"Spare some change…? Spare some change…?"
Amanda pointed the paper cup in her hands towards the people passing by, but no one stopped to give the woman leaning against the fence anything. She glanced inside her cup, looking at the few coins sitting in the bottom. They clinked against each other as she tilted the cup from side to side, adding them up in her head but reluctant to pour them out into her hand, lest she lose one. Every little bit was vital.
It wasn't enough, not for a full meal, at least. But she wasn't terribly hungry, and her coat was new and comfortable. A person could go a night with an empty stomach if they had a warm coat to curl up in. She'd survived worse nights than this.
Amanda carefully poured the coins into a zippered pocket, placing the cup in after them and closing the pocket tightly. She liked this coat especially for the zippers; they made it more difficult for others to pick her pockets. There were those who made their way by taking from others, but Amanda preferred to ask first, unlike many she knew. Sometimes people were generous if she was polite to them first.
As she started off down the street, her head covered by a hood but her eyes and ears alert under the soft fabric, she wondered if she should turn to theft after all. She could only stay hungry for so long, and this was a cold, damp June. If the street-goers of London remained as tight-pocketed as they had been this week, she would be in trouble. She had once been able to make a decent income off of the jobs Sherlock Holmes, the consulting detective, had given her and the rest of his "homeless network," as he called it, but those were done. Sherlock Holmes was done.
Amanda had used the money that he'd given her for the last job, the abandoned candy factory search, to buy her new coat, filling lunches and dinners for two days, and a newspaper with the headline "Faux Detective Commits Suicide." She'd read the paper, used it as a pillow, and then torn out the relevant article, folding it up and placing it in one of her coat pockets for safekeeping.
Since then, she'd gone without the extra money. It had been barely two weeks, but she was beginning to fear for the future and consider alternate sources of income. A real job was out of the question; no one was hiring, and they certainly wouldn't take a woman who had been living on the streets for well over a year. Charity was failing her, and there was only so much that she could get from trash bins. That left her to consider theft. She had yet to truly act on that consideration, but the idea was there, and ideas were difficult to kill, even when they were difficult to fathom in the first place. Her fear of starvation was clashing with her reluctance to sink farther than she already had.
Amanda decided to wait until tomorrow to continue that line of thought. She'd see how she felt then and how much she was able to scrounge up normally before making any drastic decisions. Taking to theft would indeed be a drastic step; she'd managed to hold on this long without it, and she knew from watching her "neighbors" that theft, once someone had started, was an incredibly difficult habit to break.
The route she was taking to the alley that she was currently calling "home" took her down Baker Street, where the consulting detective used to live. It began to rain, so she ducked under the awning of a nearby café, hoping to avoid getting soaked. She didn't want to have to sleep in wet clothes. The café was closed, but there were a few tables and chairs still set up outside, so she sat down to wait out the rain. One other seat was already taken, but its occupant, a man with his coat collar turned up against the wind, ignored her, so she ignored him, too.
Amanda sat silently for several minutes, listening to the sounds of the city, the wind and traffic and rain. Then her eyes flickered back towards the man. He was sitting very still and staring at the building across the street. She didn't think he'd moved at all since she'd sat down. It was almost as though he wasn't really seeing the building at all; rather, he seemed to be staring right through it, lost in thought.
She took another quick glance. Although the lower half of his face was hidden by his collar and scarf, he seemed somehow familiar. There was something about the coat and the hair, and the eyes…
The man noticed her staring and turned his head slightly away from her, but Amanda had already realized where she'd seen him before. She slowly unzipped one of her pockets and pulled out the piece of newspaper.
"I've never placed much stock in the papers," she said, carefully unfolding the paper. "I mostly use them as bedding these days, anyway."
There was no visible reaction from the man, but Amanda knew that he was listening. He heard everything.
"The way I see it," she continued, looking down at the slightly faded print, "if they're wrong about one thing, then they're wrong about the rest of it, too. D'you think that's a reasonable assumption?"
Amanda paused for a moment, and then she crumpled the paper into a tiny ball and threw it out into the street, turning to fully face the man.
"I knew you weren't a fraud, Mr. Holmes," she said. "You were too good to us bottom-feeders. A real psychopath wouldn't have bothered with us. Why pay homeless people to look for answers that he could easily have pretended to figure out himself? No, you cared about the jobs as much as we cared about the money."
Sherlock Holmes slowly turned to face her. "What do you want?" he asked softly.
Amanda shrugged. "I don't know… To thank you, maybe. There were lots of months I wouldn't have gotten through without the money you put in my pockets. You helped me buy this coat, see?" She patted the soft, warm fabric.
"You also gave me something to think about, you did," she continued. "What would he be asking for next? A gang of red-headed boys? The hiding place of the Golem? A candy factory? You made things interesting. I'd have done a lot more sitting around without your little jobs to keep me busy. It was… It was nice, to be busy. So thank you."
Sherlock stared at her for several seconds, his face impassive.
"It's been what, two years since your last job interview?" he suddenly said.
"A bit less than that, really…" Amanda muttered self-consciously.
"But you were a waitress once, back when you were trying to hold on to any job you could."
Amanda nodded, knowing better than to ask how he knew. Sherlock Holmes just knew.
"I think it's time you started again," said Sherlock. "There's a small Italian restaurant on Northumberland Street, do you know it? Go in tomorrow and ask for Angelo. He'll give you a job. And if he doesn't, which I highly doubt, tell him that you're an old business partner of mine. Then he will. He owes me one."
Then he stood up, turned, and walked away, leaving a shocked Amanda staring after him. By the time she'd found her voice again, he had disappeared into the rain, and she had enough common sense to know that it would be a bad idea to run through the streets shouting after a man who was supposed to be dead, even if that man had given her one last gift.
Amanda sat back in her chair, stuck her hands in her pockets, and settled down to wait for the rain to stop, a genuine smile on her face for the first time in a long time.
Remember that homeless woman Sherlock pays to find the Golem for him? I call her Amanda. I don't think she has an official name.