Ms Holmes 2: Title to be confirmed is in the editing stages and due for release in April. Until then, here’s a sneaky peek of the first chapter.
Originally, this was to be a short Christmas based piece of fluff that I was going to upload as a larf. However, I very soon realised it would be a good way to reintroduce the characters in my second story.
Official cover art. Though probably not. Definitely not.
Full disclosure: This is raw and uncut, which means there are a few errors that will be ironed out when the story is officially published. That said, I hope you enjoy it. I can’t wait to share the rest of it with you.
You can pick up a copy of the first Ms Holmes today from:
Chapter 1 – The Fort
Having noticed I’d left my bedroom door open after returning from a date the previous night, Hudson had decided that I would be the one who would attend to her request for breakfast. Her warm fishy breath, an unwelcome a wake-up call as any, had ruined a particularly delicious dream about an X-Factor contestant. Wrenching my sleeping mask off, I was greeted by Hudson, fat furry and sat on my chest, meowing silently at me for attention. It took a moment for me to realise the reason for her lack of vocals, and I pulled out my ear plugs. Immediately, I was reminded why I had put them in in the first place. Loud French hip hop encroached its way into my personal space, in the same manner as Hudson, through the open door.
SH was still in a mood.
Pushing Hudson off me to much protest, I sighed and set about putting back on the underpants and t-shirt I had discarded previously. When I had first moved into Flat 2b, Level 2, Baker House, SH had warned me of her mood swings. Having been brought up by her bootstraps by an underachieving mother, her father absent, and her brother killed whilst on duty, it would surprise no one that SH had a few emotional creases she had yet to iron out of herself. Her long periods of silence in high school could have been put down to the surly attitude of a teenager not getting her own way, but now in her twenties, there was clearly a lot more going on under the hood. A fair bit of time was needed to unpick the mess of fairy lights that rolled into view on occasion. It was all very sad, but still…
‘Does she have to play it so bloody loud?’ I muttered to Hudson.
Hudson meowed more out of her need for me to hurry up and open a can, than in agreement about her owner’s unsociable music. Turning to present me her butthole – as cat’s invariably always seem to want to – she tiptoed quickly out of the room. And having been successfully trained by her in the 6 or seven months I had lived here, I followed dutifully.
The living area – an open plan living room and kitchen area – was exactly as I had witnessed it when I returned last night. Two empty 2l bottles of soft drink on the breakfast bar, a cold pizza with one slice missing sat on the office desk in the corner, and the cushions from the three-piece suite had abandoned their natural habitat to be used as a part of a blanket fort that sat prominently next to our gas fire. Smoke occasionally escaped from cracks in the blankets that covered the fort. Either a new Pope was regularly being announced, or SH was in her makeshift home.
The music had changed to an old tune that we used to head bang ironically to back in our uni days. I strode over to the stereo and switched it off before the singer could get any further in his anger about this dad. An iPod plugged into the speakers eh? We must be angry if we weren’t using the vinyl.
‘What you doing?’ said a voice from inside the fort.
‘Giving my ears and those of our neighbours a rest.’ I said walking over to the kitchen, setting about the necessary details for a decent brew.
‘No one’s complained, have they?’ Less a question and more of statement.
As the kettle boiled, I noticed some post had been pushed under our front door. Picking the pile up, I realised they were all handwritten notes. A few in the same handwriting.
‘”Can you please turn your music down?” I read aloud. “Please, I don’t want to cause a fuss, but it really is very late?” “What kind of person doesn’t answer the door when someone is knocking?” Hear that SH? There was knocking.’
I reached the last note.
‘This one just says ‘Bastard!’
There was a rustle from inside the fort and SH’s head popped out of from what you had to assume amongst the blankets and cushions was the front. She’d done something to her hair which, now slicked back, gave her the look of a 19th century boxer or Al Capone, should he have ever decided to have a undercut. Her light brown skin was annoyingly smooth as ever, but dark shadows under her eyes highlighted a distinct lack of sleep.
‘Bastard?’ she smiled ‘Really? That succinct?’
Her head disappeared back in the fort and was replaced a moment later by her hand
‘Giz a look, yeah?’
I walked the few short steps to her fort and placed the notes in her hand which disappeared back inside the fort. There was a sound of rustling before a ball of paper flew out from the gap in the blankets as if fired from an unforeseen cannon.
‘Number 2a. Pretty obvious,’ SH said from inside.
Another shot was fired.
‘Tiny handwriting. Big loops. Smells of tobacco. That’s the dirty sod from upstairs. No love lost there.’
A steady stream of paper balls flew out now.
‘Flat 3 with corrections made by Flat 1 downstairs. I hope his wife knows where he was last night.’
‘Are you done?’ I said, trying to keep my amusement to myself. I was after all in a bollocking mood.
‘That’s all the news to print, yeah.’ SH responded.
‘Not your carnival trick. This!’ I said, placing a hand on the top of her fort. ‘We’re now clocking on to 24 hours. How long is this expected to stand?’
As I gave it a ‘gentle’ shake, the fortress she housed herself from the world turned out to be surprisingly flimsy.
‘Avalanche!’ SH screamed as her microcosm collapsed around her. ‘You bastard!’
Rising from the cushions and blankets like an ill-tempered phoenix, SH threw an accusatory stare at me as I skittered back to the kitchen and attended to the tea.
‘Joke’s on you, yeah?’ she seethed. ‘You got cigarette ash on everything.’
‘Worth it.’ I smiled, warming the pot.
‘Including your Garfield cushion.’
‘Victory is mine!’ SH cheered, arms raised and making her way to the breakfast bar.
Sitting herself at the table, I poured her a cup of tea; three sugars, no milk.
‘So, why have you been living like a nomad in your own flat?’ I asked, popping bread into the toaster.
‘I’m bored, John.’ SH sighed. ‘How long have we been doing this?’
‘Well, for me it’s been six months.’
Six wonderful months at the side of my dearest and closest friend. Six months of helping people, really helping people. ‘We are an agency that gives agency,’ I liked to say. SH said that sounded dreadful and so I wasn’t allowed to refer to our business that way again.
With my mum’s house rented out to students, I had supplemented the income from that with a part time job at a second hand book shop near the Arndale Centre. The owner was a miserable sod who lived at the bottom of a bottle of red, but he was surprisingly relaxed about my often, and often erratic, sabbaticals. SH charging ahead ready to solve a mission, and me close behind ready to lend a hand for the good of the women of Manchester and beyond.
‘As if we’ve ever been further than Liverpool!’ SH interrupted my thoughts. ‘I can always tell when you’re romanticising what we’ve been up to. Let’s be honest it’s all been a bit quiet.’
‘I thought you wanted to do this to help people, make a change and all that.’ I said. ‘You can’t expect every case to be a towering monument to Social justice. If you start thinking like that, then you’re effectively wishing ill will on people. Isn’t that right?’
SH opened her mouth as if to argue the point, but then shrugged and let her head fall to the table surface.
After the incident with her brother Michael, SH had set up her practice as a means of helping women, helping them to seek justice. A smattering of cases had seen her really pushed to the edge of her talents, but if truth be told, things had got a bit… quiet. Whereas once SH had lurked in the shadows of Manchester’s underground on a near daily basis on behalf of her brother, Michael, she was beginning to find stepping out into the sunlight proving to be less than advantageous. SH’s last case had been a rather non remarkable incident involving a misplaced Take That CD.
‘I know.’ She sighed into the table. ‘I know. I know. I know! But… The last month or so…’
‘I know, Shelly’ I offered my hand
A swift whack on my wrist warned me about the name I used. SH was veracious with her nickname. I can’t even remember when it was we’d first stopped calling her Shelly. I do remember my mum, upon seeing her new moniker written down, had refused to stop calling her ‘Ssssssh’ for about a week.
‘You could always join me in the bookstore,’ I continued. ‘You know, take you mind off things.’
‘Yeah, right.’ SH tutted, finally lifting her head up ‘That’d help me. Be like you? Another miniscule cog in the corporate bastard machine. Ooh, my name’s John and I’ve got a 9 to 5 job.’
‘I work, like, two days a week…’
SH grabbed the newspaper I’d placed on the breakfast bar, and flicked through it. Whilst I buttered my toast, she emitted a long sigh. In moods like this, her sighs were always so long. As if her very nature of being was going through some sort of extraction process.
‘LOOK AT THIS!’ She said, whacking my arm with the newspaper before showing me the page that had caught her interest.
The headline read: Greystoke Heir Still Missing After Crash Over Jungle.
‘It’s a fake!’ She cried. ‘He’s doing it for the publicity. There’s references in here about a recent drugs bust and a break up from a Kardashian, whatever that is. He’s very likely lying low in the most media hungry manner possible. He’ll come back in a few weeks, cap in hand, with some new found respect in God and saying he can talk to chimps or something.’
‘And your point being?’
‘I could be helping the police with that.’ She barked. ‘Save them loads of money they’d otherwise be using on pulling his privileged arse out of the bush.’
In what some would consider an overly dramatic move – something I would never say to her face – SH swung round on the stool and plodded over to window that overlooked our balcony. The sound of a match being lit soon followed and smoked billowed from her silhouette. To this day, I cannot tell you where she hides those cigarettes.
What I can you tell is that I knew if a case didn’t appear on our doorstep soon, I was worried that SH may change her mind and actually join me at the bookstore.
It was then – as is often appropriate in tales like these – there was a knock at the door.
‘Hello!’ Came a well-spoken southern accent on the other side. ‘I’m looking for Ms. Holmes. Someone let me in downstairs. Hello?’
Turning round, SH wrapped her dressing gown around her and made a motion for me to open the door. Instead I watched her as she tried to position herself next to the window in a manner that would suggest she wasn’t trying very hard not to look like she was trying very hard to look nonchalant. She put one hand her hip and let their cigarette droop in her mouth. She turned back to face the window and turned her head to look over her left shoulder, her eyelids half drooping. Noticing that I was staring at her and stifling a giggle, she made a vulgar hand gesture and signalled once again for me to open the door.
I opened the door to be greeted by a stunning redhead. Her pale skin was a stark contrast to her auburn hair. Her delicate features sharpened by severe and sharp make up; deep red lipstick and violet eye-shadow. On anyone else this would be tacky but on her…
‘Good morning.’ I beamed. ‘I’m John Watson.’
‘You’re not wearing any trousers.’ Our guest responded.