Apis Mellifera Mellifera
There are only a few days before the official opening of the Centre but there seems to be no end of tasks left to complete, tasks which apparently I am the only one qualified to so do. Why on earth there appear to be dozens of administration people employed by the Centre who seemingly cannot administrate is beyond me!
'No!' I shout. 'I do not need a personal assistant to follow me around all day. I may be ancient by your standards but I can still think and can manage to get myself transported from A to B.' I finish with a glare at the hologram of the hapless boy who, due to the wonders of modern technology, appears to be sitting on my sofa in my lounge, but who is actually sitting in front of an ultra high def camera at the Centre.
The annoying buzzing which has plagued me for a several weeks now increases in pitch right against my ear for an instant then, thankfully, falls away to silence. I make a mental note to check the insectoid sound wave repellent in the house although I did check it last week when the high pitched buzzing kept me awake all night. I may not sleep very regularly but when I do need to sleep I like to have quiet around me.
'Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr Holmes?' the boy asks, timidly.
'Yes, you can check that the new name plate will be ready in time for the opening.'
The buzzing returns, increasing my annoyance. Perhaps one of the bees has found it's way into the house and is having a hard time with the repellent? Mmm, must check and if necessary switch off the generator.
The boy is speaking but I'm not really paying attention.
'Is that acceptable, Mr Holmes?'
I take a deep breath. 'I didn't hear what you said, could you repeat it?' The only thing I can hear is that damned buzz, it reminds me so much of John, when he was being totally annoying.
'Please,' I add, with a saccharin smile which probably is terrifying the child, I rather hope so. Like magic the mosquito-like whine comes down in pitch and moves around the room instead of staying close to my right ear.
'I asked if you preferred air or ground transportation to the opening on Thursday?'
'Neither. I shall make my own way there.' Must they assume that the presence of white hair implies a total inability to use one's mind or legs.
'But, but Mr Holmes, sir ...'
'What's your name?' I ask, sharply, waving my hand at the invisible mosquito which has returned.
'Mitchell, Mitchell 'Striding Hawk' Blaze.'
Dear Lord, I think to myself, will this modern craze of giving children spiritual names as well as fore and family names, never end? Also, didn't his guru, or whoever, know that hawks fly, they do not stride!
'Well, Mitchell Striding Hawk, unless I drop dead from simple old age between now and Thursday, I shall be at the Centre on Thursday morning by 0900 hours. I shall make myself available for whichever of the newshounds in attendance are idiot enough to wish to speak to me until 1100 hours. Thereafter I shall speak at the designated time during the opening ceremony, then, I shall sit on the observation deck for a while and take a cup of tea. Later in the afternoon, I shall probably make my way down to the breeding section and check on the queens there, no doubt following that up by a stroll around the south field. I will not require a transporter or a hover chair. I may be slow but I still have the use of my legs. Is that acceptable?'
'Yes Mr Holmes,' young Striding Hawk replied.
'Make doubly sure that new name plate will be ready. Holmes out.'
I snap off the receiver and lean back in my chair, breathing out noisily.
'Oh God, John, why don't these cretins just follow my orders? It's not difficult. I make it perfectly clear what I want. It would appear that none of them can follow a simple command!'
The only answer is the buzz, still quite high pitched, flitting around the lounge, and, by the sound direction, in and out of the kitchen. 'And for God's sake get rid of that bloody fly!'
If the truth be known, I don't enjoy terrorising the idiots as much as I used to. It tires me out and generally leaves me needing an hour or so to recoup my thinking patterns as well. I pick up my walking stick, a good stout model I can depend upon, and make my way to the sofa trying to stand as straight as possible but the slight stoop still prevails. These days I don't throw myself onto it, I sit and then turn putting my legs up on a set of cushions piled at the end. That was John's idea too, to control the slight swelling in my ankles. Very, very old fashioned but surprisingly effective.
'Well, we're nearly there. Three more days to the official opening and then we can get on with some real work.'
The breeze from the open window carries in the sound of a bee busily gathering nectar from the overgrown flower beds just outside. Bombus terrestris, unless I'm very much mistaken.
'Do you know your friend is flying in from Melbourne? After all this time I actually get to meet Professor Jenkinson, in person.' I can feel myself smiling to the empty room. Professor Jenkinson has been a running joke between us for such a long time. Nearly as long as we've been working with the bees I think.
'How long have we been living here now?' I ask my silent companion. 'Must be over twenty years.'
I run my fingers through my white curls, remembering when another hand would do that for me. Then I turn my head as I think I hear the bumble bee from outside hovering around my ear but there's nothing there. This buzzing noise is really getting on my nerves at the moment. Perhaps I should make an appointment to see a medic about it? But the only doctor I totally trusted is no longer able to help me. My beloved John passed away unexpectedly one morning, two years, five months and six days ago. In the time it took me to get out of bed, make him his morning cup of tea and bring it to him, his heart had stuttered and stopped.
There had been no warning at all. We'd both been well, and were enjoying a second measure of fame from our work with Apis mellifera mellifera, the native British dark honey bee.
I'd been rather surprised when John became interested in the bees when we moved out of London. But, like the rest of our lives, we worked very well together. We spent a long time finding and selectively breeding the native bee. Our breeding colonies were very successful and our bees were tough and resistant to most pests and diseases.
We'd just begun to design and build the Centre then. A Centre of excellence for bees and other pollinators. John, as usual, had been the PR man. And, as usual, had been very successful in that role. We'd had interest from all over the world in the idea. It was an exciting time for us.
He looked so peaceful lying there, eyes closed, as if he'd just fallen back to sleep. At first, that's what I thought had happened. I remember putting his mug on the table at the side of the bed away from his electronic note pad, which he'd used the last thing to put down some ideas we'd had before sleep. I sat down beside him and nudged him, prepared to laugh at him for dropping off again. The next few hours are a bit of a blur. I was lying beside him holding his cooling body and stroking his hair when someone came to the house to find out why we weren't answering any calls on the comm set.
Mycroft had passed away three years previously to that; an old and very tired man. Lestrade many years before then. Lestrade's going was really the point that we stopped taking part in any cases. That and the fact neither of us were as nimble as we used to be. Lestrade's death sort of made the decision for us. We moved out of London to this house, which was virtually a derelict when we'd first seen it. It was a derelict but attached to a lot of land. Once the house was habitable we turned our attention to the native British bee. The mite problem never had been sorted out properly but we got together several colonies and started to selectively breed them, John and I. We had quite a few dead ends, and a few which looked good but didn't last but eventually we developed our present strain; one which is resistant to mites and over winters better than a lot of other species of Apis.
The idea of the Centre was definitely John's. A place where bee keepers could lodge the genetic code of their bees and it would be kept in safety, in case something happened to the colonies. And a place where diseases of the bee population could be investigated and where bees could be bred and the public could come and walk among the wildflowers, fields and orchards and see the work being done. That was his sociable side, he always was the people person.
Ensuring that the Centre plans kept on track helped me after John passed. Passed. So very American to say passed. After he died. He died in our bed, in our house. If I'd delayed the tea that morning, he would have died in my arms. But, as it was, he was alone when his big heart, which loved so fiercely, if not always wisely, just stopped beating whilst I was puttering around the kitchen and shouting comments back to him about the newscast on the wall screen.
It took a little while before it really penetrated that he'd finally left me, taking my heart along with him. Which was only right and proper because he had found that organ in me and it had always belonged to him. Him not being here physically has never actually stopped me continuing to talk to him though. He was my soul mate for so long, I don't even want to try and stop talking to him, therefore I won't!
It's full dark the next time I open my eyes and that damned annoying sound is back! Grunting I lever myself up, shut and lock the windows and doors then poddle off to bed. Thursday can't get here soon enough, all this idiocy will be over and I can get back to our bees.
I look around at the sea of faces listening politely to all the speeches. I can still hear that damned buzzing. I look around for the umpteenth time checking that a stray bee has not somehow sneaked in to listen to all the pontificating but I know they have far more intelligence than to want to be in here with us.
John would have loved this. He would have been making quiet comments on the pompous and egotistical and showing his admiration of the hard working and gifted. He had quite a barbed wit, my John. One of the many things I miss about the man.
About half way down the hall is a middle-aged woman with a skin which has been darkened and tanned by a tropical sun. She's a little stout now but one can still see the remains of a slender woman. I turn to point her out to John almost sure that it's his Australian entomologist, only it's not John sitting beside me. I close my mouth with an audible click. Luckily a reputation for eccentricity and not suffering fools gladly gets me out of public explanations but I still feel rather stupid every time I forget he's not beside me. Automatically my hand dips into my pocket at these times, touching the small, opaque, steri-sealed bag of grey/white powder which I always carry with me. No-one but me knows what it is and I have left strict instructions that when my time comes my ashes and the contents of that little bag are to be mixed together then half spread over the gardens of our home and half over the fields, here at the Centre. It's the same as John had specified in his will, and I had made sure his wishes were carried out, save for the handful I took from his urn and sealed into that little bag. That's another reason why no-one knows what's in this bag. I don't suppose too many other people carry their significant other's remains with them constantly, so not many will understand the quite ridiculous level of comfort I derive just from knowing part of him is close to me at all times.
And now it's my turn. Ponderously I get to my feet. As this is really John's day I keep, as far as is possible with me, within the socially acceptably norms of speech giving. However, I don't let anyone in that hall labour under any misapprehension as to who they have to thank for the Centre. I sing his praises as a man, a partner and a scientist. And all the way through, all I can hear, even over my carrying voice, is that blasted buzz! I can hear breaks in the pattern now and the pitch is definitely lowering but it is still so absolutely, bloody annoying! It's so irritating I am seriously thinking of making an appointment with a clinician. Perhaps I'm developing tinnitus? Why not? At my age everything else seems to be breaking down, why not my hearing too?
Finally, to rapturous applause, I declare the John Hamish Watson Centre for Apis Study well and truly open.
That was a change I'd fought for, long and hard. It was going to be the Watson-Holmes Centre but I'd insisted on the name change. All the PR which has enabled the place to be here is down to my John, it's only right it should bear his name.
I follow the rest of the crowd flowing out of the hall then slowly make my way to the observation deck. This is where people can come and sit in comfort, covered and safe from the vagaries of the British weather and look out over the fields and orchards and see the bees, moths and butterflies busily gathering nectar and pollinating the flowers.
A young, dark-haired woman is waiting patiently until I've settled myself at a table before approaching me.
'Would you like a cup of tea, Mr Holmes?'
To my eyes she looks to be barely out of the classroom but I know she's not. She's a very respected professional in her own field of Lepidoptera.
'How are you Sally? I've not seen you for a few days.'
'I'm well Mr Holmes. And you?'
The buzzing settles somewhere just behind my head and to my right. I wave my hand to keep the insect away.
'What is it?' Sally asks.
'I think one of the bees is following me around.'
She comes closer and takes a careful look around.
'No. No bee. Can I get you that cup of tea?'
I nod and watch her leave. I can feel my face pulling into a smile of almost paternal pride. Who would have thought, Sally Bolling, Dr Sally Bolling, Lestrade's grand-daughter, one of the leading lights in entomology and specialist in butterflies, would have ended up working here as the Director of the Centre. If there is an afterlife, I hope Lestrade is watching now.
The sun is very warm today and the observation deck is deserted as most people are outside mingling and drinking wine on the lawns over to the left of the central buildings. It's actually warm enough for me to undo a couple of buttons on my coat. I sigh in pleasure and lean back in my chair enjoying the sun, the view and the warmth. Sally returns with a cup and saucer and a plate of biscuits. The china looks quite old and I wonder if it belonged to her grand-father.
'Thank you, Dr Bolling.'
She smiles. 'You promised to call me Sally,' she reminds me.
'So I did. Thank you, Sally.' I repeat.
'You are more than welcome. I need to go and speak with Professor Jenkinson from Melbourne University. Would it be alright if I introduced you to her? You know she's so enthusiastic about the Centre.'
'Ah, I finally get to meet John's other woman.'
Sally laughs out loud. 'I shall tell her that!' she warns as she walks away.
I can feel the smile remaining on my face. Even though my John and the Professor had never met face to face, she was known between us as his 'other woman'. They would spend hours and hours in conversation about the Centre, via video link, making as sure as possible it could become the centre of excellence we all hope it will be.
That infernal buzzing starts up again as I lift the cup and take a sip then screw up my face.
'Ewww! Oh John, that will never do! That is about the worst tea I've ever tasted.'
The buzzing has changed, it sounds like an interrupted saw now. Almost as if the insect is laughing. I dismiss the thought as I lean back away from the revolting brew.
'Is it really that bad?' he asks, laughing.
'Even worse than Lestrade's. Perhaps it's a genetic fault with that family?' I answer.
'Maybe she didn't make it herself?'
'I think she did. I also think the china belonged to Lestrade's or his mother, probably left to him by his mother.'
'Heirloom material. You are honoured,' he replies with a gentle smile in his voice.
My hand dips into my pocket, gently turning the small bag.
'I think I finally understand a little about sentiment.'
'Well done!' he says happily.
'You helped most of all,' I reply, turning to him.
For several seconds I just stare into those eyes, still the colour of the sky in high summer.
'John?' I whisper, reaching across the table to him, my hand palm up.
He breathes a huge sigh of relief as he takes my hand and says,
'At last! You can finally hear me properly!'
My fingers curl around his warm skin and I can feel the biggest smile stretching my face.
'You came back to me!'
'I never left you, you silly old sod. I've been following you around and talking to you for two years, six months and one day.'
'I couldn't hear you,' I reply unable to stop looking at him. 'I never heard you speak to me.'
'But you noticed something, fairly recently?'
I shake my head slightly then stop. 'The buzzing noise? That was you?'
'That was me.'
We're staring into each other's faces like a pair of love sick school children. Suddenly it's not enough. I hurl myself out of the chair and kneel at his feet pushing my way between his knees and wrapping my arms around him. I have missed him so much. His arms tighten around me and we hold on to each other for a good long time.
'It's so good to be able to touch you again, Sherlock,' he whispers in my ear.
I tighten my hold in reply.
'Are you ready now?' he asks.
'Ready for what?' I have the feeling I've missed something here.
He uses my hand to draw me to my feet. I stand...easily. More easily than I've done for years. John is leading us forward toward a concentrated patch of sunlight, my hand firmly held in his. I decide the questions can wait until later, much later.
I can't take my eyes from him. I am prepared to swear he looks younger than when we first met, all those years ago, at Barts. He certainly looks a lot happier than on that occasion. He smiles up at me again.
'We have to go now,' he nods towards the sunlight.
I suddenly realise it's not sunlight, it's light and it has a warmth to it but not a blistering heat.
'Are you going to leave me again?' I ask, panicked.
He holds up our firmly joined hands.
'I've hung around and waited for you this long, why would I go without you now?'
'You waited. For me?'
His face is soft with the smile he gives me. 'What else did you think I was going to do? Leave you behind?' he asks. 'Couldn't make a start on the next big adventure without my crazy consulting detective, absolutely best friend and the other half of my soul.'
Ridiculously I can feel tears pricking my eyelids.
'You won't ever leave me again?' I check again.
He shakes his head. 'Never.' His hand squeezes mine.
The sounds of two women's voices talking and getting closer finally impinge on our private little world. One of the women is Sally Bolling. The other has a strong Australian twang, Professor Jenkinson most likely. I'm not even paying attention to what they are saying, I'm too taken up with basking in the sight of my John.
Sally leads the second woman in from the other end of the observation deck.
'Mr Holmes, I've brought Professor Jenkinson to meet you,' Sally says.
'Sherlock, I've wanted to meet you ...' she stops speaking.
Gently John turns me round to look.
Erica Jenkinson is sunk into the chair where John had been sitting, she has one hand across her mouth and the other is placed over the loosely curled, outstretched hand of the elderly man sitting at the table. His chin is resting on his chest whilst his wild, totally white and curly hair moves gently in the stray, light puffs of air circulating around the deck.
Sally is carefully pressing her fingers to the man's neck, then she shakes her head.
John is looking into my eyes then slowly I can feel my face transform into absolute happiness as total comprehension steals over me.
A voice issues from the light saying,
'Really, little brother, I'm sure it never took you so long to catch on when you were human.'
'Ready?' John asks again, softly, excitement strumming between us.
'Oh, God, yes!' Then I stop and pause for a second. 'Just tell me Mycroft hasn't completely taken over everything wherever we're going, has he?'
John's laughter makes the windows ring with merriment.
'Funny you should ask that,' he replies, his eyes shinning as we run forwards and are enveloped by the light.