Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Small Suppliers to Government

I was sitting in our rooms at 21 Baker Street, reading quietly, whilst Holmes played a late Bach Concerto on his violin, the notes cascading out into the cold December air. It was a while since he had solved the Mystery of the Gray Super-Injunction, and he was sinking into one of his bouts of listlessness.

“I say Holmes, I see here that the erstwhile publication, Spend Matters is reporting that the Cabinet Office has failed to produce any figures on the use of smaller suppliers by government. The data is four months late apparently”.

My friend stopped playing and looked at me scornfully.

“You expect that to stimulate my interest, Watson? A few public functionaries have failed to produce promptly a document of no great interest to anyone?”

“Well, I thought ... oh never mind”. I tried again a few minutes later.

“What about this Holmes? The Times says three of the country’s finest Mathematicians have disappeared from their homes and colleges recently. Their families are beside themselves”.

Holmes stopped. I could see his famous brain starting to consider the matter.

“Now that is more interesting. Let me see what I can find from the Baker Street Irregulars”.

Holmes summoned the leader of the infamous gang of street urchins, his eyes and ears around the back streets of the city, and explained the situation. The following day, we returned home to find a note on the doormat.

“Interesting Watson. The irregulars tell of noises being heard in Whitehall, passers-by hearing what sounds like strange incantations and spells rising up from the ground. This could be significant”.

So it was later that evening that we set off by Hanson Cab for Whitehall. We alighted in the shadow of Westminster Abbey, and crossed Parliament Square to the corner of Whitehall. Keeping in the shadows, we slowly progressed northwards. Then our ears caught strange mutterings, coming it seemed from the very ground beneath our feet.

“Holmes, I can hear it”!

Only odd words and phrases could be established, and I could make no sense of them.

“Moving annual total ... use the modal rather than the mean ... skewed binomial distribution... add in a pessimism bias... spend through the supply chain, not just with the prime... aspiration, not a target...”

Holmes moved unerringly towards a grille at ground level, with close-set bars across a small opening. Holmes reached into his pocket and extracted a small metal device, replete with wonderful protuberances. “Ye gods, what is that”? I whispered. He looked at me with some scorn.

“It’s a penknife, Watson. What do you think it is, a sonic screwdriver”?.

I had no idea of what he referred, but with that, he levered the grille away from the wall, leaving a space just large enough for us to crawl through. By the faint candle light, we saw a filthy room, almost full of old files, coated with dust and dirt from generations of civil servants. In one corner, bent over three desks, we saw wretched figures, thin and dirty. They had been startled by our entrance, and sat open mouthed with fear.

“Don’t be afraid, gentlemen. We are your saviours, not your nemesis”, whispered Holmes. "Tell us quickly - what are you doing here"?

After some hesitation, one of the wretches spoke.

"We were invited a meeting of the final mathematical minds in the world, to be held in the palatial surroundings of the Cabinet Office . But when we arrived we were given a drink, and the next thing we knew, we were here! I was senior wrangler at Cambridge; James here is the British Chess Champion; and Tom can solve the Times crossword in 6 minutes. But we have found no means of escape and have been locked up here for two weeks now"!

"But who did this to you"? I cried. The poor creature could barely answer me. Even by the dim light, we could see the terror in his eyes.

“It was M...M...M...M...”

“Moriarty”? I could not help myself crying out.

“No, Mau ... Mau...”

But before he could enunciate the terrible word, we heard footsteps in the corridor outside the room.

“You must hide”! One of our new friends whispered urgently. The footsteps drew closer ...

(To be continued)

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