The Crossroads of the Aether
An on-going Sherlock Holmes story ? I'll start it off .
Feel free to join in .
Astute ' Sherlockians ' will note that this story is set in the ' great hiatus ' following Sherlock Holmes supposed death .
Just remember that this is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche and try and stay in sympathy with the spirit that inspired it .
Sherlock Holmes leaned forward .
" And you say this John ... "
" Johnny Ringo " , interrupted our guest .
" Very well , Mr.Earp . Johnny Ringo was found sitting in a tree with a pistol in one hand and and a fatal wound to the head . Where was this ? "
" Turkey Creek , July the thirteenth 1882 . "
" So you waited a decade to consult me ? "
" There were more pressing matters . I couldn't just cross the Atlantic for a fireside chat about my suspicions . "
" Quite so . Dr. Watson would you consult my records for 1882 . I seem to remember something about startling events in Arizona ."
I had been taking notes but at Holmes request opened the volume and scanned the United States section .
" Nothing about a Johnny Ringo . Arizona did you say . I have something . "
" Don't keep us in suspense Watson . "
" It seems our guest is too modest . "
Wyatt Earp rose to his feet .
" If we could stick to the matter at hand . "
" By all means " , said Sherlock Holmes , " Everything you have told me so far suggests that the unfortunate Mr. Ringo was the victim of self harm . "
" So it would seem , Mr. Holmes , and so the coroner at the time thought . "
" But you think otherwise ? "
" Yes I Do . I have come to believe that sinister forces were involved and that you are the one man who can bring them to justice . "
Wyatt Earp sat down heavily .
" Sinister forces you say ? "
" Yes " , said Earp , " and I believe they are known to you . "
" Interesting " , said Sherlock Holmes , " And who might they be ? "
What Wyatt Earp said next astounded Holmes and myself and set us on one of the most dangerous quests of our careers .
The fire at 221b Baker Street had burned low and our guest had long left us .
Sherlock Holmes sat with his head in his hands .
He looked up .
" What did you make of our friend , Watson ? "
" Rum cove , but something about him ... "
" Yes , he certainly had an air about him . Not a man I would care to disagree with . I suppose you noticed he was armed ? "
' Good heavens , Holmes , in London ? "
" Yes , and I fear from what he has told us that the precaution was well observed . "
" You mean ... "
A hush fell over the room as we both thought back on the strange and terrible story that the American stranger had brought to us .
"What no one attached any importance to at the time was the medallion that was in his possession."
"Medallion?" Holmes queried. "Really, Mr. Earp, if I am to be of any assistance to you, you must take me into your confidence concerning all the facts in this matter. If you choose to parcel them out one at a time, I shall have to ask you to find your own way out, as I have a later engagement scheduled."
Earp did not take this well, the fingers of the dangerous American gunfighter twitching against his right thigh where his deadly .44 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver would normally be strapped. He turned away, and moved to stand at the cluttered desk, his back facing us.
"You're right, Holmes, of course. May I?" he asked, holding up a piece of scratch paper.
This legend of the American Frontier took up a graphite pencil and made a few strokes on the paper before handing it to Holmes.
"This was stamped on a disc the size of a half-dollar. What do you say now, Mr. Holmes?"
Sherlock Holmes laughed out loud, the sharp treble of his mirthless amusement cutting through the air as he passed the paper to me.
"What say you, Watson? Have we a case here?"
I was struck dumb with astonishment as I looked at the paper. Wyatt Earp, the famous American lawman, had drawn a triangle within a circle. Centered in the triangle was the number "29."
" And this trifle " , Sherlock Holmes said with a vulpine grin , " Brought you all the way across the Atlantic ? "
Wyatt Earp paused , " That and two names I believe will be familiar to you . "
" Before we move on I think a few more details about the demise of the unfortunate Mr. John , or was it Johnny , Ringo are required . I must say the name does not bring any momentous events to mind . "
" If you had been in Arizona in the 1880s the name would have been more than familiar to you . I doubt if a more hardened reprobate could have been found on the streets of Tombstone . "
" Tombstone , you say ? . A town in Arizona ? "
' Yes , named by a miner in a fit of what you Englishmen might call a fit of whimsey . "
I paused from my note taking and looked at the grim figure before us . For all his homespun look his vocabulary indicated this was no ordinary man .
" Go on " , said Sherlock Holmes .
Wyatt Earp looked reflective .
" When you are involved in something it is sometimes hard to see the wood from the trees . With time to reflect ... "
" Stick to the facts . " , snapped Sherlock Holmes .
I could tell that Earp was not used to being addressed in such a fashion .
" Thank you , Mr. Holmes . I intend to do so . "
The tension subsided as he continued .
" Johnny Ringo worked both sides of the street . You might play poker with him one evening and the next day exchange shots with him . Never quite sure . None of that would have mattered except that he joined the local gang called ' The Cowboys ' .
" Cowboys ? " , said Sherlock Holmes , " Isn't that a generic description for Western cattlemen ? "
" It might be now but in Tombstone a decade ago it meant that you were a member of a vast criminal enterprise smuggling goods and rustling cattle to feed the appetites of the local miners . You might say that law enforcement is the Earp family business and we were hired to make sure things didn't get out of hand . "
" And did they . "
" You might say they did , Mr. Holmes . We thought we had ended the matter but events proved us wrong . "
At this point I handed Holmes his American file for 1882 .
Wyatt Earp fell silent while the great detective read the news clipping that I had already examined .
He looked up .
" So the two names , after the gun smoke had cleared , would be old man Clanton and his son Ike ?
" No , Mr Holmes . " , replied Earp , " The names that come to mind are those of ... "
Sherlock Holmes leaned forward and stirred the dying embers of the fire with the toe of a boot .
" You have come a long way . Don' t keep us in suspense . "
The shadows in the room seemed to lengthen .
" I have come to believe ' , said Wyatt Earp , " That the two individuals behind what we thought was large scale but purely local criminal activity were two Englishmen . "
" Really ? " , I interjected .
" Yes Dr. Watson . Two of your fellow countrymen . "
" I find that hard to believe . "
" Nevertheless , Dr. Watson , I believe the names are not unknown to you . "
Sherlock Holmes rested his head on interlinked fingertips and surveyed our American guest .
" Let me guess . "
" Go right ahead , Mr Holmes . "
" Of my fellow countrymen only one capable of conducting such an criminal enterprise from the comfort of his London home comes to mind . Even he would require a ruthless deputy on the spot . "
" Quite so , Mr. Holmes . "
" I think we are in agreement ? "
" Yes , Mr . Holmes , the two are well known to you . "
The suspense was more than I could take .
" Out with it man . No more talk in riddles . "
The room was silent for a moment then Wyatt Earp spoke .
" The two men are Professor James Moriarty and his henchman Colonel Sebastian Moran . "
I could not repress a shudder .
" Professor Moriarty and Colonel Moran are well known to us " , said Sherlock Holmes with a searching look , " But the first is dead and the second in hiding . "
For the first time Wyatt Earp betrayed unease .
" I have reason to believe ... "
The big man hesitated for a moment .
" I have reason to believe that both men are alive and have returned to the scene of their American triumphs . "
"Now see here Mr. Earp, I intend no offense, but I witnessed Moriarity's death. Moriarty died when he fell off the Reichenbach Falls. I know because I faked my own death to lure out his remaining minions. Additionally, I see from court records at the time, that murder warrants had been issued for you along with one "Doc" Holliday, Sherman McMasters, Texas Jack Vermillion and Turkey-Creek Jack Johnson. The warrant was in connection with the killings in the aftermath of the altercation at the O.K. Corral. What assurances can you give me that you yourself or your compatriots were indeed not the killers? You may be attempting to bolster your image in connection with your San Diego Real Estate ventures by having me clear your name. What proof are you offering to counter what I witnessed with my own eyes?" Holmes replied testily.
Earp set his jaw and narrowed his eyes.
" Things did get mighty complicated . "
" Yes , Mr.Earp , and I can see why you might be reluctant to go back to Arizona . "
Sherlock Holmes expression softened .
" I suppose that if you can convince me to doubt the evidence of my own eyes you may be able explain away the other complications . "
" Fair enough , Mr. Holmes . Perhaps if I begin with the death of Johnny Ringo ? "
" I thought we had progressed , but do continue . "
" At one stage in what you call the aftermath of events at the O.K. Corral , but which in fact occurred near by , there were three posses out looking for trouble . I won't bore you with the details but one of them was made up of ' Cowboys' intent on revenge . "
" For your part in the affair ? "
" You could put it like that . "
" And what has this to do with the late Johnny Ringo ? "
" Coming to that . Johnny was a member of the ' Cowboys ' posse - all legally sworn in and part of a plan to legally eliminate legitimate forces of law and order . "
" Pray continue . "
" In the end we agreed that the situation had gotten thoroughly out of hand , funds were drying up , and my posse agreed to disperse . I haven't been back since . The warrants you mention may still be outstanding but I can't imagine anyone thinks they are enforceable . What might happen if friends of the former ' Cowboys ' took matters into their own hands would be anyone's guess . "
" But Ringo . "
" Yes , poker playing friend one day and enemy the next . Kinda volatile . That and curiosity are what what I think lead to his death. "
Holmes steepled his fingers under his nose and pondered for a moment, "All right Mr. Earp, for the sake of discussion and civility, I will accept the premise that you or one of your compatriots are innocent in the murder of Mr. Ringo. Mr. Ringo's volatile nature is a matter of public record, leaving several unanswered questions. What could have aroused Mr. Ringo's curiousity or the killer's curiousity about Mr. Ringo, to the extent that his murder became necessary? How did he draw the attention of Moriarity and Moran? Why were they in Arizona? Finally, why do you believe Moriarity and Moran have risen from the dead to haunt the wastes of the Arizona desert?"
Earp reached into his coat and withdrew a cigar case. "Do you mind? I seem to concentrate better when I smoke."
"Not at all, I'll join you." Holmes packed and lit his pipe. "Let us take this quandry one point at a time. Let us start with the issue of curiosity."
" Curiosity ? " , mused Wyatt Earp , drawing on his cigar " What is that saying ? Something about a dead polecat ?
" Please continue . "
" You must understand that at the time we thought we were dealing with a purely local matter of law and order . The Earp family was hired by the civic fathers to curb the activities of the outlaw gang calling itself the Cowboys . "
" That much I've grasped but where do Moriarty and Moran and Johnny Ringo's curiosity come in ? "
Sherlock Holmes was not noted for his patience and I could see that our visitor was beginning annoy him again .
" Well folks , to cut a long story short ... "
I could hear Sherlock Holmes sigh of relief .
" I think that Ringo discovered that behind the Clanton family stood a vast international conspiracy . I don't believe he would have understood the concept but he would have understood the possibilities involved in keeping the information to himself . "
" Are you saying that he attempted to blackmail Professor Moriarty ? "
" I believe so . "
" Foolish man . "
" Foolish indeed , especially as Ringo would have tried to deal direct with the Professor's agent Colonel Sebastian Moran . "
" Late of Her Majesties Indian Army and reputed the best rifle shot in the Empire . "
" And the only man capable of the firing the shot that killed Johnny Ringo . "
Holmes drew deeply on his pipe and exhaled. Brow furrowed, consternation clearly written upon his face. "All right, I accept the curiousity portion of your hypothesis for now. Let's move on the subject of why you believe Moriarity and Moran have resurrected from the dead and why the wastes of Arizona have drawn them from the comfort of their graves?"
Earp sat back and puffed on his cigar gathering his thoughts. "I'll start with the conspiracy that Johnny Ringo discovered."
"Good show! Pray continue."
I had always supposed that men of the Western frontier were taciturn types .
I said as much to Sherlock Holmes when we were alone .
Sherlock looked at me with a wry smile .
" Not if our friend Mr. Earp is any guide . "
" What do you make of his story , Holmes ? "
" Much of it is supposition . "
" But you seem to be convinced ? "
" I was convinced from the moment he drew a sketch of the medallion . "
" How so , Holmes ? You showed no sign of it at the time . "
" It could have been coincidence . "
" Coincidence , Holmes ? "
" Not likely , I suppose . The chances of a minor league desperado having in his possession a symbol by which the highest echelons of Professor Moriarty's international criminal enterprise recognized one another would seem to be remote .
When all other possibilities have been exhausted whatever remains , however unlikely , must be the truth . "
I recognized one of the rules by which Sherlock Holmes lived .
" But Holmes , what about the rest of Mr. Earp's story . "