My friend and I had returned from a light lunch and found Mrs. Hudson with a note for us. It was a curious thing, like a calling card, with a note on the back written in a disciplined hand. "May I see you when you return from lunch?" it said. "It's urgent. Will return at 2:00."
"A rather terse message, isn't it?" I commented.
"It's not much writing space, after all," Holmes rejoined. "He couldn't tell us much. Not in words, anyway."
"You mean, of course, that he has given inadvertent information."
"To the practiced eye, yes. Would you like to try your hand at it, Watson?"
I took the proffered card and studied it carefully. "If the card belongs to him, his name is Clark Kent and he probably works for, certainly has a connection with, this organization known as the Daily Planet. Sounds like a newspaper. Maybe a writer, then."
"Capital, Watson. Anything else?"
"Well, this card has been poorly treated, stuffed into a space not meant to hold it."
"Excellent! All the corners are pressed in. You really get better at this with every try."
"Your praise is premature. I have no idea what that signifies."
"It's nonetheless an interesting detail, the meaning of which I cannot yet determine, either."
"But you have determined some facts."
"Just a few. Mr. Kent did not plan to consult with us. He decided that on a momentary impulse. And he is a very remarkable man, in that he is certainly from another time, and quite possibly from another planet."
"Really, Holmes, it hardly becomes you to make sport of me."
"I would not dream of doing so, my dear fellow. I am in earnest."
"But this is the most outrageous conclusion. Such a thing exists only in fancy."
"It could quite possibly be real, Doctor. You are a man of science. Things we see as commonplace today, steamships for example, were deemed outrageous years ago."
"That's true. But really, you will have to tell me what leads you to such a statement."
"Certainly. Why was this note not written on a suitable piece of note-paper? Because he wrote it quickly on a card he happened to have on his person. Impulse. And look at this card closely. This was not printed by any means available in this world at this time. This is not even printing, but a kind of embossing with a substance I don't recognize. And if it is an invention of the future, it is not unreasonable to surmise that it may even be of another habitable world. In fact - Holmes drew out his magnifying glass - we may be able to just tell . . . aha! Watson, please hand me that piece of graphite. Thank you."
Holmes drew the graphite across the face of the card three or four times and looked at it again with his glass.
"Yes. Mr. Kent is from the future, from 1998 or later, and from the United States of America."
"Astounding! How do you tell?"
"Take a look for yourself."
The graphite revealed the imprint of a coin which had been pressed firmly against the card. The date was 1998, and the image was of George Washington, the first American president.
"Incredible! Over a century from now!"
There was a knock on the door.
"That will be our time traveling friend, I think."
We opened the door to see a tall, well-favored man with dark hair, and wearing eyeglasses. His demeanor was altogether pleasant, yet denoted a sense of responsibility and urgency.
"Mr. Kent," my friend greeted him. "Please come in."
"I'm very glad to meet you, Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson. I very much admire the work of both of you."
"That's very kind," I said. "But I'm sure you mean my friend, not me."
"No, sir, I definitely mean you as well. You see, I am a writer myself, and I have always enjoyed your writing."
"My writing? Why, my writing is confined only to my journals."
"So far. What I am about to tell you may seem outrageous, but please hear me out."
Holmes spoke up. "If you are referring to the fact that you are from the future, Mr. Kent, we are already aware of it. And it's also clear that writing is not your most frequent activity. You have more strenuous pastimes."
"Now, how do you determine that?"
"A physique like that denotes frequent and vigorous physical activity. You are clearly a man of action. Yet you dress and act in such a manner as to de-emphasize it. As for being from the future, your card gave us the clues."
"Now, that's impressive. That's the ability that has led me to you for advice."
"Please sit down, Mr. Kent, and tell us your story."
"As you have deduced, I am from the future. I live in the year 2002, and it's a time of great variety of experience, great convenience and communication, and yet a time of strife as well. There is an Islamic radical named Osama bin Laden who is convinced that my country, the United States, is a Satanic force devoted to destroying his religion. It's not true. He has also persuaded himself that the state of Israel - there is such a state in my time - has no right to exist because it is the official home of Judaism, a religion which he hates. He has sponsored several terrorist attacks on Americans. He is also interested in history. A month ago, my time, Osama came into possession of several coins which supposedly had once been owned by an ancient Muslim mystic. Magically, or by a science we haven't learned yet, these coins allow a person to travel to other times. By holding an object from a particular time in history and simultaneously melting one of the coins, an individual will transport to the period of time to which the held object belongs. Obviously, as each coin is melted, there are fewer left in existence to enable other time travel."
"How many are left?"
"I believe only two. I have one of them. It's my ticket home."
"The state of Israel was created after what we call World War II. Yes. There will be two major global wars between your time and mine. The second one was perpetrated by a megalomaniac named Adolf Hitler. He threatened all of Europe and England, but was eventually defeated. One of the main factors in his defeat was the dogged determination and inspired leadership of your country's Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. As we neared the end of that war the world discovered that Hitler and his Nazi party had been systematically and efficiently murdering Jews for no other reason than that they were Jews. His intent was to eradicate them from the face of the earth, and he had slaughtered millions by the time the war was over. This is known in my time as the Holocaust, and it shocked and outraged the world. After Hitler's defeat, surviving Jews fought and struggled to create a nation for themselves in the middle eastern land sacred to their faith. Although that land is also holy to many of the world's Muslims and Christians, with the sympathies of most of the world, they were able to create the state of Israel.
"Osama bin Laden is a leader of a most fanatical sect of Islam, and once he had the coins and knew that time travel was available to him, he decided to send someone back in time to alter history and prevent the creation of Israel. He means to have Hitler win the war and destroy all the Jews in the world. And he intends to do that by ensuring that Winston Churchill is never born. His agent, a man named Rashid, is already in this time, intent on murdering Churchill's parents-to-be.
"I was working on a news story about a terrorist attack. In the course of my investigation I discovered this plot, and set out to stop this time-traveling assassin, Rashid. I did find him, but he was armed with some remarkable weapons, and it became quite a fight. He escaped me and transported himself to your time, but in his haste, dropped two of the coins. So although he got away, I had what I needed now to follow him here. I have an old book dating back to this period of time, so I went home and got it, then quickly grabbed one of my cards in order to have an object that would bring me back. Holding the book in my hand, I melted a coin and found myself here in your time. Not wanting to cause suspicion or alarm, I stole these clothes from a clothesline. But shortly I realized I have no way of finding the assassin. I was thinking about this as I passed your door and saw the address. Because of your writing, Doctor, this address is famous in my time. I immediately recognized that you were the people who could best help me. I spoke to Mrs. Hudson, she provided the pen, and I left you that note."
Holmes had been listening with his eyes closed, but now gazed earnestly at Mr. Kent. "I doubt you have come this far without having done some research."
"You're right, Mr. Holmes. Sir Winston was the son of an American woman, Jennie Jerome, and a British peer, Lord Randolph Churchill. He was born in, excuse me, will be born in 1874."
"So we must find his parents before Rashid does."
Holmes stood up. "Mr. Kent, I'd like to meet with you again tomorrow morning. By then I hope to have found where to go to catch up with this time-traveling assassin."
"I'm grateful to you for your help. I'll be here."
After Kent left, I turned to my friend. "What do you make of it all, Holmes?"
"Mr. Kent, I'm sure, is telling us the truth, his demeanor plainly shows it. I've met very few men I'd trust as much, even though he has his secrets."
"What do you mean?"
"Did you notice the way his hair was slicked back? If you were on such a mission would you pay attention to such a detail? He is consciously affecting an appearance. The eyeglasses are part of it. They are not his, he got them since arriving here. It's logical that eyeglasses a hundred years from now would look different. And if he had brought them from his own time, that card would not have been necessary. Of course, he may not have thought of that in his haste. He apparently already had that coin from his own country, for instance, but still . . . he's dressing very purposefully."
"What can it mean?"
"I don't know, yet. But if you'll excuse me, Watson, I have some business to attend to."
"Have you found anything, Mr. Holmes? I have been utilizing my own means to search, but I've found nothing."
"I regret to say that my efforts have not yet borne fruit, either, but I hope that they will very soon. I did some research and discovered that Lord Churchill's home is at Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, so I sent a telegram to him warning him of the danger. I have received no response . . . And yet maybe I have, if this is what I think it is. Mrs. Hudson. A telegram? Yes, thank you."
As Holmes read the missive, his features changed to an expression of triumph. "Excellent!" he said, "But we really must hurry now."
He sprang to a locked chest and withdrew three pistols. He put one in his pocket and handed the other two to me and Kent.
"Not for me, Mr. Holmes," Kent said, politely refusing the firearm.
Holmes hesitated for only a second, then locked the third pistol back in its container. "Watson, Kent, come with me," he said. "You can read this message on our journey."
As we traveled, both Kent and I read the wire message. "Your message to Lord Churchill is the second we have received in the last four hours. The first carried no warning of danger, but expressed a desire to deliver a gift to him personally within the next couple days. We responded that he is on holiday with an American lady friend in the country just west of Salisbury. Should we alert the police?"
"That is from the household staff. Now we know where to search for the couple, and where our assassin is undoubtedly going, too."
"But if he is four hours ahead of us . . . " I began.
"He most likely isn't. Would he have money from our time? I doubt it. He'd need to find out where Salisbury is, how best to get there, and either steal or work for the money for the fare. This gives us a chance."
On the train for Salisbury, Kent appeared quite restless, as if he were debating on whether he should even be with us. Holmes appeared to notice it, too. Although our conveyance was the fastest possible, our client appeared to be accustomed to faster travel. I attributed that to the inventions of the future, and the advances in travel his people must have made.
Upon our arrival in Salisbury, Kent peered around intently, his eyes narrowed to tiny squints. But Holmes went immediately to a burly worker at the station and asked him a few questions. The man spoke with him briefly, some coins were exchanged, and the man pointed toward the west. A few minutes later we had hired a carriage and were on our way to the countryside along the road the laborer had indicated.
Within an hour we were in sight of a roadhouse, a small tavern. We stopped there and went in to make our inquiries.
"We're seeking Lord Randolph Churchill. Has he been here?"
"What kind of game is this? You're the second carriage here today to try and find him. I told them that a chap who could have been him, he certainly appeared to be Lord something-or-other, had been here earlier, and had gone up the road a couple hours ago, he and a young lady. That other carriage just left here about ten minutes ago."
Holmes sprang for our vehicle, motioning for us to follow, but surprisingly, Kent held back.
"I'm sorry," he said, "but I can't go with you any further. I know you're doing this to assist me, but . . . "
"Quick, man, time is of the essence," I said, a bit impatiently.
"I know," Kent responded in the most somber tone.
Holmes just looked at him strangely. "Watson, you and I will proceed then. Godspeed, Mr. Kent."
As our carriage pulled out, I said to Holmes, "That was very strange. Kent doesn't strike me as a coward."
"You're right, Watson. He most assuredly is not," Holmes responded, and then fixed his gaze on the ground we were rapidly traversing, watching the side of the road intently.
"What is it?" I asked.
"He got off here. I think this assassin has a good idea that Kent will be after him, and is leaving him a most complicated trail. Look."
There was a heel mark in the mud.
"He leaped from the carriage here, heading for those trees and beyond. Thank you, driver." Holmes dropped some coins into his hand. "We'll depart here."
Superman could see with his telescopic vision that there was no one except the driver in the carriage he'd been following. Rashid had given them the slip somewhere between the roadhouse and here. Where? He scanned the countryside with telescopic and X-ray vision, his superhearing tuned to pick up the voices of Rashid or Watson or Holmes.
"There," he said, pointing. Some far distance ahead of us were the couple we sought, picnicking, unaware of the historical tragedy about to engulf them.
"And there, too." Holmes pointed to a ridge slightly above us, maybe 75 meters away, where the assassin had spotted them and was raising his weapon. Holmes and I drew our pistols, and rushed toward the assassin, firing.
The effect of our attack was to divert his attention from his original targets to us. And the objects of his quest, upon hearing the gunfire, abandoned their picnic to flee down the path and out of our sight.
With his attention now fully on us, he returned our fire. Seeing the young couple escape, Holmes and I began a retreat hoping to draw the assassin away from them and to terrain where we would have a better chance at him. He was no fool, though, and having the higher ground, managed to keep us between him and the precipice beyond us. We soon found ourselves with little ground, little cover, and without ammunition. He knew he had us, and stepped forward, narrowing the gap.
As we stepped back toward the cliff, the assailant began firing again. I knew this was the end for me and my friend. Although facing our deaths was memorable enough, the next instant is so indelibly etched in my recollection that every detail is vivid even today. A man appeared out of nowhere, in a skin-tight bright blue and red acrobat's costume, complete with a cape and a distinctive red and yellow emblem on his chest. And he was flying! Not great leaps as an athlete or circus performer, but actual flight, and moving so fast that he was able to position himself between the bullets and us, even after the bullets were fired! In the line of fire like that he should surely have been killed, but he wasn't. I'm sure that if Mr. Kent were to read this account his regard for my work would crumble, for how could he believe me when I say that the bullets bounced off this superman's body? Bounced off! As if he were a man of steel.
This strange superman then leaped toward the assassin, whose backpack now revealed a weapon for shooting flame. For the first time I realized how he had been able to melt the coins.
The flame did not stop the futuristic hero, who seemed invulnerable to it. But I instinctively dodged the blasts, and in my bound I hit Holmes, who stumbled and staggered back, losing his footing and plunging off the cliff.
"Superman," I shouted, that being the only name I could think of to call him. "Get Holmes!"
He saw instantly what I meant and streaked like a lightning bolt down the cliff face, catching my friend. As he flew him back I realized that the assassin and I were alone at the top of the cliff. I immediately began flinging rocks at him, and attacked with fury enough to startle him momentarily. That, I am thankful to say, was just enough time to allow Superman back into the fray. Before he had even set Holmes safely on level ground, he seemed to be able to see exactly which pocket the villain kept the coin in. Seeing that the flame-thrower was in Rashid's hands, the superman performed another unbelievable feat. He shot rays of heat from his eyes, burned away the pocket and melted the coin.
Holding the weapon from his own time, Rashid disappeared before our eyes.
Holmes was the first to speak. "Thank you, Mister . . . "
"Superman. Of course. I cannot adequately thank you for saving my life . . . and for saving the world."
"Mr. Holmes, I'm the one who must thank you, and your brave friend."
"Are you also from the future?" I asked.
"But are you trapped here? Mr. Kent said those coins were the only way back."
Holmes smiled. "Watson, I can assure you that Superman can safely return to his own time. I'm certain he has the coin he needs."
I looked at Superman and the strange costume. I couldn't help but ask. "Where?"
"In the belt buckle, my dear Watson. That's correct, isn't it, Superman?"
"Why, yes. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you figured that out, Mr. Holmes."
Then Sherlock Holmes walked up to Superman and shook his hand and said something quietly that I did not hear. But Superman's eyes grew very wide and he looked at Holmes in astonishment. Then they both smiled and shook hands again. Superman looked over at me.
"Dr. Watson, it's truly a pleasure to have met you and the friend you will yet make famous."
"Here, Superman," Holmes said, handing him the card upon which Kent had written his note. "I believe you will need this."
Superman removed a strange-looking coin from his buckle, the last time-traveling coin, and set it on the ground. Then, with the card in his hand, he shot concentrated beams of heat from his eyes again, melted the coin, and disappeared from our sight.
I have promised Sherlock Holmes not to reveal everything that he discovered about this case, because some facts could, if published, cause certain individuals great difficulty which they do not deserve. But even recounting the facts as I have presented them, I still feel a thrill to have been a part of the adventure that saved history from being tragically altered, and paired the abilities of the two greatest heroes I have ever known.
"And I am grateful that you left out that last secret."
"What did Superman actually say when you told him?"
"He just wanted to know how I found out. I walked up, shook his hand and said, 'It's a privilege to have met you, Mr. Kent. And don't worry. Your secret is safe with us.' And when he asked how I knew, I told him.
Although there were several hints that Kent was more than he seemed to be, the belt buckle and the calling card provided the vital clue. As soon as Superman appeared I realized his buckle was the exact size and shape to have held that card and caused its misshapen appearance. At that point, all which had seemed illogical about Clark Kent became logical, and all the facts fell into place. So, Watson. Would you care to join me for an early supper?"