One day Mrs. Hudson announced the visit of a woman named Boris, from whose name Holmes deduced that he was a Russian disguised as a woman. And indeed it was. He had come expressly from Saint Petersburg to hire the services of Sherlock Holmes, so my friend could not refuse to accept his case even if it meant moving for a time to the Russian capital. Language would not be an obstacle: Holmes spoke fifteen languages (although he dispensed with pronouns, prepositions, adverbs and words of more than one syllable).
In St. Petersburg we stayed with our client in what he called “my hideout”, which was accessed through a sewer cover. It turned out that our client belonged to the Russian nobility, which was subject to the dictates of a guy called “the Tsar,” who had arranged for our client to spend a long vacation at a site called Siberia. However, our client did not want to take a vacation because he was dealing with a certain plot to overthrow the regime and couldn’t leave that job half done. And that’s where my friend came in, since “the Tsar” was a big fan of the exploits of Sherlock Holmes. And our client wanted us to take advantage of that circumstance to convince “the Tsar” of the desirability of remaining in Saint Petersburg.
Through a carrier pigeon sent by our client, Holmes got an appointment to meet the Tsar, who sent a carriage pulled by four horses to pick up Holmes and me in front of the sewer where we were staying. Our client did not want us to show up empty-handed, so before leaving he gave us a large package wrapped in gift paper, warning us that it was a very fragile gift to which it was not advisable to subject to too many swings.
The Tsar’s house turned out to be a palace ten times larger than Buckingham Palace. It had one hundred and sixty rooms, but a single bathroom. A footman led us in the presence of the Tsar, who welcomed us with great demonstrations of affection. Seeing the effusiveness with which the Tsar hugged my friend, I thought wise, given the fragility of the package that I was carrying, to leave it on the mantelpiece. And, in the midst of so much effusion, I completely forgot about it.
The fact is that our interview with the Tsar was most cordial and satisfactory. The Tsar knew all the adventures of Holmes that I had written down. However, he expressed his stupor at the fact that my friend was never armed, and showed us his waist where he carried a gun, a sword, a dagger, a rifle and a bag full of hand grenades. He justified himself by saying that he had many enemies, specifically 125,640,021 people. (Interestingly, this figure coincided with the total population of the Russian Empire as recorded by a recent census.) Holmes replied that he only had one enemy, Moriarty, but that it was not his intention to kill him but to put him behind bars. Then we heard a rising rumor coming from outside the palace.
“There it is again”, the Tsar said with contempt.
“Who do you mean?”, asked Holmes.
Apparently, that was his greatest enemy. Every day “the People” went to bother him at the doors of his palace. Suddenly the Tsar got up, opened the bag at his waist and began to throw hand grenades down the balcony. When he had emptied the bag, he came to us apologizing for not being able to continue enjoying our company.
“I have to exterminate a plague of cockroaches,” he justified himself.
And he said goodbye to us hugging us again effusively. Then a footman loaded with a large bag entered and the Tsar told him to leave the bag by the balcony, after which he ordered him to lead us outside through the back door “to avoid the disturbances”.
Before the footman closed the door behind me, I turned for a moment and saw the tsar grabbing grenades from the bag and throwing them down the balcony.
Holmes and I followed the footman through the luxurious corridors and down the stairs until we reached a secret door that led to a narrow street. The door closed behind us.
And it was then, on our way to our client’s “hideout”, when Holmes realized that we had forgotten to comply with our client’s request. “And not only that”, I thought remembering the package with the gift that I had left on the mantelpiece.
My thought was followed by an explosive crash so tremendous that it shook the foundations of the luxurious palace of the Tsar.
“What was that?! Holmes exclaimed alarmed.
“A defective grenade, surely,” I replied, and pulled Holmes’s arm to get to the “hideout” as soon as possible.