"Well," John said, tapping his fork on his plate. "This is nice."
Sherlock hummed absently, staring out the window.
"Right," John muttered. He glanced around the restaurant, which was admittedly not the best-lit place he had ever eaten, or the cleanest. Perhaps his statement was a bit of an exaggeration, but it was nicer than a good number of places Sherlock had taken him before. It was fairly deserted for the lunch hour, just a handful of regulars and a tourist. He said as much, thoughtfully, and turned back to his pasta.
"Why do you say that?" Sherlock had an odd glint in his eye, the kind of look John associated with being walked through the detective's thought process on a case. Which was odd, as to the best of his knowledge they didn't have a case. Though, now that he thought about it, Sherlock actually sitting down in a restaurant rather than getting takeaway was odd...
He sighed, and glanced over at the nearest occupied table. He pointed at the dark-skinned man with his knife and said, "Well, him, he's a tourist."
"Why?" John gave Sherlock a look. Sherlock rolled his eyes, saying, "You're quite right, John, but why?"
"Look at his bag, it's got a mapbook and the London A-Z sticking out of it. Who but a tourist would have those on him?"
"Someone new to town, maybe." Sherlock nodded at the man. "He's also got his return flight ticket folded into the identification tag on his bag, see?"
John squinted. There was a small tag on the bag, made of the same plasticky material of the rest of the bag. A folded piece of paper had been placed between a clear plastic cover and the rest of the tag. "I think so..."
"It's marked for a flight to America two days from now."
"So it is," John said, impressed against his will, as usual. "That's fantastic."
"Naturally," Sherlock said, leaning forward on his elbows. He rested his chin in his hands, looking speculatively at John again. "Now, what about the others. How did you know?"
"The regulars?" John shrugged. "They didn't look at the menus."
Sherlock smiled. "Very good, John. You're learning."
Oh god, he was. That was a little terrifying. And, hold on a minute... "Is that what this was, then? A test?"
"Hardly," Sherlock said, glancing out the window before jumping to his feet. "Stay here," he said when John started to follow him. "I need a man on the inside."
"What - the inside? Sherlock, what do you - Sherlock!" But Sherlock was already out the door, bell chiming gently in his wake. Heaving a sigh, John sat down and finished his pasta, looking out the window for whatever had gotten Sherlock so antsy. He could see nothing but an empty shop, closed for the weekend. He kept watching while the waitstaff took his dishes away, leaving behind a bill he'd be more upset about if Sherlock had eaten anything. John frowned at that thought; he should have seen this coming. Sherlock not eating was the most reliable symptom of a case, far more common than Sherlock actually telling him about the case. He tapped his fingers anxiously across the sticky Formica tabletop, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The man at the next table, who had been texting furiously for the last few minutes, stood up with a huff and headed towards the bathrooms. John could see him opening the door to the men's in the reflection of the window. Something glinted in the light of the open door that made John reach for the holster he didn't have anymore, and then the man turned around, shaky hands rising into the air.
"Nobody move, okay?" the scruffy man holding a gun to the tourist's back said uncertainly. He led the tourist back to his seat, turning his gun on people at the smallest movement. "Nobody move, and nobody has to get hurt." Two cooks popped their heads out from the kitchen and paled at the sight of the gun. The girl at the cash register whimpered, shaking slightly. God, she couldn't be more than seventeen. Between the staff and the customers, there were ten hostages here, including himself. Not good.
Hang on - was this what Sherlock meant by a man on the inside?
John cursed silently, watching as the man ordered everyone to give him their phones and squat down under the tables in the corner. Most secure place in the room, naturally. Farthest away from the doors, least visible from the street. Once they were all in place, he locked the door and flipped the sign so the "CLOSED" side faced the street.
That done, he seemed to have run out of things to do, and began pacing the room on shaky feet.
"What do you want?" John asked after a few minutes of this.
The man spun on him, eyes wide and aim unsteady. The tourist, who looked more annoyed than terrified at the moment, hissed, "What are you doing? Don't talk to him!"
John raised his hands, hoping he looked harmless. "I'm just saying," he said. "If you're taking hostages, you must want something."
The man narrowed his eyes at John. "Yeah," he said, and if he was aiming for a casual tone he fell short by about a mile. "I do."
Outside, something squawked loudly, and then Sherlock's voice, magnified by a megaphone, said, "Your good name cleared, Mr. West?" John sighed at the sound of his voice, full of humor and confidence. If Sherlock knew what he was doing, than it would end up alright in the end, more or less.
The man, West, started, nearly dropping his gun. He turned to face the door and shouted, "How do you know that?"
"My name is Sherlock Holmes, Mr. West," Sherlock said. "I consult for Scotland Yard on tricky cases - like the three serial murders you've been accused of committing."
"I didn't do it!" West shouted, voice cracking mid-sentence.
"That may be," Sherlock said, "but I doubt taking hostages is going to convince the officers of that."
"Officers?" West asked weakly, but John could already hear the sirens wailing in the distance. A good two or three cars, he figured.
"Yes," Sherlock said. "Those officers. They generally don't take kindly to hostage-taking. However, I might be able to convince them to hold off on storming the restaurant and arresting you where you stand. I might even be able to convince them that you're innocent of the crime."
"Then do it!"
"If you do something for me." Sherlock pulled out his phone, of all things, and started typing one-handed. "There's a phone in there, about to ring. I'm sending a text, one that only the phone's owner will understand. Let him keep the phone, use him to communicate between us, and don't hurt him."
"Or anyone else, I suppose," Sherlock added belatedly. "Do that, and I'll clear your name."
"Done!" West shouted without a second thought.
"Good," Sherlock said, voice low with satisfaction. A phone rang, a tinny bring-bring-bring John recognized as his own. And then another phone rang, a short clip of a Tears for Fears song. The tourist froze where he sat, and John got the feeling that this wasn't going to be as easy as Sherlock had expected.
West looked between the two phones, incredibly confused.
"Well?" Sherlock asked after a moment.
"What about the other phone?"
"What?" John could hear Sherlock frowning. "What other - "
"Same thing!" shouted a voice with an American accent. The tourist jumped up and stared out the window, eyes wide. West, staring out the door, didn't see, but one of the regulars - an older man, his cane lying across his knees - grabbed his sleeve and pulled him back down to the floor. "Do the same thing for that guy!"
"Must be out of his damn mind," the tourist muttered.
"Wait, no, what are you doing?" Sherlock hissed at the American. He hadn't held the megaphone far enough away from his face to keep his voice from carrying.
"You've got a friend in there, I've got a friend in there, we can help each other," the American said.
"I don't need help."
"Oh, I sense that you do."
Sherlock paused. "What was that?"
"Yes, that, that hand gesture. What is that supposed to mean?"
"It's what I do. How I know."
"That you need my help. That those officers aren't coming to this street. And that Mr. West over there was framed."
West seemed to take some hope from that declaration, and picked up both phones. "Okay... so, which one of you is Gus?" he asked. The tourist raised his hand. John was quick to point out that the other phone was his. West handed them back, and asked what the texts said in a pleasant tone that made John wonder if West had forgotten about the gun in his hand.
Sherlock's was a string of nonsense words, which meant absolutely nothing to John at first. Then he tried reading the letters in columns rather than rows, and had himself a sentence about the alibi West had presented for the second murder. Gus the tourist frowned at his phone for a minute, mouth working silently around short syllables, before he was able to translate the text as a comment about West's love of everything alfredo clearly indicating he wouldn't stoop so low as to poison another man's meal.
Sherlock sent a text almost immediately declaring that to be total nonsense, but West seemed pleased by it, and John wasn't about to correct the only man in the room with a weapon. Not until his back was turned and his guard dropped, anyway.
After that, with West loudly assuring both Sherlock and the American - "Shawn," he said through the megaphone at one point. "Shawn Spencer, psychic detective." - that the hostages would be unharmed if they found proof of his innocence, the two of them dashed off into London. John watched them go, peeking over the top of a table. Shawn Spencer, psychic detective, looked rather ordinary for either a psychic or a detective.
Still, John thought, even with an alleged psychic on the case, Sherlock would probably have it solved within the day. Within the hour, if John was lucky.
Texts came in now and then from both Sherlock and Shawn. None of them were encoded anymore, but Shawn's version of textspeak was so obscure that it might as well have been encoded for all the difficulty Gus had translating it into English. Most of them were case-related, or at least John assumed they were case-related. But sometimes it was hard to tell, like with one from Sherlock that read:
Ask West if sister has pet cat.
She didn't, which Sherlock wouldn't say was a good thing or a bad thing. A later text from Shawn mentioned something about the first victim and allergies (according to Gus), which made John suspect it was, at the very least, a not-bad thing.
And then there were other, not case-related texts. Most of them from Shawn - John could tell when Gus received one of them because he got a panicked look in his eyes and his right hand started twitching - but a handful from Sherlock that would have made John laugh in any other context.
I don't appreciate my investigation
being interfered with like this.
I think I know how Lestrade feels now.
It appears that Lestrade has a new
least-favorite police consultant.
The man actually claims to listen
No, he can't actually be psychic.
He has a good eye for clues, though.
It almost sounds like you respect the guy, John texted back, forcing down a smile at the thought of Sherlock's expression when he read this one. The cash register girl, whom he'd been sharing some of the funnier texts with, grinned and almost giggled, a pleasant contrast to the frightened child she'd been earlier.
Don't be ridiculous.
"Ah, see?" John whispered, showing the girl his phone's screen. "That's not a no."
"What's not a no?" West asked, leaning his head over John's shoulder. The girl shrunk back, and John nearly sighed. Not much you can do to comfort someone in the face of their captor. He wished he could do something about that - disarm the man, or capture him, something. Anything would be better than sitting around for much longer; that was always the part of Sherlock's cases he could never stand. Waiting was a bore; it was the chase that was the thrill.
"Nothing," he said instead. "Just waiting for the next - "
"He did it," Gus said softly, reading over his latest text. "I don't believe it, Shawn actually did it!"
"Let me see," West demanded, snatching the phone from Gus's hands. He spent a minute squinting at it, before slowly saying, "libchxout & rlklrfnd. shrlk tlkn 2 lstrd nw re:drpdchrgs."
John blinked. "Sorry, what?"
"The alibi checks out," Gus said, smiling widely. "And they found the real killer! Sherlock is talking to some guy named Lastrid - "
"Detective Inspector Lestrade," John corrected.
" - about getting the charges towards West completely dropped!" Gus jumped to his feet and held out a hand. "You're a free man!"
West was grinning even wider than Gus as he shook his hand. "I am! Thanks to you," he said, smiling at his hostages, who looked up at him with mixed feelings of anger, pity, and disgust. The feelings quickly shifted to panic when West moved to grab one of the cooks in a hug while still holding a finger to the trigger of his gun.
"So," John asked. "Any chance we could be free men too?"
West blinked, surprise on his face. "Well, sure!" he said. "You guys can go ahead back to your lives, sorry about the trouble."
After a moment of stunned silence, West unlocked the door, opened it, and waved his hand through the open space. Again, with the gun still in his hand. One of the old men got up and all but spat at West's feet. His companion wrapped an arm around his shoulders and led him out of the restaurant, soon followed by the other three regular customers. The cashier got up with the help of the cooks, and made her way outside, not quite steady on her feet.
Which just left John and Gus. And West, who seemed a lot more aware of the gun in his hand than he had just a second ago.
"Now, I can't just let you leave," West said, still smiling. "Or they'll have no motivation to save me. You understand," he added. "I've got to protect my interests here."
Gus nodded. And nodded. And nodded. "Of course," he was saying, "We understand, right, John?"
"Right," John said. "Perfectly reasonable."
West frowned, and lowered his gun. "You think?"
It was then that DI Lestrade and a few officers burst into the room, surrounding West before he had a moment to act. Sherlock and Shawn were right behind them, and John felt the tension that had been building up in his shoulders leave him all at once.
He grinned. "What took you?"
Sherlock smiled, held out a hand, and pulled John to his feet when he took it. "Had to make a convincing show of it, didn't I?" he said. "West had to believe we were actually trying to prove his innocence."
John frowned. "You mean, he wasn't - "
Lestrade snorted, watching one of his officers take West away in cuffs. "The man's completely mad. And I say this having called you mad a good dozen times since we've met," he added to Sherlock.
"Oh, I'd hardly say it was only a dozen times."
"Still," Lestrade said. "Complete nutter. Good job you did distracting him, though, doctor."
John blinked, surprised at the acknowledgment. "Thank you."
"Couldn't have done it better with a professional in place."
Gus was quivering with anger, glaring at Shawn.
"What?" Shawn asked. He actually seemed honestly confused.
"I was a hostage, Shawn. For the second time. That's two times too many!" Gus shouted. Shawn reached out and grabbed his arms, lowering them to his sides, holding them steady.
"Easy, buddy," Shawn said. "It's cool, it's fine. You heard the guy - he wouldn't have hurt you."
"Considering the fact that the detective over there said he was totally crazy, I don't think I believe you," Gus said shortly. He picked up his bag, unmoved throughout all the chaos of the day, and walked out the door. "I'm going home, Shawn."
"Gus!" Shawn said petulantly, following him. "Come on, buddy, just listen - "
" - nuh-uh, Shawn, no way. I did not come to England to be taken hostage."
"Hey, I didn't do it on purpose - "
The door shut behind them, chiming gently and cutting off their conversation. John looked up at Sherlock, who was wearing a blank expression that, if John knew Sherlock like he thought he did (which he rarely did, unfortunately), might mean Sherlock was amused by that conversation.
"So," John said. Sherlock looked down at him. "A man on the inside?"
"Yes, well, it was the best way to keep him occupied."
"Right, right." John glanced at the officers picking at the scene, at his abandoned table in the corner that Sherlock had picked out, at the door a very strange pair of tourists had just exited. He walked towards the door, knowing Sherlock was following him. "So, here's a question."
"Yes?" Sherlock sounded almost excited, a bit like how he'd sounded before when testing John's ability to notice small details.
"What sort of hand gesture were you talking about, before?"
Sherlock paused in the doorway. "What, you mean the thing Spencer was doing?"
"Yes, that. What did it look like, I didn't get a chance to see."
Sherlock sighed. "Oh, it was the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen, it went something like this." With a melodramatic flourish he lifted a hand to his temple and shut his eyes.
"No," John said, laughing.
"Quiet," Sherlock said, holding out his other hand. "Quiet, I am sensing something. I'm sensing something... spiritual." Sherlock opened an eye and looked at John. "Scotch. Single malt. I think he may have been bathed in it as a child."
"Stop it, I'm going to break a rib!"
"It's the only logical explanation I can think of," Sherlock insisted, before he gave up the ruse and started laughing himself, low chuckles a proper companion to John's own giggling.