“Mr. Wilson has been good enough to come here with a quality case. The one that may just change your mind. I’ve been through many cases, John, but this one, I have to admit, seems entirely unique.” Sherlock continued, excitement lightening his features, as if he had found a one pound note on the sidewalk.
Mr. Wilson straightened in the hard kitchen chair, and puffed out his chest with pride at the praise. He smiled a bit, pulling a wrinkly, dirty old section of newspaper from the pocket of his trouser pocket. He thrust his head forward, watching his pudgy hands as they made a courageous attempt to smooth out the creases before overturning it to Sherlock.
During all this, John gave a shot at (though he would never admit it) deducing their mysterious client. He didn’t glean much from his effort. Mr. Wilson seemed to have been the average British citizen of middle class, obese, slow, and rather pompous. He wore a pair of jeans, a button up shirt, and had a royal blue jacket slung over the back of the chair. There was a white logo on the upper left side, which was concealed with the sleeve. There didn’t seem to be anything overly extraordinary about the man except for his stoplight-red hair, and his constant look of discontent.
Sherlock spared John a glance and smirked, noticing what he was doing. Naturally, he couldn’t resist the urge to show off. He shook his head with a small smile, as if he were watching a small dog chase his tail. “Beyond the perfectly obvious facts that he’s done manual work, has been to China, has done an inordinate amount of typing recently, used to cycle and smokes, I can deduce nothing else.”
John didn’t even spare Sherlock an annoyed look as Mr. Wilson sat in the chair, gaping like a fish out of water.
“How in heaven’s name did you know all that?”
“Your right hand is larger than your left, not only suggesting that you’ve done manual work, but that you’re right handed.” Sherlock rattled off, looking mildly perturbed when Mr. Wilson interrupted his ramblings.
“Then how did you know about the smoking, and that I used to cycle?”
“The smoking was given away by the pack of cigarettes sticking out of your jacket pocket, the discolored tips of your fingers and teeth, and your breath.”
Mr. Wison frowned, turning his head down to his lap to study his fingertips.
“High tar. Excellent choice, by the way. I can see that you used to cycle because of that pin on your shirt. The Cycler’s Enthusiast Association, UK.”
“How did you know that I don’t do it now, though?” Mr. Wilson challenged, his pompous manner showing again.
“Because no one as obese as you could possibly be cycling frequently.”
John cleared his throat significantly, though he didn’t look at Sherlock.
Sherlock’s eyes flickered over to John, and to Mr. Wilson’s aghast face. “…sorry.”
Mr. Wilson just shifted in his seat stiffly, his frown still marring his features. “And China?”
“The fish above your wrist. I did a brief study of tattoo marks. I even wrote a post on my blog about it. The scales of the fish are stained a delicate pink. Only done in China. There’s also the most obvious clue that you have a Chinese coin around your neck. Recently returned then.”
Mr. Wilson’s irritable expression loosened somewhat, letting a slight bit of incredulity out. “Well, I never. I thought that you did some sort of trick. Really, there’s nothing to it at all!”
Sherlock’s pride at correctly deducing his new client gave way to irritation as a crease formed between his eyebrows. “Yes, nothing to it.” He lifted the crumpled advertisement, and handed it to John. “I had already memorized it.”
John accepted the paper from him, and looked down at the font.
TO THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE. On account of the request of the late Ezekiah Hopkins, of Lebanon, Pa. U.S.A., there is now another vacancy open which entitles a member of the League to a salary of fifty pounds a week for purely nominal services. All red-headed men who are sound in body and mind and above the age of twenty-one years are eligible. Apply in person on Monday, at eleven o’clock, to Duncan Ross, at the offices of the Leage, 7 Pope’s Court, Fleet Street.
John read over it twice before he looked up to Mr. Wilson. “Definitely interesting,”
Sherlock wriggled a bit in his seat, smiling. “Yes, definitely off the beaten path. Tell us a bit about yourself, Mr. Wilson.”
Mr. Wilson frowned, apparently this being outside his mental capacity. “What?”
Sherlock appeared to be practicing some serious self-restraint as he puffed a small bit of air out of his nose. “Tell us about you. What do you do for a living?”
“I have a small pawnbroker’s business at Saxe-Coburg Square, near the city. It’s always gotten me by, but lately it’s only just been able to get me a living, you know. I used to have two assistants, but now I only have nine. I would have quite the hard time paying him, but he’s more than willing to work for half the wages.” Mr. Wilson shrugged. “I see no reason to correct him.”
“What’s the name of this assistant?” Sherlock asked.
“Vincent Spaulding. Don’t know much about his age, he has the kind of appearance that makes it hard to place, you know? I couldn’t ask for a smarter assistant, Mr. Holmes: I know that he could be be3tter himself, and earn twice of what I can give him. But if he’s satisfied, again, why should I enlighten him?”
John felt his already meager respect for Mr. Wilson plummet, deducing rather quickly the kind of man that he was, and placed him immediately as the sort who he just smiled and nodded to, even if he thought he deserved a punch in the nose.
“Yes, jumping at the chance to secure such a good assistant for half the price. Quite genius, I have to admit.” Sherlock conceded.
John saw through his act immediately, and smirked a bit at his best friend’s attempt to appeal to Mr. Wilson’s prideful personality. He saw that it worked, when Mr. Wilson puffed his chest out even more, as if the back of the chair had something sharp poking out of it.
“Oh, he’s far from perfect, though, always has his face hidden behind a camera. I’ve never seen anyone so invested in photography.” Mr. Wilson shook his head. “Instead of taking time to improve his mind, he’s constantly going through those photos of his.” He frowned. “Never lets me see them, though, says that they’re not quite good enough to ‘present to the public’. The boy’s got a bit of pride on him.”
John strongly resisted the urge to tell Mr. Wilson that he had not even a minute ago asked why he should enlighten Vincent in the first place. Instead, John settled for mentally abusing Mr. Wilson as he continued.
“That’s his only fault though, he’s a fantastic worker otherwise.”
“He’s still with you?” John asked.
Mr. Wilson nodded. “Yes, him and a young lady who comes in every evening to do some simple cooking and cleaning. That’s everyone who lives in my place- Vincent lodges with me.”
Sherlock narrowed his eyes at that last bit. John glanced at him before returning his gaze to Mr. Wilson, trying to catch on.
“My wife died a while back, and I never had any family. We live pretty quietly, the three of us; a roof over out heads, and pay our debts. We just kind of… be.” Mr. Wilson continued. “The first thing that jarred us out of our regular schedule was that advertisement.” Mr. Wilson jabbed a pudgy finger into the article for extra emphasis. “Vincent came down into the office just eight weeks ago, and said that he wished to God that he was a redheaded man.
“Of course, I asked why.
“’Why’ he said. ‘There’s another vacancy on the League of Red-Headed Men. It’s worth quite a bit of money to anyone who can snag it. I’m pretty sure that there are more vacancies than there are red-headed men. The trustees are out of their minds, trying to find something to do with all that money. If my hair would just turn red, I’d be set for life.’
“Obviously, I was quite excited by this. I mean, I’m not one to brag,”
John’s eyebrows disappeared into his hairline, and he withheld a mirthless snort.
“But I didn’t doubt that my hair was redder than any of the others, so I decided that I wanted to give it a go. Vincent showed the date, the address, and a bit of history. Did you know that the founder was a red-head himself? Ezekiah Hopkins. He empathized with all red-heads, and left his enourmous fortune after death to the Red-Headed League.
“So that Monday I left to apply. It was a nightmare, Mr. Holmes, from every direction were hundreds of men with every shade of red hair! I didn’t even know there were that many colors of red hair. Pope’s Court looked like it was on fire. But there weren’t any heads nearly as red as mine. Vincent somehow got me to the front, and right up the steps to the office. We were let in very soon.
“There wasn’t much in there, just a couple wooden chairs, a kitchen table, behind it there was a small man, with hair even redder than mine! He spoke a few words to each candidate, but he always managed to find something wrong with them and sent them off. Getting a vacancy suddenly seemed like it would be very difficult. But when our turn came, the little man liked me quite a bit more than the others, and he closed the door as we came in for a private word.
“Vincent introduced me and said that I was willing to take the vacancy. The small man said that I was suited for it, and walked around me a bit, examining my hair. He then suddenly pulled my hair, and congratulated me on achieving the position. He said that he pulled my hair because they had been fooled before by wigs and dye. He went to the window, and shouted to the people below that the vacancy was filled.
“He introduced himself as Mr. Duncan Ross, and asked if I had any family. I answered that I didn’t, and he said that he was rather disappointed that I wouldn’t be passing my red-head to any children. I was very scared at first, because I thought that this would make me ineligible for the position. However, Mr. Ross decided that for a head as red as mine, he would be willing to accept me, children or not.
“He asked me when I would be working and I explained that I already had a business. I was scared once again, Mr. Holmes, that I would be ineligible for the vacancy, but Vincent said that he would take care of the shop while I was out. How could I pass up that sort of chance?”
“You couldn’t.” Sherlock answered.
“Right you are. Mr. Ross told me that Ten to fourteen hundred would suit him just fine. A pawnbroker’s business is mostly done in the evening anyhow, so it would work perfectly fine for me to earn a bit in the mornings. Besides, I knew that I could trust Vincent. Still do. I knew that he would tell me if anything interesting turned up.
I agreed to the times, and asked about the pay. As the add said, fifty pounds a week. I asked what sort of work I would be doing. He said that I had to be in the building the entire time. If I left, I had to forfeit the position forever. I thought that was odd, of course, but it was only four hours. And fifty pounds! It was rather easy to agree to. He then explained that sickness and business couldn’t keep me away. I was to be typing up the Encyclopedia Britannica. I had to bring my own laptop, but I would be using the table and chair. It was agreed that I would start tomorrow.