Fanfic Title: The Book of My Enemy has Been Remaindered (Pt. 5 of 7)
Pairings (if any): None
Summary: When Jefferson Poole discovers that his bookshop has been mysteriously rearranged, he goes to Sherlock Holmes for assistance. In the process, he draws a hitherto undrawn conclusion about the relationship between Holmes and Watson.
Author's Notes: This story is not Watson-bashing. If it seems that way, I have done something wrong. Also, the title comes from Clive James's brilliant poem of the same name.
Word Count: 2216
Previous Chapters: Chapter 1; Chapter 2; Chapter 3; Chapter 4
In which the works of Bunbury are of interest, Mr Mahew’s message boy seems not to work exclusively for that gentleman, Mr Holmes and Dr Watson go for a walk, and a fisherman proves treacherous
The next evening, Mr Sherlock Holmes came to call upon me in at my sister’s lodging to notify me of his progress in my case. He came alone, and I remarked upon the fact.
“Yes,” he replied, “The good doctor could not come today, I’m afraid.” For a moment it appeared that Mr Holmes would say no more upon the matter, but then he seemed to reconsider, and added, “He was caught in that riot yesterday, which is never beneficial to one’s health, and did himself no favor by staying to look after the other victims of the brawl. I hope you were well out of it, Mr Poole. It started not two blocks from here.”
I was flattered by his evident concern with my wellbeing, but dispatched it with an airy wave of my hand. My safety was nothing, really, compared with the burden he suffered under every day. Instead, I inquired about my shop.
“I am happy to report that I have had some success in further identifying your enemies. I started by assuming that at least one of our nocturnal visitors was an acquaintence of yours; I cannot think of any reason why a stranger would do such a bizarre thing. Further, remember that the nature of the literary rearrangement attacked the heart of an organizational system both unique to your bookshop and easily overlooked by someone who is not in the same business—excepting myself, of course. I started, therefore, by looking for an acquaintence of yours in the bookselling or publishing business. I’ve finished visiting every other bookseller in the area whose business was likely to be damaged by your own success—although there, I’m afraid, their feet disappointed me.”
“Of course—surely you remember that the visitor who entered through the front door patronized James Taylor as his cobbler?”
I remembered no such thing, but decided to nod intelligently anyway.
“The Taylor-patron is undeniably well-to-do; his footprints show sharp, unworn treads, which indicates his shoes are bought new, and the unmatched proportions—the left heel in particular is unusually wide—indicates that they are custom-made. But no one was wearing shoes of that description when I visited the area’s bookshops. That lack is not conclusive, certainly: a man who can afford shoes that leave the prints I saw can doubtlessly afford more than one pair of shoes, so the absence of the right cobblery proves no one innocent. Given the nature of the stride, however, I do have a suspect. The Taylor-patron has a long step with multiple stumbles and scuffs, indicating he is not sure on his feet, perhaps due to poorer health, but of a large build. I therefore suggest we keep watch on your colleague Mr Whithers, whose shop on Harley and Marylebone does a sufficient business to dress him—or at least shoe him—like your visitor. He is the right height, and was also remarkably short of breath when he directed me to his fiction section, suggesting a poverty of health that would lead him to leave footsteps matching the ones we saw. By the way, Mr Poole, what can you tell me about the works of Bunbury? Your colleague’s shop contains an enormous selection of them.”
“Why, they are absurd, soppy stories that I would never stoop to sell were they not specifically requested by several young ladies each time he releases a new volume. Now that I think about it,” I added this last with especial relish, “I filled an order for his most recent publication just last month, and the delivery address was your flat. Is the doctor an admirer of Mr Bunbury?”
Mr Holmes gave a sharp laugh, and responded, “Indeed—they suit his tastes quite well. In fact, it was I who ordered those books from you for him. He was quite specific as to which volume he did not yet have, and I remember being pleased at how easily I found it. You organized books by the same author according to the first word of the title, you know. When I investigated your shop after the break-in, however, I saw that the intruders had reshelved every Bunbury work and only the Bunbury works by publication date. Clearly, someone cares deeply about your patrons reading that gentleman’s novels in the correct order, so evidently a part of my investigation should focus upon him. As I said, Mr Whithers’s shop has an extensive collection. Mr Mahew has many fewer. Mr Nisbet has the first few, and no other bookshop in the area stocks them at all.”
“But what reason would Mr Whithers have to do such a thing to me?”
“His motivations are still unclear, and I must look into them further. Perhaps it will be useful to find the second visitor. He was wearing boots of exceptionally rough make, quite worn, with at least two different holes in the soles. His step is short but vigorous, suggesting that he is in good health, but of small stature. The message boy employed by Mr Mahew matches this description in every particular, right down to the location of the holes in his shoes.”
My mind reeled at this relentless unfolding of villainy around me. Business is business, after all, and I had not made friends with my colleagues, but I had never dreamed that they would be so uncivilized as to level an attack upon my life—to say nothing of my shop!
“Is every bookseller then conspiring against me?” I asked.
“I believe not. Mr Mahew was visiting a young lady on the night in question, and I have confirmed that he did not depart until well after midnight. And in any event, it seems there has been such enormous business rivalry between him and Mr Whithers (to say nothing of you), that I cannot believe they could unite to do such a bizarre vandalism on your shop. But his message boy did accompany Mr Whithers on the night in question, and I am yet at a loss to explain why. I imagine when we find the connection we will uncover some motivation, but at the moment I have nothing further to report.”
Mr Holmes began to collect his things, moving slowly and seeming dissatisfied. At once I realized how selfishly I had been acting: I was safe with my sister, after all, while he had to deal with his greatest enemy every day, and did so uncomplainingly. I decided that the best way to help him was to be candid and straightforward: I would inform him about my discoveries regarding him and the doctor, and enlist his cooperation. He himself evidently had thus far found it impossible, given his station and dignity, to deal overtly with his companion’s hold over him, but surely if I made it clear that I would handle the matter, he would give me his blessing. Together we could make at least one of our problems disappear. With all due respect for his delicacy of manner, therefore, I plunged in.
“You should know, Mr Holmes,” said I, “I have given some little thought to the matter of Dr Watson. Your relations with him can hardly be pleasant, given the current state of affairs.”
Mr Holmes’s expression turned inward, and he nodded absently.
“He has been in a particularly bleak temper ever since the riot.”
“Of course this cannot be allowed to continue. Allow me to suggest a remedy. In these situations, the right kind of outing often provides exactly the setting necessary to effect desired changes among one’s acquaintences. In Kensington Gardens there is a small pool next to the Broad Walk.”
Mr Holmes understood me perfectly. He laughed austerely, and commented, “I once investigated a body that was fished out of that pond. It turned out to be death by misadventure.”
“That conclusion is always preferable to the alternative, of course. It’s a lovely area, sir, and quite private. No one will disturb you if you choose to walk there, and it might be just what’s necessary for the doctor. I’ll be happy to help you with the arrangements.”
“I’m sure that won’t be necessary, but I am quite grateful for your suggestion.”
He politely, and took his leave. He seemed thoughtful as he left, and I was happy to see him nodding to himself as he walked down the street.
The next morning I hid myself under the shrubbery by the pool, to see how things played out. It was quite a pleasant place—surrounding by bushes and trees, with a stone wall shoring up the portion of the bank that ran along the path. At 11:00 Mr Holmes and Dr Watson appeared along the walk, the latter walking stiffly with a bandage around his ear. I didn’t know whether he could swim, but he leaned heavily on Mr Holmes’s arm and did not look up to any vigorous struggling. After one circuit around the pool they sat together on a bench, and opened a luncheon hamper. As they settled down to eat, I ground my teeth. This was evidently not going to lead anywhere useful; Mr Holmes must have lost his nerve, and it was up to me to help him find it again.
I slipped off and found a fellow fishing in the Serpentine who was happy enough to help me “play a trick on a friend” with a few shillings in hand and the promise of a crown in the air. He looped a roll of the fishing line underneath a submerged tree root without attracting any notice of Mr Holmes or the Doctor, who were lunching on something out of a hamper they had carried with them. He gave me the free end of his fishing line to me as I crouched behind the tree, and then walked away with the fishing pole trailing its line behind him. Halfway towards their bench he sat on the edge of the pond and pretended to fish. The time stretched on, and he became so fidgety that eventually I was obliged to placate his impatience by taking a second crown from my pocket and showing them to him.
Finally Mr Holmes and the doctor got up from their bench and began walking towards my confederate. He waited until they were right near him, and then contrived to scoot backwards, bump into the doctor, and in the confusion wrap a length of the line around his ankle. I pulled gently on my end of the line, and the doctor unconsciously stepped in my direction to create some slack. Mr Holmes was rummaging in his pocket for a knife, and my confederate continued to wrestle with the line, wrapping more and more of the tangles around the doctor’s ankle. Finally the doctor was close enough to the edge, and I yanked on my end of the line viciously. Dr Watson promptly slipped off the bank, cracking his head on the stone wall. Mr Holmes shouted hoarsely, unwisely expressing his exultation, and I pulled hard on my end of the line, drawing Dr Watson’s limp body under the surface of the water. Mr Holmes grabbed my confederate’s fishing pole to pull at the other end of the line—a good move, I thought. One must make a reasonable effort at appearing to effect a rescue.
Unfortunately (though flatteringly, to be sure), Mr Holmes overestimated my strength, and pulled a bit harder than was necessary. I had trouble maintaining my own pressure to keep the doctor’s body underwater, and in the end it was snapped by the conflicting pressures that rubbed it against its underwater tether. Bad enough that, but then I heard two splashes, at which I looked up and cursed. My confederate had misunderstood the nature of the work I had hired him for, it seemed, or else he had decided, with all of the perfidy inherent in the lower classes, not to do the job he was paid for. He had deserted his work and jumped in after the doctor. Mr Holmes must have decided that he could no longer maintain a plausible appearance of desiring a rescue if he did not join my treachorous acquaintence, and I saw the two of them splashing towards the doctor’s body. Mr Holmes reached him first (a tactical error, it seemed to me—sufficient delay might still have result in the desired outcome), and quickly cut the line from the doctor’s ankle. There was nothing I could do in the presence of a third party, so I dropped my now-useless line and slunk away. On the bank behind me, I heard coughing and spluttering, as well as incoherent apologies from my confederate and as I peeked back from between the bushes, I saw Mr Holmes closely scrutinizing the line that he had cut from the doctor’s ankle. That seemed unnecessary; I thought it was a well staged accident, and did not need the appearance of suspicion, but no doubt he wanted to see why the tether had failed. Well, I would apologize for that at our next meeting.