During the four years through which I have shared both rooms and adventures with my great and good friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I had yet to be the primary instigator of any one of his cases. It was normal procedure for Holmes to be contacted either by a prospective client or the police, whenever they came across an enigma whose solution was beyond that of normal intelligence. Yet on a warm day in August of 1885 a man arrived at my surgery complaining of a case of gout in his right foot. I did the best I could for the chap, including advising that he stay off of it for the time being.
“That shouldn’t be a problem now, doctor,” said the man, a middle-aged, burly fellow named Jonfer, “seeing as how I’m out of work for the nonce.”
“Oh?” I responded. “And what do you do?”
“I’m a construction workman, specializing in stone. For the last few months I’ve been working on the renovation of the Lanthorn Tower.”
“The Lanthorn Tower?”
“At the Tower of London. More and more people want to come visit the place, so we’re redoing Lanthorn to make it look more medieval.”
“I would have thought the entire place was medieval,” I said.
“Oh, it is, so far as I know,” Mr. Jonfer confirmed, “but it doesn’t look it. An old wall’s just an old wall unless you make it look like an illustration out of penny dreadful, and that’s what we’re doing. Things were going well, too, until …”
“Until, Mr. Jonfer?”
“Until we came upon the reason all work was stopped.”
“And what was that?”
“The discovery of something.”
“Mr. Jonfer, I am not particularly fond of the game Twenty Questions. If you wish to impart to me what was found during the construction work, please do so. Otherwise you are free to go. Take the pain medication I’ve given you and try to favour that foot as much as possible.”
“Bones is what I discovered,” he blurted out.
“Human bones, sealed up in a wall.”
“Great Scott. I don’t recall reading anything about this in the papers.” Such a discovery would certainly have been newsworthy, I thought.
“The Crown doesn’t want information to get out until it can investigate,” Jonfer explained. “See, it might be the body of a former noble, maybe someone in line for the throne who met an unfortunate end.” He leaned forward in his chair and added, “Maybe Henry III himself. I mean, they moved his remains around a lot at first, I hear.”
“I am certain the Yard will investigate with all due diligence.”
“I hope not.”
“Mr. Jonfer, I confess to being puzzled by your attitude,” I told him. “At first you seemed distressed that you had lost your work for the time being, and now you say that you hope the force will not investigate the matter and permit work to continue. If you are worried about being questioned by members of the Yard, I can assure you it is not a daunting proposition unless you are guilty of a crime.”
“Oh, they’ve already talked to me,” Jonfer said. “But that part about being guilty of a crime … I removed something from the site. I don’t know if that counts or not, but I don’t want to find out.”
“Your best course of action would be to inform the police immediately.”
“I was rather hoping Sherlock Holmes might do it for me.”
A light then shone inside my head. “I presume, Mr. Jonfer, that you did not choose my surgery, as opposed to any other in the city, at random.”
“I’d been told you’re a friend of Mr. Holmes, and I was hoping he could find the solution to the puzzle I’ve dug up, but I didn’t know how to contact him directly.”
“He is, as you say, my friend, which means I cannot involve him on a case without knowing absolutely everything about it. You may start by telling me what you removed from the body you discovered.”
He stuck his hand in his coat pocket and pulled out a coin. It was a threepence dated 1882, looking barely worn through circulation; the silhouette of Her Majesty was sharp, like on a coin that might have been found in a collector’s album. “That’s what I found,” he said.
“Did you clean this?”
“No sir, that’s the way I found it, lodged between the skeleton’s ribs.”
“Lodged between the skeleton’s ribs? This coin is only three years old.”