The Lost Etruscan Find

By Hy Conrad

Sergeant Gunther Wilson rolled the library ladder over the shards of glass and water, then climbed to the top rung. “This skylight must be how the thief got in,” he said, pointing to the smashed skylight and the rope dangling down into the room from a crossbeam. “Forensics can use this ladder to dust for prints.”

“There won’t be any prints,” said a familiar, high-pitched voice. The sergeant gazed down to see Sherman Holmes standing below him in the university’s research library.

“What’re you doing here?” Wilson barked.

“The victim asked me to help out.”

Sherman, it turned out, was a friend of Professor Plotny, the man who had acquired the small Etruscan statue that had just been stolen.

“I spent a fortune of my own money on that statuette.” The burly professor wrung his hands. “I left it on the center table when I exited the building last night. I locked the door. But, of course, anyone up on the roof could have looked in and seen it.”

Sergeant Wilson shook his head. “No thief goes around rooftops with a rope, just hoping someone left valuables on a table. It had to be someone who knew the statuette and knew your rather careless habits.”

A small, wiry man stepped forward, brandishing an authentic English accent Sherman would have killed for. “Next to no one knew about the statue, officer. I’m Donald Westbank, an Etruscan expert. I arrived yesterday from London. Dr. Plotny and I examined the statue together and, frankly, I was thrilled. What a find! I was a little jet-lagged, so I left the library around six, just in time for that little storm you had. I took a cab to the hotel and ordered from room service. When I got here this morning, I found Gina, the professor’s assistant, unlocking the doors.”

Gina, an athletic-looking graduate student, came forward with her story. “I left Professor Plotny and Mr. Westbank here yesterday at 5:30 p.m. My dorm room is just around the block. I did some studying until seven, when the rain stopped. Then I joined a friend at the Cathay Cafe for Chinese food. I got back to my room around 8:30.”

“And your dorm building is on the other side of this block?” Wilson asked. “Are the roofs all connected?”

“How would I know if the roofs are connected?” she said. “And I resent your implication.”

“So do I,” the professor added. “It must have been an outsider. If you want to know my whereabouts, I left the library around 7:15 to drive to my brother’s for a birthday party. I spent the night with his family and was the last one to get back here this morning.”

Sergeant Wilson took Sherman Holmes aside. “I’m in the dark,” he whispered. “But I know you’ve got it all figured out.”

“As a matter of fact, no,” Sherman lied. “I haven’t a clue.”



“I don’t believe you, “ Sergeant Wilson growled.  “You know who did it.”

It pained Sherman to lie, but he managed to swallow his pride.  “On the contrary, Wilson.  I’m completely stumped.”

Wilson bellowed, but Sherman stuck to his story.

After Wilson and the others left, Professor Plotny breathed a sign of relief.  “Thank you, old friend, for not giving me away.”

“Well, you didn’t commit any crime, other than breaking a school skylight.  The statuette was a forgery, I imagine?”

“Right,” the professor admitted.  “I didn’t discover it until yesterday with Westbank.  Luckily, he was new to the piece and too jet-lagged to see it.  A clever forgery, but one that could ruin my reputation.  I had to get rid of it or else be made a laughingstock.  What gave me away?”

Sherman pointed to the floor.  “The rainwater.  It means the skylight was broken before the rain stopped at seven last night.  But according to your story, you didn’t leave the library until 7:15.”

Plotny nodded.  “I used the ladder to get up to the skylight and fake the break-in.  The rain was just beginning to let up.  I never imagined it might give me away.”