The Socrates Café
By Melissa Pappas
August 4th, 2010
Andrew Jones walked quickly down the street towards the tube station. A brisk wind was blowing and thunder rumbled in the distance. The night seemed darker than usual. He pulled up his collar and stuffed his hands into his pockets. A few drops of rain began to fall. Why was it always so unpleasant on the nights he had to take public transport? He grumbled silently to himself and continued on down the street.
A short distance ahead of him a stray cat ran across the pavement and into the alley. Andrew watched it go. The area looked totally normal but something made him take a closer look. He turned down it and investigated.
At first glance it was totally as expected. Brick walls of buildings on both sides, rows of dustbins, a few pieces of rubbish blowing around. Just your bog standard alley. He was about to turn around and go when something caught his eye partway down. It looked at first like a bag of rubbish someone had left in front of the bins. He started to grumble about lazy gits who couldn’t bother to toss their rubbish in the bins. Then he took a closer look. His eyes widened as he saw it was a man. “Bloody hell.” Andrew went over and took a closer look.
His first impression was that the man was dead. Then he saw his chest move slightly. That was somewhat of a relief. What had happened to him? He knelt down next to the man and carefully turned him over. He was in his early to mid thirties and was too well dressed to be a bum. He also didn’t have the smell of liquor that they often did. There were bruises on his face and neck and his hands were covered with blood. Had he been in a piss up at a pub? There weren’t any right in the area but it wasn’t impossible that it could have happened.
He then wondered if the man could have been robbed and then left for dead there. He glanced around briefly and then reached into the pockets of the wool coat he was wearing. In one was a wallet and mobile phone. The other held a small leatherbound notebook. That ruled out mugging then. He looked down at the man’s face and jerked back slightly when he saw blue eyes looking back at him. “Good to have you back among the living, mate,” he said. The man blinked and licked his lips. “Where..am I?” he murmured. He slowly sat up and looked around.
“You’re in an alleyway in Brixton,” Andrew said.
“How did I get here?” the man asked, half to himself.
“You don’t remember?” The man shook his head and winced slightly. “No.” He started to get to his feet, leaning on the dustbins for support. Andrew put an arm around him, steadying him. “Easy, mate. Let’s start with what you do remember.” He looked at the man. “What’s your name?” The man hesitated for a moment. “It’s Holmes. Sherlock Holmes.”
11:30PM, New Scotland Yard
“You have no idea how you ended up in that alleyway?” Detective Inspector Lestrade looked at Holmes with a mixture of curiosity and exasperation.
“No. I do not.” Holmes sat in a chair in front of the DI’s desk. His mind still felt rather fuzzy but it was a good bit clearer than it had been an hour before when he couldn’t even tell the young bloke who found him where he lived.
“You weren’t ‘experimenting’ again, were you?” This, from Dr. John Watson who had been called after Holmes had been taken to the hospital to be checked out.
Holmes shook his head and gave Watson a withering glance. “No. I most certainly was not.” He had been known to try various mind altering substances as part of his experiments but he hadn’t done that for some time.
“What is the last thing you do remember?” Lestrade asked.
Holmes took a sip from the cup of coffee in his hands. “I remember leaving 221B earlier this evening,” he said. “Everything gets blurry after that.”
Lestrade looked down at a file on his desk. “You’re lucky,” he said. “Just superficial bruising and a mild concussion.”
“Did they do a tox screening?” Watson asked.
Lestrade nodded. “Yes. The results aren’t back, obviously.” He also was interested in what they would turn up.
“Was all that poking and prodding really necessary?” Holmes asked.
Watson sighed. “You were found unconscious and bleeding in an alleyway. They had to make sure your brains weren’t scrambled, or worse.” He looked at Holmes. “You are lucky you just have a mild concussion. Head injuries can be nasty.”
Holmes took a sip from his coffee cup and tried to piece together what had happened. He remembered getting a cab to Brixton and he had a vague memory of going into a church. He put his hand into his coat pocket and drew out a folded piece of paper.
“What is that?” Lestrade asked. Holmes unfolded it. It was a xeroxed flyer. Socrates Cafe was printed in large type at the top. Below that was a date and time and an explanation of what it was.
“What is Socrates Cafe?” Watson asked.
Holmes handed the flyer to Lestrade. “Socrates Cafe is a sort of debating society or discussion group. People get together and discuss various topics at length. The meaning of life, does God exist, that sort of thing.”
“And you’re interested in that?” Watson asked. Holmes looked at him. “Apart from the allure of stimulating discussion, which seems so lacking these days, I was there for investigative purposes.” He paused.”It was Mycroft that first brought it to my attention. He
attends meetings on occasion.” He took another sip of coffee. “Apparently
several members have gone missing recently. Mycroft asked me to investigate.”
Watson looked surprised. “And you agreed?” It was well known how Sherlock felt
about his brother and the things he asked him to do for him.
Holmes nodded. “He was less annoying than usual this time,” he said. “And
I was bored.”
Lestrade looked at him. “Had you made any progress?” he asked.
“I was starting to,” Holmes replied. He hadn’t solved the case by any means
but he had several definite leads. And then this had happened.
“Who is Rose?”Lestrade asked. He was looking at the back of the flyer where
the name was written.
Holmes rubbed his eyes. “I’m not completely sure.” He looked down at his hands and tried to remember.
Three weeks before
Sherlock Holmes walked into the meeting room at St. Mary’s Episcopal church. It was a standard issue function room with inspirational posters on the walls and a marker board and video screen. Folding chairs had been set up in a circle and a table in back held refreshments. Holmes found an empty seat and observed the people around him.
“Is this your first time?” He looked at the woman who had spoken to him. “Pardon?”
“Is it your first time at the Socrates Cafe? It’s my first time tonight.” She was in her early forties and had long, hennaed hair and a brightly colored dress. Silver bangles hung from her wrist and multiple rings decorated her fingers. There was an obvious tan line on the ring finger of her left hand.
“Yes. It is my first time.” Looking at the woman, Holmes could tell she was recently divorced and trying to embrace the creativity her ex-husband had likely stifled. She thought she was ‘artsy’ in the way she dressed and she was looking for someone to validate that.
“I’m Alisa Bloom.” She held out her hand.
“Sherlock Holmes.” They shook hands. “A friend recommended this group to me,” Alisa said. “I was hesitant about coming at first and then I just said what the hell.”
Sherlock nodded politely. He was more interested in what else was going on around them.
About a dozen other people were there. They were getting coffee from an urn on a side table or situating themselves in chairs that had been placed in a semi circle in the center of the room.
A woman dressed all in black appeared to be in charge of things. She got Sherlock’s attention right away. Her hair was jet black and cut in a short, rather spiky style. She wore minimal makeup except for dark wine lipstick and had an abundance of silver jewelry. Her nails were short and painted dark purple. Sherlock saw someone who wanted to stand out while at the same time fading into the background. She strode to the center of the circle.
“If you’ll take your seats, ladies and gentlemen we can begin.”
Sherlock went over to one of the empty seats in the circle and sat down. Alisa took a seat near him. Ordinarily that would have annoyed him. At the moment though he was more interested in the group leader.
“Good evening, everyone,” the woman said. She was standing in the center of the circle. “I’m glad to see some new faces here tonight.” She smiled at the group and went and took the remaining empty seat. “Let’s start with introductions.” She paused. “My name is Rose and I will be your guide on your journey of self exploration.” Sherlock took his notebook out of his pocket as other people in the circle introduced themselves. He looked at each person in turn, making notes as he observed them. By the time they reached the person to his left, a thirty something woman with curly brown hair and the unfortunate name of Mandy Pansy he had a whole page of notes about everyone including “Tosser, delusions of grandeur, cheating on her husband, fancies himself an intellectual, and brags to hide his inadequacy.” He looked up when he realized everyone was looking at him. “Everyone is saying their name and something about themselves,” Rose offered helpfully. He looked at her. “Ah..my name is a Jeffrey Webster. I’m a writer.” Sherlock had thought using an alias might be wise this time. Thanks to a few recent high profile cases he was pretty sure his name would be recognized and that would stop his investigation before it really got started. Writer seemed like a suitably boring occupation. (He had almost said blogger but scrapped that idea because it could raise a few questions he might not want asked.)
“You’re not planning on writing about us, I hope,” Mandy said.
“Of course not.” Sherlock glanced down at the pad where he had written “Repressed. Wants to be creative.”, then looked at her. “I just have a habit of making notes about the world around me. Most of them don’t get used for anything else.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Rose said. “Next to freedom of expression we value respect and privacy here.” Sherlock looked at her. “I value those as well.” She was the one person there he hadn’t gotten a complete reading of and that bothered him.
Alisa and the last two people in the circle introduced themselves. Rose looked at the group again.
“Our topic tonight is good and evil. Are some people born ‘bad’ or does society make them that way?” She said. Holmes smiled and cleared his throat. “The answer to that is ridiculously obvious.”
Rose looked at him with interest. “I can say without a doubt that some people in this world are born bad. Or what we would commonly think of as bad or evil. Lacking in moral character and the knowledge of what is wrong.”
221B Baker Street
Sherlock sat in his chair and idly plucked at the strings of his violin. He hadn’t been able to tell Lestrade much more than that Rose was the leader of Socrates Cafe and that he thought she merited more observation.
“I need a cup of tea,”Watson said. He went into the kitchen.
“That’s it.” Sherlock put the violin down. “After the meeting we went for a cup of tea.”
“Who went for a cup of tea?” Watson had come back into the room. “Rose and I did.” Sherlock stood and paced around the room. “It’s starting to come back to me now.”
Watson looked puzzled. It wasn’t like Sherlock to go out for a drink with a woman. It was too mundane. Plus there was the whole married to his work thing.
“She said she found some of my ideas fascinating and she wanted to discuss more,” Sherlock continued. “I myself was intrigued by her and thought more observation was in order.”
The Tea Garden
“You’re staring again,” Rose said. She had remarked on that same thing on their way over from the church.
Sherlock had been watching her; trying to refine his observations. “Was I?” he asked. He filled his cup from the pot of Darjeeling between them. “I was just wondering why an attractive woman like you would purposely make herself less so.”
“You think I’m attractive?” Rose asked.
Sherlock breathed in the fragrant steam from his cup. “Yes. Although that blunt haircut and all the black do nothing for you.”
Rose looked at him and played with the ring on her right hand. Her nails were short and painted with dark purple polish. “I imagine it serves it’s purpose though,” Sherlock continued.
“And what purpose would that be?” Rose gave him a challenging look.
“Protection.” Sherlock was even more sure of that now. He had watched the way she had tensed and closed herself off when a young bloke had tried to chat her up while they were in the ordering queue. It still puzzled him that she didn’t seem that way with him. (Granted he hadn’t tried to do anything besides have a pleasant conversation with her. He imagined she would behave quite differently if he showed an interest in having it off.)
“What would I need protection from?” Rose sipped her tea and gave Sherlock a half smile.
“You were right, you know.” Rose looked at Sherlock as they walked towards the tube station. “I was assaulted a few years ago.”
Sherlock looked at her with a knowing look on his face. Ordinarily he would have had a smug response to that but for some reason his mind didn’t seem to be working correctly. He felt heavy and slow and the world around him seemed out of focus. He shook his head to try and clear it.
“Blokes are all the same,” Rose continued. “The ones in Socrates Cafe certainly are. They may seem intelligent and well spoken but they still only want one thing from a bird.” She looked at Sherlock. “I thought you were different, with your observation and your manner.” She shook her head. “You’re still just a bloke.”
Sherlock tried to push the fog away from his mind. It was getting increasingly difficult.
“I’m not like them,” he managed. He understood now that Rose had killed the missing men and that she had drugged him. “You drugged me,” he said.
They were near an alley now. Sherlock looked around through blurry eyes and reached out to the wall for support.
“I didn’t have a choice. You know too much.”
Even in his addled state Sherlock realized how dangerous Rose was. “I’m sorry it has to end this way. You really did intrigue me.”
Sherlock slumped against the brick wall of the alley.
. He knew at the moment he had very few options.
221B Baker Street
“She came at me with a pair of scissors,” Holmes said. The other victims had been stabbed in the chest and stomach. He thought it likely the same weapon had been used.
“I don’t think her heart was quite in it though, since I was able to grab a hold of her wrist and slam her hand into the wall in my drugged up state.” He looked at Watson. “I’m not quite sure how I overpowered her in the end.” He remembered the sound of a skull impacting with brick and the metallic clunk of scissors landing on tarmac. The last image in his mind was of him putting a gloved hand to his neck and stumbling farther down the alleyway.
“You’re lucky she didn’t decide to finish the job after you blacked out,” Watson said. Holmes nodded. “Yes.” He looked at the doctor. “Pass me my mobile.”
“Where is it?” Watson asked.
“In my coat pocket.” Watson got the phone and handed it to Holmes.
Holmes powered it on and looked at his laptop. He then tapped in the number for Scotland Yard and gave Lestrade the new information he had come up with.
“Why did she do it?” Watson asked after Holmes had finished the call.
“The men Rose killed reminded her of the man who attacked her,” Holmes replied. “She was obviously unstable but I think she had a deeper motive as well.” He paused. “In her mind killing those men was a way to purge herself of the memory of the attack. It also was a way to keep herself safe.”
“Blimey,” Watson murmured.
“Unfortunately for her, no matter how many men she killed she would never be able to rid herself totally of the threat.”
Watson looked at Holmes. “That still doesn’t explain why she thought you were different.”
“I was only interested in her mind.” He sat pensively for several moments. “This is very prescient considering tonight’s discussion topic.” He steepled his fingers. “Up for debate was whether or not people were born bad or made that way. I would say this case definitely proves that there are some people who become bad because of circumstance rather than nature.”