IT WAS a chilly morning in mid-autumn as we sat in front of a cheery fire in the old room at Baker Street. Mrs Hudson had excelled with her breakfast but I could sense that, once more, an ominous melancholia was descending upon Holmes.
In an attempt to lighten his mood, I tried to engage him in some jolly banter by reading out to him an article in the Times about a carrot which had the appearance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but his mind was elsewhere.
In due course he picked up his briar-stem pipe and paced around the fireplace. For a moment I feared he would reach for his violin to begin a mournful dirge.
Suddenly, he ceased his perambulation and, pointing his pipe in my direction, he uttered his by now familiar instruction, ‘Watson, consult Bradshaw’s. We must make haste for Poland.’
Perturbed as I was that I would be unable to work on my manuscript about my escapades in the Afghan Campaign, I was gratified to see that the world’s greatest detective had once again engaged his formidable brain on a topic that no other human being would be able to fathom.
The journey to Warsaw was somewhat disrupted by the intransigence of certain reprobates who worked for the railway company, but we were able to board the packet in time to meet our connection in The Hook. By this time Holmes had explained to me that the London Press was clamouring for total war with Russia following an incident on the borders of Poland.
‘The survival of nations rests in our hands,’ he solemnly intoned.
As the train trundled eastwards, Holmes honed his deductive powers by disclosing to unwary travellers details about their lives that they had forgotten or wished not to be disclosed. One poor woman, a French countess I recall, was told that her diamond ring was fake, her husband had a mistress in Algiers, and that he was a swindler, a smuggler and an imposter.
From Warsaw we made our way by horse and cart to an insignificant farming village on the border with the Ukraine called Przewodow. Our cheerful carter, Bogdan, tried to keep us amused with his exploits as a plumber when he spent some time in Wandsworth, but Holmes was engrossed in deep thought and didn’t respond to Bogdan’s jollity, nor did he seem to care about the stench from the dead boar with which we shared the cart.
On arrival at the site, Holmes immediately sprang into action looking for evidence of the causes of the explosion. In fluent Polish he was able to convince the guardians of the site to allow us to inspect the scene.
‘Watson! What do you observe?’
‘By Jove, Holmes, from those markings, it looks like a Russian rocket has landed here and, consequently, the allies of Poland will need to attack the aggressor.’
‘Precisely what you are supposed to believe, my dear Watson. Yes, this is a Russian-made rocket, an S-300 I believe, but this particular batch was bequeathed to the Ukrainian army many years ago.’
‘You mean . . .’
‘Yes, Watson. This was fired from the Ukraine and certain people with dastardly intent wish us to believe otherwise. I have to tell you that we are dealing with a criminal enterprise that stretches across Europe and beyond and one organised on such a scale as we have never before witnessed.’
‘It’s Moriarty, surely?’
‘Sadly it is not, Watson. Unscrupulous though he is, even Moriarty would not stoop to the depravity of these perpetrators. No, this is an international conspiracy which involves those intent on subjugating ordinary people to the will of a small group of megalomaniacs masquerading as philanthropists. It is an insidious organisation which controls governments and the press through corruption and compromise.
‘I have no doubt that they will continue with their disgusting antics but we have foiled them on this occasion.’
‘Excellent!’ I cried.
‘Elementary,’ said he.