Breakfast, acronyms and brotherhood
By Rose de Sharon
Disclaimer: recognizable characters belong to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.
"I cracked the code, yes. All the smugglers have to do is to pick up another book."
Sherlock Holmes' words were still echoing inside Doctor John Watson's mind as he diverted his attention from the delicious breakfast he was having to cast a glance down the street, through one of the flat's windows. The glass panels weren't sparking clean but they were clear enough to let him see an Asian hooded teenager dressed in sweats and holding a spray can in his hand. The youngster barely took the time to look at the house located 221 B Baker Street before turning his attention towards a telephone booth (not a red retro one, but a modern payphone). He quickly painted a tag in the shape of a watching eye on the metallic box and then calmly walked away with the spray can hidden under his zippered jacket.
John stared at this sample of urban art; the tag painted in light blue colour made a sharp contrast on the regulation-issued dark blue of the phone booth, making it impossible to ignore. Passers-by would just shrug it off or mutter something about vandals but after the recent events, John couldn't think it as a mere incident happening too often in London. After all, their most recent case had involved a Chinese Tong named 'the Black Lotus', a pinched hairpin worth nine million pounds and a cipher whose key lay in the 'London A to Z' book.
Sherlock had been hired by Sebastian Wilkes, university acquaintance and Director of Trading Floor of the Shad & Sanderson investment bank. Wilkes had wanted them to discreetly inquire about a security breach, and it had quickly turned out to be a much more important matter with the deaths of Edward Van Coon and Brian Lurkis, two men involved in the smuggling of ancient artefacts on behalf of the Black Lotus. Sherlock and John had succeeded in breaking the code revealing the Tong's hideout and the recent graffiti painted looked like a warning addressed to oriental gangsters to steer away from Sherlock Holmes' house.
This case had proven nasty for John since he had found himself at the mercy of Shan, after that female Tong General had mistaken him for Sherlock. And Sarah – poor Sarah, kidnapped alongside John – had been in danger of being impaled by a huge crossbow's bolt unless he would give the gangsters the location of the pinched treasure, information he didn't have. Only Sherlock's timely intervention had saved them both; one thug had been shot, the second (Zhi Zhu, 'The spider', ace climber and murderer of his sister Soo Lin Yao) had received the bolt straight in the chest after John had deflected the crossbow with a swift kick. General Shan had run off while Sherlock was freeing John and Sarah from their bounds. The Doctor had hoped DI Dimmock would catch the devilish woman but, by the time the police arrived, she had vanished from the area.
All in one, Sherlock had earned a heavy £25,000 pay check from Sebastian and DI Dimmock's gratitude for leaving him all the credit from recovering stolen Chinese artefacts. John had earned a court appointment after Community Support Officers had mistaken him for a tagger, a wound needing four stitches and a near-death experience... Oh, and he was still broke. Not the best week in the life of Doctor Watson.
The blond-haired man unconsciously sighed, making Sherlock look up from the copy of the Daily Telegraph's Sunday edition he was reading at the breakfast table.
"What's the matter?" asked the tall detective. Under the morning light his pale features and high cheekbones looked like they were chiselled from white marble, making a sharp contrast with his dark curly hair.
"Unh? Oh, nothing."
"John Watson, you're a terrible liar. I can read you like the comic section of this newspaper."
"I meant it was nothing important."
"Then why did you sigh? Statistically, people sigh when they feel dismayed, dissatisfied, bored or relieved from a burden. You don't seem to harbour those emotions right now but you do look a little pale, there are shadows under your eyes, your whole posture betray your concern."
Sherlock didn't add that he had known something was wrong with the doctor as soon as he had joined him for breakfast; it wasn't the time to brag about his deducting abilities. John took a sip of his tea, a bit embarrassed by his lack of self-control. Then again, it was hard to escape the laser-eyes of Sherlock Holmes.
"I'm just tired, Sherlock. Not enough sleep and too much excitement take its toll on any normal man."
"Well, since I hardly sleep and I live from excitement, your definition of 'normal' can only implies that I'm crazy like a fox."
"No, Sherlock! That's not what I..." started to protest John, but the tall man merely smiled.
"I'm just kidding you... But I would prefer you tell me what is weighting on your mind before I have to deduce it out of you."
John sighed again, and Sherlock thought his flatmate had never looked so young and vulnerable – an impression increased by the stripped, long-sleeved T-shirt the Doctor was wearing, and the butterfly bandages he was sporting on his left temple. The detective dropped the newspaper on his plate and waited for the other man to speak.
"It's nothing I can't handle, Sherlock."
"I feel now's the time for a dramatic announcement: you shouldn't waste your time worrying because your money problems are solved, and the ASBO matter is settled, too."
John's eyes widened: how could the detective know about his financial woes and the court appointment? During the whole business with the Black Lotus, Sherlock hadn't given him the impression of being interested by his flatmate's troubles and he had barely listened when John had mentioned being mistaken for an illegal street artist.
"W-What do you mean?"
"I hope you don't mind but I've asked my brother Mycroft to pull a few strings, and thus your meeting at the Magistrates Court has been cancelled. The paperwork linking you to a tag recently painted on an outside wall of the National Gallery has been mysteriously destroyed, as well as the computer files. Amazing what a phone call from the unofficial British Government can do..."
"You did that? Oh, wow... Well, thank you. I appreciate this, really," said John with one of his beaming smiles Sherlock secretly enjoyed so much. "I know you are at odds with your big brother and it must have been difficult to ask him for a favour."
"Bah, that was nothing. Mycroft is a natural-born fusspot so asking him to erase some police-issued paperwork won't make any difference whatsoever."
"Still, it was a nice gesture from you. But your brother won't use this as leverage to order you to solve cases for him, would he?"
"Order me? I'd like to see him try!"
John smiled again and he raised his mug in a silent gesture of salute. Sherlock grabbed his cup filled with coffee up to the rim (black, two sugars please) and the two men clinked their respective china in a toast celebrating the end of Doctor Watson's miscarriage of justice. The blond-haired man drank happily his tea, and then he munched on a buttered toast with much more enthusiasm than he did earlier just before another thought crossed his mind.
"Mmm, Sherlock? What did you mean about my money problems being solved?"
The younger Holmes had a hard time to not laugh out loud: good old John, always a bit late in following Sherlock's train of thoughts!
"Well, since you are my associate, it seemed normal to share the fee from Shad & Sanderson; so, after cracking your laptop's new password..."
"You WHAT?" sputtered John, sending bits of toast all over the table.
"... I quickly found the website of your bank, and typed in your account number and your PIN number – after it took me about 15 seconds to guess it. Then, I made a deposit of £12,500 on your account, which correspond to half the amount Seb had kindly paid us for the very small matter of Zhi Zhu painting Chinese numbers on the portrait of Sir William Shad."
"SHERLOCK! This is too much, I can't accept!" exclaimed John, genuinely shocked by the revelation.
"And why, pray tell?" asked the detective, arching his eyebrows in an aristocratic manner.
"Because you're the one who had done all the hard work and you've rescued Sarah and me from General Shan, that's why! I've done nothing useful."
"No indeed, you haven't done much... apart tagging along in spite of the danger, finding Van Coon's drop-off, rushing to Soo Lin's rescue in a darkened National Antiquities Museum... not to mention staying up all night to help me find the good book and being kidnapped with your girlfriend for your troubles. Nothing, you've said?"
John sighed but this time, it was due to exasperation. How could such a brilliant mind be so obtuse?
"Sherlock, I can't accept the money."
"You have overdue bills, your wardrobe is a misery in this cold weather and your card has been refused by the Tesco Extra paying machine... Can't accept it, you say? That's blatant nonsense based on misplaced pride, because for your information this deposit was not an act of charity from my part!"
"Besides, before the whole matter with Seb, you were going to ask me for a loan, weren't you?"
John could hardly say otherwise; after his humiliating experience at Tesco Extra, he had the words "If you could lend me some cash" burning on his lips and only Sherlock's sudden decision to go to Shad & Sanderson had prevented him to do so.
"So you would have accepted a loan from me, but you can't accept your fair share of our professional fees? I fail to see the logic in here."
"Sherlock, I wasn't going to ask you for £12,500! £500 would have been enough..."
"John, it's only money. There is nothing to be upset about. Banknotes are printed, exchanged, invested, speculated on and destroyed every day. That's so incredibly boring and dull, I would never understand why people like Sebastian make such a fuss about it but that's how the world works and I, as a single person, can't do anything to change it. However, what I can do is ameliorate your financial situation with a few clicks of a mouse. I know your work at the surgery won't be enough to pay the bills, besides it won't last very long – not until the absent doctors will come back from their vacations or maternity leave. I won't insult your pride by asking you to consider this amount as compensation for having being shot at, whacked on the head and kidnapped, you are far too chivalrous for that; but please accept your share of Sebastian's check. Now, if it may calm your scruples, consider it a selfish act from my part to keep a well-fed, warm and bill-free business associate by my side, who so obligingly follows me all around London to solve crimes."
"You truly consider me as your business associate?" asked the doctor, genuinely surprised to be considered equal in status with the world's only consulting detective.
"Why, yes. After all, we are… colleagues, aren't we?" said the younger Holmes, resuming his reading of the Sunday newspaper.
John frowned lightly: there had been a hint of bitterness in Sherlock's voice and for a moment he couldn't understand where it came from. But the doctor was far from obtuse and what he lacked in the deduction field, he compensated with his good heart and his medical experience. The last time the word "colleague" had been used, it had been in Sebastian Wilkes' office, while Sherlock had made the presentations…
Another sigh: "Sherlock, I have a confession to make."
That surprised the detective, who raised his steel gray-blue eyes from an 'Andy Capp' cartoon.
"People who confess things to me are usually criminals, John. I would never believe you capable of wrongdoings, not even if Mycroft presented me with CCTV evidence."
"No, nothing so dramatic, Sherlock!" smiled John in spite of himself. "It is just that… When we met Wilkes at his corner office at the investment house… Well, before the meeting I thought I could trust him since he is an acquaintance of yours, but I have to admit that I felt an immediate animosity from the very first time I laid eyes on him."
Sherlock's elegant eyebrows almost shot up to the roots of his hair: debonair Doctor Watson was actually capable of disliking someone? That was astonishing news!
"Care to elaborate?"
"Oh, it's not because he's a banker and doing well…"
""Jealousy" isn't your middle name, John," interrupted Sherlock.
"Please, let me explain. I admit that, at first, I was in awe with the whole Shad & Sanderson environment: steel and glass, high-tech everywhere, digital clocks set on New York and Tokyo time and City boys making fortunes every minute. It was kind of impressive, you know. When we met Sebastian his attitude screamed "money" with his expensive suit and his floppy haircut, not to mention his know-it-all demeanour bred in Eton. I wouldn't have minded but then, you introduced me as your friend and… well, I didn't like what I saw on Sebastian's face."
"What was it?"
John shuddered slightly as he remembered Wilkes' crooked grin with the too-straight, too-white teeth displayed like in toothpaste commercials. Sherlock pressed his fingertips against one another, just under his chin: his favourite position when he was thinking hard.
"His smile?" repeated Sherlock.
"Yes, it turned from a "Let's do business!" one to a "Who are you trying to kid?" one. As soon as you've said the word "friend", for the briefest of instant Sebastian's expression turned mocking and… well, I recognized this kind of smile. I've seen it more than once during my study days."
"What do you mean?"
"I call this kind of grin "The incredulous", and it has been aimed at me when I took up medicine. You have to understand one thing, Sherlock: my family is middle-class. Dad was an insurance broker, Mum a housewife. I grew up in a modest neighbourhood, went to average schools and when I said I wanted to become a doctor, it was a shock for lots of people who thought too-quiet John couldn't do it."
"Fools," thought Sherlock with the sharpness of a barber's razor.
"Thanks goodness I had the right brains to learn medicine, I didn't want to disappoint my parents who already had their arms full with my sister Harry, her drinking and her girlfriends. But during university, and then my internship at Bart's, I realized a certain… medical aristocracy still prevailed. Some students thought they had the best chances because they had money or parents already in the profession. I had neither, so often those students would look down on me with that smirk upon their faces, counting the days until my modest background would force me to give up on my studies."
"Imbeciles," thought the detective. The razor had turned into a guillotine blade.
"Of course in the end I proved them wrong, but still some of them snickered learning I've joined the army right after graduation: only a fool would waste his time treating soldiers, rejecting a fortune in private practice! But I never regretted my decision to serve my country and help those who risk life and limbs to protect it."
"You are an honourable man and that's the reason why those snobbish students couldn't even start to understand your motives. For you, medicine is the expression of your altruism. For them, it is only a mean to enrich their already swollen wallets."
John blushed slightly from Sherlock's words of praise and he tried to hide his embarrassment by munching on his toast, but the detective wouldn't let the matter drop.
"So, the grimace Sebastian gave us after I've introduced you as 'my friend' made you remember the incredulous smirks from your student days?"
"Yes. That twitch at the corner of his mouth screamed that he didn't believe you. As if he was certain you are incapable of befriending anyone and the only reason I was by your side would be for a sentimental one. That's why I corrected you by saying 'colleague', to save us all a lot of trouble. I hope I haven't offended you, Sherlock. I do consider you as my friend and I am not ashamed to say it out loud. But somehow I felt explanations would have been a waste of time with Sebastian."
Silence followed those words and John slowly grew anxious: maybe his correction had upset Sherlock, regardless of his good intentions? If so, he would never forgive himself, especially after Sherlock's generosity towards him! But then, the detective neatly folded his copy of the Daily Telegraph before saying:
"I'm going to write an article."
This brusque change of subject startled John: "Huh?"
"A new article for my website; it's been a while since I've last updated it."
"Oh! And what will you write about, the Blind Banker's case?"
"No, no, I leave the mere account of our adventures to you. I prefer to focus on important matters."
"And what would that be?" asked John, a bit vexed his writings weren't considered as important by the detective.
"A scientific demonstration: I'm going to prove that the ability to deduce is contagious."
John's frenetic munching stopped short: "Excuse me?"
"Just think about it, John: we have shared a flat for barely three weeks and your deducting skills are already getting sharper. You have noticed things you wouldn't have paid attention to before, and you have perfectly determined Sebastian's personality simply by the way he smiles. Of course, you have missed the important details, like his Breitling watch but there is always room for improvement!"
"Are you joking?"
"No. You said Sebastian can't imagine me having a friend and guess what, my dear John? You are absolutely right. At the university, my systematic refusal to attend parties, sports matches and other stupidities raised questions amongst my fellow scholars. According to them, only a madman could refuse to fool around with girls and rumours about me being gay spread about, just to die of natural causes since I only embraced solitude. So the students had to admit my reputation as a sociopath was true and they avoided me like the plague – calling me only when they encountered a problem too difficult for their tiny minds to solve it. Even now, years after university, Sebastian wouldn't have e-mailed me for old times' sake. He sent a message only because his job was at stake, afraid his chairman would blame him for the hole in the bank's security."
"That's despicable! I thought he had asked for your help in the first place because he respected your abilities..."
"But you've seen his insolent attitude in his office, pretending I could 'read' the mud on his shoes or the ketchup blots on his tie – and that wasn't a high-ranking banker trying to break the ice. That's why I cut him short with a little white lie, so we could get on to the matter at hand. As for his suspicions of romance between us, I'm afraid it is a false assumption running amongst narrow-minded people composing 95% of the population. A man with a male companion is automatically labelled an homosexual, regardless of other possibilities like flatmate, business partner and friend. For all his money and power, Sebastian is unable to see further than the end of his nose so you were right here again, John: he was getting ready to make a stupid joke involving closets and your fast thinking prevented him to do so, since the word "colleague" is inoffensive and quite common in workplaces."
Sherlock set aside the newspaper and looked at his friend straight in the eyes: "Conclusion: your association with me had improved your observation skills, proving the theory that the science of deduction can be learned and is based on intelligence, not on me being a freak of Nature."
"You are not a freak and I don't care about what Sergeant Donovan says, or anybody else for that matter," growled John, his dark blue eyes hardening at the recollection of the woman's taunts. His anger was short-lived, though, as he saw Sherlock giving him a warm, genuine smile. The Doctor had noticed he was the sole receiver of this smile while his friend reserved his functioning sociopath half-grin for the rest of the world; this thought always gave him a pleasant feeling in the heart. Then, the detective asked:
"Er, may I use your laptop? Mine is in the bedroom..."
This time, it was John who had a hard time not to laugh out loud; Sherlock was definitively incorrigible!
"Go ahead, you child! Besides, I doubt I could stop you from using it. Just remember, since it is my computer, I can read your article whenever I want!"
"I don't want to write it yet, just to check my mail; I'm expecting a message from Dimmock."
"Does he have more questions to ask you about the Black Lotus?"
"No, it's about Soo Lin Yao. The girl was murdered while helping us crack the cipher, the least I can do is to offer her a decent burial. She had no family apart from her Tong brother, no friends in London and I refuse to let her rest in a communal grave. The East London Cemetery in Newham has a spot awaiting her (lots of Chinese tombs there), an undertaker has agreed to take care of her corpse and a Buddhist priest has offered to pray at her funeral. Dimmock has agreed to email me as soon as the body will be released. You'll want to help, of course..."
"Oh God, yes," said John. He had been sincerely upset by Soo Lin Yao's death and how they had been unable to prevent it.
"I'm not versed in the... sentiment field so I wondered if you'd agree to take care of the flowers, for her grave."
"I'll be glad to."
The tall detective got on his feet, taking his empty plate with the intention to dump it in the kitchen's sink, but John's soft voice stopped him short:
"It's an acronym, Sherlock."
"I am well aware of that. But what do these letters stand for?"
"You are the world's only consulting detective; you turn on those powerful brains of yours and figure it out."
Sherlock froze as his mental clogs turned furiously inside his skull and then, after the record time of five seconds, he chuckled lightly as he found out the solution.
"Thank you, John."
"You're welcome," smiled the doctor back.
Sherlock turned back to head towards the kitchen, both embarrassed and very pleased with the significance of the acronym. A.G.H.A.W.A.O.A.G.B.: "A great heart as well as of a great brain."
Only John Watson could say such a thing.
His friend, colleague, business partner... and adopted brother.
Author's note: I've made the acronym from a sentence taken in "The three Garridebs" story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It expresses Holmes' concern after Watson has been wounded by a suspect.