"Well, that's interesting." Sherlock had been standing by the window for nearly three quarters of an hour; now he turned and smiled at John. "We have a case."
John crossed to the window and pushed the curtain aside. "I don't see anyone."
Sherlock shrugged and dropped into the armchair. "Wait," he said. "About four minutes."
Knowing Sherlock, John didn't put much stock in that "about." He set his watch. When it beeped at the four-minute mark, he glanced up and saw— "Oh. Hm," he said.
"Yes," Sherlock agreed. He put his hands behind his head. "What do you make of it?"
John bit his lip; he both anticipated and dreaded these examinations. It was, of course, a compliment just to be asked, and he was getting better at giving answers. He knew that Sherlock often found his thoughts interesting: sometimes even useful. All the same… He stared at the car navigating uncertainly up Baker Street: a black Rolls Phantom.
"Well…" John began. "It's hired. I can see the agent's sticker on the windscreen."
Sherlock smirked approvingly. "Go on."
"They're coming to us. Unless Speedy's is doing their world-famous pesto panini."
"Yes, yes; I said as much," Sherlock said impatiently. "What else?"
"They've circled twice, so they don't know their way," John said, trying to think it through. "Which fits in with a hired car: a driver not used to London," and then: a brainstorm. He tried to sound casual. "Probably American, from the distinctively erratic mode of driving—"
Sherlock abruptly sat up. "Everyone drives erratically in London, and nobody knows their way—except cabbies, and they're lying half the time. Still, yes, perfectly right: American, for about seventeen reasons, but you could have got there from the car: Rolls Royce, vehicular aspiration of choice for American popstars and visiting sultans. Only footballers have worse taste." Sherlock went back to the window and peered out from behind the curtains on the other side, and together they watched as the Rolls stopped dead in the middle of the street. The driver got out, leaving the engine running; he was thin and casually dressed in all black: black jeans, black jacket, black t-shirt, black trainers. He darted between the parked cars and rang the bell.
Sherlock turned into the room and stood there, listening. John listened too: the creak as Mrs. Hudson opened the door, the faint murmur of conversation, and then her suddenly raised voice and the thump, rump, bump of— ("Here he comes," Sherlock murmured.)—the man racing up the stairs. A moment later, the sitting room door burst open. Mrs. Hudson's voice, ("Mr. Holmes! I'm sorry, I couldn't stop him!") floated up the stairwell, but Sherlock was already striding toward the man, hand extended.
The man wasn't as young as his build and agility would suggest; his short hair was graying, and his face was deeply lined: fifty at least. His arms, John now saw, were tattooed to the wrists. "Mr. Holmes?" he asked, focusing on Sherlock. "I've been asked to personally—"
"Yes," Sherlock said. "Give it to me." The man reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, took out a shiny silver envelope, and handed it to Sherlock. "Very well," Sherlock said, turning it over in his hands. "Tell her I have it. Hurry up, you're getting a parking ticket," and the man swore and fled down the stairs. "It's all right, Mrs. Hudson!" Sherlock called down after him. "Let him out, and I'd love a cup of tea when you have a chance."
"I'm not your—" Mrs. Hudson began. Sherlock closed the door.
"Who was that?" John demanded. "What did he give you?"
"I haven't opened it yet," Sherlock said, but then he held the silver envelope to his forehead. "Hm. Let me see if my psychic powers are working. I hear—screams." Sherlock frowned. John went still. "Terrible screaming. From tens—no, hundreds maybe even thousands of people." Sherlock's voice dropped to a raw whisper. "It's a catastrophe, John, or—" and all at once he dropped the pretense, "—I don't know: a rock concert," and John thumped him, once, hard, right around where a heart would've been. Sherlock went "oof," and recoiled, but didn't stop talking. "I mean, you can call it music," Sherlock said, suddenly adopting a plodding Lancashire accent, "but I don't," and then, in his own voice: "That hurt."
"Not enough, it didn't," John said, eyes narrowing.
Sherlock handed John the letter, already bored. "I did say American popstar, didn't I?"
"Yes, but…" John tilted the envelope back and forth, watching his reflection shimmer. The name Sherlock Holmes was scrawled across the front, with curlicues in the "S" and the "H". He looked up. "Can I open it?"
Sherlock barked out a laugh. "Do you need to open it?" and then he began to rummage through the newspapers stacked on the desk. "Three major American popstars in town, not counting Madge who—well, no one does any more, do they? Neil Diamond is at Wembley, but ha: no." Sherlock was flapping through the Guardian. "Beyonce—not unless she's had a severe personality break, which is, of course, possible. Which leaves—" The newspaper thwacked onto the desk in front of John. He looked down at it.
The full-page advert featured an impossibly long-legged blonde with red lips and a handlebar mustache astride a urinal. SALON DADA was printed in a vibrant, irregular font.
"New Jersey's own Trisha Tzara," Sherlock said, sounding satisfied. "Otherwise known as Lady Dada. Never heard her sing but the ringtones are certainly ubiquitous—"
"Yes, I know who she is," John said, suppressing an eyeroll.
"Oh, do you?" Sherlock asked, interested.
"Yes. Because I live on this planet—which is called Earth, for your information. What could she possibly want?"
"A grade 8 violinist, obviously." Sherlock took up his violin. "Either that," he added, after executing a neat little arpeggio, "or a first-class consulting detective."
All right, that was an intriguing thought. "Are you going to open this letter or not?"
"I don't have to. She won't have said anything unexpected." Sherlock let out an exhausted sigh, violin and bow falling to his sides, but the words tumbled out energetically: "My dear Mr. Holmes—all hypercorrect; she probably pronounces the t in often—it would give me great pleasure if you would call upon me tonight after my engagement at the O2 arena in North Greenwich—as opposed to the O2 Arena in Barnsley, I suppose, but never mind. If you show this letter to any of the security personnel they will escort you backstage. While the show will not conclude until around eleven, please accept the enclosed tickets for you and your guest, the estimable Doctor Watson, da-da-da-da. Most sincerely: Dada."
John reached for the letter opener. "Don't be ridiculous," he said absently, but there were two giant pink concert tickets inside, and his own name all but jumped out at him from her letter: DR. WATSON, written in that crazy, curlicued script.
"Well?" Sherlock demanded, in a tone that said: Tell me I was right. I never tire of it.
The bell rang. Sherlock listened, head cocked, to Mrs. Hudson answering the door. "Interesting," he murmured, putting down his violin. "Sooner than I expected."
"What is?" John asked, flummoxed, but Mrs. Hudson was already seeing in the visitor.
Unlike Dada's aging roadie of a chauffeur, this man looked like he'd stepped straight out of GQ. He had the high, sharp cheekbones of a model, and his hair had been, it had been styled. No, his hair had style, and his suit had more: John could recognize the cut of outrageously expensive clothes, now he saw them every day on Sherlock.
"Mr. Holmes," he said, and John detected a faint Continental accent: German, perhaps? "William Ormstein. Bohemian Records." He reached into the pocket of what had to be a thousand quid jacket, pulled out a card, and, holding it between his second and third fingers, offered it to Sherlock. Sherlock took it, only glancing at it before handing it over to John: quality paper, professionally produced, if a rather tacky logo: Bohemian Records. William Ormstein, Chairman and CEO. John handed it back to Sherlock, who pocketed it.
"A pleasure, Mr. Ormstein. This is my colleague, Doctor Watson. Do sit down." Sherlock folded himself into an armchair and steepled his fingers beneath his nose. "What can we do for you?"
"This conversation: it is entirely confidential, yes?" Ormstein asked. His blue eyes were intense behind the square frames of his glasses.
Sherlock's eyes narrowed. "Entirely," he said.
Ormstein seemed satisfied. "Very well." He slouched back in his chair and propped a leather booted foot on his opposite knee. "I know you have just received a summons from her ladyship," he said, his softly Germanic "s"-sounds emphasizing his disdain. "It is, of course, me whom she wishes to discuss, but I am hoping to enlist you in my own cause."
"Hm," Sherlock said, noncommittally, and then: "Do you still have a contract?"
Again, John was lost, but Ormstein seemed to be following. "Yes! If she would but honor it!"
Sherlock sat up abruptly, waving a hand around as if swatting a fly. "I mean a legal contract, a piece of paper you can show to—no, sorry, obviously you don't. Vast lunch; never mind," and John wasn't sure in what universe a piece of brown bread, a hunk of Stilton, and three espressos counted as a "vast lunch," but Sherlock's remorse seemed genuine. "You had an oral contract," he clarified. "An honorable agreement—"
"So I thought." Ormstein angrily tossed back a lock of his machete-styled hair. "But she has no honor, Mr. Holmes. She is a piranha. She consumes everything around her." All at once he was on his feet, pacing. "Of course, she is an amazing woman: magnificent, imaginative, fearless; a soul from another age; a true diva. But she is also ruthless: she will make millions from songs she paid pennies for, and release them—ha, not on Bohemian, as once she had promised—but to EMI, or Warner or Sony."
"Tragic," Sherlock said, already losing interest, "but I suppose that is her prerogative."
"But you could plead my case," Ormstein said. "Understand me: Lady Dada has a guilty conscience: she is convinced someone will steal her masters, and so convinced is she that she keeps them near to hand, like love letters or jewelry. And she is perhaps not wrong."
Suddenly Sherlock had laser focus. "Are you saying—?"
"I am saying nothing," Ormstein returned. "I'm saying that there are many who have —how shall I put it—a parental interest in those recordings. Trisha may present herself as their mother, but there was also a father, and a godfather, and more than one midwife…."
Sherlock was looking at him with unseeing eyes, deep in thought. "Yes, I see."
"It would not be stealing. Or at least, it would not be an ignoble theft." Ormstein focused all his attention on Sherlock, then licked his lips. "I myself would offer to pay you handsomely to steal them if I thought you could be persuaded to accept," and when Sherlock seemed to be actually thinking this over, John interjected, forcefully: "No thank you. Not in our line."
"Pity," Ormstein replied, without condescending to look in his direction. "Well, in that case, you will perhaps convey a message to her, as she refuses to grant me an audience. Tell her that William Ormstein wants only what is rightfully his," he said, tilting his chin up. "And that she would do well to settle her accounts before fate contrives to settle them for her."
"Is that a threat?" John asked softly; dangerously.
"Yes, I believe so," Sherlock replied brightly, and then, rolling to his feet: "Good day, Mr. Ormstein—and thank you for a most invigorating conversation."
"Invigorating?" John demanded when Ormstein had gone. "Correct me if I'm wrong, Sherlock, but didn't that bastard more or less announce his intention to commit robbery?"
"Indeed!" Sherlock clasped his hands together ecstatically. "Marvelous of him, really. A battle of wits, the gauntlet thrown. Honestly, other than committing the robbery myself—and oh," Sherlock said, abruptly turning to glare at him, "my dear John, in future would you kindly leave it to me to decide what cases to take or not take."
John tried to control his irritation. "He was asking you to do something illegal, Sherlock—"
"I had grasped the idea, yes. Still, it doesn't pay for a consulting detective to have too scrupulous a reputation. You lose the most interesting cases that way. Shall we go to the concert or just turn up afterwards for the interesting part?"
"Oh, we should definitely go," John said, hastily adding: "It might be useful to the case."
"Very well! It's a date! Or—whatever you prefer to call it," Sherlock said.
Their seats were embarrassingly good; a spacious VIP box at the side of the stage and drinks brought to them by proper waiters. John ordered a pint, settled back into his comfortably upholstered chair, and nonchalantly tried to make out the occupants of nearby boxes: fuck, was that really Paul McCartney? Then the arena darkened, the music swelled, and Dada's fans began chanting her name and stomping their feet, louder and louder, till everything was vibrating: walls, floor, air; the beer sloshing in his glass.
Lady Dada appeared on stage between one lightning flash and the next. She cut an outrageous figure, wearing a giant headdress made of leaves and branches that had to be five feet across, and giant platform heels made of wood. The effect was part showgirl, part walking tree. The screams that greeted her arrival were deafening, but the sound system was good, and when she began to sing, John found her voice surprisingly pleasant. He watched, mesmerized, as she executed some absurdly complicated choreography with an army of dancers dressed as woodland creatures. At the song's climax, a flock of white birds flew out of her headdress, and John found himself cheering along with everyone else.
"Christ, did you see that?" John asked, turning to Sherlock—who was texting. Sherlock glanced up at John, then at the stage, where various fur-clad dancers were still gyrating and scurrying about. The back of the set had split open to reveal a three-story waterfall. "There's fireworks and blaring pop music!" John yelled, feeling unaccountably outraged. "Not to mention that birds just flew out of her fucking head! How can you not be watching?"
Sherlock's shrug was the barest flick of fingers: a computer in hibernation mode. "She's lip-synching," he said, already attending to his Blackberry, as if that were answer enough.
She's dancing with ferrets, John wanted to retort, but it was hopeless really. He took a long draught of beer and looked back at the stage. Three costume changes later, wearing a blonde wig and a dress that seemed to have been made entirely from clingfilm, Dada was lowered by trapeze to the bench of a shockingly pink piano. The arena grew hushed. Dada played the opening notes of a melody, then began to sing to her own accompaniment.
Sherlock looked up.
John hadn't realized that he'd been monitoring Sherlock's reactions, but clearly he had been, because he was instantly aware of the change in Sherlock's breathing, the way he'd shifted in his chair. John glanced over and saw that Sherlock was leaning forward, physically drawn to the music. His eyes were closed, and John realized that Sherlock was listening intently, as if it were an extreme sport, a total head-to-toe activity.
Sherlock stayed like this for the entire song and the next, which was also performed on piano. When Dada finished playing, leaping up from the piano bench to thunderous applause, Sherlock slouched back in his chair, long legs bent and knees coming up, and called for a glass of white wine. He didn't close his eyes again, but watched the rest of Dada's increasingly surreal performance with hooded eyes.
Finally, after two encores, Lady Dada left the stage. They got up and presented their letter to one of the security officers, who whisked them through a door, down two deserted corridors, and into a private elevator. The doors opened onto a party, with glamorous people sipping drinks and wearing uncomfortable-looking clothes, which they showed off to great effect while pretending to be chatting. John jammed his hands in the pockets of his jacket and smiled politely at Elton John as he followed Sherlock through the crowd to another door. Sherlock seemed, as he so often did, to be oblivious, going so far as to mutter something cutting to a surprised-looking Jonathan Ross, who was blocking his way.
Here, through this last door, they found Lady Dada. John had expected to see Trisha Tzara winding down or relaxing with friends backstage (perhaps in a bathrobe or other comfortable clothes, face scrubbed but still bearing traces of the kabuki makeup she'd worn for the last few numbers) but Dada offered no such candid moment. She was impeccably made up in yet another outrageous costume. She wore a wig of giant pink curls and little else: a sly winding ribbon of a swimsuit and pink high-heeled pumps. The only sign that she'd just performed for nearly three hours was that she was reclining on a red velvet chaise longue. Her huge violet eyes blinked slowly, framed by false eyelashes.
She looked like a plastic doll, an effect only slightly dispelled when she began to speak. "Mister Holmes," she said. "Doctor Watson. Awesome, you showed," she said, and gestured toward nearby chairs. "Can they get you anything?" and when Sherlock and John shook their heads, her entourage trooped out and closed the dressing-room door behind them.
"This," Dada said, dramatically lifting a shiny silver box, "is my next album. I want you to protect it—with your lives, if necessary! I'm surrounded by charlatans and thieves!"
Sherlock's disdain at being asked to give his life for—literally—a song, could be seen from space. "Thieves like Herr Ormstein?" he asked.
"Him, yeah. All of 'em," Lady Dada said darkly.
"I presume these are digital files?" Sherlock asked.
"Uh-huh. It's the master recording."
"Why not make copies? That way you insure against their being destroyed."
"Yeah, but the pirates and all the bootlegs and shit," Dada replied. "Yargh!" She grimaced at them, closing one eye and hunching weirdly in her bathing suit. Then she straightened. "And we'd never know who leaked it with all those masters lying around. Not worth it."
"A vault then," Sherlock suggested. "Slip out and take them to a—"
Dada's violet eyes went huge. "Are you kidding? I am Dada! Everything I do is fuckin' spectacular! And I'm not willing to give my album to anyone else—not even you, Mister Holmes. You've heard of Ormstein: how do I know you're not working for him, or someone like him? How can I trust anybody?" She shook her huge pink hairdo from side to side. "No way, it stays here with me." She stroked a hand over the silver box; she had absurdly long, pink fingernails. "I do all my own recording and my songs stay in my hands till I say so."
"I see," Sherlock said acidly. "In which case: how do you expect me to protect them?"
But Dada was equal to his sarcasm. "How the hell should I know?" she asked. "You're the one who's supposed to be such a fucking genius—you figure it out."
"Impossible woman!" It was the same thing Sherlock had been saying for the last forty minutes, ever since they parked outside Dada's hotel. One would have expected Knightsbridge to be deserted at this hour, but a crowd of fans and photographers hung around the hotel's solid oak door, kept at bay by red uniformed doormen in epaulettes, who looked as if they'd been conscripted into Dada's army. Sherlock and John had swung by Baker Street to pick up some photographic equipment, then commandeered a cab for their stakeout. True, Dada had given them an unlimited expense account, but John wasn't sure if Sherlock's decision to leave the meter running was expediency or revenge.
John carefully snapped close-ups with a telephoto lens while Sherlock sulked and muttered, "Impossible woman" at regular intervals. "Look," John said finally, setting down the camera, "if you feel that way about it, why did you even take the case?"
"Because it's interesting," Sherlock all but snarled. "There's something here I can't quite…" He trailed off without finishing and looked out the car window, or possibly at his own reflection. John sighed and focused his lens on a Japanese girl in a blonde wig; this stakeout was a nightmare, everyone was wearing wigs and sunglasses and far too much makeup. Suddenly the Japanese girl began hopping frantically up and down. John quickly snapped his picture and said, "I think she's coming."
Three Rolls Royces turned the corner: Dada's was a replica of John Lennon's psychedelic one—or hell, maybe it was Lennon's. "She's certainly not what you'd call understated," John murmured, but Sherlock wasn't listening: he was watching steadily, hardly blinking. Dada pulled up in front of the hotel, and when she got out, John saw that she was dressed entirely in white, almost glowing. Clasped in one hand, the shiny metal box became a futuristic handbag. A cascade of flashbulbs went off like fireworks, and Dada signed autographs with the rapid-fire intensity of a machine gun as she crossed the pavement to the hotel door. She stopped to blow fervent kisses to the crowd before slipping inside.
The street was suddenly dark, and John couldn't help but admire the effect: an eclipse.
Left in the dark, the crowd began to disperse. Lights began going off in the hotel, too, until eventually the street was dark and quiet. "Well?" John asked, suppressing a yawn and settling back on the bench seat beside Sherlock. "Can we call it a night?—I'm exhausted."
"No. Not yet. Possibly nothing more will happen, but I can't help but suspect…" Sherlock trailed off as lights began going on all over the hotel. In wordless agreement, John and Sherlock got out of the cab and rushed across the street, reaching the oak door just as it flew open and people began stumbling out: not just the doormen, but hotel guests in their pajamas and dressing gowns. Sherlock seized the nearest hotel employee by the lapels and shook him. "What's happened?" he demanded, and then the fire alarms went off.
"My guess would be a fire," John said, as around them the street grew crowded.
"Your guess would be a fire," Sherlock retorted. "No. Fire alarms typically precede an evacuation; my guess would be—" Police cars turned into the road at both ends, blocking it off. An armed response van and two unmarked cars drew up closer and began spilling officers onto the scene, including a harried looking Inspector Lestrade. "Ah, yes, here come the dogs," Sherlock said, and indeed, there they were: a team of them, straining at the lead.
"Sherlock," Lestrade said, hurrying over. "Why am I not surprised to find you here?"
"Obviously because of my well-documented ability to be five steps ahead of the police," Sherlock said, only half paying attention, and then: "Hang on, what are they doing?"
"If you're five steps ahead of us," Lestrade began, but Sherlock was rushing off to where the police were establishing a perimeter and rapidly ushering guests to the far side of it.
"Are you stupid?" Sherlock gestured frantically at the stream of fleeing guests. "There isn't a bomb, it's a robbery—"
"Come along now please," the officer said patiently, "come this way now, for your own safety—"
"Safety?!" Sherlock shouted. "Is that all you can think about?"
"Come on, don't be silly," the officer said, but Sherlock snarled and began to work his way through the crowd, eyes boring into each face in turn. Finally he seized the shoulders of a woman wearing a fluffy white dressing gown and a towel twirled impossibly upward on her head in defiance of sense or gravity: Dada. "It's okay!" she said, raising the shiny metal box in one hand. "I've got it! I grabbed it when they pulled the alarm!"
"No," Sherlock said, sounding grieved. "You haven't got it. Terrorists in, bombs out: if it were terrorists, they'd have sealed us in, but a bomb threat assures a speedy—"
Dada was already frantically working the latch of the metal box, and she let out a little animal cry of despair when it swung open, empty.
"—escape," Sherlock Holmes said.
* * *
"All right." Lestrade pushed back from the dining table in Dada's luxury suite, which he'd commandeered as a desk, and rubbed tiredly at one eye. John knew just how he felt. "Let me see if I've got this." Oddly enough, it was John he was addressing himself to. Once back in the suite, Dada had immediately thrown off her dressing gown and strutted, entirely naked but for the towel around her head, into the bathroom. A quarter of an hour later she had composed herself sufficiently to emerge in a baby doll dress, blue wig, and huge plastic sunglasses, but so far she had curled up on the sofa on the far side of the room and refused to talk to anybody, even her sycophants, who crept up occasionally to make offerings of booze, vegetable sticks, or gourmet chocolates. Sherlock was equally incommunicative, having requested and then abruptly refused a map of the hotel, apparently deciding that it would be more productive to go sulk by the window.
"You're telling me that this bomb threat was just cover for a burglary. That someone has taken this woman's property, which she normally carries about her, um, person—" Lestrade averted his eyes and John stared fixedly down at the table; they'd both seen quite a bit of Lady Dada's person. They'd hardly known where to put themselves. "—and then called in a bomb threat to orchestrate their escape."
"So says Sherlock," John said, nodding.
"So says Sherlock," Lestrade sighed. "So you're theorizing that our suspect has a familiarity with the Met's procedures for dealing with a coded warning."
"I'm not really theorizing anything, to be honest," John said, stifling a yawn. It was coming on to dawn, and he was too old to be staying up all night with popstars and celebrities.
"Sherlock theorizes, then," Lestrade said. "And he was hired by Ms. Dada to protect this very item which has now been stolen, correct?" John nodded grimly and they looked over at Sherlock, brooding with his Blackberry by the window. Lestrade lowered his voice: "I'd've laid money such a thing was impossible. Mr. Infallible. He must be fuming."
"Out of his mind with it, I think," John murmured back.
Suddenly Lady Dada stood up, flung off her sunglasses, and faced the room. "Look, I gotta get my mixes back. I'll pay anything for them—"
John and Lestrade got to their feet. "That might be just what the criminal wants," Lestrade cautioned.
"Good. That makes two of us. Mr. Holmes?" but Sherlock wasn't listening. Dada literally stamped her booted foot, but the carpet was thick and there was no sound. "Mistah Holmes!" she called louder, in the scraping tones of New Jersey, and Sherlock winced as he turned. "I'd like you to offer a reward. Twenty-five—nah, too skimpy. A hundred thousand dollars," Dada amended, raising her arms as if writing the words in the sky, "for the return of Lady Dada's upcoming multi-platinum album: Notoriety."
There was a collective gasp from among Dada's entourage. Three suits who were, John was suddenly sure, from the record company looked to be having heart attacks. A wide-eyed sycophant in silver pants clapped his hands wildly and said, "Oh my god, I love it!"
"Er, excuse me, Dada," one of the suits began, visibly stopping himself from mopping his brow with a handkerchief, "but a hundred thousand dollars is—"
"Oh, shut the fuck up," Dada said, rolling her eyes. "Like you're paying for it out of your lunch money. Besides, it's incredibly cheap publicity, which you would know if you weren't a total moron. And Dada doesn't do anything small. Dada doesn't know what small is." She looked at him, sweeping a hand up and down. "It's like you're invisible."
"She's got a point," interjected a woman who was tapping furiously on an iPad. "There's no margin in a small reward: this has got to be a huge international story, and if we weigh that press coverage against the cost of print ads and TV commercials…" She tapped the iPad a few more times and then hazarded, "Honestly, a quarter million might be better."
Dada stabbed a long-nailed finger at her. "I like how you think. Who the hell are you?"
The woman seemed taken aback. "I'm, er, Preston's assistant—"
"Not any more," Dada said, and then, turning to Sherlock, "Get moving, all right? Tweet it: a quarter of a million bucks to whoever gets me my album back, contact Sherlock Holmes."
Preston's ex-assistant began tapping into her iPad. "How many—"
"85 characters," Sherlock said. "Well within the limit."
"What's your Twitter handle?" Preston's ex-assistant asked.
Dada threw her arms up. "They can Google him, for Christ's sake. If you can't find Sherlock Holmes on Google, you've got no hope at all."
The sun was rising by the time they got back to Baker Street. John faceplanted onto the bed, and when he lifted his head, light was streaming through the window. Afternoon light.
He stumbled downstairs to find Sherlock, looking fresh as a daisy, frantically thumbing his Blackberry. "It's been the top story on Google News for hours," Sherlock told him. "1,481 sources. I've already got seventy-four emails and thousands of meaningless texts—"
John raised a hand. "Hang on. Just. Please—" Sherlock shrugged and returned his attention to his handheld while John made tea with two teabags, two spoonfuls of sugar, and far too much milk. Thus fortified, he settled into the armchair beside Sherlock's. "Right," he said, and exhaled in relief. "Now. I assume we'll be paying Herr Ormstein a visit?"
Sherlock didn't even look up. "What?"
John took another hasty gulp of tea before replying. "Herr Ormstein?" he repeated. "Our primary suspect? Whose name you didn't mention to Lestrade, by the way."
"Yes, well," Sherlock said distractedly. "Because he didn't do it. First thing I checked. Ormstein was at the Music Industry Trust afterparty. 3AM Girls blogged it."
"Oh. Well. I suppose that makes sense, really." John took another gulp of good, strong tea. "If Ormstein really was planning to steal Dada's album, he wouldn't have come blustering up here like something out of a panto. I mean..." John said, realizing that Sherlock was staring at him fixedly. "Well, you know what I mean! If you're guilty, you wouldn't want to look guilty, would you? Ormstein practically confessed: he must be innocent!"
"You really do have the most remarkable mind," Sherlock said.
"Oh, piss off, will you?" John groaned. "What's your big idea?"
"I have no ideas; there's not enough data. No, that's wrong: I have too much data. Useless data." Sherlock made as if to throw his Blackberry against the wall, then abruptly thought better of it. "The real players haven't made themselves known to us yet. But they will, no doubt; Lady Dada's seen to that with her quarter of a million dollars."
"Impossible woman!" John said, figuring that they might as well get that out of the way.
"Yes," Sherlock said thoughtfully. "But she also has a kind of animal brilliance to her—"
John couldn't stop himself laughing. "Oh, she'd like that," he said. "Very flattering. I see now why the women can't stop themselves falling over you—"
Sherlock looked irritated. "I told you—"
"—what with you praising their animal brilliance, and what: their keen sense of smell?"
"—I'm not interested in women." Sherlock let his Blackberry clatter to the coffee table.
"Yes, yes, I know. Or men," John said.
"Or men," Sherlock repeated savagely, and crossed his arms. "Or hyenas or cacti or tubas or the French, so can we please get back to—" Then he sat up, displaying his own animal brilliance. "Car door," he said, and then John heard it too, a soft thump. "Here we go."
The guy who bounded up the stairs and burst into their sitting room was a very different creature from William Ormstein, though they were probably about the same age. He wore jeans and a faded t-shirt. His trainers were dirty, his leather jacket well-worn. He needed a haircut: his fringe was falling into his eyes. He was clutching a jiffy bag.
"I—oh my God," the man said, looking from Sherlock to John to Sherlock again. He seemed dazed and out of breath. "Sorry. Just. Hi, I'm Jeff: Jeff Norton. You're Sherlock Holmes?"
Sherlock's eyes had gone all narrow and analytical so John stepped in to take care of the social niceties. "He is. I'm John Watson—here, sit down, take your coat off. Cup of tea?"
"No, no, ta. I'm fine," Jeff said, collapsing into an armchair. "Just a bit shocked. I came round straight away. They said to come round if you knew anything, and I—well, I've got it!" He held up the jiffy bag with both hands. "I can hardly believe it!"
"How did you get it?" John asked.
"It was on the telly," Jeff replied, his eyes going wide "I mean, literally on top of the telly. Believe me, I know how it sounds…"
"Hang on," Sherlock said, in a voice that said, clearly, amateurs out of the way. "From the beginning please…"
"But that's it. That's all that's happened!" but Sherlock's eyes were boring into him and so Jeff took a breath and tried again. "I was listening to the radio. I was having a bit of breakfast and listening to the radio and I heard that Trish's album had gone missing. But it was just a teaser, you know, between songs and—"
"Trish?" Sherlock interrupted, eyebrow arched.
Jeff's cheeks flushed. "Trisha. Lady Dada. You won't believe me," he said, suddenly tipping his chin up, "but I worked with her once. Before she was all famous."
"Of course I believe you," Sherlock sighed. "Come to think of it, it was inevitable. Tell me: what exactly did you do for Lady Dada before she was all famous?"
"I wrote songs for her," Jeff said. "She'd done cabaret in New York, but she wasn't a dance act until she came here. Her producer hired me to write her a couple of songs—you know, for the clubs. Trisha loved my songs. She always said she loved my songs—"
"Was that producer William Ormstein?" Sherlock interrupted.
Jeff looked taken aback. "Yeah. How'd you know?"
"And Lady Dada was supposed to record these songs for Bohemian Records?"
"Yeah, I guess. I mean, that's probably what Ormstein thought."
"But she didn't," Sherlock said pointedly.
"No. She got signed by a bigger label and took the songs with her. She'd paid for them."
"Did that make you angry?"
"Angry? Nah. It was more…" Jeff all at once seemed to catch Sherlock's drift. "Look, I've got nothing against Trisha. Like I said, she paid me, which is more than some people do."
"But she's now making millions and millions of pounds. Is she using your material on her new album? Will you get any royalties from those recordings?"
"Look, that wasn't the deal," Jeff said almost defiantly. "It was cash up front, QED. I don't know if she's using my songs or not, but if she is—well, they're hers to use."
Even John felt compelled to interject. "But Jeff, mate, I have to tell you: she's absolutely loaded. Haven't you ever thought of going to her—"
"—cap in hand?" Jeff's face had gone red again. "No, I haven't, thanks very much. We don't exactly mix in the same circles, me and her."
"And yet you're holding her next album in your hands," Sherlock said quietly.
Jeff looked down at the jiffy bag, and when he looked up, there was fear in his eyes, as if he'd suddenly realized he could be in real trouble. "I told you, I have no idea how that —"
"You haven't told me, Mr. Norton," Sherlock said. "Tell me now."
Jeff seemed to be having difficulty collecting his thoughts, so John murmured, "You were listening to the radio. You were having breakfast…"
Jeff shot him a look of desperate gratitude and said, "Right. Yes. And I heard that Trish's album had gone missing. And I wanted to hear more, so I went to the telly. And they were talking about it on the news—the bomb threat, the reward—and then I saw this." He lifted the jiffy bag. "It was just sitting there. And I opened it and…" He gently took a thin, flat case out of the envelope, and opened it. Inside was a clear disc about ten inches across. John leaned forward and Jeff said, "Stay back! Don't even breathe on it! It's the glass master." He must have seen John's total incomprehension because he said, "It's what they'll make the CDs from." He closed the case, carefully slid it into the envelope, and offered it to Sherlock.
Sherlock didn't take it. "Who had access to your flat last night?"
"I don't know," Jeff said helplessly. "No one? Anyone? I have a flatmate, Dave; and he's had other people in before me. I don't know about all the keys…"
"Yes, of course," Sherlock massaged the bridge of his nose. "The locked room mystery is dead in London, obviously. What time did you turn in last night?"
"Elevenish? Half-past? I checked my email first: maybe the timestamps would—"
"And the television's in the sitting room?" Sherlock interrupted.
"Yeah," Jeff said.
"Have you talked to William Ormstein lately?" Sherlock asked.
"Yes, he rang the other day; he's in town for some award show." Jeff frowned. "That's the second time you've mentioned him: do you think he's got something to do with this?"
"He came to see me yesterday," Sherlock replied. "He isn't as sanguine about Lady Dada's success as you are. " Jeff's frown deepened, and Sherlock said, "That surprises you."
"No; I don't know. I would have said he's over it," Jeff replied. "He's got other singers besides Trish: I just wrote a number for a rising Desi star he's got called Sangeeta. She's fantastic—"
"Yes; very interesting," Sherlock said, in a voice that made clear it was anything but. He extended his hand for the glass master, and Jeff carefully handed it to him. "Thank you," he said, turning to put it on the mantel. "I am authorized to disburse to you the sum of two hundred and fifty thousand American dollars, which is roughly a hundred and fifty-eight thousand—"
"Wait. No. You can't be serious." Jeff's eyes seemed to be popping out of his sockets.
"I'm perfectly serious," Sherlock replied. "Didn't you read the papers?"
"You're just going to hand me a hundred and fifty-eight grand," Jeff said unbelievingly.
"Well, a cheque," Sherlock clarified. "I don't have a bag of money or anything."
Jeff was up, out of his seat, pacing and hugging himself. His battered leather jacket creaked. "What's the catch?" he asked. "What do I have to do for it?"
"You've already done it: the money is simply for the return of the—" Sherlock went still, hands flying up and hanging in the air, like birds. "Oh. Oh, oh, oh," he said softly, staring at nothing. "Of course. I've been a fool. We must go and see William Ormstein right away."
"We—we have to what?" Jeff asked, shaking his head.
"Not you, I've finished with you." Sherlock bent over the writing desk, signed the cheque, and presented it to a stunned Jeff Norton with a flourish. "There!—that ought to fund a few more years of artistic failure. Possibly even success: who knows. Perhaps you'll find yourself in Lady Dada's circle after all. You can buy her a lovely sparkly tiara. " Jeff looked stunned. Sherlock leaned in. "You don't happen to know where Ormstein's staying."
"No." Jeff seemed dazed. "I—he's got mates he stays with. I've got his mobile, though."
"That won't be necessary," Sherlock said.
Sherlock bustled him into a cab so quickly that John barely had time to grab some bread and a bit of cheese from the kitchen, let alone ask detailed questions. They were passing Hyde Park by the time John, crumbs down his front, said, "So did Ormstein frame him?"
Sherlock looked up from his Blackberry. "What?"
"Jeff Norton," John said, and when Sherlock just looked at him, he rephrased the question, wagging his head for emphasis: "Did Ormstein steal Dada's recordings and frame Norton?"
"No, of course not," Sherlock said, turning his attention back to his phone. "William Ormstein is innocent. As you deduced."
John blinked at that. "Hang on."
"Hanging," Sherlock said absently.
"Aren't we going to Ormstein's hotel?"
"Mm-hm," Sherlock said, thumbs going.
"But Ormstein's innocent, you said." This apparently didn't merit a reply, and John was suddenly very cross. He stared out the window for a few moments, trying to control himself. Then something occurred to him. "Hey. Didn't Jeff Norton say that Ormstein usually stayed with friends when he was in town?"
Sherlock's head came up; he looked pleased. "Yes. Well done." He fished in his breast pocket, and handed Ormstein's card to John. Bohemian Records. William Ormstein, Chairman and CEO. John flipped it over and read, in pencil, "Petersham Hotel."
"Oh." John's irritation evaporated. "Well, that's very interesting."
"Isn't it." Sherlock was peering at him intently now, and then he leaned in closer: got too close. John forced himself not to lean away, but he felt his cheeks flushing and sweat prickling around his collar. "You really don't have any idea, do you," Sherlock murmured softly, close enough that John could feel his breath—and then he pulled away and sprawled back against the bench seat, eyes twinkling. "You told me the answer and yet you don't know it yourself. Fantastic. I've always thought psychology was complete nonsense but perhaps Dr. Freud was right about something: your capacity to cut yourself out of your own conversations is astounding. It's the mental equivalent of your psychosomatic limp."
The pain caused by this dissection of his personality was somewhat eased by the fact that he'd apparently solved the mystery without knowing it. John wracked his brain, going over the facts, trying to figure out what he knew. He was still at it when the cab pulled up in front of the Petersham Hotel, which seemed respectable if a little run down. He followed Sherlock through the revolving glass door into the large foyer, which was full of worn sofas and threadbare carpets. They approached the big oak desk, which needed a polish.
"I'm looking for William Ormstein," Sherlock said.
"Ormstein?" The bored-looking concierge glanced over his shoulder at the pegboard of keys. "He's not in. I can take a message for you."
"It's all right." Sherlock smiled thinly. "We'll wait."
Further down the desk, a second man stopped pretending to not be listening. "Please have a seat in the foyer," he said, picking up the phone. "And your name, sir?"
Sherlock and John exchanged glances, and then Sherlock stalked off to sprawl on an oversized sofa. John coughed. "Er—Sherlock Holmes," he said. "And John Watson."
It was nearly half an hour before William Ormstein strolled into the hotel foyer, wearing a cashmere jumper under a leather jacket that looked as if it had been made from a specially grown cow. His blond hair had been artfully tousled. "Mister Holmes," Ormstein said, perching on the arm of a nearby armchair. He looked from one of them to the other. "Doctor Watson. If you're here about Dada's album: I haven't got it. I would tell you if I did: I could certainly use the money." He flashed them a wide smile. "I also believe I deserve it."
Sherlock stood up, pocketing his Blackberry, and began to pace. Ormstein's eyes followed him back and forth while John tried to anticipate the eventual line of questioning. Would Sherlock bring up Jeff Norton? Tell Ormstein that the master had been recovered? Then Sherlock pivoted, strode over to Ormstein and kissed him, his long thin hands coming up to cup Ormstein's high cheekbones on either side.
Not since the army had John felt the spike of adrenaline, jagged in his chest like a saw. He tried to make himself breathe but the room was frozen, encased in Lucite: Sherlock Holmes kissing Ormstein. And then, impossibly between one blink and the next, William Ormstein kissing back: head tilting, mouth opening, hand gripping Sherlock's wool lapel.
When Sherlock pulled away, John felt like his eyes were fogging; he had a moment of double vision. And then Ormstein doubled over with a crack of a laugh that was pure New Jersey. "Oh my God," he said. "How did you know?" and of course it was Dada.
"Was it really obvious?" Dada asked, and when Sherlock moved to step away, she grabbed his sleeve and tugged insistently on it, still grinning wildly: "No, no, no: I gotta know! I can take direction—I want to improve! Jesus, tell me already: how did you know?"
"I didn't know: I deduced," Sherlock replied.
"You pretentious fuck, I love you," Dada said.
"And John may have given me one or two useful hints," Sherlock admitted.
"I—did I?" John managed, relieved to find his voice was working.
"Yes," Sherlock replied. "I can explain, but—" He tilted his head to indicate the surrounding foyer. "Should we go somewhere else? Somewhere less public?"
"You don't get it," and it was Dada's voice, but somehow it was Ormstein who was leaning back in the chair and taking in the room with an expansive wave of his arm. "I like being in public; this is the only way I can get around any more. Be free for five minutes." She smiled ironically and then added, "Besides, no one's listening. Why would they? We're nobodies."
"Speak for yourself," Sherlock said, but he sat down again. "Very well. You were very clever but you made a couple of crucial mistakes in the end. The largest of which was not requiring Mr. Norton to do anything beyond returning the stolen masters." Sherlock tsked. "Very unlike you. At a minimum there should have been a photo opportunity—"
"Yeah, there should have been a whole campaign," Dada sighed. "Print ads. Interviews. Oprah—" Dada made a face. "I don't want to do that."
"Exactly," Sherlock said. "Which means that publicity was not the primary reason you suggested a reward. Which means there was another reason."
Dada bit her lip. "You saw Jeff. Is he holding a grudge?"
"No," Sherlock said. "But he's carrying a torch that you should be able to see even through the fireworks around you. And obviously the feeling is mutual." Dada blushed, which John would have sworn was impossible. "Why didn't you just give him the money?"
Dada shook her head. "You don't know him. He's proud," she said ruefully, and then, "No, I take it back. He's like normal people—who, it turns out, don't like feeling like they've been bought and—"
"So you had to put enough money in his hands that he could approach you on his own terms. Not so easy: clearly, Mr. Norton would be suspicious of anything that resembled charity. So you invented a story just bizarre enough to be believable: a reward offered for a stolen album, and the money doesn't come directly from your hand. And then you hired me as your agent and got me to vouch for your whole strange story with the police."
"Yeah." Dada closed one eye and squinted at him. "Are you mad?"
"No," Sherlock said quellingly.
"You won't give me away? It is kinda like fraud."
"It is exactly like fraud," John interjected, crossing his arms.
"We are not the police," Sherlock said quietly.
"Sherlock, she manipulated us," John protested, unaccountably angry.
"Yes." Sherlock stood up, shook Dada's hand, and then bent to kiss it. John could hardly believe his eyes. "It was a very interesting experience; thank you. In the future, however, I suggest you tone down your performance just a bit; it was John who noticed that you were verging on panto. In reality, of course, most men aren't particularly masculine." He smiled at her. "Girls who are boys should do boys like they're girls: you needn't overdo."
Dada smiled. "Subtlety was never my forte. But I'll work on it. Thank you for everything, Mr. Holmes. I'll send you a check: I assume you won't have any problem taking my money."
"Not in the least," Sherlock said. "But I would like one additional thing."
"Name it," Dada said.
Sherlock pulled his Blackberry out of his pocket and held it up; the camera flashed.
Dada laughed in surprise. "Like this?"
"Like that," Sherlock said, and slipped his phone back in his pocket. "Oh, and here—before I forget." Sherlock offered her the jiffy bag.
"It's not real. Toss it." Dada stood up, stretched, and smiled as no one in the foyer paid her the slightest attention. "Guys, I am going for a walk. Where can a girl who's a boy get a latte around here?"
John vowed to put the whole thing out of his mind, but they were only in the cab for a few minutes before he uncrossed his arms and said, "So what are you going to tell Lestrade?"
"Hm?" Sherlock looked up, and John saw that he wasn't texting: he was looking at the picture of Lady Dada as Ormstein. "The truth more or less," he said, eyes already drifting down. "We recovered the album; we have not discovered the thief; our client is satisfied."
"I still don't understand how she did it. If William Ormstein has an alibi—"
"The real William Ormstein has an alibi," Sherlock said. "The real Ormstein comes to London and stays with friends and produces Desi artists with Jeff Norton, but he isn't famous enough to have his picture taken at an awards show. The perfect alibi, really."
"Do you think he knows about it?" John asked.
"I shouldn't think so," Sherlock replied distractedly. "She doesn't need him to—"
"Why did you kiss her?" John asked, before he could stop himself.
Now John had his full attention; Sherlock even put his phone away. "It is the traditional means of revealing a transformation," Sherlock said.
"I see," John said, his voice an embarrassing scrape.
"In this case," Sherlock said slowly, studying his face, "it has done even more than I anticipated. I had not perhaps fully respected its power. Do you want me to kiss you?"
"What?" John managed.
"I ask merely as a courtesy," Sherlock said. "It's perfectly obvious, to be honest." John's face was burning—he thought of flinging open the cab door and hurling himself onto the road from sheer embarrassment—but instead he gripped Sherlock's lapels and kissed him. Sherlock's mouth immediately opened against his and, suddenly possessive, John slid his hands into Sherlock's hair and made fists in it, tilting his head so he could slide his tongue deep into Sherlock's mouth. Embarrassment vanished, supplanted by far more exciting emotions as Sherlock let out a soft groan and slid back, letting John pin him against the seat.
"I don't understand," John said, panting, when they finally broke apart for air.
Sherlock looked impossibly disheveled. "Sadly predictable," he said.
"But you said—You said you weren't interested in—"
"In what? Spin on."
"In men," John said, and then: "In me," and Sherlock, mouth still red from their kiss, slid his hand on John's shoulder and caressed his collarbone with one thumb and John muttered, "Alright. Reasoning flawed somewhere."
"Yes," Sherlock agreed, almost fondly. "It's not a dealbreaker."
John prodded a finger into Sherlock's lapel. "We can't all be you."
"I know. It's lots of fun being me, actually. Tragic for the rest of you," and John tugged him close and kissed him until the cab jerked to a stop and their faces banged together.
"Quick," John said, grasping for the car door. "Pay the man." Sherlock snapped a twenty out of his pocket and stuffed it into the slot. John was already fumbling with the door latch when Sherlock rushed up behind him, and together, they practically tumbled together into the dim hall. Sherlock pushed him up against the wall, and kissed him again, hands sliding up under his jumper. John had the presence of mind to blindly kick the door shut.
Sherlock's mouth was firm, pressing, insistent, and his hands were deliciously distracting, tickling as they slid, warm and dry, across John's rib cage. John was grasping idly at Sherlock's hips, wondering if it was too soon to move his hands somewhere more direct, when he vaguely heard the hall door open, and then hastily shut again. Mrs. Hudson. Sherlock broke off the kiss and twisted around to look at Mrs. Hudson's door. "Did you," he began.
"Er, yeah," and all at once the shock melted away and they giggled like schoolboys.
"My bet is she'll start baking," John said, hands pressed against his mouth to muffle his laughter. "Cakes all week. Cake for everyone—"
"She's on the phone," Sherlock replied. "Trying to think of ways to work it into casual conversation with everyone she knows: 'My dear, did I leave my plum cardie in your front room the other night and oh, by the way, I was right: Sherlock and that nice Doctor Watson are totes doing it,'" and John laughed so loud that Sherlock grabbed him by the arm and practically hauled him up the stairs to their flat. John paused in the sitting room, but Sherlock was his usual single-minded self and tugged him on to the bedroom.
"I should say," Sherlock said, hurriedly wriggling out his suit jacket, "just as a matter of due diligence, that despite five years at a really first rate public school, I haven't much in the way of practical homosexual experience."
"Interesting," John replied, yanking off a boot. "Because after eight years in Her Majesty's army—I have."
* * *
Afterwards, Sherlock sprawled on the bed and said dreamily, "Oh, all right: I excuse your occasional bouts of mental ineptitude. You clearly have compensating physical expertise."
"Well, I am a doctor," John said into Sherlock's pillow.
"I suppose you won't allow me a postcoital smoke."
"Not on your life," John replied.
"Hedonism is dead," Sherlock sighed. "What a very boring, boring world we live in now."
"You could have a nice protein shake," John suggested, and it was worth lifting his head to take in Sherlock's horrified expression. John grinned and faceplanted back onto the bed. "You know," John murmured, "you might actually need the occasional protein shake if this continues," and he was surprised when Sherlock effortlessly flipped him onto his back and straddled him. Heat pooled low in his belly: he'd had Sherlock on his back for much of the evening, first sucking him off long and slow, then lifting his legs and fucking him. His pulse throbbed with the memory of it, and he felt himself getting hard again. Sherlock had been surprisingly pliable. Then again, Sherlock always respected expertise.
"This side of you," Sherlock said, a shock of black hair falling into his face as he stared down into John's face. "I didn't see it before."
"Which side?" John asked innocently. "My front?" He glanced down his naked torso to his hard-on. "It's not on display for everybody—"
"I'm serious," Sherlock said, shaking his shoulders a bit. "Why didn't you say—"
John knocked his hands away. "I did say. I absolutely did say." He couldn't help sounding aggrieved. "You said you weren't interested in anything. Men, women, relationships, me—"
Sherlock looked up piteously. "Is no one capable of understanding perfectly clear speech? Yes," he said, "it's all true: everything you said. I do not have a girlfriend or a boyfriend and I was not looking for either. But I'm not a fool: I'm not going to turn down excellent and convenient sex after letting you into my work and my flat. I even let you make me breakfast and harangue me about my health: why wouldn't I sleep with you?"
"Let…?" John was agape. "You're impossible, do you know that? You are absolutely and totally—"
But Sherlock was on a tear. "Accurate deduction requires precision: of thought and of expression. Homosexual, heterosexual: toss and nonsense! Few if any people are genuinely attracted to the entirety of the class, any more than they're attracted to people with the letter 'r' in their names. No, to the extent to which we can speak of a typology of desire it's far more likely that one would be attracted to redheads, or wits, or good dancers. In my own case," Sherlock said, bending down so that they were almost nose to nose, "I happen to have a taste for extraordinary people. Of which there are, sadly, so few. You are a wonderful surprise. And yes: Trisha Tzara—hardly a typical woman."
John swallowed; he wondered if Sherlock would show his typical aptitude where blowjobs were concerned. "Well, to me, she will always be the woman."
Sherlock wrapped a hand around John's cock and smiled. "Yes," he said. "For me, too."
Sherlock was sprawled across the sofa flipping rapidly between three different gossip shows and his Blackberry when John came home from doing a shift at UCLH. "Shove over," John said, nudging, and Sherlock pulled his long legs in and made room. John sat down and forced himself to pay attention for a few minutes: some starlet he didn't recognize was pregnant, a schoolgirl had been found dead in a dreary midlands suburb, Emma Watson had worn a ruby the size of a plum to some film premiere. "How can you watch this dreck?"
"Much better than the agony column," Sherlock replied absently, still watching. "Not as good as Twitter—look, there," he said, hand abruptly sliding onto John's arm, and despite the fact that they'd been sleeping together regularly since the Bohemian affair, John was still electrified by the intimacy of the touch. Unfortunately, it distracted him just as Sherlock was trying to direct his attention to something. John made himself focus: Dada. Standing near a pink Rolls. Waving. Surrounded by her entourage and—
"Oh, hey," John said. "Jeff Norton," and there he was, looking extremely hip in a new pair of jeans and a Modern Haircut. "I wonder if he—"
"Doesn't matter; happy ending; case closed," Sherlock said, switching off the telly. "Here, have a look at this," he said, tossing his Blackberry into John's hands. "Advert in the Guardian. Data entry job, entirely typical, except for this: Applicant must be male, over twenty-one, and have red hair." He squinted at John. "Odd, don't you think?"
"Very odd," John agreed.
Sherlock clapped his hands together. "Right! Let's nip round to the address and—"
"Hang on," John said, and kissed Sherlock when he turned. Gratifyingly, Sherlock looked pleased and a little dazed, and then he leaned in and kissed John back. When they finally broke apart, John realized that Sherlock Holmes was at this moment sincerely torn between the promise of sex and his interest in this new case, which was very possibly the most flattering thing that had ever happened to him.
"I, er," Sherlock said, fingers pushing hair out of his face. "Have a theory. About why someone might—Hair color is such an unusual requirement. If we could just go to—"
"Yeah, I know, let's go," John Watson said, grinning, and got up.