the college murder case (part fourteen)

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(This was the last question in the question-and-answer session.)

Q: Miss Sleet, I've been reading some Sherlock Holmes for my short story class, and I had a question. Holmes sometimes does this thing where he watches Watson and then predicts what he's thinking, or he sees a new client and figures out all kinds of stuff about them just by their clothes and their hands and so on. Is that really possible? Do you do things like that? Or is that just in stories?

A: First of all, I want to congratulate you on your choice of reading material. (laughter) If not for your hair color, I would think I'm addressing myself from about four or five years ago.

Seriously, there are really two different things here. One is Holmes' deductions about Watson, and that is very possible. I do that with my assistant Marshall all the time, and he can do it with me as well. It's not a supernatural feat of deduction, it's just applying the things you learn about someone when you spend a lot of time with them, especially if the two of you are together in many different types of circumstances, which is certainly true of Marshall and myself.

The other example you gave is more difficult. It's not impossible, but I think it's exaggerated in the stories. For example, I would never want to decide whether a particular person's flattened fingertips came from typewriting or piano playing based on how "spiritual" their facial expression was.

But we see things all the time which we don't analyze. Let me give you an example. There are two police officers in the rear of the room here, and when the side doors have been opened I've seen two more outside in the corridors. They were not here when I started, but they appeared about fifteen minutes before the break between my speech and the question-and-answer session. The people here with me – my assistant, my attorney, and the person responsible for my safety – have been watching this, as have I, but there hasn't been much for any of us to do about it.

Eleven people got up to leave after the speech itself, during the short break, and all of them returned to their seats within a few minutes. I'm not counting the people who used the side doors, to the rest rooms, I'm talking about the people who left through the rear doors, to the lobby, presumably intending to leave the building.

Obviously, all eleven of them didn't have a sudden change of heart in the lobby, so it seems reasonable to assume that no one is being allowed to leave the building. With the only available options being to stand in the lobby or to return and hear the questions and answers, they decided to come back in.

This is not a stunt, by the way, and it is not theatrics. I am going to ask you all to stay in your seats and stay calm.

The next question might be why the program has been allowed to continue. I assume it's so that the police can do some preliminary physical investigation, of whatever has happened, with all of us docile and occupied, rather than having to deal with a few hundred people all clamoring to be allowed to leave and go somewhere else.

Now, as I said, my assistant and my lawyer and my bodyguard have been in the wings throughout this presentation, but the other person who came with me has been conspicuous by his absence, and that's the reporter who was sent here from the U-town newspaper to report on this event.

Not to be facetious, but either he's a very bad reporter, to entirely miss the event he's supposed to be covering, or there is almost certainly a connection between his absence and the presence of the police. From this, I make the tentative deduction that, in whatever has happened, he is either a suspect, or a victim.

I'll make the further deduction that this presentation should end now, but that none of us will be leaving this auditorium any time soon.

Oh, and I'll make one more comment. In a way I hope this was not a premeditated crime, whatever happened. Because if it was planned, for this particular night, this would seem to have been a very bad choice. Thank you and good night.

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About Anthony Lee Collins

I write.
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