Blue Carbuncle, The Sequel

Once a year, on his birthday, Sherman Holmes threw a dinner party. The cream of Capital City’s eccentrics would gather in his large, comfortable home, along with neighbors and other friends, to eat and drink and laugh.

At this year’s celebration, after everyone else had left, Sherman and his three last guests sat over brandies in his living room, discussing the one inexhaustible topic, the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

“What exactly is a carbuncle?” Dora Treat asked. Someone had brought up “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” and the nurse practitioner was curious. “The only carbuncle I know is a skin infection, like a boil.”

Buddy Johnson, a jeweler, chuckled. “It’s a gemstone, a deep red garnet. Carbuncles are never blue. That was a figment of Conan Doyle’s imagination.”

Sherman puckered his round face into a frown. “But there is a blue carbuncle. Dr. Watson wouldn’t lie about a thing like that.”

“Yes, of course,” Sam Pickering stammered. Their host seemed so rational in every other respect, it was easy to forget his fixation. “What Buddy meant was there are no other known blue carbuncles, just that one.”

“Exactly,” Sherman said. “That’s why it was so expensive. Would you all like to see it?”

His guests were flabbergasted. “You mean you actually own the blue carbuncle?” asked Sam. “The one from the story?” The newspaper reporter had already done two articles about the unconventional millionaire and he could sense a third one in the making.

“The gem dealer assured me it’s the real thing. Come into the library and I’ll show you.”

The room they walked into looked more like a junk room than a library, with first editions strewn on the chairs along with stacks of old papers and magazines. Sherman took three small boxes down from a shelf. He rummaged through the blue one, flipped through the red one, and finally found what he wanted in the green box.

“Here it is.”

From among a pile of receipts and marbles, he pulled out a blue gem, about the size of a pea. Buddy Johnson pulled a jeweler’s loop from his pocket and gave it a quick examination.

“It looks like a garnet,” he said. “How amazing.”

Each guest examined the strange stone, then returned it to their host.

While Dora excused herself to use the powder room, Sherman dropped the carbuncle into the red box and returned all three boxes to the shelf.

“You leave a priceless gem in a simple box?” Sam asked with a disapproving smirk. “With no security?”

Sherman puffed out his chest. “I am all the security it needs.”

The guests stayed for another hour, then left at the same time. Normally, Sherman would have gone directly to bed. But some instinct led him back into the library.

He was shocked to see all three boxes lying open on the library table. Sherman went directly to the red box, then to the others. Sure enough, the carbuncle was gone.

He thought back. In the hour following the display of the jewel, each of his guests had wandered off, at least for a minute or two. It would have been chancy, but any one of them could have sneaked back into the library and stolen it.

Sherman was disappointed to think that one of his friends had robbed him. But his disappointment ran deeper. “Did the thief have such little regard for my detecting skills? How insulting! Would they have stolen from my great-great-grandfather and expected to get away with it?”

WHO STOLE THE BLUE CARBUNCLE?

WHAT GAVE THE THIEF AWAY?

Sherman would have loved to do a full crime scene examination, but it really wasn’t necessary.  As soon as he’d discovered his loss, he knew the most probable suspect.

He checked his address book, got into his car, and drove to Dora Treat’s house, arriving just minutes after the nurse practitioner herself.

“You did it as a challenge,” he said as she answered the door.  “I know you wouldn’t really steal from me.”

Dora looked confused for a second.  “How did you know…”  A variety of emotions seemed to cross her face.  The last one looked a lot like resignation.  “Yes, of course, a challenge.  I thought it might be nice to have another ‘Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.’”

“Oh, I knew it had to be a joke,” Sherman said with obvious relief.

“Of course.”  Reaching into her purse, she returned the small, blue gemstone.  “What gave me away?”

“You were in a hurry, correct?”  Any second and I might have walked in and caught you.  And yet you searched through all three boxes.”

“And that eliminated the others?”

“Both Sam and Buddy saw me put the carbuncle in the red box.  But you weren’t in the room at the time.  You were the only one who didn’t know which box held the carbuncle.”