Over the numerous adventures I have shared with my colleague and friend Sherlock Holmes, one experience seems to stand out amongst the rest; perhaps because of its unparalleled value as a comedic anecdote, perhaps because remains to this day the one case to which Holmes never makes reference.
On this particular evening I was just sitting down with a nice cup of tea, a new requirement from the Board of British Stereotypes. I heard a knock at my door and chose to acknowledge it. It was an urgent telegram from Holmes, asking me to meet him in the attic of the downtown scone bakery that night.
When I opened the factory door, the first thing I noticed was the smell; a unique combination of mildew and sugar that stimulated the olfactory nerves. I made my way up to the attic, where I was promptly greeted by a dark figure in a dark room. Working under the cover of night is not without its drawbacks.
“Holmes! I did not recognize you without your pipe, magnifying glass and deerstalker hat!”
“Yes, I left them at home. I am a master of disguise.”
I said nothing, but nodded sagely.
Holmes related to me that his client, Mrs. Anglonom, was planning to leave a message in the upper left-hand drawer of an inconspicuous cabinet concerning her husband, the owner of said bakery, hiding drugs in the product. And, if I know Sherlock Holmes, I know that anything that has to do with drugs is in his immediate interest.
He opened the drawer with little effort and held up a loop of small beads that shimmered despite the lack of ambient light.
“But that’s not a message, Holmes. That’s a pearl necklace.”
“Ah, my poor naïve Watson, I was waiting for you to jump to that shortsighted assessment. But no! This is the message we’ve been waiting for. See, the string is in Morse code. You are proficient in many forms of military code, doctor; what does this sequence say?”
I stared at the never-ending string of dots and stated, “It’s either a long series of E’s, I’s, or S’s. Or any combination thereof.”
“Right! And only one language uses the letters E and S exclusively: Parseltongue.”
“You truly are a cunning man.”
“And, once translated from the language of the snakes, the resulting message is Xgarln bcbyoa.”
“But surely that doesn’t mean anything!”
“Wrong again, my dear Watson. This encrypted message is a monoalphabetic cipher using the keyword ‘SCONE’ as the initial sequence. And, when you translate these seemingly meaningless numbers, you get… Xjfsod gbgycf.”
I paused, waiting for him to continue. He didn’t.
“Perhaps you used the wrong cryptographic sequence?”
He knitted his brows. “The keyword may have actually been ‘QUEEN.’ Everyone loves the queen.”
Holmes closed his eyes to decompose another alphabetic sequence, and I took the moment to examine our iridescent evidence further, lying in its drawer as if it was a casket for our broken spirits. It was then that I made the case-changing discovery.
“There’s a piece of paper under the necklace.”
“Xjesod fgfyqe!” Holmes shouted triumphantly, seconds before my words registered. “Wait. What paper?”
I carefully unfolded the note. “It says, ‘Never mind. The strange taste in the scones was in fact mold, not contraband drugs. I apologize for the inconvenience. Please help yourself to a spot of toast and jam. Signed, Mrs. A.’” I looked up. “I suppose the pearls weren’t the message after all.”
Before I was even finished relating the contents of the note, Holmes was halfway down the stairs, raving to himself his improvised plans to quit cocaine and become a concert violinist, as concert violinists generally do not have to deal with such disappointments as these. I pocketed the message and started home. The ever-present rain permeated my false expectations as I considered that I had forfeited my tea for this.