Another in the young Holmes Brothers series of fanfic.
[Author’s Note: A big Thank You Shout-out to Anne Zanoni, professional copy editor extraordinaire, for sending me all of the corrections to my original post. I fear in school I suffered through all of the various changes in editing style from minimalist journalism to Southern “commas go where you would have a reader pause” technique, so the final result can be rather random. And then there’s my tendency to leave out words or leave in extra words while revising a sentence. *heavy sigh* Thank you, Anne, for your patience and hard work.]
When People Die They’re Taken To a Special Room
By J. H. Watson
Sherlock Holmes shifted in his seat and swung his little legs, until his feet in his shiny new shoes kicked the chair in front of him. It made an interesting little “thonk” sound with a slight rasp as the sole slid back down from the wooden back. On the fourth kick, his older brother Mycroft said, “Stop it.”
“No.” Sherlock kicked the chair back again.
“Why should I?” Sherlock asked as he swung his foot out again.
“Because Mummy is looking this way at you and she’s frowning.”
Sherlock dropped his foot and cast a quick glance towards where his mother and father stood, listening to a rather older man with gray hair. Mummy raised an eyebrow at Sherlock and he sat up straight and slipped back against the seat so that he was effectively hidden by the bulk of his older brother. After a moment, Sherlock sighed, slumped a bit and said, “I’m bored.”
“It’s a funeral, Sherlock. It’s not being held for your entertainment. Now sit still and stop fidgeting.”
“Why didn’t we go to the cemetery and see his grave? Nanny says that some cemeteries are so crowded that sometimes when they dig a new grave they find parts of an old body. I might have found a bone or something. That would have been interesting at least.”
“Grandfather was cremated so there won’t be any grave.”
“People are taken to a special room and burned after they are dead.”
“Cool! Are we going to watch them burn Grandfather?”
Sherlock sighed and slumped further so that he was beginning to resemble a little boy melting off the chair. Mycroft sighed as well before saying, “Sit up straight.”
“There’s nothing to do!” Sherlock whined. He’d managed to draw out the last word in a manner that was usually written as “dooooooooooo” but banged his head against his chair back for emphasis causing him to end with an exclamation that turned it into “dooooooo-ow!”
Mycroft glanced at his two-not-quite-three-year-old baby brother. Mycroft was nine-going-on-forty and was actually rather fond of his brother — most of the time. Except now. When Sherlock was acting his age instead of his I.Q.
Mycroft tugged his brother up onto the chair sharply and said, “Look around you. What do you see?”
“People. Lots and lots of old people.”
“No, Sherlock. Look! Really look. You are seeing but you aren’t observing. Think of it like a game. How much more can you know about them than they know about you?”
Sherlock frowned and went silent. After a minute passed, he said, “Show me.”
“All right, pick someone.” Mycroft added, “Don’t point” as Sherlock started to lift his hand.
“That woman with the big hat with the ugly bow standing next to Mummy.”
“Okay, look at what she’s wearing. Is it a new dress?”
“How can you tell?”
“Because it looks like the one hanging in the back of Mummy’s closet that she said she couldn’t wear today because it was so last decade.” Mycroft looked at his brother. Sherlock had done a surprising good impersonation of their mother. A niggling concern that there might be a theatrical leaning in his little brother took shape in the back of Mycroft’s mind where it would stay alert to any such unsuitable inclinations.
“Good. Also notice that the hem and the cuffs of the jacket are worn. The right jacket sleeve and cuff is a bit shiny so we know she’s right-handed and does something like writing that causes her to rub that sleeve over a flat surface regularly. So she probably works in an office. Possibly for a charity in hopes of hobnobbing with the wealthy. I know she doesn’t have a job because she told Lady Hamilton she was free any time Lady Hamilton wanted to meet.”
Sherlock was looking at Mycroft from under his lashes. Mycroft added, “Hobnobbing means mixing with people of a higher social or economic status.”
“Oh. Is that why she’s wearing that ugly jewelry?”
“Very good. Yes. I suspect it’s paste.” Sherlock looked at his big brother again, who continued, “I took a look at it close up when she hugged and kissed me at the service.”
Sherlock made a face. “She smelled like peppermints and gin.”
“That’s because she’s an alcoholic. Did you notice the slight trembling of her hands?”
“Could be palsy.” Sherlock had taken to reading medical books which Mycroft approved of much more than the Robert Lewis Stevenson novels his little brother insisted on for bedtime stories.
“No,” Mycroft said. “Notice the splotches on her face and hands? And there was a clink in her handbag that suggested a couple of little bottles stashed in there, but she rejected the drink Father offered her asking for tea instead. Then I saw her pull out a little bottle of clear liquid and pour almost the whole thing in her tea. How did you recognize the smell of gin?”
“Nanny drinks gin sometimes in her orange juice when it’s been a ‘bad day.’” Both boys knew that “bad day” was what Nanny called it when Mummy wasn’t happy about something the boys did that Mummy didn’t like. There had been a lot more “bad days” since Sherlock turned two.
“Do you think the woman is wealthy?” Mycroft asked.
“Because she’s wearing an old dress and fake jewelry —”
“Costume,” Mycroft interrupted.
“It’s called ‘costume’ jewelry, not ‘fake.’ It’s real jewelry, but it doesn’t have real jewels. Be precise with your language, Sherlock, or you won’t be precise with your mind. Continue.”
Sherlock scowled at his big brother for a moment and pinched his lips as if he wasn’t going to say another word. Mycroft raised an eyebrow and held his little brother’s stare. Finally, Sherlock continued, “And her shoes and handbag are old and scuffed, which she’s tried to hide with shoe polish. Which she got on my shirt when she hugged me.” Sherlock finished by extending his arm, so that the sleeve of his little suit jacket rode up and displayed a small black streak on the cuff of his white shirt.
“Good.” Mycroft cast a brief look at the cuff and amended, “But not the stain on your cuff. Keep it covered.”
Sherlock lowered his arm as his brother said, “She’s here because she hopes there’s some money for her in Grandfather’s will. Is there?”
Sherlock pulled a face at his brother and shrugged.
Mycroft said, “No. At least nothing significant. And how do I know this?”
“Sherlock,” Mycroft replied, giving his brother a look of disdain. Mycroft made a small gesture towards the cluster of people around the gray-haired, older man. “She’s been hovering about Grandfather’s solicitor since we arrived, and he has studiously avoided catching her eye. He knows she’s hoping for something significant in the will, but he also knows she isn’t going to get it, so he won’t let her engage him in conversation.” There was a slight pause before Mycroft added, “We, on the other hand, about to come into some money.”
Sherlock’s eyes widened as he looked at his brother. “We are?”
“Mr. Carleton is Grandfather’s solicitor and has been chatting away with Mummy and Father, but he’s also been casting quick glimpses at us every few minutes and smiling slyly at us like he has a secret. He wouldn’t pay any attention to two well-behaved—” Here Mycroft put a great deal of emphasis on the “well-behaved” and Sherlock rolled his eyes and folded his arms across his chest. “—well-behaved children if we weren’t in his thoughts at the moment. And we wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t said something to Mummy and Father to suggest we were remembered by Grandfather in the will.”
Sherlock had leaned forward to peek at the solicitor around his rather bulky older brother. Now he started rocking as he said, “Cool! I’m going to buy a cutlass with my money!”
“Stop fidgeting and sit up straight. You are not buying a cutlass.”
“You just said we were going to get some money!”
“Keep your voice down. It’s a funeral and we aren’t suppose to be thinking about what we’re going to inherit from Grandfather, but about how much we loved him.”
“I didn’t love him. I never met him.”
“Yes, you did.”
Sherlock wasn’t certain whether Mycroft meant that Sherlock loved his grandfather or had met his grandfather and didn’t remember doing so. Before he could ask for clarification, Mycroft continued, “I know everyone is thinking about the will and what people are going to inherit, but we’re suppose to pretend that we aren’t.”
“You mean we’re suppose to lie.”
Mycroft gave his brother a quick frown. “No, I mean we are suppose to act with propriety and dignity appropriate to the situation.”
“Is that why we can’t have anything to eat or drink from the buffet table?” Sherlock cast a dark look at the people gathering around a table heavily loaded with cold refreshments. A flock of caterers flew about discreetly answering questions, filling glasses, collecting empty and abandoned plates.
Mycroft couldn’t quite keep the wistful expression from his face or the rumble from his tummy as he followed Sherlock’s glance. “No. We can’t have anything because Mummy doesn’t want you to get all sticky.”
Sherlock’s face took on a mulish look that Mycroft knew all too well, but before Sherlock could formulate a plan to acquire some forbidden refreshments, Mycroft was able to distract him with a challenge. In exchange for Sherlock making three correct observations about five of the people present, not including Mummy, Father, Mycroft or Sherlock himself — Mycroft had learned from experience to close all loopholes when playing games with his little brother — Mycroft would consent to playing pirate for an hour before bed. They had gotten to a second cousin who had purloined two ash trays, half a dozen silver spoons, and a sterling silver cigarette lighter during the course of the reception, when Mummy and Father told them to come and they joined a smaller group in Grandfather’s study.
They were seated front and center before Grandfather’s enormous, ornate desk — so that the solicitor stared directly at them from the other side and all of the other people in the room, aside from Mummy and Father who were seated beside them, were staring at the backs of the boys’ heads. Sherlock scratched the back of his neck. Mummy glanced at him and his hand froze. He slithered it back into his lap and Mycroft poked his leg. The solicitor gave him a small, tight smile and signaled to someone in the back of the room.
A solemn man in a solemn black suit came in carrying a dark blue marble vase with a gold lid. It was a obviously a very heavy vase and good sized, but nowhere near as big as the ones for flowers in the foyer of both the Holmes’ house or this one. The solemn man placed the urn solemnly in the center of the desk directly in front of the boys. There was some shuffling by the people behind them and a number of sniffles were heard. Mummy clutched at the black silk handkerchief she carried and dabbed at her eyes very carefully so that she didn’t disturb any of her makeup. A single tear had slid down her cheek, doing nothing more than leave a glistening trail that drew all eyes to her lovely cheekbones and dewy lips.
As the solemn man left, Sherlock leaned over to Mycroft and whispered, “What’s that?”
Mycroft did not lean, but managed to whisper quite clearly and quietly, “It’s Grandfather’s urn.”
Sherlock gave Mycroft a suspicious and questioning look. Mycroft gazed upwards, sighed, and said, “It contains Grandfather’s ashes from the cremation.”
Sherlock studied his brother’s face carefully and seeing truth in it, he turned and stared at the urn with large, round eyes. The solicitor gave something like a cough that seemed to command everyone else’s attention, picked up a long document from the desk, and began to talk… and talk… and talk in a monotonous low voice until Sherlock found his eyes growing heavy. He started when Mycroft pinched him and began to retaliate, but paused when he realized that the solicitor had stopped reading and was now staring at the two boys.
“To his grandsons, Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes, a trust fund has been established for each of £300,000, the joint inheritance of his properties in Sussex and Scotland, as well as all his assets in his current Lloyd’s accounts which at last report was valued at roughly £249,478. The details of the administration of the trust can be discussed as needed later.”
There were some sharps breaths and rustling sounds from the people behind them. Out of the corner of his eye, Sherlock saw Mummy take Mycroft’s hand and give it a small squeeze. Sherlock’s lips tightened and he sat stiffly.
The solicitor continued, “In addition —” This produced a general rebellion of shifting and inarticulate murmurs from the people behind. The solicitor paused, peered over the edge of his glasses until silence resumed, and then said, “In addition, each boy may choose one item from this room as a memento to remember his grandfather by.”
Mr. Carleton turned a page and was about to start speaking again when Sherlock asked, “Anything?”
The solicitor stopped. Mycroft hissed, “Sherlock.”
The solicitor leaned forward slightly to get a better look at Sherlock, who was beginning to feel a bit like Oliver Twist in that movie Nanny had made him watch, but, like the orphan boy, Sherlock had a hunger and a purpose. The solicitor made what he must have thought was a kindly face, but looked more as if he’d eaten a bad prawn at the buffet. He said, “Yes, young man. Anything.”
“If you please then, sir, I want that.” Sherlock stood up and pointed to the urn on the desk.
There was a great deal of gasping and whispering behind him, but Sherlock looked neither right nor left, but straight into the solicitor’s eyes. Mr. Carleton tried a humouring smile as he said, “Perhaps you’d rather wait and talk it over with your mother and father, and decide later.”
Sherlock was aware of Mycroft’s tugging on his jacket to get him to sit, but Sherlock merely kept his eye on his prize and replied, “No, sir. I want that.”
Mr. Carleton placed a hand on the urn and asked, “Do you know what this is, young man?”
The tasteful hubbub behind him quieted at this. Mr. Carleton looked down on Sherlock with a softer expression as he asked, “You want your grandfather’s ashes as a memento of him?”
Mr. Carleton peered out in the distance for a moment and then tipped his head and said, “Well, the will does say anything in the room, so you may have them.”
This caused another outbreak of tasteful rebellion from those seated behind, but a cold look from the solicitor quelled the revolt. Sherlock sat down and gave his brother a self-satisfied smirk. Mycroft sighed.
There was not a great deal more for Mr. Carleton to say after that, and they were dismissed a quarter of an hour later. When it was clear that everyone was leaving, Sherlock stepped up to the desk and reached for the urn. Mycroft stood up and stopped him as Sherlock’s hand landed on the cold marble. “That’s too heavy for you to carry. Here.”
Mycroft handed Sherlock the large polished mahogany Rolodex box that commanded a corner of the huge desk. “I don’t want that. I want the urn,” Sherlock said, refusing to take the proffered collection of cards.
“I want the Rolodex. It contains all of Grandfather’s contacts. With his special shorthand notes. But you can’t carry the urn, so you carry my Rolodex and I’ll carry your urn.”
Sherlock considered this for a brief moment before saying, “Okay.”
As the considerably wealthier boys walked back into the larger room, where the others were gathering in small conferring clusters, a deferential hush followed in their wake. Mummy and Father were talking softly with Mr. Carleton, but upon seeing Sherlock struggling to prevent the large Rolodex from slipping from his arms, Father came over, gestured at the box, and said, “Here.”
“It’s Mycroft’s,” Sherlock clarified. “He’s got my urn. It’s heavy.”
“Yes,” said Father. “Good choices. Clever boys.”
A great many of the people gathered felt the need to say good-bye to the boys. Sherlock did not like all the kissing, patting, handshaking, and general touching the adults seemed to need, but Mycroft frowned at him when he tried to avoid the first kiss on the cheek and Father clamped a firm hand on his shoulder when he tried to slip away from the second pat. Mummy stood next to Father and smiled down on the two boys, so Sherlock figured they’d done something right, although he wasn’t exactly certain what.
Mycroft kept casting looks at him, but Sherlock didn’t do anything except step “accidentally” on Mycroft’s foot hard. He said, “Sorry.” Mycroft, of course, knew it wasn’t an accident but didn’t say anything, so after another quarter of an hour, they finally got back into the big black car and went home.
Mummy and Father talked all the way home about boring things like schools and investments and taxes and trusts and things that made Mycroft listen hard. Mycroft made notes sometimes on his shirt cuff with the mechanical pencil he always had with him and when Sherlock started to say something, he told his little brother, “Shh.” So Sherlock sat back in his car seat and stared at the urn that had been strapped in between the two boys with the middle seatbelt. He placed a proprietary hand on the gold top and fell asleep for the rest of the trip.
He was awakened by Mycroft releasing him from his carseat. Father held the urn. As they entered the house, Father asked Sherlock, “Where shall we put this?” Sherlock insisted it was to go on the table in his room. Mummy agreed that it was acceptable for the night and they would consider some place more suitable later.
After Nanny found out about the inheritance, she made a big fuss over Sherlock and Mycroft, but she still made Sherlock take a bath and get ready for bed immediately after dinner. Sherlock played with his food and pretended to eat, but he was too excited with the urn sitting there on the table. Mycroft made him eat his some of his chicken and a bite of his green beans, but was too busy looking at his card box to really care and ended up eating most of Sherlock’s dinner as well as his own.
After the dinner, Nanny took the plates and things downstairs to eat her own dinner and Mycroft took himself off to have his bath — leaving Sherlock alone with the urn. Sherlock took a big sheet of the white butcher paper Nanny put down whenever he was coloring or painting and put it on the table next to the urn. Then he climbed up onto a chair and lifted the gold lid from the urn and set it aside. He peered inside but couldn’t see much, so he climbed back down and went to get a flashlight.
It took a bit longer than he expected because Nanny had found all the ones he’d appropriated from the rest of the house and put them back. He climbed back up on the chair and aimed the flashlight inside. It wasn’t easy to keep the light where he needed it and to see inside the urn, but what he did see was treasure.
Sherlock put the flashlight down and pushed the urn onto its side and then upended it with a bit of effort onto the white sheet of paper. He worked with his face scrunched in intense concentration and his tongue stuck out slightly. He coughed as he inhaled a little cloud of ash dust and spit out some of the pieces that landed on his lips. But his eyes widened with delight as he saw the pile in front of him. Sherlock pushed a bit of the dust pile around with his index finger.
Mycroft, in his pajamas and robe, stepped back into the room and called firmly, “Sherlock!”
Sherlock, eyes bright with delight and excitement, pulled a small object from the pile and held it up, saying, “Vertebra!”
Mycroft dashed over and pulled his little brother’s fingers out of the ashes. “Yes, now put it back. Put it all back.”
“Swallowed some. Inhaled some.”
Mycroft rolled his eyes heavenward and gave a big sigh, which stirred a bit more fine ash, making Sherlock sneeze and sending up an even larger cloud. Mycroft pulled his brother upright and waited for the cloud to fall back to the paper. Then Mycroft lifted Sherlock off the chair and set Sherlock on the floor beside the table. Mycroft pushed up the sleeves of his robe and pajamas, returned the urn upright, and began working the white paper into a cone.
Sherlock pointed to an object in the ashes and said, “Molar.”
Mycroft lightly slapped Sherlock’s hand away as he rolled the paper and consolidated all the ash and bits of bone and teeth into the center. “Yes. Now step back.”
Mycroft returned the ashes to the urn, placed the lid back on, and set it back exactly where their father had placed it on the table. He looked at his brother for a moment and then took Sherlock into the bathroom to wash his face and hands. Mycroft was not particularly gentle as he did this. “Why in the world did you do that?”
Sherlock shrugged and made a face that managed to convey that he thought the question was stupid. “Wanted to see human ashes,” he answered. “But there were bones and teeth, too! A vertebra, two phalanges, a molar and a bicuspid.”
“Yes,” Mycroft replied as he took a towel to Sherlock’s face. Mycroft marched Sherlock back to the bedroom. “Don’t tell anyone that you did that.”
“I want to show Father.”
“Do not show or tell anyone.”
“Because, Sherlock, people aren’t suppose to go rooting around in other people’s remains,” Mycroft said as he turned down Sherlock’s linens. After a beat, Mycroft felt compelled to add, “Unless they are medical students, researchers, coroners, undertakers, or paid to do it for some other acceptable reason.”
Sherlock wore a pout as he climbed into bed, saying, “But it’s science.”
“Not when you’re two —”
“Or even almost three. And certainly not when it’s your grandfather, who just left you a great deal of money and property. Now do not play with your grandfather’s ashes again.”
“I wasn’t playing. It was science.”
“Well, when you get older and go to school, you can suggest studying human remains for a science project, but until then, the ashes stay in the urn.” And knowing his little brother, Mycroft hastily added, “Unless Mummy or Father want to do something with them.”
“But they’re mine!”
Mycroft stared at his brother and asked, “Do you want to tell Mummy she can’t do what she wants with them?”
Sherlock didn’t say anything, but the frown on his face and his tightened lips conveyed the general unfairness of the universe when you are two-nearly-three-years-old. Mycroft pulled up the bedclothes and said, “Look. Why don’t you help me figure out Grandfather’s secret code?”
“Secret code?” Sherlock asked in a suspicious tone.
“Grandfather knew lots of very important and useful people and his Rolodex has all of their information. But he used his own special code to make his notes. I plan to decrypt — that means figure out — the code so I can know Grandfather’s secrets. It’s a puzzle, Sherlock. It will be fun.”
Sherlock still looked a little skeptical but he was already yawning, so he said, “Okay. But you still owe me a game of pirates.”
Mycroft said, “Alright. Tomorrow. Now good-night.”
Mycroft turned off the light beside Sherlock’s bed. As he turned to leave, Sherlock said around a tremendous yawn, “Grandfather should have brushed better. He had a cavity in his molar.”
### The End ###