“Next! And who are you supposed to be?”
“Um, Holmes, of course…”
“Yes, yes, yes, but which one? I’ve got straight canon characters over there, Robert Downey Jr.’s in that line by the Powerades and your standard, Without A Clue, riffers next to them; all done up like Michael Caine and looking angry that anyone else thought of it... so, which are you?”
“Right, sorry; I’m Rathbone.”
“Basil Rathbone? You, are Basil Rathbone?”
“Yep, check out my deerstalker.”
“They all have deerstalkers, sweetie, and plastic Meerschaums, and little clandestine cases of cocaine, but, well... you do know he was over six foot tall, don’t you?”
“Ah, yes, sorry, yes; six foot two inches, to be exact.”
“Well, don’t mean to be rude, but you... you're hardly a crackalackin’ five foot five.”
“Hey, whatcha-gonna-do; it’s Sherlock Holmes, they’re all tall… ‘cept’in’ Downey, and I wasn’t ‘bout to debase myself like that….”
“True enough. In that case, your line is somewhere past that massive crowd in front.”
“Who are they supposed to be?”
“You mean, Benedict Cumberbatch?”
“That’s the one, now move along and try not to get trampled. Next!”
A rather ordinary looking man stepped forward. He surveyed the young, purple haired woman with the clipboard, standing rather straighter than was usual in that crowd, and waited for her to speak.
“What’s your racket, sweetie?” she prompted, and two milliseconds later when the man failed to respond, and with didactic emphasis, “Who you supposed to be, bro?”
“I apologize my good woman,” said the man. “I was in something of a brown study. My name is John Watson.”
“Oh, a Watson. Well, it takes all sorts. You see those three or four guys milling around by the Valuesoda machine, past that cluster of Irene Adlers? Those are your folk...”
The man smiled slightly, clearly perplexed and the woman sighed.
“You a dad?” she said.
“No, I have never had any children.”
“Oh… no kids huh? I just thought… well, most dads, if they don’t want to do the work and come as a Holmes, just fudge a quick Watson and call it quits. You know, it’s almost time for my break… Hey! Tania! Cover my line, will ya?”
Taking the bemused man by his tweed sleeve the woman led him away from the hubbub. The line of greatcoats swayed forward to fill in the spot like a garment conveyor at a Vermont dry cleaners.
“This your first time coming to one of these?” she asked.
“You mean a convention?” said the man, allowing himself to be led, limping slightly, to a table behind a rope marked staff.
“I do work ‘em all, but I guess I meant a Sherlock Holmes convention- and, the name’s Iris, by the way; what’s yours?”
The man twitched his small mustache and shifted his cane to the other hand.
“My name is Dr. John Watson,” he said. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Iris.”
“Gonna stick with that, huh? Don’t think I’ve ever met a Watson who just relentlessly rocked the character. Come to think of it, I’ve never talked to a Watson... So, I gotta’ ask; if you don’t got any kids here, what’s the point? I mean, why Watson? Why shoot for the B character?”
The man pulled around a plastic chair and held it til Iris, her understanding late in coming, reposed herself with a Victorian affectation.
“This really is something,” said the man, still a little awestruck. With a sigh, he joined her at the table.
“You think that I was the B character?” he mused, staring round. “You’re right, I suppose, but then I would never have imagined that my work would endure at all, let alone like this, that anyone would even remember Holmes and I...”
His voice trailed away as his eyes continued to move, straying over the story booths and outfitters, the contests queues and novelty huts. He slowly strafed the massive banks of monitors, across which there loomed a panoply of actors, all similarly attired and doing their hammy best to portray the great man.
“Back when I was in school,” said Iris. “College I mean, a hundred years ago- ya ever go to college, John?”
“Oh, right…. Well, back then they had a guy come in and impersonate Wild Bill Cody for us. It was like what you do, ‘cept he did it for a living and he was actin’ a real guy, not someone make believe. Walked right in like he was the dude in the flesh, all decked out in furs and’ boots an’ the lot. We asked him questions, whatever we could think of, and he had all the answers; right there on his fingertips. Pretty amazing, actually.”
“Buffalo Bill!” exclaimed John, with a peal of laughter, riding right over her differentiation. “I remember that; Buffalo Bill and his wild west show, with, oh... what was her name? I can not think. My goodness, that was another life.” His face became somber, those deep brown eyes lost on some distant spot between the exit door and a woman selling handmade journals.
“Did you go see it?” asked Iris, ironically.
“Me? No... no,” said John. “He was on the other side of the world, over in the states. Besides, I had my practice and my wife; all those little things that fill up a lifetime. And there was always Holmes. The older he got, the more remote from this world he became, and the more I felt I had to stay… in his sphere. He was like a child towards the end.”
“You mean he lost his mind, got dementia, or something?” said Iris, frowning. “I went through that with my grandad. It was terrible.”
“I am certain it was,” said John. “Even now, with all the amazing advances in medicine I have seen and read about, there is still nothing that can be done when the mind begins to deteriorate. But no, I meant that my friend became more and more simple. He, even with all that encyclopedic knowledge of the evil that men are capable of, became as pure and innocent as a newborn.”
“Was that with his bees?”
“Bees? Oh, you mean that time in Sussex. No, it was well past then. The bees were just a passing fancy, like all those monographs he never got around to writing. He bought a little house at the beach where he would just sit and stare out over the water. He sort of, floated away. I couldn’t simply leave him.”
“Well, you’re here now,” said Iris brightly, after a moment. “Orlando can be a fun enough place. I’ve got to do this gig ‘till closing but after that….”
“I say Holmes, I don’t understand, I’m a blithering idiot!” yelled a high voice out of a raucous group on the other side of the large room.
“I’m sorry about them, they don’t mean it,” said Iris quickly, before she could stop herself.
“How do you mean?” said the man.
Iris was a little flustered.
“If you really were Dr. Watson,” she said, feeling stupid. “I mean, if you really were him, the actual him, I wouldn’t have wanted them to hurt your feelings.”
“You mean, with their blundering about and their stupid antics? Yes, I know. Since I returned I’ve… well, the first thing I did was check on my writing, and when I found out that Holmes had lived on, that he was still a thing…. What a surprise that was! He was huge in his day, in our day, but so were a lot of other detectives as well, male and female. Of course after I found that out, like any author I had to read everything, and see everything that had been done with him, all these ‘movies,’ and shows and ‘video games.’ And the novels, oh my, the stories; those were the biggest surprise of all, not that people could carry on with my work, but that anyone should want to. I read it all, and watched it all... so of course I have seen what has become of me, of the Watson character; the poor simple fool, the fat, blundering idiot.”
“And, you’re not mad?”
“Mad?” said John, sliding the plastic salt container across so that it banged into the pepper. He tapped his fingers on the table.
“Well, I may have been inclined that way at first,” he allowed, with a slight shrug.
“But look around you good lady, look at this legacy, at this ever growing story. Besides, I may be Watson, but I’m not that Watson. In my actual life I was an athlete, a soldier and a doctor, a published novelist and twice a husband. I had a rich, full existence… and I was clever enough to write the damn stories in the first place.”
“And now look what they’ve done to you; Nigel Bruce, blech!”
“And of course the stories weren’t ever supposed to be about me, not really. If Holmes has lived on, I couldn’t be more pleased. The Watson's in those movies are just a reflection and besides, they aren't all bad.”
“So how do you feel about movies?”
“And airplanes, I mean, aeroplanes?”
“Heard about the Wright’s; thought it was just going to be a fluke, a publicity stunt. My mistake on that one.”
“Now again, I had seen gasoline powered engines, though most everything was steam, of course. I suppose I had an idea they might become something bigger. I do miss carriages and horses, but not the smell. Everything is so much quicker nowadays.”
“Did you know,” he said, “that if you count up all the times fan fiction has had me getting married I would have walked down the aisle some six times?”
“Now, I’ve always had a weakness for the sex, but that’s getting into competition with Henry the 8th.”
“What happened to those wives, I wonder?”
“Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived,” recited John.
Iris let out a peal of laughter.
“And what happened to yours, Johnny boy?”
“Well, Mary, my darling Mary… she fell out of love with me, you know, just, drifted away. It was my own fault, I was so busy with work and with Holmes. One day I came home after a hiatus and there she was, dead, in the kitchen. She had poisoned herself. I didn’t think I would ever get over that.”
“Ohhh,” said Iris, patting his hand.
John tutted his head. “But, one does, you know,” he said. “And, years later, I married again. She was with me till the end, she was. Her end.”
“So, you’re single then?”
John inclined his head.
“This is kinda’ fun,” said Iris. “How do you explain yourself now? I mean, how do you account for being here, in the present, when you should’a died, what, a hundred years ago?”
“After Violet died-.”
“That was your wife?”
“My second wife, yes, and- I’ve got it.”
“Third wife? Girlfriend?”
“No, no. The woman who was in the Wild West show with Buffalo Bill, her name, it was Annie Oakley. Knew I would remember it….”
“Anyway, Mary died when I was still a relatively young man. Then, after Violet passed, I immersed myself once again in medical studies. It was a way to kill the pain. And, long story short, I drifted into some fringe groups, theoretical mathematicians, scientists delving into mesmerism and occultism, trying to find the correlations between what people call magic and what we knew as science. After years of hard work and experimentation we discovered a way to stop ourselves, to just, put consciousness on pause. It was a dark science, true, hard to explain and even harder to understand. Frankly, I don’t think any of us believed wholeheartedly that it would really work, but, I picked the short straw and… here I am.”
“Here ya’ are! Yeah! So, what are your plans now then?”
“I think I might follow the show, for a while,” said John, shrugging and looking lost.
“This show? The Holmes expo?”
“Yes, just follow it around the country and… see things. Perhaps I can swing the pendulum back a bit, show everyone that Watson wasn’t a total ass, at least, not all the time.”
John spared a censorious glance at the small crowd of milling Watson's.
“You know it don’t pay anything? Even if you work for them it don’t pay much.”
“I don’t need money. My consciousness is self-sustaining.”
Iris patted his hand.
“You can’t do that John.”
“But, I mean to say, well, why not?”
“I don’t know what happened to you, really, but still everyone you’ve ever loved is gone, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, I could tell. And you don’t have any friends or family left either, do you. Sometimes you feel so desperate that you just want to die, don’t you?”
John stared out the door into the pale Florida sunlight, his strong surgical fingers still on the table.
“Yes,” he said, very quietly.
“I work these shows John, and they’re a hoot, or they can be, but for you, now, they would be a death sentence.”
“Nope, my mind’s made up an’ you’re not gonna’ do it. I’m takin’ the rest of the day off and we’re gonna’ smash I-drive, just you and me, bucky-boy. We’ll figure something out together, and you wanna know why...?”
John smiled, a slight weight easing out of his tight shoulders.
“Why?” he said.
“Because,” enthused Iris, leaping to her feet with a shout. “The game is afoot!”
An enthusiastic roar sounded from the gathered Sherlockians as John labored upwards to join her, his weight on his uninjured leg.
“One- damn- story,” he muttered with an ironic grimace.
“What’choo talkin’ ‘bout?” said Iris, sliding her silvered sunshades down over her eyes.
“That line, I only wrote it once, you know, one-damn-story, and it’s what everybody... Oh well; an author’s lot, I suppose… So, where to first?”