“Captain John Watson sir, thank you for giving me some time.”
Lieutenant Colonel Kayden Goldman extended his arm over his desk, shaking John’s. “Firm grip, the right posture, you could be mistaken to be an actual field soldier Dr. Watson,” the older man said, motioning at a chair, “Please take a seat.”
Which John did, feeling really diminutive in an office cabin that was big enough to accommodate a basketball court and sitting in front of a man who was six feet seven inches tall. Kayden looked at a file, glancing through some pages while concentrating on one or two, while John waited awkwardly but patiently. “Okay,” finally the lieutenant colonel broke the long silence, “You saved my best sniper, Sebastian Moran. You also saved one of my other officers, Sebastian Smith. Reports say you took down a jeep of ten guerrilla fighters in Afghanistan, all on your own, using just plastic explosives and….what is this…..liquid nitrate?”
John nodded, “I had to improvise sir. There was no time and no resource. It was a surprise attack on the base and they were not ready to spare even the women and the injured.”
“It was a bloody good job and I see you were rewarded for it. However, you got shot and six months on, you’ve been given a voluntary retirement status.”
“Yes colonel, sir.”
“So, is this what I think this is about?”
John nodded, wondering if it was a mistake coming here. The lieutenant colonel had agreed to give him time within two days but that was due to the heroics he had displayed, not because he knew John or had anything to do with him. Thousands of soldiers died or quit the army every year, he was not supposed to help them all out. The state gave them all the medical care they needed and a decent pension.
“Oh, I am sorry. No, I was just…..”
Kayden’s eyes narrowed, “Look doctor Watson, I understand your situation. Healed, with a degree, with a pension, to the world it just seems like you gotta plant yourself back into civilian life. But I know, from watching many others around me, it’s not a piece of cake.”
John relaxed slightly. So this man understood. Now the big question was – Will he help me or just give me a lecture and send me on my way, to fend for myself?!
“You need some push, something apart from just a few letters of recommendation, to begin anew and also be successful. You’re only thirty-two. You have a long life ahead of you, hopefully, and it’s not just about survival but also succeeding in whatever it is you want to do.”
John felt a wee bit of relief at that. So the big man had sensed what he needed and was ready to support him. Kayden looked through the file again and said, “So there are three things that you need for a fresh start. One, a good job. Two, a reasonably good accommodation. Three, an income that can cover your basic expenses in London, a city where shoebox flats cost a lot. Hmmm, let me see….” He lapsed into silence and looked through his phone, “There is a reason why the General has assigned me to four months of desk duties every year. I seem to have the network and contacts necessary to make my project, Ex servicemen Rehabilitation and Support, a success. It’s another thing that it gives me more time with my wife and kids.”
John bit back a grin. Of course, that was also part of the truth! Otherwise a much-decorated officer would have loved to stay with his platoon instead.
“John,” the lieutenant colonel called him out by his name, “I know this man named Mike Stamford who works at the Barts. He can help organize an interview for you, with the head of department for general surgeries and consulting physicians. If you do well and they offer you employment, the pay will be reasonably good for now and get even better after a year’s probation. But I cannot crack the interview for you. That, you must do for yourself.”
“Of course sir, I understand and will do my best.”
“Oh you better, I can’t help you with a second chance here.”
“As for accommodation, I can ask him to help there too. He knows many people and might be able to suggest something. He is easy to get along with, quite a nice guy who teaches the interns and final year residents at Barts.”
“I know him sir. We went to medical school together.”
“Fantastic. Then we are all set….no, wait, there is something else I can do. For a year or two, I can keep your name on a special list. It’s called ‘Special Compensation Unit’ but the description reads as ‘Officers who have been disabled in action, whilst showing valor of the most extraordinary kind’. Usually it only goes to people who have lost a limb or a bodily function and that too those assigned to field service. But what you did was no less than such an officer and you suffered a near-debilitating leg injury.”
John sighed, “But I am fine now. Guess I can’t be included…..”
“You can be,” the colonel said, “On my recommendation. But I can only do a temporary provisioning here. In eighteen months or so, you will be removed unless you provide a medical certificate of any permanent disability. Hope you understand what I mean.”
John thought for a few moments and responded, trying not to sound too holier-than-thou and yet getting his point across as politely as possible. “If I earn an income from a job as a doctor, I am still entitled to the pension I receive sir, which is legal and perfectly valid. But if I also get disability cheques, won’t I be double-dipping into the public purse? I don’t mean to say this isn’t legal or I am breaking the law, because you wouldn’t allow that to happen in your watch, but does it still seem fair…..just putting my two cents on the table.” He stopped and looked a bit hesitantly into the other man’s eyes. Holding a gaze is important, especially in the army, where avoidance of any eye-contact is taken as a ‘shady’ step towards non-accountability.
Kayden Goldman listened quietly without emotions, then paused to think. Then he said, “I appreciate your honest feedback. But no, it’s not a bad idea for a soldier to get some extra support, provided it’s only temporary. While I appreciate what the tax-payers do and the difficult life most of the workers in civil and corporate jobs lead, none of them risk their necks for the nation. A man like you, used to saving lives under pressure, with limited resources and support, will be invaluable for the society. I suggest you go for the lump sum payment for temporary disability and the normal pension scheme as a retired officer due to injury during active and warfront service.”
“Johnny the man,” Mike Stamford greeted John cheerfully as the former army doctor entered the now empty autopsy lab to meet his former college mate and current referee. Well, the lab was almost empty. One nurse was still there and she gave John a pointed look as she left.
“I see you still pull the chicks,” Mike said boisterously as he and John shook hands. “Well, I can modestly state that I am the sort of man most parents would like to see their daughters come home with,” John said with a wave of his arm and a snicker.
They exchanged a one-arm hug before Mike’s expression grew a bit serious. He looked down at John’s leg and the support he walked with and asked, “Hey, how bad is it really?” John shrugged and replied honestly, “Healing, but taking its time. Sometimes I have this shudder in my arm and right side, but it seems that’s psychosomatic. Have been visiting a shrink and she says I just need to get back into action, work and all that, which is why I am here. In terms of medical clearance and ability to do my job here, I have the necessary endorsements.”
“Well, I have never been in the army or….fortunately, in any form of trauma or violent incidents. PTSD is a very real thing but you appear to have done well for what I heard you had to face. Yes, I think getting back to work, being busy and all that, should help.”
“So then….the interview?”
“Yes, tomorrow at 10 am. Where are you staying?”
When John gave him the address Mike turned up his nose. “Sorry but that’s what I can afford on a soldier’s pension,” John said with good humor, “I need to eat and pay other bills too.” His former college mate seemed to agree but he had his own views besides. “We need to fix that accommodation thing John. It’s too far from Barts and if there are emergencies you won’t be able to make it on time. We could assign a quarter for you but at this moment none are free. However, there is something else we can do for you…..or rather, I can do for you. Someone I know is looking for a roommate.”
“Roommate?” John was aghast.
“Ehmyeaaah, is that a problem?” Mike asked, looking a bit uneasy.
“I know young dudes in their teens and early twenties do bunk down together but a roommate situation at my age? No man shares a room at this point in their lives, unless it’s a brother or they are…..”
Mike grinned, “Unless they are???”
They both began to laugh at that, John a bit nervously and Mike giving a full belly-laugh, until someone popped their head in through the door to check what was going on. John immediately grew sober while Mike welcomed the person, a young woman in her early thirties, into the lab. “Come in Molly, meet Dr. John Watson, former military captain, a surgeon who might join us very soon, as soon as next week. John, this is Molly, pathologist and a good friend to all, she’s Miss Popular here!”
Molly was a bit mousy looking but she seemed like a nice, pleasant person and smiled broadly at John. He decided he’d like to meet a hundred Mollies every day because she seemed like a non-threat, someone helpful and kind. No wonder she was a popular, well-liked person.
“Hello Molly,” John shook hands with her.
“Watson. But call me John please.”
“John, pleased to meet you John.”
Whatever else she wanted to say was lost in the loud squeak of her phone. She looked at the device, raised her brows and quickly stepped away from them to answer. “She can help too, with the accommodation thing,” Mike whispered, “Plus you need someone on your side when you join. It’s not easy to find your way around here, it’s an enormous place with lots of people.”
Soon she came back, hassled and flustered. “He’s asking for a coffee, black, with a bit of sugar. He says it has to be exactly the way he described last time, but there was no last time. He never asked me for coffee before Mike…..”
“Calm down, calm down Molly, it’s fine, he’s just another man and not the country’s Premier or Prince of Wales,” Mike did his best to soothe her as she fretted, “Just take the sugar separately and ask His Highness to mix it by himself.” Her demeanor had changed completely from relaxed, easy and happy to restless and apprehensive and John found that very odd. Who had asked her for coffee? Was it her boss? Even if he was, this was just not done. She was not his beck-and-call assistant, she was a fully qualified pathologist. He gave Mike a quizzical glance to which the latter made a subtle eye movement, indicating he would talk about this later.
Once she was gone, Mike shook his head and laughed, “She allows him to do this to her.”
“Him is who?” John asked curiously.
“Sherlock,” Mike said by means of explanation, “He’s quite popular with women. But unlike Molly he is not the most pleasant or friendly person around. He can be quite acerbic, too brutal with his words and sometimes eccentric without limits. Still, Molly adores him and so do several other young residents and a few nurses, even a couple of male members of the administrative staff sort of go all gooey-eyed around him.”
“Yeah. Some people have that thing in them….they can repel and attract at the same time. But he is one brilliant individual.”
“Which department? Usually the geniuses are in cardiac or neurology or stem cell research.”
“He is not a doctor. He has a doctorate though, he’s a PHD in forensic sciences, a scientist and chemist who works on several independent projects and also….involved in the criminology field, if rumors are to be believed.”
John found that very intriguing but he had too much else to handle to think of eccentric geniuses. “Good to know and good for that man,” he said, “Now, as for my accommodation, how do you think Molly can help me? Where do I find her, after this?”
“I suppose I can introduce you to him right away, Molly being too busy getting coffee and all that,” Mike said thoughtfully, “It’s the same Sherlock I just spoke to you about!”
John had always identified as a straight man but that didn’t mean he didn’t appreciate the natural beauty or appeal in a man. He was not from the spectrum of toxic masculinity where it was a taboo to even talk about beauty or elegance, unless one was commenting on a woman’s breasts or her revealing outfit.
As soon as he had entered the room, he noticed the reasons why women and some men liked this guy with the strange name and chased him despite his eccentric behavior.
Sherlock was not a conventional good-looker. He was tall, about six feet, but quite willowy instead of the usual gym-toned suppleness and all-muscle avatars men preferred nowadays. He clearly didn’t get much sun because he was pasty white, desperately in need for some Vitamin D. He wore his hairs in unruly waves and curls, which hung thickly around his a-bit-too-long face with angular features and eyes that were a weirdly close-set. Still, there was a magnetic appeal about him and somehow all the oddities added together to create a stunning effect. His eyes were a beautiful blue-green, his lips a delightful bow shape, his cheekbones sharp and pronounced as if someone had sculpted them on his face while his sharp nose was contrastingly large and gave him an intellectual look.
And yet he had a boyish smile and the overall demeanor of a young and attractive man in his mid-twenties. Still, there was something different about him and he couldn’t be counted with the average guy on the street, something rare and precious that made John wish he knew this man a little bit more than just his first name. As Mike introduced them, John was just about to ask him something when the first wave hit him.
Sherlock rattled off so many facts about him despite knowing practically nothing about him or his background, that John felt as if he was dreaming or in the midst of a weird experiment. How could this guy know he had a sibling, who in turn had a drinking problem, that he was a former soldier, that his current ailment was psychosomatic, that he was looking for economic options of lodging…….
“The last bit,” Mike said, grinning and shaking his head when Sherlock finally stopped his spiel, “That was no deduction Sherlock. I told you that this morning when we met.” Blue eyes twinkled but Sherlock kept his expression serious, “A bit of fluff is okay, I think. Anyways, there is a flat I have earmarked, it’s spacious and in good condition, in a prime location too. We can share that one. Rent will be real low because it belongs to my nanny.”
“You still have a nanny?” John felt a tremendous urge to tease him but Mike seemed quite horrified at that, “How old are you?”
Sherlock looked angry too at first, but then his expression changed to bemused. “Good one,” the genius said, “She was my nanny once. I am twenty-seven now!”