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The Adventure Of The Conk-Singleton Forgers

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Introduction by Sir Sherrinford Holmes, Baronet

In this expanded 'Sherlock canon', readers may remember the shocking Baldwin Gang case in which the Metropolitan Police Service behaved so appallingly and which was corrected by my brother's swift actions. I would like to say that there were no further examples of such dreadful behaviour from the people paid to protect the greatest city in the world but alas! I would be wrong. And this second example of police malpractice was just as bad in its own way, for Sherlock might well have remained unaware of it but for a certain monarch.

On banknotes: Today (1929) the Bank of England has a monopoly on the printing of banknotes. At the time this story is set however some banks still printed their own. In 1896 £5 was the smallest note in circulation; notes existed in various denominations up to £1,000 but £50 was the largest in common use.

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Narration by Doctor John Hamish Watson, M.D.

“We have an appointment”, Holmes said one morning as he finished with the last of his letters.

“Another case?” I asked. We (he) had solved the strange killing at Woodman's Lea back some weeks back and it was now not long till Christmas. There had been several minor cases in that period but nothing of any real interest.

“Queen Molly wishes to see us as a matter of urgency”, he said.

“Ah”, I said, “the Queen of the.....”

I stopped myself just in time. I could almost see those sugar-tongs being shaken at me by a lady whose Displeasure (capital letter definitely required) could easily result in a not very scenic one-way tour of the Thames river-bed.

“Mendicants”, I corrected. Holmes smiled at me.

“Correct, and well saved”, he said. “She has asked for my help before, but never yet expressing a need for haste. This must be very serious.”

It was.

۩۩۩۩V♔RI۩۩۩۩

We were back in the reception-room at the decrepit little flower-shop in the East End with Queen Molly having poured us tea. There were some most delicious cucumber sandwiches this time and I most certainly did not (as someone later claimed) eat four of them before noticing that they were both looking curiously at me.

It was three at most.

“Thank you for coming today, gentlemen”, our hostess said. “This is a most serious matter, and not just because of the nature of the crime.”

“I do hope that one of your subjects has not been attacked?” Holmes asked. She shook her head.

“Worse” she said. “One of my friends – and one of yours. Sergeant Josiah Smith.”

We both looked at her in astonishment.

“As you are aware”, she said, “the sergeant is unmarried as he.... well, let us be discreet and say that he has no inclination that way. He is, or was, possessed of a brother called Uriah, a person who in his short and useless existence managed to marry some poor lady by whom he even more miraculously managed to sire four children before drinking himself to death. Had it not been for the sergeant's generosity his brother's family would doubtless have come to be my subjects, for which absence I was most grateful.”

“With two nephews and two nieces to help raise – their ages are between eight and twelve – the sergeant naturally needs to work all hours to make ends meet. You know that he supplements his meagre police income by working for your brother Sherrinford and his associate Mr. Hardland but he also works in an art gallery on the Pentonville Road, as a model. Standing around wearing precious little pays far more than his dangerous work as a police sergeant, which says rather a lot about modern society.”

I smiled at that.

“My youngest daughter Mabel whom you have seen working in the shop with me has an inclination towards art, and has seen the sergeant in all his glory at the gallery”, she said. “At least until yesterday when he did not show up. As he is exceedingly reliable in his habits I found this odd, so made certain inquiries. What I found was most alarming, which is why I have asked you both here.”

“What has happened to him?” Holmes asked.

“It relates to a matter of forgery”, she said. At the end of last year, forged bank-notes began appearing across the East End. Very high quality ones, private five- and ten-pound notes. I was of course aware of this, but as no-one gives anything like that to a beggar I did not consider it my business. When Sergeant Smith missed his regular day at the gallery however, I found that this particular crime was the source of the problem.”

“Last month the police at another station in the city found a set of plates during a raid on a house in Whitechapel. The name on the back was 'Conk-Singleton'.”

“I am guessing that it was not that easy”, Holmes smiled. Our hostess nodded.

“The only person of that name turned out to be a seventy-year-old lady who collected rare stamps and lives in Muswell Hill”, she said. “Miss Mabel Conk-Singleton is half-blind, slightly deaf and has but one leg; the poor dear had to have a doctor called when told about the matter. She very clearly had nothing to do with it. It was what happened to the sergeant soon after her ordeal that troubles me.”

“Sergeant Smith's station was building up to a raid on a warehouse on the docks. There is a family of criminals down there, a most unpleasant group called the Carrs, and the authorities were sure that they were behind the forged notes. Last Monday Sergeant Smith was travelling back to his office, and was attacked shortly after leaving Liverpool Street Station. There were four men and they managed to get away with his brief-case. The raid on the warehouse the following day failed but there had very obviously been something going on in there. As you may understand the sergeant is under suspicion for faking the attack; his enemies saying that he forewarned the Carrs for a cut of their takings.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” I said testily. “Who would be dumb enough to believe that?”

“I am afraid it is worse than even that”, the lady said. “I have learnt that someone in the service has leaked the story to the “Daily Chronicle” newspaper. They will not publish it just yet as they always demand two sources for every story, and the second one they are waiting on will not come through for another few days. I expect that to be next Monday at the latest, more likely this Friday.”

Holmes thought for a while.

“The motive seems obvious”, he said, “in that someone does not want a man with the sergeant's skin colour to rise too high in the service. But this seems rather a lot of trouble to go to in order to secure that end, so I rather suspect that there is more to this. Thank you very much for inviting us here today, Your Majesty. We will investigate this as a matter of the greatest urgency, and will keep you informed of our progress.”

We stood up and bowed and Holmes handed over a generous donation from us both to the lady's subjects.

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Holmes clearly felt the matter was urgent enough to call in at Middleton's, whose offices fortunately were on our way back to Baker Street. Miss Richards was out but we were lucky enough to catch Miss Day deputizing for her and she promised to have something for us by the evening. Sure enough we had only just finished dinner when the charming assassin herself was announced at Baker Street.

“And they criticize the Freemasons for being tight!” she said. “The Metropolitan Police Service is a closed community but luckily money or fear will make some of them talk. We found some names for you Mr. Holmes, and they all look wrong'uns.”

“Names?” I asked.

“Although I believe his skin colour was a factor, I also think Sergeant Smith's current disgrace was arranged to prevent his becoming an inspector”, Holmes said. “Therefore we are looking at a rival candidate who might benefit from the removal of someone with his obvious abilities.”

“I wonder that he did not come round and ask for your help himself”, I asked.

There was an awkward silence in the room. I looked between Holmes and Miss Day.

“What?” I asked.

“Sergeant Smith's police station is almost within sight of the Great Eastern Railway's terminus”, Holmes said slowly, “and he would naturally have planned to walk that short distance on his return. It Is an exceptionally busy area and there are a number of policemen who patrol it.”

“So?” I asked confused.

“Some men from his own station did it”, Miss Day said. “I have seen his injuries; people may think that the policeman's truncheon is just a stout stick but it leaves a very distinctive mark. The sergeant knew his attacker – and he must have been warned if not threatened about bringing anyone else in on the case.”

I was shocked.

“I did not just look at the men at the sergeant's station”, Miss Day said, “but their friends elsewhere in the service. I found three with links to the place, and as you said all of them are pushing for promotion to inspector.”

“Indeed”, Holmes said. “Please tell us about them.”

“Giles Montacute who works out of Goodge Street”, she began. “His brother George is a constable at the sergeant's station, propping up the desk when he is not propping up the local bars. 'The Blessed Saint Giles' would probably be a decent enough inspector as he loathes walking the streets but loves the paperwork. Takes all sorts, I suppose. He is what they call a safe pair of hands, but his arrogant attitude rubs people up the wrong way. And he is getting on a bit so he may be thinking that he has not got many chances left.”

“Motive and opportunity”, I muttered sagely, ignoring the eye-roll from the wiseacre next to me.

“Then there is that awful Adrian Wallis up in Harrow”, she said, rolling her eyes. “Your typical alpha male; 'Hadrian's Wall' is his nickname, because he's thick and immovable, plus he thinks more public executions Roman-style would deter the criminal classes. Possibly a good choice for those at the top who want to be seen as Taking Positive Action! But he is also very vocal about women keeping to the kitchen, and there are one or two on the selection committee who will take against that. He and the retiring Inspector Jarvis at the sergeant's station went to school together and are still friends.”

“Chummy!” I muttered. Holmes shook his head at me but smiled.

“And last but not least in this Hall of Shame we have Mr. Jason Pollock, a sergeant in Stepney who used to work at the station until he moved to Shoreditch recently. A real high-flyer but a bit too slick for my liking. Several family members in the force so that probably helped. He is in his early thirties and the youngest of the three, so he has plenty of time left. No idea what he thinks of our sergeant, but he has lots of friends still at his station. I am a lady, so I shall just say his nickname is rhyming slang and quite accurate.”

“Interesting”, Holmes said. “I rather think I shall have to call on the services of another expert in this instance, but needs must.”

Not his brother Mycroft, I prayed silently. His prolonged absence from Baker Street was one of the happy parts of my life just then.

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Holmes called at the nearest telegraph office to summon help from whoever, then we set off to the sergeant's house where he lived with his sister-in-law and his four nephews and nieces. The poor fellow looked shattered from recent events I thought, and he still bore some of the marks of the attack. He took us out into the garden and we all sat down.

“I am doing what I can, my friend”, Holmes said. “Though I was a little surprised that I not only had to hear of your troubles from elsewhere. Tell me, was it the carrot or the stick?”

The sergeant baulked.

“What do you mean, sir?” he asked warily.

“Come, Josiah”, Holmes said firmly, “I know that you would have come to me to help clear your name had someone not either offered an inducement or more likely threatened you. An offer was made and you accepted it. What was it?”

I thought for a moment that our friend was going to continue to deny it, but then he visibly slumped.

“Resignation once the case breaks, a review some months down the line that would clear my name and reinstatement as a constable”, he said grimly.

“They bought you off!” I said angrily.

“Doctor, I have a family to support”, he said testily. “I barely manage with three jobs. I cannot afford 'principles'.”

““To think that these are the people responsible for law and order in this city!” Holmes growled. “I will not allow it!”

“You cannot stop rumour”, the sergeant sighed. “And no matter what you do, people will talk.”

“Then we shall give them something to talk about”, Holmes said firmly. “Question. What documents were you carrying when you were attacked.”

“Nothing relating to the Conk-Singleton case”, the policeman said. “I went all the way out to Shenfield to interview a man who claimed to know something, from a tip-off at one of the other stations. He said he would only speak to me, but when I got there it was a false address. And now everyone thinks I lost the documents as a result.”

Holmes stared at him for a moment before continuing.

“Josiah”, he said, not looking at the sergeant, “Is there anything else you would like to tell us?”

There was a short but definite pause.

“Not that I can think of”, the man said, a little too defensively.

“Very well”, Holmes said, standing up. “Doubtless we will inform you of any developments. Good day.”

He seemed suddenly formal with someone that we knew so well. I hurried after him as we left.

“What was all that about?” I asked curiously.

“He lied to us”, Holmes said. “He knows a lot more than he admitted, and he is prepared to sacrifice himself for his family. Unfortunately I am not going to let him.”

“Unfortunately?” He looked coolly at me.

“For the men responsible”, he said grimly. “I will ruin them!”

۩۩۩۩V♔RI۩۩۩۩

“I received two telegrams this morning”, Holmes told me when I came out to breakfast the following morning.

“Who are they from?” I asked.

“This is from Mycroft”, he said, waving one of them. “I wished to know certain things about one of the sergeant's promotion rivals. He has responded with amazing promptitude, and I may even consider allowing him back into my good graces. Eventually.”

“You think one of them was behind it?” I asked.

“Of course”, he said. “Remember the truncheon marks?”

“I have thought of a problem with that”, I objected. “A doctor examining the injuries would report the matter.”

“Not a police doctor”, Holmes said flatly. “This goes higher up than I thought. Someone of high office, capable of organizing the framing of a good man. Unfortunately for them, their best-laid plans are about to go awry.”

“Who was the other telegram from?” I asked. He sipped his coffee, and sighed happily.

“Mr. Khrushnic”, he said. “I may have used up all my credit with him on this, but it is for a good cause. I rather think that today is going to be interesting!”

۩۩۩۩V♔RI۩۩۩۩

We took a cab to the sergeant's house. He was tending some plants in the front garden and was reluctant to come with us, but Holmes eventually persuaded him. The driver took us to a quiet back-street in Limehouse that was most unwelcoming, at least judging from the speed at which he took off once he had been given his fare.

“Why have you brought me here?” the sergeant said dully.

“Oh you know, just wandering around”, Holmes said with a nonchalance that was several miles beyond believable.

I stared at him suspiciously. He crossed the road to where a warehouse with grimy windows backed onto the road, with a stack of boxes by one of the windows.

“I wonder what could possibly be in here?” he said airily.

He climbed up on the boxes and peered through the window, though I doubted that he could see much. He came down again with a broad smile.

“Dear me, sergeant”, he said, far too innocently. “It seems like there are people inside this building engaged in the printing of forged bank-notes. How very dreadful. I think that you should call for back-up at once.”

His voice was flatter than East Anglia. The sergeant looked at him suspiciously.

“One of you could go to the nearest telegraph office”, he suggested.

“We could”, Holmes agreed. “Or we could call for help, and hope that a spare police officer appears out of thin air.” He cupped his hands round his mouth. “Help.”

In terms of calls for help that ranked somewhere below pathetic. I barely heard him from a few feet away. Despite that, the sergeant's friend Constable Bell promptly emerged from the nearby alley with two policemen right behind him.

“We heard your call for help, sir”, he said with what was a commendably straight face. “By a stroke of great fortune I happen to have six more officers in the immediate vicinity, five round the front and three at the side-entrance. Let's get 'em!”

He blew hard on his whistle and there was the sound of a door being smashed in from somewhere nearby. Moments later a short and untidily-dressed man burst through the door we had been standing by and ran straight into the sergeant, Constable Bell easily slipping the cuffs on him in the confusion. The sergeant smiled.

“Well well, Jimmy Carr!” he said. “Fancy meeting you here! I bet Bert and Alf aren't far away either!”

“Want a lawyer!” the thug groused. “I 'aint saying nothin'!”

“True”, the constable grinned. “Save your explanation about the presses and all those fake notes for the judge. They don't get many good laughs in their line of work!”

He hustled the man back through the door he had entered by and threw him down to lie with his confederates, one of whom was already being manhandled out to the waiting police-van that we could see through the open main door.

“Amazing!” Holmes said flatly. “Sergeant Smith, you and Constable Bell seem to have found the forgers who have been polluting the tills of London for months on end. I am sure that your superiors will be incredibly grateful that you had the amazing foresight to act on the anonymous tip-off you received earlier today. How exceedingly fortunate that there are police officers like you whom us simple members of the public can trust.”

He stared meaningfully at the tall man who just shook his head at him.

“Thank the Lord you were never a criminal, sir!” he laughed. “London would have been yours for the taking!”

۩۩۩۩V♔RI۩۩۩۩

It says something for the modern age that I read about the capture of the Conk-Singleton forgers was in the newspaper that same afternoon, as Holmes and I journeyed to see Colonel Bradford, Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service. There was a tall and somewhat reedy blond fellow in the office with him, a superintendent from his markings, who looked less than thrilled to see us. Probably another suit who thought that consulting detectives were the devil's work, I thought acidly.

“I am fortunate in that I know that I can always trust people like Sergeant Smith”, Holmes said with a smile. “And the newspapers were full of praise that he is about to be rewarded for his great success.”

Whether the Service likes it or not, I thought. I really was becoming catty in my..... middle age.

“We do strive to reward ability and success”, the colonel said. “This is Superintendent Miles Carton. Was there something you particularly wished to see us about, Mr. Holmes? You did request his presence here.”

I caught a faint flicker of alarm on the superintendent's face.

“I am rather afraid that there was”, Holmes said, his tone notably changing. “It is indeed the most welcome news that some dangerous criminals have been removed from the streets today – but dangerous criminals come in all shapes and sizes, and strange disguises. Do they not, superintendent?”

His voice had definitely acquired a menacing tone. The tall policeman looked at him warily.

“I.... suppose so, sir”, he said.

“For example”, Holmes said, “there was the curious case of why poor Sergeant Smith was, as you say in your line of work, 'fitted up'. A very thorough job all told but one which, I am sad to say, may cause the Service no end of problems in the days to come.”

“Fitted up?” the colonel asked. “I do not understand. What do you mean?”

“I am regrettably compelled to mar your moment of triumph, colonel”, Holmes said. “You see, you have a major problem at two of your stations, and you are about to lose a whole lot of officers as a result. The newspapers will of course have a field-day with the whole farrago.”

“What? Where?”

“When Sergeant Smith was attacked on his way back from Shenfield to his station by Liverpool Street”, Holmes said, “I asked myself that old legal question. Cui bono? - who benefits? Three rival men had an increased chance of promotion if my highly able friend was forced out of the picture. I focussed immediately on Sergeant Jason Pollock, because the nature of the attack suggested that a fair number of men at the sergeant's own station had to be in on this foul deed and he had maintained more than enough contacts to ensure that. I also knew from a friend of mine that the false lead that sent the sergeant off to Shenfield was handed in at Sergeant Pollock's station, despite having been labelled as received elsewhere.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” the superintendent said shortly. “Pollock is a good man.”

“You should know”, Holmes said quietly. “He is your nephew.”

The colonel slowly turned and looked at the superintendent. It was not a nice look.

“Miles”, he said slowly, “the rules about disclosing familial relations within the Service are crystal clear, as are the penalties for failure of disclosure. Is Pollock your nephew?”

“He is the son of the superintendent's older brother Martin, and changed his name by deed poll before entering the service”, Holmes said. “I wish it were only as bad as that, colonel, but I am sorry to say that it gets far, far worse than the non-divulging of blood ties.”

“Go on”, the colonel said heavily, still eyeing his superintendent balefully.

“Sergeant Pollock contacted a number of his colleagues at his old station”, Holmes said. “Four of them - disguised of course - lay in wait for Sergeant Smith outside Liverpool Street Station, which was why he would have been unable to summon any help in such a busy area. Although as you knew full well, superintendent – and indeed ensured later by your actions – he had a strong suspicion who his attackers were and what would happen if he 'made a fuss'.”

He took a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket.

“There are the names of the officers involved”, he said.

“How did you find this out?” the colonel demanded, his eyes bulging.

“We all have our secrets, colonel”, Holmes smiled. “Do we not, superintendent?”

Mr. Carton baulked. “What?” he said, pushing his hair back out of his eyes.

“I spoke with Mrs. Smith”, Holmes said. “You were the person who called at her house, not knowing that she was upstairs and heard you threaten both her brother-in-law and her family. She saw you leave and, very cleverly, noted down a full description of you. And you were the person who started those malicious rumours about my friend.”

“Miles!” the colonel snapped.

“I am regrettably of the opinion that the Metropolitan Police Service, like all large organizations, would prefer this matter to just go away”, Holmes said. “Any sort of publicity is going to detract from the rosy glow that the public is feeling right now, with the guarantee that the pound in their wallets really is a pound. It is all rather ironic, really?”

“Ironic?” the colonel asked. “How, pray?”

“That this story started with someone looking as if they were about to be forced to resign from the police service, and it ends with someone actually resigning. Six people if we include the station doctor, whose name you may also have noted on that list.”

Holmes stared pointedly across the table at the two men. The colonel turned to his colleague.

“On my desk by four”, he aid grimly.

The superintendent nodded, gave us both a hate-filled glare and left.

“One more thing”, Holmes said, rising to his feet. “As I am sure you area aware colonel, even with this dreadful business having been reduced to a mere rush of resignations, there is always the possibility that some particularly nosy member of the London journalistic trade may still get wind of it and blow it across their front pages.”

The colonel blanched.

“But fortunately they will instead have the story of a clever London sergeant being promoted to inspector for his capturing those forgers”, Holmes smiled.

He crossed to the door, then looked again at the colonel.

”Won't they?”

As Sergeant Smith so rightly said, thank the Lord that Mr. Sherlock Holmes never opted to be a criminal!

۩۩۩۩V♔RI۩۩۩۩

“To coin a Herculean metaphor, it went from the Hydra to the Augean Stables”, I remarked as we slumped into our chairs back in the warmth of our Baker Street rooms.

“How so?” Holmes asked.

“Well, you destroyed the Hydra like Hercules, finding and removing the original head”, I said. “But like the Augean Stables, you prevented the papers from saying what they were going to about Sergeant Smith by sweeping it all away with the twin rivers of Truth and Justice.”

He just stared at me.

“I am educated”, I said stiffly.

“Never mind!” he grinned.

Memo to self: keep something handy to throw at Holmes for when he is being even more irritating than usual.

۩۩۩۩V♔RI۩۩۩۩