Watson has been laughing for ten solid minutes, after doing his best to resist the urge for the ten directly previous to them. I know this because I’ve been counting. Every time I think he may be finished – every time he lifts his glass to take a sip of the brandy he poured upon returning to 221B; every time the rim approaches the pink fullness of his bottom lip, not that I am at all fixated on the sight of it – another cackle or titter or snicker overtakes him, and my desperate desire to throttle him increases once more. I’ve also been counting the number of times I consider belting him with my shoe. Forty-seven, for the record.
“It’s not that funny,” I say into my teacup, shaking as it does with the tremble still present in my hands. A persistent chill lingers through my every inch, not at all aided by the still-damp quality of my hair. It hangs in sodden, mottled strands around my face, dripping murky water onto my blanket and the floor. My coat hangs by the fire, drying. My dress is already among Anne’s pile of washing for the week. My modesty, barely still existent at this point, is maintained by the aforementioned blanket wrapped around me tight enough to suffocate me. My aunt was the source of this woolen mummification process. That I manage to extricate my hands enough to grip the teacup is a miracle.
“Really? Because I think it’s bloody hilarious.” Watson, in comparison, is dry as the deserts he fought in not so long ago. Bloody Watson looks as dapper and put together as he did when we left the house that morning. As dapper, in fact, as he always looks, something I am reluctant to admit noticing. His state of dress is a too frequent preoccupation of mine that I cannot excuse with curiosity or an attempted study of the man any longer. His state of everything, in fact, has become just such a distraction. I’ve memorized every subtle twitch and flex of his facial muscles to the point that I see them, sometimes, in my dreams. It’s a distracting habit I need to cure myself of.
Right now, though, I want to slap the current configuration of said muscles right off his face, with or without my shoe.
“We’ll see how hilarious any of it is when you’re treating me for pneumonia.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic, Charlotte,” Anne says as she breezes through the study door, a towel draped over her arm. She stops beside my chair and urges my head down so she can wrap it around my hair. “You’re hardly going to catch pneumonia. However did you end up in the Thames to begin with? No one’s bothered to tell me.”
“Because it’s a story not worth recounting.” I glare at Watson through a tangle of damp, cold hair. It’s meant as warning.
“Of course it is, Holmes! It’s a brilliant story.”
“Watson…” He’s missing the warning, or ignoring it altogether. Likely the latter. The resulting doom will be his own fault.
He stands, taking a moment to drain his glass before delving into his tale. “We left, of course, to explore a theory of your niece’s about the location of Mrs. Farintosh’s missing tiara. You know, the priceless family heirloom dotted in opals that she simply had to find?” Anne nods; I feel the gesture through a minute shake in her shoulders as she twists my hair up into the towel. “Was a serviceable theory, too. The nephew was, as she concluded, the one who’d made off with it.” Watson stops and turns to look at me, an almost tender expression edging out his blatant amusement. “It was brilliant, how you worked that all out based on the mud on the sitting room rug, the height of the crack in the plaster over the stand, and the uneven footprints outside the window, Charlotte.”
I blush at the compliment; it’s more a reaction to the soft way he says my given name. “It was just a bit of simple deduction, really. Nothing all that…well, no, was a bit brilliant, actually. Neither Gregson or Lestrade noticed any of it, and they’re supposed professionals.”
“A fact they both grumbled about pitifully, by the way. Quite a sight, too, two grown men having a small tantrum over being bested by a woman.”
“Back to the Thames?” Anne gives the towel a good bit of wringing, a hint of some sort of wariness lingering in her tone and the tension of the twist.
“Oh. Right.” Watson stops at the fireplace, bending to relight the ruined end of a match, which he then uses to ignite the tobacco in his pipe. It reminds me that the last of our supply of matches had been in the pocket of my coat before I went into the water. Useless now. “We caught up to Mr. Wallace at the docks, preparing to bribe his way onto a steamer bound for America. When confronted, he denied the entire thing, of course, which might have been more believable if he hadn’t been desperately clutching a case to his chest. He shouldn’t ever play poker, that one. Nothing made it clearer he was in possession of something suspicious than that. I attempted to relieve him of it, and in the struggle, the case was thrown free and landed in the water. Holmes, being unengaged at the moment, dove in to retrieve it.”
I swat Anne’s hands from the towel and twist it up into a serviceable turban to keep it all in place until it’s dried. “See, Anne? A perfectly heroic incident that in no way requires amusement or further discussion. If anything, it’s proof that medical study, combined with military training, thoroughly damages a man’s sanity and sense of humor. So, if we’re through…”
“It was for a dog.” Watson barely manages to hold back a laugh. “Mrs. Farintosh forgot to mention, at the time she hired us, that the priceless family heirloom in question belonged to her poodle. A fact made blatantly clear when Holmes removed it, with a triumphant flourish, from the case as proof of the nephew’s complicity.” The chortle rolls up from Watson’s midsection and explodes outwards with bombastic amusement.
Anne suppresses a giggle of her own. “An opal tiara? For a dog?”
“The opals were arranged in the shape of a bone!”
Watson is very lucky that the teacup I throw at his head is empty and that his reflexes are sharp enough to avoid the impact.