and the Case of the Green Pound
The Volunteer is much like the rest of the London pub circuit. Its website describes it as a “light-filled pub with whitewashed paneling, wooden floor, British menu and pavement tables.” More importantly, it is a stone’s throw from 221B Baker street, where the famed Sherlock Holmes and honored Doctor Watson were once to have taken residence. Fletcher sat across the street in a heap, chin to knees. It would be hard to discern if he were in rags or cutting-edge Harajuku Street fashion, likely because it was an intentional blend, one that would allow him to lean into whichever persona suited him. A Disguised disguise he boasted to himself. He liked this spot. He felt like Dr. Moriarty here, waiting on his Sherlock. Fletcher was in the tourist business. Not officially licensed mind you, no far from it, though he relied on tourists as clients. He would wait here for people taking photos at the door of the famed house in order to offer assistance. He was happy to do it for the opportunity to gauge their disposition. It was a game of the right approach, the right questions. He would have one or two opportunities to probe the traveler’s eligibility over the course of a normal interaction. Couples he approached most common, and single travelers were the best. If they responded to his bait favorably, he may have a chance to give them a tour of the park, a place away from the crowds, and make some easy quid. Moriarty was looking to find his Sherlock, the addict version of Sherlock, to serve cannabis too. True, it’s not the opium nor the heroin of the stories, but with up to 5 years for possession and unlimited fine here in the UK, it was close enough, and this spring of people unable to bring the flower with them on holiday was never ceasing. Americans from recreation legal states were the best. Once they had weed delivered to their house by an Uber driver, they are not going to feel shady about buying the product under any circumstances. His matted red velvet blazer was closer to black through well-worn fashion, the coat tails gave him a fanciful elvish air, while the butterscotch backpack he wore made the ensemble feel seem somehow futuristic. Tonight, he wore a styled wig that was categorized under anime, it was cartoon spikey black with deep blue, but looked natural, crowning his half Japanese face. Looking into the puddle below the curb at his reflection he smiled at the persuasive emo smiling back. He had to dress for work just like any mime, or living statue, or other variation of busker. The goal was to appear to his target audience as the underbelly of societal standards, thus priming them for what to expect, but unthreateningly so.
Garreth turned the corner of Park road and on into the Volunteer. He was the only real competition around here for tourist attention, though completely unintended. Garreth looked a lot like Ricky Gervais, just twenty years younger. Fletch found himself staring after the man like one engrossed in a television show. He amusedly thought of simulating a fan boy scene just to irritate him. He’d done it before to his own amusement. His thoughts floated on to wondering how many free beers he himself would be able to hustle if it were him that looked like celebrity. Bloody sin that; opportunity wasted on the dull. Across the way was a mark, single male, backpack on, coming from the direction of the tube. He had a Charlie Chaplin off camera gait, fairly slow in speed and suspicious of having perpetually ridden horses in his last lifetime. He was glancing to the house numbers as he passed. Fletcher decided to stand and stretch out a bit, entering the foreground of the travelers proceeding stage. The sun had fallen. The streetlamps took over, burning in their limited ways and casting a romantic charm along the street. The man had stopped to frame a photograph and then taken out a small notepad he was looking down into. This is the hardest part, Fletcher thought, waiting on the proper timing was as crucial as it was tedious. At least this guy didn’t have that stupid mouth gaping, lost look that spin tourists around in circles looking up, always looking up, and pointing, always pointing. But predictability is a gift he reminded himself. Predictability allowed him the advantage of the game. Was this his Sherlock in need?
The city was beautiful tonight. Lights sparkling off dark pavement, Peter Pan architecture overhead. I love London. England really. I wonder if it is because I am half English by descent. You know what it is, I love having the completely foreign travel experience and yet little to no language barrier. Travel to other cultures is amazing, and the UK is certainly different to any part of the US, but the language barrier is completely de-toothed. I can read the signs; I can ask for directions. It’s quite nice. It helped that I was blazed too. The black cab ride from Chelsea back to Kensington Gardens proved quite lucrative in that regard. Now a night walk was just the thing to enjoy the high and my thoughts. My oyster card facilitated a whim to enter the Tube and I headed east on the Bakerloo line when I spotted Baker street and purposed to get off there. It boasted to be the oldest underground station and had been just a few stops away. People stood and sat by Britishly. Funny that to a tourist, one might be the unknowing representative of your entire nation. Whatever these people did would be filed under Londoner behavior. I quietly laughed to myself thinking that for all I knew, everyone here is from somewhere else, and really, how can broad generalities taste so sweet when they can be so presumptuous. Arriving again in the night air, I navigated through the main intersections, and took note of the house numbers on Baker street. Perhaps Doyle’s famed apartment would be here thought I as I headed towards the legendary detective’s address, beginning to recall codes of dancing men and haunting violin melodies. I remember one black and white episode where Sherlock was disguised as a sailor in a pub, and a suspect was throwing darts in a room. The guy took his turn and looked quite pleased with himself as he made a hasty exit. None of the darts had scored so it seemed a strange reaction as his opponents cheerfully counted the money they had won on the game. After halting the clearing of the board, Sherlock overlaid the dart hits onto a map of London. Each dart corresponded with the murders that had happened, and the new dart predicted the location of the next one. I stopped suddenly, crinkling my face, “not very realistic, is it?” I asked aloud in British tongue. There was nobody there, so I addressed the Royal pillar box before moving on again. Then again, I thought with a shrug, a clever story need not be feasible to be enjoyed.
Garreth hurried into his local. He was meeting James and Ashlee for a university project. Laptop under arm, he entered the Volunteer, greatly anticipating a draught from the plentiful selection of ales to choose from. They had come to him as he was the one running late, thanks to this evenings cinematographer elective. Indeed, they were already here, in the back west corner, he could see a beer on the table waiting for him. “Cheers mate” he said, picking up the pale ale they had ordered him, sliding skinny past the table and falling into his seat before taking a deep swig. Upon putting down his glass he slung his laptop up from under his left wing and ferociously unfolded the screen, before letting out a deep exhale and resting back in his chair. Garreth clapped his hand and sat up straight, rubbed his hands together, brushed back his hair, and pressed the screen further back to beyond 90 degrees.
Ashlee and James were both smiling and holding their beers in hand looking at the now composed Garreth.
“Filmmakers unite” said Ashlee cheerfully raising her glass to the ensuing meeting of the other glassware and recitation of “filmmakers unite” in broken unison. James had on a smart blazer, dark brown corduroy with a green three leaf clover enamel pin on the lapel.
“I see you’ve got a rare icon there” Garreth said pointing “only three sides, very rare in art.”
“unless you’re a card player” Ashlee stated flatly.
Now Garreth pointed at Ashlee momentarily before putting his hand on his chin to think.
“It’s just that art, and worse, advertising, likes to depict the unusual, the extraordinary, like a 4-leaf clover, until it is more common in depiction than in real life.”
“So in a way, the sight of a three leaf clover in image is the rare thing” Ash said deliberately whilst also smiling with her eyes.
They both looked at James.
“Why else you’d tink Id wear it for? James asked with a frozen shrug, exaggerating his natural Irish accent.
“Good day squire” Fletcher led with, moseying over to the Sherlock Holmes Museum and addressing the gazer of the replica door. “Fancy a hand taking a snapshot there?” Extra British and direct, this was the start. The man turned and quickly declined the offer and informed him he was “good thanks”. He thinks I want money Fletcher recognized. He was wearing a blue baseball hat backwards with Red “B” trimmed in white. Golf shorts, white tee, and black adidas tortoise shell trainers, American accent. The sports gear wasn’t new or even if fresh out of the laundry wouldn’t be looking completely clean. The shoes were well worn, side seems ripped near the front of the foot. This is a guy who wears hiking gear as utility clothes, not to climb rock faces with. This was a potential mark. He had been shot down and knew the museums window was a giant reflection at night as the American turned back to the door with his phone. He held his ground “You’d have to buy me a beer next door in return.” Fletch delivered with chin up, waiting the response. Maybe he thought I’m going to run with his camera, was another thought. On mirrored display he had to be mindful not to look shady, as he readied himself for another approach.
The character spun back around again and asked, “What’s your name?” with a mischievous look in the corners of his mouth. “Fletcher, at your service” dropping the full ham routine for natural dictation.
“Mr Fletcher, I’d be happy to share a beer with you if you know where I can get some more weed around here.”
Heartfelt laughter buckled Fletcher like a sucker punch to the gut as he reached into his coat pocket to present a tube of spliffs. “Look no further. Hash do the trick for you?”
“Indeed” said the Yank raising his eyebrows and widening his eyes. Momentarily, he dug into his pockets and held up a lighter like a relaxed statue of liberty. “First we puff, then a drink”
“Why the hell not” Fletcher agreed.
Inside the pub it smelled like stale beer, leather, and mystery. The joint was sparsely populated as I analyzed the surroundings, lunging this way and that like a giant waddling penguin with furrowed brow and an imaginary calabash pipe. The bar had a multi-leveled aspect, any ordinary joe could see that, as the uneven division of lower and upper bar was divided by the single step and different style wood flooring. The upper left side seemed to be styled proper with green velvet chairs and tables surrounding a fireplace. Back in the corner, it appeared Ricky Gervais was looking at a laptop with some fellow mates. Down below a handsome bar stood with rows of gleaming bottles and brass taps.
“I’d better take care of business; you can set us up on the highlands. What will it be?”
I said this all smoothly and perhaps quieter than normal.
“What?” was the reply coupled with a look of stupidity.
“Wanna grab us a table over there?” I pointed, “and what are you drinking?”
“Cider” he said and was off.
One Camden lager in one hand and one pint of dry cider in the other hand later, I was after him. I took a few moments admiring the feel of this place before noticing he was walking towards me.
“I’m just going for a quick slash” Fletcher informed me in passing. “Fancy that corner table?” he asked without waiting for my reply.
The brick fireplace rose above a small black and white checkered tiled base. The woodwork cladding the walls was elaborate by American standards, painted a noble dusty blue, and reached almost all the way to the exposed beam ceiling, the upper strip of wall ordained with paisley wallpaper. Within ornately gilded frames, mirrors hung smartly next to decorative glass block inlaid into the mantel. Mixed woods, Farrow and Ball colour paint, worn brass, hammered copper, velvet upholstery, artisan glass; this was the natural habitat for conjuring up a good detective story. Sitting at a small round table, we two strangers tapped glass together then clunked the table with the bottom of our pints before taking a nip. The lighting of this place was otherworldly yet familiar, surrounding us with a radiated amber light like that dull glow of a well-used oven bulb, through its grease splatter glass filter. From within the stove, we sat enjoying the altered state of the evening. Shadows from the glass enclosed tea candles danced soothingly and the calculating concerns of daily living left me like the sinking of a waterlogged spaghetti noodle escaping down the drain.
“In theory, swallowing ice cubes is a good idea” I shared with Fletcher. “if we had throats like pelicans”
“Just one problem with that” he started “we don’t”
“Were it not for our inadequately sized throats, that’d be a brilliant way to time release hydration.“ He said momentarily in what seemed to be dream timing.
Ricky was getting up to go somewhere. Turning back to Fletcher, I said “I love Ricky Gervais’ comedy, it’s brilliant. I can’t wait to tell everyone I saw him at a pub” I joked. As he neared, a smiling Fletch perked up and raised his deepened voice “Oi Ricky G! Where do you have that time machine hidden?”
“Sod off stoner” was the expected rebuke as evidenced by Fletchers broad grin and early laugh to seemingly complicit me.
I began laughing out loud as well, he sounded like a duck when he said “Machine” and it was all too much for me in the moment.
On his way back to the table, Garreth was cursing IBS and the propensity for sending him hurriedly into public bathrooms, often dirty, missing adequate paper or soap, in disrepair, or perhaps just already occupied. Garreth could tell you all the best public toilets in North London, as well as the worst. If the x axis of his toilet comparison chart was a horizon at sea, the one functional basement loo at the Volunteer was underwater on the sin wave of accommodation. He was just a block from the underground entrance where the Metropolitan Bar had a toilet haven upstairs, that had received his visit less than three hours ago on his way to class. The disabled bathroom was cleaner and on the ground floor, but you had to ask for a key, so if you weren’t a customer, best to take the hike. The chain restaurants, five guys, taco bell, dunkin’; they were all predictably sanitized so long as a junkie hadn’t nodded off behind locked door. He bellied up to the bar as he was on the hook for the next round. The barkeep was currently engaged with the guy that was sitting with fucko Fletcher. The character poised with a minor Gollum hunch, looking back over his shoulder in recognition and moving with a bit of a slink to the right to make room. His gold ringed fingers were turning over playing cards on the bar top. “Guess the suit and win a beer if it’s one of the next three cards turned over” he propositioned with a twinkle in his eye. Fuck it, why not thought Garreth.
“If it’s not in the next three…you’re on the hook to buy my round aye?” said Sméagol.
“Clubs” he repeated a bit cockney this time.
The American shuffled the cards, had the bartender cut the deck and placed the stack between them before looking for Garreths eyes. He flipped over the first card. Three of clubs.
“Blast. And this was my lucky deck” he laughed to the tender.
Garreth stooped to look closer at the card; the clovers had four leaves. Ha!
“Listen mate, maybe it still is lucky. How’d you like to not buy me that drink, and instead have me pay your full tab up till now?”
The hash was good, rolled up in a spliff it sure beat a stick in the eye. I was beginning a beverage collection with beer, water, and now returning with coffee’s to introduce a little caffeine into the equation. I approached our table, a deck of cards lighter, but a coin purse that retained its weight. I squared up to my new comrade who was a bit lost in his phone.
“I gotta boogie soon, but this has been a great chance meeting. I’ve always wanted to meet a proper roadman to share a pint with.” I ended with a wink and that little adrenaline rush that comes with trying to time it naturally. Fletcher disengaged from his phone but started in from a place that was elsewhere. “Dogs are brilliant mate” he said with genuine admiration. I followed his gaze to the side where a small service dog happily accompanied his master. He had dark brindle markings over a mostly chestnut coat with blond highlights, perhaps 30 pounds with long fur tail in constant happy motion. His face was that of a noble Shepard, full sized snout on stunted frame. “What’s so impressive about them” he continued taking up his java, “is not the typical traits of loyalty, or a skill of hunting, tracking, or guiding.”
“Emotional support?” I offered
“No” he crinkled his face like I had offended him.
Turns out he was in awe of dogs for being the most airtight Buddhists.
“Not only are they constantly present, which is in and of itself exemplary, I’m convinced they can talk, but took a vow of silence that has gone unbroken through countless generations.”
Not to be one to pass on imaginative possibilities, we spent the next several minutes sorting out what language dogs speak, agreeing it would have to be the ones native to their region. Our bandanaed friend, Cooper, here in the bar, could likely speak the kings English, but refused to. Perhaps Spanish as well if he were a rescue from afar. I began laughing thinking about my old friend Sally, a beagle, who if she could speak English, Chinese, or Russian, before dinner time, would have smashed this theory to smithereens. She would have traded her tail for an extra scrap of food.
“Hey man, Ill take a couple of those for the road” dropping a tenner out in front of him as I was readying myself for departure.
“Happy to be of service.” As he pocketed the note into the inside of his jacket. “I’ll walk you out. Anything else you are looking for while you’re in town?”
“There is just one more thing…Will you take my picture in front of that door?”
“You got it Sherlock” Fletcher quipped.