Lestrade suffers an ordeal worse than working with Sherlock Holmes: Charity benefits.
Bradstreet swept into the wretched mess that was Scotland Yard in London the day after a heavy snowfall on top of a dense, slimy, yellow-tinged coal-fired fog. His arrival had been expected for some days, but mercifully postponed by a minor lung infection that had kept him under doctor's orders to stay inside out of the air-born soot.
Bradstreet's convalescence had been treated with all due sympathy for a fellow Yarder; but that didn't mean anyone was going to stick around to wish him back. By the time the big man had pulled off his Froggy-style coat and his pointed cap1, the main rooms were depopulated of all but those who were forced to work there…and the unlucky.
Lestrade was not only ignorant of Bradstreet's arrival; he was blissfully ignorant. He gritted his teeth and struggled furiously with his wet shoelaces. Snow-sogged cordage simply had no gripping power. Damn the cheap sisal fibres right off the cock anyway. He pulled everything apart and tried again, just as a series of quick foot-thuds passed him and a racing Gregson, doing a fair imitation of the 12:45 out of Paddington, slammed the door to his office with a racketing thud.
The last time Lestrade had seen his worst rival move that quickly, gunfire on the wrong side of the Gasworks had been involved.
Lestrade looked up. And up. His eyes locked into Bradstreet's.
"Oh." He gulped. "Welcome back, Bradstreet." He said thinly. He didn't mean it, of course.
Bradstreet's face crimped like an overdone pie in the oven. "You didn't put your name to the Hogmanay, Geoffrey." The use of his first name was the first, deliberate, skillful thrust in what was going to be a short and bloody defeat.
Lestrade had reviewed the list of potential comebacks days ago. Now that Bradstreet was actually here, he almost felt a sense of relief that the gloves could come off and he could get to it. "Bradstreet…I really do feel like I'm a little pressed for time this year."
"Have a pity, sir." Constable Lions popped up. "This is his first Christmas as a married man—and his wife being on confinement and all, she might do some kind of grievous harm on him if she found he was going to be out."
Bradstreet glared only slightly, but Lions promptly slunk backwards. "This is for CHARITY." He announced in a cavernous tone—rather like a churchbell carved out of limestone.
"Why can't you use Gregson?!" Lestrade asked desperately.
"Gregson??" Bradstreet was horrified. "My good man, Hogmanay means a dark-haired stranger must visit each household for said household to receive blessings for the year. I specifically say, 'dark-haired'" Bradstreet slapped paws the size of badminton rackets on Lestrade's shoulders and stared him poignantly in the eye. "Do you know why it has to be a dark-haired man?" He wanted to know.
Lestrade closed his eyes. "No," he sighed.
"Because a blond or ginger-man could be a Viking." Bradstreet leaned into Lestrade's face. "You cannot have a sodding Viking in a Scottish Festival!!"
"I thought they had blond men for the Up Helly A." Barnes said under his breath.
Bradstreet heard. He whirled like a whip. "The Shetlands are not Scotland!" He roared. "The Shetlands are where the Diaspora of destitution floats to, to eke out a miserable existence among stunted dogs and smart sheep! The Shetlands might be allocated as part of Scotland since the 14th century, but no one who knew any better voted for it!"
"Look, if you need a stranger, why do you need me?" Lestrade suddenly latched on to divine inspiration. "First of all, let's list the facts. You may not be aware of this, but the Lestrades are French in origin. In fact, we're not even respectable French—redundant grammar though that might be to some of you—"The little Inspector neatly beat Gregson to the punch, to the big man's pout. "We were actors1, for heaven's sake!—2
"—creating a codicil on that, Hogmanay should really be making use of blooded Scotsmen. I'll grant you the French are not normally at war with Scotland, but that doesn't mean we have anything more in common than an ability to make dinner out of things most people would avoid like a plague!" Lestrade felt his confidence grow as he spoke. What felt like a lifetime of mental arguments was piling to the fore now. If only Bradstreet would let him finish.
"Secondly, Hogmanay needs a dark-haired stranger to do the rounds. I am not a stranger! I am a fellow Inspector! We share the same building, the same source of pencils and notebooks, I pulled you from the path of the 3:45 out of Surrey when the Spitalfield Gang threw you onto the tracks, I have given you nothing but the same level of attention as I give everyone else here! But as for you, Bradstreet--You've been kidnapping me every sodding year for five years, and henceforth, I should not be known as a stranger—to be blunt, my good fellow, find yourself a new victim!" A new rush of inspiration presented itself. "Get Watson."
"Watson!" Bradstreet repeated.
"Yes, Watson. I think you've seen him before…sturdy fellow, brown hair, brown eyes, hangs out with that madman of a private consulting detective—what was his name? Sherringford? No, Sherlock somebody, Sherlock Holmes, is it?"
"Tall, excitable chap?" Youghal popped up brightly. "Underfed looking? He lives on Cook Street, doesn't he?"
"I know bloody well who Watson is!" Bradstreet growled. "As if there'd be anyone else around Sherlock Holmes who wasn't paid to be!"3
"Why can't you use him?"
"My God, man, he's clearly got Edinburgh roots!"
"I fail to see the problem." Lestrade said honestly—and with a large helping of patience.
"Well, of course you wouldn't." Bradstreet snorted. "The Watsons from Edinburgh have to have Lallan in the stock."
"Be that as it may, whatever a Lallan is, you have an uncertain chance of success with him, but you have no chance at all from me this year4." Lestrade glared. "Why don't you try some of that Calvinist Guilt you Scots are so skilled at?5 Remind him how much we at the Yard put up with having to just speak to his flatmate."
"I don't see how that could work." Bradstreet protested, but the way he shifted his feet suggested Lestrade's words were sinking in. Fresh victims were usually better and easier game than trying to run down and net wary former enslaved volunteers.
"Good Lord, don't you remember what happened on that case with the madman who was mailing severed badger heads to Lord Dauncy?6 I'll admit, verbally, Holmes' artistic skills have never been in a higher art than that, but as I recall, Dr. Watson was standing off to the side like he usually does, and cringing at every fifth word that came out of his mouth." Lestrade lifted his hands to implicate that everything was out of his hands. "Watson feels guilt, Bradstreet! Take advantage of it!"
Bradstreet gave in with amazingly bad grace. "If you see me coming back here tonight, you'll know I failed." He growled.
"I accept your challenge." Lestrade shot back. He was feeling far too smug for his own good.
Gregson waited until Bradstreet had stomped back out into the snow. "You're just doing this because of that contest." He pointed out. "It isn't like you to try to get back at someone using underhanded techniques."
"Well, I thought I'd give it a try first, see if I'm any good at it." Lestrade answered peacefully. "Did you happen to see Marcus? I need him to send a note."
"Over there." Gregson waved, caught the boy's eye from the other side of the room, and subsided against the wall. "What is it about Bradstreet that makes me dread the holiday?" He asked no one in particular.
"I don't know, but perhaps Scotland refers to the Twelve Days of Christmas as "The Daft Days" for a reason." Lestrade flagged the paper to be collected. That done, he went back to his reports, and the occasional thoughts of his wife. There was a lot of truth to the observation about Clea's confinement. He was torn between wanting the reason for the confinement over with, and the terror of facing fatherhood. If his memory (admittedly not to be trusted when factoring the high number of head-injuries in his life) was to be trusted, an infant in the house was a new and stressful change indeed. How his mother had dealt with so many…well, he was certain he didn't know. But Clea had dealt with half a rugby-team of brute brothers, unwanted suitors, and a father who carried the wrestling championship title for three years running, so he could only hope something that weighed about as much as a wheel of cheddar wouldn't pose too much of a challenge.
Well, that's a nice theory. Lestrade felt that now-familiar tightening sensation of fear/terror/optimism in his chest rise to the fore. God love that fool Bradstreet anyway. He meant well, but still…
Being that man's best friend was not easy. Acidic comments about Watson aside, Lestrade had to admit he felt a kinship with the man; it wasn't a simple thing to have as your best friend, a man who could pull you out of a warm bed at soul's midnight and send you trooping desperately across some misbegotten moor deliberately forgotten by God Himself during the last Age of Mammoths.
As far as best friends go, Lestrade's was merely obsessed. Watson's best friend was insane.
I should feel guilty about drafting him for Hogmanay, the little detective thought. I really should. I suppose there's just no room in my cockles right now.7
At ten pm, Bradstreet returned with a strange expression in his face. He was also carrying a rugby shirt.
"He didn't give in?" Lestrade was horrified.
"Not in so many words, no. Turns out he's been drafted for the St. Bart's Hogmanay already." Bradstreet was in a strangely peaceful mood as he turned to go.
"Wait a moment…why are you so calm and what are you carrying? Is that a rugger shirt?"8
"Dr. Watson apologized with a most generous donation for the Hogmanay raffle." Bradstreet held up the shirt in question. "Did you know he used to play for Blackheath?" He smiled reverently—as well he might. "I'll be seeing you later, old friend." With that ominous farewell, he strolled away.
Lestrade felt his jaw fall open. "You mean, all this time, I could have just bribed you to stay off my neck?" He watched the too-smug Bradstreet walk back to his office, fielding admiring glances at his prize all the way.
"Blackheath, huh." Youghal commented around a toothpick. "That explains the way he tackled Lions down from that mad scissors-grinder."
"I don't believe this." Lestrade muttered. "Five years, I could have just donated a tin of pudding to get him to back off."
"You still have time." Youghal pointed out.
"No, I have another plan." Lestrade leaned back in his chair and with eerie calm, began stacking his paperwork for the end of the day. "I tipped Bradstreet off to my wife's youngest brother's. He'll do anything for a drink, and Bradstreet does give a good bowl of punch at the end of the Hogmany walk."
Youghal's eyeballs popped wide. "You're pulling one of your wife's own brothers, her flesh and blood, away from a family night? Are you mad as that scissors grinder?"
"Not at all. It's my youngest, most pestiferous in-law. Bartram Cheatham. Perhaps you've heard of him. Champion Lancashire wrestler? Clea's been demanding he do more charity work lately." Lestrade smiled.
"I get the notion he's your least favorite in-law, Geoffrey."
"Elementary deduction, Youghal."
Youghal chuckled under his breath.
"Something amusing, Youghal?"
"I was just thinking…too bad we don't have enough leverage to get Sherlock Holmes involved with Hogmanay."
"For the love of God, why would you think of that?"
"Simple." Youghal grinned. "He's dark-haired, and he's as strange as they come."
1 L'estrade; estrade is a platform or stage. This is a wretchedly hard name to trace. A village of that name exists in central France.
Youghal: I know that Inspector Youghal only appeared once, and that in THE MAZARIN STONE, which is considered a real dud to some Doyle purists. As if even Holmes could EVER have a bad say…! Sorry. There was something I LIKED about that man.
1 As described by Doyle himself
2 As it has been pointed out among Holmes-scholars, there was a time when even decent boarding-houses in Great Britain would not put an actor up for the night. They had better luck in France, which really makes one wonder what Lestrade's family was like.
3 I know this is strange, but I've combed months of analysis on the characters of SY Inspectors, and Lestrade is the ONLY one who seeks Holmes out for advice, even when he knows he's likely to get chewed out.
4 Lallan is slang for someone with Lowland, or southern roots. Ever hear of an Appalachian or Ozarker or even Dudley Dowright refer to a "flatlander?" You have a good idea what a Lallan is.
5 Spoken like a true lapsed Catholic who has formed his own religiosity.
6 The idiot ran out of hedgehogs, in case you're wondering.
7 Cockles of the heart.
8 Rugby. 1864, after Rugby, public school where the game was played, from city of Rugby in Warwickshire, central England. The place name is Rocheberie (1086) "fortified place of a man called Hroca;" with second element from O.E. burh (dat. byrig), replaced by 13c. with O.N. -by "village" due to the infl. of Dan. settlers. Otherwise it might be Rockbury today. First element perhaps rather O.E. hroc "rook." Rugby Union formed 1871. I didn't know at the time it was writ that 'rugger' didn't exist until 1893. Yowtch! But some fun facts: Scrum: Comes from scrimmage: scrimmage
c.1470, alteration of skirmish (q.v.). The verb is recorded from 1825. Meaning in rugby and U.S. football dates from 1857, originally "a confused struggle between players."