The Sibling (En)Treaty, Part II

Like with most ideas, I was in the shower tonight when the other Holmes twin popped up in my head and demanded he get the opportunity to respond to his sister’s letter. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned before that Mycroft tends to be just as persistent as Charlotte, on occasion, when he has something he wants to say.

So, this week, the fic comes in two parts.

The Sibling (En)Treaty, Part II

My most adored (and less intelligent) sister,

It was grand to get word from you, Charlotte, even if most of the words tossed at me were either insulting or scolding. Mind that I’ve sent you nothing but pleasant and sweet correspondence this entire time, while you’ve yelled and ranted and called me such horrible names. I’m really quite put upon. Horrendously. I may never recover.

My triumphant return and the cause behind it was supposed to be a surprise for you, silly squirrel. Our beloved aunt wasn’t supposed to share that news with you. I was going to show up at the door, without warning or fanfare, and catch you entirely off guard. See? I wasn’t being a forgetful or impolite brother; I was planning something nice for you. All ruined, though. Now I’ll be met at the door at blade-point and forced into armed combat for my kind and sweet act.

You must provide me more information on this case! Our aunt is a horrible relater of such tales. I expect she thinks it will encourage you into similar adventures if she takes up the telling. The papers do nothing to spotlight your brilliance, either, the lousy…well, I’ll keep the word to myself. Been in the presence of lads too long. Forgot how to speak to polite young ladies. Should practice on you so that I’m back on track before I speak to any actual ones. I must know more, though!

I’m wary to ask more about this Fidelia. I can’t think of many occupations I’d disapprove of and the fact you say I would makes me curious and cautious. Will I at least get to meet her?

I’m going to leave the topic of Doctor Watson alone, except to say perhaps it’s best he confounds you and that you leave it at that. I will similarly leave it as well.

I’d write more, but I’m supposed to catch a train and want to get this sent before I board. Tell our sweet aunt that I forgive her for ruining my surprise and still adore her, and that I will see you both soon. Take care of each other and stay out of trouble!

With much love,

Mycroft

P.S. In regards to your postscript, I do have something for you, though I refuse to answer as to what. Or whether or not tobacco of any sort is included in my purchases. Smoking is very unbecoming of a lady, as you know. But since it’s just you, perhaps it’s alright.

P.P.S. If we are to duel, I choose firearms, as I’m at least assured to come out the winner compared to your horrid aim.

The Adventure of the Naval Treaty, or, “Continuity? What’s That?”

I might have mentioned somewhere earlier that continuity is sometimes an issue for good ol’ Sir Arthur. He did take an extended gap year between The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes and The Return of Sherlock Holmes – a decade-long gap year, in fact – and whether some of that played a part in the inconsistencies that showed up over time or not is something only he could really confirm or deny. (And let’s just ignore entirely that that explanation is moot in this case, because both points of confusion here come from before said hiatus.) Who knows as well how much his growing annoyance with his beloved detective played a part in some of that as well. Part of the reason I chose to approach the canon in a chronological fashion was to see how much that questionable continuity really affected things. For the most part, so far, there hasn’t been a lot of continuity flubbing in the stories I’ve read, and there hasn’t been a lot of reason to really discuss the particular chronology I’m following, either.

Until now.

This is officially the point in this undertaking where I begin to seriously, for my own sanity, start to question why I decided to do this chronologically. I know I lamented it a bit last time, but seriously, this is when I really, truly begin to wonder. I mentioned “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty” in regards to last week’s entry. It’s the story where Watson first teases us with the notion of the case we come to know as “The Second Stain.” Let’s ignore the fact, for now, that the referring story comes chronologically after the referred, per my guiding list, because that’s the least of the confusion here.

Most of the problem starts and ends with the question of when Dr. John H. Watson got married, and whether he was only married once or not. Opinions differ widely on both of those questions. William S. Baring-Gould, who provided the first annotated version of the complete Sherlock Holmes, sets The Sign of the Four, the novel where Watson meets his future bride, Mary Morstan, in September of 1888, which would put their wedding sometime in late 1888 or, more likely, early 1889. There is date evidence in the book to go by: December 3, 1878 is said to be ten years in the past and an 1882 newspaper ad is described as being somewhere around six years old. There’s some question of the month; Watson says it’s September, but a letter Mary says she just received is dated July. Arguing the month is mostly frivolous to our needs right now – the year is the important part. Also the confusing part.

By the above reckoning, anything pre-“The Empty House” that presents Holmes and Watson as bachelors presumably would have to be set before 1888. So says Baring-Gould, anyway. And Chronology Corner more or less agrees with him. On this one, at least.

Why are we talking about Sign, though? Wasn’t I supposed to be reading “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty”? Isn’t Sign a few weeks off? Well, sure. Problem is, you can’t really talk about “Naval Treaty” in terms of continuity without also talking about Sign, because the story starts out with the following: “The July which immediately succeeded my marriage…”

Okay, so that should stamp a definite 1889 or later on the story, right? Baring-Gould says so. But Baring-Gould also says that “Second Stain” happens in 1886. Problem is, the text in “The Naval Treaty” and his own dating thereof contradicts that. Why would the notes for “The Naval Treaty” be filed under “The Second Stain” if the previous case happened three years earlier and otherwise bears no connection? A theft of opportunity at a government office building and a stolen letter taken from a European Minister’s home to avoid blackmail aren’t exactly so similar that they’d be filed together in Watson’s notes. The two cases don’t share victims, villains, or witnesses. They don’t even have a similar motis operandi. I’d assume a lot of cases would have come and gone in three years’ time, too. For notes on three cases (we’re introduced to the existence of “The Adventure of the Tired Captain” in the same sentence as “The Second Stain.”) to be kept together, they would, presumably, happen in a similar timeframe, wouldn’t they?

Here is what the saintly soul at Sherlock Peoria’s Chronology Corner offered as to their reasoning for placing “The Naval Treaty” where they did:

“While the time of year in ‘The Naval Treaty’ seems abundantly clear from Percy Phelps’ tale, again we come to a case where the dating of Watson’s marriage would seem to be necessary to pinpointing the year. Of course, with evidence in other cases of a Watson marriage in both 1887 and 1889, choices still have to be made. As Holmes has but fifty-three cases on his books in which he worked with the police at this point, I have to take the earlier choice on this one.”

The fifty-three cases bit seems to be the sticking point. Holmes’ total caseload probably falls in the upper one hundreds, if you add in all the cases we hear about but never see written up and the ones we can assume happen but aren’t interesting enough to even warrant a mention. Fifty-three is a pretty low number when you think about it that way. Holmes and Watson meet in 1881. Given Holmes’ skill and his tendency to solve simple cases in about five minutes, it’s not a stretch to think they would have solved fifty-some cases in six years. But there is one snag in relying on that as a dating mechanism. Back in “The Speckled Band,” which was published in the first volume of Holmes stories, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Watson tells us that, at the time of the writing of the story, he and Holmes have worked seventy-odd cases together. Then, two volumes later, when Doyle’s preparing to off Holmes and free himself from his own creation for good (which didn’t exactly work out so well for him), we’re at fifty-three. Does that actually put “The Naval Treaty” before “Speckled Band”? I don’t know. And thinking about it is starting to give me a headache. To paraphrase the Twelfth Doctor, who was talking about River Song at the time, you rather need a flowchart to figure out this timeline thing.

Timey-wimey stuff aside, Chronology Corner dates “The Naval Treaty” as July 29, 1887, which puts it prior to Watson meeting Mary Morstan, so definitely prior to marrying her. Which means the line about it being the July after his wedding is a flub on Doyle’s part, right? Maybe. Unless, of course, Mary wasn’t his first wife and that’s the reason we have “evidence…of a Watson marriage in both 1887 and 1889.” But if he was married before, why was he living in 221B as a swinging bachelor? His and Holmes’s shared bachelorhood is mentioned a few times throughout the canon. He doesn’t talk about leaving 221B until after he and Mary are married. If he had a missus living with him at 221B, wouldn’t she have been mentioned? Wouldn’t he have not called himself a bachelor? I’m not even going to touch the “did he get married again after Mary died?” argument at this point. That’s a battle for another day, and trying to figure these dates out is already going to have me buying stock in Advil.

I can’t give Doyle too hard a time, though. Not everyone makes spreadsheets and OneNote templates (that give other writers heartburn just looking at them) to keep track of every character trait, scene, and relationship. I admit to being slightly obsessive about detail, partially because I don’t want someone cursing my name and contemplating suing me/my estate for pain and suffering for the headaches and subsequent Advil habit my chronology has caused them. (Partly, possibly, because I’m also a control freak, but that’s neither here nor there.) Doyle wrote in an era when notes were written by hand, or at best typed on a cumbersome typewriter, and stored in drawers or boxes and not the Cloud. They didn’t have Wikipedia. He couldn’t ctrl-f a document to see if he’d mentioned something previously. Nobody even knew what a continuity editor was. I doubt he sat down in front of a butcher’s paper timeline he meticulously drew out by hand and plotted the position of each story relative to the ones that came before it and the ones that might come after. Even if he’d started out doing so, he probably would’ve burned it as Holmes’ effigy when he wrote him off in “The Final Problem.”

(Trust me – I understand the urge to host a bonfire and sacrifice the remains of characters you wish you’d never penned, possibly while toasting marshmallows over their funeral pyre, and I’ve never created anything people were as crazy about as fans were of Sherlock Holmes. I don’t blame him there at all.)

**

Since I’ve rambled on again (which no one is surprised about, I’m sure), I’m going to try to keep Charlotte’s interruption brief and on track. And that track, this week, is all about time.

The Sibling (En)Treaty

My dearest Mycroft,

How are you, brother-mine? Do you ever plan to return to London? Upon doing the calculations, I realized it’s been nearly six months since you completed University, and that long at least since I have laid eyes upon you. I’m not insinuating that I’ve missed you by any means, of course. Heaven’s no. I ask mostly for Anne’s benefit, as our aunt is nearly beside herself at your continued absence. And…oh, I suppose I do miss you at least a little. I did have the uninterrupted joy of your company from before our birth until the day we each went off to our respective educational pursuits. I’ve become accustomed to your presence, I suppose. Besides, how is a younger sibling to properly irritate and annoy their elder when said elder never darkens the younger’s doorstep?

Things have been well here. Anne has made threats of continuing my cooking lessons, but Doctor Watson wisely dissuades her whenever the topic is broached within his hearing. Start one small fire and suddenly you’re not to be trusted around heat and flame. Oh well. I’ve little interest in learning, anyway. Before you assure me I’ll only starve myself should anything happen to Anne, let me remind you there are many fine eateries in London and two of them are now in my debt due to my timely intervention in events on their behalf.

Yes, I said two: I recently helped the maitre’d at the Palm Court – at the Langham Hotel, you remember the place? They do put on a marvelous tea service – prove his innocence in a dreadful matter that involved a poisoned writer from the Times. Poor Maurice had argued with the man the night he died, but it turned out the chef was the one with an axe to grind. More accurately, a plentiful crop of hemlock to chop. Horrible business, really. All boiled down to some past slight and a woman both men had been in the act of courting years ago. Funny, isn’t it, how things we think we’ve locked up in the past can come back to bite us horribly when we least suspect? All in all, though, I doubt I shall ever have reason to worry after my next meal. Oh, and I met a lovely young woman in the course of my investigation that I’ve befriended in the interim. Her name is Fidelia and she really is quite the character. I would tell you her profession, but I’m afraid you’d disapprove, and I’ve given you enough reason to do that lately.

What else has happened since your last letter? It’s mostly been the usual, really. Bit of work, bit of boredom; the latter far more feared than the former. The good doctor continues to confound me, but I know you’d rather not hear of any of that. For the record, and to spare you repeating past arguments, I am aware of his age and mine, thank you. You’ve little to worry about, as I said before. He’s not at all interested anyway. That does not, however, stop him from confounding me all the same.

Anne has mentioned that you are to return shortly, as Home Office has offered you a position and you’ve accepted it, “most delightedly,” by all accounts. I note you didn’t tell me about this position yourself. In fact, your last letter consisted entirely of commentary on your visit to Rome. While I do appreciate the travelogue, I would have also appreciated hearing of your good news firsthand. We shall discuss that when next you stop by for tea. At length. In fact, I believe we may be overdue for a round of singlestick, you and I, or I could dust off the epees instead, if you’ve a mind for a match. I think I may be willing to overlook your oversight if we address it with blunted blades. I promise to take it easy on you, since you likely haven’t had an adequate sparring partner since you left home.

For the record, I haven’t had an adequate sparring partner since you left, either. Which, really just speaks horribly of the people of London when you think about it. Hurry home. My sword arm may atrophy from disuse otherwise.

Your ever-modest sister,

Charlotte

P.S. I’m told a fine Turkish tobacco is always an appropriate show of apology and repentance. Not for me, of course. As you know, I would never dream of touching the stuff.

TV Break – The Unaired “Sherlock” Pilot

We’re going to take a slight detour for a moment. I know the purpose of this blog is supposed to be the Holmes stories, but my enjoyment (and fervent consumption) of televised Holmesian pursuits, particularly of the BBC variety, isn’t exactly a secret. Sure, I have a story I should be reading (and a blog post on it I should be writing), a first draft I’m in the middle of editing, two Star Trek movies I should be watching, and a short story I should be writing (unrelated to Holmes entirely – because I don’t think Sherlock Holmes in an alternate history Kansas is what the Community Novel project planners had in mind this year), but I have zero motivation for anything directly productive right now. Unlike Holmes, I’m seeking out a little boredom. Or at least a little lack of activity.

Maybe I’m embracing my inner Mycroft.

Tonight, I decided to test out the blu-ray portion of my blu-ray player – it’s mostly existed as a means to watching Hulu, Netflix, and Youtube since I got it – by watching the unaired pilot of BBC’s Sherlock. While I’ve seen the aired “A Study in Pink” a few hundred times, which may be an underestimate, I’ve never taken the time to watch the unaired version. I’ve owned it. I’ve just fallen into that lazy trap where, if I can’t pull it up on Netflix or Hulu, if I have to resort to the act of getting up, grabbing a DVD, and popping it into a machine, it’s almost too much work. This is also why I haven’t watched Doctor Who since February 1st. I own the entire series digitally and through season seven on DVD, but I’d have to actually put in some effort to get to either source.

Definitely embracing my inner Mycroft, when I look at it that way.

So much of this version of “A Study in Pink” is different, even if it’s just in small ways and remains more or less the same story. There’s the final confrontation, which takes place in the sitting room of 221B and not an empty cafeteria and ends with Watson shooting the cabbie from a building across the street. There’s no “Find My Phone” moment, no drugs bust, no chasing a cab through the streets of London, no creepy Mycroft playing up the anonymous and suspicious arch-nemesis. We still get the awkward “I’m married to my work” misunderstanding, the “Come if convenient; come even if inconvenient” text exchange, and Mrs. Hudson insisting she’s definitely not the housekeeper. Donovan’s still a witch, even if she’s just a uniform sergeant, and apparently still “cleaning [Anderson’s] floors.” But Anderson never gets to call Sherlock a psychopath and we never get to hear Sherlock quotably correct him with “I’m a high functioning sociopath. Do your research.”

Oh, the shock blanket is still there, of course, because the officers still need to take pictures.

New things we never got to see in the original televised version (and I wish we had) include Sherlock’s epic drunk-acting and watching him momentarily outsmarted by the killer, drugged Sherlock flopping around on the floor of the hideously salmon pink 221B sitting room, and Batlock – a pair of shots of Sherlock, perched on a roof, backlit by a bright and nearly full moon, with his coattails flapping like some image taken directly from a Batman comic book panel. 

 

A screengrab of Sherlock Holmes standing on a roof, in the rain, wirh a mostly full moon behind him.

Seriously, just missing the bat signal…

 
We also meet a much less trusting Watson. He’s still awed by Sherlock’s skill, but there’s a suspicion under the surface that would have been interesting to see played out over the course of a series. For all of that, he still shoots a man dead when he thinks his new friend is in danger, and delivers a much better (not funnier, but more heartfelt, maybe) response to having done so:

Sherlock: “Are you all right?”

Watson: “Of course I’m all right.”

Sherlock: “You have just killed a man.”

Watson: “I’ve seen men die before, and good men, friends of mine. I thought I’d never sleep again. I’ll sleep fine tonight.”

Not as quippy as “Well, he wasn’t a very nice man,” but it gives us a definite peek at the heart of John Watson.

It’s a shorter episode, just under an hour long, and that’s probably why subplots like Mycroft’s mysterious introduction and the filler bits of the drugs bust and the cab chase aren’t there. The final confrontation focuses less on the cabbie pushing the buttons of Sherlock’s ego as well, the existence of it hinted at by Lestrade’s asking Sherlock if he picked the right pill and Watson still calling him an idiot for planning to take it. This is, after all, what was created to whet the BBC’s appetite and thus likely just a bit shy of Moffat and Gatiss’ full vision for what the story should be. Or maybe, when they filmed, they had a longer season in mind, with shorter episodes, and planned to unravel some of those plot and character bits, including the shadow of Moriarty, later on. There’d be time yet for Moriarty and Mycroft, car chases and disagreements with Scotland Yard, Watson’s constant disapproval and Sherlock’s careless ego.

There’s something endearing about the final shot in this episode, whether it’s the aired or unaired version. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Lestrade or Mycroft delivering the final “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson” line (Lestrade to Donovan in the unaired, Mycroft to his assistant in the aired); it’s that shot of Sherlock and Watson, strolling off, grinning like fools as their names are tucked just as neatly together for the first time. It’s the absolute perfect way not just to wrap the episode, but to really begin their adventures to come. That’s the compelling essence of Holmes and Watson, isn’t it? The mysteries and the adventures and the deductions are all well and good, but it’s the stories of two men, two good friends, that make us keep reading and watching.

The Adventures of “the Reigate Squires” and “the Second Stain”: Doyle’s Version of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup

I’ve decided that the scariest part of the double-up weeks, for me, is this need I have to find something that connects these two stories that  could potentially have nothing whatsoever in common.  It helps to have a common thread between them to frame the discussion around, after all.

With the first pair, “The Musgrave Ritual” and “The Gloria Scott,” I lucked out that they both gave me the opportunity to discuss point of view and Holmes as a young, fledgling detective, but that’s not always going to be the case.  Not when each week’s assignment is based solely on hints some poor Sherlockian pried out of the text to affix a date to the story, at which point I begin to question this chronological approach thing.  Thankfully, “The Adventure of the Reigate Squires” (or “the Reigate Puzzle”, since it’s known by both titles depending on where you look) and “The Adventure of the Second Stain” go together like peanut butter and chocolate (hence the post title).

What makes “Reigate” and “Second Stain” such good companion pieces, you ask?  Well, there’s a few things, actually.  To start, let’s focus on what they have in common. Both stories revolve around someone being burgled, and someone dying as an indirect result of said initial burglary, the degree of indirectness being relative.  “Reigate” involves a pair of break-ins in the English countryside, one that ends in murder, that Holmes and Watson accidentally find themselves involved in while Holmes is recovering from the strain of another case (we’ll get to that later).  “The Second Stain” involves the disappearance of something very mysterious from a high-ranking member of British politics’ home and the subsequent death of an underworld figure.  In both cases, it’s Holmes’ astute skills of observation, as much as his keen deductive capabilities, that lead to the solution of the crimes.

Doyle also shows the reader the softer side of each of our valiant heroes in these stories.  With Holmes ill, Watson is afforded the opportunity in “Reigate” not only to play doctor (minds out of the gutter; I was referring to his profession) but to display his finely tuned nagging tendencies as well.  He’s not only a physician looking after a patient when he nags Holmes to rest – he’s also a concerned friend.  He whisks Holmes off to the estate of an old Army friend in Surrey as much to pull him away from the temptation of crime-ridden London as for the fresh air and sunshine.  And then there’s the scolding.  Consider the following exchange that happens when Colonel Hayter tells the boys about the most recent burglary:

But I held up a warning finger.

’You are here for a rest, my dear fellow.  For heaven’s sake, don’t get started on a new problem when your nerves are all in shreds.’

Holmes shrugged his shoulders with a glance of comic resignation towards the colonel, and the talk drifted away into less dangerous channels.

People have called Holmes and Watson “an old married couple” before, and snippets like this would be why.  Watson’s tsk-tsk, followed by Holmes’ long-suffering look to the Colonel, reads like a scene between any sitcom couple.  Keep in mind, too, this is still early Holmes and Watson in the beginnings of their friendship, and they’ve already settled into this familiar pattern.  This is all pre-Mary Morstan.  More importantly, pre-“The Final Problem.”  These are the boys before Holmes’ “betrayal” and Watson’s grief.  Holmes faking his death altered the dynamic even more than Watson’s marriage: how well do you trust someone after they’ve lied to you to that extent, after all, and how does that change your relationship with that person?  But that discussion is a ways off yet.

“Second Stain,” on the other hand, is one of those stories that shows us the endless mystery that is Holmes’ relationship with women.  They aren’t his expertise, as he points out, and he has no plans to muddle his focus with romance, but he has a definite soft spot for the opposite sex.  There will be more on this when I get to “A Scandal in Bohemia,” but Holmes’ treatment of Lady Trelawney Hope in the course of the investigation into the item taken from her husband’s safekeeping is almost chivalrous, particularly the final time they cross paths.  It could be said that Holmes has never met a damsel in distress that he didn’t want to rescue, even if just rescuing them from themselves.

As interesting as the similarites are, the counterpoints also make these two stories a good team-up.  First, to the matter of the respective criminals and whether or not they’re brought to justice.  Let me start by saying that both cases are what Watson would deem successes – the puzzle is solved, Holmes figures out the correct answer, and the reader is left knowing what happened to all the parties involved.  But not all parties face the long arm of the law.  “Reigate” sees a pair of dastardly felons carted off in cuffs, both for the burglary and a poor coachman’s murder.  In “Second Stain”, the murder’s actually unrelated to the theft, and while the murderer is taken in, the burglar gets away scot-free.

It’s funny, actually, because the nature of the successes themselves is counterpoint, too.  Holmes figures out the solution in “Reigate” the moment he looks at the scene of the crime.  With “Second Stain,” his initial suspicion is proven wrong very early on and he has to reassess his theory of the crime entirely.

Maybe the biggest counterpoint, though, is in the fact that one of these stories leaves us with the granddaddy of all teased-but-never-told cases, and the other is meant to fulfill a promise Watson/Doyle made in another story.  Watson admits at the beginning of “Second Stain” that he had every intention to stop writing stories about Holmes’ adventures after “The Adventure of Abbey Grange,” per Holmes’ own request, but since he’d promised the reader an account of these events back in “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty,” he feels compelled to pen one more.  Now, the story he delivers in “Second Stain” doesn’t exactly match the details that are alluded to in “The Naval Treaty,” and is reminiscent of “The Beryl Coronet” in setup at the very least, but Doyle did give us the case versus leaving it dangling forever over our heads like a giant neon question mark.  (As an aside: did nobody learn from the last time that carrying Very Rare And Important Things Of Immense National Value back and forth between home and work to keep them safe is stupid?)

Doyle did the exact opposite in “Reigate,” however.  At this point, I think it’s fair to say that Doyle – and by extension, Watson – is a horrible, awful tease.  It’s one thing to drop random throwaway cases here and there for flavor or just to watch the readers froth at the mouth, but what he does in “Reigate” is just cruel.  Not only does he tempt us with “the whole question of the Netherland-Sumatra Company, and of the colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis,” which reportedly left Holmes so exhausted he ended up in hospital, but he further baits the hook with the fact it was “intimately concerned with politics and finance,” two buzzwords guaranteed to make something sound even more intriguing.  And then he drops this on us:

Even the triumphant issue of his labours could not save him from reaction after so terrible an exertion, and at a time when Europe was ringing with his name and when his room was literally ankle-deep with congratulatory telegrams I found him a prey to the blackest depression.  Even the knowledge that he had succeeded where the police of three countries had failed, and that he had outmaneuvered at every point the most accomplished swindler in Europe, was insufficient to rouse him from nervous prostration.

WHY DO WE NEVER GET THIS STORY?!?  Here’s a case that spans three countries and spreads his fame across the entire continent, that has him so exhausted and weak that he’s fallen into a massive depression, that involved taking down the biggest swindler Europe has ever seen, and Doyle never gives it to us.  Not cool, man.  Not cool.

So, in short, I’ve come to four conclusions this week:

  1. For all his assurances that he has no time or interest in women romantically, Sherlock Holmes has a very large soft spot for the fairer sex;
  2. Watson is a horrible fusser (and will make someone a very fine wife someday. Sorry, I couldn’t quite help myself there);
  3. Doyle was a terrible tease (and possibly a sadist that liked to hold back fantastic cases just to make his readers twitch); and
  4. I am not always going to be this lucky with how well two-story week’s pair up, and that terrifies me more than a little.

(Unofficial #5 – man, can I go through a lot of words talking about Sherlock Holmes stories.  Damn…)

**

I would love to say that the central conceit of this week’s Charlotte story was inspired by anything from the above, but I actually ended up having to find a way to squeeze the overall theme into the idea.  Because, see, this week’s story was mostly inspired by a random factoid on a rerun of QI I watched on Hulu and a quote from season three of “BBC’s Sherlock,” in that order.

The Baker Street Puzzle

“I suppose the Yard is too busy to handle burglaries these days?” Anne asks as she sets a plate in front of me at the seldom-used kitchen table.  Breakfast – mine, anyway – is more than slightly early and has been for a week.  All my meals are early, and alone.  By my choice.

“The burgled prefers not to draw too much attention to the matter,” I say, reaching for a piece of toast without raising my eyes from the morning paper.  “The inspectors tend to bring quite a bit of it with them whenever they become involved.”

Anne clucks her tongue.  I know the sound well.  I heard it often enough in my school days, usually when I brought home a note from a teacher who disapproved of my tendency to tell them they were wrong.  They especially disapproved when it turned out I was right.  “I wish you weren’t dashing off on this alone, Charlotte.”

“I wish a lot of things.”  I look across the table at the empty chair and missing place setting.  I think about my usual breakfast companion and sigh softly to myself.

**

Lady Evangeline Morris Murray is tall, blonde, and has the figure and posture of a dress form dummy.  Even when she sits, in the overwrought salon of her Grovesnor Place townhouse, she’s startlingly erect.  No, it’s not the dress form she reminds me of.  It’s those fragile little porcelain figurines old women collect on dusty shelves.  Perfect and utterly inhuman, that’s how my hostess appears.  Her gloved hands twist a delicate peach handkerchief into knots in her lap as she sniffles quietly in her chair.

“Two days, Miss Holmes.  It’s been two whole days!  I don’t know how much longer I can keep my husband from noticing that it’s gone.”

I smile; I hope it’s the reassuring one.  Watson is usually here to poke me if I fall short and land on condescending or something closer to a smirk.  “We have excellent leads, Lady Murray.  Since you finally decided to admit that you know who likely has it, it’s making it much easier to try to run the miscreant to ground.”

The knot-tying is abandoned so that my client can dab theatrically at her dry eyes.  “I’m sorry.  I know I should have been more upfront from the beginning, but it’s just not the easiest thing to admit, even to another woman.”

“Of course.  I’m sure it’s entirely horrendous to admit to one’s self, let alone one’s social inferior, that you foolishly gave your wedding ring to your itinerant lover as a token of your esteem in a moment of passion-deluded insanity.”  Lady Murray makes the oddest little squeak of a noise.  I bite my lip.  Blast, was that out loud?

**

I mutteri to myself as I stalk through the front door of 221B, my left boot in hand and my sodden hat hanging precariously off one side of my head.  If not for the grace of a strategically placed hatpin… As I stop to examine the extent of the damage to my boot heel, I hear a snicker from above me.  Watson stands half up the stairs, pipe held firmly between his full, smirking, and irritatingly supple lips.

“Were you attacked by a very large puddle, Holmes?  Or did you fall in the Thames again?”

My grip tightens on my boot, but only because I’m considering the ramifications of throttling the doctor with it.  “A foot chase went slightly awry.  Nothing for you to concern yourself with.”  Gathering up the stringy tatters of my dignity, I march up the stairs, pausing only when he impedes my trek.  “If you’ll excuse me…”

Watson turns to give me room to pass.  One step later, he reaches for my elbow.  “Holmes, about…”

“There’s no about, doctor.”  I tug my arm free and ratchet a placid expression onto my face.  “Nothing to discuss.  One of us had a momentary bout of insanity.  The other cleared that moment up very directly.  That’s all.”  I restart my climb but pause another two steps up.   “The other also might reconsider the wisdom behind the continued presence of their mustache.  I know it was regulation during your service, but it’s doing you no favors where kissing is concerned.”

As I disappear up the stairs, I hear Watson scoff and mutter to himself.  It sounds suspiciously like “I’m not shaving for Charlotte bloody Holmes.”

**

“I really don’t understand why people spend so much time in places like this,” I say, standing in an alley outside a pub with the puzzling moniker “The Mouldy Duckling.”  I borrowed – if by that definition I actually mean stole, flagrantly, from the washing basket – a shirt, pants, jacket, and cap of Watson’s and put myself into a fairly decent facsimile of a mild-mannered young lad for the purposes of hunting my prey.  Gerald Saunders has been inside the establishment for a good hour, hopefully partaking of enough spirits to make him an easy pocket to pick.  Lady Murray’s ring, at last accounting, is tucked in a pouch in his left pocket.

“He sent the first blackmail letter this morning.  ‘One hundred quid, or I tell the Mister.’  Criminals these days have no imagination, I swear.”  The smell of damp garbage isn’t grand for the appetite, but my stomach rumbles all the same.  “You didn’t happen to pack a sandwich in your bag by chance, did you Wat-“

I half turn, expecting to find the doctor hunched down beside me.  It takes a moment too long, for my state of mind, for me to remember Watson isn’t there.

**

“Break open the good scotch, Anne!” I say as I burst into the sitting room, whipping the cap from my head and letting the unwieldy knot of my hair fall free.  “We’ve reason to celebrate.”

“You’ve solved it, then?”  Watson’s voice inspires less need to run than it had a day earlier.  Before I realized I missed him.  Bastard.

“Of course.  Was there any doubt?”  I hang the cap on the appointed hook and shake my arms free of the too-large coat.  “The missing item has been returned to my anonymous client and peace has been restored to the country…or at least a small portion of it.”  The coat joins the hat.  I turn to face my surely enrapt audience with a wide sweep of my arms.  “Thankfully, preventing the collapse of a member of parliament’s marriage is a well-paying…Heaven’s, Watson, what did you do?”

The doctor strokes his newly bare upper lip with an unsure hand.  “Someone complained that they found the previous arrangement unacceptable.  I thought, in the event that the situation arises again…”

I stare at him.  My tongue is fully prepared to inform him that he’s the most confusing creature in the history of conscious thought,  but Anne strolls in, carrying the previously requested Scotch.

I down the first sip in silent mourning of Watson’s late mustache.

The Adventure of the Resident Patient, or When Bad Deeds Confuse Good People

I get the impression sometimes that part of the dichotomy we’re supposed to see in Holmes and Watson is the investigator’s ability to see bad in everyone and a doctor’s desire to see good instead.  Doctors are supposed to heal.  They exist as this essential force for goodness and health and triumph over the natural world’s desire to kill us off.  All this despite the fact medicine was still mostly brutal and simplistic at the time and lacked a lot of the finesse and knowledge that it would discover in the century to follow, like the benefits of maintaining sanitary conditions in hospitals and their complete misunderstanding of how germs and bacteria work.  Don’t get me started on the state of psychiatry then, either.  That’s a whole different rant.  If you ever want proof that we’re descended from animals, look at the barbaric things we did to the mentally ill in the history of the supposedly civilized world.  There’s a reason so many old asylums were easily turned into prisons when they closed.

Right.  Not getting started on that rant.  Where was I?  Right.  Doctors.  A lot of them had their hearts in the right place, though, like our dear Watson, and that alone might make him the perfect foil for Holmes.

In “The Adventure of the Resident Patient,” we get a broader look at that dichotomy through the introduction of Dr. Percy Trevelyan.  Poor Dr. Trevelyan never set out to find himself in the middle of a mystery (though you do wonder at his naiveté a bit, maybe.  More on that later).  He was apparently a very bright and advanced student with a keen medical mind and a desire to specialize in “nervous diseases” such as catalepsy.  He just happened to be a physician without unlimited means who couldn’t quite afford to set himself up with a proper practice.  Then he managed to cross paths with Mr. Blessington, who offered to set him up in a nice house, provide him an acceptable income, and only asked for 3/4s of all he earned and shared occupancy in return.  Blessington isn’t a well man and having access to a doctor 24/7 works out in his favor just as much as the steady income of one does.

At this point, I just have to ask – who gets offered this sort of deal and doesn’t think it’s just too good to be true?  I mean, we all dream about it, sure, but when it really happens?  Maybe I’m just too skeptical.  I’ll blame mystery novels and police procedurals again like I did last week.

All that is just setup for the good part, though.  See, the last few weeks, Blessington has been acting strange.  He keeps going on about burglaries in the area and how people are going to break in and steal his fortune.  When a strange pair – a supposed Russian nobleman and his son – arrive to seek the doctor’s services twice while Blessington is out, the last time making their way into his room by all appearances, Trevelyan’s resident patient demands they engage Holmes, leading to his visit.  Holmes is, of course, intrigued, and they go straight to the house.  But when Mr. Blessington lies to Holmes and refuses to admit he knows who would want to cause trouble for him, Holmes leaves, telling the anxious man to call on him tomorrow if he decides to tell the truth.

They get a call the next morning, of course, but it’s not because Blessington’s had a change of heart.  Turns out, the maid found him hanging from a hook in the ceiling.  Did he do it himself?  Or did someone else help him to it?  Pretty sure the answer’s easy to guess, but I’ll leave it unanswered directly for the sake of not spoiling the story entirely.  Let’s just say Sherlock Holmes doesn’t investigate suicides and leave it at that.  And that Scotland Yard is left pretty unsatisfied in the end, too, but that’s to be expected at this point.

Back to that dichotomy thing, though.  Trevelyan might be an extreme example, considering the naiveté discussed above, but he does serve as stark representation of that “can’t see the bad in people when it stares right at him” concept.  He doesn’t find anything overtly suspicious in Blessington’s offer or his odd habits.  He doesn’t consider that the person he left in the waiting room might have gone a-wandering while he was examining his older companion.  Doesn’t consider the possibility, either, that his unexpected patient might be faking his seizure in order to get him out of the room.  This is obviously a man who’s never experienced the bad side of humanity directly before or he’d recognize it when it stood in front of him.

Watson’s not quite that lucky anymore, though.  I’m not talking about the criminal element he’s been exposed to since he’s met Holmes.  War provides a stark and undeniable example of man’s inhumanity to man, and Watson saw that up close and personal.  The fantastic thing about him, though, is that despite that, he’s still a doctor, and still wants to be the person who helps, who believes, in some small part of himself, that we’re all intrinsically good at the heart of us.  John Watson is no cynic.  Which works out really well, because Holmes certainly is.

**

In a lot of ways, I’m flexible with certain aspects of Holmes and Watson in adaptations.  I think gender, race, and time period are always open to being bent.  Those things aren’t the core of who the characters are.  Obviously in my world Holmes can be a woman, as long as she still possesses the qualities that otherwise make Sherlock Holmes into Sherlock Holmes.  Watson could as easily be a woman.  I chose to gender-bend Holmes instead because of my own vision of the story, but that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine the possibility of doing it the other way around.

I do think there are two essential elements to any portrayal of Watson, be it written or performed, that should never be changed, however: he (or she) must be a doctor, and he (or she) must be a veteran.  Both of those things make up the core of who Watson is, in my opinion.  Watson is shaped and defined as much by his service as he is by his occupation, and eliminating one is like hacking off one of his legs and expecting him to hop around solely on the other.

This is my only complaint about CBS’ “Elementary,” by the way.  I love the show.  I love Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock and Aidan Quinn’s Gregson and Rhys Ifan’s Mycroft.  Detective Marcus Bell is my favorite non-canon character in the history of adaptations, with “Sherlock”’s Molly Hooper taking a very close second.  I love that it’s more police procedural, that it hints at canon without always tackling it, and I absolutely LOVED the twist with Moriarty and Irene.  I saw it a mile off, but I still loved it.  And I like the character of Joan for what she is – a good friend for Sherlock, a woman who lost her sense of self and is trying to find it again, and a good, strong female character – but she isn’t Watson.  She’s lacking half of that core that makes the good doctor who he is.

I have definite opinions on Watsons.  They are not at all shaped by the fact that I adore Martin Freeman.  It just so happens that he’s also a fantastic Watson.

Because we haven’t spent a lot of time focused on Holmes’ favorite biographer, I decided we’d play in his head a bit this week.  Oddly, he demanded on using third person.  And I would never dream of arguing with the imaginary people in my head.  Not in front of others, anyway.

 The Adventure of the Resident Doctor

“I’m in need of your professional services.” Charlotte stands at the door of the small, upstairs room Watson utilizes for his medical practice. It’s a slow day: no scheduled appointments and no random patients wandering in off the street. The doctor had begun to drift off in the quiet, until the sudden and unexpected sound of the young lady’s voice interrupts. “If you’re not already engaged, of course.”

“What can I assist you with, Holmes?” he asks as he sits up, trying to look attentive and focused; trying not to look as if he’s been daydreaming about the exact person standing in the middle of his doorway. They’re usually the sort of daydreams that leave his cheeks feeling too warm and his heart beating too fast in his chest. “Something to do with one of your investigations? I thought you finished up with the Blessington business?”

She shakes her head and steps into the room, picking a cautious path across the room. “Signed and sealed, that. Without the slightest need to engage the proper authorities.” The door closes behind her. For a moment, Watson is torn about whether that is a good or bad thing. “My request for assistance is more related to the personal sphere than the professional this time.” Her hands are tucked behind her back in what he’s come to recognize as her thoughtful pose.

He watches her every step. Doing so is ridiculous. It’s also torture. Only a man who wants to make himself miserable spends so much time admiring something he can never have. Should never have. She’s too young – he’s convinced himself of this, despite the relatively small gap between their respective ages – and he is too much a wreck to inflict on another living soul. Neither of those things can stop his brain from feeding him endless amounts of torment, especially when he sleeps. Lately, his nightmares have been replaced by fleeting glimpses of dark hair splayed across his pillow and soft lips yielding to his own.

“Watson?”

He looks up. Charlotte stands in front of his desk, watching him with that head-canted way of hers that spells trouble for all she turns it upon. He’s not entirely sure, despite the improbability and illogicalness of the thought, that she can’t actually read people’s minds. Sometimes it seems the only way she could know half the things she does. “Sorry. Mind trailed off a bit. You said it was a personal matter you needed assistance with?” She nods. “Are you feeling unwell?”

“I don’t know that unwell is the best term for it. I certainly feel unlike myself. Enough for it to be concerning.”

“Tell me your symptoms and we will try to discern the cause, hmm?” He waves her to the exam table and she dutifully approaches it, perching on the edge at the center with the help of a steadying hand. His grip lingers just that much more than is necessary; he has to remind himself to release her elbow once she’s situated. “What seem to be the most prominent of the issues that you’ve noticed?”

Charlotte stares at her hands. The discomfort is new. Watson has never seen it in her before. “I can hardly concentrate. My mind is constantly wandering from the topics I set it on. My appetite is elusive at best. There are moments when my heart begins to race, even if I’m seated and doing absolutely nothing that would make it do so.”

Watson frowns as he digs the stethoscope from the drawer and blows on it to warm it. He hasn’t decided yet how to casually ask her to unbutton her blouse so he might get at her heart. Hasn’t decided yet that it’s an entirely simple and innocent request, either. “Is there any common thread to unite these symptoms? A time of day, an activity…”

What is, without question, the most tortured and pained smile Watson has ever seen crosses Holmes’ expression. Her hands grip the edges of the table, searching for strength or anchor, he doesn’t know which. “That is the simplest deduction I’ve ever made, dear Watson. It’s you.”

“I’m sorry, it’s…” Watson doesn’t realize he’s placed himself in the perfect position for what’s to come until it’s happened and his question is left unfinished. Charlotte leans forward just enough to press her lips to his. The kiss itself is innocent – halting, cautious, experimental; a first kiss inspired as much by things read in books as instinct. Watson has received similar kisses before. He’s given them as well. It would be so easy now to succumb to his own instinct and give in. Wrap his arms around her, pull her close, and kiss her as he’s wanted to for days. Weeks, even, if he’s honest. The simplest thing in the world right now is surrender.

His arms stay at his side. He steps back, struggling to calm his own racing heart and catch his own ragged breath. Charlotte sways forward, a victim of gravity that saves herself by her grip on the table. For a moment, she’s caught in an almost comical freeze frame. Lips puckered, eyes closed, a photograph of a kiss caught in the moment before lips touch. Then her eyes open and she stares at him with wide, blinking confusion. “The best thing I can suggest for your ailment is distance, Holmes. And finding better things to let your thoughts dwell on. Broken Army doctors are no appropriate fit for anyone.”

Before she can speak, he drops the stethoscope and lumbers for the door. He descends the stairs faster than he has ever managed before and is on the stoop, breathing fresh, chill air, in no time at all. While the best cure for what ails him is staring dumbly at the blank wall of his office, he plans an alternative treatment: a pint and a game of cards. Potentially several of both.

Perhaps an endless stream of them, until he can forget how sweet those lips tasted.

When (Someone Else’s) Plot Bunnies Attack

I’m currently stuck at the Orlando airport in pre-flight limbo. I’m here too early to check-in or even drop of my suitcase and have only myself for amusement. After making one last perusal of the Disney and Universal stores and procuring a much needed smoked butterscotch iced latte from the demented mermaid (aka, Starbucks), I’m now relegated to sitting outside the security checkpoint, watching an endless stream of people shuffle past. It really is endless: for every person that advances, another two step in behind them to perpetuate the line. Welcome to the Orlando International Airport.

Since I’m too tired for that to hold my attention for long, I’ve decided to blog. In my defense, I’ve had a mid-week one half-ready to go up for a couple days. Because I’m an early riser and my travel companions are not.
Usually an early riser. Today I really wish I’d had another two hours to sleep.

**

I have this friend. We’ll call her…Vicki (because that’s her name). I’ve known Vicki for something like fifteen years, give or take a month, which means I entered into both sources of my insanity – our friendship and my current employment – at around the same time. It’s hard to say which of the two has made me crazier, but I know which one’s been more fun.

Among her many endearing quirks is her tendency to hand me completely unexpected (but usually awesome) story ideas when I should be busy with other projects. If I may indulge the court, here is Exhibit A: the first day of this year’s NaNoWriMo, while I’m sitting in my region’s first write-in of the year, mid-paragraph on my quasi-Steampunk paranormal alternate history experiment, she pings me with “Hey, I have this great plot bunny for you!” and then proceeds to map out a great story concept that I had no time to work on whatsoever, but has been dancing around in my brain since, begging for me to do something with it.

This is a bad thing because I have enough ideas spinning around in my brain looking for a highway exit to my to-do list without her adding to them. Not that that’s ever stopped her before.

You’re about to read Exhibit B.

A little more background to explain, before I unleash this insanity upon you: I am a Whovian. If this is a new word for you, it means I’m a fan of Doctor Who. (If that is a new term for you, get thee to Google, you’ll thank me later.) Vicki is a Whovian as well. She’d tell you it’s my fault, but all I did was point her in the direction of the show and say “Look, it’s something shiny!”. I just led her to the water; she decided to drink it.

I have this theory that her rampant plot bunny-gifting is payback for getting her hooked on Doctor Who. Or Torchwood. Maybe Penny Dreadful. Maybe all the above and any additional things I’ve introduced her to that I might have forgotten. I don’t have definitive evidence to back up this theory, but it’s a fairly sound one, I think.

When I was casting the first Holmes story, Jenna Coleman, circa the Doctor Who Series Seven Christmas Special, looked the part of my perfect Holmes. Interestingly, Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor, fit as the Mycroft to my Charlotte perfectly. This Mycroft is Charlotte’s fraternal twin, genetically gifted enough that his preference for sloth hasn’t caught up with him yet. He’s also a younger man than we meet in the books and thus not quite as homebound as his canon counterpart.

With all this information at her disposal, and knowing that I’ve committed myself to penning a story to go with each of my blogs, Vicki made the following suggestion one day:

“My espresso’d brain just gave birth to a plot bunny for you: Charlotte Holmes meets the Eleventh Doctor.”

So, since she put the idea in my brain and left it to germinate like some out of control alien plague, she is the one to blame for this. At least I have a quasi-canon story I can tie it to, and since it’s going to be a multi-parter, I’ll probably save the finale for when I take on “A Case of Identity” in a few weeks. For now…

Act One: Clara

Clara Oswald never feels entirely comfortable when she visits the Victorian Era. There’s baggage here: people who knew her – the version of her that spilt out of the Doctor’s time stream and landed in London as a barmaid and governess. The version that died here, as the Doctor watched, spurring him on in his search for the Impossible Girl. Victorian London, to put it simply, makes her twitchy.
Here she is, though, wandering around in a bloody corset and a ridiculous hat, trying to find where the Doctor ran off to. “Oh sure, he tells us not to run off, but wave a shiny temporal abnormality at him and poof!” She’s talking to herself, walking along an empty, early morning street. The sky is a dark gray – a darker version of that shade of foggy, bland gray London is famous for – and the sun hasn’t bothered to rise enough to even hint at itself yet. The street vendors haven’t, either. It’s not, strictly speaking, the safest time to be wandering London alone. But here she is. Why? Because someone buggered off and hasn’t made it back to the TARDIS yet.

“’Stay here, Clara’” she says, imitating her Doctor’s manic tone. ”’Don’t leave. I’ll be back. I just have to track down something big and growly that has a taste for the humany-wumany.’ Hah! Worried about me gettin’ into trouble, where’s…” A loud clang interrupts her. Her head snaps in the direction the sound came from, down a dark, foreboding alley at her right. At times like this, she wonders what Victorian women had against pockets, because a smallish weapon in hers would come in handy right about now. Also at times like these, she wonders why the human impulse is always to walk toward the strange sound in the alley, instead of fleeing in the opposite direction as fast as possible. Of the two choices, the one she picks is the latter.

Impossible Girl or not, she still is only human.

“Just a cat. Rat. Loose garbage. All it is, yeah?” She pauses two steps into the alley and bends to pick up a broken piece of wood. Might be silly enough not to run, not silly enough to charge in unarmed. “Yeah. Of course. Just an innocent noise, Clara. Nothin’ to worry about.” It’s still too dark to make out anything of her surroundings, short of vague shapes that only add to the creep-factor of the place and the moment. She can only almost make out the end of the alley for that matter, and depth perception’s kind of bollocks in so little light. If she walks right into a brick wall, she wouldn’t be the slightest bit…

Something grabs her elbow. She screams and spins, swinging the plank as she does. It makes contact with something – something that makes a “squish” sound, like flesh getting pummeled with something solid, like a large wooden plank swung at nowhere near maximum velocity. She pulls back for another swing, but her attacker grabs the other end of the wood in both hands to stop it before impact.

“Blast it, Charlotte! Stop hitting me!” The voice almost sounds familiar – if familiar means mostly entirely not with just a hint of something close to maybe a little bit. Clara tugs at the plank to pull it free, but her only-slightly-maybe-familiar attacker keeps a strong hold on the wood. With one yank, he plucks it from her hands entirely and tosses it across the alley. “Have you completely lost your mind?”

“M’not the one stalkin’ after strange women in dark alleys.” She takes a step back and around, trying to edge past her new “friend” and toward the exit. “So, if you’ll let me just…” As they turn into the light from the gas lamp across the way, the man’s face is illuminated enough that she can pick out the more-than-slightly-maybe-familiar features of the Doctor staring back at her. “Doctor! Why didn’t you say so?? I’ve been lookin’ for you everywhere. D’you realize how long you’ve been gone, you idiot?”

The Doctor stares back at her with a bland, almost concerned, almost unDocterly, expression. “If you’re mistaking me for Watson, either the light is very bad or you really have gone mad. And I don’t know why you would be looking for either of us to begin with. Where you should be is at home, where I told you to stay, far removed from whatever madness this all is. Wandering Catherine Street in the middle of the night, for God’s sake! Anne would faint if I told her.” He takes hold of her elbow and shoves her in the direction of the other side of the street.

“You’re makin’ no sense whatsoever right now.” Clara tugs against the hand on her arm. “Why d’you sound funny? Who the hell is Watson? Or Anne? And why’d you call me Charlotte?”

“I’m making no sense? Did you hit your head somewhere this evening?” His free hand reaches for her chin. She slaps it away. “I’m not the one who sounds funny. You sound like a blasted lunatic. Charlotte is your name. What else should I call you?”

“Charlotte’s not m’name. Haven’t hit my head. Don’t sound funny. Also not crazy. Very funny joke and all, Doctor, but can we stop messin’ about now and get back to the – “

A loud, ground-shaking clang cuts through the night, followed by an unnatural roar. Clara grabs the Doctor – it is the Doctor, isn’t it? – to steady herself.

“Sounds like our cue,” she says, and takes off running, pulling the Doctor behind her.

The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet, or That Time Holmes Almost Dabbled in Family Therapy

 

I’ve thought about my mom a lot this week.  Most of that is because what would have been her 71st birthday is just over a week away. Some of it is the fact March 2nd marked seven months since we lost her.  It’s funny, really; you can get to a point where you stop instinctively noting every single monthly anniversary that passes.  Can feel like you have something close to a normal relationship with time again.  Then, all of a sudden, you look at the calendar to add a completely innocuous appointment and get a punch to the gut for your trouble.  You find yourself sitting in your car, waiting at the light at 10th and Topeka, bawling your eyes out to Michael Jackson.  Then, if you’re me and have spent way too much time reading and thinking and writing about 19th Century England, you start thinking about the Victorians, who set time limits on grief and mourning dependent on the person’s relation to you, not what they meant to you.  And then maybe you think about poor Queen Victoria, who spent her entire life publicly mourning Prince Albert (while potentially carrying on with/secretly marrying her Scottish groom, depending on who you ask).

And then you almost drive into a garbage truck, because you’re too busy crying/thinking about Victorians/singing along to “Man in the Mirror” badly to notice the existence of traffic.  It wasn’t a good morning commute.  Obviously.

I can blame just a little bit of it on Doyle, though.  The mystery at the center of “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet” is more about family dynamics than the priceless item mentioned in the title.  The coronet itself is just a set piece the drama plays out around, really.  Specifically, those aforementioned dynamics involve children who feel like they’ve disappointed or failed their parents in some way.  We’ll avoid digging into my own issues on that specificity – you’re welcome – and focus instead on the self-created dysfunction of the Holder family instead.

Alexander Holder is a partner in one of the largest banks in the City of London (which is different than the city of London, lowercase c, but the explanation of that will take us more off track than Michael Jackson did).  He’s also a widower, and also recently found himself in possession of an artifact of immense value.  It seems a very important and unnamed client – who is hinted at being a member of the Royal Family – has left this item in Mr. Holder’s possession as collateral for a substantial loan.  Fearing the security of bank vaults and of letting the item out of his sight, Mr. Holder takes the coronet, bejeweled with thirty-nine impressive beryls, home with him.  The plan is to carry it back and forth on his person every day until the loan is repaid and the item reclaimed, and he really hopes it’s not a long wait.  Keeping the coronet around makes him very, very twitchy.  As it would.

All would have been fantastic, except for the fact he caught his son standing in his dressing room, with the coronet in hand, and a chunk of it missing.

Here’s where the family dynamics come to play.  Mr. Holder explains that he has two children:  a son, Arthur, who tends to get involved with dubious people and rake up impressive gambling debts; and a niece, Mary, who he adopted and considers his right hand.  Arthur is constant and unmitigated trouble.  Mary is a solid and steadying presence that makes sure the house keeps running.  Arthur is described, by his father, as a disappointment – a “grievous disappointment”, in fact.  Mr. Holder describes Mary as “a sunbeam in my house – sweet, loving, beautiful, a wonderful manager and housekeeper, yet as tender and quiet and gentle as a woman could be.”  Arthur’s the one who points out the precarious security of the drawer his father decides to keep the coronet in while it’s at the house.  It’s also Arthur who knocks on his father’s door after dinner to ask to borrow £200 to pay off a gambling debt.  Mary, meanwhile, is seen locking up and assuring that the household is settled for the night and makes sure to point out that one of the maids snuck out to canoodle with her boyfriend by the gate.  Very clear distinctions are drawn between the two; who they are, how their father feels about them, their inferred trustworthiness.  Could even say, their implied worth as humans as well.

So of course Mr. Holder believes his son has stolen the hunk of coronet.  He even goes so far as to call the police and have his son arrested to save the family honor.  When Holmes suggests, during their conversation about the case, that Arthur might be innocent, Mr. Holder isn’t at all willing to believe it.  This, despite the fact both of the children were present when Mr. Holder announced what would be lingering in their home for a few days; despite the fact that the staff, whom he quickly describes and in far more complimentary means than he did his son, potentially also overheard the news.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on Mr. Holder.  He did see his son with the broken coronet, after all.  It’s hard to ignore catching the criminal red handed.  But even when people offer explanations and potential other suspects, Mr. Holder isn’t willing to see them as reason to hope.  He’s made up his mind, mostly because of how he perceives his son before any of the events take place.

Mr. Holder is, of course, wrong.  Wouldn’t be much of a mystery, or a story, if he was right.  In the end, he gets to hand over a nice chunk of his own fortune for his trouble, then have the fun of trying to earn his son’s forgiveness and rebuild that relationship.  He also has to come to terms with the unfairness of how he’s viewed his family for the last few years and whether or not he could have avoided some of what happened if he’d only looked at it through a lens not tainted by his expectations.

True confession – I immediately thought, when I started reading the story, that the whole setup with the very important and unnamed person requesting a loan and leaving behind an expensive and impressive artifact as collateral was going to turn out to be some kind of scam.  Too many mysteries and too much police procedural TV shows have made me cynical.  And let’s not forget, Holmes has solved those kinds of cases himself.  I doubt, when Doyle originally wrote this, that many readers had a whole lot of difficulty believing the initial conceit.  All sounded insanely convenient and improbable to me, though.  Anyway.

The actual criminals get away at the end, but not because Holmes wants them to (like last week) or necessarily allows it.  I wonder what did happen to them and have a few theories based on the kinds of people they are. I wonder about that less than I do about whether or not Arthur Holder gets his life together and tries to salvage his relationship with his father, though.

So, what are the takeaways from this story?  Maybe Mr. Holder shouldn’t have taken priceless artifacts home and kept them in a drawer with a flimsy lock.  Maybe he should have spent less time condemning his son for his faults.  Maybe he shouldn’t have discussed priceless artifacts being kept in flimsily secured drawers at the dinner table.  He definitely should have spent less time comparing his two children and holding one up as the perfect example the other fails to ever meet.  Trust me – that way lies many, many hours of therapy for both of the children.

Unpopular and random opinion time: I think Holmes would have been an interesting parent.  As the younger child who felt at least a little compared to his older brother (I think we hear Mycroft described as “the smarter one” once or twice), I think he would have known the landmines inherent in the practice.  He doesn’t have unreasonable or unrealistic expectations of people; he thinks everyone, short of himself, is flawed and accepts the knowledge as universal truth.  He’s not as emotionally vapid, in canon, as he comes across sometimes in the adaptations.  He’s capable of emotion – he just doesn’t let it overrun logic.  Watson would make a great father, too.  I’d wish half a dozen daughters on him, then sit back and watch them prove his (yes, era-appropriate) sexist ideals wrong on a daily basis.  But I’m mean that way.

The fact we know nearly nothing about Holmes’ childhood is one of the things that both frustrates and intrigues me, but maybe this story gives us a small peek at what it was like for young Sherlock back in the day.  It can’t just be pure logic that makes him believe in the innocence of – and almost sympathize with – Arthur Holder.  Was he that son that didn’t live up to a parent’s expectations?  Spent his childhood in big brother’s ill-fitting shadow?  It’s a theory. Since Doyle never told us one way or another, theories are all we have.  But I bet the dynamics in that house were interesting to say the very least.

On the theme of household dynamics, family or otherwise, I leave you with this.

The Adventure of the Ebony Cameo

The face is so dark that it is impossible to pick out details; the slope of a nose, the pucker of lips, the curve of a chin.  Without sufficient light to cast shadows over the raised surface, the minutely carved profile blends into its glossy black mounting.  It’s the kind of face someone has to be blind really to “see”: artwork that can only be enjoyed in braille.  To my eye, in the curtained, ember-lit sitting room, the cameo in my hand is as blank as the face that watched my childhood home burn.  To my fingers, though, it is a familiar profile.  I have traced the swirls of the woman’s hair, the long line of her neck, the pert dip of her nose so many times that the onyx has worn down at the edges.  My fingertips have walked their imprint into the stone.  I know that face better than I know my own.

“Charlotte?”  The voice behind me is thick with barely shed sleep, a yawn stretching out the “ar” in the middle.  The footsteps that approach my chair are shuffling and heavy.  Bare.  They scoot across the carpet as if still asleep and their owner has to push them from place to place to move them.  All the same, I know it’s Watson, despite the name employed.  Anne’s voice is nowhere near as deep and she lacks the slight hitch in her stride characteristic of the doctor and his injured leg.

“Yes.  Just me.”  I tuck the black bag on my thigh into the crease between my leg and the chair.  Certain habits aren’t within the doctor’s purview, even ones I haven’t had time yet to indulge this evening.  “Don’t worry, you’re not being burgled, Watson.  Not that you’re prepared to meet a thief if one was lurking about.”

“I heard you thrashing about.  Didn’t sound like a burglar.”  He flops into his own chair, a robe tied shut over striped pajamas.  I’m shocked to see his pocket watch in his hand.  He thumbs the button on the top and it pops open with a short, dull click.  “Two a.m..  What the devil has you out of bed?  No reason to be awake now, short of fire or flood.  Nothing good ever comes at such an hour.”

My thumb skims the cameo’s chin on the way to its throat.  You can certainly blame fire, I think, but I don’t provide the answer aloud.  “A case of a fitful night’s rest, that’s all.  I’m as prone to them as anyone else.”

“Moreso than some, I think.”  He yawns again, stretching his bare feet toward the half-dead fire.  He wiggles his toes as if it will somehow allow them to grasp more of the warmth he’s seeking.  They are, I think, adorably long and bony toes.

I scoff, a quiet, quick expulsion of air that flutters the hair hanging across my face.  “Have you been paying that close of attention, Doctor?”

“Your room, I think, is beneath mine.  I don’t always sleep so well myself, so it’s not difficult to hear my neighbor when she’s having a bad night.”  He pats down his pockets, then mutters a tired “Blast it all!” to himself.  “You wouldn’t happen to have a…”

I stretch forward, the sterling men’s cigarette case extended in my hand.  He takes it with a similarly muttered “thanks” and plucks a single stick from it.  I toss the matches.  He tries to catch them, but they land instead on his lap.  He tosses the case.  I catch it one-handed.

“Eavesdropping is a bit rude,” I say, watching his profile in the flare of the lit match as it burns at the cigarette’s end.

“Then I must be a rude man.”  Smoke floats up from his long exhale and swirls above his head like a living shadow.  “Likely the Scottish influence.”  I smile.  I doubt he sees it in the dark.  I see enough to spy a tendril of smoke expelled from a nostril that weaves briefly through the coarse hair of his mustache.  “Nightmare?”

“Hmm?”

“The thing that wakes you so often.  Is it a nightmare?”

“What do you think goes on out there this time of night?”  I ask the question as I stand, passing his chair close enough to pluck the cigarette from his fingers.  I drag in a breath deep enough that my lungs ache at the end, wondering if the smoke that night tasted different, felt different as my parents breathed it in.  I stop at the window and pull the curtain open just enough to peer at the world outside.  “Maybe all of London is awake tonight, staring out their windows and wondering after their neighbors, too.”

I hear Watson sigh.  The chair creaks as he stands; his feet shuffle less this time than before.  It sounds closer to the stuttering gait I’ve come to recognize as his.  “You pride yourself on prizing out other people’s secrets, but bury your own.  Everything of you, to you, is a secret.”  He stops behind me.  His breath disturbs my hair.  Warmth radiates outward from him like a tangible wall at my back.  “Is there something wrong with letting people know you?”

“People know enough.”  Father’s cigarette case is a heavy weight in the pocket of my robe.  My left hand closes tighter around the cameo, my mother’s cameo, dangling at my side.  Watson’s hand wraps around mine, lifting it.  With a gentle twist, he turns it so my palm faces upwards and urges my fingers open.

“What about those that might wish to be considered more than just ‘people’?

His thumb caresses the edge of my palm.  His head cants; I know it because his breath fans the side of my neck, now, not my hair.  My heart pounds against my ribcage like the hooves of a runaway horse.  I imagine his fingers following the same curves and arches as mine had on the cameo, but over my jaw, my throat, my lips.  I can’t speak, because I’m afraid the only words that will come out of my mouth are “Kiss me,” the two words screaming so loudly in my head that he has to, somehow, be able to hear them.  For a second, I’m sure he does.  For just that second, he sways, tenses, the precursors to movement that will bring his hand to my jaw to guide it into the right tilt so his lips can answer my repeated prayer.

But then his hand falls away, almost reluctant, I think; his fingers linger a moment too long at my wrist to be entirely happy to leave it.  He steps back.  Deliberate.  No sign of a shuffle there at all.  “Go back to bed, Charlotte.  Doctor’s orders.”

I wait until the sitting room door closes and his footsteps recede completely before I sink into the nearest chair.  My knees feel like poorly set aspic.  My heart is still running races even after that particular finish line has passed.  I tuck the cameo in the pocket of my robe and drag in another deep lungful of tobacco-laced smoke.

I have something else entirely keeping me awake now.

Of Secret Societies and Casual Misogyny

Humans are suckers for secret societies. Maybe we’re all vaguely paranoid naturally, but we seem fascinated by the possibility that groups of like-minded people, be they good or ill, gather under the cover of darkness and make secretive, potentially dangerous, plans that usually have something to do with world domination. This is probably why so many people still cling to conspiracy theories about the Illuminati and the Freemasons and ancient aliens; it’s why books and movies about the mob are still so popular. Doyle wasn’t immune to this interest either, if you think about it. Mormons appeared at the center of the first ever Holmes story; the Ku Klux Klan feature in “The Five Orange Pips,” which we’ll get to later. Complex criminal organizations make more than a few appearances over the course of the canon as well, from Moriarty and his gang to the sneaky no-goodniks of “The Redheaded League.” In “The Adventure of the Red Circle,” Holmes and Watson take on a mystery that has them rubbing shoulders with members of the Italian mob and a Pinkerton detective.

Mrs. Warren, who met Holmes and Watson through a former lodger – Mr. Fairdale Hobbs, whose affair we get no information on whatsoever – who made use of their services the year before, shows up on the doorstep of 221B in need of help. For some reason, Holmes is willing to shove the poor lady off in favor of doing a little filing, which is probably proof that this Holmes is an alien and the real version is being held against his will on the mother ship. Watson doesn’t see anything strange about his roomie wanting to pick up after himself instead of solve a little crime, which is probably proof he’s a podperson, too. At the very least, it’s proof that nobody thinks the landlady’s mystery is going to be that exciting or worth their time, I guess. Luckily for Mrs. Warren, she “had the pertinacity and also the cunning of her sex” and could sway the boys to her side by excessively fluffing up Holmes’ sizable ego.

Men – and egomaniacs – haven’t changed in over a hundred years, just in case anyone wondered. Neither have crafty older ladies.

Holmes shouldn’t have been so quick to wave off his new client, because the case is an interesting one. The Warrens have a new lodger that showed up two weeks earlier, willing to pay double their asking price as long as they basically leave him alone and never enter his room. That sounds suspicious enough, but it gets moreso. The first night, their lodger leaves in the dead of night, returns early in the morning before anyone else is up, and then is never directly seen again. Meals are left outside the man’s door and not taken in until the deliverer has gone back downstairs. All communication between lodger and landlady is managed via notes left on the abandoned trays that potentially point to a less than firm grasp of English and someone going out of their way to disguise their handwriting, requesting things like matches (written as match), soap, and a delivery of The Daily Gazette each morning.

Nothing untoward has happened, but it’s all just a little unnerving to poor Mrs. Warren. Holmes tells her to keep alert and report if anything else happens, and sends her along. She’s got no reason to worry, of course; Sherlock Holmes is on the case. Whatever the case is.

Holmes has a good idea about that, though. What the case is, even if the details are still fuzzy. He’s pretty sure the person in the rented room isn’t the same person that checked into the room and that’s why no one has seen them since checking in. He also surmises that the current lodger is keeping in contact with the original one via messages in the Agony column of the Gazette. After a little back searching, he finds a few messages from the last couple of days that seem to support that theory, which only helps firm up his general hypothesis.

The next morning, Holmes is crowing over a new message in the Gazette when Mrs. Warren breezes in to let them know her husband was kidnapped on the way to work, roughed up a bit, then released by his captors. That adds some definite urgency to solving the mystery, leading Holmes and Watson to the Warrens’ flat to put an end to the whole sordid affair. What follows is a tale of jealousy, mislaid loyalty, obsession, organized crime, secret codes, and, oddly, a love story. We also get the pleasure of Inspector Gregson’s company once again, and get to meet a determined and celebrated Pinkerton agent (celebrated insomuch that Holmes has heard of him and reacts with respect, if not admiration). By the end, it’s likely that no one serves any time, and the actual, true bad guy is dead anyway.

That’s a common thread in quite a few Holmes stories, actually. The perpetrator is frequently an innocent fighting against a corrupt villain – like Jefferson Hope in A Study in Scarlet; like Gennaro Lucca in “The Red Circle.” Oh, there are plenty of actual villains that get their comeuppance at the end of Doyle’s mysteries, and we’ll meet them all eventually: the Milvertons and the Moriartys, and all their compatriots. But there are also the tortured innocents finding their justice as well, and sometimes those stories are the more compelling ones. And Holmes, being more a fan of justice necessarily than law and order, doesn’t seem too concerned with letting the legal system do its job in those cases. Justice has been served – Jefferson Hope went on to face his final judgement, and no one can really blame Mr. Lucca for defending himself. Sometimes, that’s enough.

**

I’ve created a lot of characters in my time, but few of them are as loud or as persistent as Charlotte. (Her brother, by the way, is pretty loud and annoying, too, and seems to think he has his own story to tell, but let’s not encourage him.) She had a lot to say while I was reading this story, by the way, and most of it was about that quoted line up above, the one about the pertinacity and cunning of her affronted gender. She reminded me that women have means of persuasion beyond their looks and sweet words and some of us aren’t just raised knowing how to flutter our lashes and pat a man’s ego. Her method for convincing her male counterpart of the importance of paying attention would involve a fist to the nose, an arm twisted behind his back, and her Watson sighing and shaking his head. A lot. That is, if Sherlock didn’t block the blows. Her method for reminding Watson – both Watsons, because she has no illusions about her own Watson’s likelihood of occasional, casual misogyny – that a woman’s skill lies beyond just flirtatious cunning – is very similar. Which isn’t to say, by the way, that Charlotte is above resorting to manipulation via her feminine wiles when necessary. She just takes exception to the assumption it’s the only weapon in any woman’s arsenal.

Charlotte has the slightest tendency toward violence when people assume things based entirely on her gender. Lestrade, in her world, is lucky to have never been decked. Yet. Of course, I’m editing/rewriting the first book still, so it might happen before I’m done.

The other part that piqued my detective’s interest was the mention of the Pinkertons. Did you know that the first female detective was hired by the Pinkerton Agency in the 1850s? Kate Warne was part of the team that helped foil the assassination attempt on President-Elect Lincoln on his way to his inauguration. Whether the rumors that she and Allan Pinkerton were involved were true or not, he was obviously very fond of Warne and trusted her instincts and schemes implicitly. Was so fond, in fact, that he was at her bedside when she died, age 38, of pneumonia. She was also buried in the Pinkerton family plot. That’s at least a sign of some fairly significant respect, if you ask me, which is itself a little rare for the time period. Warne was one hell of an impressive woman, and if Charlotte aspires to be anyone (but herself, that is), it’s Kate Warne.

Imagine a young, impressionable Charlotte reading Penny Dreadfuls smuggled over from the states, telling the stories of this remarkable woman who flipped the establishment the proverbial bird at a time when people expected her to be a good little young widow and sit at home in black showing appropriate degrees of grief. Imagine a little girl who just lost her parents clinging to these stories as some kind of anchor in a world that’s suddenly completely upside down. Poor kid never had a chance. Charlotte Holmes, Consulting Detective was a complete inevitability.

The Instance of the Black Eye

The sitting room is a mess of discarded books and papers, clipped articles and hastily scribbled notes. It started as just a haphazard pile on my desk, but the overflow quickly spread to the floor, the couches, the dining table, and both Watson and my chairs. A small sliver of tidiness and order exists within the orbit of Watson’s desk, but the chaos constantly threatens to slip past the invisible boundary he’s strictly enforcing and overtake it.

“What in the name of sanity are you doing, Holmes?” Watson stands in the middle of his kingdom of neatness, hands on his hips as he watches me toss yet another newspaper across the room. “Besides turning the entirety of the house into a scrap heap?”

“Not the entirety,” I say, not looking up from the folder of clippings in my hand. “Just the sitting room. And I’m looking for something that is central to the happy conclusion of a client’s case. I just don’t remember where I filed this particular article.”

“Saying you file anything is a bit of a stretch.”

“I have a system. Just because you don’t understand it…”

“I think you have a strange definition of the word ‘system’ as well as ‘file.’” Watson kneels by the precarious piles of paper nearest his desk and plucks a Penny Dreadful from among the fallen. “’The Adventures of Kate Warne, American Detective.’ Doesn’t sound like your usual reading material, Holmes. Wasn’t aware you were a fan of silly pulp fiction.”

My head jerks up as if attached to a string someone has just tugged. I drop the folder in my hand and get to my feet with a grace compromised by the lack of clear, even floor nearby. “That, my dear doctor, is far from silly or fictional. Kate Warne was a member of the Pinkerton Agency. The first female detective in the history of the occupation, in fact. She helped prevent the first assassination attempt on Mr. Lincoln, before he took office.”

Watson opens the old, yellowed book and flips through its dog-eared pages, a chuckle rumbling his chest. “How did she do that? Flutter her eyes at the assassin until he lowered his gun?”

“The same way I would have, thank you kindly. With her wits.” I climb over and through a veritable mountain range of paper stacks to reach the doctor and attempt to snatch the book from him. He, having a few inches on me, adeptly keeps it just out of my reach. “She conceived the plan to switch his route, thus avoiding the killers waiting to ambush him. And sat up to watch him, personally, to ensure his continued safety.”

“Impressive. And I wouldn’t dare place a single doubt to your wits, of course. Physical intervention, however, is a bit beyond the female of the species, I think.”

One eyebrow creeps up toward my hairline, hefted inch by inch with my annoyance. “We’re not all weak little princesses, you know. Some of us have been instructed in the physical arts.”

“Yes, Holmes, I’m sure some of you have.” Watson dangles the book just beyond my arm’s reach, a smug smile the centerpiece of his overall amused expression. “Whether you have, however..”

I stop reaching for the book. A deep pout pushes out my bottom lip. I settle one of my hands on the elbow of the arm not stretched over his head. “It’s not very nice to tease, you know.”

Watson blinks. There is a hint of suspicion lingering in his eyes. He’s not a dumb man, the good doctor. He’s cautious. He should be. “It’s done out of affection,” he says, though he keeps the book overhead. “Friends do such things.”

“Of course.” I smile, the sweetest, simplest smile in my arsenal. My other hand remains at my side, in complete view. I’m hoping he remains too distracted to care what my hand is doing. My attention is, by all appearances, on him. Out of the corner of my eye, however, I watch the hand held aloft. “Still, it’s very mean to use a woman’s weakness against her.”

“Now, Holmes. I never said you were weak.” His outstretched arm dips at the elbow. My hand moves to settle on his chest, playing with the collar of his shirt. “I…well, I was only…” His cheeks pinken. I wonder what thoughts must be going through his mind to bring that on. Surely a flirtatious young woman isn’t enough to make a doctor flush that way.

I lean in, stretch up onto my toes, invade his personal space as fully as I can manage. I note with smug delight that he doesn’t try to step away. “Only what?” My lips are only a scant inch away from his. My breath fans the fine hairs of his mustache with each word, I’m so close. If I wasn’t so keen on proving a point, this might be a dangerous predicament. There is an awful lot of illogical temptation to be found this close to John Watson’s lips.

“I suppose I just wanted to see what the unflappable Charlotte Holmes looks like at a disadvantage.”

“Well,” I say, my smile slow and close enough to his own he likely feels the minute movements of muscle needed to accomplish it, “I think, my dear doctor, that you may have to wait a bit longer for the sight of that.” As punches to the solar plexus go, the one I land is mild. Barely enough to wind a man, meant only to cause the instinctual muscle tensing that will bring his hovering hand close enough that I can liberate my publication and demonstrate the flaws in his argument. However, I’ve miscalculated slightly. I misjudge the distance between him and the desk chair behind him, as well as the unequal distribution of weight between his good leg and his bad one. The punch causes him to stumble, then to fall against the chair, then to fall over it. While attempting to catch his hand to arrest his descent, I accidentally catch him in the eye. He goes down, grabbing my arm and taking me with him.

We land in a familiar tangle of limbs, our positions reversed so that he’s the one doing the pinning this time. For a long moment, we lay there, staring at each other. Once again, I’m tormented by the proximity of those lips, this time without the benefit of a point in need of proving. I’m a breath away from giving into that temptation when Watson pulls back, taking those lips out of reach.

“It’s not nice to use a man’s weaknesses against him,” he says, his hands careful to remain on the floor. I notice he’s putting quite a bit of weight on them, in fact, almost as if he wants to make sure they remain there. “Point made, however.” He pushes himself off and then up, a hand offered down to me once he’s securely on his feet again. When I am similarly situated, he offers the Penny Dreadful to me as well. “Happy reading about Miss Warne, Holmes. I think I’ll turn in for the night.”

As Watson’s footsteps recede, I stare at the book in my hand. “How did you manage men? I’m personally at a loss.”

Of course, the book doesn’t answer.

Loose threads from this story: The affair of Fairdale Hobbs; the Long Island cave case.