GAME ON (221B)

THE ADVENTURE OF THE LISSON GALLERY

DAY ONE

Sherlock was enjoying his usual morning routine which included a pipe of tobacco and a china cup of coffee. The Times lay folded on the polished hazelwood table in front of him and he had been through his post. He nonchalantly tossed a postcard across the table to Watson who was seemingly engrossed in his own newspaper. "Tell me what you make of that?" said the consulting detective.

Watson, half-way through his own coffee, and further stimulated by a lurid story about the day before's happenings in the East End, was feeling at his sharpest. He would take the opportunity to impress his colleague. "Hmm. Let me see." He quickly took in first one side of the card, then the other. "A perfectly ordinary postcard, Holmes. On the picture side, a view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament taken from the south side of Westminster Bridge on a busy day for both river and road traffic. On the reverse, a short printed message of no great import from a gentleman, I assume Japanese, who is staying at the Rena House Hotel in Paddington, correctly addressed to yourself here at 221B Baker Street." And with that Watson tossed the postcard back to Holmes.

Holmes barely let the card lie still before flicking it again to his colleague, as if in a game of ping-pong. He stretched back in his chair and said: "Really, Watson. I can give you no more than one out of ten for your initial observations. Let me ask you again: What do you make of this most extraordinary communication? Let's start with the picture."

Slightly aggrieved by the note of contempt in his friend's words, Watson stared hard at the card. "That's funny. Although there are a number of carriages on the bridge, there are no horses to pull them. And what can those large red carriages be that look as if they would need a dozen horses to shift them along at a decent trot? Really quite odd."

"At last you are at the races, Watson. Now turn over the card and re-examine the message."

Watson did so. Slowly and thoroughly. Finally, he said: "The stamp is franked in the usual way. But the queen's head is unrecognisable, and for some reason the stamp has cost an exorbitant seven pence rather than a ha'penny. The message reads: 'I GOT UP AT 8.43 A.M.' A perfectly respectable getting up time, if I may say so."

"Think about it, Watson."

"I suppose it could be code. The 'I GOT UP AT' is on a different line from the '8.43 A.M.' So if it's an anagram it could mean 'OUT AT PIG, 8.43 A.M.' or 'GOAT something, 8.43 A.M." The message comes from a Japanese farmer, perhaps. A very, very odd Japanese farmer."

Sherlock looked coldly at his colleague. "I am happy to accept
that part of the message at face value. The genteel Mr Kawara, quite probably originating from Japan, as you hypothesise, though I I have no reason to think he is from farming stock, got out of his bed at the Rena House Hotel at 34 Craven Hill Gardens at 8.43 this morning."

"So that's that, then," said Watson, turning the enormous - and enormously awkward - page of his newspaper. But he had a feeling that Holmes wasn't finished with the postcard.

"The date, Watson,
the date!"

"What of it? May 26. That's today's date. But it's only 11.35 A.M. now. All that means is that Mr Kawara got to a postbox quite shortly after getting up. How many postal deliveries do we get in a day? As many as a dozen, I believe. And when did this postcard come? Mrs Hudson brought it in about quarter of an hour ago. That all makes sense to me."

"The date in full reads MAY 26, 1977."

"We are in the year 1898. What are you saying, Holmes? That the postcard is from the future?"

"That is one possibility."

"Really, Holmes, you are losing your mind. Far more likely is that Mr On Kawara, while keen to give us precise information about his getting up time, has botched the year of our Lord in which he accomplished said everyday feat. And even more likely is that this whole postcard is some kind of Japanese joke. Are we to believe that Mr Kawara got up at 8.43 A.M.? Possibly. Do we care? Certainly not. Are we to believe that Mr Kawara got up at 8.43 A.M. on May 26 of 1977? Well, that simply does not concord with the laws of physics as they are presently understood. Why are you wasting your time on this, Holmes?"

Sherlock had settled back into his chair and was caressing the warm bowl of his pipe. "I wonder what time Mr Kawara will be getting up on May 27, 1977. Something tells me we won't have to wait eighty-odd years to find out."



DAY TWO

It was blazing hot for the month of May. Baker Street was like an oven, and the glare of the sunlight upon the yellow brickwork of the houses across the road was painful to the eye. It was hard to believe that these were the same walls which loomed so gloomily through the fogs of winter. The blinds were half drawn, and Sherlock Holmes lay curled upon the sofa, reading and re-reading the day before’s 'I GOT UP' postcard while willing a new one to drop through the letterbox on the ground floor of 221 Baker Street.

For Doctor Watson, his term of service in India had trained him to stand heat better than cold, and a thermometer approaching 80 was no hardship for him. But the morning paper had not held his interest, and Watson yearned for the glades of the New Forest or the shingle of Southsea. A depleted bank account had caused Watson to postpone any thought of a holiday until later in the year, and to his companion, neither the country or the sea presented the slightest attraction. Sherlock Holmes loved to lie in the dead centre of five million people, with his filaments stretching out and running through them all, responsive to every little rumour or suspicion of unsolved crime.

A discreet knock was the forerunner for Mrs Hudson to appear at an unusual time of day, looking distinctly unhappy. The housekeeper begged to enquire if she might ask Mr Holmes’s advice about something that was greatly disturbing her. In her trembling hands she held a cardboard box.

Holmes sprang lightly to his feet, and, with her permission, took the box into his possession and laid it on the table. He opened it and placed the lid to one side. Watson could see that there was a black canvas in the box and that the letters ‘MAY 26, 1977’ had been neatly painted across it using white paint.

“It arrived half an hour ago, addressed to me at 221 Baker Street. Why would such a thing be sent through Her Majesty’s mail to
me, a respectable woman, Mr Holmes?”

Sherlock said nothing. He lifted the painting out of the box to reveal a newspaper cutting. It was a section taken from
The Times, dated May 26, 1977, and Watson had to stop himself from checking that his own newspaper from the day before was still intact. Or at least that the stories that Holmes had clipped from Watson's newspaper did not correspond to this. Although the clipping from the package said 'THE TIMES' clearly enough, it was printed in a font that was altogether more distinct than the one he was used to reading.

“Whatever this is, it was not meant for you, Mrs Hudson. The sender knew that the first thing you would do is take it to me, Sherlock Holmes, the parcel’s intended recipient. You may resume your duties in the basement in the certain knowledge of that."

This information seemed to relieve the mind of the landlady, who retreated from the room a much happier individual than the confused one who had entered.

“Does anything strike you, Watson?”

“It’s not the right date,” said Watson, determined to hold on to a common sense view of the world no matter what the intimidation. He added: “Not by a long chalk."

Holmes turned the painting around, so that he was staring at the back of the canvas, and pointed out flecks of raw sienna undercoat. He then stared at every inch of the painting's surface, on the lookout for minuscule spots of that warm colour, before declaring himself satisfied that there were none, and that his admiration for On Kawara’s craftsmanship was growing.

"You mean this was sent by the same individual who sent the postcard?"

"Think about it, Watson. How often have you been confronted with the date 'MAY 26, 1977'."

"True."

But neither of the men were concentrating on their exchange anymore. Because both were following the progress of the postman who had approached the front door of 221 Baker Street and pushed a single item through the letterbox.

Rather than waiting for Mrs Hudson to bring along any mail for him with their lunch, Holmes made his way out of his sitting room and ran down the stairs. He was back in a few seconds holding aloft, in triumph, a second postcard.

"Picture side?" Asked Watson.

"Horse Guards outside Buckingham Palace."

"Let me see."

But Holmes had turned the card over. He said aloud: "Stamped and franked as yesterday. Franking indecipherable. Date: '27 MAY, 1977' stamped with black ink as before. Message: 'I GOT UP AT 9.15 A.M.'…"

"OUT AT PIG, 9.15 A.M." said Watson, under his breath.

"Addressee: Sherlock Holmes, 221B Baker Street, Paddington, London W2… Addresser: On Kawara, Lisson Gallery, 66-68 Bell Street, London, W2."

"Is that it? Damnably little to go on."

"This truly exquisite little card tells us all we need to know, Watson. It tells us that our artist - I call him an artist because only an artist could have produced that Date Painting; only an artist could have produced a delicacy like this two days in a row - did not return to his hotel last night. He slept over at the Lisson Gallery on Bell Street. For all we know he is there now, impatiently awaiting the arrival of the city's top consulting detective."

"You mean he's a prospective client, Holmes?"

"Victim of abhorrent crime, perpetrator of abhorrent crime, or client. That remains to be seen."

"I'll call a cab."

"No need to bring horses into this, Watson. 'Tis but a hop and a skip to Bell Street along the exact route of the Bakerloo Line."

And with that Holmes grabbed a light coat, threw a similar one towards his colleague, and the pair were soon bouncing down the floorboards that covered the narrow stairs.

*

The duo soon arrived at 66-68 Bell Street. Watson had had time to mention that the street brought Joseph Bell M.D. to mind. The medic whose logical thinking and meticulous methodology had so impressed Watson while a student of medicine at Edinburgh University. Indeed, Bell had in so many ways been Holmes's precursor.

66-68 Bell Street was a four-storey building whose bricks had been painted white causing them to stand out from the yellow bricks on either side of it. There was one door into the building. However, the consistency whereby the windows of '66' Bell Street were higher than the windows of '68' Bell Street suggested that the single building had once been two. The words 'GULFSTAR LIMITED' had been printed on a sign over the ground floor windows. And a TO LET sign was attached to the front of the building at roughly the same height as the first floor windows.

Sherlock tried the door, which was locked. "Take a note of the estate agent’s name, would you, Watson." And with that the detective was walking on. At the next crossroads, Sherlock, his expression thoughtful, asked Watson what odd number was between 66 and 68.

"67, of course."

"And what was the name of the gallery we are in search of?

"Lisson."

Sherlock pointed to a sign that read 'Lisson Gallery', which was at 67 Lisson Street.

"How very strange," said Watson. The good doctor followed Sherlock across the street and into the gallery. Watson followed Sherlock's example of nodding at the young woman who was invigilating the space, and began to look closely at what was on display. Close to the window was a series of pots.

"These look like ancient Chinese vases which have been dipped in some vulgar, industrial paint," said Watson.

Sherlock was staring at one through a magnifying glass. “These are examples of vases from the Han Dynasty. Made between the years of 202 BC and 220AD. A time generally thought to have been largely peaceful and productive, lived under the rule of several benign emperors.

Each vase had been painted with one colour round its bottom-half and another colour around its top-half, with a gap left between the two. Where the paint had dripped down from the half being painted second, that had been turned into a feature. In most cases, the strip round the bulbous middle of the pot was left unpainted where the fineness of the clay could be admired. Though the objects as a whole seemed curiously unsatisfactory.

"A delicate vessel of several thousand years old, exquisitely shaped, ruined by the crass addition of paint by a modern hand. Or at least that is my first impression." Sherlock gave this opinion as he was opening a door and passing along a lit corridor. At either end of the corridor stood a life-size photo of a mature man. In one photo he was holding a sign in front of his midriff that said: 'FREE AI WEIWEI', white letters on a black background. And in the other he was holding a sign that said: 'MAY 12, 2012', again white on black.

"Notice anything about this gentleman?" asked Sherlock.

'Here we go again', thought Watson, ready to be humiliated, but bravely he cleared his throat in order to speak. "Smartly dressed. His blue jacket and jersey matching the blue of his eyes. His large head balding and handsome."

"Large head, Watson? You could fit the brain of a blue whale into that cranium."

And with that far from scientific assessment, Sherlock had passed through into another gallery. In this cubic space there were four Date Paintings hung over three walls. On one wall, MAY 7, 1991, and MAY 19, 1991. On an adjacent wall, MAY 22, 1991. These three paintings were all the same size but the final painting was larger: JUNE 4, 1991. And it hung by itself on another wall that was perpendicular to the first.

"I have often thought that a day in June was more important than a month of May days," ventured Watson, hopefully. A remark that Sherlock ignored. The detective was noticing that the fourth wall in the room, opposite the wall boasting two Date Paintings, was for the most part a window. A window that led out onto the street. In fact, he calculated, it looked out onto Bell Street. If, when standing at the crossroads from where Sherlock had made diagonally for 67 Lisson Street, he had instead carried straight on along Bell Street, he would have come to this extraordinary building, which he made a point of noting was 52-54 Bell Street. "Look at the floor, Watson."

No floorboards. Instead it looked to Watson as if a pool of cement had been floated across the ground, giving almost as fine a finish as that found on the Han Dynasty pots in the gallery they had first entered. That was, before those vases had been brutalised by the addition of a glutinous oil paint.

"Nothing is more certain that these paintings were started and finished on the same day. And that the day in question was within a year of the present."

Watson decided to risk something: "In that case, the painting 'MAY 7, 1991' may have been painted on the seventh of May of this year, 1898. But why the conceit that it was painted nearly eighty years in the future?"

"I feel sure that an explanation will be forthcoming. All we need to do is to keep our eyes alert and our minds open."

The detective led the way upstairs to a larger gallery. Again a window wall allowed light to pour into the room. On a sturdy table was a set of ten loose-leaf black binders. Sherlock soon worked out that each volume contained 200 pages and that each page listed 500 consecutive years. Thus it made sense that the work was called
ONE MILLION YEARS - FUTURE. A man's life could easily be contained by any one of the pages. Though if a man was born in a year found close to the bottom of a page, then it was possible that he might still be alive for a few years near the top of the following page.

On the wall, Watson considered a series of 5 telegrams that had ostensibly been sent between 23rd February and 19th April, 1992. Each read 'I AM STILL ALIVE ON KAWARA.'

Watson double-checked each of the dates, on the lookout for a date in the 1890s that would have allowed him to relax somewhat:

23.2.1992 'I AM STILL ALIVE ON KAWARA.'
5.3.1992 'I AM STILL ALIVE ON KAWARA.'
30.3.1992 'I AM STILL ALIVE ON KAWARA.'
6.4.1992 'I AM STILL ALIVE ON KAWARA.'
19.4.1992 'I AM STILL ALIVE ON KAWARA.'

Watson had the distinct feeling that until he got his mind round this date thing, this case was going to have a negative impact on his sense of wellbeing. Moreover, the case showed all the usual signs of being a tough nut to crack. Over to Holmes on that score.

Watson stared also at the name and address that each of the telegrams was addressed too. The same every time:

Nicholas Logsdail
67 Lisson Street
London NW1 5DA

What did '5DA' signify? Watson took note of the sequence of number and letters.

Meanwhile, Sherlock had wandered over to the glass box in which there was a scattering of postcards similar to the two he had himself received. A sea of 'skyscrapers', the word came to him there and then, is what his eye was confronted with. The postcards were lying two or three deep, and although there may have been as many as thirty of them, they overlapped each other in such a way that Sherlock only had a clear view of a single message side.

The postage stamp showed the Statue of Liberty in America. The card, overprinted in the same way that Sherlock's had been, was addressed to 'NICHOLAS LOGSDAIL, 66-68 BELL STREET, LONDON N.W.1, ENGLAND'.

On the left side of the card were the same three pieces of information as had been stamped on the cards Sherlock had received: date of postcard generation, getting up time, and sender’s address. For example:

'NOV 6, 1975.'

'I GOT UP AT 10.55 A.M.'

'On Kawara
24 E.22nd St.
New York, N.Y.
10010 U.S.A.'

Sherlock's eye roamed the scattering of cards for slivers of information. Mr Kawara had got up at a variety of times, occasionally in the afternoon. He had used more than one address, but always in New York. All the postcards were views of that city but his first impression of a sea of skyscrapers, was not entirely accurate. There were several cards that focussed on bridges to/from Manhattan, and the Statue of Liberty was a regular motif.

Watson had been leafing though several of the black volumes on the table. "Would you mind if we went home, Holmes? I can feel a terrible headache coming on."

"Just one more stop, Watson. Then we can return to base."

*

Night falls on Baker Street. Sherlock and Watson were lying in the dark. Sherlock calculated that they may be in the same room but were unlikely to be sharing the same bed, as Watson's voice came to him at a distance of about twenty feet. "The night is so still, eh Holmes? I have never felt so stationary."

"Interesting you should think so, Watson. The earth is spinning on its axis so that Baker Street, and everywhere else on this latitude, is moving at several hundred miles per hour relative to the centre of the Earth. The Earth is also revolving around the Sun at 67,000 miles per hour, which may seem improbably fast, but the Sun is so far away that unless the Earth goes at that speed it wouldn't complete its orbit in a mere year. In addition, our solar system - Earth and all the other planets - whirls around the centre of our galaxy at some 490,000 miles per hour. Moreover, since the Big Bang, the Earth, as well as all other objects in the Universe, have been moving further away from the Universe's starting point at a truly enormous speed. So you see, although it may appear as if the night is at a standstill, really we are on the move and no mistake."

“My giddy aunt."

"I sense that you are feeling better, Watson. May I now discuss with you what we observed at 29 Bell Street?"

"More Dates and pots wasn't it? I did prefer those pots to the ones in the first gallery. More generous around the middle, and with narrower necks, and all the same size. The artist must have used masking tape so that the join between the painted top-half in one colour, and the painted bottom-half in another colour, was perfect. Or if not, perfect, then a lot more satisfying than the bare midriff with drips connecting top and bottom halves of the other lot."

"Quite so. But I now realise the significance of the two Dates we saw there."

"Remind me just how far in the future they were."

"April the 15th, 2022, and April the 17th, 2022.

Watson brought to mind the two canvases. Bigger than the four at the other gallery. And black as the Ace of Spades. He brought to mind their characters: APR.15, 2022 and APR.17, 2022.

"I had a feeling that these were Easter Friday and Easter Sunday respectively."

"What gave you that idea?"

"The invigilator was wearing earrings that consisted of tiny crucifixes. Since returning to Baker Street I have been able to confirm my suspicions by consulting a table of Full Moons that goes as far as the year 3000 A.D. The timing of the Full Moon in 2022 is such that Easter Sunday falls on April 17."

"And where does that get us, exactly?"

"It gets me thinking deeply about time. The single day. The million-year period. The hundred-year-calendar. If you take a long enough time scale then a hundred years becomes a single day. Which is why it can appear that…"

"You've lost me, Holmes."

"Try thinking of it this way. What are the limits of the individual dates that we've been considering these last two days? What's the earliest?"

“Yesterday: May 26, 1898."

"And what's the latest?"

" The one you're on about now: April 17, 2022."

"And in between there are a series of dates in 1977."

“You mean on the postcards that have been arriving at Baker Street."

"And a series of dates in 1991."

“You mean on the Date Paintings in the first gallery we visited."

"Those are the principle dates that permeate this case. Though there are also the 1975 dates on the set of postcards in the glass case at 52-54 Bell Street. And the 1992 dates on the 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams. And May, 12, 2012, the date that the gallery owner was holding in front of himself in the life-size photo. This last date comes close to confusing the issue."

"I assure you I am thoroughly confused even before taking that particular date into account."

"124 years covers all the dates. But there are only 45 years between 1977 and 2022, whereas there are 79 years between 1977 and 1898. I have come to think that whatever's happening has got very little to do with us, Watson. Let us hypothesise an investigator in the year 2022. (I should say in passing that the April days of 2022, namely 15 and 17, would seem to have been painted by a less skillfull hand, and a less determined mind, than the 1977 Dates, for example.)”

“Can’t say I noticed.”

“This investigator is researching the life of an artist, who was active in 1977. The artist's subject was time. Through an intense study of the artist's work, the investigator realises that things have changed very little, fundamentally, between 1977 and 2022. He wants to know how true that would remain if he pushed back his period of study into the previous Century. So he does that. And what does he find?"

"You tell me, Holmes."

"That Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament are just as present in 1898 as in 2022. That carriages still run along the roads though their means of propulsion has changed. That people still read broadsheet newspapers consisting of black ink printed on white sheets of paper. That postcards - stamped and franked - were still sent from individuals at one address to individuals at another. And, last but not least, that the same calendar conventions are used and that Easter remains one of the main religious festivals of the year."

“Hang on a minute. Something you slipped in earlier. Are you implying that we are less real than the investigator of whom you speak? Are you saying we are fictional characters, Holmes? That would certainly explain how a ‘Sherlock Holmes’ living in 1898 was able to receive a postcard dated May, 1977."

"Do you feel like a fictional character, Watson?”

"I don't know."

"Shall I give you the two tests of consciousness?"

"Please do."

"Are you still alive?"

"Yes."

"Will you be getting up in the morning?"

"By Jove, yes."

"At what time?"

"My alarm is set for 9 A.M."

"And mine for 7.30 A.M. In case On Kawara's 'I GOT UP AT' postcard for May 28, 1977, comes with the first post."

"I guess that means I'll be getting up at 7.30 too"

"Goodnight, Watson. Never has a case excited me so much."

"G'night, Holmes. Ditto."


DAY THREE

A third postcard addressed to Sherlock Holmes was delivered at 11 A.M. on May 28.

Watson was the first to see the picture side. A view from Westminster Bridge up towards Big Ben. The dramatic angle allowed sight of the bronze statue of Boadicea and her daughters in a carriage, though it was mostly rearing horses in the shot. Before Watson could comment, Holmes had tweaked the postcard from his hand and was carefully examining the message side.

The detective said aloud for Watson's benefit: "Stamped and franked as yesterday… Franking indecipherable… Date stamped by sender: ‘MAY 28, 1977', in black ink as before… Message: 'I GOT UP AT 7.15 A.M.'…"

"OUT AT PIG, 7.15 A.M." said Watson, none too pleased that Holmes had relieved him of the card before he'd got a chance to read it for himself.

"Addressee: Sherlock Holmes (note Watson, no mention of a ‘Doctor Watson’), 221B Baker Street, Paddington, London W2… Addresser: On Kawara, 221C Baker Street, London, W2."

"What was that last bit?" asked Watson.

"It suggests that On Kawara slept in the same building that we did last night. 221C is the floor above us, I believe."

"Then why didn't Mr Kawara simply slide the card under our door this morning? Instead, we're asked to believe that he took the postcard outside - presumably not long after 7.15 A.M. - and placed it in a postbox having first stuck no less than a seven-penny stamp on it. Why would he bother?"

“You are no aesthete, are you Watson? It is part of your rough charm, I suppose. These cards constitute a collection. Or will do once the sequence is complete. To have all but one card bearing a stamp would offend a collector’s visual sensibility, would it not? So Mr Kawara, I firmly believe, will go on stamping and having his postcards franked every day."

"Well, all right then, I allow you that. Though I don't care too much whether a postcard is franked or hand-delivered once in a while. What I care about is that this mysterious oriental gentleman would seem to have been sleeping right above our heads last night. If I thought he was there now, I would go up and have it out with him. As it is, shall we ask Mrs Hudson what the situation is?"

Sherlock had already rung down for the landlady who appeared at the door. The detective's interrogation began immediately and soon had reached the nub: "You say that a man came ten days ago, and paid you for a fortnight's board and lodging?"

"This gentleman asked my terms, sir. I said 50 shillings a week. There is a small sitting room and bedroom, and all complete, on the second floor."

The gentleman, name of Logsdail, said, "'I'll pay you five pounds a week if I can have it on my own terms.' He took out a ten-pound note, and he held it out to me then and there. ‘You can have the same every fortnight for a long time to come if you keep the terms,’ he said. ‘If not, I'll take my business elsewhere.’”

"What were the terms?"

"Well, Mr Holmes, they were that he was to have a key to the house. That was all right. Lodgers often have them, as you do, sir. Also, that he was to be left entirely to himself, and never, upon any excuse, to be disturbed."

"But his meals?"

"It was his particular direction that we should always, when he rang, leave a bowl of rice and a plain Chinese vase - from a number that I would be supplied with - on a tray upon a chair outside his room. Then he rings again a couple of hours later when he is finished the bowl of rice and painted the vase, and we take the empty bowl and the painted vase down from the same chair. The painted vases are mounting up in my spare room, though I am assured that Mr Logsdail will be removing them at the end of the fortnight when he will present me with a ten pound note for the next fortnight."

Sherlock turned towards his colleague: "There are certainly some points of interest in this development, Watson. The first thing that strikes one is the obvious possibility that the person now in the rooms may be entirely different from the one who engaged them." Sherlock then turned back to his landlady. "I have a great fancy to see this lodger of yours, Mrs Hudson."

"I don't see how that is to be managed unless you break down the door. I always hear him unlock it as I go down the stair after I leave the tray."

"He has to take the tray in. Surely we could conceal ourselves and see him do it."

The landlady thought for a moment.

"Well, Mr Holmes, there's the boxroom opposite. I could arrange a looking glass, maybe, and if you were behind the door…"

"Excellent!" said Holmes. "When does he lunch?"

"About one, sir."

"Then Dr. Watson and I will make an appearance shortly before then. For the present, Mrs Hudson, good-bye."

At twelve-thirty, Mrs Hudson was back in Sherlock's room. "I have it all ready for you. If you will both leave your boots here and come up, I'll put you there now."

It was an excellent hiding-place which she had arranged. The mirror was so placed that, seated in the dark, Sherlock and Watson could very plainly see the door opposite. They had hardly settled down in their hiding place, and Mrs Hudson left them, when a distant tinkle announced that their mysterious neighbour had rung. Presently Mrs Hudson appeared with the tray, laid it down upon a chair beside the closed door, and then, treading heavily, departed. Watson noted that the pot was of the shape he preferred, and assumed that its decoration would involve the use of masking tape. But that remained to be seen. Crouching together in the angle of the door, Sherlock and Watson kept their eyes fixed upon the mirror. Suddenly, as the landlady's footsteps died away, there was a creak of a turning key, the handle revolved, and two plump hands darted out and lifted the tray from the chair. Sherlock and Watson caught a glimpse of a large, round, oriental face on top of a great barrel of a body. Then the door crashed to, the key turned once more, and all was silence. After a moment, Holmes twitched Watson's sleeve, and together they stole down the stair.

"What do you make of that, Watson?" said Holmes from the depth of his armchair, his legs crossed and his mouth sucking at the end of his unlit pipe."

“Well, at least we know now what Mr Kawara looks like."

"No, no, Watson, " said Holmes, removing the pipe from his mouth. "That wasn't On Kawara."

"But he was as Japanese as they come. And the postcard.”

“Really, Watson, you must attempt to reconstruct your views or you will be called a racist. On Kawara left Japan a long time ago. His permanent address is in New York, and he is clearly a man of the world, if not the universe. Kindly do not hark back to his starting point but try and be amazed at how far he has travelled.”

“Forgive me.”

“I'm nearly certain that was Ai Weiwei. Mr Logsdail has two artists showing at the Lisson Gallery at the moment. On Kawara and Ai Weiwei. Clearly the artists have struck up a friendship, and On Kawara spent last night in Ai Weiwei's rooms. But I have no reason to suppose he is still there now, and I expect tomorrow's card will come from the Lisson Gallery or the Rena House Hotel."

"What makes you think that Weiwei and Kawara are friends?"

"The fact that Kawara stayed there last night, is the first reason. And the second is the content of the newspaper cutting from
The Times that lines the cardboard box that holds MAY 26, 1977. The principle article, which I have carefully read, was about the Cultural Revolution in China. A ten-year period when everything old and illustrious was replaced by the new and the barbarous. Clearly that is what Ai Weiwei is commenting on in his art, taking delicate Han Dynasty pots and covering them in horrendous industrial paint. What courage it must take for a man who is unquestionably an expert in his country’s ceramics to take an exquisite creation and to desecrate it. And he goes on doing so, remorselessly, as he eats his simple, daily meals."

“I don’t suppose he just eats rice. Not for every meal, surely.”

Sherlock ignored this, and carried on with his assessment of the situation: “Clearly the situation in China has yet to settle down, and Ai Weiwei is at risk of being arrested by the Chinese authorities. Nicholas Logsdail of the Lisson Gallery is trying to ensure the continued freedom of the artist by keeping his whereabouts secret from a hostile world. I imagine that no-one other than Logsdail himself and trusted associated knows that Ai Weiwei is staying where he is.

“By the way, Watson, remember the seven
Coloured Vases we saw at 29 Bell Street? Did you notice that the second and sixth vases were painted in the same way, green over orange. It’s possible that the pots were colour-coded. It’s possible that green over orange stood for the letter ‘O’. In which case it’s possible that the seven-letter word was ‘HOUSTON’”

“Why ‘HOUSTON’, Holmes?”

“I can’t put my finger on that, and have to admit that ‘POSTBOX’ is an alternative - and indeed ostensibly more likely - solution.”

“Or ‘BOXROOM’.”

“No, not 'BOXROOM', Watson. That would require the presence of
three vases painted in the same colours. And my memory is of two similar vases, and two alone.”

“And now, let us smoke, Watson. These clay pipes of ours are style classics, that remind me of the best bowls made in the Han Dynasty. We could hardly pass the time, before tomorrow brings in what it must bring in, in a healthier or more satisfying way.”

“Pass the tobacco, Holmes.”


DAY FOUR

Sherlock had been pacing across his sitting room since dawn.

"Sit down, Holmes. A watched kettle never boils."

"Thank-you for the patronising advice, Watson, but I will handle this tense situation in my own way."

At that moment, Mrs Hudson appeared with a postcard resting on a tray. “What a relief!" cried Holmes, who scooped it up with the long fingers of his right hand.

“Sorry, Mr Holmes, but I’ve already looked at it. I thought it was addressed to me.”

“How could you think it was for you, Mrs Hudson,” said Holmes absently. “You live in the ground floor and basement of 221 Baker Street. The addition of the letter ‘B’ to ‘221’ means that the item of correspondence was and is absolutely none of your business.”

“What does it show, Holmes?” asked Watson, who did not wish to see Mrs Hudson further admonished.

"A tourist's view of Nelson's Column," Sherlock said of the picture side, then turned over. "MAY 29, 1977…I GOT UP AT 11.45 A.M."

"Is it correctly addressed to yourself as before?" enquired Watson, who calculated that he had got up three hours and ten minutes before the mysterious artist-gentleman.

"Why wouldn't it be?"

"What address does Kawara give for himself?"

"Ha!"

"What does it say, Holmes? Damn it man, as your partner I have every right to know, even though my name may not be physically stamped on the card.”

"221D Baker Street!"

"221D, for Donkey, Baker Street?"

"221D, for Detective or Doctor or Donkey, Baker Street."

The pair both turned to look at Mrs Hudson. She hummed and hahhed a bit before confirming that she had rented out the rooms on the top floor to a 'foreign' gentleman the previous evening."

"And you didn't think to tell us after yesterday's shenanigans over your lodger on the second floor?"

"With respect, Mr Holmes, in this case it's my business rather than yours we’re talking about. And as no special terms were involved, I didn't think to mention it."

Holmes was pacing the room again. He stopped mid-stride. "What time is it, Watson?"

"3P.M."

"I think we will pay Mr. Kawara an afternoon call. Come, Watson. Mrs Hudson, you are respectfully dismissed until dinner time."

The pair soon passed the door of Ai Weiwei, outside which were four painted pots: black over red, black over blue, black over green and black over orange.

“That could spell ‘HELP’,” said Watson.

Nevertheless, they passed on and took the next flight of stairs at the same pace as the last. The door was slightly ajar. Watson was about to knock on it, but Sherlock stayed his hand. He put his index finger to his lips and indicated that Watson should very slowly follow him. Tiptoeing inside the room, they could see their man sitting at a small table, painting. The mood of concentration in the room was palpable. If ever time stood still it was stood standing still there and then. Holmes indicated that they too should pause. It was clear to Watson that On Kawara was painting, with infinite patience and heartrending skill, white characters onto a black background.

Sherlock felt the whole room shudder, as under a bombardment of electromagnetic radiation. He had a vision of the future. No longer horses driving carriages but a derivative of oil powering engines. Then solar power driving things along the street. After that, nobody used carriages to get around any more, but simply pushed what looked like a clove of garlic up their bottoms before gliding off in whatever direction was desired, unconfined to any road or railway line.

Watson couldn't help noticing the delicate bones of the painter's closely cropped head, balanced on a thin, almost trembling, neck. His jet black, bristling hair, cut short at both back and sides, ended in a fine taper lying down the middle of his nape. The physical contrast between On Kawara and the more robust and earthy person that they'd encountered the day before struck Watson forcibly. And yet the two individuals who had emanated from - long, long ago - such different parts of the East, shared something. A deep, raw, visionary power.

For Sherlock the room was still under an onslaught of wave energy. He could see into the future. The seas had risen so that Westminster Bridge disappeared along with the Houses of Parliament. (Bye-bye, 221B Baker Street.) And yet, he realised, they were only on page two or three of the first 200-page volume of the ten-volume series called
One Million Years - Future.

Stranger still, Sherlock was now imagining various addresses on Bell Street piling up on top of each other, creating a replica of 221 Baker Street. At the bottom of the high-rise was 66-68 Bell Street. Then 52-54 Bell Street. Then 29 Bell Street. 67 Lisson Street tried to get in on the act from the side and the whole thing collapsed in on itself.

Sherlock pulled himself together. He indicated to his colleague that he was going to approach the painting from over the painter's right shoulder. It was clear to Watson that he was being asked to approach with a line of sight over the painter's left shoulder. Watson wasn't sure why Holmes wanted their approach thus, as surely they would be reading the same date at the same instant. But, as always, he went along with Holmes’s seemingly arbitrary dictats.

Watson was willing the canvas to read 'MAY 29, 1898'. Sherlock knew it would read 'MAY 29, 1977'. The painted letters spelling 'FREE AI WEIWEI' came as a shock to both men. Watson gave a gasp, but On Kawara turned around to the right, so that it was Sherlock Holmes who was looking into the calm, all-seeing eyes of the master Date Painter.