Edmund Vernet Hooper was five years and four months old. He had very good life. For one thing, he knew he had an outstanding Mummy. She was a doctor for dead people, which was confusing to think about, because you could never fix them, but they still needed doctors.
He had his little sister, Violet, who was nearly four, and a bit naughty. He had Uncle Mycroft, who taught him chess, and Gemma and Genevieve, who had two swimming pools and their own horses and had a treat or gift for him whenever they saw him, and Aunt Pip, who called him "Beastly Boy," and still laughed when he pretended to be a monster.
He had Uncle John, who took him to watch footie and rugger with Chris, and Aunt Sarah, who always had the best biscuits. Uncle John and Aunt Sarah were doctors like his mum, but for sick people, not dead ones. He had his best mate Chris and Chris's little sister Ayesha. He had Grandmère, who lived in a flat with a lift and underground carpark, and Mrs. Hudson, who lived in his house, but in her own flat.
He had his dad. Every morning when his dad was home, the two of them exercised, then read the papers. Violet would sometimes come with them and the three of them had great fun looking at the insides of phones and computers and watches, or reading about poisons and disasters and horrible diseases that they would not catch. Sometimes, if it was a dull day, they took things apart so they could see what that was like, which was Violet's favorite thing. And sometimes, when he had nothing else on, his dad would come and get Edmund and Violet from school. Edmund's teacher, Miss Corwin, liked his dad, and smiled a lot and giggled a bit and messed about with her hair when she saw him, but Violet's teacher, Mrs. Layton-Smith, frowned whenever she saw Daddy coming her way.
Sometimes Daddy would have to go away for work. Sometimes it was somewhere really interesting, like Singapore or Chicago, and sometimes it was someplace very boring, like Cardiff or York. Mummy would write it down and Edmund and Violet would find it on the map and the globe, then look at pictures on the computer. Sometimes he was gone a long time. And sometimes he was gone a very long time. Edmund always missed him, but his dad always came back with an exciting story and a cheque. Edmund was good at maths, so he got to keep track of the cheques.
If his father was at home, they usually all had supper together - Edmund, Violet, Daddy, and Mummy, and sometimes Mrs. Hudson, too. Once Edmund asked why they always ate in the kitchen in Mummy's flat, and Mummy said it was because the kitchen in Daddy's flat was a biohazard zone, full of toxic waste and dead things. Then his dad asked her if she thought the chicken she as serving was, in fact, still alive. And when Mummy started cutting the chicken up, his dad made quiet chicken noises and they all laughed so hard. Well, not Mummy, but everyone else.
At night, after Edmund and Violet were asleep, Mummy sometimes went upstairs to their father's flat. Edmund had caught her coming downstairs often and if he woke up in the night, Mummy's bed was empty and the sheets were cold, and he'd have to speak right into the monitor to get her to come down. Then she'd say she only went up to see their father for a moment and must have fallen asleep, silly me, and tuck Edmund back into his own bed. Edmund Hooper was not stupid, but he wondered if maybe his mummy thought he was.
Uncle John and Aunt Sarah shared a room, and when he asked Aunt Sarah why, she told him it was what married grown-ups usually did. A survey of his school friends agreed. If there were two parents, they were supposed to have one bedroom.
So why didn't his mum and dad? The question bothered his brain like the seam at the toe of his sock bothered his foot when it was twisted the wrong way. When he asked Violet what she thought, she said it was a boring question and that he was dull dull dull and walked away.
It had got more confusing when Ned slept over. They'd been playing Legos in Edmund's room and Edmund was trying to think of a way to make a Lego volcano erupt on their Lego town and turn it into Lego Pompeii. But Ned didn't even know what Pompeii was. So Edmund took him up to his father's empty flat to get the book on natural disasters he had left there, and then Ned had asked him when his parents had got a divorce.
Edmund didn't know. He didn't even know if they had one. By the time Eddie was finished trying to explain about how things worked at 221B Baker Street, he and Ned were both confused. Ned insisted adults who were in love got married and ones who were not in love got divorced, and if you didn't live in the same flat, you were probably divorced.
So, after Ned went home, Edmund made a list:
- Mycroft was his uncle and he was Sherlock's brother. Gemma and Genevieve and Aunt Pip belonged to him. He didn't know if his aunt and uncle shared a room.
- John was his uncle and he was not Sherlock's brother. Or Mummy's brother. Or Mycroft's brother. Or Sarah's brother. But Aunt Sarah and Chris and Ayesha belonged to him. Uncle John and Aunt Sarah shared a room, too.
- Grandmère was Uncle Mycroft and his dad's mother. She had a divorce.
- Grandma Margaret was Mummy's mother, but she died when Mummy was a little girl.
- Mrs. Hudson was not Mummy's mum or Sherlock's other Mummy (Nadya at school had two mummies, but Sherlock said, 'no, Edmund, Mrs. Hudson is a staunch ally and a friend, but she is neither my mother nor my housekeeper.')
- Grandfather Quin was his dad's dad. His real name was Tarquin. He had a divorce, too. He also had Gloria, who his dad called 'Granny Nikki' or 'Granny Knickerless,' and Aunt Beth and Aunt Angela, who were only babies, (which was a bit confusing, because his other aunts were grown-ups, but they were nice babies, mostly.)
- Grand-dad Eddie was Mummy's dad, but he got sick and died before Edmund was even born.
So Edmund was like the other kids he knew because he had aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents (even if they were dead a long while), and that sort of thing. He was up on some of them because he had a sister and two parents who lived with him.
So were Mummy and Daddy in love or not? He wasn't sure, and it seemed important. He thought perhaps he ought to treat it like a proper case and say 'Molly' and 'Sherlock': Were Molly Hooper and Sherlock Holmes in love or were they divorced?
There was nothing for it but an investigation. For that, he needed an assistant and a note book and plan.
That night, after he made all his preparations, he tiptoed to Violet's bed and gave her a stare. The clock in Violet's room read 4:00. He hoped he had timed it right.
"It's time," he whispered.
"Finally!" Violet said. "I woke up and put on my clothes ages ago!" She threw back her covers and leapt out of bed, fully dressed. "I thought you'd never wake up."
Mummy would be cross to know Violet had worn shoes in the bed.
"This time you should be the assistant," Violet said.
"Don't be silly," Edmund said. "This isn't a game. It's a proper case."
"But I am always the assistant! It's not fair," Violet said, and stamped her foot.
"It's because you're littler," Edmund explained. "The littler one is always the assistant."
Violet frowned. "So if Uncle John was big, Dad would be his assistant?"
"No, because Dad's the consulting detective and Uncle John is the assistant. And I'm smarter than you, and taller," he explained patiently. "That means you have to be the assistant."
Violet kept frowning.
"Next time, when it's a just a play-case, I'll be the assistant, alright?"
Violet made a huffing sound. "No."
"Don't be a baby about it," Edmund said.
He should have expected it when Violet put her head down and tried to run straight into his chest. Violet was the smallest in her class and Edmund was the second biggest in his, but she usually got the better of him when they played rough. Mostly it was because he was worried about getting in trouble, but Violet never seemed to care about that.
Edmund grabbed hold of her hands. "Stop it or I'll tell Mummy," he said.
"You're not nice, Eddie," Violet said.
"I'm very nice," he said, "because I'm not going to tell Mummy, am I?"
He opened the door quietly. "Are you coming or not?"
As quietly and carefully as they knew how - and that was very quietly and carefully - the two of them left the flat and crept up the stairs. It was difficult, because they didn't spend nearly as much time upstairs as they did in their own flat, or even in Mrs. Hudson's, but they knew where the floor creaked and where the echoes were, and they knew to step around the piles of things Daddy kept stacked up on the floor. Violet always wanted to go into Daddy's kitchen and play with the chemistry equipment, so she was not allowed up there by herself, ever. Edmund pulled her past all that and they made their way through to Daddy's room.
Edmund touched the cold knob and turned it so quietly even Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective, wouldn't be able to hear. Extra quiet, in fact, because the blasted - he was allowed to say blasted - thing was locked, and didn't turn at all.
Edmund was busy glaring at the knob when Violet tapped his shoulder. She had some sort of skinny tool in her other hand. "Use this," she whispered too loudly.
Oh. Edmund knew what is was. Their dad had explained how locks worked, and how they got picked, and he'd even seen his dad do it. But Edmund had never picked a locked door before. The trick was going to be doing it quietly.
Worrying more about waking Mummy and Daddy than getting the door open, Edmund slipped the metal thing into the lock and slowly wiggled it. He pictured the insides of locks Daddy had shown him, and pictured the thin blade moving one tumbler and then another. He was amazed at how quickly it worked and how easily the door swung open.
And then, in that instant, four thoughts occurred to Edmund all at once:
- Daddy was awake and looking straight at him with his 'I am not happy' face.
- Edmund could not make his feet move or his mouth open.
- it was winter, but Mummy and Daddy were not wearing pyjamas.
- Edmund had not planned this out as well as he thought he had.
Violet didn't seem to notice any of those things. She walked right up to the bed and got very, very close to their dad's face. "We're on a case," she whispered very loudly.
Daddy blinked at her. "Do tell," he whispered back. He held out his open hand and Edmund put the lock-picking tool into it.
"Eddie wants to know if he can have your Strad, you know. Not now, when he's a grown-up," she said.
Edmund wanted to groan. He had sworn her to secrecy about wanting Dad's violin. Apparently, you couldn't trust some people to keep a secret.
"Your brother is welcome to my violin," Daddy whispered, "as soon as he can prove he deserves it."
"How?" Violet asked.
"By playing it better than I do, obviously," Daddy whispered.
Violet turned back to Edmund. "You have to keep practicing. A lot."
Edmund nodded. He already knew that.
"Is that the case finished, then?" Daddy asked.
"No," Violet answered. "You tell him."
Edmund found his voice. "You - you and Mummy, you aren't like other parents."
"Aren't we?" Daddy said. "And what is your evidence?"
"Eddie says other parents have a bed," Violet said.
Daddy frowned a bit. "I have a bed. Your mother has a bed."
"No," Edmund said. His stomach suddenly felt a bit sick. "Just one bed. And a bedroom. For sharing. Like - like Uncle John and Aunt Sarah."
Daddy looked over at Mummy. She was snoring a bit. He fixed the sheet so it covered her better and she wouldn't be cold, Edmund thought. "I see," Daddy said. "Did Christopher tell you this?"
Edmund shook his head. "It was Aunt Sarah. But I asked her. And Ned said so, too."
"Ned?" Daddy asked. His eyebrow went up when he said it.
"Yes," Edmund said. "Edwin Taylor-Phelps. He said parents who were in love got married and ones who were not in love got a divorce and lived in different houses, sometimes in different countries."
"Like America," Violet said, "or even France!"
"We all live in one house, do we not?" Daddy asked.
Edmund nodded. "But, you - you have a flat, and Mummy has a flat. Different flats is a bit like different houses."
Daddy nodded. "You're right, Edmund, one could look at it that way. While not correct, that is very well reasoned."
Edmund felt a bit proud. Daddy always said he liked sound reasoning. But he was still worried. "Is that why you don't live with us in our flat? Because you have a divorce. Because you don't - you don't love Mummy?"
"Mummy fancies you, you know," Violet said. "I asked her and she said, 'yes, I fancy your father, now please finish your pasta.' Do you fancy Mummy?"
Daddy looked at Mummy, then at Edmund and Violet. "I fancy mince pies," he said.
"Mummy is not a mince pie," Violet said, very seriously.
"And that is not a proper answer, Daddy," Edmund added.
"No, she is not," Daddy said. "Let's begin with a statement of fact: I care for your mother just as I care for the two of you. Now, let's reason this out, shall we? How do I feel about you and your brother, Violet?"
"You love us, silly!" Violet said.
"Yes, I do," Daddy agreed. "Now, we've established that I care for your mother just as I care for you. So, if I love you and your sister, Edmund, what must that mean with regards to your mother?"
Edmund thought about it. He didn't think it was a trick question, but sometimes he couldn't be all the way sure. "That - that means you love Mummy," he finally said.
"Exactly," Daddy said.
"So do you have a divorce yet?" Violet asked.
Daddy put his fingers in his hair and messed it all up. "We are not married, so we cannot divorce," he said. "But to answer the subtext of your investigative inquiries, no, your mother and I are not splitting up, no, we are not going to live in separate houses, no, we are not moving to America, or even France. This is what is known as a permanent arrangement."
Oh. So Daddy did love Mummy, then. That was good. And he already knew Mummy loved Daddy, because she said so whenever they asked. And they didn't have a divorce. All that was good. Very good.
Edmund stood there, relieved, but wondering what to say next.
"Eddie still gets your Strad, right?" Violet said.
"As I said before, in time, yes," Daddy said.
"So that means I should have a pony," she said.
"Does it?" Daddy asked.
"It's just fair. You get Mummy, Eddie gets your Strad, so I should get what I want. And I want a pony."
"Oh fine," Mummy said, but she didn't even open her eyes. "You can have a pony. We'll keep it in the back garden. Can we please all go back to sleep now?"
"YAY!" Violet said. "I'm going to go tell Mrs. Hudson!"
Daddy laughed and fell back on his pillows. "Do go stop your sister, Edmund," he said, "or we shall all be evicted, and have to move to America."
"Or even France," Mummy said, and rolled over.