THE WORM WILL TURN
Or Scotland Yard Strikes Back
A Kerlock Shomes Mystery by Dr. Warsaw
After I had recorded the "Kidnapping of Mr. Chasebrook" I felt that I would be "persona non grata" (whatever that means) to the officials in the famous police headquarters along the Thames Embankment. Once more Shomes had proved his remarkable detective ability, and, as usual, had come out with flying colors.
The Yard, however, solves many intricate problems which never even come to the notice of my famous friend. They have never had a chronicler and so their successes have not been recorded for the delectation of those who delight in mystery stories.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when one evening, as I was resting in my apartment after a strenuous day removing infected tonsils from several stegomyia mosquitoes, I received a call from Scotland Yard's famous head, Chief Inspector McPherson.
My house keeper had hardly announced him when McPherson stepped into my living room.
"Warsaw," said McPherson, "I am here on a very unusual mission. For years you have been writing about philatelic exploits of your friend Kerlock Shomes. You have made him world famous, and yet I doubt if you appreciate what you have done."
"Well, Inspector," I said, "I don't believe I follow you. What's the big idea?"
"The idea is this," said my visitor. "Shomes had done some remarkable detective work, much as I hate to admit it, but who is responsible for his success?"
"Why Shomes, of course," I said.
"Not at all," replied McPherson. "Did you ever read a single account of a Kerlock Shomes mystery that he himself reported? Of course not. You and you only are the man that has made Shomes what he is, and had it not been for you, as his chronicler, the world would never have heard of him."
"Really, McPherson," I said, "I fear you ..."
"Pardon me, Warsaw. As a matter of fact, you are too modest. Shomes without Warsaw would have been like Lord without Taylor, or corned beef without cabbage. You have never appreciated your true worth, and in spite of the fact that your friend is always pointing out your weaknesses as a detective analyst, he knows, as the Yard does, that he owes his popularity to you."
This naturally was an eye-opener. It had never occurred to me that my humble writings could have been responsible for establishing Shomes as the greatest detective the world has ever known. I must admit that for a moment I was a bit puffed up. Then I heard McPherson say "Warsaw, your friend has retired to Tunbridge-on-Thames to plant victory gardens and perfect his musical technique. It would be no discourtesy to him if you devoted some of your time to recording a few of the really fine jobs that Scotland Yard is doing. Your writings would be welcomed by the 'detective minded' public, and incidentally you would render a real service to an organization that could do with a little favorable publicity."
"Would this," I said, "cast any 'asparagus' at Shomes?"
"Not in the least," said McPherson. "We both know that Shomes is permanently retired, and that he is no longer interested in detective work. For him philatelic problems are out for the duration."
"What then," I said, "do you want me to do?"
"The facts are these, Warsaw," said the Inspector as he filled his pipe and lighted it. "America is going crazy over stamps. The auction dealers are reporting prices never before realized, and choice specimens are selling at figures that stagger the imagination. Only recently a one-cent U.S. 1857 cover brought $1,050 at a sale in New York. There is something going on. What it is we do not know, but we are sending one of our trusted men to America to investigate."
"So what?" said I.
"We want you, Warsaw, to go along and make a special report on the Col. Green sale that is now being offered to the public. In this sale, covering several sections, are some 24¢ airmail inverts, of which only one sheet was found (100 stamps) and Col. Green is said to have acquired the entire sheet."
"Previous sales from this collection," he continued, "have shown that even 'non-superb' copies of this famous airmail stamp have realized from $1,500 to $2,000 per stamp."
"Well," said I, "what of it? If there are only one hundred of a certain stamp known, the value of a single copy must run up into high figures."
"Quite right," said McPherson, "but is it true that only one sheet was found? That's why the Yard is sending a special investigator to New York in the hopes that we can explode the fallacy. We want you to go along to write up the results of the investigation, so that if more sheets are unearthed, as we believe there will be, Scotland Yard will get the credit for blasting this bubble."
"I see no harm in that, Inspector," I said, "and I'll sail whenever you say the word."
Sailing from England to the States is no easy matter in these days, but when our mission was made known to 10 Downing Street, the "deputy inspector" and I had no difficulty in securing accommodations in a bomber.
We landed in New York in eight hours, went to our hotel and enjoyed a platter of ham and eggs for the first time in months. This sounds like breakfast, but it was dinner!
Having gorged ourselves on the above repast, we set out to "see the town." To our great disappointment the burlesque shows were closed, "for the duration" we were told, but we finally found a place where we could see the latest newsreels for only thirty cents, tax included.
I must admit that after we returned to our hotel I slept poorly. This was the first time that I had ever been on a detective trip without Shomes and I had always relied on him to do all the thinking for the two of us.
Smithers, my new colleague, however, was very efficient, and next day he took me to the auction room, where the sale was to take place. He had no apparent nervousness concerning our visit.
The auction started and prices, at the very outset, showed that America, as reported in London, was going crazy. When the famous invert of 1918 came up, the price realized was tremendous. I looked at Smithers, but he said nothing. Apparently there was no stool pigeon in the audience. There were plenty of buyers that wanted this famous stamp, of which only 100 copies were known.
After the sale we returned to our hotel to wash up for dinner. Presently the phone rang.
"Is that you, Warsaw?", I heard a familiar voice say.
"Shomes," I shouted, "where are you and how come?"
"I'm staying in your hotel, and if you will bring your new detective friend to room 306, I shall be glad to give you both a spot of Scotch."
Needless to say Smithers and I were soon on our way to room 306, where I was rejoiced to shake hands again with my old friend Kerlock Shomes. Naturally, I was very impatient to hear what he was doing in New York, and he at once obliged.
"Warsaw," he said, "I recently learned that you had gone over to the "enemy" and although I am supposed to have retired, I still keep my eyes open. I found that the Yard was concerned over these big prices for U.S. 24¢ Airmail Inverts, and that they doubted that the story was true that there was only one sheet known. So they sent an investigator to America to confirm their belief and took along a well-known chronicler to report their expected findings. I thought I'd go across, too, just in case."
Naturally, I was pleased to have Shomes refer to me as a "well-known chronicler." At last, I felt, I had come into my own, and that when my story was published, I would have proved that Scotland Yard knew whereof they spoke. I was sure they were on the trail of a hidden "cache."
Shomes, however, still had something to say. Turning to Smithers he queried, "what makes for a high price on a stamp?"
"Why," said Smithers, "scarcity, of course."
"Quite so," said Shomes. "The reason these airmail inverts have been bringing such prices is because there are only 100 known. But because there are only 100 known does not prove that there are only 100 in existence. It is not generally understood that when these stamps were first put on sale in Washington, I was visiting the President at the White House."
"Shomes," I gasped, "you never told me of this!"
"No," said Shames, "but it is a fact, nevertheless. While the President was shaving I slipped down to the Post Office and was second in line to buy some of these airmail stamps. I saw that the first sheet, which was bought by the person in front of me, looked funny, so when I came up I ordered 25 sheets. 24 of these sheets had the airplane upside down and the other sheet was perfectly normal."
"What did you do?" said Smithers.
"Smithers," said Shomes, "I did exactly as you would have done. I said nothing and took the lot."
"But what became of those 24 sheets of inverts?" I asked.
"Now, Warsaw," said Shomes, "you're asking me something. If I told you, the prices of the 'only known 100 copies' might slump, or they might soar even higer. So make your report to Scotland Yard and in future remember the meaning of the words 'Et Tu, Brute.'"