party.
“Mr. John Coleridge,” the constable announced. “You are under arrest for the murder of Richard Strong one year ago, as well as Mr. George Barker and several other victims.”
You see, I had never stated my name was Richard Strong. It was easy to get rid of him and take over the business- he had no one living with him and no acquaintances close enough to recognize the change between us, poor man.
But therein lied the question of how people would go to me to solve their disappearances. I had underestimated the amount of people in need of a detective. Therefore, I may as well do the work I had done before with Mr. Strong, and bring the clients towards me. No one seemed to recognize the fact that every person that had gone to me left with the knowledge their loved one had died.
One man “fell off his horse” as he was travelling a great distance, and I was the one to inform his grieving sister. Another “was caught in a fire,” I am afraid, and your son, madam, did not make it.
I had no regrets for my work; a man is to make a living. But when a certain second-born nobleman who shall remain nameless went to me to do the same thing I have been doing to people for months, then I decided my wages could be far better made. More and more people of rank came to me with their “problems,” and I would be the unfortunate detective that would discover that, oh dear, your poor brother has drowned! Yes, sir, it is an unfortunate tragedy, and without an heir besides yourself as well! No one would question them, and when I walked away with my payment, I forgot their face and name entirely.
But it was that girl. That nosy, irritating girl that had ruined it all by having friends with the police. I should have been angry, infuriated, out for blood, and in a way, I was. But I could not help being impressed. After all this time of my creating my own disappearances, she found me out herself.
And now here I was. Caught.
“Gentlemen,” I said with a cool smile growing over my face. “You will witness no resistance from me.”
Leila Alliu is a history enthusiast, focusing on fashion history, who has spent years studying and making her own garments of the past. When she is not doing this, she is usually reading classic literature and writing stories inspired by novels of that genre. After six years of short stories, poems, and even a novel of her own, she wrote this story as an acknowledgement to her love of history and the gothic mystery genre. Leila has also been published in the Copperfield Review Quarterly with her short story “Suffragette.” She can be found on Instagram @victorian.historian, where she displays her works of historical fashion and discusses and posts about her favorite books.