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15th December 2005


The Case of the Missing Magneto - Part 1

Christmas comes but once a year, and you should be grateful for that, because it brings with it all sorts of sillyness. This year's festive frivolity comes courtesy of John Whapshott and Graham Staples, who bring you a brand new Herlock Sholmes adventure...

It was the year 19XX. I can't be more precise because we didn't have a calendar.

Outside our rooms at 221b Shaker Street the temperature was well below zero, the mists swirled thickly, sleet beat upon the frost-covered windows and the gales howled like spectres of the dead.

'A rather pleasant July,' remarked Herlock Sholmes carelessly.

'Your powers of observation are as extraordinary as ever,' I marvelled.

'Naturally, my dear Jotson.'

'Don't call me dear.'

'Sorry, darling.'

Suddenly there was a tremendous knocking from downstairs.

'Someone is knocking upon the door,' said Sholmes. 'They wish to gain entry.' Again I could not help but admire the incredible powers of observation and deduction which my remarkable friend possessed. The voice of Mrs Spudson, our landlady, was heard, followed shortly afterwards by the sound of elephants ascending the stairs. Suddenly the door to our rooms was flung open, and the most extraordinary individual threw himself into the room.

'Mr Sholmes!' he gasped. 'Mr Sholmes! You must help me!'

'Calm down, dear, it's only a commercial,' said Holmes authoritatively. 'Take a seat and tell me what ails you - Mr F W Whitworth.'

The man's eyes opened wide. 'How did you know my name?' he gasped in utter astonishment. I too could not tell how Sholmes had made this incredible deduction.

Sholmes smiled at our amazement. 'That is why I am a master detective,' he said casually.

The man was well built, with a mane of grey hair and a magnificent beard. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt which had printed upon it 'I am F W Whitworth.'

He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt which had printed upon it 'I am F W Whitworth.'

Mr Whitworth sank into a chair, which sank into the room below.

'This Dr Jotson, before whom you may speak freely,' said Sholmes.

'If you know my name, you must know my occupation,' said Whitworth.

'Of course,' said Sholmes, 'but you may enlighten Dr Jotson, before whom you may speak freely, and the readers.'

'Very well,' said our visitor. 'I have the honour of being the editor of RealRustbuckets, the foremost (or is that fifthmost?) periodical in the world concerned with old motorised velocipedes.'

'Ah yes,' said Sholmes, 'I have purloined several copies.'

'You mean purchased,' said Whitworth.

'Ah - oh yes, of course,' said Sholmes.

You are familiar with the subject of motorised velocipedes, Mr Sholmes?'

'Of course,' answered Sholmes. 'I have in my time been the fortunate owner of such machines as an Ariel Leaker, a Triumph Ofhopeoverexperience and a BSA Rapid Ruster.'

'Then you are a true connoisseur, Mr Sholmes.'

'I thought you were a Gemini,' I remarked.

'I myself am an AMC aficionado,' continued Mr Whitworth.

'I'm Pisces too!' I exclaimed in excitement.

'Ah yes, Awful MotorCycles,' said Sholmes. 'Manufacturers and purveyors of the Always Just Stops, the Unmatchedforawfulness and The Hedgehog. Unique machines, Mr Whitworth.'

'Indeed, Mr Sholmes, and that is why I am here.'

'You interest me greatly,' said Sholmes, leaning forward in his seat.

'I'm not that way inclined,' said Whitworth.

'Pray continue,' said Sholmes, settling back in his chair with a sigh.

'Several weeks ago, I heard though an informed source that a unique AMC bike was for sale. This was the legendary velocipede whose existence was known only by a handful of men and had only been a whispered rumour in darkened alleys by men who risked their very lives in uttering the words.'

'Ah, you are doubtless referring to The Motorised Miracle, the only motorcycle ever made by AMC which does not leak oil.'

'Mr Sholmes! How could you possibly know?'

'I have my extraordinary deductive powers, Mr Whitworth. In this case all I had to go on was a twelve page article in Classic Heaps, a special edition of Old Wrecks, a 512 page monograph by Group Captain Hoseason and a 98 page colour supplement in last Saturday's Times.'

'Yet from this paucity of information you deduced the existence of the machine!' I marvelled.

'Then I surely have come to the right man!' exclaimed Whitworth.

'Please continue,' said Sholmes.

'I heard that this machine was now in the possession of a certain widow-woman in Poplar. I hastened to the address and made her a princely offer for the machine.'

'How much did you offer, Mr Whitworth?'

'Not less than the magnificent sum of 100!' said Whitworth grandly. Sholmes reached out and took a book from the shelf beside him. He thumbed through the pages.

How Much Old Bikes Are Really Worth

'Is this the same machine which is described in your monograph "How Much Old Bikes Are Really Worth" as being valued at not less than 50,000?' asked Holmes.

'A printing error!' cried Whitworth.

'I see from the title page that it has been checked by no less than eighty-four people, including fifty-eight from The Guild of Professional Proof-Readers, and that the price of The Motorised Miracle has been checked by forty-three people, including the nineteen men responsible for checking Bank of England notes.'

'Amateurs!' cried Whitworth. 'The widow-woman was delighted with her new wealth.'

'Then,' said Sholmes, 'she cannot be the same widow-woman who is featured in today's Times in the story headed "Motorised Velocipede Expert Rips Off Poor Widow-Woman in Poplar", and is quoted as saying "I am appalled, disgusted and right hacked off by this large bearded man who only gave me 100 for a motorised velocipede."

'Mr Sholmes, I came here for your help!' cried Whitworth.

'Indeed!' said Sholmes dryly. 'Please relate the rest of your tale.'

'After the widow-woman had thanked me for my open-handed generosity in the usual east-end manner -'

'You were lucky to escape with your life!' remarked Sholmes.

'- I took the machine back to my Shed.'

'One moment!' said Sholmes.

'Yes?'

'I always interrupt a narrative by saying "One moment!". Now that I have said it, you may continue.'

'I found a passing urchin, who pushed the machine back fifteen miles to the Shed, for I wished to examine it before I contemplated riding it.'

'And what was the cost of this act of kindness?'

'He paid me five shillings.'

'Very interesting!' murmured Sholmes.

'Mr Sholmes,' continued Whitworth, his frame shaking with deep emotion, 'imagine my consternation when, upon examining my purchase, I noticed that the magneto was - not there!' He covered his face with his oily hands, and then he covered his oily face with his hands.

'Excuse me, Sholmes, but you could explain the function of this - magneto?' I enquired. Sholmes looked grim.

'A magneto is a cylindrical device which comprises many windings of copper wire.'

'And its function?'

'Its function is to give employment to hundreds - '

'Thousands!' groaned Whitworth.

'- thousands of magneto winders. Men of patience and skill and dedication. Imagine, Jotson! Imagine if these men were deprived of a magneto!' Sholmes and Whitworth shuddered in unison.

'I don't understand,' I began. 'Why - ?'

'Think, Jotson!' exclaimed Sholmes. 'What would such men do if they were deprived of this work?' Another groan from Whitworth. I looked blankly at Sholmes.

'They would be free to pursue other jobs!' he said.

'Is that so terrible, Sholmes?' I asked.

'Terrible? Terrible?' For a moment Sholmes seemed lost for words.

'They might, for instance, become railway employees,' he said at last.

'Yes?' I said. 'So?'

'So they might produce - ' Sholmes could hardly bring himself to utter the words. '-accurate timetables!'

'What?' I exclaimed.

'These meticulous and patient men would undoubtedly bring their enormous skills to the chaos that is the railways and produce order!'

'Or accurate weather forecasts!' groaned Whitworth.

'Or coherent news reports! Or even sound government!' exclaimed Sholmes.

'Or - worst of all - motorcycles which work all the time!' said Whitworth with suppressed sobs.

'Then this is disastrous!' I exclaimed. 'Come!' I said. 'I have my trusty revolver! Let us capture the unspeakable villain who has done this and blow his brains out! After which, the police may question him for as long as they please.'

'You are forgetting one thing!' said Sholmes sternly.

'What is that, Sholmes?'

'We do not yet know the identity of the miscreant.'

He was gasping because he had had his head in the fishbowl for the previous five minutes'Sholmes! As usual your perspicacious mind has gone to the nub of the situation.'

'The man is a genius!' gasped Whitworth. He was gasping because he had had his head in the fishbowl for the previous five minutes.

'Have you any clues as to who it could be?' I asked. Just then, there was a knock at the door, and Mrs Spudson appeared.

'This has just arrived for you,' she said, addressing Sholmes, and handing him a small piece of paper.

'Thank you, Mrs Spudson,' said Sholmes.

'Will you be down for your usual later?' she asked.

'Er - thank you, Mrs Spudson,' said Sholmes, turning red.

'Cos I got a new whip,' she said, winking at Sholmes before closing the door.

'What is it, Sholmes?' I asked.

'It's a device with which she punishes me - oh I see, you mean the paper! It's just one small fragment of paper which may mean nothing at all,' remarked Sholmes. 'And yet - and yet I feel there may be something to it. I need to spend all night investigating it for clues, gentlemen.'

'Very well, I shall return to my hotel, and see you in the morning,' said Whitworth.

'Where is your hotel, sir?' I asked.

'Inverness,' said Whitworth. 'It's cheaper there.'

Continued next Thursday...

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