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The Progress of Sherlock Holmes

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Text. Lestrade. Case. A second murder (identical to the first). Brilliant. (Love a serial killer.) Text him back: tell him I’m on my way. (How will the incisions look? Perfect? Perfectly the same as the first? And the hands, the fingers? Posed just the same, with fishing line?) Shiver of delight. Jacket; keys; phone. Dropped into pockets. (Where’s John?) Pull open the door, and step–

“Oh!”

Mrs Hudson. Holding a plate (assorted biscuits). For a moment the plate (faint floral pattern, not her typical set, glued-over crack down the middle) looks as though it might tip over; Mrs Hudson catches it, cradles it against her chest. Rights herself.

Standing too close to the door (listening?). Checking to see if my young man is visiting? If I am indisposed? Otherwise occupied? Odd. Tarts: purchased from the bakery down the street. Biscuits: homemade. A set of brownies with a glaze on top. Two strawberries. She spent time arranging it. (Why?)

“Goodness!” She fusses with the biscuits. Attempts to rearrange them into their original order through the cellophane. Nervous. Not a regular visit. Has something to say. (Plate: possibly from a charity shop? Ancient, broken twice: a plate to give away. Not expecting it to be returned. For gifts. Gifts for bachelors. For me?) “So sorry, Sherlock, dear! I didn’t know you were in!”

“Just on my way out.” She’s dressed up a bit; her best shoes (black), new skirt (purple). Pressed shirt (violet). (Why all the effort?) Share my own news. “Serial killer.” Smile conspiratorially.

She smiles back and blushes, looks down, as though I’ve just said something off-colour. Waves her hand. “You and your serial killers.” A pause. “Is John going with you?”

“About to text him.” I am. The moment the door closes behind me, pavement under my feet, I will. Think of his face, a warm feeling rises in my stomach, thinking of him. Text him. Tell him where to meet me. Tell him it’s a serial killer.

“I just wanted to...” Mrs Hudson looks at her plate, then back up at me. “I’m sorry for yelling at you and John the other day. I shouldn’t have, it’s really none of my business.” Ah. An apology. (Should have guessed that. Apology for losing her temper. I’d nearly forgotten.)

“Quite all right.” Give her the faint smile that suggests that it is. (It’s fine. Of course it’s fine. It’s Mrs Hudson.)

“No, no. It’s not all right at all.” Sighs. Calculate: how much will I miss if I stop and talk to Mrs Hudson now? Consider. (Nothing.) They won’t move the body. Anderson will be afraid to. Lestrade will insist. Won’t be long. A few minutes. Like waiting for a taxi. (Am awfully fond of Mrs Hudson.) Study the pained look on her face. Needs to express something. To be forgiven. To set things right. Understood. (Have surely worn that expression myself recently. More than once.) Turn to the right, open the kitchen door. Motion to her to go through. An invitation. She accepts.

Kitchen is a disaster. She tuts out of habit, puts the plate down on the table. Sits. Sighs again.

Opportunity. Repair John’s reputation. (Make him more receptive to moving back in? It could. Worth a shot.) How much to tell her? What words to use?

“John wanted me to tell you,” I find myself pausing. Mrs Hudson looking up expectantly (hopefully). John wants me to tell her that he isn’t the monster she thinks he is. That he didn’t know he was leaving me (heartbroken) for Mary. That he tried to give me what he thought I wanted. Clear my throat. “In the past I had not,” (been honest? been brave? known the truth?) “made myself plain to him. We were not...” pause. Debate a variety of word choices. Can’t choose. Let Mrs Hudson assume a word of her choice. (We were not lovers? Were not Intimate?) Pause has gone on too long. “We were not. Prior to his marriage.”

“Well.” She huffs. Crosses her arms over her chest. “That’s no excuse, he must have known.”

Surprise. What?

“It was obvious, Sherlock! Obvious!” My emotional state, my desires, my deep-seated devotion to my one-time flatmate. Obvious? Only to Mrs Hudson, apparently. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, I just feel protective of you.” Sad, plaintive eyes. “I know how happy he makes you. It pains me to see you hurt. Abandoned. Left alone by someone you love so much.”

(How did she know? Clearly Mrs Hudson possesses deductive abilities that far surpass those of the average human.)

“It’s just not right.” She furrows her brow and shakes her head. “A heart as big as yours, broken, it’s a terrible thing.”

Unlike the rest of London, it has apparently never occurred to her that I might be classified (by some) as a sociopath, incapable of genuine emotion. Apparently Mycroft didn’t share my diagnoses with her over a cup of tea. (One person at least left in London who doesn’t know all my deepest secrets.) Mrs Hudson. A genius.

“Now, I know things are complicated, but...” She bites her lip. “Does he love you? Does he tell you so?”

Awkward. Blink. (Appropriate to answer? Are these matters private?) “Yes.”

She smiles. “Good.” Stands, adjusts the cellophane on the plate, protects her tarts. “Good. Then everything will be just fine. If you’ve got love, Sherlock, everything will be all right.”

Kiss her cheek. She squeezes my fingers. “Tell him he’s forgiven.” She pats my face with her warm hand. Rubs my elbow. Affection. Listen to her kitten heels against the stairs. “As long as he doesn’t leave you again.” She smiles at me, then ducks back into her flat.

Strange.

Pull out my phone. Text John.

Mrs Hudson says all is forgiven. She may be a genius. Apparently all we need is love. SH

Down the stairs. Close the door behind me. Hail a taxi. Lestrade is waiting; a serial killer! Haven’t seen one of those in ages. Phone: John responds quickly. Must be bored. Rub my thumb over his name on the screen. John.

Great! Now that song is going to be in my head all day.

Song? Doesn’t matter.

Serial killer. Newham. Can you come? SH

*

Body perfectly posed, identical to the first. Both victims male, between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-four. Fingers splayed out with artificial (latex) webbing glued between them, and post-mortem slits cut along the sides of their throats (like gills). Found immersed in water. Legs bound together with cling film. Eyelids sliced off. Genitals pushed back into the body cavity via (post-mortem) incision (glued, not stitched). Cause of death: unknown.

Lestrade: pensive. Sally: perturbed. Anderson: distracted (eyes on Sally’s exposed calves). Knees free of damning evidence. Sally’s moved on. Look up: she’s eyeing me (distrustful). Defiant stance. Daring me to say something. I don’t. (No point.)

“Well?” Lestrade. Rubbing his thumbnail over his bottom lip. In the other hand he’s holding a manila envelope (photos of the previous crime scene). Don’t need them.

Compare the skin on the face and hands to the rest of the skin. Stand by the head. Darker; seen more sun. Rougher; often in the rain. Crouch down. Lidless eyes stare blankly up. Sign of a band worn around the head for an extended time. Marks of a hard hat. Pull his mouth open slightly; as expected. Broken teeth (three of them). Prone to violence. Probably fights outside the pub. Stand again. Adjust jacket. Marks on the ankles and the callouses on the feet. Swollen, pale, slightly twisted. Spent most of his adult life in boots. Probably steel-toed. Construction worker. Obvious. Phone. Open web browser. Search. Missing construction workers in the vicinity. News article: Jack Bailey. Photo. Match. Show Lestrade. “There’s your victim.”

Feel the striking absence of John’s ritual praise at moments like this. Lestrade studying the screen. Snatch it back. Text John.

Where are you? Need to determine cause of death. SH

Impatient. Wait for a response. Lestrade confers with Sally. Anderson still staring at her calves. Observe the body, attempt to construct. No marks indicating a struggle. No wounds. No broken bones. Nothing. Test the blood (takes too long). What?

Phone vibrates. Text. John.

20 min at most. Just got a taxi.

Disappointed. Twenty minutes? Too long.

No wounds. How would you dispatch a 23 yr old male without visible injury? SH

Perhaps John can help from a distance.

Not a question I’ve spent much time considering!

Perhaps not. Must institute a change in casual dinner conversation toward potential murder techniques. Keeps the brain limber.

Consider it now! SH

A pause. Observe the colour of the skin. Reddish. Ruddy. (What does ruddy imply?) Text. John considered, has a solution (fast). Burst of pride. (Knew he would.)

Any airway obstruction?

Tilt the head back; check. Clean. (Cleaned.) Evidence.

Airway has been scraped clean. Smells of vomit. SH

Certainly easier to deduce cause of death with John present. Lestrade, Anderson: hovering. Annoying. Another vibration in the palm of my hand. (Joy.) Text.

Could be that. Choked on his own vomit. Not a murder then? Alcohol poisoning?


Must be a murder. But skin isn’t bluish. Reddish. SH

Scan the body for puncture wounds. There must be one. Somewhere. Insides of the arms, hands, feet, where? Has to be one. Couldn’t have just waited for a violent drunk to drink himself to death. Too disorganised. Too haphazard. Reassuring buzz of another text.

Alcohol poisoning more likely then. Dehydrated. Get a urine sample. Doesn’t sound like murder.

Found it. Back of the neck. Injection from behind. Slowed reflexes. Inject lethal dose of alcohol into an alcoholic. Perfect.

Hurry up! SH

“I need a syringe.” Don’t bother to look up.

“No.” Lestrade. “No samples from here, we can take them at the mortuary.”

“You hardly need a syringe to prove your hypothesis, Sherlock.” Freeze. Mycroft. (Why? What is he doing here?) Phone vibrates. Text. Glance at the screen.

Traffic, Sherlock! I’m on my way!

Can practically feel the tapping of Mycroft’s umbrella against the pavement. The relentless beat of a Wagnerian opera.

*

Don’t want to look at him. Sitting in his ridiculous car. Ridiculous tinted windows. Ridiculous, silent driver behind bullet-proof glass. No assistant this time. Assassination vehicle. (Is he planning to assassinate me? Or preparing for my inevitable assassination of him?) Driving somewhere. Too blind with rage to work out where. (Where’s John?) Pull out my phone. Stare at it. Send a text. When John arrives at the (beautiful) crime scene, I’ll be gone.

I’ve been abducted. SH

“Sherlock.”

No. No interest in this conversation. I have nothing to say to him.

He sighs. Like I’m seven again, and he’s fourteen, he’s more clever than me, more mature than me, knows more than me. He’s annoyed with me and I’m being trying. I know that sigh. I’m tired of that sigh. Can practically feel my lateral orbitofrontal cortex buzzing with neural activity. Anger. Blazing, uncontrollable rage. Welcome vibration on my phone.

Your brother, I presume? Are you ok?

Clutch at my phone; John. The only thing that’s keeping me sane. (He should be here; he’d take my hand, draw soothing circles on my palm. Take my chin, look me in the eye. Calming. John. My fixed point.) Take out his gun and shoot Mycroft between the eyes for me. (I love you, John.) Punch the keys with my thumbs. Lips are twitching.

I hate him. I may kill him. Be prepared to post bail. SH

“You have every right to be angry.” Unexpected, but the truth at least. “I must admit that...” uncharacteristic pause. He’s hesitating. Saying something difficult. What? “I was wrong.”

I have never heard him admit to being wrong before.

I have never known him to be wrong before.

“Wrong?” (The surprise of it looses my lips.) Where to begin. “Wrong to keep my personal medical files for decades after they should have been destroyed? After our mother ordered them destroyed? Or wrong for sharing them?” Finally look up at him. Can barely contain my rage. Feel my phone creak in my hands, gripping it so tight I may break it. “Sharing them with my competition?”

“She was never your competition.” He says it like he’s tired of it. Being wrong does nothing for him; looks like he’s gained about a stone since I last saw him. (So. Guilt weighs (roughly) a stone then?)

“Did you show those notes to John as well, so he would always fear me, Mycroft? Keep his distance? Or were you hoping he would walk away from me forever?”

“Of course not.” Shuts his eyes. Take a deep breath. “I was trying to help you, Sherlock.”

The unlikeliness of it nearly makes me laugh. “Help me?”

“Believe it or not. Yes. I was trying to help you. I was trying to get them to understand. To understand what you were capable of. To not expect more from you than you could give. I was trying to ensure,” he stops, purses his lips. Distaste. “I was trying to ensure that you would keep someone who loves you in your life, Sherlock. So that you wouldn’t break him. That’s what I was trying to do.”

Break him? At what point was John in any danger of being broken? “Why?”

Another sigh. “Because you’re my brother, Sherlock. And though you may struggle to fathom this, I care about you and I want you to get what you want. I want you to be happy.”

Happy. Convincing Mary (and trying to convince John) that I am a psychopath: in what context could that possibly make me happy? “Lying about me was going to make me happy?”

“As I said.” Mycroft’s voice has gone flat. “I was wrong.”

Twice. Mycroft admitting it twice in one conversation (twice in one lifetime seems generous. Until now: unthinkable). Certainly he was wrong; a bizarre and impossible series of actions with motives that cannot possibly, under any circumstances, map against them. Telling Mary (telling John) that I am barely human, a monster: John’s uncertainty (his faith, his bravery, his attraction for impossible risks) clearly not something Mycroft had counted on (or had he?). Growing closer to me, putting his heart (love has made me giddy with metaphors) in my monstrous hands, with my (erroneous) diagnoses in the back of his head. Mycroft is fiddling with his umbrella. The car turns a corner. He sighs again. Doesn’t look at me. “I was wrong to believe it was true.”

Mycroft. Annoyed older brother, disdainful looks, slamming doors in my face, laughing at me. Dragging me out of dubiously legal clubs, destroying my collection of tinctures and hard-won substances, pushing me into bedrooms with locks on the outside. Mummy (her love always unconditional) hadn’t believed it (wouldn’t, couldn’t), but Mycroft is (always was) different. Guarded looks. Doubts. Assuming the worst. (No wonder.) All this time, naively, thought brotherly love might have given me the benefit of the doubt. That Mummy’s word on the matter was law (except for the gnawing doubt in me, the gnawing fear.) Already hate him, already wish we weren’t related; didn’t think he could still hurt me.

Didn’t even realise I still wanted him to believe anything good or kind about me. To close his eyes and believe the unbelievable. I suppose I did. (Another betrayal: bigger than the first.) He had the same doubts I did. (Suppose I can’t blame him for that. But I will anyway.) He believed me to be incapable (I believed the same thing).

What do you do to make a psychopath happy? (Lower the expectations of everyone around him to avoid him breaking them into tiny pieces and rubbing his hands with glee?)

“I’m sorry.” Look at his face. He does indeed look sorry. Sorrier than anything; a sorry excuse. For a brother. For family. There has been nothing unconditional in my life since Mummy died. Barring the unconditional annoyance that is Mycroft. Everyone assumed the worst. (Including me.)

“You surprised me, Sherlock. You surprised everyone.” And what is the big surprise? To love and be loved in return? Such a simple thing. Something anyone can do. Mycroft: believes I can solve the most complicated crimes, but am incapable of sharing a simple emotion? (Suppose I surprised myself too.)

Mycroft smiles. “It’s a sizable accomplishment, surprising me. Exceeding my expectations. You understand that. I’m,” he pauses. Hesitating, or pausing for effect. “I’m proud of you.” Roll my eyes. Mycroft pulls a case from under the seat. “So I brought you a little something. A gift. A peace offering.” An attempt to mollify me? A balm on our brotherly rift? Whatever it is, no matter how expensive it is, I’m duty-bound as the (wronged) younger brother to destroy it instantly. He places the case on his lap and opens it. Turns it toward me.

A violin. A little worse for wear; the finish a bit rough in places, some nicks and cuts. Hasn’t been as well-cared for as it should have been. Some water damage. Wait: No. Not just a violin. (My God.) Italian. Amati. Seventeenth century. (Impossible.) A masterpiece. (I cannot possibly destroy it.) Nicolo Amati, grand pattern. A grand Amati. Incredibly rare. Amazing. (Priceless.)

“I hope you’ll forgive the heavy-handed metaphor.” A weak smile. “A beautiful instrument that hasn’t been as well-loved as it should have been. But a beautiful instrument still.” He passes the open case to me (faith).

In my first act as a non-psychopath (in the eyes of my dear brother) I will not destroy this (stunning) violin. (Will have to find something else to destroy. Perhaps his car.) Run my fingers across the body. Unbelievable. Trace the (perfect) sound holes. The pegbox. The scroll. Lift it from its (nondescript) case. Caress the upper treble corner, where a drop of water was left to sit. Stroke the wound. Wrap my hand around the middle bouts and feel the weight of it. So beautiful.

Mycroft says nothing. Just watches me. I should say something, thank you, but I can’t bring any words into my mouth. Too much else there. (Sadness, disappointment, bitterness, hope.)

Have no idea how much time has passed when I notice the car has stopped moving. Look out the window. Baker Street. (Home.)

“You should know.” Mycroft. More wheels turning within wheels? (Of course.) “About twenty minutes ago Mary received word that a job she applied for seven years ago has come open again, and her application has been accepted. A job at the Bodleian.” The Bodleian? Mycroft is sending Mary to Oxford? “It’s the job of a lifetime, the job she’s always wanted. Of course she’ll accept it.”

“Of course.”

“I believe in happy endings.” He knits his fingers together.

*

Stand by the window; watch the rain. Play. The feel of it, the music (Mendelssohn) reverberating through me. The bow (pliable, perfect), the instrument (the most stunning tone I’ve ever heard). Every other violin, every other bow: Plato’s cave. Shadows of this bow, this violin. Nothing I’ve played has ever sounded so real. So complete. Can hear the voice of the wood (of my fingers, particularities of each shift, each movement, even vibration of my muscles, my bones). Close my eyes.

Play.

No idea how much time passes.

Hear the door open (rain pounding outside). Taxi speeding off. Hear it shut again (rattle of glass). Hear something heavy deposited on the tile. A coat shrugged off, hung by the door. A pause. (He’s listening. I’m playing. Still Mendelssohn.) Feet on the stairs. (John’s feet, of course. I’d know them anywhere. His sure step. No limp. Never again.) Opens the door to the sitting room.

Turned toward the window. Hear the beat of the rain, the wind lashing against the house. Play. Eyes shut. He doesn’t want to disturb me; takes a seat in his armchair. The sound of something metal placed on the table; next to it, something plastic and flat. (His gun; his computer.) He leans back. His eyes either open, or shut: can’t tell. He sits still. He listens.

The realisation almost interrupts the music (Adagio non troppo). Almost open my eyes in surprise (but don’t). Relish the thought instead. His gun. His computer. The heavy bag downstairs. A warmth in my stomach that travels up through my chest (through that impossible new organ there) and through my fingers into the music. No more Clapton. No more Mary. John has moved back in.

In a few minutes (three at most), the piece will end and I will open my eyes, turn, watch John sitting there. His eyes (if closed) will open too, will meet mine. He’ll tell me the music was beautiful (it is). He won’t notice the new violin (unlikely he can tell one violin from another). I’ll take off the shoulder rest and put it (lovingly) in its (nondescript) case. He will want to tell me what he’s done; won’t know that I’ve already deduced it. (Or perhaps he will know. Knows me well enough. But he’ll want to tell me anyway. Say the words so there’s no confusion.) I’ve come back. I won’t leave you again. Smile at the thought of hearing it. (Two and a half minutes.) How will I answer? Smile. Can’t think of any words to suit. Maybe I will, in two minutes. If I don’t he will understand.

Next he’ll stand. What’s most likely? Turn toward the kitchen, ask me if I want a cup of tea. Thirsty work, moving out of Clapton. (No beer in the fridge.) He’ll notice the plate of biscuits and tarts on the table. Ask about it. I’ll explain: gift from Mrs Hudson. The mark of her blessing. He’ll make a joke; happy announcements or gossip. We’ll both laugh. He’ll take one of the tarts, and offer me one. I’ll decline.

Or will he instead ignore the kitchen, ignore his thirst and thoughts of tea, and walk toward me? Take my hand? No. Embrace me? Kiss me. Kiss my neck. Tell me he loves me. (I will reciprocate.) He will smile at me. Will he take hold of my fingers (two fingers, lightly, in his palm) and take me to the bedroom? Or ask me if I’m hungry, if I’m eating, if I’m still on a case?

One way or another. Tea, tarts. Declarations. The immediate future. All will follow, in whichever order John chooses. But all will follow (eventually). For now I will play, with John listening (loving both the music and me). Only a minute (or so) left. And then it will begin.