“Ho, ho, ho!” boomed a voice that could only be described as jolly. “All right, boys and girls! Who hasn’t had a turn seeing Santa yet?”
She nudged him in the shoulder. “That’s you. You’re up.”
She gave him another nudge, harder this time, as if the only issue was that he hadn’t noticed the first go round. “Did you hear me? It’s your turn.”
“Ah, you know what?” His voice was sputtering with nerves. “I, ah – I don’t think so, after all.”
“What?” she hissed. “You’re chickening out? After all the stuff that Everyone has ever made you do, this is where you draw the line?”
“That appears to be the case, yes,” he said, a trifle testily, and she felt a surge of annoyance. Though to be fair, in a situation with less dire stakes, she would’ve sympathized with his discomfort. It was a discomforting situation.
“Look, this is simple.” She was whispering, even though the excited chattering of tiny toy addicts and the parents accompanying them was enough to drown out any conversation. “We need Everyone to recover Intergang’s financial records, and they’ll only do that if you do this. So do you want to catch the bad guy, or not?”
“I do," he mumbled. “I’m just not certain if I do this badly.”
“Okay!” boomed the cheerful talking tree, who was standing to one side of Santa. “If there’s no one else who needs to tell Santa what they want for Christmas, then we’re gonna take a short break –”
“They’ll be gone through lunch, and the crowds after will be huge. Go!” She gave him a firm shove, aiming precisely between the shoulder blades. The momentum threw him off balance and he stumbled, hard enough to send him staggering forward, and suddenly he was standing at the front of the crowd, blocking the progressing line of whining children and shopping-weary parents. He turned to shoot her a wounded look over his shoulder.
“Hey, no cuts!” said an irritated voice behind him. He turned, then looked down to meet the gaze of the indignant seven-year-old, who was stretched to full height to better admonish him.
“You’ve already had your turn, I saw you,” he informed her peevishly, and then seemed to catch himself. “I assure you, I just need a moment.”
He turned resolutely back, then squared his shoulders and made his way to the short stairway leading up to the platform. She crept forward after him, holding out her phone to record the interaction.
"Er, hi," said the cheerful talking tree, though the green-painted face peeking out from the center of the enormous felt costume was currently looking more bewildered than cheerful. “This is kind of … irregular.”
Beside the tree, however, Santa was smiling pleasantly. “Believe me, Santa has seen far stranger.” He chuckled, then gestured to the stool beside his chair, which up to that point had only been used by the cheerful talking tree during lulls in the crowds of mall visitors. “Care to have a seat? You're a bit big for Santa's lap.”
The sigh no doubt came up from the depths of his soul, but he was able to hide it well enough that she doubted anyone noticed it but her. “The stool will suffice quite nicely, thank you.” He perched himself on the edge of the seat, then turned large pained eyes towards Santa.
“What's your name, young man?”
“Sherlock,” he mumbled. She hoped Everyone would accept a video where he maybe couldn’t be heard. Surely the video footage would be proof enough.
“And what can Santa do for you, Sherlock?”
“I actually,” he said, sighing again, “Have a letter to read you.”
“Oh?” said Santa politely.
“Yes.” He reached into his coat and tugged out a single folded sheet of paper. She blinked; when had he had time to write that?
Then he began to read.
How are you? I am fine. My name is Sherlock Holmes and I have been an acceptably good detective this year, though not as good as my partner, Watson.
(Watson felt herself make an odd choking noise and nearly dropped her phone.)
Nonetheless, I believe I have behaved adequately well enough that I may make the following requests without sounding unreasonable:
That pair of socks I saw in the shop last month with the little phrenology busts on them,
(She remembered those. She’d been with him when he'd seen them, and she’d tried to convince him to buy them, but he had brushed off the idea. Apparently he hadn’t forgotten them.)
A new bee brush and smoker as my current ones have worn out,
(The brush had gotten a bit dingy.)
A box of my favorite tea, which I'm sure you know the type of, given that you are the all-seeing Claus,
(She heard herself make the choking noise again.)
A new tea cozy, as I burned a hole in the old one during a chemical experiment,
(So that's why it had disappeared.)
A New York Mets sweatshirt, sized small,
(Her head jerked up to look at him, but his eyes were locked on the paper clutched in both hands.)
and tortoise treats for my tortoise, Clyde.
I obviously do not expect all of these items, but felt it only fair to leave you with a selection. However, if I have only solved enough cases to be deserving of one gift, I would ask that it be the Mets sweatshirt. It is for Watson and I know she had been wanting one. Although Clyde has also been a very good tortoise so perhaps I could have the tortoise treats as well if you have time.
So finished, he lowered the letter, folding it awkwardly. Then cleared his throat again.
“And that’s – that’s all,” he finished, and twitched awkwardly on the stool. His entire body was twisted into a shape that suggested he wished he were anywhere else but where he was.
“That was a very nice letter,” said Santa. Sherlock darted a look up at him suspiciously, perhaps wondering if he was being mocked. But there was nothing but a good-natured kindness in the face of the man in the red suit. “I think you’ve got the true spirit of the season.”
“It is the season of giving!” chirped the cheerful talking tree, spreading its branches wide. This was too much for Sherlock, who jumped up to his feet so hastily that he sent the stool tumbling off the edge of the platform.
“Yes, well, I just – thank you for – time – for letting me share my –” His mumbling trailed off as he gave up trying to reach behind the raised platform for the fallen stool. Instead, he hastily jammed his hands into his pockets, then made a beeline for the nearest exit. Watson made sure to save the video, then dropped her phone into her purse, nodded her appreciation to the two performers, and hurried after her partner.
* * * * *
Sherlock's gaze darted around, clearly vexed there was no visible means of immediate escape. "All of it," he admitted at last. "Though Everyone had final approval. Mind you, they had definitive requirements and a certain expectation of style, so don't read too much into it."
"No," she agreed, then looped her hand through his crooked elbow. To her momentary surprise, he did not shrug her off. "Of course not."
They walked home in silence, Watson with her arm still linked through his.
She made a mental note to buy those phrenology socks.