It was a chilly afternoon at 221B Bakers street.
The strong scent of tobacco wafted from a well-used pipe, which hung from the lips of England’s favorite, and only, consulting detective.
Footsteps could be heard climbing the stairs and soon arrived outside the flat door, pausing fo a moment and then quickly followed by three sequential knocks.
Holmes smiled. “Watson, please open the door for our good neighbor, Mr. Cook.”
Watson opened the door to reveal a short man, with a cherry colored round face and an apron hanging from his neck with flour still visibly clinging to his shoes and coat.
Mr. Cook owned and operated a bakery not two blocks down the cobble road from their flat.
The bakery was one of Watson’s favorite places to visit, he would often purchase pastries, still hot from the oven, to enjoy as he passed by.
“Mr. Holmes!” said Mr. Cook, visibly distressed. “I need your help.”
Sherlock, who only now turned his head to acknowledge Mr. Cook, gestured for the man to sit down. “Please Mr. Cook, tell me your recollection of what has happened, including any details you deem to be necessary. I will do my best to be of assistance where I can be.”
Mr. Cook took a moment to regain his breath, for a flight of stairs and dozens of baked goods consumed each day make a breathless equation. Thinking carefully Mr. Cook recalled his tale. “This cold weather has been awful bitter, but good news for our fresh loaves and other baked goods, for people love to buy them as they walk by. However, about three weeks ago, I spotted a man who would walk by and take a few loaves, without stopping to pay at all.”
With a furrowed brow, Mr. Cook continued to explain. “Now, I’ve run the bakery for twelve plus years, so this is not a new occurrence to me. However, after seeing this man take loaves on various occasions I decided to confront him about it.”
“When I did confront the man he acted rather nonchalant and dismissive, downplaying the significance of his action. I made a sharp but polite comment telling him that in the future he would be expected to either pay what was due or ask me for it on grace, for I am no stranger to times of need. I thought this would be the end of our interaction but he continued to take loaves of bread, even making himself quite friendly with my daughter.”
After pausing for a moment, Mr. Cook looked at Holmes directly in the eyes with a look of sincerity and continued. “Which is my main point of concern, Mr. Holmes. This man and my daughter have started to have frequent interactions and I’m quite concerned for her well being.”
“Tell me more about this man.” Said Sherlock. “Do you know what he’s name is or his occupation?”
“My daughter says he has a position in the government, although she has never specified what. And I believe the last name is Johnson, I can’t seem to remember the first.” said Mr. Cook.
“What is the attire of the man, does he dress well?” asked Sherlock.
“He wears a long coat and a black hat, with gloves to match. All seem to be made of quality, the gloves are leather and have the appearance of a glossy and genuine nature, while the coat is one you would associate with high society and government work. He’s certainly appears well enough off to pay the ten cents needed to purchase a loaf.” muttered Mr. Cook.
Clearly in deep thought Sherlock asked, “Do you have any additional help in the operations of the bakery?”
“No.” Mr. Cook replied. “In our bakery, it is just me and my daughter who run the shop. She’s as diligent a soul as you’ll meet.”
“Please tell us when does this man frequent your shop? Is there a chance he’ll be present tomorrow?” asked Sherlock. “Very likely,” said Mr. Cook. “He stops by usually around one o’clock on his way to the government building.”
“Perfect, I’ll be there a quarter before one tomorrow and simply observe the man. Expect no confrontation as I simply need to gather more data points.” said Sherlock.
With that Mr. Cook appeared to be slightly more reassured, made some final comment and then left. Sherlock quickly turned to various newspaper from months previous in thoughtful silence. A state of focus that Watson knew all too well not to distract him from for the remainder of the evening.
The next day, Sherlock and Watson arrived at the bakery exactly a quarter to one.
Mr. Cook met them and said the man would be sure to arrive shortly. Sherlock and Watson sat themselves at a table close to the window, waiting to catch a glimpse of the man.
Around one, a man approached and began to talk to Mr. Cook’s daughter. He wore a black tightly woven coat with sleeves that stopped slightly past his wrists and hung loosely around his neck, giving the appearance that it was slightly too big for him. After his exchange with Mr. Cook’s daughter he turned to leave the store taking a loaf of bread as he went.
Holmes’ eyes remained fixated on the man as he left the shop and disappeared from eye sight.
He turned to Mr. Cook, “Tomorrow is Wednesday, will the man be here around the same time?” “Yes,” Mr. Cook said. Holmes turned to Watson speaking quickly, “I have an errand I must quickly attend to and will be gone for the rest of the evening. I will meet you back at the flat sometime tomorrow.”
Watson walked back to the flat alone and slightly confused. What had Sherlock seen? Was this man a familiar face to his colleague?
The next morning Sherlock appeared, with a sleepless face but energetic and delighted eyes. A look that was not uncommon after solving a mystery.
“Where have you been Sherlock?” asked Watson.
Permitting for a brief upward turn at the corner of his mouth, the closest thing Sherlock would permit to a smile, he answered. “Yesterday after seeing the man at Mr. Cook’s shop I immediately sensed he wasn’t a government official and upon referencing a few resources was able to confirm his identify was none other than that of a local beggar, Sam Lester.”
Shocked, Watson adopted a look of shock with his mouth hanging slightly ajar.
“I had noticed the odd resemblance between the man in a coat and someone I had seen on the streets before.” Sherlock continued. “The coat had been worn previously, and did not fit him, hanging slightly below his wrist and worn around the neck it clearly had a previous owner. This was all very out of place in nature. I assumed the man had scrounged the coat, top hat and gloves from an unsuspecting citizen of higher rank who had left their laundry unattended to.”
“But the question remained, why would a man seek out such a coat and hat, unless he was trying to blend in with a specific group. That’s what provoked me to shift though the news papers for in the back of my mind I recalled just two months ago Mason Johnson, a government official, had been declared missing on a diplomatic expedition in Russia.”
“Well Sam, while living the difficult life of a beggar, came across the news and noticed the striking resemblance between himself and Mason Johnson. The facial structure and eyes were uncannily similar. The only disparities between them where Sam’s lack of attire to fit the role and two long scars running across his hand, from his time working in the coal mines previously. So he wore gloves to cover them up, and proceeded to establish himself as a resource and familiar face to those within the government.””
“Sam’s association with Mr. Cook’s daughter was simply drawn from the fact that he took a liking to her and she was flattered with the idea of being the object of focus from a man of his status. So, she returned the affection and in doing so made it impossible for Mr. Cook to come down harshly on the man for taking a few loaves for fear of upsetting his daughter.”
“We are fortunate indeed that Mr. Cook brought this to our attention. We could have faced much more serious harm if he had waited and let the matter continue on.” Said Sherlock.
Looking at the clock on the wall Sherlock noted, “We have just enough time to make it to the shop at a quarter to one and see if we can restrain the man. I wish we could have a more friendly interaction with the fellow but he’s got to be shown the truth of the matter early on, it would be unwise to not let him feel the heat for his actions.”
And thus was the case of the worn coat.