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Early Epitaph

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I read the obituary with growing unease. There was no denying this was Watson’s obituary, or meant to be so. John Watson was not a common name, but not terribly uncommon, either. John H. Watson, less so, but even so, he was not the only John H. Watson in London. (I make it a point to know this.) But there it was in print, John H. Watson, and the details that followed were highlights of my friend’s career. The schools he attended; his military service, with mention of Maiwand and his former regiment; his marriage and status as a widower; mention of his published works; his ‘long association with the private detective, Mr Sherlock Holmes’; his address at Baker Street; it was all there, and all as accurate as such a notice is ever likely to be.

There was only one detail wrong: “died at home on Sunday, after a short illness.” Today was Tuesday, and Watson was alive and well, if visibly taken aback by the announcement. His bewilderment was easily read on his face, and not just by me. Inspector Lestrade saw it too.

“A mix-up, perhaps?” he mused. “It had best not be someone’s idea of a practical joke.”

I threw off my dressing-gown and reached for my coat. “A word with the publisher seems in order,” I said by way of agreement. “At the very least, there must be a retraction printed. Care to accompany us, Inspector?”

“Indeed, Mr Holmes, I would.” He glanced at Watson. “If you don’t mind, Doctor. Having a policeman vouch for your identity can only help matters.”

“Thank you, Inspector Lestrade, that’s most kind.” Watson smiled at both of us, but I was the only one to notice him slipping his revolver into his coat pocket before we left. My Watson was no fool. This could be an honest mistake – or the prelude to an ambush of some kind. Either way, we would both be prepared.