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Tuesday, January 06, 2004

The Case of the Excellent Typist (Part V)

The exciting conclusion of the The Case of the Excellent Typist...


Back at Baker Street Holmes had thrown himself on the sofa and was chuckling to himself when I, becoming quite indignant, could not hold back any longer.

"Are you going to tell me the meaning of these letters, their connection with Nigel Wilson, and man at the station this morning!"

Holmes seemed momentarily startled and sat up on the couch motioning me to take a seat opposite him. "Forgive me, forgive me, my dear friend. Come and sit down. I have been quite rude in keeping you in the dark so long. Now, where should I begin. Ah, yes Miss Nordstrum."

"A women’s intuition should never be underestimated I assure you. Ten to one that where loved ones are concerned a women’s intuition, although a concept opaque to us, is proven correct. And so almost as soon as she began her story I was convinced of Mr. Wilson’s involvement. This in addition to his strange behavior, especially her mention of the incident at her desk on Wednesday last, led me to believe that he was using his special relationship to her in this matter.

"Finally, when she confided that young Nigel had a past he would rather not make public, it all fell into place. It was obvious that some person or persons had blackmailed Nigel with this information in exchange for inside information on particulars about robbing the bank."

"The letters!" I exclaimed.

"Precisely. The question then became, what did Miss Nordstrum unwittingly do to contribute to passing the information. Obviously, the information was being mailed out of the bank through one or more letters, likely in cipher so that no one unfamiliar with the code could understand their true contents."

"But why go to the secrecy of a code when those responsible could simply have pressured Nigel to part with the information at some discrete time and place?" I questioned with a sense of pride in my observation.

"Simply because," my friend began, "neither of the parties knew the identity of the other."

"Really, Holmes you go too far." I sat back and took a drink of the port I had poured for both of us.

"I thought as much and assumed that it would be your stumbling point in the case. Nevertheless, it is a standard method of practice for the man responsible for more crime in this city than all the other criminals put together." His eyes had a piercing look and his chin was rigid.

"Who then is this criminal?" I cried.

"I confess that I don’t know." He relaxed a bit in his chair and took a taste of his drink. "I have run across his doings several times in my investigations and up to this point I have been unable to uncover his identity. He is like a puppet master pulling the strings but always remaining behind the stage. One thing is clear. He knows the goings on of that dimly lit underworld better than most men can see actions in daylight. He won’t hesitate to use blackmail, extortion and murder to achieve his goals. In this case he gladly filed away a piece of information for a decade because he knew it would be useful to him eventually. Namely, the fact that a young man named Nigel Wilson was once involved in a petty burglary." Holmes expression had turned icy again and he stared forward into the fire.

"Surely then we should have followed the man this morning. He may have led us to the mastermind himself." I couldn’t help feeling as if we’d left him get away.

"Don’t excite yourself, Doctor. Rest assured that the small time criminal we gave to Lestrade this morning was only one link in a long and complex chain that would not lead us to his door but rather through a maze of underworld connections, none of which seem to be in the slightest connected to The Source."

Feeling an air of desperation I turned my attention to Holmes reasoning. "Then tell me, how in the world did you arrive at the code and subsequently know that the small time criminal so called would be at the station this morning?"

"Ah, yes. Our unknown enemy may be waging a mighty war but we have won the most recent battle. As you mentioned I had already determined that the letters were important. That is why I had you abscond with them during our visit at the bank. Incidentally, my observations at the bank only confirmed my suspicions. As you may have noticed there was no powder residue on the floor beside the safe and no marks where a crow bar or other instrument may have been used to force the door open. Therefore we must conclude that the burglars had another means of opening the safe.

"Constable Rose heard the burglars arguing over something and I presumed it was in regards to opening the safe. In fact, I had already convinced myself that the burglars had in their possession the combination of the safe but that they had failed to open it and perhaps were arguing over the combination or the method needed to apply it. This hypothesis was only confirmed when I examined the letters." Holmes had finished his port and was now in the process of lighting his pipe and taking a long draw.

"But then what was the meaning of the number ‘36’ you mentioned to Miss Nordstrum and which obviously brought Nigel Wilson to our door so quickly?"

"Observation, Doctor." He flashed a quick smile between puffs. "After assuming that the would be thieves had the combination and had tried it, and after discovering that nothing had been disturbed by the constables, I simply noted that the dial on the combination lock was pointing to the number 36. I was confident that Nigel Wilson would recognize the clue and realize our position."

"If the burglars had the combination then, why did they not open the safe and abscond with the contents?" My head was beginning to spin as I contemplated the subtleties of Holmes reasoning.

"Simply because, and most fortunate for us and Mr. Wilson, the combination was in error." Before I had time to retort my friend continued. "I telegrammed the bank president shortly after deciphering the code and was assured that it was not the true combination. Of course, I advised him to have it changed today, which he agreed to without question."

"But the code..." I interrupted again.

"Yes, yes, the code. When I assumed that Nigel Wilson had been writing phony letters, most probably in cipher, and slipping them into Miss Nordstrum’s pile of correspondence I began looking for two characteristic in the letters. One, a phony or general address where the next puppet in the play could pick up the letters and two, the number 36.

"If you recall both letters were addressed to ‘Belton Road Station to be left until called for’ a perfectly general address that could hardly be traced. And of course the second letter contains the number 36 in the last sentence. Having both my criteria met I quickly deciphered the true meaning of the letters. Have I ever mentioned, Watson, that I wrote a small monograph on the subject of ciphers?"

By this time I was too amazed to speak.

"In any event you’ll notice that if you take the first letter of every other word, starting with the first, and string them together a definite pattern emerges."

I fumbled through the mess of papers on the table and finally found the two letters in question. I sat down again with a pen and did as Holmes described. From the first letter I had come up with the string, ‘leftright4216’ which when separated read ‘left right 42 16’.

"Amazing!" I cried. I excitedly began work on the second letter which when deciphered read ‘right left 75 36’ . "Utterly amazing I do believe this has been among your finest work." I exclaimed.

"There were one or two interesting points, I suppose. As you’ve already guessed no doubt, having found that the combination was in error, presumably due to Mr. Wilson’s inaccurate recording of it as he watched the safe being opened, I used the same code in an additional letter mailed by Mr. Wilson on Monday that I knew would reach the Belton Road Station this morning. No doubt, the fraudulent ‘Mr. Gibson’ regularly queries the postmaster for correspondence of his nefarious doings, this time in earshot of our young friend. Fortunately for us he is a criminal who is at least punctual." Holmes chuckled as he raised himself off the sofa. "In any event Lestrade, no doubt has his hands on one of both of them by now. If Rose identifies his assailant, then that will be that." He produced a piece of foolscap from his pocket and placed it on the table. "And so that Mr. Wilson could in no way be implicated, here is the letter I sent."

"That young boy," I cried, "you gave him orders to steal it from the man with the brown suit!"

"Street urchins such as the one I employed are quite clever at picking a man’s pockets." He demurred. "But you must promise me you’ll endeavor to bring out the scientific approach I’ve used in this case if you decide to include it in your collection." A small smile appeared on his lips as he took another long draw on his pipe.

"There is one more particular which troubles me." I questioned. "Why let young Mr. Wilson off the hook? After all he did commit a crime in his youth he did not pay for and he was willing to betray his employer."

"We must ask ourselves whether justice was done and what is in the best interests of our client, not whether the letter of the law was obeyed, as I am not an emissary of the law. In this case I deemed that Nigel Wilson is at this point a truthful and upstanding citizen. It would be of no use to society or to Miss Nordstrum to bring him shame. I have no doubt that the two of them will be quite happy and productive members of society."

With that Holmes gathered up the three letters, the two from Nigel Wilson and the one he himself had written and placed them in a binder filed under "S" presumably for, The Source.

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