Fanfic Title: The Book of My Enemy has Been Remaindered (Pt. 7 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: 2182
Previous Chapters: Chapter 1; Chapter 2; Chapter 3; Chapter 4; Chapter 5; Chapter 6
In which the sales of 3-volume novels are poor, a carpenter’s craft is revealed, Mr Poole and Mr Holmes find that they share similar views on operettas, and Scotland Yard takes its time coming to a decision.
Mr Whithers looked at us defiantly, but the same could not be said for the urchin next to me, who shuffled his feet and kept his face sturdily downwards. Mr Holmes instructed the doctor to keep his revolver fixed upon Mr Whithers, whilst he busied himself with the interrogation of Charlie, who spoke with such abominable accent and diction that I understood only the gist of his replies. I have endeavored to repeat them here in proper English.
“Now let us have it all out, lad,” said Mr Holmes with what I thought unwarranted softness towards such a gruesome specimen of humanity’s dregs. “Unless the seat of your pants and the splinters in your shoe lie, you have been working primarily in the carpentry yard at the Marylebone workhouse.”
Charlie Lauridson jerked his eyes upwards and bobbed his head in a kind of nod. Dr Watson muttered smugly, “I found it sufficient simply to ask the warden,” but I ignored him, and the detective continued.
“You came here about 7:30 or 8:00 one evening at the beginning of this month. You thought a bit of petty vandalism might be just the sort of trick Mr Poole deserved for having chased you off the street.”
Charlie did not respond, but shot me a sneer so vicious that I was quite taken aback. Mr Holmes followed his glance, and looked at me with a measuring gaze that I did not quite understand—it carried with it a hint of disapprobation that seemed unwarranted. I hadn’t chased the boy very far, after all (my physique is quite unsuited to such exertion), and the mud I had thrown after him was nothing compared to his habitual grime. Then Mr Holmes returned his attention to his charge.
“That desire for open retaliation is unsuitable if you wish to be a businessman, but perhaps understandable. Mr Mahew had asked you to tell him about the set-up of Mr Poole’s window display, I believe. If you had faithfully reported your observations to him, he might have done something to take a bit of Mr Poole’s business away, which would have hurt him far more than a few rotten eggs. But you are still young, so you came with eggs and—tomatoes, wasn’t it? You thought to come in through the back door, but it was bolted. And then Mr Whithers came up the alley and found you upon the back step.”
“And instead of chasing you off or calling a constable, he helped you climb up through the attic window, whence you descended into the shop and let him in through the front door?”
Charlie finally spoke.
“He told you what happened, didn’t he? Well, he’s not telling all of it! He collared me and wouldn’t let me run away. I didn’t want to do more than break a few windows, but he made me stay up half the night messing about with these blasted books! He said I had to help him or he would tell Mr Mahew and the superintendent and I’d lose my job and be turned out of the workhouse spend the rest of my life either a beggar or in prison. He’s a fool, that one is. The place didn’t even look any different when we’d finished. Why’d he bother?”
Mr Holmes laughed, not very mirthfully, and replied, “His motivations for that were a mystery known only to authors, I’m afraid. And me, of course. Mr Whithers, how long have you been writing under the name of Bunbury?”
Mr Whithers looked even less mirthful and said, “At least five years now.”
“And your books have not been selling well of late, have they?”
“And you thought that if a bookshop with a reputation like Poole’s gave them more prominence their sales might increase?”
“To be sure. He’ll be the first to tell you that of all the shops in the West End, he has the most customers, yet his shop sells by far the fewest of my books, and I couldn’t for the life of me imagine why. I just wanted to examine his records when I came here, and when I came inside, I saw that all my books were butting up against the back wall, covered in cat hair! No one could find them there. That’s why I wanted to rearrange them—but that turned out to be a far greater task than I had first imagined, so I pressed the youth into service, and even then it took half the night!”
At that I had to intervene.
“Why on earth did you think I wouldn’t undo it the very next morning?”
“I know you, Poole,” he replied. “You didn’t undo it the next morning. You went running off to a pet detective to solve your problems, didn’t you? I only needed a few more sales this month to persuade my publisher to sign a contract for the next installment, and if your shop had remained open I would have gotten them.”
I could contain myself no longer. “And so you decided to dictate how my shop should display your books? Do I do the same to you? The Worthing novels are never given the prominence they deserve anywhere else, and yet you never hear a murmur from me!”
Mr Whithers stared at me, and then burst out in a raucous guffaw.
“Good lord, Poole, it was you who wrote that rubbish? Let me put it gently, old chap: the poor sales are not due to faults in the retail displays.”
Mr Holmes cut in gently. “Gentlemen, perhaps this is a conversation for another time. Mr Whithers, more to the point: why did you fix the bookcases to collapse? How on earth could the death of Mr Poole aid your sales?”
Mr Whithers stared blankly at us, and then shook his head. “I don’t understand you. I thought you or he had made that mess.”
Mr Holmes looked vaguely displeased, and replied acerbically, “This is no time for games, Mr Whithers! My investigations are not that destructive—or only rarely so, and in any case you are in no position to make insinuations about my methods. This is a matter of attempted murder, and it is only through the grace of God that no one was hurt. If this foolish denial is your only response to the charge, you will most certainly suffer the severest penalties in a court of law.”
Mr Whithers again looked blank and spluttered some more protestations of ignorance; Mr Holmes’s expression was sharpening into a much more acute displeasure when the boy suddenly snickered. We all looked at the lad, and at that he broke into a hearty laugh.
“Isn’t it just like you lot, always suspecting each other!” he said. “Never look at the poor street boy—why would he want to do us any harm beyond nicking our watches or taking our pocketbooks? And quite useful, too—come here, Charlie! Go there, Charlie! Warden, we’ll be taken Charlie here with us for the afternoon; here’s half a crown for you. That gentleman might have thought he’d threatened me with something I fear, but my life is no different whether I labour for someone like him or in the workhouse or in prison or in some colony somewhere. All he did was make up my mind for me. I’ll not be taken as a pawn in your posh games, and if my backside tells you where I work, maybe it tells you how good I am at it. Those cabinets there were my work, and it was some of the best I’ve ever done, too, and more than you gentlemen would ever dare to do. I tell you, I was afraid to breathe as I walked out, for fear I’d set them off too soon, and it’s a good bit of luck that puss there wasn’t buried before our good proprietor got into range of them.”
Mr Holmes listened motionless throughout the boy’s diatribe, his countenance like granite, but Dr Watson only stared, his face growing ever sadder, and although the light was poor, it seemed as if his eyes began to glisten. It seemed a bit odd to me that a brute like him could be so shocked by the revelation of how low humanity can sink, but then I cannot vouch for the stability of a criminal mind like his, and I was pretty horrified myself at the boy’s confession.
When it seemed that no one had any more to say, Mr Holmes sent Dr Watson out to fetch a police constable. As we were waiting for his return, Mr Holmes said softly to me, “Your colleague thought so much of his own welfare and so little of anyone else’s that he was willing to blackmail a pauper to get his own way. Sometimes I am disgusted by what my profession uncovers.”
I was touched by his confidence, and replied,
“Of all criminals, a blackmailer is by far the most obscene.”
“Indeed. I have a special abhorrence for it, above all other crime.”
“With good reason, I am sure, given your position.”
He looked at me keenly, and said carefully, “And when such a crime leads to threats upon all we hold dear, without offering a clear path to fight back, it is the more hideous.”
“Exactly my view—‘he who filches from me my good name,’ you know. That is why we must have friends we can trust to take our part. I do hope you noticed the aid I’ve been trying to offer.”
“Of course, Mr Poole,” he said genially. “You have been most helpful in my work here, and I am grateful for that.”
I felt myself begin to blush at his praise, and replied without thinking, “Not as much as I’d hoped. My aim is not yet accomplished, but I hope I will succeed before too much longer. The hansom was a bit crude, I must admit, and the fellow with the fishing line was a drunken sot who shouldn’t be trusted to black one’s boots, but I have plenty of other ideas. You need only leave it to me, Mr Holmes. When I’m done, you’ll never need worry about Norbury or Blessington getting out.”
His eyes suddenly reminded me of our first meeting, as they became once more like twin spires. And then smiled extremely grimly. I had the delicacy not to copy his expression after having unthinkingly been so crass as to remind him of his position, and he quickly changed the subject to Othello. I was happy to follow suit—his troubles, after all, had no place in the conversation of respectable gentleman. From there we began to discuss other Shakespeare plays, eventually moving on to Marlowe and meandering our way through the centuries until we landed upon the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, who we both heartily agreed were absurd hacks, trying to hide a lack of real talent with a clever turn of phrase and a repetitive tune. Mr Holmes’s tone was very friendly, and he did not take his eyes from my face for the remainder of our conversation. At one point Dr Watson stepped in with a foolish smile, and started to say something about my Worthing novels, but Mr Holmes peremptorily ordered him out again. I reveled in this, our first of doubtless many easy afternoons to come when we could converse as true friends, undisturbed by any unwelcome company, but too soon we heard the crunch of hooves and wheels on pavement, and we knew the constables had come to take away our prisoners. Mr Holmes rose, and said,
“If you don’t mind, I will just step outside and have a few words with the police. We will probably want you to come down to the station with us—a pure formality, you understand, but we’ll need your statement in order for a trial to go forward properly.”
As I gathered my coat and hat, I heard the sound of urgent, heated conversation outside. I did not catch all the words, but my name and Dr Watson’s were mentioned a few times, followed by a muffled exclamation. It seemed that there was a bit too much excitement for a discussion of a formality, but as Mr Holmes thought it necessary, I was only too happy to oblige.
And that, I think, brings me up to now. I’ve been waiting here for several hours, which I’ve spent putting this deposition on paper; I hope the police will accept this document in lieu of a spoken report, for I’m growing weary of the wait. But perhaps I will be patient a bit more. My good friend, Mr Sherlock Holmes, has just put his head in; he says it won’t be much longer before they decide what to do with me.