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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.

 

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My story, Ms Holmes, is on sale now! However, if you’re not sure it’s for you, then why not check out this sneaky peek at the first chapter!

Chapter 1

Once Upon a Time…

It had been SH’s idea to go back to Manchester.

Studying in Bangor meant dropping in on family and friends was very easy – our home town in England being only a 2-hour train journey away – and feeling drained by my own dissertation, I was well up for the trip.

Our train journey was quiet. After a few cautious words of polite talk, SH had put her headphones on and sporadically napped. I took to reading and enjoying the scenery. I’m old fashioned that way.

In the moments when SH was awake, we made plans for our arrival back at our old stomping ground. It was decided that we would do our own thing on this first day back and meet up in the evening for drinks. Arriving at Piccadilly station, she went one way and I went mine. I did offer her a blow up mattress at Mum’s as I was concerned about her staying in her flat by herself. However, she declined saying she had to ‘see someone about a horse’. I let her go, hoping that she would be okay.

Later that evening, I was at home with Mum, watching Big Brother highlights and full of food.

‘It just seems daft that she wouldn’t want to stay with us,’ Mum tutted in the ad break. ‘Little Ms. Holmes. She thinks she’s so street-smart. Honestly, the amount of hair I’ve pulled out over her.’

Although to the untrained ear, my mother’s tone was of annoyance, the truth was far from it. Mum was just as concerned about SH’s whereabouts as I. Having been there for her on many occasion during our teens, Mum had come to think of SH as a daughter.

‘SH just needs some time I think, Mum,’ I said. ‘As frustrating as she’s admittedly being.’

‘Johnny, do you remember that time she turned up at our door in the middle of the night?’ Mum sighed, ‘Little ten-year-old, no shoes on her feet. Oh, that mother of hers. Always fighting with her son…’

The accidental mention of SH’s brother brought Mum to silence. Ford, a community police officer in the Manchester constabulary, had been killed on duty a few months previously and SH had been refusing to address the situation ever since. Her concentration at university had dissipated. The amateur dramatics she had enjoyed so fondly in the first two years of her degree had come second to her constant disappearances during the week and returning reeking of booze. It was clear to me that she was on a crash course into oblivion.

She reached out for my hand and squeezed it. Mum was like SH in some ways and I know, even if she’d be the last to admit it, that Ford’s death had affected her. It was then that I got the call from SH.

Answering, I was met with noise and static; the sounds of Manchester in full swing on a Saturday night. Obviously SH had butt-dialled me. Realising that she would not be able to hear my queries of where she was, I decided that perhaps waiting for her to come to us was a terrible idea, and certainly wasn’t going to afford me any rest. A few moments deliberation allowed me to realise where SH was. Catching the 86, I made my way into town and towards Diogenes; the nightclub which was rumoured, as many of the clubs of Manchester were at that time, to be under the ownership of nefarious types usually not seen outside of a Guy Ritchie movie.

The exterior of the club throbbed to the music within. I was more accustomed to a pint and a fag down the Via Fossa, and felt fatally underdressed next to the white Rastafarians and black goths that joined me in the queue. Making my way to the front and handing over a fiver, I finally made my way in. Whatever noise I heard from outside was nothing to the cacophony that assaulted me entering the main dance room. Incessant chatter and flirting fought for attention over the ear-splitting wailing and gnashing of teeth that soundtracked the evening. It was as if the club had a rule that banned silence altogether.

I quickly scanned the room and my eyes fell upon SH in the middle of the dancefloor, her light brown skin turned blue under the club’s lights. Under any other circumstances, the sight of her 6-foot frame staggering in a pretence of dancing amongst the mini-moshers would have been enough for a laugh. However, now of course, the picture was beyond mockery. Unlit fag in mouth, swaying in time to a song that was only in her head, SH held one fist in the air whilst carrying a bottle of beer in the other hand.

As an only child, I would never understand the loss of a sibling. And yet, to this very day I will always think of my life long friend’s tragic pantomime of fun that night as a perfect encapsulation of the myriad emotions that were squatting in her mind.

At that moment, a large skinhead began to make advances towards her. He sidled up, thrusting his hips into her back side. When her total indifference failed to ward him off, it was the bottle she failed to bring down on his head that tipped him over the edge. He began to jostle and push SH. Due to what my husband would now call my ‘idiotic white knight streak’, I pushed my way through the crowd to offer assistance.

‘—king bitch,’ I heard him cry.

‘Do you want some?’ SH responded as I wrapped my arms around her waist. ‘I know bartitsu mate. I’ll Keanu Reeves your arse.’

‘She’s had a bit to drink,’ I offered as way of explanation.

‘She’s pilling off her tits.’

‘Tits!’ SH laughed. ‘Hear that, John! Can’t even come up with a suitable comeback that doesn’t boil me down to my base assets. Typical bloody apes!’

SH tried to break free of my grip and launch herself at the man. Before I lost my grip, I too felt a pair of arms around me as SH and I were lifted off the dancefloor by a bouncer and out of the club.

Several moments later, we were sat on the curb outside the Diogenes, sharing a cigarette. SH’s head bobbed up and down as if agreeing with a point I was yet to make.

‘That helpful was it?’ I asked, exhaling deeply.

‘Your Mum’s roast dinner okay?’ she slurred.

‘What?’

‘Your Mum’s roast dinner. There’s a splash of gravy on your left shirt cuff. As you constantly tell me, you can’t cook to save your life. And seeing as we’re back in Manchester, literally the only other person who would be cooking for you is your mother. Now equally you could have been out for a meal with any – belch – any number of the lovely boys on your Nokia. However, Mummy knows best doesn’t she?’

‘Don’t play your tricks now,’ I blushed. ‘Just tell me what the hell was going on in there.’

The response: ‘I have to go somewhere, yeah?’

‘Where?’

‘I dunno.’ She lit another cigarette. ‘Just got to get away for a bit.’

‘Look your brother is—‘

‘Just listen to me,’ she sighed. ‘I’m off. My mind is rebelling at all this stagnation, yeah?’

Dumbfounded by her attitude, I found myself stationary as SH lifted herself of the curb and began to clomp away in her heavy boots.

‘Where… Where are you going?’ I managed to stutter. ‘What about uni?’

‘Bollocks to it,’ she shouted over her shoulder. ‘There’s a big bloody world out there, John. See you in a couple of months.’

 

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