Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Part one is here.
The next morning dawned overcast and blustery: a typical spring day in the metropolis.
Holmes emerged from his bedchamber as I was finishing my breakfast; fortunately, it had not been so long since I'd shared my friend's adventures that I had forgotten his skill in disguising himself, else I would never have known him. He had acquired long, wispy hair and a ridiculous gray goatee beard, which seemed to have swallowed his chin entirely. He appeared to have gained forty pounds, which was stuffed into a large double-breasted blue blazer. His white shirt was crested with a multicoloured Ascot tie.
"Well, Holmes, I can only imagine who you are trying to be and what you hope to accomplish!"
"It is imperative, Watson, that we gain a firm grasp of how Mr. Broon and Mr. Darling have managed things over the past few years. To do this, I am going to need to gain access to the hidden secrets of the government. What better way to do this than to pose as a Labour Party donor?"
Holmes extracted a bundle of payment slips from his breast pocket. "If ministers get one whiff of this chequebook, we're likely to find a sympathetic audience for our enquiries!"
My friend suggested that he was likely to meet with the greatest success by working alone, and proposed that I remain at Baker Street to manage the workmen. "Besides, Watson, if you stay here then I'll know where to find you should I need your aid!"
The day passed largely uneventfully. I was treated to a firsthand exhibition of the productivity of the British tradesman....when it comes to consuming tea and custard creams. I was also able to observe his fabled intransigence, for it soon became clear to me that our team of experts was fitting the new kitchen sink some twelve inches to the right of its proper location. When I pointed this out to the foreman, he got what I believe is known as "the hump" and refused to start the work over, saying that the clearly misplaced sink is where the "guv'nor" wanted.
This pleasurable exercise in project management was interrupted by a series of cryptic telephone calls throughout the day. These were directed to a "Sir Simon Manley-Hopkins", whom I could only surmise was Holmes.
When told that "Sir Simon" was not in, the callers left a series of bewildering messages that I duly noted for my friend:
* "£703,000 per annum"
* "More than 25 percent"
* "Twenty-four grand a year."
Just before tea-time the telephone rang again. This time it was Holmes, who was delighted when I relayed him the list of messages. Although I was reluctant to do so, I also mentioned my difficulties with the tradesmen.
Holmes was uncharacteristically angry over the problem with the kitchen sink. "You can never underestimate the productivity and utility of the British workman, Watson. They are scoundrels, the lot of them! Do NOT allow them to leave before I return, Watson! I want to give them a piece of my mind! Oh, and be prepared: I have asked Mr. Broon and Mr. Darling to stop by at half past five this afternoon."
"Brilliant, Holmes! Have you solved the case already, then? Have you located the money?"
"All in good time, Watson, all in good time." It was a peculiar habit of my friend to withhold his thoughts on a case until the last possible moment. While he often scoffed at my "sensational" treatments of his endeavours, I believe that he secretly enjoyed them and strove to maximize the dramatic impact of his efforts. "Just be ready at half past five!"
I spent the remainder of the afternoon contending with the pig-headed tradesmen, but alas made no progress in convincing them to either move the sink or abstain from PG Tips. At twenty-five past five, the front door slammed and Holmes strode in. Although I expected him to excoriate the foreman in a manner befitting his anger on the telephone, and perhaps even to provide an exhibition of the skills which had made him a champion boxer in his youth, he instead took the man aside for a quiet word out of my earshot.
Soon after, he had changed out of his "Manley-Hopkins" guise and was once again clad as Britain's foremost detective. At half-past, the bell rang, and Mrs. Hudson ushered our Scotsmen into the drawing room.
"Wail, Mr. Holmes? Have ye managed to find our foonds?" asked the white-haired Mr. Darling.
"I am more than satisfied with the results of my enquiries, gentlemen," said my friend.
"Och aye, that's wondairful!" cried Darling, as his companion smiled grotesquely.
"Watson, please call those men in from the kitchen," said Holmes, glancing at our clients from the corner of his eye.
"We got yer message that the culprits would be hair this evening, Mr. Holmes," said Darling. "I hope that they will be taken in to coostudy straight awee?"
"That is my sincere hope as well," said Holmes. The pair exchanged a few more comments as I disappeared to fetch the slovenly tradesmen, many of whom appeared to have a glint in their eye.
We filed back into the drawing room, and the kitchen-fitters queued up against the far wall by the door leading to the hallway.
"Pah! What a collection of scoundrels!" cried Darling. His companion glowered at them with his glassy stare. "Is thus the entire crew that has stolen the nation's wailth? Mr. Broon, can we take them all into coostody?" The other nodded grimly.
"Gentlemen, I told you that the men responsible for the missing billions would be here at half past five this afternoon, and so they are. My enquiries have uncovered a shocking and sordid tale of theft, misappropriation, and wicked malfeasance. Never in my long career have I uncovered such a web of deceit, nor met thieves so skilled at relieving the public of their funds. I had long thought that Professor Moriarty had no rivals atop London's pyramid of scoundrels, but I see that I was mistaken. Mr. Darling, Mr. Broon, the men responsible for the missing £175 billion are.....YOU!"
I was astounded to see Holmes leap out of his chair and, with fire in his eyes, point his finger directly at our clients!
Mr. Darling stood angrily. "Mr. Holmes, is thus some sort of jook? I can assure you, neither Mr. Broon nor I are laughing!"
"It is no joke, gentlemen, though I wish it were," said my friend, grimly. "Today I canvassed the the government and made a thorough investigation of sensitive documents..."
"You had nae right ta do that, man!" cried Darling.
"I posed as a Labour party donor..." said Holmes.
"Oh," said Darling, nodding in understanding.
"And what I found was a catalouge of waste unparalelled in the history of Britain," said Holmes. "In nearly a dozen years in office, you have created virtually no private sector jobs but increased the public sector workforce substantially. You have ensured that their wages have grown more quickly than the private sector's, and increased the country's future liabilities by guaranteeing final-salary pensions for the lot of 'em.
"You signed off on a £703,000 per year pension for the chief executive of a bank that you bought, then tried to renege when you found out that the public didn't like it.
"You, and you colleagues across the aisle, have allowed yourselves to claim £24,000 per year for second homes that you don't need, treating yourselves to swimming pools, gardeners, stereo equipment, and even pornography at the public's expense. For shame!" Holmes thundered. "If you wanted to watch people get screwed, you should just look at the effect you've had on Britain!"
Mr. Broon slowly rose to his feet, smiling grotesquely. He fixed my friend with a glassy stare, then began to speak, appearing to recite from memory, "Britain is well-placed to recover. No British saver at a British bank lost any money. This is a global recession caused by the American housing market..."
"Ha!" harrumphed Holmes. "You'd like us to think that, wouldn't you? You'd like us to believe that it is the Americans who have stolen your money. But I put in a call to Washington this afternoon, and found that they might be in even worse shape than you, if that's possible. They're missing $1.75 trillion, so I hardly think that they have taken the £175 billion that the pair of you have mislaid!
"No, the pair of you are responsible for the missing billions through your own ineptitude and a blatant attempt to bribe the electorate with jobs. Seize 'em, lads!"
With this, the tradesmen scrambled to apprehend Messrs. Broon and Darling. But despite being easy targets, they somehow managed to avoiding the grasping hands of the common men and scrambled out the door.
"Well, Watson," said Holmes with a shake of his head and a wry laugh, "we've let them get away. But unless I am very much mistaken, we'll be hearing more of the careers on Mr. Broon and Mr. Darling before long. Like a gambler, the criminal is never satisfied to keep his winnings and walk away. No, we'll be hearing more of those two, and soon, I'll warrant."
As usual, Holmes' intuition was correct. Unfortunately, much like the episode of The Valley of Fear, the case of the missing billions had a sinister postscript. One afternoon a few weeks later as Holmes and I were smoking and reading newspapers in the drawing room, my friend started coughing abruptly and nearly choked on his pipe.
"Good lord, Holmes!" I cried, springing to my feet and rushing to my friend's aid. "Whatever could be the matter?" Still sputtering, my friend pointed to the lead story in the Illustrated Evening Gazette:
DARLING RAISES TAXES ON BANKERS, CONSULTING DETECTIVES
Chancellor says detectives have been "sponging" on Britain's hard-working criminal class, must share in burden.
When I returned home from my practice the next afternoon, I found Holmes ushering a young man with greasy hair and a bad suit through our new kitchen. When I raised my eyebrows at my friend, he said "This young man is an estate agent, Watson. I've decided to put Baker Street up for sale.
"After reading the paper yesterday, I've decided to move to Monaco."
But never fear, readers! Holmes will return soon, in the Mystery of the Disappearing Government!