Monday, October 13, 2008
“Watson,” said Mr. Sherlock Holmes one day after the resolution of a particularly mundane case involving a missing wedding ring and a pet spaniel, “we need a change of scenery.” It was true that the London underworld had been singularly uninspired of late, failing to present my friend with an opportunity to exercise the unique talents which have become so well-known to the public in recent years. In such times Holmes was apt to fall into a torpor, and I had recently seen him once again gazing longingly at the lacquered box containing the syringe which had formerly been his companion during such periods of lassitude.
“Tell me,” he continued, “do you recall the case in which we first met?”
“Why of course, it was the Study in Scarlet.”
“And that business at Birlstone House, do you remember that?”
“Holmes, you know very well that that was the affair of Mr. Douglas, who as Birdie Edwards had penetrated the Valley of Fear.”
“And the unfortunate case of young Openshaw?”
This was one of the rare cases that my friend had failed to conclude satisfactorily, such was the sinister nature of the criminals involved. “That was the mystery of the Five Orange Pips.”
“Now let’s see how this waning of the British criminal has dulled your senses, Watson. What do those cases have in common?”
“Well, let me see, Holmes.” I thought for a few moments. “Why...yes! In each of those cases, the criminal agent, or at least the force behind him, came from America.”
“Capital, Watson! I congratulate you, my dear man, for retaining your powers of observation and deduction. Yes, we have crossed swords with the American criminal on more than one occasion and found him to be a worthy foe. As his British counterpart has lost his imagination, I suggest to you, my friend, that if the interesting cases won’t come to us, we must go to the interesting cases!”
And so it came to pass that Holmes and I embarked on a grand tour of America. My friend’s intuition had proven to be correct, and we became involved in a number of high-profile cases which attracted public notice. Holmes successfully solved the case of the kidnapped Virginia twins, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In Kentucky he managed to locate a famous sporting trophy which had been missing for nine years. And in New York he was involved in the strange affair of the vanishing banks, the details of which I swore solemn oaths, at Holmes’ insistence, to leave out of my memoirs until sufficient time had passed.
After these adventures, Holmes and I eventually found ourselves at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. Holmes was never much of a tourist; while his criminal investigations had taken him far and wide in Europe, so single-minded was my friend in pursuing the solution to a crime and the apprehension of its perpetrator that he never paused to take in the sights, wherever his travels took him. Thus it was with the greatest reluctance that he allowed me to drag him to see the various monuments and memorials in America’s capital.
“When one has wrestled on the Acropolis with Paleologos, the Greek forger,” he sniffed, “why should he then wish to be jostled by sweaty tourists from Omaha merely to catch a glimpse of structures more than two thousand years younger than the Parthenon?”
So it was with great relief that Holmes received the concierge of the Mayflower as we took tea in the salon of the hotel.
“Mr. Holmes,” the fellow said after stealthily approaching us, “may I have a private word? It is of the gravest urgency.” He threw me a furtive glance, which I took as an invitation to depart, and so rose from my chair.
“Stay where you are, Watson!” exclaimed Holmes. I froze. “My dear sir, Watson is my friend and confidant. Anything you wish to say to me, you may also say to him!”
The concierge looked at me warily, then nodded and turned his gaze back to Holmes. “Very well, sir. It’s just that I have been instructed to speak to you in the strictest confidence by the highest of authorities. This authority is waiting for you in one of our suites, and requests an urgent meeting on a matter of supreme importance.”
“Ho, ho, Watson, I told you that a change of scenery would do us good! Very well, lead the way, my good man. I can only hope that your mysterious authority provides us with as much stimulation as the illustrious clients that we’ve had back in England.”
We rose and the concierge signed our bill. He led us out of the salon, though the main lobby, and down a discreet corridor, where we entered a small lift. The fellow pressed a large button embossed with the letter P, and the lift bore us upwards in silence for the better part of a minute. When at last the doors opened, they revealed a palatial suite of rooms that looked fit for a Roman emperor. We walked past a tinkling fountain in the entryway into a huge, marble-floored living area filled with overstuffed chairs and comfortable-looking couches. On two of the latter sat individuals whose faces we had seen on the morning news.
“May I present Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, you may call these gentlemen G and H.”
“Thanks, Wilson, that’ll be all,” said the first of the men with a pronounced drawl. “We’ll ring for you when we’re done.” The concierge bowed and walked back towards the lift. We heard its doors open and shut as he got in and descended.
“Well,” he said once the concierge had departed, “Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, on behalf of the American people I thank you for seeing us. We sure are in a fix and could use some help from our friends in Britain.”
“Why don’t you tell me, sir, about your problem and how I may be of service.”
“Okay, then. Well, you may have heard about the financial crisis we have in this country and all over the world. It’s a bad one, I can tell you. We’ve got banks and insurers dropping like flies and the stock market’s tanked. We owe it to the hardworking people of America to find a solution to this problem, regardless of how difficult the legislative process may be. Decisive action is required, a plan to get our economy back on the path of growth and job creation.”
“Pardon me, sir,” said Holmes, “but I am hardly a banking expert. While I have dabbled in the world finance, such as in that curious case of the vanishing bid” (here he glanced at me),” I’m not sure how I can help you.”
“Oh, but you can!”replied G. “You see, we’ve actually come up with a plan for how to resolve this crisis quickly and safely, and at a relatively minimal ultimate cost to the taxpayer. The brightest financial minds in America, including H here”- he gestured at his companion-“have worked together to develop these plans, which we want to implement with all due speed.”
“My dear fellow, what do you need me for?”
“Well,” said G, hanging his head, “last night disaster struck. H here had ‘em when he left his office, but by the time he got to work today, they were gone! Someone has stolen ‘em! You’ve got to understand, Mr. Holmes, these plans are vital to saving our financial system and our economy. You need to help us get these plans back, Mr. Holmes. If we don’t get ‘em back soon, this sucker could go down!”
“A-ha,” said Holmes. “Now we’re getting somewhere! H, why don’t you tell me what happened. Leave nothing out, please, sir.”
H was a tall chap who was almost completely bald and spoke in the manner of someone who was used to having his commands obeyed. “Well, Mr. Holmes, I left my office on Pennsylvania Avenue at 5.30 last night with the rescue plans in my black briefcase, which I have here.” He held up a small black leather valise with the initials “HMP” monogrammed in gold near the clasp. “I went straight to my friend B’s office on Constitution Avenue, where we spoke for about an hour and a half about the crisis. B invited me to dinner, but I had an errand to run so declined. After leaving his office, I went to the Chinese laundry at 356 Wisconsin Avenue to pick up a couple of Mr. Lloyd Blankfein’s suits, then headed home. I had dinner with my wife, spoke to G on the phone, and went to bed.”
“Did you have the briefcase with you the entire time?” inquired Holmes.
“Well, not quite. I brought it with me when I went to B’s office, but left it with him when I had to use the john. It was alone with him in his office for maybe three minutes. Then, when I went to the laundry to pick up Mr. Blankfein’s suits, I left the case in the car for maybe five minutes. I had to wait in line. Other than that, it was with me the whole time.”
“And when you got home?”
“Surely you don’t suspect my wife, Mr. Holmes!” laughed H.
“I rule nothing out, and nothing in,” replied Holmes coolly. “My job is to collect the facts and sort the evidence. The facts tell me which possibilities to eliminate. Whatever is left, no matter how fantastic, must be the solution to the crime. Now, you were saying, when you got home?”
“Well, I left the case on the kitchen table, just like I always do. It was there when I had my breakfast this morning. I took it into work as usual, but when I opened it in the office, the plans were gone!”
“It must have been someone who hates freedom!” interjected G.
“Now, now” said Holmes, “let’s not be hasty. Watson, I think we’d better do some digging. Gentlemen, I thank you for bringing this case to my attention. I shall direct all of my powers towards its solution. Why don’t we meet tomorrow morning at, say, 10 a.m.?”
“Alright then!” said G, slapping his knee. “We’re damned glad to have you on board, Mr. Holmes. I sure hope you can find these plans for us quick.”
“I shall do my very best. With Watson here to help, I am sure we can bring the case to a speedy resolution.”
G rang for the concierge, who took us back down the lift and through the discreet corridor back into the lobby.
“Quick, Watson!” cried Holmes. “We have no time to lose. We must retrace H’s steps while the trail is still warm!”
So we jumped into a taxi and drove to the Marriner S. Eccles building on Constitution Avenue. The receptionist tried to shoo us away, but Holmes employed that special charm that he can, on occasion, exercise on members of the fair sex, and soon we were being ushered into B’s luxurious office.
B turned out to be a small, balding man with a graying beard. “What can I do for you gentlemen?” he asked nervously.
“Do you know why we’re here?”
“Well, well...of course I know your reputation, Mr. Holmes. B-b-but I have no idea what you could want with me.”
“Did H come and visit you last night?”
“Wh-wh-why yes, yes he did. We had important matters to discuss about enhancing liquidity and saving the banks.”
“What do you know about the plan to rescue the financial system?”
“Ah, w-w-w-well, H mentioned that he was working on something, and asked me if I would go along with whatever he came up with. “
“And how did you respond?”
“Of course, I said that I and my organization would help in any way that we could.”
“Did H have his briefcase with him?”
“H-h-h-his b-b-briefcase? Why, yes, I think he did.”
“And was he with you and it the whole time he was here?”
“He went to the toilet once for a few minutes.”
“He left his briefcase here?”
“Did you open it or fiddle with it in any way?”
“Wh-wh-what are you trying to insinuate, sir? No, I did not touch the briefcase at all! If you haven’t any more questions, I’ll bid you a good day, because I’m a very b-b-busy man!”
B’s secretary ushered us out, though Holmes paused for a “pit stop”, as he colloquially called it, on our way out. “Well Watson,” he asked upon leaving the building, “what did you make of our friend Mr. B?”
“He had a guilty air, Holmes. He spoke like he was nervous about something. What could make him more nervous than stealing the plans and then being immediately confronted about it, by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, no less?”
“Ahh, Watson, you flatter me,” said Holmes, smiling.
“So you agree? B is guilty?”
“Perhaps, perhaps, my dear Watson. All in good time, however. We still have the laundry and H’s wife to interrogate.
We visited Renminbi’s Laundry on Wisconsin Avenue, but achieved little of value. The staff made us wait an extraordinarily long time and seemed disinterested in our problem. When they finally deigned to speak with us, they were slow to respond to our queries.
“They were hiding something, I’m sure of it, Holmes!” I fumed as we left the laundry. “Why else would they be so uncooperative?”
“Perhaps they just don’t care about any business but their own,” said Holmes. “I doubt we’d get anything more out of them if we came back.”
We then journeyed to H’s own home, where we encountered his wife. The woman looked somewhat surprised to see us, even when my friend introduced himself. “No, my husband’s briefcase wasn’t touched after he got home,” she said. “He set it on the kitchen table, as he always does, and didn’t return to the kitchen until morning. Neither did I.” There were no servants in the home, though there was a state-of-the art alarm system which would warn of any intruder into the house.
“So what do you make of it all, Watson?” inquired Holmes as we dined that evening at the Mayflower.
“I’m deuced if I know, Holmes. B seemed nervous to me, and he was left alone with the case. He could easily have opened it and taken the plans while H was out of the room. And yet those people in the laundry were suspicious too. Why were they so unhelpful? H told us that they made him wait for his laundry pickup...perhaps they did so intentionally so they could steal the plans from his car while he was in the laundry? And if the briefcase really was left alone for a number of hours in H’s house....why, who’s to say that some clever thief could not have circumvented the alarm system, broken into H’s house, and removed the plans from his briefcase?”
“Good questions, all. Perhaps a pipe or two will bring new considerations to light.“ Holmes filled his pipe with fresh tobacco from his pouch and was in the process of lighting it when two tutting waiters descended on our table and demanded that he extinguish the light. I started to object, but the waiters pointed to a large sign over the door bearing the slogan “No Smoking”.
“Ah, Watson,” chuckled Holmes with a wry smile as he tucked pipe and pouch back into his coat pocket, “it’s just as well that you cured me of my dependence on the syringe. Imagine the reaction of those two worthies had I attempted to stimulate myself in that fashion. Very well, if we’re to have no pipe over which to ruminate on the case, perhaps we’d better sleep on it instead.”
The next morning, Holmes was nowhere to be found at breakfast time. As I sat down to a solitary breakfast, the concierge sidled up to me. “Dr. Watson, good morning, sir. Your friend Mr. Holmes begged me to send his apologies, but he is, ahem, engaged this morning. He will meet you in the salon at a quarter to ten. I will...er...collect you shortly thereafter for another meeting upstairs.” I thanked him and tucked into my eggs and The New England Journal of Medicine.
At quarter to ten, Holmes appeared in the salon with a large manila envelope tucked under his arm. I raised a quizzical eyebrow, but Holmes shook his head, saying “All in good time, Watson.” He managed to down half a cup of tea and a scone before the concierge appeared and once more led us up to the sanctum of G and H.
Both men rose from their seats as we entered the palatial living area of the suite. While H appeared relatively calm, G seemed fidgety and looked as if he hadn’t slept. When his gaze shifted to the manila envelope that Holmes was carrying, his eyes lit up hopefully.
“Come on in, boys!” he said, and gestured to a leather sofa near to his. “How is the investigation going? What have you got for us?” he asked as we sat down.
“Sir, I am pleased to say that I have recovered the plans in their entirety,” said Holmes. G whooped exultantly while H looked stunned. Holmes passed the manila envelope to G, who ripped it open greedily.
“Say, Mr. Holmes, is this supposed to be some kind of British joke? There’s nothin’ in here!”
“Precisely, G. Yesterday Watson and I retraced H’s steps as he described. We visited B, who confirmed that H had indeed visited to discuss the crisis. He seemed nervous and agitated, which led Watson here to presume that he had pilfered the plans. However, when we inquired about the plan that H had discussed with him, he told us that it was something that H was still working on. It is my belief that he was nervous because nothing had yet been finalized, and the financial system was drowning before his very eyes.”
“Nonsense, Mr. Holmes! “ said H. “I did have plans. He must have stolen ’em from my briefcase while I was in the john!”
“Au contraire,” said Holmes. “When we were in B’s building, I, too went to the toilet on the off chance that something may turn up. As it happens, there was a member of the maintenance staff repairing it, so I couldn’t go. However, it turned out that this chap was also fixing an air conditioner in B’s office when you were there, and he was still in the room with B when you stepped out. He confirmed to me that B in no way touched or molested the briefcase in any way.”
“That proves nothing!” said H sullenly. “Someone else must have taken it!”
“Highly doubtful, my dear fellow. The people at the laundry made us wait a long time without even knowing the purpose of our visit. It seems as if they just like to do things slowly. In any case, how were they to know the contents of your briefcase? No, I think we can absolve them of this crime. In any event, I took the liberty of inspecting your car early this morning. There were no signs of forced entry.”
“Well then, someone must have stolen the plans from my house!”
“Ah, there’s another interesting little fact,” said Holmes. “We went to visit your house yesterday and spoke with your wife. She seemed surprised to see us and knew nothing about the stolen plans. Now, when a man misplaces something, what’s the first thing he automatically does? He asks his wife where she has put it. You, sir, did not even mention the plans to your wife.”
“And so, H, I consider the facts before me. B didn’t tamper with the case and seemed unaware that there was a fully-developed plan. The Chinese are only interested in their own business; it appears highly unlikely that they would tamper with these plans. And your wife was unaware that any plans had been stolen. I can only conclude, sir, that you are making things up as you go along. No complete financial system rescue plan exists. And that, sir,” he said, looking at G, ”is what I have returned to you. An empty envelope.”
The room was silent for a few moments, then G whacked H on the head with the empty envelope. “Dammit, H, are you trying to make me look dumb? We need a strategery that does more than just make sure Goldman stays afloat!”
“I think, Watson, that now may be a good time to adjourn,” murmured Holmes as G continued to berate his companion.
We descended in the lift and repaired to the outdoor terrace of the hotel salon. “And now for that pipe,” smiled Holmes, reaching into his pocket. As he was extracting some tobacco from his pouch, however, the concierge hurried up to our table with a worried look on his face.
“I am sorry to bother you again, Mr. Holmes, but there is an urgent telephone call for you. It seems as if you’re needed in Europe......”