The brisk London air was harsh and unforgiving this time of year, similar to the circumstances that had dragged me to the location. A simple letter, handwritten in excellent penmanship, had informed me to meet the letter’s author outside of Watson’s (a café that I had frequented for many years), or else the horrible circumstances that had brought us together would be revealed. I had long since decided that the letter’s author, who had taken to calling himself “M”, was blackmailing me, but I could not risk angering him any further. My life depended on it.
I pulled the collar of my coat up to help warm me from the cold. Sitting at one of the café’s outside tables was M. He looked sickly, very sick, in fact. I wondered if M had gotten ill since our last encounter, or if his lifestyle had finally gotten the best of him. I sat in the chair across from M, and our meeting began.
“I’ve read your latest publication,” M said. “I did not enjoy it. He was too impressive in it.”
“Is that so?”
M stirred a small cup of coffee, and took a sip. He looked at me, and I at him. I noticed how cold M’s eyes were.
“Yes. Arthur, you know our agreement. I allow you to continue your…”, M waved his hand, struggling to find the word, “…writing, on the condition that you only publish stories of a…life-threatening nature to you-know-who.”
I nodded. I knew our agreement. I adjusted my hat on my head. My hair had become thin, so the air felt much colder to me than it had usually. I sighed. I was getting too old for any of this business.
“A sigh, Arthur?” he asked slyly.
“I am becoming too old, James, old and bored. When I first realized what I had done, bringing you to life with words, knowing whatever I typed would come out and live a life, here, in London, I was astounded. You and Holmes and the doctor…all of you now have lives. You should go and live those lives, without my intervention.” I said.
M, who I knew to be truly named James Moriarty, scowled. He was not pleased. When he spoke, his sickly frame shook with anger.
“That cannot be, Arthur. You must continue the tales.” he said. Suddenly, Moriarty smiled his yellowing teeth from ear to ear. “You forgot our arrangement? You will continue our lives in exchange for me not going to Scotland Yard. When they hear all about the mystery author who claims his creations come to life when he types? Oh my, you will be locked up in the deepest darkest asylum in all of London.”
Many years ago, I had pondered this very notion, but now? I was only 34, but years of blackmail, unnecessary stress and bewilderment at knowing I could bring my literary creations to life had left me feeling much older. I would not let my greatest villain determine the fate of my greatest hero any longer. I gave Moriarty a determined look, and grinned myself. He looked horrified.
“I’ve thought it over, James. Years ago, it seems. I’ve made my decision, Moriarty.” I said, grinning again, and he looked worried.
“You don’t understand, Arthur. Your words gave us life, but what would we do after? Without my suggestions, the series would have ended years ago. We would have lived and died boring, average lives. Masterminds like Holmes and I deserve better. But my intervention kept it going. Without me, you will fail as an author, Mr. Conan Doyle. Many years from now, nobody will even know the name of Sherlock Holmes.”
I stood from the seat, looked longingly at the café where I wrote my first Holmes story. I gave a final look at Moriarty, who also stood. With a final look at each other, knowing that it would be our last encounter, we parted. A light snow began to fall on my way back to my house.
When I arrived, I recognized Holmes’ jalopy of a cab, its driver asleep in the front seat, the same one he always brought to my home. I would have to tell Holmes about my plan to kill Moriarty, knowing that with a few typed words I would be changing the lives of two men forever. I was wondering what to call this final problem, the last one Holmes would ever solve, when I entered my study with my two most famous fictional characters, Holmes and Dr. John Watson, by my side.