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Illusory Affairs, or The Secret of Sherlock Holmes' Successes

by P. Lekov



    "A motiveless crime....What a problem for the police!"
                - André Gide -

    "I am so awfully misunderstood!"
                - Ella Fitzgerald -

  The events of March 19.. had shredded the nerves of my friend Sherlock Holmes. Deeply concerned for his health, I suggested that we celebrate his approaching fortieth birthday with a trip to France, where we both might find some peace after the trials of the Rockborough case.  We decided for a departure on the second of April,  which would have us clinking our champagne flutes in Paris.

On the fifth of April, we rose quite late - near noon - to beautiful weather.  We breakfasted in our rooms:  Holmes had ham and eggs, I myself jam and honey on toast.  After our cigar, we had a look at the newspapers in the lobby of our apartments. 
Holmes turned to me.
- Have you had a look at today's Figaro?
Laying down my issue of  L'Ami du Chasseur, I confessed that my eye had been drawn rather to publications devoted to more leisurely pursuits. 
- Take a look at this article, Watson, I'm curious about
your opinion.

Two squared-off columns were topped by the headline, "Sherlock Holmes is Forty."  Its author, one Hercule Bertillon, greatly esteemed my friend's merits, honoring him with the title of "the world's greatest detective."  He wrote that Holmes had virtually perfected the art of investigation.  Since every crime has a motive, and every criminal leaves some trace of his action,  any case can be solved.  Even were the world's most capable criminal to mine his logical and creative arsenal in committing an aesthetically perfect crime, still the world's greatest detective, with access to a similarly perfected investigative art, must needs have it in his power to shed light on the case. The author quoted Poe:  "It is hardly possible that the human mind could devise a puzzle which it could not itself solve." The facts, argued Bertillon, seem to bear out this assertion, since Sherlock Holmes, "the greatest living detective," had never failed to bring a criminal into the hands of the law.  In closing, the author wished Sherlock Holmes the greatest success in his investigations, and a long and healthy life.

"A lovely piece of writing, and so logical that you yourself might have written it,"  I said to Holmes, handing him back the paper.  "But who is this fellow Bertillon?"
"You don't remember, Watson?  His name popped up when we were involved with the events surrounding the curse which oppressed the Baskerville family.  That day Doctor Mortimer first came to us in Baker Street, he asserted that I was the second in my field in Europe.  When I inquired who had the honor of being first, our guest responded with Bertillon's name. 'From a strictly scientific standpoint,' he said.  Upon his asking whether I did not find his evaluation an affront to my pride, I answered that it did not concern me in the least.  But I must confess, Watson, that his words have afflicted me ever since."

Holmes sighed deeply and took a sip to conceal his agitation. In an effort to distract his attention from this matter, I began to read aloud an article from the latest issue of Daily Health. On the front page, between the motto ("Doctors of the World, Unite!") and the column "Professional News,"  and to the right of the reports on the earthquakes of the previous day, was to be found the following:

Incomprehension at the Museum 
At the latest opening in the Erwartete Kunst gallery, the public's reaction was marked by a distinct confusion.  Our exhibition, entitled "One Form of Dubbing," by the Hungarian artist János Sugár, and reports that he was unable to enter until midnight because of the outwardly streaming flood of exhibition goers.  To begin with, he departed late, and his cabbie took a route which entangled him in the unfortunate melée around the Enigma Center (42 received serious but not life-threatening wounds; 130 were superficially wounded, and countless display windows were broken).

Holmes glared at me. "Get to the point, Watson."
"The author goes on to say" - I was summarizing now - "that the reporter, who was slightly hurt in the melée, had nothing to gain in making for the Sugár exhibition in the Museum's main hall.  So powerful was the stream of those leaving the building that most of those who arrived late could do nothing other than take refuge behind a column, and there try to make out the words of those fleeing about the work inside.  (It is hardly possible that the human mind ...) A curly blonde girl of about twenty raved to a young man: 'Shall I tell you why I chose to see this exhibition over the others?  Because the others are so obvious and affected, while this one is absolutely a complete mystery!  I'm going to sit down here for a bit and try to penetrate what the artist was getting at.'  An art historian jumped down his cousin's throat with these words:  'No matter what the subject, you only think of infinity!' 

Some three quarters of an hour later, a journalist made several efforts to push his way in, but the throngs swept him back each time.  Among them was, for example, an athletic-looking type, who explained his view that 'the significance of the carpet does not justify the presence of the lead sheets' with such vehemence that he knocked several catalogues out of the hands of his stocky companion, and nearly crushed the reporter into the artificial marble wainscotting." "Watson!  The telephone!  Don't you hear it?  The telephone's ringing!" broke in my friend, then added quietly, "If it's a woman, I'm not here.  Only if it's Keiko."

"Moshi-moshi," was my first utterance into the  telephone, which, as is well known, means "hello" in Japanese.  The doorman indicated that a visitor had come for my friend.  He was unwilling to disclose his name, but said he must speak with Holmes at once.

Our visitor, a man in his fifties of medium build, immediately began to explain the pith of the matter.  Stuttering in his agitation, with his sweeping gestures he nearly toppled a Ming vase; I was able to catch it at the last moment, preventing its demise.

"Offer him something," directed Holmes.
I poured him a bit of the remaining consommé, which settled him enough to proceed: "These French police are useless.  As I have said, I was unable to be at the opening."
"At the Erwartete Kunst?," I asked, because I did not quite catch the name of the museum when he had first mentioned it. "Yes.  I am Sanchez, the director of the gallery.  The museum had an agreement with the artist..." 
"With Sugár?," interrupted Holmes, since SeĄor Sanchez was somewhat scattered in his narrative.
"Yes.  We had even agreed on the honorarium.  The Erwartete Kunst was in effect prepared to buy the exhibit.  As I said, I could not be present at the opening.  By the time I arrived, the space was empty and there was no trace of the exhibit."

"This case is getting interesting."  Holmes scratched his wrist, and poured more consommé for Senor Sanchez.  "Please, have some more, Senor Sanchez, and don't mind me.  Do go on."

"The French police are not shy about using any means at their disposal.  In the interest of completeness they have bugged the gallery's every room, including the side-galleries.  They have analyzed the conversations by computer.  Twenty eight prefects, as well as the Minister of the Interior himself, have endorsed the report.  All the conversations dealt with the exhibit..."

"There was no talk of private matters?," asked Holmes, and with slow movements began to fill his pipe with Cavendish.
"Yes,  there was some.  For example, there was the question of why Miss Honey did not come, but that can be of little consequence."

"If I may say so," interrupted my friend, "Watson here and I are in a better position than yourself to judge what may or may not be of import in this matter."  Every detail, be it apparently ever so small, may be of moment."
The museum director proceeded to speak for quite some time.  We then agreed to meet in the museum bar the following morning at opening time.

The next day, Holmes made use of the fact that the museum director was once again late in arriving to look around the gallery.  While I nursed a glass of Chartreuse,  Holmes was assessing the thickness of the plywood, feeling the panelling, and searching for something in the carpet. 
Finally, SeĄor Sanchez rushed in.  Excusing his late arrival, he took my arm and led me out of the bar into the gallery, where Holmes sat in a chair, dangling his pocketwatch. 
"Well Mr. Holmes," the director asked, "have you found anything?"
"What I found is of no significance."
"What do you mean?  I must have the exhibit!  Where is it?!"
"It is here, right under your nose."

Indeed, no sooner had Holmes uttered these words than I myself realized the truth:  Sugár's exhibit had been there all the while, and had never disappeared.
"But how did you come upon this?," I asked as we left the gallery.
"Did you not notice it yourself, my dear Watson?  Nothing could be more elementary.  Had you not seen that, over the entrance to the gallery, someone had changed the inscription to:  "Things which seem small determine those which seem great?"

(English by Jim Tucker)


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