First chapter, first story. I don't like entering huge amounts of author fluff so I will be brief. I really enjoyed writing this and it would be swell if you would let me know what you think.
A Possible Identity Crisis
After waiting for eighteen months, Ruby Smith had finally arrived at the South London Morgue. She glanced at her unpolished fingernails which rested on the doorknob, savouring the feeling of cold steel beneath her skin as she summoned the necessary courage to push the handle down and enter the room beyond. With a portion of her mind still uncertain whether this was reality, Ruby pushed open the door and stepped into the chilled centre. The blank walls were interrupted every few feet by small, square metal gates which if opened would reveal one of three things: an empty chamber, a boring corpse rendered dead via natural causes or on rare occasions; an interesting body who'd exchanged pleasantries with the grim reaper as a result of someone's homicidal actions.
An odd trio were studying a body on her right; the small, kind-faced female appeared to be the mortician while the two men facing her seemed to be identifying the body. One was quite short, with straight brown hair, casual dress sense and very good posture while the other was tall and lanky, wearing a long heavy coat topped with an unruly mop of black hair. She could see nothing of their faces as their backs were turned but the identity of these people was irrelevant to Ruby's quest; it was the tall, dark mortician working on a corpse at the far flung end of the morgue which captured her attention. A smile pulled at her lips as she recognised the back of his dark afro, the turquoise scrubs and the immaculate trainers. Ruby's flat shoes muffled any sound her crossing made so the thirty-something mortician failed to notice her coming to a halt behind him. Leaning up on tip-toe to accommodate his 6'3 frame, Ruby quickly cupped her hands around his eyes and whispered 'Guess who?' into his ear. She felt his body freeze before dropping her hands and allowing him to turn around and identify his tormentor.
'It's been awhile; Jahmene Ray.' Ruby said, her smile faltering when Jahmene's face remained stoic and serious as he observed the violently red-haired woman with slightly muddy, green eyes. He'd remembered them to be brighter, but now the colour was murky, as if someone had mixed dirt into a glossy mixture of paint. His eyes ran up and down her figure, taking in the dark jeans, striped top and suit jacket while she quickly swallowed her disappointment at his cold welcome. She hadn't seen him or his face in almost a year and a half. His dark eyes were still framed by thick eyelashes, his nose continued to be perfectly straight, his cheekbones still pressed against his mahogany skin and the jawline remained as defined as ever. Yes, Jahmene Ray was a great catch for any woman; his looks were matched step for step by his quirky personality… his sexual orientation however, was as straight as a roundabout.
'Red?' Jahmene eventually croaked, not daring to believe his eyes.
'The one and only.' Ruby said, her smile returning at the sound of her old nickname. A well-crafted hand, perfect for the delicate work of a mortician reached out and flipped back her jacket, revealing a brace lapping over her top and plunging into the waistband of her jeans supporting the black and white pattern of a keyboard.
'Mother of Oprah Winfrey…' Jahmene murmured. Before Ruby could return his blinding smile, Jahmene's arms encircled her, lifted her up and spun her around in exuberant circles. 'You've finally returned!' He exclaimed, his spinning attracting the attention of the trio by the door much to Ruby's dismay. Jahmene gently reunited Ruby's feet with the ground and surreptitiously wiped away a tear.
'Ugh, stop being so gay.' Ruby moaned, pushing a beaming Jahmene away.
'I never thought I'd say this, but I actually missed you insulting my sexuality.' He said thoughtfully, his eyes twinkling down at her. His attention was drawn to their far off audience and he grabbed Ruby's arm and hurriedly steered her towards them.
'Are you going to show me off?' Ruby asked drily as she was marched towards the other end of the morgue.
'Well, you only knew me in the North London Morgue. Now you need to meet the new people I get paid to boss around.' He said brightly, his grip turning vice-like to stop any thoughts of escaping.
'Is everything alright Mr Ray?' The female mortician asked timidly, her eyes curiously raking the woman he'd greeted with such familiarity.
'Hunky dory Molly, hunky dory.' Ruby couldn't help it; she visibly cringed at this remark. 'Oh that's right, you absolutely hate that saying, don't you Red?' Jahmene asked, grinning at the rediscovery of this small annoyance.
'Only when you say it.' Ruby admitted while holding out her hand to the mortician. 'Ruby Smith. Friends call me Red. Nice to meet you.' She said.
'M-Molly Hooper. I don't mean to be rude, but who are you exactly?' She asked after shaking her hand.
'This idiot's best friend.' Ruby said, jerking a thumb towards Jahmene.
'Red; our friendship has been on hiatus for eighteen months; how do you know I haven't replaced you?' He asked while crossing his arms.
'I'd be mightily impressed if you'd made a new friend.' Ruby said bluntly, smiling at Jahmene's offended expression while offering her hand over the corpse to the smaller of the two men. 'And you are…?'
'John Watson. And like you, I'm also best friends with an idiot.' He said cheerfully, his kindly face split by a cheeky smile as he nodded towards his tall companion. It was more the unexpected familiarity of John's friend rather than his striking visage which caused Ruby's smile to falter. Any recognition on his part had easily been masked as his gaze quickly flicked back to the corpse lying between them. The calculating eyes, pale skin and almost ridiculous cheekbones had to belong to him, yet Ruby couldn't understand how the curious character of Mr Holmes had once again entered her life. It's him. Of all the days to see him again it had to be the day I finally get my life back. She thought bitterly, a slight dread stretching like a dragon in the depths of her stomach, worry about Mr Holmes written in violet letters along its black, leathery body.
'Sherlock Holmes.' He said stiffly, introducing himself more to the dead body than to Ruby and ignoring her outstretched hand. It seemed he was going to snub any previous acquaintance they'd forged during their initial encounter which was so bizarre Ruby knew she would never forget it.
'A pleasure to meet you.' Ruby said coldly as her arm fell limply to her side. She quickly re-arranged her thunderstruck expression into one of slight offence at Mr Holmes' complete disregard for manners and returned John's apologetic smile.
'So, who was she?' Ruby asked, directing her question to John.
'Sorry?' He asked.
'Was she a relative, a friend…?' Ruby asked, looking at the corpse and then back to John.
'Oh no, God no, we're not identifying the body!' John said with a nervous laugh as Sherlock continued to study the corpse.
'So you're with the police?' Ruby asked.
'Well… sort of.' He scratched the back of his head.
'Sherlock's a consulting detective and John's his colleague.' Molly piped up, her cheeks flushing slightly as she spoke.
'Not a consulting detective Molly, the consulting detective. I'm the only one in the world.' Sherlock said disparagingly, examining the dead woman's hand which until now Ruby hadn't realised was missing a thumb.
'Consulting detective?' Ruby asked curiously. He hadn't told her that the last time they'd met.
'When the police's incompetence renders their criminal-catching skills useless, my services are called upon to provide enlightenment and to of course catch the criminal.' Sherlock said absentmindedly.
'And I suppose you have to be ridiculously smart to fulfil that role?' Ruby asked sarcastically, finding the notion of a man single-handedly solving crimes a ludicrous one.
'Actually… he sort of is.' John said while placing his hands behind his back. Ruby glanced at Molly, then at Jahmene and found their expressions supporting this humble statement. She returned her gaze to a smug looking Sherlock, still far from convinced.
'You'll have to forgive me for not believing you.' Ruby said plainly, her frank dismissal stirring a smouldering anger in the pit of Sherlock's stomach and prompting a tense silence.
'Do people call you Red because of your hair colour?' Molly asked, quickly trying to change the subject. Ruby fingered one of her crimson locks thoughtfully before carelessly tossing it over her shoulder.
'Sure. The colour of my hair…' She replied while exchanging a shifty smile with Jahmene. He ran a hand through her hair, comparing it to the colour of her skin and fanning it around her green eyes, nodding in approval.
'It's a nice shade you went for though you're going to attract the wrong attention from those dogs you work with.' Jahmene said with a knowing look.
'You're a vet?' John asked, looking mildly interested.
'Of course she isn't a vet.' Sherlock said exasperatedly, rising quickly and looking at Ruby with furiously calculating eyes.
'Then what am I?' Ruby asked challengingly, placing a hand in the pocket of her jacket.
'What are you? What are you? Well, to start, your occupation consists of serving the London Metropolitan as a mediocre police officer–'
'Sherlock, I don't think now is the time to be showing off–' John began.
'John, as a natural sceptic Ms Smith believes I cannot possibly carry out my job leaving me only one choice: to shatter this illusion with evidence supporting my sound premise. And also, if you think she's a vet, then I clearly need to clarify the obvious.' Sherlock said harshly.
'I… I apologise in advance.' John said to Ruby and after heaving a sigh, he looked helplessly at his wired friend. Sherlock focused his attention on Ruby which she found to be a rather uncomfortable experience, his laser-like stare made her feel dreadfully self-conscious.
'You've just finished an undercover operation lasting a period of eighteen months hence why your hair is freshly dyed as you evidently couldn't have such a striking hair colour when the ideal undercover officer is supposed to clothe themselves in mediocrity. You worked with North London Homicide, the only place in the entire British Isles which would sanction such a ludicrous operation and place all of the responsibility into the hands of quite frankly; a green girl. And yet despite these ominous factors, the operation was clearly a success, if your exhausted but satisfied disposition wasn't proof enough, the new detective badge attached to your jeans and hidden beneath your jacket which you're currently running your thumb over is testament to the level of success to which the quest concluded. However, it hasn't yet been made official as you haven't been paraded in front of the media as the youngest female detective in London history, smashing D.S Sally Donovan's previous record by I believe… 7 months?'
'Quiet John, I'm in the middle of a streak. Though the operation was clearly a success, it dealt heavy blows to your mental strength, resulting in you seeing a psychiatrist who diagnosed you as being at the brink of an identity crisis and has advised time off work, advice which of course you never plan on following which I find myself agreeing with. The only way of reaffirming the true essence of oneself is by doing what defines one best; in this instance it would be your job, supporting the premise that time off work would only serve to ward off a recovery instead of encourage one.'
Ruby stopped tracing the outline of her badge and folded her arms while Jahmene looked on with a perplexed frown. Sherlock noted this change in body language and like a bloodhound catching the first scent of a fox, he thundered after his instincts. 'However, you're not returning to North London Homicide as during your undercover work you were replaced, an action you were afraid of happening but were promised would never occur. Next you've been moved to the South which you're happy about as your best friend has already re-located to the corresponding morgue but angry over as you view the casual transfer as a betrayal. Oh and you're obviously nervous about starting as your new boss happens to be the very lady whose record you stole.' He finished his impressive monologue smugly, never breaking eye contact with the woman he'd been deciphering.
'Sherlock, you can't just go around deducing people's secrets from the colour of their hair or the position of their jacket –' John began.
'And why not?' Sherlock asked, breaking eye contact with Ruby and observing his best friend calmly.
'Because it's just rude!' John blustered.
'Well, the truth is ugly John –'
'Holy. Cake-baking. Superman.' That stopped Sherlock and John's bickering in its tracks, producing perplexed frowns on both men as they looked at Ruby.
'Sorry?' John asked.
'I said: Holy. Cake-baking. Superman.' Ruby repeated.
'Yes we heard what you said, we're unsure however of why.' Sherlock snapped. Ruby ignored this comment and turned towards Jahmene.
'If I asked you to pick up that metal basin and smash it over the back of my head, would you?'
'Why?' Jahmene asked suspiciously.
'Because I want to suffer from short-term memory loss just so I can experience that first-time round again.' Ruby said with a slightly delirious smile. 'I have no idea how you did that…That was… hang on, let me find a pompous enough word to describe it…' She chewed the side of her thumb for a moment. 'Phantasmagorical.' She whispered, a smile tugging at her lips as she muttered her favourite word in the English language.
'Well, if you say so.' Sherlock muttered; his initial anger and frustration disarmed by the compliment.
'Sorry… phantasmawhat?' John asked.
'Phantasmagorical John. A series of images or events with a dream-like quality.' Sherlock recited, secretly happy that such a word had been employed to describe his talents.
'Can you do that with everyone?' Ruby eventually asked, completely fascinated.
'Y-You're not offended?' John asked, looking shocked.
'Of course she's not John, she's just spent the past eighteen months undercover. It'll take more than blunt words to rattle her cage.' Sherlock said smoothly.
'And I suppose you deduced that from the way she placed her hand on her hip or the way she tied her shoes?' John muttered while shoving his hands into his pockets.
'It is a rare occurrence when I am taken for a fool, John.' Sherlock murmured, glancing at Ruby with a knowing twinkle in his eye, leaving the redhead certain he remembered their initial encounter. Sherlock fumbled in his pocket for a moment and brought out two nicotine patches and proceeded to slap one on each wrist, seemingly oblivious to the disapproving looks from both Molly and John. This excessive use of nicotine triggered something in Ruby's memory and a glowing smile slid onto her face.
'Oh Jahmene, that reminds me –' She said while turning to her best friend, hoping he would be pleased with her proposition.
'Are you really seeing a psychiatrist?' He interrupted.
'What? Yes –'
'And are you going to ignore her advice?' He was beginning to look very annoyed not to mention a little upset.
'Jahmene, you don't understand, she doesn't know what she's –'
'Oh I'm sure all of the years spent in college writing countless papers and reading stacks of textbooks along with the hours she's logged with hundreds of patients amounts to nothing.' He said dangerously while re-folding his arms. Sensing an impending argument, John tapped Sherlock on his shoulder and discreetly pointed towards the door as a quick escape to which Sherlock gave a curt nod. 'Do you really think you know better than an expert?' Jahmene asked sarcastically as Sherlock and John slowly edged away.
'Jahmene, if you'll swap father figure for gay best friend, I might get the chance to make my initial suggestion!' Ruby said impatiently. Molly's face blanched upon hearing "gay best friend" as for over a year her naïve nature had successfully sheltered her from her boss's sexual orientation.
'And what might that be?' Jahmene asked, oblivious to the change in his colleague's mood.
'I just wanted to ask if you wanted to come over and celebrate the rekindling of our friendship with a few Cuban cigars!' Ruby said angrily. This was too much for Molly who dropped her scalpel where it narrowly avoided her shoe. Sherlock quickly stopped in his tracks, all ideas of his escape completely forgotten much to John's dismay.
'Ms Hooper, a little caution if you wouldn't mind.' Jahmene said sternly.
'S-Sorry Mr Ray!' Molly spluttered, dropping to her hands and knees and clumsily retrieving the scalpel. She hurried out of the morgue to retrieve a sterile replacement.
'Cuban cigars?' Jahmene asked pointedly, his anger smothered by surprise.
'I have some of the finest – and very real – Cuban cigars which I received and saved for when I was allowed to return to my normal life. So how about it?' Ruby asked calmly.
'Now I remember why we're best friends…' Jahmene said with an easy smile, a smile which most women would swoon over and would provoke envy amongst men. 'Come to my place Red; I'll make you a well-deserved coffee to go with them.' He said after a minute's consideration. The reactions on Sherlock and John's faces were comically opposite with John's confused expression contrasting magnificently with Sherlock's pleasantly surprised smile.
'Sorry… did you just say Cuban cigars? Aren't they… you know… illegal?' John asked quietly, unable to allow this conversation to meander along in this casual fashion.
'Hush John, you're only embarrassing yourself.' Sherlock muttered.
'What?' John asked with a frown.
'You've been watching too much reality TV or more accurately American reality TV. You know, one of the very few places which outlawed this commodity.' Sherlock explained in a rush.
'You don't have to act so bewildered. If you want some, all you have to do is ask.' Ruby said with a shrug.
'No. No no. That's not what I meant. I do not want any cigars thank you.' John said while making violent gestures with his hands.
'I on the other hand, might be interested in a lone Cuban. You know. For a special occasion.' Sherlock said while taking his wallet out of his coat. Ruby managed to retain a politely disinterested expression.
'Sherlock! You can't give up cigarettes and take up cigars!' John yelled, completely scandalised.
'Oh what are you going to do John? Arrest me?' Sherlock asked with a roll of his eyes.
'Wha- I mean, well I can't can I?' He said, back-peddling furiously.
'Obviously not, seeing as the only person here with that particular authority also happens to have the cigar I'm seeking.' Sherlock said while looking at Ruby pointedly.
'How do you know I have any on me?' She asked curiously. Sherlock smiled curtly before walking around the corpse and standing before her, his gaze holding a secret triumph.
'The same way I knew about your detective badge and the knife strapped to your lower left calf: Observation.' Sherlock said mysteriously, holding out his gloved hand. 'Although for a moment I must confess, I believed my epistolary knowledge to have failed me when I caught the distinct scent of a fine tobacco just as you entered the room, one which would satisfy a very strong craving I was battling.' He leant forward and comically sniffed the air around her, deriving befuddled expressions of disbelief from his audience. 'I should have more faith in myself.' He concluded thoughtfully.
'More?' John asked incredulously.
With a slight shake of her head, Ruby fumbled in her inner jacket pocket and procured a long box which she delicately popped open, the pungent smell of cigars spreading out like liquid from a broken glass. She picked one from the centre and delicately placed it into the palm of his hand. Sherlock ran the cigar beneath his nose, his eyes closed in evident pleasure as he smelled the tobacco before concealing it in his grand coat.
'Cuban cigars as fine as these are currently selling at two hundred and eighty euros for twenty-five, eleven euros twenty each plus conversion rate resulting in a rounded figure of ten pounds.' Sherlock plucked a crisp note from his wallet which he found Ruby unwilling to accept.
'Call it your fee for that classy deduction.' She said while waving his hand away. Although his face didn't alter, Sherlock was flattered. He always found himself glowing when anyone paid him a compliment concerning his abilities as it was such a rare occurrence for anyone to appreciate his talent while not being offended by his prickly and abrasive personality. Indeed, before John came into his life, Sherlock doubted the existence of such a person.
'So see you say… 8:30? Maybe we'll watch Inception.' Jahmene added thoughtfully. Ruby's eyes suddenly lit up and she placed a hand on Jahmene's toned arm, her expression looking at something the others couldn't see. 'Ruby?' Jahmene asked gently.
'I… I can watch… I can go… cinema. Jahmene, I can go to the cinema on my own again.' She managed to say while her hand began to repeatedly tap his bulging bicep. Jahmene smiled while stopping Ruby's persistent slaps.
'Well, if anything will prevent an identity crisis, it's you going to the cinema on your own.' Jahmene said approvingly.
'And why's that?' John asked, unable to contain his curiosity despite his disapproval of the previous transaction. Seeing Ruby's glazed eyes, Jahmene decided to speak for her.
'The main foundation for our friendship is our love for movies. But Ruby never ever goes to the cinema with anyone, not even with me; she always has to go on her own.'
'But why on her own? I mean, it's a bit odd isn't it?' John persisted.
'What's odd about it?' Ruby asked, returning from her epiphany. 'I'm strange because I don't want people jabbering in my ear or trying to stick their tongue down my throat as I'm trying to devote my full attention to what a director, multiple script writers, producers, actors, composers, casting directors, cinematographers, costume designers, set designers, CGI and special effects supervisors have slaved over for months to produce?' She asked.
'Well… I've never thought about it like that before.' John muttered, feeling a bit sheepish.
'Time to go John.' Sherlock said abruptly, turning on his heel and marching towards the door without a backward glance and certainly without a goodbye.
'Yes, well. Very nice to meet you. Good luck with everything Red – I mean, Ruby; Red – Ruby… Oh never mind.' John said with a dismissive wave of his hand while hurrying after the disappearing form of his tall companion.
'And you thought being undercover was bizarre.' Jahmene said with a toothy smile as the morgue door slammed shut after the unique duo.
'I certainly won't be forgetting that in a hurry.' Ruby admitted while running a hand through her hair. 'On a more serious and unfortunately cheesy note…' She began while turning towards Jahmene. 'I really did miss my big, movie-buff best friend.'
'It's nice to know you can be cheesy on important occasions. Besides, stiffy here isn't going to tell anyone Red's important secret, are you stiffy?' He asked the corpse. 'Best friends corpses, they keep all of your secrets. Unless you killed them of course. Then they're the worst snitches imaginable!' Jahmene said easily. Ruby smiled at her best friend, the familiarity of Jahmene's presence thawing some of the frost which had formed around Ruby's true identity, the one she hadn't resumed for far too long.
'Are you alright?' He asked quietly, his smile petering away.
'I need some time to remember who I am.' Ruby admitted, coiling a strand of hair idly around her fingertip. 'But there's no need to worry Jahmene, I will be fine.' She added in an oddly reassuring voice.
'Good. I've been eighteen months without my best friend. I want my robust, unbreakable Red back, not some damaged floosy who imitates some damsel in distress. We both agreed that damsels in distress are the very worst kind of character, one which neither of us will be friends with.' Although he said these words with considerable force, Ruby knew if she deteriorated to such an extent that Jahmene had to don the shining armour to come and save her; he would do so without question. Loyalty such as this was more common in fiction than reality and she clung to the friendship as a child would if it encountered a unicorn. Desperately. Hoping it would remain real.
She buried herself in the warm embrace which had comforted her throughout their friendship, seeking the understanding love which Jahmene was always so ready to give, the love which made her throat swell if she thought about it for too long.
'Thank you Jahmene.' She croaked.
'It's alright Red. You're home.'
Should I continue?