“I understand you’re about to take on a new tenant…”
She looked around timidly, allowing the slight tremble rather than fight it. The men who had collected her were gentle, but firm and she had no idea where things were going from here. The man she was meeting looked pleasant enough, in a detached ‘you are beneath me’ sort of way.
“Oh yes; you weren’t looking for a flat, were you? Only, he’s an old friend, so it’s definitely his. 221C is open, but it can be a bit damp. I don’t think you’d be very comfortable there…”
He smiled indulgently. “No thank you, Mrs. Hudson, I am well settled elsewhere. No, my inquiry is in regards to your new tenant… what do you know about him?”
Ah. Somehow she always expected something like this to happen. What had he gotten into, now?
She knew what people saw when they looked at her – fragile old woman, perhaps a little dotty; saw no reason to correct what was a valuable underestimation.
“Oh, just a bit here and there; we don’t see each other too often – you know young men, always so busy.” The small smile accompanying this statement was shaded with fond tolerance.
Sherlock was a good boy. Wasn’t the best at keeping to anything people would call normal conversation; more often than not he’d tell her things like how to know if your drink had been poisoned, or what to do if you were kidnapped (and wasn’t that turning out to be useful), but the thought was there.
“Ah, yes. Busy. Are you aware of his rather sordid past, then?”
Oh, that was a bit obvious. She smiled demurely. “Oh now, that’s none of my business, is it? I’d dare say none of yours, either.”
The fun thing about being an old woman (at least in this instance) was that even if you were visibly frightened, it still seemed natural to chastise someone on their manners. Better for her than what she’d wanted to say, anyway.
“Come now… I understand that since your return to England you have averaged a visit every other week or so from one Sherlock Holmes.” He eyed her intimidatingly, letting a long pause linger to make her nervous. (The part of her that wasn’t honestly worried about the situation wondered if he practiced that in a mirror; she ignored it, because now was not the time for titters, nervous or otherwise.) “Tell me about that. Something interesting must have come up in all that time. His habits, what he is working on…”
Dotty old woman, dotty old woman, dotty old woman….
“Oh – well… not much that I understood, really. “ She looked down, as if trying to recall. What would be safe to mention? He had a website, so that was nothing secret… “I never remember much about the experiments – soil types and pollen spread; bit too much for me – but he does work with the police off and on.” She looked back up, smile a touch vague and confused; earnest, “And what do you want with our Sherlock then?” She could at least try to get something out of this.
“Oh, I have a… vested interest in his wellbeing.” Coolly returned, his face blank of any intentions. Creepy, that. “I am aware of your financial status – it hasn’t been quite as comfortable in recent years, has it? I’m sure I could offer you some small compensation for the trouble of regular reports. Nothing untoward, just keep track of what he’s doing, who he’s seeing…” He trailed off suggestively.
What to do… say yes, get out of here and warn Sherlock? Well, to be honest, it always was difficult to get a hold of the man – always running off somewhere. Might not catch him in time. Probably already knew, anyway. That would be just like him. Bit of support, then; she was done here in any case. All these insinuations were grating on her – he was as bad as the old biddies at the market.
Well then, refuge in manners. “Oh no, couldn’t do that; never been one for gossip. It’s not proper.”
He smiled thinly. “Are you quite certain there’s no way I could… coerce you?”
Oh, that could mean so many things. (This was the point at which she wished she could forget a few of the Sherlock conversations.)
Still, she smiled pleasantly, resolute. “No, no, that won’t work on me, dear.” Might as well come out with it, her hip was starting to ache. “I’m an old lady, no one much would miss me and there’s not much you could leverage against me. And money?” She shrugged, started levering herself up to stand. “I only need so much to get by. Now, I am due for my evening soother, if you’d be so kind…?”
He looked at her for a long moment, in which she failed to quail or back down. “Hmm”, she heard after a few minutes, then something very quiet that might have been ‘he does manage to collect them…’, but the moment passed and he stood – all business again, with a crisp, “Certainly, I’ll have a driver return you to your… residence.” Then he was striding away, twirling that ridiculous umbrella.
The next time she saw him was at 221B, several weeks later – and wasn’t that a surprise.