48 Hours a Day
Chapter 501 - Do You Have A Theory?
“Have you investigated the maid who cleaned the room?” Holmes took out his pipe and filled it with tobacco.
“I have. Even though the maid has been working in the house for two years, the old housekeeper immediately detained and searched her. Still, there was no oil painting. Moreover, she had not been anywhere else since she entered the house and went to see the housekeeper. So, we can rule her out as the suspect,” said Villard. After a brief pause, he continued, “Through the viscount’s contacts, I also found two other victims of Mr. M. The descriptions they provided were similar to the viscount’s situation, all receiving a letter from Mr. M when their valuables were stolen. One of them was on vacation when the burglary occurred, and the other was a public figure more prominent than the viscount. Their valuables were well-concealed, but by whatever powers, they were stolen somehow. Like a magician, the thief could sneak into whatever secret rooms you have and always has his victims firmly in his clutches.”
Holmes lit his pipe and took a drag.
“The most talented thief I’ve ever met is a dwarf who performed in a circus. He was half the height of a child and a scrawny, stick-thin creature. He could burrow into your home through the chimney and squeeze through narrow crevasses by contorting his body, never leaving behind a single trace of his visit.”
“Which is exactly why I’ve come to you—I haven’t the faintest idea how the guy did it,” replied Villard respectfully.
“Alright,” Holmes smiled. “Since I’ve already promised to help you, and this case interests me, I won’t set it aside, but for now, let’s find you a place in London.”
The three arrived at an inn on a carriage, and while Villard checked in, Holmes stood in the lobby, smoking his pipe as he watched the tourists come and go.
“Do you think Mr. M is among them?” Zhang Heng asked.
“Who knows?” Holmes blew out a ring of smoke.
He was obviously in a good mood. “We’re fortunate today, Zhang Heng, to have come across such an intriguing case. I knew that Villard was going to bring us a surprise—hah! — turns out he didn’t disappoint!”
Zhang Heng didn’t know if he should laugh or cry.
The more difficult Villard’s case was, the happier Holmes became. Such mentality and trend of thoughts of a great detective was what separated him from that of the ordinary mind.
“Do you have any theories as to where the painting might be?” asked Zhang Heng.
Holmes did not answer, asking in return, “What about you? Do you have any ideas?” Zhang Heng had been contemplating the case as they traveled here, trying to piece together all the clues. Thanks to Villard’s comprehensive notes—the red-haired detective carried out a very detailed investigation of the scene, virtually turning the viscount’s mansion upside down-Zhang Heng was able to conjure up the scene in his mind. He took a minute to think before answering. “You said to eliminate all the bizarre and unscientific options, and you will be left with the truth. No thief could be this good and not leave a single trace on the soil, then walk past the hound, and not cause a commotion. So I inspected the layout of the house. Other than the old housekeeper guarding the door, the chef was also up very late that night. He was busy in the kitchen, located not too far from the main door, usually locked. That being the case, I believe that the problem lies with the maid.”
Holmes looked at Zhang Heng as if he was gazing at an endangered animal before exclaiming, “My mysterious, oriental-traveler-friend. Despite how long we’ve known each other, you never fail to amaze me! It has been such a privilege to have met you. Though you’re still learning, you could actually work independently with those abilities of yours. You better my mediocre counterparts by miles; even Villard, a newcomer full of potential, is no match for you. It won’t be long before you become a strong competitor of mine. Perhaps then, this world would cease being so dull and pedestrian.”
Coming from Holmes, these words were considered high praise. Although he had to include some self-gratification, in the end, the very fact that the proud detective could say such things demonstrated that he genuinely respected Zhang Heng.
Holmes chuckled. “Haha! When I saw the note earlier, I thought of the homicide of Fort Combe. At that time, the rumor was that the victim had been murdered by ghosts. All the doors and windows had been shut from the inside. To make matters worse, the murder scene was gory, highly suggesting a revenge. The locals believed that only ghosts could have done it, and even a large number of police think that it must have been an act from a vengeful spirit.
“But, as I said, eliminate the distractions out of the equation, and whatever remains will be the correct answer, even if it might seem impossible on the surface. It turned out that the victim was the murderer himself, and he killed himself by extreme means. It was a fascinating case since the victim kept a secret that had been digging at his soul for the longest time. Ridden by guilt for something he had done in the past, it had haunted him all his life. To make things worse, he was terminally ill and was worried that the spirits would seek revenge on his wife and daughter. As a result, he decided that it was the best way to repay the debt. “The circumstances of that are similar to this case. I’ve studied Villard’s note and ruled out the possibility of an outsider entering the home. It leaves us with only one possibility, the thief has to be someone from the house. After all, bribing a maid who earns less than a pound per week was a lot easier than sneaking into a well-guarded mansion. If I were Mr. M, I would have done the same.”
Zhang Heng’s brows furrowed. “That explains the letter found on the floor. The maid must have planted it there while she was cleaning, then stole the painting. There is one thing that still puzzles me, though. How did she pass the inspection? Could the guards be accomplices?”
“You’re very close to the final answer, my eastern friend!”
Holmes’ eyes sparkled, excited, and eager. “I believe you only need another half a day to figure it out. Finding the painting is not going to be difficult. The tricky part would be capturing Mr. M and having him admit that he was the thief. He is very talented and has an incredible imagination.
“Based on his behavior, we understand that he is cautious, meticulous, and patient. It won’t be easy to catch that guy. But London is our stomping grounds; it would be unacceptable that we let him escape again!”