She stood on the sidewalk outside the hotel at 9:30 the next morning watching for Greg’s car, computer case in one hand, a Starbucks Venti coffee in the other. She was tired – she’d spent most of the night trying to convince herself that Mary Morstan wasn’t Anna Ashcroft no matter how similar they looked – it was just too much of a coincidence. And she didn’t believe in coincidences. But if it wasn’t a coincidence, what series of unlikely events would end with Moriarty’s ex-girlfriend marrying Sherlock’s friend? Boyfriend?
She knew Moriarty had gone to great lengths to destroy Sherlock. Was Mary part of his plan too? And if she did work for Moriarty, why would she stick around after Moriarty died? Kate had stitched together a dozen different scenarios, each more farfetched than the last.
There is not enough coffee in the world for this.
She checked her phone. 9:45. No message from Chloe. No sign of Greg. Fuck.
A battered green Ford Fiesta squealed to a stop in front of her. A woman – 30ish, no makeup, missing the second button on her shirt – stepped out and turned to look at her. She didn’t look pleased. But you’re the type that’s never pleased, aren’t you?
She pointed a finger at Kate. “Are you Bryant?”
“Inspector Bryant. Yes.” She gave herself points for not giving in to the urge to say “And who the hell are you?”
“Get in. I’m the lucky one who gets to play chauffeur today. Why you can’t take a bloody cab . . . “
The front seat was littered with empty coffee cups and old papers. Kate had started to collect them when the woman shovelled them all to the floor with one sweep of her hand. “Mind where you step,” she said.
“And you are?” Kate asked in as polite a voice as she could manage.
“DS Donovan. Lestrade got called away, so he told me to fetch you and take you to his lordship’s flat.”
Listening to her was like watching a movie with sub-titles. You always knew what she was thinking.
“I could have taken a cab.”
Donovan snorted. “Yeah, that’s what I said.”
She drove to Sherlock’s with both hands gripped tightly on the wheel, cursing at everyone who got in her way. More than once, she started to say something to Kate but stopped, as if she’d promised someone that she would behave.
A long twenty minutes later, she pulled up in front of Speedy’s. “Here you go, then.” She turned to look at Kate. “He’s not what everything thinks he is. He may not have invented Moriarty, but he’s still hiding something. Top of the list is who shot him. Ask the freak that.” She pulled at her shirt self-consciously, closing the gap caused by the missing button. “Of course no one listens to me,” she added bitterly.
Oh, but they did, didn’t they? And look how well that turned out.
“Thanks for the ride. Tell Greg I can take a taxi later.”
“So it’s Greg, eh?” She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, okay.”
Kate got out and started to walk away but Donovan called her back. Kate stepped around to the driver’s side and Donovan handed her a paper bag through the open window. “I forgot to give you these. Tell John he owes me two pounds fifty.”
Mrs. Hudson sent her up with a message to tell Sherlock that the tea was coming.
“Inspector Lestrade picked up John quite early, so it’s just you and Sherlock today,” Mrs. Hudson said. “Something to do with a new case, I expect. I had to push him out the door, poor dear, he hates leaving Sherlock alone.”
“You’re late,” Sherlock said when she entered. He was back in the leather chair. “And you brought coffee. Excellent.” He held out one hand and she reluctantly handed it over. Different t-shirt, different sweatpants. Same dressing gown. Clean-shaven. Eyes clear – either no meds or no pain. Probably not both.
“Sorry. My ride was – “
“Stop apologizing. It’s an appalling habit you Canadians have. Where are my biscuits?”
She held up the bag. “Mrs. Hudson says the tea is coming.”
“So is Christmas.”
She handed him the bag of cookies and he opened it, looked inside and groaned. “Sod it. Who let Donovan buy the biscuits?” He dropped the bag on the floor beside his chair. “I despise macaroons.” He looked at her. “Not sleeping?”
“I slept.” She pulled over a chair from the table and sat between Sherlock and the empty armchair.
“Not enough. You’re wearing make-up today, something you don’t normally do, so I suspect you’re trying to hide the evidence of a sleepless night. No doubt spent wondering why I recognized Anna Ashcroft’s name.”
Was he always this annoying?
“I have some theories,” Kate said. All crap, of course.
“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t. While I was away –”
“Really? That’s what you call it? Being away?” She was pretty sure that’s not what John called those two years. She probably shouldn’t have said it, but the man had just stolen her coffee.
He ignored her. “I spent some time in Ottawa. Do you know The Scone Witch?”
She nodded. It was only two blocks from her apartment.
“Excellent tea shop. I recommend the lemon scones.”
“Why were you in Ottawa?” Why was anyone, really?
“I knew Moriarty lived in Canada – primarily Montreal and Ottawa – for several years before he moved back to Britain. Most likely from 1998 until mid-2002. He was a contractor then – murder for hire, extortion, that sort of thing. But he got bored. The smart ones always do.”
“So where does my MP fit in?”
She saw disappointment flash across his face. “You’re the detective, you tell me.”
She was about to answer when Mrs. Hudson appeared at the doorway with the tea. “I brought some biscuits too. Shortbread.” She looked at Sherlock and smiled indulgently. “Sherlock loves his biscuits. Don’t you, dear?”
“I was shot, Mrs. Hudson, not lobotomized.”
“Pity that,” she grumbled. She turned to Kate. “I’ll be downstairs if you need anything.”
Kate poured tea for herself and placed two cookies on a saucer for Sherlock. She set them on the table beside his chair and tried not to stare longingly at the Starbucks cup.
He took his time with the cookies. When he was done, he brushed the crumbs carefully from his t-shirt. She could almost see the wheels turning in his head. Finally he said, “I traced Moriarty to the same government job you did. It’s reasonable to assume he was contracted to kill Peter Goodale. That’s all I know.”
“If you know that, then you probably also know it had something to do with the private member’s bill he was planning to introduce in Parliament. The bill would have restricted mining rights in his riding. When he died, so did the bill.”
He looked pleased. Like she’d passed some kind of test. “Well done, Inspector Bryant.”
“But it’s still only a theory. I was never able to find any evidence to support it.”
“I might be able to point you to several rather incriminating wire transfers to a numbered company in Ottawa from a relative of the owner of the mining company. It was called Wild Rose Resources, I believe.”
As much as she needed his help, she didn’t like that he’d made the offer sound conditional. On what, she wondered.
He lifted one hand to scratch his nose and winced against the pain. He closed his eyes and took long slow breaths. She noticed the faint sheen of sweat on his forehead.
“Do you need to take something?” she asked.
He ignored her. His breathing slowly returned to normal and he opened his eyes. “I’m fine.”
She resisted to the urge to feel his forehead for a fever. What was it about Sherlock that alternately made her want to hug him and smack him? “Can we keep going or do you need a break?”
“I’m fine,” he repeated. “John will be back soon. Let’s move on, shall we?”
“OK. Anna Ashcroft.”
“A name on a list of Moriarty’s associates. Nothing more – I never sussed out her connection to Goodale. Something came up and I moved on.”
“You never went back?”
“It was winter. I don’t do cold well.”
“And you never investigated further?”
“There was nothing to investigate. Moriarty made a clean break when he left Canada. I saw no reason to return. And there were other, more pressing matters.”
She leaned forward. “And you never saw Anna Ashcroft’s picture?”
He shook his head impatiently.
“You had no reason to believe that Anna Ashcroft was the shooter in Peter Goodale’s murder? Or that she continued to work for James Moriarty after he left Canada?”
“Inspector Bryant, this is beginning to feel more like an interrogation than a consultation.”
She took the two pictures from her bag. One of Anna, one of Mary. She’d printed them out that morning at the hotel’s business centre. The quality wasn’t great, but they’d serve her purpose. She handed them to him and waited for his reaction.
He would have made an excellent poker player. If she wasn’t looking for it, she would never have seen it. The slightest intake of breath, a small narrowing of his eyes. But it confirmed what she suspected – he didn’t know. At least not for sure.
He handed the pictures back to her. “Well done, Inspector.”
“Does John know?” She guessed he didn’t.
It always came back to John.
He hesitated and Kate knew he was deciding how much to tell her, what percentage of truth to insert between the lies. “That his wife was Moriarty’s girlfriend and likely his accomplice? No. He found out sometime after they were married that Mary was not what she appeared to be. She told him that her real initials were A.G.R.A., but that may have been a lie too. I didn’t know about her connection to Moriarty. Not until yesterday.”
She believed him. Almost.
Sherlock leaned forward. “What do you plan to do with this . . . insight . . . about Mary? You must know you’re not the first person who has stumbled upon the truth?”
He rolled his eyes. “I shall retire the day a simple Google search replaces the science of deduction.” Arrogant bastard.
“I have Google, you have your brother. Same difference.”
His self-satisfied smile faltered. “How do you know about Mycroft?”
It was her turn not to answer.
“Did John leave her when he found out? Poor John, he finds out his wife is not the good nurse he imagined her to be – and then you get shot. How did he find out, by the way?”
Sherlock said nothing.
“And then you get shot . . .” she repeated. Greg had said Sherlock couldn’t – wouldn’t – identify the shooter. She stood and busied herself with clearing away the cups. She thought better when her hands were occupied. Sherlock’s eyes followed her.
It always came back to John.
She went still and felt the pieces sliding into place. She came back into the room and sank into John’s chair. “Oh my God. It was Mary, wasn’t it?”
“Kate . . .” he said quietly. He held up one hand, like he was trying to stop an oncoming truck. Only it was too late.
“Mary tried to kill you. Because you found out. And now you’re protecting her.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Mary’s pregnant.” He said it painfully, like the words were shards of glass.
“Oh, for crying out loud.”
That was when she noticed John standing in the doorway watching them.
“John. You’re back,” Sherlock said. He made no move to get up.
John looked back and forth between them. “Someone tell me what’s going on.” His voice was calm but Kate could hear the anger simmering beneath the surface. “Three hours, Sherlock. I leave you alone for three fucking hours . . .”
Sherlock started to answer, but John pointed a finger at Kate. “And you! You wanted to talk about Moriarty, you said. Just a few questions, you said. So someone please tell me why you’re throwing my wife’s name about. This was supposed to be about Moriarty. Because apparently there can never be too much bloody Moriarty in our lives.”
“Sit down, John,” Kate said quietly.
He shook his head. “I live here! Don’t fucking tell me to sit down in my own flat!”
Sherlock arched one eyebrow at that.
John glanced over at him. “Oi, you. Shut up.” He sat on the couch. Folded his arms. Tapped one foot. “Go on, then. Tell me why you are discussing my wife. . . ”
She took a long breath. “Moriarty had a girlfriend when he lived in Ottawa. I – we – think he recruited her there and brought her back to England with him. I think she helped him kill Goodale. I suspect she went right on working for him afterwards. Her name was Anna Ashcroft.”
“Nice story. But it’s got nothing to do with Mary,” John said. Kate recognized that tone – it was the same one used by every relative of every victim she’d ever had to break bad news to. (You’ve made a terrible mistake, Officer. My daughter will be home any minute. You’ll see.)
“Her name was Anna, John,” Sherlock repeated. Slowly. Deliberately. “Anna Ashcroft.”
“Yeah? So? What’s that got to do –”
Kate picked up Anna’s graduation picture. Sherlock shook his head but Kate handed it to John. “This is Anna.”
He stared at it a moment, one finger tracing the outline of Mary’s smiling face. Then his face crumpled, his features collapsing in on themselves. “Oh God.” He leaned forward and buried his face in both hands. “Jesus, Sherlock . . .”
He sounded sorry and tired and lost and undone.
Sherlock slowly pulled himself out of his chair and moved to sit beside John on the couch. It left him sweating and breathless and she knew from the way he was holding one arm tightly across his chest that he was in considerable pain. His other hand rested on John’s leg.
You love him, don’t you? Enough to forgive him his wife’s sins. Or maybe this is just your way of doing penance for your own.
She left them sitting there and headed downstairs. Surely Mrs. Hudson had something stronger than tea to offer. She’d kill for a glass of wine and a joint. Not much chance of that, she guessed.
She sat on the bottom step and retrieved her phone from her pocket. She typed quickly and pressed send before she could change her mind.
I love you. Everything you said was true. Please don’t leave me.
She stood and wiped her eyes. She ran a hand through her hair, squared her shoulders and knocked on Mrs. Hudson’s door.