Wed
Jul 13 2016 9:01am

The Baker Street Jurors: New Excerpt

Michael Robertson

The Baker Street Jurors (Baker Street Letters Series #5) by Michael RobertsonThe Baker Street Jurors is the 5th book in the Baker Street Letters series by Michael Robertson (Available July 19, 2016).

Everyone must do jury duty. Even Sherlock Holmes.

A nation’s greatest sports hero has been accused of murder. The trial is approaching, and the public is clamoring—both for and against. And in a desperate, computer-generated quest to fill its quota of jurors, the Crown Court has included on its summons list the known occupants—real and otherwise—of 221B Baker Street. One summons is addressed to Sherlock Holmes; it doesn’t matter to the Crown Court Jury Selection Service whether Holmes is real or fictional, or in which century he existed.

The other is addressed to Mr. Nigel Heath—who is living and sleeping on the couch in his office at Baker Street Chambers. With Nigel in the jury selection pool are a lovely young woman with a mysterious tattoo, an elderly widow with piercing blue eyes and a mind like a tack, a slick millennial whose occupation is cornering the market on prescription drugs, and a tall man with an aquiline nose who seems reluctant to say exactly how he received his jury summons.

Before the trial is done, Nigel and each of his fellow prospective jurors will wonder not only which of them will be impaneled—and what verdict they will reach—but also who will survive to render it.

1

SEVEN MONTHS LATER

It was early spring, so early that it didn’t really feel that way. As Lois exited the Marylebone tube station and turned the corner onto Baker Street, she saw fluffy white clouds high over the trees of Regents Park. But they were gliding on a cold northeast wind.

Lois zipped up her parka and walked less than halfway up the 200 block. She stopped at the newsstand in front of the Dorset National Building Society—just across the street from the French patisserie and a few doors down from the Beatles memorabilia store.

She didn’t want a newspaper. But she knew she probably needed to pick up a coffee. She took a moment to look up at the second-story window above her, to be sure. She saw no light in the window.

So yes, better get the coffee.

“A large?” said Bob, who ran the newsstand.

“Yes, and put gobs of sugar in it, too. Not for me, of course, I don’t need it.”

“Oh, I say we all need a little of it,” said Bob.

Lois was fifty or a few years more, rather short, more than a little rotund, and not concerned about it, despite all the public service announcements. But she’d given up sugar in her own coffee long ago.

She glanced at the news headlines as Bob poured the very dark brew. There were the usual domestic and worldly disputes. But the dominant story—in all but Barron’s, which gave it second billing to something more staid—was from the world of sports, and of murder.

“McSweeney Must Play,” said one headline, in an English daily tabloid.

“McSweeney Must Pay,” said another headline. Lois looked closer at that one. It was from a New Zealand weekly. She wondered if it might be a typo.

Lois paid for the coffee and tried not to spill any through the tiny aperture in the lid as she opened the door at Dorset House.

Two American tourists, their noses pressed up against the glass wall of the entrance, delayed her. Lois felt sorry for the puzzled middle-aged man, who obviously was not clear on the concept of March weather in London and was rubbing his bare arms as he spoke. His wife at least had a sweater.

“Is this the place where Sherlock Holmes…”

“No,” said Lois. “Your best bet is the museum up the street.”

“But that doesn’t make sense,” said the man. “The museum is almost at the other end of the block. The address 221B wouldn’t be up there, it would be right—”

“Yes, I know, and I’m sorry about that,” said Lois. “And for what it’s worth, the Royal Mail delivery service agrees with you. But you won’t find Sherlock Holmes here. This is Dorset House, and all the tenants of Dorset House are strictly business. Especially these days. Cheers.”

Lois knew that answer would not satisfy them—it wouldn’t have satisfied her, if she’d been in their shoes—but it couldn’t be helped. She went into the Dorset House lobby and walked quickly across the marble floor to the security guard’s station.

The security guard was a white-haired, wiry man in his seventies, who looked up from his sports section as Lois approached. “Good morning, Mr. Hendricks,” said Lois.

The Daily Sun has it spot-on, don’t you think?” said Hendricks.

“Regarding?” said Lois.

Hendricks held up the paper and displayed the page-one headline that Lois had already seen: “McSweeney Must Play!”

“The New Zealand paper has a headline just like that,” said Lois. “Except theirs says ‘Pay,’ not ‘Play.’”

“That’s because the Kiwis want to win the championship themselves. He’s innocent until proven guilty, ain’t he?”

“Yes,” said Lois, and now the headline made sense. The Kiwis had international cricket ambitions of their own. And, like siblings, the competition between England and former members of the British Empire was always more fierce than between complete strangers.

“Well, there you have it then,” said Hendricks. “They must let him play in the championship. They must! You don’t convict an entire nation over one man’s indictment, is what I always say, andThe Daily Sun says it, too, right here. So unless he’s found guilty, the International Cricket Council will let him play, right?”

“I suppose.”

“Well, they bloody well better,” said Hendricks. “I put ten quid on England winning this year. But it won’t happen without McSweeney.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” said Lois, though she had no idea. “Have you seen Nigel yet this morning?”

“No.”

“Oh my. I was afraid of that.”

“It’s not the end of the world.”

“Well, that’s easy for you to say, Mr. Hendricks,” said Lois. “I’m worried about him. It was so sudden—from his point of view—and he just hasn’t seemed himself since he came back.”

“Looks the same to me,” said Hendricks.

“Well, the hurt is on the inside, of course.”

“Bollocks. Nothing that a good rugby scrum won’t knock out of you. He just got soft there, staying across the pond for so long. Why, back in the day, I can tell you things…”

“You often do, Mr. Hendricks. And quite shocking they are, too.”

Hendricks grinned, showing only a few missing teeth—which, he often said, made him not a bad catch for a man in his seventies, especially one who was still quite capable in other areas as well.

Now he winked at Lois. “No, I don’t think I’ve shocked you quite yet, miss. But give me a chance and I will.”

“No call for that, Mr. Hendricks. But wait till I tell you this…”

Hendricks waited, his eyes widening, for Lois to lean forward and loudly whisper, “He doesn’t even care about the letters anymore! He’s begun to pass them off to me!”

Hendricks raised an eyebrow. And then he focused on the view afforded by Lois leaning forward.

She stood back and checked the buttons on her blouse.

“The letters are the very thing that made it possible for him to meet her in the first place, you know,” she said. “If she hadn’t written a letter—and if he hadn’t thought it his job to respond to it—he’d never have gone to Los Angeles to save her, and fall for her, and move in with her, and all of it.”

“So, he rescued a damsel in distress, so to speak, and then she got all better and flew the coop, as it were?”

“You could describe it that way. I’m not sure I would, but you can if you like.”

“Damned damsels in distress. Always up and doing things like that. Why, I remember, back in the day, when I—”

“Thank you so much for your willingness to share, Mr. Hendricks, but I believe you have told me before…”

“Well, it wasn’t so long ago, you know,” and he was leaning toward her again.

“I don’t doubt you, Mr. Hendricks. And don’t you dare mention to Nigel that I said anything!”

Hendricks assured her by drawing an index finger across his lips.

Lois checked her blouse again, walked across the quiet lobby, and got into the lift. It was still early, not yet nine o’clock, and so the Dorset National Bank employees—who occupied all the first-floor office space at Dorset House—had not yet arrived.

The second floor belonged to Baker Street Law Chambers. And when the lift doors opened on that floor this morning, Lois found it even quieter than the downstairs lobby.

Diagonally across from the lift was Lois’s desk. She was both secretary and administrative assistant. And receptionist. And barrister’s clerk. The barrister—the only one officially a member of Baker Street Law Chambers at the moment—was Reggie Heath, Q.C. His office was the large one on the opposite wall. Lois knew he wasn’t there. Reggie was on his extended honeymoon holiday. She was not to call him with trivia. Neither was she to call him with emergencies. She was not to call him at all.

Farther down the corridor was the smaller office—the office of Reggie’s younger brother—Nigel Heath, solicitor. To the extent that he could, within the different legal authorizations of their different legal professions, Nigel was to hold the fort in Reggie’s absence.

In Lois’s opinion, especially so when she first came to work for them a few years ago, the personality differences between the two brothers suited their choice of occupations rather neatly.

Reggie, the more flamboyant, aggressive, and generally alpha-male-ish, had become a barrister, and rather early in life, too. Nigel, the more studious and inward—though given to sudden bursts of nonconformity and rebellion—had, through various twists and turns, become a solicitor.

But then, when Reggie located his new chambers on Baker Street, and the letters had begun to arrive—letters for which Nigel had always had more of an affinity than Reggie—Nigel had begun to change.

Coming out of his shell, is how Lois had described it. Rather late in life, in his thirties to be sure—but coming out of it, just the same.

What seemed to have made all the difference was the very first letter he had responded to. That letter had taken him to Los Angeles—where he met Mara Ramirez, a young woman who had written a letter twenty years earlier, as a child, to Sherlock Homes. And when it was all resolved, he had remained there with that young woman in California.

But now Nigel had returned to London. And it seemed to Lois that he had begun to revert to his old ways. Before Los Angeles. Before Mara Ramirez. Before the letters.

Four weeks ago, Reggie Heath and Laura Rankin had gotten married. Nigel was best man. He had flown out from Los Angeles, where he had been living the past two years with Mara. But Mara had not come to London to attend the wedding with Nigel.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Nigel had said repeatedly, until Lois finally had the good sense to stop asking. But she had her theory. Such things are not unusual around the time of weddings—relationships can heat to a boil, one way or another, and not just for the star participants.

So Nigel had remained in London, but no longer having a flat in the city, he had taken up residence in the empty law office, and gone back to work as a solicitor in the bargain.

His office door was closed at the moment, and the blinds were shut, and as Lois had already seen from the street, the lights were out. But she was sure he would be there. He was always there, these days. Day and night. Well, not all night. He was away at the pub for hours in the evening, especially for the darts and snooker competitions. But except for that, he’d been camping out in his office for weeks now.

Lois walked up with the large coffee in her hand and she rapped on the office door.

“Wake up, Mr. Heath!”

No response. She took the plastic lid off the large coffee, still hot enough to steam, and she blew on it lightly to help the aroma on its way. She rapped again on the door.

“Wake up and smell it, please!” she shouted. Quite cheerily, but it was a shout, even so. She put the coffee down on the floor, just to the side so that it wouldn’t spill when Nigel finally opened his door.

Then she went back to her desk to see what might have arrived in the mail that absolutely required her attention. As she sat down, she heard the office door creak open. She didn’t bother to look up. She heard a sigh, and then what might have been a slurp, and then the sound of bare feet walking down the corridor to the loo.

Lois focused on the two in-baskets on her desk. One was for the law chambers. That in-basket contained no more than half a dozen letters, and there was no hurry about those, given that Reggie Heath, Q.C., was away.

But the other incoming basket, the one not for the law chambers, was overflowing.

And every one of those letters was addressed to Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street.

Or to Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective, at 221B Baker Street.

Or to Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, or to Mr. Sherlock Holmes c/o Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or to any number of combinations thereof.

Lois began to sort through them all. This was mandatory. The lease agreement with Dorset House made it so. Because of its address, Baker Street Chambers was required to respond to the letters that people from around the world wrote to Sherlock Holmes, despite the fact that even if he were real, he would be long since dead and buried.

Most of the letters—like the one from an elderly woman whose cat had gone missing, or the ones written by schoolchildren because their teacher told them to—required only a form letter in response, saying that Sherlock Holmes had retired to Sussex to keep bees.

But now Lois saw one that was different.

She gasped.

This one she did not set aside. This one could not be ignored.

It read:

“Dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes:

You have been selected for jury service.

Her Majesty’s Royal Comprehensive Database service lists you as residing at 221B Baker Street in Marylebone, and shows that you are more than eighteen years of age and that you are an English citizen with no felony convictions within the past ten years. You are therefore eligible for mandatory service as a juror.

Mandatory means that your service is not optional.

You are required to attend on Monday, the 24th of March, at the London Central Criminal Courts building.

You are not merely invited. It is not a party. It is jury service. You are required to attend.

If you feel that you have received this summons in error, or if any of the details of your eligibility are incorrect, you may file a letter of appeal within five (5) days of the postmark of this letter.

Please be prompt.

Warning: A failure to appear is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £1000.

Lois stared back at the jury summons, picked it up, read it again, checked Her Royal Majesty’s seal at the top to make sure it was real, checked that the same seal existed on the envelope that had contained this dreadful missive, and sighed—yes, it was real.

And, of course, the narrow deadline for objecting to it and filing an appeal had already passed.

Someone would have to deal with this.

Lois looked up from her desk. Nigel’s office door was open now. He was back from the loo. Quite possibly more or less awake. Lois picked up the Sherlock Holmes jury summons—and also a handful of mail addressed actually to Nigel—and she walked down the corridor to his office.

She paused at the open doorway and looked in. Nigel wasn’t a tidy man by nature—but Lois could see that he was making an effort. There were only two or three Mars bar wrappers on his desk.

Nigel looked up. He hadn’t shaved yet this morning. Or yesterday morning, either, apparently. He was thirty-six years of age, somewhat under six feet tall to the same extent that his brother Reggie was somewhat over, never quite as successful with the ladies as his brother was, but not bad looking, either—and if Lois, perpetually optimistic, had not been twenty years his senior, she would have at least entertained a notion.

Nigel’s desk was covered in legal documents—wills and trusts, leasehold agreements, and legal boilerplate. As a solicitor—rarely taking a litigation to court, as a barrister could do, but always just hammering away (though quite effectively) to create impregnable contracts—he had complained to Lois more than once that he needed a change. Some variety. Either give up the law altogether, or get his barrister’s certification, as Reggie had done years ago. It was coming to that; something would have to change, one way or the other.

He had his head down now in those documents, and Lois put the jury summons in front of him, with its bold red letters and Crown Court insignia.

Nigel looked up, saw that insignia, and laughed. “So they got you, did they? Happens to all of us, Lois, sooner or later. And probably sooner; there are some very troublesome trials coming up, and I hear the Crown is having trouble rounding up enough victims. I mean, jurors.”

“Look closer,” said Lois. “It’s not for me.”

Nigel froze. “Please don’t say it’s for me.”

“Not for you, either,” said Lois, and she tapped her index finger emphatically on the name and address. Nigel looked at the name on the summons, and then at Lois. “Seriously?” he said.

“Nothing on it that says April Fools,” said Lois. “And it’s not yet April. Should I write back and tell them they can’t put a character of fiction on jury service?”

“No, that will just dig the hole deeper. These things are done by computer. You can’t argue with them. Maybe some prankster put the name Sherlock Holmes on a registered voters’ list and the system has just now randomly picked it up. Or maybe they’re so desperate for jurors they’re just sending now to every address to which the Royal Mail delivers. And since the Royal Mail has been delivering letters to Sherlock Holmes to this building ever since it was put up sixty years ago—well, there you are. Sooner or later, the insistence of Sherlock Holmes fans that he is real was bound to cross paths with the Crown’s need for jurors.”

“Then what do we do?”

“Nothing.”

“But it says they’ll assess a thousand-pound fine for failure to appear.”

“Let them. Good luck finding a Mr. Sherlock Holmes to collect it from. Just be glad that they haven’t come for you yet. One of the trials starting at the Old Bailey is the McSweeney murder case. The media is all over it, and it will go on for weeks. And then there’s the Switcombe insider trading case. Dry as the desert, and just as hard to get through. And then there’s a civil trial that—well, I won’t even describe it to you. You don’t even want to know. In any case, Sherlock Holmes, being a character of fiction, is not required to serve.”

“But what will happen when he doesn’t report? Won’t they send the … jury police or something to collect him?”

“I’ve never heard of it happening, but it would be entertaining to see them try in this instance. Too bad my brother won’t be back by then—they’d probably figure that he is close enough, at least in appearance, and cart him off in handcuffs.”

Nigel looked in the direction of the wastebasket, at the far corner of the room, next to the street window.

“This will be a three-point shot,” he said.

He was about to crumple the Sherlock Holmes jury summons into a ball.

“Wait!” said Lois. “You mustn’t wad it up!”

Nigel stopped. “You’re right,” he said. “That wouldn’t show proper respect for Her Majesty’s Courts Service.”

Lois had spoken just in time. Nigel laid the still-pristine summons flat on the desk in front of him.

And then he folded it lengthwise down the middle, made two more angular folds at one end, and two additional creases lengthwise for air-worthiness.

“For shame!” said Lois. “You mustn’t! It’s an official jury summons!”

“Sorry,” said Nigel. “But it is indeed an official jury summons—addressed to Sherlock Holmes—and so I must.”

Nigel raised the paper airplane and lofted it lightly in the direction of the wastebasket. It flew reasonably on course for about two meters—and then it caught a draft and vanished from view.

“Bollocks,” said Nigel, getting up from his desk. “I didn’t know the window was open.”

“And now,” said Lois, quite sincerely, “you have not only desecrated an official Crown Court document, but you have also littered.”

They both went to the window and looked down. But there was nothing to be done. Wherever it had gone, it was no longer within view.

Nigel shrugged and went back to his desk. Lois followed, still annoyed.

“Serving on a jury is a civic duty, Mr. Heath, and I for one would be proud to do it!”

“You’re absolutely right,” said Nigel. “Unfortunately, they don’t assemble juries by taking volunteers. In my experience, the more you want to be on a jury, the less likely they are to seat you—and the more you don’t want to be on one, the more certain they are to force you to be. When I was in law school, I desperately wanted to get on a jury to see how the jurors thought. And so the court never accepted me. But now that I’ve been in practice long enough to have had my fill of juries, I’m sure they’d rope me in without question if they got the chance.”

“Well, I expect you’ll be safe this time. I’m sure they only send one notice per address.”

“Not so. Laura got a summons once for her cat, presumably because of a veterinarian’s list. Once an address gets in the database, anyone whose name is associated with it in any way could…”

Nigel stopped suddenly. He looked at Lois, she at him, and then they both looked at the unopened stack of incoming mail on Nigel’s own desk.

Nigel peeked gingerly through the stack. And there he saw it—on the top edge of one unopened envelope was the emblem of Her Majesty’s Courts Service. A jury summons.

And this one was addressed to Nigel Heath.

“Bloody hell,” said Nigel.

“There! You see?” said Lois. “Be careful what you don’t wish for!”

Outside, at Bob’s Newsstand on Baker Street, Bob stood behind the counter and watched a paper airplane drift down and settle lightly just in front of his display of daily tabloids.

For a brief moment Bob considered picking up the aerodynamic document—but from the bright official colors on it, he was pretty sure he knew what it was. He had been on jury duty a couple of times before, himself. Of course, this summons wasn’t for him—but even so, he feared somehow that just by touching it he might acquire some responsibility that he just did not need right now.

So he hesitated, and did not immediately rush out from behind his newsstand to rescue it.

And then a breeze picked the summons off the ground and sent it kiting on down Baker Street.

 

Copyright © 2016 Michael Robertson.

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Michael Robertson lives in southern California. The previous books in this series, The Baker Street Letters, The Brothers of Baker Street, The Baker Street Translation, and Moriarty Returns a Letter were also published by Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books.

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