Associates of Sherlock Holmes

Associates of Sherlock Holmes



Lyndsay Faye

Stanley Hopkins, who makes his canonical debut in “The Adventure of Black Peter”, is described as a young police inspector so newly minted that he still retains the posture of a roundsman wearing an official uniform. In all the cases in which he appears, he evinces the utmost regard for Holmes, professing “the admiration and respect of a pupil for the scientific methods of the famous amateur”. Holmes, in turn, seems rather paternally amused by Hopkins, often attempting to steer him in the right direction without entirely giving the game away. This is the story of their first encounter.

—Lyndsay Faye

Letter sent from Inspector Stanley Michael Hopkins to Mrs Leticia Elizabeth Hopkins, Sunday April 29th, 1894

Dearest Mum,

Thank you for the new muffler and fingerless gloves – you’re dead to rights in supposing a promotion calls for a fellow to look smart, and right to consider that I should have my hands free to boot! You worried over the colour, but it’s just the ticket. A nice, dignified navy will do very well with my brown ulster.

How strange and freeing it is to be out of blue livery and stalking the shadowed streets in neat tweeds! The lads from H Division hooted over my plainclothes at first, saying I looked a smug breed of pigeon, but there was no malice in it and they toasted me plentiful times calling out, “Three cheers for our own Inspector Hopkins!” down at the Bull’s Head last week. (I didn’t myself join in enough to mar the solemnity of my new station, I promise you.)

My musty cubby at the Yard is well-outfitted now, with maps and reference volumes, plentiful ink and paper, and a flask of brandy should any females be forced to consult me in a state of distress – you understand I’d never hope for such a thing, but we live in a dark city, and I mean to shed some light on it. My resolve has impossibly redoubled since the news came down I was to shed my uniform, and when I’ve already thought of nothing else since… well, you know best of anyone to what I refer.

Enough dark reflections. Probably you’ve read of this, but Sherlock Holmes himself has returned as if by miracle from the dead and is to practice independently again in London. What a weird and wonderful world! Before I’d any inkling of joining the Peelers, I admired his brilliant methods (“idolised” Dad used to tease, remember?) and now to make inspector during the very week of his triumphant return from the depths… what an absolute corker. I can’t but think it providential, Mum, truly.

On that note: dare I surmise that the gloves and muffler suggest you’re at peace with my occupation, and your disappointment over my not becoming a clergyman like Dad has faded?

Trusting I interpret your kindly gifts aright, as I’m now to become a professional at reading the subtlest clues, I remain,

Your Stanley

Letter sent from Inspector Stanley Michael Hopkins to Mrs Leticia Elizabeth Hopkins, Tuesday May 1st, 1894

Dearest Mum,

I’m sorry for thinking the muffler and gloves suggested you had come round to the notion of my being a policeman. Rest assured that I intend to prove you needn’t simply make the best of a bad business, and can instead feel as proud as you would if I were delivering sermons (a task at which I’ve many times told you I’d be dismal). Remember all the occasions when Sherlock Holmes’s exploits led to God’s justice being served?

Thank you for the dried sausages – they arrived quite safe, and I wrapped them against mice just as you said. Must beg pardon for brevity, as a strange teak box was just dredged from the Thames with something terrible in it. The other inspectors seem not to want to touch the business – dare I hope that I might have the chance to test my mettle, and so soon?

In haste,

Your Stanley

Telegram from SCOTLAND YARD, WHITEHALL to BEXLEY, Tuesday May 1st, 1894



Entry in the diary of Stanley Michael Hopkins, Tuesday May 1st, 1894

Too much has happened to set it all on paper – but I must put my thoughts in proper order, no matter if I’m grasping at snowflakes only to watch them dissolve. Here at Scotland Yard I feel as if I’m starting my career afresh, and in a sense I am, and a warm glow lodges at the base of my spine whenever I’m reminded of my new responsibilities. But Lord, it would be something fine to have one of my trusty H Division boys to natter with. Here the inspectors call out obscure jokes to one another I can’t begin to savvy, and their eyes slide off the newly promoted when we pass in the crowded corridors. I don’t blame them. They’re overworked, and soon so shall I be. Headquarters smells of wearied sighs tinged with whiskey, shirt collars too long worn over interrogations and the filling out of forms.

And I’ve no one to consult with over this confounded box.

But I mustn’t pity myself, for that isn’t quite true – Inspector Lestrade visited me in one of the evidence lockers as I went through the contents, and though I know him to have been ensuring that a raw detective wouldn’t botch the matter, I was thoroughly grateful.

“All right, Inspector… Hopkins, I think it is. What have you got yourself into on your first day that has everyone buzzing like an upturned hive?”

Sweeping off his bowler, Inspector Lestrade frowned at me. I think he frowns to impart his words with weight rather than signal displeasure, though, and he needs all the gravitas he can muster, since the little fellow can hardly weigh more than eleven stone. He has brown hair and eyes, both several shades darker than mine, and I tried not to seem to be looking down at him even though I couldn’t help it – hardly anyone can.

Clearing my throat nervously, I began to answer.

“But you’re already through writing it up, I see,” he said, interrupting me. “Just pass that over and I’ll check your form is correct.”

I obeyed. Lestrade stood in full view of the peculiar – not to say ghastly – contents of the box, both objects resting upon the table, but he’d every right to supervise my paperwork on my first go of it. The other sight seemed not to disturb him, as indeed it couldn’t by this time shake me either.

A grunt emerged as the senior inspector scanned my notes:

Item: one large carved box

– teak wood (foreign origin)

– decorated with stylised lotus flowers (suggests Chinese import)

Contents: one severed forearm with hand: human, female

– white flesh, decomposition not yet set in (recently amputated, not an outdoor worker)

– mild swelling and discolouration (indicating submersion in river water for not more than five hours)

– clean nail beds (respectable)

– actual nails thin and cracked (poor health or nutrition)

– no sign of ever having worn a ring (unmarried)

Lestrade raised his eyebrows, seemed about to speak, and frowned instead.

“Something wrong, sir?”

“On the contrary.”

“Have I done well, then?”

“Not bad for a greenhand,” He returned my report. “Don’t forget to sign and date everything. And I can tell you that although the brass latch is equipped with a lock, it wasn’t used – merely fastened. I opened it myself without a key.”

Hastily, I bent to record this fact.

Lestrade rubbed at one temple fretfully. The arm looked much more poignant adrift on the sea of the large table than it had cradled in the ornate box. “You came to us from H Division, I hear.”

“I did.”

“Well, we don’t want any repeats of that business.”

“No, sir.” If it sounded like a vow and not a mere reply, there was nothing to be done about it.

“What are your plans?”

Straightening, I rubbed my palms together. “Obviously, first we must ensure it’s not some wretchedly coarse jest, and I’ve already sent wires to all the major hospitals asking after autopsies performed during the last twenty-four hours. In a moment, I’ll circulate word for dockside police to look out for any similar objects, God forbid. Next I’ll canvass businesses that import Chinese goods, particularly small furnishings such as this box, down Stepney way. If that fails, I’ll scour both Yard files and the newspapers for missing persons, and enquire at local cemeteries to see whether she might have been the victim of a grave robbery. That ought to hold me for a day or two.”

Lestrade’s bright eyes narrowed in comprehension.

“How old were you when you joined the Force, Hopkins?”

“Twenty-five. I’m only thirty now, sir.”

“Eighteen ninety-nine, then. You read The Strand Magazine, don’t you?” He crossed his arms, tapping a finger against his sleeve.

“I, that is… yes,” I stammered.

“Can’t be helped, I suppose.”

“No, sir.”

“Inspir ...