The Photography Club
Art | Story – magicbunni.deviantArt.com
Sherlock Holmes was sitting on his favorite chair, lotus, with his laptop on his knees. He looked like he hadn’t moved for hours, in fact he was surrounded by an array of folding trays, upon which there were piled baggy upon baggy of samples of all kinds: transistors, strands of hair, kitchen knives, moldy bread, a fragment of sparkly nail polish, bits of bone, hose, scraps of skin, even a phial of what John felt pretty reliably was Sherlock’s own blood.
“I put my bullet in,” he whispered as John and Sarah stood just inside the door to the living room. “It’s magnificent.”
“Great, yeah… what are we talking about?” John hung his coat up on the coat-tree he’d bought and put beside the sitting room door, so, of course, Sherlock’s coat was on the couch. John snatched it up with a grimace and hung it up too. Sarah walked into the room and stopped dead.
Her eyes goggled at the organized chaos around Sherlock’s chair. “What are you doing?”
Oh-boy. John heaved a sigh, “Use your words, Sherlock.”
“Molly… Molly’s lab just took receipt of a TM3000 Tabletop Microscope, which she insisted someone needed to test drive over the weekend. But… somehow no one volunteered.”
“Oh, that’s inconceivable,” John smothered a grin. “Isn’t it inconceivable, Sarah?”
“Quite,” she turned from hanging up her coat, unable to keep from grinning.
“Is it that large blue toaster-ee thing by the seat, with that little orange pipe-gadget and the tube coming out?” John squat down to take a look at the microscope that so lit Sherlock with awe and admiration. He didn’t have to say aloud to Sarah that those starry eyes most certainly did not owe to the idea of an intimate dinner date, or her audacious plan for tonight, a blind double-date. If Sherlock had gotten wind of it, he would have changed the locks. John, though, held out some little hope for it. Holmes had to be shared with others. He was just too amazing, and exasperating, for one person to stand, alone.
“Looks more like a bread maker had a love-child with a printer, John.” Sarah said.
“Curious,” Sherlock looked up at her. “I thought something similar from the design. It’s very different from the TM1000. Would you like to see?” He turned around his laptop and tapped the screen. “That is a scrap of bloody nylon magnified 30, 000 times.”
“As in panty hose,” she marveled in spite of herself.
“Absolutely.” He told her.
“Dear Lord, it looks like power lines of some kind.”
Sherlock turned the laptop back to face him again and smiled. “You should see the screen captures I was able to get of the moth wing and my bullet.”
“Like modern art, I’m sure.” John sat in the more traditional chair across from Holmes. He glanced over what the man was wearing. Sherlock was always in extremely well-tailored suits. Right now the suit was dark, with a dark green shirt. He always looked smart, but even for Sherlock, this combo was looking modish. He just had that unconscious way about him.
“So get your jacket,” he tried sounding casual about it. “We’re going out.”
“I can’t possibly leave.” His fingertips reached over the low arm of the chair in which he sat and touched the top of the blue boxy microscope covetously.
“It will be here when you get back,” John said. “Come on. Let’s go eat.”
“Now that can’t be true. You’ve had a week and a half of hospital food. It’s only your second day of freedom and you want to stay at home with a blue box for your mate?”
“Well put.” Sherlock panned across the surface of the nylon beatifically and it wasn’t clear who he was talking to when he said. “Bravo.”
John looked across at Sarah and mouthed, I’m sorry.
She sat down on the couch and considered Holmes. “Sherlock… what if I were to give you some samples from the clinic? Would that help you to calibrate the-”
“Nothing dangerous, of course,” she told him. “But who knows what we have lying around.”
John held his breath and prayed she wouldn’t offer him anything he could weaponize. Sherlock’s mind was like a black hole. Everything went in. Next to nothing escaped him. Who knew what was happening inside it. In some ways, handing him an agar plate of strep was like handing plutonium to an extremely creative madman.
“Can you draw up a list?” Sherlock asked her calmly. “I was just thinking that-”
Then his phone went off and he cocked his head to read the screen on his armrest. “Lestrade you are inconvenient.”
John’s jaw dropped. “Come on, Sherlock. This gadget can’t be more interesting than an actual crime.” He laughed the idea away, and then was horrified at himself.
Sherlock’s brows swept up. His tone was arch, “Perhaps you should reserve final judgment until you’ve had the opportunity to observe a magnified human retina with this thing.” He picked up the call with a jab of his thumb. “Sherlock.”
Well who else would it be? Who else would dare touch that phone?
John led the way to the kitchen and cast a regretful look back at Sarah. “You know this might mean no night out for us, yes? And are you prepared to let your girlfriend know we’ve got to call it off?” He reached out and touched her hand. Perhaps a little human contact would lend him the strength to look in his fridge, maybe soften the blow. John had a solid intuition that the bottom shelf was going to contain many, many dreadful things, among them, human retinas.
“She was pretty excited to meet him after I showed the picture.” Sarah smiled ruefully.
“Oh, women love his looks,” John told her at last. “It’s him they don’t care for.”
“Then what good are they?” Sarah scoffed and wrapped her arms around John.
Not. Bad. Her hair smelled like coconut – hypnotic as the small mounded breasts and the narrow figure pressed against him. He smoothed her shirt against the small of her back.
In the front room, Sherlock swiveled in his chair, stepped on the seat, the back, and hopped to the floor. Even apart from the green eyes, Holmes was especially feline, complete with a fat cat brother. He paced to the windows and looked out at the road below. The phone call had ended, certainly.
“Lestrade,” Sherlock simply assumed everyone was listening to him. “Something strange is going on at the Yard. Not Ninth Muse strange, unluckily, just… political.” His hands made a vague and uninterested wave in air.
Regrettably, it was time for John to extricate himself from Sarah. He crossed from the back of the kitchen into the front room. “He can’t possibly want you involved with Scotland Yard politics.” Indelicate didn’t begin to describe it.
“Not at all. The phone call was to tell me to stay clear.” Sherlock smiled tightly. It was gone in a flash. “He’ll call me with news. Isn’t that charming? Well, we’re not waiting about. Let’s go eat.” Sherlock crossed back to shut down the microscope.
Shoe was on the other foot now. Good luck for them, as it turned out.
Sarah, looking sharp in her heels, John thought, somehow reached the couch where Sherlock’s jacket sat, before he did. She picked up the jacket, an action that stopped Sherlock’s normally relentless activity in its tracks. He shot John a look, a look that said She is touching my things.
John put his head down rather than laugh outright. No need to agitate the man.
Sarah handed the jacket over to him, graciously, giving the fabric a little smoothening. This was one of those things John found impossible to explain to people. It was one thing to plot and plan for Holmes. It was another to stand in his way, even in small things. When you brought him up short, you could practically feel a crackle in the air.
Sherlock pulled on his jacket, swept past Sarah, and grabbed his coat on his way down the stairs. “John, what do you feel like?”
This part had been planned ahead of time, “Italian?”
“Really?” Sherlock stopped and turned on the stairs. “You’ve had it twice this week already, judging by the containers in the garbage.” He continued on down.
“Well, see, I’ve been favouring Italian and… you went through the trash?” John grinned. “I mean, in my experience, the only prior involvement you’ve had with garbage is to make it.”
“Don’t be impertinent,” Sherlock said as they reached the bottom landing. “I’m just back from hospital, and I was trying to help.”
“Ah, I see,” John caught up with his flatmate and strode beside him. Sarah fell in on his left, her beautiful cape-like coat billowing with each step, which was an odd tableau, surely. “Well, if I haven’t told you yet, that was some brilliant work on the Ninth Muse case. It’s good to have you back.”
“Not to be morbid,” Sarah said over her crossed arms as she strode behind them into the street, “What did you ever do with the bullet, Sherlock?”
“I’m thinking of framing it.”
“You could put it on a necklace,” Sarah suggested. “You know I would never suggest this to anyone else, but I don’t think you would shy away from something so dark.”
His brows swept up. “Is it dark?” Invariably, he looked at John.
“Arguably,” John told him.
“How arbitrary.” Sherlock blinked as if the thought had never occurred to him. That was likely because it hadn’t. He rarely considered the emotional content inherent in an object. Holmes raised a hand to summon a cab and darted inside with alarming ease, already texting. John, however, had never seen Sherlock wear jewelry of any kind. A necklace was probably out of the question.
“Think John. If I’d been shot twice, it would have been cufflinks.” Sherlock said lazily as they climbed in. There was nothing to do on the heels of that but laugh.
They ended up at a place called Pensaci Bene! Sherlock zagged into the entrance at his usual speed and gestured at the menu chalked over the top of the bar. “Wild-caught salmon, red bell peppers, fresh angel-hair pasta: brain food. Can practically feel the omega-3s. And they have cocoa coffee. Dear God, I’m starved.” He laid a hand on his slender middle.
“Ah, omega-3s,” John said knowledgably, “Mixed results in clinical studies about the benefit of omega-3s on people with ADHD-”
“Which I do not have.”
It made John laugh. “Sleep disturbances. Difficulty relaxing. Temper tantrums.”
Sherlock’s eyes widened. “I do not have temper tantrums,” he exclaimed. But then he turned away and laughed. He was aware he seemed weird to other people, and, sometimes the window that John afforded him was cause for hilarity.
A large, busty woman burst from the back and opened her arms to him. “Sherlock!”
“Alda.” He nodded as he unbuttoned his coat.
“Your timing is excellent. Best table in the house.” She hurried along to lay her hands on his arms, bend in, and kiss his cheeks, though Holmes didn’t return the action.
“How is Alphonse?” he asked as he straightened.
“Ah, we’ll never forget what you did for him. He’s in University now, you know. He’s getting As and Bs and having such a good time.” She beamed up at him and opened her hands, “Ah, it’s been too long! We’ll whip up your favourites, of course. Just tell the waitress if you’d like something different. Follow me.”
Holmes settled into a booth in a bay window. The woman swept through her packed restaurant with a loud clap of her hands, and called out to the staff in sprightly Italian. John slid in beside him. “What’s the story with this one?” he jabbed a thumb after Alda.
“Son, Alphonse; age 18; being written out of his inheritance on the grounds of illegitimacy. I simply offered incontrovertible proof the older son, Cosimo, was born out of wedlock. The threat of scandal did the rest. Child’s play,” Sherlock sipped the glass of Pinot Gris that had arrived at the table right after he had. Unlike John and Sarah, he didn’t seem inclined to wait for food. “He’ll be very comfortable for the rest of his life. Money legitimized Alda. The pair of them bought this restaurant, for instance. She’d been a waitress here. It’s much better since she’s taken it over.”
“That’s amazing.” Sarah sat back and smiled at him. “You’re amazing.”
Sherlock motioned his glass at her. “Stop her doing that.” This was aimed at John.
Having heard him say this many times before, Sarah simply winked in John’s direction.
She was a charmer, for certain, and a glass of wine would only make her – John suddenly thought of the painkillers Sherlock still took for his healing arm. “Now not a lot of that.”
“Blue eyes and stature aside, you are not my mother.” Sherlock’s brows went up, but he didn’t drink any more of the wine on an empty stomach either.
Sofia arrived not ten minutes after they’d settled in at their booth. John had forgotten about her, really. Sherlock had been in the middle of explaining his methods on The Ninth Muse case. Some of them had seemed like utter magic to John. Sarah, who had missed much of this, sat still, positively rapt. When they switched, Sherlock listened intently to Sarah’s encounter with Mycroft. He nodded here and there and finally moaned, “Dear God. He’s managed to have our apartment wired. Seems confined to the front room, though, or he would have been sniffing about much sooner. Mycroft wouldn’t have been able to endure hearing a woman rattling around in either bedroom without knowing what’s going on. Don’t worry, John, I’ll sort it out.” He sipped the wine, snapped out a napkin deftly, and folded it beside his charger – quick, sharp moves.
“How?” John was still reeling from hearing that Sarah had napped on his bed, in fact.
“Sarah’s information. She’s given enough that I can isolate two of the listening devices already.” Sherlock said. “Finding anything else simply requires the correct hardware aimed at-”
Sherlock glanced to his right and gave a brief nod, before he went on. “Sarah your observational skills are a bit infrequent in the population. You don’t do a good job, but you don’t embarrass yourself either. It’s curious.”
“Oh, thank you,” Sarah grinned, seemingly immune to Sherlock’s bluntness. She motioned out from the booth with a hand, “Hold on a moment, Sherlock.”
“Sorry, pardon me,” the woman said again. This time, Sherlock was forced to pay attention to her arrival. He turned his head and took the newcomer in silently.
“Are you lost?” His green eyes narrowed. “Oh, no. You haven’t misplaced yourself, look at you. You’re a friend. A friend of Sarah’s. And how you’re dressed indicates-” His head whipped about to take Sarah in with such a heated gaze that John reached for her hand in an instant. Then Sherlock returned a long-suffering stare in the woman’s direction. “Well, sit down. You’ll get in the way of foot traffic.”
“Oh,” she flushed a little. She was actually quite slim and pretty in her lovely lavender dress. “Yes, of course. How sensible of you. You must be Sherlock, then. Sherlock Holmes.”
“So I must,” he said as she eased in beside him.
“John, this is Sofia.” Sarah motioned toward her friend. “We’ve been mates for about five months now. Very clever girl – I mean in the creative way. Not something that would show up on an IQ test so easily, I’d venture, but….”
“Nice to meet you,” Sofia reached across the table. “I hear such good things about you, John.”
Her hands were so beautifully neat.
Sherlock took another sip of his wine, set his elbow on the table, and played with a curl just above his ear. John began to feel a bit remorseful. Gone was the easy, smiling Sherlock of their arrival: the Sherlock that John found endlessly stimulating. It was a shame, considering that, lately, Holmes felt somewhat easier with Sarah’s presence. For instance, he spoke to her, directly, more often than he ever had before The Ninth Muse murders, and some of what he had to say wasn’t even case-related.
Holmes turned his head just enough to take in Sofia’s hand as she released John’s. He didn’t make any motion to touch her.
Shiny fingertips, low ridges.
His brows drew down a little. “So how does an artist meet a doctor? Were you also a patient?”
“What did you tell him, Sarah? Oh my,” she spread her fingers over her cleavage. When Sarah only smiled and shook her head, Sofia glanced between John and Sarah curiously. She wasn’t sure what to believe, but then brightened. “Or is this the detective work you warned me about – the science of deduction? How did you know that, Mr. Holmes?”
He played with his wineglass. “Noticeable pattern of wear on your fingertips,” he reached out and snatched her hand with captivating speed, then turned it over to study it for a moment. She might have been on a slab. “Pronounced deterioration of ridges on first two fingers of each hand and particularly on the right hand; faint smell like gypsum; relatively short nails, but painted; slight discolouration on the hypothenar eminence.” He released her hand again. “Right-handed; works with her hands, but not at traditional types of manual labour. No sign of that. Wear patterns on ridges show repeated friction with a rough surface; smell of chalk; not a teacher – sanded pastel paper. Fingernails are short but painted due to the difficulty cleaning the remnants of pastel from the beds.” He pivoted her hand over and held it up to the light of the candles. A soft shine of blue lit her skin. “Pure pigment tends to leave an impression. Origins of this particular brand of pastel, I think, Northumberland.”
“Astonishing,” John gawped at Holmes.
“Straightforward,” he released Sofia’s hand again and said. “Look at her nails, John! Use your head. She’s painted them with a purely decorative white pattern at the tips. An average person would not be so exact with a brush. So artist.”
Sarah laughed, “She might have had her nails done.”
Holmes gathered his patience and said. “But she didn’t, because she’s an artist.”
“He’s right. I did them myself,” Sofia smiled curiously at the man beside her. Holmes, however, sipped his wine as if she’d somehow faded into the ether in response to his erudition. John had never seen that look before. It wasn’t quite dismissive, just rejecting. Why?
“That’s so clever,” Sofia grinned at Sarah. “You didn’t say he was so charming.”
“She didn’t say it because I’m not.” Sherlock told Sofia flatly.
“Oh, I think I might have to argue that point.” Sofia’s head tilted right. Large, honey-coloured curls bumbled down across her white throat. Honestly, she was so pretty John found it disarming. Sherlock glanced at her behaviour as well, but his expression was closed – something that often happened when he was pulling information out of a living person and into his head. “I really might.”
Head tilt angle. Likes what she’s seeing.
“Then you would be wasting your time.” Sherlock told her shortly.
John sat back. When his head tipped, the angle was much more pronounced. It was confusion. Sherlock could be quite smooth in his dodges. He often was, with Molly Hooper, whose lab he crashed on a semi-regular basis. What was happening here was… odd.
Sofia said, “I hope you don’t mean that.”
“Do you often interact with people who are deceptive, or don’t mean what they say?” Sherlock picked up a hunk of bread from the plate before him, daubed it in spiced olive oil, and jerked his head at Watson. “Talk to her John.” He bit into the bread and gave a hearty chew.
Oh hell. “Sherlock, I don’t follow,” he said guardedly.
“Unsurprising.” He turned a little toward Sofia. “How about the rest of it, then?”
She looked mystified, “I’m sorry, I don’t… understand?”
He made a small harrumph of amusement. “I can only tell that you’re an artist, I suppose.”
“Oh, I don’t rightly know what you can-”
“Let’s try this as a primer,” Sherlock rounded on her, and drew a little closer to her face. “Why were you crying?”
At first, Sofia’s face drained of colour. Then, within seconds, it went scorching red. In fact, her eyes glittered with emotion. She looked aghast.
“Very nice choice made in the waterproofed mascara, but there are still faint tracks in your finishing powder,” Sherlock told her as he double-dipped the bread. His tone was devoid of emotion. “Did someone kick your puppy? What happened?”
Sofia got up and hurried from the restaurant. John was scandalized by this, and began to go after her, apart from Sherlock’s sudden snap of. “Sit down.”
“No, Sherlock! We can’t have her running around the streets in a state of distress like that. What the hell was that about?” John broke from the table and hurried outside. However, he was already too late to see where Sofia had vanished to. He peered into the damp night air, threw his hands up, and swore on Sherlock’s bad behaviour. “Dammit.”
The door behind him opened and closed. Sherlock swept past. John only just reached out amongst the foot traffic and snatched him by the elbow. This brought him around. It was his left arm, and still tender, so he didn’t resist. His green feline eyes were bright with anger, not a look one saw him wear often. John knew his irritation, frustration, annoyance, but this was different. Of course, John was feeling pretty upset right then too.
“All right, let’s have it out then.” He snapped at Holmes.
“Let me go.”
“That’s it? That’s all you have?” John gave Sherlock’s arm a yank. “You treated that poor girl with less consideration than I’ve seen you give to corpses.”
“Is there some problem?”
“Oh, I see, so they’re only worth your attention when they’re dead.” John snapped. “You play into the hands of people like Donovan and Anderson. You’re supposed to be smarter than that! You’re supposed to be better-”
“We talked about this. I told you. I warned you.”
“That was unforgivable behaviour, Sherlock.”
Sherlock turned his face away somewhat, though when he tried a step back, John held him fast. “I’m sure you’d like to run off, I’m sure you would, but I’m afraid you still have Sarah to apologize to over this. That poor girl, Sherlock; that was disgraceful.”
Sherlock’s body was stiff. He looked at John coldly and snapped, “Just let me go.”
“John!” Sarah called from the doorway. Her gaze was on his fingers, biting into the elbow of Sherlock’s coat, and she sounded flummoxed by the sight of it. As if a bubble had burst, John caught what he was doing and released his friend’s captive arm.
In a wink Sherlock had turned and all but vanished in the passersby.
John straightened slowly. “God dammit!” but this time he cursed himself. Since when did he manhandle people? Even if they’d been complete idiots? And his vehemence upset him suddenly, because Sherlock, for all his brilliance, honestly didn’t know better.
Lestrade phoned John not 20 minutes later.
“And you’ve not seen him?” the Detective Inspector asked.
“No,” John shut his eyes and cursed himself inwardly. He was already back in the Baker Street flat with Sarah, both of them feeling utterly defeated. “But I’ll give him a text and see if that raises him.”
“He’s not at the flat.”
“Is that a question?” John looked around him.
“No. I was by.” Lestrade said. “Listen. Get him over here. It’s of the highest importance.”
“I understand,” John pushed the curtains and eyed the street below. Cars passed. Cabs passed. But none of them stopped and disgorged Sherlock Holmes. The line in John’s ear went dead, so he hung up and let his arm sag to his side.
“I expected it might be rocky,” Sarah said softly. “I didn’t think it would be volatile. He practically attacked Sofia, and I’ve never seen you two go at it like that…. I’m so sorry, John.”
“For what?” John asked as he turned her way. He struggled for words, “I wish it had worked. I wish he could… give someone a chance.” John rubbed his face and looked at the floor. “We can’t do that to him again. I don’t know what that was, if he had a meltdown, and I don’t know where he is right now, how he’s feeling-”
“John, he’s a grown man,” Sarah noted soothingly. She crossed the room and reached for him.
“Who’s a former drug addict, and it’s not good not to know where he is. He hasn’t answered texts – this is Sherlock and texts we’re talking about. He’s off the radar, and-” he looked up and realized what he’d just said. Damn. He fixed his gaze on Sarah.
Her eyes were wide. She spoke slowly. “A former drug addict? Him?”
“Yes,” John’s head drooped, “but please don’t mention it again. I shouldn’t have told you.”
“Well, yes, he’s very private.” She seemed to be moving blocks around inside of her head, rebuilding the image she had, which represented Sherlock. “Drugs…. I just don’t understand. He’s so intelligent. I mean, they’d mess with his mind. It’s what drugs do.”
Sarah sighed, stepped up, and slipped into his arms. It just defied John why Sherlock couldn’t see the value of having someone like this. He just couldn’t wrap his head around it. There was simply no comfort as comforting.
The door downstairs quickly opened and closed. John and Sarah jerked apart. Only one person they knew moved at that speed. Sarah wisely plucked her throw off the couch and Sherlock pushed the door to the sitting room. He looked between them and took off his scarf.
The hand John clapped over his mouth was purely reflexive. It was relief. His friend could be pointlessly erratic, but was all right.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Sarah pecked John on the cheek and went directly to Sherlock where she paused only briefly to say, “I’m so sorry.” before leaving.
Sherlock watched after her as he unbuttoned his jacket. He shut the door to their apartment when she’d gone out the front. Then he turned to John. “The Detective Inspector left a message with you as well, I trust.”
“Sherlock,” John said lowly.
“Now Sarah’s gone, I don’t suppose you’d like a trip to the Yard. Promises to be unusual, whatever it is.” He strode deeper into the room. “And I haven’t been since Met police shot me, could make for some interesting observations. Good fodder for your blog.”
“Sherlock,” John glanced up.
There was a protracted moment of traffic noise outside, and nothing more.
Holmes went around him and sat on the arm of the couch, his shoes on the seat. His eyes ran, almost automatically, over the collection of magazine titles he had on the coffee table, many on science, forensics, guns, and criminology. He sat with his eyes downcast in the most graceful aspect of trepidation John had seen. He was waiting.
John sat on the opposite end of the couch. “Listen, that was mad. I shouldn’t have done that-”
“Why did you do that?”
“I don’t know, precisely. Not everyone knows what they’re doing all the time.” John told him a bit impatiently, “Not everyone is like you. I suppose… I’ve been so happy with Sarah, when I look at you, I can’t fathom why you…. It’s like you’re not trying.”
John rubbed his short hair and gazed out at the darkened kitchen. The ‘fridge of horrors’ made its low click and began to whirr to life. “And I don’t understand that.”
“You could be happier.” John said.
“You said it was all… all right.” Sherlock told him. “Why has that changed?”
He had John there. John turned to look up at Holmes’ face and felt lighter. “It hasn’t.”
Holmes still didn’t look at him. He took out his phone and fiddled with it for a moment before speaking again. His voice sounded oddly defenceless. “I’m not like you. I don’t want to be like you.”
“I know. That’s fine.” John nodded in reply. He had no idea why, right at that moment, he would have preferred to have his cane with him. His hands felt for it.
“But if you were to go, John,” Sherlock glanced up fractionally, to the level of John’s hand on the arm of the couch. He sucked a stabilising breath and exhaled slowly, “I would no longer be happy.”
John sat absorbing this. It sounded childish on the surface of things. But to Sherlock, this was much deeper consideration than he’d given his feelings in some time, possibly in years. John shrugged, “Yes, well friends will disagree from time to time, and we all make mistakes.”
Sherlock’s lips tugged back. “Aren’t you chivalrous? This was Sarah’s mistake.”
“Yes-well, she wants to help you.”
“Then have her find out why Sofia was crying.” Sherlock said abruptly. “There are signs of ongoing stress written all over her: a small tremor in her hands when I held them; brittle emotions that are very close to the surface; a cringe when I got close to her, where most people would simply withdraw. But she felt threatened.”
“Why didn’t you say something?” John got to his feet. Sherlock hopped from the couch and picked up his long coat.
“I did. Are you coming to the Yard?”
“I am.” John caught up his coat. “And I’ll text Sarah. She’s miserable she’s hurt your feelings.”
“My what? Oh bother. Maybe I should do it. You’ll take all year.” Sherlock grinned. “And speak to her, please. No more setting me up with 20 year old girls, for heaven’s sake.”
“Oh, you two looked handsome sitting over there,” John told him. “Her big buttery curls, and your green eyes. Really stunning.”
“Don’t you think she’d be a bit young for me?” Sherlock only half joked.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You’re not that old yourself. And, except for that last bit, you had her eating out of your hand.” John told him. “I mean, let’s be honest, Sherlock, if you were 20 and someone kicked your puppy, you’d cry too.”
Sherlock was still chuckling about that one, on and off, by the time the cab pulled up to the Yard. They stepped out into a light rain chill enough that John shuddered and huddled on the way in. Rain made his shoulder ache. He glanced curiously at Holmes. Apart from a slight tightening of waves and curls of hair – which was annoyingly dashing – he was impervious.
They were met at the door by an officer who led them up to Lestrade’s office. Only Lestrade himself wasn’t in the glass box. All the blinds to the Detective Inspector’s office were open, so it was impossible to miss.
Sherlock detoured and went to Melody Doyle’s desk. It was cleared now, as were the desks of her killers, Robert Reid and Alec Fisher. But Sherlock touched the desk with his gloved hands and heaved a disconsolate sigh. It was almost as if he’d hoped to come up here and find Melody herself waiting to discuss the case. “Perhaps it was a waste.”
“She was smart and… fascinating.” John agreed.
“She was.” Holmes tucked his hands back into his coat and went into Lestrade’s office. He scanned the desk, poked at this and that, and finally gave up. “He’s become scrupulous.”
“Well, he works with you.” John replied as he settled in a comfortable chair and sighed.
Holmes leaned on the desk and stretched his long legs. “Did I tell you I had a text from our escaped conspirator? You know, Wendy Harris from the Ninth Muse murders?”
John might have fallen over if he hadn’t been sitting. “You’re kidding.”
“She’s in South Africa with relatives.” Sherlock showed him the phone. “She got my number on my site, and sent me this rambling little letter. It wasn’t my fault; I didn’t know – blah-blah-blah.” He scrolled the screen.
John laughed aloud. Blah-blah-blah?
“I returned text on another phone saying I couldn’t care less about this case anymore, and that if she set foot back in England she would be arrested.” He stuck his phone back in his pocket and glanced up at John. “I lied about that last part. I have no idea what will happen if she sets foot back here.”
“Arrested.” John slapped both hands on the armrests of his chair and nodded. “For sure.”
“Yes, well, she wasn’t the brains of the operation. That was Alec and Melody – to her chagrin, as it turned out,” Sherlock sounded slightly tart. “But her capture would depend on her indiscretion. It’s not as though I’m actively looking for her.”
“Of course not,” John blinked. “Why would you? You know where she is.”
“The patsy.” Sherlock sighed and looked at the ceiling. “I wonder about the HVAC in here. The Yard is 20 storeys of steel, glass, and messy human beings. Not like you can crack a window. It would mess with air regulation.”
“A few windows open would mess with this building’s air?” John glanced from the whirring air conditioning vent over his head to Holmes and smiled. “Maybe you should have a look. Should I boost you up so you can get started?”
“Oh, that worked fine when I was in school. I’m too big now.” He vaguely dismissed the offer.
Impossible not to grin.
Donovan came out of the elevator and made for them, her face stiffened the moment she laid eyes on Sherlock. The last time she’d had contact with him, it had been to help fish him out of the back of a police car, bleeding and unconscious. She’d been with him through the Ninth Muse case, assigned to safeguard her hated enemy.
“Hello John,” she nodded in greeting.
“Sergeant Donovan,” he got to his feet as she stepped into the room.
“Freak.” she greeted Sherlock.
“Where is Lestrade? What’s happening here?”
She shook her head. Under the unforgiving fluorescents, her curling hair caught strange colours that made her look almost ginger. “Oh, you’re going to love this one, Freak. Guess who’s in the upstairs with us?”
He scanned her, quickly. “Not enough information. Just someone official, as you’re looking sharp, even for you.”
She smoothed her outfit and scowled. “Button it and follow me.”
She brought them up a pair of floors and then toward the front of the building. Sherlock didn’t say a word to her. They didn’t get along, and he seemed to prefer not agitating police who despised him unless he had good cause. Lestrade bustled around the corner of an office and headed their way. The relief on his face was obvious. “Sherlock,” he exhaled. “Where’ve you been?”
“Supper,” Sherlock said.
Lestrade hesitated and then jerked himself back around. Of course he ate. He wasn’t robotic.
“I assume someone’s dead.” Sherlock opened his hands. “Honestly, Lestrade. I don’t do social calls, and I have things to attend to.”
“Quiet down,” Lestrade set his hands on his hips. “We’ll get to the crime scene in just a minute. Right now, there someone you need to meet.” He caught Sherlock’s forearm. Sherlock watched the action closely, but didn’t resist it. Lestrade laid a folded leather badge holder into Holmes’ hand.
Sherlock opened it and handed it back as if it had burnt him.
“Keep it.” Lestrade said. “It took a lot of string pulling, but it’s yours. For now.”
Sherlock said flatly. “Yes, in fact, I believe I’m developing a rash as we speak.”
John rolled his eyes and took it. It was a badge and paperwork for Sherlock. This was nothing short of shocking. “What’s the meaning of this?”
“The CIA showed up here this morning,” Lestrade lowered his voice. “There’s been a murder on one of their international cases. They wanted our best people.”
“So, naturally, you called Sherlock,” John said without hesitation.
Holmes glanced his way and half smiled.
“Thing is, they’ve brought a special agent-”
“Oh, and not to be outdone, the Yard had to have their own. I suppose Commander Snow isn’t above vanity.” John sighed at the stupidity of it all.
“No. This came down from above Snow,” Lestrade said quietly. “He’s been told to put up and shut up, is what I’ve heard, that’s why you’re both back in the building right now.”
“What?” John gaped. “I was banned too?”
“John, don’t split hairs.” Sherlock said happily, and he opened his arms, “We’re back. Thank God. Learning the street map of Paris was so tedious – so much underground. Hm. Fun, underground.”
Lestrade didn’t like the sound of that so he pushed ahead. “Yes, well, it wasn’t so much that the Yard needed to one-up the CIA, it’s more like the CIA demanded to work with our Consulting Detective. Not in so many words. They don’t know who you are, or your title-”
“Oh, yeah: Consulting Detective. It’s on the badge.” John showed Sherlock with a broad grin.
“For God’s sake put that away,” Sherlock pawed at the thing John kept yanking out of his reach. He snickered, “John, really. I might burst into flame if light from that thing shines on me.”
John smiled and closed the badge into his pocket. “He’s drawing a salary, yes?”
“He is.” Lestrade said a little uncomfortably, “adjusted to the market value of his talent, in fact.”
Donovan scowled and almost turned her back on them.
Lestrade cleared his throat. “Well, anyway, the CIA knew the cases you worked, Sherlock. I have a list right here. All of them were yours. Not one missed, even from before Dr. Watson started writing them up on his blog. We pushed the badge through so it’s good and official. You’re here in an official capacity, starting today.”
“Well, all very interesting, and, by that, I mean I don’t care,” Sherlock took off his gloves and pocketed them. “I’ve no intention of being here more than I absolutely need to be.” He glanced over Lestrade’s hands and up again.
“We’re aware of that,” Lestrade told him. “But listen to my words: you’re here in an official capacity, starting-”
“Lestrade,” Sherlock leaned in. “I heard you. Saying it again won’t fix my personality.”
The man sucked in a breath he exhaled slowly. “Okay. So we’re going to meet up with them now. You’ll be meeting their specialist. So just… please. Be good. If you can.”
Sherlock linked his hands behind his long back. They followed Lestrade to the back of the building. The Americans stood in one shuttered hallway, clad in black suits and wearing dark glasses like something out of the movies. There was one woman in their number. She wore a black skirt-suit and heels, her corn silk hair up in a stylish bun. They had that tall, lanky, over-worked look of Americans – too perfect, as though they went for a liposuction touch-up once a month, and patronised plastic surgeons that specialised in making them adhere to unwritten standards.
“Special Agent Young,” Lestrade said. The blonde looked up.
“Which one of these gentlemen is our boy, sir? Or is it both of them? We’ve had teams before, though Reese works alone.” Her voice was high with a twang to it.
“Shouldn’t you lot be working with MI6?” John asked them. He still had the badge in his hand and gestured with it.
She took off her glasses. Her eyes were grey-blue. “It’s you then?”
“Oh, it’s most certainly not me,” John replied and jabbed his thumb up at Sherlock. Holmes was already busily examining her shoes.
Shifts weight frequently.
Faint smell of liniment.
No outward sign of injury.
“You should try not to overdo it in the gym,” Sherlock glanced up at her. “But then, you’re the kind for overdoing it. I shudder to imagine the bouts of bulimia in sorority.”
“My-my,” she said lightly. “How could I miss the signs?” She turned to the two men behind her and motioned at them. “This is Agent Lewis and, over here, Agent Scott, and, in reply to your question, sir, we enquired at MI6 and they suggested we come to Detective Inspector Lestrade, and ask after his specialist. Now who are you two?”
Since Sherlock said nothing, John nodded, “Doctor John Watson.”
“My assistant,” Sherlock was scanning Lewis and Scott.
“And you are?” She smiled at him prettily.
“Sherlock Holmes.” He said distractedly, because he was deeply involved in examining the men with her now. He tipped his head a little at Scott’s collar and then glanced back at the woman. “Why are they feigned like this?”
Sherlock half-circled one of them, “They look like they came out of central casting.”
“Ah.” The woman smiled tightly and turned. “Lewis, why don’t you go and get Reese? To answer your question, it is because Reese – your American counterpart, so to speak – finds this less distracting.”
His American counterpart? John gave his head a few rapid shakes. Sherlock’s lips pursed slightly, but that was all there was in the way of reaction from him.
“I’ll be right back.” Lewis turned on his heel, huge. Sherlock was generally the tallest person in any gathering John frequented, but these guys had to be 6’5. Lewis walked stiffly away, leaving Scott looking like the front end of a Mack truck, seeing as he was so burly with muscle.
Agent Young opened the door to the meeting room beside them and stepped in. “For the past eight months we’ve been investigating the activities of-”
Sherlock bypassed the doorway to watch where Lewis went.
Agent Young paused beside her chair. “Mr. Holmes.”
“Sherlock,” Holmes said absently.
“Reese will take a moment. Please come and sit down.”
Sherlock looked up the hall in spite of this summons. In fact, John settled into his seat and watched the genius. He was excited. Then again, he was about to meet a special agent for the CIA who, apparently, was a big deal. His American counterpart? Did this woman have any idea what Sherlock was? John couldn’t conceive of any counterpart to Holmes.
“Sherlock,” Lestrade nodded.
“Oh, don’t fret, Detective Inspector. I’ve worked with three ‘Exceptional Assets’ in my lifetime. I understand how hard it is to control them. Your boy’s in his mid-twenties.” She picked up her compostable coffee cup from the table and added, “You aren’t going to change him.”
The look Sherlock gave her was unreadable, but it had absolutely no impact on her urbane exterior, which was every bit as smooth as her extraordinary hair. Her tone became firm but patient, “Please join us, Mr. Holmes.”
Sherlock eased into the room without taking his eyes off where Lewis had gone.
“For the past eight months the CIA has been investigating the activities of a collection of people who are something like you, Mr. Holmes.”
“Sherlock,” he said more slowly, with a soft click on the ‘k’, which was a sure sign his patience with her was wearing.
John sat forward. “It’s just Sherlock, Ms. Young.”
“Special Agent Young,” she said in that same too genteel tone – one part professionalism and one part scolding from one’s mother.
John sat back and blinked at her. “In my experience there aren’t that many people like Sherlock, in fact, I’d venture he has no peers. So I’m curious to hear what you mean. It should throw some light on what you think he is, precisely.”
“He’s an E.A.” she had yet to sit, and paced the long side of the table beside her coffee cup. “An Exceptional Asset, or Exceptional, and he’s not a unicorn, doctor. He has peers. We have eight of them with twenty four handlers.”
“Oh so many handlers,” Sherlock smiled a little.
“And another unicorn in the building,” John added onto this.
“Yes. Three a piece,” Young chose to answer Sherlock’s unspoken question. “I find it surprising that you’ve commented on that, Mr. Holmes.”
Sherlock almost rolled his eyes.
“You have three handlers, do you not?” Special Agent young indicated with one flattened hand. Her controlled actions went with her appearance, overall: trim and fantastic, like some model for Prada business clothes. “Likely they serve the same purpose as my team and I do. There is someone in charge of you, the Detective Inspector; for lack of a better word, there is a leash for you, I suspect that may be Sergeant Donovan; and you have a sitter to meet your personal needs.” She looked at John.
What the – John flushed. What the devil kind of personal needs did she think he met?
Sherlock’s lips thinned down for a moment, and he moved his hands from his pockets to join behind his back again, now he had something unpleasant to think about.
“Excellent,” the woman set her hands on her hips. “Of the eight Assets in the CIA, Reese is currently predominant. Moving Reese from Langley to here should tell you the seriousness of this situation. For the past eight months the CIA has been investigating-”
“Something it seems it will take you eight months to say,” Sherlock exclaimed.
She raised a hand with one finger extended. “Mr. Holmes, kindly don’t interrupt me. I promise you’ll be rewarded with something to think about.”
Sherlock sucked in a breath and turned to Lestrade. The Detective Inspector was staring back in fascination, almost as if he was about to whip out a notepad and take notes. For her part, Donovan was smiling openly. No help there. John budged a little in his chair to draw Sherlock’s attention. He prayed that the look on his face said ‘Do not react’. He gave a soft nod and Sherlock straightened back and closed his eyes. He schooled himself and waited.
“How very unusual… does your Asset have visual perceptual difficulties, Detective Inspector?”
“Nah,” Lestrade said, “just limits to his patience.”
“Problems with impulse control then,” she said to Scott, who nodded. The woman set in again. “For the past eight months the CIA has been investigating the activities of a collection of exceptional individuals. The fact they’ve gathered together as they have is, in itself, alarming. Individuals of their intelligence are problematic at best, and need to be managed. The CIA made immediate moves to infiltrate them. We succeeded in making contact. Work was going well. We determined the rogue band of exceptional individuals was involved in criminal activity, but very quietly. They move people and goods around the world without consideration for the laws of any country in which they choose to operate, and are amassing funds for… something. And then, shortly after the affair called ‘The Blind Banker’, a number of them, perhaps five or six of them, congregated in London. We suspect they had some role in the smuggling operation you interrupted. However, we’ve had a setback. Our mole has gone dark. He missed his checkpoint on Friday.”
Sherlock glanced across to Lestrade.
The Detective Inspector patted air with one hand. “We’ll get you in on the scene. Anderson’s been informed and is waiting for you to arrive before anything more is done.”
“So far, it’s only been photographed.” Special Agent Young said. “Reese likes to work off of photos. As I said, it’s rare for us to move Reese from Langley.”
Sherlock motioned at Lestrade with his cell phone, “Grab leash and sitter. I’m off to see the body now.”
John actually chuckled aloud as he got to his feet. He followed Sherlock out into the hall without a backward glance. He could hear Lestrade and Donovan come out behind them, Sally already complaining that he showed no respect for authority.
The young woman who appeared around the corner from them stopped John in his tracks. Holmes, who was texting on his cell, kept going.
“Sherlock,” John warned. Holmes tucked the cell and his hands into his coat’s pockets, looked up to see what had caused the stir, and stopped.
Lewis stood behind a young woman with short, tight waves of black, almost 20s style hair. The look was shattered by two small, almost ornamental pigtails. Her eyes were so blue, that, framed in black mascara and generous liner, they were nearly colourless. Her skin, if possible, might have been a shade paler than Sherlock’s. She was taller than John, and slim. Her hands were sunk in the pockets of a plastic rain coat dotted, aptly, with the London rain John could now hear pocking the building’s windows. Underneath, just a black strapped shirt, and pleated plaid skirt – not nearly warm enough for the weather. She also wore knee-high, lace-up black boots that looked stout to John… but a tad too style conscious to be of military or police make. She had one gold ring through her red bottom lip. John put her in her early 20s at most.
This girl stopped in the hallway and flicked the hood from her hair with a jerk of her head. Her blue eyes passed over John and then returned to Sherlock Holmes.
The sound of the rain dominated the hallway’s sudden tension.
Special Agent Young and her coffee cup stepped out of the meeting room. She shut the door behind her and said, “Reese, I told you not to go outside.”
Reese said nothing. She continued to stare at Holmes in much the same manner as he levelled at her. It was like they’d both stumbled upon a species they suspected was heretofore unrecorded, or, very possibly, mythological – like they were two unicorns in London.
Special Agent Young’s heels clacked down the hallway. She came to a stop beside Lestrade and Donovan. “Reese, this is Sherlock. He’s the Asset-”
“Consulting Detective,” Sherlock said in an exasperated tone.
“-here at Scotland Yard. Say hello.”
Reese said nothing. She did, however, take her hands out of her pockets and begin to peel off her gloves. Her many bangles glittered in the overhead lights. She wasn’t as tall as Sherlock, but she was easily closer than John was, at, he estimated, 5’10 in the boots, and lean.
Once the gloves were off, she tucked them into the pockets of the raincoat. Stopping about three feet from Sherlock, she held out her hands, flattened. She spread her fingers, and turned her hands over in air before him before tucking back in her pockets again.
Sherlock’s head tipped to one side. He made a circle around her. His coat swirling as he came to a stop before her again. Then he sighed, contained his impatience to be off, and held out his hands. He turned them over, just as she had, and stood as she walked a slow circle around him.
Finally, when she’d come around to the other side, she stopped. “Violin.” Her voice was actually kind of low and husky for a girl.
“Yes,” Sherlock said, and then added. “Suicide.”
Reese’s painted lips opened for a moment, and, as if on springs, her jaw clacked closed into the coldest and bitterest of expressions. She almost looked betrayed. The girl swung around and headed back up the hall the way she’d come.
Sherlock looked at the windows and gave a light little puff of exhalation. It was the acidic disappointment that caught John’s attention. He looked up at Holmes’ empty searching of the windows and desks and glass offices, and felt in those gestures the desolation beneath. It occurred to John that Sherlock had never met someone like him before. I mean, Mycroft, arguably, but… never someone outside of his own family. And like with Sofia, earlier tonight, whatever he’d meant, Sherlock hadn’t been able to establish a connection.
Then his green eyes fixed.
John looked up the hall to find that Reese had stopped in her tracks.
She turned and stomped back to Holmes, her expression now quite like the dark thunderhead rolling in beyond the windows. She reached him, grabbed both of Holmes arms and yanked them out toward her. Her husky voice went off. “Slight wince on the motion of your left arm, tendon or muscle damage high up makes you inclined to frame your shoulders stiffly and keep that arm closer to the body. It’s because you remember pain, maybe serious tissue damage there, and, mentally, you’re still dealing with the trauma. But that’s not even the good part. Slight inward turn on the right arm is even more telling. It was accompanied by a tiny shudder. Shivering isn’t pain. You’re not protecting it, you’re hiding it. You put your inner elbow almost against your ribs. You’d put your hands behind your back if you could, and hold that position. So – long term psychological damage. I’m thinking lefty got badly hurt recently, and that’s giving you flashbacks. But righty, I’m getting that’s self-induced. I’m thinking you’re left-handed, and that inner elbow is your favourite injection spot. So that’s where you shot whatever the hell you did so your eyes could go blank, and you didn’t have to deal with all of this shit.” She released his arms with a shove and spoke slowly to him. “Don’t you ever dis me again.”
With that, Reese turned on her heel and strode down the hall toward the elevators.
Sherlock tucked his hands behind his back. The left hand locked around the right. His expression was completely smooth and abstracted. He might have been a resin doll.
“Sherlock,” John said quietly. There was no indication he’d heard. “All right?”
In the elevator, Reese held the door. She looked up at Holmes wordlessly.
He started forward without hesitation, the cell returning to his hand so that he could browse the internet on the way. Special Agent Young followed closely, with Scott.
“What the hell was that?” Lestrade asked quietly.
Lewis lowered his voice, “Oh. Oh yeah. The big guns, the really smart ones, they have an adjustment period when they first meet. There’s always conflict. Reese is the best we have, so there’s been a lot of rivalry around her since she’s been about fourteen. I’m surprised he did so well. I didn’t think he’d get the little greeting ritual our Assets do.”
“Let me get one thing straight with you and your people,” John said softly. “He’s not an Asset. He’s not equipment. He’s just a man, and if you mess him about, I will seriously make you regret it.”
A moment after, John stepped into the elevator. He came to a stop beside Sherlock. Holmes leaned in the back left corner. Reese leaned in the front right. They stared at one another noiselessly, and even with the packed elevator, there might have been no one else there. As if nothing out of the ordinary were taking place, Special Agent Young pressed the G button. The doors slid closed.
“Why?” Holmes asked.
Reese raised her chin a little in challenge. “What did you shoot? I’m betting cocaine. Everything else is just so trashy compared to cocaine. Am I right?”
“Yes.” Sherlock said.
“If you’re smart enough, price stops being an issue. Why did you slit your wrists?”
“Because I so loved the world,” She looked away. Her inability to meet his eyes was the second sign of a chink in her steely armour.
“Are you satisfied that you failed?” He asked. “The scars are old, perhaps half a decade old.”
She peered through black forelocks and replied. “Four and a half years old…. Very good. You’ve seen a lot of scar tissue.”
Reese thought about it for a moment. “You miss being high?”
Seconds ticked. Sherlock shut his eyes, “Sometimes.”
“Is it better not being high?” she asked him.
There was a long pause before he answered. “Yes.” He opened his eyes again.
Reese, in her corner of the elevator was now softly smiling. It looked disarming, like she was finally offering a greeting. “Yes.”
Sherlock made a soft and inarticulate sound of concurrence.
The bell for the ground floor rang. Sherlock and Reese walked out shoulder to shoulder, and continued through the lobby – coats swaying or fluttering in their wake. They didn’t speak but the odd word, but each seemed to extrapolate the meaning of the other.
Donovan made a disgusted face, “Looks like they’re bonding: Freaks of a feather. Adorable. Soon we’ll be able to mop up the blood of whatever death-orgy she’s going to lead him on, because I hardly think she cares about the victims here either. I didn’t ever think I’d meet someone as psycho as Holmes.”
John ignored her and looked at Lestrade. “Where are we going for the body?”
“Apparently, those criminal geniuses like to be comfortable.” Lestrade zipped up his own coat against the rain and they dispersed among the parking lot, targeting cars. “And, leash, mind your manners around the girl, would you? It will do Scotland Yard no good to offend the CIA.”
“Sir, I’m begging you, don’t call me that,” Donovan turned his way. “Those people are from a galaxy far, far away. The less we have to do with their weirdness, the better.” She paused and shouted, “Hey, Freak, my car’s over here.”
Sherlock said a few parting words to Reese. She nodded and smoothly eased her way into the car beside her. John got in the back of Donovan’s to wait for Sherlock. He slid in the other side and sat still for a moment. Then he hunched. He seemed dazed.
John bent over him a little. “Are you okay?”
After a moment, when the car was moving, Sherlock replied, “I don’t know, yet,” he paused for thought for a moment more and then added, “Wow.”
They went to a bookstore – Shady Angel Bookstore, in fact.
John got out and huddled in the rain until Sherlock caught hold of Donovan’s umbrella and yanked her bodily over to shelter him. Donovan didn’t appreciate it, seeing as it had involved Sherlock touching her, but she liked John, and they stood companionably in the rain. Sherlock walked out into the downpour and waited for Reese to disembark the car parked behind Lestrade’s.
“Let’s see how you do where the rubber meets the road, as they say.” Holmes muttered.
As they made their way, John caught hold of Sherlock’s sleeve to steer the tall genius inside. Police scowled at him, openly. The animosity seemed more evident, and much worse, now that Sherlock had a badge. Or was this more likely to be about the market value of a deductive genius? Lestrade had certainly been uncomfortable talking about it. That made John smile. Doctors could pull in a lot of money, but Sherlock, on the right case, could make a working man’s salary in two days.
Inside, Holmes dripped everywhere – on stacked books, on the wood floor, on counters, and people’s shoes – every time he moved rain splashed around him, until John had enough and took off his long coat. Holmes barely noticed this action. He was too engrossed with the shop. Lacking any better surface for it, John slung the coat over the sales counter. He dropped his scarf to one side.
When the front door shut, it was oddly quiet, and John could make out the tail end of Sherlock’s soft muttering, “-not part of the crime scene. Neat as a pin up here. Crime scene is downstairs.”
“Yup,” Reese grunted from close behind him. Her eyes combed through the book stacks lovingly. Her voice was almost a whisper as she passed John, “Love it. Love this place. I always wanted to run a bookstore.”
“Don’t be absurd.” Special Agent Young told her. “And I’ll be upset if you allow yourself to get distracted by nonsense.”
Reese’s lips compressed into a line and she cast a look over her shoulder at the woman, but she dutifully got back on track. She followed Sherlock to the narrow stairs at the back. They led down a truly claustrophobic case to a postage-stamp landing.
No one moved.
Holmes raked fingers through his hair. He squeezed out water, but even then, his hair was drenched black, and sticking to him, a mass of curls. “John, you’re at a distinct advantage here,” he said, almost to himself, before steeling his will and passing down the stairs. There were mere inches between the top of his curling head and the wainscot ceiling. The worn wood stairs creaked alarmingly.
“Old,” Reese said, “this part of the building. Not renovated like the front. The wainscot, and the size of this passage. Victorian.”
“Yes,” Holmes said. “But notice along the closed risers and the treads.”
She tapped her heel on a stair, “DSL cable running into the basement, new.”
“A wireless network,” Sherlock held his phone up over his shoulder and showed her the network name. At the bottom of the stairs, the door, which was a custom job for certain, was shut and crime-scene taped. Sherlock glanced up the stairs. “Very dark in this well. Anyone have a torch?”
Reese burst out laughing, which echoed in the small space.
Lestrade, at the top of the stairs, looked over his shoulder. “Someone fetch a torch.”
Reese reached past Sherlock and pushed the door open. “Well, until they get you a ‘torch’, we should let some light out.” The door made a pronounced squeak. Sunrise-coloured light from the room beyond fell across Sherlock and Reese – stuffed into the small landing as they were. Sherlock glanced at the colour on his hand and turned. The entire well was papered with fliers.
“So they held events in their downstairs fire-trap?” Reese snickered. “How classically stupid.”
Sherlock scanned the wall beside him, “Book clubs; book readings; doll parties; D&D-”
“Ohmigod, blast from the past, much?” the girl giggled. “It’s geek-tasia.”
Holmes looked at her. “Do speak English.”
“Anyone have a torch?” She said in a decent imitation of his speech pattern. It made John, who stood right behind them on the stairs, sputter. She could be inexpertly cute, this one.
“Stop clowning, Reese,” Young’s complaint resounded like an alarm in the stairwell. John felt a nudge as the torch came down, passed hand-to-hand to him. Reese caught it.
“In the civilised world, this is a flashlight.” She set it under her chin and flicked it on, then used her best mock-spooky voice, “You wouldn’t want a torch in here.”
Sherlock snatched it from her, but John didn’t miss the obvious amusement on his face.
Together, Reese, John, and Sherlock studied the postings on the wall until Reese stepped back up the steps a little and Sherlock shut the door. He found the latest posting, which was a simple white slice of paper with the date and the sans serif words: “The Photography Club.”
Reese cocked her head at it. “How glib.”
John caught her elbow and helped her up on the stairs so Sherlock could open the door again, and they could get access to the basement. Reese looked up behind her and said, “Clear the stairs. It doesn’t matter for you, but we need air to think with.”
“Back up,” Young snapped her fingers at the London police. “Come on.” It was like she was training a collection of small dogs.
Lestrade heaved a sigh, whirled a finger in air and called out, “Get out of the stairs, boys. Anderson, you’re up. You can stand in the landing and watch, but keep your mouth shut and do as he says.” The groan from the stacks was audible. Then Lestrade went down the stairs and entered the room along with John, who had hung back to let his eyes adjust to… twilight?
John went to Reese rather than Holmes. She’d stopped dead and was hugging herself.
“I… I don’t usually come to the crime scene,” she told him. “It smells really gross in here. What if I throw up, or something? I’ll contaminate the scene.”
“You’ll be okay. Deep breaths through the mouth, and the smell will lessen in a minute or two,” John put a protective hand on her back. She honestly looked faint.
Her pale eyes darted around. “Did frau Young come down?” she asked quietly.
“Just me,” Lestrade told her. “You may not remember, but I’m Detective Inspector Lestrade.” He offered a hand which she reached out and shook.
She said, “I remember.”
“John, here – John Watson – is a military doctor. He’s Sherlock’s assistant, is how you can think of it, only a doctor. If you can’t hack the smell, I’ll take you back up for a breather.” It seemed Lestrade didn’t approve of notions like ‘leashes’ or ‘sitters’ any more than John did, and was trying his best to put her at ease.
“Oh. Well… thanks for that.” She looked from Lestrade to John. “It’s not as bad now that I’ve habituated a bit. I should have known Agent Young wouldn’t come down here. She doesn’t like decomp, and the lipids get in your skin, you know. I don’t either, really, but I guess… I mean… what’s he doing?”
“Examining the body,” John looked at where Sherlock crouched like a cat, half over a bloated corpse. It was dim, and hard to see what he was really doing. The Maglite flickered on and off in his hand. John nodded grimly. “I need to go help him. You want to stay back? You should stay with Lestrade, and he’ll look after you.”
“Of course,” the Detective Inspector said.
She edged over toward the body and explained behind John, “I work off pictures. They don’t let me come and see stuff like this, IRL.”
“Because you started so young,” Sherlock said as he searched the body’s trouser pockets. “When? Ten? Twelve?”
“Ten, I started the criminology program at ten. I didn’t see anyone dead until lucky thirteen.” As Reese drew closer to the body Sherlock buzzed around, she caught hold of Lestrade by the hand.
It either surprised him, or it hurt, because he jumped. But then Lestrade’s free hand curled over the back of Reese’s. “Steady there. If you think you might be sick, we’ve got sick bags. You just say something.”
“Okay, stop,” Sherlock said severely. “Stop talking. Lestrade, walk her around the room until her head clears. Do not make noise.”
John squat beside the genius and got his first good look at the body. It was headless, and handless. There was, from what he could see in a quick inspection, no sign of a cause of death. Sherlock’s eyes darted over the sorry state of the corpse.
No or low insect activity.
Wrist-watch in situ – expensive – RGM.
American. Well to do.
Clothing style – college student.
Bled out here.
Small burn pattern on shirt collar.
Parts removed after blood flow stopped.
Relatively clean cuts. Axe or hatchet.
“Very dirty business,” John said, “cutting someone up. Serious people did this.”
“But they didn’t burn the place down.” Sherlock added to the end of this.
Flier for the meeting 9:00 PM last Friday.
Now: Monday night.
“Small powder burn on the shirt collar,” Sherlock said quietly. “So this boy was shot in the back of his head. He also fell. See the splatter on the back of his shirt? Impact spray from a catastrophic fall that would have killed him… had he been alive. Going in the wrong direction for the shot.” He looked around him in the dark room, and back to the body. “We’re on the tail end of bloat, getting into active decay. The staff would have smelled this from the front door.”
“The hands and head – evidence was removed.” John agreed. “No easy way to identify him without those, unless he has tattoos.”
“He doesn’t.” Sherlock said as surely as if he’d stripped the body himself and checked.
John shook his head. “And they left him here over the weekend.”
“Yes. Consistent with the body’s current condition. Good.” Sherlock said distractedly. He seemed to be busy shining the light across the ceiling.
“We need a sign-in sheet for this club. The store might have one,” John said.
“There isn’t one.” Sherlock said. “Certainly not with the store."
“Maybe Reese will know who this is. This was supposed to be her source, after all.” John turned his head her way and saw her standing on a chair. Her gloved hands fiddled with a light bulb. All the bulbs in here were red. But nothing else indicated that they’d been using this virtually windowless room – seeing as all the curtains were drawn – to develop photos, he assumed.
“This may be her source. It may not. I’d say yes. He’s an American exchange student from a relatively wealthy, politically conservative family, particularly inclined toward physics, politics, and law, but his strong nonconformist tendencies have trained him to be secretive. He hasn’t got tattoos. They aren’t subtle enough. All outward signs must remain nailed down. That dissonance increases the thrill for him when he takes risks. He’s an adrenaline junky; smokes weed to slow down – small traces left in both pockets, so it’s a habit; and a gold chain with diamond solitaire, good chance he’s gay. She wouldn’t have called me here if she knew him on sight, but she doesn’t know, because she’s only ever seen his picture and interacted with him remotely over secure channels. And here we are. Coat. Where’s his coat?” Sherlock rose to his feet and walked around the blood soaking into concrete. He scanned the room with the Maglite. Anderson winced in the doorway as the light passed over him. Sherlock’s eyes swept the room and came to rest on Reese. Her head rose a little. He said, “Yes. I know.”
“I want them dusted.” Reese said. She held up a bulb by the metal contact.
“Anderson is many things, but he’s not a bad hand with evidence collection.” Sherlock indicated the hawk-nosed man leaning in the doorway again, and noted Anderson’s attention was reserved for Reese. Holmes turned around again, his voice quiet enough that only John heard it. “Nor is he subtle.”
Reese climbed down and crossed to Holmes. “I can’t say for sure if that’s Lawrence Waters, or not. This sucks. But I can tell you this is a warning for the CIA teams looking into these people. I wonder if this is how I’d look now, if they could manage it. It’s why I don’t get to leave Langley, much.”
Sherlock backed up and opened his arms. “So how many people in the room?”
“It looks like there were initially at least twelve people, at least four of whom were women; three are smokers. Lots of genetic material scattered across the cups left sitting around. Mix of coffee, wine, tea, and soft drinks, so we’re talking a wide range of tastes and possible ages.” Reese nodded her head. “But don’t be fooled. These cups and cigarette butts you’re seeing are dead ends. They plant all sorts of evidence. This stuff will lead off in every direction, some of it promising; some of it will go off to totally unrelated crimes; some of it is just trash; all of it bogus. None of what we’re seeing here is real. Except the body. And the lights. The red lights.” She looked at John, “The rods of the eye are not sensitive to red. The rhodopsin that gives you night vision, you know, it’s exhausted much more slowly on long red wavelengths, and once it’s spent it will take about 30 minutes to regenerate.”
Sherlock walked the room, scrutinizing it. “Did you see the shop times on the front door?” He stopped by the chair Reese had been on, and picked up the coat hung over the back. He snuffed it, though how he might smell anything in the stench was hard to imagine. John watched Holmes rifle the pockets and study the ceiling and walls. He seemed to be searching for something specific there. Reese crossed her arms.
Faint smell of weed.
Blood and hair on table edge.
Head impacted with table.
Slight drag marks in carpet.
Victim dragged head first.
“This store is open until 8PM on Fridays.” Reese said. “So this club was gathering down here without store knowledge.”
John drifted up to stand beside Reese, watching Sherlock hunt through the room.
“They came in under cover of darkness.” Sherlock made a quick span of his hands in air as if measuring something that appeared inside his mind. He gestured at the door. “Your man came in first. This was routine, so the coat came off, and he was relaxed. He’d done the homework, knew his percentages, plus, he’s comfortable with risk. He framed the scene, put up the flier on the door, planted the cups and smokes, other false evidence. He’s their roadie.” The back of one hand clapped into the palm of the other, “He sets the stage. That was your mole’s job.”
Reese followed this with, “His fingerprints will be on the bulbs. He might have worn gloves to change them, but there was the handling he did before coming here. He would have changed the white lights out with these red and reversed them after. It’s his night vision that took the pounding when he did that.”
“No night vision in a dimly lit room.” Sherlock opened his arms.
Reese nodded her ducked head, “Equals good night, Gracie. And that makes that dead man Lawrence, particularly if we can pull anything we can match to the CIA database off the bulb.” She cupped a hand over her nose and mouth. “God, the smell….”
“Meaning your initial assessment was right, and he’d gone dark for a good reason.” Sherlock saw John’s lips tighten into a line. “Uh… bad reason; for a reason. Let’s get air. You’re blacking out.”
“What?” John said abruptly. But he didn’t need any further explanation when Reese began to buckle toward the floor.
John caught her on one side, and Lestrade rushed in to get her on the other. Reese struggled to get her legs locked under her, and bent at the waist. She was slim. It would take nothing to lift her.
Sherlock turned toward the door with an exclamation. “Oh this is capital! Get in here and dust for prints Anderson.” He threw his hands out, excitedly, “The night’s looking up!”
On his way out, Sherlock momentarily shut them all in nearly blinding darkness so that he could snatch the flier from the back of the door.
“I don’t understand the need for this,” Special Agent Young pushed a lock of white blonde hair off of her face and warmed her hands on a cup of coffee.
“Freak doesn’t eat when he’s on a case,” Donovan sighed. They had the table beside the door of the soup and sandwich shop in which the team sat. “We’re doing this for John. And John’s a nice guy.”
Young’s grey-blue eyes narrowed as she looked at Lestrade. “You run it differently over here. It’s very… unstructured. I mean, are you sure you’re getting everything you can out of him with your method? If you… have a method?”
“It’s the question and answer method. Sherlock isn’t one for holding back,” Lestrade had to look back over his shoulder to take the American team in. This was because he was facing John, Sherlock, and Reese at the table in the back corner, and because he didn’t approve of the CIA’s methods. “And then again, Sherlock hasn’t sliced up his wrists, so I count myself pretty effective.”
“Hm.” Young glanced back from Lewis and Scott who stood outside. “How’d he get shot?”
Donovan snickered, “Not everyone’s a fan.”
In the back, at the table directly under the vent expelling warm air into the room, Sherlock sipped tea and watched John polish off his hearty vegetable soup and black forest ham. Beside him, Reese stared at nothing. Her face was blank, but at least she was warm again.
“I knew him,” she swallowed hard and then looked down at her latte. “That’s what’s gotten into me. I knew him for months.”
“It will pass,” Sherlock said calmly. He turned from John to study her.
“Yeah. Okay. Why don’t you just ask?” she cocked her head.
Holmes sipped his tea and looked at the wall clock. But he said nothing. John looked from genius to genius with a certain amount of pity for them.
“There are eight of us in Langley,” she told Holmes without being prompted. “There’s me and two other girls. The rest are guys.”
She looked up at him. “I’m 19.”
“Girls, guys,” Sherlock’s hand made a lazy little reel in air. “Not women, men.” Sherlock looked out of the misted glass, and there was no way to read his expression, really.
“True,” she said over the steaming rim of her coffee cup. “Only suits and apes call me Reese. All the other specialists call me Ree. You’re one of us.”
“Ree,” Sherlock said. “You call yourselves ‘specialists’.”
“It’s better than Asset. So… when did you start?” she picked emptily at the scone before her and asked Holmes.
“I was young.”
She nodded and accepted that he wasn’t going to share a figure with her. “There’s no MI6 program around here for developing children of outstanding IQs into-”
“No.” Sherlock shook his head. He glanced down at the scone that was slowly travelling across the table in his direction. The plate bumped the back of his hand and came to a stop.
John, though he had noticed the overture, kept his eyes on his meal. He wanted to lay low. It was fascinating watching them try to relate to one another. And there was something going on with Reese for sure. She studied Holmes closely. Not just in terms of scanning him either.
“You could have used that program,” Reese sat back. “It would have helped you figure out where you belonged. You mightn’t have gone through all those problems with the drugs.”
“I don’t eat on a case.” Sherlock pushed the plate carefully back in her direction.
Reese straightened, “Why the hell not?”
John launched into the standard speech he’d learned for this occasion. “The process of digestion pulls blood from the extremities to the stomach-”
“Yeah, it does!” she frowned. “To fill it up with nutrients and shoot it back up into the head.” But she looked down at her scone crossly and gave it a gentle push away. “I should have had it with some jam, anyway.”
John looked up at her in agreement.
“I would die doing that, like, not eating on a case. This case has been going two years now. It’s been through four Assets before me.”
“It’ll go faster now,” Sherlock glanced down at Watson’s diminishing meal.
Reese snickered, “Oh, because you’re here now, hey Sherlock?”
Sherlock looked up at her. “Yes.”
She held his gaze for several seconds. John began to feel like he should really excuse himself to the loo in case something came of this, and while he didn’t expect them to attack one another across the tabletop by any stretch, he felt the deep tug of some undercurrent that told him to make himself scarce. Only now he didn’t dare move a muscle. It was everything he could do not to smile.
“Okay, big boy. I’ll cut you in. Which hand you want?” she laid down her coffee, flexed her hands, and made fists. “Right or left?”
Sherlock sat back and considered her fists on the table. “Left.”
Reese opened her left hand and passed him a lapel pin. “University pin in the inner coat pocket of the coat back at the crime scene.”
Far corner of the room.
Under red lights.
Lawrence died, and fell, from there.
She pointed out, “I didn’t place the chair-”
“I know.” Sherlock nodded at her right fist. “Let me see.”
“Why? You have your assignment. Rock it out and report back.” She put her fingertip on his hand, wrapped around the school crest, and pushed it back from her. “Be grateful I shared with a near-ape like you, at all.”
Sherlock spoke slowly, “If you steal things from the crime scene before I have an opportunity to look at them, then I’m working with an incomplete picture. Not only won’t this case be solved, you’ll never know if you’re better than I am. And status is what it’s all about, correct?”
Her expression shut down. Reese’s colourless eyes found the table. She stared at it blankly for several seconds. Then she turned over and opened her right hand. Inside were a couple of evidence baggies. Sherlock’s eyes narrowed then he settled back. “Take that and return with Donovan. Go back to Scotland Yard.”
“I want your lab.”
“I don’t have a lab.” John recognized this was a half-truth. It was Molly’s lab he used.
Holmes leaned forward, “Idiot. Watch my face. I don’t have a lab.”
John’s head came up. She’d swung and missed.
And her temper exploded. She made a fist, stood up, and punched the table. “You love their rules, don’t you?! I thought I had it bad with Young and the others riding my ass – do it this way, do it that way – no matter how stupid. But you actually lie down for people like that.” She swung her fingertip until it came to rest on Donovan.
Many deli staff from the back hurried out to see what the shouting was about.
Sherlock rose from his chair and said, “I do not, however, react well to bratty children shouting in my face. It’s irksome.” He strode past the table, whirling in a flare of wet coat, only to say, “John?”
“Oh, I’m done.” John got up and wiped his palms, hastily, on napkins. He was beginning to think that Holmes never had to pay for anything when he ate out. It was as if he stopped at all his favourite haunts and found some sort of mystery to solve, or trouble to square away.
Sherlock didn’t wait. He had almost reached the door. He swept by Lestrade, who didn’t move a muscle to stop him, even though Young looked dumbfounded. She seemed to think that Donovan and Lestrade had to follow Holmes around everywhere he went. Sherlock had already likened his behaviour to a dog owner with a baggy over his hand, and made it clear this would not be tolerated.
Reese shouted at him, “You put too much faith in the apes, Sherlock. They’re dead weight; they’ll slap limits on you; it’s always got to be their way, even if their way is for idiots. You need to start working like I do. Work with me. We’re not like them.”
Sherlock turned at the door and strode back to her. “Listen closely, Ree.” Holmes tugged his gloves on with quick angry motions, and then swung a hand at Lestrade and the handlers. “First rule of working with them: Learn the system. Work the system. Also, don’t shout at me. I don’t like to be shouted at.” He glanced around the deli in a quick read of the employees.
Reese glared up at him, her eyes glittering with fury and other stewing emotions. Very softly, she asked him, “Whose side are you on? Answer.”
“That’s enough, Sherlock,” John schooled Holmes. When he put a hand on Sherlock’s back, he found it stiff. “Come on.” John didn’t look back on his way out. He knew Holmes was no fool. He would reach for the only life preserver in the storm.
A second or so after, John could hear Sherlock follow.
This had gone much better, much better than with Sofia. John was relieved. Sherlock pushed the door so hard it snapped against the padded stop and slammed back into place. But the glass held.
Holmes huffed air, his coat flared, reflected in the glass. He started walking. He went several blocks without summoning a cab. John gritted his teeth and hunched along behind his friend’s long strides. When he could take no more, he signalled a cab and had it pull even with Holmes, “Sherlock, you’re wet through – come on!” he shouted from the window.
The rain was so heavy that he was the only poor sod on foot. As the downpour hammered the road and sidewalk, it bounced back up at Sherlock. Passing cars had soaked him. Finally, saturated and angry, he submitted and got into the cab. John reached into his pocket and rescued Sherlock’s phone, just to save it from the rain.
“Where too,” the driver eyed Sherlock unfavourably.
Everything Sherlock wore was stuck to him. He was drenched. “We’re 221 B Baker’s Street.”
Sherlock put his head down, uncommunicative for the entire trip.
Sherlock peeled his sodden shirt off and dropped it on the floor of his bedroom. John tossed him a towel. His hair was drenched. In the lamplight, his skin shone wetly, all gooseflesh.
“Would you talk to me, Sherlock?” John gave his own face a rough rub, like feeling for stubble, only he did it out of frustration. “Come on. You’ve got a case. You should be chuffed. You should be-”
Holmes reached down and threw the sodden shirt at John, who narrowly ducked it as it shot into the hall and made a wet sploshing sound against the wall. Sherlock, when he looked back, sat with his back against his bed, elbows draped over his knees and his head down. The towel covered even his bowed head. His fingers knit together gently.
John was momentarily at a loss. Sherlock, in his twenties, was unquestionably an adult. But then there was Sherlock emotionally. In that sense, he was very raw and inept. It was to that unfledged part of Sherlock that John found he had to respond.
So John ambled into the densely packed room – full of all manner of gear and oddities – and sat on the bed beside Sherlock’s left shoulder. And the injured arm. Shortly, he got up and went to the dresser. It was covered in bottles, and chemicals, and beakers, and among the collection sat his painkillers. John opened the cap and looked into the bottle, coming to the immediate realization that Sherlock hadn’t taken a single one. Dammit. He held his temper. There was such a thing as being too strict. Okay, he’d been an addict. That didn’t mean he didn’t deserve to fight pain.
But… now wasn’t the time.
He sat back on the bed, reached out, and rubbed the towel against Sherlock’s hair, underneath. John was at a loss, so he said the only thing that made sense to him. It was the only objective thing he could offer on the situation. “You’re okay. You’re doing okay… actually, better than okay. I’m going to take the school pin out to the laptops – figure out what school we need to go to in the morning.”
“Goldsmiths, University of London.” Sherlock said from under the towel.
“Then I’m going to make tea.” John decided. “Look, I can’t imagine what meeting this girl is doing to your self-perception… for lack of a better word. But to the rest of the world, you’re handling her very smartly. Okay? That’s why this knocked me for six. Dry off, get your head together, and come out for tea.”
John hoped that had been enough. He walked out with a glance back at Holmes from the doorway. Emotions had to be exhausting for him; so inconvenient. Such a virtuoso, and such a child.
In the kitchen, John started the kettle going. His nerves were rattled, so he wished he could call Sarah. But it was after 1 AM now. John watched rain sluice down the Baker’s Street windows, thankful for the fire, and glanced in the fridge at last. No more avoiding it. He was surprised to see that Sherlock had boxed up the samples that dominated the bottom shelf. He’d helpfully drawn little skulls on the boxes in Sharpie pen. John supposed he shouldn’t be surprised that the drawings were so good, but it still made him smile. He put milk in his tea and sugar in Sherlock’s, and then brought the cups to the front room.
Sherlock sat in his favourite chair, with his legs folded under him. He’d been watching John in the kitchen. He wore a dark blue cotton tee and what looked like satin pajama bottoms. Not going out again. John noted he’d set the trays of samples aside and turned up the fire. He glanced at John. “There are seven more of me in America.”
“No. There are seven kids with unusually high IQs trained to use deductive reasoning in America,” John set the cup of tea down beside his flatmate’s left hand. “There isn’t anyone else like you.” It was because Sherlock never gave his internal mechanisms a second thought – beyond being able to think properly to begin with – that he was having trouble with his slippery identity.
Sherlock sucked a deep breath and exhaled. He picked up his tea mechanically. He didn’t want tea. John had made it for him. John was trying to help. He blew on it and sipped. The familiarity of the activity took hold of him.
“You want to talk to her,” John sat across from him. “Why don’t you just do that?”
“Because I can’t just talk to her,” Sherlock sipped again. Colour bled into his lips. Heat.
“I just talk to you.” John pointed out.
“You aren’t,” Sherlock gestured in air, “one of them.”
“Us.” John corrected him. “When you say it, it should be, ‘you aren’t one of us’, Sherlock. Reese gets that much about this right. Now, I get that you hate being treated like you’re this incomparable phenomenon type thing, but there it is. That is what you are. Your coping skills are for dealing with the people she calls apes and suits, I mean, right or wrong, so, yeah, you’re going to be a bit out of your depth with her. Relax. I honestly admired what you told her back there.” It didn’t help matters that she was a young woman. He avoided those.
“A bit out of my depth?” Holmes said slowly. He shook his head, unable to calculate.
“She’s grown up with people just like her. You have to understand the insular mentality. She expects you to think like them. You’re throwing her curve balls she’d never expect out of one of you. I think that has her feeling betrayed.” John looked at the fire. “And you’ve been isolated. You don’t know any better. I don’t suppose you thought what it would be like to meet someone else like you.”
“Mycroft is like me, and I don’t know how we manage to breathe the same air.” Sherlock said.
After consideration, John realized he didn’t consider Mycroft to be very like Sherlock at all. John didn’t bother saying so, but he knew where his loyalties lay. But there was one thing he was starting to recognize. “You thought it would be easy. Like something would click, and there you’d be.”
Sherlock set down his cup. “I had hoped.” He shut his eyes and actually seemed to drift off in the firelight as John finished his tea. Then he sighed. “I have to learn her system. Work her system.”
John grinned. “Yes you do. It never just clicks, mate.”
“It does, John.” Sherlock didn’t bother to open his eyes. “It did with you.”
That knocked whatever John had been about to say out of his head. For a long time, John watched the fire draw shadows on Sherlock. What had happened to him tonight, well, Sherlock Holmes, in his unapproachable way, was crestfallen. But he’d worked out that he wasn’t alone. It wasn’t precisely a chummy man hug, or chuck on the shoulder, but, unless John had missed his guess, Sherlock had just called him a friend.
John finished his cup and stretched to soak up the fire.
The phone rang at 5:30 AM.
Sherlock’s cell. Holmes was out of his chair and on it before John had really come awake enough to realize he’d knocked his empty tea-mug to the floor during the last few hours.
Sherlock was taking off his shirt over his head on the way into his room. “Excellent. Hanging up now. Things to do.” He chucked his phone on the bed. The shower cut on before John had even stood up.
John was a little slower to stir, in fact, and stumbled aimlessly for the coffee maker before diverting back to get his cup. He accomplished neither.
Sherlock’s phone began to ring again. John walked in his flatmate’s room and picked it up just to stop the bleating noise.
“Don’t hang up on me, Sherlock. It’s bad manners, for one thing, and-”
“Lestrade,” John yawned. “Your Consulting Detective is in the shower. Please call back at another time.” He hung up the phone and dropped it back on Holmes’ bed then staggered off for coffee and a shower of his own. When John came out of his bedroom, Sherlock was pacing in the front room. He really did look like a huge cat, one of those long, slinky ones. He texted impatiently and then answered the phone.
“About to leave for Goldsmiths. Stop calling me,” he smoothed the purple shirt he wore and snatched up his jacket, hanging up the cell with a jab of his thumb. Sherlock glanced back at John. “My coat’s by the fire. Grab it?”
“Mostly dry. In the lining, at least.” John said with some appreciation.
“I don’t care.” Sherlock pulled it on over his jacket. On his way down the stairs he tossed John his phone and fixed his scarf on his neck. Being handed the cell phone – which loomed like the One Ring in John’s mind – was a signal Sherlock wanted him to look at something. He’d never asked John to send a text or make a call on his phone to date. He scrupulously avoided using it in that manner, using other people’s phones, even random people’s cells, instead.
There were two texts. One was from Lestrade:
‘Come to The Yard. The girl found some solid evidence.’
“Good news,” John said of the first.
“Mixed news. Because he’s also getting annoying, and it’s hard to tell if the problem is the badge he foisted on us – me – or the rise he’s gotten out of working with Young and her fascisti.”
“Is he feeling a bit territorial, do you think?” John scratched his smoothly shaven cheek. “I mean, look at the structure the CIA has built around these young people. There are eight of them, for heaven’s sake. I suppose that sort of success is hard for someone like Lestrade to ignore. He knows what you can do. He can imagine what he’d be able to do with a team of you.” Well, provided they didn’t cause him to develop some kind of psychosis. Sherlock was a trial alone. Seven more? Apocalyptic.
“I’m not his-”
“Sniffer-dog, I know.” John nodded as they came out into the cool, dark of pre-morning, the street lamps still bright overhead – he loved this time of the day.
“Asset, John. I’m not his Asset.” Sherlock sucked a deep breath through the nose as if he needed to steady himself. “There’s no dignity in what Reese does. She’s been warped and it’s badly marred her thought processes. Daunting, considering she’s acknowledged to be the best of her lot. What can one expect of industrial geniuses, stamped out by the boot-heel of the Central Intelligence Agency?”
“She did pretty well for herself, I thought,” John countered. “Sure she didn’t like the smell or the scene. Lots of people would have fainted at the sight of that body.”
“Not that,” Sherlock’s tall frame was a silhouette against the lights of moving cars on the main thoroughfare ahead. “She withholds intelligence. She doesn’t question authority. Elements external to the case shouldn’t matter to her, but are important. Her environment has coloured her actions and her observations. She’s no longer impartial, no longer pure, because they twisted her out of the ground. And somewhere along the way, they made it clear to her what is and isn’t acceptable to see. I mean, real rubbish like that. It would take almost nothing – just subtle hints. A child is merely impressionable. A deductive prodigy would miss nothing.”
John caught up with him and walked shoulder-to-shoulder. It was a bit chill this morning. Holmes’ breaths painted air. John’s too, but as he watched the vapour trail of breath beside him vanish in the damp air, John realized he was glad he’d met Sherlock. He felt privileged to be there. “It’s doubtful Young and the others appreciate Reese, come to think of it.”
“Yes, well, it’s never good to be disregarded.” Sherlock looked at the walk before him and then glanced up at a cab that had seen them and pulled onto Baker’s street. “Oh, ideal. Now, see the second message, John. I get lightheaded when I’m away from my cell for too long.”
John grinned as they crossed for the cab, and read aloud. “Ree says: ‘Sherlock. Adeste. Ænigma habeo tibi.’ I think I got that right?” John blinked at this and struggled with the Latin classes he had to take while getting his Medical Degree. “She says… is it… I have a puzzle? Come here?”
Sherlock shot into the cab and turned to look back at John. “You didn’t tell me you knew Latin.” It wasn’t often that John gobsmacked Sherlock. Only twice now.
“I don’t really.” John begged off. “Not really, well, just for medicine. I did a few courses. You know. It’s not as though I can speak it, really. I mean, who speaks Latin?”
“I do.” Sherlock told him and drew back into the cab with a shrug. “Inconsequential. Cab. Imperative.”
“Hm. Texting in Latin. Sexy,” John’s brows bounced up along with his shrug. He handed Holmes the cell phone as he got inside and shut the door. “There you go: your phone, safe and sound. Wouldn’t want you to get a nervous tick.”
“Ha.” Sherlock said dryly. He instructed the driver. “Take us to Goldsmith’s.”
The campus was scenic, a mix of trees, lawns, ivy-cluttered stonework and beautiful glass and steel construction that gave it a contemporary, yet firmly established feel. Holmes may or may not have registered this as he swept past youths heading their way to breakfast as if they were leaves blowing across his path. John hurried behind him, squinting against the rising sun.
“Do we know where we’re going? Shouldn’t we try with the Dean or Registrar?”
“Too slow,” Sherlock tapped his phone’s screen. He set it to his ear and waited a moment. “Yes, hello. Where is this phone currently? I have to pick it up for Lawrence….” He sounded so warm that John honestly had to double-take. Sherlock Holmes, dispositional chameleon.
John snorted, “That’ll never work.”
Seconds later he hung up. “Batavia Mews. This way.”
Holmes cut through dewy grass passing between a trio of young women who turned in place to watch him go. “Hey,” one asked John, “He run a class? I’d like to get in that one.” John actually chuckled, but he didn’t answer. That was his job, wasn’t it? Being in Sherlock’s class? He wondered if he was picking anything up, or if the genius still considered him close to hopeless.
The doors at Batavia Mews were locked. Sherlock spun and almost went in John’s coat pocket before John caught his wrist and stopped him. It was one of those thoughtless actions Sherlock often took when his mind was inattentive with some other contemplation. It wasn’t a habit that John was likely to change, just one to be aware of. “What are you looking for?”
“Do you have the badge?” Sherlock straightened and reached for the door handle. He gave it a rattle and looked at the lock.
“Don’t you mess with that; there are young people around here. Think what you’re teaching them.” John told him. He’d fished out the badge. John favoured it with a smile before handing it over.
Consulting Detective. Bite me, Anderson.
“But I stashed my best lock picks in there,” Sherlock said. John actually snapped the badge back to double-check. This tickled Holmes no-end.
The ass. John frowned and hammered the door. It was his rendition of cop-knock, fresh from the friendly streets of Kabul. A head poked around a doorframe inside. John opened the badge on the window. That did the trick. “See that’s how you use it.”
“Then why don’t we return that one, and get you one instead?” Sherlock asked. He was first in the door as soon as it opened. He blew past the undergrad who’d let him in and was on the stairs in a matter of seconds.
“Normal,” John said with a gesture after Holmes. “That’s normal. It’s all fine. Pardon us.” Sherlock was on the next floor up by the time John had extricated himself from the student.
Sherlock had found the correct flat and was talking to a young man standing just inside the slab door. This was one excellently groomed and turned-out young man. He seemed confused by Sherlock’s sudden appearance at his door.
“Ah, you’re the fellow who phoned, well, Lawrence didn’t come home.” An idea occurred to him of a sudden. “I… I don’t suppose you’re responsible for that.” He looked Holmes over and his brows went up. “He’s not into older guys as a rule, but you’d catch the exception.”
“Hm. Charming,” Sherlock said, “and I do know where he is this morning.”
The young man’s eyes widened. “Oh that is ace, he spent the night with you then? No kidding?!” The young man stepped aside in a gesture designed to let Sherlock pass.
“In a manner of speaking,” Sherlock swept into a communal flat where the kitchen island was dotted with young people, mostly clad in PJs and eating sugary cereal.
“I’m Charlie,” the young man smiled. “Sit down, really. I’ll fix tea and you can wait on him.”
This garnered Holmes some curious looks. John stopped at the doorframe and let his eyes adjust to the dimness inside.
Sherlock looked around the room into which he’d walked like a new landlord, “Oh, no. He’s dead and in the mortuary by now. Last night I examined his remains. John, didn’t you show them the badge?” he wagged his fingers in air and was off to throw open the curtains.
John stepped in and closed the door. Shock and dismay; frozen faces; marshmallow cereal dribbling out of one guy’s mouth – Holmes had arrived. John showed them Sherlock’s badge, motioning at the genius who retreated deeper into the apartment, “Sherlock Holmes, police specialist. He saw your friend last night.”
“No… Lawrence isn’t dead…” Charlie, who’d let Holmes in, roused himself and turned in John’s direction. “That’s… that’s crazy. Who are you people?”
John tossed the badge to the boy. “Feel free to call the Yard.” He stuck his hands in his pockets and noticed Holmes was no longer in the room.
There was some crashing from the hall Sherlock had vanished down and John exhaled slowly. “Sherlock,” he called out.
Half the kids scattered to see if it was their room he’d decided to destroy.
“Sit, please sit down,” John held out his hands as if he could hold them all back. “Trust me, he won’t mistake one of your rooms for Lawrence’s. And we’re going to need to talk to you.”
Charlie’s face was pale, “What happened to him? Can you tell me?”
John wasn’t fielding this, and he’d very possibly clap a hand over Sherlock’s mouth before he let the man explain the condition of the body to adolescents. “This is in the hands of Scotland Yard, right now. Call and ask for Detective Inspector Lestra-”
Sherlock appeared from the hallway with a heap of books he dropped on a cluttered table. They made a loud bang. Hands free, he caught the couch before anyone had a chance to sit, and yanked it off to one side of the room.
“What’s he doing?” one of the flat mates yelped. He’d almost toppled to the floor. “People are still sleeping, man! Have a mind!”
“Most definitely,” Holmes motioned about him. “Move… stuff.”
John moved the coffee table. He started to collect the game consoles, scattered books, and other whatnot on the floor to one side. “Uh, Sherlock, what are you doing?”
“I looked at his book shelf,” Sherlock half turned. “Clear as day, the notation flags in the books are patterns. There are oscilloscope patterns, like a voiceprint, but without the spectrograph.”
“That could be random,” John opened his arms.
Sherlock turned several of the exercise books so that the bright note flags faced John, “His initials are spelled in Morse code: L.A.W. – Lawrence Ambrose Waters. Do you see?”
One of the housemates, the one John inwardly called Dribbles-Cereal, muttered a reverent. “And who the hell is this guy?”
Sherlock paced with a spiral bound scribbler he flipped through. “No, he doesn’t think like everyone else. In his room, there are pins on the cork board with elastic bands in complex patterns. And look at this. Everything in this book, he’s turned into a drawing, chart, or a graphic of some kind. Oh see? Here we go. He’s using these patterns as a memory trick for the flavours of quarks. It’s how he remembers. It’s how he sees the world.” Sherlock studied the notebooks on the table, and the colour of the flag for the one in his hand. “Red. Three pen dots.”
“Lawrence is good at that,” Charlie followed John to the now open area of the room. Holmes picked up the notebooks and started flipping pages. Then he started laying them out of on the floor. He stared, took off his coat and scarf, and then set into it in earnest. He turned pages, readjusted, learned something new, reoriented. Within ten minutes he had uncovered, across 40 notebooks, a map of London – some parts were abbreviated; each page, on its own, had the appearance of a hand-drawn maze. But the way Sherlock had set it out, it was a map. Seemingly random marks on pages became landmarks. And there were other marks as well, though, to John, they looked like small stick figure animals. Like maybe a cat, and… something else.
“Oh brilliant. Brilliant.” Sherlock whipped out his phone and started taking photos at frenetic speed. “Not stupid this one. He’s a loss.”
John turned to Charlie, “And when did he leave here?”
“Uh? Friday morning? He cut classes, but he’s way ahead, so…” Charlie returned to gaping at the floor. “What is this? This is London, yes? Why has he drawn London? I thought… he liked drawing mazes, like it helped him think. And you… how on earth did you just walk in and see all this?”
“He’s a specialist,” John explained.
“Stop him,” Sherlock waved the comment away as if it were tangible in air. His head bowed over the map, one hand to his temple. “Stop wondering. Too loud.”
“My wondering is too loud?” Charlie’s brow scrunched in perplexity.
John lowered his voice and drew the young man back to the knot staring from the kitchen. “Can you draw up a list of Lawrence’s friends and enemies for us?”
“Enemies?” Charlie recoiled. “Who has enemies like that?”
“Not uncommon,” Sherlock stopped cogitating over the map to answer his buzzing cell. “I do.”
“Well, normal people don’t. Lawrence didn’t have enemies. People adored him. He was so helpful and funny – such a weird accent and all. He’d been all over the United States.”
“No enemies, and yet he’s dead.” Sherlock finished consulting his phone. “John. It’s him. A tooth dislodged during the fall was found lodged in the throat, and it is consistent with a crown he got three months ago. DNA is turning up a match.”
Charlie looked at the ground, unable to comprehend the news. “Oh my God…” His eyes beaded with tears. “Lawrence.”
Sherlock prowled over to the boy. “Have you ever seen him with someone you didn’t recognise? Someone he was trying to keep secret or hide from you?”
“Just this boyfriend who came by now and then – this brunette with pale eyes, a bit like you. I didn’t see him very closely. They’d go in his room and stay there, and you know, you don’t disturb a guy,” Charlie punctuated this with a nod, and wiped his damp eyes. “Lawrence, he’s a bit uptight, but he’s so great. I didn’t want anyone to mess things up for him. But this guy, he seemed a bit-” the young man stopped and looked up at Holmes, wide-eyed.
“Still listening,” Sherlock stood attentive, with his hands parked on his narrow hips. It was about as undivided as attention got. When nothing else was forthcoming, he frowned.
Tears streaked down Charlie’s cheeks. “Do you think his boyfriend did this?”
“Oh, I think someone very professional did this,” Sherlock bent to the scribblers and turned in place. He’d picked up Highgate, flipped to a blank sheet, and handed it to Charlie, “Considering you don’t have a picture, I’ll need you to describe the boyfriend. Don’t do it now. Do it when you’ve had time to think – really think – what he looked like. Talk to the others. Have them do the same. When you’re done, contact the Yard. Ask for me.” Sherlock made his way back to Lawrence’s room. This time, John and the rest of the flat, everyone who was awake, anyhow, followed him.
The bedroom wasn’t large, but, intellectually, it was massive. Star charts clotted the walls with architectural diagrams, the ceiling was a collection of domes from famous buildings all over the world, some of them religious, some not.
In comparison, the bed was a low, quiet affair, a simple dark blue corduroy comforter with a single pillow, no ornamentation. It was like negative space. His desk was stunning – so much like Sherlock’s abuse of the kitchen table that John glanced between it and the tall genius. “Sherlock, did you see this?”
“John, are you running a temperature?” Sherlock asked.
“Okay, so you saw it. What do you think of it?”
“He’s growing algae. The blooms look amazing,” without diverting his gaze, Holmes reached back and flicked the cover off an electron microscope. The motion was so fast it practically blurred. His other hand was extended out at the room, fingers spread. He looked between them as if gridding the world in front of him.
John stepped back to the doorframe and turned his head. He held up his finger to his lips to shush the curious onlookers. Sherlock took two steps and caught up a phone. It had been charging beside the pillow, almost under the comforter. “Cable running into the bed… he left without his phone. No. He hid his phone.”
“Oh he didn’t hide it. I knew right where it was because he always stuck it there – like almost under his pillow. Like out of sight, out of mind.” Charlie volunteered.
“Oh hardly.” Sherlock’s voice rumbled.
Charlie tried again, “But what I mean is, he’d leave it there and go out without it when he didn’t want to be bothered, you see?”
“Why bothered?” Sherlock asked. He drew close, watching Charlie’s face closely.
“Because people kept bugging him for his notes,” Charlie indicated a list of names hung on the cork board behind the desk. “I swear Lawrence could make anything into a flowchart or a diagram in just, you know, minutes. I guess hours if it was really complex. He has a collection of flowcharts for the entire of the first year Biology course, for instance. He just does these amazing things with subjects. People call him a lot.”
Sherlock looked from the list to check the phone he held.
Eight missed calls.
Ten texts – all about tutoring/notes.
Holmes suddenly looked at the ceiling and growled between his teeth. “Reese.”
“Reese?” John cocked his head. “Okay. Catch me up, Sherlock.”
“Oh, I see it now,” he turned slowly to take in the room and then pointed at John. “I’ve had enough of that girl’s stagecraft.” Holmes strode out of the room, his lips pulled, momentarily, into a scowl. He seemed to catch himself, back up, and glance at Charlie. Perfunctorily, he said, “I’m sorry for your loss. Don’t touch anything.”
John thought that, given who was saying it, that little display was impressive, even if it was a clumsy attempt to get Charlie to obey his final command.
“You can call Scotland Yard,” John told the young man. He plucked Sherlock’s badge back and checked it. “Talk to Detective Inspector Lestrade.”
“John,” Sherlock called as he exited the doorway.
Watson cast a final remorseful glance in the direction of the young people whose peace of mind they’d so rudely crashed, and pursued Holmes outside.
Holmes thought in the cab to the Yard. It was useless to try to silence London traffic. However, within the shell of the cab, the radio blaring pop went off, the driver turned down his dispatch, and there was no conversation. Inside that homeostatic bubble, Sherlock was alone.
John had to nudge him when they’d reached the Yard, and even then Holmes had peered around him as if he’d emerged from a dark room. He shot outside, which left John behind to pay the cabbie, a man happy to see the oddballs he’d had to ferry around finally depart. John could hear the radio come on even before he’d shut the door.
Sherlock hadn’t gone far. He stood outside and stared up at the sun reflecting in Scotland Yard. John glanced up too, but was only able to think of their recent extremity in this building, hunted, as they had been, by a band of rogue police officers. He liked his odds better with Reese and the CIA. “Come on,” he told Holmes. “Think about it on the way up… well, unless you want to talk about it, that is? This is about Reese, right?”
“I’m gathering my reserves,” Sherlock exhaled a faint stream of mist in the unseasonably chill morning air.
Who was this girl that she taxed Sherlock’s reserves? John marvelled.
They walked into the ordinary, yet extraordinary excitement: the Scotland Yard din, with John happily swiping Holmes through the sealed doors into the secure part of the building. It was comical, really. He imagined the man who’d tried to kill them both would lose his rag if he heard tell of this badge of Holmes’.
Sherlock took the elevator in stride. He often preferred stairs to bleed off energy. Today he acted like he would need every jot.
Lestrade was in a meeting – with clear walls, it was simple enough to see that – with the CIA, Anderson, Donovan, and practically all the rest of his team. John didn’t know them all by name. Reese wasn’t present. Neither was Special Agent Lewis a man whose towering height made him more than a little conspicuous. The CIA never left Reese alone for long. Then again, John thought in their defence, she’d tried to end her life one day.
Lestrade motioned at Sherlock the moment he saw the man. It was a definite summons.
Sherlock half-turned to John. “If it gets boring, we are leaving. Make any excuse.”
John grinned and opened the door to the large meeting room. Sherlock slunk in, exactly like a prickly cat. He stopped a few steps into the room. “Where is Ree?”
“Reese. And that’s not your concern.” Special Agent Young said crisply.
“Oh, believe me, I’m not asking for my health,” Sherlock’s tone was scathing as a steel rasp.
“She should be by. If not, we’ll take you to her. Just, could you sit and listen.” Lestrade glanced right of Sherlock. “And welcome, John.”
John pulled a chair and sank into it among police. They gave him odd looks, but he hardly cared about that. He watched Sherlock begin to pace along the long table – that was more like it. Pen up that much energy and you were bound to have an explosion. He also wondered if Sherlock recognised this room from the night he’d been shot, and if he was doing all right in here? Reese said Sherlock still suffered from trauma. John had seen no signs, but Sherlock was crafty.
Lestrade nodded, “Go on, Anderson.”
“With him here?” the hawk-like man asked in outrage that made his voice spike. “And what about the doctor? He’s a civilian.”
“John leaves, I leave.” Sherlock tugged his gloves off.
Lestrade replied. “Treat Sherlock as one of the team. He’s got a badge now. And unless you want to be on semi-permanent assignment as his medical assistant, Anderson, you’ll have to deal with Dr. Watson too.”
“Yes, but he hasn’t earned it, I mean. A badge on Holmes? He’s completely unstable. Come on,” Anderson glanced around the table. Sherlock had no friends here.
Well, almost. John spoke before he thought. “Oh he hasn’t earned it? It wasn’t you shot but still working out the police corruption case.”
“There’s no accounting for his stupidity.” Anderson pointed at Holmes.
Sherlock stopped dead and turned. “Anderson, all you need to do is explain about the body. That is all you could possibly add that’s germane. And once you have, I’ll happily go about the stupidity of solving this murder for you too.”
“See here, I don’t have to deal with your attitude, Holmes.”
John leaned his cheek against one hand, and opened Sherlock’s badge. He tapped it on the table, which drew all the attention – even Sherlock’s – in the room. “Sorry Anderson, but it’s not made of gum paste and it got us in the building. So, yeah, it’s real. Considering a young man was beheaded and dismembered, can we get on with your assessment of the body?”
“Unlikely,” Holmes sighed before returning to his pacing.
Anderson considered John quite seriously before he set into his report regarding the body. Sherlock seemed only to half-listen, but then half his attention was much greater than the full attention of a focused person. He heard every nuance.
“The crown found in his throat and DNA did confirm his identity. Stippling on the back of the neck indicates that an assassin style hit had taken place-”
“How tall would he have been?” Sherlock asked himself idly. “I suppose, on the surface of it, that’s a difficult question without his head. The CIA will have record of it.”
“Why is that even relevant?” Anderson snapped his fingers in air. “Are you paying attention?”
“Oh, not anymore,” Sherlock said. “He was assassinated. Thank you. It was a long windup, but bravo, Anderson. Since the people we’re looking for could never do such a thing themselves, we’re looking for a professional assassin. But carry on. It’s good to be borne out.”
“People are capable of anything, Holmes-”
“Patently untrue and, in this case, thoroughly incorrect,” Sherlock told him. “Let’s be glad you got as far as you did.”
Donovan sighed, “Then why wonder how tall he was, Freak? What’s the point?”
“Lawrence comes in early. He squeezes down that claustrophobic staircase and flicks on the overheads in the basement. It’s dim there, which is why there are all the floor lamps. But there are only three bulbs in the ceiling and none of them with covers. He sets the chair under the bulbs and changes two from white to red. The assassin was in the room only when the final light went out. To Lawrence, dealing with the naked glow of lights up close, the room would have been nearly black. We know from the positioning of the chair that Lawrence had his back to the door. One tends to stand with the chair back in front to brace on, particularly when light levels are low. So where in this scenario do you see him getting down and kneeling to be killed?” Sherlock asked. “Back at the scene, there’s splatter on the ceiling. The ceiling is dark blue. It’s difficult to spot. He was shot right off the chair. The shot’s trajectory was from low on the back of the head – thus the collar’s powder burn – to high in the front. The bullet may have passed out through an eye, in fact, given the state of the ceiling. This is a professional hit, but it’s hardly a mafia-style slaying. There were opportunistic elements involved. The assassin had been told what to expect and how to play it efficiently. It was highly orchestrated, but it wasn’t a standard hit.”
Silence filled the room.
“He’s making this up.” Anderson snapped.
John actually chuckled. “Oh, that’s good.”
But Anderson spread his hands, “Dr. Watson, there was no bullet.”
“There’s a bullet, yes, and seeing as this assassination was carried out by a real, live assassin for hire, he left with it and Lawrence Waters’ missing parts.”
Lestrade raised his hands to quell the general rumble of protest against Holmes. “Assassin, Sherlock. Could you explain more about the assassin?”
“Oh God, how painful,” Sherlock tipped his head back in irritation as he poked at the coffee station which had been set up at one table. “John. Would you like to field this one?”
“No,” John turned in his seat. “I’d like to know this one.”
Sherlock turned, coffee cup in hand. “Don’t disappoint, John.”
“You’ll get over it.” John told him.
Holmes sipped his coffee and pulled a face. “Oh, disgusting.” He tossed the whole full cup into the trash and said. “They needed Lawrence Waters dead, and they needed to send a gruesome message to the CIA, or, more properly to, Ree-”
“Reese,” Special Agent Young corrected. “But carry on, Sherlock.”
“However, these people,” he took out his phone and walked to Lestrade, “wouldn’t have been able to do such a thing themselves.”
Lestrade clicked through files. “I don’t get it.”
“Dear God. How can you not see?” Sherlock opened his arms and looked at the ceiling. He chucked the coat and scarf on the back of the Detective Inspector’s chair and used the armrest beside him to get up on the table. No few of the police scattered up from their seats in shock. Sherlock merely said, “John, get the blinds.”
As John pulled the blinds, he shot curious glances at what Sherlock was doing with the projector anchored to the ceiling.
“Ideally,” Sherlock typed on his phone. “We’d have a projector in each direction in here, but this will have to do. Lights, John.”
John shut them off with a sweep of his hand.
Suddenly, the photos on Sherlock’s cell phone painted the entire back wall of blinds. Sherlock stood in the darkness atop the table and gestured. “This is a portion of a hand-rendered map of London. I found it in Lawrence’s subject books at Goldsmith’s. Have you ever tried to draw a scale map, Lestrade?”
Standing at the end of the table, blotting out part of the map, Lestrade stared at the rest and frowned. “No.”
“Who does that?” Anderson scoffed. “You need a map, you can buy one much better than this.”
Sherlock looked down at him and then swung his arms up at the picture, “Oh, don’t be facile, Anderson. If you’re going to say it, then you have to explain how a map of London drawn by a mapmaker is as good as a map of London drawn from memory, when both are just as correct?” He made a wide motion at the screen. “Don’t you follow? He was Ree’s-”
“Reese’s.” came the twanging voice.
“-source. He was an infiltrator, an insider.” Sherlock’s arms rolled out gracefully, “He was a photographer.” He glanced around and nodded, sure they were on the same page now.
Donovan snickered and gestured at the wall’s projected map, “Freak, this is a drawing.”
“Ah… we’re doomed. Lights, John.” Holmes sighed and walked down the table. He laughed sadly and stepped off the end to drop, catlike, to the floor. There he rubbed his temple and snatched up his coat and scarf. “I can’t work with gormless people, Lestrade.” John flicked the lights on again.
“You don’t have to, Sherlock. You really don’t.” It was Young who had spoken up.
Lestrade looked sharply at the CIA Special Agents, for all the good it did. The meeting began to break up, but John suddenly had it.
“Wait. Brilliant. He’s just told us….” Then John strode up and leaned on the table. “How can a photograph taken by a camera be anywhere near as good as a photograph taken by your memory, if they’re equally as accurate?”
Donovan froze, looked at the folder in her hand, and up again. “You’re kidding. You mean the photography club-”
“They don’t use cameras. They don’t need cameras. They have their heads. Good job, Doc.” Reese said from outside the open door. She paced along outside the glass wall and inside the room, Sherlock strolled beside her.
“You should have said something.” Sherlock swung an arm up at her.
“What’s-a-matter? You don’t wanna have to figure stuff out yourself? You want to be handed everything, like it’s your birthday?” she snickered at him and came to a stop facing him through glass. “I gave you that room. I told you all that evidence was a diorama for our CSI team. That set was picture perfect, trust me. It would have run you around for weeks.”
“Please, I already had that,” he told her. “It’s a simple question, Ree, so why didn’t you tell me how many people were in-”
“You’re a liar.” Reese barked and struck the glass with one hand.
“Cat fight,” Donovan’s brows swept up. “Oooh. Nasty.”
“Reese!” Young shot to her feet. “This is unaccept-”
“You’re a liar, Holmes!” Reese exploded on her way in.
“You had worked the case 8 months and received it from another Asset. If your prey was leaving that much evidence around, you would’ve nicked them months back.” He clapped the back of his fingers into his opposite palm. “There are eight of you; the probability of not finding one of them given that much evidence climbs to the absurd. So either the rooms are staged, or you and your fellow Assets are idiots. Does that seem difficult to you, Ree? It doesn’t to me. And you might be a deceitful shrew, and horribly misguided, but I don’t believe you’re an idiot quite yet.” Sherlock walked along the wall toward her. “There had been two people inside the room. Two different people: one with runners on, Lawrence; one in boots. Muddy boots. Mud was dislodged when the gun went off and the shooter rocked back on his heels. It was the mud you collected and had analysed.”
She strode past John, black cherry scented. Reese stopped Sherlock moving, capturing him with both hands. She rose on her toes and stared up at Holmes’ face. After a moment, she shut her eyes and backed up, her lips drawn tight in disgrace. She turned toward Young. “He’s… he’s not lying. He did know.”
“You really are far gone. Now, what did the mud tell you?” Sherlock asked.
“Put up the map again.” She walked over to the white wall and started pointing. “Traces of fresh road tar. Nearest sources, here, and here, so he walked to the location on foot, probably from being dropped off by a cab in this area. More importantly, the specific combo of pollen put him in the Isle of Dogs – he’s been in the Island Gardens. Great place for a stroll from what I can see on a map. He may go again. He may be in the area.”
“Thank you,” Sherlock said quietly; a new lead; all was well with the world. He pressed a button on his phone and Reese’s cell pinged. “You work off photos. Here’s the map and other encoded evidence from Lawrence Waters’ dorm room. Work on the landmarks. Find me patterns.”
Her chin rose, and she nodded softly. “If you want the legwork, then… we can trade. I have the assassin crossing a street on a gas station video. You seem the legwork type.”
“Reese!” Special Agent Young snapped. “We discussed this.”
“No one else believes me. I’m not supposed to present evidence that isn’t judged credible. In fact, it’s not classified as evidence if it fails to convince the apes.” Reese hugged herself and eased sideways. It put Sherlock’s body between her and Young’s low, tense conversation with Scott at the table. She lowered her voice, “They don’t like when I guess. But I can’t help it, and they don’t get it.”
“No, you can’t, and no they don’t.” Sherlock said it as if this were a law of physics. He put his hands on his hips and looked down at her.
“I want to see what you think of it.”
“Then we should go now,” Sherlock glanced back at the milling of the officers; it was Lestrade, chiefly, who detained Scott and Young with conversation.
Reese smiled, almost as if she’d rather not, but found she preferred it to hating that she had to betray her training. What was she, otherwise, except her training? If it was worthless, so was she. “All right, follow me. We gotta hurry back.”
“Do they watch you all the time?” John asked her.
“Most of the time,” she said lightly. “Yeah.”
John asked, “Because of the suicide attempt? And, no, I don’t mean any disrespect. It’s just… that would be incredibly concerning to me, if I were supposed to be taking care of you.”
She squeezed her arms on her ribs and converted her action to smooth her top and skirt. Reese looked aside at John for a moment. “No. They’ve watched me like that as far back as I remember. Just ignore it. Ignore them.” She had occupied an empty office. The glass windows were papered over with black. Reese pushed the door, reached in, and pulled Lewis out into the hallway. He winced in the sudden sunlight.
“What’s going on, Reese?”
“Me and Sherlock need a room.” Reese said brightly.
Lewis looked between the pair of them, “Excuse me?”
“We’re taking the cute little blond with us too,” she caught hold of John’s hand and yanked him into the room. Sherlock closed the door and leaned on it as Lewis knocked and rattled the knob. The entire door jolted, and Sherlock with it, in spite of his size. He looked up at Reese and grinned, his eyes widening with amazement. But then, Sherlock often got a kick out of irritating people.
“Yeah, I know, right?” she laughed. “Like, oh my God, get a second hobby.”
Sherlock called out, “The three of us can manage. Your presence is not required.”
“Don’t be a smartass, Mr. Holmes!” Lewis barked. The huge man gave the door a few good pushes that jerked Sherlock’s entire frame. He put his head down and beamed. “Oh wait. I can hear him going away.”
“He’s getting Scott,” Reese stood about three feet off of Holmes, her arms crossed. “Nice work though. I mean, you’re so slim. I can’t believe you could keep him from bursting in the door. My hero.”
“Hardly,” Sherlock looked up at her. “Much more and I was going to tag you. Not to mention,” he reached across and flicked the lock back and forth, “this lovely British metal I have.”
She laughed what had to be her first genuine laugh since she’d arrived. “Oh, classy, Sherlock, you’re a real gentleman.” She shook her head and walked to where John stood staring at the wall. “You like my TV?”
“It’s the wall. Like the entire wall.” John said. He didn’t dare breathe a word about flirting, or how terrific it was, and how he wouldn’t dream of interrupting. Holmes smoothed his jacket as he joined them.
“Ooh. Want one.”
“I know,” she beamed at him and spread her arms. “Biggest they had on hand. I have these all over the walls back home. And it’s hooked up to my sick laptop array. They’re water cooled.” She walked up to the laptops and patted one gently. Then she looked back at Sherlock. “Want to pit your phone against these puppies?”
“The phone is powered by my brain, both of which appear to be more portable than those things.” He touched one on and started trying passwords.
“You have an Admin account.”
“Oh,” his lips compressed in surprise, “Helpful of you.” He glanced at her screen and logged in. The television in front of him lit up and drew his attention. He quickly found the movie on the desktop. The file was hard to miss, it was titled, ThisOnes4Sherly.wmv, which made John chirrup with amusement and take an irritated look from Holmes. Reese couldn’t wipe away her smile.
Holmes clicked the .wmv. Once he had, Reese trotted back and threw herself onto a futon. She patted on her right and motioned to John, who joined her.
Looking smart in his suit, Sherlock sat on her left. John wasn’t sure what their presences meant to the girl, but she smiled widely when they both settled in with her.
“This is so fun,” she kicked her feet a little. “So I’m not going to tell you when.”
“I don’t need your coaching.”
“Yeah? Well their camera sucks. The recording is blurry. Still sure you don’t need my help?”
John wormed back to give them space. He didn’t know if it was important to Sherlock that the pair of them somehow find common ground, but they were damn fascinating to watch. Their minds were in constant grapple. And they were striking. It was startling how Reese’s colourless irises and her golden-age Hollywood looks worked with Holmes’ sophistication. John simply worried he might be inventing the cerebral flirt between them….
“Oh, she’s having a rough day,” Sherlock motioned at the screen. “Unwanted pregnancy. See how she’s put her hand low on her belly. She keeps re-checking her watch.”
“She’s still in shock.” Reese frowned at the screen. “The young scratchy guy over there is so far gone. He’s so hung-over.”
“Actually, he’s strung-out,” Sherlock said a bit tightly.
Reese didn’t look at him. “I was trying to spare your feelings.”
“Don’t bother. I don’t have any.” Sherlock told her.
“Way to screw up my annual good deed, Sherlock.” Reese frowned and continued to watch the video closely. At the same time they both cried. “Thief.” Sherlock jabbing a hand.
Reese scoffed. “Did you see him pick the bus-guy?”
“Bad thief. I’m sure even John spotted-” Sherlock stopped dead.
John stared at the crowd, trying to see it as Holmes must. No luck. Nothing stood out to him. He’d expected someone carrying a bag, box, or cooler. For God’s sake he had a head with him. Of course… Sherlock had gotten an unclaimed one of those from Molly’s lab to the Baker Street fridge for one of his experiments.
Sherlock’s lips began to pull into a soft smile. “Oh yes…. Easy. Efficient. Purposeful. Still a bit punchy. Still a bit high. Working his gun hand. Head up. Alert. He’s aggressive, a bit too much energy.”
“Yeah, he’s tripping. This guy loves his work.” Reese said and then glanced at John. “Say it already. I know you’re dying to say it.”
“I don’t… see him.”
Sherlock’s head turned next. John felt sure there were very few people in the world they would have done this for, but, without a word, they backed up the video. Reese used her mouse to highlight part of the screen. And she and Sherlock slowly inched the video forward. When the man appeared, Reese followed him with her mouse, the man who was, to John’s apprehension, nondescript. This stranger’s blurred expression was identical to other blurred expressions, and he wasn’t carrying a solitary thing. Nothing about him or his dress was particularly unusual. In fact, he was on screen for only seconds. John felt something inside of him diminish, because Young and the others hadn’t seen it either. Meaning he was an ape.
John rubbed his face. They were bloody amazing. “Well, where are the head and hands then?”
“He’s removed them from the body already.” Sherlock tapped the pause and walked up to show John on screen. “Look at how stiff his elbow is, and this wrist he’s loosening up. His hand took a shock from the axe blows. His back is stiff. Do you see, Ree?”
“That’s carrying the axe on him through the crowd. It’s got to be a huge kick. How bad is it when a gun’s not enough anymore?” She gave a shudder and huddled against John. It was the last thing he had expected. Instinctually, he’d dropped his arm around her shoulders. Poor child.
“It’s on his back,” Sherlock said to the screen. His fingertip traced a faint shape, “Hatchet. He had a drop point for the parts then.”
“It’s like Sleeping Beauty. You know, Bring me her heart.” Ree climbed to her feet and followed her fellow genius.
“Snow White.” John looked up suddenly. “That was Snow White.”
“Oh?” Reese turned to him curiously.
Sherlock glanced her way, “And it was her lungs and her liver. I take it they didn’t read Grimm’s to you in Langley.”
She did a staggeringly good impression of Young, “There’s no time in life for fairy tales, Reese.”
Holmes smiled in spite of himself. Even her body language had been a match. She was good.
Reese returned to kneel by her laptop. “Yeah, the guy is sick for reals. Here comes his face again. You ready for it, Sherlock?”
He touched his temples, almost as if blocking out the room, and stared. “Go.”
She started the video rolling again, slowed it – John wasn’t sure how – and then stopped it as the man half-turned. “Go open the door, John.” she said quietly.
He got up, eyes on the screen, and opened the black-papered door. That done, he walked up to stand beside Sherlock. Reese zoomed the screen. “I’m printing it for Lestrade.”
“Why?” Sherlock turned her way.
She didn’t look up. “Because he brings me lattes, and I don’t even have to ask for them.”
Holmes’ brows pinched together. “He does?”
“And he took me to buy a coat this morning.” Reese seemed very serious about this. She walked over and picked up a pale pink faux fur coat with leopard spots. “I was cold. So he took me.”
John smiled at her. “It’s very you.”
Her face lit up, “Thanks!” She laid the coat on the couch and went to the printer.
It was about that time that the CIA arrived. They briefly clotted the door. Reese looked at them curiously. “What’s wrong?”
Young said, “Reese, you know you’re not to lock Lewis out.”
“I didn’t.” Reese smiled prettily.
“Sherlock,” Young sighed; it put a smile on Holmes’ face. She turned in his direction. “You’re certainly a handful. I really didn’t know what we could expect out of a rogue… but your deductions are exceptional. Reese had come to the same conclusions, of course, but she’s had the advantage of working this case for months. Impressive.”
“Good news. Ree has him on video.” Sherlock told Lestrade as the man entered the room. “Let’s go get him.”
Reese held up the print-out. “You know this loser?”
Lestrade’s brows went down. “Friend of yours, Sherlock?” He leaned on the doorframe, utterly unruffled, no matter what the CIA had feared might be going on in here.
“Don’t be ridiculous. But I do know of this man. It’s just stunning luck that he’s in town. He’s Russian,” Sherlock swept to the laptops and started the browser. He typed so fast and perfectly that it looked like a computer was generating text, rather than a human being. He pulled up a list of wanted criminals and selected one. “This is him.” He turned to Ree.
She smiled at him. “You’re pretty handy, Sherlock Holmes.”
“Thanks,” he sighed in satisfaction and looked up at the Cyrillic on screen, which said Аркадий Делов. “Arkadiy Delov has been called the Archangel of Death. He’s a very bad man, with a very bad habit. He loves the rush of carrying around the weapons of his trade in public. Suffice it to say, he didn’t go through an airport scanner to get here.”
Reese ignored a sharply disapproving look from Young when she laughed at this. “He’s pretty stupid, this guy. The murder weapon’s between his ears. It’s always with him. What a moron.”
Sherlock pointed at John. “We need to go.”
“Sherlock,” Lestrade held up his hands. “Wait a second, here. Delov’s a really bad bloke, and I can’t have you running off on your own like that. I’m going with you. We’ll take Donovan.”
Calmly, Sherlock turned and said, “I think we should arm my assistant.”
“I think we shouldn’t.” Lestrade said. “We can’t have him going about shooting people. He’s a civilian, Sherlock.”
“He’s an ex-soldier and a better shot than anyone here.”
John shook his head. “Sherlock, I don’t need a gun for this one. I trust Donovan and Lestrade.”
“That’s curious,” Sherlock said on his way out the door. “I don’t.”
“Assets have a lot of trust issues,” Young said to Lestrade. “It’s a fundamental part of their psychology, and has nothing to do with you.”
“You’ll pardon my saying that’s bollocks.” Lestrade told her as he passed. “If these guys don’t trust us, well, no one’s born not trusting other people.”
John smothered the grin he felt, turned, and nodded goodbye to Reese. It gave him pause to see the girl so emotionless and still, framed by her blacked-out room. Lewis made himself comfortable in a chair by the door.
Sherlock was well down the hall. In fact, John had to run to catch up with the man. “We lose them in the building. The Homeless Network will know where Delov is.” He glanced at John. “I knew it from the moment Reese said ‘park’. However, the network will evaporate at the first sign of police.”
“You are police.” John told him happily.
Sherlock didn’t appreciate the reminder, and grimaced, “Yes. I’ll need to divest myself of that at first opportunity. What about you? Are you hungry? Should we stop by the house for the Browning?”
“If we’re going alone then… yes.” John admitted. “And I could really use breakfast.”
Sherlock’s glance was clever, “Wouldn’t want you passing out mid-apprehension.”
“Wouldn’t want you getting shot,” John added a belated, “again.”
‘Molly. Need the microscope a little longer. -SH’ Sherlock wrote on Molly Hooper’s blog, sat back, and watched John sprinkle tabasco on his eggs.
Sherlock lifted his curled finger off his lips to say: “Smells wretched.” He backed up a page and frowned at the pinkness. Most of her real estate was devoted to frolicking kittens. So fluffy. So insubstantial. In many ways, that was Molly. Why was she so interested in him? Such a handy and inconvenient thing – he couldn’t fathom it. He needed her to be. And he wished she wasn’t. He hated needing her. He hated her pushing; her entrapments; how her gambits forced his hand. But needed her. He’d come to detest the smell of Molly’s Sung perfume. But when he thought about that fact, his mind presented him with the memory of chocolate and black cherries, and he felt a small twinge. A kick of appetite.
John interrupted his devolving thoughts, but then he was good at keeping a man from dwelling. He said, “You ate a whole bottle of tabasco last time you refueled.”
“Quite right. It was the only way I could stomach the tins of mushroom,” Sherlock told him. When John looked green around the gills, Sherlock felt rewarded. He turned aside and grinned.
And Sarah knocked at the living room door, even though it was open, and then walked into the flat. Sherlock didn’t particularly want to see Sarah right then. She waggled her fingers at him, and Sherlock ignored the action. He had busied himself nosing around in Lawrence Waters’ cell phone. He eventually closed his hands around it and held it cupped under his chin.
John, however, shoved over to make room for Sarah. She laid a plastic container on the coffee table and tapped it with her fingertips. “Date squares. I know how you love dates.”
“Luckily, Sherlock doesn’t like dates.” John chuckled.
“He eats anything.” Sarah told him. “Nice try.”
“Would you believe double-entendre?” John asked, “Want some scrambled eggs?” She stood straight and the sun through the windows made a sheen of her hair. Beautiful!
Once she joined him on the couch Sarah picked up some of the bacon and bit into it with a satisfying crunch. It was mouth-watering, really. John had no idea how Holmes could stand going so long without food, and even less notion how he went without companionship. When he looked at Sarah, the idea was too lonesome to imagine.
“I talked to her.”
He blinked, “Who?”
“Oh! Yes, Sofia.” There was a cramped bookshop, an empty dorm room, several CIA agents, a girl genius, and a decapitated body between John and Sofia now. “How is she doing?”
“She’s sorry. She feels that she overreacted.” Sarah lowered her voice some. “You know, I checked and she actually did find him charming. And good-looking. He caused her a terrible bout of butterflies.”
“In… the room.” Sherlock said lazily. He gave up and looked her way. “What caused the crying?”
“She had a death in the family.”
Holmes tucked the phone in his pocket. “Go back to her and tell her she doesn’t have to lie.”
“Excuse me?” Sarah lowered the bacon strip.
“She made it up,” Sherlock said. “There was nothing about her that said ‘death in the family’. I mean, look at her. Lively pink cheeks; flushed red mouth; no circling under her eyes; and that hair – massive banana curls. One doesn’t spend hours prepping for a date when there’s been a death in the family. Even if one isn’t effected directly, it’s disrespectful. She’s lying. Lying is normal. Means she’s hiding something embarrassing, frightening, or dangerous. Go back.”
Sarah shook her head, “Sherlock… I’m not sure if you understand this…” John looked in her direction, “but I can’t go back to Sofia and accuse her of lying about a death. If there has been one, something like that could cost the friendship. It’s not done.”
“Interesting,” Sherlock said sagaciously. “Well, do it anyway, mostly, because I’m right.”
“We have to go.”
They all looked up to the voice at the door.
Long, thin Reese, in her fluffy pink coat and mini pig tails, stood in the doorway. “We have to go now.” She gawped and added to this, “Oh my God, Sherlock – I love your Hitachi TM3000 SEM! Can I play with it?”
Holmes tucked Lawrence Water’s phone away and considered her. But he didn’t answer.
Beside John on the couch, Sarah blinked away her alarm. “I bet she says that to all the boys. John, who’s this?”
John felt himself go pale. Why Reese’s being here should fill him with such dread, he wasn’t certain. He had the distinct feeling she was in danger out in the city far from her protectors. “Oh, hell.”
Reese’s red lips screwed up a moment. “Who was prepping for a date?”
Sherlock’s head rose a little. “Where’s your minder?”
“Napping.” Ree stepped into the room and looked about her curiously. “I wasn’t joking. I mean, about the microscope, too, but we have to go, Sherlock. It won’t be a half an hour before they figure out I slipped Lewis some of my Ambien. They’ve got to have the wits to send someone to check here, don’t they? Even if they are apes.”
Sherlock nodded. “Yes. Ideally, they’ll get here, find you, and take you to the Yard-”
“Sherlock!” her red lips thinned aggressively, “Do you know how hard it is to slip those guys? I don’t throw away my stash of sleeping pills for nothing. I’ll lose privileges now, until I hit America again, you realize. But I need to go with you.”
“You need to find a pattern from the maps I gave you.” Sherlock replied.
“Hello. I have my iPad with me, genius. Besides, the array is random. I ran stats. Not significant. Lawrence didn’t have rich enough information. However, the little stick figure drawings are interesting. Looks like there are more, but they only come in two varieties. One is always sitting up or rampant; the other always has a little plus sign or cross under the extended front leg.” She walked into the room and showed him her iPad’s screen. “Two different forces at work here. Oh, and the infinity symbol stands for his CIA contacts in London. The Langley head offices of Think Tank, they use an infinity symbol over the ‘i’. He was to check in on this corner here. Lawrence only had to show up in front of the camera and wait for our junk mail to hit his phone. But that night, he missed.”
“Two forces,” Sherlock’s eyes combed the map. His voice was quiet. “Thank you… and you should go back to Scotland Yard now.”
She gave a very teenaged guffaw. “Sherlock, I’m not going. I just explained. I need to do this.”
“You need to help us look for a professional assassin? Why?” Sherlock asked her. “The odds are excellent that he’ll try to kill us.”
“CIA think tanks?” Sarah’s head turned so suddenly her sunny hair whipped. “A professional assassin? You’re doing what, John?”
But John only shook his head and squeezed one of her hands.
Sherlock closed his eyes and sighed. “You’re 19 years old, Ree. No. You cannot come with me.”
“John!” Sherlock exclaimed and got to his feet. He thought the better of whatever he’d been about to say and pointed at the door. “Ree, leave here and go back to the Yard. I’ll contact you.”
“I don’t take orders from unaffiliated Assets.” Reese circumnavigated him and flopped down on the couch beside Sarah. “You make cookies too. God knows how you managed to spend the last couple of years unattached, Doc, though considering what a hound dog the last guy was, maybe you’re gun-shy. Well… unless… open the Tupperware already. Let’s have a taste.” Ree rubbed her hands together.
Sarah stared at the girl, looked from her to Sherlock’s vexed face and back again. Slowly, she reached down and pushed the Tupperware container to Reese. “How did she know that?”
John tapped his fork on the nearly empty plate before him. “This is Reese. She’s with the CIA, Sarah. In America, the government runs a program for people like Holmes. She’s one of their star pupils. She’s the CIA’s ‘Sherlock’ so to speak.”
“I don’t have a cool job title like Consulting Detective.” She took out Holmes’ badge, which prompted John to feel about his person and then frown. He extended a hand to her and she placed the leather badge holder on his palm.
Sarah brightened tremendously. “No jokes. You’re like Sherlock?”
“Being smart,” Reese said around a cheek plump with date squares, “it’s not just for boys anymore. There goes my theory you weren’t able to cook. Now, if you could talk to him about taking me on this hunt for Delov, Doc Watson?”
“I think he’s right.” John told her. “Reese, it’s very dangerous. You’re inexperienced. We’d have more of a job having to worry about your safety.”
“Thank you, John,” Sherlock put his hands on his hips and stared down at Reese. She glanced over him and then looked at Sarah.
“Seriously, I heard it on the way up to the flat. Who is Miss Banana Curls?”
“Not your business.” Sherlock said coldly.
Ree stood up, planted a boot on the coffee table and stepped over the top of it to face Sherlock. Her temper was frayed. “Quit doing that! I know you were raised ‘in the wild’ or whatever, but you seem ignorant of exactly how few of us there are out there. If we’re not each other’s business, we’re really screwed. I’ve been in contact with 13 people good enough, I’m reasonably sure, that they could have stood in and picked that guy out of seconds of blurry video. That’s it. By the way, trying to send me back to Scotland Yard kind of negates the idea we’re not one another’s business.”
Of all the things Sherlock might have said – rude or reasonable – he blinked down at Reese and chose, “Only thirteen?” His tone had changed. That drew John’s attention at once.
“You’re not the oldest of us either.” Reese told him. She opened her arms. “Just tell me?”
“Sofia Rothingham. Why are you asking?” Sherlock cocked his head.
Ree heaved a sigh at him. “Way to waste all that genetic potential, scout. Her name isn’t on the list of 13, and she’s not in the American group.” She circled him to drink in Holmes’ environment.
“My God,” he said coldly, forced to turn to follow her movements in the flat. “The CIA has made you take leave of your senses. Or is a master race their next plan for your team? Soon they’ll try grafting. Be okay with that?”
“Look, I’ve been around our kind my whole life, so maybe I’m not the one who’s taken leave of her senses,” Ree laughed and returned to her scrutiny of the room, but her focus landed squarely on Sherlock, as if that end had ever been in doubt. “We wake up in the morning in jigsaw-world, these traits and actions and oddities, and multiple dozens of other mad, fun, screwed-up things everywhere. The apes never see them. Even if you point them out, some apes just can’t. New things, everything, is a collection of symbols and infinite codes to our type. You and I were born with the tarnhelm, lets us be whatever we want, and makes us invisible when we need to be – we can do that.” She swung a finger up to his temple, almost gun-like, “This brain is a born codebreaker. It’s like breathing. You don’t turn off breathing and live, stupid. So, given all that, what does Sofia do?”
His voice was quiet. “She’s an artist.”
“Oh Christ,” Ree tipped her head back and laughed. “You’re such a romantic, Holmes. So naïve: running around free; slumming with your doctor friends; trying to connect with the apes. But will you think about it? This girl, she could never lie to you. She could never hide from you, not anything. The more you’d care for her, the more you’d cage her, and she’s an artist. They do badly in cages. Your attention would be keener than any razor blade, and you couldn’t turn it off. But to me, it’s normal. To your own kind, you’re sane. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you run off and get hacked up like Lawrence Waters. No way. I’ll be there. I’ll be your backup.”
Sherlock kept his eyes fixed on the girl before him. His expression was, by now, unreadable. It was possibly his most polished technique; over on the couch, John was transfixed, but Sherlock betrayed nothing.
“You’re not changing my mind.” he said.
Her tone was level. “Will you just trust me?”
“You’re a clannish, a cheat, and a thief.”
“And so are you.”
She snatched the coat out of his hand and held it fast. He couldn’t leave without it, and, therefore, without her. “Imagine a world where you don’t have to explain every… single… thing, every time?”
“Then forget the apes. Trust me. I can handle myself, and if things go horribly wrong I’ll be your backup, even if it’s just to pull the fire alarm.” She stared up at him.
John chewed his almost forgotten eggs, perfunctorily, as he watched. The tension in the air was numbing. The two were like opposite sides of the same tuning fork.
“This is preposterous.” Sherlock told her. But he was calm when he took his coat back.
“Okay, and I’ll go sit in the cab with Sarah if it comes down to that…. But, Sherlock, try to understand, I knew Lawrence for months. He used to just send me texts like ‘Good morning’ and ‘How’s it going’. I’ve never had texts like that. No one gives a crap how it’s going. I really want to get who did this,” she turned and carefully glanced through curtains at the street below, before adding, “but not at the cost of your life.”
“Then you agree to listen to my every word and obey without question,” Sherlock said.
Reese shut her eyes and tried to ignore the indignity lighting up her cheeks. “I do. I guess that’ll have to happen. It’s settled,” she turned toward Sarah. “And you’ll stay in the cab. With a First Aid kit. Better safe than sorry, right?”
John frowned. “Sarah’s not coming with us, Reese. I’m sorry but-”
Sarah slid into her coat and picked up her purse. She walked around the coffee table and reached out to link arms with Reese, in fact. “If we lose contact, or it looks dodgy, I’m phoning Detective Inspector Lestrade.” Sarah gave Reese a stunning smile. “I’m so glad to meet you, Reese.”
“Then you’re seriously misinformed. But there’s no time to worry about that. Listen closely and you can hear-”
“Distant sirens on the approach,” Sherlock agreed. “Shut the doors, John. Let’s go.”
John just managed to dash out from the kitchen. He kept a comprehensive First Aid Kit there. He handed it to Sarah, and, if nothing else, it freed poor Reese from her feminine companionship. But, John saw before they hurried down the stairs, it also steadied Sarah’s nerves.
The police arrived quickly. Sherlock led their number into Mrs. Hudson’s empty flat – the one she’d yet to rent out. They stood in silence until the sound of boots charging up the stairs died, and Sherlock’s phone began to vibrate. John scrambled to shut off his cell’s ringer, accomplishing it just in the nick of time, in fact. With the sound of boots overhead, Sherlock led them out onto the sidewalk, behind the tall, turned back of Scott who studiously scanned traffic, and all the way down, until they carefully rounded the corner and caught a cab.
“That was crazy,” Reese giggled as soon as they set off toward the Isle of Dogs. John noticed it, because he’d never seen – or heard – her so animated. “That was… cat-like. You’re not just smart, you’re tricky. That’s cool.”
“Focus.” Sherlock passed her Lawrence’s phone. “We know Delov was hired to kill your source as messily as possible, doubtless a message to you and the CIA to back off your investigation of the Photography Club. Tell me what the Club is doing. Not what the CIA thinks, or wants to think, tell me what you believe they’re doing?”
“Oh,” she waded through her thoughts for a moment, pressing buttons on Lawrence’s phone. “CIA is convinced they’re up to some God-awful bad stuff to strike at the heart of the civilized world, and such. That isn’t sensible. The Club is way smarter than the average bear, and it stands to reason, they’ll naturally love technology. Technology is civilization. Tech makes the Club’s life easier. I mean smuggling people, money, art, just basically doing whatever feels right, that’s Club life: if that’s ‘liberating’ a few paintings stolen in World War II and returning them to their rightful owners, that’s what they do. They aren’t evil. Well, they aren’t just evil. They’re something new. The world’s unfair. And it’s like they decided they’ve been given their gifts in order to correct that disparity. Sometimes it takes the form of kidnappings, executions, and mayhem. Sometimes it looks like exposing corrupt government officials, freeing the wrongfully imprisoned, and playing Robin Hood. The Club is complicated and they don’t want the attention of the CIA.”
Sherlock sank back in his seat to think about that. Reese continued to fiddle with the phone.
“Is what they’re doing directed?” Sherlock asked.
For a moment, she stared at him. Then she switched to Latin. “Not at first. But recently, it’s started to be. They’re through the smoke tests, and about ready to go live. I’m not always so sure I want to interrupt them.”
Holmes smiled and replied in Latin as well. “John knows enough of this language for this to be problematic.”
“I don’t mind him knowing. He’s not an ape. He’s only borderline, a great ape.”
Sherlock laughed and looked in Sarah’s and John’s direction. Sarah was blank. She honestly didn’t know enough Latin. John’s brow was furrowed, indicating he was trying to follow, but was struggling. Holmes took this as a good sign. What was a bad sign – a very bad one – was Reese’s last statement. The Photography Club had just killed a person she alleged was her friend. “Why wouldn’t you want to interrupt them? They murdered Waters. I thought-”
“I’m sorry,” she rubbed her pale face. “I want the murderer brought to justice. No doubt about it. But think what they want, Sherlock.”
“To carve a place in this world for us to exercise power freely,” she motioned between Sherlock and herself, “instead of having to go the speed of the slowest among us, accepting the inefficiencies of the planet of the apes. They’ve been ruthlessly pursuing that goal.”
“Idiotic.” Sherlock fiddled with a button on his coat. “The numbers are against us. It doesn’t take a genius to understand there is only one resource,” Sherlock told her, “our futures are inexorably bound.”
“Why shouldn’t they try to fix things?” Reese’s brows drew up.
“Because when they need a problem fixed, they hire assassins.”
“So does the Israeli government.” She pointed out.
“And I live in the U.K.” Sherlock replied. He sighed and switched to English. “Not much further now.” But it was also a world away. Reese was compromised.
For his part, with the CIA and Met police abroad looking for her, John felt relieved when they made it into the Isle of Dogs, past newly developed towers of glass, past the expensive, upscale apartments, new to this area, and into the smaller, and old, stone affairs. This was the old Isle of Dogs. The apartment complexes looked cramped and aged. Sherlock had the driver take them right through to the park where he slipped out.
John caught Reese as she tried to follow. “Hey! Where’s he going?” She complained.
“He’s dropping a note,” John pushed her back to her seat and made her settle there.
“With whom?” she frowned at him. “It’s not exactly a public library over here.”
“Homeless network.” John nodded and looked at Sarah’s dubious face. “I’ve seen him do it. Drop a note, and in a few hours they’re hanging about outside with an answer.”
Sarah’s nose wrinkled, “I hardly believe-”
“The premise is sound, but we don’t have a few hours to be at this.” Reese sighed.
“We do.” John reminded her. “You don’t.”
*~ “Fine,” she sank back in her seat and looked around her. “God… I’m bored already. It’s such a pain in the ass. I bet either of you can just walk out the door in the morning. I have to pack half my media center – God.”
Sarah brightened at the girl’s exuberance. “Uhm, maybe you can fix my phone?”
Reese took the pink thing sourly, but fell into concentration in seconds. It took about three minutes for Reese to correct issues in the software. She handed over the phone to Sarah and smiled. “I put my numbers in there.”
This charmed Sarah. “Did you?”
“For when Sherlock asks,” she nodded.
Now Sarah spoke slowly, clearly dubious. “For when… Sherlock-”
“You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to get a decent sounding board when you’re us.”
Sherlock was back in less than five minutes. “Got him.”
“Just like that?” John was boggled.
“This isn’t a matter of speaking to a random node in the Network, John. This park is where you’ll often find The Doves.” He climbed into the cab and handed over a scrap of napkin to the driver. “Address.”
Sarah shook her head, “Okay. Who are the Doves?”
Reese glanced up from Sarah’s phone. “Like as in the Oracle of Zeus at Dodona? The three priestesses that answered questions there were called the Doves – the Peleiades.”
“That exactly,” Sherlock told Reese. “Because they live in parks with stands of trees, they’ve come to be known as The Doves. So they wouldn’t let you read Grimm’s – great stuff, by the way, really ought to look into it – but they allow you to read Greek and Roman Myths?”
“Not much they could do about it,” she grinned across at him. “After all, I had to learn Greek and Roman now, didn’t I? It’s what civilized people do.”
He gave her a sidelong glance that became a lopsided smile.
When they arrived at a particularly destitute looking corner and Sherlock demanded to get out, the cabby glanced back at the ladies and flicked the locks. His accent was thick, “Look ’ere, friend-”
“They’ll be staying with you. Pull the car into the alley out back.” Sherlock told him seconds before he was out on the street and walking.
“Don’t worry about the fare,” Reese told John as the man reached into his pocket. She laid her small, pale hand over his wrist. “I’ve got it. It’s no sweat.”
“You’re sure?” he asked.
“John, it’s no sweat, now get out,” Reese stared out the window. “Don’t let him go alone.”
“Be careful,” Sarah squeezed him as he unbuckled. “Both of you – really careful.”
Ah. Sarah was really worried for him. Reese was really worried for Sherlock. Good-good. John smiled and gave them both a steadying nod. Once he was outside, the cab behind him pulled into the boxy alleyway and out of sight.
John couldn’t help feeling for the Browning under his coat. Just as quickly, he stopped that. All he could think about was how Sherlock had noticed the killer on mere seconds of fuzzy gas-station video, and here he was telegraphing the gun. He should be less obvious.
“Relax,” Sherlock said as he caught up. “And stop thinking.”
They climbed the stairs of the old building Sherlock had been directed to. It was slightly dank in the downstairs, and increasingly bumped and dinged on the way up to the third floor. Holmes passed a pair of young men in the hall who gave him an unfriendly look. They liked John even less. He seemed to have some kind of scent about him that spoke of police or military service. Big surprise there.
So John hung back from Sherlock, until he noticed a man leaning beside an open door was trying to sell Holmes some kind of white baggy. In a flicker of coat, Sherlock vanished inside that apartment. John actually jolted. That unpleasant surprise prompted John to stick closer to his former addict as soon as he emerged again, which, thankfully, was in a matter of seconds.
“Steady,” Sherlock told him. “Last door over there is his. And we’re in luck. He’s in.”
However he knew that…. “So we just go in?” John began to feel his heart rate pick up.
“Something like,” Sherlock said lightly. “I was going to suggest I go in first, and you follow.”
“And I know what I’m doing.”
“He could be sitting staring at the door with a gun in his hands.”
“How many people spend time in their apartment doing that?” Sherlock asked. “He’s just been paid. According to The Doves, he’s getting ready to take the Chunnel to France.”
“With a hatchet and a handgun?” John asked quietly.
“Well, what else? They won’t search his person.” Sherlock glanced at the door. “Looking at this place, it appears the layout of these apartments is uniform: small side pocket for a bathroom off to the left just inside the door; open living-dining space; left-hand turn; a kitchenette; large bed and bath, give or take a laundry, or storage closet. My money is on him being in the bedroom. He’ll come running if he hears the lock, and he won’t be happy to see us. Oh, and clear the bathroom once we’re in.”
Sherlock walked up to the door and tricked the lock open. The dealer down the hall backed up and shut himself inside his rooms.
Holmes opened the door, fully, before he stepped inside, so that no one could hide behind it. John dutifully checked the small, windowless, and empty – as it turned out – loo. Right about then, all hell broke loose. It was like a thunderclap from the blue. John heard a loud bang. Sherlock’s body jerked back. Delov was right at the left hand turn toward the front door.
As soon as Holmes had come close enough, Delov had simply stepped out and made a wide swing with a terrifically large knife. His fist and the knife butt had dented the wall and sent down a rain of plaster dust. John whipped the gun up, but the scene before him was too tangled for a shot, so he rushed in. Sherlock – somehow – hadn’t been cut. An arching second swipe smacked the same wall as before. The panelling rattled so hard the clock dislodged and went bouncing clear.
Delov’s expression, for a nanosecond, seemed confused. Why hadn’t he cut the man before him? It appeared unfathomable.
“Gun!” John shouted to get the man’s attention. He brought up the gun. Delov – who honestly looked mundane apart from a foot-long knife – saw the business end of the Browning and bolted back around the corner. John and Sherlock looked at one another and gave chase, particularly when they heard a window slide.
“Balcony, John!” Sherlock barked and raced outside without hesitation.
Delov had his gun now. He whipped it out of the holster, but Sherlock didn’t give the man enough time. Delov grunted and swore, but tall, long-armed Sherlock had the advantage. He didn’t get the muzzle pointing at Holmes. Sherlock smacked Delov’s wrist with his opposite fist – a stunning, upward-angled blow – and drove it to the kitchen window. The glass held until Delov shot it out. His other hand produced a spring loaded blade and Sherlock accomplished an amazing dodge. His long body arched back so quickly it looked like a spasm. John was in shock. The blade passed over Sherlock’s face close enough to trim a few of his eyelashes.
This was bad. At Sherlock’s current angle, Delov’s gun arm was close to freedom.
John caught Sherlock around the neck. He could see that was where the return slash was aimed. Better for Delov to lay open the back of John’s hand than slit Sherlock’s throat like a lamb’s. But John was swinging too – with everything he had, in fact. He cracked Delov in the forehead with the butt-plate of the Browning, so hard that blood exploded down the front of the man’s face and streamed into his eyes. Delov stepped back and bunched his gun and knife hand over his stinging head.
Sherlock straightened up with a soft gasp, a hand on his throat: “Shoot him.”
“No, Sherlock, we-”
Holmes delivered a right hook that threw his entire body down and left. It was a devastating connection that made a sound somewhat like bowling balls colliding – the sound of bone snapping. John knew it well and prayed that wasn’t Sherlock’s hand. The assassin fell. When his head hit the railing, the noise rang through the patio and apartment.
People in the downstairs apartment were yelling.
Holmes quickly stepped on the gun, his expensive shoe clamped on the slide stop and the safety. He also caught hold of Delov and was forced to dodge a stab. John had seen the flicker of metal and anticipated the harm. Even as Sherlock moved to dodge aside, John stomped on Delov’s arm. It never got to straighten all the way. John winced, because he knew he’d broken it at the elbow. Now Delov lay on his Isle of Dogs balcony, screaming.
It took a moment for the shouts to penetrate John’s attention. When they did, he looked over the side of the balcony into the alley below. Reese stood on top of the cab, the cabbie worriedly reaching up to keep her from falling.
“Busy,” Sherlock shouted back.
“Hear those sirens? Lestrade will be here! Hang on!” she shouted at them both. “You okay?”
“BUSY!” Sherlock actually looked over the balcony for this shout and then tucked back into the business at hand with a hiss. “John! Pay attention!”
John ducked back. Delov’s expression was pure murder. He spoke long, drawling, and contemptuous – by the sound of it – Russian at Sherlock.
“What’s he saying?”
“He’s saying: I’ll shoot you when you take your boot off this gun.” Sherlock gritted his teeth and leaned on his leg. “Or did you think this was over because you’ve broken his elbow. Dear God, he’s like an ox cart.”
John saw Delov’s legs move, only minutely. “Sherlock!”
The world sped up for John Watson, accelerated to battle speed, and grew quiet. Everything else around him, however, seemed to slow perceptibly.
Holmes’ weight shifted. Delov’s gun came up. John slammed Sherlock down out of the way. He felt the wind of the first bullet blow by. The second nipped his jacket. There wasn’t a third. Effectively, Sherlock had fallen on Delov’s body and tackled the arm swinging the gun. He pushed the wrist and pulled the elbow, taking repeated knees to the side. The gun was still going off. As Sherlock fought Delov’s strength, bullets smacked through the balcony upstairs and rained down puffs of plaster. A child screamed. John suddenly stopped hearing all the madness. In the quiet, he took steady aim on the center of the man’s forehead, exhaled half of his last breath, and held the rest.
Sherlock jostled aside. John’s shot took off Delov’s ear. It didn’t quite evaporate, as John had seen people do when struck with shoulder launched missiles, but it was close. There was a new round of screaming.
“Stick!” Sherlock was shouting breathlessly.
An expandable baton came through… because Lestrade was right behind them in the door. Sherlock took hold of it with his left hand and delivered a series of pitiless whacks against Delov’s head and shoulders, until the assassin’s body went limp, and Sherlock could take the gun away. Then Sherlock got up from where he’d been kneeling on the killer and took out the clip, panting, “Glock. Magazine. 31 rounds.”
Oh my God. John shook his head. It was an inversion of the standard 9mm Browning L9A1 magazine in John’s palm, and, no doubt, Delov’s favourite handgun for shooting all day.
Sherlock handed the weapon over to Lestrade and steadied himself, sucking air; babying his battered ribs.
“All right?” Lestrade asked him.
“Not… my first… assassin,” Sherlock gave a final huff, rolled his eyes, and went inside.
John crept carefully across the balcony and sat with his back against the rails. His heart was thundering inside, and his head spinning full of a riptide of blood. Images flickered through his mind like fireworks: ambushes, injuries, IEDs from a world away. Damn. Not again. This was like dreaming, wide awake. He checked his clip and chamber, set the safety, and put his gun away. Slowly the noise drew back into the sobbing breaths before John: Delov was in agony. He was a doctor. He should be doing something about that. He should be….
Donovan crouched beside him. “John. John Watson. Can you hear? Where did you get the gun?”
John didn’t bother to reply. He looked up at the balcony above. “I’ve got to go upstairs. There were kids. Mind Sherlock, just for a minute?”
Search as he might for wounded and injured, no door would open to his knocking. He hoped the sturdy construction had spared them.
Adrenaline was making John’s blood feel chilly inside his skin. And by the time John ran back into the apartment, Sherlock was standing in the front room with Reese. She touched his side carefully, and he made a small grunt of displeasure and carried on speaking. “Yes. Hatchet’s on him – hello John – I could hear it when he hit the balcony.”
“Murder weapons still in situ,” Reese nodded. “You’re pretty sharp in a fight Holmes. Side took a wailing. Let me see your hands.”
Sherlock turned over his hands. One was pristine. The knuckles of the other were bruised, red, and swollen. Holmes looked at the mess with a detached air of curiosity, both of them studying what had become of his fist. Finally, Reese looked up. “Well, at least it’s not your left hand. Sarah, could you clean up some cuts. His hand will have hit the glass when Delov shot the window out.”
“I’m cut?” Sherlock turned his hand until he could see the bloody scrapes. “Oh please.”
“You only feel it in the morning,” John clapped Sherlock on the elbow. “I cannot believe you didn’t snap his neck with that right, Sherlock. All I could hear was bone splitting.”
Sherlock’s brows drew up a moment. “Pity it took the starch out of my hand.”
“Idiots.” Reese steered Holmes to the nearby couch so that Sarah could work on him. Right after, it seemed, Sarah seized hold of John and rifled his clothes looking for injuries, that was. It was startling. Finding none, she hugged him. By the time she set in on Sherlock’s hand, John had already moved on to Delov’s care.
“So he fired at a police officer,” John looked up at Lestrade. “I mean, he tried to kill Sherlock, not to mention me and half the upstairs.” Delov was cuffed, hand and foot. His face was black and blue, but his blue eyes still glinted with hate. He passed easily in and out of consciousness as John worked to make him comfortable for the paramedics who were on the way.
Lestrade nodded. “That was nice work… that you should have left to professionals. But nice.”
“Look, respectfully, Detective Inspector, either Sherlock has a badge, or he doesn’t. It’s confusing to everyone involved, otherwise,” John finished setting the arm and bound it in a sheet Donovan had fetched. It was hard work, with the man cuffed.
“You two aren’t trained to apprehend a suspect.”
Sherlock shot off the couch, his hand half wrapped in bandages. “Come on, Lestrade. You lot would have shot him in the head. What good would he be then?” He looked down at Delov. “What did you do with the boy’s head and the hands?”
The man slurred emphatic Russian, blood bubbling on his lips.
“Not in this lifetime you won’t. Now who paid you? Who contacted you? I want a name.” Sherlock said. He said it over again in such excellent Russian, it surprised even Delov. “Tell me.”
In thickly accented English, Delov said. “I will kill you in your bed.”
“You wouldn’t make it in the flat.” Sherlock sneered and stepped away.
John snorted. That was right. Mycroft had the place monitored.
“He’s a bad read, now,” Reese reached up and gave a jumping muscle in John’s shoulder a squeeze. “Everything we’d normally see is wrecked by the pain and swelling. If we give the hospital a little time to soften him up with anesthetic, he’ll be like cookie dough. That was one crazy ass brawl, though. I can’t believe he didn’t nail one of you.”
“Yeah,” John huffed and gave her small hand rubbing his shoulder a grateful squeeze. Really, there was a spark of some emotional element to her that was lacking entirely in Sherlock.
“You gotta deal with that flaming case of PTSD, though, Doc.” She deposited a peck on his cheek, and then went to join Lestrade. John just hoped that Sarah and Sherlock hadn’t overheard.
At the Yard, it was possible to hear Special Agent Young shouting at Reese halfway across Lestrade’s floor. For John, it was off-putting. He liked Reese, her mix of innocence, humour, and high intelligence was an echo of his flatmate’s, and John was beginning to see he was sort of designed to get along with extraordinary people like Reese, and Sherlock.
Speaking of Sherlock, the genius paced restlessly and waited for the tirade to end. Lestrade’s squad seemed irritated with his hyperactivity, but, so far, made no comment on it. John didn’t feel the need to step in, but watched Sherlock’s expression grow darker and darker.
Finally, Sherlock threw his hands out and up as if conducting. “Lestrade, that martinet of a woman is wasting our time. Do something.”
“It’s CIA business, Sherlock,” Lestrade also looked down the hallway. “We’re not involved.”
Holmes put his head down and tried – John swore – to be patient. It lasted a record 30 seconds. Then he turned and stalked toward the yelling.
“Sherlock. Don’t interfere,” Lestrade rubbed his eyes as Holmes cut through the desks from Lestrade’s squad, and made a straight line of his trip to the blackened room that Reese kept. That office was in the far corner of the area that Lestrade’s people occupied.
“We should follow him,” John said quickly.
Lestrade looked hopeless. “Why?”
John pointed out, “Because he’s angry.”
“What? He’s what?” Lestrade glanced after Holmes’ trim figure striding away. His wasn’t the only head to turn in Sherlock’s direction.
This was stunning to John. He caught hold of Lestrade’s sleeve. “You didn’t see his face?”
Donovan got up from her desk, “Freak almost always looks put out, John.”
“He was grinding his teeth,” John was astonished they’d missed this. He set off after Holmes. “It’s not just that he wants to get back to the case – I mean, he’s impatient; this is Sherlock we’re talking about.”
Sherlock reached the door of the black boxy office and threw it open.
“Oh damn,” John started to lope. The conversation inside the room changed instantly.
Sherlock’s deep voice boomed through the office. “This is not a trained animal! Do not roll up your regulations and smack her about the head with them! Considering not one of you possesses the faculties required to solve this case, dispense with the fatuous idea you have any input here and stay the hell out of our way!”
John reached the door first. Sherlock shoved past him on the way out, stone-faced, and, at the end of his hand was Reese’s wrist. He hauled her along in a fashion anyone else might have called negligent, or even violent, and she stared at him.
“Sherlock,” John turned to follow. “Calm down.”
He swung an arm, “Don’t speak to me.”
“I know you know this, Holmes: she ran off in a foreign country with a pair of men they don’t know to track down an infamous assassin, and this was after drugging one of her-”
Holmes turned John’s way. “Don’t speak to me right now, John.” He released Reese and shouted, “The whole lot of you shut up! All this yelling, and fussing, and milling about. We gave you the man who killed Lawrence Waters. Find something to occupy yourselves, quietly, and let us think.”
John backed up from Holmes a step. More than anything, this made Sherlock’s temper brake.
“Maybe it’s too much adrenaline from the fight, but you’re a bit unglued,” John told Sherlock quietly. He smoothed his coat. “So what’s happened?”
Holmes huffed a few deep breaths of air and looked across at where Reese stared at him. Her face was entirely unguarded. When Sherlock was being so obvious about reading people, he tended to look keen as a weapon – his inner radar making his green eyes seem soulless. Reese, with those societally imposed screens down, had the unblinking intensity of a camera. Sherlock looked away from her almost immediately, the corners of his mouth dimpling his cheeks in a soft grimace. Whatever John could make out in Sherlock’s expression and posture, she was seeing gads more, and he was visibly pulling himself under control again, because of it. Finally, he looked at John, no more than a passing glance, and managed, “I… need quiet.”
“Yeah, fine, we’ll get you quiet,” John rolled his shoulders. He did hear Young clacking hurriedly across the office at them. She was sure to want to yell some more. “Lestrade, you’re not going to get anything further from these two until they unwind. Where can we go while you handle the CIA?”
“God,” Lestrade sighed mightily.
Less than five minutes later, Sherlock sat at a bench in the police museum. It was a large, lecture-theatre-like affair with death masks staring down. Macabre, but neither of the geniuses seemed to mind. Reese paced back and forth in front of the bench. After a few minutes of this, Sherlock shifted to lay out flat on the thin padding and stare at the ceiling.
Neither of them spoke.
John stood close to the door and remained as inconspicuous as he could manage. He thought about Sarah, who had been dropped at the Islington clinic by officers. He should be there, except she refused to take him from this case. It did nothing to assuage his guilt, or the pang of loneliness he felt as he thought of her closing up the clinic for the night. Would she sit in the break room overlooking traffic, alone? How many nights had she done that before they’d met?
But she wanted him to solve the case, and protect Sherlock. Increasingly, she found Holmes to be reckless. He wondered how long it would be before she began having terrible misgivings about John’s association with Sherlock. He’d had a few. But he’d also quickly dismissed them. Then what? If it came down to a choice… how would he choose? His potential partner, or his partner in crime?
Finally, Reese sat down with her back to the bench.
“John,” Lestrade said quietly.
John stepped around the corner into the second room of the Crime museum and greeted the harrowed-looking Detective Inspector. “Smoothed it over?”
“They’re up to something,” Lestrade’s brow wrinkled. “I’m not sure what it is. I’d bet they want to get Sherlock back to Langley, but I don’t know for sure. That’s neither here nor there. Young wants to restrict Sherlock’s access to Reese. He’s a ‘corrupting influence’.”
After a moment of consideration, John shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”
“She’s not an adult, so it’s not my call. What’s going on with them?”
Seconds ticked. “Something. I don’t know.” John shook his head. “If… if you’d never met anyone who could speak your language, you’d get as good at another language as you could grasp. What would you do if you bumped into another native in the crowd?”
Lestrade looked into the room beyond him. From his vantage, he couldn’t see Holmes, just the edge of Reese’s slender arm as she shifted. “I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised if he’s annoyed they’re shouting at her then. Cuts a bit close, don’t it?”
John shook his head. “Lestrade, honestly… I don’t know. I mean, being the only person to understand the things he does is maddening, particularly since – you can trust me, I live with him – he can’t dial it back.”
“Must be a nightmare.” Lestrade considered.
“We get along fine,” but after the Sofia debacle, John couldn’t exactly deny Sherlock had issues. He shrugged instead, “But don’t you think Sherlock’s skills are exclusive? It’s like being in a private club. He doesn’t trust Reese, that’s plain, but that doesn’t stop her being in his club.”
“Well get his head together. Delov is getting patched up as we speak. We’ll have access to him again in about an hour, so we’re leaving in 15.” Lestrade pointed into the room. “I need him to do what he does.”
“In that case, Young and her bullies need to stay away from them. I mean the both of them.” John hid the beginnings of his own frustration. “Let him cool off. He’s got to be sore after that fight, he’s pumped full of adrenaline, and he won’t take pain pills.” When it came to Sherlock and Reese, neither the CIA nor the Yard quite saw beyond the utility.
“It’s fine,” Lestrade walked backwards a few steps, “It’s all fine, as long as it works. I should tell you that a letter was dropped off for him though. The name Charlie Heath ring bells?”
“Yes,” John nodded. “You have it?”
“Do not show this to the CIA before I have a chance to look at it, John.” Lestrade handed it over turned and headed out of the museum.
“You have my word. I can’t give you his.”
“No offence, John. Yours is probably better than his.”
Inside the room lined with death masks, the soft resonances of Sherlock and Reese talking didn’t sound like English at all. Perhaps they had returned to Latin, or moved on to some other dead language. John smiled at the thought. He’d resolved to give them a few minutes alone before he intruded on their conversation. He was burning with curiosity though. What was in the letter? What was going on with the two geniuses? Was it just that Sherlock and Reese could speak at the same level? Or was there no more need for setups like with Sofia? Reese was young, certainly. Could Sherlock look past it? John thought about it for a minute and decided he was being foolish. Hope availed nothing. There was no predicting Sherlock Holmes.
The letter. This would be the work of Lawrence’s flatmates, all reporting on the mystery boyfriend. Was there a lead in here?
When he did go to get them, John found his steps flagged. It might have had to do with the lack of substantial sleep the night prior, or it might have been Sherlock. Holmes sat up with his elbows balanced on his knees, and his face was quite close to Reese’s where she sat lotus on the floor before him. Their laser-like focus had seemed to increase with proximity. Sherlock broke that connection. He turned his green eyes in John’s direction and Reese, with her colourless blues, followed suit.
She got grumpily to her feet. “I suppose you’re here to say Delov is ready for his close-up.”
“Sorry to,” John’s hand flicked over his mouth and chin, “to interrupt the pair of you.”
“We were just thinking together,” she stretched on the way past him.
John continued on to Holmes. “Didn’t look like thinking.”
“What did it look like?” Sherlock leaned back and perused the death masks curiously.
Maybe he’s picking a dust-cover for the skull at home. God, how garish, John! He gave himself a little shake. “Uh, yeah. Looked more intimate than thinking.” He nodded.
“Yes, well…” Sherlock’s tone was dry. He folded to look down at the floor before him. “I’m finding it’s… not the same, sharing my thoughts with other people.”
John blinked, “As with her?”
Now he looked intensely uncomfortable, even cross, and then Sherlock got up, picked up his coat, and pulled it onto his tall, slim frame.
“Perfectly natural,” John said when no reply came. “I mean, there aren’t many people who could approach your thinking, it only makes sense. My question is do we consider her friend or foe?” He extended the letter.
Sherlock immediately looked to be certain Reese was gone.
“Reese and I can only be adversaries, John.” He tied of his scarf with an expert hand and glanced up at the death masks. “I’ll be glad when she’s gone and my world returns to normal.” He took the letter and opened it quickly. His green eyes scanned it at astonishing speed, and he tucked it into his coat.
John opened his arms. “Well?”
Sherlock’s lips tightened. “We must tell Lestrade Waters was in far deeper than the CIA think.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because his flatmates report seeing different young men.”
“He had different partners, then. You said he liked risky behaviour, there you go.” John spread his hands and noted. “It’s up to us to discover if any of them is guilty.”
“One of them certainly had a hand in this. It might interest you to know that all of the boys he was seen with were nearly the same height and weight,” Sherlock stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Lawrence was in deep. He was meeting actual Photographers. This one followed him home. Someone so adept at disguising himself that all six of the flatmates saw him on different occasions, and, even when they were relating the details to one another for this note, they didn’t grasp he’s the same person. They even describe different personalities. He’s quite good at disguise.”
John blinked a couple of times. “Amazing.”
“We need to get Lestrade looking for him.” Sherlock pulled out his cell and started texting Lestrade at mad speeds. John watched, gawping a little. At any moment there would be a little vapour cone around his phone and a pop as Sherlock went supersonic.
John gave his head a shake to clear it of foolishness. “Then what were you talking about?”
“With Reese? What were you talking about?”
Sherlock’s brows went up a moment. He ignored the question. “Lawrence Waters was a genius with all the bona fides. He was a recruit of the CIA, a neophyte of what Ree calls the ‘Think Tank’. He didn’t pass muster and was denied admission to the Langley facility. He never became an Asset. Like most, he was never aware of, or added to, the brain trust. Knowledge of Reese and the others is actually Classified so you know a rare thing, John.”
“I know you. So yes.”
It made Sherlock blink up from his phone. “Yes. Well… Lawrence was very useful, the natural choice to deploy as a sleeper on this assignment. He was sent abroad from America and landed up in Goldsmith’s International Programme studying politics. Ree’s Think Tank activated him to infiltrate the Photography Club when a small number started to gather in London. He was responsible for sorting through the intelligence the Photographers gave him as they tested him for membership. They would have fed him a mixed bag, of course. He sorted it out with Reese and her team. He’d acquitted himself well enough to get a face-to-face with one or more members, but he didn’t report this back to Reese. That ‘boyfriend’ of Lawrence’s is our first actual Photographer.”
“So why not report? Do you think he became some kind of a double agent? You think after he started working with Reese that he was angry about the rejection from Think Tank?” John shrugged.
“I think absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Sherlock raised his chin, his lips a soft smirk, “That’s because it absolutely rules.” He turned and made his way out of the museum.
John’s lips compressed in a line, but he made no comment. He followed Sherlock from one room of the Crime Museum to the next. “Okay. But they tested him, right? He saw one of them. Now, is he dead because they found him out, because he saw a face, or because he failed?”
“Excellent!” Sherlock’s voice echoed. He turned and walked backward to look at John. “You see. We haven’t enough information to make that determination yet, but it would change the face of the Photography Club, would it not?”
“A club for gods, where you get in, or die trying,” John nodded in agreement. “But that would mean they don’t hold their own kind in particularly high regard.”
“Which inclines me against the theory at this point, particularly given the message they left for Ree. Lawrence wasn’t one of their kind – simplicity to dispose of him.”
John couldn’t help but recoil.
Sherlock continued, “But Reese is like them. They used Lawrence to find out more about her, ‘the Abyss also looks into you’, after all. It may be Reese they’re really courting, they’re really testing. They could deduce Waters was a CIA puppet of hers. They frequently use a layer of obfuscation, their cronies. I believe the message is more complex than it seems. If Waters represents the involvement of the CIA, then they’ve moved to cut the head off the snake. I asked Ree what made her come here in person. She filed the request herself. In other words, the Club summoned her and she came.”
“She’s their prospective candidate, then?” John pulled up short and scanned Holmes’ face. “Are you saying she’s playing into their hands, or… are you saying she’s about to defect?”
“Not one or the other. Both. She may be the true mole. The Club only moves to capture the best. Getting brought in would confirm her status, and she wouldn’t necessarily need to leave the CIA.” Sherlock confirmed for John, and added, “Plus she wants revenge for Lawrence, which is something they’ve factored in. It may be they don’t entirely understand the emotion behind the symbolic action they took. Or they may be using his murder like the flip side of a coin, if the elite status doesn’t bring her aboard, how about a shot at revenge? Either way, if the CIA continues to push Reese, she will see no better option and change sides. It’s the most direct route to her revenge and her freedom. The Club is a society she can thrive in and understand.”
“A society without apes.” John used her term with some distaste. But he also snuck a look at Holmes, because if it was a fit for Reese, wasn’t it a fit for him? For that matter, why would they bring Reese here with Sherlock walking around the city? Sherlock’s brain was miraculous.
Sherlock smiled softly. “And without the need for great apes. There are great apes too. People who try to learn proper thinking methods, like you.”
“Oh that’s wonderful,” John blew air out of his cheeks. “What do we do about this? I mean, who do we tell about it?”
“Nothing. No one,” Sherlock pulled on his gloves. “It’s enough that I know.”
“Well are you trying to influence her at least?” John asked. Sherlock had considerable status in Reese’s eyes.
Sherlock linked his fingers and stretched his arms before him, palms out. He grimaced a little and gave his left hand a shake as he dropped it to his side. “The nature of reality changes under observation, John, so in that sense… but it’s not my life. Plus if I pushed her one way or the other, I’d never know what she would do.”
John couldn’t fathom how Holmes could speak about Reese with such remove. But there was no time to chastise him over his lack of ethics.
At the end of the hallway, Lestrade, Anderson, Donovan, and several other officers congregated. Sherlock swept along with John beside him. He passed Young and her two CIA without a glance in their direction, save for the look he gave Ree. The girl didn’t speak a word, and fell into step at his shoulder. John glanced at her curiously, but there was no hint of the turning gears within her. If she was frantic with her desire to avenge her friend, or increasingly desperate for a modicum of freedom, it didn’t show. That didn’t make it any less real. However, the repeated glances she stole at Holmes confirmed he was indelible in her psyche. John thought he could stop her defection with a few well-placed words. Maybe the mere example of him would be enough.
“Trace evidence on the axe-” Lestrade looked up from his conversation with Anderson and his gaze locked with Sherlock’s. He’d gotten the text. Sherlock had shown something approaching loyalty.
Anderson gave Sherlock a wilting glare. “Delov cleaned the hatchet, but the porous wood handle still gave him up. Blood found there is a match to Lawrence Waters’. I suppose he should have gone with synthetic.”
Sherlock actually smiled and made an amused huff, “No it has to be wood. Wood used to be alive. Let’s hurry, Lestrade. The Photography Club must have heard we have Delov by now. They might not want a loose end.”
It was a mass exodus to King’s College. Sherlock found it horribly irritating.
Reese insisted they park near Ruskin Park, and, because she was riding with Lestrade, who saw no harm in the request, she got her way. She gave the Detective Inspector an appreciative smile and shared her time in walking beside him, and walking with Holmes on the way to the hospital. It was like having an excited puppy along.
There was a considerable amount of waiting to be done while in the hospital. Delov had difficulties holding consciousness. It seemed Sherlock had been too thorough. It was later in the day than expected when Sherlock and Ree were able to stop pacing the hospital halls, and finally gained access to the assassin.
“I’ve never talked to a killer before,” Ree looked a little green in the cheeks.
“Sherlock has experience with it,” John told her quietly. “You might want to learn his methods.”
She scowled, seeing as Reese disliked the idea that she had a lot of learn from anyone, let alone from Sherlock Holmes, ‘rogue Asset’. But she wasn’t stupid. She hung back from the assassin and watched Holmes.
Both Delov’s arms were in elevated casts. His legs were secured to the bed. His face was swollen from the terrific punch Sherlock had delivered. His eye had swollen shut. There was nothing left of the ear John had shot off. The man was in wretched condition and well drugged by the time Sherlock paced over to read his charts. John gave his tall friend a speculative look and snatched the charts away. It was official: they’d beaten the piss out of an assassin.
John winced and put the chart down before walking over to check the IV drip. “So he should be pretty ‘softened up’.”
Sherlock reached around John and cranked back the painkiller. “This should help things along.”
John actually jumped. When he reached to correct the drip, Sherlock caught him around the shoulders and pivoted. John wound up at the end of the bed before Holmes released him and dusted his long pale hands. “Marvellous.”
“Sherlock, what did you do?” Lestrade asked with a slight undertone of dread.
“He’s just making it so the guy can think straight,” Ree said uneasily. This was a lie, John thought immediately. Sherlock was turning up the heat, making it so that the pain would begin to wear away at Delov again. Sherlock’s adrenaline had fractured the man’s sinuses and the orbit of his eye. It would take a relatively short amount of time for him to start feeling that injury.
“Ah, the clouds are clearing. I can see sense coming back in your eyes, Delov,” Sherlock looked down at the man. “Would you like Russian, or would you like English?”
“I would like for you to die in any language,” the man said.
Sherlock reached out a hand and flicked Delov in his shockingly swollen eyelid. The man actually whimpered. “Well,” Holmes said. “Instead of annoying me, why don’t you do something productive, like roll over on the people who paid you to kill Lawrence Waters? I see they didn’t send you a card now you’re captured.” Sherlock flicked him in the cheek again and Delov made a pathetic squall. The sound wasn’t human.
“Ohmigod,” Reese stepped back and clung to Lestrade. This didn’t seem to be feigned. Young noticed the behaviour curiously and said something, sotto voce, to Scott. Lewis hadn’t yet recovered enough from his dosing to join them on this outing.
“While you were sleeping, trace evidence on your hatchet put you chopping up Lawrence Waters, Delov. The wise thing to do is cooperate.”
“I don’t know who they are,” the man moaned. “They sent a kid to my door…”
“A kid?” Lestrade asked. “Really, you expect us to believe this?”
“I don’t give a damn what you believe. I can find you. I can find your family-” Delov received a light slap on the cheek that made him screech.
“Shit,” Young stepped out the door and told Lewis. “Keep this barred.”
“Pay attention,” Sherlock said firmly. “How tall was the kid?”
“I dunno,” he said, and saw Sherlock’s fingers curl. “Couldn’t be more than 5’7. A girl kid.”
“Hm.” Sherlock straightened and looked down at the man.
John didn’t miss how Reese held on to Lestrade’s arm and turned her face away. He could understand the girl’s situation. Before heading out to Afghanistan, he had read both the ICRC’s and IHL’s definitions for torture. Sherlock was currently violating both standards and a slew of Geneva Conventions. John’s stomach dropped. All he could say was: “Hurry up.”
“A kid! A kid!” Delov shouted when he could gather enough breath for it. He gasped the rest, “They sent me some homeless kid with a note and half the fee. And I dropped off the mark’s head and hands on top of a garbage bin out back of the bookstore. They left a case there, full of ice.”
John and Sherlock exchanged a look that spoke volumes – the Club had used the Homeless Network. Sherlock looked angry. “Did you see who took it? Who took the case?”
“I didn’t wait around.” Delov shook his head. “I met requirements and left to clean up. It’s messy work, like painting. You always have cleanup to do.”
“Have you received the final payment?” Sherlock’s fingertips hovered over the man’s good eye. Try as he might, there was nothing Delov would be able to do if Holmes decided, for instance, to gouge it out. He was sweating visibly. “Y-yes,” he said blurrily.
“Same thing. Homeless kid.” Delov’s head sank back into his pillows. His breathing was less laboured. “Same….”
When Sherlock looked up, John had turned the painkiller back to its previous level. “That’s all the time I can give you, Sherlock.”
Sherlock cocked his head. “John, the man is a mass murderer. A sociopath who enjoyed hacking apart a college student that, I might add, could have contributed any number of unknown boons to the world.”
“Not what?” Sherlock got to his feet angrily. He’d been sitting on the side of Delov’s bed.
“Not a mass murderer.” John told his friend. “And neither are you a sociopath, Sherlock. That’s as long as I can give you. He needs a steady flow of pain medication right now. I’m sorry.”
“We have what we need. Wouldn’t you agree?” He conceded. When he turned Reese’s way, her face was pale, and she pivoted and left the room. Scott shut the door behind her after giving her a small squeeze on the shoulder.
“Ah. Bad then.” Sherlock shrugged on his coat and sighed. “I didn’t expect her to be so wasteful. It’s an odd blind spot to have for one of us.”
“Morality?” Scott asked as he turned to face the room again.
“Precisely,” Sherlock tucked his scarf about him and considered the man. “I suppose you program that into them though, don’t you. Like in your A.I. movies, where it’s ever so regrettable the same limitations weren’t uploaded into Skynet.”
“They aren’t limitations.” Scott said with absolute certainty.
“Of course they are,” Holmes pulled on his gloves and glanced back in Delov’s direction dismissively. “They just aren’t bad ones.”
Scott opened the door, “Handle your Asset, Detective Inspector.”
Sherlock gave a chuckle as he walked out into the hallway. There were no scurrying nurses, as John had feared, but then, Young was standing nervily at the end of the hall, her aspect more forbidding than the Dover cliffs.
Lestrade caught hold of Sherlock’s coat and wheeled him around, “If I ever see you do something like that again, I will personally take you downtown and book you. That’s way out of line. I have a lot riding on you, Sherlock. You might think this mess with Commander Snow has blown over, but you’d be wrong. You’re not to go out of control like that. Do you understand?”
“Lestrade, I hardly-”
Lestrade gave Holmes a small shake.
“Yes.” Sherlock amended. He extricated himself from Lestrade’s grip with a long-suffering sigh as the Detective Inspector walked to John.
“I don’t suppose you have anything further to add, doctor?”
“I think it’s all been said.” John nodded in parting. He swept up to Holmes and the taller man breezed through the door before him.
“Thank God. Thought that would never be over,” Sherlock smoothed his coat and checked his phone. “Did you catch that the Club is using the Homeless Network?”
“I did, indeed.”
“That’s irritating me for some reason,” Sherlock tucked away his cell and put his hands together under his chin. “At this point it would be nice to know which kids are working in the Islington area. If we could know it would be possible to search for clues about who gave them jobs. For instance, moving Lawrence’s parts would have required a boy, or a stout girl, seeing as it’s likely they fetched and carried the head and hands to a second location, for pick up. However, with the murder investigation, the children will have been shuffled. It’s notoriously hard to get client information out of the Network. They don’t kiss and tell. God. Horrifying thought. In any event, it would utterly negate the usefulness of their service. The very same feature of the Network as protects me has now been employed to thwart me. The assassin is a dead end. Well done.”
“Do you think they’ll kill him?” John asked. “Delov?”
“Oh, who cares? Though, if they do, it will be because of something he’s not aware he knows,” Sherlock’s shadow loomed through the slanting sunlight. “At that point, I won’t be fit to be lived with. It will mean I could have gotten more if we’d pressed him harder.”
John shook his head slightly, disbelieving.
Holmes’ brow wrinkled, “Why shock?”
“What on earth makes you think you’re fit to be lived with now?” John snorted. The idea he could get worse was almost overwhelming. The same thought, echoing in Sherlock’s eyes, made the tall genius grin happily.
They exited the hospital.
“Oh, we’d better go for a bite,” John checked his watch. “Supper.”
“Of course.” Sherlock nodded. “We need to regroup.”
“Sure you don’t want to ring your girl, Ree, to come along with us?”
“John, really, she can’t be trusted,” his earlier mirth blew away like willow seeds. “We need to regroup; you and me.”
So John brought Sherlock to one of his favourite Indian restaurants. The area of town it was situated in had gone to seed, unfortunately, some time ago, but John had loved the place since his life had been full of concerns like first kisses and clear skin. It was family run. Sherlock had never been to the place before, so he wandered the interior for a good 15 to 20 minutes before sitting down.
John had mostly ignored his free-range flatmate in favour of the new menu.
The girl taking drink orders knew John as a regular. “He all right?”
“Sherlock’s never been here before. Just be glad he’s not using the magnifier.”
She cocked her head at him, “He a restaurant critic?”
“Oh he’s much worse than that,” John laughed at the idea. “He’s a trained observer. But he’s not going to hurt anything. Besides, he works for the police. There’s only so much trouble he can make.” John decided to stick to that fiction.
“What does he want to drink?” she glanced over at Sherlock, who raised a hand to make a small rolling motion with his fingers.
Yeah, that was his not infrequent ‘just tea for me’ gesture. “Do you have any tea, Priya?”
“Darjeeling,” her brows drew up. She nodded happily and withdrew into the kitchen, skirting by Sherlock with a friendly smile. Holmes sighed and fell into his chair only a moment later.
“So how is the place?” John asked.
“Family owned for four generations. The founder’s ashes are on the premises. Blah.” He flicked the napkin John had unfolded.
“Must be exhausting,” John said as the drinks arrived.
Sherlock studied the hands of the girl who laid down his drink. “Mehndi artist. Also, seamstress. Sews late at night while tired, which leads to all the little jabs you see.”
Priya straightened, her brows drew down, and she scurried from the table. Sherlock didn’t seem to notice. He turned to pouring sugar packets into his black tea. “Sugar. Brain food.”
“Want to try this? It’s mango lassi. This one’s sweet, actually.”
Sherlock’s face screwed up a little. “It has yogurt in it.”
“You ate the fridge out of yogurt just a few days ago.”
“Yes, I ate it… actually, seeing as it was blueberry, I ate it with a salad spoon. I don’t want to drink it in a drink. Not to mention yogurt is food. And I don’t-” Sherlock blinked across at John as if this should be obvious.
“I know, dear God, I know – I live with you, and I have a speech, remember?” John put his head down and chuckled. “So you like blueberry, I take it.”
“Superior form of yogurt, blueberry,” Sherlock sipped his tea. “Eradicates free radicals.”
“Clever.” John grinned. “Eradicates and radicals.”
“John, this case is doing bad things to you.” Sherlock turned his head away and laughed.
The lights flickered and went out across the restaurant. Through the windows John could see they were gone down the entire street. He snatched Sherlock’s wrist as the man started to his feet.
Sherlock gave the back of John’s hand a sharp slap, and it was then that John realized he could feel the grind of tendons and bones inside flesh. He’d gripped the genius like he was the edge of a cliff. “Sorry.” He let go and got to his feet to follow Sherlock through the dark. “What do you suppose this is?”
“Odd.” Holmes stopped by the emergency flood light. It hadn’t switched on. “Not the fuse box. This is on its own system. Oh, I see. And there’s no way they would know we’d come here.”
People were starting to move around the restaurant in the dark. John looked over his shoulder as lights began to emerge from the back – good old fire. Priya appeared carrying a large honey candle. “I’m sorry for the confusion. We’re calling to see what might be happening. I apologize to you all, but, of course, we can’t open the freezers or cook in these conditions. Your money will be refunded.”
When John turned around, it was in response to the breath of cool air spilling around his ankles. The door Sherlock had been standing before was open. John stepped outside. He couldn’t see a thing, but he could hear his friend rattling around outside – it was a distinctly metal sound and a small grunt of effort. John sighed windily. “Sherlock.”
He went back inside the hubbub of the darkened restaurant – odd how darkness had made everyone inside convivial – John located and picked up a candle. He shielded it with his hand on the way back out.
“Where are you going?” one of the servers asked.
“My friend just went out the fire door and I can’t see anything out there, so,” John raised the candle a little before pushing the fire door open with his elbow.
The alley illuminated suddenly. Of course. This made sense after all the trouble he’d gone through to grab the candle. But he didn’t blow it out. John set it down under the handrail.
“Lights are back on, Sherlock. Let’s finish our-” but he pushed the door to its extent and Sherlock wasn’t in the alley. John felt a sudden blast of cold through his system.
He pulled out his phone and began calling Sherlock. No answer. He kept up calling between searching the restaurant, the narrow passage out back, and the street beyond. Finally, he dialled Lestrade. John paced the alley, unable to relax, half-sick with worry for his friend.
The sirens came to a stop around the restaurant. John came out of the narrow alley to join them. Lestrade was the first out of the cars. “What happened?”
“The block went dark,” John’s voice sounded rattled so he cleared his throat and continued. “He was just across from me, and I grabbed him, because it’s like eating with a kid: the minute something curious happens, he’s just gone across the restaurant. But I hurt him, so I let him go. I mean, I was following him around, and I turned – he was just gone.”
“He wasn’t just gone.” Reese pushed past him and swore. “Oh my God, John, were you pacing down here? Idiot! Do you want us to be able to track him or not? Wait-no, take me in the restaurant. Show me where you were sitting.”
“We’ll go around front,” John said. “But tape this passageway off.”
Young walked right behind John, her clacking heels landing on John’s nerves like a bow bouncing on violin strings. It was quite a disruption when the throng of police walked in. Lestrade showed his badge to quiet down the staff. John led the rest to the table he’d shared with Sherlock. Holmes coat was still there, and his scarf. Ree touched the tea cup, lifted it, and sniffed it.
She set the cup back down. “Still hot. Black two sugars. His. We need it analysed. He’s been gone a very short time.” She sat down and looked at John. “Okay, so show me what you did.”
John dithered a moment, just trying to remember it straight.
“John, come on. These people cut the head off a boy. Sherlock’s been missing for too long already. Sit down. Show me what you did.” She said this calmly.
“Lights go off,” John said as he was seated. “I grabbed his wrist, but I hurt him.”
She nodded as his hand closed around her wrist, but not hard. “What do I do?”
“You get up and-”
“Check the nearest emergency light,” she realized. “That put him in front of the fire door with the power off. So no alarm when it opens.” She got up, pushed past a server and made for the door. It was a bit of a walk.
“The light didn’t come on.” John pursued her. She backtracked and grabbed a bar stool she set under the door. She climbed up and checked the light. “Wires aren’t cut here, and-. Oh. I get it. So, John, how long did you turn away from him? I mean, he would have opened the door from the inside himself. There’s no handle outside.”
John lifted her down when she turned. “Okay,” he turned away toward the bar where Priya and the manager stood and looked vexed at the influx of police. “I listened to Priya and then.” When he turned around again, the door was still ajar. He pushed it open and looked out at the alley. She was standing just below the stairs. Her crystalline blue eyes scanned the alley floor.
“Excuse me?” John looked down at her.
She tapped her toe beside a rag. “They know how much he weighs, so they know how much to use to knock him out for a certain period. They hit him with chloroform and took him out of here. I can smell it.” She looked around on the rubbishy alley floor. “And then they… evaporated with him… they… walked up the….”
John turned and looked up at the fire escapes. The metal sounds…!
“They’d need the rag,” she glanced down at it. “They dropped it. A mistake they didn’t have time to correct. We need to bag it.”
“Oh my God, I heard them rattling around on those!” John motioned up at one which let down almost on top of the stoop.
“The ladder was already down. They were on it. Someone stood right here and they handed him Sherlock. He’s rangy, so it would have taken the pair of them to carry him up there.” She looked at John. “Did you go back inside? Maybe to get this?” She pointed at the candle still burning in its votive on the stoop.
He rubbed his eyes. “The candle. Yes, I couldn’t see, so I went to get the candle. Dammit. They would have been right here with him.”
“But they didn’t kill you. Oh man. This is likely the real deal then. Okay… so, good thing, they can’t cut his head off. They’d never be able to get the image out of their heads. And bad thing: Sherlock knows they make heavy use of dark adjusted eyes, and Sherlock was either too cocky or too curious not to check it out.” Reese nodded at John and backed up to the opposite wall. “Second floor window is open. They came out that way. They took him that way. Boost me up, John.”
Young shook her head. “He’ll do no such thing. We need to get our guns in the room first.”
“Great,” John said in apparent agreement. The moment they were through the door, he got a grip on the fire escape and pulled it down. From there he and Reese scrambled up to the second storey window. He was the first in. The curtains had been tied up in a knot to keep them out of the way.
“Smudges on the windowsill, scuff marks, but no blood,” Reese said. She stepped into the room carefully, bent, and examined a small black object.
“Oh God,” John covered his mouth with one hand, as if worried what would come out next.
“It’s one of those lighted mini-” she realized what she was saying and straightened. “This is Sherlock’s aspheric magnifier, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” John said breathlessly. “They took him through here.”
Reese opened the front door to the empty upstairs apartment and went out into a long hall at a trot. “They carried him across here for sure. Look, there’s a freight elevator.”
John’s heart seemed to be running a foot race. He very nearly slammed the buttons. “Up or down. Down, right? He’s long and would be hard to carry.”
“Good. Down,” she nodded and mashed the button. Reese stood back as the elevator arrived and let John do the work of getting them into it. Once they’d made the ground floor, they found it opened to parking. The nearest three spaces were empty. “He’d be waking up over on this side. They had him doing the walk of shame here – like they were helping their drunk friend in a car.”
She looked around for video. “There’s a camera inside. Like a building camera.”
“I’ll get Lestrade.” John raced until he found the police on their way up the stairs to the second floor. “Reese found a video camera. We need to see if it caught them taking Sherlock on the way out of here.”
Donovan rolled her eyes, “On the way – you don’t even know Freak was-”
“Oh for God’s sake, will you please try to keep up?” John gripped the railing and barked down the stairs at the police. “Video surveillance! We need to find it and watch it. Now!”
When he straightened, he saw that Reese had come to a stop at the railing beside him. She was smiling at him grimly, her face lined with worry. “That cuts it. He’s officially ruined you, John. You’re the worst ape ever.”
“We’re going to get him back in one piece, Reese.” John was so determined as he said this that he worried much of the sentiment was based on the fact that not getting him back was unimaginable. The feeling he would claw through fallen bodies to get to Sherlock was starting to choke John at the throat.
She looked at the ceiling for a minute. “Okay. Video.”
John followed her almost blindly. He followed her, he realized about an hour later, as he usually did Sherlock. In doing so, he witnessed what had to be one of the most astonishing feats of mind-bending concentration he’d ever seen. In the video room for the building there was a panel of several boxy televisions running feeds from the cameras.
“Lock the doors,” Reese told the officers. “No one comes or goes. I’m about to go off the recorded feed.” It took her about three minutes to get familiar with the equipment. She did this with the assistance of the Security Guard who usually monitored. Finally, 20 minutes in, she got word the building was locked down. Reese turned off the lights and started tapping on the laptop that controlled the screens.
“Does she know what she’s doing?” Donovan asked Special Agent Young.
The woman’s head rose a little. “Thirty years of the Brain Trust program, and we’ve had seven people who could master this technique.”
“Yeah, well,” Lestrade crossed his arms, “we could use a miracle right about now.”
Young opened a hand. “I give you Reese.”
Reese got everything the way she needed it and got to her feet.
“No one speaks,” Young whispered.
All the cameras stilled at once, the numbers going stationary at 6AM across 12 screens. Reese braced herself and put her hands up to her temples, almost like a pair of blinkers. After about 20 seconds of standing so, she tentatively reached out and pressed the mouse. This was difficult, as she didn’t take her eyes off the screens to do so.
The taped feeds started rolling at once, all of them, very quickly. Reese fell back into her blinkered pose and froze there.
Lestrade began, “There’s no way she can-”
Young laid her small hand across his mouth. She leaned in to whisper, “She can. And she will. If you and your people shut the hell up. It’s what we trained her to do.”
Reel after reel went black. They rocketed back to life in self-tests. This was what had happened during the power outages. When they went to black next, it was at the time she’d cut the live feed to review the tapes. It felt to John that he might have started breathing again only after that happened. “What was that?”
“A trick we’d like to teach Sherlock. He has, we believe… many predispositions. The things he does, naturally, others must be drilled for years to learn. His visual system…” she blew out air, “I believe he has what we call general hyperacuity,” Young said quietly. “Believe me, Dr. Watson, we want to get him back as much as you do. I’ve seen Mr. Holmes work in the wild. Can you imagine what he could do if he was trained?” She sucked in a deep breath to steady herself.
Cameras snapped on again, going quickly. They died out at different points and Ree stopped the remaining six. “Got them!”
“Good girl, Reese,” Young muttered as she walked deeper into the room to meet her Asset. More loudly she said. “Walk me through it.”
The girl started rolling one external camera. “Watch this guy here, panhandling by the newspaper box. John and Sherlock go in; he gets up and goes down around the corner at a pretty good clip.” That camera stopped and others started. “John gets a table. Sherlock’s never set foot in this place before, look at him. He can’t settle down. He’s still reading the place 10 and 20 minutes later. He’s been in and out three times.” She turned to John, “It’s like you took him to some epic movie.”
“Really?” John blinked.
“The pictures of the family and India on the walls alone, I would want time to look at it. He was just sucking it up.” She froze that camera and put it in high gear. “You talk to the server. Sherlock gets curious and watches in the picture’s reflection. Some kind of hand-signal to you,” she looked at John.
“Oh that one,” John smiled bitterly. “That one’s kind of ‘You know what to do’. So I ordered him black tea with two sugars.”
Reese nodded. “Now the server flirts with him. He retreats to sit with you, John. Outside of the proscribed roles he assigns them, he doesn’t do well with people at all.”
“Poor socialization,” Young nodded as if this was expected. “He understands them on a macro level; can’t relate to them on personal levels.”
“Considering what happened, it fits his profile.” Scott agreed with her quietly. John only just caught what he’d said, in fact, and he didn’t seem to be alone.
Lestrade glanced. Neither of them had heard anything about a ‘profile’. John wondered what Scott meant.
“Either way,” Reese slowed down the tape. “Watch the fire door here. I warn you the screen’s about to go black, but you see the beginnings of a shadow on the door before it goes. That’s the person called in to watch John and Sherlock, about to jack with the light above the door as soon as the power goes out. Simple thing, she did. She unscrewed the bulbs.” Reese tapped another screen. “Here she is coming in the front. See how lost she looks? This is another of the Club’s patsies, but at least we have a face this time. This one is a bit of a rush job. Sherlock must be getting under their skin somehow, or something forced their hands. We only get a tiny glance at Sherlock after this, but he’s alive and okay. This is him.”
She rolled the only screen not faded to black forward. It went slowly. This was the camera from the downstairs hall. The freight elevator opened up and showed a glimpse of Sherlock’s shoulder in the lower corner. He was being supported by someone totally obscured in a hooded sweatshirt. However, Sherlock inexpertly lifted his head and squinted up until he saw the small domed camera.
“He’s disoriented and not sure where he is… I don’t even know that he was sure any of this was real,” Young smiled tightly, “but he still spotted the camera. Outstanding.” She turned to Reese. “We need to find the man who watched the pair of them go in, and the girl who fiddled with the light-bulbs.”
“Okay,” Reese nodded in agreement. “I need to be at my lab in the Yard, Young.”
“Of course you do,” she gave Reese’s shoulder a squeeze. “Scott will take you.”
“I want to go with John.” Reese glanced back at him. “He knows Sherlock best. That will help.”
“That’s fine.” Young motioned in John’s direction. “Collect Sherlock’s coat and would you please do us the favour of watching Reese? I’m going to need Special Agent Scott.”
John thought this a capital idea. He handed Reese Sherlock’s coat and folded into the car beside it. She held it on her knees, picked it up, and held it to her face a moment. When she laid it down again she leaned to John and whispered. “If they kill him… I mean, if they do that boy harm … they die.”
As radical a thing, as chilling, as this was to hear, John couldn’t do anything but shut his eyes and agree with the sentiment.
“Just get him back.” He said at last. Then he took out his phone and started dialling Sherlock.
It was 12 AM when they found the girl. They never found the man. There wasn’t much she could tell them. She was an addict looking for a fix. The lure of 100£ for unscrewing two light bulbs – quickly, mind you – before backup power could come on, well, it had been a no brainer. She’d taken the money, clearly, as she arrived at the Yard with two grams of coke in her possession. She gave a general description of the man who’d suggested she do this.
The police headed out to search the area and find him.
“God,” John sat back on Reese’s couch and looked up to check the clock. It was almost 2:30 AM. “Are you still trying to track his phone’s GPS?”
“His phone is still off,” Reese said distractedly.
“Then what are you doing?”
“Following a hunch,” she switched through cameras across London in several windows, and checked the temperature in another. “It’s the Photography Club and he’s got a photographic memory, John.”
“So did Lawrence Waters.” John wasn’t reassured by her logic.
“They killed Lawrence because he betrayed them, and to scare off the CIA; only half their plan worked as expected.” She said bitterly. “But they came to London. I mean, they set up shop in the same city as the guy we call ‘the Great Detective’ online, right after The Blind Banker case.” She looked back at him. “How can that make sense? How can that be smart?”
“Because they’re ‘photographers’,” she answered herself numbly. Reese was overextended, her reserves were so clearly depleted that John was tempted to coax her to the couch in the hopes she would go to sleep for a half an hour. Her exhaustion was impacting her thinking. “And Sherlock was blessed, okay, cursed, with general hyperacuity. He’s gonna be like a ‘super photographer’. So there’s a chance, like a miniscule chance… and if there’s any chance at all, I’m gonna-”
A window, forgotten in the lower corner of her massive screen, began to blip. John’s phone chimed. He was suddenly wide awake, probably owing to the ice bath that had hit his heart and scudded into every cell of him.
The text said: ‘Come get me.’
Reese caught up her iPad in one hand, and Sherlock’s coat in the other. “Get yourself together.” She was very nearly breathless.
“He’s texted me. Sherlock, he’s-” John felt woozy. His heart was pounding just behind his eardrums, like it had bifurcated and shot up his right and left common carotid at the same time.
Reese backed up, grabbed him by the arm, and pulled him roughly along with her. “We need to cab to the Victoria Embankment, and we should do it without half the badges in this place following us. I don’t know his situation, and they hate him enough as it is. You still have your gun, right?”
“I do,” he admitted to her.
“Well, I don’t think you’d hold anything that’s happened to him, or anything he’s done, against him, up to and including if he’s just killed someone to get free,” she said softly, “and if you have to kill someone to keep him that way, I know you will.”
It wouldn’t be the first time.
The cab ride was completely airless. Reese stared at her iPad, tight-lipped. John felt like he kept alive only by texting to Sherlock. He grew increasingly more distressed when he didn’t receive any answers. When it became too much, Reese stopped the cab and paid the fare. She climbed out with her iPad flashing alive to follow the GPS signal, and they ran. There was no discussion, and no real decision involved: they just shot off in the direction the GPS led them.
“It’s too cold out here for no coat,” Reese shivered, even in her pink leopard faux fur.
“How far?” John had his heart pounding in his throat. “I should have brought a torch.”
“It would make us a moving target.” She told him. “Within 120 feet.”
“Go left and go straight.” She raced along, dividing attention between where her feet landed, and her iPad. “About 100. That’s 33.3 yards to a Brit.”
Within 20 yards, it couldn’t tell them any further detail. It indicated they had found their target. Frustrated, Reese threw the iPad down on the grass and trotted along the path before her without it. “They had to take a path. He’s a tall drink of water, Sherlock. Stay on the path.”
John hurried along beside her. The path they were on opened to lovely cobbled mall John dimly recognized now that it was dark. He looked aside at the ornate street lamp and the benches. His heart dropped, “Behind the bench.”
They raced to the still and curled figure leaned against a dead light. He was cold, insensate, and he didn’t react to their presence, but he had a strong and healthy heartbeat, wasn’t bleeding, and had all his fingers and toes by the looks of him. The designer clothes he wore weren’t thick enough for the unseasonable chill and his jacket was on the ground beside him, so John covered Sherlock in his coat at once.
Reese, meanwhile, paced beside him. She waited for John’s pronouncement on his condition. John looked up at her. “Alive, strong pulse. No signs of damage. Not awake or aware we’re here. He may be experiencing hypothermia.”
Finally, Reese dropped down beside Holmes. She was shaking badly and picked up his hand in both of her own, an action that stopped anything further coming out of John’s mouth. She examined first one, and then the other, rubbing a bluish fingernail until it turned pink. “Cold. Not hypothermic,” she said firmly, “he’s very cold.”
She shifted her position and levered him up so that his back lay against her. His curls bumped against her jaw. Sherlock wouldn’t have allowed any of this, if he’d been awake. He didn’t like closeness.
Reese reached around and unbuttoned a shirt cuff. “You’re wrong about the blood. There’s a spot on his inner elbow. It looks like they’ve given him something else to think about.”
John pushed up Sherlock’s sleeve. Track marks, some pale around the edges. Some not.
He froze. “Why?”
“He’s easy enough to discredit,” Reese settled back and held Sherlock to her chest. She rubbed his upper arm in a steady rhythm. “They did the same sort of thing to Lawrence early on, but with pills – barbiturates, or speed. I thought this was just the Club being careful how alert he was when he communicated with even their puppets, and Lawrence on his best day didn’t have a mind like Sherlock’s. This might be standard procedure. But they didn’t shoot Lawrence full of cocaine. Sherlock, who has a history of drug problems, and even arrests, him, they give cocaine.”
“Oh my God. Could be a test.” John forced himself to slow his breathing, roll Sherlock’s sleeve down, and button it again. “How long should this last? I’m sorry – illicit drugs… not my area.”
“Don’t know how much they gave him, what it was cut with, or how pure it is,” she said softly. “I mean, this is all wrong for a guy on coke. He should be wild. This is some kind of mix.” Reese rested her head on his curls and closed her eyes. “I’m keeping him warm. Just get us out of here. Make it happen, John. I’m done handling shit for tonight.”
John sat back on his heels and watched them a moment. And then he tucked Sherlock’s arm back under his coat and made a decision. He woke up Sarah and asked her to drive into a high crime neighbourhood to meet them.
It would do no good to go to Baker Street. They would take him to Sarah’s apartment.
Sherlock didn’t wake in the 45 minutes it took for her to get to them. It took three of them to get him out of the park and into the waiting car. Sarah, kindly, didn’t ask any questions on the way home, good enough for John, who fell asleep almost immediately in the warm car next to her. By the time they were parked, it was evident that Reese had fallen asleep in the back as well.
Sarah nudged John awake gently. “John, what the hell is going on?”
“I’ll explain,” he told her and then added. “Thank you for the rescue.”
She gave him a tired worried look and then jerked her chin at the rear-view mirror. “They look like a pair of runaway lovers, fast asleep back there. Is that what this is?”
“Not hardly,” John whispered and then shook his head. “Not tonight. Help me get him upstairs. There’s been bad business, I’m afraid. He’s been missing. We need to wake him.”
“He’s warmer now,” Reese said tightly. She unbuckled and started working her way out of the car. This involved untangling from Holmes’ long limbs. John shot a pained look to Sarah, who pressed her lips together and got out of the car.
Sherlock was tall and heavy. He was slender, but quite well constructed and solid. His eyes opened on the elevator, but there was little sense in them. He watched the numbers scroll. He looked up again at the apartment number as they opened the door. They didn’t make it to the couch with him. He slumped to the floor in the front room and started to curl up with a soft hiss of breath.
“What’s happening,” Sarah started unbuttoning his shirt to give him air.
“He’s been drugged,” Reese took off her coat, balled it up, and put it under his head. “He’s been missing for hours.”
“He didn’t do this, did he John? He’s been confused. I mean-” Sarah glanced at Reese, unable to finish the sentence. He’d been confused about Reese’s arrival in London – a person not unlike him that he badly wanted to gravitate to, and fiercely wanted to push away.
“See?” Reese sat back, opened her arms, and nodded at Sarah. She caught John’s coat and tugged him her way. “That’s exactly why you give him cocaine. It will discredit his side of the story before he opens his mouth. If we hadn’t caught the girl who fiddled the bulbs – I mean that’s just suspicious – this would look like he went off the deep end, walked off on you-”
“He has a history of doing that,” John admitted.
“-and then started slamming anything he could lay his hands on in the neighbourhood. This guy knows how to find drugs on short notice. It’s lucky we caught them moving him… and even that’s suspicious. But trust me. They orchestrated this. And it will hit home,” she looked at the floor for a moment, “if he’s as screwed up by me coming here as everyone seems to think.”
“Who’s ‘everyone’?” asked John.
She held up her hand, “Frau Young and Lewis – God Lewis can’t shut-up about it – and then Lestrade came in my black-out-room and talked to me about trying to work with him, not against him. I mean, that really hurt. I like the Detective Inspector, but clearly, he’s never experienced what a rabid clique of backstabbing weasels true geniuses can be. But I’ve been trying, here. I want to work with him. There’s a lot he can teach me. And I can teach him.”
“That thing you did with the videos tonight… amazing.” John glanced up from checking Sherlock’s vitals. Sarah moved in with a blanket. “What do they call that?”
“It’s called Clustering with Feature Extraction.” She sat back with a sigh. “Basically, I’m a card carrying Non-A.I. Data Miner. I’m ranked Class A. But that’s not what I call it. I call it Cluster-fu-”
“We get it,” John interrupted and then laughed a little at the craziness of the conversation, and the feel of having Sherlock’s pulse kicking under his fingers.
“Oh. Okay… only with Feelings Extraction, because it can screw you between the ears and leaves you numb.” Reese reached down and experimentally touched one of Sherlock’s curls. “The name Sherlock means bright hair. It’s soft. I wouldn’t have thought that.”
“I think we all need some rest,” Sarah sighed. She gave Reese’s hand a squeeze.
“I stay where he is,” Reese said with finality.
“She’ll take the couch,” John got to his feet and checked the lock on the door. “Just everyone turn off their phones for now. I’ll set up on the floor and monitor him.”
They moved around the apartment like zombies. Reese, with her exhausted data-mining head pillowed in couch cushions, was asleep in minutes. She’d changed into a night shift that Sarah had brought out for her. Sherlock was heavily asleep on his side, his head on another cushion. John slept sitting up in a corner beside him. This seemed excessive until Sherlock started to get up in the predawn darkness. He did this more than once, and each time, John caught him and steered him back to the pillow again. Sherlock seemed to understand he had to escape, without fully comprehending that he already had.
“It’s me. It’s John….” They’d only known each other for a matter of months. “Doctor John Watson? Flatmate?”
It was like talking to a stump.
“You’re safe, mate,” John told him as he settled Sherlock back to the cushion he refused to lie on for more than 30 minutes at a time. “Have some pity. Lie down and stop waking me up.”
Slowly, Sherlock’s glassy green eyes shut.
John woke to the home phone. No one moved to answer it. It cut off without waking Reese. John figured she had to be utterly knackered considering what she’d done the night prior, a terrific feat that would have caved John’s head in and-
John shot to his feet. Sherlock was gone.
Sarah staggered out of her bedroom. She fastened her robe around her middle and smiled at him. “Do you realize it’s almost 1 PM?”
It was another shock to his system.
She held up the cordless. “Is your Detective Inspector friend named ‘Lestrade’?”
“Mr. Lestrade?” she reached the phone toward him. “No. He just left a message.”
John had already moved on, “No, Sherlock. Sherlock is-”
He hurried into the kitchen. Sherlock was seated at the small table there, his head in his hands. John heaved a sigh that tangled relief with fear. “Dear God, Sherlock, tell me what happened to you?” He walked into the kitchen and Sarah leaned on the door frame.
Sherlock didn’t move. Didn’t speak.
John felt a sudden blast of fear. Damn. He pulled open the fridge and started pouring orange juice into plastic tumblers he pulled off the drying rack. Sarah diverted around him to change the filter and start the coffee maker. She’d selected the strongest blend she had and then gone to lean on the arch to the kitchen again. Then Sarah glanced from John to Sherlock and back, anxiously. It was her ‘do something’ look.
He set the cup down beside Holmes and reached his hand, his intention to clap Sherlock’s shoulder. The action was met by an immediate: “No.” Even though Sherlock hadn’t moved and couldn’t see, he’d known what to expect from John who retracted his hand with a glance at Sarah.
Sherlock’s stiff and frozen posture was quite out of line with the sun flooding the window. It was worrisome behaviour, and they still didn’t know what had happened to him. John leaned on the table beside Holmes. “It’s okay, Sherlock. Go by steps. Tell me what you’d like for breakfast?”
Sarah darted to the fridge. “Pancakes? I have fresh blueberries.”
“Oh. Well I’d like 50 milligrams of cocaine in a 30 gauge needle for my morning push,” he said tightly and still didn’t move. “And then some heroin. Or I’ll be impossible to live with.”
Sarah closed the fridge and leaned on it, then turned to John. Her lips compressed in a line of sorrow. John knew exactly how she felt.
“Look at me.” John ducked down to try looking in Sherlock’s face.
“Yeah, not likely. So, you been up long?” John sat down across from his friend.
“I…” Sherlock’s voice dropped in frustration, “No idea.”
John was stunned by this. He didn’t know what to say at first. “Did they hurt you?”
Now John looked at Sarah and shook his head. This was bad. They needed a hospital. “Are you in any pain then? I looked you over last night and you seemed all right.”
Sherlock closed his hands over his face. “Ugh – stop talking. Talking. Talking means time is passing.”
“Of course time is passing,” John cocked his head at the man and thought about it. “You’re not sure how much longer you can hold on without going for more cocaine, that it?”
Then Sherlock’s whole body shivered. It was violent enough that John got to his feet and hurried over in case he was about to fall or puke. Once he caught Holmes on the shoulders, John could feel he was trembling. He checked Holmes’ pulse. It was running fast. “Do you know what they gave you?”
Sherlock sagged at the table. “I don’t know, John. It didn’t come off the menu. All I remember is the restaurant. I remember it went dark and you were telling me-” he shook his head. “The bulbs, they’d been-”
“I know,” John nodded at Sherlock. “There was a girl. She unscrewed them in exchange for, uh-”
Holmes shoved his hands through his dark hair.
Not encouraging. Sarah pushed past and caught one of his fists as it smacked the table before him. “We’re going to get you something to eat-”
He yanked his hand away. “No.”
“Don’t touch him,” John said softly. Sarah eased away her hands.
“Then drink the juice, okay? It’s got vitamins. And I’ll fix you coffee.”
Sherlock immediately put his hands up to cover his face. After a moment more, he sighed and laid both hands on the table. Then he picked up the orange juice and drank the whole glass down. He set down the cup and looked around him miserably. His craving was like a force that swept the room.
“Everything’s so… slow.” His fingers opened above the table, like they might wrap an apple.
“I know,” John said soothingly, even though he didn’t actually know.
“Coffee’s done.” Sarah set out a cup that was snatched up immediately by Reese. She took a swallow so deep and scalding that it creased her forehead.
Then she turned to look at Sherlock. He stopped moving and averted his gaze.
“Good morning,” she said. “Want some coffee? It might help make a man out of the mess I’m seeing here. You realize the police are going to take one look at you and know you’re flying. It won’t be Freak then, it’ll be Tweak.”
“I didn’t do this.” Sherlock said very stiffly.
She leaned on the table. “A cocaine injection is hard pressed to last an hour. How much shit did they give you?”
His green eyes studied patterns on Sarah’s table placing.
“You don’t remember, do you? Oh that’s rich.” Reese stalked around the table with a sour smile making her young features – very young, without the make-up – hard. “Oh you’re a genius, you are. Got ahead of yourself this time, though. I watched these guys a couple of years before I got to lead the investigation as Primary. Do you have any idea how meticulous I’ve been? I don’t think so. Off you go and you smack into them: hurricane Holmes. And what did they do to you?” She guzzled more coffee and smacked the mug down. “They cleaned your clock. I mean… you don’t even know what they did.”
Sherlock shut his eyes. He closed his hands together before him.
She pushed in close to him and he turned his head, so as not to see her. “So let’s look at you. I mean, you’re the evidence now.” She unbuttoned his sleeve and rolled it back. The bend of his elbow was badly bruised. Reese straightened his arm and swallowed hard. She stared for a long moment before she cleared her throat. “Tearing. When they stuck you, you were struggling. That’s what the bruising is about. Ligature marks, wrist and I can just see the edge of them,” she tugged his shirt collar, “on the throat. You weren’t bound to a chair, or object, there’s no sign of that. But your knees are going to be as badly scuffed as those fancy trousers of yours are. These guys controlled you by hand – someone was on each rope the whole time you were with them. That’s why the bruise patterns aren’t uniform, and there are so many of them.”
Sherlock undid the other sleeve and rolled it up. His skin was purple with bruises. Reese bent and sniffed him. She surprised him by using his own mini magnifier to study his arms. When Reese looked up, she was so close to his pale face he momentarily couldn’t avoid her eyes. “I thought they might have been shooting you full of speedballs. This looks more like it was coke in one arm, heroin in the other. These are two different people, giving these shots. The bruising is different. There’s a handprint, and the tearing is really bad. You’re lucky there’s no abscess. Also, there are fewer holes over here. If you were strung out on heroin-”
“My pupils would be pinned.” Sherlock shaded his eyes by gripping his head again.
“Right. And your eyes are sensitive because the pupils are huge – really blown. They’re not the size of pinholes. So, this arm was heroin. You got less of it than you did of coke. Now, one drug in one arm, and one in the other, is that how you used to do it?”
He looked sickened and pulled away from her. Reese caught a two-handed hold of his shirt and pulled him slowly back. “Okay, maybe this isn’t getting to you through the high, but we spent all last night flipping out and thinking they’d cut off your head. Answer my question, please.”
He shut his eyes and said, “No. I did the right arm. But I didn’t like to mix, or backload. I’d do shots of coke with a chaser of heroin. I never had a point in my left arm unless someone did it for me.”
“Stupid,” she released him and stood back. “You should stop trying to destroy yourself.”
“I was a kid. And you slit your wrists.” Sherlock snapped in retort.
“Fine. Then so should I.” She heaved a sigh and hugged herself. Reese stared at him. “So, if you had help, would you split it out? Like let’s put the white stuff in the right, and the brown in the left?”
“No. And no, whoever they were, they didn’t know me that well. Just well enough to make it look close.” Sherlock shook his head. “I need a blood test… see if I’m okay. Check me for disease.”
“You’ll be clean. They didn’t want to kill you. They wanted to question you. But, yeah, I agree you need to go to hospital. In fact, I have news for you – you’re the crime scene. You aren’t doing anything until we go over you for evidence.” She told him and crossed her arms on her ribs. “I want a doctor to do that. Then we’ll need to do some head work with you. I saw you on security footage. You don’t remember what they did, but, inside, you were mashing the Record button. It’s in there. So it’ll be down to me against the drugs. This will work better if we start as soon as possible.”
Sarah reached out and closed her hand over John’s shoulder. He really appreciated that, because he was afraid. There was no way the police were going to believe this.
Lestrade looked like he’d aged overnight. The moment John and Reese walked onto his floor, the moment Sherlock stepped out of the elevator, his eyes on the floor, half Lestrade’s agents froze. Lestrade shoved through the CIA. He actually shouted. “What the hell is going on?!”
Young hurried between the intervening desks and caught hold of Reese. They fell into a quiet conversation. Reese handed over a copy of the hospital report. It was from the evidence collection carried out on Sherlock and his clothes. Holmes seemed to be doing a little better after a shower and a change, but he wasn’t going to relish this next part.
John could look at him and see that he still hadn’t come down. Cocaine flashed over the brain and was gone, sometimes, in half an hour. And this wasn’t right for heroin. John had spoken to the doctors about the urgency of the matter, but they said it was likely the results of the blood draw wouldn’t be in until evening, or tomorrow. They didn’t know what he’d been given. The hospital visit had taken three hours. Evening was closing in on them now.
Lestrade walked through the gathering silence. His motions caused Sherlock to raise his head. It was impossible to miss the effects of the mystery drug at that distance from Holmes. The blood drained out of his face, and Lestrade looked at John. “What’s this about? What did he run off and do?”
“Not my call.” Sherlock said dryly.
“Let’s look at the positives here,” Reese broke away from her handlers and walked back to join Lestrade. “The Club broke pattern. Their people may have grabbed Sherlock, but he was brought before actual Club members last night. The reason why he’s in this condition should be obvious. First, you’re a cop. A cop would be much more likely to believe Sherlock did this to himself than had it done to him by a bunch of kidnappers, second they kept him docile and off his game, mentally. His resistance to coke is low to begin with. The Club would have done their homework and known what cocktail was most believable for him. I mean, sans me, you wouldn’t believe Sherlock, and it’s likely you’d suspect John was protecting him. These injections were designed to keep him functional, but not in control. I think we’re going to find that the cocaine injection was some kind of powerball. He’s got no conscious memory of last night. My best guess is they hit him with GHB.”
“Oh, well – that makes it all perfectly clear,” Lestrade set his hands on his hips. “I had men all over the city looking for you, Sherlock. And you’re going to stand here and tell me someone forced you to do this and you didn’t go off the wagon?”
“He didn’t do this at all,” Reese shook her head. “Two people stood by and shot him up.”
“And if he did, his aim was off,” John said grimly. “Let’s pull the blinds in your office. I’ll show you the track marks.”
“No you won’t,” Sherlock said stiffly.
Lestrade gave Holmes a look that normally would have silenced him. But it was only by chance that Sherlock remained quiet. “You’d best start cooperating, Sherlock.” Lestrade turned and barked. “Donovan, keep them out of my office.” Lestrade had a mean head of steam going. They all followed him, Sherlock guided by John. He was in a daze, almost unaware of the staring police he drifted through.
Holmes folded into a chair in Lestrade’s office. “Turn out some of these lights.”
“His eyes,” Reese pointed at her own eyes on her way out to deal with her people. She flicked off the overheads and shut the door behind her.
Moments later, John said, “They’re not infected.” Under the light of the desk lamp, with all the blinds closed, John slowly turned up a peacock blue shirt sleeve and pulled Sherlock’s pale arms straight. “Besides, if he did this to himself, why are there ligatures?”
Lestrade laid down the copy of the evidence report Reese had handed him. He hadn’t had time to open it yet. He set it on his keyboard and got in for a close look at Holmes’ arms. “No… Sherlock on his worst day… never looked like this. He’s too precise for this mess. It’s a bloodbath.” The door opened and closed to admit Reese and Young. Young simply found a chair near the door and settled into it. Reese paced in front of the door.
When John looked at him for a reaction Sherlock gave a bored shrug. Then he turned his head away. That was the true reaction. He wanted all of this to be over.
“Banging away on both arms isn’t Sherlock’s use pattern.” Reese stopped pacing and added. “And there’s the fact we saw the videos. He was half carried out of that restaurant.”
“He could have been shooting up upstairs for all we know. He went outside a couple of times. John didn’t know where he was.” Lestrade frowned. “That might have been a former junkie mate, or the dealer just tossing him out of the building – we don’t know.”
John jolted. “We went there to eat. It was my choice, and I know that place-”
“And maybe he knows it too, but for a different reason,” Lestrade said angrily.
John thought of the area and realized… there was a possibility he’d put Sherlock badly in the way of temptation. He’d been struggling with his emotions. From the Met’s point of view, it was plausible Sherlock had recognized the place, gotten tired of waiting, and gotten high. John felt himself shut down when he realized he hadn’t had eyes on Sherlock through the entire first 20 minutes or so of being at the table. He’d been pouring over the menu and talking to the servers.
It wasn’t true. But it could be made to look true.
“If you think he did this. You have to prove it,” Reese challenged. “I have the timeline from the videos too, Detective Inspector. He was out of the way of the cameras in the downstairs only for about eight minutes before the blackout. From what I see right now, the Club’s blackout ended a bit too soon. I doubt they know we caught them dragging him out on tape. But those guys weren’t friends of his. Lestrade, don’t let this muddy the waters. Don’t listen to the office buzz. You’re not being clear now. You should have gotten some sleep last night.”
“Oh. After you both went missing, yeah? Easy.” he said by way of explanation.
“I should have called last night. It was irresponsible, but I was tired and I crashed. I’m sorry,” Reese told him. She also nodded at Young. The apology had stopped Lestrade in his tracks. In fact, Reese had called from the hospital in the afternoon, as soon as they’d arrived there, and explained. Of all of them, she’d been the mature one.
Young spoke up. “We tracked your iPad to a park – the Victoria Embankment. It’s a high crime area. A theory emerged, Reese, that John convinced you to use your skills to track Sherlock there after he’d bought and used the drugs. On the surface, it’s plausible. Your primary loyalty has always been to the other Assets.”
Sherlock snickered on the tail end of that, and Reese put a hand to her forehead to sigh. “Oh my God, Rose, please tell me you’re too smart to buy that theory.”
“No, I believe you, Reese. I feel obliged to tell you what you’re up against.” The CIA Agent got to her feet and said. “Powerful people in the Met have been spinning this since your phone call. Some of them seem to deeply dislike Sherlock. They’re sure to suspend you and take your badge pending further investigation, Mr. Holmes.”
“Immaterial,” he muttered. Released from his inspection, he rolled his sleeves back down over his bruised arms again. Sherlock pushed his hands through his thick curls.
“Headache?” John bent to Sherlock to ask.
“Think you’re coming down?”
“Let me know if you feel nauseous.”
“Oh, there’s nothing left unless you count the orange juice. I got sick all over them when they put in the heroin. It’s been too long for me to take big pushes like that without getting nauseous. And that’s the tearing and bruising you see.”
John straightened in surprise. “You remember?”
“Relax, Doc,” Reese sighed, “That was deduction. Good deduction. He may be all flaky, but he’s still in there.”
Young came to a stop at Sherlock’s shoulder and, for a moment, said nothing. She stood in the canned light of the shuttered office and watched him as if staring down a logic puzzle, while taking the Bar. But it would do her no good, and she’d worked with exceptional individuals since recruitment. So Young pulled over the chair beside Holmes and sat with him. “Sherlock,” she said gently, “I feel, in part, accountable for what’s happened to you. Normally, we, and by we, I mean the CIA, would have the manpower to safeguard all the Assets on this case. We’re well aware these are very difficult adversaries. Their Secret Society is well-established, known to be dangerous, and we’re outnumbered here. The attitude about Exceptional people in this building is very negative. They actually believe you’re a sociopath. The Club may be unshakable now, I understand that. It’s just another fact of life we may have to live with. But I know we involved you when we didn’t have the staff to protect you. That’s our fault.”
He glanced aside at her, the jade green of his eyes lines around swollen pupils. “What do you want?”
Her pale brows went up. She pinched her thumb and forefinger together in air, “The skills you possess are very rare, so rare if we weighed the potential of every soul in this building, we still wouldn’t reach a point where the scales would equal one of you.”
Sherlock looked away from her in clear irritation.
The fabric of her pinstriped skirt suit rustled as she got to her feet. “You’re no freak to us, Sherlock. We’d like very much to help you recover your memories now.”
He groaned aloud, even before she finished the sentence. “You are not going to hypnotize me. It doesn’t work, for one thing, and for another, I don’t trust the information that comes out is genuine.”
Young’s matte lips quirked. She was delighted. “Oh how intriguing.” She turned in her Asset’s direction. “You’re right again, Reese.”
Standing with Lestrade, Reese shrugged. “Never gets old.” She artfully ignored the fact Holmes glared at her, openly.
Then Young leaned over the desk and looked down at Holmes, “Who said anything about hypnotism?” When she straightened she looked at John. “I’m going to let you two talk about this for a while, then I’m going to ask you to let us recover his memory.” She turned for the door and paused. “I’m sorry if it seems disrespectful, Lestrade. He may be your masterpiece, but he needs us to restore him.”
“He’s not mine to turn over.”
“Ah, that’s right. I forgot. You didn’t raise him.” She said as the door opened for her – Scott’s doing. “Reese. Come with me, please.”
The room selected was an old interrogation room, complete with an observational window. These had mostly been phased out in favour of video. However, John could see the charm of this type of a room sitting in a building that hosted a museum of crime. It could’ve been picked up, cinder by cinder, and brought downstairs. As it was, they’d had to ride the elevator to the lower floors to find this relic. Nothing about it was glassy or clear. And it was beige and dull green. Sherlock hated it immediately. He walked in, turned around, and tried to leave.
When that didn’t work, he sighed, took off his coat, and draped it over a metal chair.
To John, stood on the opposite side, in the observation room, the space looked cold and hostile. Three steel chairs, and a small square of white Formica table. Most of the room was empty. The lighting was so harsh that, under it, Sherlock’s smooth, white skin looked alien. His puffed pupils looked bizarre. He glanced indifferently at the glass, a strangely chic figure in his designer suit, perched as he was, and elegantly dark in his crisp shirt.
“It’s bad, right? If Freak doesn’t want to remember, it has to be bad.” Donovan said.
John tried to ignore this. He preferred Reese’s theory that Sherlock physically couldn’t remember due to manipulation: a carefully calculated mix of drugs.
“Well, he is a bit of a control freak,” Lestrade sighed and bowed his head. Whatever passed through his mind, it mixed irritation with concern.
“I always thought Freak was too crazy to know fear.” Sally Donovan laughed at herself.
Special Agent Young stepped away from the observation room door and pivoted sharply to look out at Holmes. Beyond the glass, Reese opened the door and stepped into the room. Sherlock looked away at the wall.
Young smiled tightly, “It has always helped me to think of them as half-gods, Sergeant Donovan; one half is utterly beyond us; but the flesh is weak. Be content they’re merciful. Hope you don’t witness the destruction caused by one who decides to do harm.”
Donovan rolled her eyes. “What are they doing?”
“Well,” Young sighed and pushed a lock of hair off her forehead. “Here’s the puzzle about Assets. Nothing is simple when it should be, and when it shouldn’t be, it’s easy as pie. They’re backwards people. They should relate to one another. But often don’t. High math, however, is like breathing.” She crossed her arms. “It’s all down to Reese now.”
“And Sherlock,” Lestrade added.
Inside the room, Agent Scott pulled a chair over by the door to wait. Reese walked in and sat on the table. She glanced over Holmes. “Just cool it, okay?”
“This is your choice for relaxing.” Sherlock paced and waved his hands about. “There are no stimuli in here. It’s… depressing.”
“Aw, come on. Don’t be childish.” Reese half-smiled, which effectively meant she found his misbehaviour appealing. “Now sit down. What’s going to happen is we’re going to walk through until we get a pattern. That pattern will be a memory. If it’s not a memory it’ll be a sign of how they constructed a memory block. We’re going to use cues to drop you back in the memory. You just try to talk. Got it?”
Sherlock was arch. “Last time someone wanted to talk to me that badly, he was a sociopathic cabbie. What good are you?”
Reese’s expression froze on annoyed. She upended her finger and pressed it to the tabletop like she was hitting an On button. “Holmes, get here. I’ve been through the report. Let’s use it to deduce what happened to you. But don’t pussy out.”
Holmes stopped close to the table and stared at her.
She looked unblinkingly up into his face. Then she shook her head, “The fact he’s still stoned isn’t helping.” But at least his pupils were shrinking now.
Inside the glass, Young held the button that would let them talk to the interrogation room. Her tone was all business. “Reese, stop making excuses and do your job.”
“God,” Reese muttered under her breath. She turned her head away and rolled her eyes. When she looked back at Sherlock, there was some small trace of amusement on his face. It was much more helpful than his glare had been.
Holmes pulled out a chair and settled into it so abruptly she jolted. He raised his head a little when she looked at him.
Sherlock looked down at Reese’s legs. His brain stuttered to life.
Uneven scuffs on her knees. From taking him from the Embankment. They were red, tender, but she ignored the discomfort. A little further up, her leg was bruised. That one… he didn’t know where it had come from. It was ubiquitous in shape, and older than the others, pale golden-brown now, meaning between 10 and 14 days old. Back before him.
Memory cues. He leaned forward and picked up her hand. Sherlock turned it, pushed back the little leather bangles she wore to hide the wrong she’d done, and touched the scars. For such a little thing, Reese’s whole body jumped. Her fingers curled, though not quite into a fist. Sherlock watched her face. Her expression was immobile. She reacted exactly like she was frozen. No one ever touched them. Seeing the reactions she couldn’t control gave him some faith in what she was about to do to him.
“Loosen your hand.” He said.
Her hand uncurled, but mechanically. He could practically hear the joints groan. What it didn’t do was actually lose tension. If someone were to handle the scars often, she would learn to loosen her hand. “You cupped your hands after you cut your wrists, afraid to move them. They stiffened this way.” He spread out his hand and flattened her resistant fingers.
Her face said Yes.
“I’m going to be careful, Sherlock.” Reese spoke dryly.
“Yes.” He gently laid one of her hands in the cup of the other on her lap. They closed together like a lily as soon as he released them, supple again. She gave her arm a shake – it was a habit – to dislodge the bracelets that hid her wounds.
Reese exhaled and turned her chin just a little. “I don’t want to hurt you, but this isn’t going to be a walk in the park. It’s not in my power to make it okay, just to make you remember it.”
He looked at the far wall.
“Take off your jacket and roll up your sleeves. And the trick is to stop thinking about this, and listen.” she nodded.
He took off his jacket and laid it carefully on the table. Rolling up the sleeves was particularly difficult. The bends of his elbows were horribly sore.
Sherlock said nothing, though it did surprise him when Reese got up on the table and unscrewed three of the four fluorescent bulbs. The room wasn’t black, but the twilight conditions changed his perspective. His swollen pupils thanked her, but when the rods and cones in the back began the switch to mesopic vision, he was swept with cold.
Why was he afraid?
Because the Photography Club didn’t miss a trick. Sherlock rocked back in the chair. For a second the room had gone soft red. Red and loud and dark.
Reese’s hand closed on his shoulder. “Okay, I said to listen, not rush in after it. Stop pushing. We have to kind of sneak up on it, all right?”
Sherlock was still powerless to speak. He was no longer sure he wanted to do this. However, he knew this was just fear of the unknown. Obviously, he was alive. Fearing a memory was dysfunctional.
“Okay,” she went to the door and opened it for Lewis.
Scott and Lewis moved the table clear across the room to sit under the window. Now Reese could sit in the chair directly in front of him. “So the working theory is our memories are full sensory if repressed. That makes it bad, because it happens inside our heads like it’s real and right now, but it’s still just a memory.”
She took his hands in hers and examined each of his arms for about two minutes.
He shivered when her fingertip touched the bruises on his right arm. For a moment he lost his breath. A strange sensation filled his skin. He fought it down and started to pull away. Sherlock aborted that motion. “Reese.”
“Stop it,” she told him. “I’m telling your brain where to start. If you muck with your reactions, I can’t read where to do next. Relax and concentrate, but don’t try to outthink it. But relax.”
That cut it. He didn’t like this. He levelled a glare at her that she ignored. But then Sherlock shut his eyes and forced himself to do as she said. “Try again.”
Her fingertip touched his arm. It felt like the echo of a point. A swell of euphoria reached across his skin. It was uncomfortable in company. Relatively low doses of cocaine always had the same result for Sherlock – a sudden, very pleasant flush of what he assumed was ‘normal’ human emotion, and a very keen yearning to be touched. It endured for 20 or 30 minutes, unless he was also smoking. That really made it intense. A shadow of that hypnotic feeling flooded his nerve endings. He put his head down. This tangled surge of feeling was what had gotten him into this mess. The problem being, it all went very far downhill from there, very quick.
She traced from arm to arm. He got warm when she touched the first spot on his left arm. Heroin always made him hot. It slowed him down. It drew out the coke inside him, so he could experience it. But by the time she got to the third shot, Sherlock was struggling for air, and felt distinctly ill. He was getting too much too fast. Her fingertip touched the fourth injection site, and his stomach twisted from too much heroin. His breaths came out with short, deep grunts now.
He felt horribly sick. Then he was… somewhere else. He couldn’t see properly, just darkness awash in red light and noise. On his left, his fingers were numb from the grip on his upper arm. He jerked hard to get to his feet. The needle sliced him. He made a low cry. Heat and sickness rushed him. His stomach contracted violently. The rope on his throat went tight and he almost choked on vomit. They dragged him back from the frothy mess.
Roughly thirty people.
In high spirits. Euphoric.
This is a social gathering.
It hasn’t happened in a while.
Low red light. Photographers.
Numbers exceed CIA conjecture.
Improper injections on left side.
Calloused hands with even wear.
Handling suggests: Carpentry work.
Doctor or nurse on right arm.
Doctors had professional experience. They had access to drugs.
‘Don’t panic, Sherlock. If you don’t panic, we won’t need the ropes.’
He looked at the speaker, a young woman with brown hair and grey eyes, very trendy American boy-cut on a pixie face and-. She ran a wet cloth over his eyes and stinging set in. The world went saturated and blurry. He could no longer see detail.
Shadows moved and swirled around his dazzled eyes.
A young man’s voice, close, but not yet at manhood.
‘Tell us about your relationship with Mycroft Holmes.’
Mycroft? It was supposed to be Reese.
‘Yes, we know about Reese. But these are interesting times, Sherlock.’
He wouldn’t talk about Mycroft at first. But the drugs were inexorable. Then Sherlock was glad of the distance between them, because he could no longer lie, and there was nothing he could hold back from them; however, there were questions Sherlock simply couldn’t answer: What was the scope of Mycroft’s powers beyond the British government; Mycroft’s ambitions and his ethics; Anthea.
At one point, he wondered if he was dreaming, and then, if he was breathing.
The Photography Club knew something that had dawned on Sherlock when his brain flickered through the Indian restaurant and he’d fixed on the camera as they’d half-dragged him out to the waiting car. Mycroft Holmes not only had Sherlock under steady surveillance, he had London, and most of the UK in his palm. Turn out the lights? Mycroft could put them back on. Particularly if you turned them off over his younger brother.
And if you had Sherlock’s ear, it meant you got Mycroft’s attention. Say, if you happened to have physical or ideological possession of Sherlock Holmes.
Tearing pain blasted across his torso, he pulled against a crowd of merrymakers on his ropes. Epiphany dawned that this was actually his memory he was experiencing. The tug of war that strained muscle painfully across his chest and back… it was the past. It had already happened. It was over. He felt himself breathe deeply-
He sat on his heels on a tile floor in the Yard. John had his face between his hands, and was shouting his name in a way that suggested he’d tried calling, and it hadn’t gone well. Sherlock’s hands were balled up in John’s coat. He opened his eyes, but his voice wouldn’t work. He could hear himself gasp for air. He buckled, nearly falling face-first against John’s jacket, without being able to do anything about it. Dimly he began to hear Reese’s steady voice talking. He listened to what she was saying, because she kept up a steady demand that it was crucial to his safety that he hear her. She was his epiphany. She was the one who’d talked him back out again.
For a moment, he sank into a restful darkness.
“-something he called the red house.” Reese wasn’t talking to him, but he could feel her voice vibrate. This was because his head was cushioned against hers. He tipped against the cocoa scent of her hair. “I’ve got the names of the streets, John. That will put us in the area. Let me talk to Lestrade and my team about how to go in. He’s going to need about a half hour to get back up to steam. Can you feel him shaking?”
John’s hands on the back of his shoulders.
Reese nodded, “Stay with him.”
He opened his eyes again.
“Sherlock?” John’s voice broke with relief. He stooped. John took his hands from Sherlock’s shoulders and circled around. He ducked down and pushed Sherlock’s hair out of his eyes. “Hey, are you actually in there this time?”
Sherlock reached up and rubbed his aching head. His arms felt weighted, but… he was okay. He winced up at John. “That… was extraordinary.”
Reese ruffled his hair and grinned. “You memorized the street map and traffic lights of London?”
“No,” Sherlock stretched his tender arms carefully. “But, well, yes. It wasn’t intentional.”
“Oh my God,” she laughed. “Well, whatever. You gave us directions, lights, arrows, four-way crossings. It was crazy. We can get to the general area.” She stood and smoothed her skirt. Reese looked down at him. “Sherlock… you’re something else.”
After that, she left him with John.
Sherlock blinked slowly. His head throbbed, but he could finally see the world without things being awash in vibrating colour with razor edges that hurt his brain. It was surprising that he was so winded, and so gratified at once. When he sucked in a deep breath he touched his throat. It hurt. John came to stand before him and offer a hand to help him up. He took it and got to his unsteady feet.
“Spectacular,” Sherlock brought his flattened hands together. “What happened?”
John’s expression clouded. “It was kind of… intense.” One moment, Holmes had been his customary – if that word could be applied to him – opinionated self, impatient and wholly disinterested. And then he’d broken apart at the seams, clearly in pain, clearly in distress. John had politely excused himself from observation and burst into the room right through the CIA guards.
At six feet plus, and well built, Sherlock was more than strong enough to snap bones. But John also didn’t want Scott or Lewis to lay a hand on his friend. To John, they looked like ham-fisted giants who would inadvertently do Sherlock harm. So he and Reese had handled it.
John rubbed a sore muscle in his neck. “You were definitely… elsewhere.”
“I’m sorry I missed it, but I was busy,” Sherlock finished unrolling his sleeves, went after his jacket, and pulled it on, even though his cuffs weren’t buttoned. “Amazing stuff, John – was talking to Ree, and the room went red. Then I realized I was in this old, discoloured hall, and it was like an overexcited cocktail party – some kind of fetish thing with a human centrepiece to play with, only that was me. A bit rough on the wrists, weren’t you John? That’s going to be bruises, for sure.”
John was still recovering from the description of the room; the party; Sherlock as a plaything in this Club’s incomprehensible game. He shook himself. “Sorry. I had to hold on to you.”
Sherlock sobered. After a few intervening seconds he asked, “Did I hurt you?”
“Close thing, but no.”
“Good.” Sherlock ducked his head and caught up the long coat. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” John zipped his jacket. His voice lowered, “Let’s not wait for this lot.”
“Uncanny,” Sherlock replied quietly, “I was thinking the same. And, by the way, did I tell her it was the Chiltern Street Fire Station?”
“Oh my God,” John said under his breath. “God. Why didn’t they just drop you home after?”
“The question, John.”
“No. I mean, your directions cut off before you got there. You were getting too hard to handle, and she just sort of – I donno – pulled you back out. Could you hear her?”
“Eventually, yes,” Sherlock dropped gratefully into a chair and closed his eyes. He joined his hands under his chin. “Could you… recon the observation room and report? I’d like to leave now.”
John did just that. He found the CIA and Met police in a nearby break room. They were trying to be quiet, though Lestrade was rather angry with the CIA. He hadn’t expected anything like what had happened. He’d expected a kind of interrogation. Well, John could understand the feeling. But now Lestrade was furious, and that John didn’t follow. Reese was busily explaining that it didn’t matter how he felt, and that she’d simply created a safe zone for Holmes to access the memory – which he’d badly wanted to do to begin with. She was frustrated with the delay.
John withdrew carefully, and helped steady Sherlock out the front doors of the Yard. A few streets over, they stopped for a container of orange juice. It seemed to replenish Holmes depleted sugars.
The skies had finally cleared, and watery, slanting, sunlight penetrated cloud cover above their heads. Sherlock leaned on the wall of the convenience store and licked sugary drink off his lips. Sarah had introduced him to this brand during the Ninth Muse case. He smiled at the bottle. “Mm. If they crystallized this and ground it up, I could cut and snort it.”
John snatched the empty bottle away. “Oh, shut up. You would not.” He chucked it in the nearby Recycling and dusted off his hands. “I think you’ve had quite enough, really. How’s your head?”
“Getting better,” Sherlock started a second drink. “Sugar.”
“Yes, I know what it is. You’re hyperactive enough, don’t you think – and don’t bother telling me no one has proven the connection between sugar and hyperactivity, either. And… and we should get moving. It’s too close to Scotland Yard here.”
“It’s certainly making you nervous.” Sherlock leaned over to his ear, “We need to wait a little longer. I need to pick up my tail.”
John’s head turned a little. “Your what?”
“The person tailing me,” Sherlock told him. He leaned back to the wall and said, “I’ve had one since shortly after the tête-à-tête with… our mystery boy, I think, among other Photographers. Of course it could just be one of my brother’s underlings. They’ve followed me around before. Do you have the Browning?” He took out his phone and began checking his mail.
“Yes, since right after you vanished, in fact. I picked it up with Reese. I honestly should just carry it with me.”
He looked up from his screen. “Why don’t you?”
“No holster, and it’s bloody illegal without a license, Sherlock. I could only get a carry permit for a revolver anyway, if I could get through the background check to begin with. I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist, remember?” John leaned closer, “This is no revolver. This is a military issue Browning in my pants.” He really needed to spring for a good holster.
Sherlock’s mouth pulled into a smile that lit his green eyes. “Oh, I see. Well, I’m well warned.” His fingers flew across the keyboard of his phone. “However… I’m police, and I believe you have good reason to possess a firearm. Do you solemnly promise to properly maintain it, and carry it without jeopardising public safety, or disturbing the peace?”
John tipped his head to loosen the tight knots in his neck. “I won’t go shooting happy faces into the walls, if that’s what you mean.”
“You won’t go blind if you play with it, John.” Sherlock made a final flourish of taps and pointed his phone at John’s reddened face. “By the way, fee paid, form filed and properly buried. You are approved. I expedited the mailing; you should have a paper copy in 24 hours.” Sherlock put his phone away and smiled down at John. “Renewable, every five years.”
John’s phone pinged. When he checked it, he found the e-mail copy of his carry permit. “Oh God, you are the devil. They let the devil in by the door of Scotland Yard.”
“Don’t be superior, John. You decided he’d be a good flatmate.” Holmes turned and walked toward the far end of the street. Clearly, he’d spotted what, or whomever he’d been waiting on.
John found he was laughing under his breath. It caught a boyish look from Holmes, almost something he’d expect out of a particularly good, definitely unruly, schoolmate. John fell in beside Sherlock with a comfortable exhalation. This was the man he knew and – frankly – couldn’t get enough of. “So we’re going to Chiltern Street? Not a long way from there to the Embankment, really.”
“Good drop site for when you’re done banging up your party favour with everything in the medicine cabinet.” Sherlock’s brows drew up. “Need to get a cab now. Carefully. Stay in full view.”
“We want to be followed.” John tried not to look around him, anxiously, and tried not to worry about the police finding them.
John studied Sherlock on this. He was more practiced in setting traps than men in charge of handling vermin. In the cab, Sherlock glanced over the driver – his habit now – and the front seats, and then sighed heavily. Surprise-surprise: he actually dialled out on his cell phone. John’s brows went up.
“Yes, hello Anthea – where is he?”
Sunset sprayed the back seat golden and made Sherlock’s still face seem cut out of sandstone. He was looking for Mycroft’s help? John was surprised.
Sherlock’s lip curled in disbelief, “What do you mean who? My brother. Or did you think I was calling to ask after the Queen of Eng-” he rubbed his forehead, between his brows. “I don’t care that she’s ‘doing quite well’. Where is-” now there was a long pause, followed by Sherlock’s soft response of, “Yes. Right.”
He hung up the cell and tucked it back in his pocket. Immediately, his hand propped his chin and his gaze flew out the window. He nipped his bottom lip and rolled it out from the bite. Something was wrong. He didn’t wait for the question. “It’s Mycroft they want. Not me. Not Reese.”
“I thought everyone in the Club had to have a photographic memory,” John asked.
“Yes,” Sherlock half-turned. “What about it?”
“So you both do… aren’t those long odds?”
“It’s genetic John.” Sherlock scowled at him. “Plus, science can’t even agree that it really exists. They go about studying it all wrong, failing to understand the degree of concentration required to photo everything, not seeing that it isn’t always accident. Flawed understanding leads to flawed methods and invalid research.”
“Fair enough, so why Mycroft?”
“Because he’s in the Home Office,” Sherlock flicked his cell out into one hand and began to text his brother. “They know he’s unattainable as is, so they took me. They believed I was leverage. Only I couldn’t answer many of their questions.”
John settled back in his seat: “If it’s Mycroft, then you are leverage, answers or not. If it’s Mycroft, well, he can’t really help himself, I expect.”
But Sherlock had stopped texting to look at him. Everything about his expression was taut. He clapped the phone between both hands. “Oh, I see,” he said to himself, and then to John, “Mycroft left the office for the day, but he didn’t take the girl.”
“Anthea, you mean?”
“Yes, his girl,” Sherlock nodded. “The human algorithm he left running. She’s sitting, waiting on his timer to alarm. And me… I’ve been,” he sighed and closed his eyes, “had.”
John didn’t understand.
They took the turn onto Chiltern Street and continued until Sherlock called to the driver to halt. The firehouse was fenced in and abandoned. It wasn’t red in the sense of a fire truck, though all the doors were. The brick was a ruddy orange.
“Super-saturated colour,” Sherlock muttered as he pulled the handle and gave the door a push. John wasted no time getting out after him. He was already walking along the fence boards looking for a way in. John could already see where that would be and zagged in front of Sherlock.
“The wire’s cut,” John gave the clapboard a push and it slid out of the way. “Come this way.”
“Looks wide enough you could get a car through.” Sherlock said from inside the lot. He sized up the hole in the fence and then looked at the ground around him. “So it was Mycroft who detected the cause of the black-out. He doesn’t like people messing with his city, and he’s been having us much more closely monitored than before.” Sherlock grimaced. “The street I was on went dark, Mycroft’s people reported an anomaly, he probably checked for the cause himself. It was suspicious, so he reversed it, and then he texted me. It was less than 10 minutes afterward.” He showed John the phone. The text looked innocuous.
It said: ‘What mischief are we up to tonight, Sherlock?’
“Oh, so he thought you’d done it. I mean the blackout. But he wouldn’t worry about it, Sherlock. There are lots of times you don’t bother to reply to him. I think it’s more likely you won’t respond, in fact.” John nodded.
“And there are lots of times he ignores it,” Sherlock agreed, “but not this time. He looked into it this time.”
“And you think he’s gone because the Photographers lured him out alone?”
Sherlock looked at the ground before him, thinking aloud, “No, I did that. I lured him out.”
John followed him in through the red front door. Sherlock inhaled the dusty air beyond, deeply. He closed his eyes. “They took me in one of the bays. I was in the car until the door closed behind us.” That meant he didn’t know his way via this route. Nevertheless, he led on through the dust and abandoned furnishings, until he reached a windowed door. There he paused to look at the darkened room beyond.
John could guess why. “It was in there? Their party?”
Sherlock nodded mutely. Inside of his head, he was watching the car door open off to his right. They roped his wrist and dragged him out of the warm, glowing safety. The shot they’d slammed him with in the car, had been a mix of one of his favourite things, MDMA, and… something else. He didn’t know what yet. MDMA had always made Sherlock feel warm and loved. Within minutes, the world was better; there was hope; people were humane, bearable, and he wanted to be among them. This had been his gateway drug. Having taken it young, he could remember lying in a fabric of skin and stroking hands, and shivering with delight. MDMA turned him into an alien: it made him want to be held and handled. And these people, oh, they’d handled him, all right. They’d roped his arms and neck and hauled him into the echoing room beyond. The drugs had ravaged him, left him depersonalized and in an altered state. That was when they’d begun questioning him. It had started before they’d brought out the coke and heroin and alternated comforting him with harming him to see which way he would break.
Because they’d wanted him too, in fact. They’d come to London to collect all three.
Problem for the Club was, Reese rarely left the CIA’s or Lestrade’s side.
And if Lawrence had failed, what could they use to draw her out?
Sherlock had a sinking feeling he knew the answer.
His head saw the tug-of-war as a Club ritual.
The sort of thing one saw in a Fraternity.
Which side had won him?
That was their nature. There were two sides to Club Parliament. It came clear to Sherlock as he remembered that one speaker had been identified as a Lion, and the other as a Lamb. In other words, there was someone to bang the coke, act like god, and do the highly unpleasant things the Club had to, and there was someone to bang the heroin, love mankind, and save the world.
“Oh my God,” Sherlock gasped. It was brilliant.
John gripped his shoulder. That was when Sherlock realized he’d covered the majority of his face with his hands and John read this strong reaction as fear or horror, and had moved to defend. “Yeah. I’m here this time.” John said flatly. He chambered a round. “Let’s kick the tires, shall we?”
They pushed the door and walked into the near blackness of boarded windows.
“Let there be light,” Sherlock said in time with flicking on the overheads.
John looked up. “I expected them to be red.”
“I expected the floor to be covered in chaff and puke,” Sherlock replied. “But the clean-up crew has been through already. After they dropped me, this place would have been spic and span within the hour.”
Sherlock walked to the middle of the empty room and stood. He closed his eyes. His memory filled in the blanks – kneeling with the ropes pulling between one side of the Club, and the other. The strain played across his chest, to break him. Each side slid their needles into his bloodstream, and each side made their case. It was his reaction that they waited for.
This system corralled incredible minds, good and bad, and restricted their activities by way of highly structured ritual. He remembered Reese and her hatred of ape rules.
“This was never supposed to happen to you.”
Sherlock didn’t have to turn to know it was Mycroft.
Sherlock’s older brother stood at the back of the house where Sherlock could remember his questioners: the grey-eyed girl, and the young man. She’d put something acrid in his eyes, so their faces were amorphous and indistinct. He was sure of the genders.
“Afternoon, Mycroft. You should know your girl is waiting back at Home Office, absolutely clueless about where you are.” Sherlock said dryly.
“Come now, Sherlock. Calamity aside, try to be reasonable. They have to be turned to the good,” Mycroft picked up his umbrella and strolled along through the open space.
“Your good,” Sherlock corrected his elder brother. They glared and walked to meet one another.
“What’s going on?” John pointed the gun at the floor. “Uh, hello?” He followed Sherlock.
Sherlock nodded in response. “There’s a reason that MI6 rebuffed the CIA. Think Tank is the US government’s elite program; and the Photography Club…” Sherlock motioned across at his brother.
“No,” John drew out the word. “No way possible. They’ve murdered a man, Sherlock. For God’s sake they hacked him apart.” He looked to Mycroft, utterly at a loss.
Mycroft set the tip of the umbrella on the concrete floor and frowned. “Ah. They do enjoy a certain degree of autonomy. The problem here is that the Speaker died unexpectedly. There’s been a power struggle. Lions moved quickly with candidates hidebound to their credos-”
John blinked, “Lions? There are lions?” He was getting a bad picture of the current situation.
“A power struggle ensued between two of them and the single cleverest of Lambs. She really needs to be Speaker, that girl.” Mycroft waggled his umbrella in air. He inspected the handle, “It’s been dreadful. I’ve been back and forth several times to remind them that the Speaker and all of the Speaker’s staff need to be impartial.”
“They took Sherlock,” John swung the gun at the doors Sherlock had been delivered through. He realized he was quivering with anger. “They tied him up, shot him full of drugs, and throttled him around the neck.” He reached up his free hand, hooked his fingers in Sherlock’s collar and yanked. A pair of buttons actually popped off.
John had only intended to show the rope burns at the younger Holmes’ neck, which he succeeded in doing. But Sherlock’s glare caused him to drop his hand away quickly.
Sherlock adjusted his shirt with a small grimace at the missing buttons.
Before them, Mycroft shut his eyes and seemed to swear to it. “This was never supposed to happen to you, Sherlock.”
Not enough for John, who barked. “Then why did it?” so loudly that both men jumped. His shout roared in echo through the cavernous hall.
Sherlock blew out a mouthful of air to steady himself, and turned to John. “Because the Speaker they want is Mycroft,” Sherlock said with a nod. “And the leverage they needed to get him is-”
“I’m sorry, Sherlock, when Anthea told me, I rushed over and-” Mycroft had reached for his brother’s shoulder. Sherlock had stepped back. In response, Mycroft’s hand balled into a fist and fell to his side. “In any event, the Club isn’t official UK policy. It’s something I organized on the side with an MI6 grant. I’d considered having you lead them only,” he looked his brother over, “you would never be able to maintain the focus needed.”
John felt his teeth groan from being gritted so hard. The gun in his hand rattled. Much more, and he felt he might shoot the hell out of his cursed building. “This is… insane. You are insane.”
“He’s insanely brilliant,” Sherlock told John. One long, pale hand floated out toward Mycroft. “I mean, I… I didn’t see you in it… not until just….”
John actually snapped, “Don’t you praise him. You were violated by these people.” A fine aching in the muscles of his arms let John know he was gripping the Browning too hard. So he eased off. All the shouting in creation wouldn’t change the past, just like all the anger in the world couldn’t put Lawrence back together again. Or undo what had been done to Sherlock.
Sherlock paused…. “Did Anthea tell you which way it went for me? I’ve recovered much of what happened, but I don’t have anything at the end. Apparently, I ended up on the Victoria Embankment. Did she tell you which way it went?”
Mycroft tipped his head to one side, “Sherlock… do you care? Does it matter?”
“The drugs were just a treadle they used to push me over the edge. It was how I reacted that would land me in one House or the other. They were quite smart enough to know your relationship with the Club would change radically if your brother was in the upper echelons of it. As such, which way did I go? When they cut me loose, did I attack them, or did I bargain with them? Tell me, Mycroft, please.” Sherlock appeared to hold his breath.
Now Mycroft looked at the umbrella he held, at a glint of light it threw on the dazzlingly clean shop floor. Finally, he raised his head. “They didn’t break you.”
Sherlock turned away in disgust.
“I’m not lying to you.” Mycroft told him quietly. “My squad raided the place. They’re all in custody right now. I was told you vanished in the confusion. I suppose you can be counted on to escape, after your years of dodging police raids. I couldn’t find you. I didn’t know where you were until you were checked in at hospital this afternoon, Sherlock.” He put his knuckles to his lips, briefly, containing some strong emotion or other.
“You have a squad that conducts raids? Yourself? Just you?” John asked Mycroft. Unbelievable.
Sherlock set his hands on his hips and tugged his suit coat into order. “Deliver the young man who killed Lawrence Waters to the CIA by full dark, or I take this to the police.”
Mycroft laughed warmly. “Don’t threaten me, Sherlock.”
Sherlock stepped up to his brother. “What happened to me… it hurt.” He drew out that last word between his clenched teeth. “Give. Me. The killer.”
“Fine… yes, I’ll send him. If I don’t, you’ll come take him. I know you, Sherlock. I would only do this for you. You may have him.” Mycroft looked contrite, even somewhat pitiful, in his agreement. Then he sighed. “Sad, really, he’s only fifteen, and the most calculating, gifted Lion I’ve ever seen.”
“That would be the one in your mirror.” Sherlock sneered.
“Or here before me,” Mycroft said seriously. He looked at his watch. “Well, it’s late. I have to prep Anthea to deliver Rowan down to the Yard. You all right?”
“Fine,” Sherlock nodded. “Find out what he gave me with the Ecstasy?”
Mycroft’s brows swept up. He looked Sherlock over. “Oh-my. Everything old is new again.”
“Find out.” Sherlock said slowly. He turned and walked through the empty fire house. “I’d best not see hide nor hair of the Photographers again, Mycroft.”
Mycroft Holmes’ voice echoed through the room. “They’ll be indistinguishable from the common passersby… from now forward.”
It was chilling.
John backed up a step. He clicked the safety on the Browning. It would not do to shoot Sherlock’s brother over this monumental accident, no matter the temptation. It was best to be civilized about this. His tone was dark as he said, “Good evening then.”
“Yes. Good evening, John.” Mycroft said.
John followed Sherlock out of the building with a quick glance. Anthea stood texting outside a black Bentley. She looked up and smiled gently as they passed her. “I see we’re feeling better.”
And of course Anthea knew. Sherlock ignored her and kept walking.
John tried to imagine his sister, Harriet, doing something like this to him. True enough, Mycroft hadn’t planned an eventuality wherein he was forced to take over the powerful genius Club he’d built, and hadn’t meant for Sherlock to become involved in this, but the risk had always been there. Sherlock had once described Mycroft to John as ‘the most dangerous man you’ll ever meet’. In the last days, Mycroft had lived up to his reputation.
Now he was in charge of the Photography Club.
“Are we going to cab to the Yard?” John asked.
“No. We’re walking home and then we’re going to a Hotel.”
Oh Lord. Sarah would eat this up. She was convinced of the possibility Sherlock might have stronger feelings for John than anyone suspected. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t worry, it will be nice.” Sherlock told him. “But do hurry up. We can’t be caught here.”
He glanced around him anxiously.
The drugs had worn off, right? “What’s going on? Why aren’t we going to Lestrade?” John asked, “I mean I understand you can’t reveal MI6 secrets, but I would have sworn you’d want to meet this Rowan kid, yourself.”
“Oh, he’ll be just like the rest within six months. He’s about to be sucked into the Think Tank for his crimes. Yes, and we should hurry. It will confuse her that the directions put her close to Baker Street. She’ll think I tricked her to get out of there. But Reese is careful. She’ll hit on the Fire House. Or would you like to wait around for her car so that she can look at me, read my face, and quite properly tell me that I’m lying to her? Hotel, John. A nice, swank one, and I’m bringing the microscope.”
John snorted at this. That was bound to be a hot night: Sherlock and the TM3000 Tabletop Microscope of his dreams. Oh, and John.
They hurried into their Baker Street apartment. Sherlock threw a few things in a bag and spent the rest of his time packing up his precious microscope. His last act before the cab was to update to his blog. It read:
Lions, lambs, rowans – interesting exhibition by the local Photography Club. But I’ll pass.
It made John grin. His phone had told him Sherlock had updated just as Holmes clapped the netbook closed and they rushed down the stairs to the cab. They hurried into the back together.
“So… you can’t see her again this trip.” John said carefully.
“Yes,” Sherlock sat back from giving the cabbie the address. “Don’t worry about the booking. I know the owner and I’ve sent a text that it’s a bit of a predicament. He’ll give us a place to lay low for a few days. Upshot, you can see the Royal Mews from there. Do you like horses, John? I know someone. We could go hacking. Quite relaxing. I can’t believe I never asked.”
“Was I going fast?” He looked up from his phone – Internet searching something about hacking.
“So you can’t see her again while she’s in London-” John began again.
Sherlock tossed his scarf down on the seat between them to get it out of his hands. His typing picked up speed. “Ah, that again? I believe I answered you already.”
“Yes, Sherlock, but it’s just that I think you two need to-”
Sherlock blocked the fading light when he rounded on John. “No, I don’t need people. Do you understand?” The quite visceral expression on his face struck John dumb. His green eyes searched John for signs he was listening and could twig.
There must have been some signal, because Holmes settled back in his seat and continued his search of the internet. “Oh, and there are some solid hunter-jumpers. Are you any good, John? It’s really quite technical.”
John settled back in his seat with a sigh. Sherlock did notice the lack of response, but it was unlikely to bother him. The important thing was to make certain he didn’t notice the pity.
They were just in the elevator when Lestrade texted Sherlock. Holmes nudged him, and John leaned in to see.
Who is this Rowan Helling kid suppose to be?
“Supposed,” Sherlock muttered and shut his eyes, “God.” But he managed not to text about it.
This meant Rowan had arrived at the Yard and surrendered himself there. It was safer in Scotland Yard and/or CIA custody than at the mercy of the other Lions, and much safer than defying Mycroft, de facto leader of the Club until such a time as the transition to a new Speaker was completed.
He just told me check with you for details.
Sherlock nodded at the screen. Yes, he knew that this was also Mycroft getting a finger-hold on the Think Tank – Rowan being his finest Lion, always rampant on Lawrence Water’s London map – but sufficient to the day, Sherlock decided, was the evil thereof, and so he texted a reply.
Rowan Helling hired Delov to remove Lawrence Waters. He may be young, but Helling is a core member of the Photography Club. He’s your Photographer and your man. Boy. He’s your boy. Give him to the CIA. Let them see who he’ll give up.
Well, actually see who else Mycroft had told Rowan Helling to give up. Sherlock glanced around the expensive elevator to the operator running the buttons, and typed.
I’m resting up.
Lestrade came back with:
Reese is asking for you.
Sherlock turned off his phone. John held his tongue, but couldn’t meet his own reflection in the highly polished elevator doors opposite him. In the hall, John glanced at Holmes, trundling along that ridiculous microscope of his – okay, Molly’s. His eyes had diverted to the blue, boxy thing, his expression was disconnected.
On the third night, Sherlock vanished. Only, this time, it wasn’t very difficult at all, for John to find him. It took no guess work considering Reese had CC:ed John on her e-mails to Sherlock. Tonight she was leaving for America, and she’d thrown open the gates.
Tonight’s my last night. I don’t care what you’ve done, Sherlock. Come see me.
John found Holmes sitting on a bench outside London Heathrow, his coat’s collar turned up against a damp wind. He watched planes taking off and landing. John paid the cabbie to wait and walked to stand behind the bench. After a moment, he set a hand on Sherlock’s shoulder. There was no change in him at all, until he turned his face away. The gloved hand on the arm of the bench tightened, as did the one around his phone.
A moment later he said. “That one.”
John watched the plane streak off the runway and draw further and further into the night. Then it was no more than a firefly light on dark canvas. He looked at Sherlock’s inert stare, straight forward at the tarmac, and didn’t need an explanation. John took his hand away and stuck it into his pocket. He turned to stare at where he figured he’d last seen the plane. It was out there. She was out there at a rate of about 500 miles an hour. Somewhere.
“Stuff’s in the cab.” John said at last.
He looked down. “From the hotel? It’s in the cab.”
“We’re going home.”
Sherlock got stiffly to his feet. He tucked his hands in his pockets. John followed him to the cab. It was a relatively silent ride back, but he brightened automatically when he saw Baker Street.
“Drop it all off and order some take-away?” Sherlock asked as he stepped out on the curb into the passersby and confusion of early evening that he so loved.
Dear God, he was eating again. They’d have to hit a bank machine. Well… Sherlock would. John would call Sarah for an emergency grocery run.
Again, John was forced to pay the cabby to wait. But, as he watched Sherlock shove the door, stalk in, and nod at Mrs. Hudson, it struck him that it was worth it. In for a penny; in for a pound – it was very much worth it, and John even managed a grin as he carried the luggage up to their flat.
John almost stepped over the note from Sofia, shoved under the kitchen door.
When he saw it, he picked it up, and immediately folded and pocketed it.
The man deserved at least one meal between cases.
So John decided it could wait until morning.
~ End | Thanks for reading! ~