Sherlock Holmes: The Confidant 5
“That,” Mr. Elicott interjected, “is my wife.”
I surveyed the room, making sure we were truly alone. “Was she summoned here too? Like your daughter? As leverage?”
“Unfortunately, no. She did the summoning,” Holmes answered.
“I don’t quite understand.”
“Nor do I,” Mr. Elicott said.
“Perhaps we should allow Mrs. Elicott to explain her position,” Holmes suggested.
The woman flushed frightfully pale.
“I fear she may need a seat and a drink before we ask much of her,” I said.
“Of course, you are right, Doctor. Where are our manners?”
I led her to the stairs and gently guided her down.
Holmes went on, “I’m afraid we have no drinks available at the moment, but I do believe that my pipe is in Dr. Watson’s pocket if smoking is your game.”
She shook her head, but Holmes added, “If you don’t mind, I’ll help myself then.” He held a hand out to me and I gladly obliged, happy to have my friend back safely with his pipe between his lips.
“While she gathers her strength, I will begin.” He puffed a cloud of smoke. “The late Mr. Jonathan Elicott, your father, was involved in a scandal involving the resale of competitor’s goods, as you are well aware. You were not aware, however, someone else quite dear to you was also involved. I suspect that the plan may have been Mrs. Elicott’s from the start.”
“It was not solely mine,” she finally said. “Mr. Elicott and I devised it together.”
“Thank you for the correction. Perhaps you would like to explain from here?”
Mrs. Elicott straightened up. “We asked no one to betray their employer. No one was harmed by what we were doing. I simply befriended a few men from our competing steel companies and may have led them to believe that I was a single woman. I was offered discounts on the product for my charms. When I constantly bought steel from them and had it delivered to this address, suspicion was never thrown upon me because my motives for the consistent business seemed amorous rather than traitorous. The scheme worked with ease. My new friends delivered the steel here, then Mr. Jonathan Elicott retrieved it and sold it at full value.
“Then Mr. Elicott passed and I was in a difficult position. I wasn’t proud of what I had been doing, but if there was any chance I would be continuing operations, I needed to keep my contacts within the steel companies. I hated to bring my husband into it, knowing full well he would disapprove, yet without it I knew we would fail. I’m the one that implored Franklin to clear out his father’s belongings, go through it all, and that’s where he found the ledger. I led him right into the operation without ever having to condemn myself for my deeds. He picked up where his father left off, but this time he was unaware of my involvement, which made the runnings a little more difficult.
“When he decided to opt out, I couldn’t allow it. We would turn broke within the month. He had no concept of our true financial situation, but I did. I left a note with our home address, though I am ashamed of it. This was also a risk on my part. I waited for the day that he would realize someone in his family must have been involved, that no one else could track his whereabouts so easily.
“Then the day came that I made a grave error. My purchase with one of our competitors conflicted with the time I was supposed to be with our daughter. I couldn’t leave Isabelle on her own, yet I must keep up relations with the rivals. In a rash attempt to remedy my booking mistake, I left a letter for my daughter to meet here. But Franklin showed up when I did not expect him to and I frightened him further with the presence of our daughter.
“All I did was for the best for our family,” she cried. “I knew I would be hated once the truth came out, but I would do it all again to save us.”
Mr. Elicott’s cheeks reddened. “This is madness! I do not believe it. This operation could not have been executed by one, single woman. Especially the woman I know and love.”
“Though I dislike Mrs. Elicott’s methods, you surely do not give her enough credit,” Holmes said. “What she has orchestrated is quite clever.”
“Yet you uncovered it, Mr. Holmes,” she said.
“Yes, I suppose I should account for my side now. When Mr. Elicott arrived at Baker Street, I nearly turned him around and sent him back out the door. I want my good name nowhere near such dishonest work, yet one feature struck me and I could not shake it. The letters from his associates were lined up on the table before me, each with a picture or an address. Yet, with all these different men involved, every single correspondence was written by the same hand. The script was forced by the author to look different, yet the swoop of the Gs and Ys was always consistent and the dots of the Is always strayed a fraction to the right of their target. Then there was the pressure of pen to paper in the pictures, but I won’t go into the intricacies of that. With all these different traitors involved, why would one man always be present during the drops to write the letters? I couldn’t imagine all these double-crossing rivals would play well together.
“Then I gathered more information only to be more vexed. The ledger had an array of code names. Priest, Rome, Spectacles, Redbird, Rose, which of course matched the sketches. Rome was the one that gave it away to me, because I immediately associated this with a specific steel company, not a man at all. Troy Steel, one of your competitors. Once more, the matching picture for Rome is of the Trojan horse. This wasn’t referencing the traitor, it referenced the employer from which you stole.
“After some research, I connected each with a company. The priest was Churcham Metals, Robin Alloys for the redbird, Thornburg Steel Co. was the rose, and the spectacles represented Steel and Glass Masters. This left me with more questions because whoever was betraying their employer wouldn’t want to leave a calling card that marked them as a traitor. This would be too easily traced if their company ever discovered the dealings. Therefore my mind already turned to the possibility that this was one man alone creating the illusion of a criminal society, and perhaps he had no ties to the actual competitors at all.
“I realized if it were one lone perpetrator, he would need to track all the companies involved, so that he wouldn’t exploit one too often and raise suspicion. That is the true nature of the ledger. Mr. Elicott and his accomplice were marking how frequently, and how much was spent on each individual scam.
“Narrowing down the rest proved quite elementary. I made inquiries into the history of this particular house, after thorough examination of it, of course. The last residents of this house were the Friedmans, which may be significant to you, Mr. Elicott, since the woman you married had such a name before taking yours. The house never left the family. From that, I understood all with very little exertion on my part.”
“How do you come into it, Holmes?” I asked. “We received the note with our address, and your pipe. Did she threaten you?”
“I knew nothing of Mr. Holmes before now,” Mrs. Elicott pleaded.
“True, you mustn’t blame her for that bit. I created the falsity myself,” he explained.
I grasped my heart. “You gave me quite a fright!”
“I do apologize, but it was a necessity. I needed you to come at once and had no way of sending word. If I am in peril, you are always there, Watson. I very much value your loyalty.”
“Why could you not send word and for what service am I needed?”
“I stationed myself here at the house hoping to catch our dear Mrs. Elicott and confront her. Yet I encountered a bit of trouble, though nothing beyond my capabilities. Rather than either Elicott showing, the next visitors to the house were the steel men from Thorburg Steel Co. delivering the next order. They are familiar with Miss Friedman, as they know her, and they knew I was a stranger that did not belong here. The only way to exonerate myself, in the end, was the truth. Unfortunately I had to confess Mrs. Elicott’s crimes to them, how she had used them, in order to avoid punishment myself.
“Naturally these men were quite upset by this news, and I worried that retribution is on the horizon, which is why I could not leave. Though I don’t condone her behavior, I will not lead the lamb to slaughter. I needed to remain here at the house until she eventually arrived, and perhaps I could reason with her and protect her. I also needed you, my good, trusted friend, Watson, in case the men did return in force.”
“The police may have been more useful,” I suggested.
“Yet there involvement would incriminate both Mr. and Mrs. Elicott. I took this case to clear their names and I intend to.
“I planted the idle threat to Baker Street so that Mr. Elicott would fetch you and he did just that. I was upstairs during your examination of the house and heard all, though I did not want to spring forward yet, still eager to keep my cover for Mrs. Elicott’s future arrival. I am proud of your valor, Watson, but I must say I was slightly disappointed in your observations. You questioned the lineage of the house, and for a moment I thought you may solve it as I had, but you dismissed your instincts far too quickly. And you failed to search the rest of the house. If you had, you would have found me. You are correct in your commentary, though. ‘Details are only considered random when the inquirer is too indolent to suss out the meaning.’ Quite true. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
“Despite all my criticisms, however, you were more crafty than I anticipated. I assumed you would station yourself somewhere in the house, and I would maintain control of the situation, for I had achieved the most superior concealment in the resident. Therefore, if Mrs. Elicott showed, I could step in before any confrontations were mishandled. But instead, you posted yourselves outside where you could take any intruders before they set foot upon the threshold, which put me at a sore disadvantage. Quite commendable, Watson.
"Around the hour that I predicted Mrs. Elicott’s coming, I exited the house in the hopes of drawing you away. At the very least, I thought Mr. Elicott would pursue me, he being the younger and more fit of the two of you, and I took long, quickened strides to encourage this. Then, if Mrs. Elicott showed, I trusted you, Watson, to keep a hold of the situation. Yet when I turned around, you had braved chasing after me by yourself, leaving Mr. Elicott at the house to catch his wife in the act.
“That is the whole of it. We returned in time to set the record straight. No one is in danger, including your lovely daughter, Isabelle. The men unwittingly involved in the scandal will surely keep their lips sealed, fearing termination for such carelessness. All is well, and the two of you should be able to set yourselves right now.”
Mr. Elicott shook his head at his wife. “What I don’t understand is why. Why would you and my father do all this?”
She crinkled her skirts in her fists. “Your father was on the brink of bankruptcy and needed to save the company. And our family suffered too. My half of the profits went into our personal funds. I passed them off as part of my salary, because without it, we would have nothing. I did it for us.”
“Why not tell me?”
“Because you’re a better man than your father and a better person than me. Your hands are clean, my love.”
“I never asked any of this of you.”
“You never had to.”
“It must end now. We will find another way to earn it.”
“We will find a way. And you will forgive me?”
He took a breath. “In time.”
“Then I suggest,” Holmes said, “you retrieve your daughter and find your way home. I have done everything I can for you.”
After our departure, I asked Holmes in private, “What possessed you to help them? After you discovered the truth, you just as easily could have gone to the police with your findings. Were you moved by their story?”
Holmes puffed on his pipe. “Sentiment is not an experience with which I am familiar, as you well know. But despite the misdeeds, the reasons behind them were pure. And if this were to become public, many, many lives would be affected. Elicott Steel would crumble, the workers exploited by Mrs. Elicott would be outed, and of course, the Elicott’s themselves would be taken into custody. I had to weigh the options with logic, not empathy. My work is about solving the mysteries, not condemning everyone involved.”
“That sounds dangerously close to compassion, Holmes.”
He chuckled. “Hardly. I’ll leave that part to you, my dear Watson.”
© 2021 by Kelsey Garber