Sherlock Holmes often wondered just how much you could really learn about a person from simply observing them. Though it was a skill he had always possessed in a primeval sense, it was one he had refined with practice.
A layer of black dust beneath the fingernails or a habit of clearing one's throat could indicate any number of things to the ordinary man. But only to Holmes would it point to a lifetime working the coal mines in northern England. Maybe an ordinary person would piece these factors together given time, but to Holmes it was simply a matter of seconds.
Holmes noticed things that nobody else noticed. He came to conclusions that no one else drew. Moreover, Holmes could solve cases of crime that others had deemed unsolvable. It was all these factors and more which had earned Holmes a reputation as one of the most devious, most intelligent, most charmingly obnoxious private detectives London had ever known.
Holmes had been finely tuning his already superior powers of deduction for the best part of 30 years. In just under a week's time, he would be celebrating his 36th birthday, and as Doctor Watson had threatened, there was going to be much celebration.
Often, Holmes suspected that Watson's annual enthusiasm over his friend's birthday was inspired by the safe knowledge that he himself still had five years to go before reaching the same age. Had Watson been anything more than his 31 years, Holmes doubted he would be nearly as smug!
And so in the spirit of tradition, Watson had tried yet again to organise a birthday supper without having his plans thwarted by Holmes. When Holmes realised that his companion was becoming accustomed to his destructive techniques, he decided to employ a new tactic and simply not turn up for dinner. Three years in a row, a sudden onset of a life-threatening illness had struck the great detective down on the very eve of his birthday, and although Watson complained bitterly, Holmes refused to budge. It was not that he bore any umbrage to his creation or date of his birth, he just did not feel any inclination to celebrate the passing of yet another year with expensive food and vast quantities of alcohol.
This year, however, Watson had a fellow conspirator: his wife, Mary. Mary and Watson had been married for little over two years, and although they had produced two charming children in that time, Holmes could still feel nothing short of rabid dislike for the woman.
Holmes was the honorary Godfather of Watson's two daughters: Tilly and Rose. His position as official Godfather had been thoroughly rebuked by Mary, and a more 'suitable' candidate chosen. It was clear from this moment forward that Holmes's dislike of Mary was, if anything, equally matched. Holmes could fully appreciate that there would be better people to lead two small girls down the path of righteousness, but he really resented being told so by that woman!
The ringing of a doorbell shook Holmes out of a narcotic-fuelled daydream. Someone was at the front door. Holmes did not bother with going to the window. Whoever was down there, Mrs Hudson would soon see to them.
Holmes had taken to inhaling Watson's surgical alcohol when enthusiasm for life had left him for dead. Doctor Watson would not approve...But then, Holmes mused, what Doctor Watson did not know would not hurt him!
By Holmes' count, nearly three minutes passed before there was a rap on the door of his room and the lean, slight figure of Doctor John Watson stood in his midst.
"In the name of all that is sacred, what have you been doing to yourself, Holmes?"
"Watson, how good of you to drop by." Holmes tried to conceal his bottles beneath a stack of novels, but Watson was too quick.
"How many times must I tell you that this is for surgical use only?" Watson confiscated the small bottle and tucked it inside his coat pocket. "And how foolish must you be to smoke a lit pipe so close to chemicals of this potency?"
Watson felt like a mother scolding a disobedient child as he looked critically around the room.
The sight was somewhat disturbing: Mechanical gears and gadgets; brightly-coloured concoctions in glass tubes and thick layers of dust lay on every surface. When Watson had lived in the rooms of 221B Baker Street, he had bought the detective a handsome bookcase in which to store old case-files and evidence notebooks. It was with great distress that Watson noticed Holmes much preferred the floor as a means of storage than more conventional methods.
"As always, I am staggered as to how you can live and work in these conditions!" Watson strode purposefully to the window and drew back the curtains, ignoring Holmes' objections. "If the dust gets any thicker, you'll no longer be able to find your pipe!"
"Yet again, Watson, you come here to complain." Holmes screwed up his eyes against the bright light streaming in through his windows.
"As I have said before, I never complain," Watson said spiritedly. "Least of all about your vendetta against my wife, or your apparent determination to turn my daughters towards a life of depravity!"
"The drop of rum was only intended to soothe the pain of cutting teeth."
"And letting Tilly play with your revolver at aged 6 months?"
"There were no bullets inside."
"Maybe, but Mrs Hudson wasn't to know that when she entered the room to find an infant holding a gun to her sister's head!"
"I gather by the milk stain on the lapel of your jacket that the Misses Watson are with you," Holmes observed, changing the subject. Bizarrely, he snatched the right-hand sleeve of Watson's suit jacket, held it up to his nose and took a long sniff.
"And unless you have taken to moisturising your hands frequently with rose water, Watson, there was the hand of a lady inside the crook of this arm recently, leading me to the conclusion that your dear wife is here also!"
"Mary and the girls are downstairs," Watson said. "We are visiting a solicitor in Mayfair this afternoon; Mary's great aunt has just died."
"How very unfortunate."
"Anyhow, I wanted to stop by and see how you've been getting on, old chap!" Watson drew up a chair and handed the morning newspaper to Holmes. It was almost like old times as Holmes tutted at the date written on the front page.
"Dear, dear, is it August already?" Holmes asked from around his pipe. "That would make those daughters of yours..."
"11 months," Watson said with a touch of pride. "To the day in fact."
There was a silence as Holmes breezed through the morning headlines to see if there was anything of interest.
"You're hovering." Watson had not realised Holmes was watching him.
"You never hover without a reason, Watson," Holmes said, sucking contentedly on his pipe. "So unless you have come here purely to torture me, one must deduce that your visit has a purpose. Might I ask what it is?"
Watson sighed deeply.
"Mary asked me to speak with you. She feels uncomfortable with th fact that you quite obviously dislike her."
"I assure you, Watson, I have nothing but the deepest respect for your wife."
"Holmes, ever since Mary and I have been together, you've been unfriendly, obnoxious and unwilling to cooperate." Watson stood up from his chair, commanding the full attention of his companion. "Now, Mary admits she's been less than cordial to you, but she agrees with me when I say that two years is more than long enough!"
Holmes crossed one leg over the other and blew out a thick cloud of smoke.
"So what is it you would like me to do?"
"I am asking you to be nice to Mary," Watson said as patiently as he could muster. "She in turn will make an effort to get along with you. Please, Holmes, this is not just for me, but for Tilly and Rose as well." Watson had a feeling this would tip the odds in his favour. Although he would not openly admit it, Holmes was rather fond of the twins.
"You know what your problem is?" Watson pressed. "You suffer from almost child-like jealously...You have done ever since I first talked of marrying Mary." Watson smiled at his old friend. "And as much as I am flattered to be the object of one of the few emotions you have yet to repress, I have to think about Mary. She wants to be your friend, Holmes. Will you let her try?"
Holmes stared out of the window to the street below, and Watson wondered if his friend had listened to a word of his speech.
"Very well," Holmes said at last. "I shall, as you put it, 'make a greater effort' to be friendly towards your wife."
"Mary," Watson cut in. "Not 'your wife'; Mary."
"Mary," Holmes agreed grudgingly. "You have my word, Watson."
"Excellent!" Watson beamed happily and shook Holmes readily by the hand. "Thank you ever-so much, old chap!" He pulled a silver pocket watch from his jacket. "I'm sorry to cut this visit short, but we have to be in Mayfair within the hour!"
"Been drinking again, Watson?"
"Your pocket watch has a number of minute scratches on its surface," Holmes said causally. "Scratches most likely sustained from the dropping of said watch on the gravel chippings outside your favourite tavern on the Tottenham Court Road."
Watson cleared his throat loudly.
"Mary's brother asked me out for some drinks." He tucked the watch back inside his pocket and headed for the door. "I really must be going now." He paused in the doorway. "Oh before I forget, I have this morning's post for you. Mrs Hudson asked me to bring it up."
Holmes nodded, unsurprised. Mrs Hudson rarely entered his quarters alone unless it was with a loaded shotgun. Watson placed a white envelope on the sideboard and exited the room, closing the door behind him.
Holmes waited until he heard wheels of Watson and Mary's coach pulling away from the outside of the rooms, the wheels churning up dust and dirt as they went. Then he snatched the envelope from the sideboard for examination.
As a man who spent a great deal of his time studying the finer details of the criminal mind, Holmes was in the habit of seeing conspiracy and danger in the most obscure of places. He would not taste a beverage offered him without first sniffing it for poison or sedative. Any movement of a hand or arm in his direction was blocked for fear of an aggressive attack. Watson called it paranoia. Holmes called it caution.
Only after checking the envelope for diamond-razor edges or powdered chemicals did Holmes tear open the envelope's seal.
The letter within was written in printed capitals so the handwriting could not be deciphered. The ink was black Indian, Holmes observed, most likely written by use of a thin-nibbed ink pen. There was a smudge of ink on the right side of the page, suggesting that the writer was right handed.
TO MR SHERLOCK HOLMES (the note read)
I REQUIRE YOUR ASSISTANCE. MEET ME IN MY ROOM AT THE HOTEL ROYALE IN COVENT GARDEN AT NOON TOMORROW. ASK FOR MY NAME AT THE DESK. YOUR PAYMENT WILL BE GREAT, BUT ONLY IF YOU ATTEND THIS APPOINTMENT ALONE.
I WILL EXPECT YOU TOMORROW
Holmes read the note through several times. The watermark was of the Hotel Royale, suggesting that the paper had been taken from the hotel itself.
So who was D.B Cambell? Holmes read the name over and over, but it was not ringing any bells. To Holmes' mind, that left two options: Secretive new client or pseudonym. And Holmes was inclined to believe it was the latter.
A trap? Perhaps. But Holmes was thirsting for a new case, and this mystery had him hooked.
Determined to find out exactly who D.B Cambell was at their tomorrow-noon meeting, Sherlock Holmes pressed more tobacco into his pipe and lit up a match.
So...What do you guys think?? This is my first Sherlock Holmes story, and I'm LOVING the oppertunity to write around Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law's characters rather than sticking to the more 'traditional' characters of Holmes and Watson!
Pleeease review and let me know what you think!!