Short Story: Clues & Confrontations

“Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.”
— Euripides

Mrs. Powell was thin and hunched, with wispy grey hair and very white teeth. She scowled at Shirley through the door, which was open only as far as the attached chain allowed.

“Aren’t you the girl of that family who just moved in? From England?”

Shirley looked a little surprised at Mrs. Powell’s grumpy tone. Normally, people were pretty excited to meet someone “British” (I had been taught the difference between English — which Shirley and her family were — and British, which not only included English but also Scottish, Welsh, and most Irish people, but not everybody knew this.)

“I am, yes,” Shirley said, making her voice crisp and her accent clear. “I wanted to ask you a few questions about Pebbles, the —”

Mrs. Powell shook her head. “Can’t understand anything you’re saying. Speak English! I thought you said you wanted to ask me about pebbles! I know nothing about rocks!”

“Pebbles is a dog, ma’am,” I said, coming forward because Shirley seemed too stunned to speak. “He’s gone missing, and we’re trying to find him.”

“Another one,” Mrs. Powell muttered, now staring at me. “You’re not British.”

“No — ”

“Looking for a dog, eh? I haven’t seen any.”

And she slammed the door.

Now I was shocked into silence.

“Rather rude, wasn’t she?” Shirley said after a moment, obviously having found her voice again. “And she was lying.”

I stared at my friend. “What?”

“She lied about not seeing a dog. I can’t say if it was Pebbles — yet — but there’s definitely been a dog in this house, and it’s not hers.” She glanced at the nearest window, which was completely covered by a thick curtain and allowed no way to look inside.

“How could you possibly know that? She barely said anything and kept the door half closed the whole time!” I said, watching Shirley hop off the porch. “Where are you going?”

She held a finger up to her lips and began tiptoeing around the side of the house. I glanced around and then followed.

All the windows were covered by curtains, so there was little chance we’d be seen, but we still crouched low. Shirley stopped by a fence gate, which probably opened to the backyard. Another look for witnesses, and then she stretched up to the tips of her toes and peered over the fence. I wasn’t as tall, so I kept watch.

“Aha,” I heard Shirley mutter.

She crouched back down into the grass, which I noticed had been recently mowed.

I mouthed, “Pebbles?”

Shirley shook her head, but she looked pleased about something. Motioning for me to follow, she crept back to the front of the house. She straightened and then walked casually down the perfectly arranged stone pathway back to the street, as if nothing had happened. I followed suit, and neither of us said anything until Mrs. Powell’s house was out of sight.

“What was that about?” I asked, unable to contain myself any longer. “What did you see?”

“A back garden,” Shirley said evasively.

I stopped walking. She kept going a few steps before also stopping. She didn’t turn around to look at me.

“Don’t do that,” I said, crossing my arms. “Not again.”

She didn’t say anything, not even a defensive, “Do what?” She knew exactly what I was talking about.

“Why can’t you just tell me? Being all secretive doesn’t help anything, especially not Pebbles.”

“I’m not being secretive,” she said stubbornly, though she still wasn’t looking at me. “I’m not ready to talk about it yet. The facts — ”

“The facts are the same if you tell me or not!” I stomped up to Shirley to make her look at me. Her brows were set in a straight line and her jaw was tight. But she didn’t look away.

“What is this about, really?” I asked. “Because I haven’t figured it out yet? Because I have no idea what happened to Pebbles and you do?”

“I don’t know exactly — ”

“Okay, but you have a pretty good idea — I know you do, don’t pretend — and even before talking to Mrs. Powell, you were hiding something. Why can’t you talk about it?”

Her jaw clenched and she said nothing.

“Is this to prove how smart you are? Like, if you tell me anything, then I’ll figure it out and you won’t look as smart anymore?” I was practically yelling in Shirley’s face, but she didn’t flinch. “Well, that’s stupid, because I already know you’re smarter than me and practically everyone else, even some of the grown-ups, and keeping it all to yourself isn’t smart, it’s mean and selfish! I thought we were mystery partners! I thought we were — ” My voice cracked a little, and I knew I was about to cry and really didn’t want to, but I couldn’t stop the tears from coming. “I thought we were friends,” I finished weakly.

Shirley’s eyes opened wide, and she looked like she was about to say something, but I didn’t want to hear it. I turned away and began to run down the street. I wasn’t sure where I was going and I could barely see because of the tears, but I didn’t care.

By habit, I found myself on my own street. Out of breath from running and crying (not a good combination), I slowed to a walk and started toward my house. By now, I felt very silly for bursting into tears and running away from my . . . well, maybe she really wasn’t my friend. Shirley probably thought she’d be better off without me around to slow down her little investigations, anyway. I didn’t regret what I had said, though. Every time we found a new clue, she refused to talk about it. I thought at first maybe she was trying to get me to puzzle it out for myself, but she never asked about my thoughts or theories or anything. I mean, they were probably wrong, but it would be nice to be asked, to feel like I was really helping. I didn’t think I had made that clear by yelling at her, though. I sighed and stopped walking, even though I was nearly to my house. Even though Shirley didn’t really deserve it, I thought I should probably go back to say —

“I’m sorry.”

I whirled around.

Shirley was standing a few feet behind me. She looked very small for some reason and very sad.

“I’m sorry, Joan,” she said again. “You’re quite right, I should be . . . ” She seemed to be searching for the word.

“Nicer?” I suggested, a little meanly, because I still felt hurt.

Her face fell a little, but she nodded. “Yes. Nicer. I’ve not had a . . . ‘mystery partner’ before, and not even that many friends . . . ”

Guilt began to fill my stomach, and I looked down. “I’m sorry too,” I said to the sidewalk. “I shouldn’t have said those things.”

“No,” Shirley sighed, “they were perfectly true. I do like feeling smart. And I know I’m a bit of a showoff.” She gave a little laugh. “Everyone tells me so.”

I looked up, smiling a little. “I think we all do that sometimes.”

“But . . . that’s not why I don’t like talking about my theories,” she went on. “The truth is . . . ” She clasped her hands together tightly. “This is hard to admit . . . ”

“You don’t have to tell me,” I said honestly. “I get it, it’s okay.”

“No, no, you should know,” she said, shaking her head. “If we are indeed . . . friends.”

I gave a slow but genuine nod. She looked relieved.

“The truth is,” she continued slowly, “I’m scared. Because I’m not always right, sometimes I get things wrong” — she winced as the word came out — “and I have to rethink everything. Sometimes over and over again. And if I say something to you, and it turns out . . . not correct, then why should you trust me anymore? Soon, you won’t believe anything I say! It’s far better for me to keep it to myself until I’m sure, and then go from there.”

There was a long pause after this. Shirley would never fidget, but she did keep shifting her weight from foot to foot, clearly wondering why I hadn’t spoken yet.

“Well, that’s very silly,” I said at last.

Shirley looked as stunned as when we had been talking to Mrs. Powell earlier.

I moved forward to close the gap between us. “Shirley, we’re mystery partners. That means we work together. And we help each other — always. Even when you’re not sure, or if I get scared, or whatever. We’ll figure it out — well, you’ll probably figure it out first, and then I will — but if you really want to do this, to help people, that means trusting me that I will trust you.”

I swore I saw tears in Shirley’s eyes, but when I blinked, she looked normal. “That’s a lot to ask of me, I’m afraid,” she said, sounding a little apologetic. “I’m not used to doing that. Letting people know my thoughts and such.”

“And that’s okay,” I said. “As your friend, I’ll help you with that, and anything else. And you can help me with . . . whatever I need help with. Figuring out clues, for one thing. Deal?”

She grinned. “Deal.”

I knew Shirley didn’t like hugs, so I stuck out my hand for her to shake. (It felt a little formal and awkward, but this is apparently how they do things in England, according to Shirley.)

“So!” I said brightly, ready to get back on the trail of the missing Pebbles. “How did you know that Mrs. Powell was lying? And what did you see in her backyard?”

Shirley shook her head as we began walking together. “So many questions . . . ” At the look on my face, she went on with a smile, “And it’s one of the best things about you, Joan Watson.”

“Go on, then, Shirley Holmes. Enlighten me!” I said, grinning broadly.

“Well, first, before Mrs. Powell opened the door, I noticed an odd mark on the landing . . . ”

 


 

Have I been planning on writing a Sherlock Holmes adaptation for children? Yes. Does this adaptation make Sherlock Holmes into a half-Indian, half-English twelve-year-old girl? Yes. Is John Watson a Chinese-American (because thanks to the amazing Lucy Liu, there’s only one Joan Watson now) twelve-year-old girl? Yes. Did I plan on making this into a series, starting with the first novel being written during NaNoWriMo last year? Yes. Did I write that first novel? NO.

So I don’t even know what this is, but it’s something in that universe, and maybe I’ll make a real thing out of it in the future. For now, I’m failing at this year’s NaNoWriMo. Huzzah! How are you all doing? 8D

The prompt came from Yeah Write, which is doing a year-long short story challenge for 2016! This is Week 45’s prompt. You can read all about the challenge HERE!

“Fence” by dailyinvention is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

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