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When I first met Mr. Samuel Blackthorne, I had no idea who he was or that one day our companionship would result in somewhat of a celebrity status for Mr. Blackthorne and by association myself to an extent. Or that the scribblings in my diary would one day become published articles featuring the exploits of my friend and the goings-on at 420 Market Street. Still I could not help but notice from almost the instant I set eyes on him that he was a singular and highly unique individual.
The year was 1887, and I had just arrived in San Francisco after nearly a decade abroad. My first task upon stepping onto dry land was to find a room to rent until I could secure gainful employment and make arrangements for more permanent quarters.
When I inquired as to where I might find lodgings, I was directed to a coffeehouse where they kept a list of rentals that were located in the neighborhoods nearby.
I'm not a coffee drinker, warm milk being my libation of choice, but I decided to make the drinking establishment my first stop on my return to the city where I was born.
My name is Edward R. Smithfield, D.V.M., and the last time I had seen San Francisco was sixteen years earlier. I was twenty-four years old, and the ink had barely dried on my degree in veterinary medicine when I set out across the seas with the smell of adventure in my nose and a song in my heart.
In those days, the Navy would pay for any qualified individual to attend medical school in return for a twelve-year term of service upon graduation. I was able to take advantage of the exchange, and I felt privileged to be given the chance.
So when it became time for me to serve my country, I went with a feeling of duty and anticipation, as well as a light-hearted energy that has long since left me and I daresay won't soon be coming back.
But I'm getting off track. After all, this story isn't about me; it is about my friend and companion Mr. Samuel Blackthorne and his peculiar qualities and characteristics. Specifically, it is about his incredible mind and his uncanny ability to see things other dogs couldn't and to smell things other dogs wouldn't.
His sharpened senses and highly focused intellect are not his only noticeably superior traits. He is very well read and seems to have an in-depth knowledge of an unimaginably wide range of subjects. From the inner workings of a Swiss timepiece, to the electrical impulses in the muscles of a frog, to the precise formula for the concoction of an extremely explosive substance made from the dried urine of the Peruvian fruit bat, there is seemingly no end to the diverse and arcane knowledge of the rather diminutive Blackthorne.
Although he has had very little formal education, he possesses such an obvious command of virtually any subject he chooses to discuss that all other dogs will immediately begin nodding their heads and making grunts and snorts in agreement with whatever he happens to be saying.
Blackthorne is small of size. He weighs a little less than six pounds, and yet he carries himself with a confidence and sense of purpose that leaves no doubt that he can be a formidable opponent no matter what the circumstances.
His family roots are originally from Yorkshire, England, and there's some evidence he is related to an unbroken line of terriers going back to the Dark Ages. Clearly he is of noble heritage.
When I first spied him, he was sitting on a stool near the front of the coffeehouse, staring silently into his demitasse cup of espresso with a look of sullen thoughtfulness. His dress consisted of a sprightly green tweed jacket, vermilion bow tie, and somewhat baggy khaki trousers.
Having just landed on the shores of this great country, and not having a single soul with whom to converse, I took up the empty seat beside him and ordered a large, warm milk with a dash of cinnamon and a bit of sugar.
The coffeehouse was a noisy, smoky place with dozens of patrons of all sizes and breeds leaning on the bar, sitting around tables, and gathering in groups, gesturing and talking in a variety of accents and at varying levels of intensity.
In one corner a Great Dane was towering over a table with cards spread around it in the obvious arrangement of a game usually known as three-card monte. Several others, including a Chihuahua, a dachshund, and two Australian shepherds were holding wads of money and barking enthusiastically as the furry paws shuffled the deck and dealt out the cards with the practiced skill of a professional gambler.
The barkeep set my milk in front of me and I slid some coins across the polished mahogany of the countertop. I was just about to take a much-anticipated sip from my glass when a loud bark came from the direction of the card game.
"You, sir, are cheating and I demand satisfaction!" growled the dachshund to the Great Dane.
The room grew quiet as the crowd listened for the reply from the Dane. "Just exactly how was it that I was cheating?" came the low, measured answer.
"I don't know how you're doing it. I just know you are!"
The Great Dane slowly smiled and tilted his head toward the dachshund. "I assure you I was not misdealing in any way, but I can't very well allow myself to be accused of something that you aren't even sure I'm doing."
The huge dog looked around the room at the faces, all staring back at him. "Don't seem fair to let him lie about me like that, does it?"
Suddenly the depressed and downward-looking Yorkshire terrier next to me swiveled his head and in a clear voice addressed the crowd as a professor would address his freshman class.
"He's not lying."
"What did you say?" growled the Great Dane, for the first time showing a genuine menace in his voice.
"I said, he's not lying."
"How's that?" asked the Great Dane, his eyes narrowing.
"Simple," replied the Yorkshire, stroking his gray goatee. "As everyone knows, the object of the game is to bet on which of the three cards is the red queen.
"Now, our large friend here" he indicated the Great Dane "is called the tosser. He shows everyone the three cards, two black cards and a red queen. He then drops them face down and begins to move them around on the table very rapidly.
"The player tries to follow which card is the red queen. When the tosser stops, the player makes a bet and points to which card he thinks is the red queen."
The tiny terrier paused and took a sip of his espresso. The crowd remained quiet.
He cleared his throat before continuing. "If you noticed, the tosser held the black card in front of the red queen in his right paw and held the other black card in his left paw when he showed them to our German friend.
"That would mean that when he turned them over and dropped them face down onto the table, the red queen would be the card on top. That's the card everyone follows.
"Unfortunately for them, the tosser switched cards as he turned them over and threw the red queen down first. That means it was the card on the bottom, not the card on the top. Therefore, everyone was following the wrong card from the beginning."
The Great Dane smiled in an uncomfortable, nervous way. "My dear sir, you are fascinating us with your dramatic explanations. But how do you explain that at least two other gentlemen won more than forty dollars from me not five minutes before this bad sport lost a few pieces of silver?"
"Simple. They work for you. They're shills, fakes planted in the crowd to encourage others to play by making winning look easy. One of them is named Charlie Knuckles and the other, I believe, is Pepe Weddle. They're both small-time crooks apparently working for you, since neither of them is smart enough to win that kind of money in a game like this."
The Yorkshire chap turned back to the Dane, who now had a look of pure hatred on his face.
"So you see, my dishonest friend, your accuser isn't lying. Even though you weren't exactly cheating, you were definitely employing the use of a slight bit of trickery."
"Grab him!" yelled one old Labrador in the back.
Another barked, "Block the doors!" And before the cornered Dane could turn and run, the bar's patrons had taken hold of his legs and tail and were busily going through his pockets, removing cash and anything else they found.
When they had finished, they returned the dachshund his money and then someone yelled, "Drinks for everyone!"
At that point the remaining money was slapped down on the bar, and in the ensuing confusion the Dane managed to escape with his life while everyone else pressed in to get a drink purchased at his expense.
"That was exceptional!" I shouted at the dapper fellow who had so easily seen through the gambler's tricks. "Let me buy you a drink, sir! That was one amazing piece of detection you managed there."
"Thank you, but that's not necessary," replied the blond-and-silver terrier. "It was rather simple, really. When I noticed they were playing three-card monte, I assumed the confidence man was playing the classic scratch-and-switch ploy on the unsuspecting German fellow. From there, things sort of took care of themselves."
"You mean you didn't actually see him misdealing the cards?" I asked in astonishment. "You were bluffing?"
"I made an educated guess," he replied, his eyes, recently dull and lifeless, now sparkling with enthusiasm.
"Weren't you afraid he might harm you for exposing him?"
He made a snorting sound and gave a sardonic smile. "Hardly a possibility in a roomful of gentlemen like yourself, my good sir. If, however, the Danish fellow did indeed decide to accost me physically, I believe I'm capable of dealing with him in a satisfactory manner."
At that moment, looking at the six-pound Yorkshire terrier with the green jacket and the smart red bow tie, I realized he was not only serious about winning a match with a dog twenty times his size, he might actually be capable of carrying out his apparent boasting.
"I see you've just arrived from the Orient," observed the sprightly gentlemen to my surprise. He then extended his paw and shook mine vigorously. "My name is Samuel Blackthorne. May I be the first to welcome you back to this country."
Apparently my mouth hung open as I stared for a moment without reply, because his smile grew, showing two small rows of sparkling white teeth beneath his neatly clipped goatee.
"I must confess I am astounded," I said, blinking in the amber light of the gas flame chandeliers. "However did you know I had just arrived in port not two hours ago?"
"That part is obvious," replied Blackthorne as he hopped back onto his barstool and picked up his cup of espresso. "I can also tell you that you have spent many years in the Navy, serving as a medical officer. Most recently you were stationed in Hong Kong, but you have also spent time in Panama and New Delhi many years ago."
My surprise apparently amused Mr. Blackthorne, because he took a sip of espresso and continued his monologue with obvious relish. "Some time ago, you were injured in the left hindquarters, probably by a stray bullet, which has left you with a bit of arthritis that is aggravated by damp weather.
"You're a bachelor. You are slightly nearsighted and are looking for an apartment to live in on a temporary basis." He sighed and relaxed, his eyes glittering.
I waited until I was sure he was finished and thought carefully before replying, as if to verify that I was in full control of my faculties and wasn't instead experiencing some sort of waking dream.
"I cannot believe you are able to guess so many amazingly accurate descriptions of me without employing the use of some sort of trickery or subterfuge."
I tried to divine the secret behind the small fox-like soothsayer. "Certainly you recognize me from a past acquaintance, which I have forgotten, and you possess an extremely acute memory."
"I have never met you before in my life, I assure you," he replied. "If you'll allow me to explain, I'm sure it will become clear that I'm merely using the powers of observation and deduction."
I removed the scarf from my neck, lifted my milk in a gesture of respect, and prompted Mr. Samuel Blackthorne to continue his fascinating explanation.
He cleared his throat. "When you came into the bar, you were walking with the particular swaying gait of one who has only recently come off a ship from a long time at sea. I believe the condition is called 'sea legs.'
"I could deduce you had arrived from China because I happened to have just returned from the docks and witnessed the arrival of the USS Leviathan, a Navy ship on its return voyage from the east. Your cane is carved from cocobolo rosewood, which grows only in the Pacific regions of Central America, more particularly, the dry upland forests of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama. There is a Navy base in only one of those locations, and that is Panama.
"I know you are a medical officer because you have a tear in the right arm of your jacket that has been sewn together with a knot that would only be used by someone experienced in surgery. It is a double loop followed by a square knot. Known as a friction knot, it is more commonly referred to as a surgeon's knot. In addition, your pocket watch is a standard-issue Medical Corps chronometer.
"I can tell you were stationed in New Delhi by the silk of your shirt, a pattern that is rarely seen outside of India. I can also tell that you must have purchased it there several years ago, judging by the worn condition of the cuffs.
"Although you were exhibiting sea legs when you entered the bar, I also detected a slight limp when you put weight on your right hip. Being in the Navy, I'm sure you were exposed to some rifle fire, and I surmised that's what caused the injury. Since all injuries to such important joints as hips eventually cause arthritis, I made the further assumption that you would have developed that particular affliction.
"Everyone knows that dampness affects arthritic joints, and with you being in San Francisco, one of the most humid cities in the United States, I inferred the problem would more than likely bother you as well."
"How did you know I was a bachelor?" I inquired, still trying to imagine the precision with which his mind seemed to work.
"Your ring finger, of course. It's bare."
"And the nearsightedness? I'm not wearing my glasses."
"You have the small indentations on either side of your nose that come from wearing glasses for long periods of time. You read the menu on the bar without apparent difficulty so I knew it must not be reading glasses that made the impressions. On the other paw, if your vision were too seriously impaired, you wouldn't be able to navigate at all without your spectacles. Therefore, you must be only slightly nearsighted."
I tried to think of something to say but could not find the words to express my astonishment. "I am utterly dumfounded," I sputtered. "And the part about looking for a room to rent. How did you know that?"
"Again, it's simple. If you had family or friends to stay with, either they would have met you upon your arrival or you would have proceeded directly to their residence. Likewise, if you had an apartment of your own, you would be there now, rather than sitting here.
"Therefore, you will either need to spend the immediate future in hotels, which can be expensive and on the salary of a retired Navy medical officer, you can scarcely afford many of those or you must find other lodgings."
"You are again entirely correct," I confirmed. "I can't tell you how impressed I am."
"Why, thank you, doctor," smiled Blackthorne. "It is refreshing to converse with someone who has the intelligence and good nature to appreciate my verbal meanderings."
"On the contrary, Mr. Blackthorne," I replied. "You are a truly fascinating individual and I'm fortunate to have run into you."
"Indeed, you might be more fortunate than you think." Blackthorne took another sip of the strong coffee. "You see, I too am looking for rooms and I've found quite a bargain, in an enviable location, but I need someone to share expenses or I don't suppose I'll be able to afford the rent."
"How much would my half add up to?" I inquired.
"Twelve dollars a month."
"That is slightly more than I wanted to spend, but if it's convenient, I'd be interested in taking a look. If it's all you say it is, I could probably afford it."
"Excellent," replied the Yorkshire gent by the name of Samuel Blackthorne. "Excellent."
Text copyright © 2003 by Scott Emerson
Illustrations copyright © 2003 by Viv Mullett