Sherlock Holmes: The Reddening Sun 9
“Excuse my interruption,” Miss Mortimer chimed in for the first time, stunned from all the information, “but you claimed my uncle had been murdered also, and I am still not understanding of the horse and six sacks that Tom arrived with that night.”
“All in good time. This is quite a web I’m unwinding,” he said. “Your uncle, of course, passed away before this burglary. Stepping back to the moment that Samuel spoke his riddle, Mr. Bradford left your home in a daze after hearing it. He went to the broker to call off the robbery, his guilt too much to bear once it disturbed the lives of his future family. This would have been the end of it if Mr. Farley hadn’t already set another murder in motion. He poisoned your uncle in the same fashion he poisoned your husband. Now his son would not only have the woman he loved, but also riches beyond measure.
“This was the final straw for Mr. Bradford, knowing that his father had a hand in the death of your uncle, and he returned to the broker with fire in his veins once more. The plan recommenced and Mr. Bradford likely felt ashamed to show his face at your home again until after he righted all this treachery. But when the burglary went slightly awry, Mr. Bradford worried that too much of a trace had been left and he would be pursued, despite the broker’s criminal ingenuity. Borrowing a horse from this broker, he came to you and begged you to run away with him. When you refused, he implored one last favor from his new villainous friends, and your entire household, including your son, were persuaded to drop the matter. Perhaps money was offered, or perhaps threats were put forth. Either would have done the trick. Therefore, the next morning when you awoke, Miss Mortimer, all sins had been seemingly erased.”
“But the bags, Mr. Holmes!” she pleaded. “What was in them?”
“I will guess they have been destroyed now, but nothing of worth was inside,” he assured her. Passing us into the study one last time, he indicated to the logs of the fire. “I do believe much more ash would be present if an entire wardrobe was set aflame here.”
“They carried the ash away?” Jones asked.
“Quite so. You can glimpse minute traces of it on the floor if you look closely, though their clean up job was stellar, to say the least. More improvisation, of course. The huge spillage of flour in the cupboard tells all. If you pay close attention, there is much more flour present than there are bags. It is safe to conjecture that at least three bags are missing. The spill was orchestrated to conceal the absent sacks and they then used those sacks to haul away the ashes. No crash was heard with the falling of the shelf because it did not actually fall. All was placed on the floor gently and the packages were cut open to create the illusion of a mess. I noted traces of flour in the hall where they brought the bags to the study. I believe that quite covers every point about this fantastical tale.”
Our entire company stared in silence at the unbelievable performance of my companion. Though two of the men in the room were now forfeit to the law, Inspector Jones made no move to apprehend them, still working to understand the abundance of detail Holmes had disclosed. Of that same befuddlement, the criminals made no attempt to flee.
Miss Mortimer regained her composure before anyone else and stepped in front of her fiancee with conviction. “I believe you have made one mistake, Mr. Holmes.”
“Please tell me of it.”
“The little evidence that references Tom’s involvement is now nonexistent. So far as I can gather, there is no mud on his boots to show that he tread here and any papers tying him to this Mr. Herman Farley will not be found. There is no proof that Tom has committed a crime and I choose to believe he did not.”
“But your own testimony of his actions-”
“Was purely delirium,” she conceded. “Tom has been with me everyday for weeks. He never would have had the time to travel here and exact this plan.”
“And there is no motivation,” Mr. Farley joined in. “I will confess to my crimes, but I have no connection to Mr. Tom Bradford. This is the first I have seen him.”
Mr. Bradford managed to grow more waxen during these declarations, but he did not dare dispute them.
My friend nodded to the three of them in humble assent. “Very well, then. I admit to my error. Mr. Tom Bradford cannot be held by any charges. Detective, if you would kindly escort Mr. Farley outside to the cab. Your pursuit of the burglars would be best continued with an investigation of the broker in Wembley, for I think a great many crimes will become clear upon the uncovering of their organization.”
Jones obeyed and the couple exited with their engagement intact. Once we were alone, I said, “Holmes, just because much of the evidence has been destroyed, Mr. Bradford still had a hand in this burglary. The only way the brokers could have gotten into the house, according to your story, is if Mr. Bradford unlocked the front door for them.”
“My dear Watson,” he said with a smile, “I appreciate your loyalty, but in this instance, I plan to let the case rest. I believe justice has been served.”
I contemplated the strange outcome of our adventure the entire journey back to Baker Street, and only upon setting foot in the comfort of our rooms did I finally collect my thoughts enough to speak.
“One last detail still puzzles me, Holmes.”
“I will endeavor to clear it up.”
“Mr. Farley hears a whimsical fancy fall from the lips of his son. That hardly seems like a strong enough motive for murder. And to end it, he cleared his son of all wrongs while taking the fall himself. Considering they were mostly estranged, I am vexed by this.”
“Ah, Watson,” Holmes said. “You are much more understanding than I am when it comes to matters of the heart. Though, if I must venture to guess, the fact that the father was estranged was precisely what compelled him to such extremes. Fathering a son in shame, unable to raise him yourself without exposing your own misconduct. When given the opportunity to offer his son happiness, he would go to any length to achieve it, in order to compensate for the scandalous parenting. In the end, he accomplished his goal, even though it resulted in his own downfall. The love of a parent to their child is a devotion I will never fully grasp myself, but within the confines of my profession, I find that it often provides a more driving motivation for crime than any other emotion, including hatred.”
© 2020 by Kelsey Garber