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The Case of the Burnt Wires
About the Author: J.J. White has been published in literary journals and magazines, including, The Homestead Review, Pithead Chapel, The Grey Sparrow Journal, The Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and The Saturday Evening Post 2016 and 2018 anthologies. He's had three novels published and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for his short piece, Tour Bus.

It is with saddened heart I write this, my narration of a case Mr Sherlock Holmes refused to allow me to set to pen. I had promised the great detective I would wait until his death before chronicling this story which I call, ‘The Case of the Burnt Wires.’ Although this mystery was solved and concluded by Holmes in the autumn of 1886, I withheld publication until now. I have waited dutifully for time and circumstances to pass and shall now proceed with the tale.

One day—it was on the sixth of September, 1886—after hastily concluding with any last patients, I rushed back to Baker Street with disturbing news I wished to convey to my friend and roommate of five years, Sherlock Holmes.

I had unfortunately left my key to our apartment at my office and despite my loud and frequent pummeling of the door, Holmes would not answer. This was not because he had suddenly forgotten his manners; it was that he could not hear my apoplectic thumping over his violin as he lovingly played Bach’s Sonata in G minor.

Being somewhat familiar to the piece, I waited patiently for a semibreve rest I knew to be coming soon, and taking advantage of the break, knocked loudly once more.

I was soon greeted at my own door by my friend. ‘Watson!’ exclaimed he. ‘You have forgotten your key again, I see. Come in! Come in! I am nearly finished and looking forward to our dinner, although you are quite early.’

Before I could explain the reason, Holmes had deduced it himself. ‘You have news, Doctor.’

‘Yes. But how—?’

‘Your appearance, your elevated respiration, as would be in the case of a gentleman hurrying to his destination, and of course, your unexpected early arrival. Only a man with important news would be in possession of all, yes?’

‘Yes. It is Pedersen.’

Holmes shook his head and gave a most unusual smirk. He reached for his pipe to light a bowl. ‘What has Henrik done now? Not another gorilla, one hopes.’

The gorilla aforementioned by Holmes was in fact Samson, a rather large and rather old gorilla that had been a favorite at the Bristol Zoo for nearly a half century. In 1885 the zoo decided to sell the ape to the eccentric Doctor Henrik Pedersen, a research scientist at the university who acquired his fortune from his designs used in the new electrical industry.

After purchasing the gorilla, Pedersen announced in the Times that on the twelfth of October he would bring the beloved ape to Hyde Park to demonstrate the dangers of alternating current. The posters he had placed around the city promised an unforgettable event.

Holmes and I were of course intrigued, Holmes especially because of his relationship with Mrs Pedersen, which I will relate to the readers later in this story. The spectacle began as scheduled in front of thousands of curious citizens, including a tall consulting detective and his physician assistant.

At 10 a.m., Pedersen pulled a large drop cloth off a steel cage in dramatic fashion revealing an ancient gorilla that seemed bored with the festivities. Pedersen also had a machine near the cage connected to what looked to be a boiler. Samson chewed on one of his long fingers whilst Pedersen ordered his men to their assignments.

I pointed to the goings on in front of me. ‘I must say, Holmes, I have no clue to the purpose Pedersen intends.’

Holmes nodded and drew deeply on his pipe before answering. ‘Unfortunately, I do have a notion of what this fool intends. Tell me, what do you understand of this electricity?’

‘Why—little sir. It illuminates light bulbs and runs small machines. I prefer gas. Much safer and inexpensive.’

‘Yes, you are in accord with most, I would say. Myself? I am fascinated by the science and expect a revolution in the industry despite fools like Henrik.’ Holmes pointed at the cage with his pipe stem. ‘Do you see that large cable those men attach to the cage? That wire is what is known as an earth. The gentlemen attaching it have, in all likelihood, pounded a copper rod into the ground nearby and I expect they will attach the other end of the cable to this rod.’ They did in fact do such a thing. ‘And now I believe he will announce that he is prepared to show the benefits of direct current over the new alternating current which explains the machine.’

‘The machine?’ asked I.

This story appears in our OCT 2020 Issue
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