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“A newspaper

delivered to a hotel room

on a silver tray

in a hotel where the head chef's

a tall black man with a bold face,

wearing a toque blanche…”—Patience Agbabi, from Bloodshot Monochrome


Her mother was a praise-singer.

Sally Donovan knew men (and women) like Sherlock at school, where between classes they were likely to steal your boyfriends (or your girlfriends) and then drop them in a flurry of disdain because they were never interested in the first place.  Well that was like him, wasn’t it, taking things that weren’t his, from the attentions of her boss to crime scenes to credit …and before they knew him people might actually fancy his disinterested beauty but wait, wait, no, she’d never known anyone less interested in hearts or in bodies than Sherlock Holmes except as those hearts and bodies represented or were connected to criminal acts. Bloody ones. So she’d never really known anyone like Sherlock at school, had she, and that was what she disliked about him, really; he made her feel as though she didn’t know anything at all.

She took a different path.

It wasn’t really her city, was it. It was his. It helped sometimes to think in the folktales of her childhood, go back, colour the landscape her own, summon the stories that conjured the monsters so she could take them down in her dreams. Sherlock was King Crow. Sherlock lived in a crow-haunted urban wilderness  full of shadows and sorrows and and criminals and  kings.  He was King Crow, the crafty  Koongoo’roo of the old tale, rallying his troops for the kite-battle.  Look at him there at the head of the flock, ducking and calling and spilling off rooftops, breaking into dark bird-specks like a handful of picked peppercorn. (He certainly made people choke and weep and cover their faces; pungent, rough, too much.) He was too much. It didn’t feel like her city but sometimes, after tea and a good breakfast and a good story and a murderer put away, it did for a brief time. It was sweet. 

Her mother was a nature-sculptor.

But Sherlock. He’s here now, on her crime scene, in her tea, in her hair (glossy, a fine match for his plumage really; if only he’d disappear.) The sky’s a wash and the ground’s hard, pavement slick and silvered with hoar. She could fade, if she wanted. As the sky and the snow she could blend, could whisper and disappear, but she’s here, she’s here; she’s got her wits and her wants and her weapons and her shortcuts. She thinks straight and she drives true and she backs up her boss and she knows the best place for coffee, for curry, the best place to find a suspect at noon of a Sunday and she’s kind to kids and she feeds pigeons and she picks out the design flaws in the handcuffs and she can throw a man up against a wall and put him in a custody cell before he knows what threw him.

She’s good with her hands.

Sherlock’s there spinning, a coal pinion in the grey. There’s blood. It’s been covered. The only bright thing is John’s jacket, blue, new she thinks, and John’s saying loud enough for her to hear, no, don’t say that. Sherlock. Sherlock! Wait a minute, and she watches him stop, eyes on the tape, on the body, on the escape-hatch of the sky,  John’s hand on his arm, John’s jacket a bright spot in the …She doesn’t have a John. She doesn’t need a John. She’s known men who steal and women who steal and men and woman who murder and maybe one day Sherlock Holmes will be one of them. But look at him there; look at him held on the edge, having to wait for a touch that’s given without thinking …it’s freakish, but still. 

Her mother was a riddle-spinner.

“Donovan," Lestrade says, squeezing her shoulder, “secured my scene like a champ. Corralled all the witnesses.”

She doesn’t know to whom he’s speaking, but yes, she says, yes I did, and no schoolmate, no psychopath, no criminal, no king, look at him there between crime and sky and John’s hand  just there. She could fade into the grey, could blend like cloud into ground, like crow into stone, but she won’t, not today; she doesn’t, she won’t.   

Her mother sang praises.

She’ll rally the troops.