“Hey man, I’m beat.” Joe leaned back in his chair stretching his arms behind him. He closed his laptop in defeat and began to pack up the books, papers, and pens around him. Joe and Auggie were the only students left in the basement of their college library.
“Really, bro? How far did you even get?” Auggie barely lifted his eyes from the computer screen. Auggie was a dick. His senior thesis was on Mark Leyner.
Joe only studied with him because Auggie’s dedicated work ethic was motivating on a primal level of competition.
“Not very far, I guess.” Joe shrugged on his leather backpack and pulled his cell phone from his pocket. It was dead.
“I don’t know how you do it. Victorian detective fiction puts anyone to sleep. It’s too trendy and completely irrelevant.” Auggie’s attention never left his work.
Joe wanted to say more. He wanted to defend the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his influence in modern fiction and detection. Joe’s swollen eyes and foggy mind stopped him.
“Yeah, well, see you in class.” Joe languidly waved knowing that Auggie wouldn’t see the gesture anyway. His shoulders ached and his brain pounded against his ears. Joe gave an awkward nod to the student worker behind the counter enraptured by her trashy erotica novel. Every week she had a new paperback with the same brand of a cunning cheesy title. This week it was Lingering Tingles.
Finally leaving the library behind, Joe wearily crossed the sleeping city street. The neon lights glowing “STRAND” refreshed Joe for a brief moment.
One drink, he directed himself.
The door was a heavy oak that took all of Joe’s strength to open. His gangly arms were even more lanky and awkward after weeks of sleepless nights and writing.
Joe shoved his bag between the bar stool and foot ledge. He sat on the heavy bar seat made of the same oak as the door.
“Sam, how’s it going tonight?” Joe always called The Strand’s late night bartender Sam. Joe had no idea what his real name was and calling him Sam didn’t seem to bother anyone.
“Slow. Bourbon again?” Sam’s voice was deep from years of smoking reds. Sam constantly had a burning cigarette in the ashtray at the corner of the bar.
“No, Gin and tonic with a twist.”
Sam chuckled and hesitated getting the bottle. “You know kid, you drink like…like an old guy.”
Joe just stared unable to respond. He never ordered drinks he liked. He ordered drinks he thought he should like. As Sam began mixing, Joe leaned both elbows on the metal bar top. He pinched the bridge of his nose to alleviate the pounding in his head. He cracked each knuckle methodically. He adjusted the collar on his jacket.
Sam placed the tall bubbled glass in front of Joe and went back to the corner of the bar to drag the end of his cigarette.
The first sip almost gagged Joe. The second was a bit better. The bitter sting woke him up.
As he replaced the cold drink, a sharp R.P. dialect jarred his hazy mental state. “Invigorating, is it?”
Joe looked at the man next to him inhaling the smoke from a large cigar. The stranger had piercing black eyes and hawk-like features.
Joe blinked, twice. “Holy shit!”
“Please calm yourself and do choose your words with more finesse. You’ll never be a writer if you don’t learn to expand your vocabulary.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes in impatience. “Yes, you’re shocked. Your pupils are dilated and your shallow breaths are exhibiting signs of panic. You’re asking yourself: How is this happening? Don’t fear, much. It’s not a brain contusion. You are, also, not drunk. You haven’t even ingested enough to put a child to sleep. However, your particular level of exhaust has granted you with hallucinations. A stroke of luck if you ask me.”
Joe released the air he was holding in his lungs and stuttered, “I’m Joe.”
“Unnecessary detail but a pleasure I’m sure. My dear Joe. The young writer, overwhelmed by school and under stimulated by life. You haven’t slept more than four hours a night for at least the past two weeks. You are living off a measly income or none at all judging by the poor diet of fast food and non-perishables you use to sustain your meesly existence.”
Sherlock leaned in and whispered the rest, “As a mate, you should really start increasing your dose of cologne to better mask the odor of stress and probable failure you’re emitting.”
“Should I even question how you know all of this? I’m so glad that even my hallucinations think I’m inferior. I couldn’t have imagined up Mrs. Hudson I suppose.” Joe whispered the second half to himself fearing further scrutiny.
“Imagination is cultivated and precious. Hallucination is a gamble.” Sherlock retorted with perfect candor. He took in a large puff of his cigar blowing out the smoke across the room.
Tapping the ash, Sherlock muttered, “American tobacco is so much heavier than English. Don’t you see?”
“Both are equally detrimental for your lungs.” Joe removed his jacket and rolled up the sleeves. He looked across the bar. Sam was deeply attentive to the sports highlights on the television mounted in the corner.
“I’m a figment. Your lungs are at risk.” Sherlock grabbed the bottle of beer in front of him and took a short swig.
Sherlock uncrossed his legs and got up from his stool. “You know what you really could use?” He paused, not for reaction but merely for drama. “Some seven-percent solution would do you good.”
Joe scoffed and thought how perfectly predictable Sherlock acted. “I’m fine, thanks.”
Sherlock’s mouth turned up into a smirk, “You’re going to turn down an opportunity to transcend with The Sherlock Holmes? I must be a bit rusty because I deduced you were a somewhat intelligent lad.”
Joe furrowed his brow and shrugged. Alice took solutions down the rabbit hole. Maybe, this was a hallucinatory norm. He slipped off his stool, “Fine. You’re just a figment anyway.”
Sherlock latched his grip to Joe’s sleeve and began dragging him to the back door. Joe left his book bag behind and flung out the door into the alley way.
Sherlock removed a kit from his lengthy formal jacket and pulled out a syringe and tourniquet. He ripped up Joe’s sleeve and fastened the belt tight.
Joe was too confused and exhausted to resist.
As the needle plunged into Joe’s pulsing vein, Sherlock locked eyes with Joe. “I said I was a figment. The solution is not.”
Joe’s mind was flooded with ecstasy. His body felt revitalized and light. His mind raced with unlinking thoughts and desire for action.
“Much better.” Sherlock leaned between the dumpster against the brick wall. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “Take one,” Sherlock commanded.
Joe knew it was too late to refuse anything. He grabbed the cigarette with an unsteady hand and lit it from the flame Sherlock had waiting. Joe inhaled the drag and rubbed his head. What a fucking night.
Sherlock seemed to respond to Joe’s thought, “It can only get better. Now, let’s go exercise the mind.” Sherlock took off down the alley. Joe threw the burning cigarette and ran after him.
Joe skidded to an abrupt stop almost hitting the narrow shoulders of the detective at work. His sharp eyes darted from side to side. Sherlock had an air of stimulation and excitement, “Do you hear that, Joseph?”
“It’s just Joe…and hear what?” Joe closed his eyes for a moment to listen. He heard the faint scream of a woman in the distance.
“Now you do. One must always be alert. Remember that. Let’s go!” Sherlock took off again. Joe could feel his heart pounding against his chest as he ran behind.
The two men bolted down the quiet city street for three blocks. Joe wanted to rest but felt synthetic energy pumping through his veins.
Sherlock stopped at a corner in front of a well lit bank. A woman was crumbled on the sidewalk. Her face was swollen and the contents of her purse were spilled out around her.
“Oh my god!” Joe bent down and touched the unconscious woman’s face. His fingers instinctually traveled to her neck. He felt a faint pulse. “She’s alive! We need to call an ambulance.”
“She’ll be fine, just minor wounds. She’ll wake up with nothing more than soreness and a headache. Clearly her boyfriend didn’t find it necessary to phone the authorities.” Sherlock studied the pieces of the puzzle strewn around her. Joe saw an ipod, headphones, a bedazzled wallet, lipstick, a mirror, a small can of hairspray, and a tube of mascara. Sherlock picked up and examined the glittery wallet.
“No bank notes,” mumbled the detective. Joe surged with excitement. Sherlock was about to work his deducing magic.
“Hmm, and this is?” Sherlock held up a small plastic silver rectangle.
“It’s a credit card. You go to the bank, put in a code, and get out money from your account.” Joe pointed toward the ATM behind Sherlock.
“A code?” Sherlock beamed. He turned and inserted the card as if he were already familiar with the process of modern banking.
“What about the girl? We need to get her help. What are you doing? Are you trying to use her card?” Joe stood up and approached Sherlock.
Sherlock stopped, “Please don’t speak at this moment. It is of great importance.” Joe shut up. Who was he to question Mr. Holmes?
Sherlock briefly turned to look back at the woman then shut his eyes tightly.
He chanted, “Dark thick make up, tight clothing that accentuates her upper torso, and dangerously high expensive heels, what do you make of this Joseph?”
Joe shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s high maintenance?”
Sherlock stared coldly at him. “Not just high maintenance, she is obsessed with her appearance. That nose is not found in nature.”
Sherlock turned to the ATM screen. It was flashing, waiting for her pin. Sherlock spoke at the machine, “It wouldn’t be the year of her birth, she despises thinking of her age.” He entered in a four digit number slowly. His fingers hovered over each number before they plunged down. The screen ceased blinking and opened up to the next prompt of action.
“How the hell did you guess that?” Joe knew he would regret it as soon as the words left his lips.
“I never guess young man,” Sherlock scoffed. “It is obvious that the four digit number this woman chose is her bra size and shoe size, 3611. Her vapid values have awarded us enough money to continue the night!”
Sherlock grabbed the stack of twenties that shot out of the ATM. He replaced the card into the woman’s wallet and took off down the street.
Why can’t he walk somewhere, Joe thought as he trailed behind.
By the time Joe caught up, Sherlock was waiting out side of a club still thumping it’s base. The bouncer of the club stood at the door, arms folded, apathetic to his surroundings.
“Really?” Joe had nothing else to say. The night was spiraling out of control. He couldn’t imagine Sherlock fist pumping with the hooligans behind the door.
“You need to loosen up Joseph. A night of adventure will do you some good.” Sherlock smirked again. Joe still felt the solution working it’s way through his system. Protest would be pointless now.
Joe moved to get in line for the club but, Sherlock pulled him back by the shoulder.
“Joseph, are you familiar with the Napoleon of Crime?”
“Professor Moriarty,” Joe stated.
“Precisely! Very good boy. The solution did your mind some good. I don’t mean to alarm you but, he, the napoleon that is, is across the street in that not-so hansom yellow cab.” Sherlock remained completely calm.
“The taxi?” Joe questioned.
“Unnecessary details! He has been following us this whole time. It was all a set up. How could I have not seen this? He wants a quarrel!” Sherlock ripped off his coat and began rolling up his sleeves.
“Wait! This is probably a really bad idea. You don’t even know that it’s him.” Joe’s voice cracked. “What are you going to do?”
It was too late Sherlock approached the taxi cab. Joe ran up behind him. The night had consisted of too much running.
Sherlock knocked politely on the window, “Roll it down, Jim. We all know you’re in there.”
The window hissed as it lowered. Moriarty was just a leather glove as far as Joe could see, a leather glove that griped an old Webley. The gun pointed first at Sherlock then moved to Joe. Joe put up his hands without thinking.
“How banal of you Jim.” Sherlock rolled his eyes. Joe could feel the sweat starting to run down his back. He couldn’t run anymore. He had to face the barrel and trust that his detective hero would solve this final problem.
Sherlock’s authoritative voice spoke again, “Jim, come out and fight like a man. These silly operations will get you no where.”
Moriarty’s voice was higher than Joe expected, “Get in to the cab, Sherlock.”
Sherlock and Joe looked at each other. Joe raised his brow utterly confused.
Sherlock resigned to Moriarty’s command, “My dear new friend, may we meet again someday. Best of luck to you. Remember, a good detective is always honest.” Sherlock yanked at the cab door and bent down. Flicking his coat back, he flashed the butt of a metal revolver to Joe.
Sherlock got in the cab and shut the door. “Honesty and clear perception!” He shouted as the cab drove away.
Joe stood in the street, alone. His headache returned.