“Sherlock, you’ve only been out of hospital for a couple of days. You need some rest and relaxation,” I insisted.
Sherlock was lying on the sofa in his dressing gown, staring at the ceiling. “Rest is boring, John.”
“It’s a small amateur detective conference. It’ll be fun.”
He frowned. “I’m not an amateur.”
“I know. Maybe they can learn something from you, though.”
He turned his head and looked at me in disbelief. “You want me to teach them?”
“No, nothing formal like that. But maybe you can correct their misconceptions.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow and I could see that the prospect of correcting someone had sparked his interest.
“Where is this so-called conference being held?”
“At a bed and breakfast west of London.”
“In the country?” He groaned. “I told you, boring.”
“Come on, the fresh air will do you good. It’ll be a new experience,” I sighed. “Do you have something better to do?”
He sighed too and gave me a shrug.
“It’s settled then. We’re going. The conference starts tomorrow afternoon.”
The next day was Halloween. I imagined it was no coincidence that they picked that day to schedule a to do about investigating murder mysteries. Sherlock and I had lunch near the station and then boarded a train bound for the West Country. We sat in comfortable first class chairs and waited for the attendants to bring us tea. Then I whipped out my laptop to answer Sherlock’s insistent interrogations of where are we going, what does the place look like and which room are we in.
I frowned at him and said, “It’s actually quite nice, lovely gardens and courtyards, big rooms and breakfast included. And it’s quiet.”
“Quiet and peaceful,” I said forcefully, “is what you need right now. I don’t want to hear anything more about it.”
His eyebrows shot up in surprise, but I could see the corners of his mouth twitch into a smile. I turned the laptop and showed him the pictures of our room.
He looked it over and nodded. He seemed genuinely impressed.
“There’s a sun room overlooking one of the courtyards.”
“I see that,” he replied. “It does look quite nice.”
“Good. For that price it had better.”
Sherlock chuckled and sipped at his tea.
When we reached the station, I helped Sherlock onto the platform as the journey seemed to have worn on him and then I went to find our luggage. When I got back, he was hanging up his phone.
“I called a taxi to take us to the Inn,” he said as he sat down on a bench.
“Are you alright? You look tired.”
“I’m fine. Just a bit sore.”
“Well, maybe we can get to the Inn and rest awhile before the first meeting.”
The short ride through the countryside was pleasant. Sherlock was quiet and a couple of times I caught him fighting to keep himself awake. The sight made me smile, but I made sure not to let him notice.
When we got to the Inn my smile returned as I looked around and even Sherlock looked impressed. It was basically a big house with a couple of stand alone cabins. It was very much like an old fashioned B and B and gave you the impression you were staying over at someone’s home. The Inn Keeper was friendly and showed us around before taking us up to our room. It was the only one upstairs so we had the landing all to ourselves and well as a kitchenette and the amazing sunroom that stretched the length or our room. The suite was bright and airy and felt more like an enormous bedroom than a room in a hotel.
We unpacked a bit before I convinced Sherlock that it could wait. An hour later he was asleep on the little sofa in the corner of our room and I was sitting at the desk staring at my open laptop. I’d been trying to write up our adventures on the Gloria Scott case, but so far the page was empty. I hadn’t been able to bring myself to write it, not yet anyway and I didn’t feel like doing it then either. I closed the computer and turned to watch Sherlock sleep instead.
The conference started that evening and, of course, Sherlock decided we would be fashionably late. The living room was just off the stairs and had been set up with snacks and drinks. Sherlock cringed a bit as we reached the bottom and I asked him if he was alright.
He nodded impatiently and I added, “There was the room by the garden.”
“What about it?”
“No stairs, but there is a huge Jacuzzi tub.” His eyebrows shot up with interest and I said, “I didn’t book it because you aren’t supposed to be bathing yet.”
He harrumphed and said, “Sounds pretentious anyway, just the room Mycroft would be booked in if he were here.”
The gathering was in the adjacent library and from the sound of things it was well underway. I picked up a plate of nibbles. Predictably, Sherlock walked right on by. I decided to save the argument for later. The conversation stopped as we walked in the room. There were two men, one older and professorly looking, the other short, plump and face red with excitement. Sitting on the sofa beside them were two women, both of whom looked like middle aged housewives.
“Hello,” Sherlock said with false jovialness, and then announced, “Sherlock Holmes. This is my partner, in everything,” he added in an if-you-don’t-like-it-you-can-leave tone, “John Watson.”
There were several intakes of breath and stares of disbelief around the room. Sherlock and I frowned at one another.
Finally, the red faced fellow spoke up, “You mean the Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson?”
Sherlock clenched his jaw. “Don’t tell me, you read his blog?”
“Oh yes,” the man replied and there were nods around the room. “And your sight as well, Mister Holmes, The Science of Deduction. It’s very brilliant work. We’re honoured to have you with us.” He stuck out his hand and Sherlock took it with suspicion and reluctance.
The little man seemed a bit deflated so I said, “It’s nothing personal. It’s just that the last person he met with that much enthusiasm for his website was a serial killer.”
“Oh, right,” he replied and awkwardly let go of Sherlock’s hand. “Robbie Benson, Mister Holmes, Doctor Watson. So nice to meet you both.”
As we all introduced ourselves I learned that the two women were Felicity Jones and Margaret Moynahan, indeed housewives. The other man was Maximillian Deets a professor of creative writing.
“And what do you do, Mister Benson?” I asked as Sherlock and I took our seats.
“Oh, I’m a Ripperologist,” he answered enthusiastically.
There was some eye-rolling from the others, including Sherlock.
“And what is that?” I asked.
“He investigates the crimes of Jack the Ripper,” Sherlock answered.
“Oh, of course,” I said with a nod, trying to look impressed, but not sure what to really think.
After a moment Robbie said, “Well, now that we’ve all met-“
“Not quite,” a voice said from behind us. We all turned to see another man, smiling and holding a steaming cup of coffee. “Jackson Brodie, private investigator.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow and stood to greet him. “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective.”
“Aye, I know.”
“I suppose you read John’s blog too?”
“Blog? Uh, no. But I am a friend of your brother’s. He told me about this little get together, said I needed a holiday. He put me up in the room over there,” he said, pointing to the stairs with his cup. “Right below yours.”
“Mycroft?” Sherlock said in disbelief. “You know Mycroft?”
“Of course he does, Sherlock,” came another voice. We glanced into the living room to see the figure of Mycroft Holmes appear.
Sherlock stood and walked up to Mycroft. He brushed passed him with a look everyone could tell meant “follow me.” The two of them stepped into the living room for some privacy, but I was able to make out their hushed voices. I watched them, glancing around at the others apologetically now and then.
“What are you doing here, Mycroft?” Sherlock demanded.
“Keeping an eye on you of course, wondering what you are up to.”
“I came here for a break. I was shot in case you didn’t hear.”
“Of course I heard.”
“Not that it mattered much,” Sherlock said venomously. “Not even a visit?”
Mycroft looked down at Sherlock’s shoes. “I did come, actually.”
Sherlock shook his head, flustered. “When?”
“You were asleep. It didn’t seem right to wake you.”
The two of them stared at one another for a moment and then Sherlock said, “So you just happened to come all the way out here because you wondered what I was doing?”
“Haven’t I always kept an eye on you?” Mycroft asked paternally.
“Yes,” Sherlock answered, resentment in his voice. “From afar,” he added. “Why the sudden personal involvement?”
“Well, as you said, you have just been shot. So you came to recuperate at a crime convention?”
“John thought they could learn from me.”
“Did he now?” Mycroft said with a smile. “You two have gotten quite cozy haven’t you?”
“Don’t act like it’s something you didn’t know about.”
“Or couldn’t have predicted,” Mycroft added with a chuckle.
“And you?” Sherlock shot back. “You came just to check up on me, yet you invited an old friend and booked the weekend. Any announcements you’re planning on making?”
This time Mycroft laughed heartily. “Oh no, nothing like that. I met Jackson when he was in the service. We were, well, involved in the same operation. Besides, Jackson Brodie wouldn’t be that kind of friend.”
I glanced over at Mr. Brodie, but he just smiled over his coffee cup, giving no indication that he was listening to the current conversation.
“Come now, Sherlock. I think everyone is waiting for us. Wouldn’t want to be rude now, would we?”
Sherlock narrowed his eyes and then turned and walked back into the library. Jackson sat next to the ladies on the sofa and Mycroft brought another chair from the living room. He placed it slightly behind Sherlock and I and proceeded to lurk there quietly for the rest of the evening.
The conference started, not unpredictably, with discussions of unsolved cases and mystery writers. Everyone had a theory on famous cases like Jack the Ripper and before long I joined in. Mister Brodie seemed to be enjoying himself as well, but Sherlock and Mycroft only watched in silence. The professor, on the other hand, became irate if anyone had a theory that disagreed with his own.
The discussion moved to Agatha Christie and he and I fell into a long winded argument about her characters.
“Come on, Sherlock, help me out,” I said, turning to him in exasperation.
He took a deep breath and said in a tone of indifference, “Clearly Miss Marple was the better detective.”
“Thank you,” I replied triumphantly.
The professor harrumphed and said, “And why do you make that claim?”
“Hercule Poirot, while having a brain that could work out the facts well enough, spent most of his time stumbling on to them accidently. The man was disaster prone. Things just happened to happen around him.”
Mycroft gave a little chuckle behind us and Sherlock went on, “Miss Marple though, there was a keen mind. A harmless little old lady who’d fame didn’t get in her way. People trusted her, confided in her, and did much of the legwork for her really. All she had to do was put the pieces together, which she did very well. She understood people and their motives for doing the things they did.”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “Her greatest asset was her understanding of human nature and relationships.”
Sherlock frowned and I knew he was thinking that his one weakness was an inconsistent understanding of interpersonal relationships.
As the meeting wound down a torrential rainfall started to pour. Everyone said their goodbyes, after agreeing on a time to meet the following day and we started back to our rooms.
“Interesting evening,” Mycroft said as we reached the stairs to the Vista.
Sherlock turned and smirked. “So, which room are you staying in?”
“The room in the garden,” Mycroft gloated.
Sherlock nodded and glanced at me. I hid a chuckle behind a cough. Mycroft looked at me with narrowed eyes, but then turned and walked to the side door.
He opened his umbrella and said, “Goodnight boys,” and then stepped out into the courtyard.
Sherlock and I started up the stairs and Jackson Brodie gave us a nod as he went into his room. We had a late tea out on the covered balcony. The windows looked out into the rain as heavy drops fell onto another lighted courtyard below. We sat in comfortable wicker chairs, surrounded by plants and sipped at our warming drinks. If the rain continued like it was the countryside was soon going to be flooded, I thought.
“Cool out here,” I said conversationally.
“Hmm? Oh yes, it is a bit.”
I knew he was still thinking about the sudden appearance of his brother. I thought it was a bit odd myself. “Sherlock,” I said, planning to ask him about it when the lights flashed in our room and we heard a scream coming from somewhere downstairs. Sherlock and I jumped up and ran down to see what it was.
As we reached the bottom of the stairs, Jackson came out of his room and said, “What the sodding hell?”
“There’s someone in the courtyard,” Sherlock said with a nod to the door. He bolted for it and Jackson and I followed on his heels. As we ran out into the rain, we heard other doors open as well. The courtyard was full of plants and flowers, but in the middle was a red brick walkway and a fountain. Lying beside the fountain, her pooling blood visible even through the dark and rain, was the Inn Keeper who’d shown us to our room. Standing over her was Maximillian Deets, his clothes covered in blood as well.
Robbie’s room was adjacent to Jackson’s and he came running down the steps as the three of us ran to the fountain. “What’s going on?” he shouted, but then backpedalled when he saw the innkeeper and Maximillian.
“Bloody hell,” Jackson said as we made it to the dead woman.
I shook my head. This can’t be happening, I thought. Isn’t anywhere safe anymore? I glanced over at Sherlock, but he was already studying the scene, his blue eyes quickly darting to and fro. My eyes settled on Mr. Deets though. He was staring, wide-eyed, at the Inn Keeper, blood everywhere. He didn’t seem to notice it. Jackson was watching him as well.
Sherlock gritted his teeth. “The rain’s washing everything away!” He turned to Jackson and I, just as Mycroft came strolling up the path with his umbrella, and said, “Get him inside. I’ll collect what I can here and then we’ll move her too.”
Jackson and I stepped closer to Maximillian. “Mister Deets, could you come with us?” I said.
He didn’t seem to hear us so Jackson said, “Come on, Max, let’s get inside.”
This seemed to wake the man from his reverie. He turned to us and stated, “My name is Maximillian, thank you very much.”
“Alright. If you could just come with us though, sir.”
We got him walking up the path to the Inn’s breakfast room. I turned to see Robbie run back to his room and Mycroft step up to Sherlock.
I heard him say, “Well, trouble seems to be following you everywhere. Starting to feel like Hercule Poirot are we?”
We went into the breakfast room and Jackson lit the fire. Maximillian started complaining immediately. “I didn’t do anything. I was only trying to help her. I heard her scream and found her like that, I swear it.”
“We still need to check you for evidence,” I told him.
“Evidence?” he repeated and looked down at himself.
I knew that it was probably pointless. The rain had been pouring so hard that you could barely tell there’d ever been any blood on him. He sat down at a table in a huff and I looked back out at the courtyard. I couldn’t make out much through the darkness and the glare from the lights. I could just see Sherlock kneeling over the woman and Mycroft standing over him, trying to block some of the rain. I saw light spill out of Robbie’s doorway and a few moments later the little man came running up to the door. I let him in all soaked and shivering and I realised for the first time how cold I was.
“I tried to reach the police,” he informed us, “but the phones are out.”
I pulled my mobile out of my pocket and then heard Sherlock say from behind me, “You can try it if you like, but it won’t work.”
I turned to see him and Mycroft walk through the door, both of them rather soaked. Sherlock’s eyes and nose were red and his dark curls had been plastered to his head. He didn’t seem to notice or mind.
“We’re in a dead zone, no reception here,” he added.
I looked at my phone and saw that he was right. Of course he was.
“What are we going to do?” Robbie asked.
“We’ll just have to wait out the storm,” Jackson answered.
Sherlock nodded. “Bring the body inside and we’ll figure out exactly what happened.”
“Do you know what killed her?” I asked.
“Yes, she was stabbed, with this,” he added, holding up a long, slender filet knife. “It was in the fountain, not very well hidden.”
“If it was meant to be hidden at all,” Mycroft chimed in.
“Yes,” Sherlock agreed.
Jackson and I went outside with Sherlock and carried the woman back to the breakfast room while Robbie and Mycroft kept an eye on Mr. Deets.
As we stepped inside Robbie said, “Oh my goodness, what about the women?”
Sherlock and I traipsed back out into the cold and rain through the door on the other side of the breakfast room. Next to the Inn was a quaint two bedroom cottage. Felicity and Margaret were sharing it for the weekend. We walked up to front door and knocked. It took a few times to get anyone’s attention, but then Felicity, the younger of the two, opened the door. She had a dressing gown wrapped tightly around her and looked a bit bleary eyed.
“We’re sorry to wake you,” I said.
“Mister Holmes? Doctor Watson? What is it?”
“I’m afraid there’s been an…incident,” I answered.
“We need you to come with us,” Sherlock added.
“An incident? What do you mean an incident?”
By now Margaret was up too and heading for the front door. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“Something’s happened to the Inn Keeper,” I said, trying to be delicate.
“What do you mean?” Margaret said, wrapping a gown around her as well.
Sherlock sighed. “She’s been killed and it would be safer if you came with us so we are all together.”
The two of them looked at us in shock and disbelief. I shook my head and shot Sherlock a look. Felicity and Margaret agreed to go with us and we walked them back to the breakfast room.
“Very subtle,” I whispered to Sherlock.
“Well, you weren’t getting through to them and we didn’t have time to waste on being delicate.”
“Time? The evidence isn’t going anywhere.”
“Yes, but given the circumstances and the weather conditions, my conclusion is that someone in that room is a murderer.”
“I think Maximillian Deets is the likely suspect.”
“It may seem likely, but not necessarily. And if he’s not we need to find out who is and quickly.”
We stepped back into the room and Robbie turned up the flame on the gas fire. Margaret and Felicity stared at the inn keeper with a mixture of curiosity and revulsion.
“I didn’t want to believe it,” Margaret whispered.
“What is going on here?” Felicity demanded.
“If only we knew,” Mycroft answered charmingly.
“It would be for the best if we all stayed together,” Sherlock announced.
We all glanced around at one another uneasily. Suddenly Mr. Deets stood and began sputtering.
“But there is a murderer in this room, Mister Holmes!” I groaned as he went on. “You do not expect me to sleep in the same room with them?”
Felicity and Margaret turned to face him, noticing the watered down blood covering him and stepped away.
“It looks to me like you’re the one covered in blood,” Felicity said.
Margaret quickly turned toward Sherlock and I. “It is him?” she asked. “Did he kill her?”
“How dare you, madam!” Maximillian protested.
“No, no, we’re not accusing anyone,” I tried to smooth them over.
Jackson put a hand on Maximillian’s shoulder and said, “Just calm down. It’s been a rough night. Why don’t we all retire to the living room?”
“That’s a good idea,” Sherlock agreed. “John and I have a room upstairs. Mycroft, you can have our sofa.”
“Oh lovely,” he said, sounding gleeful.
“My room’s right below theirs if someone wants to try and sleep in a lounge chair.”
“I will,” Robbie spoke up.
“Hang on, that leaves the two of us alone with him in the living room,” Felicity said, pointing at Maximillian.
“Fine, I’ll stay downstairs then,” Mycroft said. “There are plenty of sofas to go around.”
Sherlock nodded and walked up to the office door. I had been heading for the back door, preparing myself for another jaunt in the rain as the office door was code locked.
“John,” Sherlock said and waved me over. Then he proceeded to enter the code and open the door.
“You knew the office code,” I stated.
“Child’s play,” he said as we started through the maze that was the office and kitchen to get to the interior of the house.
We got the heat going in the living room and then settled the ladies in there and Mycroft and Maximillian in the library. Sherlock and I climbed the stairs to our room once again and got into our pyjamas.
“Well, I for one am exhausted,” I said. “You must be too.”
“A bit,” he admitted which made me think that he must have been very, very tired indeed.
Sleep was to prove elusive though as a couple of hours later we were woken by knocking at our door and Mycroft calling out his brother’s name. We quickly got up and Sherlock threw on his dressing gown. He answered the door and frowned when he saw Mycroft’s weary face.
“We’ve lost Deets,” Mycroft said.
“Lost him?” Sherlock repeated pushing through the doorway. “But you were with him.”
“I was asleep, Sherlock.”
When he reached the edge of the landing, Jackson was looking up and said, “We found him. He’s in the kitchen.”
We rushed down the stairs and found everyone else standing around Maximillian in the kitchen. He was lying on the floor, dead. Sherlock pushed his way to the body and knelt down beside it. It looked as if he’d been stabbed too, but the wounds were very different than the innkeepers.
I knelt across from Sherlock and opened Maximillian’s shirt. “Well, this certainly wasn’t done with a long slender knife,” I commented.
“No,” Sherlock said, looking over a gaping wound the size and shape of a fifty pence coin in Maximillian’s abdomen and another in his throat. “It looks like a slightly tapering wound, almost completely round.”
“Ice pick maybe,” I offered.
Sherlock shook his head. “The wound’s too large.”
Then Jackson said, “It looks like the tip of an umbrella.”
Slowly, everyone’s eyes began to move toward Mycroft.
“What?” Mycroft said incredulously.
“Where is your umbrella, Mycroft?” Sherlock asked.
“You think I did this? That’s ridiculous!”
“Never the less, your umbrella?”
“I left it in the breakfast room,” he answered indignantly.
We all quickly made our way through the office and into the breakfast room. Leaning against the fireplace was Mycroft’s umbrella, covered in a fluid that did not look like rain water. Sherlock walked up to the fireplace and looked the umbrella over.
“Is that…?” Robbie started to ask.
“Blood? Yes,” Sherlock answered.
I shook my head and rubbed my brow. Mycroft shook his head as well and the rest of the room stared at him in horror.
“You can’t seriously think that I killed Deets and left the murder weapon lying around for everyone to gape at?”
Sherlock ignored him and continued to examine the umbrella.
“Sherlock!” Mycroft exclaimed and I saw a flash of fear break through the normally confident features.
Sherlock looked up at him and his face softened a bit. “No,” he answered. “I don’t.” He stood and turned to the rest of us. “While my brother may be capable of murder-“
“Oh for heaven’s sake,” Mycroft interjected.
“I see no reason why he would want to kill Maximillian Deets and he wouldn’t be stupid enough to leave the umbrella for us to find.”
“You’re his brother,” Felicity complained. “You could just be saying that out of sentiment.”
“I assure you, I wouldn’t,” Sherlock countered.
“It’s true,” Mycroft added. “Trust me, the man hates me.”
Sherlock glanced at him with a frown, like he was about to protest, but then quickly looked away again.
“Now what are we supposed to do?” Margaret cried.
“Yeah,” Felicity chimed in at Sherlock. “Your idea of everyone staying together didn’t do much good did it?”
Sherlock looked her over and narrowed his eyes. “Then this time, I suggest we stay together completely, in the same room. There’s ample room for everyone to at least sit comfortably in the living room.”
“What about Mister Deets?” Robbie asked.
“He should stay where he is. There’s no reason to move him from the crime scene.”
The protesting began immediately, but Sherlock only rolled his eyes and gritted his teeth.
Finally I held up my hand and said, “Alright, alright. We can cover him up and block off the area, when the police are able to get here, they need as much evidence as possible to remain undisturbed.”
Jackson nodded and the added support seemed to satisfy everyone. We situated ourselves in the living room, everyone refusing to sit anywhere near Mycroft and then Jackson and I went back to the kitchen to make tea and coffee.
“Interesting guy there, your boyfriend,” Jackson said casually.
“Well, you know his brother,” I said. “I always figured that the reason they didn’t get along was that they were so much alike.”
He smiled and tilted his head a bit. “Could be.”
When we came back to the living room Sherlock was glaring at the women again.
“It’s ok,” I said to him. “They are the same species and I doubt they bite.”
He turned his glare toward me and then took the cup of coffee I offered him and said, “Maybe you’re right.” With that he stood up, went over to where the women were sitting and sat down next to them.
I watched him walk away with a frown. Even after all this time he was still so hard to read sometimes. I couldn’t tell if I’d hurt his feelings or if something was up. I kept watching out of the corner of my eye. He exchanged a few words with the ladies, but mostly he sat sipping his coffee and watching the rest of us. Finally, I got involved in a conversation with Robbie and Jackson and lost track of what Sherlock was doing. Until he stood and cleared his throat that is.
Everyone looked up at him as he moved to the centre of the room. I could tell from the gleam in his eyes that he’d figured something out.
“I know who the killer is,” he announced without any segue.
“I don’t suppose you’re going to admit that it’s your brother?” Felicity asked.
He turned to her with a sly grin. “No, I hadn’t planned on it. Hardly the thing to do since he’s not.”
Mycroft nodded triumphantly and then shot Felicity a rather nasty glare which she returned. I rolled my eyes feeling like we were back at school.
“Then who is the killer?” Robbie asked eagerly.
We all looked back to Sherlock, but he didn’t answer. He was staring down at the floor, shaking his head slightly. He didn’t look well and I knew something was wrong.
“Sherlock?” I said as I stood.
He looked up at me, wide-eyed and pale. Mycroft was standing now too. Instinctively I began moving toward Sherlock, but was almost too late. I broke into a run and caught him right before he hit the floor. A moment later, Mycroft was kneeling beside us. Sherlock was sweaty and shivering.
“Could this be complications from the gun shot wound?” Mycroft asked me.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “Unless it’s an infection.”
“He was shot?” Robbie asked.
“Yes, about a week ago,” I answered.
“Blimey,” Robbie muttered as Mycroft lifted Sherlock’s dressing gown and shirt to examine the wound.
I looked it over too. “It looks fine.”
“Is he going to be alright?” Margaret asked.
Everyone was standing over us now. I was about to tell her that I didn’t know when Sherlock’s shivering progressed to thrashing and laboured breathing.
“Mycroft, help me hold him.” He wasn’t listening though. Instead he just stared intensely at Sherlock’s coffee cup. “Mycroft!”
He quickly snatched the cup off the end table and began examining it. His brow furrowed as he peered and sniffed at the liquid.
“What is it?” I asked.
“He’s been poisoned,” he answered matter of factly to gasps around the room. Then he dashed off into the kitchen reminding me very much of his younger brother.
I turned my attention back to Sherlock. His eyes were rolling back and his plastered to his head from sweat. His breathing was shallow and he seemed to be in pain.
“Hold on, Sherlock. Hold on.” I looked around desperately feeling utterly useless. “What’s he doing in there?” I yelled.
“I’ll find out,” Jackson said and hurried after Mycroft.
Sherlock’s lips were turning blue and I knew he wasn’t getting enough oxygen. “Come on, Sherlock, breathe,” I said, trying to get through to him, but I don’t think he was aware of me anymore. Suddenly, a strangled sound came from his throat and his airway closed off completely.
“No, Sherlock, please,” I pleaded as Mycroft came jogging back into the living room. He was holding a jar of strange looking liquid and a syringe.
“Wait, what is that?” I said as he knelt down beside us and began filling the syringe.
“Where did you get a syringe?”
“Always come prepared, Doctor.”
“So you carry needles around in your pocket?”
“No, no. I sent Jackson to my room to retrieve it.”
Just then Jackson Brodie came walking into the living room, soaking wet.
“But-“ I started to protest.
“We don’t have time for this, Doctor Watson. Just hold him,” Mycroft cut in.
I held on to Sherlock’s shoulders to stop his desperate thrashing as Mycroft plunged the needle into his neck. After a moment, Sherlock passed out from lack of oxygen and we all waited.
“Come on, Sherlock,” I whispered.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, his eyes flew open and he took a strangled breath. He coughed and took a longer breath and then coughed some more.
I looked at Mycroft who was smiling and said, “What just happened?”
“Let’s see if we can get him up the stairs. The injection kept him alive, but he still has the poison in his system. It’s going to be a long, well, rest of the night anyway.”
“We’re not staying together?” Robbie asked.
When Mycroft and I didn’t answer Felicity said, “Well, if we aren’t staying together then Margaret and I are going back to the cottage.”
I didn’t say anything and the truth was that I didn’t care at that moment.
Jackson rubbed his brow and held out his hands though. “Ladies, it may not be safe.”
“It seems to me that being here is what’s not safe. Things have only gotten worse since we started staying together,” Felicity answered as she and Margaret pushed passed him and out the door.
“Well, I’ll continue to stay here with you, Mister Brodie,” Robbie announced.
“Good man,” he answered and patted Robbie’s shoulder.
We got Sherlock walking a bit and, with a lot of struggle, managed to get him up the stairs and into bed. He fell into a deep sleep and was breathing better, but his face was still ashen and sweaty. I sat at his bed side and held his hand for awhile and then I heard Mycroft get up from the sofa.
He put a hand on my shoulder and said, “You’re tired. You need to rest, John. I’ll sit with him.”
I looked up at him and said, “I don’t want to leave him.”
“Go on. He’ll be alright.”
I nodded absentmindedly and stood up. I stretched and walked out onto the balcony as Mycroft took my place. I glanced at them through a window and then sat down in one of the wicker chairs. I stared out at the dark, rainy night, but I didn’t really see it. A heavy feeling started to form in the pit of my stomach and I felt like I was going to throw up. A low moan escaped my lips and I was suddenly overcome by an onslaught of tears. I wrapped my arms around me in a makeshift hug and rocked back and forth in the chair. I cried so hard that I almost choked from lack of air, all the while trying not to disturb Mycroft and Sherlock in the next room.
After a few minutes I caught my breath and shook my head. I wiped away tears and snot with the back of my hand and then stood up and straightened my clothes. I walked to the doorway of our room and stopped to watch the scene before me. Sherlock was semi-conscious and I heard him mumble my name.
“It’s alright,” Mycroft said. “He’s out on the balcony. You’re alright now.”
“Mycroft?” Sherlock said, a confused frown on his face.
“Yes, I’m here.”
Sherlock seemed to be having trouble holding on to consciousness. His eyes began to roll back and he shook his head. “What’s going on?” he asked and tried to sit up.
Mycroft hushed him and gently pushed him back down. “You’ll be fine,” he said and Sherlock let him tuck him back in.
He drifted back to sleep, muttering quietly. Mycroft brushed the sweat soaked hair off of his face and then leaned over and delicately kissed his forehead. Sherlock opened his eyes and stared at his brother. After a moment he moved an arm out from under the covers and took Mycroft’s hand.
I felt myself tearing up again so I quietly walked back onto the balcony. I sat back down with a heavy sigh and massaged my face, trying to work out some of the tension. Without realising it I found myself falling asleep.
I don’t know how long it had been when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I opened my eyes and it looked like dawn would break soon. I looked up and in the dim light saw Sherlock looking down on me. He looked as concerned about me as I was about him. He pulled a chair over and sat down across from me.
I sat up and looked him over. “Are you alright?”
He nodded and said, “Are you?”
I started to nod and answer with something like, “Of course, I’m fine,” but I couldn’t. I just shook my head and said, “You almost died, twice in one week.”
“I know. I’m sorry about-“
And then I blurted out, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore, Sherlock.”
He looked absolutely floored. He frowned and shook his head.
“I knew that what you did wasn’t risk free from the moment I got involved. It was exciting and yes, fun. But it’s gone too far now, Sherlock. I can’t live like this.”
I could see panic and tears in his eyes. “I don’t,” he started, but I could tell that he didn’t know what to say. I could tell he’d got the wrong idea. “You mean, you’re-“
I quickly scooted closer to him and took him in my arms. “No, never. You don’t get it, Sherlock. You mean everything to me. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anything.”
He moved back and said, “I don’t understand. What are you saying then?”
“You take unnecessary risks. Running after Hudson for one. Why couldn’t you have just told the police where he was? It’s not just about you anymore. I don’t want to watch you get yourself killed.”
He hung his head for a moment and then said, “What about all the times you’ve been in danger, John, mostly because of what we do? Do you think that’s been easy for me?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Then what do you want from me?” he said as he stood and turned away.
I got up and stood next to him. “This was supposed to be a holiday.” He chuckled and nodded and then I took a deep breath and continued, “I want you to trust me with your plans.”
“Why? So you can talk me out of them?”
“Maybe. Sometimes you need talked out of them.”
He turned and smiled. “Alright. Here’s the plan. I’m going downstairs and confront the murderer.”
He whipped passed me as I said, “But Sherlock,” and headed down the stairs, leaving me to groan and trail along behind.
When we reached the bottom of the stairs I turned and saw Mycroft following us. We started for the living room when Felicity ran in through the side door, wailing.
“She’s gone!” she screamed. “Margaret’s missing!”
“Oh my god,” I mumbled.
Sherlock only grinned though. “Is she really?”
I gave him a quizzical look as the door to Jackson’s room opened. “For god’s sake, now what?” he said, rubbing weary eyes.
“Apparently, Missus Moynahan has disappeared,” Sherlock answered, sounding delighted.
“No, not again,” Robbie said, stepping out behind Jackson.
“Oh, I’m sure she’s just fine,” Sherlock retorted. “Isn’t that right, Missus Jones?” With that he turned and walked into the living room.
Felicity shot his back a dark look and we all followed him. “We have to look for her,” she pleaded.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Sherlock, what’s going on?” I asked.
“I told you, John. I’m confronting the killer.”
I shook my head in confusion and then turned it, along with everyone else, towards Felicity. Sherlock watched us with a sly grin.
“What are you looking at?” Felicity whispered and stepped backward towards the dining room.
I turned back to Sherlock and said, “Are you saying that she killed the Inn Keeper and Deets? That she poisoned you?”
“Yes,” Sherlock answered as Mycroft stepped next to him, a look of detached curiosity on his face.
“And now she’s killed Margaret?” I added.
“No, no. As I said, I’m sure Margaret’s just fine. They were in on it together, you see.”
“That’s absurd,” Felicity protested.
“Is it?” he retorted.
“Do you have proof, Mister Holmes?” Robbie asked.
Sherlock smiled and my heart skipped a beat. I knew we were about to be treated to a brilliant performance in deduction.
“Statistically it is true that female serial killers are rare compared to their male counterparts, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It does mean, however, that they are much more likely to get away with it as female suspects are usually overlooked.”
“What does this have to do-“ Felicity tried to butt in.
“When we found the body of the Inn Keeper, we found Maximillian Deets standing over her covered in blood. He insisted he was trying to help her and it seems he was telling the truth. A theory well panned out as he became the next victim.”
“Yes, why would the murderer kill him next,” I asked.
“To create intrigue, John. They’ve been reading too many mystery novels as guests at a mystery convention are probably apt to do. We all heard the Inn Keeper’s scream, all but you and Missus Moynahan. Robbie’s room was closest, why was he not the first to the scene?”
“Well, I-“ Robbie started to answer, but Sherlock steamed on.
“Why would Maximillian be standing over her, covered in blood? The rain washed most of the evidence away, but as I examined the courtyard I noticed traces of blood further up the walkway, much closer to Mister Deets’s room. What I believe really happened was you and Margaret caught the Inn Keeper by surprise outside of Deets’s room and your struggle with her aroused his curiosity before anyone else. Then you dragged her body to the fountain for all to see. The Inn Keeper never screamed. It was one of you and then you ran back to your room, changed into your gowns and waited.”
“She was already dead when we heard the scream,” I said.
“Oh yes and Deets was the first one out the door because he had already heard something suspicious.”
“And he was in too much shock to tell us what he’d heard,” Jackson added.
“Probably,” Sherlock agreed.
“And our accusations made him defensive,” Robbie pointed out.
“It certainly didn’t help,” Sherlock conceded.
“This is all just speculation,” Felicity insisted.
“Then there was your hair,” Sherlock said.
“Yes, when we went to your cottage you had wet hair.”
“I’d recently showered.”
“Both of you?” he said with raised eyebrows. “Margaret’s hair was wet too.”
“It is a two bedroom cottage,” I pointed out.
“Yes, but there’s only one bath.” We turned back to Felicity, but she just shrugged, so Sherlock went on. “And of course there is the matter of your shoes.”
“What about my shoes?”
“They were sitting next to the door when you opened it. They were wet too. Are you going to tell me you were showering with your shoes on?”
Felicity remained silent so I turned to Sherlock and said, “Did you know they were the killers?”
“Not then, no. It wasn’t enough to go on, just enough to rouse suspicion.”
“So when did you know?”
He turned back to Felicity and said, “When they tried to frame my brother. There’s no way Mycroft would be stupid enough to kill someone with his own umbrella, much less leave it lying around for anyone to find.”
“Well, you did say that serial killers like to be caught, that it was a coming out party.” Mycroft gave me a horrified look and I shook my head. “I’m just saying.”
“No, if Mycroft was a serial killer I would have known about it.”
The rain had stopped while Sherlock spoke and dawn had broken. Felicity still looked unimpressed, but the rest of us were following his logic.
“How do you know it was the two of them who framed him?” Jackson asked.
“Earlier, when we were having coffee, I went and sat down next to them on the sofa.” He walked over to Felicity who started to slink away, but Mycroft stepped up and took her arm. Sherlock waved the rest of us over.
“Tiny splash pattern,” he said, pointing to miniscule drops of blood on her nightshirt.
“Well, I’ll be,” Robbie whispered.
“How could they possibly have poisoned your coffee?” I asked, knowing that Sherlock should have been much too careful for that.
He smiled slyly. “They didn’t.”
“But I detected it in your cup,” Mycroft protested.
“Yes,” he agreed. “A clever move. The poison was in the sugar. John, you like your coffee black as does Jackson. Mycroft and Robbie had tea, Mycroft with milk and Robbie straight. And of course, the two women had nothing to drink. That left me as the only one with sugar.”
I stared at him, horrified by the idea that I was the one who’d actually poisoned him when I fixed his coffee.
“That was an incredible risk though,” Robbie said. “They could have poisoned all of us.”
“Yes, but I doubt that mattered to them.”
“It sounds to me like their motive was trying to outwit you,” Mycroft said.
“And when they knew they couldn’t, they changed their objective to trying to get rid of me.”
We were all quiet for a moment and then Sherlock looked at Felicity and said, “So, where is she, Missus Jones?”
Suddenly, the door to the kitchen opened and Margaret stepped through. “Very clever of you, Mister Holmes,” she said.
“Not really that difficult to figure out given the mistakes you made.”
Margaret glared at him and said, “We managed to kill two people before you figured it out.”
Before Sherlock could say anything, Felicity broke Mycroft’s grip and slipped a knife out from under her nightshirt. She rushed at Mycroft, but he deflected her strike and then Jackson tackled her to the ground. He knocked the knife out of her hand and Sherlock quickly snatched it up. Robbie and I grabbed Margaret and Jackson drug Felicity back to her feet.
Robbie and I confined the women while Jackson drove to town to get the police. Mycroft and Sherlock gathered evidence and then we all waited.
The official investigation took all day and we made it back to London on the last train of the night. I stood at a distance and Mycroft and Sherlock parted. I smiled as I watched a few shared nods, a smile or two and a hesitant handshake.
“What are you smiling about?” Sherlock asked as he walked up.
I shook my head and said, “I called a cab.”
“Good man.” We walked to the cab stand and Sherlock added, “Oh, Mycroft’s coming for tea on Saturday. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, no. That’s fine.” We were quiet for a moment and then I said, “What do you think will happen to the Inn? All this crime going on, including the death of the Inn Keeper.”
Sherlock just shook his head and smiled. Then he said, “I imagine they’ll probably use it for publicity and have more guests than ever.”
We both laughed and then caught our cab home to Baker Street. We were both so exhausted that the cabbie had to wake us when we got there. We drug our luggage up to the flat and dropped it in the doorway.
“I’m going to bed,” Sherlock announced.
I nodded and joined him a few minutes later. He hadn’t pulled down the covers, hadn’t even undressed. Sherlock Holmes had fallen fast asleep, sideways, his legs dangling to the floor in the middle of our bed.