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When my husband, Martin, leaves for work, counting down the days until he can finally retire, I will often find myself sat in our kitchen, with my dog Gladstone by my side, reminiscing on my life and my days with Shelley Holmes. I have written about how my friendship with that incredible woman left such an indelible mark on myself, and how our time together in her detective agency was some of the most exhilarating of my life. Had things not ended the way they had, I like to think we would still be running through the streets of Manchester righting wrongs.
Often, my dives into memory are nothing more than day trips, a fleeting remembrance of a life that was. On this day, however, my thoughts circled around the same topic they had done for some time. At the weekend, Martin encouraged the children – lord knows why I still refer to them as children now that they’re both nearly three decades on this – to help carry some things down from the attic, in the hopes of finding things suitable for a car boot sale.
Amongst the bric-a-brac and items stored away with a half-arsed notion to retrieve them one day, my old keepsake box. A metal tin in which I kept various items I believed, in my 20s at least, would be of sentimental value in my later years.
Rifling through numerous flyers for bars no longer open, and photos of men I would rather not discuss with my husband, it was evident that younger me was a bit of an idiot; overzealously placing a higher value on these items than I would today. Underneath these trinkets though, rattling at the bottom of the box, was a small tape recorder.
‘Good lord,’ whispered my husband. ‘Not seen one of those in years.’
My eldest, intrigued by his father’s ‘old fashioned’ item, quickly formulated a campaign to have me play the contents of the tape so we could all laugh at my more idealistic self. Having taught at a city college for several decades now, it was often remarked upon by my loved ones that I had become quite serious. The prospect of hearing me without the baggage of the education sector having worn me down would apparently be amusing.
Bowing to peer pressure, I agreed and Martin, with a devilish grin, pressed play. And yes, the first twenty minutes were entertaining enough as I listened to the John Watson of yesteryear, dictating his stories into the tape, and cursing himself when something didn’t work. Then, after one particularly impressive bout of swearing due to being unable to recall a particular synonym, the recorder skipped to the next file and I heard her voice.
‘Right,’ She said. ‘Is this on?’
I snatched the tape out of my husband’s hand and pressed the off button. Whilst there was much protestations and accusations of me spoiling everyone’s fun, I quickly left the room as if being pulled by some unknown force. Guided by this spirt, I made my way to office and dropped the tape recorder into my top drawer, locking it away. I couldn’t have it listened to, I simply couldn’t.
Returning to the living room, I played up my sudden departure by joking that the voice on the tape was that of a former lover. Martin feigned a jealous, but jokey, anger, whilst my children seemingly regressed several decades to that of stroppy teenagers. Sensing the conversation was hurtling towards discussions about S-E-X, they stuck their fingers in their ears whilst making spewing noises.
‘Oh, Dad. Bleurgh. Just don’t. Bleurgh.’
Later that night, after the children left, my husband politely, but bluntly asked me why I did not just own up to the room that it was SH’s voice on the tape. I offered up an explanation that to do so would only encourage them to want to listen to the rest of it. Growing up, they had had an insatiable appetite for SH and their father’s time as a detective. Even now, they will ask me to read out one of my adaptations of our adventures. Of the ones that I have self-published, their reviews are always the boldest online.
This case though, I told my husband, was not my story to tell. The things that happened, that SH talked about on that tape, cut my friend to her very core. To the rest of the world, it did not change her, but I saw the signs that said the Baskerville Case had taken its toll.
I am blessed that my husband is an extremely understanding man and knowing he wasn’t going to get
anything more out of me, retired to bed whilst I stayed up with wine and cigarettes.
It has been several decades since the Baskerville Case happened and as I type this, I am reminded of the numerous online conspiracies that plagued SH. Although she was forcibly distanced from the aftermath, I knew of the weight of it hung from her neck for some time.
The media speculated over how it could have ended the way it did, and the official account was seemingly clear cut. For SH, though, the case became an example of every negative point of the temptations she fought hard against, and which, despite her cavalier attitude, steeled her resolve to ensure nothing like this would happen again.
This is the case that has been dominating my daily musings. Looking back on that time, I feel I wasn’t there enough for SH. Back then, I was drifting from the agency a touch and finding love in all the wrong places. I should have tried harder to break the long periods of silence that greeted me when I returned to our home. Instead, I just waited it all out until she was back to semblance of her usual self. All done, nothing to worry about, let’s go on an adventure.
I’m not sure if Shelley ever reads my work; I have never received evidence to suggest she does. I know the very idea of it would appal her, but I think it’s why I do it. To prove to someone, anyone, that she was deserving of praise, even when fate was against her.
Spilling everything on to the page like this, I realise, has merely been a ruse to convince myself of what I should do.