All actors have particular skills and talents. Reginald Kincaid’s have always been rather straightforward: he can memorize things quickly and accurately, and his stage combat skills are exquisite.
(His actual acting has been called lacking by reviewers, but Kincaid knows better; he can always make them laugh, after all!)
And of course, all actors have skills that they lie about on their resumé: yes, I can ride a horse; I absolutely can juggle; I am an accomplished knife thrower.
Actors just hope that these skills don’t actually come up. And if they do, actors are generally quite good making their way through their lies; they are, after all, actors.
That is what he’s always told himself, as he peppered his resumes and auditions with tales of derring-do and of talents marvelous and miraculous, none of them true.
The night he meets Watson, he’s well in his cups, trying to convince a woman to come home with him by reciting all of the things he’s done in his life. Won a swordfight against a villain (the show closed, but he would have won, it was in the script and everything), been stabbed but survived long enough to pass along the enemies’ secrets (that show had closed after two weeks, a personal best), wrestled a great wolf (really a mangy dog wearing a rug, and yes, he’d ended up with stitches, but they’d cut that scene after The Incident so he still counts it as a win), jumped from a bridge (he’d twisted his ankle, but he’d finished the act), and all other manner of grand things that he hasn’t really done, but the woman doesn’t know he is an actor yet, and he wants at least a little bit of good favor in his pocket before he tells her.
“Yes,” the strange man next to him says. “You’ll do.”
Later, he tells Watson he knows how to ride a horse without a saddle (he can’t even ride one with a saddle), that he’s an excellent ventriloquist (as long as you ignore his lips moving), and that he can juggle twelve knives at once (he tried juggling scraps of paper once and gave himself a papercut). Watson nods approvingly, and Kincaid is fairly sure he has this new role, Sherlock Holmes, in his pocket.
“And of course, you’ve worked with dogs before, judging from the tale you were telling that young woman, so that’s a bonus,” Watson says, glancing down at his list of qualifications.
Kincaid hesitates for only the briefest of seconds before he says, “Of course. Animals of the canine persuasion adore me, and I them. I am an instant friend to all animals, but especially dogs.”
He thinks nothing of the lies he tells that night. Sherlock Holmes sounds like a dignified sort, and dignified sorts don’t juggle or have anything to do with filthy dogs.
(The day he moves into 221B, he discovers that his new landlady has a dog, a sick, ugly thing that snaps weakly at his ankles, but Watson puts the thing out of its misery a few hours later in the course of solving a case, so he puts it out of his mind.)
He’s been working with Watson for close to six months, a very tumultuous six months, when Watson hands him a slip of paper. “I need you to visit this establishment. Ask for Toby. The proprietor will know what I need.”
Kincaid thinks nothing of it, and catches a cab over to a seedier part of town. His old flat was in a nearby neighborhood, actually. He misses it, sometimes. Usually when Watson is in one of his moods. And he’s almost always in a mood around Kincaid, it seems.
The address takes him to a place that looks more like a rundown flat than a shop. He knocks anyway; Watson wouldn’t send him anywhere dangerous, even if they have a tendency to argue constantly whenever they’re away from the public eye. When no one answers the door, he knocks again.
“Hullo?” he shouts, knocking a third time. Watson might not send him anywhere dangerous, but Kincaid can see him sending him away.
“What is it?” a voice shrieks from above. Kincaid takes a few steps back, tilting his head up. There is an old man sticking his head out the window.
“Ah, hullo!” Kincaid calls up, waving. “Pleasure! Yes, um, my name is Regi- Sherlock Holmes!”
“I don’t care if your name is Queen Victoria, you’ll need to come back later. We’re closed!” the man yells, and slams the window shut.
Kincaid frowns. If he goes back now, Watson will be most put out. When Watson is put out, he gets alarmingly red in the face, and Kincaid doesn’t get paid. And when he doesn’t get paid, he can’t go to his club to avoid Watson. It’s all a vicious circle, really.
He straightens his shoulders, and bangs his fist against the door. Then he steps back and waits for the man to reappear. He doesn’t have to wait long. The window slams open and the man sticks his head out.
“I told you-”
“Now see here! My name is Sherlock Holmes! I am the greatest detective London has ever seen. I came here today on behalf of my friend and companion, Dr. John Watson, and-”
“Oh!” the man shouts, interrupting him. His wizened face erupts into a somewhat disturbing smile. He doesn’t seem to have all of his teeth. “Dr. Watson sent you! You’ll be here for Toby, then.”
“I- yes. Yes, I am meant to ask for Toby. Is he available? Are you Toby?” Kincaid asks, frowning. He doesn’t look like much of a Toby.
“I’ll bring Toby down to you, just one moment!”
When the old man opens the door, there is no one else there.
What there is, is a dog.
“Oh bloody hell,” he curses. He turns on heel and heads straight home, damn Watson and his moods.
When he walks back into 221B, Watson looks up from his newspaper and frowns. “Where’s Toby?” he asks.
“You didn’t tell me you were sending me to fetch a bloody dog,” Kincaid says, flinging his hat onto the settee.
Watson sighs. “And what is your objection to dogs, pray tell?”
Kincaid licks his lips and starts pacing in front of Watson’s chair. “They are- they have fleas. And they smell. And they have an appalling tendency to lick themselves at the most delicate moments. They are- they are undignified, and Sherlock Holmes is a dignified person. Sherlock Holmes does not use dogs in the course of his investigations.”
“Well,” Watson says, setting aside his newspaper, “I’m afraid John Watson does. We need Toby if we’re ever to find the murderer of Bartholomew Sholto. Now what is your real problem with dogs?”
Kincaid deflates and collapses onto the settee, squashing his hat beneath his bum. “They don’t like me, Watson,” he whines, shaking his head. “Never have. They’re always barking at me, or jumping on me. Once, as a boy, a friend’s dog latched onto my ankle and wouldn’t let go. Laid me up for weeks! I still have the scars, you know.”
“I seem to recall you saying in our interview that dogs quite liked you.”
“Well, I was stinking drunk at the time, and everyone knows actors lie, Watson. Really, this is your own fault.”
Watson walks over and places his hands on Kincaid’s shoulders. Kincaid looks up at him, hopeful. Watson smiles. “Buck up, old chap,” he says, and pats him twice. “Now go get Toby and bring him back here.”
Grumbling, Kincaid goes, putting his crumbled hat back on his head. He doesn’t have much of a choice if he wants to get paid.
(The dog pisses on his shoe. Twice.)
(Later, when he reads the story Watson wrote up about the case, he turns to him and yells, “You made up a bloody wife, but you couldn’t have made up the dog?”
“We needed the dog!”
“Well, I need a nice lady friend myself, but you always get shirty when I find one!”)
“He’s gone for the dog!” cries Miss Hunter, and Kincaid’s chest goes cold.
“The dog? The great big one you told us about? The one that he starves so it’s always ready for human flesh?” His voice keeps scaling upwards, out of the range of heroism, and he coughs in an attempt to seem strong and stoic and dignified again. “That is, we must stop him!”
Miss Hunter starts running down the stairs, and Kincaid whirls on Watson, shaking his revolver at him. “Watson, I don’t have any bullets, what am I supposed to do against a great big bloody dog hell-bent on killing us all?”
Watson rolls his eyes and heads down the stairs. Kincaid stays close to him; his gun has bullets. “It will be fine, Holmes. Do your part to look heroic. I’ll handle the rest.”
(Watson fires a warning shot at the animal, who turns away from ravaging Rucastle and goes loping after Kincaid, who absolutely does not shriek like a small child and wet himself, thank you Miss Hunter.)
“They were the footsteps of a gigantic hound!” Dr. Mortimer says, nearly as dramatically as Kincaid would, were he playing Mortimer.
Kincaid pauses. Licks his lips. “Ah,” he says. He nods, and looks at Watson, who is grimacing. “Watson, my dear chap, could I have a moment? In my room, perhaps?”
Watson follows him gamely. Kincaid throws a genial grin and wink at Mortimer as he closes his door, and then whirls on Watson.
“Holmes, I know what you’re going to say, and I really think-”
“No. No no no. No. I will not take on this case. Sherlock Holmes is busy, with- with- with a case for the Queen, or the royal houses of Europe, or the bleedin’ Pope for all I care. You are not getting me anywhere near a gigantic hound!”
Watson sits on Kincaid’s bed and crosses his legs. He’s putting on his ‘Holmes is being unreasonable’ face, which Kincaid knows all too well and hates. “Now, Holmes. Dr. Mortimer and this heir may be in trouble. And highly doubt there is an actual dog involved.”
Kincaid folds his arms across his chest. “Are you suggesting that it’s really a ghost, then?”
Watson gives him a look. Kincaid makes a face at him.
“No,” Kincaid says. “I’m serious, Watson. Sherlock Holmes is sitting this one out.”
(When he gets the first report from Watson, he panics a little at how much danger his friend- well, employer- is in and catches the next train to Dartmoor.
He can’t get a room at the local inn and has to stay in a cold, wet cave; gets the seat of his trousers ripped out by a phosphorescent-but-not-spectral dog; and nearly drowns in the Grimpen Mire for his trouble.)
“Here is the question I set before you, Holmes,” Watson says, leaning forward in his chair. “Why does Professor Presbury’s wolfhound, Roy, endeavor to bite him?”
Kincaid looks at him blankly, and then buries his face in his hands. “I think you’re doing this purpose, Watson, looking for all the loons in the world with a ruddy dog problem!”
(This time, at least, the dog in question is too concerned with his odd monkey-man master to go after Kincaid. He only growls at him whenever he gets near, which is an improvement, as far as his cases with Watson have gone.)
After the chaos of the case involving Moriarty, things settle a bit. Watson declines to take cases for two weeks, and a tentative truce settles over their household. Kincaid endeavors to pay more attention when Watson explains his deductions and leaves the chemistry set alone; Watson gives him the occasional compliment and goes with him to his club for the occasional bit of supper. It’s a bit awkward, but it’s… nice. It makes him think that perhaps they can make this arrangement really work for both of them, after eight years.
Or so he thought.
“Now, I don’t want you to get upset,” Watson begins the conversation, half in and half out of the door to their rooms. Kincaid sets aside one of Watson’s journals, which he was reading in an attempt to become a better detective (and also find out what really happened on a few of their older cases, where he still isn’t sure how they found the culprit, not that he’ll tell Watson that). He frowns. Watson is acting suspicious. That’s a deduction, and one he’s quite proud of.
“Why in the world would I get upset?” he asks, and stands up, folding his arms.
Watson jostles from where he’s standing. Kincaid narrows his eyes. Something pushed against Watson. Therefore, there is something on the other side of the door with him. Another deduction. Jolly good, he compliments himself.
“I know your history has not been ideal, but I really think we can make this work. I’ve done my research this time, Holmes.”
“Well, of course you have, you always do your research, why-”
Watson opens the door fully and walks into 221B with a dog.
Later, when telling the story, Kincaid will say he greeted the animal with stoicism befit a great detective. In reality, he shrieks and jumps up onto the chair. “What in God’s name are you doing, Watson?” he yells.
Watson crouches down and pats the dog on the head. It’s a low, lumbering thing, with great big jowls that remind him vaguely of the Hound’s, except that he could actually see the Hound’s teeth, and… actually, when he squints, he’s pretty sure this dog hasn’t got any teeth.
“Sherman sent me a telegraph. He’s moving on, moving out to the countryside with his animals. He wanted to keep Toby, unfortunately-” (Kincaid breaths a prayer of thanks for that) “- but he offered me Pompey as a scent hound. He is, in many ways, a better tracker than Toby was, and given how useful dogs are in our work, I was hoping…” Watson trails off and pats the dog on the head again.
The dog lets out a huffing sound and flops onto its side. It’s quite fat, actually. And it has no teeth.
“Watson, you know my unfortunate history with dogs,” Kincaid says lowly, but carefully steps off the chair, watching the dog. It doesn’t so much as glance at him, the rude little bugger.
“Pompey is different,” Watson says firmly. “He is a well-loved, overfed Basset hound. Even if he got it in mind to take a snap at you, he wouldn’t have the energy to actually reach you. Also, he has no teeth.”
“I deduced that!” Kincaid says, briefly pleased, but quickly returns to his assessment of the dog. It still hasn’t moved. It may have gone to sleep, actually, judging from the way it’s breathing. He takes a few short steps towards it, but it still doesn’t move. Kincaid raises an eyebrow and glances at Watson. “You’re sure this thing can actually track?”
Watson rubs the dog’s ears, beaming down at it. “Absolutely. He doesn’t look like much, but I’ve seen him track a carriage across London and into the countryside.”
That is impressive, Kincaid will admit. He walks right up to the dog, the toes of his boots just a hairsbreadth from its mouth.
The dog opens its eyes, and Kincaid tenses, ready to spring back, but the dog just blinks and lolls out his tongue. Kincaid takes a deep breath and crouches before the animal, mimicking Watson’s stance. He wants to believe that Watson wouldn’t bring home a dog that would eat him alive. Not now, anyway. Before, perhaps, but they have an understanding now.
“Careful now,” he says to himself, stretching out his hand. “Easy does it.”
He pats the dog on the head.
It doesn’t move.
He pats it again. And again. And a fourth time.
Kincaid hears a rhythmic tapping and freezes. It takes him a moment to realize that it’s the dog’s tail, wagging against the floor. He grins. “Watson, look! He likes me!”
“Capital, capital! Good show, Holmes!” Watson says, and gives the dog another good pat on the head.
(They return to cases a few weeks after that, and end up using Pompey to find a missing rugby player. Watson tells the reporters, “Holmes has always had an affinity for dogs; they truly have a… special… relationship. When I came across Pompey, I just knew that bringing him home would add something to 221B.”
Kincaid waves obligingly at the reporters, and smiles, leaning down to rub Pompey’s belly as he snoozes on Kincaid’s shoe. He doesn’t bother to listen as Watson rattles on about dogs and their use in detective work, and the ways in which Holmes has used them in his investigations. He doesn’t need to.
Dogs are one of his special skills, after all, as an actor. It’s on his resumé and everything.)