It Was a Dark and Stormy Night
An A1 Skating Mystery
Disclaimer: It is not my intention, in writing this story, to make fun of my favorite skaters.
OK, it IS my intention to make fun of my favorite skaters.
So, with due apologies to Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie,.....
IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT
Chapter One. 221B Baker Street
It was a grey and dismal morning. The dank London fog seemed to penetrate to the bone as I trudged up the 13 familiar steps to the front door at 221B Baker Street. I rapped sharply with my favorite walking stick -- a heavy brass-headed cudgel of the type once known as a Penang Lawyer back in those heady days of empire when I served Her Majesty in India. Immediately were my exertions rewarded by the pleasant face of Mrs. Hudson, the landlady of the establishment.
"Ah, Dr. Watson," the Goodwife exclaimed. "Tut, tut, and what do you mean, out in such weather without a hat! He has been asking after you all morning."
The good lady took my stick and greatcoat, and I showed myself into the sitting room of my old friend. The lanky frame of Mr. Sherlock Holmes was coiled into his upholstered chair. Wisps of pale smoke from his every-present opium pipe levitated above his head, mocking the fog outside.
"There you are, Watson," he exclaimed testily. "I have been expecting you this morning."
I have long since ceased being impressed at Holmes' uncanny ability to predict my every action. But in this case the explanation was quite simple. The Great Figure Skating Mystery had just broken in the Times of London that morning. Holmes, knowing of my passion for the sport, rightly anticipated the state of agitation into which the astonishing news had thrown me.
"Dick Button Murdered," blared the headline of the usually staid Times. "Figure Skating Guru Found Shot in His Country Home. Four Prominent Female Skaters Detained by Police."
"Well, Holmes," I burst out. "Can you believe it" What do you make of this dreadful business?"
Holmes took a long draw on his pipe.
"I have only just glanced at the headlines, Watson," said he. "I was counting on you to come round with the details. I'm sure that you have already formed a theory about the case?"
Now as a matter of fact I had been thinking about some of the more baffling facts presented by the newspaper account. But I did not wish to give my friend the satisfaction of criticizing my methods so soon. So I simply replied:
"There are some aspects of the case that need clarification. I had hoped that you might have found out something from your friends at Scotland Yard and Interpol."
"The case seems perfectly straightforward, my dear Watson," was the reply. "I am certain that no further evidence will be required than what has been reported in the newspaper account. Thereafter simple deductive logic will lead us, I have no doubt, to the full truth of the matter."
My heart sank. Poor Sarah!
"Well, read me the full story, Watson," Holmes continued, "and we will see where we are."
I read from the headline story (twelve column inches, above the fold):
"Police in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, responding to a telephone tip, arrived at the country home of Dick Button, two-time Olympic figure skating champion and long-time ABC television commentator, at 1:15 AM 29th April. Upon entering the premises they found Button, dressed in an outlandish costume and lying in a pool of blood, shot through the heart. Standing over the body, smoking gun in hand, was Olympic ladies gold medallist Sarah Hughes.
"Upon examining the body, police discovered a message written in blood on the carpet, apparently by the dying man. The letters spelled out the name 'Sarah,' and just below, 'A1.'"
"Highly significant, don't you think, Watson? It's the usual scenario. The poor fellow is gasping out his last, and just manages to summon the strength to oblige the police by writing the name of his killer. When he has finished, imagine his surprise to find himself not quite dead yet. So he decides to add a critique of her performance: 'A1.' As if to say, 'Sarah, first rate! Sarah, simply the best!' Very significant indeed. Pray, continue," Holmes concluded with a chuckle.
The Times report went on:
"In a bizarre turn of events, after a thorough search of the house and grounds, three other young women prominent in the figure skating world were found hiding or attempting to flee. Russian Irina Slutskaya and Americans Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen were unable to give satisfactory accounts of their presence at the estate and were detained as material witnesses.
"For background into a possible motive for the crime, the Times obtained the following statement from 1968 Olympic gold medallist Peggy Fleming, Button's broadcast booth colleague. In response to the question, 'Who could possibly have wanted to kill Dick Button in cold blood?' Fleming replied:
"'Everybody. I've been within two seconds of throttling him myself. All that yak, yak, yak, then he turns the microphone over to me to smooth it all over!'"
Holmes closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his aquiline nose.
"Hughes, Slutskaya, Kwan, Cohen," he mused. ?Gold, Silver, Bronze, and -- what's the other thing, for fourth place?"
"Pewter," I replied.
"Not so prestigious as the others, I believe," mused Holmes.
"True," I offered. "But in this case it was the young lady's first major international competition, and she acquitted herself quite respectably. Indeed, it was the bronze and silver winners who came away disappointed."
"How so?" my friend wanted to know.
"Well," I explained, ?the bronze medallist is a four time world champion who could not have been satisfied with anything less than the top prize. The second place winner came away believing herself to have been the victim of an illegal judging conspiracy. As you know, millions of dollars in commercial endorsement opportunities are at stake, even setting aside the 'thrill of victory,' and all that."
"That is significant." Holmes pondered for a moment and then asked. "And I suppose that the young ladies can try again in four years?"
"Miss Hughes and Miss Cohen, at any rate," I answered. "They are still in their teens."
Holmes drew on his pipe, nodding. For a moment I thought that he had drifted off to sleep. Suddenly he bolted upright and fixed me with a peculiar stare.
"Well, Watson," said he. "Don't be modest now. I am sure that you have formed an opinion of the case. Some hunch or guess? Some Message from Beyond?"
Holmes must have his little joke at my expense. It is well known, even to the general public, that the remarkable Mr. Sherlock Holmes never 'guesses.' I can hear him now in my inner ear:
"Observation and deduction, my dear Watson. Observation and deduction. I trust nothing less. I require nothing more."
Nonetheless, at that moment -- little suspecting then what would eventually come to light! -- I flattered myself that I had indeed made some headway in the case, and this without the assistance of the celebrated Mr. Holmes.
"Well," I began tentatively, "one thing seems clear to me. Miss Hughes is not the culprit."
"NOT the culprit?" Holmes raised his eyebrows. "Miss Sarah 'Smoking Gun' Hughes, not the culprit?"
"Certainly not," I opined with growing confidence. "It is entirely too pat. The smoking gun, the name written in blood. It is obvious that she is being set up by the real killer. And don't forget the phone call. Someone alerted the police just in time for the poor girl to be caught."
"Quite true," Holmes mused. "And yet, Watson, we must never underestimate the cunning of the criminal mind. Could Miss Hughes have framed herself, expressly to obtain this very reaction? Is it possible that under that charming coltish exterior lurks an evil genius? Professor Moriarty in a sassy skirt? Don't forget, this is a girl who aspires to a perfect 1600 on her SAT's."
I found Holmes' suggestion preposterous. But for the moment I said nothing further, hurrying on to the next point of my analysis:
"Second, we certainly may cross the exquisite Miss Kwan off the list of suspects. Her moral character, her basic honesty, her friendly openness,..."
"Her love of small children and animals," Holmes interrupted, "her kind heart, her indomitable spirit, her spotless soul, the wonderful extension of her free leg on her inside-outside spiral. Yes, yes. All universally acknowledged. Off the list she goes!"
Of course I knew that Holmes was mocking my infatuation. But how often are we privileged to see an angel from heaven walking amongst us! Oh! how could I have guessed how sorely my faith was about to be tested!
I plowed doggedly forward: "That leaves the Russian girl, Miss Irina Slutskaya, and the third American, Miss Sasha Cohen. I have not worked out the details in my mind yet, Holmes. But I believe that there is some significance in the fact that Miss Cohen, too, is of Russian extraction."
"Quite so. Ukrainian actually," said Holmes, "I congratulate you on your observation."
I never knew when Holmes spoke sincerely and when with sarcasm. But I took his words as encouragement.
"My theory -- " I was in full feather now "-- my theory -- we will call it the Russian Conspiracy Theory -- is that this whole affair is wrapped up somehow in the Olympic judging scandals. The late Mr. Button was a vocal and influential critic of bloc voting on the part of judges from the nations of the former Soviet Union. I'll wager that we could crack this case like a walnut if we could get that French judge on the witness stand!"
I sat down quickly after my outburst and mopped my brow with my handkerchief. Of course I realized that so far I had only the bare bones of a solution to the mystery. Holmes would certainly accuse me of letting my imagination gallop ahead of the facts. I spoke first, to head him off.
"Of course," I said calmly, "there is much more investigative work to be done."
Holmes templed his fingertips before him.
"On the contrary, Watson," he replied shortly. "We have before us at this moment all that we need to solve the case."
"I suppose, Holmes," was my retort, "that this is your perennial boast that you can solve this mystery without ever leaving 21B Baker Street?"
Holmes turned to his writing desk and took out a blank sheet of paper. I looked over his shoulder as he wrote, in a column:
Then after these entries he wrote the names of the four suspects in order, Miss Hughes, Miss Slutskaya, Miss Kwan, and Miss Cohen. He folded the paper once and put it away in the pocket of his smoking jacket. Giving the jacket pocket a complacent tap, he turned back to me.
"My dear Watson," said Sherlock Holmes, "I have solved it already."
End of Chapter One.
What is Holmes' solution? If you don't know yet, don't despair. There are still 5 chapters to come.