Frederick Mitchell had done pretty well in life for a common mugger. He hadn’t done too much time in his forty years and never for anything serious, had never killed anyone, and didn’t have a nagging missus waiting for him at home. He had survived reasonably well in the streets after moving from Birmingham to London, too, for the City was full of careless people who didn’t know how to guard their wallets or phones or themselves. Had anyone actually cared enough to ask – which they didn’t, but he was okay with that – Fred might even have ventured to call himself happy.
For some reason, though, the current day had done its damnedest to change that fact. Fred was not having a very good evening when he trudged along the streets of London with his hands deep in his pockets, shoulders hunched against the pouring rain. His shoes weren’t of very good quality and they were already soaked through; he could practically feel the soles peeling off. The cold rainwater trickled down Fred’s neck, fully exposed to the elements without a scarf to warm him, and it made him shiver when it soaked into the worn shirt he had on under his coat. However, the miserable weather was only the icing on the cake.
Fred had woken up with a serious hangover. That alone would not have been so bad, had the bedroom not been as cold as a fridge in the morning due to his landlord’s inability to fix the heating system. Considering the situation, it was no surprise that Fred had also had a sore throat and had sniffled his way through his measly breakfast.
Once he’d felt well enough to join the rest of the population, he had been smart enough to nick himself an umbrella soon after. It was one of those days when it rained so much that you thought God had finally had enough of London and was trying to drown her like a common rat.
The rain hadn’t let up by the time afternoon rolled around. Fred had seen a few familiar faces, heard a little gossip on the side, and noticed that most of the folks who were on the move used public transportation or cabs. He contemplated riding the tube for a while; it was bound to be packed with people. He got on at Seven Sisters and made it all the way to Oxford Circus before the security guard noticed him trying to pinch things and chased him out.
On his way to Knightsbridge he’d finally run into a couple of men he had thought to rob. The taller one, the one with a shock of black hair and expensive clothing, wore a long coat - no high chance of snagging anything from him - but his companion was a shorter bloke with a casual jacket and a limp, and the back pocket of his jeans was bulging promisingly. Fred started following them, almost a block away since it was not particularly difficult to stay on their tail, and was just about ready to run by them when something odd happened.
The tall guy glanced behind himself, turning his head just a bit - quite enough to spot Fred from the corner of his eye in case he knew he was being followed, but... surely he hadn’t caught on to that, right? Fred stopped to inspect a conveniently placed shop window just in case, pretending to be on a leisurely stroll even though he knew that in such weather it was a flimsy cover at best.
He was just about to scramble after the men when the tall one deliberately slid his hand into the other bloke’s back pocket, covering the wallet and giving his bum a definite squeeze. The tall man cocked his head to say something, his lips practically brushing the shorter guy’s ear. From that distance, Fred couldn’t hear him but whatever he said it caused the bloke to look up at his fellow before they disappeared around the corner.
Fred had stayed rooted on the spot, his mouth hanging slightly open. “Fucking fags,” he’d eventually spat in irritation and turned to walk the other way.
Frustrated, he’d tried his luck with a couple of birds too and, well. It had turned out they weren’t quite as enamoured with Fred as he’d initially thought, which had lead to a lot of screaming and scratching on their part, and frantic scrambling to get away on his part before the screams alerted any nearby coppers. He’d been coughing fiercely by the time he stopped, holding a hand to his aching side and sure that he was going to have a cold of gigantic proportions by next morning.
So all in all, when Fred Mitchell turned a corner and saw the man from earlier, the one with the limp, walk further up the otherwise empty street alone, he thought himself to be back in Lady Luck’s favour. With a predatory grin, he quickened his step.
Half an hour later he entered a seedy pub inhabited by men of his ilk, grinning widely - but not too widely, wouldn’t do to let one of them bastards in on the good fortune that had befallen him - and seated himself at the bar, ordering a pint from the bartender who appeared terminally bored. The sounds of the pub washed over him, warming him just about as much as the drink warmed his empty stomach, and for the first time during the day, he dared to relax a little.
Not much time passed before a burly man seated himself next to Fred without asking. He was just about to give the stranger a piece of his mind when he noticed the crude tattoos on the backs of his hands and the crooked hat the man wore.
“Simon!” Fred cried. “Long time, no see!”
The other fellow - Simon, a crook every day, a forger if you paid him enough, and an old friend of Fred’s from the army - grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. “I didn’t know you’d come to your senses, you Brummy! How long have you been in the City?”
“Long enough,” Fred chuckled. “She’s a generous lover, this one,” he added, tapping the side of his nose a little too hard, emboldened by the beer.
Simon quirked a bushy eyebrow at him. “Is that so, mate? Now that you mention, I did fancy you looked awfully pleased with yourself.”
Giving a little shrug, Fred gave a quick look around to make sure that no one was keeping too close an eye on them, and then pulled the wallet out of his pocket. “Damn right I am,” he grinned as he put it on the bar. “This little baby will keep me in grub and beer for the rest of the month!”
Simon reached for the wallet and, after getting a quick nod of permission from Fred, began to idly flip through it. Had Fred not been ordering his second beer at that moment, he would have seen the way Simon blanched when he saw the driving license.
“You stupid sonovabitch!” the man shouted suddenly, startling Fred. “Have you any idea what you’ve done?”
Fred gave him a look. “Calm down, mate,” he murmured, indicating the other patrons at the pub, and sipped from his pint. “I stole a wallet. It’s no big deal.”
“It bloody well is if it’s Watson’s wallet that you’ve stolen!” Simon hissed. “Look! Isn’t that John Watson, huh? Fuck, you are doomed. Did you hit him?”
Thinking that Simon was on a really bad trip or had finally fallen too far into the bottle to ever come out, Fred kept a careful eye on the bigger man’s movements when he took the license from him. It belonged to an Englishman named John H. Watson; born in the late 70’s, entitled to an army pension. He was the same bloke Fred had nicked the wallet from, all right; mousy blond hair, a friendly smile - until he realised you were after his money, that is - and low eyebrows.
“This is the guy,” he said, puzzled. “And yeah, I may have roughed him up a bit; I was having a bad day. What’s so special about him?”
“What’s so—Oh, you bloody idiot! A streetwalker could tell you’re a rookie here.” Simon took a deep breath and rubbed his face with his large hands. “Look, the deal is this. Nobody touches John Watson, and I mean nobody. He’s, well, I guess he’s being protected. There’s this man, Sherlock Holmes, and he...”
“A man? So he’s the homo I saw earlier? Had his hand so deep in this guy’s pocket it’s a wonder he—”
“Shut the hell up—Wait, you saw him? He didn’t see you, did he?”
Fred shook his head. “No, I don’t think so.” He suddenly thought back to the moment right before he’d lost the men. “Well, maybe.”
“I’m sorry, mate, you’ve no idea how sorry” Simon muttered, shaking his head, and shuffled off his seat in an obvious hurry. “But it’s not safe around you. Mr Holmes, he’s going to kill you, and I’m fond of breathing so I’m going to stay out of his way.”
Annoyed, Fred grabbed his sleeve. “Come on, Simon,” he tried, his smile wavering only slightly when he noticed that everyone else in the pub had also subtly inched away from his immediate vicinity. “You’re joking, right? No way the creep can find me. The cripple doesn’t know it was me, he didn’t even see me—”
“But Mr Holmes did, didn’t he? He’s gonna figure out it was you and he’ll find you.” Simon swallowed nervously. “Remember what happened to Moriarty?”
Fred remembered the man even though he had never worked for him. Moriarty had been a legend in the criminal underbelly of London. Everybody talked about him. "I heard they never found his body." With a flash, Fred realised that that was where he’d run into the name Holmes before, something about...
"Oh, they found his body alright,” Simon snorted. “His head, on the other hand..." He looked meaningfully at Fred. “I hear this Holmes fellow keeps it in his fridge. As a trophy.”
A cold feeling of dread crept into Fred’s stomach. “Fuck. You’re serious?” he choked out, disbelieving. There was no way anyone could have that much power over... But Moriarty did, a voice whispered in his mind. Because he was so bloody off his rocker it was easy to believe he’d make good on his threats.
Simon gave him one last look. “It’s the word in the streets, mate; you harm John Watson, Sherlock Holmes will come for you. It’s like he’s some sort of a boogeyman. And,” he leaned closer to Fred, “I’ve yet to hear of a man who’s hurt Watson and lived to tell the tale.”
Fred stared at the front door for a long while after Simon had left.
Getting pissed wasn’t the smartest thing to do – assuming that Simon was right – but with each pint Fred downed, his courage returned to him. He thought about the situation hard and came to the conclusion that one, there was no way Holmes had seen him well enough to recognise him later on because Fred had barely been able to make out his face, and two, there was no way in hell he’d connect the mugging of his buddy to Fred. People were mugged in London every day, and in different parts of the town at that.
He stumbled a little when he slipped off his stool and left the pub. The rain had finally stopped and the fresh air it had left behind cleared his head as he began walking home; it would pass the time and he was still pretty deep in thought.
It wasn’t long until he began to get paranoid. Was that a flash of someone in the dark window of the pawnshop? Did his footsteps echo somewhat strangely? Had he seen a shadow detach itself from a wall when he had left the pub, or had it just been a random passerby going in the other direction?
Fred glanced around and wrapped his coat tighter around himself, grabbing his umbrella in his better hand. No goddamn boogeyman was going to take him down, no matter how deathly afraid Simon was of him.
Soon enough, though, he could hear the footsteps behind him. When he picked up his pace, they did too; and when he randomly stopped for a split second - they did too. Fear clenching his stomach, Fred turned to look over his shoulder and saw, under the yellow light of the streetlamp, not even a block away, a tall man in a long dark coat.
The man was advancing on him. Fred did the only thing he knew bloody well how to do; he ran.
He knew home was a long way off, but one of his drinking buddies lived nearby. If he could make it there, he could get a gun - he would survive, surely. Fred raced down a small alley, hopped over a fence at the end of it, turned into another street. He ran around a block, just to shake his tail off, and then hurried through a pub that was still open, avoided the shouting bartender as he darted behind the bar and out the back door.
Panting, his legs burning with the exertion, Fred chanced a few quick looks behind some time later and saw no one. He blinked, surprised, and then began to laugh self-consciously as he ran. How could he have been so stupid as to believe Simon? It wasn’t possible for just one man to keep another, specific man safe; you needed much more eyes and ears in the City to do that. There was no way that Holmes—
Fred completely missed the foot that was stuck in his path.
He hit the pavement with a thud. The impact knocked the air out of his lungs and left him flopping on the ground like a dying fish.
“You made it this far without falling,” a smooth voice said above him as he lay on the dirty ground, trying to get his breath back. “Impressive. I thought that with the amount of alcohol in your system, even a man of your size would have tripped over his own feet once or twice.”
Fred tried to turn onto his back to see the man but his attempt was discouraged with a sharp kick in the ribs, right where the cripple had managed to land a punch when Fred had wrestled with him.
A pair of feet clad in impeccably polished black leather shoes appeared in his field of vision. “I’m rather disappointed,” the voice continued. “After Mr Cooper warned you about me, only an idiot would have stayed at the pub. You didn’t even try to run.” The stranger tutted. “Now where’s the fun in that?”
Fred was starting to feel bad about this. “Look, mate, can’t we talk about this?” he cut in hastily. He thought that he might still negotiate his way out. “I’ve got the wallet if that’s what you want! I can give it back, I only used a tenner of the money.“
“The wallet isn’t the only thing I want.”
Fred’s blood ran cold. “God, man, just, please don’t kill me, okay?” he begged, terrified of the absolute silence behind him. “I swear, I didn’t know about your bloke! I’ll leave him alone, I’ll never do that again—“
“No,” the man interrupted calmly, pressing the heel of his shoe into Fred’s kidney with terrifying precision. “I rather think you won’t.”
Fred tried to scream, he really did.
“Did you solve your case, boy genius?” John murmured sleepily when Sherlock carefully slid back into bed behind him, fresh from shower.
“Oh yes,” Sherlock murmured, smiling slightly. “It was a rather dull matter, though, much less exciting than your evening. Go back to sleep, John.”
Sherlock wound a possessive arm around him and followed him into sleep.
A week later, a common crook named Simon Cooper found that someone had deposited a hundred pounds into his bank account, the one of which but a few select people should have known.
He knew better than to shrug it off, instead opting to draw the money and give half of it to a street kid he had tipped off some time ago. The boy took the money, grinned at him and told him that Mr Holmes was very grateful. Simon went home and tried to forget about it.
The word in the streets was that John Watson was off limits, so you left him alone.
Otherwise, Mr Holmes would come for you.