On her second night in prison, Jamie Moriarty draws a door on the wall. Three lines: up, across, and down. And a circle for the doorknob.
She sits on the floor in front of it, cross-legged, tossing the piece of chalk in her hand. She sits for almost an hour.
"No," she says then, to the air. "I suppose it wouldn't be that easy."
Moriarty tugs at her collar.
"What do you think? Orange. I'm not sure it suits me."
Watson sits with one leg crossed over the other. Her boots are brown leather, well scuffed near the toes, and there's a small hole in the left sleeve of her grey wool cardigan. Too jagged to be moth-chewed. Caught on something, and pulled free. Her voice is flat.
"The words quid pro quo better not be drifting towards this conversation."
Joan Watson. Joan to friends, Joanie to family, Ms Watson to most, but she's Watson to Sherlock Holmes and so Watson she'll remain. It's perfect, the way the formality has circled around to become something intimate.
Doctor Watson is only going to work once. Moriarty has it in her pocket like a fifth ace, to be pulled out and used judiciously.
Moriarty clasps her hands together on the table. It's made of dented, sturdy metal, and like any other surface in a prison it's been used as a canvas. Scratched. Etched. Names and dates and profanities and--a heartening display of creativity--an outline that's recognisable as Munch's most famous composition.
"You grew up in Geneva, New York. You've known Emily Hawkins since your second year of university. College, as you call it here. You spent a year as a medical intern before fighting to be transferred into a surgical residency program. Your therapist, by the way, thinks that Sherlock's work appeals to you more than sober companionship for a similar reason. Because you want to move things not just from broken to repaired, but from chaos to order." She leaves a pause, not very long. "I can see the logic there. It's hard to cause more harm when your starting point is a corpse."
Watson blinks a few times.
"Fine, I get it," she says. "You don't need to bargain for personal information about me."
"No," Moriarty agrees. "I don't need anything from you at all."
"So why am I here?"
"Why are you here, Watson? Why did you agree to come?"
Watson looks sideways in a way that contains all the spirit of rolling her eyes except for the action itself.
Moriarty smiles. "Sherlock Holmes."
"He wants to see you. And he doesn't want to." Watson sighs. "I told him I'd see how you were."
"An objective pair of eyes."
"Something like that."
Moriarty traces The Scream with one fingertip, not looking down. She did a beautiful restoration job on the Norwegian National Gallery's copy of that painting, a few years ago. It was a lesson in inflicting anguish.
"What will you tell him?"
Watson looks at her, steady. She has the knack of appearing profoundly unimpressed, even though at least half of what Moriarty has already said in this conversation could be easily construed as a threat.
"I haven't decided yet," she says. "Now. Tell me why you asked for me to visit, or I'm leaving."
"You'll probably want to write this down," Moriarty says. "Do you have a pen?"
Watson doesn't have anything. They'll have taken her bag from her, and checked her pockets in that apologetic way they have. As though Moriarty would actually try to effect her escape by shoving a pencil into anyone's carotid.
It's not that she minds a bit of mess. It's just that there are so many variables that can't be controlled.
"No, I don't," Watson says, with a flicker of irritation. "Just tell me."
Moriarty calls to the guard. "Can we get Ms Watson some paper? And something non-lethal to write with? A crayon, perhaps."
The guard looks at Watson, who turns in her seat and considers it. Finally she does, in fact, roll her eyes. "Fine. Yes. Please."
It takes a few minutes for this request to be relayed to another guard outside the door, and then a few minutes more for the things to be brought. Instead of a crayon they've unearthed a highlighter, in lurid green. Watson takes it without comment and says, "What. What am I writing down for you."
"You're writing this down," Moriarty says, "for the New York Police Department. Or whoever else might be interested in a diamond smuggling operation."
She talks. Watson, after some dramatically raised eyebrows and a clear moment of considering whether to dig in her heels or throw the highlighter across the room, writes. It's not a lot: a JFK airport locker number, a shell company in Angola, a few dates and exactly one name. All of it is recorded in ink that's almost too bright to read.
When Moriarty stops talking, Watson folds the paper into four and lifts it between her fingers. "Is this a trap?"
Moriarty tilts her head to the side, enjoying herself.
"I could rip this up," Watson adds. "I could throw it into the trash can as soon as I walk out of this room. I'm not going to play puppet for you."
"You could," Moriarty says. "But here I am, offering legitimate information about illegal activity, in good faith. You're going to at least take it to the charming Captain Gregson. If he wants to treat it as a trap, that's up to him."
"Good faith. Yeah, sure." Watson's mouth thins. Her early-summer tan gives her a more uniform complexion, obscuring her freckles. "For whatever reason, this is something you want. That's enough of a reason for me not to do it."
"And yet," says Moriarty delicately.
Watson turns the piece of paper in her hands a few times. "Are we done? We're done." She stands.
The guard, who has been staring far too closely at the opposite wall not to have been listening with fascination, shifts on his feet and puts a hand on the door handle. Moriarty smiles at him; a few muscles move beneath the skin of his cheeks and he waits for Watson to reach the door before opening it.
Watson pauses. Looks back.
"If you're trying to foster some sort of--sense of obligation in me, or something," she says, "I'm telling you right now, it's not going to work."
Moriarty waves a merrily wordless farewell, and the door closes.
No. Of course that wouldn't work. The psychology of favours, in general, is a little more counterintuitive than that: if you do something to help someone, you feel more kindly disposed toward them. Moriarty is a patient student of human behaviour and far too smart to imagine that she's exempt from these rules just because she knows they exist.
She doesn't know yet how long this will take her, how many sessions with Watson will occur before the end. How many pieces of herself Moriarty will need to snip away like fingers in a cigar cutter, packed in cotton and sent to a parent's doorstep. Proof of life.
She'll have to be careful.
She's never been anything but careful.
A quick field guide to spotting psychopaths.
First off: there aren't any simple identifying marks. It's more about what twitchers would call the jizz. Sherlock Holmes, who has the soul of a birdwatcher blown wide to encompass the whole world from padlocks to bees to blood spatter, would understand, if she were ever to explain it to him.
Moriarty's a little more selective with her obsessions.
Figure One: Sebastian Moran. Recruited straight off the streets of Shoreditch, where he'd stumbled bloody-nosed after it took three heavy-set men to eject him from a pub just as the evening purpled into night. He'd been drinking for hours, and he was blurred with it, but there was something uncaring and shank-sharp about the way he steadied his weight and the restless movements of his battered hands.
She didn't know his name, at that point. But something in her sang out in a harsh thrill of recognition, and that was enough for her to take the calculated risk of direct contact.
She stepped into his path. English even in his belligerence, he started to swerve around her, then pulled to a halt as she blocked that exit with a snap of her fingers. His eyes glittered a momentary and merciless void, sending a prickle of animal awareness down her spine. It was just what she'd been hoping for.
"Sweetheart," he said, beer-slow and dangerous, "do I look like a patient man?"
Moriarty planted her feet and gazed at him. His gaze back at her was poorly focused but the void was gone. He was smart enough, practiced enough, to mask the reality of himself with a common, entitled, leering kind of violence. He was far gone and she was more than willing to hurt him, break his fingers if necessary, but they were still on a public street. She made a few very fast decisions about how she was going to handle this.
"No," she said, digging absently in her handbag for a pen. "You look like a blunt object."
Moran gathered himself. "What--"
"My employer could use one of those," she said, and took hold of the large hand that was closest to being curled into a fist. There were deep scrapes on his knuckles and blood, too, from where he'd swiped at his bleeding nose. Carefully, soothingly, she coaxed his palm open and wrote an email address and an amount of money--large, but not laughably so--onto his skin.
"For when you sober up," she said, soft as a lover. "Go to the police with this and my employer will come to your house in the middle of the night, and you will wish he'd brought with him something as kind as a gun."
Moran looked at her for a long moment. Then he laughed. It was hot and empty and very quiet and she thought, yes. You're the one.
"Like I'd talk to the fucking law," he muttered.
She smiled. Patted his fingers. "Good boy."
He would never see her face or hear her voice again.
She followed him home, of course. She didn't need him to use the email address, in order to for her to contact him; she'd even warned him as much, hadn't she? But she wanted to know if he would.
Leverage is one thing. A willing tool is better.
A psychopath always has an element of the chameleon to them, a willingness to blend; a mask of one kind or another. Obviously it's easiest to follow the blood, to begin with the results of an action and track it all backwards until you arrive at the individual who performed that action. Any detective knows that. That's how their job works. But Moriarty specialises in untapped potential.
Anyone can look at a flayed body and say yes, this is the work of a monster.
Harder to pass someone in the street and look unflinching into their eyes and see the monster asleep, juvenile, its fangs untested. Just waiting for the right push.
The thing is, she probably could effect her escape with a pencil, just not in a way that involves arterial puncture wounds. Graphite, she knows. There's a lot you can do with a carbon matrix: it's all about matching the image to the material.
Not long before the name Irene Adler came into being, Moriarty forged a loving copy of some sketches by Picasso, and directed an operation to replace the original sketches with the forgeries so that the originals could go to a collector by the name of Jerome Piper.
As a matter of fact, Moriatry directed a grand double-bluff that led to the original sketches staying right where they were, and her own forgeries ended up on the wall of the collector's private rooms. Verified by an expert, of course, but Moriarty knows how to buy both a person and their opinion.
It was a lot of effort for something that was, amusingly enough, barely illegal at all. But she wasn't footing the bill. And everyone was happy in the end; not least Jerome Piper, whose billion dollar company has a hand in property development and natural resource management on both sides of the Atlantic as well as certain parts of Asia, and who has a weakness for sketches of female nudes by famous artists.
Jerome Piper paid Moriarty a lot of money for the privilege of handing her the keys to his empire. He's never questioned any of the decisions which have unfolded themselves like flowers on the muddy water of his soul after an evening spent gazing, with contented avarice, at the work of her two hands.
Graphite is a conductor. Graphite reaches out to people.
But no matter. Chalk is what she has.
Here and now and imprisoned, Moriarty rubs the dust between her fingers, relaxing her mind into multiple threads of idle thought. With a delicate touch her fingertips move over one another easily, but with a little more pressure the powder squeaks and resists. There's carbon there but the important thing is the calcium, like bones. Like teeth.
She draws a smile on the wall, almost the width of her armspan, not really expecting anything to happen. It's nobody's smile in particular. She'd like to draw Joan Watson's smile, but it's never been directed at her, and her memory of it as seen from a distance is poor.
When it's done she sits on the bed and looks at it. A Cheshire smile, missing its body, missing even the eyes that would tell the viewer whether the smile was a sincere one or not. The effect is eerie: dusty white lips and teeth and the little wrinkles at the sides.
Moriarty runs her tongue over her lips and mirrors the smile with one of her own. The alarm for lights-out sounds, and after a few seconds it's just her and her artwork grinning comfortably at one another in the darkness.
"I'm not going to lie to you."
"Somehow I don't believe that."
She shrugs: it doesn't matter what you believe.
"Alright," Watson says. "For the sake of--argument. Why not?"
"Because I don't need to."
Some more of the answer is: because Sherlock's training on top of your own skill means that you could probably detect more lies than you miss. But Moriarty doesn't feel like admitting that one aloud.
"What if I ask you a direct question?"
"I can always choose not to answer."
"Did you love him?" Watson says, no hesitation at all. Anger is simmering within her; the steam of it brightens her eyes. "Sherlock, did you ever actually love him?"
The air in Moriarty's lungs is cool and clouding with memory, like the first rinse of a coated paintbrush in a fresh jar of water. From the soles of her feet to her lips she remembers Sherlock's body, Sherlock's keen scanning eyes, the unexpected cantata of his mind pouring out across his tongue.
"Yes," she says. Then, "You don't believe me."
Watson searches her face. Looking for the thing that's out of place, that doesn't belong.
"We might be working with different definitions."
"I don't think you can call it love if it's selfish," Watson says coldly.
"Really?" Moriarty says. "How many murders have you investigated by now?"
Watson sighs. "Forget it. I should have known better than to ask."
"I told you, I'm not going to lie."
"Then tell me something true." Watson sits up straight. A faint scrape of her feet as she pulls them together, under the table, and a click as she lowers the heels of her boots to lie flat on the ground. "Anything. I'm here because you want to talk at me, so talk."
Moriarty's back itches with the urge to mirror the other woman's posture. Good, very good, Watson. Nice trick.
Instead she leans back in her chair, pretends it's leather, pretends it's supple and welcoming for her spine. Tell me something true.
"There are some interesting traditions around animal symbolism in art," she says. "You might like to know about the lizard. It represents wisdom, in some cases, and also appears as an attribute of Logic. It's a deductive symbol."
"Sherlock would like that."
"I thought about buying him a lizard, actually."
"He doesn't need another scaly pet," Watson says. "It's bad enough having one that takes five hours to cross the living room. Lizards are the ones that drop their tails when they're scared, right?"
Moriarty feels a quick, interested pulse of adrenalin that she doesn't betray with her face.
"Yes," she says. Then, "I see they let you bring some paper in, this time."
"And I brought crayons," Watson says. She pulls a bundle of them out of a pocket of the coat hanging over the back of the rigid plastic chair. "Well, Sherlock had them lying around the house, and I don't know if wax is poisonous to tortoises but--"
She turns her jaw as she cuts herself off, a quick blunt jerk that stops her speech like the twist of a waiter's wrist stops the pour of wine into a glass. Nothing spilled. She's looking at the table between them, composed but nonplussed. Moriarty can guess why. Joan Watson isn't an antisocial creature by nature, and although she's got the hang of silences, she isn't used to guarding her speech. Here they are, two women sitting in a small room discussing their mutual--well, their mutual something. Watson's instinct is to share, to chat. To find common ground. It's valuable in a sober companion, but it's dangerous here.
Moriarty allows herself a small smile and says nothing. The weight of this awkwardness is an education that she's giving Watson for free, just as Sherlock is giving her the gift of his deductive process.
Now there's a thought. Watson is hardly a blank canvas, but she learns fast, and Moriarty is well used to taking someone else's work as a starting point for her own.
"What I told you last time, was it useful?"
"What do you want?" Watson asks. "A blow-by-blow description of the operation? I wasn't there."
"No, hardly a job for consulting detectives." She lets her mouth play around the words. "But now you know that it was true, or you wouldn't have come back for more."
Not for the first time, she wonders if Watson is wearing a wire. Given that Moriarty has now shown herself willing to give up information leading to--she can only assume--the arrests of several of her own employees, higher powers than the NYPD are likely to be taking an interest.
Watson picks up and then discards an emerald green crayon. The one she poises over her paper, eventually, is the same charcoal grey as her leggings, where they emerge from the asymmetrical hem of her black skirt. Part of her already knows that the materials you choose are important.
Yes, Moriarty could teach her so many things.
"Let's talk about armoured vehicle contracts," Moriarty says.
When they're threatened, lizards drop their tails, but to a purpose. The predator has to decide what to seize, and the thing that's close and unmoving is easier to investigate than the thing that's scurrying into the distance.
A juicy chunk of yourself will buy you time.
Figure Two: John Douglas.
A good middleman, that one. He started his career very early, and emerged from both reform school and a brief stint in prison even more of a killer than when he'd gone in. Moriarty can appreciate a good failed system.
Moran, who like a disappointing proportion of male murderers had almost no respect for women, needed misdirection. A mask. Douglas was easier: Moriarty simply let herself into his house and then, when he started to call the police--a brazen move, given the sheer amount of evidence in the place, and one which instantly upped her opinion of him--flipped him to the ground and pulled a gun on him, the embossed sole of one delicate shoe held pointedly against his windpipe.
He snarled at her and dropped the phone. An animal, but a smart animal. Smart enough, in the face of strength, to stop and think.
Moriarty waved the barrel of the gun around and watched his pupils track it.
"Where would you aim for first, if you were me?"
"Christ. If you're going to kill me," Douglas said, voice rough, "just shoot me in the head and be done with it."
"These are very expensive shoes, John." Moriarty increased the pressure just a little. "I don't intend to get brains on them. If I was going to kill you I could just put a few bullets in your groin; I'm sure I'd hit your femoral artery sooner or later. Of course, it might make a bit of a mess of your dick, but it's not like you'd be needing it."
Douglas was staring at her like she was a cryptic crossword with teeth. That was fine.
"And who said I wanted you dead?" she went on. "If wanted to make you less employable, for instance, I'd shoot your fingers off." She allowed the gun to drift with a little more purpose towards his right arm; his hand curled into a fist more reflexive than aggressive. "But that's not what I want. That's the opposite of what I want."
She left a pause and looked down at him, eye to eye. There was a frisson of sharpness across her scalp as the two of them read one another, a warning as elemental as Moran's laugh.
When she was satisfied, Moriarty aimed a few inches below his crotch, in the V of his legs, and fired.
Douglas jerked, his throat clenching under her foot, but he kept his limbs where they were and managed not to piss himself; that put him above the last man Moriarty had tried this on. And the one before that, whose idiot wriggling had earned him an accidental bullet to the thigh.
"I think we can work together," she said brightly. "Whimper if you agree."
"Cold-blooded bitch," Douglas said.
"That's the spirit," Moriarty said, and let him up.
Douglas is refreshingly free of both moral hang-ups and gender prejudice, which makes him one of only a few of her lieutenants to know her face. He also possesses an almost medieval sense of loyalty, which Moriarty rewards by paying him well and not insulting him with threats. She doesn't have to, in any case. He's been the gun held to the head of enough people's loved ones that he knows all of the rules.
Since the day they met, the sole of her shoe has never really left his neck, but she hasn't had to press down.
If Moriarty were a slightly more conventional employer, a good title for him would probably be something along the lines of logistics manager. John Douglas will be busy, right now, as Moriarty sits behind walls and bars listening to the threatening slap of justice's fist against its own palm. Ever since her operation started to grow to the point where she needed things like accountants, Moriarty has established layers of failsafes, set to swing into motion if she is ever--inconvenienced, as she is now.
Expecting? No, she wasn't expecting to get caught.
But you don't get to where she is without being able to look at things from every angle, plan for every eventuality, and there was always the possibility that she would end up where she is now. Unmasked, and trapped. Now that her identity is known and her reputation has suffered the double blow of fallibility and femininity, she needs a new business model.
So while Moriarty feeds Joan Watson careful pieces of information, discarding parts of her web in order to strengthen the others, Douglas and his counterparts will be acting on pre-existing orders. Moving money around. Creatively destroying computer records. Dumping some bodies, probably; she'll allow them a bit of initiative.
For safety's sake, Moriarty runs her world like a revolutionary cadre: no branch of the web knows much about the others, and none of her lieutenants are trusted with everything. She deploys their blindnesses strategically. Attacking one weak point will destroy, at most, a third of what she has built.
So Douglas doesn't know about the art, about what it can do. What she can do.
Alright. Without obfuscation, then. This is how it works.
Somewhere in the tucked-away bowels of a storeroom, in the school that Jamie Moriarty attended when her name was something else entirely, is a mediocre oil painting that she created when she was fifteen. Its unstated purpose was to aggravate an art teacher whom she disrespected to the point of derision.
The fact that the teacher studied the completed picture for a minute and then stumbled to her rubbish bin and threw up was something of a bonus.
Moriarty would have passed it off as coincidence--or unusually vehement criticism--except that anyone who looked at it for long enough had a tendency to go green at the gills. She was forced to consider that the reports of nausea from the girls working on either side of her in the school studio had not, in fact, been the latest in a long line of small and insultingly unimaginative aggressions, but a legitimate complaint.
It wasn't like it was a painting of maimed animals or spilled intestines. (She'd tried that at the age of thirteen, mostly to observe the speed at which the child psychologists were called in.) It was nominally an abstract landscape, and actually just a calculated mess of yellow paint.
And alright, yes, a calculated mess is more or less the definition of abstract, but--
That was the start.
Oils, she knows now, are good for sickness. For hunger. For rage. For lust. For any emotion that starts in the viscera.
Graphite conducts. Graphite can sway thought.
But Moriarty finds watercolours the most valuable, because they can change their environment. Water has a lot of power. She once broke into the locked saferoom of a paranoid executive's Bermuda mansion by attaching her own version of a Turner maelstrom to the outside of it and waiting for the storm to work its way through the integrity of the walls, disrupting them on a microscopic level, until all it took was a few well-placed kicks.
Even now she feels warm and satisfied thinking about the look on the man's face as Moriarty stepped into the room, hair dripping, and raised the tranquilizer gun in his direction.
Sometimes she does like to do things herself, after all.
Is this the secret to her success? Did she--fine, let's use the word, did she magic her way to the top? The world wants to know. Or she's sure they would, if she were stupid enough to advertise this in the same way she advertises her ability to make problems and people disappear.
In the grand scheme of things, in her grand scheming, art is a single card in the deck. One small type of power, wielded through restorations and forgeries and original works that have often taken far more effort to create than they're really worth. She's had to discover the rules of this talent, whatever it is, as she goes along, and it can be woefully inexact. The right image rendered in pastels can be used as surveillance equipment, as eyes and ears in a room. But it's not nearly as reliable as sending someone in to bug the place outright.
The only truly valuable thing about it is that nobody, not even Sherlock Holmes, would ever think to expect it.
It's obvious that Watson hasn't decided what to call her yet. Irene Adler is a fiction, but Jamie is ludicrous and Moriarty is an achievement. Watson is getting around it by simply never addressing her by name.
"You could at least pretend at some small talk before you pull out the crayons," Moriarty says.
Watson gives her an extremely fake smile and flips to a new page of her notepad. It isn't one of those with a metal coil holding the pages together; it has no metal at all, just a sticky strip of binding. Nothing weaponizable.
Though that's an interesting question: how much damage could Moriarty inflict on a human being, in this small space, given a piece of paper and a crayon and nothing more but her own flickering fury at being imprisoned?
Worth thinking about. Worth experimenting with, when she's out of here. She doesn't doubt that she'll have rage to spare for a long time yet.
"How are you enjoying the American criminal justice system?" Watson asks through that smile.
"Not at all," Moriarty says. Truthfully. "How are you enjoying it, now that you're a part of it?"
"A lot more than you," Watson says. The smile disappears like foam on a broken wave. "Wow, you really must be starved for conversation in here."
"The library isn't bad. Poorly organised, though. I think Ms Hudson would enjoy setting it to rights."
Alright, that was immature. Imprisonment must be getting to her, because something about Watson's firm posture makes her feel like planting flags in the ground. You are here now. I was here first.
Certainly it's enough for Watson to give a small, put-upon sigh and choose today's crayon. Blue. It goes nicely with the silver buckle on her belt, which gathers her dress into loose folds at the waist, and the long-looped necklace that hangs down a good few inches below the dress's simple neckline.
"Yeah, I can't even be bothered pretending," Watson says. "We've got a case in progress and I'd like to get back to it before Sherlock solves it all without me and then turns it into a tutorial, with Powerpoints. Oh yes. He does that now. It's exactly as it obnoxious as it sounds. So. Talk."
"I thought you might like to know where some of the money is," Moriarty says.
She isn't going to lie. Watson probably believes that, now, and Moriarty knows the dissonance that is created where there is truth but no trust.
This dissonance is ductile. Without much effort it can become a tripwire.
"Sure," Watson says, with no inflection.
"And I'll tell you, after we talk about art some more. Don't push me on this," Moriarty says, throwing all of her danger like a wall of flame behind the first word as Watson's face moves towards disagreement. "You said it. There aren't many good conversationalists in here. I'll give up the money, but first we're going to talk some more about animal symbolism in the artistic tradition. We've done lizards, how about snakes?"
There's a pause. Watson is doodling flowers with her royal-blue crayon, each one a circle surrounded by a number of equally circle-like petals. Moriarty wants to lean across the table and shred it with her nails; she suspects Watson is doing it on purpose.
"You're good at this," Watson says eventually. "You almost made me forget that you're the one who wants me here. You want to give up this information. I'm the one doing you a favour by writing it down."
Moriarty smiles. In her peripheral vision she sees the guard at the door shift on his feet, uncomfortably.
"Come on, my dear Watson. Make a small effort. Snakes in art, you know this one."
What she's angling for here is proof that Watson is like Sherlock Holmes in this respect; that once upon a time she was the child in class with her arm stretched almost out of the shoulder joint, knowing the answer and desperate to share it. Moriarty herself was that child, too, though not for very long.
"The devil," says Watson, snappily. "Temptation. Are we done?"
Moriarty keeps her smile in place. That's a victory; she'll take it. Now that the class has deigned to participate in discussion, the professor will step in.
"In the Christian art tradition, yes. Other religions feature the serpent in different roles. We could consider the Norse image of a snake encircling Midgard, holding it in its coils. I like that; it suggests a state of being that's inherently unpredictable. At any moment the snake could decide to squeeze. All of this could burst around us."
That's when Watson does something extraordinary. She makes a leap.
Watson looks at her for a while, her eyes narrowing; Moriarty can almost see the machinery of her nimble mind, hearing those words again and combining them with some suspicious product of gut instinct.
Watson says, "You're planning to break out of here."
That kind of talent should be rewarded, Moriarty thinks. And what better a way to bolster her weakened reputation, than to announce her intention and to defy all attempts to stop it?
Truth, but no trust.
Moriarty says, "Yes."
Figure Three: Daniel Gottlieb.
There's not a lot to this story.
Moriarty found Gottlieb fermenting in his own boredom, on the edge of turning sloppy, and sent John Douglas in to recruit him. That wasn't even about the fact that she's a woman; it was about maintaining a deniable distance. Keeping the web's arms separate. It took a while for Moriarty to move past self-reliance as a way of life, but once she did, she discovered that she liked the elegance and the security of using intermediaries wherever possible.
Like Moran, Gottlieb never knew anything about the scope of what he was involved with. He was a highly specialised weapon and nothing else. An imagination like something out of Edgar Allen Poe backed up by his finicky, plodding, engineer's ability to crunch the numbers over and over again until certain that nothing had been forgotten.
He killed thirty-one people on her orders. She didn't know most of them.
It was business. If a client wanted someone to die quietly, creating an empty shape in the world that had none of the look, smell, or taste of the word murder...well, they went to Moriarty, and the name ended up in Gottleib's phone.
She wouldn't have chosen just anyone to kill Sherlock Holmes.
Gottleib is just one of the many tools that have fallen off Moriarty's toolbelt now. She won't pretend that she's not annoyed about this.
But everything's expendable, in the end. Power and money beget more power and money, sure, but if you have the knack for it then you can build almost anything from the merest scraps. You just need the right leverage. And the right materials.
And, of course, a willingness to get your hands dirty.
The thing is, she's never worked in bloody chalk before.
It's so dry. It feels like a vacuum between her fingers, like it's hungry for the oils there and would take them for itself.
Moriarty draws on the wall of her cell the island of Manhattan, encircled by the coils of the Hudson River. The water sends its tongue hissing through Harlem.
She lets her mind drift as she adds scales and scuffs them, experimenting with the rough texture created when she uses the side of the chalk as a whole. From high enough in the sky, all land is an island. The water is huge and old and it has been working with mindless patience since the planet whirled and shuddered and cracked itself into being. All of this could burst around us. All of this could be rendered down to sand.
Her fingers tingle.
She can work this out.
There's a way she has of standing with her feet just over shoulder width apart, balanced on the balls of them, so that she can sway her weight from one side of a canvas to another. It doesn't come naturally to her, but sometimes she catches herself doing it anyway. She was Irene Adler for a long time. The mannerisms have proven tricky to shake.
Irene the American. Irene whose specialty was the Renaissance and who loved nothing more than to bend herself towards a canvas that she was restoring and let it become the whole world. And because Irene Adler was--or at least became--a construct designed with Sherlock Holmes in mind, she saw the good in people and in the world that Jamie Moriarty long ago learned to ignore or mistrust. She managed to infect Sherlock with just enough of that optimism, that artistic tendency to reflect the world in bright and tender colours, that he fell all the harder when Irene was gone.
Moriarty steps away from the wall and looks down at herself. Her prison clothes the colour of bad ochre are smudged from collar to knee with white dust. It's probably in her hair as well, and worked into the minute ridges of her fingerprints.
Chalk is soft and yielding, easily brushed or washed away. But in it are the skeletons of the sea, broken down by the centuries.
A brief and numbered tangent on the subject of Sherlock Holmes.
1) The case file from the Hemdale rehabilitation facility, initially sent to Joan Watson as an introduction of sorts to her latest client, is full of interesting information. Patient 11578-5698 was given an official diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder to pin to his chest next to the one of Substance Addiction (Opiates). He politely and then not-so-politely turned down all suggestions that he be medicated--somewhat ironically, his treating doctors felt, considering his clear willingness to alter his brain chemistry with exogenous substances--and instead attended twice as many psychotherapy sessions. There's a nice kind of passive-aggressive rudeness at work there, Moriarty feels.
2) Sherlock Holmes had been sleeping with Irene Adler for seven months when she was tragically killed by Sebastian Moran. In that time Jamie Moriarty had:
painted him four times,
used him to keep a careful eye on Scotland Yard's pursuit of the mysterious M with his tripod and his pools of blood,
taken him on a whirlwind trip to Florence,
found a new supplier for his recreational drugs (one who worked for a branch of her own operation, naturally),
kissed him under the lights of Embankment at midnight as one year spilled into the next, and
sent his photo and his name to Daniel Gottleib's phone.
3) The reason she painted him so many times was because she couldn't work out what medium suited him best. And because she honestly had no idea what power it would hold: his image, her hands. Surely their unlikely and untidy and made-up romance would seep into the brushstrokes.
4) If she'd wanted to, Moriarty could have directed him towards some very entertaining conspiracy theorists indeed. He would have had fun on an online forum devoted to the idea that many noted modern artists are able to exert a kind of mind control through their paintings, possibly in the service of the Freemasons, the Illuminati and/or the government.
5) There was a single and exact moment when they were lying in bed--her cheek against his chest, his hands fiddling with longest of her curls like it was a new kind of padlock--when she decided not to kill him, but to break him instead.
Watson crosses one leg over the other. Her hair is pulled back, today, and the tip of her ponytail falls over her scarf and the shoulder of her pale shirt like an oil spill.
"Who is the Curator?" she asks.
Moriarty freezes. It lasts less than a second, and it's nothing to the sudden stormwater shock that runs under her skin, but Watson sees it. Moriarty sees her seeing it. They gaze at one another without blinking, a war of faint smiles, and Moriarty steadies her own pulse.
To say I don't know what you're talking about would be a lie.
Moriarty says nothing.
"I just noticed...you talk about art, you obviously care about art. I saw your paintings, remember? And you've given up all these parts of your--web, organisation, whatever, but none of them have anything to do with forgeries, or art theft, or anything like that."
Moriarty could be over the table in less than a second. She could knock out the guard, or break his neck. And before any of the other guards could react to the security footage recording their every movement, she could press Joan Watson against the wall and hurt her, cut off her oxygen with that casually draped scarf. Whisper in her ear. Tell me what you know. Tell me something true.
She runs this scenario at triple-speed through her mind and then lets it dissolve away through the soles of her feet, taking most of her body's tension with it.
"You're right," she says. "I care about art."
Truth. Relevant truth.
Watson blinks a few times but seems content to let it go, smug in the knowledge that she's scored a point.
"What now?" Watson says. "Frogs?"
"I don't think we finished the subject of snakes." She sits upright and adopts her lecturing tone; Professor Moriarty is in. "The Biblical symbolism is only one aspect to consider. A more literal one has to do with the idea of resurrection."
"Shedding skin, I get it," Watson says.
"Actually, you'll like this bit. The use of snakes in the medical cadaceus is also related to that symbolism, healing and renewal. That's relevant to both of your old careers, isn't it? It's especially apt for someone who helps with the recovery process. Giving addicts a chance to reinvent themselves."
Watson's more on guard now. She doesn't fill the pause that Moriarty dangles in front of her.
Moriarty shrugs and continues. "I'm surprised they don't incorporate snakes into the logo of a place like this. It's in the same tradition. I thought the point of prisons these days was to help people find new paths, new lives."
"I think that's a pretty old debate," Watson says. "Rehabilitation versus punishment versus disincentive, right?"
"And where do you fall in that debate? Do you think I can be fixed, Doctor Watson?"
Her single-use barb hits home. Watson's face closes down; she looks at the table and conquers it, whatever it is, and there's nothing but bland determination in her voice when she speaks.
"You know, if you do get out, we'll put you back here. I will put you back here. We've done it once, we can do it again."
"Fool me twice, shame on me," Moriarty says, in Irene's accent. "I know your tricks now, Watson."
"Then I guess we'll both have to learn some new ones," Watson says.
Who is the Curator?
Once upon a time an Irish girl with black hair and black eyes threw her name into a river along with her father's oboe and her mother's pearls, and several years later she met Jamie Moriarty in the Turner Prize exhibition at the Tate Britain.
Everything in between is unimportant. Moriarty doesn't have much time for origin stories. She only remembers the detail about the pearls because Moriarty herself was wearing a double string of black pearls at the gallery that day, and she looked away from a sculpture to meet a gaze that was emptier than even Sebastian Moran's would be, and as cleanly, innocently malicious as the edge of a knife.
After a few seconds, the smile beneath that gaze flickered on, overbright.
Moriarty had the sensation that she was holding a butterfly net in her hands, and she had only a brief window in which to use it.
"What do you think?" she asked, inclining her head towards the sculpture. It was the usual Turner rubbish: some mess of metal and what appeared to be grimly rotting rose bushes, torn up by the roots and dumped, dirt and all, on the museum's immaculate floor. Moriarty hadn't bothered to read the blurb, but she'd have put money on it containing the words juxtaposition and synergy.
"It's shite," the woman said. Lilting and loud. "The whole lot of it, really, but that one in particular."
"Are you lost?" Moriarty asked. "The Stuckist protesters are in the other direction."
"I'm unemployed," the woman said. "I've got nothing better to do. What's your excuse?"
"I'm considering how best to burn down the museum," said Moriarty.
After a moment, the Curator laughed.
Her role is simple, and self-explanatory. She holds the art. She stores it, she catalogues it, and from time to time she is instructed to--redistribute it. Deploy it, that's the right word. Of all the people in the world, of even the handful of lieutenants whom Moriarty might be said, in a way, to trust, only this woman knows that there is anything more to this branch of operations than a skill for forgery and a fondness for stealing the world's treasures.
This is because Moriarty knew, even before telling her, that she wouldn't find it surprising in the least.
The Curator has never killed anyone. There's a good chance she's never even held a weapon. But in place of a moral compass she has a sharp, sharp needle heart that spins in merry circles, and inasmuch as she can love anything that isn't money or the way it feels to stand in the invisible glow of a masterpiece, she loves Jamie Moriarty. That's useful. That's very useful.
Moriarty stands by her claim: everything is expendable. Nothing is exempt.
But the Curator would be extremely tiresome to replace, and if Sherlock and Watson have unearthed that name then Moriarty has miscalculated something, given away something that she shouldn't have.
She has to get out. She has to glide free and take the chance that her new skin is stable enough, thick enough, to withstand the elements.
Resurrect. Start anew.
On her last night in prison, Jamie Moriarty picks up her chalk and draws a seascape, an ocean, a line of waves stretching from one end of the concrete surface to the other. She thinks about sand, and the pressure of the depths, and the slow erosion of rock.
Beneath her fingertips, salt water begins to seep through the wall.