Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognise from Canon.
Out of the many Christmases I spent in the company of the world's greatest, and only, private consulting detective, there is one holiday season that stands out in my mind. Not because of any heinous crime my friend solved during the season of goodwill, not because of any violent melodrama forced upon our lives at the most wonderful time of the year, but because of an event which most would term a mere incident, but which I shall ever remember as the clearing up of a personal mystery which had been troubling me for some time.
At the time I mention, a bitterly cold Christmas Eve in 1897, the streets and sidewalks were covered with several inches of snow and slush, making travel a slow and very chilling experience. I was sitting in front of a roaring fire in our Baker Street sitting room, congratulating myself on having done my Christmas shopping early enough to negate my going out in such inclement conditions, when Sherlock Holmes burst violently out of his bedroom into the sitting room.
"Watson! Where the devil is it?" he shouted, rummaging through the drawers in the cabinet by the window.
I stifled a groan, having just organized the files inside for the second time in as many weeks. Holmes had the most annoying habit of destroying anything that got in his way when he needed to find a document. I knew that if we did not find whatever it was that he was looking for, I would be spending the rest of my Christmas holiday picking up papers and books from the floor of the sitting room.
"If you were to tell me what it is, my dear Holmes, I might be able to help you find the thing. And stop you from completely destroying Mrs. Hudson's hard work in tidying up this room!"
"The file, Watson, the Beddington murder file. Spring 1881, I'm sure of it! Where the deuce did you put it in your over-zealous organization of my records?"
This tirade was accompanied by a mountain of papers sliding to the floor to scatter at his feet. Not a whit disconcerted, he continued his violent search of our records. I winced as a large scrapbook slammed to the ground, pages coming dangerously close to spilling out of it.
"Holmes, I –"
"Confound it!" Holmes snarled, flinging a file across the room to land on the table, "it used to be right here! Why in the world must you mess with my things anyway, Watson?"
In the early days of our association, such a statement would have provoked an irate response from me. However, through the years, I had learned to read my friend like one of those very books which he was now throwing to the floor, and I knew his irritation was not directed at me but on the elusive file. Instead of retorting to his provocation, I got up and began searching through the books and files on my desk.
"You are certain it was 1881, Holmes?"
Sorry I asked, I thought, opening another drawer. A crashing noise behind me made me cringe. Not wanting to know what Holmes had thrown this time, I didn't dare turn round.
"All the 1881 records are either in that cabinet you are so intent on destroying, Holmes, or they are in the top drawer of the wardrobe in your room. Especially if they were ones I was not directly involved in. I don't recall the name Beddington. Perhaps the files are in your room."
"They're not, Watson," Holmes replied, tossing two books behind him, where they came dangerously close to knocking over the teapot from lunch. "I already searched everywhere, and that file has completely vanished, thanks to your attack of tidiness!"
Another book went crashing to the floor.
"I simply must have that file today, Watson – it's vital, absolutely vital, to this case of Mycroft's – hah!"
His ranting came to an abrupt stop as he snatched at one of the few remaining files in the cabinet, rifling through it so rapidly I was afraid he might tear the pages contained within.
Throwing me one of those quirky half-smiles which usually took the place of an apology for his mood swings, he stuffed the file into his jacket, grabbed his hat and coat from the stand in the hall, and rushed off without saying another word to me. I smiled indulgently as I heard him shouting on his way down the stairs for Mrs. Hudson to "get him a cab this instant!" and then cringed as he slammed the front door behind him.
I walked over to the desk, treading carefully to avoid stepping on the immense litter on the floor, and glanced at the spot from which he had taken the file. There, labeled carefully in my neatest handwriting, was the card inscribed March 1881. Over-zealous organization, indeed.
My tolerance level is, I believe, one of the highest, but even I have limits, and when I turned from the window and saw just exactly how much damage Holmes had done in his pursuit of that elusive file, I became more than a trifle annoyed with my friend.
I knew Holmes would not return until he chose to, and heaven only knew when that would be. I doubted if he even remembered that this day was Christmas Eve; since he had been on this case for his brother, his only thoughts had been on the problem at hand. Why I continued to hope or expect differently was an even greater mystery than Holmes's current one.
With a small sigh, I began the laborious work of cleaning up the mess my companion had created before his departure. Starting in the sitting room, I began to pick up the books and re-stack them neatly on the shelves. I gathered up the scattered papers and then began to sort them by date, re-filing them in my desk and the cabinet as I did so.
As I worked, my irritation (Mrs. Hudson had insisted in no uncertain terms the last time this had happened that our rent most certainly did NOT cover having to re-organize nearly twenty years' worth of case notes – thus the job of filing and sorting had fallen to me) began to dissipate as I glanced over notes from past cases I had forgotten about. Memories, both pleasant and unpleasant, began to overtake me, putting me in a more mellow frame of mind, so that when I finally moved on to Holmes's bedroom, I was no longer so severely irritated with my comrade.
Holmes's bedroom was in an even worse state of disarray than our sitting room – it looked as if every document and book he owned had somehow made its way to the floor. Sighing, I began once more the task of organizing his things.
I struggled to curb my innate curiosity and restrained myself from peeking into files of cases about which I knew nothing, provocative though some of the titles were. If the notes were in his bedroom, then that meant he did not wish for me to know about the details of the case, and I as always respected his privacy.
That is, until I was nearly finished, and one of the books I held fell off the stack in my hands and landed, open in the middle, on the floor. Placing the others back on the shelf, I bent down to pick up the offending volume, intending to put it alongside the others, when I saw my own name on one of the pages.
Curious as to what part I might have had in this memoir of a previous case, I glanced down at the page in question. It appeared to be a journal of some kind, and my attention was arrested at once by the date at the top of the entry. April 28, 1891.
A thousand memories assaulted my mind at the sight of the date – this book, then, was a journal of the days preceding the Moriarty trial and our flight to Switzerland, which had resulted in Holmes's supposed death.
So many questions still remained unanswered in my mind – so many things that I wanted, perhaps needed, to know, and yet Holmes had never told me anything else about Professor James Moriarty. Even in that spring of that year, as we fled England from the Professor and his gang, Holmes told me no more than that his life was in grave danger and that we must get out of the country until the arrests had been made. Even since his return in '94, he still evaded all questions I had about the time immediately preceding and following Reichenbach. Indeed, he only grew more reticent when questioned about those weeks and months, and I respected his silence and refrained from pursuing the matter any further.
I had intended to close the book, not wishing to intrude upon my friend's very private nature, but before I had done so my eyes had glanced at several of the words on the pages in question. To my surprise, I saw that my name was mentioned almost as often as Moriarty's own. Then I saw a sentence toward the end of the entry that made my breath catch in my throat.
Holmes's normally clear handwriting had become slightly unsteady at this point in the entry, and I stared at the lines he had penned in some shock.
It has been two long, harrowing days since Moriarty gave me his ultimatum – drop the case, or Watson dies. I would care naught for his words if it were my life he was threatening - I fear few things, and death is not one of them. But the Professor has discovered my one weakness, Watson's safety, and I am at a loss what to do. Pray God I can find a way to extricate us both from the clutches of this monster.
To be continued, of course.