Sherlock Holmes,
Consulting Diplomat

by Simon Szykman and Manus Hand,
Master Aenigmatists

The Hunt for the Venison Camper

A full year had passed for my friend Sherlock Holmes and I since he had so expertly secured for his country the coveted prize offered by the Sultan of Suwat, when once again we found ourselves confronted by a diplomatic conundrum. The year had been spent quite busy, dealing with such incidents, as was my friend's wont, as murder, thievery, and the protection of Crown secrets. However, in quieter moments, our attention was often consumed by the finer points of the game of Diplomacy, and we began to frequent the Calhamer Club.

Being such a shrewd judge of human nature, and with a mind for the details which escape other men, Holmes was naturally a formidable opponent at the Diplomacy table, and indeed he frequently excused himself from the Club's regular games; while I took what was quite often an all too briefly held seat at the gaming table, Holmes would position himself in one of the Club's most comfortable easy chairs, from which he steadily surveyed the game and the participants, his lips pursed, smoking his pipe silently. Simply by watching the communications between the players, Holmes would often predict without error every one of the 34 orders issued on a turn, so astute is my friend at the art of observation and detection.

Ever since the Sultan's puzzle, the game of Diplomacy had served only to provide Holmes and me with a welcome diversion from the difficult and dangerous work with which we were so often engaged. That was to change one quiet evening, when the great Holmes was called back into service to decipher a cryptic message.

It so happened that Holmes and I were just embarking for our regular Wednesday visit to the Calhamer Club when we were stopped by a breathless Lord Fortescue, he of the Foreign Office, who had, he later said, rushed straight over to Baker Street when the problem which faced him was first presented to him.

"What so, Milord?" asked Holmes. "Not wishing to concede so early, I trust? Why, the game is not yet afoot!"

The Foreign Secretary, however, was not in the mood to smile. "I am afraid, Mr. Holmes, that the subject of my visit concerns a concession of another sort. Quite another sort, indeed!"

Obviously, our visit to the Calhamer would have to wait. Holmes called for a messenger to inform our fellows at the Club of our predicament, and we repaired to the drawing room to learn what had worried Lord Fortescue so. Once there, the Foreign Secretary addressed us. "I'm afraid, Mr. Holmes, that the Sultan of Suwat has struck again with a puzzle that confounds both the FO and Downing Street. As you remember, precisely one year ago, Her Majesty's government received a longterm lease on the deepwater facilities of Port Suwat."

"Quite so," I began, "In fact, I chronicled the event in the pages of..."

Holmes stopped me short. "Watson! Pray allow the Foreign Secretary to continue."

"Well, Mr. Holmes, the first annual payment on the lease is now due, and the Sultan has requested payment using another puzzle. I'm afraid I must ask you to give it a look and offer assistance."

"Indeed!" Holmes seemed genuinely happy. "This is excellent! I was tiring of base knavery."

"I am not sure that this is much different, Mr. Holmes. You see, the unusual request I speak of has been brought to England personally by a special emissary of the Sultan, and if we do not meet the request for payment, the terms of the lease will be broken, and the Port of Suwat may well be transferred into the hands of unfriendly nations."

"But surely the terms of the lease were negotiated to prevent premature calls for payment!" I said.

"The payment has not been prematurely called, Doctor. Rather, you see, the lease states only that the Crown is obliged to meet the terms of any timely request for payment. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that the terms would be so cryptically stated."

Holmes could not suppress a smile, but I was a bit indignant at government ineptitude. I burst out, "Lord Secretary, do you mean to say that after the puzzle -- a two part puzzle at that -- which was posed by the Sultan, the negotiators of the lease did not realize that the young man was prone to setting arbitrary terms?"

The Secretary wrinkled his nose, "Not one of our better efforts, I'm afraid. However, we're only just realizing that now."

Holmes spoke up. "Now Watson, the new Sultan may be unconventional, but, given the mystery he posed for us when he ascended the throne, I would hardly call him arbitrary. I am sure that this latest puzzle has a quite logical solution."

"I'm not so sure, Holmes. Have a look."

Lord Fortescue was correct, for when he laid out on the table the very message in question, and when we bent over it, I found myself utterly confused. Although (happily for me) it was written in English, it bore the seal of the Sultan, and Lord Fortescue assured us that the Sultan's emissary himself had broken the seal when presenting the message at the Foreign Office. As we stood staring at the official document, addressed to the Queen herself, here is what we read:

Your Majesty,

Per the terms of the lease concluded between our two governments by our representatives during April of last year, I hereby request payment of the annual fee for the use of the deepwater facilities at Port Suwat. The terms which I impose on this payment are detailed herein.

You will find that since our last communication, I have come to fancy myself something of an author, and I am providing you with my most recent effort at constructing an entertaining fiction in your most agreeable language. I trust that my story will aid you in meeting my conditions of payment. I implore you to offer me your expert literary criticism, as I imagine you will find yourself more interested in what I have neglected than in what I have written.

Your language is quite different from Suwati, and I find that most of my creative time is spent in the exercise of spelling words. Quite by accident, I often misspell entire passages, only to notice and correct my error. I trust you will overlook or understand any such mistakes which may remain.

As you know, I have caused this message to be delivered to you under seal by my most trusted emissary. He is to return to me with the full amount of the lease payment, in pounds sterling, and I require that your government should arrange for his return transportation. It is imperative that you keep him and the lease payment safe under close guard, using only your most capable military general and an armed unit. Know that my envoy is quite seaworthy; in fact, he is somewhat disconcerted by travel over land and wishes to travel by sea whenever possible. I trust that you can accomodate him.

You should know that I myself am presently not in Suwat; rather, I am enjoying a European vacation. As you will note after finishing my little story, I had a number of fine locations on the continent from which to choose, and I must say that I find myself quite happy with my choice. I find that I am able to enjoy the pleasures of my home by the sea, yet what is missing -- the hectic urban life of Port Suwat -- is not missed at all! My emissary has been commanded not to reveal my location to you or to your government, and so I request as a term of payment that you independently determine my whereabouts, so as to properly conduct my emissary to me with payment in full before the advent of the deadline set forth in the lease.

My emissary shall also report to me the ways and means by which you have located me. Although I have gone to some pains to remain incognito here, I am quite confident in your government's ability to determine my location by means other than those I intend, and so I caution you not to return my emissary without sufficient cause and preparation.

I am already planning my next vacation, which I have decided will be at one of the locations that I did not choose. Accordingly, it is my hope that my emissary might visit these locations so that he may find the one which best suits me. I need not inform you that speed is of the essence, your Highness; any lost moment or unnecessary action will surely forfeit your fine nation of the generous lease. I look very much forward to receiving my emissary upon his arrival via the fastest possible route, subject to the other conditions outlined in this letter.

On a more personal note, I wish to console you, your Highness, on the recent disasters which have afflicted your military industrial sites, though fortunately I am given to understand that the units which were in occupation at the time of the mishaps were unaffected. While I am pleased to have learned that one such site has now been reopened, I was sorry to hear that the damage at the others was so severe that they will not be able to resume operations for close to a decade. I have no doubt that your talented engineers will be able to employ the single production site for all of the resources your government can support while returning my envoy to me.

As the new century dawns before us, I look forward to enjoying a long and friendly alliance with you, etc.

The Sultan of Suwat

Such was the first page of the message. What followed, the literary attempt by the Sultan himself, was what caught our eye. Handwritten by the Sultan himself came the strange narrative which I append here.

Read The Hunt For The Venison Camper

Immediately upon finishing the Sultan's story, I entered into a conversation with the Foreign Secretary on the ludicrousness of what was spread before us on the table. Heatedly, we began to debate the Sultan's sanity, and we also discussed the mood at the Foreign Office. I learned that some of the clerks were for setting into motion the covert operatives in and around Europe who so proudly and humbly serve the kingdom, so as to locate the Sultan and enable an attempt to work backwards through his strange tale of The Venison Camper. Others there favored attempting to bribe the Sultan's emissary. All, of course, were behind the Secretary's decision to take the problem to my friend in Baker Street.

During our conversation on these points, Holmes remained strangely quiet, and eventually he asked us to cease and desist such that he could better concentrate. From that moment, Lord Fortescue and I contented ourselves with our brandy, cigars, and some books we'd pulled from the shelf. We watched as the great detective set to work.

Sherlock Holmes drew deeply from his pipe and took the first page from the story with him to a chair on the far side of the room. Adjusting an oil lamp to help him, he slowly read and re-read the page. Before long, he sprang to his feet, which startled both the Lord Secretary and myself, but as it happened, this was only to grab another page from the story and return to his chair. Later, his visits to the table were for the purpose of acquiring paper from a writing tablet or a refill of ink for his pen (for he had taken to circling portions of the story and scribbling some sort of notes as he worked).

From time to time, Holmes would mutter in the negative, but soon enough occasional sounds of triumph were mixed in and I could actually see the Foreign Secretary relax in his chair and smile to himself. The Sultan's puzzle was in good hands.

This was proven after a time (the precise span of which I cannot accurately recall, other than to state that Fortescue and I had started on a new bottle of cognac), when Holmes slowly rose and announced that the lease was safe.

"Indeed?" I asked. "How in the world could you have determined the Sultan's whereabouts from that silly story?"

"Watson, I am surprised at you. Why, it was elementary to determine how to find the Sultan. All that remained was a bit of untangling."

Where is the Sultan and how did Holmes know? Send your answer to The Pouch! Holmes's answers will be published in the next issue of the Zine. [Editor's Note: No credit for the answer unless you explain how you figured it out. In case you need a hint to get you started, Dr. Watson has kindly agreed to publish a sneak peek.]

"Excellent, Holmes! You never cease to amaze." I simply could not contain my excitement. "If you gentlemen will forgive me, I must begin making my notes, so to faithfully reproduce this event for posterity!" With that, I made to leave.

The Secretary, too, having grabbed Holmes's arm and shaken it wildly, was -- while still in the midst of offering his profound gratitude -- gathering up his hat and topcoat, anxious to set in motion the Sultan's wishes and to secure for another year the rights of the British Crown to Port Suwat.

At that moment, however, a smiling Holmes softly spoke, stopping us both in our tracks. "Although the Sultan is surely awaiting payment there, you would be unwise to send it directly to him."

"What?!" Lord Fortescue and I erupted together, taken completely aback by Holmes's words.

"I believe that delivering the emissary and payment via the correct route is also a condition set forth by the Sultan," replied Holmes, matter-of-factly.

What instructions did Holmes give to Fortescue to deliver the emissary to the Sultan according to the terms of the Sultan's letter? Send your answer to The Pouch! Holmes's answers will be published in the next issue of the Zine. [Editor's Note: If you are still stuck on the previous puzzle and are unwilling to work yourself unstuck, the location of the Sultan's vacation spot (without the explanation of how Holmes arrived at the solution) is available.]

The lease, of course, was extended another year, and the Foreign Office rewarded Holmes handsomely for his evening's labor. The kingdom was saved from untold expenses and, most importantly, from the loss of the all-important Suwati port. My friend had triumphed again.

-- Dr. John H. Watson

via Manus Hand
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