A/N: This is my second fic, the promised sequel to the first; "The Case of the Vengeful Ghost". Many thanks to those of you who read and reviewed it; I was and still am deeply touched by your positive responses. I hope that this story lives up to the previous one. At a very late stage of writing it, I changed the time line so that it is post-hiatus; I apologise for any errors that crept in as a result. I did this because I want this fic to fit in with something else that my muse is kicking around the back of my head. As ever, please excuse glaring errors - I do not have a proof reader. Comments and constructive criticisms are very welcome. Thank you for reading.
A Shadow on the Streets of London
Holmes stared out of the window of his Baker Street lodgings pensively, down at the cobbled road below. It was late January, and although most of the winter snow had melted away underfoot, it was still grey and cold, with a damp chill in the air and treacherous ice underfoot. In all his time in Europe during his hiatus, the one thing he had not missed was winter weather.
The great detective turned away from the window, pulling his dressing gown slightly tighter around himself as he went back towards the fireplace. He sat down in his chair, picked up his empty brandy glass, examined it closely, and then set it down again. He picked up his pipe, toyed with it, and then set it down again, before staring dejectedly into the fire.
It had been three days since he and Watson had returned from Dartmoor, solving their second case involving Sir Henry Baskerville. They had returned triumphant, ridding him of a fake skeletal figure that ha been haunting the poor man. Holmes had expected that London would welcome him back with open arms and a wealth of cases to pick and choose from. He had been somewhat wrong; there had been nothing, not even a wealthy spinster with a lost lap-dog or a lovelorn fiancé with a runaway bride.
Holmes sighed, slouching deeper into the armchair, already able to feel the teeth of the dog of depression sinking into the back of his neck. Oh, how he loathed inactivity!
It was the weather that bore the blame, Holmes was sure of it. The damp, icy chill and the ever-present mist had half of the city lying shivering in bed with cold, flu, bronchitis or worse, and the other half was keeping a low profile. That included the criminal element. Holmes let forth another heart-wrenching sigh, which trailed off into a growl low in the back of his throat. He thought of applying himself to a chemical experiment designed to make traces of gunpowder visible to detection, but he lacked a certain component and he had no desire to venture outside on such a miserable day.
There was a soft click, and Holmes distantly registered that the front door had opened, and then shut. He hoped, for one brief moment, that it was a client; but a familiar, albeit weary, tread on the stair made him sink slightly more into the chair. He listened as Watson paused by the door, smothering a cough; Holmes realised that the doctor was trying to decide whether to come into the sitting room, or attempt the climb up to his own chamber. Holmes also realised that, unless he wanted to sink into the oblivion of his seven percent solution far too early in his doldrums for it to see him through to the next case, he did not wish to be alone.
"Watson!" he called out, sharply, "Please do stop lurking outside the door; come in here, and warm yourself by the fire."
There was another, muffled cough, which might also have been the bark of a laugh, and the sitting room door opened. Watson closed it quickly behind him, shutting out the chilly draft that had followed him inside from the street. He set down his medical bag by the door, and walked carefully over to the chair, the way he always did when he was trying to disguise his limp. Sitting down, he allowed himself a small sigh, stretching out his legs, resting them on the footstool in front of him.
"You have been down by the river, I see," Holmes said, dryly, casting his eyes over the mud-splattered hems of Watson's trousers, "no doubt treating the ailments of the poorer folk… you have set a broken limb today; I see the remains of white plaster around your fingernails – probably some unfortunate who slipped on the ice. You have not been well paid for your troubles, as you did not stop at a bar or club on the way home, and you left so early this morning that I do not doubt that you have spent some time at the hospital as well."
"All correct, as usual," Watson smiled, though the warmth did not reach his eyes, "many members of the hospital staff are now its patients; there is a particularly virulent strain of 'flu going around this winter…"
"…One which you, my dear fellow, are going to catch if you are not careful," Holmes told him, sternly, "really – there must be other doctors in the city who can assist!"
"At this time of year…? Not enough, Holmes – not nearly enough…" Watson sighed, closing his eyes, and leaning back in the chair.
Holmes eyed the doctor carefully; their trip to Dartmoor had been arduous for both of them, although he had not been stuck out on the moor for several hours in the snow like the unfortunate Watson. The doctor had returned to London with a lingering cold, and a work load that would have made Holmes envious were they more his kind of cases.
Watson coughed, sleepily, already half-dozing in his chair. Holmes slowly got to his feet and crossed to the drinks cabinet, where he took down two clean glasses. He was just pouring the first drink when he heard a heavy pounding at the front door. He hesitated only momentarily, hearing Mrs Hudson answer it, before he continued to pour, deciding to wait to see what portents his visitor might bring. A case, perhaps…!
He turned, as the sitting room door opened, and Mrs Hudson stepped inside quickly.
"I'm sorry to disturb you," she said, sounding genuinely regretful, "only there's a young man to see Dr Watson, and he's awfully distressed…"
"I see," Holmes said, keeping an even tone, even as his hopes fell; "Watson?"
The doctor sighed, tiredly, but he was already getting to his feet; "Show him in, please."
Mrs Hudson nodded, and ducked back outside, making way for a thin, pale-faced man. He was about five-foot-eleven, with straw-blonde hair and a quick, furtive manner. His blue eyes jumped from Holmes to Watson and back again, and he almost fell to his knees in pleading, his filthy hands reaching out, without actually touching either of them.
"Easy now, Harry," Watson said, gently, "What on earth's the matter? Holmes, this is Harry Frederickson, a dock-hand from down by the river."
"Sir," Harry said, quickly, to Holmes, giving a deferential nod, as he turned beseeching eyes towards Watson, "doctor, it's Molly – my wife, sir – she's bad again, her chest – she fell, and she… she couldn't get up, and, and the children…"
"We'd better go straight there," Watson nodded, briskly, "Holmes – I don't know how long…"
"Just be careful, Watson," Holmes replied, nursing his brandy glass gently in one hand even as he spoke.
Watson dipped him a nod and a quick smile, snatching up his hat, coat, bag and cane, before following the dock-hand quickly down the stairs. Holmes watched, through the window, as the doctor called for a cab – one he could ill afford, no doubt – to get them both to his patient sooner rather than later. Holmes sighed. The poor always did without a doctor until it was usually too late, unable to afford the cost of medical services. There really ought to be some sort of national provision for such things, in his opinion. He made a mental note to mention it to his politically-minded brother at some point…
Bored, he turned away from the window. Perhaps, just for a few hours, oblivion would be nice…