I’m back in London. I breathe it in, feel its beating heart quiver beneath my feet. I am home.
Obviously, I’ve been away for a while. Under the familiarity, there is a strangeness. It’s like returning to a childhood home, or a classroom where one has spent many hours. It looks smaller, older, dirtier, but feels somehow beloved. Though I don’t remember how I came to be here— or where I’ve been— I am able to note the small differences, signs of what has changed in my absence.
Imagination is never as finely-tuned as reality. While I have kept a version of London in my Mind Palace, returning there whenever I felt homesick, what my senses are telling me is certainly real. At this moment, I am actually in London, walking down a street in Marylebone. There is the chemist’s shop, there is the Tesco where I buy tea and milk, and there is the coffee shop where I stop each morning.
Right now, I’m walking somewhere. The trouble is, I’ve forgotten. I’m trying to do this by rote, letting my body go wherever it thinks I’m going without engaging my mind, because thinking about it will only muck things up by forcing me to notice that something is wrong.
I don’t know where I’m going. I keep walking, hoping my mind will reboot, catch up with my legs, and that I’ll remember why I’m here, on this corner. It’s not unusual for me to slip into my Mind Palace when I’m thinking something through. One moment I’m lying on the sofa talking to—
That’s not what happened. I don’t know what happened, but I wasn’t on the sofa, talking to anyone. I don’t know where I was. Something is definitely wrong.
Helpfully, my mind suggests coffee. The shop across the street is familiar. Double espresso latte. The biscotti are house-made, or so they claim. The chocolate ones are divine. I remember these details.
I order, sit, drink— as if this day were normal, as if I were normal. I breathe in— coffee, chocolate, cinnamon. Scent is a powerful mnemonic. Just catching a whiff of a familiar scent can trigger an entire chain of memories, put a person back into a past they have almost forgotten. I close my eyes, hold the cup under my nose, and inhale.
Details emerge, pieces of my journey. I was in Serbia. I’d been gone from London a long time, almost two years, on a mission. I was a hunter, tracking prey.
I remember pain.
Forget the pain. It’s an anti-mnemonic, blocking memory. No one wants to remember pain, so the brain blocks the memory. Put the pain in a drawer and close it.
Last clear memory: train.
Before that? I’d finished a mission (put that aside for now; consider later) and was returning home. I was exhausted, relieved, anticipating—
I was on a train, the Underground. I must have flown, must have taken a cab from the airport. Why the train? Don’t remember.
I was in London, back from travels. I was taking a train… dark tunnel… going somewhere…
Perhaps this is drugs. I don’t remember taking anything, but the nature of drugs is to distort reality, to leave gaps. This must be the aftermath of a drug episode.
If you’re going to do this, leave a list, Sherlock. At least then I don’t have to guess—
Detail: I have a brother. Mycroft.
I pat my pockets, but there is no note, no list.
I sit in the coffee shop until the sky begins to darken. It is March. I know this without looking at the newspaper that is lying on the next table. I have money in my pocket, just a few pounds. I have no phone, probably because I’ve been away and haven’t got a new one yet. They have phones in Serbia, obviously, but different carriers, different networks. I would have an international plan. And I was fleeing from… something. No phone, then. That might have been helpful, to look through my contacts. Doesn’t matter.
My thoughts return to Mycroft. Older than me by seven years. Went to Eton, Oxford, came out covered in glory, dripping with accomplishments, while I— better not think of that right now. Distraction. Delete.
Mycroft. If I had a phone, I could reach him. He still works for the British Government I think, doing things he can’t talk about. At times, he acts as if he is the British Government. I am a great disappointment to him. The less said about that, the better.
It is surprising, now that I think about it, that he hasn’t picked me up yet. He has a sixth sense about me and access to unlimited surveillance footage. He knows my location and circumstances at all the moments when I least want his interference. Against my protests, he interferes anyway. A dark car will appear, the window will slide open, and a female voice will say, Get in the car, Sherlock.
The British government isn’t looking for me tonight. Strange.
Right now, I need a place to stay.
I sleep in an Underground station because I don’t know where I live, and I don’t have enough money to stay in any of the hotels around here. I had enough to ride the train, but decide to hold onto my cash. Perhaps I had cards, ID, passport— all gone.
I go into a restroom, relieve myself and splash water on my face. There are no towels, just blowers, I notice too late. I look in the cloudy mirror, see what I expect to see. My hair is a bit long, but it has been recently washed. I run my fingers through it, a familiar gesture. My eyes do not look bloodshot, my face is not grey and pasty. I look quite healthy, in fact. Running my fingers over my scalp, I feel for anything that might indicate a head wound. No bumps, no painful spots.
It isn’t amnesia, I think, though amnesia can take many different forms. I remember who I am, so that’s something. I know today’s date: Monday, March 31, 2014. Significant date, though I don’t recall why. (Bracket that; not important right now.)
I know where I am, also a good thing. I am in the Baker Street tube station of the London Underground in England, on the isle of Great Britain, in the United Kingdom, in the Western Hemisphere of the planet officially called Earth. (Yes, I looked it up. It’s officially Earth, not Terra or Gaea.) I suppose the residents of any hypothetical planet refer to their home by whatever word their language has for earth, ground, dirt. And our moon’s name is not Luna, but Moon, our star is simply Sun, not Sol. And our galaxy is not officially the Milky Way, though teachers always taught us that. It’s just Galaxy. Thus sayeth the International Astronomical Union. (Why do I remember this? I thought I’d binned Astronomy…)
The point is, there is ground under my feet. I am not dreaming, not high, not injured.
And yet, I do not know what has happened to me, or what I should do. The fact that I am able to think about this tells me that I am real, that this is real. Cogito, ergo sum.
Make a decision. Should I follow my gut, move by rote, let my thoughts run— and wait for something in my subconscious mind to trip my memory? Should I try to access my Mind Palace (where something is seriously wrong if Astronomy is back) and uncover more memories?
When commuters begin to fill the platform, I rouse myself and board the first train that arrives. I’m going to see the British Government.
It takes me an hour to work my way to a person who actually knows my brother. Apparently he is either so important or so inconsequential that people do not recognise his name. He is out of the office, I am told. I ask to wait. He won’t be back today, I am told. I ask for pen and paper, write him a cryptic note, and seal it in the envelope his completely inscrutable secretary hands me. (When I’ve left, she will rip it open, read my note and call him.)
I am not a man without friends. I have lived in London for years, and surely there are people here who know me. And I am a detective— specifically, a consulting detective. If the world’s only consulting detective can’t figure out what has happened, who can? Nobody.
I am sitting in St James Park, trying to search my Mind Palace. I stumble around, wondering what has happened here. I open doors, find empty rooms. Labels are gone, drawers pulled open, shelves empty. The palace has been ransacked, left in shambles. Astronomy is walking around in a daze. I can’t remember who wrote The Pickwick Papers, who the King of England is, or what the atomic number of Boron is.
I wander the halls, stare into disordered rooms. Finally, two chairs before a fireplace. One is my chair, where I sit when I’m thinking or meeting a client. The other chair—
Oh. This time I’m the client. I sit facing myself.
Mind Palace Self asks me, How can I help you, Mr Holmes?
I’m not sure you can, I say. I mean, we’re the same person, aren’t we?
He smiles. This is true. But I’m very objective. Describe your dilemma, and I will solve it for you.
Ruefully, I smile at myself. There are limits to what even you can believe.
Nonsense, he says (I say). My dear fellow, life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind of man could invent. There is nothing so commonplace as the unnatural.
I’m not sure that’s how the saying goes. I stare at myself, lounging in my old chair, wearing my grey dressing gown. I am Sherlock Holmes. My brother is Mycroft Holmes, a government functionary who is currently out of the office, not available to respond. In the past, I’ve been a user of drugs, both cocaine and heroin. My life’s work is solving crimes.
I ask myself, What has happened? Here is my dilemma: everything is the same, everything is different, and I don’t know how I got here or why I’m here or what I’m meant to be doing. This is my life, and I feel like a visitor— like a passenger who got off at the wrong stop.
The me that sits in the consultant’s chair lights a cigarette, blows out a cloud of blue-grey smoke that hovers over us. This is a life, he agrees. But perhaps it isn’t your life.
In the client’s chair, I startle. What do you mean?
It’s the unimportant details that you notice. Like the fact that I am smoking, when you know for a fact that you haven’t touched a cigarette in years.
It’s true. I gave up smoking because it was such a bother, other people always making faces and reminding me this is a non-smoking area. Patches are the solution, though occasionally I can’t help myself. Nicotine is an even more powerful addiction than heroin. Speaking as one who has tried both drugs, I think I can claim this with some authority.
Where are my patches?
I roll up my sleeve. No patches. Even more significant, no scars. For years, I’ve kept my sleeves rolled down because of the needle tracks. Now my arms are as immaculate as a baby’s bottom. No one has ever plunged a needle into these arms.
Do you see what I mean? I watch myself throw the cigarette into the fire. Eliminate the impossible, and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
I wonder if this is how I always deal with clients and vow to do better with my next client. The me in the consultant’s chair is arrogant, cryptic, and a bit smug. The me facing myself is confused and desperate.
Just tell me what to do, I say.
He leans forward. Whom do you trust?
If anyone can tell me what’s happened, it might be Lestrade. He is a policeman, lacking imagination, bound to facts, unhappy with paperwork, and impatient with all of my shit. On the other hand, there is nothing I can say to him that will surprise him. And I do trust him.
Fact: I have known him for years, since I was a teenage junkie who stumbled into his crime scene, high as a kite, and solved it for him.
I am standing outside of New Scotland Yard, thinking about going inside. The reality is, I have no other ideas. I need grounding, and he can provide it.
As it happens, thank all the deities who guard the line between improbable and impossible, he is coming out of the building right now, as I’m standing here, waffling. He is with another man, a detective I do not recognise. He is being deferential, I think, nodding and smiling. The other man grinds out a cigarette with his heel and walks away. Lestrade sighs and begins crossing the pavement. I watch and wait until he is closer before I speak. It occurs to me that if I’ve been gone for a while, he might be surprised to see me.
His eyes flick towards me and he frowns. “Yes?”
“I need your help with something.” It’s a bit humiliating, and he’ll probably never let me live it down, but— out of options.
Still frowning. “You are…?”
I huff a small laugh. “In a bit of a dilemma.”
He doesn’t look surprised to see me. Just blank. He turns, gesturing at the entrance. “Go inside, mate. Someone at the front desk can help you fill out a report.”
I remember the mirror in the restroom at the train station. My eyes told me: I am still me. Or maybe I have some kind of body dysphoria and I only think I look like myself. Maybe I’ve forgotten what I look like. Maybe I am someone else. Or maybe—
“You don’t know me,” I say.
He shakes his head. “Should I?”
“We’ve known one another for years. I work with you, solve crimes for you. Consulting detective, the one you call when you’re in over your head, which is almost always. We have a running joke that I don’t know your first name, but it’s Greg. Greg Lestrade.”
“Sorry, mate. You’ve got my name right, but I don’t remember meeting you before. And I don’t consult with amateurs.”
I ignore his remark about amateurs. “Sherlock Holmes. We met years ago, when I was nineteen, a junkie you rescued—”
“Sherlock,” he says. A light begins to dawn in his eyes. “Holmes. You were that kid, in the alley.”
I ought to feel relieved, but this is completely wrong. He knew me, but he no longer knows me.
“Christ, that was years ago. I’d almost forgotten.” His frown deepens. “But it can’t be— you died.” He’s looking at me as if I’m a ghost. In his mind, ghosts do not exist. He is a realist, a pragmatic man who needs evidence before he can make deductions. At this moment his brain is trying this on for size, that he is talking to a dead man, and he can’t make it fit.
Being dead explains at least part of what is happening. If it is true, I have many questions. Am I a ghost? Is this the afterlife? But now is not the time for interrogating myself. Now is the time to make an ally. That’s what John would say, at any rate—
John. I’d forgotten. John. Where is John?
“John Watson,” I say. “You know him. You have pints with him and watch rugby. Or football. I’m not sure because I usually delete sporting events.”
“I don’t know a John Watson.”
“Short fellow, blond? Army vet, doctor—”
“Sorry. Never met the bloke.” He narrows his eyes at me. “Your brother gave me hell after you died. Said I should have— well, obviously you’re not really Sherlock Holmes. Maybe this is your brother’s idea of a joke, a reminder of why I’m always passed over for promotions.” He smiles grimly. “Anyway, ta for that. Gotta go.”
“How did I die?” I ask as he turns away.
He stops, scowls at me. “Not that it’s any of your business, whoever you are, but I found you, off your tits on drugs. You begged me not to call your brother and promised you would get help. As soon as you got out, you bought some smack and overdosed. Thanks for the memories, arsehole.”
John. How did I not remember John Watson?
Finding him should not be hard. In this reality, he won’t know me, of course, because I’ve been dead. Years, apparently. He hasn’t met me. But I know John Watson, and though his funny little brain may at first rebel at the illogic of what I tell him, he is first and foremost a caring man, a healer. He will try to help me, even if he thinks I’m insane.
Before I figure out my destination, a black car pulls up beside me. A window slides down and a woman says, “Get in the car.”
This has Mycroft written all over it, I think. And it’s about time. I get into the car.
The woman is pecking at her phone, almost as if I’m not sitting on the seat next to her.
“Hello.” I may as well be friendly, I decide. Easier to manipulate people when you’re pleasant. This is what John taught me. “Is there any point in asking where we’re going?”
“None at all,” she says, glancing up and smiling. She returns her attention to the phone.
Our destination is an empty warehouse, very noir. Mycroft has watched a few too many old movies, I think. Always carefully setting an atmosphere of intimidation. The car pulls into the parking area beneath the building and I am allowed to get out.
“There you are,” I say, spotting Mycroft. “I’ve been looking for you.” He looks older, but it’s definitely Mycroft. He’s leaning on his umbrella, watching me with that famous detachment he prides himself on. He will remind me that I’m once again inconveniencing him. I will remind him that we are brothers, after all.
He regards me with cool indifference, sizing me up. Probably wondering if I’m on drugs. He could be the consulting detective, we both know, if only he didn’t hate the legwork. Lazy, arrogant arsehole.
“I would have called, but I seem to have misplaced my phone,” I say.
“Who are you?” He steps towards me, his eyes flashing. “What are you playing at?”
A thought flies into my brain. The only reason I would ever go to Serbia is because: Mycroft. “Is this about Serbia?” I ask.
“Serbia? What are you talking about?” Arrogant, angry sneer.
I’m slow. Of course he’s angry. He thinks I’m an imposter. I raise my hands, a gesture of surrender intended to appease him. “Something has happened. You obviously don’t know me. I understand. Lestrade didn’t recognise me, either. You think I’m an imposter. I’m not—I’m Sherlock, your younger brother. I don’t know how this has happened, but I seem to be alive, though you believe me dead.”
His face does not change. Still furious. “I repeat: who are you— and who has put you up to this… prank?” He is angrier than the Mycroft I remember. “Was it Lestrade?”
“Lestrade didn’t know me. He told me that I died. Apparently I’ve been dead for years.”
“Ridiculous,” he says. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”
“I do know,” I say, feeling suddenly weary. “When we were children, we had a dog. I called him Redbeard, after the pirate. That was my ambition at the time, to be a pirate when I grew up. When I was six, I climbed out the window of my bedroom, fell two storeys to the ground, broke my arm, but miraculously survived without further damage. I was home schooled until I was old enough for boarding school. Never had friends, however you might define that. When I was at uni, I started taking drugs. A policeman named Greg Lestrade took an interest in me after I solved a case for him, tried to get me clean. I overdosed, and he took me to hospital. When I woke up, sober, he gave me an ultimatum. I would stop using drugs, and he would let me help him on cases. If I did not, he would arrest me and see that I was sent to prison, where I would be forced to do rehab. I chose to get clean.” I pause, remembering. “Or perhaps I didn’t. Maybe I overdosed and died.”
He gives me that a calm, icy stare that shows just how sceptical he is. “You’ve done your homework. And you do look as I imagine he’d look. But my brother is buried in the family cemetery in Sussex. He has been dead for nearly twenty years.”
“You say I’m dead, and yet here I am.”
“Who are you working for? And to what end?”
“I am working for no one. And my only end is to find out why I’m here.” I laugh bitterly. “I don’t believe in an afterlife, so it can’t be that, unless this is the idea of a non-existent deity who wants to rub my nose in the fact that He/She does in fact exist. So, let’s go with Alternate Reality. The first question should be how. How does one travel between these realities?”
I can see he’s intrigued, though, and a bit moved. “I was walking down Marylebone, going somewhere. I’d been on a train, I think. I was recently back from Serbia, though whatever I did there is a bit fuzzy. I assumed you would know. Since you do not know, and seem disinclined to believe me, I’ll be gone now.”
“Sherlock,” he says.
I turn. His usually controlled face is wistful. “Mycroft?”
“I missed you… I wish…” He is speaking softly. His face contorts, then hardens. “You’re not real. Whoever you are, you must cease and desist from whatever charade you’re playing. I will be watching, so go back to wherever you came from and do not haunt me again. If you do, I will destroy you.”
He turns towards the car.
“Money,” I say. “I’ll need some money to cease and desist.”
He gives me a tight, cynical smile. “I see. So you’re not a ghost. That makes this all so much easier.” He nods at the woman in the car.
By the time I am back on Marylebone Road, Anthea (that’s the woman’s name) has procured a phone for me. I assume that she will be tracking me with the phone’s GPS. She hands me a pre-paid bank card. “Don’t go crazy, now.”
“Thank you.” I get out of the car.
She is looking at her phone again, smiling. “Bye.”
Now, to find John.
I remember John. The first time I saw him, I was in the lab at Bart’s. Mike Stamford brought him down there because he remembered me moaning about how hard it was to find a flatshare. I looked up when I heard his voice saying, a bit different from my day.
Unremarkable, I thought. Invalided soldier, damaged doctor, a sad reminder of what war does to its survivors. But something else— perhaps not remarkable, but interesting. A small mystery of a man. He gave me his phone and I used it to send a text. I explained his haircut, his posture, his tan line, his limp. He was amazed. I was a bit of a fool.
I remember all of this now, as if it has really happened. Which it hasn’t, at least not here, wherever here is.
He returned from Afghanistan wounded, limping and in pain. He lived in a dreary bedsit somewhere on the outskirts of London, depressed and desperate. If he’d never met me— I heard him say it once, that he was near the end of his rope that day at Bart’s when he agreed to look at the flat. I only hope— well, better not theorise until I have some facts.
Bart’s is the logical place to begin my search. He is a doctor, after all, and knows other doctors. He knew Stamford from before, so Mike is the first person I will approach.
As I walk across the lobby, a woman comes out of the coffee shop carrying a cardboard cup with a lid on it. She’s wearing a blue sweater with tiny cats embroidered on it, each cat playing with a tiny ball of yarn.
“Molly,” I say.
She turns and looks at me without recognition. Why is it so hard to get used to being dead? “May I help you?” she says.
“I’m sorry,” I begin again. “You’re Molly Hooper, aren’t you?”
She nods and smiles, but her face is serious. “I don’t think we’ve met.”
“I’m Sherlock Holmes, and I’m looking for Mike Stamford. Someone said you might know where he is.”
“Probably in his office. They can give you a map at the front desk if you need help.” She smiles, still puzzled. “I’m sorry— who did you say pointed you to me?”
“Erm, I don’t know who it was, just some medical-looking fellow. Don’t know why I thought he’d know Mike.”
“You’re friends, are you?”
“More like acquaintances.” I’m thinking that Mike won’t know me either, since we met at Bart’s, and I was already dead when he started here. “He might not remember me. Thought I’d just pop in and surprise him.”
She nods. “I can walk you to his office if you like.”
“If it’s no trouble— I don’t want to take you away from your work.”
We don’t talk much as we walk through the corridors, dodging carts and wheelchairs. I’m remembering the last time I was here, when I was being wheeled in on a gurney. It’s funny how places and smells can set off a memory like that. Yesterday I couldn’t remember why I was here or what I was on my way to do.
Today I suddenly remember something very important. Nearly two years ago, I fell off the roof of this very hospital and died. Well, I pretended to die. The whole thing was rather elaborate. Molly helped me pull it off, finding me a corpse to prove my death. She was reluctant, but I persuaded her by insisting that Mrs Hudson and Lestrade and John would all die if I didn’t fake my own death. Moriarty had killed himself, and there was no one who could call off the snipers. So I fell. After my death, I went abroad and hunted down Moriarty’s associates. That’s what I was doing in Serbia. I must have finished and had just returned to London when I tripped into this Alternate Reality where I am already dead.
In less time than it takes to spell all of this out, I find myself lying on the floor, looking up into the concerned face of Molly Hooper. Other medical people are also crowding around, looking at me.
“Sorry.” Not quite what one ought to say when one has passed out. “I didn’t eat breakfast this morning.” This is true, I think, though hardly the reason for my faint.
A couple of doctors help me up and push me into a chair. They vie to take my pulse. Someone straps on a sphygmomanometer, and another has shoved a thermometer under my tongue. This is their arena, and I have unfortunately passed out in it. I let them do their job. Molly goes back into the coffee shop and emerges with coffee and biscuits and pastry.
“I’m fine,” I say, biting into a Danish. “Low blood sugar.”
When the hovering professionals have decided that I am not going to die of anything interesting, they wander off to look at clipboards and type things into tablets.
Molly sits at my side, watching me. I know she is just looking at my colour, trying to decide if I’m really okay. She’s not trying to remember me because she has never met me in this reality. I cannot expect any favours from her. People passing out is something she is used to, and her concern for me is merely that of a medical professional.
“You’re very kind,” I say.
She reaches for my wrist again and takes my pulse. “Almost normal.” She smiles. You surprised me. I never saw anyone pale so quickly. You were white as a ghost.”
“Well, you do work with dead people, so you ought to know.”
“How did you know that?” She looks startled.
“I just… I’m good at spotting things like that, professions, cats, etc. You have three cats, at least one of whom is ginger. No, two.”
She might be going to tell me to piss off, but then she smiles. “You’re an interesting person. Do you think you can stand yet?”
She holds my hands— unnecessarily— as I rise to a standing position. “I feel fine now. Thank you for breakfast. Now, I’ve taken up enough of your time, so if you can point me towards Mike’s office, I’ll let you get back to work.”
“It’s all right,” she says. “Let me walk you the rest of the way. Otherwise, I’ll be imagining you passed out in another corridor.”
We reach Mike’s office without further incident. He is as I remember him, a cheerful, pudgy man with glasses. He looks up with a smile as we enter. “Hello, Dr Hooper,” he says. “What brings you to my neck of the woods?”
“This is Sherlock Holmes,” she replies. “He was looking for you.”
He stands and holds out his hand. “Have we met?”
I realise that this is going to be the story of many days, meeting people I know by name and being asked if we’ve met. Though I never cared for people much before, now it feels rather lonely to always be a stranger. I wonder if any of the people I knew when I was a junkie are even alive in 2014.
“Once, a long time ago. I’m sure you don’t remember me. I’m looking for a friend of yours, John Watson.”
“Watson,” he says. “I know a few people by that name.”
“You were in school here together. Here at Bart’s.”
“John Watson. Yes, I remember him. I believe he went abroad— with the RAMC, I think. Probably getting shot at as we speak.” He chuckles. “Sorry, that was morbid. I hope he’s fine, but I haven’t seen him in ages. We were never close friends.”
The possibilities spool out in my mind. Tiny, random events triggering vastly different outcomes, infinite universes. He might still be in Afghanistan. He might have married. He might have moved to another country. John Watson, seeker of danger, might be anywhere on this planet, right now, living a life where he’s never known me. Or he might have died in Afghanistan, from his wounds or the infection. He might have killed himself in his grey bedsit. He might have been hit by a car before he even left for Afghanistan. He could be dead in any number of ways— again, without ever knowing I exist. Or used to exist.
Through the fog of my thoughts, I hear Molly’s voice. “He’s going to faint again— catch him!”
I blink and grab the edge of Stamford’s desk. “No, I’m fine.”
“Sit down,” Molly says sternly. She takes my wrist again, feels my pulse. Stamford looks at me in alarm.
I begin to babble. “I only just returned to London, you see, and I wanted to look him up, but it’s been a couple years now, and you said maybe— and I thought, what if he’s dead? I just— he was a dear friend, and it’s rather shocking to think that he might have died and I never knew—”
“You haven’t been in touch with him, then?” Stamford asks. “If he was a dear friend, I mean...”
“We had a… falling out,” I stifle an hysterical giggle. Falling, indeed. “I’m afraid he must have been rather angry with me.”
This is true, I realise. The John Watson I know would be livid to discover I’d faked my death and didn’t tell him for two years. What was I thinking? That I could just come back here and pick up where we left off? Well, that plan’s off the table now. I had to fall off a roof to save him, and now it is quite possible that I’ve lost him.
Molly hands me a tissue, which puzzles me for a moment, until I realise that tears are sliding down my cheeks.
Mike is typing something into his computer. “Let’s look him up in the General Register. That way you’ll at least know if he is, erm… What’s his full name?”
“John Hamish Watson. Date of birth, March 31, 1974.”
“Looks like…” Stamford peers at his monitor, pushes his glasses up on his forehead and leans forward. “Well, he’s not dead. Might still be abroad.”
My relief is huge. I feel a bit giddy, express unending thanks to Molly and Stamford, make even more apologies for fainting, and promise to let them know if I’ve found Watson.
I haven’t met him yet, but he is alive, and I will find him.
It only occurs to me later that I should have consulted the medical register to see if he is still practicing. I rather doubt it, since he was wounded. But that was in another universe. In this one, he may not have been wounded. And he might still be in Afghanistan if that’s the case.
I walk down Baker Street, looking for my old residence. I expect that since I’ve never lived at 221B in this world, someone else will be living in my flat. As I pass the address where Angelo’s Ristorante ought to be, I stop and stare. The building is occupied by a Greek restaurant called Yanni’s. I wonder if Angelo is in prison for killing the man he was accused of murdering. Or maybe he was caught carjacking. Or maybe he went back to Italy before they caught him.
On the pavement outside 221B I hesitate, thinking of what I will say to Mrs Hudson. It feels like I’ve known her forever, but we only met after my rehab. In many ways, she has been like a mother to me, and I feel bad that I’ve never really appreciated this before. I was a terrible tenant, storing dead and decaying things in the fridge, playing the violin at all hours, shooting holes in the wall, and, on one occasion, blowing up the kitchen. John used to remind me how lucky I was to have her as a landlady instead of someone more normal.
Making up my mind, I knock on the door. The person who comes to greet me is not Mrs Hudson.
“Well?” she says, tucking a shawl around her shoulders and eyeing me suspiciously.
“Good afternoon,” I say, remembering how polite John always was with shop people and clerks and landladies. “I’m interested in the neighbourhood and wondered if you know of any available flats in the area.”
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I don’t know of any empty flats.”
She doesn’t seem like the type to endlessly yammer on about random things, so I thank her and leave. I think about Mrs Hudson, wondering if she’s still in Florida, married to the drug dealer.
It’s beginning to feel like a movie, this new life where I am dead. I did not save Angelo from going to prison or help Mrs Hudson escape from her horrible mobster husband. Maybe I was sent here to learn how much difference one life can make. On the other hand, Lestrade’s career has suffered because of my death, and Mycroft— well, he seems the same, but it’s hard to tell. His ambition can run rampant now, as he has no younger brother getting in trouble and embarrassing him. I’m not sure this is a good thing.
I walk. Finally, I spot a library across the street, where I might go online and search for John Watson. I might need to prove I’m a real person before they give me access, I think. I’ll make something up.
My phone pings and I fish it out of my pocket as I’m crossing the street. Glancing down, I see a message from my brother.
We must talk. MH
What I apparently don’t see hits me. I remember flying through the air, knocking my head on something.
Later, when I wake up, John is looking at me.