"Here we are, dear. 221C. It's a nice place, and the basement means you'll have quite a bit of privacy." Mrs. Hudson fiddled with the window latch, but it was a little too high for her to reach. The other woman reached over her from the right to flick the lock open. The older woman smiled and finished opening the window. "There now, you see? Lots of light. And when you have the fireplace going, it's downright cozy." She fanned herself. "In the winter that is. No one in their right mind is thinking of cozy during a heat wave like this."
"It always pays to think ahead, Mrs. Hudson. And I can imagine with a nice armchair in front of the fireplace, it will be quite cozy indeed come a stormy winter's night." The woman with the tight brown ponytail blew a stray lock out of her face as she took measured paces around the foyer. "And of course the location can't be beaten. Central London is a hot spot. I'm amazed you hadn't had this rented out ages ago."
"As I told my renters in B, that's the way with basements. I've just had it cleaned, too. Not a hint of mold or mildew or those things that often plague basement apartments." Mrs. Hudson ran a finger along the mantelpiece, inspected it, and rubbed her fingertips together, apparently pleased that the apartment was still so clean several weeks afterward. "So Mrs. Scott, are you still interested?"
"Very much so," came her response from the bedroom. "Although, you mentioned the tenants in B. I knew you lived in A, but how are the folks in B?"
"Oh, they're wonderful boys, though like most boys they do tend to get a bit rowdy at times. But you won't find a better lot in London, I'd say."
"Coming from you, that's fine praise indeed." She twisted the door handle that led to the corridor, carefully inspecting the lock as the mechanism moved back and forth. "Would you mind terribly if I changed the lock? I'd provide you the master for it, of course. It's just that I've had…problems… at previous flats. It's made me a mite paranoid about my locks, I'm afraid."
"Oh, I can understand that. It wouldn't be much of a problem, I wouldn't think. Just as long as I have a copy of the key."
Mrs. Scott smiled softly. "Then I'll take it. Will Tuesday work for a move-in?"
"It works just fine for me. And I'll tell you what. I'll make a nice dinner on Tuesday evening for you, John, and Sherlock – the boys from B. That way everyone at 221 can get to know each other a bit."
"That sounds wonderful, Mrs. Hudson. I can already tell that I'll feel quite at home here. I can't wait to meet – you said their names were John and Sherlock?"
Mrs. Hudson nodded as she locked the door behind them as they headed up the stairs. "Been here about two years. An interesting lot, though good through to the core. I think you'll get along with them."
"I'm sure I will," Mrs. Scott murmured to herself. As she reached the top of the stairs, she turned her head slightly to the left and winked.
Safely in his apartment, Sherlock raised an eyebrow. Surely she hadn't winked at the camera he had been using to ensure security in 221C following the Moriarty incident. There would be no way for her to know that the camera was there. He'd walked Mrs. Hudson and John past it several times, just to be sure that no ordinary eye could detect it.
He sat back in his chair, silently bemused. That was it, then. He quickly added a new event to the calendar in his phone. Tuesday, dinner with Mrs. Hudson. He had a lot of work to do over the weekend.
Rebekah watched the last box enter 221C Baker St with a tired sense of relief. Moving was always exhausting, and she had done so entirely too often in the last few years. She had been in the country most recently, but found herself missing London too much to stay away. She'd met Mr. Chatterjee, who owned the store just next door next to her new flat, at a cricket match,and he'd told her about Baker Street and Mrs. Hudson. Of course, everyone knew who lived in 221B, at least vaguely. Perhaps that contributed to why Mrs. Hudson couldn't find someone to let the flat below. Still, Rebekah didn't mind. Her husband had been a bit of an eccentric as well. She was well used to it.
She opened that last box and pulled out her kettle and teacups. The movers thanked her profusely for the tea and biscuits she provided for them, making light conversation while they rested themselves before heading home for the afternoon. Young men, a little rough, not enough opportunity, but plenty of potential, she thought. As the last one left the flat, she handed him a tin with the remaining biscuits. "For your sisters," she said, nodding at the tin. He frowned in uncertainty. "You mentioned them earlier." Of course he hadn't, but he nodded confusedly, returning her smile.
"Very kind of you, mum. I'm sure they'll appreciate it." He headed out after his cohorts, still smiling.
"Always have to know who's going to be rifling through your things." She stood next to the window, sliding it open with force to get it past the stick halfway through. Reaching into the back pocket of her jeans, she pulled out an old cigarette case. There were three cigarettes left inside. She'd sworn to herself she wouldn't roll another one once she moved in. That left her just enough for one now and one tonight after dinner.
She flicked the lighter with a practiced finger and puffed several times, her peripheral vision just catching the glow of the ash before she reached up to flick it out the window. Her gaze drifted across the room, alighting momentarily on various piles of boxes. There wasn't much – not nearly as much as there had once been, but unpacking was always a daunting task. At least she didn't have to worry about dinner tonight, and she turned her eyes upward in silent blessing for Mrs. Hudson.
"I'm a widow myself," the older woman had said. "But it's heartening to see one so young taking it so well." She'd pursed her lips. "I don't know that I ought to have said that. Apologies, my dear."
Rebekah had pulled the muscles around her lips and eyes just high enough so that she wasn't frowning. She couldn't quite manage a smile. "No, Mrs. Hudson, it's fine. Widowhood is difficult at any age I'd imagine. Always less time than we'd imagined. Never the life we thought we'd be living."
"No, that's certain. Never the life we thought we'd be living." She'd taken a sip from her own tea, looking out the window. Rebekah wondered if Mrs. Hudson had ever seen Florida.
She took another drag off her cigarette. Florida wasn't anything to write home about. Disney was a bore, the rivers were all infested with alligators, the ocean was full of jelly fish, and half the time you were in hiding from a hurricane. She preferred Brighton, and that was saying something.
She really preferred St. Andrews, but that had been brief, and had not ended well. She supposed that she could no longer say she loved it there most. It would be gauche. It would still be true.
She tapped the ashes out the window again, the cigarette halfway gone. She focused on her breaths for a moment, they were deep and long. Relaxed. James would have been proud of her. "You're smart enough to best anyone or anything, Becky. Don't ever let them get your hackles up or unsettle you. You'll get to every conclusion long before they do." He called her Becky. No one else had ever been allowed to.
She let the cigarette hang from her lips while she checked her phone. No new texts – a reminder of how many contacts she'd lost in the past year. She returned it to her pocket, rolling her lips to close around the cigarette. It was 5:19. She was supposed to arrive at Mrs. Hudson's flat at 6:00. She rose up on the balls of her feet and smashed the cigarette out on the brick on the outside edge of the window before tossing it away.
She took the screwdriver out of the same box that had produced the tea kettle earlier, followed by the new door handle and lock. She made quick work of the first one, leaving the second one out for the locksmith who was to come by the next day. She slowly rotated the handle back and forth, several times with her eye on the movement and once or twice with her ear pressed against the door near the handle. "It'll do." She laid the screwdriver on top of the mantle and took out her phone again. No texts, 5:28pm.
She went to the box, took out a blade and opened a large container in the corner, taking out the linens and moving boxes out of the way to her bed. She put the sheets on, fluffed the pillow and laid the blanket at the foot of the bed. In the heat of summer, it wouldn't be of much use to her. She took down the curtain rod and strung the curtains across it as though she'd had practice. She had. It was the third set of windows covered by these curtains, and she'd only picked them up during the winter sales. 5:46.
She stripped off her shirt and jeans, pulling her pony tail holder gently out. A sigh rushed across her lips as she bent over the box to get her outfit for dinner out. She might have showered, but it was too late now. Not that she had really done any of the hard work of the move. The only bag she'd brought in was small enough that she could have been mistaken for a student or weekender. She slipped the dress over her head and it settled with familiarity over her hips. She reached behind her and slowly pulled the zipper up. It was her husband's favorite shade of blue. He had bought it for her at some Parisian boutique the first time he'd left for a business trip after their honeymoon.
She didn't know why she had decided to wear it tonight.
She brushed out her hair and touched makeup quickly on. It was too hot for any more primping. She gathered her hair with a pin James had brought her back from Bavaria, a crooked little thing made of oak heartwood. She slipped on a pair of black ballet flats and out the door.
Life in 221C Baker Street was about to begin.