Fanfic Title: The Book of My Enemy has Been Remaindered (Pt. 2 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.
Warnings: A disorganized bookshop
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: 1512
Previous Chapters: Chapter 1
In which speedy solutions are valued, the digestive tract of a badger proves to be of investigative importance, the Marylebone workhouse is unwelcome, and Mr Williams and Mr Young assist in a deduction.
As I stepped out of the flat to struggle into my damp overcoat and galoshes, I overheard Mr Holmes talking with his companion. It is from this moment that I date my discovery of what a vile fiend the doctor actually is. It started with the perfectly innocent comment from Mr Holmes:
“I think I might clear this up faster than most, Watson. The very bizarreness of this case promises to yield the fastest explanation. This might even be solved faster than that case in April of last year—the instance of that extra body, you remember. Lestrade had been chasing his tail for weeks before he came to me.”
“That hardly counts. You were sniffing the crime scene for days before you gave him the proof necessary to catch Adams.”
“Yes; the proof, I admit, did take some finding. But it verified my solution, which I believe I found within twenty minutes of Lestrade’s visit. All that was necessary to prove me right was the tie clip, and the delay in extracting it from the badger is upon your head, not mine.”
“Really, can you object? You wanted to cut the poor thing open, when waiting a day or two would have served equally well.”
At this point the two of them came out of the flat, and as we descended the endless staircase—fifty steps at least—Mr Holmes responded,
“Well, we did wait in the end, didn’t we? No harm done, but the fact remains that I solved it in twenty minutes, whereas I think I have this one completed in—what time is it, Mr Poole?”
“Twenty past three.”
“Twenty past three—let us subtract a few minutes for removal of galoshes, and a few more for the donning of them again. That puts it at eighteen minutes, Watson!”
“That’s a generous allotment of time for galosh-donning and doffing. Anyway, do remember Norbury, old fellow.”
At these enigmatic words, Mr Holmes shot a curious glance towards Dr Watson. His eyes narrowed, his mouth tightened, and a snort escaped his nostrils. I fancy myself a skilled reader of physiognomy and expression, but it did not take my talents to see that the man must have been furious at the comment. A small smile played about Dr Watson’s lips, and it was plain to the veriest dunce that he was enjoying his associate’s discomfiture. Mr Holmes did not respond directly, however. He merely flung Dr Watson’s hat and stick at him and swept out the door. Dr Watson courteously gestured for me to exit first, but at that moment the manners of an earl would not have charmed me. I knew what he was before he crossed the threshold behind me—a blackmailer.
It was clear from my initial entrance into the flat that his interest in Mr Holmes’s affairs was far too involved. Why should he greet me, when I was here to see the detective? Why should he speak so rudely to his companion, if he did not have some sort of hold on him that would prevent Mr Holmes from tossing him out by his ear? Why did he take such careful notes, when his sensibilities were offended by a discussion of earthy matters that were of utmost investigative importance? Whatever hold he had upon Mr Holmes, it required constant surveillance and documentation, and it was clearly linked to the word “Norbury.” No other explanation could explain the curious mention of that name, nor Mr Holmes’s reaction to it, nor Dr Watson’s pleasure in his dismay—nor, for that matter, Mr Holmes’s careless handling of Dr Watson’s hat and coat, gestures quite brusque and unpleasant in a man with manners as refined as his. Evidently the tormented detective was rebelling in his own small ways against this beast who followed him everywhere he went, and at that moment I swore that I would do all in my power to free him from his burden.
(I further feel it necessary to point out that my conclusion came to me only a few moments after Mr Holmes had declared eighteen minutes the time to beat. I am, of course, not nearly as skilled as he, but this achievement is worth noting.)
Mr Holmes evidently knew exactly where my shop was, for he directed his steps there without pausing to ask anything about the route. Indeed, the purposeful stride caused me some little trouble. I am a sedentary man by nature, and I find that my ends can usually be achieved without the need for undue activity. Mr Holmes’s pace was not suited to mine, and I had difficulty keeping up. Dr Watson stayed next to me for the entirety of our walk, but I need hardly say I took no pleasure from his company!
My gratification at Mr Holmes’s evident familiarity with my shop was tempered by the fact that, after a few blocks, it became clear he intended to walk past the Marylebone workhouse. It’s a dreadful place, and I don’t see why they don’t build these things farther from the decent areas of the city. Just two weeks before my visit to Baker St., I had caught several urchins looking suspiciously at my shop, and when I chased them away I saw that they headed right back towards the workhouse. As we passed, I saw Dr Watson look into the yard, where the ruffians were at work doing something resembling carpentry, and his faced became pinched and sad. Evidently, brute though he might be, his sensibilities are at least properly offended by the unnecessary proximity of such people.
Mr Holmes had outpaced us thoroughly, and by the time I puffed up to my shop, he was on his knees in front of it, unmindful of the damp pavement and water dripping from the eaves. I moved to open the door so that I at least did not need to wait in the rain, but Dr Watson restrained me.
“Holmes prefers to examine everything before it has been disturbed. I daresay you did the best thing you could have done by locking up again and leaving immediately.”
I did not respond to such offensive condescension. Dr Watson refused to take the hint, however, and continued to speak, ignoring Mr Holmes’s mutters and grunts as he crawled on the pavement examining the foundation of my shop’s building.”
“I’ve always enjoyed looking into your place,” said the doctor. “It somehow seems that I’m constantly finding books and pamphlets there that I never noticed before in other shops. I even went to look, once, and found that my most recent discovery at your shop was in no fewer than three other bookshops that I frequent regularly, but I had never yet seen them. It’s a mystery to me how you make me notice them.”
Mr Holmes looked up from the cornerstone, and interjected, “It’s no mystery at all! Mr Poole simply arranged his shop backwards. Every section begins with Z and works its way back to A in the inner shelves. Since other stores start at A, naturally you start at A too, when you peruse them. Unless you thoroughly inspect the entirety of a section at every visit to a given shop, Watson, you will naturally neglect the later portions of the alphabet, and by bringing them to the fore, Mr Poole allows you begin examining his collection in those places that you examine less carefully at other shops. I thought this might be the case after I noticed that all your ‘magical discoveries’ were written by gentlemen with names like Williams and Young. Shall we go in now?”
Dr Watson chuckled—a bit snidely, it seemed. My strategy had seemed awfully clever when I came up with it, and it had certainly increased sales. But as I did not want to injure Mr Holmes’s interests by angering this man who held Norbury (whatever that might be) over him, I merely sniffed and unlocked the door.
“I would request, gentlement,” said I, “that you do not share this information with Mr Whithers or Mr Nisbet. They are dreadful gossips, and if everyone in my business started copying my ideas, my income would suffer dramatically. Although, as you shall see, it might be too late.”
“Of course I would never say anything,” Dr Watson agreed silkily. Mr Holmes, however, responded, “Indeed—for the vandal in fact changed everything around so that your backwards alphabetization is now conventional, did he not?
“I never said anything about that!”
“Of course not. You did not need to state everything; my deductions follow logically from only the essential facts.” I was immensely gratified that the detective recognized our intellectual connection, but before I could say anything, he turned sharply to our decidedly unwelcome companion and snapped, “Watson, do stop coughing and shut the door. The rain will destroy any footprints.”