Holmes is holding a pair of stockings. Silk, by the looks of them, with a tear near the top. Watson stops in the doorway. "Holmes?"
"Ah, Watson. Would you look at these?"
Watson finds himself unable to avoid looking.
Holmes continues, "They arrived this morning before breakfast. Simply appeared, without the intervention of either the postal service or Mrs Hudson. At least, I assume not."
"And they are not mine."
"I had rather assumed that was the case." Hoped, anyway. Watson really does not want to know what kind of experiments would require silk stockings. It would be like the Goosefeather Affair all over again.
"And they are not yours."
Watson had believed that was meant as a statement of fact, but Holmes raised one eyebrow. "No," Watson confirms.
"And I take it that you did not manage to persuade them from the legs of Miss Morstan."
"No!" More firmly this time. One needs to be, with Holmes.
Holmes rests his chin on his hands. "Quite. So it is her, then."
"Oh, God." He should have said they were his and damn the consequences. "Do you know what would be an interesting response to this?" Watson asks. "One to drive the woman quite mad? You could not chase Adler all the way across London because she decided to break into your rooms and leave a pair of stockings."
Holmes frowns. "Don't be ridiculous, Watson."
Watson sighs. "No, I thought not."
* * *
Holmes slaps the stockings on the hotel desk and gives the man behind it an accusatory stare. "Is she here?"
The poor man quails, but answers, "I can't give out details of our guests."
"Also," Watson observes, "you don't know who he's asking for. Miss Adler? Although I doubt she checked in under her own name."
Holmes begins listing her married names with a certain doomed fatalism.
Watson interrupts, "Very beautiful, if you like the kind of woman who may well strip you naked and leave you tied to the furniture." Holmes coughs. Watson says, "Dark hair, pale skin, red lips. Somewhat smaller than him, well dressed, probably in someone else's clothing. May have seduced and/or pointed a weapon at some member of your staff."
The man thinks. "Mr Holmes?" he asks.
Holmes looks at Watson. "You see? This is why we should always begin by properly introducing ourselves." He half-bows. "The same."
The man hands him an envelope. It reads, Mr Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective, in a woman's hand.
Holmes opens it, very gingerly. (There are at least three good reasons for that caution, considering the woman in question. Watson had not thought, before he met Holmes, to consider which drugs one could lace an envelope with). Inside is one piece of paper, folded twice. Holmes says, "A pawn receipt. Well, at least we know where to go next."
"Or, alternatively," Watson says, even as he nods goodbye to the clerk and follows Holmes out, "we could go back to Baker Street and find you a real case. No? At least remember that I tried to stop this, would you? Thank you."
* * *
Watson speaks first this time. He places the certificate on the desk and asks, quite civilly, "May we see the item this corresponds to?"
The proprietor gives Watson a positively venomous glare before retreating to the back of the shop. Lord knows what Adler did to provoke that reaction to a perfectly innocuous inquiry. The man drops a small bag onto the counter. Watson opens it.
Holmes claps his hands together. "My dear Watson, do you know what this is?"
"My cufflink," Watson continues flatly.
"And what does this tell us?"
"That Adler has now devolved to interfering with my possessions as well as yours?"
"That, regardless of your other irrational complaints, you cannot argue that any woman I have brought into our home has ever rifled through the bedside cabinets looking for goods to sell. Most probably while we slept."
Holmes considers that for a moment. "She is a woman of unusual tastes. That cannot be disputed."
Only Holmes can make 'unusual tastes' sound like an accomplishment. Watson turns the bag upside down. The cufflink's counterpart is missing, but a tiny key falls out. It has a tag attached on a string.
Holmes picks it up and examines it with the greatest of care. He fumbles in his pocket and comes up with a magnifying glass. "An address."
"I can manage without the cufflink."
"Nonsense. Now come along. Victory awaits." He pauses. "Or at least enlightenment of some kind, and we are not men to refuse knowledge, are we? Of course not."
* * *
Three very scantily clad young women are leering at Watson.
Holmes is saying, "My dear women, I can assure you that I…"
"No. The lady said you couldn't be trusted. She said it must be the Doctor and she paid for that guarantee."
"I can be trusted more than Watson, surely?" Holmes demands. "He's engaged to be married - his mind is extremely addled."
For once Watson does not protest, but this fact does not appear to dissuade them. The ringleader – she with the ebony-black hair and the plunging neckline – the mistress of this odd household, points again. There is a hint of a metal chain caught somewhere underneath the corseting. Apparently she wants him to fetch it.
Watson looks at Holmes. There are many things he is willing to do in the service of his friend and his whims but this is… Holmes sees something in his expression and frowns.
Holmes holds out a bill. "That will suffice, I think, unless Irene has a diamond secreted down there."
The woman retrieves a small box on a chain – it has a keyhole. Holmes smiles.
They go back into the street to open it, away from the heavy scent and women's laughter. The box contains the missing cufflink and what appears to be a single hair.
"Hers?" Watson asks.
"No. Come along, no time to waste."
"I will explain on the way."
* * *
He doesn't, at least not until they are walking through the doors at Baker Street. Holmes says, "It was one of Gladstone's hairs."
Watson spares yet another moment's compassion for their poor animal. "And?" he asks. "She probably took it when she left the stockings and stole the cufflinks."
"No, no, no, she's much too clever for that. This was another clue. And here is the next."
On the tray by the doors, there is one small rectangle of white card. The writing is embossed in gold: Miss Irene Adler. It's as polite as a calling card should be, except for the bright red lipstick kiss she has marked it with.
Holmes frowns. "Ah." He looks about the hallway while the clock ticks. "Nothing to be done, I suppose. Tea?"
"Tea? A warm beverage made from the leaves of-."
"I apologise. What was your question?"
"You've just… stopped?"
"Oh, no doubt the woman is halfway to Paris by now."
"How do you know she's…?"
Holmes waves the question away like a fly.
"And you don't want to chase her?" Watson asks. After the day they've had, and Holmes's usual tenacity when it comes to the woman, he doesn't quite know what to do with the abrupt stop.
"To Paris? Watson, you know perfectly well I only leave the city under the direst of circumstances. And in any case, we meet poor Inspector Lestrade tomorrow morning, as I am sure you recall. That spate of bank robberies?"
"Which will probably end now that she's out of the country," Watson mutters.
"Nothing. I'm only surprised you gave up so easily. Wasn't it rather a wasted expedition in that case? And an expensive one."
"You paid to recover the cufflinks, I merely happened to be holding onto your earnings at the time."
"That's not what I…"
Holmes begins climbing the stairs slowly, allowing Watson and his cane to follow. "I thought we had a perfectly entertaining day, didn't you?"
"Irene ensured me an – admittedly fruitless – treasure hunt, with you as my companion. No one was hurt, and we had something with which to jointly occupy ourselves. She has done worse, you must admit."
"Well, of course, but…"
"She had a theory, the last time we spoke. I… it's not important. Anyway, I shall check on Gladstone, you see about the tea."
Holmes cannot actually be trusted to tell whether the dog is truly well or simply some colour of 'not dead', but Watson ignores that for the minute. He's still puzzling over Holmes's reaction. He goes to call about tea, then to put his cufflinks securely away and to wash some of the city's grime from his skin.
When he gets back, Mrs Hudson is standing in the doorway. Holmes, of course, has simply abandoned the spoils of the day over the table. The silk stockings take pride of place on the top of the pile. Mrs Hudson looks suitably scandalised – at this point probably more that the depravity is on full view, rather than that it had occurred at all. Watson cannot help the smile which creeps onto his face, though he tries to hide it from both Mrs Hudson and Holmes.
It is pointless: she sniffs and puts down the tea tray. Holmes smiles back at him.
There are worse ways to spend a day.
Watson kneels by the table and readies himself to pour the tea. Holmes rests his back against the foot of the chair. "So," Watson says, "explain to me how you know she's going to Paris." Holmes gives him one long considering look, as though Watson is the one prone to deliberately provoking conversational pitfalls. Watson meets his eyes steadily.
Holmes does not quite smile – he leans further back and accepts the cup. "Of course, Watson, as you wish."
Watson imagines, for a breath, that he can smell Irene Adler's perfume in the air. A lingering fancy from before, perhaps. Holmes moves his hand, to better illustrate his point, and the illusion fades. There is only Holmes's voice, stating what should be perfectly obvious, if only Watson would pay more attention. He nods – a promise to try – and Holmes does smile now.