“Mary, are you actually going to make me go through with this?”
Molly Hooper’s best friend gave a vigorous nod of her blonde head. “Oh yes, I am indeed!” Her expression was positively gleeful. “You lost the bet fair and square, Molly Hooper, and now you’re going to help me find out if John’s friend is as good as he says he is!”
Molly regarded her reflection doubtfully. “I don’t think I could fool anyone, let alone a detective,” she declared as she tilted her head one way, then the other. “I mean, come on, Mary, look at me! No one in their right mind will believe I’m a man!”
“They will once we put on the finishing touches,” Mary replied, dropping a kiss on her cheek. “Besides, he’s not a detective anymore, he’s an RAF officer. He’ll have other things on his mind than deducing whether or not you’re actually my cousin Reggie!” She met Molly’s reflection and grinned. “All we have to do is apply this!” She held up what looked like a limp caterpillar pinched between her fingers and waggled it.
Molly regarded the item with dawning horror. “Oh, no, Mary, that’s too much, I can’t…!”
“You promised,” her friend said, utterly unperturbed as she waggled the false whiskers again. “Now stand still while I put this on.”
Molly knew better than to try and protest again; after all, she’d already lost the argument against the wig ("Can't I just wear a hat?" "Indoors? Absolutely not!"). And the breast band. And the sock down her men’s trousers…oh how she wished she’d been able to come up with a good argument against that particular detail! Still, Mary was probably right to insist on covering all the bases. Even if Sherlock Holmes was no longer assisting the Met in their investigations – and even if he’d never officially been a member of the police force – the old saying once a copper always a copper most likely still applied.
Molly sighed. The things she did for Mary Morstan! But she had promised, and all because John Watson, Mary’s current beau whom Molly had yet to meet, had scoffed at Mary’s declaration that she could fool both him and his detective-friend if she felt like it.
In an hour they’d have their answer. Less than that if Captain Holmes saw through her disguise immediately. At least Mary actually had a Cousin Reggie, Molly reflected as she held her upper lip as still as she could so her friend could apply the spirit-gum. A cousin whom John Watson hadn’t met, which also helped.
“Right,” Mary said as she studied the results. “That works. Now remember to keep your voice gruff when speaking; I’ve already told John that ‘Reggie’ has a cold and you both know I’ve talked about how anti-social he is, so no one should wonder if you don’t talk a lot. Let me hear your best man-voice, dear cousin!”
They both dissolved into a fit of the giggles at Molly’s first attempts, but she soon had the hang of it. She’d already practiced walking with more of a swagger, although the shoes Mary had provided were a bit large and had newspaper stuffed into the toes, giving Molly an odd gait. That and the nearly flat heels made her seem much less feminine as well, at least in her own eyes.
Five minutes after Mary declared her as good as she was likely to get, the two of them were riding the Underground to the dance hall where they were to meet John and Sherlock, and ten minutes after that they paused outside the door so Mary could give her the once-over. “Right, then,” she declared after straightening ‘Reggie’s’ tie. “Let’s do this, shall we?”
Molly, nodded grimly, desperate to just get it over with. If Sherlock Holmes deduced her true identity as a woman within the first half-hour, Mary would admit defeat to John, and Molly would be free to change into her own clothing, which Mary had stowed away in the bottom of her oversized handbag. If the former detective failed to do so, then Molly would still be allowed to change (in the staff dressing-room, courtesy of their friend Meena, one of the singers) and Mary would reveal their deception to the two men.
Neither of them counted on Sherlock Holmes doing the unexpected: after being introduced and shaking ‘Reggie’s’ hand, he’d quite blandly asked ‘him’ to dance. Molly, too shocked by the request to do more than gape, had perforce found herself on the dance floor, being led around rather expertly by her uniformed partner. She’d spared a moment to stare beseechingly at Mary over her shoulder, only to find that her friend was grinning madly while John gaped at the two of them as if he could hardly believe his eyes.
That was true of the many couples surrounding them; Molly tried to stammer out an excuse but before she could do more than open her mouth, Sherlock was speaking. “So, ‘Cousin Reggie’, what’s your real name? And before you ask, it was the aroma of spirit-gum that gave the game away, not any falsity in your speech or mannerisms. I presume there’s a good reason for this attempt at deception?”
“I lost a bet,” Molly said, in her own voice as Sherlock spun them toward the far end of the dance floor.
“And?” he prompted her when she fell silent again.
“And my name’s actually Molly, Molly Hooper.”
“Might I be permitted to see your true features, Miss Hooper?” He nodded to indicate the moustache; with burning cheeks, Molly removed her left hand from his shoulder and slowly, carefully, removed the offending article from her upper lip. It was a relief, actually, and she ignored the stifled gasps and giggles from the couples dancing nearest to them. She would have removed the wig as well, but that would entail far more work and leave her with her own chestnut locks pinned up in an unbecoming mess, so she left it on.
Sherlock gave no indication of his opinion of her true features, as he’d put it, merely stated, “You also work at St. Barts, but not with Miss Morstan, at least not directly.” He moved his hand from where it clasped hers down to her wrist, turning it to examine her fingers with a slight frown. “Not a nurse, however, and obviously not a doctor, either.” He huffed impatiently as he brought them to a stop near the bar. “I’ll be able to tell more once you put off the rest of that ridiculous disguise and put on your own clothing, which Miss Morstan obviously has stashed away in that oversized handbag.”
Something about the almost dismissive way he’d declared her neither doctor nor nurse put Molly’s back up; without meaning to, she found herself saying, “If you must know, Captain Holmes, I assist Doctor Stamford, the coroner. In fact,” she added as she studied him with a clinical eye, “you remind me a bit of a bloke that I saw coming through the morgue just the other day.”
He dropped her hands, and Molly felt herself coloring a bit as she realized just how inappropriate what she’d just said had been. “Sorry, I—that’s not what—sorry.”
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve been chastised for talking about the nature of your employment,” he declared. “Not only for talking about it, but for taking on such work at all. Clearly you do more than simply wheel in the corpses?”
It was an invitation for her to further explain her duties, an invitation to which Molly felt compelled to respond. “Yes, well, I help with the autopsies. With the war, they need all the help they can get,” she replied nervously, thinking about her mother’s disapproval of her work. Sherlock had pegged that to a tee.
“You enjoy it there,” he continued, no longer asking questions but instead making assured declarations. Clearly he was just as astute as John had boasted.
Molly looked squarely at him. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I rather love it.”
Sherlock pulled her closer once again, slowly smiling at her as he moved them back into the dance steps they’d all but abandoned.
“Miss Hooper, I think that we will have quite a lot to talk about.”