The air buzzed contentedly as Holmes sat on a bench in his Sussex garden and admired his hives. Bees followed a seasonal rhythm that set Holmes’ mind to a similar beat; they were waking for spring, and so, Holmes decided, he must wake his brain too after a long winter mostly indoors. On the bench next to him lay a dozen sepia-faded editions of Strand Magazine — the journal (if one could call it that) in which his friend John Watson had written up the accounts of their shared adventures.
Holmes had never approved of the stories, and had never read even one fully — John’s added flair and tweaked solutions designed for the common audience left a sour taste in Holmes’ mouth. Genius did not need to be amplified by a writer’s inkwell, he had always maintained. But today, as the spring sun shone and the bees hummed, Holmes decided he would try again. Revisit a few old successes — see if he could remember the solutions before they were revealed. Surely that would wake his mind from hibernation. Hibernations that seemed harder to shake every year.
His mind had once been so lively, bursting with the musical beauty of a hundred violins. But as he’d aged the strings had frayed and the playing had fallen first to a slow adagio, and then finally to silence itself.
Holmes picked up his spectacles and the first magazine, and flipped to Watson’s story. Their first adventure together: A Study in Scarlett. Even the alliterative name seemed overbearing to Holmes. In it, Watson had just returned from Afganistan and needed a place to live, and thus their introduction to one another took place. So long ago now, it really did feel like a story rather than an event.
As Holmes read the account, his wrinkled face furrowed. The furrows then deepened into long, shadowed grooves.
Odd, he thought. The observations he’d made at the time… It had been so simple for him back then. How he’d deduced Watson had been in the military; had been injured; needed somewhere to live. The evidence, too… how damn simple it had all been! The message on the wall and on the path and all the rest of it.
Sometimes, bees died. Holmes had no explanation for it. But when one died, very often it would start a chain-reaction of other deaths. So Holmes would take action — he would admit he didn’t know the answers and he would set up a new hive, move the healthy bees, and burn the old hive in case of disease in the wood.
The point was, he didn’t know what killed them. And he was old enough and wise enough now to realize he didn’t know all things, and that allowed him to carry out the appropriate responses based on his lack of knowledge.
He read another case.
Gods! What ego he’d had back then. Had he really been so cocksure?
Back then, he’d always known, it seemed. His observations had always been correct. His deductions too. And there was no room for doubt because Watson was always there to say “My God Holmes, you’ve done it again! What a mind you have.” Or something similarly placating.
Why had it always been so easy for him back then, when all of life seemed a riddle now?
As Holmes read case after case after case, a realization began to sink, and the buzzing of bees dimmed from his mind. In its place was a sacred emptiness. A hollow shell that once he’d thought his life had filled.
But his life had been empty inside of it — he’d just never cracked the shell open to peer inside.
Watson had used him. He had set up the evidence for Holmes’ “great deductions”. Added an obvious limp to his gait. Smeared soil over his suitcase. Knew how and where Holmes’ eyes jumped for his observations — what details he looked for. All Watson had had to do was place evidence in front of the looking glass and let Holmes do the rest.
At first he thought Watson must have done it to further his own burgeoning career as an author. That would make sense — the stories and solutions were sensational, and Holmes was portrayed as a figure of scintillating intellect to be revered by all. It had gained them both international notoriety.
But it was the mentions of a man named Moriarty that made Holmes think twice.
Holmes had gotten old and his memory had slowed. He’d be the first to admit it. His hair was grey and his eyes yellowing. But his mind wasn’t cracked and leaking — at least not this much.
Yes, there had been a criminal leader of startling intellect that had rivaled his own — one he’d regretfully never caught.
But Moriarty? Never had he heard that name before. That was a name — a character — Watson must have created to sell more copies of Strand.
How strange. This Moriarty was a villain so daring and gleeful that you could put nothing past him.
A villain that despised Holmes. That mocked him. That purportedly near-killed him, at one point.
Holmes thought again of his old friend John Watson.
And then of Moriarty.
The music in his head — the violins — that had been silent for so many years, began to play once more. Softly first. Then louder. Faster. Until his mind became a roaring, raging, beautiful concerto.
An hour further passed before Holmes rose from the bench with a grim determination planted in his belly.
He would buy a train ticket. Tonight. He would find his aging revolver, too.
Then he’d pay what he thought likely would be a final visit to a very old friend.
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