Sherlock Holmes Investigates. The Lascar's Fate.(6)
Author:Philip van Wulven

    “Yes, I take your point. Wehave suspicions, but that is all we have. Everyone we arrest knowshow dangerous it is to be named as a blabbermouth, so no little birdsings for us, certainly not in a tune that includes any worthwhileinformation. The linchpin in this organisation keeps his anonymity.We know he must live nearby, probably in Southampton or Portsmouth,and is a respectable citizen to outward appearances, with legitimatebusiness interests which require travel across to the Continentseveral times a year.”

    Holmes nodded, and said, “Somuch is certain, I agree. Even with an identity, some proof of hisinvolvement in illegal trade will be difficult to obtain. Contrabandwill never enter his own house or place of business, and hiscorrespondence is encoded, even if one could legally intercept andread it. There is a possibility of gaining information from a bird,however. I will see what can be done in that respect.”

    I understood from that crypticutterance that he intended to investigate the matter of pigeons ascarriers, but I had no idea how such an enquiry could proceed.Etherington, by contrast, dismissed the reference entirely, as anon-sequitur, and understood only Holmes’ intention to investigatefurther.

    When we had taken our leave ofthe good Justice, I asked, “I wonder if that city councillor,Markham, may be our bird, after all. You will recall that the pigeonwe found in the stableyard in Portsmouth appeared to be quite at homethere, and the only dovecote nearby belongs to Mr Markham, accordingto the stableman.”

    Holmes answered, “We shallknow fairly soon, I think. Apropos of which, I have a club meeting toattend later today. The Hampshire Racing Pigeon Association ismeeting in Bournemouth, and I shall be there, as a delegate from theCentral London Association. I have long taken an interest in thebreed, although I have not kept any since I first wore long trousers.My birds were championship stock, and won several races. Speedy, andbred for short hauls, rather than the long cross country flightsfavoured by present day breeders. Actually, the birds kept by theHome Secretary at Whitehall preserve some of the bloodlines of mystock. The cross with a line of distance fliers, also maintained inthe government lofts, tends to give remarkable vigour, and a uniquecombination of speed and stamina, in the first generation.”

    We returned to Bournemouth bytrain, once more, where we repaired to our hotel for a short time.

    Once again, I was astounded bythe depth and reach of my friend’s knowledge and experience. Iexpected him to change into some disguise, or to dress as some sortof tradesman, to appear as the sort of fellow one normally wouldassociate with the world of pigeon racing. His explanation of hislong involvement with this rather esoteric pursuit showed suchsubterfuge to be unneeded. He would be accepted for himself, in oneof his many facets.

    “I shall be able to find thelist of entrants in this race today, of course, as well as completeaccess to membership lists for all the nearby towns. Our suspect willbe on those lists, which can only number a couple of dozen names, atmost. Remember, for each message passed, a bird must be released, andreturn to its original loft. This means that each recipient must havea proper breeding facility, a loft with a number of birds, and soon.”

    I said, “We want to identifythe main intelligence behind the smugglers, surely, and not just theconduit for his messages?”

    “Quite so, Doctor. Mostimportant is correlation of the message we found with both events andgeography. Consider, the message told of the landing at BranksomeChine, exhorted use of the cave passage, and gave the number of menrequired. In short, this was a message from an organiser tounderlings. We can, furthermore, say it was intended to be receivedby someone in the area of Portsmouth, since we found the bird there,acting as such birds do when in their home territory. It can onlyhave been in that city because that is where it, and the message,were intended to end their journey. If diligent scrutiny of the Clubrecords does not reveal a member who lives in the Portsmouth area,and has red as the colour of his birds’ leg bands, I shall besomewhat surprised.” He looked at me with those piercing eyes, andcontinued. “However, I do concur, it would seem that he is not theorganising intelligence behind the criminal organisation. Recall thatthe message we intercepted was directed to Portsmouth from elsewhere,with instructions from another individual. I suspect that fiend,Ravendra. Nevertheless, the bird owner is complicit in these illicitendeavours, and we may well reach the lascar through him, or findthem in company at some point”

    I spent the late afternoon andearly evening enjoying the sea air, strolling on the sea front and onthe splendid pier. Some municipal authority had organised a workparty to dismember and bury the stinking whale carcass, which hadpreviously so polluted the atmosphere of the seafront as to driveaway the crowds who normally took the air, which in turn had led thesmugglers to attempt that bold operation so close to the town, thewhich had ended so badly for them through the acuity of the greatdetective. No-one else could possibly have deduced the meaning of thecryptic message we found, or have taken the decisive actions whichled to such resounding success for the forces of law.

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