The Adventure of the Dishonor Among Thieves


As it seems to be the style of late, I feel compelled to relate the various adventures and misadventures of my confidant and companion. He is a man of singular intelligence, of whom you have likely already heard. Later in life, he took London by storm; his powers of deduction and reason propelling him to great heights and even greater fame within the circles of the law enforcement. But that is all already known by many. I seek instead to relate unto you, dear reader, his humble beginnings and how he became the man you think you know.


I speak of course, of Professor James Moriarty.


On a cold, windy night in the winter of 1871, I went about my many tasks as the head of the Straightrazor Ruffians. Temporary leave from the Army had enabled me to graduate from pilfering military supplies to directly overseeing a small syndicate. I was by no means an influential crime lord in the city, but I was beginning to make a name for myself and earn the respect of my peers. Only recently I had been called upon to personally see to a rival gang’s leader who did not show proper decorum in relation to territorial boundaries. The police did eventually find his body, but made little in the way of inquiries, as his identification was rendered impossible by the lack of a head.


I was faced with a problem of no small significance. Only recently, a small but profitable brothel of mine had been raided by the police. The unfortunate affair ended with all the ladies under arrest, all the cash on the premises subsumed by the Crown, and all the opium seized and destroyed. Not a single one of the many policemen who derive a portion of their income from my organization had reported the raid’s planning to me. As they would have no reason to hide it from me, and as the brothel’s location was changed on a nightly basis, I was forced to face the unfortunate realization that someone in my employ must have tipped off the police; not only to the whereabouts of the brothel, but also as to the list of policemen who could not be trusted with information concerning the raid.


One can not slit throats willy-nilly in a situation such as this. The men in my employ must be made to know that loyalty guarantees safety, whilst disloyalty derives the exact opposite. Through various inquiries and deductions of my own, I was able to eliminate most suspects. As I said, it was a small organization by London’s standards and focused on a specific few neighborhoods. Most of my men had sisters or mothers working at the brothel and were unlikely to take steps leading to their own kin landing in police court. As the location of the brothel on that night had been chosen only the night before, there was but a 24 hour window in which any informant would have been able to do his unpalatable civic duty. Many of my men were on tasks away from the area during that time, while others were directly witnessed at home or with other alibis verified by my core commanders whom I trust implicitly. In the end, I was left with just three suspects to the infraction, but had no way to narrow the list further.


It was then that I decided to engage the services of a Mr. James Moriarty, a professor of mathematics or so I was told. He was known in the underworld as a bit of a problem-solver, willing to put his considerable mental resources to work on any problem with both guile and discretion.


“I am Professor Moriarty,” he announced as he entered my office. His declaration was simple, as one might state a fact of nature, having neither pomp nor humility. “I am told that you wish my services?” He was a younger man that I had expected. I had previously assumed that a man of such academic credentials would be elderly and perhaps squinting through spectacles. But the man before me was no such specimen, instead being in the prime of his physical condition with nothing belying his intelligence save the uncanny feeling I got when he looked at me. As if he was looking through me.


“May I take your coat and hat?” I offered. “Perhaps you would like a cup of tea?”


“That will not be necessary,” Moriarty said. “I’m certain I shall not be long. Your message detailed the basics of the problem. Is there anything additional that you care to add?”


“Only that these are the three suspects,” I said, gesturing to the three bloody and gagged men tied to chairs in the center of the office.


“I had surmised that much,” Moriarty admonished. Steepling his fingers as he walked, he inspected each man in turn.


“Shall I un-gag them, Professor?”


Moriarty did not look away from the men as he replied, “I fail to see how that could possibly help. No doubt all three would plead their innocence. As each is a seasoned criminal it would be impossible to tell who was lying. Furthermore, anyone betraying their master in an organization such as yours will have no doubt taken steps to ensure his story will stand up to scrutiny, likely even arranging planted evidence showing they were unable to have committed the crime.”


“Anyway, it is of no consequence,” Moriarty said, finally turning back to me. “This man here is your traitor.” He pointed to Cheeky Dave. The accused shook his head vigorously and moaned urgently through his gag.


“How could you possibly know, Professor?” I asked.


“It’s really quite simple if you pay attention to the details. You will note that both his wrists show chafing upon them. Further you will see that his posture, even while tied up, is significantly leaning to the left. Also, the quality of his hat is above reproach, and there is a racing form in his pocket.”


Perplexed, I said “I fail to see how any of that is damning evidence, Professor.”


“It tells a story, my good man,” he replied. “Chafing on one wrist might indicate a simple accident or brawl, but identical chafing on both can only mean he was recently in handcuffs. Within the last 24 hours, otherwise it would have healed more. While in lockup, he was set upon by rival gang members who beat him mercilessly. He is in some pain as you can see, leaning to the left due to broken ribs.


“Seeing his life flash before his eyes, he saw a solution to all his problems. He would turn against you. The rival gang members stopped their assault when he offered to sell you out, and the police, happy to have inroads to shutting you down, forgave him whatever crime he had been caught for. How else can you explain him being in handcuffs recently, but not still being locked up?”


“Furthermore, as I mentioned, his hat is impeccable. A man such as this does not have his hat cleaned on any occasion, so it must be a new one. I estimate its worth to be a good 5 pounds considering its quality. No doubt this was purchased with money given to him by the rival gang in payment for selling you out to the police.”


“My word that is amazing!” I admitted. “And the racing form? How does that figure in?”


“The form shows that he was at the track and I’m sure will provide a perfect alibi showing that he is quite innocent. I am also certain that any number of people at the track will vouch that he was there at the time.”


“But Moriarty!” I protested. “This proves the exact opposite of your claim!”


“Do try to keep up. As I already said, the guilty man will have set up an alibi in advance. This is his. But it has one significant flaw. I keep my ear to the ground, as you might say. I know the ins and outs of those who work in the underworld. And I know a little about Cheeky Dave. He can neither read nor write. So what good does a racing form do him? It serves no purpose other than to provide an alibi. Were he actually innocent, he would have no form in his pocket at all.”


“Goodness me, Moriarty, that was amazing!” I said while slitting Cheeky Dave’s throat. As I untied the other two, I added. “Honestly, I am agape at your prowess.”


“Think nothing of it, my good man,” Moriarty said dismissively. “You will send someone along to my home with payment for services rendered? The usual fee.”


The two newly freed men scampered out of the room with all due haste. Both of them would have a not inconsiderable amount blood to clean off their shirts and would, I hoped, tell the tale of how Cheeky Dave met his timely end.


“I say, Moriarty. With your wit and brilliance, you could have a syndicate of your own.”


“Hmm,” he pondered. “I don’t know about that. It may be a goal I pursue at some point in the future. But as for now, I shall confine myself to an advisory capacity. Now if you will excuse me, I have much work to do. I am making great inroads in my analysis of the dynamic internal forces involved in asteroids.”


“I shall send a boy with payment along in the morning,” I promised. “Good day to you, Professor Moriarty.”


He bowed politely as he turned to leave. “And a good day to you as well, Captain Moran.”