SOO LIN: All the smugglers know it. It’s based upon a book …
(Just then almost all the lights go out. Soo Lin looks up in dread. Sherlock straightens up and looks around sharply.)
SOO LIN (softly, her face full of terror): He’s here. Zhi Zhu. He has found me.
Sherlock started across the room at a run, but before he could go more than a couple of steps, John had grabbed him by the arm and set his feet on the tiled floor, leaning back and dragging him to a halt.
“For God’s sake, Sherlock,” he snapped. “We stay together, all right? We know what he’s after—we’ve got what he’s after!—so we’re not going to do any good charging off into the darkness and getting picked off one by one. Use that enormous brain for just one minute. Don’t you think we’d be far better to set a trap?”
Sherlock turned around and gave him a strange look, but then apparently reconsidered.
“What would you suggest?” he asked.
The door creaked open slowly in the darkness and, if John hadn’t been expecting to see the black-clad figure to enter, he may not have noticed the change in the shape of the shadows, the way they shifted and moved… moved towards Soo Lin, who was crouched behind a desk, peeking up over the top, reaching for—
Sensing a presence behind her, Soo Lin stood slowly, and turned.
“Liang,” she breathed. The assassin’s prowling progress through the darkness hitched for the barest moment before he stood to his full height—roughly equal with John—and stepped forward into the light. “Dàgē.”
He glared at her, silent and obviously unmoved. His hand twitched on his gun where it hung at his side—and then John stood up from behind the desk where he’d been concealed, feet spread shoulder-width apart, steadying his own gun with both hands. The muzzle was aimed directly between the assassin’s eyes.
“Stop where you are,” he said firmly. “Drop your weapon. Or I will shoot.”
He moved out to the side, circling closer, keeping the gun’s aim true and getting Soo Lin out from the line of fire so that Zhi Zhu couldn’t use his sister as a shield.
“Do it now,” ordered John, tracking him smoothly as he turned. “This woman is under my protection.”
Hands moving slowly, Zhi Zhu made to obey—but all at once launched himself across the room towards the opposite door. John tracked him smoothly with the gun all the way to the door but held off pulling the trigger on the fleeing man.
Just when it looked like he would make it through the door, Sherlock stepped out from behind the frame and struck him hard over the head.
Zhi Zhu collapsed in an artless tumble of arms and legs, and Sherlock immediately pounced on him, flipping him to place one knee on his back and binding his wrists tightly together with a piece of rope Soo Lin had found for them in the restoration room.
The assassin shook his head, struggling slightly, dazed, but it was too late. His hands lashed together, he raised his head with eyes full of hate to fix on his sister.
“Now, wasn’t that better?” demanded John over his head, accepting Sherlock’s rueful glance of acknowledgement, half hidden in the shadows as the expression was. John turned his attention to the small woman beside him, and noticed she was trembling. “Are you all right, Soo Lin?”
She gave a small, tight nod, but her eyes never left her brother and a tiny crystal reflection tracked its way down her face in the darkness.
“Soo Lin?” pressed John gently, and reached out a consolatory hand to hover over her shoulder, not quite touching. “You were very brave. He would have killed you. You have a right to live, and to be free.”
She still stared at her brother, and said softly, “Duìbùqǐ.”
Zhi Zhu struggled angrily against the ties Sherlock had fixed around his wrists and ankles, but didn’t speak.
Finally, Soo Lin turned her face up towards John.
“One day, he will escape and find me,” she said, her voice carrying a regretful kind of peace. “Perhaps he would be right to do so. But I thank you, for wanting to make a difference.”
“I’m sorry,” said John sympathetically. “Come on. Let’s go back to the restoration room. Things are… under control here and I hear if these teapots aren’t used, they’ll crumble. Maybe you can make us both a cuppa?”
Sherlock looked up at Dimmock as he approached over the steps of the museum in the uneven blue illumination.
“It’s a very interesting story the lady and your friend have been telling me,” Dimmock admitted. “But I’m not sure if I believe it. Apparently the gentleman claims not to understand English.”
Sherlock made a scoffing sound, but Dimmock spread his hands helplessly.
“We’ll have to take them back to the Yard and sort it out.”
“Mmmm,” said Sherlock, unimpressed. “Did Soo Lin show you her tattoo? Have a look at the feet on the corpses; that should be all the proof you need. This is what they were after.” He brandished the annotated photo from the wall at Dimmock. “'Nine mill for jade pin dragon den black tramway’,” he quoted. “You have the assassin who pulled the trigger now, but the tramway’s where the smugglers who employed him are holed up. Better send a response team quick, or they’ll notice he hasn’t come back and realise something’s up.”
Dimmock stared at the photo, and then looked up at Sherlock again. “If the tattoos match…” he said.
“Yes yes, off you go, then,” said Sherlock flapping his hands. How was it possible that anyone could be this slow? “Catching the assassin who killed two British citizens along with the international smuggling ring who employed him should be quite the feather in your cap. And more than worth arranging a spot in witness protection for the lady.”
There was a sudden commotion over behind the police cars—cries of alarm, and the crash of something heavy against a metal panel—but by the time Sherlock got there, racing down the steps with Dimmock trailing far too slowly behind him, it was all over. One police officer was down on the ground, apparently unconscious, another was holding his head, while a third was slumped over the bonnet of the car, apparently unable to move.
On the ground in between them, lay an empty pair of handcuffs; ones the police had apparently exchanged for the thorough and tight binding Sherlock had applied to their captive.
“Idiots!” spat Sherlock.
Of course Zhi Zhu had trained in escapology as well as acrobatics. The group were likely in town with a travelling circus—that would have to be his next line of research if they turned out to have moved on from the tramway before he got there.
Another thought appeared, written in bold white letters across the very centre of his vision, where it couldn’t be ignored, and Sherlock’s mind screeched to a halt.
“SOO LIN!” he yelled, and ran.
He ran up the steps and into the museum, ducking down hallways and corridors until he got to the empty restoration room where John had led her away, where Dimmock had introduced himself and asked her the preliminary questions. The empty, empty… it was empty again.
Except for a still-steaming, burnished teapot, two tiny, nearly-full cups….
And a single, origami black lotus.
“John?” called Sherlock, hoping anyway. “Soo Lin? JOHN!”
There was no response.
A commotion followed him down the hallway; Dimmock, following along in his own plodding way. Sherlock had no doubt he would catch up as soon as he could, but authorising and coordinating armed response teams took time.
Time that John—and Soo Lin—might not have.
Before Dimmock could come through the door and slow him down with all sorts of awkward questions, Sherlock ducked out the other door at a run.
He had a witness and his blogger to rescue.