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Quickies

“Postcards from a Love Affair”

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by nlr alicia
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<< These itty bitty less-than-enormous stories are inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of his immortal characters, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson. The content shared here is the responsibility of this author.>>

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On style choices: I use Americanized spelling and punctuation because I’m not confident I’ll always remember to use Anglicized alternatives and the possessive “Holmes’s” as Doyle does in the Strand version of HOUN because I like it better.

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Author’s Note: Pure fluff. Short and ridiculously sweet. Nothing longer than, oh… let’s say a scene and a half. Chaste. Chatty. Cheerful. Pretty much what you’d expect around here.

I’ll be adding minis to this page periodically. There’ll usually be a note in Posts when there’s something new to see and I’ll always stick the new stuff at the top.

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Content Warnings: It’s safe to say the most damaging thing you’ll find in these is a blatant disregard for dramatic structure. No, trust me, that really is a legitimate warning. Well, it’s your funeral.

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~ 5 April 2008 ~

To the Hilt

a domestic tease



“Watson, I crave stimulation.”

I didn’t look up from my morning paper. “Do you,” I said evenly.

There was an impatient puff of breath from the direction of the window. “Yes, I’m hungry for a challenge.”

I shifted my paper to examine the crumbs littering my plate. “I’m hungry for more toast,” I said. “Are you going to eat your breakfast or just stand at the window making declarations to the street?”

“You’re in a mood this morning.”

“No,” I replied, determinedly turning back to my paper. “I was in a mood last night. I was in a mood for a quiet evening at home and a little brandy by the fire. And possibly a few other things by the fire. Instead I found myself in the parlor of some Austrian–”

“German.”

“–Visigoth,” I continued as I folded my paper and lay it down on the table by my plate. “Of unknown parentage listening to a woman who must cause cart horses to rear back in alarm doing something that you assure me was singing although I still think you should have let me fetch a sedative or at least my ear muffs.”

I looked up to find impassive gray eyes fixing me with a steady gaze. Holmes sniffed.

“You have low tastes in entertainment.”

“Holmes, I have no taste in entertainment,” I said, leaning back to balance on two legs of my chair. “I admit that fact freely and often. And yet you persist in dragging me to these enriching soirees until I want to lock myself in my upstairs room and barricade the door with cheap novels about sailors.” Before he could comment on my taste in literature, I carried on, “If you want to do something elevating why in heaven’s name can’t we just go to Martini’s? You like the violinist, I like the cigars, and we’d still be home in time for brandy.”

He crossed his arms on his chest and I mentally braced for the onslaught.

He pursed his lips. “You’re right,” he said.

My chair legs thumped to the floor. “I’m what?”

“You’re right,” he said giving a negligent wave of his hand as he crossed to the settee and sat decorously on the edge. “I have been inconsiderate of your preference for cheap and sensational entertainment.”

This was more like it, I thought. “I admire the skillful way you managed to work an insult into your half-hearted apology,” I said evenly.

He quirked an expressive eyebrow. “I’m quite serious,” he said. “In fact, I think I may be able to satisfy us both if you’ll indulge me.”

This seeming capitulation left me at a loss for words. My companion went on blithely, “I’ve been letting more than my mind go slack lately. I believe I need exercise.”

“I’m always ready for a walk in Regent’s,” I suggested.

He made a show of studying his fingernails and said, “That’s not quite what I had in mind.”

A man with less experience of Sherlock Holmes might have been lulled into finding something hopeful of brandy by the fireside in that statement. I was not such a man. A sensible edge of wariness crept into my tone as I said, “What, may I ask, are you proposing?”

“I haven’t had opportunity to demonstrate some of my more esoteric skills to you,” he said as he arranged his dressing gown to better advantage. He looked up. “I don’t believe I ever mentioned I made a name for myself in a performance troupe called Wombell’s Menagerie and Other Entertainments.”

“That’s quite a name in itself,” I said seriously. “And what name did you make?”

“Escott the Amazing.”

I bit back my smile. “Amazing were you?”

“Mm,” he answered equably. “I imagine I still am. Although I haven’t had much opportunity to keep my hand in.”

“Your hand in what?” I asked bravely.

“Oh, the usual,” he said apparently absorbed in some stray threads on the knee of his dressing gown.

“Bending iron pokers? That sort of thing?” I ventured. “I’ve seen that performance. It was very impressive at the time. I’m slightly less impressed now I know your shoulder still aches when it rains.”

He shot me a glance under his eyebrows. “I was out of practice. As I believe I recently mentioned.”

“All right,” I said, allowing myself a smile. “Enlighten me. What was your act?”

“A bit of juggling.”

“I can juggle,” I pointed out.

“Small dogs?” he suggested.

“Ah.”

“Gymnastics,” he said.

“You are very limber,” I acknowledged graciously.

“Bareback riding,” he went on.

I grimaced and reached for my coffee cup. “That can’t be comfortable.”

He shrugged. “It depends on your seat.”

Before I could muster a response to that he added, “And, of course, sword swallowing.”

I paused with the coffee halfway to my lips. “Sword swallowing.”

“Yes,” he said, leaning back on the settee and extending his long legs. “I considered taking up fire eating, but fire eaters were thirteen to the dozen in those days.”

“Really,” I said, returning my untasted coffee to the table. “So it was just swords then?”

“Swords, knives. The odd pikestaff. Whatever was to hand.”

There was no point trying to hide my interest any longer. I leant forward in my seat. “I’ve always wondered if there’s a trick to it,” I said.

He inclined his head. “Not really. It’s simply a matter of overcoming a few reflexes. You begin in slow, easy stages. Over the tongue. Partway down the throat. You learn to relax the muscles of the esophagus readily enough. With diligent practice it’s possible to take in a good eighteen inches or more. Once you’ve mastered length you can work on girth. It’s possible to swallow two or three swords at a time. Of course it helps if you use some sort of oil.”

I was openly staring.

He gazed at me impassively. “The trick is not to cough.”

“That’s the trick,” I said, shifting in my chair.

“And the importance of positioning cannot be overestimated.”

“I would imagine not,” I agreed.

“Indeed. Of course, once the basics are mastered, one may embellish.”

I had no ready response to that so he went on.

“With a great deal of practice you may learn to hold the sword halfway down using only the muscles of the throat.” He gave a little smile. “Then swallow it to the hilt.”

“And you mastered this?” I said, my voice sounding a bit strained.

“Yes,” he said. “I studied under some of the greats. Signor Benedetti, of course.” He gazed into the distance. “The Brothers Westerlund. Lady Marguerite.”

“Lady Marguerite?” I interposed.

“Her forte was bayonets,” he said easily. “When one is learning a craft it’s best to be versatile.”

“But once you’ve mastered it…”

“You may specialize.” He sat smiling complacently at me.

I cleared my throat. “You mentioned you’d like to exercise your skills.”

“Yes,” he agreed and cocked his head. “I believe you have a–”

“A regimental sword,” I said, standing so quickly I nearly overturned my chair.

His smile widened. “The very thing. Is it upstairs?”

“You know, I believe it is.”

Holmes gazed up at me as I crossed to the settee and took him by the elbow.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t care to ask Mrs. Hudson for more toast first?” he suggested as I all but hauled him to his feet and propelled him toward the door.

“No,” I said firmly, pushing him out into the hallway. “You have thoroughly whetted my appetite for low entertainment.”

I started up the stairs. There was a distinct lack of footfalls behind me. I turned back to find Holmes watching me from the landing, one expressive eyebrow cocked.

I sighed. “And for opera-singing Visigoths.”

He smiled benignly as he joined me on the stairs. “In that case I may be moved to show you a gymnastics routine that will be quite new to you.”

And in due course, he did, for which effort he received a standing ovation and definitely earned the appellation “Amazing.”

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~ 19 February 2008 ~
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The Babinski Method

a domestic scene

Based on this picture by Elina: On the Sofa: A night at Baker Street 🙂

I thumped down at the end of the sofa in our sitting room and stared fixedly at the opposite wall. Holmes was draped languidly over the other arm of the couch. I could feel him regarding me steadily.

He took a long drag at his cigarette and remarked, “It was purely reflexive, I assure you. No literary criticism of Mr. Salgari was implied.”

I continued to stare straight ahead.

“I don’t know what else I could have been expected to do,” he said. “You would be equally out of sorts if I had let the acid eat through the rug again.” He shifted on the sofa to peer casually out the window behind us. “I distinctly remember on the occasion when the curtains caught fire you were adamant in your suggestion that I should use whatever was at hand in such an emergency.” He took another drag of his cigarette and released a streamer of blue smoke. “I was simply following your instructions.”

“I had been looking forward to that novel for days,” I said, crossing my arms on my chest.

“I’m sure I don’t know why.”

“Because,” I said evenly. “I enjoy Salgari, it is difficult to get the English language translations, and the title ‘Queen of the Caribbean’ rather speaks for itself.”

He sniffed. “I’m sure it’s not as interesting as it sounds.”

“Well, it will be some time before I find out now.”

We sat in silence for several moments before I pointed out, “It wasn’t even next to the workbench.”

Holmes puffed out a breath and said, “Ah, not immediately next to it. No.”

“Did you not perhaps think of using something closer at hand?” I asked. “One of those seven volumes of ‘Medieval Composers of Northumberland’ would have been more than up to the task. And I happened to observe a large quantity of monographs on such fascinating subjects as the identification of thirty-seven types of pencil shavings quite close by. On the end of your work table, come to think of it.”

He stubbed out his cigarette on the base of the lamp. “Now you’re being petulant.”

“No,” I corrected him. “I will be petulant in a few hours. First I have to move through livid and incensed.”

“You’re always welcome to borrow something from my library.”

I pointedly failed to dignify the suggestion with a response.

At last he sighed elaborately and said, “All right, what must I do?”

“I’m considering that,” I said truthfully.

“If it’s any comfort, I sacrificed a very fine pair of Italian-made shoes.” He extended one bare foot for my inspection.

“It’s not.”

“I might have been seriously injured,” he pointed out.

“I doubt that,” I said. “You jump like a cat.”

“Yes. True.”

“You know,” I remarked. “There is an experiment I’ve been thinking of trying,”

“Oh?” he said warily.

“Yes,” I said, turning on the sofa to face him. “It’s a technique for testing reflexes. It’s quite new.”

He quirked an eyebrow. “What is involved in this new test?”

I shrugged. “It’s very simple. I will run a small, blunt object such as a fountain pen along the sole of your foot and observe your reaction.”

“That’s all?” he said, raising his other eyebrow.

“It’s very simple.”

“And this will appease you.”

I considered. “Yes,” I agreed.

He pursed his lips. “All right,” he said. “How do we proceed?”

I gathered a stray cushion from the floor, pushed aside various remnants of the day including a discarded (and, I noticed, un-acid marked) pair of socks and settled myself at his feet.

He regarded me steadily. “This test,” he said. “What is it called?”

“The Babinski Sign,” I answered readily. “If the results are interesting I may write them up.”

His expression didn’t change.

“It will give me something to do,” I pointed out.

He puffed out a sigh. “Fine,” he said.

I removed my fountain pen from my waistcoat pocket and reached for his foot.

He pulled it away. “You’re not going to warm your hands?”

I met his gaze. “No,” I said evenly. “I hadn’t planned on it.”

He pursed his lips, lifted one bare foot, and rested it on my knee. He inhaled sharply as I took his ankle in my hand. His calf flexed.

“Out of curiosity,” he asked. “Is this a recognized medical procedure?”

“Not yet,” I said equably. When his calf failed to relax I added, “I grant you this doesn’t have the same scientific rigor as, oh, holding a mustache brush over an open flame to see how long it takes to ignite or testing the effects of boiling water on–”

“Yes, all right,” he said. “Point taken, Doctor.” He relaxed the muscles of his calf marginally and I turned the sole of his foot to face me.

“And,” I said. “I place the end of the pen just here near your heel and with a firm, steady upward stroke like so–”

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“No, thank you, Mrs Hudson,” I called down the stairs. “Everything’s fine. No, we won’t be needing a constable. Thank you.”

I closed the door quietly and turned back to the sitting room.

Holmes was perched at the far edge of the sofa, his bare feet pulled up under him, regarding me with narrowed eyes.

I smiled brightly. “You look like a housecat who has just had his tail trod on.”

He watched me warily as I crossed back to the sofa.

“That was a sound I’d never heard before,” I remarked conversationally. “And I consider myself an expert on your nonverbal utterances.”

As I sat he pulled his feet up even tighter against his flanks.

“You have excellent reflexes,” I said, smiling.

“We knew that without the help of Doctor Babinski,” he intoned dryly and added under his breath, “If there is such a person.”

“Joseph Jules François Félix Babinski,” I offered.

“French?”

“Yes.”

“Hmm.”

We sat in silence for several minutes. I regarded the fountain pen in my hand thoughtfully.

Holmes cleared his throat. “Do you, ah, have enough data to document your findings?”

I looked at him curiously.

His posture relaxed marginally. “Because,” he said, watching the pen as I turned it in my fingers. “Proper empirical method generally requires repeated tests.”

I considered this information. “Are you suggesting,” I asked, “That I need to repeat the experiment? Even several times?”

“Em. Possibly. Yes.” He cleared his throat. “Would you?”

My smile widened. “What about Mrs. Hudson?” I asked.

“No,” he said thoughtfully as he extended his long legs out across the length of the couch, resting his ankles on my thigh. “I don’t believe she’d be a very good test subject.”

Holmes proved not to be a very good subject either. After only three more tests, one of which resulted in his almost biting through a very nice embroidered sofa cushion, we determined that his reflexes were well above average and, as it turned out, considerably more diverting than any novel by Emilio Salgari and, quite possibly, all of them combined.

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~ 19 February 2008 ~
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In Praise of Pebbles, Bonnets and Budgerigars

a first kiss scene

The pebble that had seemed merely inconvenient when Holmes and I had take up our current positions under the hedgerow had, I decided, become intolerable. I shifted, attempting to alleviate the pressure on my kidney.

“Stop fidgeting, Watson,” Holmes muttered.

“I am not fidgeting,” I replied evenly. “I am damp and wretchedly uncomfortable and, I think, maintaining my temper quite well under the circumstances. In future, when you ask if I would like to accompany you on a ‘bit of activity out of doors’ I will think twice bef– I say, is that the girl we’ve been watching for?”

“No,” Holmes replied in something like a growl as a trim brunette emerged from below the manor’s porte-cochere and gave a dainty wave to the waiting coachman. “It is not. This bodes ill for our vigil, I’m afraid.”

From our vantage point on the hill overlooking the drive I watched the girl straighten her neat beribboned bonnet.

“That’s a rather cunning hat,” I remarked. “She seems a pleasant girl. I’m relieved she’s not our quarry.”

Holmes snorted indelicately. “Am I to understand you blithely base your assessment of her character on her choice of headwear? Watson, really. I assure you very few criminals are marked by their poor taste in bonnets. If that were the case half the women in Regent Street on any given afternoon might reasonably be shipped off to Newgate.”

“I think it’s quite fetching,” I went on doggedly as a footman offered his hand to assist the girl into the carriage, “It complements her complexion admirably and the jaunty way she has it cocked to the side seems to imply a spirited manner. I’m sure she’d be a delightful dinner companion. At any rate, you must allow she’s an attractive creature.”

“Budgerigars are attractive creatures,” he said dryly. “But I wouldn’t expect one to hold up its end of a conversation.”

“Honestly, Holmes,” I said. “The way you talk about women, anyone would think–”

“Yes, anyone would. Ah, I’m very much afraid that’s our surveillance gone to scratch,” he said as the coachman whipped up the horses and started up the drive. “I owe you a hearty breakfast, I think, old man. Perhaps scones and honey to start– ”

“Just a moment,” I said, turning to him as the coach rolled away down the lane in a jangle of harness bells. “I’d like you to expound on that last remark.”

Holmes pursed his lips, apparently studying the now quiet face of the manor. “Budgerigars are not known for their conversational skills,” he said after a pause. “I’m surprised you’re not aware of it. Would you prefer Simpson’s or the Camellia Room?”

As he propped himself up on his elbows and moved to rise I laid a restraining hand firmly on his shoulder. “That’s not the comment I referred to as you very well know,” I said, turning onto my side. “I’d be grateful if you’d answer my question.”

He puffed out a breath and shot me glance from the corner of his eye. “Very well,” he said grimly. “I will expound.” And with that he bent toward me and proceeded to give me a lengthy, thorough and exceptionally vigorous kiss.

When at last he moved away he leant back on one elbow and studied me warily. “Have you any other questions?” he asked.

“Yes, just one,” I said a little breathlessly. “How long do you think we might reasonably linger under this hedge without attracting attention?”

A smile quirked the corners of his mouth. “I seem to remember hearing you were damp and wretchedly uncomfortable,” he remarked.

“I’m willing to overlook it,” I said as I looped my hand around his waist and pulled him toward me. “For a bit of activity out of doors.”

And in very short order all thoughts of pebbles, bonnets, and budgerigars were forgotten. We did eventually manage breakfast, however. Mrs. Hudson was more than up to providing exactly what was required and, to her credit, never asked what became of all the honey.

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