I am happy to return to my pen and relate another of the adventures of my friend Sherlock Holmes, this time concerning his resolution of yet another conundrum posed by that eccentric Diplomacy-playing head of state, the Sultan of Suwat. The reader may recall Holmes's other dealings with the Sultan, as recorded under such titles as The Double Elimination Conundrum, The Hunt for the Venison Camper, The Dead-Letters Affair, The Case of the Suwati Refugee, and The Curious Case of the False Start.
As it happened, I opened the door at 221B Baker Street, the flat of my good friend, after having spent the day attending to my patients in hospital. At the back of the flat, Holmes stood at the large table, pipe in hand, staring at a docket of papers that (I could tell even at a distance) bore the great seal of the Suwati nation. At once, I knew that Holmes had again been visited by Lord Reginald Fortescue from the Foreign Office. No sooner had I come to this conclusion and hung my hat than the booming voice of Lord Reginald sounded from corridor: "Ah, Dr. Watson! How excellent that you should join us! Will you take a snifter of brandy? I have just fetched a bottle."
I shook hands with Lord Reginald and accepted the glass he offered me. "What has engrossed Holmes so deeply, milord?" I asked.
"Another challenge from that sly Sultan, I'm afraid, Doctor," came the expected answer. We I raised our glasses in a quick silent toast to the mind of that strange Suwati.
"I gathered as much, your lordship. I am certain that Holmes will be able to assist."
"That is most definitely the hope of His Majesty's government, Doctor. Holmes has never let us down before, and as you know from the state of the world, it is most urgent for the lease on the deepwater facilities of Port Suwat to be extended." (I did know, of course, of the growing turmoil on the continent, and how important the lease had become to the Royal Navy.)
"Pray tell, milord, what is the nature of the enigma this time?"
"Sadly, Dr. Watson, I am not precisely sure, myself. It would seem that the Sultan once more wishes the lease extension to be signed at a specific place, but determining that place is now the task of Mr. Holmes. I propose that you and I take our brandy by the fire and allow Holmes his privacy." Lord Fortescue rummaged through his briefcase, and I followed him to the sitting room, he with a stack of papers in hand. "I brought along a second copy of the papers we received from the Sultan, having foreseen the possibility that our friend Holmes will need to retain the information here for some days to assist him as he works." As we settled into the overstuffed chairs before the fireplace, Lord Reginald lay the papers before me on a tea table.
"You see, Doctor, along with the lease extension document (which must be signed soon) the Sultan included only two things for us. Firstly, he provided us with the orders that were issued in the Spring and Fall movement phases of the opening year of a game of Diplomacy. Second and finally, a cryptic note."
I looked at the contents of the packet. Each of the two seasons' orders was accompanied by a map, which I later learned was created by members of the Foreign Ministry staff, using the standard Calhamer Club placename abbreviations that the Sultan was known to use exclusively. Although many of the orders were sensible, some of the others betrayed this to be a rather curious opening year. For example, considering the events of both Spring and Fall, I counted no fewer than five occasions when pairs of units owned by the same player intentionally bounced against one another for no possible tactical reason. As if that wasn't enough strange behaviour for the first year of a Diplomacy game, France allowed England to simply sail straight into Brest unmolested!
To accompany the orders that were sent by the Sultan, the Foreign Office had also created a document and map listing the supply centre ownership and showing the position of the units as the Winter Adjustments phase of 1901 was to begin. Lord Fortescue told me of this and laid it on the table.
Setting aside the maps and the curious orders, I moved on to the examine the text that had accompanied them. As he offered me the paper with the Sultan's words on it, Lord Reginald said, "As you can see, Doctor, the message that was included with the moves consists of a number of cryptic sentences. It is this message that now seems to be holding Holmes's interest."
I took the Sultan's message from Lord Reginald, and read it. It was apparently written in the Sultan's own hand, and in his stilted English:
I was at a loss for words. "I am not sure what the Sultan means for us to make of all this, milord."
"Nor am I, Doctor. Unfortunately, this is all with which we were provided. You now know as much as we do, I am afrai, I am afraid; what you see here is everything that I have turned over to your friend Holmes. The only other item in the package was the lease extension document itself. The document has a deadline -- now only a fortnight away -- and the signature area on the final page of the document reads, 'Signed at the appointed place'. Once we received the packet, the analysts at Whitehall went to work, but decided at length that it would be best if we engage Mr. Holmes."
I looked again at the map, and at the string of orders that had resulted in that position. I could make no sense of the whole, and the Sultan's brief instructions -- if his three-part message could be called that -- provided me no assistance. After a while spent in thought (and in shortening my snifter), I broke the silence, saying, "Well, talking of Holmes, Lord Reginald, let us see how he is getting along," and we rose with our brandy and strode toward the rear of the flat.
Only when we stood across the table from my friend did Holmes lift his gaze from the papers on the table to take notice of my arrival. "Ah, Watson! It is good to see you returned! I trust that your unhealthy charges are doing well. I see that you, however, have returned a bit the worse for wear. I note you are not quite recovered from your slight mishap at St. Michael's Hospital. Rather dark on the east wing of the third floor, don't you think?"
"Quite right; they should get some lighting in that place! Why, I had only just.... I say, Holmes! How the devil...?!"
"It's quite simple, Watson. You have a light reddish patch of mud on the inside scuff of your left shoe. Given your duties today, there is only one place in London where you would go and where that type of soil is found, and that is to the outside patio stair of St. Michael's Hospital. At that hospital, there is a pharmacy in the east wing of the third floor and it is often that the chemist is out. You have laudanum stains on your coat so I conclude that you went to the pharmacy to procure some laudanum and slipped in that dark room."
Holmes was, of course, entirely correct about my experience, not two hours earlier, at St. Michael's. As many times as my friend has made such observations and deductions, I have never quite become accustomed to them. The great detective drew from his pipe, then said, "Watson, our visitor has brought with him a very pretty puzzle for us."
"Yes indeed, Holmes; Lord Reginald has been detailing the problem to me in the drawing room. I admit that I am quite in the dark as to what the Sultan is up to this time!"
"It does present a mystery, Watson, but with some thought, it seems that the terms that the Sultan set can be quickly and easily determined."
Lord Reginald was quite surprised by this statement. "Holmes!" he exclaimed, "do you mean to say that you have solved this riddle? The Foreign Office has struggled for over a week, and within the span of an hour, you have determined how we are to ensure the extension of the lease?"
-- Dr. John H. Watson
If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the envelope above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.