Fanfic Title: The Book of My Enemy has Been Remaindered (Pt. 3 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: 1802
Previous Chapters: Chapter 1; Chapter 2
In which the bookshop’s cat takes refuge among some metaphysicists, Dr Watson discovers some footsteps, an estimate is discovered to be inaccurate, and Mr Poole gets an idea.
The cat gave us a reproachful glare as the door slammed shut, and then stretched and jumped down from the third shelf of the case that until this morning had been devoted to works by Upton—Zumwalt.
“It’s a pity he can’t talk,” remarked Dr Watson. “I imagine he saw everything.”
Mr Holmes quite rightly did not let such flighty fantasy pass unnoticed. He rolled his eyes and said, “A comment like that is unworthy even of your absurd stories.”
I did not quite successfully repress a chuckle, but Dr Watson did not let on that he had heard, and instead followed the cat down an aisle making those bizarre clucking noises that people so often feel it necessary to produce when in the presence of felines. Mr Holmes busied himself examining the area directly around the door and front windows, muttering to himself about saturation points, wind speed and ounces per square foot. I collapsed behind my counter and thought with dismay about how long it would take to put my books back in their original order. The prospect was so crushing that I even considered hiring one of the nearby street urchins to assist me, and started working out some calculations to measure expense due to hiring against added income from reopening the store so many hours earlier. I had to abandon it, however, when I realized that urchins can’t read, and the cost of an educated assistant would be much greater than the added profit of a few extra business hours.
Eventually Mr Holmes looked up and announced that two people had committed this act starting sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 the night before. I did not quite follow his explanation (something about the rate of their soles’ water absorption, the clarity of their footprints, and the time the rain started), but he didn’t seem to notice, and instead started interrogating me as to whether I knew anyone who had his shoes made by James Taylor and wished to do me ill. I was put out by my disappointment regarding the profitability of any hired assistance, and responded hotly that I did not make a habit of examine my acquaintances’ feet unless they were tracking dirt into my shop. Before Mr Holmes could respond, however, we were interrupted by a a resounding crash from the back of the front room. The cat raced back towards us, scurried into the alcove and burrowed underneath the shelf containing Grove—Knowles.
“I say, Watson,” called Mr Holmes, “what are you doing back there?”
I had a dreadful feeling that I knew exactly what it was.
“It sounded as if my bookcases fell over,” I said, and Mr Holmes blew out his breath in exasperation.
“Watson, are you destroying the crime scene?” he called in some annoyance, but there was no response. The silence stretched on, and his face drained of color. He ran to the back of the store, calling the doctor’s name again and again. I followed more sedately, hoping no doubt as he did that perhaps the doctor’s hold over him had been removed from this earthly sphere.
I groaned when we reached the site of the collapse, and Mr Holmes gasped in dismay. It was indeed a breathtaking mess. The contents of at least three bookcases, to say nothing of the frames themselves, were piled on the floor, and dust sifted down from the ceiling and walls. I was horrified to see that two of my beautiful bookcases—specially ordered, eight feet tall, of solid mahogany that I dusted daily and polished monthly, intricately carved, too, costing sixty pounds each—both of them, I saw, were cracked in two from the force of the fall, and lay in pieces amidst the books. We both crouched down to assess the damage. My heart quailed within me as I tried to calculate how much merchandise had been destroyed, but before I could arrive at any figure, Mr Holmes murmured “God help us,” and lurched toward the heap. He couldn’t shift the wooden cases, but he dug at the books frantically, throwing them out of the heap with little regard for their condition. I understood the desire to see with one’s own eyes the evidence that a tyrant is finally gone, but it didn’t seem necessary to destroy the remaining saleable books in the process, so I grabbed his arm and said soothingly, “Go easy now, Mr Holmes. Haste will only increase the damage.”
He looked at me blankly, and then shuddered and sat down suddenly.
“It’s no matter,” he whispered. “Nothing could have survived that.”
“That’s putting it a bit strongly,” I said. He seemed awfully upset, so I buried my own distress at the destroyed cabinetry and collected some undamaged essays of Carlyle to show him, but at that moment Dr Watson emerged from the back room, shaking rain from his hat and announcing cheerfully, “Holmes, I found some footprints by the back—oh, my goodness. What happened?”
Mr Holmes looked up and froze. When it became clear he did not intend to speak, I coldly explained the recent events. Dr Watson was heartily shocked.
“Did Holmes get caught in that? He doesn’t look at all well.”
Dr Watson started forward towards us, but Mr Holmes jumped to his feet and waved us both back from the heap.
“Bookcases don’t just collapse like this, gentlemen. I can’t see this as an accident, and I’ll thank you not to trample on any evidence of the perpetrator. Do stay where I can see you, Watson; I’ll look at your footprints after I’m done here.”
His composure was admirable; aside from a slight crack in his voice at the doctor’s name, one would never have guessed that his hopes for freedom had been so summarily dashed. In a moment he was crawling around the wreckage again, muttering about dust thickness and fulcra, so I left him to it and went back to my desk. The cat had emerged from its metaphysical refuge and was grooming itself next to the umbrella stand. The series of disasters upon my ledger were wreaking havoc with my nerves, so I pulled my flask from the illustrated bible behind my cash drawer for a quick nip. I must confess that one nip turned into several, but I am not ashamed. The day had been a trying one, and I rather felt I was entitled to some comfort.
The afternoon dragged on, without any more appearances of my visitors. I heard them prowling round the shop, poking underneath carpets, and even climbing into the attic, but I had no desire to spend more time in the doctor’s company, so I busied myself with some clerical tasks, and when they were done I brushed the cat. Eventually Mr Holmes and Dr Watson returned to the front of the store, looking damp and harried. Mr Holmes was describing the rate at which mud dries and the caking possibilities of dust from poorly-tanned leather binding.
“Mr Poole,” said he, upon reaching my counter, “I’m sorry to say that your troubles are not nearly as straightforward the straightforward prank I had originally assumed them to be. It appears that at least two men were in your store last night, entering before 8:00 and staying for much of the night. One of them was quite short—barely five feet, wearing extremely old boots. He got in through your attic and then let the other one in through the front door. This other was about five foot ten inches, in poor health but of strong finances, or at least well dressed. One or both were excellent carpenters, and unless you have had a rush of lovers of three-volume novels making purchases recently, one (or both) of the intruders was an admirer of the works of Bunbury. I suspect that the wealthier has some experience in publishing, but certainly not as a binder. Do these descriptions apply to anyone you know?”
I could only gape at him stupidly, before I pulled myself together and shook my head in the negative.
“Well, someone of that description wants to kill you,” he responded sharply, and then, after glancing keenly at my hands, he added, “You would do well to tear your attentions away from the contents of that bible and—”
The doctor interjected smoothly, “Mr Poole, can you stay in a different part of the city for a few days? We fear it would be unsafe for you to remain in your shop or lodgings until we have apprehended whoever is responsible for this.”
I replied that I had a sister who lived on the other side of Regent’s Park, and Mr Holmes nodded curtly and turned to go. Dr Watson remained behind, and said quietly,
“I’m so sorry about your merchandise. I shall be happy to help you clear up when this is settled, but I do think for your safety it would be best if you locked up the shop and left immediately.”
I did not wish to see any more of him, so I simply nodded and he went out. As I fumbled with the buttons of my overcoat, I heard one final exchange filter through the front door.
“It looks as if your eighteen minutes was premature, Holmes. What did you think was going on, anyway?”
“Whatever it was, I should have known better than to speculate without sufficient data. For heaven’s sake, watch your step. There's no point in hopping over puddles if it sends you off the kerb into the path of an omnibus.”
The annoyance in Mr Holmes’s voice tore at my heart. His courtesy was so evident in his dealings with me that his brusqueness towards the doctor stood out in sharp contrast. After the disappointment he had suffered today, there was of course plenty of reason for such behavior, but I nevertheless found myself wishing that that I could take such reason away. If only it were in my power to ensure that Mr Holmes never again need suffer the disappointment he’d felt when Dr Watson walked through the back door. And then the thought came to me: it was in my power. Mr Holmes was too much of a gentleman to take such steps, but he was doing me an enormous service, and it was only natural that I reciprocate. And when he had removed my enemy from my life, and I had done the same to his, we would toast each other in champagne and laugh at how easily one’s troubles are solved by turning to the right man for aid in our time of trouble.