The kidnapper came back several hours later, carrying a laptop. He tapped at the keyboard a moment and then held it up for Sherlock to see video from their sitting room. John and Mycroft were talking about his drug history, and then John bent down to the floor and rummaged through the papers strewn on the floor. Sherlock almost breathed a sigh of relief when he saw him notice the missing page. He felt almost concerned at John’s apparent lack of worry, then blinked at the body language between the two men. Mycroft was acting … subservient? And John as if he were used to being waited on? (Cleaners, indeed!) Ah, but wait. John took Sherlock’s laptop with him when he left the room, no doubt to check for the missing letter. Sherlock just hoped he could crack his password.
The kidnapper snapped the laptop closed and walked around behind Sherlock to untie the gag. “Who is the man with him?”
Sherlock tried to answer, but his mouth and throat were so dry and swollen, he couldn’t even manage a croak. With a look of disgust, the man grabbed a bottle of water and held it up for Sherlock to drink, water spilling onto his chest when he couldn’t gulp fast enough.
“Now, he’s not going to pay for a dead man, so don’t make me lose my patience. Who’s with Watson?”
“Accountant.” Sherlock couldn’t help his voice cracking as he answered. “Financial advisor, really. He helped with the estate.”
The man nodded. “Didn’t think he looked like a copper. What’d they mean, he doesn’t have the money?”
Sherlock tried clearing his throat and wished his head didn’t ache so much. “It was set up like a trust fund. He can’t touch the principle. Just gets enough for living expenses.”
“For that dump you live in? How big is this trust fund?”
Sherlock tried not to wince at the insult to his beloved flat. The man looked like he was considering cutting his losses, though, so Sherlock said, “I don’t know the exact figure, but I know it’s big. The monthly payment is far more than he can spend each month.”
“How much more?”
Unable to move his arms, he gave a tiny shrug with his eyebrows. “I really don’t know, but enough that I wouldn’t doubt there’s enough money there for you. He just needs to find a way to access it. I’m sure he’ll do it, but I don’t know if it’s possible by tomorrow morning. You know how lawyers like to slow things down. ”
The man stared at him, as if trying to decide if he was lying, and Sherlock tried to make his face as convincing and earnest as possible. “You’d better hope that he’s got a good one, then, Mr. Holmes. Because I’m not a patient man.” He looked at the water in his hand and started to tilt it toward the floor, then laughed and held it to Sherlock’s lips again. “Wouldn’t want you to dehydrate before I get my money, now would I?”
He waited until Sherlock had finished the bottle and then retied the gag. “Can’t have you drawing any attention to yourself. Not that there’s anybody who would hear you but me, but I have sensitive ears.” He gave him a slap on the cheek. “So, you be good, now.”
Sherlock closed his eyes briefly as the door shut behind the man. His mouth was dry again already, and his head felt like it was going to split open. He hated gags, hated them. It was like the kidnapper knew that not being able to talk was top of Sherlock’s Hate-Most list. Well, that and torture. He reassuringly had so far not been tortured.
He still couldn’t move his arms or legs, though. Whoever had tied him to this chair knew what they were doing. They had a nice line in mental torture, too, with the pile of water bottles taunting him from the table.
They had a surveillance camera at 221B, too, obviously. Going by the video he’d just seen, though, John and Mycroft knew it was there. He mentally congratulated John on spotting it.
He wondered if John would be able to crack his password. John knew he kept thorough records of the more interesting letters, and would be able to identify whichever was missing if he could just access the spreadsheet. He had spotted the camera, though, and the missing letter. And he’d been smart enough to contact Mycroft covertly as his ‘accountant,’ so maybe this would work.
He closed his eyes again, trying to ignore the headache and the residual dizziness from whatever sedative they’d given him. He retreated into his mind palace, remembering the recent letters, comparing them to the spill of letters on the floor in the video, the location of the break. If he could figure out which letter it was, he could figure out what his kidnapper wanted.
They were back in the car again, and John already felt helpless. He said as much. “I can’t stand doing nothing.”
“I do know that, John, but there is no alternative,” Mycroft told him. “If you were out all night searching for Sherlock, the kidnapper would know. You must play the part of the anxious friend, waiting for news.”
“I know that, Mycroft, but that doesn’t mean I don’t hate it.” John tried hard not to snap. He knew Mycroft was having as bad a day as he was. The signs of strain were subtle because he was so very good at hiding them, but they were there. “Are you going to get any rest tonight?”
“What do you think?”
“Don’t give me that look, Mycroft. I think that you need some rest as much as I do. You’re as worried as I am.”
The merest twitch to his cheek, then Mycroft said, “I really must remember to stop underestimating you.”
John smiled back at him. They rode in silence for a moment, then he asked, “So, the only camera is the one in the sitting room?”
“Yes. We tracked the frequency, but that doesn’t help much, other than letting us see what the kidnapper sees. It records video and sound, though any sounds from outside the room are muffled.”
“So, if I’m in my room, I can’t be watched?”
“Correct.” Mycroft handed him Sherlock’s computer as the car turned onto Baker Street. “We added some extra levels of security so that this signal cannot be hacked. Here is a still from the video feed, so you can see the angle. If you are seated in your chair in the sitting room, your laptop screen will be off camera. But, don’t forget…”
“That the kidnapper doesn’t know I know about the camera, and I can’t spend all my time locked in my room. I know.” John got ready to get out of the car. “I’ll see you in the morning, then?”
“I wouldn’t miss it.”
It was a long night for John. Oh, he’d spent some time wandering around looking lost and hopeless. Sherlock may have doubted his acting ability to cover for his death for months, but for a few hours in one room in the flat for a grainy security camera? This he could do.
After a time, he had wandered into the kitchen and gobbled down the contents of a leftover Chinese container from the fridge while out of sight of the camera, before listlessly working his way back to his chair with a cup of tea. He turned the telly on and randomly flipped channels for a while before turning it off and throwing the remote across the room and staring at Sherlock’s empty chair. Finally, he opened Sherlock’s laptop and pretended to futz around, distracting himself.
The security camera had no way of knowing he was having an online chat with Anthea. Between the covert efforts of the cleaning crew earlier and the spreadsheet from Sherlock’s computer, they had determined the missing letter. It had been written 22 days ago by a woman worried that her husband was about to do something stupid.
She wrote that they were in danger of losing their home and he had been approached by a man he had met in prison about a job that would pay enough to save their home. She said he was a good man who had tried to go straight since being released a year ago, but was sorely tempted now. Couldn’t they give her enough money that her husband wouldn’t get involved with whatever this job was?
“Good thing they didn’t know Sherlock photographs every letter, eh?” he typed to Anthea. Then, he had a thought and asked, “They can’t see what I’m typing, can they?”
He could almost see her smirk as the reply came back at blazing speed. “Luckily, no. Considering the speed you type, they’d be able to track everything. If you used all ten fingers, it would be harder.”
“Funny. Have you found any connections yet?”
“Working on it. Don’t look so cheerful.”
“Exactly how many people are spying on me right now?”
“That’s classified.” And again, he could almost hear her laughing at him.
“Right,” he sent back. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go cry for the camera now, and then I’m for bed.”
“Pity we don’t have surveillance in there,” she replied. “Sleep well, but remember to look tired in the morning.”
He scowled at the computer, trying hard not to laugh. Once again, he had to admit having Mycroft and his spies in his life was normally intrusive and almost creepy, yet when it came down to it, enormously helpful.
With a (faked) sigh, he shut the computer and then stormed into the kitchen and poured himself a drink, knocking it back in full view of the camera before sliding down the doorjamb and putting his head in his hands. He tried hard not to think about all the times he had done this before, when he had thought Sherlock was dead. For that matter, he could be right now, for all John knew. The agony of not knowing, of not knowing if Sherlock would be back, was all too familiar. For a moment, the despair was not faked at all.
His mobile chimed in his pocket.
Surprised, he pulled it out. It was a text from Sherlock’s phone. He lifted his head, wide-eyed, and looked around the room. Sherlock’s phone had been off and untraceable all day. He hoped Mycroft’s people were on the ball and would give it another try now.
The message read: “—Are you missing your ‘friend’?”
He swallowed hard and sent back. “—Yes.”
“—If all goes well, you’ll have him back soon. Probably. Maybe.”
John just stared at the phone for a moment, and then typed, “—Why wouldn’t I get him back?”
“—Just be sure to behave yourself tomorrow”
“—Can I talk to him? I need to know he’s okay.”
The kidnapper was just playing with him now, and John fought to keep his temper. “—Fine, but I’m not paying anything if I don’t know for sure he’s alive.”
“—So little faith, Mr. Watson.”
John restrained himself from throwing the phone across the room—a display that would clearly have made the kidnapper happy. Instead he leaned his head back against the wall and took several deep breaths. Then he climbed to his feet and headed for his bedroom.
Enough games for one night.