I find it recorded in my notebook that the episode began on a bleak and windy day towards the end of July. Holme-Truth received a telegram as we were taking lunch. He made no remark. But the matter remained whirling in his thoughts, like a Vestas V-80 wind turbine. For he stood in front of the fire smoking his pipe, casting an occasional glance at it.
“Crime, Watson, is now commonplace”, he eventually said. “Existence is also commonplace. But nothing is as commonplace as a three-card trick in the corridors of power.
“Parliament has become a great cesspool into which all the loungers, rent-seekers and charlatans of the nation are irresistibly drained.
“Yet politics should be an exact science,” he added, “a cold and unemotional profession, like detection. Yet instead of precise calculations its practitioners serve us a dog’s breakfast of bile and bravado. It is a grotesque business, Watson.”
Holme-Truth’s train of thought was interrupted suddenly by the sound of rotor-blades. Glancing out of the upstairs window, we saw a suited figure abseiling down through the winter fog onto the street below.
“Unless I am mistaken, Watson, a MyJet Aviation Agusta 109C. Eight-seat civil version, powered by two Allison Bishop Model 250-C20R-1 turboshaft engines.”
“And here is our client.”
A measured step was heard upon the stairs. A moment later, a short, clean-shaven chap was ushered into the room. His life history was written in his features and iPhone 7 mannerisms. The lack of spats and gold-rimmed spectacles, together with bruising around the left eye, confirmed he was neither a Conservative nor a churchman.
“I am Sir William Short-Shrift, a Member of the House of Commoners. Just call me Bill”, he said, before plunging into his business.
“I have had a most singular and unpleasant experience, Mr Holme-Truth,” he went on. “Never in my life have I been placed in such a situation. It is most improper – most outrageous.”
“I think, Watson, a brandy and soda will do him no harm. Please go on, Sir William. Why did you come to me with such urgency? Are being hounded by the press on some important business of state?
“Well, sir, it did not appear at first to be a matter that might concern the police. But when you have heard the facts you will see I could not leave it where it was and do nothing. Eighty billion dollars is a lot of money.”
“As you will know, there is a clear denunciation between the Bring-It-On Party’s plans for the future and a government that’s stuck in the past,” he said excitedly.
“$80 billion worth of cuts to our schools and hospitals will be disastrous. Yet One-Term Tony’s budget has locked them in. I want you to find out what he did with all that money.
When he just makes up numbers to scare people is it surprising public confidence in our Parliament is waning? As the Member for Fair-Go-Mate said last week: “We can’t have the place turning into a circus.”
“I am entirely at your service,” said Holme-Truth.
We sat for some time after our visitor had left.
“Ah yes! Richard III, 1594,” Holme-Truth said. “Ratcliff: ‘Dispatch, my lord; the duke would be at dinner: Make a short shrift; he longs to see your head.”
“And what is a shrift, Watson? A penance imposed by a priest during confession to provide absolution. In the 17th century, criminals sent to the scaffold immediately after sentencing only had time for a ‘short shrift’. Perhaps a clue?”
Turning suddenly upon me, he asked: “Well, what to make of it all?”
“It is a very odd case,” I replied.
“A chaotic case, my dear Watson,” said Holme-Truth, lighting another pipe. “It covers at least two continents, three groups of mysterious persons and is further complicated by some alleged links to our highly respectable client.
“Yes, indeed. For a similar case has just come to my attention through a contact at the Department of Foreign Affairs.”
“Good Lord, what an unexpected turn of events, Holme-Truth.”
“Quite so, Watson. Impeccable sources told The Citizen in Dar es Salaam yesterday that, and I quote:
A total of Sh47 billion out of Sh77 billion deposited at the Bank of Tanzania for the purpose of paying road contractors is either missing or cannot be accounted for.
The Controller and Auditor General (CAG) says over Sh33 billion that was set aside for road projects in the 2011/2012 financial year also cannot be accounted for.
In a special audit, the CAG reveals that Parliament was lied to about the expenditure of Sh252 billion earmarked for the construction of new roads.
“It means, Watson, that a total of 80billion is either missing or cannot be traced, as there is no proof of payment purportedly made to contractors.
“So this missing 80 billion business is turning into quite a three-pipe problem. For closer to home, an $80 billion debt just popped up in Queen’s Land.”
“Our man not only has a scheming mind – and a sardonic sense of humour — but also a highly developed sense of self-preservation. He is no shallow opportunist either, but clearly has an $80 billion plan to deceive the public.”
“Not unlike the villain in the Giant Rat of Sumatra?” it was suggested. “Do you recall that other dastardly case, the Affair of the Politician, the Water Closet and the Trained Cormorant?”
“Indeed, Watson. And we should not underestimate the seductive power the fig-leaf has for members of our political class.”
Our client is also the Member for Bongo-Drongo, home of Her Majesty’s munitions factory, fruit bats and flying foxes. We must join the dots, Watson, join the dots.”
“But how does he get away with such rank opportunism? And why all that OTT ‘Bring-It-On!’ stuff last week? I am inclined to think…”
“I should do so,” Holme-Truth remarked impatiently, “and so should have Sir William before dragging his Party into this mess.
“I have not all my facts yet. But I do not think there are any insuperable difficulties at this stage of the game.”
“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
“The so-called ‘missing’ billions, Watson, are nothing more than an unfunded fantasy, 80,000 million dollars of fairy dust conjured out of thin air by the previous government! This funny money never existed in the first place. What a sleight-of-hand!”
“If we are nimble, we will catch him in the act. For the proverb says: ‘As a dog returns to his vomit after eating too much Pie in the Sky, so a fool repeats his folly’.”
“Wonderful!” I ejaculated. “Commonplace,” replied Holme-Truth exultantly, like a cat that had swallowed the canary.
“My dear fellow, it was all perfectly obvious from the beginning. The whole world will know the facts presently.”
Disclaimer: The characters, entities and incidents in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons or institutions – living, dead or dormant – is entirely coincidental. The gadgets are real, but not the dog food.
Michael Kile 29 July 2015