The Burning Question
Art | Story – magicbunni.deviantArt.com
John Watson woke up to Sherlock Holmes’ tall silhouette moving around his room.
It was 3 AM.
John wriggled out of the knot of sheets that often formed around him when he dreamt of the war, and managed to complain, “What the devil are you doing, Sherlock?” His reward was getting to see Sherlock’s lithe form lift about a half a foot off the ground, turn in midair, and come down with a crack against the dresser. Then, like a cat, he scampered out of the room at full tilt.
So funny! So damn funny! And John was too tired to even laugh. Life was unfair. “No,” John heaved himself out of bed and stumbled after his flatmate. “Run away is not the correct answer to What the devil are you doing?”
“I needed batteries. Go to bed.”
John stopped in the front room and looked up at the ceiling. Presumably, his creator lived up there, give or take a few floors. “God, do I ask?” Last time he’d come for batteries, it had had to do with passing a current through a human eyeball.
This time, it appeared to be refills for a nice normal light. He stuffed the batteries in, and then tucked the thing into a small kit that John had started to construct for those times when they had to hunt around in dark alleyways and-
“You smell like outside,” John realized. “Why do you smell like outside at this hour? So late... early....”
“Well, first, congratulations – well done. And second, Occam’s Law.” Sherlock said almost to himself. He tucked the kit under the kitchen sink and leaned against the counter, winded.
John rubbed his face, “Why were you outside again?” Had he said?
“You should go to bed.” Sherlock said gravely.
“I... I should go to bed.”
John turned in place and made his way back to the warm, welcoming, fresh linen embrace of his bed. He pulled the coverlets out right, crawled in, flipped his pillow, and pushed his face into the coolest, most welcoming slumber.
Then his phone rang. At first, John thought he’d just put his head down. Then he’d cracked his eyes to see it was 5:00AM. That was more like it! He paddled out of the, thankfully, smooth sheets, and caught up his phone.
“Lestrade, it’s 5AM. Where do you think he is?”
There was a moment’s silence. “Okay, I’m on my way over and he’s not answering the phone.”
“Let me go get him up then.” John hung up the phone without waiting for an answer. He trudged into the shower just to rouse himself, stood for ten minutes, and then emerged relatively human. As soon as he had dressed, he went for Sherlock.
Holmes was standing in the front room with a cup of coffee in one hand, and a sickeningly large stack of pancakes in the other. The Metro was tucked under one wing.
Sherlock still wasn’t in the habit of using niceties like ‘good morning’, ‘please’, or ‘thanks’ and it had been decades since anything like that had shown up on his report card. Even back then, he’d have gotten a cluster of epic fails. So Sherlock wandered to the coffee table and set down his pancakes. They were blueberry, with molasses over the top to give the stack more kick. John had no doubt he could put every crumb of it away.
John went in the kitchen and poured himself coffee. As he did so, he stole a glance back at the tall, slender figure hunched over the table, reading and eating, furiously. His charcoal suit was flawless, inside it a shirt in lilac. He looked elegant, except for shovelling food in his face as quickly as he could manage. John sipped coffee, looked at the three discarded instant pancake boxes strewn across the counter, and shook his head. He might be a genius, and a snappy dresser, but a two-year-old spaniel could pick up after itself better. John tossed the empty boxes away and went to sit on the couch opposite Holmes.
“How are you?”
“Pardon me?” John blinked.
Sherlock looked up from his paper. “I need silence.” He went back to it doggedly.
John frowned, and took three of the pancakes off the pile before he headed back into the kitchen. Sherlock watched this disapprovingly, but, ultimately, to say anything about it was to invite conversation, so he was stuck. John laid the pancakes on a paper plate and fished out the syrup and some fresh raspberry jam.
Then something twigged. “What were you doing so late last night?”
“John!” Sherlock said hotly.
The silence endured a long time, and John had made it through all but one pancake before it dawned on him that Sherlock hadn’t moved since he’d asked the question. He sat up and gave Sherlock’s rigid spine his full attention.
“John, I… I found the McAllister baby last night.”
“Good Lord, that child has been missing for months! And there’s a reward. Did Sir Ian break down and hire you?” John fairly spit out his forkful of pancakes. He picked up his plate and coffee and hurried into the front room to sit on the couch. “The reward is something like 100,000£.”
Sherlock held his gaze and curled his fingers together before him in air. “The McAllister family doesn’t know it was me.”
“What? Why!?” John exclaimed excitedly. “I mean, I didn’t even realize you were following the case!? Where did you find her?”
“In an overgrown graveyard in a damaged crypt.”
John’s excitement died away to nothing in a heartbeat.
Stiffly, Sherlock looked down at his unfinished pancakes. “Is it disingenuous to demand a reward, John? I thought that would be your opinion, given the outcome.”
“I’m sorry…. I mean, why? Why do you say that?”
“Would have found her within the hour if I’d had time that same day,” Sherlock stretched and turned the page of the newspaper before him. “Although, I believe she would still have been dead.”
John got up, clapped a hand on his friend’s shoulder, and crossed to the kitchen to get the pot of coffee and sugar dish for refills. “Wait. Slow down. It’s still good detecting, Sherlock.”
“Of course,” Sherlock’s brows drew down. “Was that ever in doubt?”
“So what happened to her?” John’s lips compressed as he sat down. He topped them both off with coffee. “How’d you figure it out?”
“Well, I hadn’t really been involved with the McAllister kidnapping. As you know, I was working other cases at the time. Last night, a special aired. I knew where she was about halfway through. In some of the old footage from A McAllister Christmas, I noted the elderly grandmother had early signs of dementia. I doubt she’s aware that she did anything wrong by putting the child in one of the old family plots.” He sipped his coffee and continued. “I expect that the girl simply stopped breathing in her bed, or one of those things. Perhaps she was shaken – though I could find no outward sign on the body. It’s for forensics now. Took me half the night to find old McAllister graveyard in the woods, though.”
“The body’s with forensics then?”
“Anonymous tip to Scotland Yard.” Sherlock said. “They’ll be getting her out this morning. Someone else will determine the cause of death. It’s out of my hands.”
“It was good work.” And all accomplished while John had been sleeping peacefully in his bed. John polished off the last of his pancake. Sherlock looked in his cup. It was already half-drained. “Hang on. I’ll brew more coffee.”
Sherlock rubbed his face. “Ah, sometimes I hate being right.”
John froze half-way across the room. “Is this bothering your conscience?”
“My what?” Sherlock’s nose wrinkled a little.
“Your…. Is this bothering you?”
“Oh. It certainly is. I just couldn’t get to sleep. I had to prove to myself I wasn’t seeing things. And look at me now? I’m overtired. I won’t be able to sleep for days thanks to this.” He sighed and swallowed the last of his coffee.
Lestrade knocked at the doorframe to their flat, the living room door being open. He didn’t wait for an invitation. “Sherlock. The McAllister-”
“Not finished my paper,” Sherlock said immediately.
“Not finished his-” Lestrade looked across at John and threw his hands up. “What is this?”
“Normal,” John told him. “You really don’t want to interrupt him before he gets through the Metro. Want coffee?”
“Thought he’d read it online.” Lestrade stood over Sherlock’s stooped figure on the floor beside the coffee table, and marvelled how efficiently such a tall, slim frame could compact.
“Morning ritual.” John said. “Coffee?”
“No, thanks. And, see, the McAllister family thinks the murderer gave up their daughter’s location. We have a couple of people who look good for it in the nick and I was hoping to have Sherlock give them a looking at. You know, did they crack and call it in last night. I know a special aired. I thought, maybe, the guilt… well, basically, we need a yes or no in a hurry.”
“No.” Sherlock said with a nod.
“What?” Lestrade asked.
Sherlock closed the newspaper and folded it. “No. They didn’t crack and call in the location of her body last night.”
Lestrade’s eyes widened, “How do you know?”
“Because,” Sherlock sighed heavily, waited a moment, and then shut his eyes. The edges of his bow lips pulled to dimple his cheeks, “Because I saw the special last night, Lestrade.”
Silence. Lestrade circled around him to look into Sherlock’s face. “You. Are. Kidding me.”
“No.” Sherlock scooped two sugars into his cup before John arrived with the coffee pot and refilled him. “I don’t think she was murdered. I think she died. Her elderly grandmother snapped and took the body into the woods. The ancestral family plot is hard to find, in disorder, and clotted with trees and brush now, but it would have been a magnificent playground when she was a young girl. She, alone, would know her way in the dark. She had shown signs of dementia. This was the point of no return for her. She interred the baby and her sanity went with. That was almost six months ago. You’ll find she’s in a much more advanced state now.”
“You solved it off an hour-long television program?”
“I solved it off 30 seconds of clips shown during half an hour of a television program,” Sherlock sipped his coffee and flicked his curls. “Now go tell the McAllister’s it was called in by some soul wandering about the gorse that happened upon their old graveyard.”
“There’s a reward you’re due.”
“Am I being too subtle, Lestrade?” Sherlock flowed up to his feet in one slinky cat motion. “Do not tell the McAllister’s that I did this.”
Lestrade shook his head and went out onto the stairs. “And you’re sure?”
“Are you mad? I was there,” Sherlock said from the doorway.
“You’re sure these guys didn’t kill the baby?” He reached the bottom of the landing and turned in place to lean on the newel post and look up at Holmes.
“That’s why you have a forensics team.” Sherlock said tartly right before closing the door. He heaved a sigh, squared himself, and then deflated. “No-no-no. Not working. I need sleep.”
“After three coffees?” John couldn’t believe it possible of anyone. Holmes whipped past John on the way to his bedroom, already out of his jacket. The shirt came off before Sherlock reached the door. In less than a minute, Sherlock was draped in cotton sheets, face-down in his plethora of pillows with his long arms out as if to embrace them, solidly asleep by the time John kicked his discarded clothes into his room after him. God knew Sherlock owed those fresh bed-linens to John. And God only knew how he could be comfortable sleeping in the nude like that.
John checked his watch, remembered his work schedule at the clinic, and wandered off to brush his teeth. He loved the life of a Consulting Detective.
It wasn’t his life.
John spent a relatively peaceful day at work. The clinic, in comparison to working with Sherlock Holmes, was very orderly, peaceful, and quiet. He had a mere four hour shift that morning, and during that time he saw several patients:
- one chest infection
- one dog bite
- one case of a latex allergy
- one poison oak
- two skinned knees
- and an unfortunate accident with a hammer
this was on top of the regular patients who simply came in for their general checkups. There was nothing terribly exciting about his work day, but then that was also the charm of working at the clinic. John was able to spend a lot of time with Sarah; the staff was polite and friendly; and he was starting to fit in well. He was very effective, and wondered if there was a time coming, very soon, when he would be offered a full-time schedule. John didn't know how to feel about that, seeing as it would definitely interfere in his activities with Sherlock. At some point he had to acknowledge that Sherlock's life was very different than his own, but he wasn't sure he was ready to do that quite yet. In fact he wasn't sure he was ready to do that at all.
It was with some reluctance that he faced the idea of not being the Consulting Detective's assistant. It certainly was an uncomfortable topic for him, even though at first the role had been unwelcome, and he had felt he was a poor fit. By now, of course, Sherlock’s world preoccupied most of John’s waking thoughts. Secretly, returning to it was often all he wanted…. Living this way was almost like having an alter ego, or like the real world was simply a distraction. It was even more likely that the real world was Sherlock's world, and the rest of John’s life was a kind of illusion. But he didn't have the skills Sherlock did. He simply didn’t. And though it was terribly embarrassing to admit, it was almost as though he couldn't get his fill of Sherlock Holmes sparking mind, almost as though they had been on an extended date: one that had lasted for months and was particularly intense. There was no attraction, or anything like that, just the John lacked the vocabulary, and the ideological groundwork, with which to compare his fascination to anything else. To say the least, he could think of no better friend to have.
Still, given that mortifying self-admission he could see why Sarah persisted in her belief that something was ‘going on’ between them that John couldn’t admit to. Even now, John was standing in his white doctor’s coat in the hallway of the clinic wondering how Sherlock Holmes was faring. It had to be the most unproductive thought he'd ever had at work, and the most repetitive. John began to wonder if he envied Sherlock his brilliance.
At the end of the day John was quite eager to head home. This was mostly because Sarah had to work the late shift, and he wasn't going to be able to keep her company the way they normally did on nights where they both closed the clinic. He decided to cab directly over to Scotland Yard to check with Lestrade on the McAllister case.
He was very surprised by the bustle inside of Scotland Yard's Homicide and Serious Crimes branch. There seemed to be almost too much going on.
Lestrade spotted him almost immediately and hurried his direction. “This is refreshing. I don't even have to call. He with you?”
There was no doubt who he was.
John’s brows quirked, “I thought he’d be here. I’m just coming from the clinic.”
Lestrade bustled past Donovan at her desk, and she rose immediately, and hung up her phone. There was definitely something going on, and it didn't look good by the amount of people mobilized to handle it. John did an about-face and immediately headed back to the elevators. Lestrade caught up to him just as he pressed the down arrow.
“So what's going on?" John asked.
“We had a message that there will be a fire.” Lestrade said.
“You had word that there would be a fire? It doesn't make much sense.” John stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the ground floor. “Who goes around sending messages like that?”
“Clearly crazy people,” Lestrade added onto the end of that thought. “We've had a letter, or, sorry, an e-mail to let us know to expect fire in the downtown, something devastating.”
“Well, surely it can't be credible.” John exclaimed. “There's no way they’d tell you about it ahead of time at least not if they wanted to do any real damage.” He busily texted Sherlock. The faster Holmes could get here and onto this case the better for everyone.
“Seems to be credible, we've already got units reporting fingers of smoke over the city. I wouldn't so much say they told us ahead of time, as in the nick of time. Something’s already burning. Could be that the arsonist is still on scene to witness it as well.”
“Arsonists, Detective Inspector Lestrade,” Donovan said as she pushed past him on the way through the lobby. She looked back over her shoulder and added, “It looks like more than one place in the downtown is on fire right now; we have multiple units reporting. We've got firebugs.”
John was stupefied, “Why on earth would someone decide to burn up the city? What's the point? Seems rather random, doesn't it?”
Donovan detoured away from them, and headed down the hallway to the room in which she usually gave press conferences. In general there was a scramble towards police units, everyone seeming to need to be somewhere at once.
John decided to ride with Lestrade, and they'd already made a decision to swing by 221B Baker Street to pick up Sherlock before they went on to any of the crime scenes. As yet there was no text from the genius, which was a bit unsettling to John given the current state of the city.
As they arrived, John led the way up the stairs to their flat, only to find the door hanging open to the front room. Inside, Sir Ian McAllister stood large and imposing over where Sherlock sat in his favorite chair. John and Lestrade seemed to have walked into the middle of a disagreement. John had no idea how Sir Ian had come to be there. There seemed to be no way that he could connect the actions that had been taken last night to Sherlock Holmes, and yet here he was, seemingly aware who had recovered his missing daughter. Sherlock's face was unreadable, apart from the sudden surprise of their arrival. This at least explained why he hadn't answered his text.
John simply stood in the doorway and looked between them, and then quickly added, “Parts of London are on fire. Lestrade said he’s had a letter, or, rather, an e-mail, warning him the fires were coming. Sorry for this Sir Ian, but Sherlock is needed right now. I hope you can understand.”
Sir Ian McAllister stepped back and looked at John. The celebrated actor of stage and screen was even more intimidating in person than in his Oscar-winning roles as Stalin, Hamlet, and Caesar. His glowering was somewhat impressive. However he quite reasonably said, “You must be Dr. John Watson, of whom I've heard so much. And, of course, if there's some calamity in London it needs to be seen to right away. But what's this you say of fire?” No matter how informal the setting, his voice carried as though on stage – a deep baritone, hovering above bass.
Sherlock laid aside his violin and got to his feet. “You shouldn't concern yourself with this. You have enough on your plate right now, or isn't that what they say at times like these?” He made a vague gesturing with his hand in air.
Sir Ian folded his hands together, “Sherlock I must insist.”
“And I told you I must refuse. There's no need. You shouldn't even be here.”
“Your family will understand my coming to you, my presence here. They should've volunteered your assistance, I think,” Sir Ian told the genius. “I understand that Adora was already dead, poor child, before she left the house, I believe you when you tell me it was happenstance – given her frail health. But it’s been torture waiting for news. You might've ended our torment.” But this didn't seem to change Sherlock's demeanor any, in fact he looked, if possible, more uncomfortable than before.
Very quietly Sherlock remarked, “The idea they will understand is quite unlikely. We'll continue this conversation at another time, Sir Ian, until then, that will be all.”
The man left the flat as docilely as a lamb under the guidance of a sheepdog. It wasn't at all what John expected from so great a personality. Sherlock wasted no time getting into his coat. It wasn't his longer thicker coat – the one that Watson most readily associated with Sherlock – but a long, lighter coat in charcoal, which was suited to the warmer weather. It was clearly Designer. The coat to which Watson had become accustomed, happened to be quite thick, and made Sherlock's slender frame look more substantial than it actually was. So the overall effect of this change was still something Watson was getting used to. It certainly gave Lestrade pause, but then there was too much going on for him to pay much attention. That was never something that Sherlock could say.
“What's on fire?” He asked. Sherlock had the decency not to look excited.
“Several buildings in the downtown have been set ablaze. They’re over a wide area, and there seems to be no pattern.” Lestrade said. He led the way down the stairs and out the door to where his police car waited. Sherlock didn't look very happy with this development, but then he never liked to ride in police cars. Only the urgency of the situation convinced him to get inside, and even then he would only ride in the front.
“Anyone claiming it?” Sherlock asked.
Lestrade nodded, “There’s only one we find credible for all of them. The one that came in slightly before the fires caught the eye of the city.”
Sherlock tapped on his cell phone as they drove, seeming barely to take note of the street until Lestrade was about to take a turn. “Next left, not this one.”
“Lights are down. Take the roundabout.” Sherlock nodded at his cell phone. “Millbank. Vauxhall. Rochester. Horseferry. Black Prince. Old Paradise. Lambeth High. Gibson Road. Lupus. Sutherland. St. George's Drive. Clarendon. Twelve fires. Such clever little boxes.”
“What?” Lestrade got them into the roundabout.
“They draw little boxes around areas of the city,” Sherlock nodded and tucked his phone in his pocket. “Why else so many random fires? They serve no purpose until connected.”
The traffic ahead slowed to a crawl. Above them, on the right, a finger of light reached into the twilight, spewing embers up at the clouds. Sherlock pulled the door handle and got out. John gave a muffled cry and hurried after the man. Though he knew that Lestrade was shouting at him, he couldn’t hear a thing over the scream of sirens. He could, however, imagine the contents.
“What’s the plan here?” he bumped against Sherlock’s side. “You can’t go running in.”
“The plan is to search the crowd.” People sped away. They creased the crowd, the only two heading in from the outside. They rounded the corner on a fire so fierce that it blew Sherlock’s coat out like wings. He moved in closer to watch the people huddled around the fire trucks. His eyes combed them… and came up empty. “Not here.”
They were so close to the edge of the flames that John huffed against the smoke and heat and embers breathed around them. A tremendous crack sounded. Flames fell like arrowheads. John scurried in one direction, and Homes in the other. Cinders sprayed and rained on them. John sucked in a breath to shout for Holmes, only to have a hurtling shape catch him around the ribs and drag him along. It was Sherlock, with his long coat flagging out behind him. It looked undamaged.
They raced out of the range of falling objects and passed Lestrade on their way around the corner. John laboured to keep up with Holmes, who ran for blocks to the next fire. They checked all four, and John was seriously knackered before they raced back to the original fire and Lestrade, now with many of his team around him. Sherlock wasn’t even winded.
He arrived with force, grabbed Lestrade around the shoulders, and spun him in place. “Need a helicopter, do you have one?”
“Sherlock, I can’t just-”
He took out his phone and placed a call – very unusual for Sherlock. “I need a helicopter.” He turned away and started striding down the road. Sherlock paced on the street and ruffled embers out of his hair.
“Has he lost his mind?” Donovan asked. “Running around the streets like a mad man?”
“Don’t you see?” Sherlock shouted at them. “They’re pushing traffic around the city, it’s like parting the Red Sea. There is a fox in one of these boxes and whoever set these fires is waiting for a glimpse of it.” Sherlock pointed up at the traffic cameras. “Clever. Evil. Clever. But who are they looking for? Who do they want?” He stopped moving and shut his eyes. His lips compressed and he looked at the rooftops around him.
Then he was off again. John straightened with a gasp. “He’s going on the roofs.”
“He’s what?” Donovan almost yelled this. “Is he mental?”
John patted some soot out of his suit and followed in Holmes’ wake. Lestrade came along behind him. “How does he know there’s some kind of method behind this?”
“Look at all this effort,” Sherlock took them down an alley, always looking up. “Look at all the fires here. Imagine the manpower this message took? The planning and care? It would have been expensive. This isn’t just random. This is a war.” He leapt up at the fire escape, caught it, pulled it down, and shot up the side of the building with incredible speed.
“Sherlock! Hello!” John shouted from below. He looked sharply across at the snicker from Sergeant Sally Donovan.
There was nothing to do but wait.
“You don’t think he got a helicopter though, right?” Lestrade cocked his head. “I mean, where would he be able to get a helicopter from?”
John actually laughed. “Do you have any idea how many people owe him favours? Do you think he only solves cases when people can pay?”
Sherlock hurried down the escape and flipped over the steel rails to the ground when he was close enough. His brows drew down. He tucked his hands in his pockets and walked up to John. “Afraid of heights, John?”
“Lots of helicopter rides in Afghanistan.” Sherlock tugged his jacket gently and paced past.
“Yes.” John turned to follow the man’s motions.
“News helicopters are rolling on every inch of the downtown right now. If I had done this, I’d sit back in the flat and do math on the flow of traffic. There’s a ton of data.” He held up his phone to John who glanced over the screen. It was split into four feeds, two from choppers, and two from traffic cameras. “This is a cell. Imagine what I could do with a decent laptop.”
John glanced from the screen up at Sherlock. “Will you be able to find whoever they’re looking for with this?”
“I stand a better chance than this lot.” Sherlock indicated Lestrade and the police around him. “They still can’t pick the signal from the noise.” He snickered as a loud, percussive, whud-whud sounded overhead. Sherlock looked up as a sleek black belly of a helicopter passed over the top of the alley. He considered John for a long moment.
“John, stay with Lestrade.” Sherlock started up the alleyway. “If there is any development with these fires I will need to know immediately. It will change my search pattern. Once I’m up there, I’ll lose track of the finer points. Please pay attention.”
“I’ll… I’ll do my best,” John said. “Where are you going?”
“Harrods. I have need of their helipad,” Sherlock’s mouth quirked into a smile.
“Traffic is a nightmare.” Lestrade opened his arms.
“I’m sure I’ll manage,” Sherlock started for the top of the alley. “John, watch them.” He shot out of the alley at a dead run.
Lestrade heaved a sigh, “He’ll never get through the traffic in time.”
“He doesn’t have to. They’re waiting for him. He’s for the tube, for sure,” John heaved a breath and looked up at the sky. “I’m pretty sure that was an Augusta A109, pricey to rent out even for an hour.” He shook his head and turned in Lestrade’s direction. “Sherlock’s got some good friends, uh… clients.”
“Come on,” Lestrade riffled his short hair. “We’re heading across to Lambeth.”
John didn’t lay eyes on Sherlock again until 11AM the next day when he walked through the apartment, threw his coat on the floor, and headed in for a shower. John stood staring. After a moment he went to lean on the door to Sherlock’s washroom. Steam obscured the shower stall. John sighed with relief. “Where were you?”
Sherlock sputtered water, “Watching footage. The fires are out, have you been to see?”
“No,” John rubbed his cheek. “You?”
“Flew by,” he scrubbed his hair. “I mean in a cab this time – figure of speech. Not much to see, really. The contents of those locations really didn’t matter to the people who set the fires.”
“No one died,” John told him sharply. “In case you wondered.”
“That’s nice.” Sherlock said lackadaisically, a sure sign that it hadn’t crossed his mind. When he shook his head, suds shot across the paneled shower door. He waited what he thought was a decent amount of time before changing the subject. “Get yourself together. We’ll be leaving as soon as I’m out and dry.”
“What happened?” John rubbed the back of his neck.
Sherlock flicked his head upward. Water struck the ceiling, he was so tall. “What do you mean?”
“To your hair?”
“Had it cut. It was singed. Just had it evened out.”
To say the least. “You were too close to the fire, Sherlock.”
A sigh emerged from the shower, and then nothing for almost a minute. “I’ll grant that it was a close call with the falling timber, John. You weren’t hurt, were you?”
“Just some burns.” John looked at the red marks across the back of his hands. The worst burn was on the back of his neck, and quite angry. It was the bandaging there he rubbed in order to keep it snug. Sarah had tended to it early this morning when he’d worked to fill in for a late-arriving doctor.
The water cut and the door opened behind John’s back. There was a sound of rustling fabric, and Sherlock drifted by. His shower robe was a tremendous affair in dark blue velvet pile. It swept the floor behind him. He shuffled a small towel over his short hair, the curls all cut away except for some survivors framing his face.
John left him that way and switched on the television. They were covering the fires and broke, shortly, to Sally Donovan addressing the media about the investigation. John turned it up, “-traces of accelerants involved in all the fires. It has been confirmed that no lives were lost, but the property damage, particularly in the Lambeth area, where a tailwind burned through four more homes, is extensive.”
Sherlock was tucking in his shirt as he walked out of his room.
John did a double take as Holmes pulled on his fitted jacket. Really, the hair….
It was very shortly cut, apart from the brief trademark curls at the top and sweeping along the sides. The overall effect for his face was odd. While he was still masculine, without the thatch of curls, the combination of his smooth, pale skin, balanced features, bow lips, and high cheekbones gave his handsome face a conspicuously feminine underpinning of fascination. It was distracting. And it made him look younger, more innocent. This was entirely unexpected. It made John realize he really didn’t know how old Sherlock was. Looking at him now… not very. Not as old as John had assumed.
Holmes got into his coat and touched his pocket to confirm his cell phone – this was just comforting habit, Sherlock did not forget his phone. It would have been like forgetting his shirt. John looked away and shook his head. Okay. Sherlock had officially past the point of modish and now more closely resembled a billboard than the obsessive, possibly mad genius John knew was actually inside there. It was comical. “You’d best stay clear of St. Bart’s looking like that.”
John motioned at his head, up and down, and nodded, “Tidy.”
“I know how it looks; shut up!” Sherlock exclaimed cloudily. He pulled on his gloves and collapsed into the chair across from John. “I think I’ve got it worked out… but we can’t run in there with police. However, you’ll need your gun.”
“What’s this about?”
“Working on it.” Sherlock shot to his feet. “Just be happy, for now, that I’ve worked out where we need to go next. Pray my equations are better than theirs, and faster. There are a lot of variables, and we’ll get one shot at this. With hope, I’ve chosen right.” He slid his fingers down into the bends of his gloves to pull them tight. “The shower – such a good place to think about maths.”
“Oh my God,” John laughed.
“No, nothing. Quite common, really.” John got to his feet and went to retrieve his Browning, “Thinking about maths in the shower. Can’t understand those people who don’t.”
Sherlock gave only a soft moue. He knew when John was having fun at his expense.
And he should have been kinder, considering that Holmes had gotten him an expensive holster and shoulder rig – that had been the purpose behind the annoying spat of measurements Sherlock had carried out in the kitchen one night. It hadn’t been for a body bag, as John had grumbled while trying to turn his spaghetti sauce. The tatty, ill fitted holster was now a thing of the past.
John picked up the freshly cleaned firearm and checked the safety before strapping on the shoulder rig. He’d practiced with it and was, he found, faster than before, which was impressive. He’d had a reputation during the war.
Once John had settled his coat on and was satisfied that the gun didn’t show, and Sherlock resettled his coat on his shoulders and he was satisfied, they were off. They went down into the street and almost directly into a cab. There was nearly no delay.
Sherlock drummed his fingers excitedly, impatient to be off. They drove across Horseferry Road into Bishop’s Ward, in Lambeth. John was quite confused and in a state of anticipation when they did so. Sherlock, meanwhile, ignored his ringing phone as Scotland Yard tried his number. John’s rang next, but he didn’t even reach for it, knowing who it would be and that he and Sherlock were going off radar. Sherlock had the driver stop the cab at St. Thomas’ Hospital.
Holmes led the way along walkways that stitched the large, lumbering hospital buildings. It was a quite intimidating edifice, its many buildings crouching over the Thames like misshapen blocks dropped from Olympus. It had quite the august reputation, this place. Sherlock walked around it, deep in thought. He clearly knew where he meant to be, John just had no idea how. They came out of the South Wing and into the Children’s Hospital. There, he slowed his steps considerably.
It was odd to notice how patrician his features, the short hair, fine suit and high-collared coat made him seem. Sherlock appeared quite the sophisticate, and, now and again, the foot traffic around him would throw curious and admiring looks in his direction. But that didn’t interest him at all.
He knit through hospital halls easily, as if he belonged there, and stopped, eventually, beside a small cluster of chairs used by waiting patients.
There he turned and asked, “John, will you call a cab for the nearest exit?” He indicated the map beside the elevators. “Make it for within 10 minutes.”
“Cutting it close,” John said as he called for a cab and followed Sherlock’s long, willowy form, which was cut out in silhouette in the strong light from the waiting room windows.
There was a collection of misery in this small section of the hospital, most of it, chest colds, and respiratory infections. Sherlock drifted by coughing children, and their mumbling parents, to a small bend in the waiting room. Overhead, a boxy television ran daytime soaps. John hung up with the cab company and noticed that Sherlock had come to a stop beside one huddled woman whose child was crumpled on the floor. The child’s upper body sagged against the woman’s knees. The woman – a mother, surely, if you asked John – rubbed the girl’s back in steady rhythm. Her fingers were quaking as she did so. Her bowed head was covered in a kerchief.
Sherlock reached into his coat pocket and brought out an inhaler. “I believe you dropped this.”
The woman jolted to her feet. John got a flash of a young face, very lovely, with generous lips and large dark blue eyes. The child almost vanished, half under the coat the woman wore, half under the chairs. Only the girl’s pathetic coughs – thick with asthma – indicated she was still there. Sherlock hadn’t moved.
“I’m Sherlock Holmes,” he said softly. “You are Katrya Vahtin, and that must be Svetlana.” The woman looked terrified. Sherlock turned the inhaler. John could see that the pharmacy label was written in Cyrillic and dark with smoke. “I almost couldn’t make out her name here. You’re lucky that I managed to remove enough soot to read it. I was also able to determine it was undamaged and is safe for use.”
A soft rustle of fabric was followed by the emergence of a dark eyed little girl from the folds of her mother’s long, camel-coloured coat. She had echoes of her mother’s stunning looks, but her eyes gleamed with more practicality. She took the inhaler from Sherlock’s outstretched hand, shook it, and took two deep draws on the puffer. John listened closely to her breathing and shook his head. “Uh, Sherlock, we need to get across town and take her to the clinic and give a good listen to her chest.”
“We just wanted to be here, in a hospital,” the woman said in a rolling accent, “in case it got worse. I waited all morning and it isn’t getting any better.” With that, she let out a soft cry and crumpled against Sherlock’s chest. “It is my fault. I lost her medicine.”
He twitched – that was probably instinct – but stilled. It was actually quite odd to witness. He didn’t try to touch the woman on his chest. He did note, “And you saved her life.”
“Spasibo,” the Russian woman murmured. She looked impossibly posh lying against Sherlock’s grey shoulder, the pair of them like fugitive models until a rattling gasp ruptured that chic symmetry.
Sherlock looked down at the little girl, Svetlana, at the same time they all did. The little girl sank to the floor in a small heap. Her mother went down after her. “Sveta! Sveta!”
Her small voice wheezed. “I’ll be fine. I just need…” the rest was lost in a sudden fit of coughing.
John crouched down beside them to take the girl’s pulse against his wrist watch. The thing had cost him only about 30 quid. He’d had it in Afghanistan. It helped him to save lives. “Sherlock, we need to get her across town to-”
“Thus the cab,” Sherlock said. “Carry her.”
Capital idea. John estimated the girl he hefted could be no older than eight or nine. Her lungs were badly irritated. He couldn’t imagine the discomfort, so John tried to walk lightly, so as not to bounce the girl in his arms.
The Russian red-head began to flag as she neared the exit.
Sherlock spoke in a soft, loaded voice, “If I found you, Ms. Vahtin, they can’t be far behind. Cover your hair. Come with us if you want to live.”
Good Lord, John thought, who used such a line? For whom was such a line mesmerising?
Holmes made it sound like exactly what it was: life or death. Sir Ian couldn’t have delivered it with such finality.
So Katrya Vahtin tucked thick coppery hair under her kerchief fastidiously. They made for the door with the girl’s small hands clinging to John’s shoulders. She was like a frightened cat. Huge-eyed. Sherlock made them all wait in the foyer. He stepped outside and lit a cigarette quite casual. Within only a few seconds, he pinched it out in favour of opening the cab door. Sherlock gestured everyone along. Once inside, Holmes had Katrya crouch on the floor. The woman didn’t complain, but stroked her child’s dark red curls with a gloved hand.
“Is she okay?” The driver asked.
“It’s packed in there,” John said. “We’re taking her to a clinic.”
This was enough to spur the man along.
The child lay prone across John’s lap, and he gently tapped her back. John cursed the lack of a stethoscope with which he could listen to her constricted lungs. She didn’t sound congested to him. There were no wet, gurgling breaths. He could fairly hear the passages in her chest shrinking.
“But she’s had her inhaler,” Sherlock muttered. He offered a red light his best vexed stare. It was always strange, to John, when Sherlock sounded helpless.
“I don’t trust that nebulizer,” John replied quietly. “The soot on the label says it was too close to the heat. We’ll get her proper samples. As many as she needs.”
“Thank you,” Katrya said softly. “Thank you, sir.”
“John,” Sherlock told her. “His name is John.” And the woman reached up and squeezed John’s hand in gratitude.
The tension in the cab was palpable right up until Sherlock had the driver pull up to the clinic door. They stopped only about a yard from the entrance. Holmes overpaid the cabby enough to forget they’d ever been, and herded everyone inside. John stalked into the clinic first, and was, greeted by curious staff.
“Doctor Watson, your shift is over,” said the pretty receptionist. Her voice was guarded, “You here to see Sarah? And who’s the pretty little girl?”
Svetlana smiled graciously.
John asked, “Is Sarah busy?”
But he was too late. Her eyes had skipped.
John didn’t even have to look. “Sherlock.”
“That’s Sherlock?” She blinked.
“Oh God,” Sherlock shut his eyes and muttered, and then he leaned over the counter and shouted down the hall. “Sarah, come here!”
The patients waiting in the room behind them fell into a hush. Somewhere in the exam rooms, a baby burst into tears. John pinched the bridge of his nose and exchanged a look with Katrya, who winced and gave a small shrug.
In response to the bellow, Sarah fairly shot out of the break-room, a pair of nurses trailing behind her. She saw that her ears hadn’t deceived her, and sputtered, “Sherlock? We don’t allow yelling in the-” another baby began to wail.
“Come now, Sarah, they’re only children,” Sherlock gave one of his quick, half-smiles and removed one gloved hand out of a pocket. He caught Katrya by the elbow, distracted, just as John was, by the glint of her magnificent coat’s belt, and steered her down the hall like a piece of luggage. “John, bring the child.”
Now Sarah blinked. She stepped up to bar his progression any further on into the examination rooms, “Sherlock, what are you doing?”
“First, let the woman go.”
Sherlock released Katya and tucked his hand back in his pocket. “Sarah, step out of the way so that I can continue my excellent work of saving this woman’s life,” Sherlock said briskly and then motioned at John, “and that of her-”
John strode by with Svetlana up in his arms. “Asthma; frequent coughing; steady wheeze; lungs aggravated by smoke last night and she didn’t have her inhaler.”
Sarah almost followed, but shot a look up at Sherlock and realized he wasn’t someone you left alone to wander in a clinic. Not if you wanted to keep the peace. She sighed heavily and caught hold of his sleeve; his keen green eyes followed the action. Then she pulled him with her. “God knows we can’t let you wander around this place. You’ll clone someone. And it will be an evil clone.”
“Because they’re the only kind that’s any fun,” John smirked just ahead.
“Not a child.” Sherlock gave his arm a flick that, unfortunately, was too gentle to dislodge the elastic grip of a doctor accustomed to giving booster shots to five year olds. He was honestly surprised.
As though he hadn’t spoken at all, Sarah turned to John, “Don’t you encourage him. He needs not to move from this door and to stay out from underfoot.” She turned Sherlock’s way. “Do you hear?”
Holmes stepped aside so that Katrya could pass. This seemed to be a force of habit rather than an attempt at politesse, but the woman appreciated it as she rushed into the room after her gasping child. The door closed, leaving him outside. Sherlock, hands in his pockets, turned and leaned his back on the wall. He looked at the faces pointed in his direction, listened to the rising saw of babies wailing, and wrinkled his nose. “Noisy business, being a doctor. Bad for thinking…. Should’ve considered forensics. Dead babies: Still need help. Much quieter.”
“Oh my God,” someone breathed.
The door to Sarah’s examination room opened. John reached out to hook a hand around Sherlock’s elbow and yank him inside the room. At the same time he uttered a single, heartfelt apology, “Sorry!” to his colleagues. The looks on their faces…! He wasn’t sure what Sherlock had said, but there was a 99.9% change it hadn’t been good.
Inside the examination room, Katrya waited for John to finish his survey of Svetlana. She was breathing poorly and suffering from smoke inhalation which complicated her asthma symptoms. It was clear that Katrya was the child’s mother, simply from the distress on the woman's face. At least to John's eye. Sherlock seemed no more aware of it than he probably was the current number of planets in the galaxy. That was exactly the sort of thing that Sherlock thought of as nonessential information.
It was decided that Svetlana would not need to go on an oxygen mask. She seemed really relieved to hear this. However it was clear to everyone involved that Svetlana would need continued monitoring, and that both mother and daughter could use a good meal.
As their assessment wound down Katrya sat heavily in a plastic chair in the examination room and stared emptily at the floor, seemingly unable to cope with the situation any further and in need of the safe harbor. Eventually, Svetlana went to sit beside her mother, and the pair of them managed to look so pathetic and dispossessed that John was unable to simply call Lestrade and have him intervene. Instead, he looked to the tall genius who leaned on the door and tapped his phone steadily. “Now that downtown London has had extensive remodelling, I think it’s legitimate to ask for the full story, Ms Vahtin.”
The beautiful Russian immediately looked down at her daughter.
“We’ll step outside.” Sherlock said and glanced at John. “Any way we could make use of the break room?”
Sarah decided, “It should be possible, though it’s not quite busy today, and, you know, people will want their breaks.” She noted with a shrug. “I’ll keep Svetlana here with me in the meantime. Maybe she’d like some chocolate chip cookies? I made some. They’re in the fridge.”
“They’re delicious.” John confided with a final pat on to the girl’s narrow back. He hadn’t had a one, but he was bloody sure of that. To Sarah he said a low, “Keep an eye on her.”
Svetlana appeared anxious, even paranoid, at the idea of separating from her mother, it was unspoken testimony to what she’d endured already, but she swallowed hard at the mention of cookies. John hoped the milk in the break room was fresh.
Sarah walked with them to the break room to get it. She stepped inside and nodded at the two nurses within. “Lise and Emily, this is Sherlock Holmes.”
“Oh wow, we’ve heard a lot about you,” Lise, a short, plump woman, got to her feet and looked up at Sherlock as if starstruck. It was Emily who came bounding along and extended a hand to him.
“I feel like I know you, John and Sarah talk about you so often! Emily Baird.”
He glanced at her hand and up along her arm to her shoulder. “Really. Have the stable girl take him hacking the evening before you ride him. He’s too much horse for you. Make no wonder your shoulders ache.” He bypassed her to look out the window to the streets of Islington beyond.
“Uh,” Emily pointed over her shoulder at him, though her eyes were on John.
Lise gawped, “He really does do that? I can’t believe it.” She turned to watch Holmes.
“He really does,” Sherlock said dryly before John could respond. “Now please leave. I have need of the room.” He turned their way, “It has to do with yesterday evening’s fires.”
Both women fell silent.
“Sorry about this,”John told them. He leaned on the wall by the door and watched Sarah pull the milk and cookies out of the fridge. “He needs to get to the bottom of this.”
“How exciting,” Lise’s face flushed. She caught hold of Emily’s sore, stiff arms, lightly bruised, between the pinkie and ring finger, by her horse’s merciless tugging on the reins, and pulled her out of the room.
“I’ll send up Ms. Vahtin, but you’d better tell me absolutely everything when this is done, John.” Sarah withdrew down the hall toward her examination room, wafting coconut and some soft perfume in her wake.
John shut his eyes and let the scent wash across his senses. God. That woman was going to drive him to distraction.
Across the room from him, beside the table, Sherlock flipped through a phone book and sighed, “What a boring little place. How do you stand it?” before he slumped into one of the few chairs in the break room.
John exhaled and considered the man who was quite possibly the most intelligent in the British Isles. What an arrogant twonk he could be.
Katrya Vahtin inhaled and stepped around him into the room. Really, her long camel-coloured coat was distinctively Designer. The smell of her perfume wafted subtly into the room. Her shoes had more breeding than anything John had ever owned. It was testimony to her wits that she’d managed to hide in London for so long. For hiding had been what she’d been doing.
She looked down at the floor as she stepped in, and finally took down her darkly elegant kerchief to reveal a blaze of coppery gold curls.
“What is it you want to know, Detective Holmes?” she made no attempt to get closer to him.
“Sherlock,” Holmes rose and walked slowly, stiffly, in her direction. He pulled in close to her and she cringed. John had seen him do this sort of thing to women in the past, but could confess he didn’t quite understand it. Now Holmes drew back slightly. “Just Sherlock.”
She looked up through her thick lashes. “And I do hope you are just.”
“Very good,” he told her. “Tell me why. All this destruction, why?”
She leaned a little closer, her dark eyes darting as she examined him. “I believe you know.”
Sherlock’s lips thinned a moment, and then: “Fine. Tell me about Rurik Zyza.”
A chill passed through John at the sound of that name. Rurik Zyza was one of the Russian Mafia's most prolific criminals. He was rich beyond John’s imagining. What he had to do with this debacle, John was afraid to ask. However, from the look on Katrya’s face she had expected this question. Her eyes were downcast as she began, “Our relationship has never been affectionate, it could never be, but we had reached an understanding, I thought. So I never foresaw that it would end this way. But please try to understand Mr. Holmes, I have to get away from him. It's not even that he's jealous, or that he has many affairs – I don’t care about him – but he thinks we are his possessions, and he will not let Svetlana do the things she needs to do to be happy. Simple things like go places with her friends, or to birthday parties, or be out of his sight at all. No vacations, no freedom – he’s becoming so controlling. She’s just a little girl, and Rurik has such a temper. He does not like to be disobeyed. However, Svetlana is growing up now, and there are times when she won't do what he wants.”
“And you're afraid he'll start to beat her, like he does you when it turns out you can't be perfect either.” Sherlock said with a glance over her long-sleeved coat.
Katrya hugged herself around her ribs and nodded. It seemed like there was nothing more she could bring herself to say on the matter. After a moment, she reached up and wiped the lower lashes of one eye. She nodded, shamefaced, “I don't think it is selfish of me to want to protect my child from her father, do you Mr. Holmes? Sherlock?”
There was a long pause.
“You might question it more if you were worried about the well-being of the city of London.” Sherlock added. But beyond that he had no further opinion on the matter. He paced in tight circles inside the break room, and finally came to a stop to look at Katrya's face. His eyes narrowed in consideration, before he said, “You realize that if I bring you to the police they will expect you to turn evidence against Zyza? You will have no peace. He will know exactly where to target his search for you. You’ve certainly painted yourself into a corner in London.”
She looked at the floor, broodingly. “For weeks we have had no plans. We have been running aimlessly, and I don't expect your help now. Or anyone's help. After all, I have been married to Rurik for 10 years, and it is well known he is a terrible man. I don't see why anyone would extend their hand to either of us.” When she looked up her face was tragically beautiful and hard. “Given that's the case, I would like to thank you for what you've done. You were very brave in coming to us, and now Sveta has several nebulizers. That is all that we need, and we should be out of here shortly.”
Sherlock's dark brows drew up, and he joined his hands behind his back as he looked down and considered her face. After a delay, during which he considered her words and her demeanor, Holmes decided, “I don't believe you’ll survive if I don't help you now. Zyza may not agree that he's trying to kill you both, but if the effort is indistinguishable from attempted murder then the intention does not matter. You understand what I'm saying?”
The woman's proud face crumbled, and one long-nailed hand flew up to cover her mouth. She seemed to fight very hard not to squeeze out tears. Ultimately, she had a victory in that.
Sherlock turned to search the unremarkable walls of the break room, before he related, “One of the first things to do is find a place where it will be safe for you to hide. It will need police presence until such a time as I sort this out, but they cannot be aware of you.”
“I don’t understand.” Katrya looked extremely surprised. She waved away the last of her unshed tears from her long lower eyelashes, and smoothed her tailored coat. Thus collected, she reoriented dryly. “I… it would suffice to have a place to sleep the night.”
Sherlock turned her way and flashed a smile that lasted no longer than a heartbeat. His throaty grumble, often present when he was having a Very Good Idea, sprang in his chest. “Oh, I don't think that will suffice, at all.” he said.
It left John wondering exactly what Sherlock had in mind.
Directly after, Sherlock had Katrya and Svetlana parked in the break-room sipping milky tea. He excused himself from their company and stole inside as Sarah released one of her patients from her examination room. She closed the door. It was rare that they should be alone together, so Sarah looked up at him, suddenly uncomfortable – she believed she wholly trusted Sherlock Holmes – but facing him alone made her nervous. Maybe he just has that effect on women? How sad.
Holmes leaned against the door and met her eyes. “I need you.” He said quite soberly.
Sarah’s jaw dropped, and then she gave her head a little shake. She deliberated on his words; they certainly broke the tension. Rubbing her forehead, she told him, “Good Lord, would you explain yourself before you ever use those words on a girl again?”
His brow furrowed, “What do you mean?”
She’d forgotten to whom she was speaking.
Sarah glanced over his new-minted, hopelessly polished looks. His green eyes glittered with intelligence. “You wouldn’t understand.”
Sherlock’s forehead puckered in frustration, but he let it go. “I need you now. Put everything aside and come with me.”
“Sherlock, I have a job, and patients.”
He flapped a hand. “John will take care of them.”
She blinked, her comprehension challenged. “Wait. You’re leaving John… and taking me?”
“It was you or Molly. I don’t like Molly.”
“Who is Moll-? Oh – who cares?” She touched her temples and set the chart in her hand on the exam-room bed. Sarah covered her smile with one hand. How exciting! John Watson pushed the door and slowed, surprised to see Sherlock standing behind it. His glance leapt between the pair.
Sarah’s hand dropped from her lips and she smiled broadly. “I need you to take over for me for an hour, or so, John – will that be enough Sherlock?”
John’s eyes narrowed and he immediately turned to Holmes, “Sherlock, this is Sarah-”
“You may want to administer the clock test for memory loss here.” Sherlock said gravely and John grinned, in spite of himself.
He planted a hand on Sherlock’s chest and crossed arms – Sherlock having moved to protect his core, automatically – and gave him a series of shoves at the door. John looked back at his girlfriend and said, “Give us a moment here. Just a moment?”
Sherlock turned and went outside, still grinning. “What is it?”
“That is my girlfriend,” John said lightly. “Listen to me, Sherlock – she’s important to me, not some pawn. If Sarah gets hurt… I can’t even tell you. I do not want anything happening to her.”
“Ah, boring. John,” Sherlock put his hands on John’s shoulders and gave them a few rhythmic squeezes, as if he was a prize-fighter. “She’s going shopping. In case you haven’t noticed, we need conventional clothes for these two – something monotonous. Sarah will be perfect.” Sherlock took his hands away and walked down the hall to the break-room.
John put his head down and shook it. When he stepped back in the office, Sarah had taken off her doctor’s coat and put her hair up. She looked excited. “I’m going on an investigation with Sherlock Holmes,” she giggled and opened her arms.
“Just understand that he can be… insensitive,” John crossed the room and stepped into her hug. She was so fetching now that she was glowing with excitement.
“Oh, I know.” Her voice was dulcet with happiness.
“But I honestly think he cares about you. That’s a good thing.” John said.
“Don’t be jealous.” She smiled at him.
“Oh my God,” John chuckled, “Will you let it go. We’re not like that, him and me.”
“Well, you two saved my life, so, I should cut you slack….”
John nuzzled against her soft, pink cheek. “We also put it in danger.”
“What’s life without a little danger?” Sarah sniffed at the notion.
“Please be careful.” John told her and stepped back to look her over. “Remember… he’s got all the tact of a juvenile baboon.”
“Oh he’s not that bad.”
“He isn’t. His tact is.” John pointed out. “If Sherlock was a negotiator, hostage takers would actually turn their guns on themselves, just out of – he’s in the doorway, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” Sarah smiled prettily and clapped John on the shoulder. She leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. “Don’t wait up.”
Sherlock gave a soft scoff and checked his watch – the sum of his opinion on John’s statement.
John had a terrible feeling of trepidation, but he filled in for Sarah for the next hour and a half; however, he frantically texted Holmes between patients.
‘What’s going on?’
‘How is she doing?’
‘What’s taking so long?’
They returned to the clinic arm-in-arm, which was surely planned. Sherlock let Sarah, who wore an elegant hat and new coat, swish down the hall and into the examination rooms. There was something very off about her sashay. John quailed at the sight of it. What had he done?
“Sarah? Is that-” one of the other doctors stepped out with a patient. In fact, the patient glanced over Sarah and gave a smile and polite inclination of her head, as if she greeted someone elite. Sarah blinked at this, not quite comprehending, and then vanished into the break-room.
She turned in the break-room, took off Vahtin’s sunglasses, and transformed into Sarah with an exhalation. “Like that?” she asked.
“Better,” Sherlock said soberly. “Much better.”
“Hello, have we met?” Katrya smiled across at Sarah wanly. She blinked again and identified Sarah as she took off her hat. Katrya stood up, clearly surprised that she’d failed to recognize the woman who had worked with her daughter a little over an hour before.
Sherlock lingered in the doorway a moment and nodded. “It will have to do. Please give Ms. Vahtin and Svetlana their change of clothes. Then we’ll do something about the hair.”
John saw a final patient as Sarah worked with Katrya and Svetlana in the break-room. It was a good thing that Sarah had such seniority in the clinic. Cutting into clinic hours like this would have given John a lot more trouble than it did Sarah. And he was honestly happy for her too. It was clear that she was excited by the idea of working with Holmes. When had that happened? Or did it make perfect sense, considering that she was dating John that she would also like the sorts of things he did? Things like involving herself in Sherlock Holmes’ incredible life?
It took an hour to transform Katrya Vahtin and her daughter. Of the pair of them, it was clearly Svetlana who enjoyed it the most. She laughed as Sherlock took scissors to her curls. Dressed in blue jeans and a black shirt with Transformers emblazoned on the front, she was indistinguishable from other sweet-faced little boys. Without coaching, she already had the rough-and-ready attitude of a tomboy. It was clear Svetlana liked being in disguise – she saw the wisdom of it.
Her mother took getting her hair cut short with dignity, but it was difficult for her. She sat, sans a single smear of make-up with tears streaking her face. Sherlock cut away a full foot of curls. Oddly, it made her face look younger. She wound up in a button-up pinstripe shirt, dark grey slacks, and a pair of practical shoes. In the coat that Sarah had brought, she looked like a turbo Sloane. She still moved like a goddess. Her make-up was muted, even her perfume was new.
“Good,” Sherlock looked up from texting on his cell and checked his watch. “We have to hurry.” He pushed past one of the doctors entering for his break and walked straight out of the clinic without a backward glance. John sighed and rounded up the little boy – actually Sveta Zyza – and Katrya Vahtin Zyza before him. They stepped outside with some trepidation. Sherlock got them all into a cab.
“Where are we going?” Katrya asked anxiously.
“You? You’re going to the Scotland Yard Crime Museum,” Sherlock told them. “And don’t let on you know us when you go in. I’ll contact you with further directions. Keep your phone close. Do as I say.”
“Yes, but why there?” the woman’s nose wrinkled. She had a natural distaste for, and mistrust of, the police. It showed through at moments like this.
“Because Zyza would be loath to walk in the Yard and cause problems, I assure you.” Sherlock pulled on his gloves and glanced at John. “And I need to talk to Lestrade. He’s been texting me regarding the fires – so tiresome.”
“I can only imagine,” John smiled and held up his cell phone. It, too, was peppered with texts.
“Yes, well I let him know we were coming in.” Sherlock sighed. “Tiresome.”
John grinned and stared out at the general traffic flow.
He folded back into the cab’s seat and looked at Sveta. She sat with her eyes closed in the weak sunlight between buildings, a small, pretty girl with a natural inclination toward spirited behaviour, somewhat squelched by asthma. At the clinic, Sarah had supplied several sample inhalers of the kind the girl required, but her face was pale with strain. The smoke had taken its toll.
And her father had tried to kill her.
That hadn’t escaped Svetlana either. She looked curiously up at Sherlock, and then between him and her mother’s steady gaze at him. It looked to John as if she had never been close to her father. As if, already, she was searching for a better candidate. Someone she liked, and didn’t fear.
Sherlock strode into Scotland Yard in the slanting light of late afternoon. Katrya had already taken her daughter – disguised as her son – into the museum area. Sherlock had had the cab circle the block and drop him and John. They actually passed Katrya and Sveta on their way in. John did his best not to look at them for any length of time, but found his gaze jumped to them for one last check on their wellbeing, as the elevator doors closed.
Apart from his nervousness for the mother and child huddling downstairs in the most morbid of museums – Sveta was sure to love it – the entire arrival at Scotland Yard proved entertaining for John. Sherlock took looks wherever he went. This was likely because it was no longer possible for him to hide in thick curls and a thicker coat. The new air was ruthlessly svelte, even though it was accidentally so. But John soon discovered the best was yet to come.
They arrived on the upper floors and meandered through the desks. Sherlock stood no more than four feet from Lestrade and several of his squad. John stopped some few feet behind and on Sherlock’s right.
Lestrade stood over a folder, open on Donovan’s desk. It was festooned with pictures of burning buildings, and hollowed-out husks, looking like the chitinous skeletons of massive beetles through the smoke. He flipped through photos over Sergeant Sally Donovan’s shoulder.
Donovan snickered, “He said he’ll be in, so of course, he’s not here.”
“Yeah, that was 30 minutes ago.”
“Listen, Anderson, Sherlock Holmes is a lot of things, but his word is good. Generally.” Lestrade turned another picture and glanced up around the room. A news report of the blazes was playing on two of the large TVs bolted to the walls. Several officers stopped to watch. Lestrade looked down. His voice grumbled with irritation. “He’s on to something, that one. It’s why he’s dropped off the edge of the planet. When he’s on to something, he always does a vanishing act. Same thing would have happened to Watson last night – poor bugger.”
“Left alone in his bed, no doubt,” Anderson sneered. “Although, Holmes is cold blooded. I wonder if he could make a warm spot.”
“Doubtful,” Donovan flipped pictures. “He’s a vampire. And they’re not together. Watson’s got a bird. Leave him out of this.”
It made John feel uncomfortable.
“Lestrade.” Sherlock said amid the general noise of the room. John could have sworn that Lestrade’s blue eyes glanced up over Sherlock. But nothing registered with him.
“He solved the Baby McAllister murder. Looked to me that Doc John Watson had nothing to do with that one. Sherlock ran off on his own to do it – loves taking risks. But he’s dependable around one thing. He’s-”
“Here. He’s here. Lestrade.” Sherlock stepped up and rapped the desk.
Heads pivoted upward. They saw him, but it was like they perceived some force of nature, like a sky full of rainbows, or a 100 foot waterspout gliding up the Thames. John wished for a camera because, really, the difference was striking and John knew exactly how they felt. But it was much funnier watching it on their faces. Sherlock, groomed as he was, sleek in the long, trimming coat, was very impactful.
Sherlock’s brows went up. “Been here, waiting some moments now.”
Anderson gave his head a small shake and sucked in a breath to speak.
Sherlock looked at him immediately. “Shut up.” He reached across and rudely scooped up all of the photos on Donovan’s desk. Then he turned and went toward the suspended sets. There was room there, and he started setting out photos of the wards on the floor under the televisions, his coat fanned out behind him like a black peacock’s tail.
Lestrade glided up behind him.
“What are we doing?”
“I don’t suppose I could convince you to invest in some scotch tape, and a grain of sense. These should be on the walls.” Sherlock dusted off his hands as he rose from his crouch, and then motioned before him. “You should have cork board all along, because, honestly, if I ever met a group of people in desperate need of visual aids, it’s your squad. But I suppose this will have to do.”
Several of Lestrade’s team had gathered to stare at what Sherlock was doing. John drifted to a stop and squinted up at the glare of fire on the sets. Sherlock’s lips pursed. He fiddled with his phone, and after a very short period of time, and a sudden blacking-out of the big-screen television above him, a new feed began to run. Feed from a helicopter.
“There.” Holmes exhaled and then stepped up to Lestrade. “All right. See the palace? Know where I am?”
“Yes,” Lestrade noted. “How’d you do that to our TVs, Sherlock?”
“Oh for God’s… okay, I’m going to slow this down for you so that you can see the flow of traffic.” Sherlock touched controls on the screen of his phone which looked a lot like the kind of controls one would see on a television remote. “Flow of traffic.” He touched the television and brought up a small menu, then reached up and started drawing lines and arrows with his fingertip, right on the big screen. The lines followed his fingertips, immediately painted bright gold.
Even John inhaled, which got him a look from Holmes. It didn’t help that the police around him stared as if Sherlock had just walked down the side of a mountain carrying stone tablets. Holmes gave a small puff of air and headshake, and tapped a button on the little menu that cleared the screen.
“All right,” he walked over and crouched down to tap a specific patch of buildings on the photos he’d laid out on the floor. “Going here next.”
He outlined the flow of traffic as it had become due to all the fires. John rubbed his chin, deep in thought, as he watched this. If Zyza had been monitoring this for signs of Katrya Vahtin and his daughter, then he was no fool, himself. This was complex.
The picture overhead on the big screen changed suddenly, and John could hear, amid the helicopter and wind noise, the deep note of Sherlock’s voice. He couldn’t make out what Holmes was saying, but the camera on the helicopter suddenly hopped and extended its focus to a cab that sat at an odd angle in the road. A slender figure ducked inside. She carried a burden that was hard to make out through the blowing smoke. Several items bounced out and littered the road as the cab took off – not even waiting for the door to close. John knew, immediately, he was seeing Katrya Vahtin carry Svetlana to safety.
The car sped off for several yards, and stopped in the middle of the road. Sherlock motioned up at it. “Means that the person inside doesn’t know where she’s going. Other people escaping these fires, they come out with laptop bags, luggage, and all sorts of sentimental rubbish; they’re very directed as they flee. This girl, she comes out with her child and doesn’t even stop when what little she has falls all over the road. Why is that?”
John nodded, “Because she’s terrified.”
“The place could burn down.” Donovan noted and looked at John’s profile. “The burning house is just a little down the road from her here. Of course she’s terrified.”
“No,” John looked her way. “Not like that. This isn’t the kind of thing where you’re terrified and you grab your most valuable documents and possessions before fleeing, this is immediate terror, the kind where you feel you have no time to do anything but escape.”
“Oh yes,” Sherlock drew out the yes a little. “She’s certainly shouting at the driver for stopping in the road. Here we go-” the cab lurched forward again, at high speed. It started to go right, and then swung a left, nearly causing a fender-bender on the main road. “Someone is panicking.”
The camera lurched to city-glow and starlight. Objects made loud thumps and bangs. Sherlock made a gravelly shout on the television.
“Thermal,” Sherlock said by way of explanation. “The conditions above these fires, I mean, when you’re this close, are volatile. I lost the cab. All I knew for sure was that she would have had to head down to Lambeth and…” he flicked some buttons. The camera zoomed on the ground as the helicopter steadied itself again. “And I needed to get down there.”
That was it, John realized with a look at Sherlock’s smooth, strangely bare profile. That was how he had found the inhaler with Svetlana Vahtin Zyza’s name on it! “Incredible,” John said quietly from behind one cupped hand. Beside him, Donovan sneered.
Lestrade scratched his head, “How do you know she had anything to do with this? There must be a hundred stories like hers. Lots of people evacuated the areas of the fires. What made her stand out to you? I don't understand.”
Sherlock looked in the Detective Inspector’s direction, and actually gave his words some consideration. This had to mean that the question wasn't all that bad. “I had been watching news feed on my phone, listening to reports on the radio from the other helicopters. There was a lot of data input that night, but I was looking for something that broke pattern. This woman fled without taking any possessions, carrying a child old enough to walk by herself, so already something was wrong there. When you add on to that her erratic escape route, and her sense of urgency, and the fact that she didn't stop when what little she carried fell out on the road, you have a broken pattern. It was the most unusual thing I had seen all night.” He stopped the feed on the overhead TV, and returned it to live television. Then he looked down at the floor and walked around pictures of the burning wards. “A lot of the traffic was funneled across the bridge into Bishop’s, Prince’s, and Oval wards. I can imagine that someone was lying in wait for them on the other side, kind of like a massive Dragon with its jaws open, but not breathing fire this time. Or not yet.”
Lestrade followed Sherlock along the pictures on the floor, “So you found them of course. Who are they?”
Sherlock spun on his heel and opened his arms slightly as if he was about to frame something for Lestrade. “When I tell you this, Lestrade, you’ll need to hear me out. We have an unprecedented opportunity before us, but delicate. Very delicate. Think of it as a very precise scale onto which we can pile only so much pure idiocy-”
“Sort of like a scale for weighing cocaine, then.” Anderson said flatly.
Holmes glanced at him, but ignored the comment in favour of telling Lestrade. “I know who set your fires, Lestrade. And this is someone you’ll want, very much, to take into custody – Rurik Zyza.”
Lestrade actually laughed at the idea. “Do I look like Interpol to you?”
“Why? Are you asking me to put you in touch with them? I’ve advised for them before… I can.” Sherlock actually stopped his incessant chattering. John had never seen him go so attentive for Lestrade before.
Clearly, Lestrade wasn’t used to this either. He stared at Sherlock, frankly amazed the genius was waiting on his reply. But this was something John understood quite well. If you input the correct information, Holmes could be remarkably easy to work with. Lestrade wiped his face with a quick hand. He didn’t bother questioning if this was really Zyza. He didn’t bother doubting Sherlock’s information for once. Instead, he considered the kind of bad news Zyza was for London, and he muttered, “They can help us work with Russia, probably information sharing….”
With that, Sherlock stalked away. His fingers flicked over his cell phone. Once he was done whatever he was up to, John saw him stop and turn to take in the Detective Inspector. It might have been totally accidental, but Lestrade had just surprised Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock came back from his distant pacing, slowly. His eyes remained fixed on Lestrade and his lips compressed a moment. “They shouldn’t take more than an hour to reply, given the message,” there was a pause. He lowered his voice, “His wife has left him and taken their child. She needs protection. In fact, she needs to vanish, or he’ll most assuredly murder her.”
For a moment, Lestrade didn’t react. He turned to look at the officer closest him – ever loyal Sergeant Donovan – and then pivoted to take in Sherlock. His voice was quiet. “You have Rurik Zyza’s wife and child?”
Lestrade was forced to give himself a shake, his surprise was so great. “How?”
John motioned at the big screen beside him. “I think he just showed you how. He looked for a pattern, spotted a break in the pattern, and got onto the road to investigate.”
“And I found an inhaler.” Sherlock told Lestrade. “Had the child’s name right on it in Cyrillic, from there, it was simply a matter of hoping she made it into Lambeth and did the logical thing – took her child to the nearest hospital. Smoke inhalation isn’t helpful when you’re asthmatic. Fortunately,” Sherlock gave his gloves a tug and raised his chin elegantly, “I always travel with a doctor.” He turned to look down at John and then made his way into Lestrade’s office.
Lestrade pursued him. He paused only to invite John into the office before shutting the door.
“Katrya Vahtin Zyza and her daughter, Svetlana.” Sherlock smoothed his jacket.
“Where are they, Sherlock?”
Sherlock dropped into a chair and gave himself a small spin in Lestrade’s direction, “Well, you see, there’s the matter of her wanting nothing to do with the law, Lestrade. She must get away from him, or die. What she doesn’t need to do is get burned by Interpol, MI6, and the Met because they believe she has actionable dirt on Rurik Zyza.”
“Which she probably does,” Lestrade circled his desk and sat down with a sigh.
“Don’t be lazy,” Holmes grumbled against his knitted fingers.
Lestrade ignored this admonition. However much Sherlock thought they could nab Zyza without Katrya Vahtin’s help, Lestrade was a pragmatist. He believed that having a bird singing in the hand was the wisest course. “Where is she?”
“I need an assurance you won’t turn her over to the law, or make attempts to extract details about her husband’s criminal activity out of her. Let me be clear: she needs a clean break from him. She must vanish, or he will murder her and her child.” Sherlock’s hands fell down from their interlocking and parted air as if throwing open curtains on a darkened room.
“You know I can’t give you that.” Lestrade joined his hands together before him as if he thought that doing so would help him capture some of his fleeing patience.
Sherlock noted, “I can get her out of London on my own, Lestrade. This is a courtesy.”
“If you leave here now, I’ll have police on you 24/7, and you know I can do it.”
“You can,” Sherlock told him. “Unfortunately for you, that won’t slow me down any.”
“Would she testify against him on some lesser charge? I hear he’s quite a bruiser when he’s upset. I doubt she’s got the fairy dust to keep from getting on the wrong side of that.” Lestrade pulled a disgusted face. “Something like that could put him away for long enough that a more damaging case could be built. It might get easier to get testimony with the man behind bars.”
“If she tries that, it will give him time to determine her location and kill her and the child. I see why you’re asking, of course, but I have all sorts of ideological issues with uxoricide.”
“That’s without beginning to consider filicide.” John noted.
“Yes, yes, all the -cides are bad, generally. Would you think of the good she could do? Zyza has his hand in some dirty business, drugs, prostitution, smuggling, murder: the man needs to be stopped. Give me the location, Sherlock. We’ll take care of this.” Lestrade said firmly.
John blinked between the pair of them. Sherlock held Lestrade’s gaze and then rose to his feet. “Good luck, Lestrade.”
“You’re interfering with an investigation.”
“Really, now,” Sherlock paused by the door. “You haven’t got a single scrap of evidence anything that I’ve said is true. By all means, send your dogs at your leisure.” With that, Holmes blew out through the door and breezed through the office.
“You’re making a mistake,” John got to his feet looking down at Lestrade. “The way to handle this was to play it his way and try to talk some sense into Katrya.”
“Do you know where she is, John?” Lestrade got up.
John didn’t even bother to answer that. He turned and made his way through the offices behind Sherlock. His stomach twisted with worry for Katrya downstairs. How would she know to leave? Where would she go?
In the elevator he looked up at Holmes. “I hope you know what you’re doing. She’s got nothing without us, and we can’t be seen with her now.”
Sherlock turned to look down on him. “Oh look at you. Look at the worry. That’s endearing, John. You should try that look out on Sarah. It’s got all the appeal of a puppy.”
“This isn’t funny, Sherlock. Katrya’s putting her faith in us and-”
Sherlock snickered, “Really, John. Where she puts her faith is of no importance.”
“She’s down there even now, waiting for us, and we can’t-”
“She’s not down there,” Sherlock told John, “because I texted her with the name of the man who would take her to her safe-house right before I told Lestrade about her.”
John gave his head a few flicks. “Wait a sec, I thought you texted Interpol?”
“I did. How long do you think it takes for me to text someone, John? Such a strange contraption you have inside your head, though, at least it’s not powered by running weasels.” Sherlock checked his watch. “Any man willing to reach for Interpol at the mention of Zyza’s name isn’t going to think twice about demanding I bring Katrya Vahtin in as a witness. He believes the combined power of the Met and Interpol, can keep her safe. That’s simply how Lestrade thinks.”
“For heaven’s sake, John, pay attention: she needs a clean break.” Sherlock said. “As long as his wife remains involved with Zyza, even if only to testify against him, he will find her. He has the money and power to make her protectors hand her over. It will take only one weak link in the chain. But if she walks away to a new life, and we erase the signs of her passage behind her, that simply won’t be an issue.”
“Fewer points of failure?”
“Very good,” Sherlock nodded and stretched in the elevator. “Really, I’m sure you could do with a bite to eat by now.”
“How can you be sure she’s safe?” John asked as the elevator clanged. They got another passenger, one who looked over Holmes and then leaned against the back wall. Sherlock examined the man without any trace of subtly. They all disembarked when they arrived in the lobby.
“I can’t,” Sherlock stuffed his hands in his pockets. “But you’ve seen her. She’s got a relatively hard interior when it comes to protecting her daughter. What do you feel like in terms of food?”
“Maybe Chinese, or… I could go for some ribs, really.”
Holmes turned his long frame around and walked backward for a moment, “What about you? Chinese or somewhere with ribs?” momentarily, Sherlock righted his course and fell in with John again. “Worst. Tail. Ever.”
“I’m not supposed to be subtle.” said the man from the elevator. He was perhaps four feet behind the pair of them.
Sherlock smiled, “And you do it well.”
John had supper at a steakhouse. It wasn’t bad, but he had become used to the kind of steak and meat that the American soldiers grilled in Afghanistan. They did nothing halfway, those guys, and they’d always been so eager to make sure John was well-fed. They seemed proud to have something to give to the small Brit doctor who was a crack shot and kept them in one piece, as if it was some kind of foreign exchange program. The Americans were long on sharing, camaraderie, and pure physical toughness. Of those three elements, the ribs he was eating, by comparison had one. And it wasn’t camaraderie.
“Overcooked.” Sherlock said. “Can smell it. Should’ve gone where I said.”
“Oh, stop fiddling with your phone and pay attention!” John reached up and snatched the phone right out of Holmes’ hand. “It’s like having dinner with an automaton.” John clapped the phone down beside his charger and napkin.
Sherlock, hands now bereft, joined them together in air before him. “You don’t like automatons? How odd. No animatronic dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, then?” His eyes widened briefly. “I find them ever so soothing. Logical creatures, dinosaurs.”
“Particularly the animatronic kind – and you eat like a dinosaur,” John smiled lopsidedly. He seemed the type to obsess on dinosaurs as a child. “How can we tell if it’s safe to talk?”
Sherlock said nothing.
“I mean, with the police watching us like they are.” John said worriedly. “How do we talk?”
“Uh, what?” Sherlock was staring across the room at a girl in a booth.
“What did she do?”
“What, her?” Sherlock shrugged. “Mundane. But… useful. She’s holding one man’s hand, playing footsy with the one across from her. There are cheaters everywhere, John. I’m a cheat, for instance, but not for petty things like lovers. I mean, who cares about that? Best for them all to be honest, I’d venture. They’d both go for it if she asked them, anyway.”
John blinked rapidly and looked at his half-empty plate. “You can’t know that.”
Sherlock put a knuckle to his lips and laughed to himself. “How amusing!”
“What is?” John frowned at the man.
“You say it,” Sherlock picked up his cup of tea and sipped it. “You no longer believe it.”
John opened his mouth to speak, and found such a conflicted jumble warring to get out that he dismissed the idea in favour of belting up and looking at his plate.
“Hm…. I’ll show you how to cheat and make it matter,” Sherlock startled John when he walked through the restaurant. Tall and, frankly, stunning, eyes raked the room with the force of a hand where he went. And where he went, much to John’s absolute horror, was the cheater-booth. He bent beside the woman there and smiled a warm greeting.
Within several seconds of Sherlock speaking to the table, two things had happened:
- John had gotten blazing indigestion, possibly, of historic proportions.
- The woman reached up and stroked Sherlock’s hair like the head of a cat.
Neither man with the girl made a complaint about this. The one beside the girl blinked up at Sherlock as if seeing something diamond-encrusted dangled in front of him. Seconds after, the man across the table from the girl reached out a hand and laid it on Sherlock’s forearm – Sherlock’s hands were in his coat pockets, or John had the feeling the scene would have looked a bit different.
Sherlock shook off the hold subtly, by taking his hand out and gesturing between them all. The woman’s face lit up with excitement, and the men, though surprised, suddenly started to chuckle. One of them blushed, but he looked up at Sherlock with an innocent kind of wonder.
“Oh dear God, cheque please,” John sputtered to the passing waitress and sucked back the last of his water. He scooped up Sherlock’s phone and prayed table-Cheat wasn’t about to look his way.
They all looked his way.
The woman winked.
John resolved to smother Sherlock with a pillow.
Then again, why wait?
He threw money at the table and got to his feet. Sherlock straightened as John rattled up, bristling all over and looking like he might consider squeezing his flatmate’s neck to a flask-like thickness. “What the hell are you doing?”
All Sherlock said in reply was an intimate. “Do you trust me?”
It was so serious a question that John’s jaw promptly clacked shut. He was up to something. John immediately stepped back from the boiling temper he was about to have.
“Ready to go?” Sherlock asked.
“Oh yes,” said the man on the woman’s right. He was actually quite good looking, and glanced Sherlock over with a soft exhalation, patently unsure he knew how to handle this creature that had dropped in his lap.
They all left together, John in a state of deep confusion. It was a tight squeeze in the cab. Sherlock snatched the bottled water out of the woman’s purse, opened it, and wet his hands. John stared in disbelief as Holmes leaned forward and drew his pale hands through the taller man’s hair. It went from auburn to almost black. He turned to John and asked: “What do you think?”
The woman giggled, “Well, I’m charmed, love. We should move this to my pool. More water.”
“Meanwhile, I think you’ve lost your mind,” John said with utter honesty.
“Ah.” Sherlock nodded. “Use your eyes John.” He caught the man’s chin and tugged it John’s way. John didn’t register for a moment. Then, just as Sherlock started out of his coat, it hit him.
“Oh my God.”
“Yes,” Sherlock said with a nod. The man whose hair he’d stroked was the same who kept looking at him like he was dusted in diadems. He reached for Sherlock now, and Holmes gave him his coat. “Get into that, Alexander. Good man. Give me your coat. Let’s go.”
“Uh… sure, but yours is… a bit more expensive, I think.”
Sherlock said, “Don’t care. Not about money.”
While he was changing coats, the woman stroked Sherlock’s thigh and he made a soft hiss at her, “Don’t touch. And Mark, my friend needs your coat, please. No worries, he’ll return it.”
“What is this?” The girl threw her hands up. “I thought we were going to get laid!”
“Crass,” Sherlock clucked his tongue. “You’re doing something much more important.”
John shrugged out of his cheap coat in favour of the much more dressy incarnation that ‘Mark’ wore. It would have caused more complaint, but they saw the Browning, and then no one spoke. Sherlock leaned over Alexander and fished in his own coat’s pocket, very close to the man’s face without realizing, or caring how it came across. Perhaps it was to manipulate him into cooperation. Sherlock had a bit of a snake’s heart. “Brand new – go easy on it. I’ll pick it up at 11PM in three days, your place. I’ll explain then.”
It seemed the only way to staunch the questioning looks flowing up from the threesome.
He took the official Consulting Detective badge out of the pocket of the coat and sat back in his seat with a mercurial smile. He called out to the cabbie, “Left, left, and take the back alley. Slow there. Go to Baker Street.” He handed money through the glass.
“That’s not where we’re going!” The woman crossed her arms under her breasts, in a savage mood now that she’d been, yes, cheated.
“I’m sorry, miss,” John stepped in with genuine regret. “But it’s quite important. Very important. And thank you for helping, even if you didn’t mean to help.”
“Don’t let her spoil this for me, Alexander,” Sherlock said firmly. “Drive down Baker Street, wait a minute by the curb, and then head to wherever you all … do whatever it is you people do – God only knows.” He raised his head and looked away, proudly.
He was appalling. “I’m sorry,” John pointed at Sherlock. “He’s a bit of a – yes, well, sorry.”
“Well put,” Sherlock said dryly, and then, “goodbye.” He popped the door as soon as they rolled down the alley and slipped out with the cab still moving. John bailed out beside him and shut the door. That, easily, was the most personally insane situation he’d ever been in.
Sherlock’s silhouette, against the lights at the end of the alley, had changed its body language. It was totally unlike him and made John double-take. He had more of a drunken, rolling gait now, and thumped against the wall of the alley to wait for John. “Police aren’t far behind.” Sherlock said as John caught up. He took them both up the fire escape.
From there, they crossed several rooftops. It was slow going on the roofs, in fact. They spent half an hour in the area before coming down and walking for about a mile. Sherlock’s lips tugged into a brief smile. He checked his watch. “Not a bad match with his hair wet – made it look dark and trimmed enough.”
“Sherlock, that guy… he,” John shook his head. “You can’t do that to people.”
Sherlock’s brows drew up at the bridge of his nose, “You weren’t watching?”
“No-no, that’s not what I meant, I mean… that was wrong, very, very-”
“Did it work?”
“Is he in any way incapacitated?”
“Does he get to wear an exceptional, hand-tailored coat that cost about 2000 quid?”
“Jesus!” John gasped. That was a lot of coat!
“Exactly.” Sherlock spread his arms wide. “Sometimes my audacity beggars even me.”
“Where are we going?”
“Out of town.”
But the answer was a resounding yes. In fact, they thumbed a ride to a gas station and picked up a cab from there. John was well asleep by the time they made their arrival at the estate. The gates swung wide for them, they drove by the marble fountainhead of Creide, or Cred, her eyes shut and a fingertip shushing her lips as she leaned on her staff, and pulled up to the massive granite edifice of McAllister Glen.
Sherlock paid the cabbie and got out to clap his hand against Sir Ian’s in a shake. “What are you wearing?” John staggered out of the cab, blinking. It was as if he’d been sucked under-hill while he slept. It was fantastic here, in the moonlight. The cabbie pulled away with a nod at Sir Ian.
Sherlock looked across at the tall, crisp man. “You understand the need for secrecy?”
That deep voice boomed, “Absolutely. The police are here in the day, but they have no cause to wander the house.”
“Where are they?”
“Poor woman is sleeping upstairs. The child, she’s fascinated by the antiques in the attic, so she may still be awake. It doesn’t bother her to be up there. I think she likes it best, but we must mind the dust. She’s asthmatic. We have a lot of that in the family, so we gave her a little oxygen. She seemed much better after that.” Sir McAllister led the way past his doorman and into the house. He turned to Sherlock and inspected him. “Look at you. Your family would be proud. Oh, your father called here, did you know?”
Sherlock missed a beat. “He’s in England?”
“Apparently so, Sherlock – he said he was looking for you. I see he didn’t find you.” Sir Ian picked up a cigar from a case as he walked into a room whose double doors were massive and glimmered like wooden mirrors. “He was here in this very hall not six hours ago.”
The room beyond was massive, elegant, and full of such lush Edwardian fineries that John had a hard time taking it all in.
Sherlock drifted through the blues, golds, and rich woods of the room like it was all a dream, “What did you tell him?”
Sir Ian stared a moment, and then admitted, “That I had no idea what he was talking about.”
“Thank you,” Sherlock exhaled and took off his coat. He handed it to a man who, apparently, stood around waiting for people’s coats. “Don’t lose that. Not mine.”
The man stopped at John next, and John belatedly shrugged out of the coat he wore and handed it over. He actually quite liked the thing. He followed Sherlock deeper into the room, surprised how well his elegant flatmate fit here, and how disturbingly fine everything was. Should he sit down? Should he ask questions? Should he interrupt them? Surely no, to that question. And Sherlock had a father. Why this seemed almost more surreal than the tremendous mansion, John didn’t know.
“Make yourself at home,” Sir Ian sat in a large, straight-backed chair that had more in common with a throne, and was only lacking a stone under it, if you asked John. He put up his feet and fiddled with the cigar. “Can I get you something, Sherlock? Anything you need to help that poor woman upstairs, and that darling little girl?”
“I need a laptop and some time to think,” Sherlock rubbed his eyes.
Sir Ian’s deep laugh boomed in the house. “You need sleep. Ah, some things never change.”
“You know him?” John said at last. He sat in a sumptuous chair.
Now Sir Ian’s impressive attention turned to him. “I know his family quite well. Sherlock and I go back, I suppose you could say. I find him rather fascinating. Are you two together then?”
“No,” John said and rubbed his face. That question just kept coming. “I’m a colleague.”
“Ah. Okay,” and the august man turned to Sherlock as he rose. “Though, if that turned out to be the case, you’d be a goner, I think. If I know your father, he’d end you, or do a fair imitation of trying. But you rest, now, child. I’m off to talk to the staff about supper, and to have a laptop sent.”
“Ohmigod,” John muttered to himself. Who was Sherlock? Sir Ian McAllister called him child.
Sherlock nodded thanks at Sir Ian and then looked at the rug between the toes of his excellent shoes like the pattern was some kind of fractal.
John said. “So….”
Sherlock nodded a little, his lips momentarily drawn in a line.
“Known the McAllister’s a long time?” John asked.
“A while,” nodded Holmes.
“I mean your family has?”
“Uh… yes. Lockton and Ian went to Uni together.”
When the silence stretched, Sherlock risked a glance up at John, who, of course, was staring right at him. Sherlock quickly diverted to the overstuffed pillow before him. He reached out and picked at the ornate satin tassel.
“Do you think he’ll be back, Sherlock? Your father?”
“Dunno,” Sherlock searched his pockets. John took out Sherlock’s cell phone and tossed it across the room into his hand. Holmes caught it flawlessly.
After a moment, John asked. “Would he really be so upset if you were gay?”
“I actually don’t know what he’d do.” Sherlock’s tone was extremely guarded, and there was something dangling about the end of that sentence, as if there was more. John looked at a noise in the hall and one of Sir Ian’s staff walked in with a wafer-like laptop he handed to Sherlock before departing. Sherlock stretched. “I’m going to need to think tonight. When Sir Ian comes back, he will have an offer of supper and a bed for the evening. You must insist to sleep in the attic and they’ll set up beds up there. I’ll join you later.”
“So you didn’t know your father was in England?”
“John,” Sherlock shut his eyes and exhaled. He tipped his head a bit, to stretch the tendons in his neck. “Go away.”
Katrya’s bed was about ten feet to the right and against the wall. It was surrounded by screens. There was dust-covered furniture in between his bed and hers; nonetheless, it was uncomfortable for John. At first. The beds were decidedly not cots. He was told, in hushed tones, that maintenance had brought two actual beds up to the attic and reconstructed them.
This, according to Svetlana, had been ‘easy-peasy’ for the maintenance crew. She’d hung back and watched them put them together. There were no nails, or screws. It hadn’t even woken up her mother. She sat on John’s bed and explained all about this, super excited. When she had finally begun to flag, she’d hugged John around the shoulders and marched off to her bed.
Literally. She’d marched. Because she’d found some old antique hat up here that reminded her of something from military movies. John couldn’t help grinning.
He finished his tea and got ready for bed. This was possible because the staff had brought baskets upstairs when they’d showed him where the closest washrooms were for the attic. In the baskets, French-milled soaps, expensive shampoos and conditioners, a small shaving kit, a toothbrush and toothpaste, all from the family storehouse. He’d come upstairs to find a dressing gown, a tee, and pajama pants, all horribly tasteful, and all expertly folded on the duvet. Warmed tea – decaffeinated – sat on a table by his bed.
And he’d just had supper with the McAllister’s. They were very curious about his military service. He’d spent the entire meal explaining what he’d been doing in Afghanistan, and, then, how he’d met Sherlock Holmes. Sir Ian was fascinated by Sherlock. John had peppered Sir Ian with questions about his favourite movies, and what it had been like to work with the stars he had. The expected, he supposed.
Sherlock hadn’t come to supper. John had explained why. This had intrigued the actor. Oddly, he had been learning many of Sherlock’s mannerisms. It was amazing to watch. He could even speak in Sherlock’s quick, rambling patter. It left John in a daze at the man’s talent.
John was quite happy as he settled into his bed.
He woke to a sudden struggle beside him, reached out, and flicked on the lamp. Sherlock stood, still fully dressed. He held the Browning in his hand. On the floor, Svetlana sat with the shoulder rig and holster. Ice-water flooded John’s veins. He got up, scooped the little girl off the floor, and held her tight in his arms. John felt shaky.
“She’s all right,” Sherlock whispered. He flicked off the lamp and pointed in the direction of the French screens. “If I see you before dawn, I’ll tell your mother you were playing with a loaded gun.”
Svetlana gasped and, John was pretty sure, swore in Russian. When he set her down, she scurried off in her little white nightgown, back to her bed.
Sherlock checked his watch and took the clip out of the gun. He handed the Browning to John who took a bullet out of the chamber, laid the gun at bedside and put his head in his hands. He heard Sherlock’s clothes rustling in the dark, the weight of his body hitting the bed. Silence.
Then, “John, it’s past three in the morning. Please….”
He was clearly exhausted. John couldn’t help the shaking he felt inside. “She could’ve blown her head off,” he said breathlessly.
“She didn’t. I didn’t let her.” Sherlock must have turned, since sheets swished and his low voice grew slightly louder in the dark. “Nothing happened to her. I can’t sleep with you thinking.”
“Oh. Yes. You’re right,” John said shakily. How was he right? “You’re right.” He lay back down and tucked the clip under his pillow. The gun sat on the table between beds. “Sorry, Sherlock.”
His voice sounded low and blurry in the dark. “Sorry for what?”
“Wasting your time.”
There was a long pause, and John could hear the smile in Holmes’ fading voice. “Oh… I’m used to it.” His breathing evened out within seconds, but it was a much longer period of time before John could fall off.
John woke up in the greyness, gasping for air and pawing his sheets. In his head, he still heard the screams of the injured rebel he’d been trying to save; the rebel who had decided to stab him as John had begun to attend to the catastrophic gunshot wound the kid had to his thigh. God, he’d been so young! It had all gone pear-shaped… gone so horribly wrong.
A high voice piped: “Is that real, Sherlock?”
“Um-hm. Yes, that’s called Dari. It’s a real language.”
“What’s he saying?”
“Well,” Sherlock paused for a moment. “He was saying ‘Stop’, and then ‘Drop your weapon’, and then ‘Stop’ some more.”
“Oh.” Bedsprings bounced over on Sherlock’s side.
John opened his eyes to see Svetlana bouncing up and down on Sherlock’s bed. She had enough energy to power the Baker Street apartment. Well… until Sherlock got home. He could possibly power the entire ward. On a slow day. Where was he?
Holmes was at the end of the bed, fully dressed, in – holy crap – jeans and a clinging two-tone pullover. Who was this man wearing Sherlock’s face? The grey-on-darker grey shirt made the trip up from his I-don’t-eat-on-a-case hips to his shoulders look like the top of an hourglass. Yes. There was no disguising it. He was one of those madly good-looking, tall kids John had hated in school. Sherlock, ignorant of this, finger-combed his shortened curls and looked down at his flatmate. “Did you have to kill him, John?”
John sat up and looked across at Svetlana. At the sound of the word ‘kill’ she stopped bouncing, looked at John soberly, and leapt off the bed. She ran back across the room to the soft humming that had to be her mother singing to herself.
“God, Sherlock,” John dragged out of the sheets and clapped the clip back in the gun. He chambered a round and checked the safety.
“Is that Yes? Or No?” Sherlock cocked his head.
John got out of bed, picked up the basket, and shuffled off to the bathroom. He hadn’t shot that desperate and terrified young man. He’d been trying, feverishly, to disarm and protect the kid. The Army Ranger beside him had done it. It had deafened John. He’d gotten thick splatters of blood and solids to the face, but the stab that would have taken out his eye had jerked to a stop and, instead, fallen to slice across the shoulder of his thick coat. It wasn’t something John wanted to remember, but he’d never forget it.
A knock sounded at the door almost as soon as he stepped out of the shower, and clothes were delivered by house staff. Fresh jeans, a very nice jumper, he took them with a word of thanks and got dressed. Not much to his hair. He ruffled it with his fingers and called it good.
Holmes paced in the hall. Soundlessly. Barefoot. He hugged himself around the middle. He was either impatient, or something was wrong. John stepped out. “What is it?”
Sherlock stepped up at once, “Are we good?”
“What? Yes! Have you lost your mind?”
“I think so, yes,” Sherlock stopped pacing to report.
John’s arms opened and clapped to his sides, “What’s wrong with you?”
“You’ve never – never mind.” He turned and headed back into the attic room. “The police are downstairs. We’re going to have to smuggle ourselves off the premises. Fortunately, the McAllister’s are sending out the second floor rugs for cleaning today. Get yourself together.”
John watched Sherlock’s lithe stalk away from him. Really, he had that photo-model shape to him. Dodging girls would have been hard for him coming up. Dodging friends appeared to be inborn. “Finish the sentence.”
“We’re good. Doesn’t matter,” Sherlock picked up the sturdy denim jacket off the bed. He fished around in the pile of his suit and found the fresh socks.
“Bullshit.” John sat down on the opposite bed. “Look, just tell me.”
“You know what I’ve had enough of? Halfway-God-damn-conversations – enough for a lifetime. Just trust me and tell me, Sherlock.”
Sherlock pulled a boot onto his leg and tied it off loosely. He put on the other without looking up at John. When he was done, he rose from the bed, walked over, and, with a polite knock, vanished behind Katrya’s French screen.
Holmes’ voice rolled deep notes in between the higher pitch of Vahtin’s. Curious, John got up from his bed and walked to look through the sunny attic room. Svetlana smiled from where she was colouring on a foot-long book, perched before her on the floor. John grinned down at the girl. Such a clever little rabbit! Then the soft shush of fabric and gliding shadows behind the French screen caught his attention. John stiffened, but didn’t go as rigid as Sherlock. Holmes’ hand came up to ease Katrya away by the arm. It wasn’t enough. She tilted her head and their shadows fused at the mouth. It didn’t last. Sherlock succeeded in moving her away.
She stood before him, her hand on his chest, and spoke to him for a moment.
Then Sherlock shook his head. Katrya’s long, lean frame leaned back to stare up at him. She crossed her arms and distinctly didn’t look the silhouette of a woman admitting defeat.
John drew back behind the dust covered furnishings between their areas and sat on his bed. He couldn’t keep from uttering a few chuckles as he strapped on the shoulder rig and pulled on his coat. He had hold of himself by the time he stepped into his boots. Sherlock settled on the bed across from him with a huff, and rubbed both his eyes as if they were itchy. “The Russians…”
“A fiery people,” John said. And then burst into giggles. He covered his mouth with one hand.
“Oh, of course,” Sherlock said fervently, his voice quiet and urgent, “of course you had to see that.” He gave his face an uncharacteristic rub. “But no matter how unfortunate Katrya’s taste in men, it shouldn’t cost her life. As we left London last night, Zyza’s men were also on the move. They successfully tracked her to St. Thomas’ Hospital.” Sherlock made a soft pop with his lips. “Slooow.”
“How do you know?” John’s eyebrows drew up. “How do you know they did that?”
“When you snatched my phone at the restaurant – this was before you looked at me like I needed to be skinned; funny, by the way – I was monitoring the cameras at St. Tomas’. Their system isn’t terribly hard to hack. Either they had a criminal convention, or Zyza’s men had a look around. Zyza must have considered that his wife would take their child to hospital, possibly for burns, certainly to have doctors check her pulmonary function. They will have seen the security tapes by now. I have a lot of enemies. It won’t take them long to find out who I am.”
John jolted. “Oh my God, Sarah!”
“Yes. I’ve already called to tell her. Likewise, I’ve arranged for Mrs. Hudson to head out of town. I paid her fare to visit with relatives, and, since the flat, Sarah, and even Molly is under police monitor by Lestrade right now, it’s under control.”
John sucked a heavy breath and pulled his phone out of his pocket. Sherlock snatched it away. “Don’t panic and call her. She’s not stupid. If you do that, she’ll be inclined to panic. Have faith in three things – Sarah knows; Lestrade is overzealous; and the Russians really don’t want to be noticed by the Met if at all possible.”
Slowly, John settled back into the duvet. “What do we do to stop all this?”
“Well, we need to move rugs and get off the property in the cleaning van under the noses of the police,” Sherlock pointed out. “Not so hard from there. We just need to get back into London and lure out Zyza with the one thing he wants most – Katrya.”
John shook his head. “But….”
“Of course it won’t be her,” Sherlock sighed. “I have someone else working on that assignment.” Sherlock got to his feet at the signal of Sir Ian’s staff at the door. “Besides, can you see Katrya Vahtin Zyza hiking rugs in and out of this house?”
John smiled on the way down the stairs in Sherlock’s wake.
He had a nagging desire to finish the conversation that Sherlock had cut short, but there was simply too much going on for that to be of any relevance anymore. Except for the fact that it persisted in John’s mind long after they’d joined the other teams toting rugs in and out, vanished into vans, and escaped the property headed for downtown London.
London was muggy. They got out of one of three trucks lugging rugs. Sherlock slid between men unloading, and walked through the open doors at the back of the shop into a thick mist. He pulled up the grey hoodie on the black coat he wore against light rain.
The look on his face, as John pulled even with him, was just short of ecstatic. He was about to match wits with Zyza and his men, and Sherlock couldn’t be happier about it. They hunched, together, against the drizzle. Sherlock hardly seemed himself his stalk down the road was so aggressive. John kept up, but was unable to match his chameleon friend for the brashness that was flashed in even his small movements. He was like a completely different man. On the way across a street, he plucked the cigarette from the fingers of a young smoker and winked at her.
But she only smiled and blushed. John was stupefied.
Cocky. Capable. Brilliant. Strange.
And yet, somehow, Sherlock fit into the crowd now. Now that he was faking it. He blew right by a parked police car, and two officers without a first look. John put his head down and followed. The man was mind-boggling.
They ducked into a line for chips. John happily bought a serving from the food truck. Sherlock stood aside and smoked in the clearing drizzle.
“What’s the plan?” John said as he bolted down fries.
Sherlock finished the cigarette and snuffed the butt on the edge of a nearby bin. He chucked the thing once he was sure it wasn’t burning. “We need to know where Zyza is?”
Sherlock was baffled. His dark brows drew up, “You think he’s sleeping in a park? My God, that would be stunning.”
John sucked the ends of his salty fingertips clean before he chucked the grease spotted newspaper into the rubbish. “So how do we find him?”
“He’s looking for me.” Holmes knit his fingers and stretched his arms in front of him. His joints popped soundly. Sherlock flicked back his hood and squinted at the sun breaking the clouds above him. “His people are watching the flat. They’re very probably watching my associates. But where is Zyza? He’s the one we want. If we find his men, there will be clues. We need one of them.”
John blinked as they set off through the streets again. “Uh… What?”
“We need one of Zyza’s men, and not just anyone. We need one who can get us his location. We don’t have the money it would take to bribe one of them, so I’m afraid we’re down to taking one and impelling cooperation.” Sherlock turned and looked down at John. “We’d need to buy some drugs to help loosen his lips.”
John’s brows dropped down. “Yeah, no.”
Sherlock blinked, “Not for me, John-”
“Not at all.” John told him. “Somewhere inside that 1000-odd-kilometers of neurons you’re carrying around up there, you’ve got something better than kidnapping a fellow and drugging him into telling us where Zyza is.”
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not sure I have something quicker given the limitations.” He added onto the end of that, “Or more entertaining.”
“Oh yes? Well, it’s the world’s biggest sugar powered lighting storm in there. Come up with something.” John told him. He fussed with the new coat – the third he’d had on in a handful of hours. He didn’t like this one at all, as it was too long. But it was a good disguise.
Sherlock, in a short coat with a hood, looked slimmer and taller than ever. It actually looked good on him.
Holmes shut his eyes in irritation. “Fine, we’ll do it the long way then.” Sherlock skirted a man exiting a cab, and ducked into the back in his wake. It was all one swift motion, so fast it was almost as if he’d dematerialized. In fact, John had to backtrack to find out where Sherlock had gone. Once he'd made the determination that he was inside of the cab, John tucked in beside the man, quickly shut the door and waited for direction.
Sherlock wasted no time in getting across town. The rain had mostly dried up with the sun shining brightly on the city, and there was nothing but puddles and a springlike freshness aloft to betray that the weather had been anything but perfect. Raindrops clung doggedly to traffic lights, mailboxes, and windows, but there was otherwise no hint. The cab first made its way into Lambeth, where it wove through traffic until it made the riverside neighbourhood bordering St. Thomas's Hospital.
They disembarked a good distance from St. Thomas’. Sherlock seemed content to continue on foot. He started with a very wide perimeter around the hospital, which seemed to form some kind of grid pattern inside of his mind. John was only dimly aware of the grid, and much more conscious of the delicacy and attention with which Sherlock examined the streets. His searching within the grid pattern was exhaustive, and mostly John's job in this, was to determine if the coast was clear without understanding how he did so. Holmes didn't seem inclined to give him details on exactly how this method worked. John decided he was satisfied as long as it was successful.
When finally it seemed safe enough that they could meet together, it was in a dim, out-of-the-way place, between hospital buildings. John rested against a brick wall – the outside of some building or other – to catch his breath. How irritating that Sherlock did not seem to be affected by the strenuous search, and instead, paced back and forth, often in the way of general foot traffic. However he had little worry they would be identified by police, or Zyza’s men, because they looked like a pair of roustabouts waiting impatiently for a mate to emerge, healed, from St. Thomas’. Sherlock produced another cigarette from his pocket and lit it up.
“Where’d you get that?”
“Left in the cab.” Sherlock tossed John the lighter and spoke at high speed. “Crest on the side with Scientia Imperii Decus et Tutamen, re. ‘Knowledge is the adornment and protection of the Empire’. From the upkeep, price, and quality of this lighter, the owner is a senior professor at the Imperial College of London – gold embellishments on the crest. He collects lighters, because this is a quality piece, and it would have taken considerable planning to secure one for him. It has a date, thus, it is memorabilia of some kind, presented to him by his faculty of Aeronautics -- the engraving on the top: ὰήρ. Greek for Air.”
“So we can return it.” John sighed and glanced at Sherlock smoking. “I don’t need to tell you that’s a bad idea, right?”
“It’s an excellent idea. As long as I can’t get to my nicotine patches.” Sherlock jerked his chin in the direction of the doors. “There. There’s our first man. Don’t stare.”
John glanced down that direction and then back to Holmes. Even as he turned back, Holmes took off at a rollicking walk. He’d slipped into yet another character. He took out his phone and thumped against the man by the doors. When he turned, he rattled off the most natural sounding Welsh dialect at the man, “Sorry there.” He turned and continued on.
“Idiot,” the man muttered in a heavy Russian accent. He gave his expensive jacket a rough tug.
John followed down the walk several yards back. He passed the attention of the bristling Russian as if he didn’t exist, and Sherlock certainly hadn’t waited around for him. John saw that as he rounded the building. Sherlock was not to be found. John hurried along, caught himself, and turned back.
He… really hadn’t seen Sherlock back there. Oh, but that wasn’t quite true either – he’d zipped by Sherlock Holmes, but flatly hadn’t recognized him. Holmes was in a throng of people. He was chatting, for God’s sake. In particular, he paid compliments to a trio of pretty, young nurses. In fact, one long hand supported a girl by the elbow, as she leaned to adjust her sling-back on a dainty foot. When she was done, Sherlock turned John’s way, clearly entertained by whatever expression his doctor friend wore. Sherlock waved himself out from their company, much to their dismay.
He had failed to spot the man. John shut his eyes a moment. His own flatmate.
Sherlock bent over him and said in his ear, “Are you happy?”
“What do you mean?” John opened his eyes and looked up at Sherlock’s self-satisfied expression. He was pleased as a cat over spilled milk.
“I didn’t grab him,” Sherlock clapped John on both shoulders. “And you didn’t have to shoot anyone. Aren’t you happy, John? I always am, when I get my own way.” He gave Watson’s good shoulder a final thump and walked back to where they might catch a cab.
“I mean, well, yes, that is good news, Sher-” John hurried after.
“Well you shouldn’t be happy. You were dreadful. You missed me completely back there. Honestly, your observational skills are backsliding.” Sherlock tut-tutted critically.
John fixed him with a cross expression. “Unfortunately for you, I’m still an excellent shot.”
The comment placed a broad smile on Sherlock’s face. He was unable to contain his delight at the little exchange, not until they reached the last two cabs waiting about. “Hurry now.” He checked his watch, with his lips compressing a little.
John spread his hands. “Wait, what… what did we just do?”
Twenty minutes later, they passed Baker Street. Sherlock used his cell to photograph the license plate of a man whose car idled by the curb. A young girl, on foot, jackknifed into traffic in an aborted attempt to cross the way, and tires squealed on the pavement at the nearby intersection. Sherlock breezed by the passenger door. John, close behind him, didn’t miss the fact the man’s fingers curled over the butt of a gun inside his jacket. It was certain Sherlock hadn’t missed that.
John itched to touch the Browning. He ignored the sensation.
A few streets over, Sherlock paid the girl who’d very nearly caused an accident. She gave a soft nod at the 20£. “Easiest money I made all day.” Her accent was so atrocious it made John grin as she took her leave of them.
“Ready?” Sherlock half-turned to ask.
“What are you doing?”
“Police up ahead, here, John. See the reflection of the stripe in the window there? They’re by the coffee shop,” Sherlock nodded in the direction of the car. “Drop behind me and slow down. We’ll go by. Don’t look at the car, or if you must, look no higher than the door. Don’t look at the officer. Don’t look at the car for longer than a count of three. So count in your head – each step is one.”
Chameleon lessons. “Anything else?”
“Think of Sarah.” Sherlock told him. “Changes your whole posture.”
Sherlock walked by like a young buck on the way to pick up his girl. John followed with a baffled expression and did exactly as he’d been told – unable to prevent himself from looking at the police car. It was impossible to think of Sarah when he was questioning how thinking of Sarah could do something as radical as ‘change his whole posture’. How did that make sense? It wasn’t as if she was there. But the quandary helped him ignore the voice that said ‘look into the car, see if you can put a name to the face of the officer’. That would’ve been a potential disaster.
It took hours of hunting the streets, incredibly physically draining stuff, before Sherlock dropped into the seat of an internet café. John left him there, and went next door for a sub sandwich which he ate in the lobby, as food and drinks weren’t allowed around the computers. He bolted down his cup of tea and his lunch before heading in to check Sherlock’s progress. He needn’t have rushed.
Holmes released a happy, gratified sigh and looked up at John. “Draining but rewarding.” He leaned back in his chair and stared at the terminal before him. Several screens were up, as if he was staring at more than one desktop, somehow. It made John cock his head as he grabbed a chair and sank gratefully down beside Holmes. His feet hurt. John watched Sherlock write a few more lines of code into his .bat file, lazily, just so glad to have stopped climbing fences, charging up and down stairs, hauling on fire escapes, running in back streets.
“I should have stayed back, I think.” He rubbed his leg, which gave a twinge of complaint.
Sherlock stopped what he was doing and looked down at John’s hand. “Stayed back?”
Now John smiled wanly and sighed. “I haven’t got those long legs, Sherlock, and mine – psychosomatic, or not, is acting up. I think I’m slowing you down.”
Holmes’ brow wrinkled. “John,” he said quietly, “if at any moment these people catch on to what I’m doing, they’ll grab me, beat me, drag me down an alleyway, and shoot me in the face. I’d go out like a light. Just gone.”
Not on my watch. The internal retort was reflex. What John actually said was, “I’m not feeling terribly useful to you.” He’d ventilate anyone out to do anything on that list. They’d look like paper dolls by the end.
Sherlock renamed a score of files with a few clicks, and muttered, “You are.”
John blinked and sat back in his chair. “Then you make it look easy.”
“Mm, you were there,” Sherlock returned to typing. “Was it easy?”
This made John stare at his friend. Holmes was, without a doubt, the single most intelligent person John knew – would ever know, he firmly believed – and, along with that, the man was massively physically gifted. He was quick, had remarkable stamina, his aim and balance were uncanny. Sherlock was tall and slender, but brutally strong. He could fast for days. He could go without sleep and stay sharp. Sherlock had so many gifts. And he’d just told John those gifts weren’t enough on their own. He needed the things that John brought to their interpersonal mix. John cocked his head. Today, if he hadn’t been with Sherlock, then Sherlock felt he wouldn’t have been safe.
“It’s not easy,” John looked at the computer screen.
“Well… at least it’s not difficult. There are over 10, 000 hours of struggle, trial, and error between me and this being difficult,” Holmes laid his phone down beside the computer, pressed a few buttons, and began to move contents to the desktop.
“Is that how long?” John’s brows quirked in curiosity.
“Well,” Sherlock blinked up at him, “that’s how long before I stopped second guessing myself.”
Sherlock had the gall to be a wonder with numbers, science, behaviour, and technology too. John smiled at the far wall. What a handful this one was. How irreplaceable a person!
But he was God-awful with people.
Doomed with women.
Except for the movie-star looks.
It was a toss-up whether that irony was more a cruelty to the women, or to Sherlock himself.
John sucked in a breath. “All right then. What are we doing?”
“We’re giving Lestrade a gift that keeps giving,” Sherlock half smiled over his curled hand and glanced at John, “to me.”
“To you, of course,” John said with a slight smirk. “But, I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“I need to talk to him… but I don’t need to see him. Not for this. Just hear.” But Sherlock eased back in the creaking chair and chuckled. He clicked a file. Things… happened on the open windows. His long fingers turned the volume dial on the speaker between them up.
Across town, inside the glass and steel cocooning the heart of New Scotland Yard, business marched on as usual. The din, the undercurrent of excitement, capped by a hard shell of the banality of crime in such a place, unfurled in an orderly advance, like the hands of a clock, or the sun across the cloud-studded blue. This was especially true for the Homicide and Serious Crime branch. There were few in the building as no-nonsense as these people. Every day, 8 to 12 hours a day, their minds bent to the most horrible elements of human nature. They unwound what was twisted, and collapsed in their beds, just to take up arms and try again the next day.
Above their heads, the big screen televisions in Homicide and Serious Crime went black. The sound of the static which appeared afterward spiked above all other noise in the room, drawing attention. It slowly died back.
It was unusual enough that people looked up at the screens above them. They went to black again and white letters faded in.
In some parts of the room, police stood. Some hung up calls and looked to one another.
The words stayed on the screen. Of all the Detective Inspectors on the floor, it was Lestrade who came out of his office first. His meeting with several Sergeants on the London firebug cases fanned out in the room behind him.
“Afternoon? After…? What the hell is this?” one of the cops sputtered and looked at Lestrade askance. The DI’s expression didn’t contain an iota of surprise. Rather, there was resignation.
Lestrade sucked in a breath and called out, “Sherlock…?” He took a few steps deeper into the desks which were now grinding to a halt, and looked around him.
“Freak?” Donovan was one of many who searched the floor for signs of him. When she found nothing she marched up to the televisions, grabbed hold of first one power cord, and then the other, and yanked them out of the wall.
For a moment, there was nothing.
“Donovan,” Lestrade sighed. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“We don’t have time for his self-promotion! We need to-!” She caught who she was talking to and ground to a halt. “Sir… I….”
“And it didn’t occur to you that he might be reaching out to us?” Lestrade crossed the intervening space steadily, patience wobbling. He was very used to relying on Sherlock’s intelligence when all other methods yielded nothing. Lestrade was practical. He liked to solve cases and protect the city. Cutting him off from a proven resource to that end, particularly when he recognized the Yard was stuck, would have been a career limiting move for a lesser officer than Sally Donovan. She was saved by the fact she’d proven herself to Lestrade many times over. “He may have come to his senses and decided to cut us into-”
“Freak?” Donovan couldn’t help her sudden laugh. “Freak will never come to his senses. He doesn’t have any.”
The computer monitors on the floor blacked out. A sudden hush filled the room. Chairs rolled, now most of the police rose. Faces turned to Lestrade. Other DIs on the floor exited their offices and asked about IT. The computer monitors blinked back on – black. White text flickered in size and position, as if unable to stay steady. It looked and acted angry.
DON’T WASTE MY TIME.
Sally Donovan looked around her, stupefied. “Oh my God…. We’re behind a bunch of firewalls. How is he doing this? How’s he… we need to call Security.”
“He’s doing this because we keep letting him in the building,” Anderson said crossly. “When we stop, then this sort of thing will stop too.”
Optimistic. They were optimistic about that. Lestrade raised his voice above this to shout, “No one touch anything. And be quiet! Stop moving about! Quiet!”
There was swearing, seeing as this department had a very poor opinion of interruptions, but their opinion of Lestrade was something else entirely; within seconds, a hush fell around him. Lestrade looked at the black monitors, walked up, and plugged in both big-screen televisions.
The text on all the screens faded in, nice and steady: Hello, Lestrade.
“Yeah, hello Sherlock…” Lestrade sighed anxiously and walked backward – so many black screens all around him, all of them saying hi. He looked at the big screens, sighed, and opened his arms. “So I’m here… so show me.”
What did Sherlock do today?
“Who cares?” Anderson crossed his arms and stared sourly at the screens in front of him. His phone pinged and he took it out and swore under his breath. Lestrade caught his hand and pivoted the screen in his direction. The text said:
‘Shut it, Anderson. As relates to your intelligence, there is nothing left to prove.’
“God, can he hear us too?” Donovan glanced up from the screen to look around her, paranoid.
The screens lit fitfully, and then faded into video.
On his side of this show, where it was simply a video rolling on a 15 inch screen, both of them straining at the low-quality speakers, and Sherlock typing, John recognized the man in the slowed-down video as the same from St. Tomas’ Hospital. This was him tugging his lapels into order. Sherlock had used video from his cell. The pinky ring the stranger wore sparked in the light as he raised his hands. Sherlock had zoomed in on it. The video froze and broke away to another picture of a highly similar gold ring – its large crest also had a hawk with an arrow in its breast.
Lestrade turned and glanced over wide-eyed faces, and black screens from every corner that said one thing:
Ring with Semenov crime family crest.
The video of the man righting his coat sputtered back to action on the screen and stopped so that an arrow could draw itself to a break in the lines of his hand tailored suit.
The next arrow went to the man’s curled lip.
Not happy to see you.
Two inch scar on upper lip.
Laid open in knife fight; Chelyabinsk; 20 years ago.
Grisha Tsitov, aka Ладья – the Rook.
The man’s rap sheet scrolled so quickly it was mostly a blur with highlights on bolded words like ‘kidnapping’, ‘extortion’, and ‘arson’. His arrest photos snapped over the scene, along with blurry video snippets from a prison fight in which he was shown throwing bloodied men over tables like crumpled papers.
The screen flicked up to a shot of St. Tomas’ Hospital.
Isn’t here for a check-up.
The movie faded to black.
The scene changed to Baker Street. It oriented on the sky for a blinding moment that made police wince, but also established the early morning hour.
Home is not where you live
but where they understand you.
The camera jostled across the license plate of a rental car and then came up alongside the doors. It slowed as they made the front windows.
“That’s Baker Street,” Anderson threw his hands up. “We have people watching Baker Street!”
“Where Freak lives,” Donovan answered the DI from a few offices over, who had come to stand beside her, and stared at the screen, mystified.
The video slowed.
The man in the rental car’s sunny driver’s seat flipped his coat open and reached for the butt of a gun. The screen froze there.
A man who understands me.
Inside his coat, there was a small edge of some hauntingly familiar, waxen, blue material, the corrugated top of what looked like a hand-operated nut-cracker, and the unmistakable butt of a gun against the man’s ribs. Lines drew themselves, pointing into the open jacket’s inner pocket first.
That’s a butterfly knife to you, Anderson.
The type and brand of knife, with its distinctive handle, appeared in a window and rotated to show its action folding and unfolding. He showed the company address and date of purchase. When this vanished there were more arrows.
Illegal for carry in the UK.
Silver chain connected to butt-plate.
Chain leads to engraved casing.
The camera zoomed. Image sharpening took hold, and the pixilation became a rough image. Lestrade made it out and frowned. He’d seen it before. A copy of it was sitting on his desk right now, in fact. It had been faxed from Interpol at 10 AM.
Blue crest with white, winged lions.
The images faded to black. A series of maps of the city popped up. Gold Stars appeared across the face of them.
Look what I found?
Pictures of large, aggressive-looking men in the London Streets flickered across the screens in the room. A lot of them were on foot, talking to people, searching for something, it seemed.
It’s NEVER a boring day with organized crime!
One of G. Lestrade’s own badges appeared on the screen before them, his face its usual glaring self. Below it appeared a casual inquiry.
Would you like to arrest a Russian crime lord today, Lestrade?
One of these men
where to look.
The monitors all went to black, and then, to normal. It was as if every soul in the room had been thrown down by a god. They stood blinking at their documents and forms, their mundane humdrum, at the loop of newsfeed overhead, and a sudden wave of hubbub erupted. Their eyes had been opened. The room was now as loud as a concert hall. Everything Lestrade could hear was about what Sherlock had just shown to them. And, dear God, Holmes’ had hacked the Yard. Less than 10 minutes and he’d electrified every soul in Homicide and Serious Crime. Cops locked machines and grabbed their coats around him. The raw, thoughtless power of that child… it made Lestrade’s hair stand on end.
And then IT people ran out of the stairwell and into the room, gasping and staring around wildly.
“The elevator wouldn’t stop on this floor!” one explained breathlessly. He looked pale and unfit and close to passing out.
Lestrade hid a smile at the suddenness of this. His phone pinged. He already knew who it was. E-mails hit his inbox en masse: Sherlock’s evidence; his maps; information about these criminals that he hadn’t put onto the screens; everything. Lestrade had to take a steadying breath. Why put up with Sherlock Homes? How could he not? Look at what Sherlock had done. Lestrade knew, for sure, he was not going to get the whereabouts of Katrya Vahtin from Holmes now, but Sherlock had lived up to his own admonition. He wasn’t lazy. He was going after Zyza.
Apart from John Watson, he was doing this alone.
“God.” Lestrade said breathily. He was crazy.
“What sir?” the nearest of his men asked.
Lestrade cleared his throat. “Nothing. Donovan, we’re picking these guys up. Have the plain-clothes start with Zyza’s man on Baker Street. I really want to talk to him.”
She fumbled around her resentment of Holmes to say, “Yes, sir.”
And then Lestrade put a call through to his new contact in Interpol: it was someone surprisingly far up the line, in fact; someone who had to know the mortal game Sherlock Holmes was playing.
“We can't stay here, get up and get ready to move.” Sherlock said just as soon as he finished the show and deleted his files. He pushed back his chair, which made a loud groan of complaint, and was soon free.
He pressed and held the power button on the machine in front of him until it shut down. Then he quickly stabbed it back on again. Just as soon as he had done this, he gave John Watson's coat a tweak, and then he barreled out of the cybercafé. John was hard-pressed to keep up with him, as he wove through pedestrians outside, deftly avoided cars, and smartly made a beeline for the nearest, darkest alley. John felt sure he had enough of dark alleyways, but he still followed Sherlock. Frankly, it was probably too dangerous not to follow him closely.
Once they were outside, they went for several miles on foot. Their wanderings seemed aimless, but that didn't bother John. He knew there would be good a reason. Their purpose happened to be escaping from the cybercafé before Lestrade or Scotland Yard IT had a chance to track the signals back to their place of origin, and inadvertently back to Sherlock. He was sure they could find some reason to hold them the rest of the night.
It would've been quite tempting to return to Baker Street now, seeing as it was relatively early in the evening, all of John's favorite shows would be on, and, putting it quite frankly, he loved being in the flat at this hour of the day. But they weren’t destined for the flat tonight. It soon became apparent, that Sherlock was heading directly for Zyza's men.
As he began to understand this, John found that his senses were becoming sharper. He felt the need at the moment to take Sherlock aside and find out exactly what his goal was, in getting so close to these dangerous people. It was inevitable that they would take to the rooftops.
At least the pace up there was a little slower, and as Sherlock strode carefully across the top of one building, John fell in step with him. In fact, John reached out a hand and detained Sherlock.
“I think you'd better slow down, think what you're doing.” John said.
“There's no time for that.” Sherlock sounded highly distracted. His voice was quiet. John watched those sharp green eyes scan the roof around him rather than fixing on his own face.
However, Sherlock’s experience of the moment was intensely uneasy. They were very close to Zyza’s people now. So very close. It seemed John was somehow unaware of this.
Or was he?
John spoke in hushed tones.
“I know it's exciting, but Sherlock, these are very dangerous men. It's not a wise thing what you're doing right now, running off to meet them. And don't think that I don't understand the direction we're going in, or I haven't been keeping track of our movements today. I know exactly where I am. Unfortunately, that also means I know exactly where you're going.” John felt the need to actually physically hold on to Sherlock's coat – or the coat he was wearing, in any event – in order to keep him from taking off again.
“I'm sorry John,” finally Sherlock's gaze fixed on John's face. “When I capitulated earlier today, I never said that the new way was without risk. Serious risk. I might have mentioned that. If we had grabbed and drugged one of Zyza’s men, we would have the advantage of location and time. Plus, he would have been incapacitated. But it’s too late now.”
“No it’s not.”
Mystery solved. Sherlock half smiled and stepped back. “We’re here. This is it. The math led me back here: this little hotel is the most probable base of operations. I also found the deed while you had your sandwich. This hotel is owned by a low ranking man in the Semenov family. That’s important. Zyza’s elderly mother is Irina Semenov. It’s a mob safe house.” He held out his phone to John and then caught his friend and flattened to the brick wall beside them.
A door had opened.
A lighter flicked in the shadows ahead, and outlined a pale face. The man was long, thin, and blond – so blonde his eyebrows looked white in the flame. Under Sherlock’s hand, John seemed to stop breathing. His heart may have stopped beating. He was so still that Sherlock took an involuntary look in his direction. John’s eyes rolled from the cloud cover down to the smoking man. His hand edged up into the jacket almost as if on a separate process than the stillness that had taken hold of the rest of him. Slowly, carefully, Sherlock lifted his hand away from John’s chest. There was no sound.
The blonde man took out a cell phone he flipped open. His words were clear from where John and Sherlock stood. There was perhaps six feet of difference between their positions. Only the cloud-cover above, the 90 degree angle of brick wall behind and beside them, and the advancing night protected them. That and some bins and brooms on the roof which broke up the smooth lines in this corner. Sherlock had chosen the best place that he could, which also balanced closeness.
“What’s he saying?” John whispered.
“He’s talking to a man called Ivan about a shoot-out on Blandford and Thayer.”
“Close to home.” John pursed his lips and released a steadying breath.
Sherlock spoke down into his ear. “It sounds as if Lestrade has one of Zyza’s men.”
John smiled in spite of the dodgy situation. He angled his shoulder out a little to cover more of Sherlock as he stooped.
Holmes continued, “These men would rather die than give up Zyza. It will take Lestrade an immense amount of pressure to figure out where he is. He will know I could deduce the same from the things the man didn’t mean to reveal. But… he may have luck. It’s worth the effort.”
They stood in cramped silence for close to fifteen minutes as the man paced and talked. He swept his hands through his hair as the conversation went on. Sherlock hardly blinked, true. But John hardly breathed. In fact, the shallowness of his breaths had that distinct war-time feel. Breathing deeply moved the body, it knocked off the sights, just a fraction. John had relearned how to breathe, in order to aim, and now, after years of gun-drills, firefights, and practice, he stood on a roof in downtown London, one hand dead-steady on the Browning, and the other ready to whip the jacket out of his line of fire.
Suddenly, the man across the roof from them turned and looked across town.
John felt Sherlock react. He was trying to step forward. Just as quickly, John leaned back on him. This pinned him in the deep shadows. Hell, no, he wasn’t going any further out there! Sherlock seemed to catch himself then, and his body relaxed against the wall.
John watched the blond man throw the door open. He was still rambling angrily on his cell as he hurried back inside. When the door opened, light flashed across John’s face. He held his breath, because John could see men on the stairs. They would have seen him too… if they’d been like Sherlock. But they’d all looked up at the shouting blond man instead. The door slammed shut.
“We need to go,” Sherlock whispered urgently. “Before any more of them come up here for a smoke and a think, and, by the smell back here, a piss.”
John grinned tightly. “You go first. I’m behind you. Stay close to the wall.”
They edged off that roof nimble as a pair of squirrels.
The only significant sound they made was when they leapt across to the next building and quickly got out of the moonlight that finally crested the clouds. They moved fast across several more rooftops, to one with a loudly sleeping man on a lawn chair pointed to the West, his beers arrayed beside him. John glanced over him – breathing all right; and his weight suggested he could handle the six-pack he’d put away; he probably just needed a good sleep. In contrast, Sherlock took his keys.
The man had left the door to the roof ajar on a nondescript fragment of beach rock.
“He lives alone, is reasonably well paid. He’s orderly, his job is fulfilling, but his personal life is very lonely – he’s looking for something more; will soon turn to some pagan religion, or other. That emptiness is what the drinking is about.” Sherlock opened the door to an apartment on the second floor and let them both inside. “God, I’ve got to sit down and think about this.”
The apartment wasn’t elegant, but it was clean, tidy, the leather couches were comfortable. A small tabby cat ambled out of the back room and purred at them. She raised her tail and made straight for Sherlock, who stunned John by saying a polite and gentle, “Hello there. How are we?”
She mewed at him and he followed her.
“Water dish: empty.” Sherlock sighed weightily and brought it for a refill. “Forget what I said. Man’s an idiot.”
John crossed his arms on his ribs and grinned. “You would get along with your own kind.” Two sets of inscrutable, almond-shaped, green eyes turned in his direction.
“Oh no, I meant it. Her name is Ginger,” Sherlock said critically. “And she’s an orange tabby. It’s uninventive, John.” The cat gave a plaintive meow.
“Coming from a guy named Sherlock, with a brother named Mycroft.” John looked around him at the empty walls, bereft of pictures of friends and family, or – like in their front room – a large, slightly psychedelic skull. There were framed certificates from his work. James Kerry was an accountant, and a good one by the look of it.
Sherlock thought about something for a minute. Then he sighed and opened the fridge.
“Don’t,” John headed for him. He shut the door, just shy of pinning Sherlock’s hand. “We’re not racoons. We’re not here to steal his food and drinks.”
“Ugh. No fun.” Sherlock settled for water, and then took off his coat, stepped out of his boots and lay down on the couch. He punched the cushion under his head into more agreeable shape and closed his eyes. John sat in a blue and white striped chair to wait Holmes out.
About two hours after, John woke to Sherlock moving around the darkened room, the little cat – Ginger, sneezed herself awake on John’s lap, and stood up, purring.
The only light out front came from the television being on, with the volume low. Sherlock had been watching coverage of the gun battle downtown. Such a thing wasn’t unheard of in London, but it was very rare. Sherlock switched off the set. He started putting the couch back to rights again. The remaining light came from the hood in the kitchen.
“Yes,” Sherlock nodded. “Did you rest?”
“I was asleep.” John half motioned at the chair.
Sherlock glanced down at the channel changer in his hand, his tone muted, “You were restless until the cat.” He put the changer back where he’d found it, and it was, John was sure, to the millimeter.
“Not my business,” Sherlock nodded and stepped into a boot.
“No, it’s okay. I… I talk in my… sleep sometimes,” John rubbed his face and hoped that he’d kept his mouth shut, and hadn’t said anything embarrassing. “God, I’m famished.”
“You could make a sandwich.” Sherlock indicated the kitchen.
“We’ll find something. I’m not going to fade away from privation. Unlike someone I know,” John watched Sherlock as he got the boots on and stretched. There was nothing to spare on that inverted A-frame of his. “Know where he is yet?”
“I think so.”
John did a double-take. He’d meant it as a prod, really. Just kind of to chafe Holmes, because Sherlock habitually found those types of elbows fun, coming from John. He found them some strange indication of solidarity. But… “You know… where Rurik Zyza is?”
Slowly, and enunciating clearly, Sherlock repeated, “I think so.”
“Was it the news?” John looked at the flat screen. “Was it… what was it?”
Sherlock’s expression suddenly broke to that warm, smug, happy smile that typified him when he was positively demolishing people at online poker, or chess in the park. He sucked in a breath through the nose and exhaled with a small, happy ah.
“Premature,” John pointed at him. “That’s your ‘Eureka’ sigh.”
“Oh, really? I have a ‘Eureka’ sigh? Haven’t seen that on your blog.” Sherlock smirked.
“You do. That was it.” John pointed out and pulled his brows down, “It’s premature. Prove it.”
“Oh, I will. Door, by the way.”
“Clunking in the hall – a drunken man is coming through. James. Coming to the door. Get in the kitchen, and I’ll shut off the light on the hood.” Sherlock set the keys on the floor beside the recliner.
“He’ll know!” John whispered urgently.
“No. Normal people forget. Drunk people never remembered to begin with. Two beer cans in the garbage. This is where he started in for the night.”
“Why the kitchen?” John hurried into the darkness and stood beside Holmes. His heart seemed to stop when the apartment door opened. It would not be good to be found in this man’s apartment, huddled in the darkened kitchen, armed with a Browning. Sherlock edged around John and waited patiently. He tugged the borrowed coat into place. Another door closed. Then came the unmistakeable sound of a belt unlatching, followed by a zipper. And tinkling.
Sherlock walked up the hall, held the door open, and let them both out. He was grinning as they took the stairs. He was tickled. “In answer to your last question, John, people don’t pee in their kitchens. Not even drunk people, if they can avoid it.”
John gave a snort and shoved the man across from him. “You bloody idiot.”
But Sherlock only laughed. They walked into the foggy nighttime streets of London together, in complete anonymity. John was glad for the warmth of his coat now. “Where to?”
“Well,” Sherlock looked himself over and then grinned. “This outfit is never going to get me near Zyza. So walking in there for a chat is out of the question... without decent planning, anyway. And, well, there’s that thing about getting shot in the face – really not for me.”
“You’re kidding. You want to go near him?”
Sherlock stretched his long back, “Oh, I’d like to nick him myself. I think it’s time we flush him out.”
“We should involve Lestrade, Sherlock.” John told him.
“Oh God no,” Sherlock’s brows drew down. “He’d make a terrible woman.”
Whatever the hell that meant.
Which was nothing good. It had meant nothing good.
“No.” John shook his head.
“Yes.” Sarah sighed at him.
“Oh my God.” Sherlock groaned.
“He’s a killer, Sarah. Specifically, he wants to kill his wife.”
She looked positively svelte in Katrya Vahtin’s designer clothes. She must have done some kind of padding to the upper regions, though John would very possibly shoot out his own tongue before he’d ever make a comment like that to the woman before him, but her upper womanly bits simply didn’t have the helium balloon-like loft of Katrya Vahtin’s.
“Leave us alone a minute?” John suggested to Sherlock.
Sherlock looked baffled. “So you can talk her out of what I want her to do?”
Just moments later, Sherlock fumed in the hallway outside of Sarah’s apartment, his long, resentful back propped against the wall there.
Inside, John followed Sarah into her room where she daubed on lipstick. “He could kill you.”
“I trust him.”
“You trust a madman?” John bleated in disbelief. “Sarah!”
“I meant Sherlock.” She turned his way, her lips a flash of devastating red, and her eyes made up to such smoky perfection it pinned John in place a moment. He sucked in a breath of surprise and remembered what they were talking about.
“So did I!” John wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. His head was aching from exhaustion, the stress of the rooftop eavesdrop, from pounding around all day without enough to eat, and now this. This was the caustic icing on the poison cake.
“I trust you. It’s the pair of you that make me confident enough to do this,” She sped by him. That wasn’t her perfume either. She even smelled like Katrya now. “It’s my faith in you, and my pity for that woman and her little girl. This needs to be over for them, John.” She yanked open her door, stepped out in the hall and caught hold of Sherlock’s wrist. Sarah pulled him inside as if he were a vacuum on rollers, or a small cart.
She shut the door behind him.
Sherlock pulled in a breath to speak.
John cut him off, “No. You. Back outside.”
Holmes released the breath through his teeth and stalked back down the hall toward the front door. This only led Sarah to glare at John. She turned on her high heels and called after Holmes. “Wait, Sherlock, this is my home. You’re welcome in it!” Sarah threw up her hands when it didn’t cause him to pause. Instead, Sherlock flung the door open and let it slam behind him.
John straightened… and listened. In fact, he listened with the same intensity he’d had inside of James Kerry’s place. And the steps drew further and further off. “He’s going.” John rushed for the door. “He’s got a backup plan. He’s always got a backup plan. And in that plan, he’s always bloody well doing this craziness alone and unarmed. The great, gangly idiot!”
They burst into the hall with Sarah hurrying to lock up and John running flat out to catch up. He charged by the elevators. Sherlock would take the stairs.
He saw a flicker of Sherlock’s trimmed dark curls as soon as he reached the first landing. This led to an even greater burst of adrenaline. The door let out to the parking structure and John burst through, yards behind Holmes. He squared up and shouted. “That’s it then? Taking off are we?”
Sherlock turned easily, and headed back toward John at the same clip at which he’d been drawing away from him.
“She trusts me.” Sherlock said hotly.
John’s cupped hands clawed in air before him. They bounced up and down with the effort of putting words around his tangled mess of feelings. “Well she’s wrong.”
Sherlock stopped dead and stared at John. It looked almost as if he’d been struck.
John sighed and rubbed the ache in his eyes. “Look Sherlock, it’s just you. It’s not bad. There’s nothing wrong with your personality, particularly… you’re just reckless,” John’s tone dropped to a very quiet one. “You take massive risks because you’re brilliant, and you’re irresponsible because you don’t care about anything but getting it right. I can deal with that. I think. You know, I may actually like that about you. It makes you…” he opened his hands in air, “clean. But the things I know about you, Sarah doesn’t even see. I mean, you charged through bullets and bad guys to save our lives. That’s what she sees. She doesn’t understand how far you’d go.”
Sherlock’s head rose slightly, but his eyes averted to the ground. So elegant. There was no trace of the almost-madness of his obsession in that face.
John looked up at him. “Sherlock, I’m asking you now. Please involve Lestrade.”
His friend shut his eyes and bowed his head. It was a lot. Possibly more than John had ever asked of Sherlock Holmes – to give up his cleverness, his master plan, and crawl back to Lestrade. It was a lot, and John didn’t expect that much.
He’d have to try harder. “I know it’s true. I know you could do this on your own. There’s nothing to prove.” John stuck his hands in his jean’s pockets and edged up to the bent man. Sherlock was almost doubled over.
Sarah exited the door off to the right, stood in the steady, caged florescent light, and went still. She knew instinctively that she shouldn’t say a word, or necessarily move, right then.
“Sherlock,” John reached out and set a hand on the man’s stooped shoulder.
Holmes immediately straightened and walked away from him.
“You….” The deep, angry swell of Sherlock’s voice rolled through the hollows, and bounced off the flat concrete plains of parking. The echoes came back jangled until they were swallowed in the low drone of air exchanger. And then Holmes barked, “John. Only you….”
Sarah hurried over to John’s side. Sherlock was too angry to form a complete thought. “What did you say to him?” She’d never heard him shout before, and her eyes were wide with dismay. “Go after him. Go.”
John started after Holmes as if his legs were on mechanisms, quite separate from his conscious mind. It was staggering. Even when he’d been shooting up the apartment, John had never seen Sherlock come unglued. It was no surprise that, when he heard his own voice, it sounded low and cautionary, “Sherlock.”
“Don’t talk to me right now, John.” The force of that command rocked Sherlock’s body. He stood with his shoulders heaving from the deep breaths he was forced to take. John gaped. Having Sherlock’s back to him was now too much. He had to see the man’s face.
Did Sherlock feel betrayed? John straightened and blinked.
It was like a Predator drone the wind had blown miraculously through hostile territory, where it had arrived somehow unscathed: he was actually in past Sherlock’s outer defences. This meant only he could scrap those long, late hours of planning, all the legwork, the fasting, and loads of Sherlock Holmes’ personal pride; and Sherlock had never seen it coming.
That had to smart.
It had to hurt.
John edged up to where Holmes leaned on the wall of the garage. He gazed up into Holmes’ face. The green eyes, capable of laser-like scans of the wider world, were closed now. And his mien was locked down tight. It instantly made John curse himself. He could be unpredictable in that mood.
“Don’t be like this,” he told the man.
“How should I be?” Sherlock’s voice was washed clear of emotion.
“I don’t know… yourself?”
“This is me. I’m sorry. This is the real me talking, Sherlock.” John hated to disappoint him this way. “I don’t mind risking my neck. I’ve been through a war. But Sarah is a doctor, not a soldier.”
“Only you are extraordinary.” Sherlock bit out.
“I didn’t say that.”
“Good,” Sherlock straightened his voice deep with a gravelly growl, “because that’s only me.”
Holmes turned and scrutinized Sarah. His gaze was ragged, due to the fact he was grinding his teeth and muscles flexed low in his cheek. But when he exhaled, some of the cold came out of him. Sherlock shut his eyes, and when he opened them again, John felt his insides drop. Sherlock Holmes was defeated.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and texted briefly, and then he walked over to where Sarah stood, pale and worried. She seemed distressed both for him, for John, and over the notion Sherlock might be furious with her. Sarah had only tried to help him. But all Sherlock said was, “We’re not ready for you yet. We have to stop by Scotland Yard first.”
She didn’t dare touch him, though it seemed she wanted to, by the way she wrung her hands. “Sherlock, you’re welcome in my home. John had no right-”
“I don’t care about your home, or welcome. We’re not ready for you. Go back and wait.” He said plainly. “That’s all.” He walked away and left her standing in the watery light from overhead. John could see that she was upset, and struggling to hide it. When he reached out a hand to support her, she looked away from him.
“I’m sorry about that,” he told her. “I don’t think he means it. He’s just shut down right now. I don’t think he knows what he feels in this mood… I mean, at all.”
“Well,” she collected herself, reached out, and took his hand. “I’m going to go upstairs and practice my walk.”
“My Katrya walk,” she shrugged a little. “Sherlock has videos on his cell. A lot of hip action….”
John chuckled. Sarah’s hip action was just fine, thank you. Some of the tension came out of him at the thought of that. “Keep the door locked until we call, okay?”
“Please take care,” she kissed his cheek gently and John felt a rush of gratitude for the kindness. She blinked her extra-long eyelashes – who knew how she’d managed that – at him. “Take care of him too. He needs it more than most.”
She was probably right about that.
Sherlock didn’t speak to him on the way out of the building. They were walking together, looking for a cab, and shoulder-to-shoulder with him, John felt a world away. A deep crevasse had yawned between them in a matter of minutes. John despised that silent gap.
“You hate what you’re doing.” John said at last. “And you’re doing it because of me.”
John sighed, “Do you at least see why I asked?”
“Because, with all you’ve seen, you still don’t trust my skills,” Sherlock told him. His lips compressed like he tasted something bitter. “Or me.”
God, this was frustrating. John sighed to keep his temper from exploding. “That’s not true.”
Sherlock looked at the ground before him. “John, your conviction that your own skills will keep you safe while you’re with me is admirable. I respect that. Don’t mistake it for trusting me with your life.”
And there was nothing John could say to that, because he felt he did trust Sherlock that far. But that wasn’t something one could convince someone else of. They had to feel it. John had shot a very bad man dead for Sherlock, and they’d only been friends for days at the time. He had to believe that the ties between them were deep as blood. But John worried those ties were feather light coming back from Sherlock. He hailed them a cab and they climbed in.
“Let me talk to Lestrade,” John rubbed his face. “This is my fault. I’ll explain you’re only coming in as a favour to me. A very big favour to me.”
Sherlock made a soft huff of air. It was like a break in the clouds. “I’ll deal with Lestrade.”
“Seriously. Let me do my part,” John looked at his friend. “I should help you save face.”
Something about this seemed to amuse Holmes, “I have no face left to save inside the Yard. It would be wasted effort. Let me deal with Lestrade.” His phone pinged.
“That him? You texted him earlier, right?”
“No… I didn’t. Yes… it is him.” They were almost to the Yard now. In fact, the car pulled up as Sherlock stared at his phone screen. “Hm. I wonder what he’s up to?”
“What’s it say?” John glanced at the black phone’s surface.
“Says, ‘You’ve been summoned to the Yard’. Since when does Lestrade say ‘summoned’ in general conversation, let alone in a text.” His brows bounced up in sudden curiosity, and he got out of the cab with hints of that old Sherlock excitement about him. He loved the energy of this place. John, of course, saw this and began to smile widely. That mind was irrepressible. Even his ego couldn’t keep up.
They walked through the lobby and were ignored. It took John a glance over Sherlock in his thigh-length coat, denim jeans, boots, and pullover, to realize they were seen, but not really ‘seen’. The extremity of Holmes’ haircut did not help. John reached in his shirt pocket, took out Sherlock’s ‘Consulting Detective’ badge, and got them through.
Holmes opted for the elevator and gathered himself. He leaned on the back wall with his eyes shut, and seemed to distillate his will. He was very steady as he stepped out onto the floor he had so recently gripped with his steely concentration.
John found the place much more abandoned than he had come to expect. There were police at large in the city tonight, for sure. There seemed to be a little knot of activity around Lestrade’s office. Its blinds were closed, though.
Donovan turned and locked eyes with him. It took a moment for her to recognize what, and who she was seeing, and then she laughed. “Freak… just got freakier. And taller? God. How can it be?”
“Clear out,” Sherlock said. “I need to talk to him.”
“Oh, you need to-” Anderson turned and looked Sherlock over. “God, man, eat a sandwich, or something. It’s terrifying.”
“Shut up.” Sherlock groused.
Lestrade strode out the door and stopped dead. “God. I almost didn’t recognize you. And hello there, John.”
“Hello,” John chuckled – he was no master of disguise.
Sherlock paused. “Oh, lovely. Almost. You’re doing better than the rest of your police today. I went right by Phillips, Howe, and a few others. The only one who gave me a look was the rookie, and that was all for the wrong reasons.” Sherlock tossed a chilly gaze at police scattered in the hall. “We should go into the office. This is important.”
Then he diverted around to the right. John arced around the DI’s left.
“Wait a sec, there’s-” Lestrade turned in place.
A tremendous crack sounded from inside the office and echoed in the hall.
“Jesus,” Lestrade had jumped.
John was rooted to the floor. Inside the office, Sherlock’s frame had been thrown hard enough to the right that he’d impacted the blinds and the Plexiglas wall beyond them. A tall, square man, dark blonde, with hauntingly familiar jade eyes, lowered his hand and gave his top-rung suit a gentle adjustment into alignment. He tugged his shirt-cuffs elegantly.
Sherlock straightened. John realized what he’d just seen and started forward with a sudden, low growl coming from somewhere in his chest. It formed words, “Who the hell are you?”
“Clear off,” Lestrade said to the police behind him. “Get on with things.”
Sherlock spun lithely about and caught hold of John’s upper arms. Now John could see one side of Holmes’ face was red with what was not a bad impression of a large handprint. “No,” Sherlock said quietly. “No-no. John. No.”
“Actually,” John said sunnily, “very much yes, thanks.”
“Sherlock,” the cool, deep voice pooled out, its deep notes also familiar, “is this your… friend? The one Mycroft told me about? The one you’re living with?”
“Don’t,” Sherlock told John quietly.
What was happening here? The man was big – taller than Sherlock, in fact – and solid, but he was also an older person. Sherlock should have been able to avoid the attack of such a man.
But Holmes had released John’s shoulders and turned. “Ah… yes. This is Dr. John Watson; war veteran – multiple tours in Afghanistan – a military doctor.” Sherlock’s speech stream slowed down, as he huffed air and turned. “John, this is Sir Lockton Holmes.”
“Oh dear Lord,” John muttered under his breath. He looked back at where Lestrade leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed as he stared at the Holmes’s. More clearly John said, “You’re Sherlock’s father?”
“I raised him,” Lockton’s green eyes narrowed some at Sherlock. He looked more like Mycroft, except for those hauntingly pale green eyes. “Not well enough, it’s amply apparent – such a disobedient child. I’ve been speaking to the Detective Inspector about your association with this branch, Sherlock. I’m disgusted with your behaviour.”
The man’s brows drew down. He was like a huge, old Viking, white streaking the flax of his hair as he glowered. “Don’t be glib with me, Sherlock Holmes.”
“Not being glib.” Sherlock nodded lightly, “Agreeing with you.”
“Agreeing that I’m appalled is not agreeing there’s something wrong with your behaviour, child,” Lockton sighed, and managed to sound like a carbon of Mycroft.
“Also true,” Sherlock said with a flicker of a smile that was utterly genuine. He seemed to enjoy that his father had caught him in a loop. “Why are you here and not in Lyon?”
“Well I believe you asked for the help of Interpol? How was that to escape my notice?” his father laid the cane on which he leaned – a black affair with a silver lion at the handle – on Lestrade’s desk. He took off his gloves.
“I didn’t know you were back with them.”
“General Assembly needed someone,” Lockton said darkly. “Seeing as I’ve noticed what Mycroft’s been up to with his MI6 grants, I thought it wisest if I fill in.”
“Before he annexes Poland?”
“You are not very funny. And what are you wearing? Where is my son?” The man spread his hands at Sherlock and then tut-tutted. “God. Dear God. Oh… if you’re back on cocaine, Sherlock, this time Emeline won’t save you.”
“Of course she won’t. She’ll be too shocked hearing you’re all up in Interpol, covering Mycroft’s tracks as he marches into Russia.” Sherlock snickered and rocked from heels to toes and back.
“God,” Lockton shut his eyes and tipped his head back. “It is everything I can do to be in your company for five minutes and not want to dismiss you, Sherlock. Why must you be so immature?”
“And yet I’m not the one spiking the seismic charts of the International Community,” Sherlock said sharply.
The cane came off the desk so fast, it was a blur. It cracked against Sherlock’s upper arm soundly. “You mind your lip with me, young man.”
Sherlock backed up a step, straightened his expression by force of will, and stepped up again, smooth and dignified. “I didn’t realize you were with Interpol again. I thought you had actually retired this time. I’m sorry. My text probably alarmed you, Lockton.”
His father froze; his countenance hard.
Sherlock immediately amended, “Father.”
“Alarmed me?” Lockton tipped his head a little. “What about ‘Downtown on fire. Zyza crime family hunting unbound in the streets of London – a little help?’ would I find alarming?”
“Well, see, it was exciting, and-”
“Idiot, child!” his father snapped at him. And then he schooled himself, “Why was I cursed with such a stupid boy? I can see you’ve been right behind the man ever since, not eating, not sleeping, look at you – clearly you’ve been disguising yourself against detection.”
“Well, disguising myself toward it seemed sort of-”
A warning glance from his father was all it took. Sherlock changed direction. He opened his arms. “Did you bring me a surprise?”
“That I did,” Lockton stepped up to his son. “When Katrya Vahtin Zyza left Rurik Zyza, she took more than just the heir to the sizable Zyza fortune, the favoured grandchild of Irina Semenov, incidentally, she embezzled roughly 10 million dollars, and nicked the White Lion of Arkhangelsk. Do you know what that is?”
Sherlock’s face brightened. “A rumour.”
“Oh no. It’s real, child.” His father’s voice purred in a good echo of Sherlock’s own.
Sherlock seemed star-struck. “But she dropped everything she was carrying after the fire… but a fire wouldn’t do any harm to a diamond as large as the White Lion. Still… to lose it. You’re telling me this isn’t about Sveta Zyza or Katrya either, but about the Zyza nest-egg?”
“It is, in large part about the diamond. It’s much more than a nest-egg, more, even, than insurance. For over a century the one who holds the White Lion is in charge of the entire crime family, down to the last man. They are very superstitious, those criminals. They believe the diamond is cursed, and that any action against the one who holds it will cause them all sorts of fatal luck.” Lockton paused and put a hand over his son’s shoulder. “Yes. Criminals are that stupid. Thankfully, you’re not one of them.”
Sherlock glanced at his father’s hand. “Thankfully.”
“Find the diamond. It’s what he really wants. Bargain the life of the child with it,” Lockton now tucked his cane under one wing and took his son’s face between his hands.
To John’s eye, it was clear that Sherlock held his breath. His back arched somewhat as his father pulled him forward.
“I want Vahtin at the end of this, son. She’s very clever and connected. She could sink so many of the Russians. Bring her to me. Do what you will with the child.”
Sherlock shut his eyes, his eyelids trembled. There was so much tension, John froze at the ready.
“You really do look like your mother,” His father sighed and released Sherlock, “somehow. I approve of your hair, child. Keep it so. You no longer look like you live in a tree.” He quirked a smile as he pulled his gloves back on. “Now… we are a family who stands for order in the realm, Sherlock. Acquit yourself as such. We must cooperate with these lesser men, and not shame the family name.”
Beside John, Sherlock sucked in air and slowly straightened himself. His brows had drawn up beside the bridge of his nose, which made him look young and helpless. He had recovered his usual calm quickly. Sherlock turned as Lockton passed him by.
“It was good to see you.” Sherlock said. His words and tight smile were genuine.
“Yes,” the man said distractedly. He raised a hand to signal a young brunette woman in chic business clothing, and dark glasses; she stooped to pick up a briefcase before she drew toward them.
“Alodie,” Sherlock nodded at her.
“Sherlock,” She said in return.
Lockton looked over his shoulder at Holmes. “Sherlock…. Be good.”
“Yes.” Sherlock said quietly. “Very good.”
His father sighed and shook his head, and then stalked out through the hall in a flutter of long and horribly expensive coat. Sherlock stood in the doorway and watched him go. He slowly took out his phone and lifted it to his ear. “Mycroft. Truce…. Because Lockton is in the city, and he’s back with Interpol…. Better power up the shredder, he’s heading your way.” Sherlock checked his watch, “I may need you to help me double-cross him, if I can’t manage something myself. Talk later.”
Sherlock hung up and sighed. He turned his head right. Lestrade had come to lean on the doorjamb opposite him. He’d watched Lockton take the elevator down and now stared up at Holmes in a state of confusion.
“Double-cross your father?”
This caused Sherlock’s lips to compress. Some emotion lit him for an instant, and was gone. He took out the cell and coldly texted. “Well… Zyza’s crushed her will, controlled, and beaten her for years. Even if it’s only for her daughter’s sake, the woman wants to be free. She needs to be taken care of. Lockton won’t do that.” Sherlock hushed himself as Donovan came back from where the knot of police had settled a few feet away.
She looked up from over her crossed arms, “So you have a father. You aren’t some kind of science project gone wrong?”
“Naturally,” Sherlock said distractedly.
She frowned. “Your dad really K.O.ed you, Freak.”
This won his attention. Sherlock flashed Sally his most mercurial smile, “Oh. Love tap. Besides, there’s a cursed diamond now. Mmm – love missing diamonds; always an intrigue. And do try to be happy, Donovan, cursed diamonds are a girl’s best frienemy. And this one is bigger than a pigeon’s egg and utterly colourless.” His face lit up at the sound of it and he clapped his hands together on his phone. “Joy! John, I was remiss. You were dead right about coming here.”
John released a breath that had probably been pent up inside since the parking structure at Sarah’s. But having witnessed what he had, he didn’t feel very ‘dead right’ about it. John opened his eyes and nodded grimly. “See, I have a problem with you getting shot in the face too.”
“Marvellous.” Sherlock turned toward Lestrade. “Who do you have in lockup?”
“Why? You want to talk to them?”
“Lestrade, really? There’s no sense looking for a diamond if the bad guys already have it and are only hanging around to put a bullet in Katrya Vahtin and/or her daughter’s head,” Sherlock pointed out. “I’d like to know if they have the White Lion, and if I’m right about Zyza’s hotel.”
Lestrade exchanged a look with Donovan and said, “Where’s he staying?”
“Athenaeum, I think.” Sherlock nodded. “Seemed like I heard something starting with an A and then he turned in the right direction.”
“Who turned? What?” Lestrade shook his head, confused. “What the hell’s been going on?!”
Sherlock texted on his phone while muttering, “One of Zyza’s men, about six to ten feet away from me at the time. Quite deadly,” Sherlock put the phone away and felt around the coat he wore.
He found the smokes and lighter with an unassuming smile. Sherlock lit up and turned toward the big screen TVs, now showing the blackened, gritty bones of buildings after the fires. He stopped his endless motion, rare for him, and analysed this. John ventured he could hear Sherlock thinking. He was so intent that John put a finger to his lips when Lestrade looked ready to speak.
And… a whiteboard eraser flew past John’s face straight for Holmes.
“You can’t do that in here,” Anderson barked at Sherlock. “You can’t smoke in here.”
Sherlock hadn’t moved. The eraser had missed, passing in front of him at about shoulder level. His green eyes focused on the screens, his brain in overclock, probably cooking everything below the neck. But that wasn’t a problem: John was well-equipped to take offense for his flatmate.
Who threw things that way? It struck John as juvenile and petty, so John strode over to snap the eraser up off the floor. He returned it to the whiteboard outside Lestrade’s office and turned to Anderson. Now he sucked in the dark roiling clouds of his temper. Quietly, he motioned at Sherlock. “See what he’s doing?”
“Staring at TV, like billions of others right now.” Anderson droned. The cop behind him sipped his coffee and snickered appreciatively. He nodded at John.
“Unlike billions of others,” John found the impression stupid. “And I meant the smoking.”
“I see that,” Anderson’s lip curled. “Dirty habit.”
It beat shooting cocaine, John thought, but he didn’t say it aloud. Narrowly. Nor did he comment on Anderson’s undeserved – if you asked John – superiority complex. “Well, Anderson, if he’s doing it right now, then imagine how exceedingly stupid it will strike him if you tell him it can’t be done?”
“Fortunately, I don’t care what he thinks.”
“Then there’s no way for me to help you,” John told him shortly, he headed away from Lestrade’s office and realized, no… he wasn’t done, yet. So far today had been rough. No one appreciated what he and Sherlock had accomplished, and John had been forced to sit out Sherlock’s father smacking him in the head so roundly it rang out through the floor. So now Anderson was going to be a plonker? Bad plan.
John bristled and diverted through the cops around Anderson. It was remarkable how quickly they cleared out of his path. Anderson put his feet down and sat up straight in the chair, just as John stabbed a finger at him. “If you’re not one, Anderson, why do you act like such an idiot? It’s distracting. Stop it.”
The man’s gaze darted around John’s face. “What the hell has gotten into you? Are you-”
“Don’t take that tact with me.” John cracked. Years in the military made his tolerance for bullshit low at times like this. “Look, I gather you’re a bit like me, Anderson. You’re smart enough, but conventionally so. He’s unconventionally smart. What he’s thinking looking at those burned out buildings, I’m not sure. Do something useful. Postulate. Develop a theory.”
“I think…” Anderson began. John expected a ‘who cares’, but he didn’t get one. Anderson’s head cocked a little, his brows drew down. “I think… I’m not sure. We’ve been over those. Meaning… he’ll have been over those.” Anderson said grudgingly.
Suddenly, Sherlock turned and glanced over. He appeared at a loss, “What are you doing?”
“Talking to Anderson.” John said.
“God why?” Sherlock brought his hands together. “Forget that and let’s go get the diamond.”
“What?” John stiffened. “How’d you get the location of the diamond from-?”
“Oh.” Sherlock’s hands swung up to the screens. His fingers rose with the flames, “Look at it, there was no way she was leaving it anywhere near there. That is a vision of hell, custom made for her. Katrya Vahtin would never go back. And I know she didn’t drop it on the road when she fled. That would have been something to pause for, plus, I have every scrap of what she did drop.” Sherlock nodded to himself. “That leaves only three places. You wouldn’t put a diamond on a rambunctious child if you wanted to keep it – two places. And I’m betting, I’m remembering, really,” he swung a gloved hand at John, “that I know where, and, what’s more… so do you.”
Sherlock’s head dropped down in a weighty sigh. “You saw it. You stood right next to me at the time. Think, John.”
John thought about it, but nothing came. “Okay, let’s agree to be thankful you’re so observant, because I’m drawing a blank. So… yeah, I don’t need sleep. Or food. Let’s go.”
Holmes dropped the half-smoked cigarette into Anderson’s coffee, tucked his hand in a coat pocket and exhaled smoke. “Sorry about that, John. Should’ve had that sandwich,” Sherlock turned to find Lestrade. The man was on his way back from a trio of DIs who stared fixedly at Sherlock. It was as if they’d seen Pegasus charge in. “Lestrade, you’ll want to select only your best and steadiest people to come downtown. I’ll text you once I’ve confirmed Zyza’s location. We’ll need to move then.”
“But people will die if you don’t listen to me,” Sherlock told the man. He took out another cigarette and the lighter.
“Slow down, Freak,” Donovan told him. “Get to the street before you light it up, at least.” She brushed by him with paperwork she gave to Lestrade. “It’s the current guest list at the Athenaeum Hotel & Apartments.”
“It’s family owned,” Sherlock said. “Pattern with Zyza. He’s all about clan and bloodline. It’s what he understands.”
“Want a copy?” John asked.
Holmes shook his head. “Already been through it,” he showed John his cell. “Thanks.”
“Welcome.” Typical. John smiled at this.
Lestrade rubbed his face. “It’s going to take some police action, Sherlock. We can’t guess your mind here, and we have to do things as we’re trained to do them.”
“Then I’ll make it simple. Don’t shoot me. Or John.” Rather than light the cigarette, Sherlock ticked his fingers. “Or Katrya.”
“She’ll be there?” Lestrade put his hands on his hips.
“Oh, this whole thing won’t work without her. Trust me.” Sherlock nodded.
“Ready,” John said and looked down at Anderson.
“Be careful,” Anderson said with a nod. “Don’t put your faith in him to save your neck. I think you’ll get a surprise if you’re ever in a bad tangle, and you need him to ride to the rescue.”
“Well, I was the first time, anyway. He was damn quick about it. You get used to it after a while,” John nodded in reply. John just caught Anderson’s utter disbelief before he turned and walked away. He smiled in contentment. “Thanks for your concern, Anderson.”
Holmes fell in step beside him, and they followed Lestrade.
Sherlock first scanned the files on both men that Lestrade and his people had brought into custody. One of them was known for being incredibly violent, the other was Grisha Tsitov. John took the reports right after Sherlock was done with them. His assessment? Devil. Deep blue sea. Neither fit for human congress.
He was worried for Sherlock almost from the moment that he’d opened the folder.
Lestrade eyed them, his hair passing from silvery blue, to salt-and-pepper in the low overhead lighting. Such men weren’t kept in the glassy part of the Yard. “They don’t know, you know.” Lestrade waved at security and used his smart-badge to beep them through.
“Don’t know what?” Sherlock asked.
“Don’t know English. Don’t know anything.” The hall Lestrade led them down had a guard at either end, each facing the other. He had to use the badge again, just to get in.
Sherlock glanced around the room he stepped into and hesitated. He glanced up at the camera above him and blinked. “Recording?”
“It’s on a motion sensor.”
“Ooh.” Sherlock said appreciatively. He paced around the white, Formica-topped table in the middle of the room. His fingers brushed the soft blue brick walls. “Soothing colour, blue, or so the studies say.”
“So they do,” Lestrade shrugged. He looked around the room indifferently.
Sherlock glanced under the tables, at the chairs, at the light fixtures…. “But too much blue, or the wrong blue is associated with callousness. It’s actually off-putting, that’s the reason hospitals use soft green in their rooms – we associate it with nature, money, and nurturing, all of which is reassuring. And while it’s true that blue causes humans to produce calming body chemistry, you’ll get the best results out of a nice soft pink. Pink doesn’t only soothe, it actually depletes aggression.”
“Well, isn’t that thought-provoking,” John said, “So what do you make of the white table.”
“Sale at Ikea,” Sherlock straightened from looking under it.
John grinned at him, not sure if he was joking, or serious, and not thinking it would matter either way. It had been clever. That was Sherlock in a word.
“So we have Grisha Tsitov, the Rook, and Vadim Bogrov.” Sherlock cocked his head. “Any chance I can see them at once?”
“That’s not standard practice.” Lestrade shook his head. He picked up the files, seeing as everyone was done with them.
“They’ll have more tells together than apart,” Sherlock told the man. “One of them, Bogrov, is a junior in the organization. I expect he’ll be leaking like a sieve.”
“Won’t he just shut his mouth and let Tsitov handle things?” John asked.
“They’ll both assume he has. But I don’t care about his words. What he says will be lies or evasions,” Sherlock deposited himself in a chair he swept with a gloved hand and then smiled up at Lestrade. “I’d like a matched set, please.”
“For the record, this is a bad idea, Sherlock,” Lestrade waved a finger at him.
“It’s three questions.” Sherlock opened his arms. “And I have a secret weapon.”
“Yeah?” Lestrade scoffed. “Well, I have extra cops.”
“Also nice in a room full of killers – myself excepted. Can you bring a notepad, by the way, Lestrade?” Sherlock sighed and leaned back in his chair. No doubt enjoying the fact so many considered him sociopathic, when he was the only man present who had never killed someone. While he was aware sociopathy covered more terrain than murder, he was also aware the media considered killing a core feature of the mental disorder.
But Lestrade’s steely gaze immediately flicked up at John’s even expression. He didn’t move. For a moment, John didn’t fathom, but then twigged to the unspoken question. “It was a war, Lestrade.” He pointed out.
Lestrade’s brows rose and his expression went grim. “Mine weren’t.” He left them in the room, together, John knowing what Lestrade never would: that Dr. John Watson had gunned down a London serial killer to save Sherlock’s life, and, afterwards, gone out for Chinese. John had never felt a second of remorse. The guy had been a serial killer about to kill Sherlock Holmes. It was a clear case of good versus evil, and, unable to reach Sherlock, John had no choice. He’d do it again.
And the war had hardened some part of him. He sometimes felt less than human.
“John,” Sherlock’s jadeite stare held him. It had tracked him for some time now, “All right?”
“Yes, why?” John stuck his hands in his pockets.
Sherlock diverted his attention to his phone. “I fully expect there will be violence involved in this interview, even though there are very few questions I have to ask them.”
“Fully.” Sherlock rubbed an eye.
John stared at this. Sherlock was like a machine. He didn’t give signs of exhaustion, no matter how long he’d been awake. There was no yawning; no sagging; no slowness. It was standard that he zipped around like a hyperactive wasp right up until he turned off. John drew toward the man, “Eyes bothering you?”
“Stop being my GP.” Sherlock suggested. “The killers are coming. Sit next to me, and look inoffensive.” He pushed out a chair with one foot and patted the seat.
“You really are an annoyance.” John said as he settled beside Sherlock, but he also grinned and chuckled in spite of himself.
Sherlock was, doubtless, thrilled to hear it. The men came in, cuffed and bristling at the police clustered around them. Lestrade was last into the room, his face coldly professional as he watched the two Russian killers sit at the table and glance at one another. They looked like a pair of tigers, they were so large. John had seen larger.
Tsitov had chosen to sit across from Holmes, who smiled at him, and proceeded to speak to the man in excellent Russian. Both men blinked and frowned. Sherlock paused and added, “-but then I know you know English. You can’t help understanding. All I need from you is that.”
“Sherlock Holmes?” Tsitov asked.
“There’s not much you can do about it now, is there? The Rook has been outsmarted and outmanoeuvred,” Sherlock smiled smugly. “So let’s continue.”
The man looked furious, and was dangerous in that mood, as was evidenced by the fact Bogrov took one look and crept as far from Tsitov as he could while still remaining in his chair. Sherlock noticed this, ignored Tsitov’s slowly building rage, and forged ahead.
“I have only three questions for you.” Sherlock extended a hand to Lestrade, who gave him a lined, yellow notepad. Sherlock drew a Sharpie marker out of his pocket, took the cap off with his teeth, and attached it to the back of the pen.
He wrote a large 1 on the first page and showed it to them. Sherlock wrote in both Cyrillic and English. He flipped the page. “Okay.” He wrote:
Rurik hates Svetlana.
He showed the two men. Neither of them said anything, in fact, Tsitov refused to look at the page before him. However, Bogrov glanced at it. Sherlock watched a small knot form between the man’s brows. Holmes returned the notepad to his side of the table. Next he wrote.
I would kill my daughter.
This didn’t register with Bogrov at all. He had no children. He was familiar with none. It didn’t bother him. Tsitov still refused to look. John could see his resolve weakening. There was no way Sherlock couldn’t see the same. Now Sherlock had written.
Rurik hates his wife.
Both men glanced at the writing this time. To Sherlock’s eyes, both men demonstrated strong agreement for this statement.
“Good,” Sherlock turned the page and wrote 2.
The White Lion is missing.
Both men read it. Both shut down. But Sherlock had seen shock and dismay. They hadn’t found it. This put a grin on Sherlock’s face, which did nothing to improve Tsitov’s attitude. In fact, he snarled at Sherlock. “Do you think this is funny? Do you believe we are children in school?”
“You don’t like to be taken lightly, do you Tsitov?” Sherlock said conversationally. He turned the page and wrote 3.
Tsitov smacked the table and snapped. “Enough games.”
“There are never enough games.” Sherlock said and wrote. The first letter of Zyza’s hotel is an A.
Suddenly, Tsitov moved. Bogrov, next to him, nearly threw himself out on the floor getting clear. Tsitov made a lunge for Sherlock. John was closest. His memory was simply that he stood up, caught the back of Tsitov’s head, and threw his weight down. The man’s face smashed into the table with a crunch and spurt of blood. He howled with pain. John put his other hand on the back of the man’s head and held him down until police stepped forward.
“Bollocks!” Lestrade surged to catch John and pull him back. Police caught rough holds on Tsitov and dragged him from the table, half on his knees. His nose was flattened to his face and streaming blood. He sputtered Russian curses and sprayed the table and floor.
John’s lip curled in disgust. He bared his teeth at Tsitov, and caused Lestrade to tighten his grip.
“Secret… weapon,” Sherlock said lowly.
Police dragged the Rook from the room.
The remaining two officers got Bogrov to his feet. The man was shaking. They put him back in his chair and he refused to be near Tsitov’s blood.
“I’ll get you tees,” Lestrade wiped a hand over his face and eyed the blood on the table with a hard exhalation. “They’ll say ‘We’re hard on Russian crime’.”
“Oh don’t do that,” Sherlock beamed cheekily. “That sounds really terrible.” It was all John could do not to laugh. The juvenile nit.
Sherlock’s chair had been pushed right back to the wall. When Tsitov had attacked, John had lost track of Holmes, but he did remember the screech of chairs across tile. As it turned out, Sherlock had expected an explosion. He’d simply straightened his legs and shot himself out of harm’s way. And John… had overreacted. He rubbed his short blond hair and sighed.
“Sorry about that, Lestrade.” John blew out a puff of air that lifted his shoulders and dropped them down again.
“Yeah. Got it.” Lestrade started away and then turned back again. “What the hell did they teach you in Afghanistan?”
But it was Sherlock who said, “They taught him how to pay attention.” He crossed his long legs and held up the notepad; the yellow page was now dotted with blood.
Rurik is in the Athenaeum, isn’t he, Vadim?
Vadim Bogrov’s jaw dropped.
Then Sherlock closed the notepad and tossed it in Tsitov’s blood. It made a squelch that was all too familiar to John. Sherlock got to his feet and checked his watch. “We’re done here.” He glanced across at John.
“Thank God for small favours.”
Sherlock had the cab wait.
John didn’t mind: the cab was warm; Sherlock was drawing a steady salary from the Yard; he was tired and sore: it was all good in terms of creature comforts, but it was baffling in terms of what they were set to do.
After seven minutes, a second cab pulled up behind them. The passenger got out and walked over to tap the passenger window. Sherlock touched the button to bring it down. The man outside in thick fog was dressed in an extremely fine black duster and a scarf that would have been the envy of any Sherlock owned. His face was craggy and extreme, apart from his dark brown eyes, which looked like simmering hot chocolate in his tan face. He reached a gloved hand into the car and handed something to Sherlock. With a nod, he turned up his collar against the fog, and vanished back to his cab.
Sherlock tucked the object in his pocket and put up the window. “All right. We can proceed.”
John’s eyes narrowed. “Who was that?”
“From De Beers,” Sherlock said quietly. “I proved he hadn’t nicked a tremendous necklace called ‘Swan Lake’ when it went missing last year. He says I saved his life. Chilling, the diamond industry.”
John was so grateful to arrive at Sarah’s apartment he could have fallen down and slept right beside the door. At least they hadn’t had to sneak by the Metro police stationed outside, this time. This incredible vision answered their knock – her hair curled; her lips ruddy; her lashes longer and thicker than ever John had seen them. He backed up a step and sucked in a breath. “Sarah.”
She smiled and had the good grace to turn red in the face before Sherlock pushed the door open and invited himself inside. “Sarah-Sarah-Sarah! There’s a diamond.”
She shut the door behind John. He passed very close to her as she did so, and smiled as their faces passed easily within a couple of inches. His brows bounced up in appreciation. “There’s a diamond. Has a name.”
“What?” she turned around as she was pulling on Katrya’s coat. “There’s a diamond involved? Is that what he’s really after? Not Katrya or Svetlana at all?”
“Oh, his family too, certainly, but – in essence – his wife stole his manhood and ran away with it. She stole his power and authority. You’d be stunned what a man would do for a diamond,” Sherlock opened his arms. “A bright, beautiful colourless – cold and clear, and huge.” He whipped what looked like a small television remote with a pen tip out of his pocket and smiled. “Let’s have a look, shall we?”
He strode up to Sarah and dropped to his knees in front of her. Sarah made to take a step back, but Sherlock caught her by Katrya’s coat and held her fast.
“John?” she chirruped tightly.
But he had no guidance for her. “Sherlock, what are you doing?”
He caught up the coat’s belt. “When I looked up this coat online, back at the yard, it didn’t have a belt like this. She had it modified.” He brought the pen-like box up. “This is a diamond thermal tester. Diamonds have very high thermal conductivity. So does moissanite, but I thought of that when I asked for a tester.” He touched the pen-like probe to the…
John blinked. The buckle of the belt had a large piece of glass in it. It was that glass he’d seen glint so brightly earlier, in the clinic. John’s mouth fell open.
“Katrya had this belt buckle created. The ornate patterns on the front would break up the lines of whatever she put in the setting. The latch on the back would allow her to put the diamond inside and screw it in securely. But she’s also sealed the back with beeswax from a candle, as you can see here,” he turned the belt over. “Now, the wax gives the stone a golden look from the front. It matches the coat well that way. How clever. In final effect, it doesn’t look like what it is. It looks like several shards of gold crystal placed in the belt. Of course, the thermal tester doesn’t lie.”
Sherlock got to his feet and showed them the read-out. “That gold stone is the White Lion, a full 49.5 carats, it’s said.”
John picked up the belt and stared at it. The diamond was a large cushion of dark gold. It was easily as big as a pigeon’s egg. He looked up at Sarah. Her eyes were wide. She kept her hands up and away from it.
“If we stopped here,” Sherlock’s voice dropped. His eyes met John’s and Sarah’s, one-by-one. “If we privately sold this to De Beers, each one of us would be set for life. The price for this stone would be unimaginable.”
No one spoke. Sarah slowly lifted her head from the belt in Sherlock’s direction. She stared at him as if he was some beautiful devil. Only a demon could appear out of the night with so innocent an enticement to do such a wicked thing.
Sherlock took something else from his pocket. “No one would ever guess this buckle is the White Lion. So we’ll leave it at that.” He held out another cushion, this one bright and clear. It glittered like a star in the recessed lighting of Sarah’s front hall. “This is moissanite. It’s not as hard as diamond… it is as conductive. This was made by a man who has obsessed on the White Lion for years. It was drawn from historical descriptions. It’s one of several dozen copies – not a bad match, it appears.”
“Most people aren’t that attentive.” John said softly. He still held the White Lion in his hand. It was heavy and cold. It was beautiful. If he kept it, God, then his destiny would be-
Sherlock’s hand laid out flat over the gemstone in John’s palm. John could feel the heat of Sherlock’s hand hovering over his, his palm on the diamond. Holmes’ tone was suddenly intimate, as if they were alone in the city. “John... if you really want it…. I’ll give it to you…. This, for me, is no more than 20 minutes’ work. By my method I will seal the fake back with the same wax. Vahtin has money enough stashed away. This diamond can go into some fusty museum, back into the hands of a mass murderer, or it can change your life. You and Sarah will never want for anything again, as long as you live, no matter your troubles, no matter your needs.” There was a very long pause, “Tell me what to do.”
John shut his eyes. Good. God. A version of his life – someone else’s life – flickered before him, and it was full of yachts, travel, and smiles. In the world, there was nothing he couldn’t afford. When it came to his friends, there was nothing he couldn’t and wouldn’t give. Just provided he first became, well, a thief. He felt his hand dropping out from under Sherlock’s, and felt Sherlock’s close. Then it was Sherlock Holmes who held the White Lion, and John could open his eyes again.
Sherlock cocked his head at John. Then he turned to Sarah. He took her hand, placed the moissanite into her palm, and wrapped her hand around it. “Don’t lose that.”
“No,” she said breathily, and then she reached out and touched Sherlock’s cheek. “What happened to you?”
John looked up. Bruising had begun on Sherlock’s high cheekbone, the bluish pattern almost striped, having been caused by slightly opened fingers. Sherlock pulled away from her touch. “This is it, John. We’re ready now. The last step is first-hand confirmation Zyza’s in the Athenaeum… if we can. All that will take is some currency in the right pocket and a photo of the man.” Sherlock held out his phone. On its screen was the sleek, sharp countenance of a handsome blond man with grey eyes and a scarred forehead. “I know someone on the inside. She’s our girl. But we’ll need 50 quid.” He shut his eyes, “And a lot of forbearance.”
“It’s on me,” Sarah swept away, “except for the forbearance.” The White Lion bounced off her thigh. She headed for her purse. Behind her, John watched the gemstone entranced. Then he looked up at Holmes, a man who had offered a priceless diamond to a friend, yet hadn’t tried to take it for himself. Sherlock fiddled with his phone.
“John,” Sherlock’s brows went up in confusion. “I have to draw a line when I’m doing nothing more awe-inspiring than texting on my cell.”
“You know what I mean.”
Sherlock ignored the phone for long enough to say. “It’s not too late.”
“Yes,” John’s lips pulled taut for a moment. “It is.”
So Sherlock went back to what he’d been doing. “Just got a ping back from Edith. She’s at work. Sent her the picture and transferred the money to her PayPal. Let’s see if she can confirm what Vadim Bogrov believes.”
“Not going to get half of a monster diamond,” Sherlock put his phone away. “I think that’s quite enough of a loss for one night.”
John nodded morosely. Right again, Holmes. There was no way, if it ever came down to that – if he ever got that lucky – that John Watson could afford a big, white diamond.
“Mm?” He looked up.
“There are better things in this world than diamonds.”
John watched Sherlock reading his incoming texts – possibly from ‘Edith’, and possibly from Mycroft, given the hour and circumstances – and wondered what Sherlock meant. Part of John, a large part, really, hoped he meant the value of John, as a person, would make up for something like the White Lion, or even that diamonds had driven people to do insane and mortal things in the past, and that this gemstone would likely be a more sure source of grief and destruction than of any good. It had already burnt holes in the tapestry of London, after all. But it was just as likely that Holmes meant rich, red rubies of a goodly size. They were a rarer thing than a diamond. Thus they were a better thing.
John looked at the floor of the flat and shut his eyes. His thoughts were railing at him. He simply shut it all down, thread by thread, until his mind went quiet. He thought of nothing, particularly, and in doing so, he found pity for Sherlock.
He could never do this.
Edith turned out to be a bottle-blonde in her mid-twenties with more death-defying curves than a Swiss mountain pass, tiny ankles, and a bee-like waist. She chewed her gum loudly and grinned like a death’s head when she saw Sherlock. She gave him a very obvious once over, “Hell-o luv.”
Whoa. John’s eyelids fluttered. Forbearance. Got it.
Edith handed him over a folded stack of papers and crossed her arms under her ponderous cleavage. Then she stared up at Sherlock’s face with undisguised interest in the shape of his lips.
“Bit of a strange look for you. Almost didn’t recognize you without the big curls and in this gear. You make a girl’s knees rubbery, luv. It’s quite nice. You look all clean and pretty with that cut. And naked. Ah – a nice picture. You’ll let me know if you find yourself in need of some maintenance, is the agreement?” She gave her hip a clap.
“No, thanks,” Sherlock’s tone was desiccated. He flipped stapled pages.
“It’s always no with him,” Edith rolled her eyes and scanned John in an overly friendly manner. She stopped dead upon seeing Sarah. “Oh… and I can see why. This your bird, Sherlock? She’s top shelf, this one. Look at her.”
Sarah blinked at the woman and her nerves kicked in, “Oh, hello. I’m-”
“Don’t say your name,” Sherlock told her. “Stop talking.”
“Ooh,” Edith’s brows waggled on her forehead as she grinned at Sarah, “That’s what’s so great about him, isn’t it? No gadabout, Sherlock, and very in charge. I can just imagine him in bed.”
“No,” Sherlock’s patience wore to a thread this time. “You cannot. John. Look at this.”
Which was when John realized he’d done nothing more, since he’d arrived, than stare at Edith. She was… naughty, with a burlesque body and loud hair. However, when he looked into them, her dark eyes were bright with fun. She winked at him. He quickly shifted his attention to the papers in Sherlock’s hands. “The camera angles are bad,” John muttered. “It’s like he’s aware of their placement, and how far they can see.”
“Which, if he is, makes him smarter than I’d been led to believe,” Sherlock plucked his bottom lip, much to the appreciation of Edith. She stopped clacking her gum to smile.
Sherlock took his cell out of his pocket and handed the papers to John. “I think it’s him. The men around him argue it’s him. But there’s always the danger of what happened up on the roof of the other hotel.”
“What do you mean?”
Sherlock sighed, “He keeps men of the same colouration, and with similar features around him, obviously. When that thug first came out the door, I almost mistook him for Zyza. Some of them have even been marked with the scar on Zyza’s forehead, right above his brow. However, there is a small patch of white on the back of his head. It’s hard to spot in the hair. I haven’t seen it duplicated yet. He’s had it since birth.”
Edith stepped up, reached a hand out around the side of Sherlock’s neck, and slid her fingers into his hair. “Right about here,” she twiddled her fingers gently. Her long French Tips surfaced like bubbles above dark water. “I seen it, big boy. He’s a good looking man, but a real cockbiter, that one.”
“Edith.” Sherlock said stiffly. “Hands.”
“Sorry,” she quailed, quite uncharacteristically, thought John, from their short association. She took her hand away and said, “Got a piccie for me, Sherlock? I seen him. I swear.”
Sherlock and Edith stood shoulder to shoulder in what had to be the weirdest tableau John had seen in weeks, scrutinizing pictures on his cell phone. John glanced, found Sarah some distance away, and drew back to join her.
Something about her felt cold.
“She looks like a stripper,” Sarah said over her crossed arms.
“That she does.” John blew out a puff of air. She certainly had the body and looks for it.
“You keep staring at her.”
Oh hell. Well, look at her. She can’t be real, and how did she ever meet Sherlock? But he couldn’t very well say that. “Well, she’s got a big personality. Rather hard to ignore.” John said tightly.
“That’s not the only thing about her that’s rather oversized,” Sarah’s voice was stiff. After a moment of uncomfortable silence she said, “Sherlock doesn’t look at her.”
John shut his eyes. “Sarah, Sherlock wouldn’t look at you either. He’s not like most men.”
Without hesitation she said, “Yes he would.”
“Sarah, dear one-”
She cut this off, brutally. “I know he would because he does.”
John stopped everything else he felt, or imagined, that he was doing, in favour of slowly making a turn in her direction. His voice went quiet. “What do you mean?”
“He does,” she blinked at him.
“You’re kidding me.” Which she should have read as ‘Please say you’re kidding me’. John crossed his arms on his ribs.
“Not at all,” she shook her head and her glorious spirals of curls bobbed. Her brows drew down as she looked at John. “He likes my legs. I think he likes legs. He was all about them when Reese was here. She couldn’t come in a room without him frowning at those big, stompy boots of hers. Well, see, they cover her legs up to the knee. He didn’t want that. And, he likes mine.”
“Oh good heavens,” John shut his eyes.
“Men are so inattentive,” she said archly.
“Hey, wait a second,” John straightened. “That can’t be right. Reese would have seen that and adjusted her footwear accordingly. She’s like Sherlock – I mean the CIA trained her to be like him – and that wouldn’t have gone past her.”
“Oh, please, John,” Sarah chuckled low in her throat. “Of course she knew. He’s kind of obvious. But it’s Reese, we’re talking about. If he really wants to see her legs, he knows what to do about it.”
“I’m pretty sure he doesn’t,” the poor, emotionally unavailable, unsophisticated bastard. Reese, in that sense, was over his head. Lately, John had serious doubts that Sherlock had ever had sex. He was so strange, so locked down, far too cautious. Meeting with Lockton Holmes’ casual violence went a long way in explaining Sherlock’s inability to relax and connect. It also explained his bizarre skill at reading even the tiniest nuance in a person’s countenance. Lockton’s expression had changed so little between walloping Sherlock in the face, and cradling his son’s head between his big hands. Sherlock’s reaction had been identical in both cases – caution.
But Sarah had no idea of any of this, and she turned his way. Her eyes brimmed with enjoyment. “I’m pretty sure he does.”
John remembered something. “Reese programmed her number into your phone before she left for Langley again…. Have you been talking to her?”
Sarah smiled broadly. “She’s absolutely amazing, John, and so sweet. I call her once a week.”
Without another word, John reached around and folded Sarah in his arms. No wonder she wanted to be part of the Zyza bust. Her life was slowly being sucked into that of the exceptional people of Think Tank and, well, into Sherlock’s sphere, just as his was. He could imagine Reese sitting in Langley, electrified by the story that Sarah had to tell.
“I’d kiss your cheek,” he muttered, “but I’m afraid to mess up your powder.” He drank up the scents of sleek Katrya Vahtin – her perfume; her shampoo; no stone unturned – and it did weird things to him. She was Sarah, but not Sarah, like some kind of spy movie.
So Sarah kissed his cheek. “Don’t worry,” she murmured. “It’s lip stain and a sealed gloss… it won’t come off on you. Anywhere.”
Good. God. Here they were, down in the Service Entryway of the Athenaeum, chasing the Russian mob, toting a fake diamond, obfuscating the real one in plain sight, standing under pitiful lighting, in mixed company, and John had an overwhelming sensation this was to be their first kiss.
They both moved at once and the incredible warm sweetness of her lip gloss exploded across John’s mouth like pop-rocks. God. He felt her yield all the way to his curling toes.
When they broke apart, John felt breathless, and her eyes were huge. They were motionless like that for several seconds, before Sarah looked down and smiled. She put a hand over her tasty lips.
John glanced around him and exhaled, his head caught in the weightlessness of a spin, and his heart afloat above him like a balloon on a string. Then the balloon popped. “Sherlock’s gone.”
Sarah gasped. “Oh my God.” They both clattered around the corner to find him pacing the hallway with his green eyes closed.
He replied on the sound of them coming, his eyes opening slowly, like a curtain to stage. “He’s here, John. Edith and three other girls have seen him. He invited Edith up to his room, in fact, but she finds him unpleasant and refused to go. He’s here. He’s right here.” Sherlock took an unsteady breath with a soft ‘hah’ at the end. He spread his hands, “I was right. It’s family business. So he has to see to it personally.”
“Did you call Lestrade?”
“Texted him already. He’s getting his people into position.” Sherlock walked up, caught Sarah by the shoulders and inspected her. His voice was low and robust – the throatiness he could get when about to spring a trap and win the day. “You’re ready.”
Her chin rose and the action transformed into a flick of her curls. Katrya did that almost constantly. John marvelled at her. “You should have been an actress.”
“She minored in Theatre Arts,” Sherlock tut-tutted. “Have you ever read her CV, John?”
Had he…? “Did you?”
“Of course,” Sherlock flashed a grin. “It’s online. Just like yours.” He turned and walked away from the pair of them. “Come on,” he said. “The Service halls in this place are a bit of a challenge. Stay close. Let’s go.”
“Where is this going to happen?” Sarah asked anxiously.
“He’s got the rooftop suite.” Sherlock said.
“I can’t go up there. This will be more than him thinking I dyed my hair. He’ll know it’s not his wife the moment he sees me up close.”
“But he won’t see you up close. It’s me he’ll see. You’ll be on camera, Sarah. The cameras here are a decent quality – I’ve just come back from seeing them – so keep your eyes level, do not look at them, and do your utmost to move like Katrya does. Ninth floor, the hotel took some water damage due to problems with a broken pumping station, so that floor has been closed for repairs. That’s where we’re doing this. That’s where Lestrade and his people are taking position. It’s a lucky break for us. I’d thought we’d have to go to underground parking.” He spread his fingers in air in front of him. “Also, once we leave this hall, you’ll be on-camera. From here, you have to be Katrya Vahtin, worried about her daughter, here to beg for her life and freedom in exchange for the White Lion. She’d be terrified of him, Sarah. He’s beaten and intimidated her for years. But she’s spirited, a fighter. Do you have all that? Do you think you can do that?”
She exhaled nervously. “I’ll do my best.”
John added, “One more thing. She habitually uses men. I mean, she snares them, emotionally. They’re tools for her, I think. For instance, she kissed Sherlock earlier today-”
Sarah’s eyes flicked up to Sherlock’s irritated stab of expression. He looked away and scoffed. “Her taste in men is wretched.” His chin rose.
His choice of words was disheartening, but John let it go and finished with, “I think it will be believable if you hide behind him, even cling to him, it if comes to that. Safety first, and all.”
“Okay,” she smoothed herself and her expression with a, “and I’m sorry to hear she did such a thing, Sherlock, it was very interfering of her.”
He blinked in genuine surprise and said a simple, “Yes.”
Sarah took a steady breath and squeezed John’s hand.
“Follow my direction,” Sherlock laid one hand on John’s arm, and the other on Sarah’s. His face was quite serious. “The cameras on the floor we’re headed to are currently looping old feed. Lestrade arranged for that so that his police could get into position. But remember the majority of the hotel is under surveillance.”
“Okay, let’s do this,” Sarah gave a nod.
Sherlock released them both and huffed one excited breath. He turned and struck out for the doors that would take them through the service hallways and into the main body of the hotel.
They went through narrow corridors that kept them out of sight of the main body of the hotel, and then took the stairs. It was only ten floors, and the adrenaline inside them at this early hour of the morning had them flying along. Sherlock stopped a floor below the one he and John would meet Zyza on and set his hand on the door latch.
“Here?” She asked and saw Holmes nod. “What if someone on my floor exits their room?”
“The police have been through,” Sherlock told Sarah and glanced back to see her throw her hair out of her face and purse her lips. Katrya constantly performed the same actions. He was pleased to see her imitating them. She wasn’t bad.
Sherlock tapped on his phone to update, and then laid his hand on a doorknob. “John and I will walk you to your section. I’ll mark the dimensions of it for you. Do not leave your section, Sarah. If you do, they’ll figure this out pretty quickly. Pay attention to your cell phone.”
Then Sherlock opened the door and brought her into the hotel proper. It was very late, now, and quiet. He walked her along to an area that, even to her eyes, hadn’t many distinguishing elements. Her corner of this plot was a small recessed hall by the fire stairs. “Mark,” Sherlock said quietly as he walked into the hall. “Don’t leave this section of hallway.”
“Am… am I going to be alone here?”
“Yes, you’re alone.” Sherlock assured her.
“What if someone comes up from the lobby?” She stepped forward and laid her hands on Sherlock’s chest and he very nearly flinched. She was a little too good at this, if you asked John.
“Police are in the stairwell above us. If anyone comes up these stairs, they’ll take care of it. The real risk is the elevator. I’ve sent Edith with a piece of code that will keep it from stopping on this floor.”
“Edith?” John questioned.
“Is a former hacker. Well, I say former. MI6 had a big roundup and I protected her from government charges back when she was 19.”
“Innocent then?” John was stunned by this news.
“Oh heavens no.” Sherlock shook his head, “just young and stupid. Not unlike I once was, John. However, if anyone tries coming up the stairs from the seventh floor, we’re down to the plain-clothes officers on the ninth floor landing to stop them. Assuming they do this properly, it won’t be a problem. However, if that goes badly, Sarah, you need to leave via the fire door and go up to the police at once.”
Sarah reached up and touched the bruises on his face. Her fingers were gentle, but the touch stung enough that Sherlock’s eye watered in reaction. She watched this with fascination and drew her fingertips across his bottom lid. A tear from those eyes was probably rarer than diamonds. “Be careful, Sherlock. Take care of John. Let John take care of you.”
“Nothing I can do to stop him.” Sherlock took her hands in his, gave them a squeeze and set them firmly away from him. “Sarah, we’ll loop feed here in a minute. For the first three or four minutes, just lean in the corner and try to look vulnerable and afraid, but hold the position.”
Sherlock’s words encouraged her. Saying that she had to try to look vulnerable and afraid made her feel stronger. Sarah chose her position and sank into it. With her head tipped against the wall, her face was obscured by her hair and the scarf. She looked despondent.
“See that? It’s good.” Sherlock glanced at John. “Let’s go.”
They turned and headed out of the hall. Sherlock checked his phone. “Complex. A lot of camera jockeying. This camera has switched again now. It looks, to Zyza, and his men, that we’re moving around on the floor above this one. We’ll go to loop in a moment. Stop and look at me.”
“Okay, what are we doing?”
“Well,” Sherlock said, “I’m looking at you and getting a picture of how you look to the camera behind me.” He checked his phone and held position. “Okay, let’s go.”
Then he swung around and raced up the staircase. They hurried across the floor. Sherlock grabbed John and pulled him close to the equivalent camera on the next floor, constantly checking his phone and John. He positioned John’s head. He even reached up and swept his fingers across John’s hair to smoothen it. Sherlock swung into place before him and checked his phone.
“Is the camera about to pick up in this hallway again?”
“Very good, John.” He looked up at the man. “It just did.”
“Oh,” John’s brows went up. “Okay. Well, here we are.” He opened his arms and tucked his hands back in his pockets, unhappy about being watched.
“I’ve never done anything like this.”
Sherlock smiled down highhandedly, “Virgin.”
John’s brows plunged. “Sherlock.”
“Okay-okay – It won’t be long. It’s important you don’t get tight, is all, John. Muscles will get inflexible, muscles you need to flex.” Sherlock said quietly. The direction he took led them away from Sarah’s position on the floor below. “I was like you the first time I did something like this.”
“I doubt that,” John grumbled.
“Oh, I was.” Sherlock reassured him.
“It’s not true, Sherlock. You were probably alone, and you were probably just a kid.”
“I was never just a kid.” Sherlock coasted through the halls. The accurate camera feed was going to Lestrade’s IT people, holed up in one of the rooms nearby. They would know if Zyza’s men came out onto the floor from any other direction than the main elevators. This eventuality had crossed his mind. It would change his actions drastically.
They began to pass the rooms in which Holmes knew there were police. Sherlock didn’t glance at them, and John didn’t know to.
“Now what?” John released his nervous energy in a sigh and a flex of his hands.
It was one thing to tell a person to relax, and another for them to learn to do so, on demand.
“Now it’s violin. Now, I play by ear. It’s all been for this… to get me this close,” Sherlock told him. His cell phone rang and Sherlock smiled as he picked it up. “Room service.”
John rolled his eyes.
“Yes, hello, Rurik Zyza, how are you finding London?” Sherlock asked and paused. “No, I’d rather neutral territory. But I do have something that you want. For a fair price, I think. We should talk about it.” He hung up the phone and headed spryly toward the elevators, enthusiastic. “Please shoot them if they try to kill us, John.”
It was a conversation from another planet, surely. “Uh, okay.”
The elevators opened as Sherlock reached them, both of them. The elevators could come down and open on this floor, John realized, they just couldn’t come up and do that. Clever. But cleverness wouldn’t be enough.
Four men exited from each steel lift, and that flood of armed hoodlums into the foyer revealed the crime-lord himself, Zyza, leaned on the back wall of the elevator on the right. He was the self-same as from the photos, taller, even, than Sherlock, and thick in the shoulders and chest. His grey suit was impeccable, the jacket longer than average, as it artfully reached his mid-thigh. Zyza, like Sherlock, was immaculately tailored. His hair was neatly short and light blond. He didn’t move to take off his gloves as he pocketed his cell.
“Sherlock Holmes. I don’t believe it. I thought you were a myth.” Zyza smirked.
Sherlock smiled fleetingly. “No.” He drew out the ‘n’.
“Ah, then hello,” Zyza stepped out and looked from Holmes to John and back again. He glanced around the hallway. “So… you come with one man? And such a little man? You are crazy….”
“It is rumoured,” Sherlock said agreeably. “You?”
He replied, “I could kill you now.”
“I’d take that as a Yes.” John muttered to Sherlock. And he thought Zyza shouldn’t push his luck. With that height and blond hair, John could’ve tagged him right in the centre of his forehead before the elevator had fully opened. The ponce.
Sherlock smiled and returned his attention to Rurik Zyza. The man kept looking around as if expecting company.
“Surely you do not come alone?” Zyza spread his arms.
“Frequently. I don’t enjoy company.” Sherlock told him.
“Which leaves me asking… are you insane, or do you have courage, Sherlock Holmes? All my sources say you are not to be underestimated. But if I am to believe them, then you walk through walls.” He pointed at the walls behind them.
“I just find the hidden doors.” Sherlock scrutinized the guards as if only half-attending to Zyza himself. He was frantically monopolizing this time to read the men around Zyza.
“Ah. I heard word of what you did to one of Russia’s finest ‘fixers’-”
“Assassins,” Sherlock inserted.
“-and wondered if it could be true. You look so… weak.”
“And, while we’re at it, I heard you were a clever man, though you look so… blond.”
Zyza chuckled. His men looked around in sudden confusion, as if this was the last thing they had expected. It gave John pause. In that moment, they were unready. He might have drawn the Browning and started mowing them down – 13 rounds and 9 criminals. But John wasn’t that man.
Sherlock took off his gloves. “John helped. John always helps. Don’t you John?”
“Sure.” He was fixed on the men around Zyza, and Zyza himself. He didn’t stare at anyone, or thing, but automatically did as he always had in crowds in the war zone. His eyes looked for motion. Choppy, quick, motion.
“You’re an interesting man,” Zyza stepped close enough to look down on Sherlock. “I’d heard about you, even before I reached London. Not to come here. Not to cross you. In the criminal underclass, among the rabble, there is fear of you. Unfortunately for you, I am not rabble. I am not afraid of you, though now that I meet you, I do admit to finding you stimulating, Mr. Holmes.” and John realized he wanted a quid for every soul who said that; two if they were criminals.
“It’s just Sherlock.”
Zyza grinned, “Is it? Really? You would correct me?”
“Is now a bad time to equivocate?” Sherlock asked offhandedly.
For a long moment Zyza gazed down on Sherlock like a Russian idol. The next thing he did would cause John nightmares in the coming years. Rurik Zyza’s ghostly, white hand settled on Sherlock’s skin. Fingers curled around his jaw and gently lifted his head. Zyza steered Sherlock’s face a bit to one side or the other as if admiring art.
“Someone struck you – I see the print of it – with an open handed slap. I see a downward angle; someone bigger than you. And the bruising is not right for a woman. Not Katrya, fond as she is of the dramatic.” Zyza paused. “But she did make an advance on you. Did she not?” His fingers tightened.
John wasn’t able to move, or look away.
To escape, Sherlock simply shut his eyes. His brows bounced up and sank back again. “I’m not responsible for your wife’s dissoluteness.”
“No you are not,” Zyza’s grip eased off. He lifted his opposite hand and touched the column of Sherlock’s extended throat. Then he laughed and his fingers wrapped around. “Do you know any fear? I could easily slice through this white neck of yours, right now.”
It turned out, John knew fear. John could feel sweat trickle on his spine. He’d stopped breathing; he’d gone numb. His hand and arm, like a whip, hung disconnected. At the right provocation they would snap the Browning out in Zyza’s face.
Above John, green eyes opened. “I rather hope you don’t. It’s why I’m here. I’d like to live through this. John as well, of course.” His voice was normal, easy. Zyza had hold of his throat, but he wasn’t squeezing, just enjoying the jump of Sherlock’s pulse.
Still, John was immensely relieved when he saw Zyza release Sherlock and take a step back, “Ah, so you’re a couple.”
“I don’t couple,” Sherlock said flatly.
“You are bloodless,” Zyza told him. “But, if you want to live, tell me… have you seen Sveta?”
“I’ve spoken to Svetlana.” Sherlock pressed the collar of his coat with sliding fingers. He lacked a shirt collar to fuss with in the V-neck he wore.
The man’s expression hardened. There was a long pause. “How is she?”
“She’d like to go home.” Sherlock told him. “You meant to flush your wife with the fires, not kill your daughter, or your arsonist would have been much more directed. Did you think of the asthma?”
“Not at first,” the man sounded calm as he admitted it. “But I eventually saw the advantage of it. I realized my wife must take Sveta to a hospital. Did she?”
He’d just admitted guilt. John saw Sherlock rock back on his heels and up to the balls of his feet again, just a little, and it hit him like a sledge: Sherlock was having fun. Oh my God. John fought to keep his grip. The simple thing had so badly unseated him.
“She did,” Sherlock told him. “However, she didn’t have the girl seen. Svetlana was suffering as I found her. It was very painful. Your wife’s a clever one. She knew her risk would be too great if she had created some kind of paper trail. You have very good computer personnel. She was sure to be detected, and so she didn’t take the girl for oxygen.”
Smiling through clenched teeth, the man said something in Russian. Whatever it was, Sherlock looked down and blinked as he heard it. Then his eyes busied themselves skimming Zyza’s men.
“Indeed,” Sherlock said flatly, and then offered. “I’m here to propose I give you your wife. After she’s dealt with and I’m free to go, I’ll text the location of your daughter, and we’ll go our separate ways. Agreeable?”
“Eminently,” Zyza said. “Only the woman is a succubus, and I don’t believe any man would hand her over.”
The first guns came out. But they were seconds behind John’s draw-down on Zyza. It had happened so fast that John was a bit staggered. He had the gun less than a yard from the man’s sternum. There was no vest under that crisp designer shirt.
Zyza blinked and said something harsh in Russian. His men oriented their guns to the floor. John did the same, but they’d all had a little lesson in who was fastest to the draw here. Zyza stared at John, his expression flat.
“That was unpleasant.” Sherlock said gracefully.
“I had heard you were a sociopath.” Zyza sounded as though he was voicing his thoughts aloud, and still could scarcely believe them…. “Is true.”
Holmes rolled his shoulders. “Word does get around.”
“Scotland Yard consults a sociopath. A sociopath would turn over my wife, knowing I’ll kill her,” and Zyza added. “Slowly.” His eyes jumped around Sherlock’s face. He was trying to read, but there was no smoothness, no finesse there. No final answers.
“I don’t care the speed of it, as long as it’s not me.” Sherlock spread his hands. “Here’s my point. I am not a nice person. I’ve answered the question of the fires to my own satisfaction. Beyond that, I want to walk away from this. For example, I want your people to stop trying to find me. You see, I like my life, and all the little things in it, my assistant, my laptop, using my own razor when I get up in the morning – divine. I want to go and do those things and never think about you again.”
“Is that why you’ve refused to work with police on the fires?” Zyza asked. “I know you walked out on one of the Detective Inspectors who tried to compel you.”
Had the Yard sprung a leak…? John tried not to react to this. It could cost their lives.
“Rurik Zyza is more than one piddling assassin. I already have Chinese mafia watching me. I don’t need the White Lion to assist… well, unless you’d like to destroy one another while I watch.” Sherlock might have smiled, but John saw that precision gaze glide Zyza’s features. That was how it was done. What he saw there, John missed, but it made Sherlock’s eyes narrow.
Sherlock extended his phone and said. “Your wife awaits.”
“I know,” Zyza glanced over the camera Sherlock displayed on the phone. “We have been watching her. She took something of mine, you see. She’ll pay for being such a greedy bitch.”
Sherlock turned and blew the curls on his forehead. He almost rolled his eyes. “Don’t we all?” He took a couple of steps and his phone pinged. Sherlock raised it and read the text. His eyes went to the floor and into that vague focus John associated with thought. He was working something out. If he was working something out, then something had gone wrong.
“She’s this way.” Sherlock tucked the cell back in his pockets.
“We know where she is.”
“Because you’ve sent a man to get her already,” Sherlock walked the next few backwards, and then stopped to face the tall blond. His head tipped. “One of your most trusted men.”
John felt his chest begin to rise and fall choppily. The urge to swing around and open fire was almost paralysing. And he was torn in two – stay with Sherlock; run to Sarah.
Zyza nodded. “Two, in fact. She’s a hellcat when roused.” Then he checked his watch.
It was Sherlock’s reaction to this statement that really startled John. Sherlock bent with a growl of, “Damn. You see, there’s always some loose end, John. Some thread. Always.” He clawed his hands in air beside his temples and made a frustrated growl, skyward, at the gods of happenstance.
“What does this mean?” Zyza opened his hands beside him.
“Means I have to go. Something I have to take care of. Nice chatting.”
John remembered seeing guns come up in stately half-time and an explosion of blood from the knee of the man whose sight came close to Sherlock. He was still shooting holes in the neighbourhood when he sailed around the corner on the end of the hand Sherlock bundled in his coat.
Somewhere in there, John had been aware of return fire passing close, so close that he’d lost a button.
“Uses men – well isn’t that turnabout fair-play? That tricky minx!” Sherlock took a corner at full speed and had to push against the far wall to right his course.
“What?” John was already on his second clip.
“Letter-letter-letter! Think!” Sherlock hissed between his teeth. The glass vase beside him shattered into a million missiles and Holmes pulled the coat up to protect himself. John felt blood start on his cheek from the shrapnel. The singe on his neck also gave a sudden throb. He reached up and pulled out a piece of glass the size of a quarter. And it had friends.
He shot the man who peeked around the corner. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the knee this time. He’d put a bullet in the only thing he could easily see, and that had been the man’s head. The thug fell heavily behind them in the hall. John kept running. His blood crashing, heading for Sarah. Where were the police?
Or were they the sounds he was dimly aware of? Shouts. A gun battle. God.
The fire door was open. The police had abandoned it. Sherlock took hold of the rail of the top landing, flung his long body into space, and somehow landed agilely on the stairs below. John raced down behind him, but, by then, Holmes was through the door.
John came into the hall with his gun out.
“Is this some kind of a joke?”
“No,” Sherlock said calmly, levelly. “This is no joke.”
John stopped. He had his gun on one of two huge Russian men. Both of them had their firearms extended toward Sherlock, and the small, huddled figure he sheltered in a corner.
“Sarah.” John exhaled.
She was white-faced, very possibly too terrified to cry.
Every iota of Sherlock’s attention was on the men in front of him. John knew he could only drop one of them. “One of you is very bright.” Sherlock said calmly. “One of you understood that if she wasn’t where she should be on 9, then she might be where she shouldn’t be, on 8. One of you noticed that the halls were regular enough for that to work. But you shouldn’t have been able to get down here.”
“That was a hard thing,” growled the man nearest John, his Ukrainian accent thick. “It was until the sound of shooting started. Then police we didn’t even know where there started to stream out through the fire door upstairs. And we wondered Why are they guarding a stairwell?”
Along with being murderous, now John was also flummoxed, “How did you hide from them?”
“They were watching the cameras, John. They’ve only just gotten down here.” Sherlock said. “They didn’t hide from the police. They ran down from the fire door on the roof. I practically landed on one on the way down.”
“Bitch.” The same man spat in response, only the abuse was aimed at Sherlock and not Sarah.
John edged into the hallway. “He’s a clever one, though, isn’t he?” He could see the big man begin to sweat. The Russian’s arm gave the first telltale shiver under the strain of holding the gun one-handed so long. Not a problem for John. But then, he was trained how to hold the Browning correctly. He put the man’s bulk between the majority of him and the second gunman.
Speaking of which, the second gunman drew a few steps forward to try to rectify that. John eased back out a little, to stop the advance.
“You can’t shoot two men with one gun!” the big man laughed uproariously.
“He doesn’t need to,” Sherlock exhaled. “One of you sent an e-mail to Scotland Yard to warn of the fires Vadim Bogrov had orchestrated. One of you either disagreed with wanton destruction, or wanted the police abroad in the city in a hurry to help shield Katrya’s escape, or both. One of you helped her to steal the White Lion.”
Both men froze. Sherlock extended an arm back toward Sarah. Her shaking hand placed the moissanite ‘diamond’ into his palm. He held it up before him. “One of you has earned this.” Sherlock chucked the gemstone down the hall. The man nearest John followed its arc in air with disbelieving eyes, and his gun flagged. Sherlock grabbed his wrists and wrenched upward. He issued a tremendous kick, of the kind that would easily bring down a locked door, to the man’s lower abdomen and groin. The man screamed, but the sound was cut short as his body jerked three times, in the staccato of gunfire. Then the big Russian folded to the floor, shot dead.
Sarah, breathless, tore around Sherlock’s side and ran into John’s extended hand. He still had the gun on the second man.
Sherlock, off to his right, quickly snatched Sarah back to him. He pushed her behind his back.
The other man – the shorter, brunette man – put his hands up, gun and all, and said, “I just want to know they are okay. I want to hear you will take that diamond back to them, even if it is a lie. Gun me down, but not before.”
“Your eyes,” Sherlock cocked his head.
The man blinked rapidly, shocked by this segue.
“Ah… they’re the same burnt-coffee colour as Svetlana’s.”
This made the man’s face grimace with pain. He was remembering those brown eyes. “I am no one. I fix books. Rurik could spare me to come fetch his wife. I was the only one she’s never struck, or thrown something at, after all. As makes sense. She was going to be my wife, before he saw her.”
Sherlock made a soft ‘oh’ sound under his breath. “And Zyza knew this?”
“Yes,” the man was suddenly forced to wipe his cheek. “I swore to her that I would hide the money, I would get the White Lion, and I would get her away from Rurik Zyza. There is no way things could be repaired between us now – Katrya deserves to be free – but are they safe?”
“Yes. Perfectly.” Sherlock stuck his hands in his coat pockets. He walked over to the moissanite diamond, picked it up, and pocketed it. Next he took away the man’s unresisting gun. “When Detective Inspector Lestrade comes down here, tell him there’s a man in Interpol who will want to speak to you at length. When you meet that man, tell him Sherlock sent you.”
The big Russian exhaled, set his hands on his hips and nodded. “It’s over.” He sounded dazed.
“Not quite yet,” Sherlock turned and caught Sarah by the hand. “We need to see a woman about a diamond. By the way, you shouldn’t mention we have this.” Sherlock flashed the fake again. “That is, if you want your family to see it outside of a museum.”
The man smiled wryly. “You have no idea how well I keep secrets.”
And John thought that was true, because to Sherlock Holmes, no one kept secrets well.
John woke at 5PM the following day.
When he called Sarah, he learned two things:
- She’d taken a sick day.
- A large gift basket of cooking goods had been delivered.
The gift basket had been a mystery to her. There had been no knock, nothing to warn or wake her, she’d simply opened the door to check her mail, and in the small recessed space, the basket had waited. There was no card, no glossy wrap, what there had been was a large, well made, picnic basket and its contents. Only when she began reporting what was inside did John realize where the thing had come from – amongst the types of flour, packages of mint and chocolate, and containers of Irish butter, there had been several glass measuring cups, three sets of steel measuring spoons, an electronic timer, a top-of-the-line thermometer, raw organic sugar, and two jars of pumpkin preserves. This was surely the handiwork of Sherlock Holmes.
John had been intrigued Holmes would make such a gesture, until he realized this was nothing short of Sherlock ordering sweets.
The flat was otherwise empty. Sherlock had left Notepad open on John’s laptop since he’d cracked the password again.
John. Sleep. Will be back by 8:00. I still have things to do. And returning WL.
WL – the White Lion. He was dropping the coat back with Katrya then, off on his own at Sir Ian’s house. Damn. John would have liked to go back there. Sir Ian was such fun and he couldn’t believe he was saying that….
John wasn’t sure the rest was justified – thought the large cushion of diamond would be rather smashing in a museum – but he also felt, of any of the people involved, Vahtin most deserved it, and Sveta, even more than she. And Sherlock will bring it… because there are some things about him that are entirely quixotic. Aloud, John said, “It’s how I know your empathy still works.” He closed the laptop Sherlock had hacked.
So John got to lounge on the couch and watch his TV for a while. It was bliss. But he began to wonder if Sherlock had eaten. From the pristine state of the kitchen, he hadn’t had anything at home. Would he get there and then decide to crash at Sir Ian’s? John couldn’t even find the house again. He’d been asleep on his way there, and didn’t even remember the name of the Celtic goddess who graced the fountain out front. It didn’t occur to him that he had enough clues to search for information about her online. It didn’t pull him as it would have Holmes.
John got up and started making bacon for sandwiches. The burn on the back of his neck was bothering him – stinging where Sarah had removed all the glass and cleaned the area with alcohol and a salve brought by paramedics. She’d done this while John had been triaging at the Athenaeum. First in line had been the downed police officer. Second, one who’d taken a blow to the head. Their chances were excellent. The Russian criminals had come afterward.
He started scooping crisp bacon onto paper towel to drain it of grease. John knew he was a good man, but the criminals weren’t. So they got to wait behind injured police. That was just how it went.
For no particular reason, John turned to look back at the kitchen door. He jolted in surprise. Sherlock was there, arrestive in his dark grey suit, and a deep green shirt. He checked his watch as he shut and locked the door behind him. Sherlock looked like a man who’d had a long day. John glanced at the stove clock. Holmes had walked into the flat again at 8:01. John graciously let the minute go and smiled. “Making sandwiches – I have enough to make five.”
“You need to eat though.”
Sherlock actually leaned back on the kitchen door and shut his eyes. “Tired.”
He stood there while John put two sandwiches together, seasoned the meat with salt and pepper, laid out the veggies, cut the homemade bread into triangles, and, while John rattled in the cupboards to find crisps, devoured half of a sandwich.
“God,” John marvelled and put a cup of decaf tea in front of Holmes. “Go to it. There’s more.”
Eating, when you were Sherlock Holmes, was like an avalanche. He took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and sat at the table in a state of perpetual motion. He ate all five sandwiches, a bag of crisps, two cans of vegetable soup, and a bowl of ice-cream before he was done. John just kept the food coming, thus, what was usually an inferno of hunger that resulted in health violations like peanut butter and peach sandwiches, or sauerkraut with sorbet, was now a controlled burn. In the end, John stood eating tomato soup and a grilled cheese, marvelling. Eventually, he saw Sherlock’s lights begin to burn low.
“Go to bed.” John snickered. “You’re asleep sitting up, like a kid.”
“Not tired,” Sherlock cranked his eyelids open. “Hungry.”
John gave up half his sandwich to the poor beast while Sherlock fixed himself more tea.
They relocated to the front room.
“How are the burns? And the cuts?” Sherlock asked. “Low on bread. You must avoid infection.”
“Sarah’s done excellent work,” John gingerly touched the bandaging. “She’ll have a look at them tomorrow at the clinic.”
John guffawed. “And the nurses want to give you a squeeze.”
“Ugh. Dissuade them.”
“I’ll do what I can.” John said nobly.
Sherlock set down his mug, smacked his lips, and set to crumbling a sleeve of graham crackers over his bowl. “It was good…. Thanks.”
Oddly, John found that reassuring. “You need to take better care of yourself.” Sherlock, of course, curled in his chair and ignored his flatmate. John, however, stared bitterly at the bruise ripening along Sherlock’s cheek.
John’s father had never struck him in his entire life – he stared at the rug before him. What should he do? He couldn’t do nothing. John just… couldn’t. So he leaned over to his flatmate and pulled Sherlock’s rolled sleeve up enough to find the big purpling line on Sherlock’s upper arm. Sherlock Holmes could identify and age bruises on flesh with astonishing accuracy. Right then, John remembered the thwack of Lockton Holmes’ cane across that arm. He dropped the sleeve roughly and sat back in disgust. Holmes had had such practice.
Sherlock ate ice cream wordlessly, but the fun seemed to have drained out of it.
“Does the family believe in corporal punishment?” John asked calmly.
There was a long pause. It went so long that John thought Sherlock wasn’t going to respond. He really hated that. It had taken John a while to realize the only thing Sherlock felt safe talking about was cases. Everything else was hidden, heavily firewalled, and encrypted, or something Sherlock-techy, like that. So he was surprised when Sherlock cleared his throat and told him: “Yes, well, I’m rather unruly, I’m told, and a handful. You might relate.”
Oh, he’d had the urge to throttle Sherlock in the past, but he’d never done something like that.
Sherlock added. “Lockton Holmes never strikes his children out of anger.” It sounded like rote.
John’s eyes widened. “He treats Mycroft like that?”
“No. Not for decades,” Sherlock spooned graham in his ice-cream and studiously avoided looking at John. “But I never learn.”
Again, it sounded like something he’d heard a hundred times. John stared at his tea. His thoughts turned to ashes, powerless to explain something he lacked language to relate. Striking your adult son was not discipline. It was controlling. In that regard, he saw little difference between what Lockton had done to Sherlock, and what Zyza had done to his wife.
So, instead, he sipped his tea and acquiesced, “He never does that in front of me again, okay?”
Sherlock remained deeply involved in his bowl of Neapolitan. “All right.”
John decided that was far enough to push Sherlock for one night. He was getting close to his limit and would soon shut down, a state that could persist for days. John hated that more than anything. It reminded him of his parents’ snits, and made him feel cold inside. So he asked the one thing about the case that had tormented him all day. “Why did you run?”
“In the hotel, you said there was always something, always a loose thread. Why did you take off like that? I mean… how did you know to take off like that?” this question had beleaguered his attention, and Sarah’s, for that matter, for hours. Trying to sort it out, John had written up a case blog he couldn’t post: ‘The Burning Question’. He still couldn’t see why Sherlock had abandoned the plan with Zyza when he had. He almost willed the question at his flatmate: How did you know you had to abort?
Sherlock chuckled and his green eyes lit. “Really?”
John pulled a face.
“But I told you…!” Sherlock laughed and spooned in some ice cream. Holmes regularly chewed ice cream. John could scarcely stand to look.
“No. You said, letter.” John opened his hand. He’d explained this part to Sarah. “Letter-letter-letter. Now, come on, Sherlock… this is eating me up, and I can’t post the blog.”
“Oh dear me… how upsetting. Remember Lestrade? We’ve had a letter… an e-mail’?” Sherlock pushed aside his empty bowl and licked his lips. He tucked his chilled hands under his wings and shrugged. “So who sent the letter?”
“Katrya.” John said.
“No. I realized she hadn’t enough forewarning and would have been too terrified of discovery to do that.” Sherlock said. “And we both learned from Lockton and Interpol that she’d been stealing sums without being discovered. How long do you think it takes to steal 10 million dollars from your violently sociopathic husband?”
“She… didn’t do it herself? You knew this?”
“Not hard.” Sherlock leaned back in his seat. His green eyes were half-lidded with exhaustion. “I think she’s had something like an eighth grade education? She needed help. Also, it’s doubtful that Zyza would’ve allowed her near the White Lion on her own. So there was an insider. Before tracking her here, Zyza would have had people accused and executed. As luck would have it, he missed the actual traitor, which the letter to Scotland Yard about the fires – something Zyza had no knowledge of – proved. I knew to run because there was no way such a traitor would allow another man to collect Katrya if she was in the same place as him. With several police, and a number-phile who, essentially, was not evil, Sarah was still well protected. But the extra man was an outlier.”
“Still several police around….”
“You’ll recall I had had my doubts about them,” Sherlock sighed. “Listen: two men suggests the possibility Zyza detected a discrepancy. That is, he sent one man to check the fire-door on the ninth floor. That would have taken the police out of the picture – they would need to deal with him. However, with enough suspicion he might have sent a man out on the closed eighth floor as well. That man would have arrived on the seventh floor, no matter how he mashed the number eight button. That was my elevator-buster code. From seven, he could walk upstairs to eight. This would be possible if something, say his cohort checking the fire door on the ninth floor, had drawn the police away from the stairwell, and, of course, it turned out the police had responded to shots fired – Lestrade did say they would not ignore their training. I believed there was a danger. Therefore, I needed to reach Sarah in order to confirm she was protected.”
“And not text her?”
“Not immediate enough. And are you likely to check your texts with a gun in your face?”
“You are.” John said. Sherlock was so gifted, it was like insanity. Or magic. Next, John confirmed with him, “You threw out the plan to make sure she was safe?”
Sherlock’s brows crunched at the bridge of his nose. “She’s alive, John. Believe it or not, my ego can stand to be wrong. It would not have stood losing Sarah.”
“Because you like her legs,” John nodded.
And, this one time, he got to see Sherlock Holmes knocked for six. He looked like a kid.
John went on, “Oh for God’s sake, relax, man. Her legs are beautiful. They’re gorgeous.”
Sherlock’s lips compressed mid-flick of his proud head to face the far wall, and then his eyes averted down, which was his most disarming look. Something about him was lovely. His features were so balanced, and, without the mass of hair, the length of his eyelashes and eloquence of his brows became a distraction. John could scarcely imagine such a creature in his teenaged years. At the same time John Watson had been a midfielder, charging through muck, shoving other kids, and hammering a football, Sherlock Holmes would have been this tall, slender, irrefutably pretty thing wandering an Ivy League library. After hours. Up to something.
John chuckled greedily, “You’re human, still.”
But Sherlock shot a very dark and disapproving glare that didn’t quite reach John. It was only meant to register his displeasure. Then he got up and stalked to his bedroom like an insulted cat. The door shut with a bang, clearly furious. John wasn’t sure, but he doubted it was the ribbing. It seemed Sherlock didn’t like being caught looking at a woman – okay, John’s girlfriend. Could it be that? But it was quite strange. Unless they were gay, all men looked at women. It was a constant, like the speed of light. But then, Sherlock didn’t like to be called human either. He didn’t really want to be like all men.
John sipped his tea and heard water running. Could it be Holmes hadn’t been to bed yet? If so, John hoped he was getting prepped for sleep. That would surely be for the best. Quibbles about the hotness of Sarah’s legs aside, Sherlock had operated on so little sleep in the last few days, it was pitiful. John checked the wall clock.
Let him rest.
At 11PM, they were in a very fancy apartment building in the Isle of Dogs, striding up the hallway toward a door that opened before they reached it. Sherlock swept inside as a matter of course, and John, in a state of sheer wonderment, followed along.
Several people gathered inside. Sherlock ignored them all and looked around the posh loft, all hardwood, glass, and wrought iron, in which he found himself. He sighed deeply and assessed, “Not enough books.”
“Several e-book readers.” The young man who had let them in now sported a new haircut, one that was very like Sherlock Holmes’ current look. This was ‘Alexander’ from the restaurant debacle. John gave him a nod and turned to look at the collection of well-dressed, wine-sipping young people in the room.
Nope. He didn’t want to know….
“Hey there,” said ‘Mark’. He was perched on the couch between a pair of eager-faced women. The greeting was aimed at Sherlock, who ignored it.
Instead, Sherlock handed over the coats he’d carried in to Alexander. John had already picked his up from the hook by the door, but Alexander had kept Sherlock’s. It was neatly draped on the back of a big, leather fainting couch. Sherlock whisked over, picked it up, and spun it on to his person all in one action. Sarah said that Sherlock could be unintentionally stunning. The expression on Alexander’s face agreed. John snickered and threw Sherlock the phone. Even without looking, Holmes caught it, one-handed, and tucked it into his pockets. The CIA liked to say he had General Hyperacuity. The lighter and cigarettes Holmes had carried in went in the opposite pocket.
“What was it all about?” Alexander tipped his head to one side to get a look at Sherlock’s face.
“Oh, yes. Wearisome. Care to explain, John?”
John shook his head.
“No not him.” Mark had gotten up and come to a stop on Sherlock’s other side. “You said you’d explain. We’re all here because we had bets going whether you’d come back at all – I mean, you didn’t know how to find us.”
“Oh, that was effortless. Credit card the waitress brought back.”
Mark scoffed, “You couldn’t have seen that for more than a second, or two!”
“How long does it take?” Sherlock’s brows drew down.
“Come-on! I just lost 500 quid man. I’m dying to hear this. What was that about!?”
“Let him be,” Alexander said wistfully.
“Just because you like him? I don’t think so.” Mark scoffed.
Alexander said, “Just because you lost 500 quid to me, and I’ll let it go if you stop annoying him.”
Sherlock’s quick smile flashed. He glanced aside at Alexander. “Now, there’s no need for that.” The coat flared out behind him as he retrieved the channel changer and powered up the flat screen. He flicked channels with the same rapidity with which he texted, in fact. The screen came to rest on the London news and Sherlock tossed the remote into an empty chair. “There. Have fun.”
He headed for the door. John grinned and followed. This was so Sherlock being Sherlock.
“Hey, wait now! What’s this?” Mark picked up the changer and turned up the volume. His eyes scanned the fire scenes from downtown. “This has been playing for days. You can’t just-”
“Yes,” Sherlock paused and checked his watch. “I can. But… I suppose I won’t. It appears we have a few minutes.” He drifted back into the room and took the remote, which he muted. Alexander came to stand beside him, still a decent match, and so smitten that John didn’t want to get between them. If Sherlock was, somehow, gay, or even curious, the pretty City Boy wouldn’t be a bad match for him. So John allowed Alexander to stand beside Sherlock.
“No sound?” Mark asked.
“Dear God. Pay attention,” Sherlock sighed. “And watch the screen, Alexander, not me.” The news rolled forward. Sherlock paused it on the fires. His hands darted. “Burning London. Burning London is bad, because I like London. So now I’m not happy.” He let the news roll and paused it again, “The Athenaeum – really lovely inside, actually – and ambulances full of injured people. Bad people mostly.”
John added, “Because he does good work.”
“We,” Sherlock corrected. “We do good work.”
“Ah,” John accepted this stoically and watched the television screen. Alexander looked between the pair of them with a quirk of misgiving to the set of his brows. That was worry. It meant he hadn’t given up on Sherlock. Poor thing.
Sherlock let the news roll forward. “Lestrade.” He and John both said at once, only Sherlock continued, “Detective Inspector given charge of arrests regarding the London Fires. He was e-mailed at the very advent of the fires, and warned that London would burn.” Sherlock waved the controller around like a wand and said. “Never mind the detritus around him. Donovan and Anderson share an IQ of 100 between them.”
“Sherlock,” John scoffed, but then grinned. “Just because they don’t like you-”
“Oh, I can’t think of a better reason.” Sherlock curled a lip momentarily. “Ah-ha. Now pay attention as they march these men through the parking lot to the wagon, all right?” Sherlock motioned at each man with the remote. “Assassin. Assassin. Arsonist. Smuggler. Thug. Money launderer. Thug. Hacker and,” his opposite hand opened like a flower in a great ta-da of motion, “Russian Crime Lord. The rest are dead. Thank you, John. Nicely done.”
“Good God,” John put his head down. “Sherlock, really.”
“No, I mean it. Good work not allowing them to gun us down.” Holmes hit pause. “Rurik Zyza, often known as the White Lion of Arkhangelsk – drugs, prostitution, stolen property, fast cars, runs with scissors, ad nauseam; abusive husband out to execute his wife and child after they flee to London. Only he can’t ascertain the wife’s location, so he orders his elves to set fires to surround the likely areas, then he monitors the news and traffic cams. In other words, he burns the grass to flush the fox.”
“But you’re smarter,” John nodded up at Holmes. “You figured out the traffic math first, and understood that the child was asthmatic. You found her at a hospital and saved her life.”
“Lex parsimoniae,” Sherlock said in response.
Alexander blinked at the screen, “Occam’s razor — trend toward simplicity, or lucidity. Child has asthma. The air is smoky. The child will need a hospital.” He looked at Holmes.
Sherlock’s brows rose fractionally. “Good.” His voice was guarded.
“He’s passed the bar. Lex, here, is a lawyer,” Mark clapped his tall friend on the back. Alex had the unpretentiousness to redden.
“Lawyers,” Sherlock mulled it for a moment. Then he turned to the television. “Useful.” This time he started the live television again and laid the controller on the coffee table. “But lawyers hate me.”
“What? All of them?” Mark chuckled. “I’m one and I only think you’re crazy, so far.”
“Not crazy,” Sherlock grumbled and made his way for the door.
Alexander stepped in his way. “Wait-wait. He’s an idiot. Don’t mind him. Tell me what you did. You had something to do with this, yeah?”
“I caught him.” Sherlock said flatly. “I tricked him, and I outsmarted him, and I caught him.”
“Did he hit you?” Alexander reached a pale hand up and just managed to brush it across Sherlock’s bruised cheekbone before the man zagged around Alexander’s opposite shoulder on the way to the door. He didn’t like friends touching him, strangers was just too far.
“It’s okay,” John muttered up at the startled young man. “He’s okay. Just don’t touch.”
Alexander dithered quite prettily, in fact. John found he could see them together: breathlessly tall, tasteful, and attractive. “I’m sorry,” he managed, with a chagrined look.
John held out a hand as if stopping the man. “Fine. It’s fine. He’s okay.”
An older man had appeared in the wide hall, to block Sherlock’s way, and John hurried after. This new man was in a buttoned-down, very conservative suit. He was black, wore spectacles, and lifted his cell phone. “Alexander Keen?”
“Yes,” Alexander stepped up. “And you are?”
“Professor Charles Howard?” the man said and partially extended a hand. “From the University? You sent a note that you have my lighter?”
“He didn’t write that. I did. I have your lighter,” Sherlock said. He laid the steel and gold object unceremoniously in the man’s hand. “You left it in a cab. Best keep an eye on this.”
“But, it doesn’t have my name on it, I don’t understand…?”
“Then get it engraved.” Sherlock raised a hand, but didn’t turn.
“And quit smoking.” John suggested.
The professor cocked his head and followed them a few steps, “Wait one minute, young man. Given only a lighter exactly how did you find me? Who are you?”
John heard Alexander say. “I think you should be content you have it back. He doesn’t seem the type for explaining himself to others.”
True, but, it occurred to John that he’d said Sherlock’s name more than once. There couldn’t be that many Sherlock’s in London, right? Alexander seemed clever enough to find out where Sherlock was if he was interested in pursuing his curiosity.
John shut the door behind them. They made their way out into the damp night air, where Sherlock had no luck hailing a cab, so they walked companionably for a while. John had decided on Thai through process of elimination, when he finally gave in and glanced up at Holmes. “How did you find the Professor, in the end?” He followed the swaying coat toward a taxi that paused on a corner for them.
Holmes pulled the door handle and shrugged. “Gave it some thought.” He disappeared inside the cab and waited.
John climbed in behind him and decided it was exactly the answer he should have expected.
~ End | Thank you for reading! ~