RCMP Inspector Kate Bryant was nervous. Her first meeting with Sherlock Holmes was scheduled to begin in half an hour and there was still no sign of the car that was to collect her from Heathrow.
She sent a quick text back home to Ottawa. Flight okay. No sign of ride. Sorry about yesterday.
She stared at the screen, waiting for an answer, but didn’t get one. No surprise there.
She’d requested this case three months ago. Her superintendent in the Cold Case Unit had told her to submit her proposal in writing – so she did – ten pages of annotated and footnoted brilliance that was half fact, half conjecture. For weeks she waited for him to at least acknowledge he’d received it. When he didn’t, she added “useless fucker” to the long list of reasons why she hated him. Other offenses included his taste in ties (red, always red), the way he slurped his coffee, and number one on her list for the last year, his refusal to even consider her transfer request to Toronto.
I like to keep the pretty ones around, Bryant.
But then last week, after she’d finally accepted that her proposal was dead, in the middle of her investigation into the disappearance of two women from the Akwesasne Reserve five years earlier, he called her back to Ottawa and into his office.
“Pack your bags,” he said. He looked ridiculously pleased with himself and for a horrified moment she thought he was asking her out.
“Where am I going?”
“That proposal you submitted.”
Which proposal? Talking to him always made her feel as if she’d stumbled into someone else’s conversation.
“I passed it around upstairs, and it generated some interest. The feeling is that even if it’s a bit of a fishing expedition, it’s worth looking into. No statute of limitations on these sorts of things.”
She nodded. She had no idea what he was talking about, but she’d learned early never to let on.
“It wasn’t easy, but the budget approval just came through.” He paused and she realized he was waiting for her to thank him.
“Thank you.” In her head, she ran through the list of reports and proposals she’d submitted in the last few months.
“You leave Monday. You have a week. Akwesasne can wait. Those girls will still be dead when you get back.”
She took a breath. “Sorry, sir, but which case are you referring to?”
He frowned. “I stuck my neck out for you, Bryant, don’t disappoint me.” He slid a thin file across the desk. “You’ll liaise with our office in London –”
Please say London, England, not London, Ontario.
“—A local fellow will pick you up at Heathrow and take you to see him. I don’t remember his name, Le-something or other. Sounds French. A DI at New Scotland Yard.”
Her excitement gave way quickly to disappointment. “I’m going all the way to London just to see this DI?” She’d thought she made it clear in her proposal that there was only one person who could –
“Don’t be stupid. He doesn’t know anything but he’ll act as your liaison with Scotland Yard. We’ve arranged for you to meet with Sherlock Holmes. It wasn’t easy, so don’t waste the opportunity.”
His cell phone vibrated. He picked it up and turned away.
She’d been dismissed.
She waited on the sidewalk for another fifteen minutes, during which she managed to convince herself that she had given the London office the wrong terminal, the wrong time, the wrong day. She was in the middle of sending another text – Am fucked. No sign of – when a silver BMW pulled up beside her. The driver lowered the window and leaned across the empty passenger seat. “Inspector Bryant?”
“Yes. DI Lestrade?”
He nodded and stepped out of the car and went to the back to open the trunk. He was not what she expected a British cop to look like – clearly, she’d been watching too much PBS. This one was more George Clooney than Inspector Morse.
“Sorry I’m late. Traffic’s a mess. Let me take your suitcase.”
He lifted the suitcase into the trunk and laid it on top of a child’s bike. He saw her watching – “Flat tire. Keep promising her I'll get it fixed.”
She got into the car, buckled her seat belt and they headed away from the airport and onto the highway.
“Good flight?” he asked.
“It was fine.” She wondered again why a DI pulled the rookie job of fetching her from the airport, but she was too polite – too Canadian, probably – to ask. “How far is it to Holmes’ apartment?”
“His flat’s about forty minutes from here in decent traffic, but I’m afraid there’s been a change of plans. He can’t see you today.”
“Everything was arranged.” She did her best not to sound like a petulant child.
“Yeah, well, now it’s re-arranged. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see him.”
“For fuck’s sake . . . sorry. What the hell am I supposed to do now?”
“I’ll drop you off at your hotel. Take a nap. See a show. Be a tourist today and tomorrow I’ll take you to Sherlock.” He muttered something else she didn’t catch.
“This is nuts.” She stared out the window, trying to breathe evenly. “Everything was arranged,” she repeated.
“Yeah, well, that was last week, eh? Turns out the gatekeeper won’t lower the drawbridge for anyone today. And I know better than to argue.”
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” This time she didn’t apologize.
He dropped her off at the hotel at 11, with a promise to pick her up the next day at the same time. Her room wasn’t ready so she checked her suitcase and carried her computer case to the Starbucks at the corner. She wanted to review the file one more time, to look at it with fresh eyes. She’d strung together a series of random facts – a dead MP from Alberta, a receptionist, a government worker named James Moriarty – and came up with a theory that could possibly connect them. She needed Sherlock Holmes – the expert on all things Moriarty according to Interpol – to take a tour of the straw house she’d created and either turn it into something solid, or like the Big Bad Wolf, blow it all down.
She pulled her phone from her purse. Sent another message home. Cockblocked by Scotland Yard. 24 hrs to kill.
Her phone pinged less than a minute later. Stop whining. It’s London. Could be worse.
Love u 2, she texted back. If only it were that simple.
She opened her computer and read through the files again. She recognized just how flimsy the evidence looked at first glance. It was hard to put into words the feeling she’d had – a kind of electric hum – the first time she’d stumbled across a possible link between Moriarty and the dead MP, Peter Goodale. The police had never identified a suspect and had always assumed his murder was a carjacking that ended badly. “Does a carjacking ever end well?” she’d asked the detective who’d led the investigation ten years ago. She sighed, closed the computer and tried to shake off the feeling that Sherlock Holmes would see her for exactly what she was. A complete amateur.
She used her iPad to log onto the internet. She went to YouTube and searched for Sherlock Holmes. The more she found out about him, the more curious she became. And if this case went well, if she managed not to make a complete fool of herself, maybe she could ask another favour of him.
The first clip that came up was an interview he’d done outside his house, soon after he turned out to be not quite as dead as everyone thought. He was wearing the most ridiculous hat and a self-satisfied smile. She recognized that look – it was the one worn by every clever boy who’d just shown up all his classmates.
“You were away for two years. Did anyone know the truth?” the reporter asked. She was young and eager and held the microphone in front of Holmes, staring up at him as if he were Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
“A select few. Those closest to me.”
A select few? Who talks like that?
That was when Kate noticed the man standing slightly behind Holmes off to his left. Roughly the same age, shorter, nice looking in a comfortable sweater sort of way. She restarted the clip and concentrated on him this time. Throughout the interview, he didn’t move, didn’t take his eyes off Holmes. He reminded her of a political wife – the kind that stands beside her husband while he confesses to the world that he can’t keep his dick in his pants. When Sherlock Holmes had answered, “Only a select few,” she saw him flinch and look away for a moment. She replayed a few more times to be sure.
He didn’t know. Close enough to Sherlock Holmes to stand beside him, but not close enough to know the truth. Ouch.
There were a few more clips, dating back to when Moriarty had successfully convinced London that Sherlock Holmes was a fraud. The same man stood beside him in those interviews too. She searched the Daily Mail archives and found out his name. Dr. John Watson. One Google search later, she found his blog. Bedtime reading, she thought, and bookmarked the site.
She tapped her phone to turn it on. No new messages.
With a sigh, she checked her watch – twenty-one hours left to wait. She drank what was left of her coffee and headed back to the hotel. She wanted sleep and a shower and a decent meal. Not necessarily in that order.
She had a sense of déja vu the next morning as she waited for Lestrade on the sidewalk outside her hotel. She’d half expected a call saying she’d been put off again. She’d stayed up late, going over her notes and reading John Watson’s blog. She’d made it up to the case he called “The Hound of Baskerville” before finally falling asleep.
She’d sent a text home after breakfast. Need a Xanax. Need 2.She hesitated, her fingers poised over the letters, then typed We can work this out. We’ll talk when I get back. Please.
Her phone pinged a few moments later. Just stop.
She recognized the BMW as it turned the corner. He didn’t get out this time, just leaned across the front seat to open the door for her.
The car smelled like aftershave and coffee and curry. Take-out on the way home last night. Lives alone. New shirt, same tie.
“Good morning, Inspector,” he said.
“Kate. I always think of Clousseau when someone calls me that.”
He smiled and she relaxed a little. “Looks like you made the cut today,” he said.
“Good. I read John Watson’s blog last night and Holmes seems kind of –” She wanted to say “crazy”, but settled on “eccentric.”
Lestrade snorted. “Sherlock, he’s not like most people. He’s a bit of an –” She saw him searching for the word – “arse . . . know-it-all sometimes. Don’t take anything he says personally. Especially now.”
A warning bell went off in her head. “Why especially now?”
“We worked hard to keep it out of the papers, but he managed to get himself shot a few months ago and he’s. . . he’s not back to himself yet. There were complications followed by surgery followed by more complications . . . he’s getting better finally, but it’s going to take time.”
“Is that why I couldn’t see him yesterday?”
“Mostly. Just don’t expect too much. And do as John says. You piss off his keeper and you’ll be back on the street before your tea gets cold.”
She was about to ask another question when they pulled up in front of a restaurant.
“It’s just next door – 221b. I’ll go find a parking spot. Wait for me downstairs. We’ll go up together. ”
She suspected a visit to North Korea could be arranged more easily than this.
An older woman met them in the doorway. “Visitors for Sherlock? That’s lovely. I suppose you’ll be wanting tea.”
“Only if you don’t mind, Mrs. Hudson.” Lestrade smiled and Mrs. Hudson’s hand went to her hair, smoothing it and smiling back.
Jesus, he’s working the whole George Clooney thing.
“It’s no bother. I’ve got biscuits too.” She turned to look at Kate. “I’ve not seen you before.”
She smiled the smile she reserved for elderly ladies and babies. More forced than friendly. “I’ve not been here before. Just arrived in London yesterday.”
“Almost. Canada.” She held out her hand, “Kate Bryant.” She left out the Inspector part.
“I’ve got a nephew who emigrated there. Place called Prince George. He’s a teacher – computers, I think, or was it mathematics –”
“Tea, Mrs. Hudson?” Lestrade prompted.
“I’ll put the kettle on, dear. You go on up.”
She recognized John Watson when he opened the door. Shorter than she expected, older than he’d appeared on the YouTube clips. Dark circles under his eyes, like he hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks.
“Dr. John Watson,” he said after Lestrade introduced her. He extended one hand and she shook it briefly. Slight tremor. War injury? She noticed the emphasis he put on Doctor. Asserting his authority. Doesn’t approve of this visit. They shook hands and made (very) small talk about Canada (maple syrup good, that whole baby seal hunt bad).
“Can I see him now? I’ve got a lot of material to cover.”
“He had a difficult night and he’s finally sleeping. I don’t want to wake him just yet.”
She had the sinking feeling she was about to be sent back to the hotel. But then Mrs. Hudson came in with a tray of tea and cookies and she understood that he was trying to make up his mind. “You might as well have tea. Then we’ll see,” he said. “Greg, you want tea?”
“Thanks, but no. I’ve got to head out. Call me if you need anything,” Lestrade said. She wasn’t sure who he was talking to.
“I read on your blog that you served in Afghanistan,” she said. By then, they were sitting on the couch drinking Mrs. Hudson’s tea from white china cups. The shortbread cookies were good, an Oreo would have been better. But if the only way to get to Sherlock Holmes was through John Watson, she’d play nice. For a while anyway. “My brother served there. Almost seven months. Helicopter pilot.”
John nodded. “Dangerous job, that.”
“Yeah. He’s happy to be home. Working for the Coast Guard now.”
She knew he was only half-listening, he kept glancing down the hallway towards what she assumed was Holmes’ room. She’d watched him pour the tea, and noticed the tan line around his ring finger. Like he’d recently worn a wedding ring long enough to get a tan, but not long enough to leave the characteristic indentation that comes after years of wear.
There was an uncomfortable silence. Kate fought the urge to walk down the hall and wake up Holmes herself. She’d passed the nervous stage and was quickly moving to impatient.
“How long have you been in the RCMP?” he said. She gave him ten points for trying.
“Eight – nine years, I guess. Been with the Cold Case Unit for the last two. It’s satisfying when you solve a crime everyone gave up on years ago. Especially for the families. Frustrating as hell when you don’t. Well, you know how it is. You both did quite a bit of . . . detecting.”
She heard a bell ring from down the hall. Seriously, a bell?
“His nibs is awake. I’ll be right back.” He stood quickly and disappeared down the hallway.