Arrogance, and Assumptions
As I wait in the four-wheeler for Mr. Holmes and the doctor, I once again speculate upon the nature of their relationship. Holmes, of course, is so detached from his emotions that I would be hard pressed imagining him in love with anyone, male or female, but Watson’s unswerving devotion makes it equally difficult to imagine him as anything but Holmes’ lover.
I am almost – almost – certain that I interrupted a lovers’ quarrel tonight. I can think of no other explanation for their obvious discomfort at my presence. Watson looked like he was about to knock Holmes to the ground had I not been there.
Of course, my perception is most likely coloured by the fact that my best friend is an invert. Lestrade and I have never discussed it, but I know that he prefers men to women; I have even met his lover, a Scottish typesetter with a talent for darts and a large repertoire of humorous anecdotes. Many is the pleasant evening I have spent with a pitcher of beer and in the company of these two gents, and I can see nothing wrong in their relations; rather they seem like a respectable married couple, if a trifle quarrelsome at times. I often wonder what Lestrade sees in the man, but whom he loves is his decision, not mine, and they seem happy enough together.
I smile as I think of how I’m going to tell Lestrade that I know it was him in that dress. Why, the man actually blew a kiss at me – he cannot expect me to let him live that one down! Come to think of it, I still have to pay him for that ever-so-well-balanced bucket of whitewash in the squad-room; I shall be sure to add that little incident into the accounts when exacting my revenge. I am just trying to remember that formula for itching powder that Holmes was telling me about when the man himself steps into the four-wheeler, followed closely by the good doctor, both wearing extremely grim expressions.
A lovers’ quarrel, then, indeed. Nothing else could make them avoid each others’ gaze like that; they sit much farther apart than they would if they were complete strangers, resolutely not looking at each other. Even an argument between close friends could not create the tension that hangs between these two, almost visible for its intensity.
Well, the thrill of the chase shall help them forget their disagreement and remember what keeps them together. It is a good thing I interrupted them; I shall have to do my best to ease the mood.
“Well, you’ve been waiting a long time for this,” I say conversationally.
Both men start at my words as if I had said something extraordinary. Holmes recovers first, looking almost relieved. “Yes,” he agrees distantly, “Addams slipped from our grasp – what was it, in ’85, Watson?”
“October of ’84, I think,” Watson answers dully, staring at his knees.
The argument must have been a terrific one; I wonder if it had anything to do with the mark on Lestrade’s jaw. He claims he’d gotten it on a cupboard door, but there was that little romantic scene that he played with Watson.
Good heavens, what a tangle! Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to invite all three along for Addams’ capture, but Holmes deserves direct credit for leading me to the brute, and Lestrade is the best shot of any man in the Yard. With he and Watson armed and at my back, I can make my arrest with no fear for my own safety.
And yet, I have a feeling of foreboding as I watch my friends across from me. I have the driver leave us off a block earlier than I had originally planned; perhaps the walk shall clear their minds. With well-practiced ease, we weave through the vile alleyways and twisting passageways that will lead us to where we must await our quarry.
This sad neighbourhood is little more than a jumble of tarpaper shacks and rags in between ancient warehouses, an endless and labyrinthine rabbit-warren of tunnels and trails; we cannot simply rush in and arrest the man, for he could slip through a crack in a fence and vanish. I have placed my men carefully, and baited my trap. When Addams moves, he will be in my nets.
We meet up with Lestrade by the rear of old tallow-dippers’ that has lain vacant for some time; the building is somewhat older than its neighbours, and so the upper storey has a window that affords a fine view of the squalid threshold where our man must cross, where a seedy curtain taking the place of a door allows a billow of thick smoke to curl beyond it as a customer staggers through. Silently I lead my companions through the back doorway of the vacant building and up the stairs to the second room upon the left; here the moonlight shining through the cracked window marks the place where we will keep our watch.
“We should be able to talk here, gentlemen,” I whisper, “but we must keep our voices low.”
Holmes darts over to beside the window, nodding in satisfaction. “An excellent vantage point. And your bait is set?”
“He can’t resist coming tonight. You recognize the establishment?” I ask.
“The Mottled Oyster, isn’t it? Charming place,” Holmes chuckles softly. “I hear they water down their drinks with turpentine.”
“Not that anyone’s there for the liquor; from what I hear, it’s the tainted opium that really brings in the customers,” Lestrade answers gamely. “Wasn’t the proprietor down in the Bow Street cells the other week?”
“He had a few legal difficulties which I helped him through,” I admit with a smile. “It is through his courtesy that we will be able see Mr. Addams tonight.”
“I’m sure your friend is only doing his part as a good citizen in assisting your investigation,” says Holmes. “So how long have we to wait?”
I check my watch. “At least twenty minutes, but no more than an hour.” I realize that I have most likely condemned myself to the most embarrassing half-hour of my life. Were it not absolutely imperative that we four stay absolutely still until Addams appears, I would make some excuse so that my friends might work out whatever misunderstanding has interrupted their lives. And yet, things do not seem as awkward as they might be; Holmes and Lestrade do not seem to be harbouring any lasting grudge, and although their manner is much more stiff and formal than usual, they are at least not exchanging thinly veiled insults, instead engaging in some half-hearted small talk. Although they wear their masks well, none of them is at ease, and once again I feel a sense of foreboding as I half-listen to the required exchange of news and theories.
While Lestrade is merely ruffled, Holmes seems nervous, almost frightened, and I am almost certain it has nothing to do with Addams; we have both faced more dangerous prey. Watson is strangely silent, staring off into the middle distance, a tiny smile playing at the corner of his mouth. I did not see much of him during Holmes’ absence, but I have heard some queer stories, talk of a long bout of brain-fever, even rumours that a supposed trip to Edinburgh after his wife’s death was in fact a short stay at a private sanatorium. Since Holmes’ return, there has been something not quite right about the doctor, a certain level of tension that is ominous tonight in its absence.
The level of discomfort among the three of them is palpable; whatever has transpired between them must have been the stuff of one of those tawdry romance serials that back the doctor’s stories in the Strand. Granted, the names of the characters would have to be changed, not to mention the genders …
“Something amusing, Bradstreet?”
“Hmmm? I’m sorry, Mr. Holmes; I was miles aw—I was considering my course of action.”
“Little late for that, don’t you think?” Lestrade smirks, pulling out his pipe. He hasn’t once looked at me tonight; does he know that I’ve found out about the whole Gabrielle Vernet masquerade?
I decide that there’s no time like the present to find out. “Well, in fact, I was considering how best to court the charming Mlle. Vernet. It’s a shame you couldn’t meet the lady –”
The look on Lestrade’s face is enough to stop my words dead in my mouth. A rapid succession of emotions flit across his features: shock, mortification, and anger, and then his expression becomes completely blank before he slowly turns to face the window. “You know, then,” he whispers.
I cannot help but feel that I am missing something here. “It’s all right, old man,” I begin in my most reassuring tone. “I know you were just playing your part.”
“I was an absolute ass,” he says quietly, and suddenly I realize that something is dreadfully wrong. Holmes and Watson seem to have shrunk away into the corner, looking anywhere but in our direction. Lestrade’s back is to me, and yet I feel as if I can see right through him.
Without warning, the vision of dark flirtatious eyes lined with kohl return to me, a memory of long black lashes delivering an enticing wink with the promise of heated indiscretions to come, and ruby red lips blowing a heart-stopping kiss –
Good lord, no. It was just an act. It must have been. “Nonsense,” I bluster. “You had me fooled all the way. And well done, too,” I add with a forced chuckle. “Terrible shame it’s a diplomatic secret, what? Jolly fun if the lads at the station could see what a pretty lass you make.”
The silence expands to fill the room, and I pound my fist into the wall. “Damn,” I mutter. “I’m sorry, old fellow. You know I didn’t mean –”
Thankfully, mercifully, my stammering is interrupted by the shrill call of a constable’s whistle, and we leap into action. We rush into the alley to find my men restraining a whirlwind of filthy rags and flailing arms. From somewhere in this jumble a pistol appears, aiming into the crowd of straining policemen, and I dart forward to avert a tragedy.
Suddenly, strong arms push me down, and I am deafened by the report of the gun. Dazed only a moment, I quickly recover my feet while my men wrestle Addams to the ground, his weapon clattering to the ground well out of his reach.
“Well, that wasn’t so bad,” I say, looking round. “Now, who in the devil had the nerve to push me –” the words dry up in my mouth as I turn to find Doctor Watson hovering over Lestrade’s still form. I watch in shock as the doctor tears my friend’s shirt away to reveal a gaping wound.
I cannot look; I must do my duty. I spin around to face the constables and their now-defeated quarry. “Take that trash to the station-house,” I bark, “and send for an ambulance. You and you: get the landlord of this establishment and tell him to bring blankets, hot water, and anything else the doctor requires. Move!”
I keep shouting until all the constables are gone, and I have no choice but look at the impromptu operation unfolding by the tavern door.
“Can’t you move him to a bed?” I ask.
“I can’t risk it,” Watson answers, not looking up as he probes the sickening mash of flesh.
Lestrade’s eyes flash open, and he bellows in agony. Watson and Holmes together force him back down, Holmes pulling out a flask and thrusting it between Lestrade’s teeth.
Lestrade calms down somewhat. “At least give me … morphine,” he pants.
“I’m not sure your constitution could handle it at this point, Inspector,” Watson says calmly, resuming his work. “You’ve lost a dangerous amount of blood.”
“So … why … am I still … awake?”
“The pain. Try to stay conscious; it’ll help your chances of staying alive.”
“Charming … bedside manner,” Lestrade coughs. “Or … alley-side …”
“Enough talking,” Watson says sternly. “Holmes, give him your belt. Bite down hard; this is going to hurt like the blazes.”
Without consciously moving, I find myself kneeling beside them, silently taking the flask of liquor from Holmes.
Watson’s eyes barely flicker in my direction. “You’d better hold him down,” he tells me. Lestrade is beginning to pale visibly, trembling as I settle his head upon my shoulder.
I look down into his eyes, so dark and unmoving that I need to watch for the rising and falling of his chest to reassure myself that he is still alive. I hold him as close as I can without hindering Watson’s work. “We’ll get through this,” I whisper.
Lestrade coughs again, and this time a trickle of blood escapes his lips. “Not … not so sure …”
“Poppycock. You can’t die; this wasn’t your case. It’ll mean endless paperwork for me.”
Lestrade shakes his head. “Bradstreet … I have to tell you …”
“No more talking,” Watson says firmly.
“But if I don’t –”
“No,” Watson repeats. “And you’re going to live, provided you let me do my work. Now no more talking.”
Lestrade’s deep black eyes lock onto mine, and I know the truth. Somehow, the dangers of what that those eyes promise hold no threat compared with the pain of losing my best friend. I take his hand in mine, warming the clammy flesh with my fingers.
“I know all you have to tell me already,” I say. “Now let the good doctor do his work.”
I feel the collapse rather than see it; suddenly every muscle in my friend’s body goes slack, his eyes rolling back in their sockets.
“Damn it,” Watson mutters. “I’m losing him. Holmes, give me the cocaine –”
“Are you absolutely su—”
“Just DO IT!!!” the doctor shouts, furiously tearing at Lestrade’s clothes to reveal a larger area for his work.
I force myself to remain calm, still holding onto Lestrade’s rapidly cooling hand. I do not allow myself to think, I do not allow myself to feel.
I cannot lose him. Not now.
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