Mum said that Papa had been a chain smoker before they’d gotten married, which explained why his voice had a touch of gravel to it as he read aloud once again after she hit ‘replay.’ She could hear how bored he was, too, it was a series of three Beatrix Potter stories. Just simple things that a three year old could keep up with and an infant wouldn’t scream at. He’d read them three stories rather than the strictly held rule of just one—and then the next morning he had jumped off a building to his death. Only days later had the news broken that he was a fraud, a liar, a criminal having a lark with the police.
Mavis Leonette huffed as the old disk started again at the beginning—she preferred Lea to anything else, despite Papa’s stern, low voice intoning, aside from the story, Mavis Leonette, please sit still or I will be forced to send you to bed without even starting the story. Mum would sometimes reach up to cup her face and try to get her to go by the name her father had preferred for her. Lea disliked the long and stuffy name her father had given her—while her younger brother Brinley was savagely in love with his ridiculous titles—not because it wasn’t pretty. It had a ring to it, in a way. Mavis Leonette could be introduced as Sherlock Holmes’ daughter, definitely.
But it had been so much easier to go to school as Lea Hooper rather than Mavis Leonette M. Holmes, and she’d gotten used to the name coming out of her friends’ mouths. She hoped, on dark nights, that wherever her father was, that he understood. She was not as strong as her mother, she wasn’t made of steel and covered with soft curves meant to deceive. She was just Lea, and afraid of the looks the older girls would give her and the whispers between the boys.
And then this morning she’d gotten a text from Uncle Mycroft. It was on the mobile phone she wasn’t allowed to have—Your father could hardly look up from his, I don’t need you following in those particular footsteps, young lady!—that he’d given her for her birthday under the strictest secrecy. It had been a mystery why her typically distant uncle—Papa’s brother was worse than Papa, according to everyone who had known both men—had given her a mobile phone for her fifteenth birthday, but Lea hadn’t questioned it. She’d managed to keep it a secret from Mum for two years, and had blown her cover today when she’d forgotten to invent a way for Uncle Mycroft to have gotten in touch with her. The phone was in Mum’s front pocket at the moment, but she well remembered the words of the message.
A car will come for the three of you at one. Please ensure that Molly thinks I am once again trying to recruit you against her.
Lea couldn’t put her finger on it, but somehow this had to do with Papa. The mysterious man in the hallway had stared at her as she stood on the stair. He had luminous green eyes which glowed eerily out of the photograph, one hand on Mum’s shoulder while the other cupped the head of the infant laid out on Mum’s lap—her. He’d hated touching and being touched, according to Doctor Watson, and the only people he allowed to contact him were those he cared for.
She knew he wasn’t a fraud, of course. He was a smart man, a brilliant man. Mum said he’d found out that people were coming to harm them, his family, and he’d fixed it. He’d fixed it by killing himself—allowing them to survive, despite his actions making Lea go by a pseudonym, making Brinley a rebellious boy who had to go to private lessons with Uncle Mycroft’s assistant Anthea rather than regular school—Brinley refused to go by any other name than the one his father had given him, and the bullying when he’d entered school was almost unbearable and Mum had had him withdrawn. When Lea complained about any of this, of course, Mum would reply to her in cool tones that they were alive at all because of Sherlock Holmes. Mum had never changed her name to Hooper, even though she’d given that mercy to Lea—a favor called in with Uncle Mycroft cleared the matter soon enough several years ago.
Lea had of course done as Uncle Mycroft asked—one memorable time she hadn’t and she’d found herself picked up bodily and put into a car against her will when she was eight—and left Mum to stew over just what piece of her mind Uncle Mycroft was going to be getting when they met up with him.
Now she was just waiting for the car to come round, laying on her bed and playing the old MP3 file that she’d grown up with. She had vague memories of the day Papa had killed himself—although Uncle Mycroft had looked at her as though she’d grown a second head when she’d told him of them, he’d told her that early memories are often false ones the brain creates to fill voids. Papa had worn blue, which made his pale skin look a touch warmer in comparison. There had been a splash of pink at his chest, a brightly colored kerchief in his pocket. Mum had made them breakfast, eggs and toast. She had tried to steal his toast just to see what he would do—Papa’s reactions were always great fun, Lea could remember feeling.
The grain of falsehood in Uncle Mycroft’s words was exposed by her other memories of the day—the way her tiny throat had felt raw and hurt as she screamed and couldn’t stop screaming. And no one’s brain was good enough to make up the stricken looks on Mum’s and Nana’s faces when she’d come round to get them from Nana Hudson. Her uncle, who cared nothing for sentimentality, had tried to counsel her out of remembering the day her father had died. Lea knew his heart was in the right place.
And now her uncle was coming to get them, and his actions alluded to the fact that he wasn’t trying to take her on as an apprentice again (which had…not gone over well last year).
Lea knew, suddenly, hitting replay once again to hear a dead man’s voice, that at the other end of Uncle Mycroft’s scheme today was her father. Papa was alive, and maybe Mum would let her have a mobile now—because Papa was alive.