July 7

1930 — death of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

“If you’re going to chronicle this moment, as you have with my previous adventures, I suggest you begin now.”

I had been visiting my friend, the Master Detective, when a well-dressed client stepped into the apartment.  Such was a familiar scene in our younger days, when the two of us had roomed together, and I had frequent occasion to marvel at my friend’s uncanny powers of deduction.  In later years, my wife and growing family became a priority for me, and I became less and less involved in his world of crime and intrigue.

On this occasion, however, I confess I felt a happy twinge of nostalgia, as my friend began a familiar series of astonishing observations — before the client had even opened his mouth.

“You’re with the government,” the Detective said.  He waved his hand, dismissing the question before it was asked.  “Obvious from the self-important air with which you carry yourself, and the way you managed to bluster past my housekeeper to interrupt my afternoon.  You’re ready to make demands–to insist on my cooperation gratis, as a service to my country.  Well, we shall see…”

Before the next series of deductions, our visitor’s hand involuntarily shot up to cover his heart, but the obscuring motion was too late.

“That slight bulge beneath the left side of your vest no doubt indicates the presence of a thick envelope stuffed hastily into an inner pocket.  I can see the corner of the envelope peeking out beside your cravat, and previously noted an additional bump that indicated a raised, official seal over the central fold.”

“How…?”  As often happened, the visitor was struck dumb.  Eyes wide, mouth hanging open after the partially worded question.

“You might as well pass the missive to me now.  I know you were expecting my companion to leave the room, but I assure you he may share our confidence.  We have worked together in the past, and his observations have often proved quite useful.”

I swelled with pride at this last comment, since I seldom felt my contributions had been necessary.  Mostly I filled the role of observer, as my friend’s mind unlocked impossible mysteries.

The visitor retrieved the envelope from his inner pocket, and revealed it to be exactly as my friend described.  The embossed wax design looked terribly elaborate — as if its maker hoped the seal would never need to be broken.  “I’m still not sure…”  He trailed off, looking from my friend to me, hesitant to pass the document.

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” my friend said, “you haven’t time for shilly-shallying.  The sweat on your brow and that tremor in your fingertips indicates the situation is urgent.  No matter, since I can already guess the contents of the envelope.”

Our astonished government client passed the materials over, but the Master Detective could not resist another demonstration of his acute intuition.  “I needn’t have asked which branch of the government you represent.  The fact that you didn’t announce it immediately upon entrance, to establish your authority, told me your particular existence is unknown to the general population.  But not to me.”  My friend patted the sealed envelope.  “The blueprints for the weapon are contained within, I’ve no doubt.  You think knowledge of its workings would help me identify who stole it.”

Now the twitching fingers of our guest went perfectly still.  Nervous sweat continued to fall down his brow, and I imagined a heavy drop making an audible noise as it hit the thin frayed carpet that hadn’t been changed since the days I lived there.

“The workings of your infernal machine are irrelevant.  I already know the thief.  And I know when and where he will strike.”  He set the unopened envelope on a chair-side table, then lifted his arms to indicate the room the three of us occupied.  “You could try to outrun it, but I expect you’re likely aware of the blast radius.  I don’t think you stand a chance.”

Our statue, our stoic member of some unspecified, secret government office, then came to life and bolted out of the room, his footsteps trailing down the stairs, and the front door to the building opened and slammed shut behind him.  My friend walked to the window, pulled the curtain aside and with a calm demeanor watched the man run down the street and into the distance.

I stared at the envelope on the table, tempted to pick it up.

“Go ahead,” my friend offered.

But I was sure its contents were exactly as my friend described.  They always were.

“But that story you told him.”  In this moment, I found myself slipping into my usual flustered reaction to my friend’s genius.  “That business about blast radius, and all.  It surely wasn’t true, or you wouldn’t be so casual right now.”

My friend gathered his tobacco and pipe and sparked a light, taking a slow puff.  He crossed the room and lowered himself into his favorite armchair.  “All true, my dear friend.  We haven’t a chance.  No use trying to escape, making running fools out of ourselves as our pompous visitor just did.  We’ll wait, like gentlemen.”

And that’s when he told me, “Though I don’t suppose there will be anyone left to read it…If you’re going to chronicle this moment, as you have with my previous adventures, I suggest you begin now.”

Which is what I’m doing.