My mom loved detective novels, all of them, but especially Sherlock Holmes. As our last name was already Holmes, she named me Sherlock when I was born. Maybe it was always in my nature, or in part because I wanted to please her, but becoming a detective became an obsession to me. Harriet the Spy, The Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, I read them all, and I entered the academy right after community college.
I learned at college and at the academy that the fictional Sherlock Holmes’ way of thinking or deducting was horribly flawed. He leapt to conclusions and spoke fast. In retrospect, he seems more like a carnival huckster than a real detective. You can’t just look at a corpse and tell its life story based on some calluses or old shoes — you actually have to work extremely hard to avoid whatever inherent biases you have.
At thirty-seven years old, I’m now a 3rd-grade detective — the lowest possible — and it’s unlikely I’ll ever move up, all because of my damn name and the idiots in the NYPD.
My first Captain unwittingly (I hope) doomed me when he told me to just shrug off the jokes and humor the boys. Yes, there are female detectives, but the NYPD is still very much a boy’s club, and it’s a nasty job regardless. You see and smell some truly disturbing shit. So my Captain told me to just roll with it and lighten the mood. “After all,” he said, “without gallows humor, this job would be unbearable.”
The first homicide I caught, the boys in blue and detectives were laughing the instant they learned my name. I thought at a homicide, they might take me more seriously, but I was 100% wrong. They actually did the opposite. The poor bastard had been shot 17 times in the back, and for no apparent reason. He had no jacket, no gambling or substance abuse problems, no domestics. From what we could gather, his wife and kids adored him, as did all of his coworkers. It was just another one of those random, brutal, senseless crimes.
“So Sherlock, what’s this look like to you?”
They were sniggering and I already felt sick to my stomach, but I tried to take my Captain’s advice. I crouched down and examined the corpse.
“You can see from his shoes the man was well-heeled. I’d guess a businessman. Very stressful. But you’ll also notice the frozen look of horror on his face, an obvious sign of existential dread or depression. And the handkerchief in his breast pocket is white, signaling surrender. So you see my friends, the conclusion is really quite obvious. This man was clearly suicidal, and late last night, he finally acted on his impulses.”
The cops and detectives were all laughing hysterically. Many had crouched over they were laughing so hard. One had even fallen to the pavement and was rolling around like a pig, slapping at the sidewalk.
“Case closed!” yelled one of the detectives, and they laughed even harder.
I’d tried over the years to abandon my schtick, but whenever I took my job seriously, everyone seemed disappointed. Drinking with an older detective, Ramsey, at a bar one night, he noticed I was sullen and asked what was wrong.
“It’s my stupid name. All of this just seems so fucked up to me. We find a prostitute hacked to pieces and I’m supposed to do a comedy routine? I’m never going to move up. Never. I should have changed my name when I had the chance.”
“Well, it’s too late now. And you’re right, it is fucked up, but would it be any less fucked up if we didn’t joke about it?”
I pounded my fist on the bar.
“Yes goddammit! These are human beings. They had families, lives, dreams. And then we find them butchered and laugh at them?”
“And now it’s all over for them. It’s a fucking tragedy.”
He looked around at the other cops and detectives around us, then leaned in and spoke softly.
“Most of these guys are idiots, but they aren’t inhuman. We’re all going to be haunted by this shit for the rest of our lives.” He patted my back. “You’re a good detective. The department will notice. Hell, they probably already have. So just keep doing what you’re doing. But make sure, never in front of the press, and never in front of the friends or relations. You do that, and I’ll end up telling jokes over your corpse.”
Ramsey held his glass up and I clinked it. What the hell can you do?