by LaVerne Zocco
I knew why I was walking down that particular road in the dark of the night, but after the interview I would have said it was some mischievous imp who had set the scene. It wasn't that I was unfamiliar with the lodgers in that particular country house sans Mrs. Hudson now; I should say I was, but I never dreamt I would ever see him again after our first, and up to then, last meeting.
I was up in years now, and I expected he was the same. I had been startled to read he had retired a few years back to a rural setting, where he lived like a hermit amongst his new interests, soil contents and seedlings, his brilliant mind growing rustier with each rainfall.
I can also tell you that he was a hidden memory in my mind down through the long march of years, and I always kept him hidden there from others close to me. Some would have been awed that I had ever known him, such was his stunning reputation in crime circles.
I knew who would be coming to answer the bell, and to my amazement, it was not Doctor Watson or Mrs. Hudson, it was a simple-looking maid who curtsied with a huge question mark in her eyes as to who this visitor would be to come calling at that godawful hour.
It also amazed me that the doorbell had stirred up the lodger on the upstairs landing who was peering down and questioning the maid.
“Who is it, Emma? Is it for me? Is it a case perhaps for me?” I was astounded by the frailness I heard in that once strong voice.
“Hello up there,” I managed. “It's not a case, but an old friend, at least I think so. May I come up to see you?”
“Rather late to be calling round, wouldn't you say?”
Finally, after a long thought, he said, “Yes, come up. Not my pleasure to welcome too many old friends, for they have all died off. Yes, come ahead and let's have a look at you.”
He led me down the hall and into the apartments that brought back great memories to me with the smell of pipe tobacco, musty books, a thousand I should think, and the smell of resin for his violin bow. I had been a visitor only once before and I was in awe that nothing had changed.
He chucked me inside like a treasure he had secreted to look at when he was alone, and left me standing inside the door while he went over to the fireplace, stoked it a little to make it warm for me, and then took his favorite chair on the right side of the hearth. He waved to me to come over and take the chair across from him, the chair of an old friend who he told me was dead now, poor thing, his Doctor Watson.
There sat the only man I had ever desired to impress, and here I sat, the only woman he had ever loved for her brilliance and criminality. He had described me so the last time we met. For my side I can say that the sight of him made me understand how I should have loved him but didn't. But now I understood better my resentment for his fame and my infamy.
Then, then, he looked at me with that old way of drawing softly on his pipe and appraising me with all the sentiments he could garner. “Irene,” he whispered.
“Yes, my dear, it's Irene.”
“You must be gentle with me, Irene, for my heart is not what it used to be, and I expect it to go out with the fire in the early morning hours. I thought I was brilliant when I started the little fire in your sitting room and watched as you opened the secret panel alongside the fireplace and took the letter out. And I saw you put it back in again. Then in the morning I opened the secret panel, the letter was gone, and so were you, before anyone could stop you. I may not have all the details right, but the only thing I remember is how much I loved you.
“Many a night I sat here and bewailed not the letter but that I had lost the only woman I ever thought had brains enough to adore. And now you have come and now I am at peace.”
My eyes narrowed then, and I said, “Yes, I've come to say something I have wanted to say to your face. I have come in time to say it.” He seemed then to succumb to some coma-like state and I sat with him until the fire went out and he died with it.
I watched him come back to reality for one short moment and smile at me. “Irene Adler, you were the only woman who ever outsmarted Sherlock Holmes, and no man ever had that privilege — outsmarted by a woman.” He still couldn't believe it.
Finally, I stood up and went over to him, bending down to whisper in his ear. When I was sure I had his attention, I kissed him full on the mouth as I would never have been able to do in life and whispered in his ear.
“Outsmarted you? Damn straight.”
I could see his understanding shine through his eyes, then the frown wrinkle his brow, and then his spirit slipped away.
I had my revenge of hearing him own up to the fact, out loud, that I had bested him; but his revenge was greater, that he and I were the only ones who would ever know it.
Copyright © 2011 by LaVerne Zocco