Sherlock Holmes and the Society of Infallible Futurists

“It’s preposterous!” 

Watson was incensed.

“Preposterous,” he repeated, with a stress on the second syllable to emphasize his pique.

Yet notwithstanding, Watson continued to pack his suitcase. In a shuffle between bed and dresser, he added wool socks, two pair, neatly rolled. These he tucked into a corner near the top of the case, where they would be easily retrieved.

Holmes watched, amused. The little room above the kitchen was still warm from the noon meal preparation; and the famous detective, who had not removed his overcoat, took a position beside its small, north-facing window to let a draft cool the nape of his long neck.

“Will there be Ouija boards?” Watson’s tone was mocking. “Tarot cards? Tell me no, I beg of you.”

As he muttered at the taller man, his old friend of many grave adventures, Watson neatly folded a white shirt suitable for dinner and placed it among other items of evening attire, so as to make a matched set.

“The Society of Infallible Futurists are no charlatans, I assure you,” said Holmes. “I, myself, am a member in good standing.”

This caused Watson to pause and look up from his meticulous arranging.

“What? You?” A small wry chuckle escaped him. “A man of logic and science, trading in the sordid business of fantastical prognostication?” Watson was on his highest horse.

The hand-lettered invitation to the society’s fifteenth annual meeting still lay on a corner of the bed where Watson had tossed it, dismissively, before heaving his largest travel trunk from beneath the old four-poster.

“The Future is Upon Us!” Read bold letters in an arc above the body copy, penned in neatly centered script: “The Members of the Royal Society of Infallible Futurists Invite You to The 15th Annual Gathering of Our August Body, in Edinburgh, Scotland, at The Houndstooth Inn and Garden, on January 15-20, 1896.”

Watson saw his name printed along the bottom line. Bloody hell, he thought, unable to utter the phrase out loud, even in private. This journey would be too long, too cold and too far away from London for his liking.

Nonetheless, after reading the card, Watson’s thoughts went directly to his cache of field clothes. A former military man and sometime hunter of pheasant and hare, Watson knew how to dress for the cold and owned suitable attire.

A conference of nearly a week’s span would require access to clothes-washing, which Watson assumed was on offer by such an “August Body.” But still, it was his preference to be prepared. So he packed enough undergarments for a week; and frankly, that was all he owned.

“Won’t he know we’re coming?” Watson’s tone was smug: He had been planning this clever retort since rolling the second pair of socks. “I mean, an Infallible Futurist, and all that.” 

Holmes no longer looked amused.

“Doubtless he will be aware of our potentiality,” replied the detective, evenly. “We should assume him prepared for anything.”

Again Watson paused, his pearl-handled straight razor poised in one hand before placing it carefully among the other toiletries. He finished the rest of his packing in silence, apparently considering what else the mission may entail. Perhaps the weight of it was just now settling into conscious thought. 

“If it’s not magic, Holmes,” said Watson, this time without guile, “how do they purport to divine the future?”

It was not as if Watson was ready to believe in congress with spirits. But it was uncanny how the perpetrator, whose trail they were so closely following, could conduct his wretched business with such impunity. 

It was as if — though impossible! — he could foresee his victims’ most vulnerable times and places before they themselves were aware of them. Holmes, not for the first time, seemed to anticipate his friend’s question.

“Apprehending the future, my dear Watson,” he began, “is not a matter of divination so much as of preparation.”

“What indeed is the future made of, except the raw materials of the past and present? Though one may not precisely predict the arrangement of these materials in their future combinations, one can certainly deduce from their familiar qualities a range of likely possibilities.”

“Meaning what, exactly?” asked Watson.

“Meaning simply that the path to any future, however improbable, is best plotted through careful preparation. 

“You, of all people, should know this.”

“Me? Why me?” Watson looked startled.

Holmes gestured broadly to the suitcase, now snapped and belted closed, to the neat pile of outerwear adjacent to the case; to the pairs of sensible footwear arranged by the bed; and to the stout shillelagh leaning against the bedpost, a staff as suitable for walking the wet, cobbled streets of Edinburgh as for knocking a hard head should ever need be.

“You, my good sir, are not only an infallible futurist in your own right, you have nearly divined the precise kit you will need to solve our case.” 

Watson seemed more puzzled than ever. Outside, below in the courtyard, the hollow sound of hooves heralded a nearing coach. “But what about you? You don’t even have a handbag!”

“Oh,” said Holmes, “I am perfectly prepared to play my part in this adventure. But not by going to Scotland. Safe travels, my friend!”

Matt Mullenix is the owner of Mission Media LLC, a Baton Rouge-based consultancy offering communications and partnership development services to local government, nonprofit and small business clients. He lives within earshot of touchdowns in Tiger Stadium and keeps an office downtown, a short walk from a po’boy sandwich. Inquiries and complaints to:

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