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The Adventure of the Three Bedirrags

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You could call it a comedy, you could call it a near tragedy, but Lestrade preferred to call it an absolute fucking disaster that was all Sherlock's fault. Well, largely Sherlock's fault. Though the HR department of the Met had a certain amount to answer for as well.

He knew he hadn't taken all his annual leave. He had last taken all his leave in 2002, and that was only because his divorce proceedings had turned out to be so protracted. The criminals of London didn't take 30 days a year and public holidays off, and he needed to keep up with them. But he was perfectly prepared to take some more of his leave when things were quiet. He was not prepared for personnel phoning him up in early February, and informing him that he was taking the rest of month off as from 5 pm that evening. Or else.

He was still not completely sure why the entire performance targets of the HR department relied on him being removed from policing for three and a half weeks, but that was because his brain tended to cut out at the first mention of EU directives. All he knew was that he found himself that Wednesday evening temporarily at a dead end. It was a stupid amount of time to have as leave, at a stupid time of the year. It was too cold and miserable for him to take up cycling again, and not enough time to learn to play the trumpet. It was far too long to spend doing up his flat, because the maximum time he could contemplate different paint tester pots without becoming suicidal was one and a half days. (He had a vague memory that disparaging remarks about his wife's attempts at interior design had been item no 9 in the divorce papers' schedule of his unreasonable behaviour). Three and a half weeks was also far too long a period just sitting around being bored.

Now why did that statement ring a bell, he thought?

Going round to 221B wasn't particularly cheery, but it was at least distracting, especially when the stereo whinging started up. Sherlock had refused a knighthood yet again, as he announced within thirty seconds of Lestrade arriving, and his detailed catalogue of the many ways in which he was going to make Mycroft pay for his nomination suggested that he had nothing else to occupy the destructive side of his mind. John had been a little more restrained, and had stuck to silent fuming, till specifically asked what was wrong. Five minutes later, Lestrade informed him that his comments on Andrew Lansley made him almost certainly guilty of the encouragement of terrorism, and then had to explain to Sherlock who Andrew Lansley was, before John throttled his flatmate.

"So what have you got for me?"Sherlock demanded eventually. "I hope it's at least marginally interesting."

"There's going to be nothing from me for the next three and a bit weeks," said Lestrade, and got a chocolate teacake thrown at him by Sherlock. Fortunately, John caught it in mid-flight, with an ease that suggested considerable recent practice, and slumped back in his chair, licking chocolate and marshmallow from his hand. Lestrade used the slight diminution in ranting to explain his own predicament.

"You could go away somewhere," suggested John. "There must be some cheap flights at the moment."

"The Costa del Sol?"said Lestrade. "Cyprus? Morocco?"

"If you went to Morocco, you could bring me back some cannabis samples," said Sherlock, who by now was propping himself up on the mantelpiece, staring at the mirror, as if worried he wasn't looking petulant enough. "It would be very useful to have some where I knew the date of production, confirm my data about THC decline over time."

"Why do you need to go to Morocco, when they grow the stuff in Walthamstow?"Lestrade replied.

"Do you want to spend three weeks in Walthamstow?"Sherlock said, his glance in the mirror suddenly meeting Lestrade's. "Maybe we should both go to Morocco?"

"Sounds good to me," said a voice. John's voice. "I could go on a date in peace then." Lestrade knew better than to say anything. He was not going to let Sherlock's flirting get to him this time. It was just one more tool in Sherlock's A-Z of Lestrade-baiting techniques, lurking somewhere between ‘flattery' and ‘frottage'.

"If you want to go to Marrakech and get sucked into something at the souk, that's your outlook,"he said, leaning back and folding his arms. "I live in London, I don't go and see the world, it comes and sees me. John, did you say you'd found a pub where they claimed they were actually serving proper scrumpy?"

As usual, mention of food and drink got Sherlock going off in a huff, and Lestrade managed twenty minutes of almost normal conversation with John. Then Sherlock, who'd been scowling at his laptop, decided that the world wasn't paying him enough attention, and announced loudly:

"Do I look like an auxiliary branch of Friends Reunited?"

"You've explained the concept of a friend to him now, have you?"Lestrade couldn't resist saying to John.

"Yes, but his view is that Friends Reunited exists for him to hack into, and insert embarrassing reminiscences into other people's profiles. At one point, half his classmates at Marlborough allegedly had criminal records, including a teenage bigamist."

"I am not talking about the social network site," Sherlock said, with a tone that suggested that meltdown was likely within the next few minutes. "I am talking about the fact that Mr Nathan Bedirrag is looking for other men of the same surname, and believes I can help."

"Nathan Bedirrag?"said John, "What kind of name is that?"

"I have one bloke in my office called Leonida Tonelli-Hobson and another called Ill Wook Cho," said Lestrade. "What I've never met before is anyone called Sherlock. Why's this bloke hassling you rather than a genealogy firm?"

"Because he has been told by a man who contacted him via the internet that he can make large amounts of money as a result. There are apparently degrees of stupidity greater even than your own."

"You haven't got any other cases," John said.

"I would rather sit here and let a succession of leeches suck all my blood out than bother with this. I would rather work for Mycroft than deal with this trivia. I would-"

"OK," Lestrade broke in, "write back and say no go."

"Boring!"

"Then delete it. But before you do, forward a copy of Nathan Thingy Whatsit's e-mail to me."

He had somehow managed to stun both of them into silence, he realised thirty seconds later.

"Greg," John said at last, "if you're really that desperate for things to do, I'm sure the surgery's got a filing backlog."

"The Sterling Prevention Team might like to know about it," he replied. "Otherwise the Met's lot responsible for seeing that a fool and his money are not parted too soon. It's useful for them to keep tabs on the latest variants of 419 scams. You send it to me, I'll pass it on to them."

"You're supposed to be on leave," John said.

"Yes," said Lestrade. "I am also supposed to be encouraging interdepartmental cooperation, and I have a bloody target for that. Sterling comes under SCD6, and Mr Bedrag-"

"Bedirrag," said Sherlock.

"Mr Bedirrag himself can probably be shoe-horned in some way into our diversity strategy. You didn't think being in the Met was about solving crimes, did you? It's about working together for a safer London, it says so in our mission statement. Sherlock, I am supposed to build trust by listening and responding, but if you throw another bloody teacake at me, I'm carrying out a citizen's arrest on you."

***

Lestrade read through the forwarded e-mail the next morning and then printed it out. Because almost anything might look plausible on a screen, but you could really see the flaws in hardcopy. This one looked wrong, of course, but wrong in the wrong sort of way.

Dear Nathan Bedirrag,

My name is Mr John P. Bedirrag, and I am an attorney from Morrowville, Kansas. I am writing to you with regard to a substantial sum of money which you may be eligible to claim from the estate of Mr Alexander Hamilton Bedirrag. He made his money in real estate, and afterwards in the wheat pit at Chicago, but his main wealth came from extensive land holdings along the Arkansas River.

Mr Bedirrag did not have any relatives, but he was proud of his name, and we met via the Kansas Genealogical Society in Dodge City. He got obsessed with the fact that he was the last of his name, and was determined to find out if there were any more Bedirrags in the world, and asked me to assist him. I am a busy man, and told him I could not spend my life e-mailing around the world in search of possible relatives.

However, in June last year, Mr Bedirrag died in a plane crash, leaving behind the most peculiar will that has ever been filed in the State of Kansas. His property was divided into three parts and I was to have one on condition that I found two Bedirrags who would share the remainder. It's US $5,000,000 (five million United States dollars) for each of us, but we can't lay a finger on it until we all three stand in a row.

I have been through the whole of the US and never found a single Bedirrag, so I decided to come over to Europe a couple of months ago. Then I was at last able to trace you, via the London phonebook. I hope you may be able to find me yet another Bedirrag, so we can collect the money.

Please note that this matter is very confidential. I therefore wish to come and see you at your flat as soon as possible. I am awaiting your urgent reply.

Yours sincerely,

John P. Bedirrag.

It was not written all in capitals, and it was grammatical, thought Lestrade. But there was still something about the grammar that was - not wrong, but not right. He read it through again. Ah, that was it. An American who could use ‘got' correctly, and talked about ‘flats'. Which meant either not American at all, or at least a very Anglicised one, not just over here for a couple of months. And a quick bit of googling and a few e-mails confirmed that neither the Kansas Bar Association nor the Kansas Genealogical Society had ever heard of any Mr Bedirrag. (A small romantic corner in Lestrade could not quite get over his disappointment that the inhabitants of Dodge City now had e-mail). Add the fact that the population of Morrowville was 168, and that Nathan Bedirrag was not in the phonebook, and it was clearly a scam. But an odd sort of one. Why would anyone go to the trouble of producing so personalised a letter? The scammers worked in bulk, but even with search and replace this would be an ineffective tactic. And when they met their victims, it was more likely to be in Lagos, or at least Orlando, than in SW1.

Then he looked at the e-mail from Nathan Bedirrag, and even more alarm bells rang.

Dear Mr Holmes,

I understand from your website that you are a consulting detective, which is ideal, since I need someone to consult with considerable detective ability. I have recently received the following e-mail from a man of my surname (though he is not, alas, any blood relative of mine, unless my previous research has been greatly mistaken). He appears to be a man in something of a hurry to resolve the problem – one might almost say he has a typical American ‘can-do' attitude – but I currently have no leads to follow, and am somewhat tied up with other matters. Would you be able to offer any services to him, and thus indirectly perhaps to myself? I would be happy to reimburse you at whatever the suitable rates are.

Yours faithfully,

Mr Nathan Bedford Bedirrag, MA (Oxon).

 

If Nathan Bedirrag had written ‘come and take all my money away', it could barely have been more obvious. Victim First Class at your service, form an orderly queue to fleece this man. Still, presumably the Sterling lot would be able to sort him out.

A few e-mails and phone calls later, it emerged that the Met's anti-fraud strategy consisted mainly of leaflets in several different languages with handy tips, and possibly a helpline. It did not run to anybody to go round and talk to Mr Bedirrag, at least not that financial year. Once Mr Bedirrag had lost large sums of money, however, he could be assured of ample victim support, especially if he turned out to be a vulnerable victim.

Lestrade decided he was going to do something about it at that point. Not because he was a copper, he was on leave, after all. He was going to get involved because he was a citizen, an active citizen, he was part of the big society. A part of the big society that was currently so bored out of its mind, it was even prepared to talk to Oxbridge graduates. He phoned up Mr Bedirrag, and a thin, quavering voice answered him:

"Durham lover speaking. Are you calling about the shatters?"

Lestrade knew that the secret of being a good copper was working out which strange things to avoid discussing, focusing on the essentials. "No, he said," My name's Gregory Lestrade, I'm a friend, a colleague of Sherlock Holmes. You contacted him about a problem you had in locating someone."

"Is it not possible to talk to Mr Holmes? I should very much like to have a word with him."

"I'm afraid he's currently tied up with a rather important client," Lestrade replied, "Busy with a rather important client, that is. But I'm his best man, he always relies on me to do his legwork for him. If I can come and talk to you, I can make sure that the details of your case get the attention they deserve."

"Very well," Mr Bedirrag replied, "If you come along at around 2 pm, I should be free to see you."

***

Ryder Street was a few minutes' walk from Green Park, in an area so posh that Lestrade felt he was lowering property prices simply by his presence. He found the building, which was a big Victorian effort, in rather bright red brick, with several bay windows. The concierge was a chatty middle-aged woman, and from her accent, actually a Londoner, not straight over from Eastern Europe. Lestrade, on a sudden impulse, showed her the business card he'd run off on his printer that morning. He wished that Sherlock had some kind of logo on ‘The Science of Deduction' he could have copied for additional authenticity, but he'd settled for a stylish, but obscure font.

"So what's all this about, Mr Gregson?"Mrs Saunders asked. If necessary, Lestrade had Gregson's warrant card lurking in his pocket, as well as his own. He'd retrieved a whole collection from 221B last night, not just his, and he could hardly return them to New Scotland Yard when he was on leave, could he? Gregson's photo was just bad enough it could pass for an old one of him, before his hair had gone grey.

"Missing person enquiry," he said.

"Probably lost in Mr Bedirrag's flat," she said. "He's just along here, only on the first floor, but I still worry about everything collapsing into the shop below one of these days. "

"How long has Mr Bedirrag been living here?"

"He moved in just over five years ago."

"Are you sure?"he asked.

"It was a few months after the Tube bombings," she said. Lestrade nodded. Well, that proved that Mr Bedirrag's real name really was Mr Bedirrag, he thought. No, he corrected himself, that proved that if it was an assumed name, it was a name he'd assumed a long time ago.

"What do you want with the old fossil, anyhow?" she asked. "I wouldn't have thought he'd know about anything outside the building. Sorry, I shouldn't call him an old fossil, since he's a valued client, but he is a right pain. Never seems to leave his flat, it's a nightmare when we've got any renovations to do, and the stuff he collects there, you wouldn't believe."

"He's a collector, is he?"asked Lestrade.

"He's a pack-rat," she replied. "They're going to find him one of these days, with his piles of books collapsed on top of him, dead. Here you are, sir. Knock hard, he tends to ignore people."

Mr. Nathan Bedirrag proved to be very tall, gangly, stooping, gaunt and bald. He was probably about sixty, and had the air of a corpse who didn't believe in exercise. Add to that large round spectacles and a small beard, and Lestrade decided he was going to turn out to be either a mad scientist, or the world's greatest expert on something implausible, like early Serbian poetry.

The flat though, the flat suggested more the complete nutter theory. The main room looked like a small Victorian museum that someone had accidentally inserted into the posh tastefulness of the late twentieth century. There were creamily painted walls, and inoffensively expensive curtains, and blonde wood floorboards, but you could barely glimpse them through the cupboards and cabinets placed all round. Lestrade reckoned about three more years when you could still move in there, with care. There were cases of butterflies and moths on either side of the door. A large table in the centre was littered with all sorts of debris, including a microscope. There were cases of coins, there was a cabinet full of flint tools, there was even a row of skulls. Sherlock would be right at home here, thought Lestrade. He wondered if he should ask whose head was lurking in the fridge.

Mr Bedirrag was holding a peculiar wooden tray which he suddenly thrust at Lestrade. It had a lot of shallow, broad holes in it, each filled with a small and rather grotty circle of silvery metal.

"Shatters," he announced.

"Really,"said Lestrade. "Wouldn't have known that."

"Early Anglo-Saxon silver pennies, known as sceattas," Mr Bedirrag went on, "I always think the Woden monster ones are particularly interesting, but I hear they're considering revising the typology."

"Are you a coin expert?"Lestrade asked, because something had to explain this man being able to afford to live here.

"A mere amateur," came the reply. Lestrade wondered if that was code for second-best informed man in Europe. "No, my tastes are extremely broad. I consider myself an antiquarian in the old-fashioned sense. There's a chair, here, Mr, Mr, um, if you would have the goodness to put the Japanese vase to one side."

Lestrade sat down. It did at least reduce the risk of accidentally trampling on a Woden monster, or whatever else might be lurking here.

"You see round me my little interests in life," Mr Bedirrag announced. "My GP lectures me about never going out, but why should I go out when I have so much to hold me here? I can assure you that the adequate cataloguing of one of those cabinets would take me at least three months."

Lestrade looked round him. "You never go out?"he said, wondering whether social services should be told about this, or whether they were only interested in people below a certain income level.

"Now and again I do go over to Sotheby's or Christie's, and when I bought the place I imagined I might make more use of the London Library, which is very handy. But otherwise I very seldom leave my flat. I am not too strong, and my researches are very absorbing. And so much of it I can now conduct via the internet, you see. In fact, when you phoned, I presumed it was something about a recent eBay auction at which I offered a little something for sale. Perhaps I confused you by answering as I did, but ‘dirham-lover' is my eBay identity. A dirham is a medieval Islamic coin, I should explain."

"Still the unit of currency in Morocco," said Lestrade, pleased to be able to contribute something to the conversation. "So do you make a lot of money via eBay trading?"

"I scrape a living, since my tastes are very simple," Mr Bedirrag replied. Lestrade wished again he had a posh to ordinary English translation device. "But please don't think I'm a rich man."

That bit Lestrade could translate: Mr Bedirrag was worth several million pounds.

"The only asset I have is the flat, which I bought when I sold my half-share in my father's shirt factory."

"Half-share?"asked Lestrade. "Do you have a brother or sister?"

"My brother died a few years ago, heart attack, he didn't take good care of himself, I'm afraid. So you can imagine how intrigued I was when Mr John Bedirrag contacted me a couple of days ago. I had thought I was the only man of that name still alive. You will be fascinated to know of the origins of my surname. In fact, I wrote a little article on it, though my philological conclusions weren't entirely accepted by everyone. Perhaps I could find you a copy..." He started to look round.

"Please don't bother," said Lestrade hastily. "Mr Holmes prefers just to stick to the facts. So you're excited by the prospect of meeting a relative of yours?"

"It was a terrific shock–pleasant but terrific– to hear about him. I don't think he's a relative, but even someone sharing the same name is intriguing. It's a corruption of the Dutch, you see. And I must admit that five million dollars would come in handy. You wouldn't believe how much an Edward the Confessor Pointed Helmet has gone up over the years."

"It's shocking," said Lestrade. That was always a handy response. "So have you met Mr Bedirrag yet?"

"Yes, he came round yesterday. I have to say, he was rather put out when I told him about contacting your firm. I probably should have taken his advice first, but I acted for the best. I had heard that Mr Holmes handled strange cases, and that was why I sent to you."

"I think you acted very sensibly indeed," said Lestrade. "So what is Mr Bedirrag doing at the moment?"

"I'm not entirely sure. He said he would be back in contact, once he'd made some further enquiries."

"Did he suggest any course of action for you to take?"

"No, he didn't."

"Has he had any money from you, or asked for any?"

"No, sir, never!"

"You can't think of anything else he could be interested in, other than this legacy?"

"No."

Lestrade was feeling puzzled by now. "Is there anything of particular value in your collection?" he asked at length. "Particular monetary value that is, as opposed to historical significance?"

"No, I mean I suppose the collection in total might be worth ten thousand pounds, maybe a little more, but there's nothing in the individual items above a few hundred pounds."

Lestrade knew criminals who'd kill for five pounds, but it was unlikely Mrs Saunders would let them get past her. He was just trying to think of something else to ask when there was a loud knocking at the door. Mr Bedirrag returned with a man behind him. It could hardly have been more obvious that he was American if he'd had the Stars and Stripes tattooed on his chin. He was short and powerful, with the round, fresh, clean-shaven face of a businessman about to rip you off rotten, but with a warm smile and a firm handshake while he did so.

"Here you are!" he cried, waving a paper over his head. "I thought I would be in time to get you. Nathan, my congratulations! You're a rich man. Our business is happily finished, and all is well." He stopped, and gave Lestrade a hard stare. The general effect of his face was chubby and rather childlike, but his eyes were bright and alert, and Lestrade was pretty sure they meant trouble.

"And who might you be?"John Bedirrag added. "I don't remember that we had any other people joining in this party."His accent was American. Someone who wasn't Lestrade might have been able to deduce something more useful than that.

"This is Mr Holmes," Nathan Bedirrag replied. "Or rather one of his men. The detective I told you about."

"I don't know why the hell he should have anything to do with it. This was a bit of professional business between two men, and one of them decides to call in a detective! It's a damn insult, Nathan, suggests you don't trust me."

"Sherlock has means of getting information that no-one else can," Lestrade said, "and faster than you'd believe possible. Mr Bedirrag was just trying to help. He was going to pay all our expenses, no cost to you."This was where it would get interesting, he thought. What would John Bedirrag do when he thought there might be someone else after some cash? Might get some reaction now.

To his surprise, though, the round, angry face gradually cleared.

"Well, that puts it differently," John Bedirrag said. "When I talked to Nathan this morning and he told me he'd called a detective, I was not happy. I don't want police butting into a private matter."

Who said anything about the police? That was rather revealing, wasn't it, thought Lestrade. He said: "We're just interested in finding another man, there can be no harm in that."

"Well, you can tell your Mr. Holmes, that an American doesn't need a British detective to help find information quickly, Have a look at this, Nathan. " He handed over a flyer to Mr Bedirrag, who studied it carefully, as if were a really interesting pointy helmet coin. Lestrade leaned forward and read it over his shoulder.


HOWARD BEDIRRAG
DEALER IN ANTIQUE AGRICULTURAL MACHINERY AND RURAL MEMORABILIA SINCE 1998
Binders, reapers, steam and hand plows, drills, harrows, farmers' carts, buckboards, and all other appliances.

The address given was in Sutton Coldfield.

"Glorious!" gasped Mr Bedirrag. "That makes our third man."

"I had started sniffing around in Birmingham," said the American, "and my contact there has sent me this advertisement from a local free newspaper. We must hustle and get the thing done. I've phoned this man and told him that you will see him in his office tomorrow afternoon at four o'clock."

"You want me to see him?"

"What do you say, Mr, hey, what did you say your name was?"

"Gregson," said Lestrade.

"Don't you think it would be wiser, Mr Gregson," John Bedirrag said. "Here am I, a stray American with a really weird story. Why should he believe what I tell him? But Nathan's here's a Britisher with solid references, and he is bound to pay attention to what you say. I would go with you if you wanted, but I have a very busy day tomorrow, and I could always follow you if you have any problems."

"Well, I've not made such a journey for years."

"It's nothing, Mr Bedirrag. I've worked out our connections. You leave at twelve and should be there soon after two. It should only take a couple of hours, you can be back by the evening. All you have to do is to see this man, explain the situation, and get an affidavit of his existence. By God!" he added hotly, "considering I've come all the way from Kansas, it's surely little enough if you go a hundred miles in order to sort this thing out."

"Very well, but I can't possibly go tomorrow," Nathan Bedirrag replied unexpectedly.

"Why not?"the American demanded.

"The auction."

"What auction?"

"There's an auction on eBay at the moment that I'm monitoring very closely. It finishes at 5 pm on Saturday, I can't possibly go before then."

"Why on earth not? You have a laptop, don't you?"

"Of course."

"And Wi-Fi?"

"Naturally."

"So what's the problem? The train will be Wi-Fi enabled, at least the InterCity certainly will be."

"But will it be reliable? I cannot afford to have a poor connection for an hour or more."

"Who's the train operator?"Lestrade asked pseudo-helpfully, knowing the answer.

"Virgin Trains," said John Bedirrag, with a sigh, "OK, is Sunday possible?"

"Sunday train service?" said Lestrade. "And the Tube at weekends as well? It's been worse ever since Boris got in."

"It wasn't any better with Ken," the American retorted. "Would Monday be possible? We are talking about millions of dollars after all."

"Howard Bedirrag's been dealing in rural antiques for 12 years, I'm sure he'll still be there next week," said Nathan Bedirrag, shrugging his shoulders with a disconsolate air. "If you insist I go, I shall go, but on Monday. Do you want me to phone this man up and explain it to him?"

"No, I can fix all that and your tickets," said John Bedirrag. "I'm afraid I can't come with you on Monday either, I'm just frantic at the moment, but I'll make sure you're put on the right train. Leaving at noon again OK?"

Nathan Bedirrag nodded.

"I think you're doing the right thing, Mr Bedirrag," said Lestrade encouragingly. If John Bedirrag wanted Nathan out of the way that much, it was worth assisting him.

"Well, if you both think it's the right thing to do, I suppose I must. It will be very strange going such a distance, I haven't been on a train for a number of years."

Poor sod, thought Lestrade.

"I'll figure everything out, make sure you get to Euston safely," said the American. He is worried he might back out at the last minute, isn't he, thought Lestrade. "Well," John Bedirrag added, looking at his watch, "I'll have to get going. I'll stop by on Monday. Coming my way, Mr Gregson?"

"No," said Lestrade, "I was going to ask Mr Bedirrag to show me some of his silver pennies. Sherlock always wants his men to learn any sort of odd, I mean, unusual knowledge that might be useful for a future case."

"I'd be happy to tell you all about them," Nathan Bedirrag said, and as he returned from showing John Bedirrag out, his eyes gleamed from behind his big glasses. "Now Mr Gregson, I don't know how much you know about the early Heptarchy?"

***

Forty-five minutes later, Lestrade left with a headache, and a lot of surreptitiously taken photos of the flat. So what else have I got, he thought? An American crook, but probably known to the British police, been over here long enough to know about Virgin trains, and to remember Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London. And his aim was to get Nathan Bedirrag out of his flat temporarily by any means possible. Why?

The obvious answer was that something in Mr Bedirrag's collection was far more valuable than he realised. But even if you assumed he was too ignorant to spot it, why such an indirect approach? Easier to go and see the antiquarian, be shown the item, and then either rob him on the spot or do a switch. Lestrade could have done either a dozen times in the last hour.

Something about the flat itself? You did read about conmen who'd try and sell a flat that wasn't theirs, or use it at as a base for a meeting to prove their wealth. But any West End flat would do for that, and you'd hardly make your first choice one decorated with skulls and a very sitting tenant. So it must be that specific flat that was important. He'd get his team working on that angle, check with the owners of the freehold...

Oh sod it, he hadn't got a team, had he? And he needed answers fast. So what else could he tackle quickly? He pulled up the photo he'd taken of the Bedirrag advertisement. He knew nothing about agriculture, but the spelling of ‘plow' was the American one. Which meant an advert written by an American, or by someone who hadn't yet worked out the proper spellchecker settings on MS Word. Sherlock might be able to deduce more from the advert, Lestrade couldn't. But he did have an old friend who was high up in the West Midlands Traffic Unit, and there was a landline number on the advert, and someone at BT who owed him a big favour...

***
The next step was working out who John Bedirrag really was. From his clothes, Lestrade deduced that he wasn't a naturist, but he didn't have a clue about the brands he wore, let alone where he bought them or when. On the other hand, his hideous tie had had a distinctive C logo, and Lestrade had a good visual memory and Google Images to hand. An hour or two searching revealed that Bedirrag was a fan of the Chicago Cubs. It was at this point that Lestrade decided he needed to go along to Records and talk to Sid Ranganathan.

***

"I need to trace an American criminal who's been living in the UK since at least 2008,"he told Sid, when he got over to the Yard. "Probably originally from the Chicago area, involved in fraud, maybe also has a track record of violence. White, late thirties or early forties. I've seen him, so if I can have a look through the files-"

"No," Sid announced, "I can't allow that."

"I won't take up any of your time, just let me have access to the system."

"No," Sid repeated, his voice firm. "Have you seen what's just come round here?"He pointed at a poster sellotaped on the wall. It showed a sturdy middle-aged man glaring truculently at the camera. A dark-eyed man, with short silver hair. Above it, bold red letters proclaimed: NOT WANTED, and beneath the picture of Lestrade, the message read. This man is supposed to be on leave. If spotted, approach with caution and tell him to go home and relax.

"Hasn't Anderson enough to do?"Lestrade demanded. "Surely there's forensic evidence he could be contaminating? Anyhow, no-one will know."

"Personnel will find out, you know they will, and I'll get another bollocking for not adhering to Health and Safety procedures. A safe working environment involves you not collapsing from a heart attack because you're a workaholic."

"If I have three weeks on leave I'll take up smoking again," Lestrade protested.

"Yes, but that's Occupational Health, and HR are currently having a turf war with them, so if they bollocks up their targets, that's OK. I can't help you, Greg. So like the poster says, you need to go home and chill."

"Chill?"said Lestrade, with all the withering contempt he could put into the word.

"Just don't hassle me, please. London will survive without you, you know."

Lestrade went home. Rather than chilling, however, he switched on his laptop. OK, he thought, let's start with America's Most Wanted.

***

By Friday afternoon he had decided there were far too many crooks in Chicago. Lestrade probably wasn't the first person to notice this, but he'd looked through report after report on murderers, thugs and assorted con artists, and he'd barely scratched the surface. So what was the alternative? He could probably get an e-fit done of Bedirrag, persuade Pablo to help him out, even though he shouldn't - Pablo didn't care much about sticking to the rules. Then send it to the Chicago police. But it would all take time, and he didn't have time. He needed a break. Simon from the traffic unit had confirmed that the address in Sutton Coldfield belonged to an ordinary antique dealer, not a specialist in ancient machinery. So once he'd got up there, Nathan Bedirrag would have realised that something was wrong. But the landline might give a clue. It had been included for authenticity in the advert, but John Bedirrag would probably have sorted something out just in case Nathan insisted on phoning it. If he could only get hold of Russell from BT, but he wasn't answering his phone...

***

By Friday evening he was ready to give up the case, or at least phone Sherlock, which would mean giving up the case in a different sense. He didn't have the resources to do it on his own, not without it taking weeks. But then Russell finally phoned: the phone number on the advert was registered in the name of a John McMurdo. On an impulse, Lestrade put the name into the search engine of the Chicago Tribune. Twenty minutes later he was looking at a story with a picture of two men. One was John McMurdo, a burly man with eyes too close together, and a poor taste in hairdressers. The other was the man now going under the name of John Bedirrag. Lestrade was feeling nothing like as happy as he expected to be, however. It was always disconcerting to find that a criminal you were chasing went by the alias of ‘Killer Evans'.

***

On Saturday morning, he was back to work again – pulling all-nighters was the surest known way to scramble your detective skills completely – and he was soon considerably better informed about James Winter, alias Morecroft, alias Killer Evans. He was a native of Chicago, and although he hadn't actually shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, he had a criminal record longer than Sherlock's arm. Three men dead in the States, but Evans had avoided being sent to the penitentiary due to political influence. Last heard of in the US in 2003, believed to have come to London. Lestrade read through newspaper article after newspaper article on Evans and his Chicago associates, but there was nothing obvious. And then a name caught his eye: Rodger Prescott, suspected of involvement in a counterfeiting operation with Evans. He knew that name, but why did he? It rang a bell with a case in London...

He spent almost half an hour looking at the name, saying it, trying to trick his memory into recalling it, without success. He found he was writing it down, doodling it repeatedly: 'Roger Prescott', 'Roger Prescott'. And then he looked down at the pad and saw it. Not Roger, but Rodger. The Great Spelling Row at the Met, that was where he's heard about Prescott.

It had been what, five, six years ago, at least, and he'd got stuck with collating reports of major incidents for the month. He'd complained to Inspector Youghal about the spelling in his return of murder victims, and Youghal had retorted that ‘Rodger' wasn't wrong, it was American. Lestrade had made some casual remark about Americans being unable to spell, and Wilson Hargrave, who was over on secondment from New York, had taken offence. They seemed to have spent half the next month arguing about the logic of ‘aluminium' versus ‘aluminum'.

OK, so Rodger Prescott had been killed in London at some point between 2003 and 2005, he couldn't pin it down in his memory closer than that. But he could look him up in the files, and...fuck it, he couldn't. OK, in that case, first stop was the local papers.

***

The local papers didn't go far enough back online, but Mel Dewey from the Barbican Library had had a soft spot for Lestrade ever since he'd arrested a man with a valuable map from her collection hidden down his right trouser leg. So by early Saturday afternoon he had a set of photocopies giving details of how Rodger Prescott had been knifed in the Waterloo Road in May 2005 by John Joseph (Killer) Evans, who had once again lived up to his name. Evans had got away with a claim of self-defence, but got four years for carrying a weapon in public. No wonder Evans hadn't wanted the police involved. Right, he had Prescott and Evans tied together, but how did they connect to Ryder Street?

Holloway and Steele, the freeholders of Bedirrag's flat, were completely unhelpful, and would obviously require a warrant in triplicate before giving any information. And he still didn't have anything specific enough to get the Met interested, it was the sort of thing that would get parked on the back burner for weeks. He thought for a moment, and then headed back to Ryder Street and Mrs Saunders.

***

Mrs Saunders was surprisingly unsurprised when he revealed he was a policeman.

"You don't look like a private detective," she said, "you're not grubby and seedy enough. I've always wanted to meet a real police inspector, Mr Lestrade," she added. "Do you want to come and have some tea, and maybe a scone?"

"So what is it?"she asked, once Lestrade was sitting in her tiny kitchen. "Is it drugs or money laundering? I always did think Mr Bedirrag was a crook, he didn't fool me with that ‘harmless eccentric' look."

Lestrade hesitated. Normally, he didn't discuss a case with civilians, but normally he had his team to bounce ideas off. If he didn't talk to her, he'd end up talking to a skull, or even worse, to Sherlock.

"Mr Nathan Bedirrag's the victim, not the villain here," he said. "There's some kind of raid or break-in planned on the flat, but I don't know why. I think it may have something to do with the previous owner of the flat, before Mr Bedirrag."

"Oh, him," said Mrs Saunders, feelingly. "I wouldn't have thought he was a criminal, unless boring you to death was an offence. He was an American, a property tycoon called Adam Galt. Well, he thought he was a property tycoon. Had this grand plan about doing up the flat and renting it out to visiting businessmen instead of them going to a hotel. He used to give me long speeches about free enterprise and how wonderful it was to make lots of money. And all the time he hadn't realised that the lease wouldn't allow him to sublet short-term."

"Do you know what he's doing now?"Lestrade asked. It didn't sound promising, but you never knew.

"Selling holiday homes on the Louisiana Coast, I believe," said Mrs Saunders. "But it didn't sound from his last Christmas card that he was doing very well. If you hold on, I might be able to find out a bit more about him from my records."She disappeared into her bedroom and returned with a large scrap book. "I keep a record of all the tenants here," she said, "it helps with references, and forwarding things, and the like."

Pure nosiness, Lestrade suspected, what a wonderful woman.

***

Galt had spent nearly a year doing up the flat, while arguing with Holloway and Steele, and finally got the repair work finished off in June 2005. He'd then got scared off by the London bombers and scuttled back to America. Well, in Mrs Saunders' eyes at least, it had been fear rather than concern for poor rental prospects that had had him leaving. One last move to try, Lestrade thought. He pulled out the pictures of McMurdo, Evans, and Prescott.

"Don't know him," said Mrs Saunders, looking warily at McMurdo, "I wouldn't want to either. The one in the centre is Mr Bedirrag, the other Mr Bedirrag, who's as phony as a three dollar bill."

"What makes you say that?"Lestrade asked. Was he now going to get out-detected by his own temporary sidekick?

"He said he was from Kansas, so I asked him if he knew Topeka, and he said he worked there. Then I asked him if he knew Lysander Starr, and he said yes, but he clearly hadn't heard of him."

"Who's Lysander Starr?"Lestrade asked.

"The best point guard that ever came out of Topeka, or so he told me," said Mrs Saunders. "He had a season playing basketball over here in London, stayed in Flat 6 here. He said it was far too expensive, but the only place he ever found where the ceilings were high enough that he didn't feel cramped. If John Bedirrag didn't know Lysander Starr from when he was in the Jayhawks, he's not from Kansas."

"So why didn't you tell anyone?"

"It's not illegal not to come from Kansas, as far as I know," she replied, smiling. "Now this third bloke," she added, pointing at the bearded, dark-featured form of Prescott, "I do remember. He was one of the workmen here in 2005, a carpenter, I think."

"Can you really remember workmen from that long ago?" said Lestrade.

"Him I can. He disappeared shortly before the flat was finished, just didn't turn up, never heard of again. Mr Galt made a big fuss about the British lack of work ethic, and I remember pointing out this man was American, which Mr Galt didn't take kindly to. I can't remember what his name was, Robert something, I think."

"Rodger Prescott?"

"No, it was Robert something, because I called him Bob the Builder, and then had to explain. Well, that was what he called himself, but, I mean, look at him. Swarthy, and that beard, and disappearing in the middle of 2005? I think he was really a terrorist."

"His name was Rodger Prescott, and he's dead," said Lestrade. "But he didn't blow himself up, he got knifed."

"Oh, poor bloke, I must have missed it on the telly, they have so many stabbings reported. So I was wrong about him all along?"

"Well, he was a crook," said Lestrade. Mrs Saunders smiled.

"I knew he was," she said. "What did he do?"

"Could he have hidden something in the flat, when he was working on it?"Lestrade asked.

"Easily, he was always up here at odd hours on his own. I wondered if he was making bombs, but Mr Galt said he was just very conscientious."Lestrade suspected Mr Galt was going to get told how wrong he'd been at some point.

"And Mr Galt's plan was for very short-term rentals, wasn't it?" said Lestrade. "So if Prescott did hide something in the flat, he could hope to have someone come back and stay for a night and retrieve it?"

"What was he hiding?"Mrs Saunders asked. "Loot of some kind?"

"I don't know," said Lestrade, "Something that would still be worth retrieving five years on. Prescott was killed by Evans, who spent a couple of years in jail, came out, and came back here...No that doesn't work, does it?"

"But he wasn't calling himself Prescott, was he?"

"You're right, Mrs Saunders, "Lestrade said. "So Evans may have had a problem getting on Prescott's trail, especially with the time lag, builders going from job to job, and Mr Galt not around. And when he does work out where the stuff is, Mr Bedirrag is sitting in the flat and refusing ever to move. Hence all this elaborate trick to get him away. It's bloody ingenious by Evans, even if Mr Bedirrag's odd name did give him an opening."

"So what do we do now?" asked Mrs Saunders.

"I go and get the Met boys organised," said Lestrade. "The attempt is almost certainly going to be made on Monday, so we may need access to the flat then."

"Of course," said Mrs Saunders. "This is exciting, isn't it?"

"I don't want excitement," said Lestrade. "I want a nice safe arrest and Mr Evans behind bars."

***

Unfortunately, the remainder of Saturday confirmed Sherlock's sneer that ‘intelligence-led policing is an oxymoron.' Lestrade had presumed now he had details of a crime to be committed, he's get a positive response. But Fraud said that no money was involved, so it wasn't their job, and Operation Bumblebee said Lestrade should get Nathan Bedirrag to talk to them, and Westminster Safer Neighbourhoods had half their officers off sick, and did not want to know about anything happening before March. And his own team put down the phone on him the moment he contacted them. It was like being sent to Coventry, only worse, because at least when you were in Coventry someone might answer your e-mails.

Lestrade spent half of Sunday morning banging his head against some more police brick walls, since the definition of madness was doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results. Then he made up his mind. He could leave it and let John Bedirrag do whatever he was going to do, and then track him down. He could go along and try to stop him singlehandedly. Or, he could go along, but at least with a bit of backup. He couldn't just sit around and let this happen. He picked up his mobile and prepared to call in yet another favour.

***

"John Watson." John's voice on the mobile sounded tired, his voice huskier than normal.

"John, it's Greg Lestrade. Can I have a word with you? A private word?" He wanted no records of this one, no texts that might accidentally not get deleted.

"Go ahead. It's OK, Sherlock's not around. He's gone to the pub."

"Sherlock's gone to the pub?"Lestrade said incredulously. It was Sunday lunchtime, but even so...

"Don't ask me why. I'm just so relieved to get him out of my hair. He's spending all his time doing Alan Rickman impersonations at the moment."

"Do you think you can come and do something for me without him finding out?"Lestrade asked.

"You're trying to put one over on Sherlock?"

"I'm desperate, John. I may be arresting a man called Killer Evans, and unofficially, I'd like someone beside me who knows how to shoot."

"And carries a gun?"

"And does not carry a handgun, which would be illegal, but would be able to use one effectively if it happened to be at the crime scene."

"When do you want me and where?"John said.

"18 Ryder Street, noon tomorrow."Lestrade paused and then added: "Are you OK, John, you sound a bit rough."

"I've had several days in bed. Some kind of bug going round."

"Are you up to this? This is a serious matter, there's some danger involved," Lestrade said, and then mentally cursed himself. This was John Watson, nothing short of major surgery stopped him wanting to run into danger. "What I mean is, can you still shoot straight?"

"It's not the first time we've been in danger together, Lestrade. I'll be fine. See you tomorrow."

It was actually going to be the first time he and John had been in danger together, Lestrade thought, at least without Sherlock along as well. Which probably made it at least 50% safer in itself.

***
When Lestrade arrived at Ryder Street, at 11.45 am, a shadow detached itself from a neighbouring alleyway. A tall, thin shadow. Oh shit - Sherlock.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded. He supposed he should have known that John would balls-up this bit. "And where's John, anyhow?"

"At the surgery, presumably," said Sherlock grinning, and then his voice altered. "So I'm spending all my time doing John Watson impersonations at the moment."

"Oh, fuck me," Lestrade exclaimed.

"Later perhaps, at the moment, we've got a man called Killer Evans to meet. Oh, and don't worry. John may not be here, but his gun is."Sherlock grinned. "Shall we go inside?"

***

"OK," said Lestrade, once Mrs Saunders had let them into the flat. "I presume you've deduced everything already?"

"Most of it, after I'd looked up Evans' record. I once had a similar case involving a red-haired man called Jabez Wilson. I can't think how I let something interesting like this actually slip me by. It's obvious what Evans' game is, so I think we need to check where the stuff is hidden. Under the floorboards is by far the most likely position, of course, for equipment as bulky as that."

Fuck it, thought Lestrade, even now he's one step ahead of me. He still wasn't sure exactly why Evans wanted to search the rooms, even if Prescott had worked here. But that wasn't the thing that mattered now.

"No," he said, "we need to hide here behind this cupboard and let Evans locate the stuff, and then we arrest him. I arrest him. He's unlikely to be carrying a gun, his last victim was knifed, and he's not expecting trouble. So cover him, but do not shoot if there is any way to avoid it. I mean it, Sherlock."

"OK," said Sherlock. For a moment, Lestrade thought he was paying attention, but then he realised he was scrutinising the cupboard they were going to have to hide behind. The rather small cupboard they were going to have to hide behind. Which, given their size, would mean they would have to get close to one another. Crouch practically on top of one another, in fact. Sherlock was grinning again, damn him.

"If you do anything that makes a sound...,"Lestrade said.

"If I'm having to be restrained and not shoot anyone, the least we can do is check how good your self-control is," said Sherlock. "Come on, Lestrade, we need to get into position."

***
Fortunately, Evans arrived before Lestrade's trousers spontaneously combusted – how could Sherlock wriggle with such precision? – and they watched as the American entered the room. He closed the door softly behind him, took a sharp glance around him to see that all was safe, took off his overcoat, and walked up to the central table with the brisk manner of someone who knew exactly what he had to do and how to do it. He pushed the table to one side, brought out a knife from the hold-all he was carrying, and cut a hole in the carpet. Soon, he was chiselling away the floorboards, and a square had opened in the floor. Killer Evans picked up a torch and a screwdriver, and vanished from their view.

Lestrade touched Sherlock's wrist, hoping he'd recognise it as a signal for the right kind of action. Together they stole across towards the hole in the floor. They were almost there when Sherlock - and it was Sherlock, even though he blamed Lestrade subsequently – trod on a creaking board. Evans' head emerged suddenly from the open space, wearing a glare of baffled rage, which gradually softened into a rather shamefaced grin, as he realized that Sherlock had a gun pointed at his head.

"Well, well!" he said coolly as he scrambled up. "I guess you've been one too many for me, Mr Gregson. Saw through my game, I suppose, and played me for a sucker from the start. I hand it to you, you have me beat and-"

Suddenly Evans' arm moved and Lestrade felt a sudden hot sear in his thigh, like the time he'd burnt himself ironing. He looked down. There was a screwdriver sticking into his leg. A bloody screwdriver, a very bloody screwdriver. He tried to put pressure on the wound, and was distracted by a crash, as Sherlock's gun came down on Evans' head. Then Evans was sprawling upon the floor with blood running down his face, as Sherlock alternated between searching him for weapons, and kicking him in the groin.

"Sherlock," Lestrade yelled, as he subsided onto the floor. Well, tried to yell. It was more a vague croak. Suddenly Sherlock was kneeling beside him, his clear, hard eyes dimmed for a moment, and his firm lips shaking. Lestrade's possibly last ever glimpse of Sherlock was him about to piss himself with fright.

"You're not hurt, Lestrade? For God's sake, say you're not hurt!"

This was not the time for understatement. "Sherlock, I have a fucking screwdriver stuck right in my fucking leg, of course I'm hurt."In the rapidly diminishing circle of his vision, he could see that Evans was sitting up, with a dazed face. "Make sure you've got Evans immobilised, and then phone 999."

Sherlock's face when he turned to look at Evans was so hard and cutting that Lestrade half-expected Evans' skin to start peeling off. The last thing he heard, his eyes closed, as he lost consciousness, was Sherlock snarling: "If you'd killed Lestrade, you wouldn't have got out of this room alive."

***

The first thing Lestrade heard, his eyes closed, as he regained consciousness, was Sherlock snarling: "If you'd killed Lestrade, you wouldn't have got out of this room alive."He decided that whatever was going on, he didn't want to be a part of it, and let the world drift away again.

***
Lestrade opened his eyes cautiously, and met concerned grey eyes looking down at him. The dark gray, almost sane-looking eyes of John Watson.

"I thought Sherlock was here," he murmured.

"We...had to remove him," said John. "He was screaming at every doctor who treated you."

"What the fuck happened?"Lestrade said, and then remembered. "He threw a screwdriver at me, didn't he."

"Evans, you mean?"

"Of course, not even Sherlock would-" Lestrade's voice tailed off, when he noticed that John's eyes were now not meeting his. "Sherlock's thrown a screwdriver at you?"

"Once," said John, in the mock-casual tones that he'd use for saying that Sherlock had once been to Shrewsbury. "He'd heard that expert knife-throwers can use them. He's not as expert as he thought he was. Or maybe it was the wrong sort of screwdriver. As for Evans, I don't know whether he's any good or he just struck lucky, as it were. He nicked your femoral artery, which is why it got so messy."

"Was I actually in danger of dying?"asked Lestrade, trying to gauge how much leeway he had to moan about how rough he felt.

"Not once the concierge stopped Sherlock attempting to give you first aid. She knew what she was doing, had been on a course, sorted out things till the paramedics turned up. Sherlock, well, he was completely freaked out about you getting hurt. He was still so out of it just now that we had to use emergency reinforcements to get him out of the hospital. Once I'd disarmed him, of course."

"He...he was still holding your bloody gun, was he? No, not even him....I must be dreaming this. You are really Sherlock pretending to be John, aren't you?"

"You're full of painkillers," said John, "but not quite that full. Sherlock came along to the hospital carrying my Sig. More sort of clutching it to him, like a bloody metal teddy-bear with bullets. So I told him to hand it over, and he did, and then I told him that he ever touched it again, I'd remove his trigger finger without anaesthetic. I suspect he might leave it alone for several months at least. But we had to call up the heavy artillery to get him to go back to 221B."

"Tell me you dropped a mortar bomb on him, please," said Lestrade.

"I got Mycroft to phone their mother. Greg, what the hell did happen? And why on earth did Sherlock drag you along and not me? I didn't know he was involved with this Bedirrag case at all."

"He wasn't," said Lestrade. "And it's all your bloody fault after all."

"What?"John said.

"Because I bet," said Lestrade triumphantly, "that it was you that told Sherlock he sounded like bloody Alan Rickman."

***

He explained it all to John, but it took ages: either John was being particularly dim today, or Lestrade was not quite as coherent as he would have liked.

"That's quite impressive, really," said John, "working it that out like that."

"You mean Sherlock would have done it in half the time?" said Lestrade sourly. How could getting stabbed in the left leg hurt your right shoulder quite so much?

"I mean Dimmock or Gregson would have taken twice as long, or not worked it out at all," said John. "You're not as good as Sherlock, no one is, but you're a pretty smart copper. Sherlock knows that, he appreciates your efforts. In fact..." He paused, and then went on abruptly. "Have you ever known him freak out that completely in all the years he's been around?"

"Not when he was clean, no."

"I've seen it once, at the swimming pool, when Moriarty had me hostage." John was sounding slightly funny now, thought Lestrade, an odd tension that he normally only displayed when faced with particularly threatening vending machines.

"What happened?"

"It was when he finally got the bomb jacket off me. I mean I was in a pretty collapsed state, but Sherlock was just out of it, he could hardly string a coherent sentence together, and he was playing around with my damn gun then as well. It was the first time I caught a glimpse of the fact that he's got a heart as well as a brain."

Lestrade was silent, mainly because if he said anything it would have to be a joke, and he couldn't think of anything funny right then.

"For a moment," John went on, "I thought it was worth being kidnapped by Moriarty, worth any danger, to know Sherlock's feelings for me, the love and loyalty that's hidden behind that sociopathic mask."He smiled suddenly, "God, it's amazing the distorting effect of psychological shock. And I do have the slight excuse that it was before I knew Sherlock was going to blow up the building."

"I am a bloody detective," said Lestrade, with as much dignity as his drug-addled state could allow, "Can you please put it on record that I have known for at least three years that Sherlock cares for me. And I also want to point out that no revelation about him is worth being stabbed in the thigh with a screwdriver. Oh, God," he added as a thought struck him, "how near was I to irreparable damage to my, um, groin?"

John gave him a look on his face that said he really didn't want to answer that question, and then almost stammered out: "When I said that Sherlock loved me, cared for me, that is, I meant that in an entirely friendly, and non-sexual way, of course."

"Of course," said Lestrade. If there was one thing worse than his situation, as a gay man for whom Sherlock felt repressed and confused emotions, it was probably being John, as a straight man for whom Sherlock felt repressed and confused emotions. There were times when Lestrade really wished Mr and Mrs Holmes had sat the teenaged Sherlock down and given him a long, detailed and frank explanation of love, rather than filling his head with useless rubbish about heterosexual sex.

"I'll sort out Sherlock," he said. He'd spent the last five years trying and failing, though some of the failing had been surprisingly enjoyable. "Tomorrow." He closed his eyes, and settled down gingerly to concentrate on how crap he felt.

***

He was considerably more with it by the next day, but Sherlock was obviously still incapable of rational conversation, so he got Donovan at his bedside instead. Maybe it was worth building up his resistance gradually.

"How're you doing, sir?" said Sally, who was doing a fairly effective job of pretending that she hadn't been worried she was going to have to break in a new boss. "I hear you took the Freak along with you, armed, for a stakeout, and you only got stabbed as a result. That sounds like a pretty good outcome."

"Well, it is if we've got something solid on Evans," said Lestrade. "What's the score on that?"

"Attempted murder, and we might be able to get him on the forgery stuff as well. Did you hear what was under the floorboards?"

"Someone said something about a printing press, and plates, and paper, which makes absolutely no sense," Lestrade replied. "Nowadays, you need a laser copier, and a way to make holograms, and anything that was last used five years ago is going to be completely obsolescent and..."He suddenly broke off. "Oh, God, they're Americans, aren't they? Evans and Prescott and McMurdo. And the world's easiest currency to forge is the one dollar bill, they haven't changed the design since I was born-"

"And it's practically legal currency in a lot of Eastern Europe,"said Sally, "A small-scale fraud, but decent margins, and low-risk. The hope is that Evans gives us a way of getting into the distribution networks of the counterfeit currency in several different countries. So the good news is that Interpol are really pleased with what you've done for them."

It didn't need being one of the Met's best bloody detectives to spot the ‘bad news' bit of the sentence left hanging in the air.

"OK, Sally, who's pissed off with me now?"She grinned, copper to copper.

"The top brass, of course. Complete and utter tossers, but...you know one of the Met's targets for this year was to reduce serious knife crime by 8%. Thanks to your little encounter, they reckon it's going to be only 7.8%."

"What? It wasn't even a knife, it was a bloody screwdriver."

"No separate category for that, apparently, sir. But you did break up the operation, and get Evans out of circulation for a few years, so I'd say that was good going. Are you going to be in here for much longer?"

"They are saying another two weeks, which is mad, I thought they didn't like people blocking up their beds. It's something ridiculous about risk of damage to stitches, I didn't take in the finer points. So there's only one thing to do. If I'm stuck in a hospital bed for a fortnight, I need something to occupy me. An unsolved crime, I reckon. So you need to bring me in-"

"Can't do that, Greg." It wasn't often Sally used his first name, even though she'd earned the right to a long time ago. "They're practically frisking people for case files as they go out of the door at the moment."

"Nothing from the Met," he said, "I'm going earlier, historical crime. Could you bring me details of the Jack the Ripper cases – no, everyone's done that. What about bringing me stuff about the murder of the Princes of the Tower? I remember seeing a picture of them as a kid in an old book of my mother's. Now that's what I call a cold case, bet no-one's looked at it for centuries. Yeah, that should tide me over nicely, till they let me out of here and I can come back into work."

"Sir," said Sally, and there was definite panic in her voice. Sally panicking? What the hell? "I think you need to know. I've had personnel on the phone yesterday and they're invoking rule PD 92."

"Which is what?"

"Which is what happens if you're injured or become sick while on annual leave. The policy is that you are immediately switched onto sick leave, so as to preserve your holiday entitlement. Which means that when you get out of hospital you still have another fifteen days of leave left to take. So we'll see you in the office at Easter, sir."