The last person John expected to find on his doorstep was Dr. Stapleton. She flinched from the suspicious glare he gave her, but then lifted her chin and bravely held out an envelope with one hand and the handles of a Gladstone bag with the other. The way she held the bag, and the way it rocked slightly, John knew it was heavy.
“What do you want?” John asked coolly.
“I came to offer my condolences and… and a gift.” She glanced around, as if concerned about being seen, then shook her head slightly as if at herself. At the kerb, a cab idled, clearly awaiting her.
“A what?” When she parted her lips to repeat herself, John interrupted. “Yes, actually, I heard, I’m just a little… confused.” He took the envelope—his name was written on it neatly, ‘Dr. J. Watson’, and nothing else—and frowned at the bag.
“I know you won’t credit me with having that much feeling, but sometimes I’d rather see something good come of what I do.” Dr. Stapleton extended the bag again, urging him to take it by the gesture and how she nearly pushed it into his midriff. “Everything’s taken care of.”
John finally took the bag, recognising by the heft and swing that it was as he’d thought, something inside that weighed five pounds, surely less than ten. When it shifted slightly after he stopped moving it, his gaze shot back up to Dr. Stapleton’s.
She nodded, an odd little smile on her lips. “You’ll see. It’s easier if you have something to look after. If you’re needed.” Before he could shove it back at her, already feeling irritated and a little angry at the presumption and the intrusiveness, she stepped back, adding. “If I take it back, they’ll make me put it down. Not what they wanted. All tests show perfectly ordinary.”
“I can’t be responsible…” John said, but trailed off at a soft whimpering sound from the Gladstone bag’s interior.
“Trust me, Dr. Watson,” Dr. Stapleton urged almost gently. “I know.” Her eyes were surprisingly sad and knowing. John had a moment to think that he’d heard nothing of a ‘Mr Stapleton’. “Everything you need to know’s in the paperwork. License, shots, everything. And a contact number for me if there’re any issues. Do yourself a favour. Take it.”
John slumped a little, thinking of himself these last few weeks since… since that day. Of how hard it was not to just stop trying. How he’d more than once considered the gun in the bottom of his night-stand for a bit too long. Swallowing and nodding a bit jerkily, he gripped the handles tightly and actually accepted the bag. “Fine. I’ll contact you if…”
Dr. Stapleton nodded, glanced around again, then down at the bag one last time, and stepped further back. “Take care, Dr. Watson. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe this smear campaign against your Mr. Holmes. I saw what he did; whether I liked him or not, he was a genuine genius.”
“I… thanks.” John’s throat was suddenly a bit too tight to say more, but she seemed to understand and just nodded again. She turned and went back to her cab, got in and didn’t look at him again as the cab pulled away.
John looked around, too, infected with her subtle paranoia—it wasn’t a big leap for him, considering the way life had been lately—and went inside. Once he was back up in the sitting room, John put the Gladstone bag down between his legs as he sat in his chair; setting the envelope on the armrest, he opened the bag cautiously.
Curled up in a thick towel was a black puppy with big, oversized feet. It lifted its head and blinked sleepily at him with pale blue eyes like a Siberian husky. John didn’t know enough about dogs to be sure if that was the puppy’s breed, or not, but he did know that those paws meant it would be a big dog. He couldn’t help remembering Henry Knight and the dog John had been forced to shoot.
However, just then the puppy gave a big yawn, pink tongue curling as a little squeaky sound escaped it, then smacked its lips drowsily. John exhaled gustily as he reached into the bag to let the sleepy puppy sniff his fingers; when it started to lick his fingertips and its tiny tail thumped against the inside of the bag, he felt something in his chest loosen very, very slightly. Something that had been clenched tightly for weeks.
“Fine,” John murmured in a slightly thick voice. “How do you feel about the name Gladstone?”