Way back in 2004 CBS newsman Dan Rather reported a story for 60 Minutes about President George W. Bush’s service–or lack thereof–in the Texas National Guard. Unfortunately for Rather, documents obtained by the CBS team turned out to be forgeries. The resulting brouhahha led to Rather’s ouster from CBS. For me, it seemed obviously a case for Sherlock Holmes. I tried to get some magazine, any magazine, to run my attempt at political satire, but no one would. As the band Was (Not Was) says in the song “Earth to Doris,” I laughed, anyway.

The Adventure of the Agitated Anchor

Holmes examined the documents, his lean attentive figure reminding me of a bloodhound on the scent.

Holmes examined the documents, his lean attentive figure reminding me of a bloodhound on the scent.

It was an evening in the autumn of ’04 when a sudden commotion on the stairs announced that a client had arrived unexpectedly to consult with my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Our door flew open and in staggered our old acquaintance from CBS News, Dan Rather. Holmes had previously aided him in the case I chronicled elsewhere as “The Adventure of the Battered Broadcaster,” in which by closely studying the contents of the frog’s sidepockets, Holmes determined not only the frequency, but also the identify of the mysterious Kenneth.

“Mr. Holmes, you are my last hope,” the distraught Texan said. “I don’t know what to do. I’m as nervous as a dust devil at a vacuum cleaner convention.”

Holmes chuckled wryly. “I’m pleased to see your nerves don’t interfere with your colorful similes,” he said. “Pray, take a seat and tell us what troubles you. Watson, perhaps some brandy for our guest.”

“A Lone Star would do nicely,” Rather replied. “I’m as thirsty as a Seventh-Day Adventist at a wine tasting.”

Cold beverage in hand, our guest told us his story. “Mr. Holmes, what I am about to tell you involves the military service of an august personage whose identity I fear I must withhold,” he began.

“My dear Rather, you know you can trust me to handle with the utmost discretion any case that involves the President of the United States.”

Rather stared at my friend in shocked silence. “Yes, Mr. Holmes,” he said at last. “The case does involve the President. But how on earth did you determine that?”

“When the anchorman of a major network news program calls on me unexpectedly in the evening and I detect the cuff of pajama bottoms projecting from beneath his pants leg, it takes no great mind to determine that something of the utmost importance sent him out into the night. What august personage could cause such a reaction? It certainly could not be the vice president, for we know he never served in the military, citing ‘other priorities.’ Who could it be then? When I note a CBS memo tucked away in your breast pocket with the heading ‘POTUS Flap,’ it does not take long to determine just whom that august personage must be.”

“POTUS?” I asked. “What on earth is a POTUS?”

“President of the United States, Watson. A common abbreviation among the secret service. And among some Texas newsmen, I might add.”

“Yes, Mr. Holmes, it does involve the president, specifically his actions when he was with the Air National Guard in the 1970s. Last week we received these faxes”—here Rather pulled a sheaf of papers from his pocket—“that demonstrated once and for all that George W. Bush did not fulfill his military requirements.”

Holmes examined the documents. “More cutbacks in the news division I see,” he said to Rather.

“How on Earth do you know that?”

“Elementary. When last you consulted me, your documents were printed on 24-pound stock. This paper is only 20-pound. Now I am aware that when a major news division such as yours needs to make budget cuts, they first eliminate personnel, but when that is not enough, they start buying a cheaper brand of paper.”

“Amazing!”

“Commonplace,” said Holmes. “But even a cursory examination of these documents raises some serious questions in my mind. You say they were supposedly written in the 1970s?”

“Yes,” said Rather. “1972 to be exact.”

“Then how do you account for this reference to the television show Party of Five? If I recollect correctly, that program did not debut until the 1990s. Watson, please be so kind as to pass me my book on television trivia.” Holmes studied the thick, leather-bound volume. “Yes, it says here that Party of Five debuted in September 1994. How then could this Lieutenant Colonel Killian say he has ‘to cut things short’ so he could catch that particular show?” Holmes picked up Rather’s documents once more. “Furthermore, do you not find it dubious that an Air National Guard officer in 1972 would employ the word ‘snizzle’?” Holmes tossed the papers contemptuously to the ground. “Bah!” he said. “These are among the clumsiest and most obvious forgeries it has even been my misfortune to examine.”

Our client sunk his head into his hands. “Then I am ruined!” he wailed.

Our client sunk his head into his hands. “Then I am ruined!” he wailed.

Our client sunk his head into his hands. “Then I am ruined!” he wailed. “My career will be deader than a blind skunk at rush hour on the Washington Beltway!”

“Yes, Rather, things do look bad for you,” Holmes said seriously. “Like the purported author of these frauds, I am not one to ‘sugarcoat’ things. You have been taken in by a clever and fiendish adversary. If it is any consolation, better men than you have fallen victim to his ploys.” He helped the shaken newsman up and escorted him to the door. “I have but one word of advice for you, Rather,” Holmes shouted down the stairs. “Courage!”

Holmes returned to his seat by the fire. “Dark waters, Watson, dark waters,” he murmured.

“What do you mean, Holmes?”

“Do you not wonder why anyone would create such shabby and obvious forgeries?”

“Perhaps they wanted them be exposed as frauds?”

“Yes, Watson, but first they wanted Rather to take the bait. Our foe knows only too well the proclivities of these newsmen, always hungry for the scoop and willing to stake anything if it means getting the story first. It’s genius, Watson, sheer genius. I take my hat off to him.”

“To whom, Holmes?”

“You have probably never heard of Karl Rove?” said he.

“Never.”

“Aye, there’s the genius and the wonder of the thing! He is the Napoleon of politics, Watson. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized. I tell you Watson, in all seriousness, that if I could beat that man, if I could free society of him, I should feel that my own career had reached its summit, and I should be prepared to turn to some more placid line in life.”

Then one morning there came an enigmatic note slipped into our letter box. “Dear me, Mr. Holmes. Dear me!” said this singular epistle. There was neither superscription nor signature. I laughed at the quaint message; but Holmes showed unwonted seriousness.

“Deviltry, Watson!” he remarked, and sat long with a clouded brow.

The evening paper revealed the secret behind the mysterious message. “A curious incident, but one that I feared,” Holmes said. “Our friend Rather has been transferred to the CBS News bureau in Des Moines.”

“But CBS News does not have a bureau in Des Moines.”

“That is the curious incident,” said Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

Do not tell me this is Rove’s work!” I cried. “Do you say that no one can ever get level with this king devil?”

“No, I don’t say that,” said Holmes, and his eyes seemed to be looking far into the future. “I don’t say that he can’t be beat. But you must give me time–you must give me time!”

We sat in silence for some minutes while those fateful eyes still strained to pierce the veil.

 – end –

A Girl in Trouble (Is a Nineteenth-Century Thing)

 While doing some research for a Civil War-era magazine article, I looked through the Harper’s Weekly index for the years 1859 and 1860 and came across the strangely poetic yet disturbing entries listed under the word “Girl.” It sounded like a quick summary of a nineteenth-century slasher movie, a Hostel or Saw for the Antebellum Age. I may have added some capitalization here and there and deleted the index information, but basically this is as the entries appeared in the Harper’s index.

 

Girl eaten by a pig

            Killed by lightning

            Nearly buried alive

            White, elopes with an Indian.

 

Girl carried off by priests

            Fascinated by a snake

            Unhappy American

            Who Trod upon Bread.

– end –

THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT BEN FRANKLIN

Research is a great way to learn things. While writing Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia: A Guide (Stackpole Books, 2005), I learned all sorts of things about the great man. Not all of them were true, either. For example:

(1) Invented rice.
(2) Wrote Hardy Boys adventures under the name “Franklin W. Dixon”
(3) Briefly engaged to Jennifer Lopez
(4) Slept standing up
(5) Persuaded Bob Dylan to go electric
(6) Had a pet oyster named Simon
(7) Often asked acquaintances, “Does this $100 bill make me look fat?”
(8) Allergic to linsey-woolsey
(9) Not only president of the Hair Club for Men, was also a client
(10) Could belch the Declaration of Independence
(11) Owned a crime-fighting cat.
(12) Disliked Tori Amos for being a Tory.

 -end-

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