Past stories up on Amazon Kindle under author Tom Hanratty

The Track and the Boy

  

The Track and the Boy

By

Tom Hanratty

July, 2018


Ohtoh of the Piegan band of the Blackfoot People knew the track was there. 


It was across the shorter grass of the beginning prairie, near the buffalo trail that skirted the woods. Yesterday, when hunting rabbits, the boy had spotted the track, but had no time to read its message. So today he rose before dawn and crept out of the sleeping camp to the trail.


Now he waited for Creator Sun to send him the knowledge of the animal that made the track. The impatience of youth was something he had learned to push aside, not unusual for a Blackfoot boy of ten summers of age. He pulled his elk robe closer around him to keep out the early Spring chill of the great grassland, and thought about what was to come, how his patience and vigilance would be rewarded.


It was the Moon When the Ice Breaks Up, and soon Stands-in-Thunder, the main chief, would decide the day for the small band to leave their winter camp in the trees along the river, and move out onto the plains, joining other bands for a great buffalo hunt. Ohtoh was still too young to hunt the huge shaggy beast, but his grandfather often took him to hunt smaller game, and he had proven he could be quiet on the trail, and read the wisdom of the tracks. Studying this print, and reporting his findings to his mentor grandfather, would show he practiced the knowledge of the tracker/ hunter.


The boy watched while the sky shed its stars, sending them to follow the Night Light Moon over the tall mountains to the West. Then, the tall buffalo grass, higher than a man sitting on horse, was now seen black against a pale gray smudge of light in the East. The hollows of the prairie were still filled with darkness, but the higher undulations slowly appeared first gray, then blue. A light breeze brought the scent of the wild prairie sage, and the rustle of the grass with blue stems, as the silence deepened, and the world of the prairie awaited daybreak


Now, the boy saw the track on the trail before him, visible as a dark spot on the Earth, where the animal had left part of its spirit for the boy to marvel at. And as the light became the color of the skin of the spotted fish called salmon, the birds began their welcoming chorus, and the track began to fill with meaningful shadows. Cracks and ridges told of the animal’s passage, when it walked through this place, and a score of other pieces of knowledge Creator Sun now gave to the boy. The World is a track, the old man had told him. But only those who pay attention can know its mysteries. 


The track of the great mountain cat, Omakatyo, lay before him, where the heaven softly touched the Earth. The chirp of the blue feathered jay sounded once at his back in the dark forest of tall cottonwood high over thick underbrush that stretched to the Swift-Running River. In front of him, the endless grassland, and behind him, the eternal forest and mountains.


The boy shifted his gaze to a spot a near the print of the cat. Here was a different track, a footprint that sent a quick jolt of fear through him. He breathed softly though his mouth, and his hearing became sharp enough to note the scampering of a rodent several feet away. He studied the new track, that of a moccasin print. He knew the Blackfoot People had footwear with parfleche soles, the dried hide of the buffalo carefully stitched onto the moccasins by the women of the tribe. But this was a soft soled print, the wearer’s toes slightly visible. 


When the Piegan warriors raided enemy camps, they returned with moccasins from each of the tribes. Ohtoh’s grandfather would make tracks wearing the foes’ footwear so Ohtoh could learn the difference between the sign of many of the enemies on the plains. And the boy knew this was the rounded, wide footprint of the hated Cree. And it was fresh. 


Ohtoh’s heart beat fast. If the enemy who made this track was scouting out the Piegan camp, he may be nearby watching. Slowly, the boy rose from his crouch, turned, and started to  walk back towards the trees. Thoughts of an arrow in the back made him want to run like an antelope, but if the Cree scout thought the boy hadn’t seen the track, he may let him go. Nearing the cottonwood forest, however, Ohtoh’s resolve failed him and the boy burst into a sprint, trampling the long grasses, racing into the camp, past the barking dogs to his grandfather’s lodge. 


That night, as the stars called the seven buffalo slowly moved toward their mountain resting place, Ohtoh sat with his grandfather in the shadow of their lodge. Early that morning, a counsel of the Crazy Dogs Warrior Society was called to discuss plans to deal with the Cree. Several warriors had gone to find the Cree scout after Ohtoh breathlessly told his grandfather of his discovery of the footprint, but no enemies were found. No one doubted the word of the boy, and the track was studied by the best trackers in the village. It was decided that the footprint had been made sometime near dawn. The boy had come close to losing his life, but the scout had since departed. An attack was most likely, as the scout had not noticed the boy reading the track. This was the conclusion of all the warriors.


“We will move the horses into the trees, and our warriors will hide and wait for the Cree to come into the forest. Then we will strike.”

And so it was. When the Cree war party slipped into the woods, they were met by the Crazy Dog men, and soundly defeated. It was a great victory for the Piegan people.


It was two days later that Ohtoh’s grandfather called the boy into the center of the camp. Lone Coyote, the leader of the Crazy Dog warriors, rose in front of the entire village to make a speech.


“Many winters ago,” he began, “before the time of our grandfather’s grandfathers, a great tracker lived among the People. It is said he could follow the trail of a spider across bare rock, track the birds in the sky, and see a footprint of an enemy before it was made. This man was named Looks-at-the-Ground.


“Today, we have a young man who shows the same gifts from the Sky People. Our Man-of-Knowledge, the Shaman Dancing Bear, has said the one blue eye of our little brother makes him a great tracker, one who sees the footprint of the enemy. 


“It is said the eagle sees far and the jumping mouse sees up close. But the hawk looks far and near, so the hawk is called “The Bird Who Looks at the Ground.” We honor our little brother Ohtoh with this feather from the wing of a Sun Hawk, and give him the name “Looks-at-the-Ground.” Although young in years, he will grow into this sacred name and bring honor to his People.”


Ohtoh stood tall when Lone Coyote fixed the hawk feather into his hair. He knew great knowledge was a gift from Creator Sun not for the boy or man, but for the well being of all the People. And it would take many years of hard work to earn the gift. Looks-at-the-Ground, as he faced the smiling people of his Piegan Blackfoot village, was ready to begin.


Behind the boy, his grandfather felt pride, but also sadness. He knew, as sure as the thunder rolls in the mountains and the wind sweeps the tall prairie grasses, that change was coming. Already the vast buffalo herds were smaller, and the number of lodges fewer each year at the Summer Sundance. But for now, Looks-at-the-Ground has earned the right to dance his joy, and let the old men fret about the coming storm clouds. The Piegans would be here, the grandfather thought, as long as the grass grows and the waters flow. And Looks-at-the-Ground would be a Blackfoot forever.

Master Bao and the Golden Peach

.  

Master Bao and the Golden Peach

By

Tom Hanratty

June, 2018


“Ping,” Master Bao said to his apprentice, “we will stay the night at the Hostel of Blissful Repose in the town of Linsang. Tomorrow, we will visit the famous Monastery of Immortals, where the sacred Golden Peach of the ancients is kept.”


“I look forward to seeing this most sacred relic, Master,” Ping said as he walked next to his mentor who was riding a water buffalo. “I understand the peach is solid gold and holds the secret to immortality.”


Master Bao smiled. “Yes,” he replied, “I have heard that also.”


Purple evening was coming on when the travelers reached the Hostel. After putting Master Bao’s ox in the stable, the two entered the lobby of the inn and approached its front desk. The clerk, a heavy man with a large paunch and a ring beard chewed on a toothpick as he leaned his elbows on the rough surface of the counter. Just off the lobby was a dining room abuzz with men huddled around several tables talking in undertones. Suspicious glances were cast at Master Bao and Ping.


“There’s one now,” a thin man expounded loudly. He sat at a nearby table and was surrounded by five men whose dress showed them to be craftsmen. All eyes turned to stare at the Monk and Ping.“Maybe he can tell us who stole the Golden Peach and robbed our town of its income. What do you say, Monk? People come from all over the Empire to see the sacred peach, and the people of this town earn a living from the silver the travelers spend. Maybe one of your followers took it.”


“A true follower of the Way would not steal even a rice cake,” Master Bao said. “But if you give me more information, I may be able to help find the thief and return your relic.”


“Perhaps I can enlighten you, Master, on the details of the crime.” A tall man wearing the leather vest of the town warden came in from a room behind the desk. He bowed deeply to Master Bao, his hands folded respectfully in front of him. “I’m Warden Ma and I would greatly appreciate your assistance in this most distressing matter.”


“Of course, Warden Ma,” the Monk said, bowing his head in greeting. “My student and I would welcome the opportunity to serve the people of Linsang.”


The warden led the way to a small private dining room on the opposite side of the lobby from the public eating hall. A dish of fresh vegetables and fruit was quickly placed on the table in front of the men. 


“The Golden Peach is thought to be thousands of years old, given to a famous monk by the Jade Emperor of the Mystical Cloud Heaven. When the monk left this world and became pure spirit in the Dao, the orb was passed down from one immortal to another. Each keeper of the relic, after living one hundred and fifty years on this earth, disappeared into pure spirit, leaving only their sandals behind. Finally, the last monk had no followers worthy of immortality so he had the monastery built and donated the Golden Peach to be kept until a worthy monk should appear.”


“This is a famous story,” said Ping excitedly. “It is said whoever possesses the Golden Peach will live a long life on this earth, then join the immortals in the Jade Emperor’s Empire in the Heavens. But surely a thief would not be worthy of such a reward.”


“Perhaps not,” the warden said, shaking his head. “A group of five Enlightened Monks keep the Golden Peach in a strong safe at night, then bring it into the viewing room in the morning. In front of all five, it is placed on a red silken cloth on a silver stand behind a chain. Visitors may view it, but no one, other than the five monks can touch or handle it. But now the Golden Peach is gone, and we have only three men who could have taken it. None of them are monks.”


“When was it taken, Warden?” Master Bao inquired.


“This morning,” the warden replied. “After the relic was placed on the stand, three visitors begged permission to view it. Each was taken, separately, into the viewing room, where they sat or knelt alone to meditate before the relic. The monk remained outside the room, also in a state of meditation. Each visitor is then escorted from the room and the next person is admitted.”


“Were these three men the only ones near the relic today, other than the Enlightened Monks?”


“Yes. When the five monks entered to move the relic back to the safe this evening, they noticed the Golden Peach was not the one they had placed in the viewing room this morning. This was a lead ball coated with gold paint. No one but these Enlightened Monks would have noticed the difference, but to them, who had handled this sacred item, it was obvious. They reported the loss immediately and I quickly arrested the three visitors.”


Master Bao thought for a long moment. “When we entered the lobby, I heard the song of a nightingale. Does the innkeeper keep such a bird?” Master Bao asked.


“Yes. It sings nearly constantly,”  Warden Ma responded, looking a bit confused.


“Please have the innkeeper bring the birdcage with the nightingale into this room. Have him bring another platter of fresh fruit and vegetables. And I’ll need a flask of wine and three rice cakes. Then, when I signal, bring in the three men. You can wait in the next room where you will hear all that transpires.”


The perplexed warden did as asked. 

Within minutes, the innkeeper brought a large birdcage with a loudly singing nightingale into the private dining room. A tray containing fresh fruit and cooked vegetables followed. A flask of wine and several cups was next, and finally, a plate full of dry rice cakes was placed on the table. Master Bao put the plate of rice cakes on a low stool behind him. When all was set, the monk motioned for the warden to bring in the three men.


The first man bowed respectfully and said his name was Yang. He was an elderly  apothecary from the capitol city. The second man was named Fong, a middle-aged boss of the silver-workers guild in a distant town. The third man was Li, also middle-aged and the head clerk in a government office in a large city.


Master Bao put the men at ease with a glass of wine and some fruit and cooked vegetables. The men told of their adventures on the road, and their ideas of life in general. After a short time, Master Bao asked each to see if they could sing as well as the nightingale that was trilling away. All three men puckered up and whistled loudly, if not harmoniously. When they had finished, Master Bao spoke about the theft of the Golden Peach. He then produced the plate of dry rice cakes and had each place a cake in his mouth, chew, and swallow it. Then the monk told them to whistle. Only two of the men could produce any whistle at all. Fong, the silver-workers guild boss, couldn’t make a sound, although he blew as hard as he could.


“This is your man, Warden Ma,” Master Bao said. “His mouth is dry because of the guilt he feels.”


Fong dropped to his knees and knocked his forehead on the floor three times. “You are right, Master,” he exclaimed in a strained voice. “I have a fatal disease and am afraid of death, I heard about the Golden Peach of Immortality and decided to steal it and leave a substitute in its place. I didn’t think the theft would be noticed. I hid the relic in a secret compartment in the clothes trunk in my room.”


After the warden led Fong away, Student Ping approached the monk, his hands folded inside his copious sleeves. “Please Master,” he began. “Enlighten this ignorant pupil. Are the stories of the Golden Peach true? Can you obtain long life and immortality by possessing this relic?”


“Sit here and share this food, Ping.  Have you not heard the story of the monkey who stole the Golden Orb? Or the tale of the novice Hsi who tried to produce the Golden Pill of Immortality with roots, herbs and precious stones? These are tales told to instruct the young who hope to follow the Way. 


“All the tales end the same way. An Immortal whose eyes are bright lights speaks to the novice and tells him to do the Qigong exercises, learn acupuncture and meditate for hours each day. These are the ingredients of the Golden Peach, and they lie in your head, just above your eyebrows. After years of learning to move within the Dao, the completed Golden Peach of Immortality will be deep inside you, behind your navel. Living a life of stillness, completely in accordance with the Dao, will allow you to enter the Shadowy Portal (Hsilan Men) to pass beyond this world of dust into the realm of the Immortals.


“But you must leave your sandals behind to let others know not to look for your body.”

Master Bao and the Three Riddles

    

Master Bao and the Three Riddles

By

Tom Hanratty

May, 2018


     I was a cold evening in the small country of Xen (Chen) in the Northern part of China. Master Bao and Ping were approaching the town of Pang Lo, when the wind began to howl from between the mountains, and the snow began to fall in great swirls.

     “We will stay at the inn in the next street,” Master Bao said over the sound of the wind. “Cheer up, Student Ping. We will soon be warm and well fed.”

     The sign on the wooden flap over the door was blowing in the strong wind, but Ping could read the characters for “Inn of Happy Travelers.” He pulled his cape closer around him and hurried forward behind Master Bao’s great ox.

     The ox was put into the stable, and the stable lad said he would rub down the beast and feed it. Master Bao and Ping then entered the foyer of the “Inn of Happy Travelers” and walked up to the counter. A jovial-looking man, of stout build, with a ring beard, smiled at the two men. 

     “And you’d like a room for yourself and your companion, Master?” the man said, “But we are all filled up.” He paused. “Except for our most expensive room at the top of the stairs. And I doubt if a poor traveling monk could afford such luxuries.”

     “Perhaps,” Master Bao replied, “we could sleep in the straw in the stable, for a small fee?”

     The man rubbed his chin, then smiled widely. “Seeing as how you are a traveling monk and therefore a wise-man, I’ll make a bargain with you. If you can answer a riddle I propose, I may find a soft bed for you and a second bed for your companion.”

     Ping almost jumped for joy. “Master, there is no riddle too difficult for you. Perhaps I can answer the puzzle myself.”

     “We’ll see, “ said Master Bao. “Good Sir, what’s the riddle?”

    The Proprietor smiled. “You see that master potter in the corner of the restaurant. He is amazing, and can make five small pots in an hour. If he can make five pots in one hour, how long would it take 100 potters, equally skillful, to make 500 pots?”

    Ping tugged at his Master’s sleeve. “Please, Master. Let me answer this question. It is so easy, just simple numbers.” Ping could barely stand still with his excitement.

   “One moment, please Landlord. Let me speak to my student in private.” Master Bao took Ping to one side and spoke softly for several minutes. Then, with Ping shuffling behind, Master Bao approached the Landlord.

    “One hour,” the Monk said.

    “You are right. Your student probably would have said 100 hours. The room at the top of the stairs is yours for the night. Your companion can sleep in a room downstairs. Both of you can enjoy a great meal, compliments of the Inn of Happy Travelers.”

     The next morning, after the Monk and his Student had their morning rice, Ping approached Master Bao.

     “Please, Master” Ping said, his hands folded inside his copious sleeves. “Enlighten this ignorant student. How did I get the wrong answer to so simple a riddle?”

      “The answer, Student Ping, lies in listening carefully to the words of the riddle, for it is in the details of the puzzle that the answer is revealed.”

    

     Two months later, the Master and his student arrived in the town on Kang Ming, in the small country of Gong. The town was located in the Southern part of China, and was noted for its heat and vast swamplands. They approached a large inn beside the road.

     “We have gone far today, Student Ping,” Master Bao said. “Perhaps we can find a room at this inn.”

     The painted wooden sign over the door hung by two brass hinges, and Ping could read the characters for the “Inn of Heavenly Peace.” After seeing to the ox, the two travelers entered the foyer and stepped up to the long, polished counter. A thin, cadaverous man behind the desk dressed in a simple robe of good quality gave them a sidelong look. He studied the patched robe of the Monk and the barefeet of the student.

      “We have only one room available,” he snarled. “And it costs a silver piece for one night.”

     “Perhaps we could make our beds in the straw in the stable,” Master Bao said, “for a small fee.”

     A tall man dressed in fine clothes was standing near the desk, leaning on a pillar, idly watching the guests in the adjoining restaurant. He was solidly-built, with a full beard and side whiskers. He turned and stared at the Monk.

     “Wait, Innkeeper. This is a traveling monk and known for his wisdom. I’m stuck here in this hot town and bored. If this monk can answer a riddle correctly, I’ll put him and his student up in your available room.”

     “Oh yes, Dr. Mozi,” the innkeeper said, bowing solicitously. “A riddle, of course. Whatever you say, Sir.”

     “Come outside, Monk, and bring your companion. I’ll compose a riddle as we go, so I know it won’t be one you’ve heard. It won’t be easy, as I’m a lecturer in complicated numbers at the School for Enlightenment.”

     The three men went onto the long porch and looked out across the road at a pond that lay among the weeds. 

     “Here’s one for you. See that pond with the patch of lily pads? Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire pond, how long would it take the patch to cover half the pond?”

     Ping was beside himself with excitement, and he tugged at his master’s sleeve. “Please, Master, let me answer this question. It is so easy, just some simple number calculations.”

     “One moment, Dr. Mozi. Let me speak to my pupil is private.” 

Master Bao took Ping over to one side and conversed quietly for a few moments. Then, with Ping shuffling along behind, Master Bao approached Dr. Mozi.

     “47 days,” the Monk said.

     “Exactly right,” Dr. Mozi said with a large grin. Your student would have said 24 days. I’ll have the Innkeeper put you both in good rooms, and I’ll buy you both a fine supper,”. “And, if you’ll be so kind, I’ll enjoy a long conversation with you to pass the time.”

     The next morning, after the Monk and his Student had their morning rice, Ping approached Master Bao.

     “Please, Master” Ping said, his hands folded inside his copious sleeves. “Enlighten this ignorant student. How did I get the wrong answer to so simple a riddle?”

      “The answer, Student Ping, lies in listening carefully to the words of the riddle, for it is in the details of the puzzle that the answer is revealed.”


     Two months later, Master Bao and Ping were approaching the village of Lang, in the small country of LiFan. It was a thriving village near the Silk Road and noted for its vibrant business in trade.

     “We’ve had a long journey, Student Ping. Perhaps we can find a room at the inn just up ahead,” Master Bao said. The painted wooden sign above the door swung in the gentle breeze, but Ping could make out the characters for “Inn of Restful Repose.” After seeing to the ox, the two travelers entered the inn and stepped up to the polished counter. A short bald man behind the counter was calculating on his abacus, but put it aside and scurried around from behind the desk when he recognized Master Bao.

     “This poor inn is greatly honored by your esteemed presence, Master Bao,” said the innkeeper as he deeply bowed, his hands folded inside his copious sleeves. “You and your companion are welcome to stay as long as you wish, at no cost to you.” 

     “Thank you for your generosity, Innkeeper, but we insist on paying our way,” the Monk responded.

     The Innkeeper looked crestfallen. Then, he brightened and smiled widely. “I have it, Master. We have a riddle on the sign on the wall behind the counter. As you see, it says whoever solves the riddle, stays overnight at no cost. That would apply to your companion as well.”

Master Bao read the riddle.

     As I was going to Li Ives,

    I met a man with seven wives.

    Each wife had seven sacks,

    And each sack had seven cats.

    Each cat had seven kits.

    Kits, cats, sacks, wives,

    How many were going to Li Ives?

     Ping was beside himself with excitement, and he tugged at his master’s sleeve. “Please, Master, let me answer this question. It is so easy, for I have read it carefully.”

     “One moment, Innkeeper. Let me speak to my pupil is private.” 

     Master Bao took Ping over to one side and conversed quietly for a few moments. Then, with Ping walking respectfully behind the Monk, Master Bao approached the innkeeper.

     “My student Ping has solved the riddle. You may give the answer now, Ping.”

     Ping smiled widely. “One,” he said. “Only one was going to Liang Ives. The rest were returning.”

     “Correct,” the Innkeeper said. “Now you both can stay for no cost, and a large dinner is part of the package.”

     Later, after a delicious meal of cooked vegetables and fresh fruit, Student Ping approached Master Bao, his hands folded inside his copious sleeves.  “Esteemed Master,” he began holding his clasped hands above his downcast eyes. “This ignorant student now listens carefully, but suspects a deeper lesson is yet to be learned. Please enlighten him.”

     Master Bao thought for a long moment before he spoke. “When presented with a problem, be it a riddle or some difficulty in our daily lives, most often we jump to a solution before we have considered the entire problem from many angles. The initial answers are the most appealing, quick and simple, especially if the problem seems simple. But if one studies even the most innocent appearing problem from other angles, and listens or reads the problem carefully, the true answer will make itself known. Just as Master Lao Tzu instructs us, the Superior person will reflect on a situation before rushing to a conclusion, leaving ambition, anger, frustration, and greed far behind. 

“You have learned a valuable lesson, Student Ping, to be mindful of the problem presented and not to jump to a simple solution because it appears easiest and quickest.”

  


 Sherlock Holmes and

The Case of the Two Revolvers

Tom Hanratty, 

April,  2018


“No, Watson. It is the small details at a crime scene that are often the critical pieces of the solution to the crime.”


“But surely, Holmes, it is the eyewitness that is paramount in bringing the culprit to justice. After all, that is the most damning evidence of all.”


“Witnesses lie, Watson. Memories are fallible. We see what we expect to see, through a veil of our past experiences and personal prejudices. The physical evidence that is the hallmark of each crime is a more reliable witness, if it can be made to speak. Mark my words, my good fellow, it is the bloodstain that is not where it should be, the footprint going in the wrong direction, the smell of cigar smoke when no one on the premises smoked cigars. The successful detective will find the answers to all the inexplicable conundrums to bring the case to closure.”


It was a cold evening in the early spring, and we sat after dinner on either side of a cheery fire in our rooms in Baker Street. Our gas was lit and cast long shadows on the walls. I put a match to my postprandial pipe and relaxed into our companionable discussion. 


Just as Holmes was about to elaborate on his thesis, we became aware of the jangling of the doorbell. Within minutes, the soft tread of Mrs. Hudson’s slippers on the stair presaged the good woman’s gentle knock.


“A message, Sir,” she said as she handed a folded piece of paper to Holmes. “Brought by a constable. He said he’ll await your reply and has a carriage waiting.”


Holmes glanced at the writing, then passed the slip to me. “Tell the policeman we’ll join him in a moment, Mrs. Hudson. Thank you.”


We have an open and shut case against Lady Townsend,” the letter read.
but there are points that may be of interest to the amateur. We are at the Crofts, just off Baywater Close, if you care to join us.” It was signed by Inspector Gregson of Scotland Yard.


“You’ll go then,” I said. 


“Gregson is the pick of the lot at Scotland Yard. He has brought me in on several cases, one or two of which you have canonized in your meretricious stories. His cases are always of some interest. Get your hat, Watson, I’d be lost without my Boswell.”


The Crofts was a rambling pile of the Georgian period, served by a curved gravel driveway set between rows of Plane trees, in the wealthy district of Baywater. Lights shown from all  the windows on the ground floor, and we noted the moving lights from the bulls-eye lanterns of four or five constables searching the shrubbery and front lawn. A black police wagon was pulled up to the door, the breath of the dabbled horse visible in the cold air. 


Gregson, who I had previously met, was tall with flaxen hair, blue eyes and a pale complexion. He greeted us with enthusiasm, shaking our hands in order.

“We have left everything untouched, Mr. Holmes. Lady Townsend has been sedated and is resting upstairs, but her guilt is all but certain.”


“She has confessed, then?” Holmes asked as we entered the foyer.


“Not as such, no,” Gregson admitted. “But she was found with the revolver in her hand in a room with no other entrance or exit. No one, other than the deceased, was present. And she has not denied her involvement.”


“Well, well. Who is the victim of this shooting, Inspector?”


“Her husband, the MP himself, Lord Phynotias Townsend. The body is in the library. This way, Sir.”


We were shown into a room lined on three walls with glass doored cabinets of books of all descriptions. On the fourth wall, with the oaken door half way along it, hung several colorful paintings of rural scenes of fox hunts and turkey shoots. The furniture was all of a heavy wooden nature, various chairs and a table or two, a fainting couch and a large fireplace framed by more books. The carpet was a thick Winston square, of a royal hue.


All this I noted later, for my attention was drawn to the body of an elderly man, fully dressed in brown suit and vest, laying on his back near the center of the room. He had a small wound in the center of his forehead, and blood which must have come from the exit wound, had soaked into the carpet.


“Dr. Tillson, who lives just across the common, came over and pronounced him dead. The doctor said Lord Townsend had died instantly, less than a half hour before Tillson made his examination,” Gregson said. “He’s barely stiff, even now. The shot was heard by several members of the household staff.”


“What are the particulars of the event, Inspector. And pray be precise as to details.”


Gregson opened his notebook and began his tale. “According to Jameson, the butler, the table in the dinning hall, just across the passage, had been set for dinner and the staff had assembled to wait on the couple. Such a row was heard coming from the library that Jameson hesitated to announce the meal, as he felt it importune to interrupt the altercation. The Master was heard to shout and call his wife a “slut”, and she returned the compliment with some invectives of her own. 


Suddenly, a single shot rang out and the entire downstairs staff rushed to the door of the library, but found it locked from within. Jameson attempted to look through the keyhole, and found the key in the lock on the inside. Abruptly, the key was turned and Lady Townsend stood in the doorway holding a revolver. The body of the MP could be seen sprawled out on the floor.”


“Call the doctor,” was all  Lady Townsend said. Jameson took the gun from the limp hand of his Mistress and sent the stable boy running for the physician. Dr. Tillson arrived within minutes and pronounced the squire dead. He then administered a bromide to Lady Townsend who retired to her bedroom.”


Holmes had walked around the room, seemingly randomly examining the bookcases, fireplace, and the carpet. He did a through examination of the body, checking the pockets of the suit coat, pants and vest, before moving to the table where the revolver lay.


“Is this the revolver the butler took from Lady Townsend?” he asked as he put it to his nose and sniffed the barrel.


“Yes. The pistol with which she shot her husband.”


Holmes smiled. “Lady Townsend may have indeed shot her husband, but not with this gun. It hasn’t been fired, probably in years. Sniff the barrel, Gregson, and check these loads. The weapon is loaded, but none of the cartridges have been discharged, although the slight smell of cordite is obvious in the room.”


“What?” Gregson exclaimed. He took the gun and smelled the barrel, then checked the loads. “By all the Saints, you’re right! I knew this case was quirky. That’s why I sent for you. It looked too pat. Lady Townsend is covering up for a paramour, and is innocent of the murder.”


“Steady, Inspector,” Holmes said with a chuckle. “If you propose a paramour as the shooter, you must also explain how he exited the crime scene through the only door, into a crowd of staff members. No, Gregson, no one was in the room except the dead gentleman and his wife.”


“We examined the room for secret passages and found none,” the Inspector added while slowly shaking his head. “And we’ve been over the room high and low and found no other gun. I even brought in the matron from the jail and searched the Lady before she went to her room. It’s true we weren’t looking for a revolver, but we found nothing of a suspicious nature. “


“And yet,” Holmes stated, “a second revolver is indeed missing.”


“No one exited this room after the body was discovered. No one,” Gregson said.


"One man did, Inspector, and only one man could have without anyone being the wiser.”


Gregson grew red in the face. “I resent your implications, Mr. Holmes. I did not purloin the murder weapon.” I noticed his highland brogue came out a bit more when he was upset.


Holmes again chuckled. “Not you, Inspector. I suggest you take a couple of men and search Dr. Tillson and his surgery. And it would be well to investigate the link between Lady Townsend and the good doctor. You may find there is more than a doctor/patient relationship.”


“Then it was a crime of passion,” the policeman said. 


“No. It was a planned, cold blooded murder,” Holmes responded. “She used one gun for a ruse to delay the search, and the other to commit the deed, knowing Tillson would be sent for. After she fired the shot, she put the gun under the body, picked up the dummy weapon, and unlocked the door. Tillson, while examining the body, slipped the murder weapon into his medical bag and departed, no one the wiser.”


“She almost got away with it. If the prosecution had introduced the first revolver into evidence, her barrister would have proven the gun hadn’t been fired and the case would have been thrown out,” Gregson said.


“Yes, but I suggest you hurry to Tillson' s, for if he disposes of that revolver, you’ll have a  difficult time proving your case,” Sherlock Holmes warned.


Later, Holmes and I again sat near the fireplace in Baker Street, pipes in hand. 

“The revolver that hadn’t been fired made this a difficult case, Holmes,” I said.


“On the contrary, Watson. As I said earlier, it’s the details that are out of place that give a case a way in, once the puzzle of their presence is solved.”


“Nevertheless,” I said. “It was brilliant how you reasoned the existence of a second revolver.”


“Elementary, my dear Watson,” Sherlock Holmes said. “Elementary.”

         

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