A Question of Holmes (Charlotte Holmes #4)(9)

“I’ll ring over,” Rupert said, digging out his phone, and Theo stuck out a hand and said, “You must be the two that Rupert was telling us about,” and as the two of them shook, I watched Watson’s shoulders drop down from where they’d been, somewhere around his ears.

“New friends, then,” I said to him, as we were hustled out the door.

“I’m going to end up making friends with them,” he said. “You, on the other hand, are going to pump them for information about William bloody Shakespeare and then leave them for dead on the side of the road.”

I hooked my hand through his arm. “I think you have some strange ideas about my bloodthirstiness,” I said, and he shrugged, trying not to smile, and we wandered along that way, our shoulders bumping along together into the night.

“You have a plan.”

“I do not.”

“You lucked out into meeting three of the actors straightaway,” he said. “Or . . . one actor and two hangers-on. I’m not sure yet.”

“The Dramatics Soc is the most popular summer club,” I reminded him. “It’s hardly luck.”

He looked down at me. “Still, you see an opportunity. To learn more about last year. Which you still haven’t told me about.”

“I might,” I allowed. “I might also just want pasta.”

I liked this part of Oxford. I hadn’t spent all that much time around the university, considering. By now, I would usually have known my city down to the ground: the sewer systems, the bus lines, which alleys were shortcuts and which ended blind. That would be what I was looking for now. Thoroughfares. Quick exits.

Instead I was studying the way that the road ahead of us curved up and slightly to the left, how the sun still hung high enough in the sky to be seen over the Georgian buildings at the top of the hill. We had another three hours of sunlight; we were approaching the longest day of the year, here at the top of the world. It was close enough to the end of term that undergraduates were still wandering the streets, dazed from the completion of their exams or the graduation of their girlfriends or, in one case, the grandeur of their plans for when the sun finally set. Punting, I thought, as we passed a pair of girls planning where on the river to meet up later. Didn’t James Watson used to go out punting with my uncle? Didn’t—

Dear God. I found myself slowing until I came to a stop, as ahead of us, Theo and Anwen and Rupert walked on in close concert, whispering about something that I was sure was of some tangential importance to my case and which I had missed altogether. Even now, Theo’s mouth was pinched, Anwen was tossing her hair over her shoulder.

I looked hopelessly up at Watson. “Well,” he said, scrolling through his phone, “at least we know now that your hunch was right. They’re talking about Hamlet; they’re some of the right people to follow. I wonder who they’ll end up playing. Theo’s sort of princely, right? Maybe him for the lead?”

Pretending to scroll through his phone. Watson had been paying better attention than I had, and it wasn’t him helping that was such a surprise as much as my needing help at all.

Dear God. Was I any good at what I did anymore? Did I even want to be?

“Well done,” I said to Watson as serenely as I could, as Theo strolled up to the restaurant’s front door. “Do you think they do a good chicken picatta?”


BY THE TIME WE HAD BEEN SAT AT A TABLE IN THE CORNER, I had managed to recalibrate. I would not be admiring the tablecloth, the minimalist décor, the waiters’ black bow ties. I would not be watching Watson’s eyes go dark and soft in the candlelight. I would instead do what I did best: empty myself of all wants except the one at hand.

I would extract basic information about the Dramatics Society from these three sitting ducks, and then, and only then, would allow myself to return to my daydream about going punting with Watson tomorrow.

“It’s been a whole year. Can you believe they still remember us?” Theo asked, as the waiter brought a round of cocktails that no one had ordered.

“We certainly spent enough money here last summer,” Anwen said.

Watson looked down at his drink. “For a minute there, I forgot I was back in England. I haven’t had a legal drink in ages.”

“America sucks, mate,” Theo said, with a thick fake accent, and Rupert chucked a roll at him that Theo caught neat-handed. Anwen rolled her eyes.

I sipped my water. “Did you all keep in touch between summers?”

“Of course,” Rupert said, and Anwen looked down and said, “Not really,” and Theo leaned back to signal the waiter, and didn’t answer at all.

Not a good question. I watched Watson clock it the same moment I did. “You’re from Wales, Anwen?” he asked, and you could almost hear the sound of things realigning.

“I am,” she said, “from all over,” and the waiter brought another basket of rolls and a plate of beef carpaccio that made Rupert look ill and Theo ecstatic, and I watched her, Anwen, as she immediately changed the subject to the houseplants she’d brought with her, if they were getting enough sun in her summer digs.

As the night went on, I realized I kept doing that: watching them, not individually, but as some kind of three-headed person, a benign hydra. Benign? Perhaps. There was some tension here, something I wanted to tease out.

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