Chapter One: The Reunion
Disclaimer: I make no money from writing about these characters.
"You didn't have to come, you know."
Joan Watson stands at the open double doors of the high school gym looking up at a banner that reads Welcome Class of 1993. Standing beside her, Sherlock Holmes follows her gaze and then peers into the crowded room.
"Doubly redundant, Watson. You are both stating the obvious and reminding me of something I already know. Not like you to do that. Despite your earlier protests to the contrary, you are nervous."
Holmes darts another glance at her. As expected, she is rolling her eyes—something she often does when she concedes a point to him in an argument.
Of course, the high school gym is noisy and speaking over the electronic music is an effort.
Besides, if anyone has reason to be nervous, he does. After all, these are Watson's people, her former school companions. Holmes knows no one here.
Watson stands a moment longer in the open doorway before heading out into the crowd, Holmes following in her wake. The gym is dimly lit with a decorative mirror ball on the ceiling whirling bits of color on the dance floor. Along one wall is a table with an open punchbowl and platters of what appear from the distance to be ordinary hors d'oeuvres. On the opposite wall is a raised dais where a man considerably younger than the crowd on the dance floor stands behind the usual assortment of musical equipment of mobile disc jockeys.
A mistake, really, to employ a DJ of a different generation from the partygoers. His choice of music doesn't suit their tastes, judging from the scarcity of people actually dancing.
Watson makes her way to the punchbowl and ladles herself a cup. Taking a tentative sip, she makes a face.
"Off limits for me?" Holmes says, but she shakes her head.
"Only if you object to sucrose," she says, handing him the ladle. "Lemonade. Way too sweet."
"Is it typical for high school reunions to be held at the school itself? This doesn't seem a very festive choice of venue."
"If you didn't like your school, I guess it wouldn't be," she says, taking another sip. "But I loved high school. And the gym was where we had all our dances. Even our prom was here."
Placing the ladle back in the punchbowl without getting any lemonade, Holmes says, "The gym at my school was a place where many boys were routinely humiliated and bullied, so my associations are understandably different from yours."
From the corner of his eye he sees her give him an odd look, the kind she sometimes casts his way when he drops a tidbit or two from his past. Not just curiosity but something else. Concern, or worry. Probably an artifact left over from her time as his sober companion. He'll have to remember not to raise alarms with comments about unhappy moments in his childhood—references to being bullied, for example, or other dreary truths about boarding school life.
A tall man wearing a blue sports coat approaches the punchbowl and peers at Watson. For a moment he looks as if he is going to say something to her, but then he turns and walks away. Setting her cup down on the table, Watson walks in the other direction to an unoccupied spot in the corner of the gym. As she does, people look up and move aside. Even over the music Holmes hears her name said more than once.
Tonight her clothes are more formal than usual but not as showy as most of the women present, as if she wants to appear serious and professional.
Which of course she does.
"You're worried about being snubbed," Holmes says, leaning close to her ear to be heard over the music.
This time she doesn't roll her eyes but turns to give him a look full on. She blinks and looks down as the music set comes to an end, the blare of drums and guitars replaced by the hum and buzz of multiple conversations. From somewhere across the gym, several women laugh loudly. Someone drops a glass.
"It was in the papers," Watson says slowly. "My suspension. On the news. Not all of the details, but enough. People I hadn't heard from in years, people I thought were friends, sent me…notes."
"Not nice ones, I assume," Holmes says, looking around the room. "Neither the people nor the notes."
"No," she says, stumbling over the word. "No, they weren't."
He can feel her shifting her gaze to him. Blinking, he looks away.
"As if any of these people can sit in judgment of you. That woman there," he says, pointing to a blonde wearing a red satin dress, "hasn't worked a day since high school, at least not on the books, unless prostitution is now legal in New York, hmm? And her companion. The man wearing the knock-off Armani suit? I know for a fact that he is personally responsible for the failures of two brokerage firms, chiefly after advising their CFOs to invest in what amounted to little more than a Ponzi scheme. And—"
"How do you know that? You can't know that!"
"You're right, Watson, I don't. I was making a point. No one in this room is any better than you are. No one here hasn't made a mistake or two. The fact that yours was in the papers is the only difference."
"You read about it."
A question disguised as a statement.
"If I did," Holmes says, finally making eye contact, "I have forgotten it."
Even in the dim light he sees Watson flush.
For a moment they are both silent and then Watson says, "You never told me how you knew I was coming tonight. Until you said you wanted to come with me, I wasn't even sure I would."
"I owe you a favor, Watson," he said. "In point of fact, I owe you many, but in this particular situation I have an opportunity to pay you back in kind, as it were. I intend to be your sober companion for the evening—not that you need my services as a sobriety watchdog, but you might welcome my presence."
He waits a beat and then adds, "Because it makes you nervous to face these people."
She parts her lips to reply but gives an audible sigh first.
"That doesn't answer my question."
"About your coming? You received the invitation in the post a month ago—I remember the distinctive school seal in the stack of letters I sorted. The return address said 20th Reunion Committee, Midwood High School. Later that day the opened invitation was in the small waste bin in the corridor. By the evening it reappeared on top of a stack of papers I saw you carrying to your room. It didn't take much to deduce that you had fished it out because you changed your mind and wanted to make note of the details. Why did you initially decide not to come? The embarrassment of facing your former classmates, people who remember you as an excellent scholar and surgeon but have seen you fall. Why did you decide to attend after all? Redemption, Watson; something we all crave, whether we admit it or not."
He hazards a closer look at her face. Not a smile, exactly, but something flickers in her expression, visibly lightening her mood.
"I decided to come," she says, "because of that lady there."
Holmes turns to look. Sitting next to the raised dais is a woman much older than the other reunion guests.
"A teacher," he says, and Watson nods.
"Mrs. Jefferson. My 12th grade English teacher. I almost majored in American literature because of her."
This is a surprise. Watson spends a great deal of her free time reading—none of it, to Holmes' knowledge, anything other than nonfiction. Newspapers, science journals, a popular history text, police reports on occasion, but nothing that could be called proper literature.
As if she can sense his skepticism, she says, "She made reading fun. Before her class, it was just one more thing to get through in school. After I graduated, we kept in touch. When—when I left medicine, she was very supportive."
"How lucky for you that she is here tonight."
"Luck had nothing to do with it," Watson says, eyebrow lifted. "The Reunion Committee is honoring her tonight with an award. It was in the invitation I got. And that's why I'm here."
She takes a step away from him, her motion attracting the attention of Mrs. Jefferson.
Mrs. Jefferson starts to rise but Watson waves her back and sits in the folding chair beside her.
"I'm so glad you're here!" Mrs. Jefferson says, reaching over and giving Watson a loose hug. "I was hoping to see you."
"You look wonderful," Watson says. In fact her teacher looks ill—her skin an almost luminescent pallor, her features bloated, her gray hair short and thin.
"Don't start lying now," the teacher says. "I look as dreadful as I feel. Getting old; don't look so alarmed."
Watson lifts her hand toward him and Holmes takes another step closer.
"Mrs. Jefferson, I want you to meet Sherlock Holmes. We're…working together. For the NYPD."
"Consultants, yes," Holmes says. "Helping out the detectives on some of the more challenging cases. So nice to finally meet you, Mrs. Jefferson. Watson talks about you all the time, what an inspiration you have been in her life. Just the other day she was encouraging me to give William Faulkner another go. I may have to take her up on it."
Watson's expression is unreadable but Mrs. Jefferson smiles broadly.
"Good for you, Joanie. You could have been a teacher if you'd wanted to."
A high-pitched squeal of electric feedback pierces the air and Holmes blinks. On the dais at the free-standing mike is a heavyset dark-skinned man with short-cropped hair. The chair of the Reunion Committee, most likely, he leans forward and Mrs. Jefferson says, "Oh, I think this is my cue. They have some kind of presentation planned. At least I don't have to make a speech."
She stands slowly and Watson rises with her, reaching out a hand to help her.
"Thank you, Joanie. Are you going to be here awhile? I want to catch up."
"I'll make sure she stays," Holmes says, and Mrs. Jefferson nods as she passes. Then to Watson he says, "I thought she might be concerned that I would be eager to leave—since I am your guest and not a graduate."
"Testing, testing," the heavyset man says into the mike. The people on the dance floor look up expectantly. The hubbub in the gym dies down. "Welcome again, everyone. On behalf of the Reunion Committee, I want to thank everyone for coming out tonight."
"What a ridiculous thing to say," Holmes mutters in Watson's direction. "As if coming to a party was commendable behavior."
"Shh," she says, but before he can answer, the man at the mike continues.
"Now it's time to present our special guest, someone I think most of you know. Even if you never had her for English, you remember Ethel Jefferson. I think she practically lived at Midwood."
A smattering of laughs ripples through the crowd. At his side, Watson smiles.
"When I was a senior, she was always here no matter how early I got to school, and I was here lots of mornings early for tutoring. And no matter how late coach made us stay—"
Another ripple of laughter.
"—she was still here, sitting in the stands watching the basketball teams practice, a stack of papers on her lap, a red pen in her hand."
"Lots of red pens!" someone calls from the floor and the crowd erupts in more laughter. The heavyset man waits until the noise recedes before he starts again.
"You might not know it, but Mrs. Jefferson is planning to retire at the end of this year. I know, I can't imagine Midwood High without her either. And I'm sure lots of you have many Mrs. J. stories you can tell."
He turns to Mrs. Jefferson and she crosses the short distance between them.
"Mrs. J, the Reunion Committee wanted to honor a teacher who made a difference in the lives of her students, and we voted unanimously that that teacher is you. We took up a little collection—here it is—and you can spend it on whatever you want. Take a vacation, do something fun—"
"Buy a Ferrari!" another voice from the floor yells.
"It's not that nice a gift," the man says to more laughter. "But it comes with all the thanks we can give you for all you've done for us and for the other students you've known over the years."
The applause is instant and loud and sustained. Mrs. Jefferson faces the crowd and makes a funny stumbling little bow.
And then with a gasp she crumples to the ground. In one bound Watson is at the steps, and Holmes watches as she runs across the dais and kneels down at Mrs. Jefferson's side, her hand darting out, her fingers pressed to Mrs. Jefferson's neck.
"Call!" she shouts, but Holmes already has his phone out dialing 911.
By the time the paramedics arrive, most of the class of 1993 has left, the caterers and DJ scurrying to pack up their equipment. There's no rush now, sadly. Watson sits on the floor of the dais beside the body of Mrs. Jefferson, looking as bereft as Holmes has ever seen her. She doesn't rise until the medics lift Mrs. Jefferson onto the folding gurney and wheel her out of the gym.
"Let's walk," Holmes says when she rejoins him at the outside door. "The cold air will help us think."
"I don't want to think," Watson says. "I'm too upset."
"Exactly why we need to think," Holmes says, "about why someone at your high school reunion would want your English teacher dead. Mrs. Jefferson was murdered."
A/N: Hello Elementary fans! I just discovered the show a couple of weeks ago, but I've loved Sherlock Holmes since I was a kid and my mother gave me the collected works of Conan Doyle one Christmas. As far as I'm concerned, you can't have too much Holmes, and I love all the iterations currently on the cinema and television.
Normally I hang out in the Star Trek fandom, mostly writing fanfiction for the reboot movie but recently branching out into The Original Episodes land. If you are a Trek fan, check out my profile for the list.
I realize this is a new fandom but I'm hopeful that it is a welcoming one—and that the readers here know how valuable their reviews are! Let me know what you think so far!