The Missing Monet

Sherman Holmes didn’t know how he did it; but he did, and on a regular basis. Sometimes he’d see a police cruiser and stop to see what was happening. Sometimes he’d follow the sound of a siren. More often than not, he would just be walking or driving around Capital City when a sixth sense would tell him to turn here or stop there.

It was this sixth sense for crime that brought him to the Hudson Office Building on a blustery March day. Sherman settled quietly into a chair in the lobby, patiently waiting for something to happen.

The first visitor to catch his eye was a bike messenger, arriving with a package-filled backpack and a long document tube. The messenger disappeared into an express elevator labeled 31st Floor. Five minutes later, the messenger reappeared and left the building, still carrying the tube but one package lighter.

Taking his place in the elevator was an elegantly attired man, an older gentleman, using a cane as he limped heavily on his left leg.

The gentleman reappeared in the lobby ten minutes later. On his exit from the elevator he nearly collided with a woman in a Gucci suit. The umbrella in her left hand became momentarily entangled with the cane in his right.

“Watch where you’re going,” she snapped.

“My apologies,” he replied.

The man limped off and the woman pressed her button and fidgeted with her umbrella until the elevator door closed. Her visit lasted five minutes.

Sherman was beginning to think his crime-sensing instincts were flawed. Perhaps it was this nasty cold he was just getting over. Then a pair of police officers rushed into the lobby and took the same express elevator to the 31st floor. “It’s about time they called in the police,” Sherman said with satisfaction.

When they left the building a half hour later, Sherman followed them to the Baker Street Coffee Shop. He slipped into the booth behind theirs, quietly ordered an English muffin, and eavesdropped.

“What was a million-dollar painting doing in the reception area?” the older cop asked his partner. Sherman recognized him as Sergeant Gunther Wilson, an officer he’d chatted with at dozens of other crime scenes.

The 31st floor, it seems, contained the offices of the Hudson Company’s top brass, and the furnishings in the reception area included a small Monet oil, about one foot square. Only three visitors had been alone there long enough to cut the painting out of its frame — a bike messenger delivering documents, the ne’er-do-well uncle of the company president wanting to borrow a few dollars, and the vice president’s estranged wife, who had come to complain about her allowance. All three had visited the offices before and could have previously noticed the unguarded painting.

“Excuse me,” Sherman said as he rose from his booth and ambled up to Officer Wilson and his partner.

Wilson saw the pudgy little man in his deerstalker cap and frock-coat and beamed. “Sherlock Holmes, I presume.”

“That was my great-great-grandfather,” Sherman answered politely. “But I did inherit a few of his modest powers. Would you like me to tell you who stole that painting?”

WHO STOLE THE PAINTING?

WHAT CLUE GAVE THE THIEF AWAY?

“All three suspects had receptacles that could hold a rolled-up painting.” Sherman was doing his best to make his Alabama-born accent sound British. “The messenger had a document tube, old boy. The uncle had a cane. The woman had an umbrella. And while it’s tempting to accuse the last person to walk through the reception area, that wouldn’t be cricket. The painting could have been cut out of its frame at any time and no one may have noticed.”

Wilson snickered. “So it could be any of them.”

“And it could be an employee who found someplace clever to hide the painting. But only one suspect arrived limping on one leg and departed limping on the other. I think if you examine the older gentleman’s cane you’ll find that it’s hollow.”

“You may be right,” the sergeant said. “We’ll check it out. But let me fill you in on something, old boy. You’re no relation to Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes was fictional.”

Sherman laughed. “Nonsense. Why would Dr. Watson make up those stories if they weren’t true?”

“Because Dr. Watson was also fict…Oh, forget it.”