“Is Kate still downstairs?” John asked.
“Heavens, no. She left almost an hour ago,” Mrs. Hudson said. She was collecting the dirty cups and glasses and plates scattered about the flat. “How is he?” She glanced down the hall toward the bedroom. “He gave me quite a fright. You both did. So much carrying on.”
“He’s sleeping.” He picked up a plate. “I can do the washing up.”
She paused, a cup and saucer in one hand, and looked at him. “Yes, all right.” She handed him the dishes and her expression changed, hardened somehow and for a moment he imagined he saw a different Mrs. Hudson, the one who hadn’t always been a kind landlady. “You’d do well to clean up all your messes, young man.”
He knew she wasn’t referring to the dirty dishes. “Well, yes. Of course.” He felt like a schoolboy caught cheating. “I’m trying.”
“Good.” Her features softened, and her hand went to her hair, smoothing it. “Listen to me, going on about things I’m sure I know nothing about. I best be off.”
He set the dishes on the table and kissed her quickly on the cheek – she reminded him of his mother sometimes, the fussing, the endless pots of tea, the backbone of steel. Only his mother never once smelled like weed.
He was grateful for the washing up. It gave him a chance to think about something besides the soap opera that passed for his life lately. If Kate had accomplished nothing else, she’d made him see how completely fucked up it all was. He’d been pretending – to himself, to Mary, to Sherlock, that they could continue living in this bubble indefinitely. He needed to make a decision.
After everything was washed and dried and put away, the floor swept, a week’s worth of newspapers collected and arranged on the floor by Sherlock’s chair, he climbed the stairs to his own room. He wanted to lie down, close his eyes and sleep for a very long time.
The room depressed him. The bed was unmade, the old blanket and single pillow lay across the sheets like an afterthought. After Sherlock had died (John had never learned how to switch out “died” for “fallen” in his head), he’d stripped the walls, packed his boxes, drawn the curtains. Moving back into this room had left him with the odd feeling of falling back in time. Back to the wrong time.
Truth was, in those final awful/amazing months, he’d spent most of his nights in Sherlock’s bed, not this one. They’d danced around the truth for more than a year before they finally found themselves where everyone else thought they’d been all along. And because it had been so long in coming, so hard won, John had made the same mistake that all romantics do. He thought it would last forever.
And eighteen months later he met Mary. She had pursued John with a devotion that both flattered and frightened him. She was funny and smart and sexy. She learned quickly when to hover, when to let him be, and made room in their lives for his grief. She made it easy for him to love the person she was pretending to be.
After Sherlock was shot (he was fond of this particular passive tense, to think of that night as when Mary shot Sherlock felt too much like his own heart was being torn in two), he moved back to Baker Street and into his old room.
He’d told Mary he needed to take care of Sherlock, he needed time to think. She said she understood. She said she would wait. That the baby was teaching her to be patient. She told him she loved him. She told him she was sorry. He’d wanted her to be more specific, but the words had caught in his throat like shards of glass. She sent him an envelope every fortnight now – copies of the bank statements, bills she’d paid, bills he needed to pay, the baby’s first scan. Too early to tell the sex. Too late to consider an abortion. Cancelled cheques were his only form of communication.
No one had mentioned Magnussen, although no one was naïve enough to believe it was over. John thought of these past few months like half-time, each team strategizing how to approach the final period. And now there was Kate Bryant, wandering onto the pitch with no clue about the dangerous game being played there.
He changed into a clean jumper and went downstairs. Washed his face, combed his hair, brushed his teeth. He kicked off his slippers, and walked barefoot down the hallway towards Sherlock’s room. In the near darkness, he could see Sherlock was still asleep, sprawled out, one arm hanging over the edge of the bed. He coughed and half-turned onto his side, and his face looked calm and for a moment John let himself forget everything bad that had ever happened to them.
He pulled off his jumper and trousers, lifted the sheet and slid into that familiar space, the one place he’d ever been truly happy. Sherlock sighed and said his name, and John turned and laid his palm against Sherlock’s back, rested his left foot against Sherlock’s ankle. He felt himself drifting into sleep and chose not to fight it. Later he and Sherlock would talk and argue and plan and in the end, he’d agree to whatever daft scheme Sherlock came up with. He always did. He knew now that he’d wasted months trying to make a choice that had been made a long time ago.
The sedan reminded her of the Tardis. Bigger and fancier on the inside.
The well-dressed man (he’d yet to introduce himself) tapped the dark glass that separated them from the driver and the car pulled away smoothly from the curb.
“Inspector, didn’t your mother ever teach you that it is unwise to get into cars with strangers?”
“Yeah, but you’re not exactly a stranger, are you, Mr. Holmes?”
Surprise flickered across his face. “Then you know why we need to talk.”
“I have no idea. But I’m sure it will involve more tea.”
“You are a terrible liar, Inspector.”
“I’m actually an excellent liar. But I really have no idea why you want to talk to me. Or why we have to have this conversation here. Unless this is a kidnapping. Are you kidnapping me, Mr. Holmes?”
“Hardly,” he said. “We almost never kidnap anyone anymore.” He smoothed an invisible wrinkle in his trousers. “Shall I get to the point?”
“Go for it,” she said with more bravado than she felt.
“You will wrap up this little investigation of yours and go home. Surely there must be a miscreant moose somewhere in Canada that needs your attention.”
She leaned forward and tapped on the glass, trying to get the driver’s attention. “Stop the car.” She looked at Mycroft. “This is bullshit. Stop the damn car.”
“He can’t hear you.”
She reached for the door handle and tugged it. The door was locked. “Goddamn it.” She leaned back in the leather seat. Crossed her arms. Uncrossed them when she realized she looked like a petulant teenager. Tried not to punch Mycroft in his self-satisfied pasty English face. “OK, you win. Go for it.”
“Your investigation into the murder of Peter Goodale has led you down a dangerous path. Mary Morstan is – ”
“How the hell do you know about that? Did Sherlock –”
“—not to be approached. Her name will not appear in any report.”
“She shot Sherlock. Why doesn’t anyone care about that?”
“My brother is reckless.”
She felt a surge of pity for Sherlock. “Why are you protecting her? I can’t imagine you’re doing this for John.”
He raised one eyebrow. “Dr. Watson has nothing to do with this.”
“Then why is no one arresting her? Attempted murder is still a crime here, isn’t it? Not to mention all the jobs she did for Moriarty.”
Mycroft sighed the sigh of a brilliant man surrounded by idiots. “Mary Morstan did not work exclusively for James Moriarty. Over the years, she accepted other freelance assignments. Usually for private contractors, and less frequently for government agencies that needed to distance themselves from actual events.”
“Is that your fancy-assed way of saying the British government didn’t want to get its hands dirty?”
Apparently the man never answered a question. “Her name was not always Mary Morstan. Since there had never been a reason to us to meet, we – I – did not make the connection until it was too late.”
“So you’re afraid if she’s arrested, she’ll talk. I can’t believe I’m going to ask this, but why haven’t you –” She hadn’t seen enough James Bond movies for this conversation. “—do what you people do? Remove her?”
“Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Someone else knows Mary Morstan’s history. Names, dates, locations. Someone in a position to do a great deal of damage.”
“So this has nothing to with John and Sherlock?”
“Only peripherally. Although my brother will always assume that he is the epicentre of any situation.”
Kate leaned back against the leather. Closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. Her head hurt. She believed Mycroft – mostly – but it still didn’t make sense. She was missing something. The night Mary shot Sherlock – no one talked about that . . .
Mycroft was still talking. “So we have an understanding then.” It wasn’t a question. It was never a question.
“Yes.” She nodded. “Yes. Fine.”
“Excellent.” He reached in his jacket pocket and handed her an envelope. “I’ve taken the liberty of arranging your flight home. You will leave tomorrow morning.”
The car pulled up in front of her hotel. “Have a pleasant evening, Inspector Bryant.”
She picked up her briefcase and purse, and opened the car door. She stepped out and watched the car pull away. “And fuck you too, Mycroft Holmes.” She retrieved her phone from her purse and scanned her contacts. She dialed the number quickly.
“Greg? It’s Kate. Kate Bryant.”
“Everything all right?”
“Not exactly. Look, it’s too hard to explain on the phone. Can you pick me up at my hotel? I need to ask you some questions. About the night Sherlock was shot.”
There was a silence and Kate knew he was working out an answer. “Yeah, all right,” he said finally. “Give me half an hour.”
“Thanks. I’ll be downstairs.”
In the lobby, she bought two cans of Diet Pepsi and a chocolate bar. She had a little more than three hours before Chloe landed. She needed to change and fix her hair. She needed to think.
She dropped the envelope into the garbage can by the elevator.