The Crime That Never Happened




 

 

— It was an uncomfortable time for the great detective. It need not be detailed how his visitors, experiments, and use of narcotic drove away his landlady's other tenants, nor how he stood on the brink of eviction. And with his landlady, her solicitors, and their printers all competing for his services, small wonder he allowed a pair of forgers to escape. Not only allowed them, but held the boat till they got aboard so they could flee the country! —

You may be sure that as Sherlock Holmes' de facto biographer, I am not entirely unaware of my privileged place in the scheme of things. Willingly did I choose to preserve for posterity the Great Detective's legacy, yet even the most faithful chronicler must find it impossible to satisfy the growing clamor over Holmes' career. I am accosted now at every turn by his admirers - in my walks, at meals, any time in the public eye - so much so I have become very nearly a hermit! This badgering must stop at once, or I shall be forced to lay down my pen until it does.

Moreover, the demand of late has been to hear more of his early successes, which compounds my difficulties. If truth be told most of those episodes are wanting in the one regard I am most eager to illustrate, a component which shows not only Holmes' remarkable powers of deduction, but his defining character as well. One discovers only a handful of those cases significantly shaped his later career, and I am forced to draw from those shallow waters.

For the record I consider Ricoletti's abominable wife shockingly influential in Holmes' first associations with Scotland Yard; and the savage affair of the Bank of Italy earned him solid reputation among the rich and powerful. For an early lesson in principles, however, there can be no more telling example than that of Mr. James Coleridge of Bartleby, Coleridge & Rhodes. It was a case Holmes entered into most reluctantly, with its final outcome balanced on a knife edge between crime and justice. For the first time then Holmes was forced to choose between what is legally proper and what is truly best, a decision of conscience he has never regretted.


The tale begins that chilly autumn of 1881 a scant six months after Holmes and I took apartments together, for it was then our landlady presented us with a problem which would forever alter our relationship with her.

At first she had been pleased to rent us our rooms, but her opinion was by end of summer severely modified. It need not be detailed how Holmes' visitors, experiments, and use of narcotic drove away her other tenants, nor how we stood on the brink of being ousted from our comfortable nest. Suffice it to say we found ourselves dependent on her thinning patience and were looking for ways to make amends. On one particular morning we were offered the chance.

"Good morning, Mrs. Hudson," I offered cheerily as she first entered our rooms. "It is a fine day, don't you think?"

She responded with a brusqueness which surprised me, "Now I'll none o' that! You are the both of you behind again, and I've come to make a bargain, Dr. Watson. You and your friend may take it or leave it."

"Truly I am expecting pensions ..." I flummoxed, at which she returned a remarkably sour look.

"Not that either, though the good Lord knows money a welcome nuisance these days. No. What I'm needin' most is some of that advice your Mr. Holmes is getting so famous for. If he will be providin' that per'aps I can hold off on the other." I nodded at once it was likely, at which she tightened her apron and folded her arms, warning me there would be little room for bargaining.

"You are aware Mr. Hudson has left me this house, but the mortgage has outlived him. For the second month now it is behind and I hold to blame the reputation of your friend. Him makin' it so hard to keep anyone else hereabouts. There is always some late night knock on the door or smell in the hall, and just last week that fella' what threatened to break in!" She punctuated this last remark with her finger on my chest. I assured her such things were unavoidable in Holmes' profession, but it proved a mistake.

"Don't presume to be tellin' me what's unavoidable Doctor," said she, finger poised like a snake, ready to strike again if necessary. "Outside this very window is the street below, and if the pair a' you should find yourselves in it, I am sure proper payin' tenants would gladly fill the hole."

It was at that unfortunate moment Holmes himself entered wearing the clothes he had slept in, searching for his pipe. At times he had been charming to her but this was not one of them. "Is she here after rent again, Watson?" asked he, speaking as if she could not possibly hear. "She is an infernal bother so early in the morning."

At this our landlady whirled to face the clock, which had already passed eleven, and unleashed a second bolt. "Early or no, Mr. Holmes, your street urchins and criminals coming and going was a tolerable thing when you paid regular, just tolerable. But now you're behind again, so I've a way for you to help make up for it." At this barrage Holmes too was taken aback. He resigned himself to an inconvenient lecture, having no clear alternative, and slumped into the chair beside his tobacco.

"Here is my problem," said she, and pulled from her apron a letter. It was from the firm of Bartleby, Coleridge & Rhodes, and read in part:

For two months you have been found in arrears [etc.]
Failing proper payment it is our intent to arrange prompt
sale of the property. One of our solicitors will present
himself at twelve o'clock on the Wednesday to discuss
the details.

"Madam," Holmes began a bit too casually for her, "I am not in the business of raising capital. That is more in your banker's line. But your first order of business must certainly be having a talk with these solicitors."

"Then you two will be present," she decided instantly. "I'll not face that man alone."

For several minutes more Holmes' obstinacy and her determination clashed before my eyes. He considered her latest lost tenant an advantage in storage space; she reminded him a new landlord might be less forgiving of rent. In the end it was decided I alone would accompany her, while Holmes kept his more pressing appointment with a notorious wife beater and child killer.


The solicitor was evidently the most prompt of men for at precisely noon the next day the bell rang, and through the glass shone an oppressively large man with an overstuffed valise. His clothes were simple and clean, if ill fitting, and he seemed surprisingly cheerful of face. Our landlady paused to remark this might not be as terrible as first thought and opened the door, whereupon the visitor doffed his hat, politely announced he was expected, and twisted himself sideways to enter. Holmes smiled bemusedly from the top of the stairs.

"We have prepared for you in the front room here," invited Mrs. Hudson, leading the way to a sunlit corner with tea already set out. The man bowed the few degrees his torso would permit, then smiled at us both and shuffled past. When we found no chair could easily accommodate him two were drawn together and we sat. He was, whatever his profession, most courteous and engaging, and after some polite chatter we were all beginning to feel quite relaxed when again the bell rang.

This time it was Holmes who answered; and in the doorway a more sinister face now appeared. A face likely to make children shudder.

When a glint of sunlight drew my attention to the menacing knob of metal atop his cane I wondered at once if it was connected to the beatings which surrounded his terrible reputation. The man muttered something to Holmes with the gravity of one awaiting the gallows, and without standing on ceremony entered like an army of occupation. Uninvited the creature barged into our little group, eyed everyone suspiciously, and claimed the remaining chair. At such a hideous interruption Mrs. Hudson rose immediately to her feet and demanded my friend to remove his client upstairs directly.

Holmes smiled back unperturbed. "I don't know whether that is possible, dear lady, but we will give it a try. Come along Freddy," said he, and to our utter shock our gargantuan guest struggled to his feet and squeezed himself onto the stairway.

"Delightful friends you have, Mr. Holmes. I have enjoyed meeting them," he spoke exiting the room, with Holmes grinning answer, "Fine Freddy, now up you go. Do you need me to push?" Yet in leaving Holmes intended one final comment strictly for us: "Looks can be deceiving, Mrs. Hudson. I fear this time the unsavory character is yours."

We turned then to see our unwelcome companion completely unmoved by Holmes' disparaging remark, and I was to soon realize Mr. James Coleridge was the most discomforting man I had ever encountered. His manners belonged to some prison jailer, and his hygiene left as much to be desired. Even his general appearance belied a proper man of profession: unkempt hair, wardrobe a clashing ensemble of colors, one shoe unlaced, pocket torn. Holmes might spend an entire meal surveying such a specimen.

"I do not enjoy dealing with women of property," he started without bothering to look up, "and as my time is the more valuable I shall make this brief as possible. You are in arrears, Mrs. Hudson, therefore we must have you paid up this very week or arrange for sale of your property. You have only to sign these papers," at which he thrust a daunting stack her way.

These callous words struck like a hammer, but our landlady was not so easily vanquished. She launched her own broadside then, insisting the invader explain fully the legalities and answer her every legitimate question. Unhappily I found myself situated between the two enforcing a fragile truce. At times I too assailed the intruder with questions, which did nothing to improve his disposition. I was informed by him that being a mere tenant it was none of my concern who owned the lodgings and remanded to produce my legal interests or stay out if it.

For nearly an hour we endured this man's presence till finally I could stand no more. At the stroke of one I literally yanked the chair from under him, led him by his stained collar to the doorway, and informed him if he ever returned he would rue the day! And just as the door slammed between us I heard a voice upon the stairs. It was Holmes.

"Bra-vo, Watson. I was just coming to join you in case reinforcements were needed, but see one old soldier was sufficient. You remember asking how a man in my profession can speak so poorly of attorneys? If this man Coleridge has not opened your eyes, no one can." And with that brief oratory he turned back to our rooms.

I was only prevented from following by Mrs. Hudson's hand upon my arm, her voice trembling. "Doctor Watson, this is all a'much for me, and I may certainly lose the house now. But I'll be properly thankin' you for removing that horrid man from my home." Thus in a single ragged breath she was transformed from rent collector to kindred soul, and I was moved to do all I could for her.

Surprisingly, Holmes was not only willing to help now, but eager to learn more. He had been observing discreetly through the archway and developed a strong curiosity about the visitor. "Did you note his dress, Watson? How may a man from a presumably respectable firm be allowed to greet clients in such costume? And there was the way he kept scratching at his left foot. And his smell. What did you make of that?"

"He required soap," was the kindest opinion I might offer.

My friend shook his head. "You miss the point, Watson. It was not all him, though his general reek obscured the fact. If I am not mistaken he has recently been awash in something quite out of the ordinary."

We corroborated other queer details about the man. The torn pocket, as if caught on something and yanked free, stains upon his shoe, something bulky concealed within his cloak. I further suggested the man was blind of color. "Or at least of fashion," responded Holmes with a chuckle. "In any case we will go to his office directly, and see what we will see." And by two o'clock we did just that.


Bartleby, Coleridge & Rhodes occupied the third floor of a brick-front building with an ornate marble entryway, the names of several law firms hanging proudly above. They had established themselves six years before, judging by their shingle, and must have been well employed as they had their own space for carriages along the curb.

To this day, I distinctly remember our calling cards sent in ahead of us had (back then) small reputation behind them. We suffered an irritating delay; but at long last a bored clerk appeared, book beneath his arm, pages marked with our cards, saying he would take us inside. There we found a tidy well-appointed office, and up that high a refreshing breeze and sunlight streamed in for a pleasant overall effect. As we entered only one desk stood in terrible disarray, an island of refuse presumably belonging to Mr. Coleridge, and as we passed it Holmes pinched his nose against a faint odor and held up the nameplate for me with a grimace. Thankfully that unworthy was nowhere to be seen. The only one present was in fact the barrister and senior partner Mr. Rhodes, who welcomed us. He made us comfortable, at the same time sending next door for fresh scones, and clearing a stack of papers to see us better sat down to business.

"What may I do for you two fine fellows?" was his first good-natured question, but Holmes was already irritated from the waiting and sat back in silence.

"Very well," I commenced abruptly, "it is this business with Mrs. Hudson." Thus inside of six minutes I unfolded our whole part in this drama, from our late rent to our wish to make amends, asking how the imminent foreclosure might be postponed. After this the gentleman rose to his feet, declared how much he admired loyalty, and reckoned her a remarkable landlady for inspiring it!

Curiously as we discussed the details, his eyes kept drifting back to my companion, and I realized in surprise even the small celebrity of Sherlock Holmes held some advantage. In the next breath Mr. Rhodes himself admitted finding detective work fascinating.

"I should dearly love to see an example," he effused, fingering his suspenders. "Tell me, detective, what do you make of me?" But Holmes found the request demeaning and immediately let him know it.

"Mr. Rhodes. Let me point out my powers are not merely for your amusement. I have not so arduously prepared myself for parlor tricks, but more serious matters." Nevertheless my nudging and the gentleman's obvious disappointment changed his mind.

"Oh, very well, if it will repay your courtesies to us." And at these words the man positively glowed with pleasure, sitting chin up, stiff as a portrait, to offer a thorough examination.

It proved unnecessary. Holmes already had much to say beginning with the "more obvious" details of Mr. Rhodes' age, second marriage, previous occupation, and that his move to London from a small town cost him his professional status. The smile faded to blank astonishment when next was revealed to him his irritation with London cabbies, recent weight loss, aggressive courting of new clients, the fact he planned to hire another partner and that he himself did not trust Mr. Coleridge. When Holmes stopped speaking the man's mouth worked itself soundlessly, like a fish upon the sand, as he tried to ask how this was possible. Holmes spared him the trouble.

"Really, Mr. Rhodes, it is elementary. Your age is in your face and hands. That you have married twice is apparent from the photographs on your shelf. The ceremonial gavel beside them tells me you were once a judge. Surely a man does not casually descend from lofty judge to barrister, but it often happens when he leaves a small town and takes up law in greater London, awaiting his chance at the bench. It is the size of the fish and its pond at cross purposes. I consider it likely you moved here to start over when you lost your first wife.

"Upon our arrival the cabbie rushed off the instant our feet touched ground. It was then I noticed your signs emphatically reminding cabbies they were in a private space and to move on. You have surely had trouble with them before. You also have on new clothes but kept the old suspenders, which you have been fingering since you sat down. I would be a poor detective indeed if I failed to notice they are badly worn where the brass clips were formerly adjusted. That tells me you have lost some two or three stone since last summer, when those suspenders were first in style."

Holmes warmed to his subject now. "This stack of handbills. They are the kind one hands out on street corners to unearth new clients. You have a pouch full on the hook beside me, and a boy with an identical pouch scurried from your building as we entered. As for the new partner, you are making space for another large desk here in your own office, rather than out there where your bored clerks and pretty young secretaries reside."

Mr. Rhodes sat dumbfounded as my remarkable companion completed his account. "Your mistrust of Coleridge is evident from your desktop; it is a most reliable map of your thinking. Though I perceive you are right-handed, you have purposely arranged your desk so all your paper work must be done on your far left. The place it would normally be handled is blocked by a permanent stack of tall books, rarely used judging by the dusty spines. They can serve no other purpose than obstruct the view of your papers enjoyed by your neighbor, Mr. Coleridge. Now, is there any other mystery you wish cleared up?"

For an interminable time, it seemed, our host sat motionless. Finally he turned to me and spoke. "You are a man to be trusted?" I indicated as a physician and soldier, I was. "And you Detective Holmes, you are rumored to be a man of discretion. Is this true?" An answering nod.

"I have heard something of your abilities but to witness them first hand, well, I am overcome." My friend lowered his head modestly but I could see the flattery had already found its mark.

"Perhaps there is a way you might help your landlady, after all. You see we have had a troubling incident and I should like some advice on it." Now the man rose quietly from his chair, crept to the door, and locked it. He returned to his seat, remembered the open window, and went there to lean out, peering up and down before closing it as well. The gentleman finally returned to his seat before divulging the whole of this mysterious matter.

"It is not generally known, and may greatly surprise you, but the business of law is fueled by a forest of paper. It cannot survive so much as a day without it! The danger is that all our legal forms are done by the same printer, many hundreds on a month-by-month. He is a tenant in a building we hold in trust, you see, and their rent helps us with upkeep.

"Recently the print shop suffered a robbery and against our protests postponed all work till the crime is resolved. How does this concern us, you ask? Grievously, is my answer. First it is our building so we are already involved with the police, but they can discover nothing." Holmes shrugged at this familiar comment. "But more than the robbery itself, which was trivial, we are deeply deeply threatened in another way," and at these ominous words we leaned forward awaiting the menacing details.

Almost reluctantly he supplied them. "Lately we are besieged by new clients, which I myself have labored to bring about, but to our grave misfortune ... ," whereupon he dropped to a whisper, "our supply of paper forms is running low." His eyes darted about the room as if someone might be eavesdropping. "I should hate the fourth floor to find this out. Last time we ran out of forms they charged us triple for some of theirs."

We sat back in thinly disguised disappointment. "I did not realize attorneys lived such a cutthroat existence," Holmes remarked with a touch of sarcasm.

"Oh we do, assuredly so. Corrigan on the fourth has been parking their clients' cabs in our spaces, and making noise on our ceilings when he knows important patrons are down here. We actually lost one to all the banging! If you could only put the printers' mind at ease about the robbery he might have our new forms delivered by next week, before I must go crawling back to Corrigan. If you will spare me that horror I will gladly give your landlady more time for her payments."

Holmes rose alongside me. "Mr. Rhodes, you have a rather poor scale for weighing true peril. Nevertheless, I will see what can be done." Gratefully the man shook our hands and quickly re-opened the window. For a moment more he remained there breathing deeply, for in even that short span we began to notice an unpleasant scent. Somewhat embarrassed Rhodes nodded towards the slovenly desk and volunteered, "we keep the windows open around here."

Our business apparently concluded we hurried to get back into the fresh air ourselves then, but Holmes made a point of stopping in front of the clerk's desk on his way out. It was admittedly rude of my friend to stand there staring, as it was of the clerk to ignore the person before him.

When the young man finally did look up Holmes publicly suggested he might go a long ways in the city of London, if he would only change his occupation to delivery boy. Also that "Jenny" will not likely have dinner with him later this week or ever again, and it is not surprising his parents asked him to move out. At this shocking humiliation the lad rose to his feet in spirited indignation, prepared for an angry confrontation, but he learned the man who cowed the Butchers of Murmansk is not so easily threatened by a whiskerless child. The look faded as quickly as it came and the clerk sat quietly back down.

"One more thing bothers me," said my friend before turning to go, "I should like to cling to the illusion that someday my card will serve as something more than a bookmark." At that he snatched it back, returning it to his pocket for someone more deserving.


Upon our return Mrs. Hudson was overjoyed with news of her possible reprieve and added her glad thanks and prayers to our efforts, yet in his mood Holmes received them but grudgingly.

"It seems I must pay my rent in capital or service and so I am obliged, but servitude is never to my liking." With such ungracious words did he feed himself and take his leave, and Mrs. Hudson, who had been feeling more kindly disposed towards him, soured once more. I might here mention the civil decorums were never a priority for Holmes. They did not receive from him, say, the attention of blood clots or severed limbs. Only once did I remind him Richter's axiom that, like bullets, the smoothest man goes farthest. His prompt reply was that my logic was inherently faulty; the smoothest bullet, said he, is not one barnacled with time-wasting civilities. I have ever since confined myself to setting a proper example and depending on osmosis to work its slow irresistible influence.

As for how his day proceeded, Holmes soon found himself tangled in a strange web of events indeed. To save ourselves it was necessary to rescue our landlady, a hope built upon our service to the solicitors. Their salvation in turn lay with the printer, who it turns out also wanted something. Or so I was to learn when my fellow-lodger returned.

"I found the printer to be a solid specimen of his profession," explained Holmes, wiping smudges from his cloak and placing one shoe oddly on the open window sill. "At the print shop loose paper and rags, ink cans and type were strewn everywhere, Watson. It would be virtually impossible to find one's own dinner in the mess. Even my presence in the debris went unnoticed for some time and I am no small crumb. Three minutes I stood there before an aged gentleman took notice of us."

"Us?" I inquired off-handedly, wondering more at the shoe in the window.

"I was obliged to take along the unpleasant Mr. Coleridge to do the honors of an introduction. I chose an open cab, you may be sure, and immediately upon our arrival discovered the source of at least his chemical odor. They use an ink cleaning compound there, the very same with which he is perfumed. He showed me the bucket he'd stepped in this morning then complained it had absorbed into his shoe leather, which also helps explain his untied lace."

"It is divine justice!" I answered rather pleased by the news.

"Yes, well, it is not so easy to avoid a bucket in the middle of a crowded floor." Holmes paused to inspect his own footwear on the sill, pushed the offending object farther out on the ledge, and closed the window. "Mr. Coleridge is a frequent visitor there. He not only handles his firm's printing orders but takes an interest in all that they do. He has some experience with printers through his family upbringing, I am told, and never tires of learning more. But enough about that distasteful man."

Holmes looked about our rooms. "The print shop puts our clutter to shame, Watson. Fortunately I was not asked for housekeeping tips. They have been robbed and are worried about losing a new client over it. Their contract is to print five-thousand bearer bonds worth a small fortune, and their only place of storage the locked room recently broken into. If they can do no better another printer may win over the contract. This is why they suspect some business rival of the crime."

"Would a stronger lock not prevent a recurrence?"

"Possibly, but that is not sufficient. An engraved machine stamp is necessary to authenticate the bonds after they are printed, and that very object is to be delivered by guard two days from now. Until the printer knows who is behind this break-in he is uneasy about having it left in his care. So should I be, Watson. There are curious currents in the waters surrounding this. Their storeroom holds just ink and paper of little use to anyone but another print shop. In fact the cheap paper was left untouched by the thief and the more valuable variety carried off, which reinforces their suspicions another printer is somehow involved."

At that moment Mrs. Hudson passed our open door unexpectedly, almost as if listening. Such an indiscretion might be forgiven knowing her hopes hung so heavily on Holmes' slender thread, but he was not feeling obliging and shut the door soundly.

"As I was saying, Watson, curious things. I checked doors and windows for signs of forced entry but found none, which should reliably point to an insider; yet anyone working there would know the room held nothing of value when it was robbed. Alongside that fact is this one: the alley door is sometimes left unlocked as the shop steward is terribly forgetful, permitting anyone to wander in."

I folded my hands and began to sketch aloud his list of suspects. "So an insider or outsider, Holmes, depending on the caretaker remembering to lock the door. Also anyone under the sun who knew about the plan to print valuable bonds, eh?"

"Not just under the sun, I fear, but the moon as well. The robbery happened at night if we are to believe three witnesses. Borodino is the foreigner who works those hours. He barely speaks the Queen's English but his brother helps translate. This Borodino claims he was surprised from behind and knocked senseless; his story was corroborated by the shop steward. When the steward came in that night to check on work he called out but no one answered, and going back to the pressroom reports seeing the storeroom open and hearing noises within. When he demanded who was in there no one answered. Sensing danger he ran for a constable. They returned together to find the storeroom hasp broken, alley door wide open, and Borodino unconscious in a corner.

"I cannot prove or disprove the account, Watson, though I have some misgivings. This Borodino worked a press in his homeland and hopes to be promoted to pressman here some day. Till then he is restricted to menial chores and not permitted to use the machine. I sensed anger over this but whether the man is capable of maliciousness I am uncertain. There is also this: Borodino has a criminal past. The shop steward was loathe to speak of it but only a family favor won his employment.

"I have other suspects as well. Not the least of them a drifter who sits outside their alley, I am told, several days a week. He was last noticed the day before the robbery and not been seen since. Often the workers handed out food when he came by, and sometimes let him sit in the pressroom to be out of the weather. He may have overheard much about the precious bonds and stamp and determined to help himself.

"Lower on my suspect list are the landlords who look after the building, the venerable Bartleby, Coleridge & Rhodes. They assuredly have a key to the building as they hold it in trust, and let us not forget the detestable Mr. Coleridge is among them. I cannot say why in particular he should be involved, but among the three I would suppose him my chief suspect."

Again I ventured an opinion. "I would wager a pipe on a rival print shop! They know the quality of paper, and you say only the better variety was carried off."

"That is certainly a strong possibility, but there are other pieces to fit into place. For one, the break-in itself was part real and part staged. In that I could not possibly be mistaken. The storeroom hinges and hasp are recessed which makes them difficult to jimmy from the outside. As a result the intruder waited till he had the door already open before breaking off the hasp. Some kind of chisel was inserted in a place it could only reach with the door swung out of the way."

I could not help remarking "Surely a madman! Who would break open a door he has already opened?"

Holmes had his answer already prepared: "Obviously one who has a key but wishes to disguise the fact. From a merely practical standpoint I must consider the shop steward and Borodino the most likely suspects, as both were present at the time of the robbery. Of the two Borodino best fits the facts. The hasp was broken from above, not below, and the steward is only five-foot-three. From the standpoint of motives I have no firm leads. Neither has much to gain by stealing printing supplies, not when they are otherwise so readily available. Eventually I questioned everyone who worked there, with the execrable Mr. Coleridge close at my side, but could not definitely lay guilt on any one of them."

"Still, Holmes, if the storeroom was opened first with a key it must be someone employed there."

"Sadly no, Watson. Several times the storeroom key itself has gone missing, only to be found days later in the general debris. Anyone in the building might stumble across it in the meantime. It is apparently one of the least secure buildings in all of London."

With those final observations Holmes grew silent, as well-oiled machines of calculation began turning relentlessly inside him. I was brazenly reprimanded when I interrupted this reverie, for once he accumulated his facts Holmes was not one to lightly endure frivolous interruptions, so for the rest of that evening he was left entirely alone.


Thursday morning I woke early to the invigorating smell of breakfast in our sitting room.

Holmes had already been up but I knew it could not be his handiwork. A man who lives on pocket sandwiches does not fold napkins. It was in fact an unexpected treat supplied by a grateful Mrs. Hudson, and after a hearty meal I found her cleaning downstairs and thanked her for it. If no other good came of this, our efforts were at least beginning to thaw the frosty relationship with that worthy woman.

With hunger well satisfied, what next came to mind was the affair at the printer's. I found it impossible to get it out of my mind so took up the challenge of deciphering the clues in the case.

I knew the solution to any mystery must surely lie in its unusual details, a point my mentor in criminal detection was always reminding me. On the one hand I knew a room had been opened first with a key then the lock smashed. Holmes suggested an insider might do it to throw off suspicion, but what could they hope to gain? Paper? Ink? I recalled the valuable bonds were not yet printed.

Most likely someone was after the "precious" machine stamp, but that wasn't in the storeroom at the time. Perhaps they acted prematurely, I reasoned, before the stamp was delivered? It did seem an insider would know when the stamp was to arrive and the project commence, which pointed the finger back at outsiders. I was beginning to go in circles.

I also knew the break-in was partly staged yet the printer accused his competition. Aha! A ruse to put a rival in hot water would not be out of the question. That made perfect sense. It might cause serious trouble for someone with London's banks and police involved. Or backfire on the accuser, on second thought. A better explanation was wanting.

Or a better motive, perhaps. The bonds could not be made without the stamp. What if the plan was to ransom it, or borrow it for some other underhanded purpose? A counterfeiter might even remove it overnight, use it to validate bogus bonds, and return it before anyone was the wiser. The only flaw I found in that theory was its failure to explain the broken hasp. With the break-in so conspicuous everyone would be on their guard, and a second attempt at the stamp made more difficult.

Could the printer make his own counterfeit bonds, under confusion of the robbery?

By Jove - everything fell instantly in place! The printer muddied the waters with a staged robbery, would stage a second perhaps, and make phony bonds with attentions elsewhere. He could discreetly unload them over time so no one suspected, and if forgeries were discovered in circulation could easily blame the thief who was never caught! All the pieces fit and I had done it from my armchair. It seemed after six months of close living some of Holmes' precise reasoning powers had rubbed off.

I was immensely pleased with myself, and my only thought was to share my spark of brilliance with Holmes.


I did not have long to wait. Shortly before ten a hack pulled up, and I heard through the open window Holmes' familiar two-footed leap to the pavement. He shortly appeared in our doorway sniffing the remnants of my meal. "You have been fed," he almost snarled. It was only then I realized he had not.

"I will ask Mrs. Hudson if there is more. I left her in good humor and I'm sure she is willing, then I have some uplifting news to report."

Holmes eyed me questioningly, tossing off his hat and packages. "No need. I ate yesterday. What news have you?"

As casually as I could, I set up my cup, drew a deep breath, and let fly. "Merely that I have solved the mystery." I watched my friend's eyebrow raise.

"Mystery? Which mystery? The wife beater's missing club? The print shop robbery? The government scandal I am looking into this morning?" It was only then I realized my offerings might never be more than crumbs to my friend's enormous appetites, nevertheless I forged ahead.

"Why, the smashed lock, plans for the engraved stamp, everything." My friend looked at me with new admiration I felt, and leaned back upon the mantle preparing himself to be enlightened. I confess it was with some pride I shared my theories, and retrieved my cup in utter triumph.

"Congratulations, Watson. Fine detective work. I have come to that very conclusion, that someone is plotting to print fraudulent bonds." These first words filled me with warmth, but what followed ...

"However your other deductions are a major embarrassment to you. To you, to the art of detection, perhaps the entire criminal underworld. As to a forger selling his wares piecemeal, I beg you remember every additional sale risks exposing them as faulty. You may be sure with a major project he would unload them all at once. As for the printer making surplus bonds, he himself instructed the stamp's whereabouts be known at all times. He would hardly do so if it meant exposing his evil plans. And even you must realize a second break-in would not muddy the waters, Watson, but bring in greater scrutiny to help clear them up."

I sat back down.

"And your theory?" I thought more than asked, too disturbed to speak.

"Here is the way I see it, Watson. This crime is composed of three layers: what happened leading up to the break-in, what happened during, and what happened immediately after.

"The first layer was someone seeing an opportunity for quick riches, but he understood only part of the challenge. He knew about bonds being printed and that a vital stamp would be kept in the storeroom. What he did not know was when the stamp was to be delivered, and struck too soon as you guessed. His ignorance marks him as positively excluded from the daily gossip around the shop, where the stamp was all the rage. The 'half-million stamp' they were calling it, and could hardly wait till Friday to see it.

"Concerning the actual robbery, it is my experience that nighttime intruders prefer stealth to noisy hammers and chisels. An ordinary burglar with a key would never smash a heavy metal hasp, yet our man made multiple loud attempts to do so. I saw at least three places where he moved his chisel around. Only a man who works at the print shop might risk it. He would have little to fear from being discovered on the premises, but much to worry about if there are no outside suspects to camouflage his crime.

"The final clue follows the break-in. You recall the intruder was overheard rummaging the storeroom, but luck saved him. When the steward ran for police he had his chance to escape. Any ordinary burglar would be gone in a flash, but this one took a large can of ink and reams of paper to slow him down; or to disguise what he was really after."

I could not deny the puzzle pieces Holmes plucked from the pile showed a picture different from my own (in his the shop steward appeared innocent). Even so our versions remained almost parallel. They both pointed at someone inside the shop, someone present at time of the break-in, but he had in mind someone other than the steward.

"Borodino," I cried.

Holmes instantly concurred. "That is the way I see it. Borodino surely sensed something big happening; excitement was all around him, but his poor English and late hours limited what he knew of the details. When the steward showed up unexpectedly that night and called out his name Borodino was rummaging the storeroom. He could hardly answer with his hand in the till, but when the steward ran to fetch help he very smartly improvised. He grabbed whatever was handy to smash the hasp, flung open the alley door, and pretended to be knocked unconsciousness. I may be wrong in a few of the details and have other leads still to follow, but it seems obvious."

And so it did. I marveled I had not seen it myself.

"Oh Watson, do not look so crestfallen. It is completely irrelevant you will never equal me in the business, for that is not your profession. The medical is where you exceed my skills and I have frequent use for such talents. Now there's a good fellow. Do you feel up to a trip out? I've a mind to pay another visit to that print shop." Being eager to redeem myself, I indicated I was.


To save time we took the nearest brougham, though most days we scorned such extravagance. At our departure I did notice Mrs. Hudson looking out eagerly as we clattered down the street, but with our destination mere minutes away Holmes quickly drew my attention back to him to discuss the broader case.

"You remember I mentioned other leads to follow. One was the beggar who frequented the area. He has returned and I had my chance to question him, Watson, but he immediately offered an alibi which made the robbery an impossibility for him. He was pinched for vagrancy the day before and let loose only the day after, and the police themselves vouch for his whereabouts. These facts would seem to remove him from the picture. Also that bagatelle Coleridge remains in the clear for now, as he has done nothing to arouse strong suspicion. Estate trustees may surely rent out a building to help pay its upkeep, and that Coleridge found a printer for tenant is not so strange, given his interest in the trade. The rival printers accused by the shop steward I have also been to see but do not believe them involved, at least not directly ... "

Before much more could be said we rounded a final corner and found ourselves in front of the Macaffey Printers, and standing by the door expectantly was the shop steward I had heard so much about. Tiny he seemed as I descended, and I wondered that a stiff breeze wouldn't be his undoing.

My friend marched straight up to him asking if all was ready, and in response the man spun on his heels, nearly toppled over, and led us directly to the alleyway. There was propped a ladder to the roof which Holmes swiftly climbed. In less than a minute he came back down pronouncing it suited his needs perfectly, and we followed the little man into his shop. Holmes next asked whether there were any means besides the valuable stamp to duplicate bearer bonds. A clever question I thought but the answer was more than either of us bargained for.

"Say, you're something of an ignorant I see!" barked the tiny fellow, scratching behind his ear. Heads all around the shop turned our way.

"No mister detecative. The bonds must have a'proper stamping, as every worthwhile bank from here to Milan has a copy a'that engraving to compare. Top o' that stamp goes a signature right there in the empty space," said he, showing us an unsigned sample. "The bankers add that at the end. A chap might put in a pretend signature, but not a'one could make a convincing stamp."

Holmes hastily examined the specimen. "A rare piece of work, Watson, and heavy linen. Note the unusual lettering, and these delicate edges bordering the stamp imprint. A rather brilliant shade of ruby, chosen especially for that reason I imagine. I suppose the edges of the paper will be cut in some irregular fashion to make forgery more difficult?"

The steward looked at me in genuine surprise then, and back to my companion. "Worse all the time! How DO you stay in business? No special trim cut, only what's printed on the front," he muttered, shaking his diminutive head. My friend let it pass, handing the bond down to the man rather stiffly. Holmes gathered himself for another round, reminding the steward no one should approach the shop or the culprit may be scared off.

"You're such a nervous one. No need to fret so. With the stamp safe at Bartleby's we won't be lookin' in on the place ag'in till Monday."

Holmes paused in his tracks. "You don't say?"

"Yes a'mighty! That Coleridge arranged to keep the stamp safe at the office till Monday, and it's a load off'a my mind. I must watch my talk about that two-legged skunk now, as he's got a better heart than I gave 'im credit for. Skilled pressman too, but a'course he could never succeed in the trade."

"His clumsiness with buckets?" quipped Holmes.

The man was clearly startled by this. "You can't tell? Just look at his dress! He don't know what is from what ought'a be. And you call yourself a detecative. But enough a'him. Cleaning up for our visitor you will never guess what we found."

My friend responded "your missing articles" without so much as a thought. The answer was of course self-evident.

"Why, just so. Say, there is some brain in you! The paper and ink was behind that trash pile," said he, aiming an unsteady arm towards one dark corner. "Things go a'missing all the time here. We are a mess from the look a'things." He laughed a pixie little laugh, stumbled over a box, and automatically uprighted himself. Finally Holmes re-examined the area and had words with the steward in private. I could see him point first at the skylight above our heads, back to where the paper had been discovered, and we were on our way once more.

This time we traveled on foot, having spent our pocket money on the brough, and as the pace was more leisurely found sufficient time to discuss not only significant details of the case but trivialities as well. It was then Holmes surprised me with a question which in itself reveals much about the man.

"What am I missing, Watson? You heard the steward go on about the solicitor's dress. Two nearby workers nodded most vigorously when he said it. You had a similar remark, as I recall. What was it?"

"You mean that Mr. Coleridge is obviously blind of color."

Holmes seemed perplexed.

"Really Holmes, you do not know? It means he cannot distinguish between opposites like red and green." This was plainly a shock to my learned friend, and seeing doubt in his eyes I pursued the matter. "It is a bona fide medical condition. A German named Hering, I believe, proposed cells in the eye work in pairs, just as you and I. When they fail to work together properly a man may confuse his colors."

"But could he not simply be a poor dresser, Watson? You sometimes accuse me of being mis-matched." Such was a gross understatement, for I have seen tatters mixed with starched collars on my friend's lanky frame; but Coleridge was another matter entirely. When a man mis-buttons a plaid vest such that red stripes on the one side line up with green on the other, he surely cannot tell the difference. I nodded my head.

"Then I believe, Watson, we must be a properly working pair, for in your own inimitable way you help me see things as they truly are." It was one if his rare compliments I have come to treasure. And even as Holmes absorbed these new insights into his vast mental warehouse, I added them to my own list of common knowledge to which the world's greatest detective was remarkably oblivious. It might someday prove a revealing study of what I consider the greatest analytical mind of our generation.

At least I had the satisfaction of knowing I had contributed a fragment of knowledge to the cause, poor though it was. The rest of that day passed uneventfully, and my moment of glory passed unnoticed, it seemed, by anyone.


The Great Detective is tireless in his pursuits though his feet are not always on the proper path. Nevertheless he generally takes two steps forward for each one back, as the following facts bear witness.

Friday morning Holmes at last uncovered the wife beater's missing club. Well remembered by neighbors for its pommel shaped like a ram's head, it was the suspected murder weapon of a child found on the premises, the shape being similar to marks left by a mortal blow. When the accused could not produce the club for inspection it was deemed highly suspicious.

The club was actually discovered buried under debris in a locked attic, a fact which Holmes ironically used to prove his client could not possibly have hidden it from police. Freddy simply would not fit through the attic hatch! This diffused the deadly spotlight of suspicion just long enough to find its proper target. By Monday the London papers would be filled instead with the arrest of another for the killing, a stone mason who inadvertently dropped a brick on the child. To avert suspicion the mason deposited the body in the yard of his neighbor already rumored to be a wife beater. That rumor later proved as false as the murder weapon, and Freddy was wholly and happily exonerated.

The government scandal also ran its course as Holmes' second success of the day. Know that I am bound by the strictest confidence; even so I may say there are now two open seats at Buckingham Palace due entirely to the way a shadow falls at high noon. Normally there isn't one, but when secret doors behind mirrors are left open even a crack, the sun may shine where least expected.

Despite his daytime triumphs, my friend's infallibility crumbled after sunset, an error in judgment he humbly confessed over late supper.

"Watson, you know how strongly I suspected Borodino, and this evening I came very near proving his guilt. Just after sunset I positioned myself beside the skylight while below me unawares he swept up and set things in order, stopping only occasionally to smoke. After awhile I actually started to doubt my guess but things finally began to happen. About two hours into my lookout Borodino disappeared from view and returned with another man in tow. It was his brother, who translated for me earlier.

"When they immediately raided the storeroom and busied themselves at the press I felt thoroughly vindicated. They were certainly in a devilish hurry and made the press fly! In their frenzy I noted they overlooked the missing bank stamp - it was at the solicitor's for safekeeping - but when they were ready to add the final imprint I knew its absence would be lethal to their plan. Then occurred something I could not account for. The pair abruptly stopped to put everything away, bundled up what they had, and one made ready to depart.

"Since I could not see everything from my vantage point, I considered the brother had somehow gotten hold of the stamp and brought it with him. Had they stamped the bonds or not? I knew I had to be sure! Down the ladder I flew, and expecting possible trouble drew my weapon. Borodino may not understand English but I intended my revolver to speak for me. Two minutes later I had them cowering in the corner and the bundle in my possession."

"Outstanding, Holmes. You intercepted the forgeries!"

"Hardly, Watson." He reached into his pocket and sheepishly withdrew three sheets of paper, printed in a language unfamiliar to me. It was vaguely slavic but beyond that I could not guess. Atop the page I noted a crude hand drawing of a farm, and in the corner a few words of latin. Holmes took back the pages and placed them prominently on the shelf. "A reminder against future presumptuousness," he explained.

"They are bible stories, Watson. Children's bible stories. The inscription reads 'learn to trust'. Borodino and his brother have been printing them off at night and mailing them back home."

"But what of the robbery, Holmes? If it was not him after all, he might still be a useful witness."

My friend looked about sullenly. "There was no robbery. It was Borodino all along. He was in the storeroom, I was right about that, also his staging the break-in, but not the motive. Remember I mentioned a criminal record against him? He had been caught using the press elsewhere for similar purposes, and strictly warned against it at Macaffey's. When he was overheard in the storeroom he was preparing to print more stories. Naturally he was afraid to answer when the steward called out. How could he explain rummaging through ink and paper?

"I brought the pair before the shop steward just now and talked the matter over. It has all been worked out quite amicably. Seeing the quality of the work he has decided Borodino is more asset than problem, and now plans to use him to open a night shift and take on more business. When Borodino finishes his assigned tasks each night he may go back to printing stories.

"At least now the printer knows he has not been robbed, and is convinced the trouble is over. He will get back to making the solicitors' forms, who will forestall Mrs. Hudson's foreclosure as promised, and we will keep our rooms."

"Why, this is wonderful news Holmes!"

"Still it troubles me, Watson. When every tool necessary for a crime is found all on the same table at the same time, it is almost inconceivable they were not put there on purpose. Mark my words, there is more to this than coincidence." And with those remarks he retired to his room for the evening, leaving me to ponder their meaning.


The week had ended with rain, and when Saturday arrived clouds still blanketed the sky above, releasing their reservoirs intermittently over parts of the city. I had recently made a habit of sleeping late and it was the sound of that tapping on the window which finally woke me.

Holmes had already given Mrs. Hudson the good news and I found her spirits wonderfully renewed. She remained somewhat apprehensive about the future, but with assurances the dreadful Mr. Coleridge would not return, her fears lessened and mood improved by cautious degrees. Of Holmes' own well-being that morning I knew far less. Again he'd left early, and my only hint of his activities was a cryptic note delivered by one of his street urchins stating Ian Hanson would be traveling on the last ship for Italy. It was not a name I recognized, nor remembered an hour later, but had I known its significance I should have thought of little else.

It was approaching noon when my friend climbed the stairs, seized the message pile, and discarded all but the mentioned one. "I am on a new scent, Watson. Let me bring you up to present," he declared. And without giving me chance to decline he did so, disregarding Mrs. Hudson as she stopped in to listen.

"If the science of deduction has one frequently overlooked property, Watson, it is the remarkable way it is self-perpetuating. When it solves one mystery it may uncover another just beneath it. With the break-in at the printer's solved everyone has what they most wanted, but now a new mystery rises from the ashes of the old."

"And that is?"

"How did the ink and paper get behind the rubbish pile?"

I thought a moment and came to the most logical conclusion possible. "Someone misplaced them."

Holmes looked at me seriously. "Try again."

"They were set down while cleaning, and rubbish piled on top."

"Once more," he challenged. In all I gave six answers to the question, to no avail. Holmes destroyed them all. The curiously he opened the window, retrieved his shoe, and brought it inside. It was dripping with rain but the odor of chemicals was gone.

"Watson, you remember this?"

How could I forget? I watched Holmes squeeze the water out as he continued.

"When something is put in a very odd place it is remembered vividly, yet no one recalls piling the ink and paper in a corner behind the table. The paper is itself costly and the ink so rare its sale is limited. You should not be surprised when I tell you they are, in fact, the exact paper and ink required to print bearer bonds, and were procured by Macaffey's specifically for that purpose.

"Oho, I see by your look you are catching on. Despite my recent miscalculations it seems possible there is still a scheme afoot. For the sake of argument let us suppose it is more than mere possibility, and you will see how I arrived at a very intriguing new theory.

"When robbery was the only concern I had eleven suspects, Watson, counting workers, rivals, and visitors. That was three days ago and I have since eliminated them one-by-one, most especially Borodino, till none remain. The beggar has an alibi. The solicitors no cause to betray their tenants. Coleridge himself offered to safeguard their precious stamp. Three other print shops in the area stood accused but are most likely innocent. So if there is a crime intended not a single one of my suspects is involved."

I did not see the point. "If no one is up to anything ..."

"You must listen to my hints more carefully, Watson. Not a single one. That does not rule out several working together! Clearly someone commandeered ink and paper from the storeroom, and someone placed them where they would be handy but not easily found. Someone did any number of things that would make printing surplus bonds possible. It simply wasn't all the same person. Exactly who they are I will know shortly, for the conspiracy must come to a head this week-end when the shop is empty and before the stamp is returned to the banks. All I need do is catch them in the act. That should not be difficult, as I already know where I will find them."

An unexpected voice at once rang out: "The printing press!"

At this outburst we both turned. Mrs. Hudson had scored her first point in the Great Detective's game, which Holmes gently acknowledged before hurrying off to lay his trap. I added my own approbation to his, for it seemed Mrs. Hudson was at last beginning to take an interest in her irascible boarder's unique profession.


The sun had well set before Holmes' return. At mid-day he left us the picture of health. That night it was a far different image framed in the doorway. Near ten o'clock he stumbled in wet to the bone and shivering. The dim lamp of the foyer shone dark, hideous smears on the wrinkled overcoat, and puffy stripes criss-crossed his cheek. Without a word he staggered painfully to the adjacent sitting room, and in the brighter light therein I saw his cloak deeply slashed an inch above the heart!

Mrs. Hudson was startled into concern and heartfelt ministrations, and though Holmes refused bandages he allowed he was much in need of food, whereupon she hastened off to her pantry. In her absence Holmes carefully removed his damaged garment, and to my monumental relief I saw the weapon had failed to penetrate; his shirt was unbloodied.

"It seems my wardrobe is suffering in our cause," he smiled faintly, disposing of it in a dustbin. "For myself, I have spent the day on a rooftop in the rain, learning that Bartelby, Coleridge & Rhodes recently re-tarred against the poor weather, and that stray cats who follow you do not like to be annoyed when they are wet. Also I am afraid lying rigid in one position for several hours will never be recommended for its therapeutic effects." He stretched his long, stiff limbs, and found a comfortable chair.

The moment Mrs. Hudson returned I reassured her he seemed quite healthy, and we waited in impatient silence while Holmes attacked his bread like an insect, fingers and mandibles moving in a frenzied dance. The loaf was half-demolished before he finally pushed it aside, and Mrs. Hudson draped a warm shawl across his shoulders before she would let him tell us all that had happened this night.

"A major crime was certainly in the works," he began slowly, almost too quiet to be heard. "It was forgery after all and two of my suspects in on it, but the danger has passed. I have kept it from happening."

"They have been apprehended," I sighed with relief.

"Quite the contrary. I have just seen them off at the docks. They almost missed their boat but I had the Irregulars standing by to make certain it waited, posing as children who lost their parents. The forgers were unavoidably delayed through arranging to ship their counterfeits on ahead. I should set the face value at a hundred-thousand at least."

"Excuse me, Mr. Holmes," asked Mrs. Hudson in some surprise. "D'you mean to say you helped them get away?"

At that Holmes rose suddenly to his feet, his customary sign of impatience, but this time he drew up a second chair. "Do sit, Mrs. Hudson. I am sure Dr. Watson can tell you my methods are irregular but have reliably good results." She set aside the empty tray and took the offered place. "Now Mrs. Hudson, what would you think if a pair of thieves believed they made off with a valuable treasure but it was only trash?"

"Why, I should say it serves them right!"

"Exactly. Now do you see Watson?" My expression said I did not. "Then allow me to fill in more of the story for you both."

"Mrs. Hudson," said he turning to face her again, "three days ago we learned a local printer had been contracted to make valuable bonds. They were bearer bonds, good as currency for most purposes. Apparently it reached the wrong ears because someone planned a counterfeiting operation right alongside it. Since one man could not do it alone a partner was found, and together they obtained the necessary ink, paper, press, and validating stamp. Just a few hours ago these two completed their forgeries, shipped them elsewhere for safekeeping, and boarded a ship for Italy."

"And these men, Mr. Holmes. Who are they to us?"

"The first you have not heard of. He was no one really, a vagabond from the alley behind the print shop. The other was a man who knew his way not only around the print shop, but your sitting room as well. The only hint I need give you is his malodorous reputation."

"Coleridge," spat Mrs. Hudson, now thoroughly ensnared in the tale.

"Precisely. He and the vagrant were in fact perfectly suited as partners. When the beggar learned about the stamp, the solicitor arranged to have it placed in his care. Ian Hanson, the vagrant, managed to copy the storeroom key; for his part Coleridge supplied a building key. The beggar would be the lookout; Coleridge run the press. To ensure neither betrayed the other they fled the country together, sending the bonds ahead separately. As if that were not enough the freight office was given both names and descriptions, so neither could retrieve the package without the other present."

"And yet you might have stopped them in time."

"There was no need, Watson. In Rome they will no doubt go their separate ways with the spoils and all will be well." Holmes stretched once more and returned to his loaf of bread. "There is usually some butter," he muttered, at which our landlady scurried out of the room before anyone could stop her.

"Holmes, forgive me but ..."

"Why did I let them go? Did I not say I prevented the crime?"

"You also said they are on their way abroad with 100,000 in phony bonds."

"Exactly so," he smiled, buttering bread with a nod to Mrs. Hudson. Finally he raised his sleeve as if about to wipe but she was quicker with a napkin, and the story resumed.

"You should let me finish my stories, Watson. There is in fact one other important thing to tell, and that is my rooftop excursion. I camped there three hours before they arrived and three more before they finished. It is an old roof and creaks like the attic if you shift your weight, so I was obliged to remain absolutely still much of the time. The beggar, I saw, took his lookout post in the alley, and every once in a while called in to see how things progressed. Coleridge spent his time at the press, in all using two reams of paper to print 100-Pound bonds, a kingly sum to split between them.

"When he judged them dry enough he packed them into that case of his and summoned his accomplice. That's when I prepared to follow, but foolishly I moved too soon. The pair were directly below when the roof creaked. I ducked the same instant they looked up at the skylight but I know they detected movement.

"They rushed out into the alley I'm sure with murder in their hearts. Any moment they might circle the building and find my ladder. I assure you it was in desperation I grabbed the stray cat and twisted its tail! Luckily when they heard it yowl they laughed and forgot their fears then went on their way. I was less fortunate. The animal gave me and my clothing something to remember it by," patting his cheek. We could see he was somewhat embarrassed at it getting the best of him.

"Oh, but your list of helpers grows wonderfully, Mr. Holmes," Mrs. Hudson offered tactfully. "Police and ex-criminals, urchins, hounds, and now cats. You didn't hurt the cat, did you?"

He patted her wrist at this bit of diplomacy. "Well, I assumed there were no apes or unicorns available, so used whatever animal was handy. And last I saw it was doing just fine. I did finally manage to get down and trail them to the shipping office and the docks. Once I was sure they were safely on their way I returned here." Then evidently finished with his tale and his hasty meal, he sat back and fished out his tobacco.

"Now what is to become of them?"

"Now? Why, nothing." Holmes lit the pipe.

"But Holmes?"

"Tut tut, Watson. They have worked hard for their ill-gotten gains. Let them enjoy it while they may."

From this unexpected dead-end there seemed no more road to follow. Neither Mrs. Hudson nor I had any idea how to proceed. Meanwhile Holmes watched us carefully from behind his pipe haze, till at last a broad grin forced its way, and he began to chuckle. "Your look is priceless. You don't think I would so callously open my net and let them swim away, do you?"

"Then you have arranged for their arrest?"

"All the way off in Italy? Heavens no! That is much too much trouble. I have arranged for them to arrest themselves."

Another awkward silence followed.

"All right," Holmes set down his pipe. "I suppose it is time for the final chapter, so I can be off to bed." He led us upstairs so he could trade wet shoes for slippers and damp shirt for robe. Finally amid yawns and drowsiness he finished his extraordinary tale.

"This afternoon the steward let me in the shop to set my trap, which took all of five minutes. There I traded what is for what ought to be. And now you have all the pertinent facts and several generous hints besides, Watson. Let's see what you make of them." At this Mrs. Hudson also turned in my direction, a questioning look in her eyes.

"Come now, Watson. You do not recall one simple useful fact? What if I said you handed me a perfect solution two days ago, a chance to land them in a Roman prison by their own hand?" Still I drew a blank, and began to feel the weight of Mrs. Hudson's unrelenting gaze.

"Very well, but I gave you your chance." And with that he turned to his other listener.

"Mrs. Hudson, there is a marvelous balance of good and bad which has often come to my aid. For every strength the criminal may draw upon he has a weakness. In every good plan, a fatal flaw. Now our Mr. Coleridge is a man possessed of many strengths useful to a criminal: he is smart, ambitious, educated in law, and an excellent forger with the proper equipment. But like all others he has an Achilles heel. Did you note his trouble with colors? Watson calls it color blindness. I think that was the term. Am I correct, Watson?" Holmes turned towards me briefly and I felt rather than saw Mrs. Hudson's eyes follow his.

"If Watson does not see it now I shall have to invite the printer here to comment on his appalling ignorance, but I will gladly inform you Coleridge's vision is the gaping hole in his armor. Also I will tell you to succeed as a printer you apparently must be able to tell one color from another, for they use a great deal of color ink. Finally I will inform you it takes just five minutes to empty a can of red ink and refill it with green."

In a flash I understood, but Holmes still saw clouds in her eyes so carried it faithfully to the end. "I reasoned a vagrant has likely never seen a 100-Pound bond, and would have no idea what suits them. As for Coleridge, he must trust the label on the can."

The clouds began to lift. "So what you're sayin', Mr. Holmes ... "

"At this very moment they are sailing for Rome, slapping each other on the back for a perfect crime. It is a crime which will prove disastrous for them both. No one who has seen a bank bond could forget the authenticating seal is red not green. The vagabond will try to pass his forgeries and be told they are blatant frauds, instantly suspecting Coleridge planned it that way to get him caught and be rid of him. Coleridge in turn will discover the Bank of Italy does not take kindly to British forgers."

"Still Holmes, what if they discover their mistake in time? They would avoid capture and be free to try again. Could you not have someone official apprehend them at the port?"

Eyes closing he muttered more than answered me then, "Where would be the justice in that, Watson? Where would be the justice in that?"


At the earliest opportunity we returned to the law firm to bind up loose ends, whereupon Mr. Rhodes produced a note left by Coleridge explaining he had a family crisis and would not be back. It was brazen camouflage on the villain's part, yet when we explained what lay behind that note I half-expected them to take issue with our extraordinary tale. I need not have worried. Coleridge's disreputable character and Holmes' self-assurance easily convinced them of the truth of the matter.

The partners were then at odds over what to do next. This criminal mischief involved a client's estate, a fact which, if it ever reached the public ear, might easily ruin them! Holmes' reassurance no disgrace would touch the firm was looked upon with dubious gratitude. In any event they counted Coleridge's departure a blessing, and whatever else they believed, they understood Holmes had done them a very great service. It was on that note we returned to Baker Street to share the news with Mrs. Hudson.

"I should not be surprised if they completely forget there is a mortgage bearing your name" were Holmes' exact words to her, and lacking other outlet for her enthusiasm she hugged him roughly about the neck. She has been from that moment on the most faithful ally and friend.

In fact an entire week passed before we received word of their final decision. They delivered it by street messenger, a young lad I had seen somewhere before but could not place. Only the sudden look of horror on his face gave it away, when he saw Holmes come up behind me. Apparently we were not the only ones who considered his services as a law clerk wanting.

At once, anxious for the outcome, all three of us gathered in the sitting room. Mrs. Hudson was too shaken with emotion to open it and let Holmes do the honors, and on crisp new stationery he read the following:

Bartleby & Rhodes - Barristers - Solicitors

It is our pleasure to inform you we have halted the sale of
your property, and consider the matter of payments resolved.
We have forgiven six months mortgage and you are no longer
found to be in arrears. Your customary payments will begin
again after the new year. In future we will consider it
circumspect if you will keep to your proper payment schedule.

So there it was. Expecting a full pardon and receiving at best a reduced sentence, disappointment was to be expected. But the indomitable Mrs. Hudson quietly folded the note, tightened her apron, and let us know in January she would start asking for rent again. She would have liked to spare us longer, said she, but after all "the good Lord knows money a welcome nuisance." Still there is no denying when she returned to her chores there was a smile upon her face.

Ultimately the drifter Ian Hanson and solicitor James Coleridge met their forlorn fate, just as predicted. They would not be missed.

And good as his word Sherlock Holmes saw to it there was no raw publicity, no official involvement, no mention of the affair whatsoever in the London papers. But for sharing the very air he breathed I myself would be in total darkness. It was as if it never happened.


The End