Irregular Postings on Coin Collecting & Numismatics - Both Canonical & Conanical

A Scion Society of The Baker Street Irregulars

Numismatists Do Not Fear Change

The Case of the Murderous Numismatist (2015)

The Case of the Murderous Numismatist (2015)

“I can’t tell tales out of school.”

– The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place (SHOS)

After I sold my medical practice in Kensington to Dr. Verner and returned to Baker Street to share rooms again with my friend Sherlock Holmes, life in the summer of 1894 became hectic. I had re-joined Holmes at a time when he was juggling three or four cases at once. Consequently, my own erratic schedule, to say the least, took me hither and yon unprepared, for I usually accompanied Holmes on his adventures, but now I was writing down notes of his movements or encounters haphazardly, with the hope that my memory of events would not fail me when I sat at our dining table to compose a magazine article about the ingenious methods and mind-numbing accomplishments of this peripatetic consulting detective. What follows is an example of my remembrance combined with those sketchy notes:

One day at lunch in our flat – a meal of turkey pot pies served graciously by our landlady, Mrs. Hudson – Holmes flipped a coin onto the tabletop and watched it twirl noisily until it came to a stop.

“What can you tell me about this piece, Watson?” he wanted to know.

I picked it up, examined it, and told Holmes the date the crown was minted, 1707, the very year it was introduced as currency to commemorate the Union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland.

“Is that all there is to it?” Holmes persisted, as if to entertain himself.

“Only that this is a rare coin, a collector’s item,” I added.

“Wrong on all counts, as I anticipated,” he blurted with an exaggerated wink.

“Wrong? How can you allege it?” I insisted.

“This is not a genuine crown. It is counterfeit,” Holmes revealed, surprising me. “It is not solid silver, it is silver-plated and made of lead, weighing approximately a half ounce more than it should.”

“Where did you get it?” I quizzed.

“From a new client, or I should say a group of clients,” he answered. “Here is a letter from them that arrived in yesterday’s post, along with the spurious coin.” He unfolded a sheet of correspondence that was in his jacket pocket, then tossed it over to me, and I read it aloud:

“We, the undersigned, represent the Society of American Coin Traders, an organization of more than two hundred members,” the message began. “One of us, one whose identity will remain anonymous, purchased this coin by mail from a London dealer, a Joseph Smisky, for the sum of ninety dollars. This specimen is worthless, for it is a fake.

“We have sent a telegraph to Mr. Smisky to demand that the money be returned, and he has ignored our plea. Instead, he has continued to advertise in the newspapers that he possesses a 1707 crown for sale in mint condition. We suspect he actually possesses several reproductions of this valuable coin.

“We urge you to bring an end to his fraudulent scheme and to intercede for us with your Scotland Yard contacts to see that justice is served. We shall reward you with a fee in whatever amount you deem sufficient under the circumstances, providing, of course, that it is reasonable.”

The letter gave the impression Holmes’s task was a simple one, but he informed me otherwise. “If Mr. Smisky is to be prosecuted, it must be proven that he not only peddled a counterfeit, but that he knew it was counterfeit when he did so,” Holmes advised. “Thus, the sticky wicket.”

“How do you intend to establish he knowingly sold a bogus collectable?” I wondered with skepticism. “What was in his mind is hardly possible to decipher.”

“My plan – ” Holmes started to say, but a knock at the door interrupted him.

“It is only I, here to collect the dirty dishes,” said Mrs. Hudson cheerily, letting herself in and directing a comment toward Holmes. “That pot pie should help put meat on your bones. The way you have been running about at all hours takes a toll on the frame, and you can’t stand to lose any more than you have already.”

“It was delicious and abundant, my lady, and no doubt it will amount to as much as a pound on my sorry frame,” he responded, then charmed her with a compliment about her hair.

“Oh, Mr. Holmes, I didn’t think anyone would notice how I did it up differently this morning,” she giggled, blushing. “I’ll be out of your way in a jiffy. You gentlemen have more important things to discuss besides my appearance. You approve though, eh?”

“It becomes you, Mrs. Hudson,” I piped up. “No need for you to hurry off.”

“All the same, I best be going, because 1 am expecting a gentleman caller,” she disclosed, stepping away with the dishes in a rush.

“The word romance never would have occurred to me in a conversation about Mrs. Hudson,” Holmes jested in a low voice after we heard her lively footsteps on the stairs.

“You were about to tell me your plan when she came in abruptly,” I prodded, expecting Holmes to resume our discussion.

“Better yet, Watson, you can enthrall your readers even more so if you witness my stratagem unfolding, rather than listening to me explain it,” he contended. “Come with me to Gravesend, where I shall acquaint you with a female constable who is also an amateur stage actress in her off-hours. Gertie Evans is the key to my grand design and its shocking aftermath for the likes of Mr. Smisky.”

“Grand design? Shocking aftermath? What on earth?” I marveled.

“I suppose I should confide in you my ulterior motives for accepting this case, my good man. The investigation of a counterfeit coin is a means to an end. Dealing dishonestly in rare coins is but a minor crime for the nefarious Mr. Smisky, a commonplace infraction ordinarily not worthy of my attention. The fact of the matter is that I have another client, The British Fire and Casualty Company, which has its sights set on Smisky for a heinous insurance swindle. The company has engaged me to probe his responsibility in the destruction of a tenement he owned in the East End. A tremendous explosion and conflagration leveled the structure last April, killing six occupants and injuring a multitude of others.”

“I recall reading about it, Holmes, but if I remember correctly, the police blamed a faulty gas valve for the tragedy,” I interjected.

“The police suspect sabotage, but they didn’t say as much to the newspapers to avoid arousing interest on the part of Smisky or the professional arsonist he employed,” Holmes stated categorically. “Unfortunately, the authorities have been unable to assemble any evidence of a deliberate act. The insurance firm has come to me, therefore, to solve the puzzle so it can deny Smisky a settlement of fifty thousand pounds.”

“Good heavens, he committed six murders, for money. How disgraceful and malicious,” I remarked scornfully. “His malevolence is unparalleled.”

“As is my ambition to see him hang,” Sherlock Holmes threatened. “Shall we go now?”

“I am as eager as you,” I assured him, donning my bowler.

The afternoon sun was intense, so we rode in a hansom to Charing- Cross, where we boarded a train to Gravesend, down by the great river. On the train, Holmes spoke not a word, but tapped his toes to the rhythm of a song in his head and drummed his bony fingertips on his knees, his close-fitting cloth cap pushed forward onto the bridge of his hawk-like nose. When we reached our destination, he cautioned me on the platform not to let on in public that I knew Gertie Evans was a police official. “She works surreptitiously and wears no uniform,” he observed, “and she is very careful to protect her true identity.”

We met Gertie at the Boar’s Head Pub, a raucous establishment on the waterfront with sawdust on the floor and medieval armour hanging on the walls. She waved warmly to Holmes from a corner table occupied by three surly men competing for her attention, one a sailor, another a businessman, and the third a football player wearing his colours. Gertie, aged about thirty, looked lovely in a dark blue dress and yellow blouse with ruffles around the neck and on the ends of her sleeves. Her auburn hair was done in large curls that draped over her shoulders and back, accenting a youthful, angelic face. As Holmes and I approached, she ordered the three suitors to “take a powder, boys, I have private business to discuss with these two gents.” Grumbling, the men strolled to the bar.

“So this is your deputy and biographer, Dr. Watson,” she said coquettishly to Holmes, who stood at the table until she motioned for us to sit. “It is my pleasure to see you in the flesh, Doctor, because I have admired your writings from afar,” Gertie crowed. “And Mr. Holmes, I consider it an honour to collabourate with you once more.” A waitress took down our preferences for refreshments and Gertie wasted no additional time getting to the matter at hand.

Speaking barely above a whisper in the din of the pub, Gertie outlined the step she had taken on her own. “My sergeant is a numismatist, and he loaned me five rare coins from his collection to offer them to Smisky for the right price. Give me the imitation crown and I’ll put it with them.”

Holmes produced the counterfeit, which she inserted into a small paraffin paper jacket and dropped into her reticule. “Your plan will fall apart if Smisky buys back this hunk of junk,” she frowned. “I’ll memorize his words when he lays eyes on it. Now let’s see what happens.” We departed the pub together, Gertie hailing one cab while Holmes and I summoned another to take us to the railway station. “Best we’re not seen together until this is over,” Holmes theorized when we boarded separate cars for the trip to Saxe-Coburg Square, the location of Smisky’s coin shop. Once in the vicinity, Gertie walked alone the two city blocks to the shop, with Holmes and me trailing about twenty paces behind. As she went in, we plopped down on a bench near the entrance so we could hear the banter between Gertie and Smisky, close enough to intervene in the event there was trouble.

“I wish to speak to the owner,” she notified the muscular man with a handlebar mustache behind the counter.

“You’re lookin’ at him, lady,” he snickered,

“Do you buy rare coins at a fair price?” she asked.

“What price I pay will beat any competitor’s, so help me God,” he swore.

“Well, then, I have six to sell. My dear father passed away and left me his collection. Before he went on to his reward, he told me which ones to part with if I fell onto hard times.”

“I won’t take advantage of you, miss,” he pledged. “Let’s see what you have.”

Gertie reached into her handbag and displayed the coins on the glass countertop.

“Hmm,” Smisky hummed, examining each one and replacing them into a row. “This one is worth five pounds to me, this one a little more, and the rest about ten pounds apiece – except this one,” he scowled, manipulating the counterfeit 1707 crown between his fingers, flipping it into the air with his thumb and forefinger, then catching it in the palm of his stubby right hand. “This one is worth nothing, not even face value,” he claimed.

“What in heaven’s name do you mean by that?” Gertie ejaculated, pretending to be stunned.

“It’s too heavy. It’s a replica, not the genuine article,” Smisky laughed.

“We’ll see about that,” Gertie snapped. “I’m taking it back, in fact all of them – I shan’t do business with a scoundrel.”

“Suit yourself for today, miss, but I’ll gamble that when you find I’ve been truthful, I’ll see you again,” Smisky concluded arrogantly.

“You can bet your life on that,” Gertie mumbled to herself quietly as she stomped out of the shop.

“A marvelous, convincing performance; I believed you myself,” Holmes beamed, complimenting her at the train station. “Mr. Smisky is one notch closer to the gallows.”

“I was tempted to clamp the irons on his wrists right then and there,” Gertie admitted, “but I realized that would interfere with your plan, Mr. Holmes.”

Gertie returned to the constabulary in Gravesend, while Holmes and I rode on to the Strand for a dinner at Simpson’s, our usual Wednesday evening habit.

That night, dressed as an Episcopalian cleric with a grey beard and frizzy white hair, Holmes went on the prowl in the West End, searching the streets for Gunther Williams, a clever and stealthy informant who once served time in Dartmoor Penitentiary for a series of burglaries, and who was known in the underworld as Hobo Willie. Holmes, who had been instrumental in the convict’s early release from prison, based upon testimony that he financially supported the orphanage where he was raised, came across Williams at midnight outside a cafe famous for its coffee and fresh-fried donuts.

“I have a job for you, Gunther,” Holmes began.

“And who might you be with a job for me?” Williams retorted.

“It is I, Sherlock Holmes, your benefactor,” Holmes replied.

“By Jove! If it isn’t you, Mr. Holmes. Preaching the gospel, are you?” a startled Williams quaked, to which Holmes responded with this quote from Oliver Twist: .

“Yes, I’m preaching the gospel according to Charles Dickens: ‘To do a great right, you may do a little wrong; and you may take any means which the end to be attained will justify. ‘ ”

“You want me to do something underhanded, then,” the corpulent Williams predicted, stroking the fleshy portion of his double-chin.

“Skullduggery is more like it, Gunther,” Holmes corrected. “There is a coin dealer in Saxe-Coburg Square who paid what the Americans call a torch to set an apartment building ablaze in the East End, where six people were burned alive and many others scorched. I want you to make a friend of him and learn the identity of the culprit who destroyed the building. ”

“That’s an easy assignment, Mr. Holmes,” Williams boasted. “I know the man, Joe Smisky, and he is a hard case, but I am more brainy. I’ll betray him to you, yet never to the coppers, though. They would make me go to court and expose myself as a snitch.”

“I shall protect your role in this, Gunther, rest assured,” Holmes promised.

“Your word is your bond, I know that for a fact,” Williams conceded, then was ready to disappear into the darkness until Holmes delayed him with the story of Gertie Evans and the counterfeit 1707 crown. Holmes also gave Williams explicit instructions on how to prompt Smisky to name the arsonist. “I’ll sleep on all this and give you my report tomorrow before suppertime, Mr. Holmes,” Hobo Willie vowed.

Holmes arrived back at Baker Street in the wee hours of the morning and devoted much of the time thereafter poring over his Index of criminals or pacing the floor of our sitting-room in his purple dressing gown, smoking his bent-billiard, briar-root pipe.

I awoke at dawn to the sound of his brewing the strong coffee that he favoured, which gave off a pleasant aroma that circulated upstairs to my bedroom. Groggy, I stumbled down to the table and helped myself to a cup while Holmes was sipping his as he scribbled a long message to Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard.

“Watson,” he muttered without looking up from the stationery, “I have deduced the identity of the arsonist and will receive confirmation of my finding today from my informant, Gunther Williams, if he follows my script.” Then, staring into my bleary eyes, Holmes warned: “Tonight will be a dangerous time. I must be off now to bait the trap.”

While he was gone, Williams was fulfilling his commitment to Holmes, rapping on the door to Smisky’s coin shop about eight o’clock to roust him out of bed in a back room. Drowsy from a deep slumber and in a foul mood, Smisky unlocked the door and opened it a crack. “Well, Hobo Willie, what do you want at this ungodly hour?” he sneered.

“Let me in, Joe, I have something to sell,” Williams pleaded.

Opening the door wider and motioning with his head for his visitor to come inside, Smisky greeted him with an insult. “Something to sell? From one of your sticky finger endeavours?”

“No, Joe, it’s information I’m pitching,” came the answer.

“I’m not buying. I have all the information I can use,” Smisky growled.

“This is about you and your future in the labour camp, or maybe even at the end of a rope,” Williams enticed. “What’s that worth to you?”

“It’s not worth one pence so far. Are you out of your mind?” Smisky, now curious, said to lead Hobo Willie on. “I see you’re all spruced up, shaved, hair trimmed, and in a new suit of clothes. Come into some money, have you?”

“Yes, I’ve been working, and these are my working clothes,” Williams lied.

“Working at what, you tramp?” Smisky cackled.

“I’ve been working with Sherlock Holmes, the renowned detective, and he has the goods on you, Joe,” Williams revealed.

“Has the goods on me? For what?” Smisky clamoured.

“That’s what I have for sale, the whole picture,” Williams professed. “I can give you information that will save your bacon.”

“You’re doing your pandering behind Holmes’s back, then, for a bit of extra cash?” Smisky wanted to learn.

“You could say that, Joe, but it’s more like I’m sharing what I know with a friend,” Williams continued.

“Let me hear what you have to tell, and then I’ll decide if you get anything from me for it,” Smisky specified.

“Doesn’t happen that way, Joe. First, you make an offer, and, second, I make the decision if the price is right,” Williams bargained.

“Ten shillings, then, is that enough?” Smisky acquiesced.

“Not for what I have,” Williams spouted.

“How much do you want, you little crook?” Smisky smirked.

“A five-pound note will buy everything you need to know,” Williams boldly stated.

“Five pounds! Do you think I’m made of money?” Smisky protested, his face flushing.

“That’s my price, take it or leave it,” Williams countered.

“I’ll take it, but this better be good, you blackmailing bastard,” Smisky cursed.

“Good. By the way, Joe, this is extortion, not blackmail. There is a distinction in the law. Put the money where I can see it and I’ll not touch it until you’re satisfied I sang like a bird,” said Williams confidently.

Smisky, moaning, went into the back room and emerged with a five- pound note, which he laid on the counter between himself and Hobo Willie. “Now sing your song,” he demanded.

“I’ll start with how you cooked your own goose yesterday,” Williams began. “The young woman who came here with rare coins to sell was in league with Sherlock Holmes. All they wanted was for you to show them you knew a 1707 crown was a phony. You did just that, which made the case against you for transacting in counterfeit. That’ll probably get you a three or four-year stretch. Now for the had news. Holmes has tracked down the party who burned your building in the East End, and the man has confessed, with the prospect of escaping the gallows if he testifies against you and the others who paid him to set fires. He told Holmes how he did them all, by rigging the gas valves. Now if he goes to court and fingers you, that could mean you’ll swing from Old Bailey.”

“I don’t believe it,” Smisky bellowed. “Frank Kiefer is smarter than any private detective. He wouldn’t spill his guts if his life depended on it. ”

“His life did depend on it, Joe,” Williams argued. “Sherlock Holmes caught him in the act of doing another job.”

“T-t-this is terrible,” Smisky stammered. “Has he gone to the police with his evidence?”

“Not yet, because he hasn’t wrapped up the package in a neat bundle, at least not until he persuades you to confess, too,” Williams informed Smisky. “Besides, he isn’t working for the police. His client is an insurance company.”

“I have some time, then. I can still do something about this meddlesome busybody,” Smisky surmised. “Where can I find him?”

“He’s pounding the bricks, he’s on the street right now,” Williams advised. “But I know where he’ll be at seven o’clock tonight – having dinner at Simpson’s in the Strand with a witness on another case.”

“What’s he look like?” Smisky questioned. “I think I’ll have dinner with him.”

Hobo Willie described Holmes down to the clothing he would he wearing that day, picked up the five-pound note, wished Smisky good luck, and departed in a jolly frame of mind, mission accomplished. He would make his report of a successful effort to Holmes at Baker Street in the afternoon, as he had prophesied.

Meantime, Holmes was experiencing success as well. He had traced Frank Kiefer to a brothel and opium den he owned in the sleazy Limehouse district.

“Frank, I am a friend of Joe Smisky, who says you can make gravel burn,” Holmes exaggerated by way of introduction. “My name is Matthew McKinney, and I am a businessman from Baker Street, where my haberdashery is located. I have lost all my savings on the poker tables and I am in debt to the gamblers. I need you to arrange a gas leak.”

“I can do that easily enough, but the cost to you will he severe,” Kiefer foretold. “Joe had to triple the coverage of his apartment building to accommodate me and make a tidy profit at the same time. He was pleased with the results, though. The job turned out beautiful. What a sight it was! Oooo, the flames were magnificent. Too bad so many people had to die and get hurt, but, like Joe said, they were the scum of the earth. How much insurance do you have?”

“Ten thousand pounds. How much do you want for the job?” Holmes asked.

“Ten thousand is my price,” Kiefer allowed. “You’ll have to do the same thing Joe did, double or triple the coverage, depending on how much you owe the sharks. What kind of building is it – what’s it made of?”

“It’s brick on the ground floor and wood frame on the floor above,” Holmes related.

“Brick, you say?” Kiefer said hesitantly. “That will add a thousand pounds to the price. Brick needs a powerful blast. I’ll come take a look at it tomorrow afternoon – be there at two o’clock. What’s the address?”

“It’s 221 Baker Street in the West End,” Holmes told him. “Will you come alone?”

“My understudy, Donald Bonsal, will be with me,” Kiefer disclosed. “He is my right arm, ever since I lost mine in an explosion three years ago. I was chopping holes in the roof of a club for ventilation when my ax struck a steel beam and created a spark. That was enough to ignite the gas. The vapors are volatile. I charge a lot of money for my work because it is so hazardous. But I guarantee the results and leave the coppers scratching their heads. When Frank Kiefer finishes a job, they can’t prove a thing.”

Stunned by Kiefer’s callous attitude, Holmes made an excuse to exit after declining the arsonist’s invitation to stay for a smoke in his opium room. Upon his return to our diggings, Holmes rubbed his sinewy hands together and fished half a cigar from the coal scuttle, lit it, inhaled, and repeated for me the incriminating chat he had with Kiefer.

“He is an amoral slouch with a haughty indifference toward the lives of the impoverished, as is Smisky,” said Holmes to preface his rendition of the dialogue. “Society will be better off with those two reprobates in their graves. And I have the material to put them there.”

Just as he completed his version of the event, Mrs. Hudson appeared on our threshold to announce that a Gunther Williams was in the foyer asking for Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

“Send him up with dispatch, Mrs. Hudson.” Holmes directed her.

“It’s uncanny, Mr. Holmes, but you were on target with what you said would happen,” Williams praised. “He fell for it hook, line, and sinker. The name of the arsonist is -”

“Let me guess, Gunther, it’s Frank Kiefer,” Holmes butted in.

“If you knew that, why did you put me through -” the informant went on.

“I am sorry, but it was because I needed confirmation, Gunther,” Holmes apologized. “I only had a suspicion it was Kiefer when I read in my Index at four o’clock this morning about the one-armed arsonist who was an expert with the properties of natural coal gas. Tell me more of your encounter, Gunther.”

“Well, Smisky is planning something, probably to harm you fatally,” Williams postulated. “Like you told me to say, I mentioned that you would be having dinner at seven o’clock at Simpson’s. He asked me to describe you and said he might join you.”

“Excellent, Gunther!” Holmes extolled. “Here are three guineas for your trouble. Let us fix you a ham and cheese sandwich, for I am certain you’ve had no lunch.”

“Oh, thank you, Mr. Holmes, I am awfully hungry,” Hobo Willie admitted . “I’ll take it with me and eat it on the way home – in a cab, no less, now that I have the fare.”

“Wait! Before you leave, Gunther,” Holmes boomed with concern, “I feel obligated to warn you to keep a low profile for a day or so – don’t patronize your usual haunts, don’t follow your usual pattern. Smisky is sharp and he could smell a rat, meaning you. He is capable of violence against you, too.”

“He is an idiot and a weasel, Mr. Holmes, and he’ll never think to suspect me,” Williams quarreled. “He is the least of my worries.”

As Williams left, devouring the sandwich, an incensed Joseph Smisky was standing at the entrance to Frank Kiefer’s brothel and opium den in the Limehouse district, summoning up the courage to do what he had come to do: eliminate the threat of a hardened criminal testifying against him at a trial that surely would spell his doom. He would silence Kiefer before he had the chance to speak under oath the words that would sway a jury to find the coin dealer guilty and send him to the gallows.

Smisky burst through the door and was immediately confronted by a Chinese attendant, who asked him in broken English if he wanted a girl, a smoking room, or both.

“I’m here to see Frank, that’s all,” Smisky harked .

“I fetch Master Frank, you sit,” ordered the Chinaman, sensing an altercation. He climbed a stairway and opened a door.

“Master Frank, angry man downstairs to see you, very mad,” said the agitated Chinaman.

Kiefer retrieved a six-shot revolver from a drawer and leveled it at his waist, then went to the bottom of the staircase and saw Smisky stewing on the sofa.

“Joe!” he hollered. “Yung-se says you’re upset. Excuse the pistol. What’s the matter?”

“I came here to choke you to death, Frank,” Smisky acknowledged. “What’s this I hear about you cooperating with Sherlock Holmes?”

“With who? Never met the man,” Kiefer insisted. “But I did meet a friend of yours today, Matthew McKinney, who wants me to pulverize his haberdashery.”

“A friend of mine? I don’t know the name. What did he say about me?” Smisky queried.

“He said you recommended me to him. He knew I took care of business for you,” Kiefer informed a puzzled Smisky.

“What did this McKinney look like?” Smisky asked.

“He was tall, skinny, a bird’s beak for a nose, piercing eyes, with dark hair that was perfectly combed,” Kiefer recalled.

“That was no Matthew McKinney. That was Sherlock Holmes,” Smisky wailed.

“Who is Sherlock Holmes anyway?” Kiefer wanted to know.

“He’s a beastly private detective who is investigating us for the fire,” Smisky said to enlighten him.

“That evil rodent! Let’s take care of him before he can do us in!” Kiefer roared.

“He’ll be at Simpson’s in the Strand at seven o’clock. We’ll kill him there,” Smisky agreed. “We’ll make minced meat of him. But there’s somebody I want to dust before him, Hobo Willie. He set me up for Holmes. Lend me a gun and twelve rounds of ammunition.”

Smisky and Kiefer made plans for the murder at Simpson’s, then Smisky left to hunt down Gunther Williams.

Finding him at the same cafe where Holmes ran across him, Smisky sneaked up behind him as he drank coffee on a stool, knocked the cup out of his hand, pointed the muzzle of the weapon in his pocket at Williams’s ample belly, and coldly instructed him to walk outside. From there he escourted the victim to an alley, where he accused him of a double-cross.

“You are a traitor, and traitors are shot!” Smisky howled, then pulled the trigger six times, pumping Hobo Willie full of lead even after he was dead. “Let that be a final lesson to you, you maggot,” Smisky seethed with abject bitterness, hovering over the corpse, “I’ll see you in hell.”

Word of Gunther Williams’s demise would not reach Holmes that day, for the newspapers already had published their late afternoon editions, and the body was not discovered by constables until their evening rounds.

Holmes was pensive, fiddling with his chemicals at the deal-top table, stroking his violin aimlessly, checking the firearm in his shoulder holster to make sure it was loaded, asking me twice if I had examined mine, talking idly about the theatre and concerts, and, ultimately, about what Smisky might be intending and how. The minutes until seven o’clock ticked away.

When the timepiece on the mantel struck six-thirty, we donned our jackets, ventured casually out the door past Mrs. Hudson in the kitchen – “Enjoy your night out,” she called to us – and stepped onto the pavement to flag down a hansom at the corner.

“Where to?” the driver sputtered, and Holmes gave him a light- hearted answer: “Simpson’s in the Strand beckons us for a delightful meal.” I boarded the vehicle first, and Holmes, ever vigilant, glanced in all directions before following me up into the seat. The horse moved forward and trotted through Cavendish Square, then beyond Regent Street near the intersection of Oxford Street, where Holmes raised up and surveyed the avenue behind us to determine if we were being stalked. “It looks clear, save for one cab about fifty yards to the rear,” he observed, almost under his breath.

When we reached the Strand, my careful friend told the driver to pull to the curb around a bend in the road. “We’ll walk the rest of the way,” he apprised the driver. “Here is an extra two shillings if you continue on to Simpson’s and stop in front for a minute until the cab behind us passes you by.”

“Will do, guv’nor, whatever you say. Appreciate the tip,” the driver concurred.

We strolled briskly toward the restaurant past the familiar shops and hotels until we were within sight or our destination. I checked my pocket watch and noted to Holmes that the time was six-fifty. “Avert the front door, Watson – we’ll go in through the back and into the kitchen kitchen,” Holmes advised. “Keep your eyes peeled, Watson. Remember, he’s the stout fellow with a handlebar moustache.”

“I would never forget that face, be certain,” I assured my companion.

We emerged from the busy kitchen and into the crowded dining area, where an astonished maitre-de, Oswald, excitedly encountered us. “Good gracious, Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, I never expected an entrance like this!” he cried. “Nonetheless, your table is ready.”

We trailed after him to a setting in the centre of the room, seated ourselves, and scoured the faces of the patrons to see if the assassin had already arrived. There was no sign of Smisky, so we asked the waiter to bring us two glasses of dry sherry. It was seven o’clock.

Our drinks were served and Holmes proposed a toast. “May the dinner be succulent, uneventful, and safe,” he prayed, “and may Joe Smisky be all bravado with no nerve.”

Suddenly, two men with hoods covering their heads, their handguns thrust outward, appeared inside the front door, the weapons scanning the dining area as if searching for a target. One by one, the clientele noticed the intruders. The sounds of a vibrant atmosphere became eerily silent. One of the hooded figures trained his revolver on our table and a voice cracked the motionless air. “Holmes, you monster! Prepare to meet your Maker!”

With that, four other men at a scattering of tables flashed weapons that were aimed at the two assailants. One of those men spoke authoritatively and loudly. “Drop the guns or we’ll fire. I am Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard and you are both under arrest for attempted murder.”

“Murder it will be, then!” the second hooded man bawled, squeezing off two rounds in the direction of the lawmen, missing them and sending the bullets over the scalps of the diners into the wall. The four officers cut him down with a volley of shots as the hooded man closest to Holmes wheeled and tried to escape. He was accosted by two more members of Lestrade’s squad and engaged them in battle, killing one before the other policeman emptied his revolver into the belligerent’s chest and abdomen.

The odour of sulfur penetrated the dining room, and the customers, especially the ladies, shrieked in horror before the pandemonium dissipated.

The officials removed the hoods from the heads of the deceased assassins and Holmes informed Lestrade that their names were Smisky and Kiefer.

“When I received your message this morning,” Lestrade remarked, “I thought it was another of your wild goose chases. But I couldn’t be certain, so I came, anticipating nothing of this sort.”

“You should know better by now, Lestrade, that when I humble myself to ask for your assistance, I am certain,” Holmes scolded. “This outcome was predictable. I told you as much.”

The next morning, after reading the account of the gunplay in the Times, Holmes saw a separate article, a small item, about the death of an ex-convict, Gunther Williams, also known as Hobo Willie. The newspaper said the police reported he was gunned down by an unknown attacker in an alley behind the Southpointe Cafe in Pope’s Court.

The writer speculated that the killing was an act of revenge perpetrated by an enemy who also had been an inmate at Dartmoor Penitentiary. “Leave it to the naive press, Watson, to jump to such a conclusion without having the data to support it,” Holmes groused. “I shall make a contribution to the orphanage in Gunther’s honour.”

The Case of the Murderous Numismatist is copyrighted © 2015 by Jack Grochot and originally appeared in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, Part II: 1890 – 1895, compiled for the benefit of the restoration of Undershaw. Reprinted here by permission of the author.

Jack Grochot is a retired investigative newspaper journalist and a former federal law enforcement agent specializing in mail fraud cases. He has written three books of Sherlock Holmes pastiches and a fourth nonfiction book, Saga of a Latter-Day Saddle Tramp, a memoir of his five-year horseback journey across twelve states. Grochot lives on a small farm in southwestern Pennsylvania, where he writes and oversees a horse-boarding stable. His literary works can be found at 221B Baker Street Press.

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