"The secret of dealing successfully with a child is not to be its parent." - Mel Lazarus
My dearest friend Sherlock Holmes and I had just finished an extremely taxing case involving a blackmailer and a fraud involving yarn. It had drained him both physically and mentally, and one would expect him to be lounging on our settee, perhaps easing his sleep with his current drug of choice, entirely out of touch with reality. Instead, he was in the aquarium section of the London Zoo, pulling faces at the sharks. I had learned over the last several months that parenthood could be an amazing thing.
His drug use still occurred, but it had become less and less frequent since Mycroft had told him in plain terms that if Eve ever saw him under the influence, he'd strangle his little brother with his bare hands.
The little girl herself was beside him, sticking out her tongue at a huge hammerhead with the boldness only a child had. She was six now, it being July and her first year of school having ended three days beforehand. It was amazing to see how she had grown from a withdrawn, sullen, starving creature to a as normal of a child as one could expect her to be, not only from her experiences but from being under the guardianship of the three of us.
She really was a pretty little creature (though what guardian of a daughter would say otherwise?) when one overlooked the scars crisscrossing her poor body, most of which were covered. Once she got sufficient iron in her bloodstream and a touch of sun, her natural complexion revealed itself to be olive-toned. Trevor, who had been scanning family trees to help me draw up a medical history for her, confirmed that her mother had been the daughter of a Greek aristocrat and a Scottish landowner. Energetic from the same nourishment and sunlight, she was a different being entirely than the broken creature we found in the carnival tent.
On the outside, she was a little lady like thousands of other daughters of doctors, businessmen, and high-ranking government officials (surely Holmes was in some way a businessman). Beneath the lace beat a tough little heart, however, that urged her to run about with the Irregulars when permitted to, beg to accompany the two of us on the most trivial trips of a case, and be delighted in the early lessons of fencing and baritsu that Holmes provided against the strong wishes of his brother.
She was small for her age, she still experienced night terrors every so often, and she had quite a list of relentless phobias, but as I watched Holmes boost her up to get a better look at some revolting creature with several rows of teeth, I could not help but think we had done as good a job as anyone else.
Hyde's term in the asylum was cut short by death. It was never fully determined if it was by attack or suicide. Jackyl and Sinclair's manservant climbs the gallows together and died a blackguard's death. Sinclair himself, of course, had died at the muzzle of a murderous dog he himself had created.
That man's predictions for Eve's future seemed less and less likely as the time passed. She was for the most part even-tempered, her roughhousing with the Irregulars (Alfie in particular) being in good humour. The girl was doing extremely well in school, and had managed to make friends despite lacking conversation in the conventional sense.
That was not to say there was not difficulties, even with the three of us and the nanny who did not live in but was always quick to arrive when needed (neither Holmes ever confirmed this, but I a feeling the woman was hired through Whitehall rather than a traditional agency). The present was a very good example; it was one of Mycroft's days off, but he was working feverishly to finish off a large project and so it was us who accompanied Eve to the zoo. Not that I minded, but she had missed his presence lately.
"Stop tapping the glass, Holmes!" I ordered, seeing that the girl was following his example.
"It's not going to break it," scoffed my friend, dropping the girl down into his arms, prompting a silent giggle from her.
"No, but a shark ramming into it might." Through his joy I saw his weariness. The case had drained him, drained both of us. Before, the three of us could hole up for days, even weeks, and simply recuperate. Now we had a little girl who needed our full attentions.
A trip to the seaside would have been a nice journey, but I had the feeling that between the Holmes brothers, I would have to settle for the aquarium.
"Come, Watson!" called out Holmes, smiling genuinely despite his fatigue, now leading Eve along by the hand. "She wants to go see the elephants! Says she wants to see if their trunks are as flexible as they look in her books."
I had not seen the girl that the small notebook and pencil she always carried out of her pocket, but with those two they always seemed to have a way of communicating that no one else could understand. Holmes may have been the least parent-like among us, but damned if Eve didn't seem to take after him the most.
That, of course, worried me greatly.
It turned out that the elephant was quite able with its extension, and as expected the massive creatures held her attention completely.
"I don't understand," murmured dear Watson as the girl waved about one of the carrots I had brought in my inside jacket pocket for the animals. "How she can be fearless around a huge animal like that and still be afraid of Mrs. Phenton's toy poodle down the street."
I laughed as the big-eared creature plucked the treat out of her hand like a child plucking a flower. "She lives with Mycroft. She's used to large animals."
As expected, this prompted a roll of the eyes. "You're horrible to your brother."
"It's my sworn duty. He's the smartest man in England, maybe in Europe; if I wasn't there to knock him down a peg every once in a while, who would?"
Watson sighed, regarding his pocket watch. "It's nearly closing time, Eve! Say goodbye to the elephant."
Eve gave the creature a rather solemn wave and the last of the carrots before running to catch up with us, lifting her arms up and being swept into Watson's grasp with the noiseless giggle that had become one of the loudest sounds in my life lately.
How were we to know that the elephant would not be the last exotic animal we saw that night?
Samuel Calhoun was a very prominent member of the criminal community from the time he was thirteen, when he had stabbed the ruling Scottish crime leader in his sleep, adopted the name Ferdinand Black, and began calling the shots through various mouthpieces all over his native country of Ireland. His assumed name had been the terror of all who heard it in the underground circles. That was, of course, until a young up-and-coming government employee who was every bit the prodigy and more as Black deciphered his bolthole in London and managed to guide a team through infiltrating it.
When Calhoun met Mycroft, the former had been on the muzzle end of the latter's pistol. My brother, however, knew he was more useful alive and had him hauled back to the Whitehall cells. Calhoun apparently had a lot of time to think over his actions in that cell, because when he was eventually let lose from a combination of missing evidence and plea bargaining, he swore he was a changed man.
What separated him from every other rat who scrambled unfairly out between prison bars was that he was telling the truth. He had picked Mycroft, the closest thing to a peer he had ever encountered, as a role model, misinterpreting his laziness as an amiable, easy-going lifestyle, and took it from there.
Now, he lived between Ireland and the coast of England, an honest fortune made by businesses that had practises of hiring the destitute and those with criminal records that would not be hired elsewhere. He had opened schools for underprivileged children and orphans, and had legally adopted four orphans himself at various ages (the youngest was twenty-two now and had recently graduated culinary school). In short, he was as happy a man as one could ask for, and I would not be surprised to see roses springing from his footsteps and woodland critters following him everywhere. He was the closest thing to a saint an agnostic could be, and he claimed he had Mycroft to thank for it.
I believe the only reason brother mine hadn't had him picked off is because he repaid his debt with information about inner crime circles, using his still-powerful push as the frightening Mr. Black when needed.
His visits had been more frequent since Mycroft had as well become a parent by adoption, and because of his love of exotic birds (to the point that there was almost always one perched on his shoulder), he and the girl were very fast friends.
We heard the loud Scottish accent before we even entered, and when we had entered, there was a flurry of red feathers as a particularly large parrot took flight, landing neatly on Eve's arm to her delight. It was a scarlet macaw by the name of Hermes who was well-acquainted to her.
Calhoun was in one of Mycroft's chairs, his favourite one I noted with amusement, sitting opposite my brother himself. Poor brother looked worn… No wonder, as he had been pouring his very soul into his latest project. If he was resting now, at least it meant it was over, though he was hardly in any shape for a visitor like Calhoun.
"Ha ha!" the redheaded man exclaimed, grinning widely. "Hermes hasn't forgotten you, little one! Come over here, help me convince your old father that he needs a bit of a holiday."
Eve tilted her head slightly, a motion the parrot mimicked. She and the bird might of well have been kindred souls; for reasons Calhoun, an expert in his own right on most of the parrot species, could not figure out, Hermes lacked a voice but possessed a talent for physical miming. It was hard to tell if Hermes amused Eve more or if it was the other way around.
Mycroft rubbed his brow, throwing a weary glance in our direction as if pleading for help. "He has this mad idea that our work will permit a few weeks at the seaside. I am through reasoning with him, so if you could possibly just throw him out…"
"Oh, come now, Sherlock works freelance, and the government can't be bothered to courier your work for a bit? The three of you look a quarter dead. My hotel on the most beautiful beach is finally running smoothly, I've got a suite I set aside for those I enjoy the most… Luxury rooms, beautiful scenery, a gourmet kitchen… The sea air will do you all a world of good."
"I must admit, Holmes," Watson spoke up, a failed attempt at a resisted smile on his face. "Perhaps a holiday would be a chance to unwind. Besides, we've taken Eve on daytrips but she's never really been away anywhere."
Were I more callous, I might have pointed out that Eve travelled through most of Europe, she merely didn't see much from being kept in a coffin and a darkened tent the majority of the time. "If there's a large case that comes in…"
"Let Scotland Yard bungle through it," scoffed Calhoun. "If it's too drastic, you know they'll swallow their pride and come find you." He scooped both girl and parrot up, keeping the parrot on his shoulder but plunking the child into my brother's arms. "Look this little princess in the eye and tell her you can't spare the time for a vacation, you old grump."
It was a horribly cheap shot and I suspected the man knew this. Mycroft had to be able to withstand mind games and torture as part of his career, but there was one thing that could always break his resolve and that was a pair of big brown eyes and a pouting lip.
"Don't you dare make that face," my brother warned, as he had warned me so many times over so many years. "It doesn't work in the slightest, you know."
Her only response was to blink several times before looking away, obviously wounded deep in the soul, dejection itself upon her face.
"For heaven's sake, Eve, honestly… Do you really wish to go to the seaside? It's very sandy, you know. And seaweed is highly unpleasant."
She looked to him now, hurt gone entirely, nodding enthusiastically.
"Oh, alright then. Perhaps for a short while… I suppose a little relaxation would hurt none of us."
Eve clapped her hands in delight, triggering winged Hermes to translate this as an enthusiastic clucking of the beak. She hugged her guardian tightly, arms not reaching very far around him but there was effort there.
"Yes, well…" In a year, brother mine had not entirely grown used to the more exaggerated displays of emotion that children were prone to. "Isn't it nearly time for you to be in bed, young lady?"
She nodded, kissing his cheek before scrambling from his lap and heading for the last door on the left, waving a goodbye to Hermes (returned with a swipe of an orange foot).
"That girl is going to be the death of me one day," sighed Mycroft as he watched her leave. He did not sound entirely unhappy about that fact.
"Just so you know, you never do build up resistance to those looks," Calhoun chuckled as he gathered his jacket to let himself out. "See you on the seashore, Daddies."