A day that started like that one had no chances for success, Dr. John Watson thought, rubbing his desperately aching temple and hoping for the mercy of falling out of the present reality in further hours. His headache seemed to be slowly wandering around his skull, methodically, as prisoners on a walk in a jail yard. Two different worlds were colliding nearby for about an hour already.
In any case, the doctor couldn’t come up with less frightening epithets against the eerie view: Sherlock Holmes himself was deducing along with another human being. The being in question was a strange person with schizophrenically perfect moustache. The world of Sherlock Holmes, in which John had even started noticing the logic and motivation of behaviour, shied to the world of the moustachioed man with such a roar, that even DI Lestrade winced visibly at this view. John was under the impression that he was at war again — at his ally’s territory, but in the complete darkness and in the crossfire — because it seemed that the ally didn’t happen to notice his colours.
The name of moustachioed man was Hercule Poirot; he was a Belgian, a bore and a unique detective. Unlike Sherlock, who was unique at least because he invented his profession, Mr. (or, rather, monsieur) Poirot was an extraordinary man for a number of other characteristics. A tall, tired-looking DI, Lestrade's former colleague, who introduced himself as ‘Japp’ in a conspiratorial whisper, told Watson that Poirot's name was a kind of an old legend in continental Europe. The biography of that odd moustachioed alien came down to the fact that, after having a successful career of a police commissioner in Brussels, Poirot got disappointed in the government and the justice system — and, being a proud, nosy and stubborn creature he was, he decided to start a PI career on his own resources. What eventually brought him to the United Kingdom from Belgium was a cryptic case, the old wound and bosom friendship with Captain Arthur Hastings. Since then the ridiculous M. Poirot was tactlessly, but stylishly nosing into the professional activities of Japp — which was, however, only contributing to solving more cases.
In general, both Poirot and Sherlock were detectives. In general, they both got involved in the affairs of the police — even when the police did not ask for it. In general, they both had friends ‘from real world’, who were conditionally normal and relatively ordinary people. But John was scared to realize how uniquely different these two species of one genus type were.
To be completely frank, Sherlock and John had never ever come face to face with the other divisions of the police or other detectives up to this point, which only deepened the impression of freshness. So, when John’s morning began before the dawn, with two DI’s, fraternizing and remembering their dashing youth in front of someone's cut-off head, it seemed alarming enough. The scene was complemented with two unfamiliar men, who stood at some distance politely, embodying the tact and pious indolence of the past twentieth century. They looked quite funny, standing side by side: skinny, tall Captain Hastings, slightly resemblant to a kind of intelligent pole, and small, round Poirot with his sly cat’s eyes.
After the first minute of contact with the latter, John felt himself like a mindless bacteria. After the second minute he realized with amazement that the emotional range of a person with genuinely brilliant mind can be as powerful and vast as the musical range of cathedral organ. Pretty much unlike Sherlock, whose range of expressed emotions boiled down to one octave of a baby harp, Poirot used his own reactions, facial expressions, and body language as a heavy mental bat. For an unprepared beholder, the impression of this little Belgian seemed to go out of the possible scales and break the sensors and patterns of perception. In any case, when the Belgian gave some particularly pompous epithet towards young lucidness of Sherlock’s mind with the spontaneity and zest which weren’t quite befitting Poirot’s age, it shell-shocked even the world's only consulting detective.
It was twenty minutes past their first meeting at the crime scene when John came up with the epithet of ‘worlds colliding’. He could almost see the sparks that fluttered around at this massive clash of two minds — the sparks that could significantly hurt anyone who inadvertently had no time to take cover.
“…middle-class, manager, probably not working by his specialty”, Sherlock chattered. “Cat owner, long-time bachelor, recently got himself a girlfriend...”
“A boyfriend, mon ami”, Poirot corrected him gently. “Look at his cuff links. Also note that he was either a mathematician or a physicist”.
“Had a really good deal a couple of months ago”, Sherlock continued, gnashing his teeth at Poirot’s remark.
“Illegal, of course”.
“Recently travelled to the Middle East”.
“Iraq, I assume”.
“Let me suppose the range of his interests was not quite limited to hydraulics…"
“How the Hell did he get to that ‘hydraulics’ part?” Lestrade blinked, trying desperately to catch the thread of conversation.
Detectives turned to the inspector and responded — in a weird sync, matching in words but completely different in tone of voice and in accent:
“Well, that's elementary”.
“Iraq”, Poirot raised his eyebrows. Before that John used to think that nobody can rise eyebrows with passion.
“Oil pipeline”, Sherlock snapped.
“Hydraulics”, Captain Hastings summarized mechanically.
“My dear Hastings”, Poirot sighed intermittently, “what would I do without you…”
“Is he making fun of Hastings?” Watson asked in a low voice — speaking to nobody in particular and not really expecting a normal answer.
“No, he really appreciates the Captain”, DI Japp responded in a calm tome of a true philosopher. “Old devil thinks a little bit — well — unlike normal people. Hastings is his brand of a canary for a miner”.
“Indicator, you mean?” John chuckled.
“Sort of. If Hastings has realized something, then it’s perfectly understandable for other—”
“— mere mortals”, DI Lestrade finished.
The officers exchanged looks and sniggered shamelessly at some joke only they understood. The doctor instinctively regarded the latter as potentially offensive.
“I am afraid that it is nothing else here that we can do, mes amis”, the Belgian said, regarding the corpse. And raised his eyes again in somehow unexpectedly sharp move, breaking into a catlike sly smile: “I think this conversation should be continued over dinner: I dare say I know a place around here — excellent croissants, splendid coffee… Monsieur Watson”, Poirot said with the accent on the last syllable, which made John wince. “Do you mind terribly if I invite you and the young monsieur ‘Olmes to join us at a friendly lunch? We all got up impossibly early, we barely got acquainted — and I would be pleased to carry on our meeting at a better place… Not to mention the fact that the conversation with the owner of a mind so acute as that of monsieur 'Olmes would have been invaluable — at least from the point of exchange of experience”.
John felt sheer horror at a mere thought about what Sherlock might act like, locked inside a café with two inspectors, two retired military officers, and one clearly abnormal foreigner. The most plausible of the scenarios presented by the doctor included an angry denial, a shameful quarrel, and a possible fight. It was simply unnatural to try to imagine Sherlock as a proper gentleman capable of sitting at a table with lace napkins, a cup of coffee in one hand and a croissant in the other. John could bet that Sherlock would have tried to escape through the window (naturally) without any effort even to seem polite. What John doubted was the reaction of the others. He couldn’t bet that damn Belgian wouldn’t be gravely offended — and wouldn’t try shooting the impolite target: Poirot didn’t wear glasses and obviously had had the successful police career in his past, so he really could be a good marksman. His temper only added possible danger to the situation. As for the quiet Captain Hastings — John did not even try to analyze or predict his actions: ex-military officers John knew could kill a man with the leg of a chair without even changing the facial expression.
John had already started to open his mouth, feverishly trying to formulate some proper fitting-out, when all his belief in the steadfastness and strength of his own perception of the world collapsed.
“By any chance, don’t you mean 'Dame Agatha'?” Sherlock asked in a frighteningly polite tone, looking up from his Blackberry, from which he had been texting by the speed of professionally programmed android.
“Mais oui”. Poirot smiled again. His moustache stirred, as if it was a separate creature who lived its own life and was as delighted as its owner. “Best bakery in London, as far as I'm concerned… You too have been there?”
“Not quite”. Sherlock blinked, returning his attention to the Blackberry and absentmindedly poking at the keys. And, to the horror of Watson, smiled, looking up from the typed text: “John and I would be totally pleased to join you, Mr. Poirot. Right, John?”
“Uh”, John managed, earnestly hoping that that was a polite and meaningful "uh", for he wasn’t sure he could be fully responsible for his own words at the moment.
“Nice”, Japp summed up. “Lead the way — I haven’t even sniffed any food since yesterday…”
John regarded as Sherlock immediately adjusted to the seed step of Poirot and got involved in a discussion of some particularly scary facts about the victim. Hastings, who paced next to Watson, looked like a 286 CPU trying to absorb the flow of data processed between two dual-core "Pentiums". Somewhere to the left Japp boomed softly to Lestrade: “Greg, stop bloody worrying — a half an hour over coffee isn’t something that can do you harm, the corpse won’t run away, for God’s sake—”
Lestrade mumbled something unintelligible in reply. Japp snorted and lowered his voice, but the doctor still heard what was said:
“Dude, your lunatic looks like he’s worth our psycho. If they drink coffee together — who knows, they even might solve the case at once. Trust my experience: one can’t even properly imagine what Poirot’s capable of…”
Lestrade sighed sadly.
At that very moment John’s phone buzzed.
The message he got was from Sherlock.
MH IS A REGULAR VISITOR OF DAME A.
John chuckled to himself. That could explain a thing or two about Mycroft's neverending diets…
Sherlock and Poirot turned to the doctor, as if they had just heard his thoughts, and shared unpleasantly sweet smiles.