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The Baltic Puzzle


IT GIVES me no pleasure to report that when Sherlock Holmes is not engaged in the investigation of a fiendish plot or a missing heiress, his demeanour becomes morose and his habits self-destructive.

It was with some relief, therefore, that on hearing of an incident in the Baltic Sea his melancholia quickly dissolved.

‘Watson, consult the Bradshaw! We must make haste to Copenhagen.’

The journey to the Baltic coast was uneventful. Holmes passed his time by entertaining our astounded travelling companions by telling them their life stories after examining a hairpin or a cufflink.

On arrival at the Danish capital we immediately hired a fishing boat. Holmes instructed the skipper to take us to a location close to the island of Bornholm. 

In all my travels to Afghanistan and beyond I have never witnessed a sight such as I saw that day. In a radius of half a mile the sea was bubbling and the water churning. We began to feel faint and the skipper wisely withdrew our boat from the scene.

‘Well, Watson, what do you make of that?’

For a moment I was thunderstruck. My medical training suggested to me that our drowsiness was caused by a gas. 

‘Good heavens, Holmes. It looks like an enormous rupture in the earth’s crust, or a gas pipeline has been severed on the sea bed.’

‘It is the latter, I fear, and who would have done such a thing?’

‘I read in the Times that the evil warlord Putin was causing trouble in the Ukraine and this is exactly the type of thing he would do.’

Holmes turned away. He was obviously not impressed by my deduction. He lit his pipe and stared into the far distance. After a minute’s silence he spoke.

‘And why, pray, would President Putin wish destroy an asset that would provide his war machine with the wherewithal to continue his military adventures? Instead of destroying equipment in such a hazardous location, could he not have turned off some valves to prevent the flow of gas?’

‘By Jove, you have a point. But if he didn’t do it, who did? Surely, Professor Moriarty couldn’t have done such a foul deed?’

Holmes turned towards me. He took a couple of puffs from his briar-root pipe, before addressing me in a sombre voice. ‘A natural assumption, Watson, but I’m afraid this atrocity was undertaken by people who are far, far more sinister than even the Napoleon of Crime. Detection is an exact science, and should be treated in a cold and unemotional manner.’

‘Surely there is no one on the Continent more evil than Moriarty!’

Holmes stepped away and looked to the West. ‘You are correct, Watson. However, I fear that we must turn our eyes to another part of the world.’

With that teasing statement, Holmes retired to what passed for a cabin and seemed to fall into a deep sleep. It was no mean feat as the boat tossed and weaved on the turbulent sea and the smell of stale herring pervaded the vessel.

As we neared port and the waters calmed, Holmes emerged in good humour.

‘There is no great mystery in this matter,’ he said, taking the cup of weak tea which I had prepared for him. ‘The facts appear to admit of only one explanation.’

‘What! You have solved it already?’

“Well, that would be too much to say. I am aware of suggestive facts, that is all. They are, however, very suggestive.’

He sipped his tea. A look of disgust crossed his brow and he threw the remnants into the harbour. ‘The facts are these,’ he said, as he attempted to clear the taste of my unsatisfactory beverage from his mouth. ‘The states of Eastern Europe in particular are suffering terribly from this war and want it to end. Other actors wish for it to continue.

‘The war is enriching those who supply weapons, but devastating the European manufacturing industry.

‘The destruction of gas pipelines will inflict long-lasting damage across Europe and, by blaming President Putin, it will fan the fading flames of the current conflagration.’ 

Holmes was now getting into his stride and seemed to be enjoying his pontifications, no matter how dire they would ultimately prove for civilisation.

‘And then,’ he continued, ‘we must take into account the statements made by those who are intimately associated with the conflict. It may not have been reported in the Times, but I am aware that the United States President, in referring to the pipeline, used the words: “We will bring an end to it . . . we will be able to do that.” 

‘I am also aware that one of his close advisers who is a long-standing Russophobe by the name of Victoria Nuland said earlier this year: “If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another Nord Stream Two will not move forward.” 

‘Not only that but a close ally of the United States, a Polish politician called Radek Sikorski, wrote a message relating to the incident that simply said “Thank you, USA”.’

I was taken aback that such black treachery could have been perpetrated by a country that, despite its sometimes intemperate behaviour, at least claimed to stand for freedom and democracy. 

But Holmes had not finished. When he saw that I had recovered from my shock he told me that in a conversation, in Danish, with the skipper of our boat, he learned that there was a great deal of unusual helicopter and naval activity by forces of the United States in the area of the explosion in the days before it happened.

‘Good grief, Holmes. Is there anything else?’

‘You will no doubt recall my investigation into the disappearance of the fine horse Silver Blaze, and my conversation with Inspector Gregory from Scotland Yard.’

‘Indeed I do, it is all in my notes.’ It took me a while to fumble through my jottings, but I found the piece and read it to Holmes. 

‘I recall it went like this . . .

Gregory: Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?

Holmes: To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.

Gregory: The dog did nothing in the night-time.

Holmes: That was the curious incident.

‘But what has it got to do with this case?’

Before continuing, Holmes, whom I regard as the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, gave me what some might have taken to be a pitying look. However, it is an expression I have long since allowed myself to forgive or at least, ignore.

‘My dear Watson, consider simply this.’ Holmes paused. ‘We are invited to believe, that in what is possibly the most closely monitored stretch of seabed in the world, nobody detected any large-scale naval activity by Russia.’

‘Excellent!’ I cried.

‘Elementary,’ said he.

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John Ellwood
John Ellwood
John is the father of four beautiful girls. He is, thankfully, not knowingly related to Tobias Ellwood. ‘My Dear Friends . . . ’ a compilation of many of John’s contributions to TCW Defending Freedom is available in paperback and on Kindle.

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