Off the Deep End
1989, young kid, champion swimmer, came up from Brighton for a school sports tournament, drowned in the pool. Tragic accident. You wouldn't remember it. Why should you?
"Um…hm, you…You told me once that you weren't a hero. Um…there were times when I didn't even think you were human, but let me tell you this. You were the best man and most human, human being that I've ever known and no one will ever convince me that you told me a lie, okay? So, there."
Sherlock pressed his fingers against the lapel of his Belstaff coat, feeling for the thick envelope against his chest. Already, its contents had been engrained into the mind of the world's "former" consulting detective, but it was only now that its relevance was made apparent. Seventeen months ago he would have been incapable of realizing something of this nature; still, so much has happened since then. Was sentiment the culprit?
Sentiment explained why John was standing there over his grave; it explained the letter Sherlock held in his hand. The high arching letters of his name hand-written on the front and the broken seal of an M on the back could only lead back to one person.
To my dearest Sherlock,
With the unfortunate chance that you are reading this, I have lost our little game. Hooray for you! But I suppose it's the same for me. After all, you've managed to keep me entertained to the end. I have to say, Sherlock, that I'm very pleased with your progress. Very pleased, indeed. I would love to hear how you managed to survive that fall though, but I'm afraid our correspondence will end with this letter.
You're probably wondering, "Well, this is so unlike Jim!" and you are right! It's just that with the past few days, I've been feeling a little like "them". Sickening, I know. To feel the need to part a little of my soul onto another, to assure myself that my thirty-three years at life have not been for naught—but don't you dare think that I feared death! Oh no! Death has been an old friend that I've met time and time again. The only difference now is that I've finally been invited to the party!
But I should be getting to my point. Time waits for no one, after all! You see, Sherlock, although you are the main distraction in my life, there is another thing that's been leaving me on edge—almost like a thorn in my side that I can't seem to be rid of. Can you guess what it is? No, I suppose not. You can see so far into things that you fail to see just what's in front of you. But if you did, well, that wouldn't be you. And we can't have that.
I'm referring to your loyal lapdog, your constant companion, Johnny-boy! But why? Wouldn't you like to know, Sherlock? Well, I suppose we'll start with a riddle, one final game between us! Here it is.
Do you think, Sherlock, that if I had not met John all those years ago, I would have been the one standing on that ledge and not you?
"Thank you, Ms. Friedman. Best of luck to your school." Margot Friedman handed the last of the registration forms to the young woman at the desk, making a slight snort at the incompetency of her comment. Luck was not something she needed this year after all, but her vain thoughts were interrupted when she felt an excited nudging at her arm.
"There he goes! Brilliant! Just what I'd expect from Powers. You should have brought him sooner, Margot."
"What are you saying, Randall?" she said, swatting his arm away. "He just barely qualified this year due to his age. Now Carl, easy on the warm-up!" she called towards the chaotic splashing.
"And just like you asked I've managed to request some reporters to come in a few days. Just in time to see his last event, eh?"
"Hm…well, it would do well for the publicity of the school. Now, Carl—!" she said, stepping forward.
"He's in lane four. King Edward's is in lane one."
"Is he really?" She pushed the plastic rims of her glasses higher and squinted. "Oh yes, of course," she lied. She walked to the edge of the lane and peered down at the boy ripping his goggles and cap off triumphantly. "Carl, save your energy," she managed to call over his splashing. "The one hundred meters isn't for another hour. Let the others have their warm-up."
"Yes, Ms. Friedman." Carl climbed out of the pool reluctantly and walked past the teacher to join a group of boys wearing the same color swim shorts as him. "So?"
"That was great," said Harold, handing him a towel. "You're definitely going to show everyone up!"
"Of course," replied Carl, scratching his chest. "I mean did you see the face of that kid in the next lane?"
"Could'a fooled him," added Barry. "They won't know what's comin'."
"You're so lucky, Carl. I heard Ms. Friedman say they might let you compete with the older kids in the one thousand free."
"Attention, you all," interrupted Ms. Friedman, clapping her hands. "Now, has everyone warmed up? They'll be starting soon so we best make our way upstairs." She was just about to lead the boys to the stairwell when she glanced back at her troupe. "Hm…one, two…four…eight…twelve… Oh, not again. Where's Jim?" she sighed. The boys looked around, shrugging. "Cole, Marcus, you two are in his grade. When did you last see him?"
"Um, Ms. Friedman," chirped Daryl. "I think I saw him return to the lockers after his warm up."
"That boy…" she said, pressing at her temple. "Cole, could you lead the rest of the boys to the bleachers? I'll see if I can—"
"No, I'll get him, Ms. Friedman," said Carl. "I left something behind."
"Oh, thank you, Carl. You are too kind."
Carl walked down the aisles of lockers and stopped when he saw a boy sitting at the far end of the benches. The white jacket he wore bore the name of their school, and he stared apathetically to the wall across from him, letting Johann Sebastian Bach steal his attention through his headphones. Mindlessly, he had been tapping away at the notes on his kneecap when he suddenly felt a large hand push on his back, sending him crashing forward into the row of lockers.
"Whatcha spacing out for, Jim?" Jim turned his head to the sound of the laughing that had overcome 'Preludium in E Major', internally groaning that he had been forced back into reality. "Oh sorry, didn't mean to mess with your fancy Discman. Did I break it?"
"Not yet," he mumbled, turning the player off.
"No, I said." Jim stood and carefully slid the player into its designated spot in his bag. It was one of the only things his father had personally given him after all. Carl watched the action, letting his greedy eyes narrow at the thought that someone like Jim could own such fancy things. But Jim knew, and he waited for Carl to have the next word to allow himself to pacify his own jealousy.
"Well," began Carl as if on cue. "Not sure if you noticed the new trainers my father bought me after I won the championship." He had already opened his own locker and brought out the clean, white and navy blue shoes onto the bench as if it were a pedestal. "Limited edition, eh? Don't even think these have come out onto the market yet."
He knew. Everyone knew. Carl had not bothered to stop pestering the team on the entire bus ride from Brighton about them. Jim glanced down at the large pair, already having made notice of the third set of laces they bore along with the subtle scent of chemical from having been cleaned too many times. So Carl Powers did have a heart, even if it was just to his own belongings. He had returned to his locker and was busy replacing the eczema cream that had washed off in the pool. Not much good it did him, though. Carl still scratched like a monkey for probably most of his waking hours, Jim thought.
Jim closed his locker and continued on past Carl when the back of his collar was yanked backwards. "Hey, who said you could leave without me?" Jim exhaled loudly from his nose, letting that translate into any of the snide things he could have thrown at him. "What was that? Hey!" he said, pressing Jim's shoulder harshly against a locker handle. Jim winced and glared up at Carl who had now stood to trap him in place. How could a kid two years younger than he was be so tall and strong? Well then again, Jim had always been small for his age. "I don't know where you get all your attitude from but you don't even swim well at all! You're the weakest here and always have been. Your daddy's probably the one who bought your way onto the team. Probably couldn't stand the thought of having his own son do nothing but sit alone in the corner of the schoolyard all day."
Jim clenched his teeth and clawed at the metal against his back, ignoring the dull pain in his shoulder. "But that's who you are, ain't it? Slim Jim! Always the weakest and the last. I'd be surprised if you could even finish the measly fifty meters today. I mean, it's your only event for the whole meet, right? Wouldn't want daddy to see you fail at it, would you?" Carl released his hold and turned to gather his things into his locker. He then swung his swim jacket over his shoulder and walked out.
Jim had not moved. His heart was beating so fast, yet he remained livid. His shaking hand dug into his pocket to retrieve an asthma inhaler, but as Jim stared down at the thing in his hand, he resolved not to let something like that suffocate him. He quietly slowed down his breaths and followed out after.
"Alright, Carl, the third heat's about to get ready. It's time you head down," said Ms. Friedman, squinting at the list of events on her clipboard. "And you, too, Daryl. You'll be in lane three next to Carl."
Carl paused and glanced sharply at Daryl. "You never told me that you were doing the one hundred meters."
Daryl, like a deer caught in headlights, froze at the sudden accusation. "W-Well, I thought it'd be nice to try, you know—"
"But, you only do backstroke," added Carl pointedly. It was as if whatever Carl Powers said was law above all else.
"Now hurry on, you two," interrupted Ms. Friedman, turning back around. Carl turned for the steps first after clicking his tongue in Daryl's direction.
"Well, get goin'" said Barry, pushing Daryl forward, who had been too stunned to move. Once he was out of earshot, Barry turned to Harold sneering. "Can't believe he pulled that one."
"Yeah, Carl's gonna get pissed. I swear, Daryl can be so stupid sometimes." Jim, who had been sitting a couple bleachers behind the pair, snorted a little too loudly. They both turned.
"And what are you laughin' at?"
Jim's smirk disappeared in an instant. "I didn't say anything."
"No, but you thought something."
Which is more than what you lot could do combined, thought Jim. "I just…"
"I just thought it was funny that your group was the type to talk behind each other's backs." The words came out like venom that he had been holding in for too long. However, the moment he said it, he felt his adrenaline turn cold.
Both Barry and Harold exchanged glances and looked incredulously at Jim. "Don't think you know anythin' about us. You don't even have any friends of your own," chided Barry.
"Yeah, you're lucky old Friedman is here or I'd sock you in the jaw again," whispered Harold.
When they both turned around, Jim instinctively reached up and rubbed his jaw. He still remembered the pain from two weeks before. Fortunately, his father had been abroad as usual and the caretaker had been gullible enough to believe his split lip had come from simply falling at school. Even the teachers turned a blind eye.
Jim's gaze fell on Friedman, who had been too engrossed in reading the list of schools. She held the clipboard at various distances to compensate for her poor vision despite still being in her fifties. Probably glaucoma, thought Jim. He prided himself in remembering that it was only after this year that he would not have to see any of these faces again.
"Oh, how I wish the coach could have been here to join us," said Ms. Friedman. She finally tossed the clipboard aside and squinted out over the railing. "Tell me, they lined up yet?" The remaining members of the team crowded at the edge. Jim looked at their backs from the bleachers and could not help but think they looked like a bunch of mindless ducklings following after their mother.
Below, the swimmers mounted their blocks at the blow of the whistle. Carl stretched his goggles over his eyes and gripped the edge of the platform. He glanced to Daryl on his left who had kept looking back to make sure his feet were properly placed. What a joke, thought Carl with a sneer.
"Swimmers take your marks," called the referee. For just a moment, only the sound of a sharp inhale echoed throughout the area. Beep.
Jim heard a single loud splash followed by the continuous sound of water being torn apart. The cheers of his teammates alternated from the name of their champion swimmer to their school. He stood on the bleachers and just barely caught lane four within view, just in time to see Carl's flip turn off the opposite wall. His form through the water was swift and decisive, and that left Jim with an uncomfortable feeling of awe. Just looking at Carl Powers in what seemed to be his natural domain was certainly a sight. He had the proportions of a boy midway through adolescence to the point in which it seemed he was competing in the wrong age group.
"Is that Daryl?" Suddenly, all cheers from Jim's team stopped for a moment to be replaced by a hesitant silence. Subconsciously, Jim had gone to the railing and peaked over the shoulder of a stupefied Barry, who exchanged glances with an equally stunned Harold. But before the surprise could pass, however, the timekeepers had retreated to the scoring desk. Carl took off his goggles and beamed up to the balcony only to have his smile falter after looking at all the faces. He spun around to see Daryl already beside him, who was just beginning to remove his cap and goggles as well.
"When did you—?"
"Carl, it was nothing," pleaded Daryl. "A-And you still wo—"
"Forget it!" Carl slumped down on the bleachers and hid his face from view with a towel; meanwhile, Daryl had stood beside hesitantly like a wet dog put out in the rain. Jim, who now had the entire railing to himself glanced down just in time to see the swimmers of the two hundred individual medley climb out of the water. None were from his school judging from the lack of white swim caps, but Jim made a double take when he saw the times listed, particularly the one from the middle lane.
That one's fast. In fact, the boy from King Edward's was nearly on par with Carl Powers had he only taken his freestyle lap into account.
"Jim, it's your turn to get ready now." Ms. Friedman said with finality as if checking off the last thing on her to-do list. Jim took his time removing his shirt, finally fitting in with the rest of the team.
Now if there was anything to brighten Carl Powers' spirit, it was for the exact opposite happen to Jim. "Don't drown." Jim could see the sneer from beneath the towel, and Barry and Harold had not bothered to hide their snickering from Friedman. Glancing back to the bleachers, Jim focused on the pocket of his discarded jacket. No, he didn't need it, he told himself.
Jim gripped onto the railing of the stairwell, treating each step like it were his last. Walking along the length of the pool, he gulped at the gradual yet steady change from light to dark blue. It's just one lap, thought Jim. That's all.
At block one, Jim fumbled with his goggles which resulted with laughing from above. "Now boys!" He heard Friedman hush at them. The whistle blew once and Jim made sure he properly had them on before the other swimmers took their place before the blocks. The second long whistle alerted them to take their positions, and Jim had still been adjusting his feet while everyone else waited for the starting signal.
"On your marks!" Beep.
The next thing Jim knew he was suffering from what felt like an Indian burn all across his front side. And despite that, the remainder of his body was shocked with cold as he began to sink. He saw his arms flailing above his head while the sunlight through the surface peaked down as if to mock him. Before the panic set in, Jim managed to claw through the icy blue until his lungs met their much needed counterpart. Already, the majority of the swimmers were more than halfway through the fifty meters, and Jim was just barely wadding near the starting block. But, there was no time for that.
Following with the method that the coach had taught him, he threw his right arm over his head and into the water. He propelled himself with the basic kicks for it had already been too late to begin the proper way, like the way he had seen at the Olympics once before. He still remembered the smell of the chlorine from where he and his father sat. But now, that smell was all around him and he found that the only way to keep moving forward was to not think about swimming at all. He ignored the water that had slipped through his goggles, the pain clamping down on his muscles, and even the sounds of the cheers that were for all but him. He just had to make it to the other end—not to make Carl Powers see, but just to simply finish something he had already started.
And it was done. Jim's fingers felt the tile on the wall and his toes just managed to touch the bottom. At this point, the only splashes came from lane one as the remaining swimmers had already climbed out. All eyes were on Jim, and it was only now that all the pain and all the embarrassment had caught up with him. It was quiet where he stood, alone in the water, and Jim was aware of every sound he made as he tried to get out. He cursed his weak arms and slid again. However, a pair of hands held on to his and pulled him out ever so easily.
"Hey, are you alright? Wow, you just kept going… It was fantastic!" Jim tore off his goggles and looked to the person who still tightly gripped his hand. Aside from his uncanny look of awe, Jim was surprised that this person was from a different school, judging from the red swim jacket he wore. Panting, his head dropped and he saw the name written on the left side of the chest.
Yes, Sherlock. That day was the beginning of the Jim Moriarty you know—the world's only consulting criminal.