The Witch’s Heart
Art | Story - magicbunni.deviantArt.com
In the winter of his 17th year, Sherlock Holmes had already been in Cambridge for eight months. He should have been in upper sixths – year 13. What Sherlock never bothered telling anyone was that he’d turned 17 in July – meaning he had actually arrived at the University of Cambridge at 16, year 12, or lower sixths, if you asked his parents. Sherlock had thought the fact these other students walked these stately, old grounds with him meant they could do the math. Cambridge was proving him a dreamer.
His young age was yet another reason why, since he’d come here, he’d tried not to stand out. A few short months, and everything had changed. Lately, Sherlock had come to expect, and dread, there would be some publicity around him. It was augmented by the University of Cambridge official website and newspaper, which had had a large role to play in his rise to uncomfortable prominence, but he’d also been on local morning news twice. Hellish. His growing renown spanned campus and Cambridge now, and reached its skeleton fingers like the Ghost of Christmas Past, toward London itself, matched only by his notoriety in small circles occupied by angry staff, members of various Faculty boards, and Deans of Colleges, ergo his ongoing dramas with Regent House. Dull.
He’d promised father there would be no more surprises.
In that regard, today had been… unpleasant. Sherlock stared at his mobile phone blankly, which was simply how he stared at things, really. But the gears inside his head spun faster and hotter. He also slowed on the winter walk from West Road Concert Hall to King’s College. He had to scan the News and Announcements section for the Faculty of Music twice for meaning to penetrate his strong dismay. He didn’t know why he bothered, though. He’d already seen the local papers.
On the heels of his recordings of Violin Sonata in G minor, Op. 1 No. 10 'Didone abbandonata': Allegro comodo, among other distinguished works, illustrious Cambridge luminary Sherlock Holmes will lead the University of Cambridge Philharmonic Orchestra, playing selections from Paganini, Pachelbel, Dvorak, and Vivaldi during Midwinter Fest….
Now what would Sir Lockton make of this, he wondered?
If only he could know. Then he wouldn’t have to feel so….
Nothing made it real like seeing the announcement in his own Faculty’s news. Good news, in a newspaper, could be bad news for him… unknowable news. His father wanted less from him… not more. It was a difficult thing to explain, but that didn’t prevent it being true. So Sherlock read this and agonized. He turned the puzzles in his head. His inscrutable father. This news. His tenure here was supposed to be about intermingling, getting on with the flock, learning the proper means of quiet Holmes family power.
He was rapidly learning slippery slopes made one seasick.
Prior, his only real involvement with UCPO was a short stint with Baby – the University of Cambridge Philharmonia – during midsummer in order to get on the good books of the Dean of Arts. How had he gotten roped into this? Well, by smoking in the King’s College Chapel to get out of the rain, something Sherlock thought eminently logical. Buildings were made for human shelter. Failing in that, he became unimpressed with their existence. Aside from which, any place that featured rampant dragons as a decorative feature should be disposed to smoke. Beyond sleeping through a few maths, breaking out a solitary car window, getting into the odd inconsequential disagreement, and calling a professor a crazy ponce, he’d been a cherub for eight months. To some extent. But did anyone ever ask if he had good reasons for the things he did?
For instance, at the moment, as he stood in the slowly falling snow, his feet freezing in shoes not meant for such hardship, he strongly considered pitching his violin into the Cam. It was well past the curfew – not for Cambridge, of course, but for him. But he’d been working on a daintily tonal piece of Sibelius. And thinking. No chance any Master or Dean would follow that rationale. Thinking? Seven hours of practice after a full day of school, and he’d be shouted at for seven more if he was caught coming in late. Not something to fear, but something to be mindful of.
He looked at the Cam. His breath puffed up around him as he noted, “Chuck violin in the river…. That is definitely something I should do.” He trotted off the path through fresh snow and would have wagged his tail if he’d had one.
However, as he reached the banks of the river, he’d again thought of the sheer age of the instrument. But that paled beside the unspoken fact his father had gotten this violin for him – a passable instrument by luthier Gennaro Gagliano, the second son, for Lockton Holmes’ equally passable second son. Still, he gripped the violin case. Snow melted in his hair as Sherlock stared into the Cam.
He cocked his head a little. It was too early in the winter for the Cam to be frozen. Given that it froze infrequently to begin with that flash of white wasn’t likely to be a hunk of ice.
What is that?
Sherlock jogged closer the water, in spite of the fact his shoes would have no kind of traction, and he’d be in for a dunking if he slipped.
White… again. Down by Clare Bridge. He sped up. So did his thoughts.
Moving sluggishly in the current.
If he didn’t hurry, it would pass from sight without his ever discovering if he was right about what it was. And… by now, he had a terrible suspicion what that would be. His steps squelched in the frosty clods near the river’s edge, but there was no need to run anymore. He stood, instead, with his violin swinging at his side, strapped across the heaving billows of a chest that gusted steam, the visible contrails of his mental activity.
Sherlock left the violin on the bank and edged into blisteringly cold water. Much as it hurt, tore his breaths into ragged gasps, and made him shrink, he went in until he could reach an arm and snag the coat that came close to floating by like an unseen swan.
White bomber jacket. Faux fur ruff.
Dark gold hair, and Caucasian – hard to tell the age.
Face down. Unresisting.
“Oh my God, you’re dead.” Sherlock breathed mist down at the back of the freezing curls on that bobbing head. “What the hell happened to you tonight? How did you get this way?”
It was hard, in the dark and obscuring water, to tell the gender. God the bite of the river hurt. He pulled the body back to shore and up onto the bank where he could turn it for a better look. The skin was like… seal blubber; looked plastic; was blue.
Good Lord. Sherlock crabbed up the embankment on his bottom, flicking snow in every direction. His mind couldn’t clear out the image, which seemed to sink into everything from his comfortable morning bed sheets, to his unsatisfying late-evening sheet music. Maybe that was because he’d never seen a drown-victim before. Horrible. Sherlock clawed up out of the snow and told himself to calm down. He clapped his hands over his face to cool it.
His heart began to slow.
Holmes looked into the clouded sclera of the dead boy and said, “I… can’t be caught here.”
But then didn’t move a muscle. Finally, the cold drove him to decide, and Sherlock stepped slowly toward the boy. “Who are you?” He crouched beside the body, bit the middle finger of his black leather glove, and touched the fur collar of the dead boy’s coat.
Rabbit fur collar.
He glanced down at the young man’s gloved hands and saw they turned at the cuff to show more rabbit fur. His head tipped.
Who wears white gloves?
If it hadn’t been for the falling snow and dropping temperature, now that it was heading for 2 AM, Sherlock felt he couldn’t have brought himself to do what he did next, which was to stick his hands in the dead boy’s coat pockets. Cambridge photo ID. He was from Trinity College, just a bridge past Clare. Involuntarily, Sherlock glanced in that direction, suddenly spooked by the idea someone might come whistling along the Backs to race down and drown him too. But he shook himself, because that was stupid. Instead of leaving, he made himself turn the ID over in his hands.
“Hello, Daniel. You’re officially having a worse night than mine.”
Sherlock next found the key card to get into Trinity, and the keys to the boy’s room. Other than that, there were some saturated tissues, wet quid, sodden gum, and a soggy folded paper with phone numbers. The wind was getting bitter. Sherlock shook his hands to get feeling back in them and put the paper with the numbers on it into the boy’s pockets with the rest of the rubbish, but kept the pass card and the room keys in his hands.
Drowned. Why are you drowned?
Maybe he was in shock? That must have been it. He felt horribly steady looking over the dead boy. It was as if he were a video camera scanning the scene. He took note of the white snow boots curiously – stylish, but large. “Because he doesn’t like cold and he was to be out for a while… that’s why he’s all zipped up and wearing rabbit fur.”
Sherlock, in contrast, was in a waterproofed gray Burberry coat – open to the elements – a tailored suit, designer shoes, and driving gloves. His head was uncovered, a corona of wet brown waves and water-tightened curls… but this guy. No…. He should have had a hat on: a white hat to go with the gloves; fur lined. Daniel Farrar was too perfect and meticulously detailed. Even his bootlaces were pale camel colour. He was far too well coordinated to go without one.
Hair is in waves.
Flattened with upswept curls beside ears.
Daniel Farrar’s hair… unless he missed his guess… still had telltale signs of there having been a hat involved at some point not long before this calamity.
“Where’d that go?” Sherlock said, and noticed that his teeth had begun to chatter. He shuddered. That was his body trying to generate heat. Holmes breathed into his gloved hands, looked up along the Backs – the long lawn behind the Colleges – and shivered. Odds of finding a white hat in a snow storm before hypothermia sets in: nil. It was setting in now. And what the hell was he doing anyway? He wasn’t the bloody Cambridgeshire Constabulary! He was a half-arsed student concert violinist, if he didn’t get himself thrown out of uni. Sherlock crouched down and returned the remaining items into the boy’s pockets.
“Sorry, mate. You aren’t my affair.” He said, quite certain, by now, that the numbness he felt in every inch of his flesh had somehow gouged its icicle fingers into his brain. He’d seen movies and telly. Why wasn’t he running away? Why wasn’t he horrified? But he just stood and watched the snow come down to cover Daniel. Apart from the initial panic he’d felt, his median response was… curiosity. It lit him up against the cold. What happened?
That decided it. Sherlock bent down and took back the room keys, which he pocketed. Then he picked up the violin case and started up the banks of the Cam river toward King’s College and his, thank God, toasty en-suite.
Hot water sluiced down his spine, over the high, tight mounds of his bottom, and swept all the way down to his cold feet. When he raised his head, it slicked his face and repeated the process across the front of his body.
Holy God. Dead boy outside.
What to do?
Right now, no one knew he’d broken curfew.
When he stepped out of the shower, it was directly into the towels he’d been heating. His skin seemed to burn, violently, where it had been exposed to the river water, which was just about the level of his navel, really. He dried off and set the electric kettle in his room to boiling. But instead of getting into his robe, he toweled off his hair and began to select a suit. This promised that his night wasn’t over.
He dressed hurriedly, finishing up before the kettle had gone off. Then he burrowed into the back of his walk-in clothes closet to find the thick, long Burberry coat that Emeline had sent him. It had a hood, and that would help against the damp hair.
By the time the boiling kettle clicked itself off, Sherlock was out through the door again. He’d opted for dress boots this time. And thick socks. Bloody Cam river! It had been bad enough to track through the snow to the path again. Even with the path relatively clear, that would leave prints. But he’d also had to take off his mucky shoes. That had been a cold run.
Now the snow was beginning to cover all signs of traffic.
He puffed mist on his run down along the Backs to Trinity College. A glance told him that Daniel was still there, stiffening on the riverbank. He opened a door which wasn’t barred and hurried inside.
The Chapel at Trinity dated back to the reign of Queen Mary. However, it had been a work in progress until Queen Elizabeth had finished it off in 1567. Inside, it was a medley of Tudor, Queen Anne, and King George design. More importantly, he knew where there was a working telephone accessible to anyone with very little effort, in fact. He had only to pick one lock – which he had gotten very much faster at, lately, then he was standing in a cordial enough darkened office trying to figure who to call about this matter?
The Vice-Chancellor seemed a good bet. Or the Master of Trinity College.
Only his fingers chose 999.
“Emergency. Which service?”
Sherlock nodded. “Police.”
The woman on the line read a number and transferred him. Sherlock fiddled with the cord on the phone and wondered if this emergency authority had the Enhanced Information Service for Emergency Calls. She seemed to. She hadn’t asked his location or phone number to pass along. He stayed on the line, his eyes on a beautiful King Edward mantle clock.
Suddenly there was a new woman, her voice, sharper. “Police. What’s your emergency?”
“There’s a dead boy on the lawn I just fished from the Cam river.” He replied.
“A dead boy?” She repeated, an action for which Sherlock didn’t see any need.
“Listen closely,” he told her in a quiet tone. “There is a dead boy on the banks of the Cam, University of Cambridge – the Backs. He’s between Clare and King’s College.”
She asked. “Do you know what happened?”
“He drowned.” Sherlock’s lips compressed. Well, wasn’t that a stupid assumption? He might have drowned. He might have had a fatal heart attack.
“Did you witness this?”
“No,” Sherlock glanced at the clock. “I had nothing to do with it. I found him. I’m asking you to send someone out here to take a look at him, find out why he’s dead.”
“And what’s your name?”
“I don’t have to tell you that.”
“Okay, just stay on the phone with me until police arrive.”
Sherlock hung up and sucked air in the darkness. He turned down the phone’s ringer with buttons, until it sounded no louder than the purr of a cat when the police dialled back. Dead bodies were hard on the nerves, for sure. Coming out of the Chapel, he walked slowly through Trinity. He felt it was quite possible that he was experiencing some kind of stress reaction. He purposefully didn’t push himself to travel any faster.
It took him a while before he was able to find Daniel Farrar’s room, and it was sadly ironic that he could sit in the darkened window and look down on the wintery river below. Through the snowfall, he could see Daniel stretched on the river bank. Sherlock removed his coat and boots and curled up on the bed with Daniel’s laptop – the real reason he’d come here.
Sherlock had already been all over the room thrice. Gloves on, of course. He had this theory, and had had it since he’d first been aware of people, or of himself, he wasn’t sure of the difference. He believed everything a person does expresses everything a person is – at least inside the strictures of the society that confined them – a hypothesis he considered the logical extension of I think, therefore, I am. That ‘thinking’ set the parameters for human being and doing seemed a natural conclusion to him. To other people, it was a collection of farfetched and bizarre irrelevancies coming from the mind of a lazy and pointless child. That being the exact expression he’d heard from the last person he’d used his techniques to decode – the Vice Chancellor. A sure sign, at that moment, Sherlock had both been right in his deduction… and that he should always, always work alone.
Of course, it occurred to him, suddenly, when you worked with the dead, you always had a silent partner whose lips were sealed. Unlike the living, they wanted to help. Daniel certainly wasn’t going to tell his secrets to the police. The problem was, even if he tried, Sherlock bet the Constabulary wouldn’t ‘hear’ him. They wouldn’t understand anything. That was his experience.
Daniel was a careful, slightly compulsive person. It was there in the layout of his room.
Coasters on every surface.
Coasters must be approximately one thumb-length from the edge of the surface.
Coasters must match and must be square.
Surfaces must be clean and orderly.
Vacuum left out in room – frequent use.
Owns three kinds of shammies. Three.
Paucity of circular objects – teacup by bedside, square.
Sherlock’s theory said that Daniel’s password would likely be an extension of the same thinking that had shaped his bedroom. It would likely be alphanumerical, no zeros, no open letters, and it would be a set within square brackets. Daniel was also fashion-conscious. Brand name labels dominated his room, just as they did Sherlock’s, though, in Sherlock’s case, that was more a function of habit and his Parisian mother’s – Emeline’s – not-infrequent care packages. She was a fashion doyenne, that woman. But for Daniel, it was even more targeted. Every scrap seemed to get him a little further up the ladder. His clothes closet was layered from least notable to most notable brand. Sherlock’s closet was sorted according to ‘what I like best this month’. And colour.
He glanced over the books on the shelves. The books on Daniel’s desk likely represented his last classes. Ever. It turned out. He had coursework due in them. The notepad beside his Linguistics tome had a half-written quote on its face: …be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat you as something of a dirty joke. That's their natural and first weapon.
Lined up on the top of the desk, however, were tags from the Trinity College Giving Tree that Sherlock had seen in the lobby. Daniel had selected seven of them. On them were the first names and wishes of seven children.
Proud. Humble origins.
Studying the classics.
Several vacations to Egypt to see ruins.
Learning to read two Semitic languages.
Wanted to be a translator, interpreter.
Smart and guarded.
Obsessed with famous figures.
Kind. Animal lover.
Caring. Generous to others.
Okay. Okay. Sherlock touched the keys one last time. He typed [Iwillmkit]. Suddenly, he was in. He heaved a relieved sigh and muttered, “Thank you, Daniel.” He packed up the laptop in its slim case and left with it; technically, a theft. Well… unless you were about to risk your life to find out what had become of Daniel, then it was more like a bonus.
The cold outside was no less cold, but Sherlock felt hot. He felt almost as if he had blood of magma coursing around a hard, spinning inner core. He couldn’t sleep in this state. Instead of the kettle, he fired up the fancy coffee-maker his brother had sent him. It made lattes, caffè breves, all sorts of fancy. But the only breve Sherlock was interested in was a double whole note. He made the coffee black, and tipped in about… two sugars? Two seemed just right.
He logged in as Daniel again and settled in his favourite chair, a bit of an unctuous leather affair by some designer or other in Sweden. All that mattered was it was good for thinking in for long periods. He stayed as put, reading… until he fell asleep.
He might have gone through classes, except for the sudden and violent dream. He jerked awake and fumbled to catch the laptop. Because he’d stood up. His chest worked like a billows. Was it possible to have a trauma that afflicted your dreams and left your conscious mind to business as usual?
In the dream he’d pulled Daniel from the water again, but it had taken incredible strength as if there were hands holding him underneath the surface. Sherlock had refused to near their icy grip. But that hadn’t bothered him. It had been getting the body ashore and hearing a telltale hiss, like sand moving over sand, rapidly, building force. Before his eyes, Daniel had disintegrated. His body had blown outward – salt on the snow.
Awake, he didn’t know why he found this frightening. Asleep, he simply hadn’t expected it.
Sherlock heaved a heavy, settling gust of breath. His coffee-maker turned on with a beep and began brewing. He’d jumped. Everything was normal. And didn’t he wish he’d had the laptop’s insights by the time he’d found the body? He closed it up and put the laptop away in his bedside safe.
After he was presentable, Sherlock’s first act was not to suffer the slings and arrows of breakfast in King’s College Dining Hall – a room that looked like a giant antique wedding cake would, if it could eat you – rather it was to head to Trinity and pass through Daniel’s floor. He walked the watery slanting sunlight on his way, seemingly, to the next span of halls. It was innocent enough. The door to Farrar’s room was open, police milled inside, with one standing out in the hall.
Roughly 20 students stood in knots, some of them crying, others comforting.
“What’s on here?” he asked a woebegone young woman.
She scowled at him and turned away. Ah. She must know him then. Sherlock moved on a little through the sobbing host.
He tried the next student on. “What’s happened?”
“Suicide,” the red-cheeked young man said wanly. The taller boy scrubbed his morning stubble and looked straight through Sherlock Holmes as if he were a wraith. The people gathered here were Daniel’s personal friends. The ones closest the police were his closest friends. Out here, stood the rest. But they were all direct friends and sure to be deeply impacted by the death. The boy before Holmes droned, “No one saw it coming.”
Not even Daniel. Sherlock told himself as he walked on. No sign of depression in anything that Farrar had been writing, not even in his Journal, as late as the evening of his death. And why endure the discomfort of icy water? Dying that way was a gamble… unless he’d factored hypothermia. But there was a lot of prolonged hell to endure before that finally made him feel hot enough to take off his coat and die. Daniel Farrar, if he’d wanted to go, wouldn’t have left any doors open. And he wouldn’t have taken off his favourite coat. In fact, he’d have been dressed to the nines, and left a note behind him, being a considerate person when it came to friends and family.
But he’d died in jeans that were further down the pile, as his closet went.
It wasn’t suicide.
The salt flitted through Sherlock’s mind again. Creepy image. He dismissed it with a shake of his head. He had to get over to West Road Concert Hall as quickly as possible. As fascinating as Daniel’s unexpected demise – not a suicide, possibly an accident – was, there was the scrappy reality of Sherlock Holmes’ obligations to deal with.
The Maestro rapped his podium with his fist. His voice, which always carried, boomed out over the Orchestra, even with his back to them. “Mr. Wilkes, honestly, unless you’ve been playing Handel flawlessly since the age of five, I would suggest you silence yourself.”
From the front row, Sebastian’s face screwed up. “Maestro Fiedler, I-”
“Mr. Wilkes, Sherlock was playing spotless Paganini at six. I was playing the same at age ten. You have nothing to offer us beyond a decent Verdi baritone, which neither of us needs right at the moment. Let me personally assure you he’s capable of this piece without suffering your suggestions, and so am I.”
The expression on Sebastian Wilkes long, overbearing face!
But Sherlock had better sense than to smirk. He busied himself, instead, by flicking the rosin from his bow and then exhaled toward the floor. He would pay for causing Sebastian humiliation. Alissia Wilkes was Sebastian’s mother and a concert cellist of some note, he felt very proprietary about strings as a result. The attention they gave Sherlock drove Sebastian batty.
And what the hell were so many people doing here to begin with? It was a mystery to Sherlock. It was causing him nerves. Though he wasn’t the nervous kind. He wasn’t sure if it was the fact that some of the prats currently warming seats before him seldom missed opportunities to embarrass him, or if he was suffering some kind of fallout from finding Daniel. Either way, catching the interest of rabble couldn’t be good. He sucked air and fought not to let it put him off.
In-out. Breathe. Get in the math.
“Sherlock, you will warm up the orchestra with Concerto in E Minor RV 273,” Maestro inhaled and raised his baton. He didn’t always use it, but frequently, with Sherlock, he employed a crisp white baton that flicked through the air like lightning. He called out to the boy minding the stage and directed, “Lower the lights.”
That was for Sherlock, who really found he did better if he was in low light. It meant he could see less of the people around him. Their expressive faces filled his head with klaxons and bells, so he played his most complex pieces with his eyes shut. It required he memorize the sheet music, but once he was trapped in the cell of his skull the complexities of the orchestra could burst like pyrotechnics. When he’d played for the recordings, he’d been alone in a quiet room and they’d let him turn out the lights. It had been like letting off fireworks. By the time he’d left from the recording studio he’d worked to a sweat and been utterly knackered.
At the time, he’d had no idea what those recordings would do to his repute here at Cambridge. Hated? Oh yes, he was hated. The question for him now was Did it matter? If he could choose his feelings on the matter, and Sherlock believed he could, he wouldn’t care.
He set in on the initial notes of the Concerto. The orchestra rose behind him with dizzying power. He seized the reins about a fourth of the way in and the notes came pouring from him with the inexorability of a tidal bore. Trying. Trying not to see salt. He sucked an uneven breath and only just saved the slur with his nimble fingers.
As Sherlock reached the end, and the piece came to a close, Maestro’s voice rose through the falling cascade, and Sherlock worried he’d been caught. But he said, “Allegro non molto,” he spread his hands and called out to the rest of the orchestra. “What… in your minds, does non molto mean?”
A cellist in the row behind where Sherlock paced held up her hand, “Maestro, Sherlock changes up how allegro his piece is. It’s difficult to gauge how-”
A light flickered in the audience. This turned out to be the reflection of footlights off the brooch on Emma Brighton’s jumper. Dear God. Sherlock cocked his head, all comprehension beggared. Emma Brighton, the ‘duchess of Trinity’? She settled down with several of her expertly coiffed and long-limbed ilk as Sherlock watched. She looked… verklempt, well, less than perfect. The tall girl beside Emma kept petting her hair. Trinity College… she was a friend of Daniel’s?
How did that fit in?
Directly to his left and before him, Maestro pointed his baton at Sherlock’s head. It was a significant distraction. Sherlock jolted at the sudden chopping motion. The front rows rumbled with laughter. Maestro didn’t note it. “Listen to him. Surely you know to listen to him the same as you do one-another. Sherlock isn’t here to carry you, Eliza. To be quite frank, finding your way into his head before you’re a fourth of the way into the piece is part of what I expect from you. Is that clear?”
She nodded, but shot Sherlock a dark glare as soon as maestro turned away from her.
“Es wieder tun. Sherlock?”
Do it again. “Ja,” Sherlock raised the violin. In the seats beyond him, Emma Brighton daubed her eyes and raised her blonde head, but the quick dart of motion snagged his attention and, by looking at Emma, he detected the arrival of someone far more significant in the scheme of things – Pamela Merriweather. Dear God. He looked at the floor, his mind gone utterly blank. He didn’t move. Or he couldn’t move. His body felt locked in situation. Dear God.
The maestro turned to him. “Sherlock? What are we doing? Wieder, bitte.” He said in a tone that belied the German politesse of adding ‘please’.
So Sherlock raised his bow and violin to place and made a down-bow motion. And nothing else. The rest of the orchestra droned to a stop, Eliza with an audible irritated sigh. The front two rows exploded in laughter.
Sherlock let his bow and violin drop to his side and stared out at the crowd. Why were there more now? He didn’t understand it.
Maestro leaned on the podium. “Sherlock, what is it now? Do you need the lights off altogether?” He’d been at the recordings too. “Is it the ambient air temperature? Perhaps an iced frap?”
Not good. Sherlock pulled himself together, raised the bow. Nothing. Instead, images flicked through his head – dark, liquid heat, pressure.
“Stop.” Sherlock gave his head a little shake. All images cleared.
“I swear to God if you don’t stop having violin interruptus with us, child, I’ll have Mitchell play lead violin.” The Maestro’s baton sliced air and he glared at his star pupil. “As you know, both Mitchell and Karla are considered prodigies.”
Just not by Maestro Fiedler. Maestro would rather staple his lips shut than let anyone else lead during the Midwinter’s, and Sherlock knew it. So: empty threat. Sherlock tapped his violin over a shoulder and endured a miniature tirade about the gravity of his position with his brain tumbling as if he’d been stuffed in a dryer. Instead of listening, he focused on recomposing.
“Perhaps if we change up for La Tempesta di Mare?” The tall and forbidding German motioned at Mitchell Ritch. “Second violin, bitte.”
Sherlock, by then, had himself in hand. He cracked out La Tempesta di Mare, his bow eating away, hungrily, at the score. He was quite far through when his mind began to see the Cam stretched out before him, and, as if in a slowly spreading watercolour of nightfall and snowy riverbanks, there was dead Daniel. And then a sharp, brackish aftertaste filled Sherlock’s mouth. He ignored it and bent himself to Vivaldi. He cruised through his solo.
Sherlock rocked back on his heels. He stopped playing, immediately. His eyes seemed to be out on the crowd, but they were fixed on the opaque sclera in his memory. “All right. Salt.” He said numbly, “All right, then. What is it about salt?”
“Sherlock?” the Maestro said. Around him, the orchestra screeched to a stop.
And Sherlock saw himself bite the tip of his black driving glove to pull it off and reach a bare hand for the fur of the hood. And taste the sharp bite of salt. He’d dragged Daniel’s body out of the river. With the boy floating face-down, Sherlock had had to leverage the back of Daniel’s jacket and his hood – dry relative to his purpling ventral side. “Oh.” Dry and salty, coming out of fresh water. “Oh.”
He opened his arms. It would have been right before death. Where had the coat gotten salty?
Very numbly, stiffly, he felt, Sherlock set his violin and bow down in the case. The stage, the crowd, everything was suddenly so outlandish. It was as if he’d woken there surrounded by extra-terrestrials. What was wrong with them? He looked at Maestro whose anger fizzled away to worry. He managed to get out, “Sherlock?”
But Sherlock had already charged out of West Road Concert Hall at a dead run toward the river Cam. He needed a sample. It shouldn’t have high enough concentrations of salt from run off to cause the sort of contamination Sherlock had noticed.
He’d rolled the body to see the face. Had the snow wiped away clues the police might have used? Dammit. Now it was on him to be sure they knew about this.
The cold morning air beat through his chest. He’d always been fast, but nothing seemed to touch him. He skidded to a stop at the flutter of flagrant crime scene tape, yellow, black-checked at the edges, with Crime Scene – Do not enter across it. This was pinned up and blowing gently around the snowy embankment. The much-trod on scene was currently deserted.
He shivered, having left his warm coat behind, and the hot breath he pushed through his teeth painted a soft wash in air like watercolour on wet paper. It seemed that, for whole minutes he stared at the disturbed snow and relived the night before, now vexed at Daniel for causing him to lose his wits. One fraction of Sherlock’s mind was irate. Daniel Farrar was nothing to him, the poor blighter; and he’d done his part – police were on it; Sherlock Holmes was not police, as they had told him for years now, had important things to attend to! The rest of him noted: There’s no shortage of salt on campus.
A certainty, but how would it come to be on the back of Daniel’s coat? Sherlock reflected on how he’d gotten over here so quickly. He’d raced across the walks under the miserly winter sun, his boots crunching the whole way… because it was Uni-policy to clear ice with the judicious application of salt. All that was required to get it onto the back of Daniel’s coat was a slip and fall. Or… he might have been thrown down, mightn’t he? Daniel wasn’t suicidal. Perhaps he wasn’t clumsy either.
Did Daniel have enemies? Would that girl know?
Emma. She’d been crying. He knew where she was and that wasn’t under the nose of police.
Sherlock turned in place and his coat hit him in the face.
When he clawed it away, backing up and glancing wildly out at the world, he found… Pamela.
She pointed a fingertip at him, and her clever voice cracked out, “You’re daft. It’s zero out here today! Put on your jacket. Or you’ll shrivel up.” She crossed her arms and added a diplomatic, “I’ll wait.”
He dragged his jacket on and looked at her, at her hair in innumerable little blonde braids. Yes, well, parts were feeling pretty shrivelled already come to think of it. Natural reaction to cold. Or Pamela. She could be a bit of an emasculator. And for some reason – well he knew the reason – they’d been to bed together. Hers. Not his. It was almost beyond his imagination, but ceaselessly caught in his memory, so that his consciousness was sort of like a helpless salmon in a net. Now it wasn’t something he could take back. “What do you want?”
Her lids fluttered, but not in that vacantly enticing way that other girls’ did. This flutter was accompanied by her brows drawing together and her lips tightening. The message was limpid: Warning – Do not speak to Merriweather that way. She should have at least bothered with a Crime Scene tape of her own. Sherlock shut his eyes and inhaled through his nose.
“Hello Merriweather.” He tried again and exhaled slowly. His eyes cranked open.
“Better.” She tugged off her gloves and walked up to meet him. Her hand reached up and touched his hair. She moved it back from his forehead. Like him, she was a bit too thin, though she was shorter, at her 5’7. And delicate.
He backed up a step to win some distance from the confusion that whorled around her the way skirts did some women. And perfume. Her perfume. “Uh, is this about the money I owe you?”
She looked up at him, her gaze tirelessly brilliant. “Well, you do owe me for the Ecstasy. That stuff doesn’t grow on trees, Sherlock… but… seeing as you are who you are-”
What did that mean? Sherlock looked away from her, which made her laugh. Her voice dropped somewhat. “You’re still so shy. It would be endearing… if you had a heart.”
Sherlock glanced in her direction and had to supress the natural inclination he had to grin. This was exactly what had gotten him in trouble with Merriweather to begin with. Dammit. A part of it, anyway. Mere days through the august doors of King’s College, Sherlock had been visited by Maestro, who had given him a short list of people who were ‘like him’. She was an artistic prodigy. It was said that when she looked at a painting, she could see the mechanics behind it. It was the difference between reading a watch and seeing through the face to the cogs and wheels. She never forgot a painting.
“I know why you’re here,” she told him and took a step toward him. “But, I do confess, when you ran out of there, you gave Maestro Fiedler such a look that it got to me. I was worried.”
He cleared his throat, his existence now an exercise in looking at everything but the one thing he wished to most. “No need to be.” He turned and gazed at the Cam and rumpled snow.
“Of course not,” she glanced up at him now that they stood abreast. The corner of his eye could make out the dimple at the corner of her mouth. She perturbed him, constantly. “You’re working on this killing, right?”
Now shock made him look her in the face. “Killing?”
“Do you think you’d still be so caught up if he’d slipped and fallen in the water?” she snickered. “This morning, while you were tucked in your bed sheets, pretty, I was out here walking the Cam back and forth. Ever since the Master woke us to announce Daniel Farrar had drowned, I thought… surely they’ll take this for a suicide. If it was or wasn’t, it’ll be the first thing they think of with a young and earnest student-”
“Family history of depression and other mental disorders,” Sherlock remembered this from the Journal which had shared a password with the rest of Daniel’s computer.
“Oh-ho,” she blinked in surprise, “I meant the stress of keeping his scholarships coming, but this is even better. And if you tell me you think he fell into the river, Sherlock, I’m going to tell you ‘prove it’.”
He cocked his head, “Did you find any evidence of that?”
“Only the snow on this bank was disturbed close to the water.” She swung her flattened hand at it. “People don’t want to risk sliding in when the temperatures are so low at night. There’s been a cold snap for days, I’m sure you’re aware because...” she froze in her faux fur coat and then looked at the riverbank. For a moment, her pretty mouth gawped. Her voice dropped. “Oh my God. You come this way when you practice late, Sherlock. Did you… were you the one? The police said a young man called: a Londoner of some breeding, by the sound of him. They’re looking for… for you.”
“Shut up, will you?” He said in spite of no one being near. A Londoner of some breeding? What an interesting thing to note. Sherlock’s brows drew down. “By the way, who are you quoting?”
“Not important,” Merriweather breathed in retort. “Good God you’re a bloody hero, pulling him out.”
“No, I’m not, and they won’t see it that way.” He said tersely.
She beamed at him, “Wow. That’s… you’re fetching when you’re brilliant.”
“I’m always brilliant,” he sneered at the thought.
“You see my problem.” She grinned irreverently and then her smile filled with the ice water of her fascination. “Question is, why would my heartless boy jump in the Cam and pull out a drown victim? What’s in it for him?”
Sherlock looked at her face and realized how truly horrible a person he must be. He looked away at the sluggish river, which was finally showing signs of ice. “The… the better question is What was he doing out so late to begin with?”
“No idea,” she sighed and turned to look out at the river with him. “It’s not going to be as easy a thing as looking for suspicious tracks in the snow and on the bridges…. Or what do you think?” Merriweather glanced at his satisfying profile with casual care, because she actually could’ve looked at him all day.
Sherlock’s bow lips compressed a moment. “Nothing good ever happens after midnight.” He made a soft popping noise with his lips that immediately caught her attention in quite the wrong way.
“We’ll make a deal,” she said tightly. “You won’t do that in front of me in public, and I’ll help you with this… whatever it is you’re doing.”
“Okay,” he glanced down at the river. “I need to measure the Cam’s salinity. I can get my hands on a Refractometer easily enough. I need a water sample. Can you get a container and be, I don’t know, inconspicuous?”
“Because the last thing you want is to be caught standing around the Cam, a Londoner… of some breeding.” She started to smile at him as she said so. “Get out of here, Sherlock. I’ll text you when I’ve got the goods.”
“Oh God.” He rolled his eyes and tried to resist the pull of those words, which were not unlike the pull of her drugs. And her, just as soon as he’d done the drugs. Science, or at least the media, said boys couldn’t get excited on MDMA. His experience was Yes, they could. It took time and, above all, focus. He had all sorts of focus and almost felt like he’d stumbled into it by dumb luck. Whatever she’d done to his mind, just being around her made him want a cigarette.
And they were having one of those long, airless moments again, where they just stared at each other. He bloody-well hated those. Sherlock broke away and turned to look up at the sky. “Get my fiddle?”
“From Maestro? Sure. I’d just have to let him take an eye or a kidney to hold on to until you report it’s safely arrived back with you.” She told him. “Or we could just trust that Maestro isn’t going to let anything happen to a Gagliano.”
But he still felt better when he had the violin with him. It went to his classes. Being without it was being without something critical to his wellbeing. It was part of him. Classes. Damn. “I’ve got to go.”
“Aren’t you exempt from classes, violin boy?” She walked with him as he started back in the direction of King’s College.
“Not when the class is punishment handed down from the Dean.” He stuck his hands in his pockets and muttered. “You just do your part. Get a clean container. Collect the water. Text me.” Sherlock glowered as he minced along crunching grass that had been exposed when a path had been shovelled to where the body had sprawled. He made the salted walkway.
“Hey. Look at me.”
But Sherlock kept his eyes on the path. “Why?”
“God, Holmes,” she sighed, “you’re made of stone.”
Hissing steam through his teeth he stopped and turned in her direction. He’d barely come to a stop before Merriweather’s warm lips brushed his. It caused all kinds of unwelcome chaos in his head and positively ignited his nervous system. She walked backward a few steps on her, slender legs. “Danny Farrar’s dead, Sherlock. Don’t lose track of that. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”
Be careful. “Yes.”
“Okay. So get lost, baby-face. I’ve got important things to do.” She told him, spun and walked away on the frozen path. He waited a moment, tried not to let her shake him.
But it was too important. “Merriweather,” he took a step toward her.
She turned again, laughing, “Hold your water, Sherlock. Or should I say next time you see me, I’ll hold it for you.” Merriweather turned and continued away with a chortle at her own cleverness.
She would do it.
He watched her though – just the way she moved, her head full of pretty yellow braids swayed in time with her hips. And then he was late.
He turned and sped up the path to King’s College.
And what was the Dean of King’s College making him do? An English course. A touchy-feely English course: Creative Writing. Oh, he loved grammar and phonetics, but Sherlock had done only the basic requirements insofar as English Literature went. He read voraciously, had his own thoughts, and this own spark… he just didn’t see the need to discuss it. It would be difficult to enumerate how dearly he would prefer to be walking into one of his labs, or into math – he loved math. And now he was five minutes late.
He could hear the clock tick as he walked in.
“Mr. Holmes, how nice of you to appear! And here I thought we might have to put you in the local news to attract you back. It seems to have worked for UPCO.”
Wanker. Sherlock glanced over the man.
Favouring right leg.
Arms on chest. Signs of stress. Hiding something.
Has worn the same watch every day to my recollection.
Wearing a new watch, cheap, and clothes rumpled.
Missing his ring.
His row with the missus advanced to separation.
But whatever. This graying, craggy, beanpole of a man was Professor Bulwick. Sherlock wasn’t about to relate anything that he’d seen to this guy, but Sherlock didn’t care if he used his methods on this tosser. Bulwick – Bullwhip – thought Sherlock was stupid. So Holmes headed down the row without complaint. The class was populated mostly by girls. They liked to sit up front. He sat in the last chair in the back.
“No book, Sherlock? Is this how you treat classes with Maestro then?” he leaned on his lectern. When Sherlock said nothing in retort – the wiser course – Bulwick said: “Answer when I speak to you, please.”
The first thought that went through Sherlock’s head was ‘I’m paying for this?’ But he didn’t dare. Instead, he dropped into his seat and said, “Yes. This is the same.”
“Pardon me?” He seemed flummoxed.
Perhaps he was hard of hearing. Sherlock set his teeth a moment and then joined his hands before him on the desk to calm himself. “With regards to books, this is exactly how I treat classes with Maestro.”
“So you wouldn’t bring sheet music to West Road? You expect me to believe that?” The man scoffed and then glanced around. “It looks as though you’ve left your violin behind today. At least you know what class you’re in.”
A swell of laughter passed through the class – the utterances of immaterial minds, if you asked Sherlock, and of no more particular significance than a breeze in the sky.
“It’s already there, for one thing,” Sherlock explained. “The sheet music, I mean. And, for another, I learn it. I don’t need it if I learn it, because then it’s in my brain.” He was taking it slow for this man, so as to be extra insolent. “Well, unless you somehow feel such a level of attention is… inferior, or whatever else you’re trying to imply here, with this.” His hand flickered in air, carelessly.
“Oh, you learn it? Yes. Pardon me then.”
“Yes.” But what he wanted to say was: Learning things. As a Prof, you should give it a try.
Bulwick actually snickered. “And you learned off our text book, I suppose.” The room rumbled with him, amused, but less so this time. This time… people had begun to look at him uncertainly. He ignored them.
The Vice-Chancellor had sentenced him to 1 year’s hard tedium. Sherlock sighed, “I did.” The sharp motion at the front of the class turned out to be Emma Brighton again. One of her friends half-turned to look between them and slowly closed the text book.
For a moment, Professor Bulwick squared up, his craggy chin rising and his pouchy cheeks puffing with insult. And then it was on.
Bulwick opened the text and ran his fingertip heavily down the page – Sherlock despised that sort of heavy-handedness with a book. “Chapter Seven. Tell me the title. If you can.”
“Title. A Word about Pacing,” Sherlock said and made to continue, but was interrupted.
“He’s right,” Emma’s friend looked up from her text and her eyes widened. “What about Chapter Four?”
Sherlock shrugged, “Character and Personality. Then there’s a pretentious, frankly pointless fleur-de-lis. Then we get: Each character is a universe unto itself and, within that universe, swirls the dust of pettiness, passion and the seed of desire needed to fuel a narrative. Identifying that desire, which we will call impetus, is a universal need, as central to weaving fascinating autobiographies as it is to exciting fiction.” Sherlock added a wry, “Whatever that is.” He continued on until Bulwick’s hand chopped at the podium before him.
His voice was tart, “Speaking of biographies, Mr. Holmes-”
“Autobiographies-” Sherlock murmured to himself.
“-you bring us to today’s assignment. We are going to partner up-”
Sherlock sank down in the seat he was sitting in and clapped a hand over his brow. Nothing could be worse for him at a time like this.
“-and write biographies. This is not a life history; I don’t care where you come from. This is about what you’re doing right now. Why are you here? The assignment will carry through three days with your lines due on Friday of this week. Sherlock, I think I’ll pair you with…” he looked around the classroom, “Emma Brighton.”
Bulwick had chosen the one person most assured to cause Sherlock maximum discomfort. Once the boys at King’s College found out Sherlock Holmes was being handed three days with Emma Brighton, an event he suspected would occur in a matter of seconds, considering the texting going on, he would be harassed. Sherlock could easily see this escalating into a fight.
He was already on warning for fighting.
Maybe that was why Bulwick was smirking.
Sherlock sighed and leaned back in his seat, his pale jade eyes coming to rest on Emma. She blinked curiously in his direction, as surprised as he was, and a little – it seemed – wincing. It could be because she was forced to spend time with such a freak. But… it looked more like worry to him.
This news rendered Sherlock unresponsive for the rest of class. He needed to talk to Emma, but she was worse than any albatross around his neck. As soon as class broke, he strode through the door. She was right behind him.
“Pardon, hello, Sherlock?”
“Wait!” her leggy brunette friend commanded angrily.
He stopped and turned in their direction.
“My God, what do you have in the place of manners?” the brunette dusted off her pretty, pink Lily Pulitzer and glared at him.
“Cheek.” He replied, admittedly fuddled when Emma smothered a smile and glanced sidelong at her friend. He hid it well. Most people did not find him entertaining.
“Sherlock, this is Adriana-”
“Chamberlain. Yes, I know who she is,” he turned and started down the hall.
She flanked him in a twinkling, Adriana on Sherlock’s left. This was not good. It could easily get him a thumping, particularly with Emma smiling the way she, for some reason or other, was. “Maestro Fiedler sent Harvey Moran over with your violin. He’s been told to stand at your door until you fetch it from him.”
“God,” Sherlock shut his eyes and exhaled. “I can’t leave that violin in Moran’s hands. He’ll have an accident, fall down stairs, or walk into traffic. What will become of it?”
“We should go this way.” Emma smiled and motioned. She, like Adriana, was wearing a pretty pink dress, paired, this time, with long white boots. She carried a long white coat over her arms. It reminded Sherlock of Daniel. He stopped walking.
French nails with rhinestones incorporated.
Comfortable. She’s in her favourite dress.
Not starched, but perfectly fitted.
Jewelry is a practiced match.
Hair freshly trimmed.
Recent crying spell.
Yet her makeup is perfect.
She reapplied it before this class.
He gave his head a little shake and looked at her coat. “White…. Is that the trend, then?”
“For those interested in trends,” she opened her arms a little to tell him. “Why… don’t you like it? It’s actually quite pretty. It’s a swing coat, so the bottom part-”
“Emma, he knows what a swing coat is,” Adriana nudged her friend with an elbow. “His mother is Emeline le Bel. Holmes. I guess.”
Sherlock turned his face away from her and started in the direction that Emma had indicated. It wasn’t his usual path to his en suite, but outside would be less crowded. Fewer people meant fewer chances to get pummelled or threatened for being in the company of the duchess of Trinity and her leggy handmaiden. Once they reached the exit, Sherlock seethed with impatience, having to wait for them to put on their pretty double-breasted coats and do up all. Those. Buttons.
He didn’t slow for them across the yard. Irritatingly, they kept up with him, even on their heels, tittering back and forth beside him, both of them equally his height in their impractical, but beautiful, footwear. Sherlock dropped back and let them pass him on the upper hall.
It was starting to hit him: They know… the way… to my room.
Or… or they were observant, and could see Harvey blundering back and forth at the end of the hall. He almost fumbled the violin case and Sherlock made an involuntary gasp. He closed a fist before him in air, his teeth flashing in frustration before he pointed at Moran. “Put the case down and back away Harvey.”
“What?” the word honestly sounded like whut.
“Dear God,” Sherlock opened his hands before him in air. Maybe he should slow this down. “Set the violin down on the floor… and go away.”
“That ain’t nice.” Harvey told him crossly.
“Neither is that kind of language in my presence.”
“What?” Again. Whut.
It was like listening to a bullfrog croak. Sherlock reached out, snapped away his violin, and pointed at the staircase. “Now.”
“But Maestro said-”
Sherlock grimaced. “No – stop talking. Just go. Now.”
“Right,” Moran glanced over the girls in a very obvious fashion. “Didn’t mean to get underfoot atta time like this.” He gave a wink, turned, and headed down the hall to the stairs.
“What. A. Loser.” Adriana growled. “I think he looked at my boobs.”
“Good Lord,” Emma made a show of shuddering. “I feel dirty.”
“The both of you,” Sherlock turned, opened his arms, and invited them: “Shut up.”
He unlocked his door and walked in without trying to prevent them following him. He expected them to follow, and didn’t care. He checked his phone as he went. It had just made a soft ping at him.
“He’s just a boy,” Sherlock said under his breath. “As stupid, vacuous, and morally empty as he is, he hasn’t done you any wrong, well… beyond the obvious crime of being a presumptuous moron.”
Adriana scowled. “Maybe it’s okay to you for a guy to ogle a girl like some kind of nonce-”
Sherlock settled into his favourite chair. “I honestly don’t care. Can’t imagine what he’s looking at with you. Those can’t even be B cups yet.”
“Oh my God, Emma. Good luck with him.” Adriana’s grey eyes flashed. She was speaking through gritted teeth. “I have to go find my partner. Which is Chelsea, by the way. In case you want to get the hell away from Mr. Charming here and catch up. I’m sure we could make something up to turn in for him. Professor Bulwick hates him anyway. Anything disparaging would do.”
“Look, stop,” Emma turned from looking at the papers plastered along the walls before her, much of it music that Sherlock was writing or learning. “I’m fine, Adriana. Just… off you go.”
“You’re crazy, is what you are, Ems.” The tall brunette shook her head. She glanced at Sherlock one last time. “She’d better not get in any trouble, and you’d better not cause her one moment of-”
“Dull.” Sherlock sighed. “Get out.”
“Oh my God,” Adriana was grumbling as Emma gently pushed her out of the room. Sherlock could hear the girl reassuring ‘It’s fine – I’m fine – I can handle him’ until the door closed. And latched. And he could hear Emma Brighton exhale. She took off her swing coat as she came around the corner into his main room. She dropped the coat over the couch that Sherlock often used as a bed and then stood as if unmoored, in the middle of the room.
Sherlock got up, fetched the stool in front of his microscopes, and pulled it over to stand directly before his favourite chair. “Sit.” Then he went to turn on the kettle.
“Don’t you have class?” she asked. “I have class.”
“I said sit,” he sank into his favourite chair again, this time jabbing his elbows in the rests and laying the flats of his hands together under his lips. “Not talk.”
Then she did something unexpected. She stopped talking and just watched him. This was… helpful, because he had a lot to consider with this person. The kettle clicking off woke him from his silent consideration. She was still sitting and looking at him. When he blinked and stirred, she smiled a little. “Thinking done?”
What the…? He was boggled and then answered slowly. “Yes.”
She was… strange. “You too?”
“And what have you decided?”
“I can’t say,” she informed him, and then got up to fix herself tea. Sherlock watched this curiously. She brought him a cup as well. Black. Two sugars. What did it mean? Beyond that she’d seen him take tea before. Did… did ‘normal’ people remember a stranger’s preference in tea? How could he know? He, of course, did. But for others, he couldn’t say. He looked into his cup and up at Emma’s face, almost slopping the tea, she was so close for a moment. But she soon sank back on the stool.
Likes to keep men off balance.
He was more than a match for her games.
“How well did you know Daniel Farrar?” he asked. Her reaction was so honest it took him aback. She caved in as if struck in the stomach and hunched.
“We arrived at Uni at the same time. He honestly never said a bad word to me, like, ever. Not, You left your room without make-up on, or Your hair is fried out. Nothing. And he’s just down the hall from me so, you know, he didn’t miss my bad hair days. Daniel always treated me nicely. I wasn’t friends with him at first, or maybe not really, and then he saw this guy harassing me because I wouldn’t give him my number, and he went and got a few of his friends together, and they walked him out of Trinity College. Really. This guy, he wouldn’t come near me after. I’d never done anything for Daniel. So… I just started to say hello when I saw him, and I’d wave at him and stuff. Or we’d talk about classes. He was so polite. Oh, and he’d always bring me these jelly candies from his friend in school in Asia.” She put a hand up to cup over her lips, suddenly effected. She looked down, hidden behind a silk sheet of voluminous hair that put Sherlock more in mind of a shining shield. Sherlock waited. She looked up a moment later and added, “Daniel was a gentleman. Guys don’t act like that anymore. Not unless there’s something in it for them.”
Sherlock’s fingers opened, steepled, and then gestured at her. “So not close. But… you thought highly of him. Did you know any of his friends? The people who helped escort your pushy admirer out of Trinity that day?”
“Uhm-Hm. I do. They came over to my room today. You know, to make sure I found out from them and not by stumbling out and finding all these police. His best friend is probably Kirk Butler and Kirk said that Daniel wouldn’t have liked it if I found out from strangers. Poor thing. He’s left school for a while. They were close.” She shut her eyes to collect herself.
Kirk… if he’d killed Daniel, he was beyond Sherlock’s grasp at the moment. It would be clever, if suspicious, but the police would be all over that lead. Right?
She sighed, “Why are we talking about this?”
“Biography. I have to write one.” Sherlock said, thought about it, and struck the arm of his chair with a grimace. His abused hand curled into a loose fist. “Bulwick is a pompous nasal bastard with a list of names – who’s worth his precious knowledge, and who is muck – such a poisonous and clever little despot. No wonder his wife’s left him.”
Her chocolaty brown eyes widened. “What?”
“Oh yeah,” Sherlock told her. “Rumpled clothes – nothing pressed. Unkempt. He left the house in a hurry, and didn’t have time to grab his watch.”
Sherlock held up his hand, its back to her, and twiddled his fingers at her. “No ring.” It’s been coming for a long time.
“Oh,” she said. “I… I didn’t notice.”
He rolled his eyes. “God, what do you people do with your attention all day?” He drew his hands over his face and picked up his teacup. He looked into it. “Yet you know about this.”
“You’re interesting enough to pay attention to.” She smiled at the close of that.
For a moment he did nothing. Then he said. “I’m not a gentleman.”
“Really?” her perfectly threaded brows rose. “I think you may be, underneath it all. You remind me of those poets from the romantic period, tromping around the countryside like overgrown children, skinning their knees and elbows, and writing these torrid love poems. Only you’ve got a violin.”
Sherlock drew back a little. “Don’t get… any ideas.”
Her smile was amused, “Oh, I’m full of ideas. Maybe you could be more specific. Which ones are you worried about me getting?”
He sat staring a moment. Then his pale eyes slid to one side… and he conceded the point. For Sherlock, it was no different than knowing when to take his medicine at chess. He set down his tea and looked at her. “They’re saying he killed himself.” There was a long pause during which the ripples in the cup stilled and something inside him hardened. “I don’t believe that.”
“Neither do I,” she told Sherlock staunchly. “Daniel was hopeful, driven, and very friendly. He would never have done something so traumatizing to others. You’d have to know how gentle he is.”
Sherlock watched her. “What do you think happened?” he asked.
“Accident?” She looked down and smoothed the hem of her skirt on her thigh.
Sherlock’s lips pulled back into a half-smile. “No you don’t.”
“Pardon me?” she looked up at him.
“You fussed with your skirt. You diverted your gaze. You lied just now, and you want to be distracted from the notion he crossed someone and wound up dead. You just don’t want to say so, because it’s frightening and, I suppose, strange. And you have no proof. But at least try to have the courage of your convictions. At least do that much.” Sherlock got to his feet and looked down at her for a moment. Then he took out his phone and glanced over the message that had just come through.
It was Merriweather: I’ve got your water, babe. Meet me up?
“I’ve got to go to lab.” He opened his arms like this was a revelation. He had a slight detour to pick up Merriweather, but she was canny as a fox, that girl, and he wouldn’t put it past her that she was already very close.
“Okay,” Emma got to her feet and smoothed the dress over the points of her hips. “But doesn’t it freak you out, thinking like that? And don’t you think it’s just… what’s the word… dramatic? Thinking he was murdered. Don’t you think that’s me being fanciful?”
Sherlock’s green eyes rolled and he walked around her. “Put the stool back.”
She did, and even carried both teacups to the narrow table where the coffee maker and tea kettle stood. Sherlock, meanwhile, began digging in his walk-in closet. As she approached, a boot came flying out to strike the wall across from the closet door, and Sherlock growled from inside, “Dammit, why do I have nothing warm? It’s winter. How can I not plan for an entire season?” Sometimes his extremely detailed focus cost him something in the big picture.
Emma picked up the boot and stepped in the closet behind his narrow hips. He was on his hands and knees searching under racks laden with clothing bags and beautiful suits. Finally, he sat back on his heels and sighed. He looked up at the ceiling. “Curse you, Emeline, for making me so impractical.”
“That’s your mother.” She guffawed from above him.
He looked up at her from where he sat, exasperated. “It’s her fault.”
Emma laughed, reached down, and mussed his curls. She handed him his boot over his shoulder. “At least they’re lined.”
Sherlock caught the other and sighed. “I suppose this will have to do.” He got to his feet and frowned at her. “Get out of my closet.”
“Oh, sorry,” she fetched their coats instead. Sherlock glanced over her as she returned, but there was no sign she’d checked his pockets and found her friend’s room keys. It was beginning to loom above him, though, that he had to write lines about this girl and why she was here. This seemed a brutal waste of his talents and deductive devices. He didn’t know much about her… personally. Beyond the things his system told him about her, and the new fact she was something of a slave to her fashion, by the look on her face as she had to button her double-breasted swing coat while not damaging her expensive French nails. It was odd. She was beautiful, but that seemed to mean she had to do more work, not less.
Sherlock opened the door and… there was Merriweather. She bounced on her toes and gave him a little push back into his room. “Can I at least come in a minute?” Her voice, while still high, was middle-range and a bit huskier. Which, apparently, he liked, because the sound of her breathless words provoked him in ways that Emma’s voice didn’t.
For instance, for a moment, he lost his train of thought. And his breath.
Merriweather straightened, arched that little bit needed to almost kiss him, and he knew he wouldn’t have resisted this time. But then Emma’s voice interrupted. “Who’s this?”
Merriweather reeled back. “What the hell? Is there a girl in your room?” She caught hold of Sherlock’s coat and pulled him outside so that she could see Emma standing, so prettily, in her white coat and boots.
“Oh my God. Emma Brighton?” Pamela veered around to face Sherlock, her teeth bared at him. “You are in so much trouble, Sherlock Holmes. You’d better explain this.”
“Okay,” he said mildly. “Let’s start with the fact we’re not in a relationship.”
“And I’ve told you a dozen times Yes we are. You are an idiot with the emotional depth of a teapot. No better.” She told him and then glanced across at Emma. “I’d almost wish him on you. You have no idea how thick he is!”
“Oh, and it seems you do.”
Sherlock sighed between his teeth, “Please stop. Unimportant.”
“That was innuendo, you bloody fool.” Merriweather scoffed at him. She turned to Emma, her face scarlet. “And, yes, thanks. I do.”
“Interesting, yet he says there’s no relationship there.”
“Sherlock, I’m going to hit her.”
“Oh don’t do that.” Sherlock said quickly. He caught Merriweather by the shoulders and turned her around. “Listen, you have a job to do. I suggest you do it.”
“I suggest you admit you’re in a relationship,” she stammered up at him. “Right now.”
“We’re in a relationship.” There was no feeling in it whatsoever. But he’d said it.
Merriweather sighed. He actually pitied her at that moment, though he was unsure why.
“Steady,” he told her before he released her arms.
“Yes,” she looked at the floor and then across at Emma. She cleared her throat lightly. “Yes. Yes well, sorry about that, Sherlock. She took me by surprise.”
“I know the feeling. We’ll start over. Emma Brighton, this is Pamela Merriweather, and vice versa.” He glanced between the two blondes. They said nothing, nor did they approach one another. Good enough for him.
“Where is it?”
Merriweather picked up her oversized purse, which she’d dropped on the floor beside the door to his suite, and then pulled out a plastic bottle. Inside was a murky liquid which had more in common with chocolate milk than water, to the casual eye.
Sherlock glanced up at her and smiled. “Good.”
“You’re welcome,” she said a bit self-consciously. Beside her, Emma Brighton stepped out into the hall and shut the door. Sherlock turned to lock it.
“Let’s go.” He said softly.
“Is she in?” Merriweather asked with a slight curl of the lip in Emma’s direction, like she couldn’t imagine the eventuality.
Sherlock’s coat swirled around him as he turned to consider Emma. “I don’t know.”
“Then why’s she here, really? Other than the infatuation, I mean.” Merriweather hugged herself and refused to look at taller, far more elegant and classically pretty Emma.
“My, you’re abrupt.” Emma said sweetly, but with the same energy behind it as boiling sugar. It was a tone that could leave the same devastating burns.
“See, no one asked you,” Merriweather said brightly. “Sherlock, focus, okay? Why is she here?”
“Thanks to Bulwick, I have an assignment to write a brief biography on Emma Brighton regarding that very same topic. Why are you here? Meaning? In Cambridge; in the world-”
Merriweather added a betrayed, “In your rooms.” She set off down the hall. Only eight feet away were the stairs she’s used to get up here.
Sherlock turned and sucked a steadying breath, “Merriweather.” She didn’t slow. “Pamela?”
She turned at the top of the stairs, her costume jewellery rattling as she barked at him. “Well are you coming or not?” Then she headed down without him.
“I’m sorry,” Emma said demurely as she stepped up beside him.
He glanced over her. “No you’re not.”
She shrugged a little, and flushed at the cheeks. “Okay, fine, it’s true. No I’m not. And the part about the infatuation… isn’t wrong.” She leaned her slender upper body forward and pressed her pastel lips to his, just for long enough for the circuit to close and a current to run across his skin. He had to look away and blink.
Then he went after Merriweather.
She huddled outside, her nose going red and her knitted scarf pulled up around her head and ears with her hood. She blinked a few times, and Sherlock had a bad feeling this meant tears. “She’s here for a project. What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m here for a project too,” she said coldly. “Let’s get it done.”
They found their way into one of Sherlock’s favourite places – chemistry lab. It was in session at the moment he arrived, but he led them in through the back and let them through a door that was usually reserved for the teaching assistants and grad students. No one found this unusual.
“So you just walk in here and use the equipment all the time?” Emma asked lightly.
Sherlock watched Merriweather flick on a lamp and walk unerringly to the Refractometer. She was a bit uncommon as art students went. He almost smiled. He glanced at Emma, “They owe me.”
“The teaching assistants or the grad students?” She cocked her head.
“Uh yes,” he chucked his coat onto a chair. “I tutor them.” He approached Merriweather carefully. Her expression was… dangerous. Seeing as he knew no other, and no safer way to get his MDMA, he had to handle the situation with care. And… if he was brutally honest with himself… there was that other thing they did. Well, had done. A couple of times. He wanted her to behave as the girl he expected. As he got closer he bent and ducked down a little to get a better look at her.
She simply took the bottle out of the bag and thrust it at him before crossing her arms.
Okay. No luck there. And when it came to Merriweather, it was almost all luck.
The Refractometer was already on, so he set to work, shaking the bottle in his right hand, and working with his left.
“What’s this thing?” Emma asked. “A scale?”
“Bench-top digital Refractometer,” Sherlock told her distractedly. He was looking for pipettes in the storage above the unit. “They’re used in all sorts of industries. I just need this one to tell me about the Cam river, though. Nothing too extreme.” He’d found the pipettes and took a small sample.
“That’s it?” Merriweather leaned into the light beside him. “That’s all you needed?”
“Better from the bigger sample,” he said. “I gave it a good shake in case something settled out.”
“I’m worried about the temperature of the water,” Merriweather felt the bottle. “Still a bit much. Temperatures can throw off the reading, and then we’d have to start again.”
He raised the pipette and deposited three drops into the steel divot in the top of the square machine. “I know.” It did nothing. Sherlock took out a USB drive and plugged it into the side while they waited. Merriweather’s fingers curled up. She fairly stopped breathing.
“Uhm,” Emma glanced at Sherlock with her coffee grande eyes. “Why is this important?”
Now Pamela chortled and shook her head.
“Well, I don’t understand.” Emma said a bit tautly. “I’d like to know what’s going on in I could.”
“It’s simple,” Sherlock turned in his direction. “Fresh water has less than .5 parts per thousand of salt dissolved in it.”
“Everyone knows the Cam is fresh.” Emma blinked.
Merriweather told Sherlock. “I got that sample from the margins. If the run-off from campus is hiking up salinity at the surface, we should be able to tell.”
The machine suddenly gave them a number and Sherlock sighed. He fussed the menus as he spoke. “So the river Thames is actually a river estuary. It has tidal and non-tidal regions and a halocline, which is where the water shifts from low to higher salt concentrations. Because of the Coriolis Effect, in the North, running downstream, the deepest waters of the Thames are fresh on the right, and salty on the left. It would be reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. So if someone drowned in the Thames – say they were weighted down to drown – if they came up salty, once the weights holding them fell away, then you’d know which bank to start searching for evidence on. However, the Cam is fresh-water. The Refractometer is telling me it’s fresh. If a person were to drown in it, and turn up in any way salty… what does that tell you?”
Emma’s eyes were wide. Quietly, and as unobtrusively as she could, Merriweather moved between the girl and the door. Then Emma gasped, “You found him. You found Daniel.” She clapped a hand to her lips. “The police want to talk to you.” It came out muffled. She was fighting tears.
“Emma, I’m hanging on here by a thread.” Sherlock got to his feet. “There are several people at this school who would like to see me expelled. I can’t talk to the police. I can’t get in trouble again. Do you understand?”
“But Daniel’s dead.” She dropped a hand and told him, tears gathering on her lower lashes.
“I know,” Sherlock said. “And I… I went in the river to my waist to get him out. Don’t you think it’s important to me to know why he’s dead? I’m going to have to get this information into police hands. When I… pulled Daniel from the river, he was floating face down. But the back of his coat was salty. There’s not nearly enough salt in that river to have made my gloves salty after I dragged him out. But they were. I had to tug one off with my teeth. I could taste it.”
She reached out her hand and touched the USB drive he held up. “I’ll do it.” Her voice was nerveless. “I’ll take it to them. I won’t mention you.”
“Sherlock,” Merriweather crossed her arms. “A word?”
He closed his hand around the USB drive and winked at Emma. “Give us a minute.”
“Sure,” she glanced back at Merriweather uncertainly, and then went in search of a tissue box in the back. The shock had been a bit of a push for her, it seemed. Sherlock looked away from the girl and walked down the white tile floor toward Pamela.
“What is it?” The little art student was shorter than Emma. She was slighter as well. Yet Sherlock felt the need to tuck his hands in his pockets as he approached her.
Merriweather looked up at him. She took out her cell phone and showed him an e-mail from one of her friends in the Humanities in Trinity. “I’m not stupid, Sherlock, she lives on the same floor as Daniel Farrar. They’re within three rooms. Brighton could be involved for all we know.”
Sherlock shook his head. Are you blind, Pamela? But he didn’t say it aloud. Who knew why, just, “You’re wrong.”
Pamela smiled coldly, “Prove it, babe.”
“You’re doing it backwards.”
“She must be proven guilty, not innocent. This isn’t France.”
“You’re on.” Merriweather said darkly.
“Then I should tell you I’ve spoken to her about this,” said Sherlock. “She doesn’t show a single sign of guilt or artifice. She doesn’t hide anything but her grief. That’s normal for a girl interested in being taken seriously. But if you’d like, I’d verify her whereabouts for you – I mean, about 1AM, pretty girl like that, she might have been anywhere.”
Merriweather looked at the far wall. “Pretty girl like… you have a point there.”
He felt his head tip, “What’s the matter?”
She cleared her throat a little. “Nothing. I believe you, but I want to be sure, Sherlock. I’m actually fine with you offering her up like a fattened lamb if you want. I just need to know the first words out of that glossy little mouth won’t be ‘Sherlock sent me – he found the body – I think he’s the killer’ if the Cambridgeshire Constabulary puts her under pressure.” Merriweather reached a hand out and touched the arm of his jacket. “You don’t think of me.”
He pulled a face, such was his contempt for those words. “Idiot. I think of you too much, already. You made me lose my place today.”
She blinked at him. “In… you mean in Concert Hall? Is that what happened?”
“Don’t go on about it,” he said tightly. “It’s unattractive. I’m not fond, Pamela. But I do care about the things you can do for me.”
The dimple at the corner of her mouth dwindled away to nothing, and she nodded. “I have that much to work with, anyway,” her chin rose in bitter practicality. “You can’t march her in there, Sherlock; police may be able to make a connection between Emma Brighton and you – it’s thin, but if they have someone clever, someone who might check her recent associations….”
“Yes. I agree,” his lips pressed closed and returned to their normal bowed-fullness. There were admirable things about this girl, and her tricky thinking.
“Do I need to ask if you have a plan?”
“I’ll need you do write me a note.” He told her, and as they were both dominantly left handed, added, “With your right hand.” Charmingly enough, Merriweather was ambidextrous.
She was smiling as he finished that proviso. But then, Merriweather was always cheeriest when he was up to something. “You got it.”
“This is going to take me a minute… there’s something I need.” He looked between the two girls with some small intuition twigging. He didn’t know what it was trying to tell him.
“Go on,” Merriweather half smiled at him.
Sherlock briefly left her side. He had to run back to his rooms, not a problem for someone like himself. He’d always been quick and fit. This development made him feel determined to use his resources properly. For instance, in his bedside safe inside Daniel’s laptop bag, there was a notepad. It was unlikely they’d look for impressions on the paper, but he’d rather they found Daniel’s than his, if that happened. The chances they’d take the note seriously would skyrocket if they did. Sherlock tucked the notepad into a brown paper bag and raced back, not sure what to expect between the two blondes he’d left to one-another’s company.
What he found was the pair of them sitting beside one another. It was quiet. Very quiet. They… seemed peaceable enough, but noiseless. Particularly Merriweather, who, in aspect, looked like a dog someone had walloped. Sherlock didn’t know what to do about that, so he ignored it.
She gave a little hop off the lab stool and walked to join him.
Something had happened. She looked injured. Sherlock’s hand came down on her elbow without there being any thought involved, and he searched her features. What had happened? What had he missed? His gaze skipped to Emma momentarily, and when they came back to Merriweather, her features were in glorious order, as if nothing had happened. “What’s the plan?”
He took the notepad out of the bag and set it on the brown bag. He laid it on the bench. “Grab gloves from the cupboard and come here.
“What’s all this about?” Emma got up and headed his way.
His voice was a bit sharp as he turned to her, “It’s about protecting Merriweather.”
Emma looked surprised, and then a little cowed by this. She glanced at the other blonde in a flame bright moment of jealousy – a countenance Sherlock had never seen on those proud, glossy features before. He turned back to the notepad, uncertain of himself, and unsure he was entirely lucid now that he’d been immoderate with Emma Brighton. It was Merriweather who did these things to him. He could smell her Pink Sugar Sensual heading toward him now, part of the indelible imprint that went with her taste and the hellish suppleness of her slinky body.
She was death to his otherwise marvellously strict focus.
“Sit here and let me think what we should say.”
Merriweather hiked up onto the stool and watched him pace. “For the record, just about anything is a better idea that having Emma walk up to them.”
“I don’t mind,” Emma’s chin rose.
“I know you don’t,” Merriweather’s tone, for once, was clear of any signs of hurt, envy, or any other particular emotion. She turned her braided head. “Daniel Farrar was a friend of yours and you want to help him. Believe it or not, we want to help him too. But we have to do it carefully.”
“Pamela, I don’t want to get him into any trouble.” Emma told the other girl.
Sherlock’s teeth bared a moment. “I’m here. Don’t talk like I’m not here.”
To which Emma responded. “Is this sudden-onset PMS you’re having now, Sherlock?”
Pamela burst into sputtering laughter as she slid out the pen from the spiralling of Daniel’s notebook. She flipped a few pages ahead of the writing and turned her amused face toward Sherlock, but didn’t dare speak a word. She simply waited.
He exhaled a breath drawn to keep him steady. “Print the following. Use capital lettering. No serifs. Do not attempt to speed up the process by connecting, or partially writing anything. Clear?”
“Fire away.” Merriweather shrugged.
WHEN I REMOVED HIM FROM THE RIVER, I TURNED HIM OVER.
IN DOING SO, I MIGHT HAVE OBFUSCATED EVIDENCE.
“Obfuscated?” Emma winced at him. “Really? We couldn’t use obscured or muddied? We have to use a word that less than half the population have probably heard before?”
Sherlock stared at the tall blonde. She was a student of the Humanities, and a very good writer, the precise reason she was in a Creative Writing class. He… should use that to his advantage.
“All right…” he admitted. “Let’s turn a page and try this again. What about the first line, Emma?”
She stepped up before him and said, “The first line is all right. If abrupt.”
He told her. “I’m not worried about being abrupt.”
“So I’ve noticed.” She held his gaze as she said so.
Sherlock turned away so that he could pace and think. Two girls had kissed him. Two. Bizarre. This wasn’t something he’d expected. Sherlock considered himself odd-looking, too tall, very thin, too pale, with a shock of dark curls, and weirdly pale green eyes, the irises thinly ringed in a dark colour that might have been green or blue. But his father had called his looks ‘arresting’, and, at the recordings, his Maestro had noted that he was ‘striking’. There was something they saw that he didn’t. His gaze slid left to take in the pair of girls in relative secret. His weird looks appeared to be causing glitches for him now. He figured it could be nothing else. His disposition was indistinguishable from steel wool. Or a rasp. And why was he thinking about this right now?
“Keep the first line,” Sherlock muttered. “But we’ll add to it.”
WHEN I REMOVED HIM FROM THE RIVER, I TURNED HIM OVER. HE’D BEEN FLOATING FACE-DOWN. IN DOING SO, I MAY HAVE MUDDIED EVIDENCE. AFTER PULLING HIM OUT, I TUGGED OFF MY GLOVE WITH MY TEETH AND TASTED SALT. THIS WILL HAVE COME FROM THE BACK OF HIS COAT WHICH I SEIZED TO GET HIM TO SHORE. ENCLOSED IS DATA ON SALINITY OF THE CAM.
Emma bent back from leaning over Merriweather’s shoulder and said, “That will do. Really, she’s remarkable at block letters.”
“She’s an artist,” Sherlock looked at the tips of his gloved fingers and said, “It is the least that she can do with a pen that would amaze you.”
On his way to clean up the Refractometer, Sherlock couldn’t miss Merriweather’s half-smile. She asked him. “So your letter is done. I doubt we’re walking that over with Emma here.”
Sherlock smiled a bit daftly, he was suddenly so tickled. “Good-good. Next we print the document on this USB drive, fold it into the note, and set my plan into action.” He glanced from cleaning the steel divot and told Emma. “That’s where you come in.”
“Oh,” she looked between Sherlock and Merriweather and back, and suddenly felt just a little… overwhelmed in all this.
Sherlock paced in the upper levels of Trinity. They were in a music room that, up until five minutes ago, had had a young woman playing violoncello in one corner. She had taken one look at Sherlock with his violin, and Merriweather with her camera beside him, and began shuttering the windows and turning the locks. No one practiced where Sherlock practiced. It just… wasn’t done.
It was a mark of his extreme popularity, he was sure.
Merriweather curled her lip and shut the door. And locked it.
Sherlock leaned around her and unlocked it.
“But-” she stopped short when she turned and saw how close he was. Slowly, Merriweather’s spine pressed to the door.
“Suspicious,” Sherlock said. “And word will get around with the cellist of who is practicing in here. No one will make much note of it.” When fighting a piece, he’d been known to head to the nearest building in sight to play; such was the condition of genius, he was told.
Neither of them moved. But her blasted dimple began to form and she said, “You don’t like her… the way you want to like her…. The way Lockton would want you to like her.”
“This has nothing to do with my father.” He said coldly, and pushed a hand through his hair on the way to the large arched windows. It was getting long, a mass of dark chocolate curls that snagged as he shoved his hand through. At the window-seat, he took out his violin. He could hear her returning as he slid red rosin up and down his bow.
“I don’t. I don’t have a thing to do with Lockton. But she does. She’s a Brighton, and your lordly father is socially ambitious. He’s not above using you for the advancement of the brilliant Holmes family. After all, it’s their ambition that keeps them low.”
He turned so quickly, she jolted, and caught her elbow. “And you’re a Merriweather. If I cut you right now, you’d bleed star sapphires all over the floor. Exactly how is your blood any less blue than a Brighton’s?” Sherlock gave her a wild jerk in his direction, which caused her whole body to leap forward against his. He wasn’t given to violence. Never against a girl. This wasn’t the same kind of violence. Or was it? Sherlock didn’t know. Was he hurting her? God. He was full of the slippery confusion he often felt when they were alone. He instantly let her go and backed away.
“It’s okay,” she said soothingly. “It’s okay, Sherlock.” Her hands extended toward him, and it annoyed him beyond toleration. He wasn’t some spooked horse, or frightened cat.
“Don’t touch me.” He turned from her, his voice low and sharp in the echoic room. “And let me think. Do you know what it is I’m about to do?”
“Okay-okay,” she told him. “Dial it down a bit, luv. Just a tad. We don’t want anyone else knowing what it is you’re about to do.”
He breathed evenly, until his head began to clear. She did this to him. He hated it.
“So… playing games with the police.” She stepped up to the window bench a good five feet from him, now, and laid down her camera bag. “It’s freaking me out too, you know. My dad’s in Home Office. He’d kill me.”
“He’d kill you if he knew about me, too.” Sherlock muttered.
“Then I’d just have to die,” she said dryly, and shrugged.
Sherlock hadn’t thought she’d heard that. He kept his eyes on the snowy lawn. “I see her.” He turned and sat on the window seat. Merriweather hurried into place, took out her cell, and laid it on the cushion beside Sherlock. The phone rang and Sherlock pressed the button for speaker. “Emma?”
“I hear you.”
“Okay.” He put his unit on mute, picked up the violin, and played a few bars of a Sibelius allegro, ma non tanto. It was Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47 - 3, which often gave him a headache. He wasn’t best pals with Sibelius and his apparently possessed violin solo pieces, really. Sherlock often felt that a genius at war with himself wrote music this way. They struck him as wildly disjointed and dissonant.
He gritted his teeth and played on. Merriweather stood over him and snapped a few photos before aiming up a little. “She’s almost there.”
“Good,” he played more quietly. “No one will bother me if they hear me at Sibelius.”
Sherlock smiled up at her, “We’ve had a falling out.”
“Who are you now? Mahler?” She snapped a picture, her bright-lipped grin apparent under the professional camera she aimed back to the lawn. “Okay, stop. She’s almost there.” She hit the zoom and took a shot of the lawn.
Sherlock stopped playing and waved the bow as if talking. He was really listening intently to the phone beside him. He could hear Emma breathing, and crunching through the dryness of the snow. Voices rose. She’d arrived at the softly flapping yellow Crime Scene tape. He could hear it.
“You can’t come in here, miss.” A man said.
“Uhm, yeah, I know,” she said in a fairly good imitation of the sort of half-witted girl whose only goal in Cambridge was snagging a Master of Laws before she left the grounds. “But there’s this letter I got today. I guess it’s important?”
The delivery of that line made Sherlock smirk – perfection.
Emma gave a shuddery little breath. Sherlock couldn’t tell if that was real or not. It would be upsetting for her to see the place where Daniel had been pulled, dead, out of the river, correct? Merriweather continued to take pictures of the goings on out on the lawn.
“Look,” Emma waved a hand at them; it also held her cell in it. “Do you want it or not?”
“What’s it got to do with us?” the man stopped staring closely at the water’s edge to ask. Inside the Room in Trinity, Sherlock rolled his eyes and feigned the bow to the strings, but it was shadow play. He soon switched to his favourite Vivaldi, and cursed himself for trying to ape Sibelius while not actually playing him. Sherlock still needed the surrounding orchestra, the physical context of his instrument, to guide him through the relatively inharmonious Sibelius violin solo he needed for Midwinter’s. Vivaldi was silky as buttercream.
“I guess it has something to do with you,” she said accusingly.
The sound of her anger was unmistakably legitimate.
Merriweather changed camera angles and murmured. “She’s taking it out of the pocket of that naff coat of hers.”
“Don’t be catty.”
“No,” she snickered, “I’ll leave that to you.”
Emma said, “See how it says ‘For the Police’ on the front here? I guess I could go chuck it in the rubbish, if you’d like. But seeing as my rooms are right on the same floor as poor Daniel’s I thought you might want to see if it’s some kind of joke or not.” Her tone was scathing.
The phone said, “Lemme see that.”
“Ooh. She fairly threw it at him.” Merriweather snorted and took a series of photos with her high-end camera. “Wow. She’s a bit of a spitfire, this girl.”
The sound of paper opening, and Sherlock heard a moment of silence and a soft brushing noise that made him look askance at Merriweather.
“Straightening her don’t-call-it-naff coat,” the blonde said, and, in spite of himself, it made Sherlock smile. Merriweather? Bitter? She half turned her head and winked at him.
“Idiot.” But he was forced to smother a smile. Brighton did have a bit of a spirit. He hadn’t guessed at that.
Next, the phone said, “Where did you get this?”
“Message cork board on my door?” she said. “I just didn’t notice it.”
“So you don’t know how long it was there for?”
“Didn’t I just tell you no?” She threw her hands up and then turned away.
“Wait a second, miss.”
“I’ve got class.” Emma headed steadily for the door and a member of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary hurried through the slippery snow behind her.
“What’s your name, miss?” the man asked.
“Emma.” She said. “Emma Brighton.” Merriweather captured her slender body across the lawn and then nodded. “She’s doing what you said. She’s not looking up at the window. I guess she can be taught…. The officer is leaving her.”
The phone went dead. Sherlock sighed the breath he hadn’t known he’d held and closed his eyes. He set off on his violin. It wasn’t anything classical this time, but a beautifully complex rendering of the Flowers of the Forest. He stopped with an exhalation. Honestly, Merriweather was looking at him with the most serious expression he thought he’d ever seen. It was spooky.
She gave a soft clearing of her throat and said, “Pack up. We have to go to the meeting point. We’re lucky she didn’t choke… but we shouldn’t push it. We have to reel in the blonde fashionista.”
“The blonde, what?” He shook his head to clear it. Wasn’t important. “You have to,” Sherlock confirmed. He got up and began putting the violin away. “I have to start checking Daniel’s friends. Meaning you need to get to Emma, and text me an exhaustive list. The police will already have rummaged through their uninhabited heads, so I’ll have to be careful about how I do it. I can’t have you hanging about.”
“Sherlock, don’t be a tosser.” She scoffed it at him, but, honestly, she’d lost the battle. He was already decided, by the sound of him. “This is a risk. Someone killed a boy. You’re going off on your own, and I won’t know where you are?”
“Idiot. Were you planning to use your silver bracelets, or your golden lasso, to protect me?” he snickered, but she straightened and blinked.
“Did you just call me Wonder Woman?”
“I don’t know, really,” he shouldered the strap of the violin case. Though he knew who Wonder Woman was as a cultural figure, he’d never held a comic book in his hands before. His father disliked comic books, which meant Mycroft, that sycophantic twonk, had never had them. Sherlock had never thought about them, really. He now resolved to buy one and see what the fuss was about.
They were outside before she said, “Yeah. You did. You called me Wonder Woman.” She smiled in that unreserved manner that he hated about her – and very much liked – so that he had to turn his head and take her in with what he sincerely hoped was an indifferent expression. The strange little thing didn’t need encouragement.
He watched her smile fade away to worry and asked, “What is it?”
“Fine. I’ll keep tabs on your bombshell-”
“She’s not my-”
“If you promise to check in with me to let me know you’re still safe doing this.” Pamela nodded at him and then lifted up the camera bag to indicate she was speaking about it. “What do you want me to do with the photos and the video I captured?”
“Keep them for now. I’ll need to see them when I get back. I want to see his face.” It was good that he didn’t have to answer very many questions for Merriweather. She was relatively smart. He snuck a glance across to find her scanning the sunny Backs, her cheeks bright from the cold, and her hair pale and beautiful in tiny loose braids that weren’t even tied off at the ends. How would they feel, if he touched them? Sherlock looked down at the path. What a feeble-minded question.
Merriweather took her leave of him without a word in parting, off to the prearranged meeting place. Sherlock slowed to watch her go, his head caught in useless and trivial pondering why he’d ever been to bed with her. He felt sure it was brought on by the drugs she’d fed him. But if that were the case, then wouldn’t it be nice if this incessant attraction would also only rear up when he was charged? How embarrassing. He didn’t actually know Merriweather all that well. He’d never been with another girl, and wasn’t really interested in being.
He had to let it go. It was not something he could make go away.
Unless he was absolutely brutal to Merriweather.
But she was too useful for that.
And she’d weep or something.
He didn’t fancy that idea.
That vexed him too.
Best not to think about it.
The list, care of Merriweather, arrived within 20 minutes of her bright, springing braids vanishing from his sight.
Skipping some classes was a dangerous proposition for Sherlock, not because he couldn’t make up for a missed day, but for the punitive facet of his Uni experience. He stopped into one of his maths, and also on his organic chem. But from there it was out into the grounds coordinating his timings to coincide with that of Daniel’s buddies, some of whom had chosen to opt out of classes for that day. They were beyond his casual reach until lunch, where he listened to them while in line for food he didn’t want to eat. Sherlock loaded up a tray he abandoned on a table after he was done tailing a pair of boys whose relentless chatter about Daniel’s fate held nothing helpful.
Just being in Trinity for the general noise proved to be helpful though.
Sherlock came away from there beginning to understand that Daniel had been more aggressive in his attempts to carve a niche in the birth-right and social-status conscious society of Cambridge than Sherlock had thought. He’d been working on gaining acceptance from several wealthy friends. Sherlock began to realise that Daniel’s kindness to Emma Brighton was double-edged.
And he’d worked on a very exclusive member of a very exclusive circle at that. The son of a Baron. Not bad at all. Sherlock, however, knew the family of the person for whom he was searching and held out little hope for their son being half-way sensible.
He found the Honourable Timothy Murray-Heath standing on a regulation piste in a nearly empty gymnasium. Sherlock heaved a little sigh at the nonsense he knew would ensue here. One had to know the Murray-Heaths. Nevertheless, he smoothed his attire and pushed through the door. When he was close enough to the foursome on, or near, the long strip of grounded matting, he cleared his throat.
Heads turned. Heads that easily had several inches on Sherlock’s tippity-topmost curl. Sherlock was instantly grateful that Merriweather would miss this.
“Oh my God,” Timothy turned and pulled off his mask. “Sherlock Holmes. Shouldn’t you be off somewhere playing your violin… like the delicate little bird you are? Dear God!” With a final glance over Sherlock’s trim form, Timothy turned to the blooded peerage that represented his pool of friends and said, “Boys, this is Sir Lockton Holmes’ youngest brat.”
The only other young man dressed for fencing hadn’t put on his mask yet and pointed at his own face, “I didn’t know Sir Lockton had a daughter.”
Heavy, masculine laughter bounded inside the wood and graven sandstone gym.
“She looks French,” said another – this was James Abrams-Clef, who was, apparently a self-styled comedian. “I can’t think if it’s the curls, the cheekbones, or the bow lips.”
“A bit thick on the double-barrel names in your flock, aren’t you, Tim?”
Another explosion of laughter and Villard ‘Vardy’ Pittman, whose only skill seemed to be chaperone to his betters, from what Sherlock had ever witnessed, added, “Deep voice on that girl.”
For a short moment Sherlock shut his eyes. He remembered Tim and his ilk from some of the family gatherings his father had thrown. This was a silly person with juvenile friends. He didn’t do well with silly people.
“Why’ve you come here, honey?” Tim asked happily.
Sherlock took the final few steps over and gave the back of his neck a rub, “Ah, Timothy-”
“Sir Timothy,” he nodded at Sherlock.
“If you could belay the flaming mincer bit,” Sherlock looked up at the taller boy. “I would say I came to ask you a few questions about Daniel Farrar.”
“He’s drowned,” Tim frowned down at Sherlock. And then he grinned, “Were you his bird?”
Oh, that burned. “You are an idiot.”
“Well why else ask?” Timothy turned and threw his foil through air, upright, to Vardy, who caught it. “Épée, please, Vardy.”
“You should hold off for the sabre.”
“Oh, he’s too little. I’d split him in two.”
More laughter. Sherlock rankled in spite of himself. He felt his teeth flash, stomped across the piste and shoved his violin into Vardy’s chest. “For God’s sake, take care of that.” He clutched two of the épée hung on the stand beside the strip and tossed one across to Timothy. Then he spun the épée he held through air so that it made a pleasant whoosh. Sherlock dropped into a fencing pose. “Now tell me what I want to know, Sir Timothy.”
“Oh…” Tim drew out the sound. “This is rich. Oh yeah. This, I want.” He matched the pose.
“Wait, Tim,” Phillip McKenzie, heretofore silent in this exchange, waggled his hands in air. “He hasn’t even got a mask on. He hasn’t got a jacket on. Wait.”
“Don’t be such a nancy, Phil,” Timothy said and advanced on Sherlock in a rushing attack. “What’s the question, Miss Holmes?”
Well, it was hard to think of talking when being pressed like this. Timothy was a good fencer, and on the Cambridge team. Sherlock had never formally been trained. Fencing was simply a family pastime for him. Still, somehow nothing touched him. He backed up with a soft huff and chucked his Burberry overcoat on the floor. The jacket went right after it.
“Oh my God, you’re trim.” Tim guffawed.
“What were you doing, hanging about with someone like Daniel Farrar? And have the police come to ask you about it at all?” Sherlock exhaled and never took his eyes off Tim.
“Come at me, Sherlock. Give me a good Advance-Lunge.”
So the Advance-Lunge came from Tim, instead, though, admittedly, Sherlock had known it would come after the comment and refusal. He parried it with a soft grunt at the sheer force in Tim’s upper body. Bloody baboonery! How’d he gotten into this?
He gave a little gasp, just barely pivoting out of the way at the last of it.
“The police haven’t been by, no.” Tim shook his head. “Why would they be? I didn’t know him all that well. He just used to sit in the stands and watch us fence, mostly. I think he was interested in learning how matches worked – or at least that’s what he’d ask about. You know the type. Not born to it like we were, was he? Well… like I was, anyway.” He snickered.
Which was how Sir Tim got his first Advance-Lunge and Reprise out of Sherlock. It was a decent attack, far more complex than Timothy would have credited of someone like Sherlock. He was laughing at the end of it, but not with derision, more with amazement. “Fit little thing. Good God. Where’d you learn that from? You’re not on the team.”
Sherlock could feel his sword arm getting fatigue; his lungs pumped air with a steady rise and fall of his chest now; he spun the sword in air and passed it to his opposite hand.
“No way,” Timothy pointed his blade at Sherlock. “See that, guys? No way.”
“So he wanted to be knowledgeable if he sat through some fencing, that’s all?” Sherlock looked for confirmation. It was difficult. Tim’s face was red and sweaty, and it pulled with effort as he attacked.
“That… he… did!”
With his right hand, it was harder for Sherlock to parry. And Timothy was too good. One glancing blow shot inside Sherlock’s shirt and tore his lapel in a streak of silver. That wouldn’t go unanswered. Sherlock ducked an attack and shifted back to his left hand. It was easily two minutes of unbroken concentration.
“I don’t,” Sherlock gasped, “believe… he slipped and fell in… Tim.”
“You’re cheating, bird.” Timothy said on the tail end of one evasive In Quartata.
Sherlock’s voice was a throaty rumble in his chest. “It’s not a game.”
“Holy shit. Stop, Tim, stop,” Vardy barked. “Look, look, he’s bleeding. Look.”
They both stopped fencing, dropped their stances, and looked. Sherlock’s white shirt was growing a red patch on the left side of his upper chest.
For a moment, no one moved. Then, both fencers dropped their swords and everyone, as if by some magical impetus, like the scent of a queen bee aloft to drones, ran to the bathroom. Sherlock gave a hiss and ‘Ah’ of pain as he hurried inside to a sink.
“Towel,” Phillip McKenzie said. “Clean towel.” He pressed it in through the open throat of Sherlock’s shirt. It took several minutes of frenzied scrubbing, binding, and gritting of teeth to clean up the mess.
“Do you think it will hold?” Vardy asked over his shoulder to Phillip, but it was James who answered him.
“Butterfly bandages are our best bet. Little bit of surgical tape. Kid’s lucky he’s not hairy.”
“Tosser,” Sherlock said wanly.
“Oh, shut the hell up,” Vardy snorted and swung a finger in Sherlock’s face. “You’re bloody crazy. I can’t believe how you went at Timmy out there. What the hell. You’re not even on the team.”
Tim, who leaned on lockers behind them nodded. “Where’d you learn that, Holmes?”
Sherlock buttoned his shirt and delicately got into his jacket, wondering if the injury would be bothersome as he was playing. He bet it would be. But he’d played through pain before.
“Come on, man,” Phillip said as Sherlock caught his coat and delicately set the strap of his violin across his chest. “You have to answer. Come on, now.”
“My family fences, as a hobby.” Sherlock paused at the door. “And my brother is Mycroft Holmes. Look him up.”
Phillip got to his feet from where he’d cleaned up bloody towels, and stared at the door gently drifting shut. “Mycroft Holmes?” he glanced around him. “I don’t have to.”
Every step gave his chest a jolt, and his shirt was icy cold on his skin on the way home. He went via the Backs, feeling lightheaded with pain, and not caring if the Constabulary saw yet another young man on his way between classes. Sherlock glanced over them as he went, and noticed a dark haired woman – one who was university educated, and knew martial arts – by the river bank. She glanced up his way and he took out and checked his cell phone by way of distraction. He had a text from Merriweather.
‘Where are you? I have free period. I’m worried. Don’t be a twat.’
Dated not ten minutes ago. God. The last thing he wanted was to deal with her right then. Inside his warm, safe rooms, Sherlock showered away the remains of the blood, changed clothes, and curled up on his bed with his violin. His chest was throbbing, but he had so much to do.
Finally, he decided to text Merriweather.
She came back quickly, so he knew she’d been watching her mobile.
‘Yes. Bowed out of Cézanne's Colour. Said I was sick. Which I am. W/worry.’
What a stupid thing. But Sherlock was forced to back out his text of ‘That’s idiotic’, due to the fact he had a sword wound in his left pec.
Instead, he typed: ‘Come over. Bring camera. Got anything for pain?’
Again, she replied to him quickly.
‘What kind of pain?’
‘Like, say, a shallow knife wound in the chest?’
Oddly, nothing came back to him after that, and when she arrived at his door, her coat was open; her scarf was unbound; she’d scarcely tied on her boots. Stepping inside, she chucked her bag on the floor, stepped on one heel of her boots with her toes, and stepped out of them. Merriweather chucked her coat and scarf on the floor without thinking. She didn’t take her eyes off Sherlock, who was backing away from Merriweather as the door closed behind her. Then she put her hands – bare hands, mind you, as she hadn’t stopped for her gloves – up to cover her face. When she dropped them, she looked slightly sick, and shook her head.
“What?” he searched her face. “What’s wrong? What is it?”
She put her head down for a moment, most likely to collect herself. A moment after that, he sat on the bed as she opened up his shirt and looked at the injury.
“It’s not so bad,” he told her. “Just enflamed. It’s shallow enough. Just a nick.”
Just a second afterward, Merriweather’s fingers slid from his lapels all the way up his neck and into his dark hair; and he thought, Oh hell. She set her forehead on his. “You stupid, gormless, reckless, total pillock. I thought you had a great dirty steak knife hanging out of you. God. You really cocked this up, didn’t you?”
Well. It was a good thing he hadn’t said ‘sword’ then.
But there was really nothing he could say to that. She was right. And he didn’t dare move. He didn’t dare breathe. She was so close – practically in his lap with that toothsome perfume, pale sunlit braids falling around him like silk cords. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t imagine thinking. And her soft, sugar plum lips came down against his mouth. Some crazed and painful feeling jerked inside of him. He pushed it down because it hurt. Her knee settled beside his hip on the bed.
He steadied her by the hips.
She sank down against his lap.
They shifted position a little for better access.
This was the unvarnished truth behind those airless silences. It had him shaking inside. More than anything, he never wanted to belong to someone, ever again. But, right then, he also didn’t want to stop. Thus, it took him whole seconds to realise someone was rapping on the door.
“Fuck,” Merriweather whispered. And not in the way he generally seemed to like.
“Uh, get off. Me. Get off me.” Sherlock clarified himself, quietly.
They both had to turn away and smother giggles at his right stupidity. She hugged him at the shoulders, carefully, and got up. Merriweather put a fingertip to her lips. Sherlock nodded at her and got up off the bed, stiffly. He followed, to watch her pad toward the peep hole in the door.
“If you don’t open the door,” Emma paused here. “I am going to scream.”
Sherlock shut his eyes and exhaled. His fingers flickered up along his shirtfront, sealing it again.
When he looked to her, Merriweather’s expression was murderous. “Logical, that girl.”
“Logical, no. Effective… yes?” He felt a bit swollen as he went to fill the kettle. He could hear the door open, close, and lock to admit Emma.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” he started up the electric kettle, picked up his violin, and went to his favourite chair. He took the violin out of its case just so he could touch it. It seemed, if he couldn’t have Merriweather he wanted to hold it.
It was relaxing to hold that girl. Man, he had to stop thinking like that.
“Okay, the Constabulary have been all over my room, and not even constables from the Uni Constabulary. The Cambridgeshire Constabulary is all over my room.” Emma pulled the stool over in a strange parody of her first trip here, and planted it in front of him. She was red-eyed and panicked. “They’re going through my stuff. What if they think I’m involved, now?”
Merriweather actually winced as she sat down on the couch.
“Based on what evidence?” Sherlock swept his bow through air.
“I donno,” she sank down on the stool and rubbed an eye, carefully, so as not to ruin her make-up. “They said they’re in my room looking for his laptop and things like that. I don’t have his laptop. I didn’t even know it was missing.”
“Did you tell them that?”
“Yes.” She nodded.
“Then you’re good,” Sherlock said. There was a long pause before he put the violin and bow into the case again. “An idiot can see you’re not lying. They’re trying to scare you. They think you’re involved with the message. That’s what they think you lied about.” He got to his feet and shut and locked the hard-shell violin case.
“I told them I had an assignment and I had to go.” She reached out and took his hand without explanation. “How am I going to write about you, Sherlock? I can’t even follow what you’re doing. I’m not a stupid person, I just don’t understand. I don’t have all the information. What am I supposed to write, anyway? While I was with Sherlock, he solved the murder of a very nice boy. With this going on, how am I supposed to write at all?”
Then he bent over Emma. “Who said murder?”
She blinked a few times, as if just hearing what she’d said. “The… the woman cop… dark hair, brown eyes. Looks Italian, or Spanish? Well, she has an olive complexion. Sergeant Danas?”
“Greek,” Sherlock told her and then motioned at the camera that Merriweather had out in her lap. “You erasing that?”
“Yeah,” she said breathlessly.
He crossed behind him to check his cell phone charge, which, fortunately he plugged in by habit when home. “Anything on you, shouldn’t be on you?”
Pamela got up off the couch, “Right front pocket. Brought you pain pills.”
Sherlock took out a wadded tissue in which there were two pills. He took one dry, wadded the tissue again, and tucked the other into the junk drawer in the loo.
“Sherlock,” Pamela said palely. “Maybe they’re not right behind her.”
“Oh my God,” Emma clapped a hand over her mouth as she realized her blunder.
The door knocked and Sherlock carefully pulled on his coat. “Okay. Pamela. Are you done erasing the footage?”
“Almost,” she focused on the camera again, as if her worry for him was forgotten. He liked that about her. She knew how to attend to what was most immediately important.
The door rapped again. “Open the door, son.”
“Oh my God,” Emma scooted over to him. “Sherlock, I’m sorry!”
“Nothing to be done for it,” he told her. “You panicked. It happens. I’m not guilty of anything, Emma. Just relax, and make sure they know that Merriweather was just here to see me. Do you understand? She’s not involved.”
Emma turned to look at the other blonde girl. Pamela had finished with the camera and was now putting it back in its case. Returning her focus to Sherlock, Emma breathed, “I understand.” She hiked on her toes and laid a light kiss on his mouth. It wasn’t the same. And it was dizzying. What the hell was going on with these girls, all of a sudden? Sherlock pulled away and walked to the door, careful not to look at Pamela right then.
Lest she turn him into stone. Or something equally mythical.
“Open the door, or we’ll get the Master of the-”
Plural. More than one officer.
Sherlock opened the door with his usual quickness and stared out at the police there. One of them was most certainly clever Sergeant Danas. She’d been at the river bank earlier. Now she had that plug-in-socket look. Things – fitting together.
“No one has taught you patience,” he told them archly. Stepped out, and began to shut the door behind him.
The tall police officer nearest him, said, “Don’t close the door, son.”
Has a son or sons.
Turbulent relationship has left him wounded.
“Why not? I don’t give you permission to enter the premises, and I don’t particularly want you frightening either of those girls.” Sherlock could pull the door no further without resisting the officer holding it though.
“That’s Emma Brighton,” Danas said calmly, “Who’s the second one?”
Sherlock looked back over his shoulder; the expression on Merriweather’s face just about hit him in the stomach. She really was frightened. It wasn’t some game of semantics. The girls were honestly scared. This made him angry. “Why are you here? Best have a good reason. I’m busy.”
“With what?” Danas said.
“Yet no violin on you.”
“And you answer the door with half the brass section,” Sherlock replied silkily, glanced over her and said, “Oh. Wrong. Flautist. Flutist. What you like.”
The big police turned her way. “I thought you boxed?”
“I do. Don’t take the piss out of me, Jimmy. But… I play flute. Mostly in church, I…” She blinked at Sherlock. “How… how could you know that?”
“Your neck is hurting. So is your jaw.” His gaze rolled up again. “Flautists stretch like that. Shutting the door, now.” No one resisted him this time. “Not to mention the papers you have there – rolled up. When I opened the door, you had them rested on the lowest part of your left index and the right just steering the bottom. Know what that looks like?”
She looked up from the rolled salinity report, bound by elastics. “Holding my flute.”
“Very good,” he told her. “Why are you here?”
“Let’s start over, actually. I’m Sergeant Danas, Cambridgeshire Constabulary.” She stared at him for a protracted moment. Sherlock didn’t utter a word. “I think you’d best come with us.”
“I think not,” he told them, “not unless I’m arrested. And why would you do that? I haven’t given you reason.”
“He’s got a point.” the taller cop said.
Danas took a few steps back from him and sized him up. “I’m going to ask you again. Would you please come with us?” She cocked her head at him, her thick black locks cascading down from the extremity of the tail on her crown. “I want to go about this in a friendly and unofficial manner. You need to cooperate with us.”
“On what?” he asked her.
“On the case involving the body you pulled from the river.” She said with utter certainty.
His cell phone went off. Alarm. Sherlock caught it up with a heavy sigh. “I have to get to West Road. I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help.” He turned and went, unmolested, back into his room.
“Are you okay?” Merriweather whispered. They were right inside the door, huddling. Likely, they were listening.
Sherlock shook his head and picked up his violin. He bent over Merriweather’s ear and muttered, “When you leave, someone will follow you. Call ahead, get someone to take your gear.” And by gear, he meant her illicit drugs.
Emma reached out a hand and detained him. “Please cooperate with them. They’re trying to do the same thing as you are – figure out who killed Daniel. Please, Sherlock.”
He looked from her cocoa eyes and down at blue-gray eyed Merriweather. “Cooperate,” she told him. Her tone was tight and low, as it generally was when she was trying hard not to panic. “You don’t need another mark against you at this Uni. Go and help them. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
She was, of course, correct….
He really hated that about her sometimes.
Sherlock didn’t like dealing with the Uni of Cambridge police, or the Proctors. But at least he didn’t have very far to go, and knew how to get there.
They’d been watching him since the unfortunate car-window incident. When the Cambridgeshire Constabulary brought Sherlock Holmes into 1 St. Mary’s Passage, there seemed to be an unspoken assumption he’d broken a law.
They immediately pulled Sergeant Danas into the glass-framed office that enclosed the Cambridge University Constabulary, for a chat about him. It lasted a good fifteen minutes. Sherlock, chin up as he studied the men inside the glass, waited at the bench outside. He took out the violin, given the stress of the situation, and gently cleaned its wood surface to remove any rosin dust that may have built up over the last couple of days. He used only a soft cloth. The local luthier had warned him against more so many times, Sherlock was almost nerveless at the sound of the man’s voice. Sherlock also thought of his family – mostly of his dad – when he cleaned the violin. If his father were here, this would go much differently. People didn’t trifle with Lockton Holmes.
Sherlock didn’t trifle with Lockton Holmes.
He cleaned the bow last. It was also original, though, clearly, not the horse hair.
Then he just held the violin for a while. He put it in the crook of his long neck, shut his eyes, and went through the finger-work on the most complex piece he’d need for Midwinter’s. Shame to waste the time. Within seconds, he was in the airtight spaces he occupied when working on math.
When Danas crouched in front of him, Sherlock’s body jumped.
She quickly reached out to support the violin, then rose and stared down at him when he had control over it and himself, again.
“Sherlock. That’s a beautiful name. So romantic sounding.”
“Yes, the irony is not lost on absolutely everyone who knows me,” he said coldly. “Means, bright hair. What’s your name?”
“Alexa Danas,” she told him. “See we could’ve done this much more easily.”
“No you couldn’t,” scoffed one of the passing proctors.
She waited for him to get out of earshot and said a quiet, “They really don’t like you.”
“They’re unimaginative halfwits,” he told her in reply, “who don’t notice anything about the world around them.” He tucked the violin away and checked his watch. “I have 39 minutes to get to West Road. I’m leading the Philharmonic during Midwinter’s. If I don’t show up, Maestro will make castanets out of my frozen eyeballs. Man’s a bit high-strung.”
The police looked at one another.
“Would you please just tell me what you want from me?”
“Follow me.” She brought him, and the two other officers, into a soft blue papered room dotted with flower petals, which had white wainscot on the ceiling and halfway up the walls. It was lovely, as were the furnishings. He didn’t fancy the large observational glass though. Sherlock sat at the wood table inside and watched the odd Constabulary drift to a stop to glare at him and watch.
“Ignore them,” Sergeant Danas paced the room. “Tell me what happened when you found him. Tell me in detail.”
So he did. She soon stopped pacing to listen. The things he noticed were spectacular.
“Tell me, do you think it was an accident?”
“No.” Sherlock said. “I was up and down the banks and bridges nearby. I saw no sign of that. I don’t believe he was suicidal.”
“Hm. Interesting.” She sat across from him at last and joined her hands on the table, an echo of his right then. He ignored that. “So, do you believe he was held under then? Someone pushed him into the river and kept on his back to hold him down?”
Sherlock’s eyes flicked to one side and looked at the boy’s body in his memory. He shook his head softly. His voice sounded strangely quiet and vulnerable when he said, “Distended areas in the coat near the chest. Both sides. Someone bundled the front of his coat in his fists. No mud on the back of the pants or coat. He was drowned somewhere where the water meets a structure, like a dock or jetty, or something that would have kept him clean. There are marks on the suede of his leather gloves. Friction. Wear. He was clawing at someone with them on. He faced his killer when he drowned.” He glanced up at her.
There was a period of silence so long he could hear the soft noises of the building. No one was moving in the outer hall. Then she said, “You act… like you have it all locked in your head. Why?”
He saw the image of the boy turning to salt and blinked rapidly, then gave his head a little shake to clear it before he answered. “Don’t you?” Then he looked down at the table. “Of course you don’t.” Sometimes he was stupid. Sherlock rubbed his face and sighed. He set the violin on the table and plucked the strings gently.
“Salt. You bit the tip of your glove and tasted salt?” She spread out the report before her. “I had to get a scientist down to the water to figure out what this report meant.”
Sherlock sighed, asked the name of the grad student and then rubbed his eye. It was someone he tutored. “Salt doesn’t add up.”
“Oh my God, what do they pay you to do?” Sherlock looked up at her.
“Find people who don’t want to be found.” She told him without hesitation. “How am I doing?”
Sherlock actually smiled. He had to put his head down and laugh. When he got hold of himself he looked up at her again, he asked. “Do you have what you need? Tell me while I still have time to run to West Road.” He packed up the violin.
“So you didn’t come to us directly because?”
“Oh.” Sherlock got to his feet. “Law enforcement is too good to listen to anyone not cut with the same dim, pedestrian die as them. So why should I trust you?” He checked his watch. “Damn.”
With that he hurried out into the hall. Even pushing, legging it as fast as he could go, and he was very fast, he was gasping by the time he reached West Road.
Maestro opened his arms from the stage.
“Turn down the lights.” Sherlock’s gaze swept the seats as the lights dimmed. All that he could tell was that they were filling up, but didn’t have time to give it much thought before he hurried up onto the stage and swung his violin up into place. His chest gave a deep twinge and he winced and lowered the violin.
“Ah, Sherlock… was ist falsch? God, you are a headache.” He rubbed his forehead.
Gently, he settled the violin around the pain and sucked a breath through the nose. He started out on the slow, gentle notes of Ave Maria.
Maestro’s headache seemed to fade away with the long, peaceful notes. The harps and cellos enveloped him and music folded around the room. Really, Sherlock was using this to warm-up the abused muscles in his arms and, pointedly, in his chest. He’d played Ave Maria well as far back as he could remember. He swung right out of it and into Vivaldi Concerto in D Minor Op 3. No. 11 RV 565 4. It made his chest twinge sharply enough that, by the end, he had a very bad feeling he needed rest more than practice. But he couldn’t give quarter.
He powered down the list – the first hour of the show – until the muscle just seemed to burn inside of his skin. Maestro called a break and a great wave of applause went off through the orchestra and the crowd alike. The noise of it took Sherlock by surprise. It knocked him out of the otherworld he occupied and dropped him down into this body with a laid-open chest. He bent forward a little, but it wasn’t a bow. His chest hurt. He straightened, the weight of his violin dangling more painful than he could have guessed. While the orchestra behind him exchanged congratulations, chatted, drank water, and otherwise celebrated how successfully the night was going. Maestro walked to Sherlock.
The tall German folded his arms on his chest and tapped a finger off his chin. “What’s wrong?”
“Just some pain.”
Fear flashed across the man’s face. “Your posture is stiff as a flagpole lately. Is there some kind of stress going on? Is it your classes? I’ll talk to your teachers. Lassen sie ihn ruhen! Is it back pain?”
Was it stressful to find a dead kid? He didn’t know the answer to that. Too many thoughts flooded through his head as he tried to come to a conclusion. “No. It’s not,” Sherlock bowed his head and paced restlessly. His upper chest was throbbing.
Now Maestro’s voice dropped down to something Sherlock had never heard before, something gentle. Sherlock shut his eyes. Maestro said again, “Muscle or tendon? And where is it, child?”
No one spoke to him like that. “Nothing, it’s nothing. I think I want to end with Allegro. I’d like to do L'inquietudine. I like it best, and it’s a good send off.” Sherlock gave a nod and motioned at the orchestra with the bow. “Let’s have them give it a run through. I intend to be very Allegro.”
Maestro put his hands on Sherlock’s shoulders. “Sherlock. Listen to me. Where is it hurting?”
“Just some discomfort,” Sherlock nodded at the man. “Upper chest. Left.”
“Sure it’s not in your shoulder?” He lifted his left hand accordingly, just off Sherlock’s shoulder.
“Yes.” Sherlock nodded. “It’s muscle. Just sore.”
“Okay. I’m watching you for signs we should stop. Practice is almost over for the night in any case. We stop when I say, understand?” He checked his watch before he withdrew.
Sherlock sucked air. He could feel sweat on his ribs. But Sherlock remembered Mycroft once, when he’d been good and walloped in fencing, actually struck in the temple with a sabre hilt. Mycroft’s unsportsmanlike opponent had been black-carded from the event, and sent back to France. And he’d been bleeding. But had 17 year old Mycroft given up? Of course not. He’d gotten his head together, mastered the physical pain, and won the tournament. Sherlock was not a warrior. Not weak, but not martial. The stage was about the only battlefield he knew. He would not surrender here. He would not allow himself to be outdone, even in this little thing, by Lockton’s golden boy.
He saluted with the bow as if it were a rapier, nested the violin above the pain, and waited.
“Listen!” Maestro raised his baton and the orchestra and audience began to fall silent. “Together on three, zusammen, watch the baton, together.”
The silence was almost complete. They watched the baton. It seemed to move slowly. One. Two. And Sherlock set off on one of his favourite Vivaldi pieces. Having his head together helped him manage it in spite of the pain, almost as if he had learned the size and shape of the discomfort and how to move around and inside of it. It also helped to be flying through a piece like this one.
The audience cheered as before, and, something very odd, the strings bobbed their bows up and down in time. This caught Sherlock’s attention at once, because, for them, that was applause. They’d never done that for Sherlock before. His commitment to them had been so inconsistent. But the fact they were usually stock still when he emerged from the wings had been noted in the paper once before, as a sign of disregard for him.
He didn’t know what to think, or to feel, so he glanced through the dim wooden expanse of the room, his eyes crawling row on row of orange seats, and he left the stage. The cheering went on like a kind of insanity. Leaning on the wall in the wings, he soon saw Maestro’s shadow cross the stage. This made Sherlock straighten and, very gently, tug his suit into order.
Maestro Fiedler came just inside the back. “You need rest, Sherlock.”
He relaxed back against the wall.
“But go out through the front.” Maestro motioned Sherlock forward. “It is bad manners not to acknowledge the audience, Sherlock.”
“They’re not an audience. They’re students like me, here to hang out somewhere warm.”
Maestro rolled his eyes. “Sherlock. Sherlock. Students or not, they have come. In fact, why they came in, does not matter. They have been captured by your skills. Now come on.” He clapped his hands together. “Let’s go. Schnell!”
Sherlock walked across the stage with a soft nod at the orchestra and a glance out at the crowd beyond him. They did not get any more quiet. Finally, Sherlock took his position and set in on a violin solo. This wasn’t anything they would have heard, as he’d written it himself. It was more mathematical than emotional.
But it seemed to work.
He glanced across at Maestro on the finish. The man looked… contemplative. He, more than anyone else, was in a position to know that this piece had come directly from his prized student. This reaction – introspection – was more than Sherlock had hoped for. Then the man released a pent sigh and checked his watch. “Sherlock… I want you here at 5PM. We need to run through the Sibelius. Please stop fighting with one of the most prevalent 20th century symphonists on record, and just trust me: he knows what he’s doing.”
“I don’t know what he’s doing. Thus? Problem.” Sherlock murmured to himself. It was like Maestro had slowly reached up and substituted a sword on a string for the sun in the sky. Sherlock wasn’t sure he was ready with Sibelius. He’d been sort of… distracted lately.
But Maestro had noticed the muttering and fixed his celebrated pupil with a stern look. “Something wrong, Sherlock?”
Or had something shown on his face? “No, Maestro. I’ll do it. It’ll be done.” Sherlock gave a proper bow at his illustrious instructor.
This seemed the suitable retort. The clouds cleared to reveal the glittering sword swaying above Sherlock in merciless detail – sort of like the best bombast the Coriolan Overture had to offer had come to roost on top of him. The tall, craggy man waggled a hand in dismissal. “Then get out of my sight for an hour or two. You’ll be late for class.”
Sherlock shouldered the violin and headed down from the stage. He scanned the crowd, but there was no sign of Merriweather or Brighton. He was, however, catching glares from certain of the young men who didn’t seem in any way interested in cheering for him. He picked up his pace on the way out of the building. Did they know about Emma? Yes.
It was safer, he suddenly understood, being with Merriweather. He reached up and touched his neck, which was chilled for want of a wool scarf that would neither scratch nor suffocate him; he found the majority of them like swaddling – what he wouldn’t do for a decent scarf really.
Being with Pamela meant a few things for him. He swore that their relationship was predicated entirely upon drugs: drugs that kept him from boredom; kept him awake for days when he was too busy to sleep; either relaxed, or knocked him out when his mind would not leave him alone; stopped him dreaming; stopped him feeling. When he’d been younger, he’d lost control many times because he couldn’t manage his overheated brain and cracked energy level. The drugs were synthetic self-control. His breath puffed around him in air. She gave him those. But… she was also smart, usefully so, and had actually helped on this case. A pity that wasn’t what had brought it to mind, really. The reason he thought himself safer was simply that no one really wanted Merriweather. Not even him. She was a misfit and an outcast.
He sped up over the salted pathway. The wind was up and getting biting.
“So where is your hat, Daniel? Have the police thought about that?” He sucked a deep breath that hurt on the way in.
He spent the remaining maths classes snagging in as alien a thought pattern as would likely ever cross his inventive teenaged mind. He was thinking about sex. In class. What kind of alien had taken possession of him? Sherlock couldn’t say. But it would not be dismissed. If he lowered his guard for a second, he could fairly hear the soft sighing of her breath. Oh. He fiddled with his notepad, jotted some sums, and… pushed aside her flushed lips and smooth legs. This wasn’t his mind losing its brakes, he realized only minutes before the bell. This was his mind levelling with him. He had a new hobby, and it wasn’t as simple as drugs. It was also her. He hadn’t wanted that. Which of the two, he wondered, was more dangerous to him? And where did Emma Brighton fit into this? She kept kissing him. He just didn’t get why she would do such a thing. He was ghastly, as civil society went; his personality was unbearable. He’d taken pills before just to get away from himself. But, every time, it was electrical, the way a socket must feel to an electric sports-car – that was kissing Emma Brighton.
And why was he even thinking about this?
He put his face in his hands. A kid was dead, and he was useless.
“The bell has rung, Sherlock.”
His bubble burst. Sherlock blinked at rays of declining sun outside the window. He had to turn his head to see that the room was otherwise empty, apart from his maths’ professor. She was folding her book closed and straightened to look concerned for him. “Sherlock… you seem upset. Are you sure you’re not under too much stress right now? You have the Midwinter coming up. Is it too much?”
“Uh. No.” Upset? Did he seem upset? Sherlock give a curt shake of his head and compression of his bow lips. “Not at all.”
“Where were you, then?” She abandoned her books in favour of her curiosity. “Through class?”
Sherlock stopped moving and stared at the desk before him. It was as if he’d been caught at something wrong. But it wasn’t wrong. Was it? No, the drugs were wrong. Sex was… confusing. He started playing back the last half an hour of class, looking for clues he might have given her. How much did she know right now? What had he given up?
But his professor simply asked. “Has something happened between you and one of the staff, Sherlock? I’ve told you, it must be a dozen times now, that you can come to me if you need any kind of help.” She came to a stop beside his desk.
Then Sherlock thought of Daniel and breathed. “Oh, you can’t help me with this.”
“Nothing.” He got to his feet and stuck the book away in a leather bag before picking up the violin. Wincingly. His chest hurt. “Look, I’ve got to run. I’ve got to manage supper before practice.” And it’s Sibelius.
He straightened the strap on the violin case and sped for the front door.
She turned in time with his travel. “You’re sure you’re all right, Sherlock?”
“Even better,” he told her taciturnly. “I’m sure that doesn’t matter.” Then he was out the door and running for his rooms. He had very little time between maths and practice. In that time, he knew he should eat.
“God, why must I deal with life?” he asked himself quietly as he was bumped in the shoulder, abroad in the halls between classes. They’d hurt his chest, but not his violin. He stopped to check the instrument, and then looked up at the older students swirling around him. Information streamed in: who was seeing whom; who was thinking of cheating; who had failed a test; who had washed her hair or hadn’t. Sherlock knew he was exceptional at so many things. Why did he so often have to deal with the one thing at which he was abysmal? But he squared up and headed for King’s dining hall.
But Sherlock found he had no appetite, which wasn’t usual for him. In spite of his slenderness, he ate regularly. Actually, he ate a lot, though the meals tended to be small and compact. His diet fuelled what Mycroft called ‘unholy energy’. Now he went through the line in clear disinterest. Nothing. Nothing appealed to him… that had never happened before.
Being alone in a place like Kings dining hall wasn’t even easy to do, but he was almost always alone here. It was preferable to the alternative, he found. Sherlock settled into his continued reading of ‘Visualizations of Math in Music’ on his phone and prodded at his dinner – he hadn’t eaten today, he realized – and studied the long wood tables angled at darker, wood-panel walls.
The walls reminded him of Lockton’s study. Sometimes he wished he was home. He could take a sandwich for dinner, and go to the barn to read. The horses were better company than these people. But for all that, Lockton had written more than once to tell him to take lunch in the dining hall among his so-called peers. The years had taught him it was useless trying to lie to Sir Lockton Holmes, and Sherlock knew his father would ask.
So here he was.
Even the book wasn’t helping today.
He kept seeing a jumble of scenes involving a mix of Daniel at the river, and a selection of hits from his three nights with Merriweather. Sex and death. Perfect. His brain was becoming a cesspool. God he hated being a teen. Dismal.
Sherlock generally sat by the wall. This meant his table filled from the outside toward him. In his experience, no one would sit across from him. Chairs close to his would either be empty, or angled away so that he often had someone’s back to him. But this didn’t happen tonight.
“Hello, Holmes,” Sebastian and several of his friends sat down around him.
Sebastian dropped in the chair right beside Sherlock. It was Sebastian’s best friend who sat directly across. He blotted out the setting sun.
Curious. That Seb was here meant that he wanted something. Sherlock stopped spooning around the meal on the plate before him, ‘Rustic Tomato and Fennel Stew with Herbed Dumplings’ in which he wasn’t vaguely interested… though it smelled good. He sipped the water he’d carried in and eased back in his seat. His gaze glanced off Sebastian’s hands. “Oh. Feeling better now, Sebastian?”
“Oh my God,” Wilkes rolled his eyes and, it appeared, prayed, inwardly, for self-control. “I don’t suppose it’s possible to have a conversation with you wherein you keep your mouth shut, Sherlock?”
Sherlock spoke slowly. “Because that’s not a conversation, Sebastian. That’s a monologue.” He pulled up a definition and pointed his mobile phone at the other young man. “Also known as a soliloquy. See…? Are we reading?” He rocked the phone back and forth in air a little bit.
Sebastian pushed it aside. “It’s absobloodylutely hopeless talking to you. Everything boils down to these kind of trivialities in your head, like talking to some kind of five year-”
“It’s not trivial.” Sherlock said. “Seb, I’m just telling you-”
“Then stop. Look. What are you doing with Emma Brighton?”
Sherlock bit his tongue. He’d been about to say that should probably have been ‘Listen’, rather than ‘Look’, but it wouldn’t help matters with this little tin god. Holmes pocketed his phone and joined his hands over the bowl before him. Now he was nervous. He didn’t have a clear head about this topic. “Dear God, Sebastian. Are you really asking me this?”
“I thought you were with that weirdo, Merriweather.” Sebastian nodded at him. “With the funky hair? Wears those multi-coloured extensions sometimes?”
Those were pretty.
But that cut too close to the heart of things. Sherlock felt his teeth bare for a moment and then pulled himself under control. The thing to do here was deflect away from Pamela. “If you want me to put in a good word with Brighton for you, Sebastian, you’re going about it obliquely, don’t you think?”
“Nothing like that,” Sebastian sat back and laughed. His expression showed clear disgust. “For God’s sake, do you think I’d have to rely on a freak like you to get to someone like her? You’re more of an albatross than any kind of assistance.” Most of the people directly around Sherlock – Seb’s sleek-cheeked friends – seemed to like that comment. They were certainly grinning.
“Then,” Sherlock motioned at Sebastian, “I don’t understand.”
“Oh, very funny,” Sebastian scowled at him. “Then you aren’t seeing her?”
Sherlock’s phone gave a ping. He took it out and checked who was texting him. His brows went up momentarily. He quickly checked the time on his mobile. Brighton. She wanted to meet him up at the Concert Hall. Make no wonder, given she’d handed him over to the Cambridgeshire Constabulary. Sherlock tucked the phone in his jacket. “We’re set to meet at 5PM. Do you have a message you’d like me to pass to her, some folded missive or something, Seb? Or else what do you want?”
“Don’t you just love how he apes an eppy when it suits him?” Sebastian leaned back in his seat and eyed Sherlock, critically. He seemed unable to comprehend that Sherlock couldn’t follow this maze of inexplicable interrogation.
“You’re wasting your breath man.” Fredrick Cooper shifted in front of Holmes and the wood chair groaned beneath his muscular hindquarters. Freddy was on the wrestling team, but, even beyond that, Sherlock had seen Freddy hit someone once. It had looked like a backhoe punching a jam jar. Broken jaw: accomplished.
Sebastian opened his hands, “Okay. Fine. You’re going to get pulverized, Holmes. I thought I might warn you, at least. You know, since we’re in the same College and all, but you’re so bloody irritating… I wonder why I bother being magnanimous.”
Sherlock said nothing. He didn’t know what to say about that. Was this hearsay? Was it opinion? Or was there something of substance to this.
“Because of Emma Brighton?”
“Oh look… he is a genius.” Sebastian snickered. Laughter at his end of the table drew looks from tables nearby. “Brilliant deduction, Holmes.” Grinningly, he motioned at Sherlock’s face. “They’ll mess your pretty face up. So maybe you should stick with that scrawny girl of yours, stop trying to upgrade. You shouldn’t fret. She may grow a pair eventually. Paps I mean.”
Sherlock’s head filled with Merriweather’s slinky, willowy body, and a strange feeling that he should smack Seb in the head startled him. He backed up his chair, it was so strong. Instantly, his hands closed on the violin. “I’ve got to go.” He got to his feet.
Seb’s gaze grazed the scuffed shell of violin case, stickers from Paris on its surface. “You’re not all that, you know, Holmes.”
No, he didn’t know. He wasn’t sure what Seb was talking about anymore.
“You make mistakes. I can hear them.” Seb said casually.
Sherlock froze with one hand on the back of his chair and looked down at Sebastian. He felt himself stop breathing, in fact. Inside of him, those muscles that protected him from harm closed ranks around the parts of him that still had feeling. He wanted to say Everyone makes mistakes, Seb, or maybe even I’m injured, you great idiot. But his tongue was one of those things that had frozen. His pale green eyes, in almost colourless jade, took Sebastian in.
Straight gaze. Unblinking.
“Poor Sir Lockton, you know… putting such faith in you to be able to do this.” Seb motioned at the violin case. Sherlock’s hand tightened on the handle, ready to yank the violin clear in a heartbeat. “Be an artist of repute, like that French uncle of yours, Émile. Isn’t that why Lockton married Emeline: for the instant cachet of having a famous painter in the family? But the way you play, Sherlock… you just can’t do it. Better leave putting this generation on the map to Mycroft. He’s born and bred for it, really.”
Sherlock’s head rang. He simply looked aside at the beautiful tile flooring a moment. Nothing came to him. Sherlock stepped out from his chair, being careful to take his bag of school books, and left Sebastian and his sleekit friends seated over his untouched dinner.
Not much time to make it to practice now. And there would be Emma to deal with; he’d have to hurry. At his rooms he threw his book bag with such force it cracked against the back wall and left a dent. He looked at it emptily before he left.
This close to Midwinter’s, it was normal for the orchestra to have double-duty at the Concert Hall, but as a consequence, Sherlock felt like he was always there. He ran through Sibelius angrily. Anger. Some hectic emotion seemed key to him getting this particular piece to go correctly. He didn’t worry about gliding in and out of the orchestra. He just pounded away at his violin. D Minor Op. 47 I was easier on him, at least.
“Stop. Stop. STOP!” Maestro covered his eyes and then seemed to crumple against his lectern. Sherlock released a measured sigh that should have been a head of steam, as if the great composer had been shovelling coal into his chest. He stepped back as far as the cellos and bent in to look at the sheet music. Was he off? No. So why the hysterics?
He read and did the math in his head, in spite of Eliza staring hammers at his curls like he was a large, wet Newfoundland that threw slobber across her papers.
Numbers. His brows drew down.
Sherlock straightened. In Daniel’s pocket. Phone numbers.
He was an idiot. One only carried phone numbers on paper for short term use. Otherwise, they went directly into the phone. Given the pockets of coats and pants in his closet had been meticulously empty, it increased the probability Daniel had been on business involving those numbers, adjacent to his death. Why hadn’t he seen that sooner?
“I wish you’d go away, instead of standing there with that robotic face of yours,” Eliza told him quietly. “That’s the real problem with you and Sibelius. He has a soul capable of duality and pathos, and you have the latest Operating System your father’s companies turned out.”
“It’s on my phone,” Sherlock told her coldly. “Want to see?” He turned away and left her there. It might have helped if she’d asked if he even believed in the human soul to begin with.
Maestro was speaking. Sherlock laid the violin on the stand beside him and hung up the bow, then felt around his jacket. Failing there, he rustled in his coat, which hung over the padded stool that was meant for him to rest on for times just like this.
“Punctus contra punctum. Point against point,” Maestro tapped the lectern and said. “Harmonic interdependence between two, or more, musical voices that, in their other general characteristics, are autonomous. They have their own rhythms, their own curves, their own contours.” He opened his hands in air. “These are two different people, like two different men, or two different women. People, you’re not seeing the same person dressed-up as someone else, here. These are two different women.”
Sherlock tuned into this madness, curiously, given his situation. This meant the smoothness of the orchestra against the dissonant violin, they were supposed to move and sound differently from one another, but, when played together, they would come to harmony. Sherlock glanced over his shoulder at them, only his orchestra hated him. He was the frenzied violin to their silver-tongued backdrop, and they wouldn’t accept him. They wouldn’t come to harmony.
Even now, Eliza sneered at him and mouthed ‘Stop looking at me, Freak’.
“The man was a binge drinker, Sherlock!” Maestro barked at him. “He was obsessed with his country’s freedom. Tormented by demons – the man was deafened, had 12 surgeries on his throat. His divine instruments were under attack! Play like you might lose your hearing.”
“Not difficult,” he replied. “I need only listen to Eliza’s cello.”
The audience rumbled with amusement. It was packed with students who, apparently, had come to see the rivalries on stage as musicians vied for power. Sherlock had his supporters out there. Of course, he also had people who wanted to remove his spleen.
Speaking of which, he scanned the crowd for Emma. Where was she?
“That sort of thing is unacceptable, Sherlock.” Maestro blasted him.
“I’m sure it is.” He agreed under his breath.
“Sherlock, listen to me,” Maestro leaned on his lectern as if injured. “This man, like you, showed early promise. Like you, he was gifted playing both violin and piano-”
This seemed to surprise people in the seats into silence.
“-can you not try to imagine yourself in his situation? Introverted. Melancholic. Romantic.”
“I’m none of those things,” Sherlock got up on the stool, tucked a cigarette between his lips and lit it up. He exhaled smoke gratefully.
“He smoked cigars and got a tumor.” Maestro said dryly. “Did you not read the Cambridge Guide? Smoking is prohibited inside buildings in this University.”
“Not in the Guide,” Sherlock sucked the cigarette and exhaled. “Only in Policies and Procedures documentation for Human Resources online.”
“You’re manky.” Eliza Campbell told him loudly enough the audience chortled.
Sherlock pinched the cigarette out and exhaled the last of the smoke that was keeping him from dwelling on the pain in his upper chest. He replaced the quarter-smoked cigarette in his case beside the lighter.
Maestro stood back and opened his arms. “The violin, orchestra, is your lover – your hot-headed, genius, tempestuous lover, full of élan and barriers, that sort of thing. That is your violin!”
“Oh God no,” Eliza gave a cough. “Grotty.”
Sherlock’s bow lip curled at her. But Maestro picked up his violin, and that captured every iota of Sherlock’s attention. It was something very few were allowed to touch. Maestro cradled the thing with expert hands.
“Violin, your haven in this life is your orchestra. It is your satisfaction. Very different from you, but then, there is no one like you, in the end. This composure, this fidelity, this strength,” he tucked the rest to his chin and wrapped his other hand to cup the neck of a cello, “it is what you need in your bones. Feel that.”
Feel it. Sherlock didn’t move.
Maestro released the cello and handed back the violin, gently. “Try to feel it, Sherlock. You are mindless about the orchestra when they are lifting you. Now you have to reach out to them and knit yourself into the difference. Can you do that?”
He looked back at them and didn’t know. Maestro saw that too, and the glowering orchestra behind Sherlock, so Maestro had the orchestra run through their part without him. The absence of the violin was glaring, at least to him.
Many of them wouldn’t look at him. But then there was Karla, who looked increasingly displeased. She glanced up at him.
Irritation… maybe even anger.
Lips twitching. She longs to say something.
Sherlock did his piece solo. It sounded… weird to him. Beautiful; fragile; and sort of crazed, and he kept waiting for them to come meet him, all those people behind him. He wondered how they had felt while playing their part without him. When he glanced at them he could see their eyes following his every move as if they’d had no time to witness them before. He finished and exhaled discordantly, his entire body listing right and feeling askew. His chest now throbbed. Badly.
Karla stood up. “Eliza, you massive bitch, you cause this problem sitting there with your mug full of poison every time he moves. You’re toxic. You’re polluting the strings so we’re this load of daggers behind him-”
Eliza got up and bellowed back, “Who asked you, you bloody bungalow. What do you even know about it?”
“I’m third bloody violin and I can admit he plays beautifully! He’s a bloody genius! And he deserves it. Now, will you get over yourself and just play, or isn’t that what you meant to do, being here?” Karla’s voice struck a relentless polyphonic screech.
Sherlock, wide-eyed, began to hastily pack up his violin. He’d rather face the police than get in the middle of that. “Oh my God,” he muttered to himself. Where had he put the rosin? Oh, still in the case. Good-good. He started to fold it shut.
Then Maestro barked, “Enough!” And silence fell. Even the mumbling audience fell silent. Maestro tapped his lectern with the white baton. “Noch einmal, bitte. Again, please.”
Sherlock reversed all the actions he’d just taken and pulled his violin up with a gasp of pain, his efforts roundly snubbed by a few inches of abused flesh in his chest. Feebleness put him in mind of what Sebastian had said – that this was impossible for someone like him. He wouldn’t let that be true.
“Sherlock,” Maestro said unresponsively, still looking for signs of weakness, signs Sherlock couldn’t carry on.
“Good,” Sherlock settled the violin. “I’m good.” He could only just keep his arm from trembling.
Honestly, what came of this cathartic outburst was imperfect, but it was improvement. Sherlock listened for the orchestra. He tried to weave through them like a needle, to thread them together. They appeared to be paying close attention to him as well. At the end, everyone seemed aware this was as coherent as they’d managed to be. But it was clear they were all doing this for Maestro’s, or the music’s sake. Sherlock knew he was.
When he looked up, Emma Brighton stood in the aisle on his left, and behind her… Alexa Danas, and a pair of Constabulary officers. He didn’t want to be seen with the police. When Sherlock left the stage, he caught hold of Emma’s hand and pulled her up along the aisle with him. They passed through the small knot of police and hurried to the doors.
“What is it?” He asked her as they exited into the dark.
“They’re following me everywhere. Won’t you please help me get away from them?” Emma wiped her glittering eyes.
“Follow me.” He tore off through the paths with her close behind. Quick on her long legs, and quite able to run in heels it seemed.
“Sherlock.” Danas shouted from behind him. “Sherlock!” but her voice was falling back.
They ran until they reached the Museum of Classical Archeology.
“It closes at 5PM, Sherlock,” Emma said breathlessly. But Sherlock led her along to a side entrance and hammered the door. It opened a crack only a few minutes later and a tall, round man peeked out and scanned the night beyond the watery light above the door.
“Gus, let me in.” Sherlock added a distinct. “Please.”
“Wif her?” the man frowned.
“Sure Sherlock.” He stepped aside and let the young man pass. “I’d have had a hard time keepin’ this job if not for your help, I know, but, just so’s you understand… this isn’t the place to come for a snog, or anyfing.”
“Of course not,” Sherlock scoffed.
“Not being chased or anyfing?”
“No,” Sherlock exhaled and ruffled his hair. “Can we just sit down somewhere quiet and out of sight, Gus? And… and you never saw us?”
“Oh, but you’re not being chased.” Gus paused in pushing a door open for them.
Sherlock just looked up at the man. “Gus… please.”
He stopped questioning them, and, after being admonished not to wander around, Sherlock led Emma through to a quiet, if bright orange, conversational area where he dropped onto a couch.
“He knows you,” she said as she took off her coat and sat down beside Sherlock. Her fingers reached out to the violin case. Sherlock eased it aside, out of reach.
“I did a favour for him, three months after I got here,” Sherlock said. “I… used to spend a lot of time here, reading. He was going to be fired for inexactitude, you see. He wasn’t being precise about the sign-in and -out sheets for cleaning crew and other maintenance.”
“But he’s still here?”
“Well, he wasn’t the genius who thought of doctoring them. They were kept in paper at the time. There was a pattern in the writing when Gus allegedly ‘fell asleep’, or otherwise failed to secure sign-outs. The writer was always left-handed. Also, his letter ‘O’ always had hooks in it, loops going in and out of the letter. And the G looked something like a claw. It was the same guy, just disguising his writing. He wanted to get Gus fired.”
“Why?” She blinked at him.
“Because Gus is a pagan. He’s a druid, and witch,” Sherlock shrugged. “Some people don’t like them and try to ruin their lives. I… haven’t figured out why yet.”
She looked at him a moment and then smiled. “Ignorance.”
“Hate.” Sherlock tipped his head side-to-side to loosen muscle and tendon in his neck, which could cramp from the violin. Then he reached up to give a very slow pull on the back of his head, stretching the back of his neck some. He sighed. “Violin.”
“Oh is this word-association?” she chortled, “Okay: Incredible.”
He sat up and looked aside at her, wordlessly, for a moment. “You think?”
“Of course I do.” She curled her legs up under her and faced his direction. “Who wouldn’t?”
Maybe she’d missed the entire orchestra hating him? But that was difficult for him to imagine. Perhaps her family wasn’t one where sundry people could listen stonily to his best work, mutter behind hands, and shake heads. Incredible? Sherlock leaned back and rubbed his hands on the thighs of his expensive trousers. “So why did you want to meet with me?”
“I still have a paper due, Sherlock.” She reached into her pocket and took out a recorder she set on the table. “The way you run about, I figure this is my only hope.”
He picked up the voice recorder and inspected it, then flipped it to record and said, “No way in hell are you recording me for Bulwick. Sorry.”
She leaned in toward the recorder. “Sorry, Emma.”
“What you like,” he waggled the recorder dismissively.
But she persisted. “I like Emma.” She unfolded her fingers to give him a prompt.
Which he took. “Then sorry, Emma.” Sherlock shut the thing off and set it on the table. “What happened after I left with the Constabulary?”
“Merriweather legged-it out of there,” Emma took off her gloves and reached for the violin case. He manoeuvred it away. She leaned back, intrigued by this behaviour. “Uh, and I went to my rooms because I was really shaken up…. I feel better now you’re here though. Dunno why.”
His upraised hand flicked open and closed in air. “Not important.”
She inhaled and exhaled slowly. “It’s still a relief, Sherlock, to know you’re okay. Then I realized you had your phone on you – thus the text.”
“It took you that long?” he blinked. “Seriously?”
“That long to… what?”
“To realize you could text me?”
“Oh come on now, Sherlock. Do you know how hard it is to get your number on this campus? I thought I didn’t know anyone with it. Probably Merriweather has it, but, I doubt she very-much appreciates me kissing you, so, naturally, she’s not giving it to me.”
He sat mute. Why. Why had she done that? But he couldn’t ask.
She shrugged at him. “I was in a bit of a panic and worried they had taken your phone from you. I’ve never had to deal with the police before, Sherlock.”
He glanced down and away. He wished he could say the same. “Well,” he told her, “They just wanted the basics. Typical police stuff – stop the world; tell me everything; wait, I don’t understand. Right now, they’re probably trying to connect me to Daniel Farrar somehow. But I didn’t even know who he was. It’s less sweat for police if they don’t have to figure out who actually killed Daniel.”
“I thought the same thing.” She said softly. Brighton reached for her jacket and fished out a folded paper. She looked up at him. “Why can’t I touch the violin?”
Sherlock felt his eyelids flicker as he looked aside at the case. “I, uh, it’s…” nothing came to mind. While his head was turned, she’d crept over, and now reached across his lap to lay a hand on the case, gently. It put her very close to him. His body sank back in the couch cushions
“Not going to hurt you.” She told him quietly. She stroked the case and her hand came to rest on the point of his hip. “Can I kiss you though?”
He said the first thing in his mind. “Why?”
“Sherlock, good Lord, don’t overthink it. It’s a yes-no question.” Her lips smelled like peppermint schnapps, a touch intoxicating, without his having to drink. “It’s not a yes-no-why question.”
In spite of fairly sensing his pupils’ dilation, Sherlock nipped his bottom lip against the tension, and led with his strengths. “What have you got there? That paper what is it?”
Emma bowed her head and then sank back on her heels to carefully consider him. “Sherlock… you might’ve just told me No.” She opened her hands and was disappointed.
Well so was he.
Sherlock’s eyes were averted to the coffee table before him. He might have told her No. If he’d meant No. But it had been something else. Like Don’t, or I can’t. It sounded the same. The problem was he wanted two things, vehemently. He suffered nothing to bridge his fortifications, but he was sacked and on fire with curiosity.
It had been silent for a bit too long if he’d become aware of it.
“Is it Merriweather?”
She hardly had the sentence out before he said, “No. It’s neither of you.”
“But you’re not with her then?” Emma dipped her fingers into his hair. Their progress through his thick curls pulled his head back and to one side. Merriweather didn’t touch him this much. It felt… good… not overwhelming yet, but then, the flesh betrayed him more and more these days. Maybe wanting people was part of growing up. But it was a part he didn’t like.
He wanted to stay himself.
Question…? “What was the question?” Sherlock might have been the one drowning. Stick with the murder. He had to solve the murder. He turned his head to take her in, “Actually, I-”
But Emma had also been leaning to him, and laid her hand on his chest. Sherlock buckled over his knees with an immoderate yelp of pain. For a span of several seconds, he couldn’t bring himself to speak for fear he’d whimper. Then the pain began to grow less immediate.
Emma Brighton’s soft voice bubbled in her chest with something close to panic. “Sherlock. Sherlock Holmes. Can you hear me? Sherlock?” She rubbed his back.
“Yes, I hear you,” Sherlock said around low grunts of breath. “Just, will you stop?”
“What happened?” She smoothed back his hair as he sat up again. This time, his arm curled in to guard his injured chest. She looked at his shirt. He could see the idea forming in her head to look inside –his dignity would never survive it – so he constructed an explanation.
“I was careless while… investigating, I guess? That’s what happened. Now, for God’s sake, no more of those,” his good hand – the one not connected to an injured pectoral muscle – flapped in air at her lips for emphasis. “I can’t take any more of those tonight, and-”
“My lips?” she burbled. “What about yours? Bowed, and like pillows. What about yours?”
“Listen to me – I’ve got to think. Tell me, what do you have there? I saw you change. There’s something to do with the investigation….”
It happened again. Her face fell. He’d dropped her back into harsh reality.
She sat back. In the course of their visit, she’d moved until she now sat on her heels with her knees against the back of the couch. Emma faced him from under low lighting that made her beauty look slightly sinister. Her hand found the paper she had taken from her coat pocket. She immediately offered it to Sherlock.
Smells of ink.
Not yellow, so recent.
As he unfolded the paper, she said, “I had a loan of a notebook of his. His: Daniel’s. I mean, he lent it to me to help me with French.”
“Oh, I could do that,” Sherlock said distractedly. He missed her smile.
“I think he must have forgotten about this.” She finished.
Sherlock stared down at his own cold, cagy image. This was a newspaper article with photos from when he’d done the recordings. Marked across the bottom of the larger photo was Sherlock’s mobile phone number, something he would have sworn no one but Merriweather had. More alarmingly, the writing in the marginalia had a few phrases in French:
‘I need to try this guy.’
‘I have your number, kid….’
“What… does that mean… exactly?” Sherlock cocked his head and frowned.
“Do you know enough French?” her fingers ran through his hair again.
He waved her off. “It’s knowing enough that makes me… ask.”
Emma’s lips – plumper than sharp Merriweather’s were – compressed into a soft pink line, “But it proves he was thinking about you… there was some link there. The police, you know, they’ll be looking for some kind of connection, and I didn’t want them to see this, right? There’s no way you could do something like that to Daniel. I know you’ve been in fights, but that’s because you’re a guy, I mean, you uphold your honour.” She reached out and stroked his cheek with a deft hand.
He eased back from her. It was quite possible, given the evidence, that he’d murdered Daniel. The fact she didn’t acknowledge that… lessened her, somehow. He wasn’t sure what it was. He expected Merriweather to know something like that. He couldn’t part that girl out of his business with a prisebar, and her covert drug stock gave her a social network she could leverage to watch him with the eyes of others. She knew his habits nearly as well as her own. Conversely, Emma had just met him.
But she knew how I take tea.
I’ve got your number, kid…. “Oh,” Sherlock sat up suddenly, nearly putting Emma off balance. “Oh, I’m a git. Of course!” He turned Emma’s way. “Gotta go.”
“I’ve got to go.” He touched his coat almost as if activating some kind of ward in a video game, one that could transport him outside. It was silly, but had been reflex. Sherlock swept up the violin. “Numbers.”
“Num- well, walk me to Trinity, though.” She pointed at the nearby windows. “It’s dark.”
“No. Not going to Trinity. Gus can call someone for you, whatnot.” He felt in his pockets to make sure nothing had fallen out. The couch was bare, apart from the newspaper clipping. He snapped that up. Emma came up with it.
“Just walk me over, this one time?” she caught his sleeve.
“Going to be running and not to Trinity,” he folded the paper and told her in exasperation. “Aren’t you with Aaron Bryford? Call him.” Sherlock turned to look down the hall.
“Sherlock, I broke up with him.” She said this like it should have been obvious. “I’ve kissed you? Did you notice? Do you suppose I’d do that if I were still with Aaron?”
“Mores. Not my strong point.” He said shortly. “Don’t act as if it’s a physical impossibility for you to be with one person and kiss another.”
She scoffed. “Oh dear Lord, they’re right about one thing: you are so lost.”
“Also, why? It’s stupid.” His hands fluttered in air as he forged his way down the hall. “The pair of you looked… archetypical. Happy, I suppose. Isn’t Bryford a big man on the Row Team or-”
“Oh. It was you.” She nodded. “I broke up with Aaron because I started to think of you.”
Sherlock felt a blast of chill, such was the shock. Then he stopped and felt himself slowly turn to take her in. But he could think of nothing to say. She stood earnestly looking at him.
“Actually, I couldn’t stop thinking about you.” She wrung her hands a little in air before her, her French tips flashing in the overhead lighting. She seemed equally as at a loss for what to say for a moment. Then her words stumbled over one another, not the smooth, chic girl he knew. “Since the first time I heard your violin, I… couldn’t. It just…. Sherlock, I’ve listened to you play more often than you know. It just became too much. I would sneak to the Concert Hall in these hoodies, so people wouldn’t just know me on sight, and sit out of the way. I’d try to be alone with you, in my own way – you, me, and the violin. And it finally got to the point where… where you’d play and I’d swear I was about to light on fire, I’d get so hot. I thought ‘What would he think if I went up there and wrapped my arms around him’. So stupid. You didn’t know I was alive, and here I was reading about your family, trying to figure out what it would have been like to be a Holmes.”
Sherlock’s jaw clacked shut. Audibly. Inside of his head, her words unleashed a surge of feeling. He couldn’t control this any more than he could control violent weather. So Sherlock turned on his heel in the low overhead lighting and the orange walls, his lips apart and seeming to struggle for breath as he walked away from her.
“Sherlock,” her arms slid around him from behind. He could feel her head bow so that her forehead touched down at the base of his neck. “Don’t run off.” Then she used those long, lovely hands to turn him around to face her. “Please don’t. I’m not crazy. I just care about you. It’s normal.”
He looked down at her. “You made a mistake.”
“No, I didn’t. You shouldn’t be with one guy and thinking, all the time, about another. That’s a mistake.” she told him dryly. Her hand stroked the curve of one of his high cheekbones.
“You have to stop this,” he pushed her arm aside and walked backwards a few steps. He turned in place, and the world kept going. Because he was getting disoriented. “I’m not who you think I am, Emma. And there’s a person dead, but I don’t know why. I… I care more about that than I ever will about you. Gus will call someone to get you back to Trinity. You need to leave me alone.” He walked away from her.
“It’s not true, Sherlock.” Her voice was more distantly behind him when she finally managed to get that out.
“Leave me alone.” He said firmly. But he almost ran out of the building.
For a while, his meandering of Cambridge was uninspired. He ran or walked, as the mood hit him, pointless and inattentive. It was like she’d done something to him – to the inside of him. Why? His insides didn’t like being touched. He didn’t know how to put it into words any better than that, really.
He preserved, inside, this hyperaware creature whose every glimpse filled its head with the unadulterated truth. Letting it out was like lying on his back at the cold poles of the world, staring into the blast of space: raw. Sherlock protected this brittle, frozen thing inside himself from any further damage. And along came people like Emma who wanted to drag it out and make a doll out of it.
But, shortly, there was something else happening in his dazed brain.
It was cold where he stopped. He sort of snapped out of it and realized he was somewhere in Christ’s Pieces. Then he swore, turned about, and faced the run back. Sweating was bad in the cold, as sweat would freeze and rob the body of heat. But he ran anyway. It was late enough that he was able to slip into Kings and up to his room without any police intervention, at least. Once there, he hung up his violin, had a hot shower and fixed some even hotter tea.
Sherlock’s feet demanded slippers. Bloody hell, he’d been chilled out there. Idiot.
His voice mail had several messages from Emma. Nothing from Merriweather. He threw his mobile phone down on the couch when he saw this.
He flicked off all the lights, except the green-shielded desk-lamp.
At his desk he sat down and took out a crisp white notepad.
Sherlock exhaled, and closed his eyes. He thought back to pulling Daniel up the riverbank, turning him over, and checking his pockets.
He really wasn’t a police officer. He really wasn’t exhaustive.
After a couple of minute’s remembrance, he’d jotted down all the numbers. Under this he jotted What were you doing? Tell me. Sherlock pulled his own laptop over toward him and started looking up phone numbers online.
Soon he had a list of names.
One of the names was very familiar – Emma Brighton. The others were:
And he had my number.
Only one girl there. Emma stood out. Sherlock walked the floor of his rooms thinking what he could and should do about this. He was afraid that confronting these people directly would frighten them off, but he felt the need to meet up with them about their inclusion on this exclusive list. What was it about? And he, from appearances, had also been under consideration. It all had a colluded atmosphere, didn’t it? Sherlock couldn’t escape the feeling.
He stripped off his night clothes at some point and collapsed to bed. It wasn’t his habit to sleep nude, but, sometimes, folds in the fabric of his softest nightclothes felt like nail files on his skin. Tonight was one of those nights. Likewise, he didn’t get under the sheets, but rolled up in a blanket he kept for such occasions, which was made out of fluffy, shirred polyester – for his money, nearly as soft as beaver pelt.
He was asleep in the next breath.
Sherlock had never been one for going around knocking doors. He sat up and headed for his, realized he was naked and went back for a robe.
It was 6AM. The Cambridgeshire Constabulary stood at his door. For some reason, it frightened him. “What do you want?”
“I’m Detective Inspector Husher. We met briefly yesterday when you blew through the West Road Concert Hall? If you can call that meeting.”
“No, I remember your face,” Sherlock said and frowned gently. Expressionless….
“Excellent. I need to talk to you,” said the taller man. His voice was deep, and his eyes stone cold. It was difficult to read him because his face seemed cut off, as if he’d been injected with Botox. He was the diametric opposite of the tall officer who had called Sherlock ‘son’.
“You’re not coming in here.” Sherlock told the three men outside. Then he shut the door and went for a restorative shower. When he was dressed and he’d had his tea, he went to the door again. They were in different places, but still outside. It made Sherlock gawp. It was now 6:35AM and the student body was on the move.
“Do you really want everyone in King’s College talking about the local police waiting outside of your suite all morning?” Husher asked him conversationally. It didn’t matter to the man, but he was crafty enough to know that it would be a problem for someone with a track-record like Sherlock’s.
“Touch nothing,” Sherlock sighed and opened the door to admit them. He led them in to the couches, but none of them sat down. They were tall, and loomed over him.
Sherlock went to the driftwood stand Mycroft had given him to hold his violin, and took it and the bow up before he sat in his favourite chair.
“You’re pretty sharp with that thing.” Husher, whose face remained static, noted. He might have said ‘That’s stolen property’, or ‘We’ve come to kill you’ in the exact same tone.
To this, Sherlock gave no reply.
“You’re sharp, generally, aren’t you Sherlock?”
This was true. But not a concern. He put aside the violin and bow and went to fill the tea-kettle. On the way, he saw that his phone had new messages. One of them was from Merriweather. It was simple, and said: ‘UR it, babe.’ Like playing phone tag. It meant: You are in trouble and was a red flag. Merriweather sent it every time she got wind of something acting against his best interests. He’d even gotten it prior to some Dean or Proctor showing up. She’d bought him time before. “Where is Sergeant Danas?”
“Checking other leads.” Husher was looking around the room.
But the notepad was bare now. Sherlock had locked up the note and fragment of newspaper in the safe with the laptop, the charm of the safe being that it looked like a solid wood end table. It had been made for concealment. That had not been the reason Sherlock had bought it, though, rather, that it fit his décor. The rest was just luck.
Sherlock took out a teacup and saucer for himself. “I’d rather talk to her.”
“I’m sure you would, but this is my investigation, and it’s about time we met.” He took the tea service from Sherlock and set it aside on the arm of the couch, then set his hands on his hips. The effect was to make him look even larger, and, of course, to exert his dominance here. “I wanted to ask you how you knew Daniel.”
“I didn’t,” Sherlock said and then could have kicked himself for answering at all.
“Well, that’s curious. It seems you did.”
They’d found something, then? Something like what Emma had found? He caught control of his face as quickly as possible. Or they were lying to him. “Hearsay. Brilliant.” He went back to his violin and settled in his chair beside it. “I didn’t know Daniel Farrar.”
“More than one individual said you’ve been nosing around,” the man told Sherlock. “You’re not very well liked on campus. There seems to be a lot of suspicion around you. No one seemed surprised you found the body. When I bring you up, people just nod.”
“You’ve been talking to the Proctors,” Sherlock guessed. “They think I’m a delinquent.”
“Well there was that untidiness, you know, around your 14th year.” Husher said in a low voice.
Sherlock exhaled through grit teeth and shut his eyes. “There were reasons and conditions.”
“There always are.”
Now Sherlock glared at the man. “I was a child.”
“You’re still a child.” He cocked his head. “Not many children break into a bloody crime scene, Sherlock. Not at the age of 14. Not ever.”
He looked away, for any distraction, any relief. “I knew her.”
“Right. And how did you know Daniel?”
Sherlock shot to his feet. “I didn’t. Are you hard of hearing? I didn’t know him. I didn’t do anything wrong here.”
“You’re shouting.” The Detective Inspector noted coldly.
“Right now, you’re just 17 years old, Sherlock, not a vulnerable witness, but still a child. This can go easily if you tell me the truth.” Husher told him. “How did you know Daniel? Was he a friend? Was he your boyfriend?”
Sherlock stopped himself sharply and put his hands over his face. “I’ve already told you… I didn’t know him. I just found him. I knew this would come up! That’s why… I didn’t tell 999 who I was, and I… I didn’t wait for police. I didn’t even want to take him out of the river. I knew better. But I couldn’t just let him go by. He was… someone.” God, there was nothing to stop them from arresting him right here. By law, they’d be required to have someone like the Dean of King’s College here, if he were still 16. How serious was this? He knew he was starting to shake.
“That’s right,” Husher nodded. “Tell me more about that. What happened to him, Sherlock? What went wrong?”
“I don’t know,” Sherlock said urgently. “I don’t know him. I haven’t the foggiest. You’re not listening to me, so I don’t want to say any more than that. Not without a lawyer.” He sucked in a steading breath. It was that time again: time to pit the Holmes family name against the Cambridgeshire Constabulary. “Are you arresting me?”
The kettle snapped off in the kitchen.
There was a very long pause, close to 30 seconds. “No. No, you’re free to go.” But he wanted to arrest Sherlock. This time Sherlock couldn’t even say what it was: maybe the sudden jut of the man’s chin as he said Sherlock was free, or perhaps some combination of instinct and observation.
Sherlock’s stomach knotted. His newfound appetite died. “Then I’m going to ask you to leave.” He nodded at them. Sherlock hid his surprise when they filed toward the door.
“You’re on thin ice, Holmes,” Husher told him as he reached for the latch. “Next time you see me, it’s not going to end like this.”
Exactly what Sherlock was afraid of, actually. He snatched up his phone following them, and was already texting Merriweather: ‘Stay away.’ He shut the door behind him and leaned on it, dialling out on his mobile phone.
He got Mycroft’s voice mail.
“Shit.” He hung up, but knew that Mycroft would know his number on sight. He hated those moments of weakness in which he reached out for Mycroft. “Calm down. Okay?” He bent his head forward and rubbed his dark brown curls with one hand. To be honest, he stood that way for about six minutes, just leaning on the door, slowing down and braking his avalanche of thoughts.
He was terrified of being arrested again. His father… would lose it.
God, what if they called Sir Lockton?
A fear so powerful it made his eyes prick took hold of him, and for a moment, his mind stiffened like a cramped muscle. Then, slowly, his thoughts began to flow again. His mobile phone pinged, now that he’d turned on the sounds.
‘What’s happening!?’ Merriweather had texted.
The door behind him knocked and Sherlock yanked it open, expecting Pamela, eager, even hungry, to see her. But it wasn’t Merriweather. It was Sergeant Danas. Sherlock leaned out the door, looked left and right, and pulled her inside with him.
He shut the door and locked it. When he turned, she was directly behind him. He flattened to the thick wood plank, as he’d expected she’d gone further into the suite.
“What’s wrong?” She asked him.
“Detective Inspector Husher was just here,” Sherlock told her quietly. “He thinks I killed Daniel.”
Now she looked up from retying the belt of the Melton Cloth coat she wore with jeans and a pair of knee-high, flat-soled boots. She looked interested. “Didn’t you?”
“Of course not,” Sherlock hissed at her. He swung his hand at his hammering chest. “Why would I report my own crime?”
“To be clever?” The woman shrugged at him. “To avoid suspicion?”
“This isn’t a movie,” Sherlock told her. He felt his insides quake. “For God’s sake, I’m not an idiot. I wouldn’t incriminate myself.”
“Well… serial killers often do.” She walked into the room picked up the cup and saucer on the couch and looked at the dry tea-bag curiously before setting it down again. “So I looked into your record. You’ve contacted the police before. You’ve demanded further investigation on cold cases; you’ve broken into bloody crime scenes to ‘investigate’. Police don’t like the looks of that. You have a fascination with death, Sherlock. And now you’re first on the scene of a drowning? So what’s the story? Why can’t you stay away?”
Daniel…. He had drowned then.
Sherlock stopped pacing and looked at her. “Because… because you don’t see. You look and you miss things. I don’t understand why. Maybe you’re lazy?”
“I’m not lazy,” she clarified for him.
“Fine,” he exhaled cheeks puffed with air. “Then you see it establishes a pattern, at the very least, where I want to work with police, to help police.”
“And some people want to work with the fire service so badly they set fires,” she said. “Police are suspicious by nature, Sherlock. You could help with anything… but it’s the weird, twisty stuff you want to be involved in.”
He turned to her, a tapered hand sweeping out in air before him. “I didn’t do this!”
She got to her feet, and smoothed the fitted little jacket she wore. After a moment wherein they stood staring at one another, she said. “D.I. Husher… I think he sees a young man… who’s growing into a strapping, healthy, cold blooded sociopath. But I’ve been in your records all evening, Sherlock Holmes. I’ve been over everything I could find.”
Sherlock felt breathless. “What do you see?”
“Someone who doesn’t turn his back… on mankind. Not even the worst, messiest parts. For you, there is no lost cause. I honestly think you’re trying to save them, the dead.” She scrutinized his face closely as she said this. “But I need a sign of faith, Sherlock. I know you’re afraid… but you need to coordinate with me. You’ve gotten in too deep before. I know what happened to you in Bexley, the Timeshare case.”
He flinched and backed away, pale green eyes scanning the room. “Nothing ever-”
“Stop. I know a guy who knows a guy, okay? I know it’s hard for you to trust us. But I need to be your shield, Mr. Holmes. So we’re going to play a game here, one of hypotheticals. I trust you follow?” She seemed to loom in the winter sun of his suite, a black-clad arrow pinning his shadow onto his rug.
Sherlock sucked in so much air in the one breath that his entire upper body shifted as his chest expanded. He looked down to exhale through pursed lips. She was right. He was badly shaken. His fingertips reached up and touched the wound on his chest. Last night it had been numb from cold. Today, it ached. What had happened to him in Bexley… had really scared him. And the cops had gotten away with it because Sherlock couldn’t report them without burning bridges with the Yard. What few little bridges he had with them. But people knew. She knew…. He touched his reddening cheeks.
Danas tucked her hands in her pockets. “Okay. So I’m going to go first.”
“Come with me. But get a coat. It’s cold where we’re going.” She told him resolutely. Sherlock felt numb as he got his coat and dress boots together. He’d ordered something durable and stylish online, but didn’t expect them before the middle of next week. He thought this because he was tired of being cold.
Outside, at least he could calm down. What a curious woman this was. He snuck a glance at her profile and then back down at the snow, not sure why she’d help him.
They walked through gently falling snow and she led him to her car – an eight year old blue Volkswagen, but without dings or anything in the way of damage. At a glance, it was neat as a pin inside on the tan leather seats.
Sherlock stopped in his tracks.
She unlocked it and nodded at him. “You’ll be all right.”
He climbed into the smell of coffee grinds with a glance in her direction. She liked coffee, but the fancy kind. One of the receipts in the change basket said mocha latte. She was focused; her radio was off. There was a winter emergency kit in the back, driver’s side seat, and a blanket folded beside it. Prepared. Responsible. But it also meant she didn’t have family or expect passengers. There was a nail kit tucked in the storage compartment by her knee. Neat. The car was dust free. The leather seats were heated. The cup-holder closest him had two half-exhausted rolls of quarters and a math puzzle book. She was smart. Organized. And alone.
She turned the key and turned up the heat, before she nodded at the radio. “Switch it to what you like.” Sherlock glanced at her hand moving. She drove stick. She glanced his way. “Are you doing your thing?”
“You looked at my hand.” She noted as she pulled them out into the street. “Are you doing your thing, like how you figured out about the flute?”
“No,” Sherlock lied. He turned away and rolled his eyes a little. Adults.
“Does it have a name?”
“Deduction.” He said and then turned his head in increments to see if she was smiling, or sneering, or whatnot. But her face was thoughtful.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
He blinked. “Is that good or bad?”
“It’s interesting, Sherlock.” She told him, “It’s a very rare talent to have.”
Sherlock fiddled until he found a station playing Tchaikovsky. He settled back in the seat and watched where they were going, a bit too nervous to say anything. The heat blowing across his cold flesh, like the music blowing through his cluttered brain, helped him relax. The muscles in his chest, tight around his injury, began to settle. They’d been jittering in the cold.
He glanced across at her and eased back against the growing heat that warmed the leather. Wow. People had fantasies that started this way, he was pretty sure. He shook the idea out of his head. Having sex with Pamela had changed him, fundamentally. It was on his mind a lot more now, even though Sherlock considered it maladaptive in his case, seeing as he seemed unable to pitch down enough to go through with it unless he took drugs first – humiliating thought. He needn’t worry about Emma. Unlikely she’d ever be willing to drop E and hold him until he wrestled his brain under control enough to…. He looked out at the road, red in the cheeks. Details aside, it meant he really was a freak.
He didn’t answer her. He’d been distracted by the corrugated buildings rising out of the trees ahead. They were just off the Uni property. She took a right toward the pale gray building, its colour indistinguishable from the overcast clouds slung low overhead.
When she stopped, Sherlock got out of the car’s cocooning warmth heedlessly and linked his gloved fingers into the chain-link fence. His breath puffed out to colour air around him. “Come this way, Sherlock.” Danas beckoned to him. She opened a latched gate in the fencing and led the way inside. A man was crossing the snow-dotted yard toward them, working a large, black glove off his hands.
Sherlock’s eyes scanned the lot. Twelve vehicles in total. He tucked his hands in his pockets and walked past the introductions taking place behind him. He only just caught, Danas saying: “Him? He’s with me. Don’t worry about him.”
“He’s kind of young.” A man’s deeper voice noted.
“Yes, well, he’s also exceptionally talented. Can you show me the one with the problem lock?” Sherlock looked at the three buildings and made his decision based on other things.
Number of lights in the lot: four.
Two floodlights per building, Top front corner eaves.
Backs of buildings facing the Cam.
Trees encroaching on building on the right.
Lamp post on right side of the lot means light cannot shine along the left flank of the building.
“How were they getting in?” Danas asked as she followed Sherlock. Odd… he almost seemed to know where to go. No wonder people were suspicious of him.
“Whole thing’s a bit rum, if you don’t mind my saying. The chain link rings as bind the fence to the pole were gone.” The thready-haired man shook his head.
“Back corner fence,” Sherlock turned to walk backwards. “Off to the right and through the trees. No one noticed until you walked the perimeter. You hadn’t realized anyone was getting in because nothing was missing.”
“Eh,” the man groused, “How’d you know that?”
Sherlock righted himself and started to trot over to the building. Adults, also too slow.
Each of these buildings had a massive garage door in the front, flanked on both sides by small, standard, steel doors. In front, they had tempered glass windows run through with wire mesh. Each of the garage doors had a keypad, a small number pad, and a red and green light. Sherlock stood beside one and started typing. By the time Danas and the man who worked here had reached him, Sherlock was jabbing buttons at high speed.
“Forget it, it’ll take forever.” The worker laughed.
Sherlock looked at the company name on the door, Dyers Ice Removal and Winter Storage.
He typed letters that would correspond with numbers on a phone, and the light flashed green. Sherlock sighed and clapped his hands together before him. He straightened and looked at Danas. “The problem isn’t the lock. It’s that this code wasn’t exactly made by accomplished cryptographers. I used combinations of the phone number – last four digits are D-Ice. But even if the codes are different for each door, it’s likely I could get in within a quarter of an hour. Some people even keep the factory settings.” Sherlock tapped the brand name on the electronic lock.
“Yeah? Well this one went on the fritz,” the man opened the front door – the customer door, more properly – and led them into the front of Dyers.
A plump, young secretary nodded and did a double-take at Sherlock. He tried not to read her, but failed miserably, giving the condition of her twee desk objet d’art. It looked like Antiques Atlas had thrown up in here, with a lot of bisque figurines, the majority of which were reproductions. The cameo glass bottle in silver and soft green? That looked real, and worth about 1500£. He knew all this because Emeline had stuffed three houses so full of antiques, Sherlock had had to play in the yard. Mycroft was seven years older. Apparently, she’d held off until he’d been about 10 – sensible enough to know better. Sherlock had toddled in the house and immediately broken a D'Argental Cameo Glass Vase.
Antiques. Impractical. But beautiful.
The door before him, a steel door with a small window, led back into an open warehouse. As soon as they were inside, Sherlock started to run. He raced between a fork lift and rushed by a small backhoe. Good Lord. This was it. He was so excited he could scarcely contain himself. He didn’t know, really, if he’d ever felt this way before.
On one side Acetates, and on the other, Chlorides. He ran in the direction of the Chlorides, narrowly missing the approach of a Frontend-loader. He ignored the cries from behind him. In the back corner, only a few feet from a side door, were salt domes.
Danas had done it. She’d taken his clue, used it, and she’d found it.
He walked up to the salt dome, a tan-white mound that made the air around it dry, and then darted to his right. He passed out the door there even as shouts hailed him: ‘Hey kid, are you barmy!’
Outside he was very close to a small cluster of conifers that could shelter him from the road. He could look up and see flood lights on the back of the building pointing outward toward the Cam. But there was nothing here but a small light over the door. That light made it a bit of a gamble, but a relatively safe bet, this door. Sherlock went to work on the lock. D-ice. He was in again.
“Sherlock,” Danas had caught up to him and was now trailing half a dozen staff in hard hats, all of whom looked some measure of distressed and put out. “You can’t just run around like that.”
He hesitated, his expression suddenly uncertain, “Did you not see?”
“Well, of course I saw,” she was flustered and took hold of his shoulders as if to reassure herself he was alive. When he winced, for some reason, it knocked the rest of what she’d been about to say out of her head. Then he was off again.
“I need the Lost and Found,” he hurried along at top speed. “Let’s go!”
“What?” one of the men asked, utterly at a loss. “Is he mad?”
“Wherever you put lost items that you’ve found!” Sherlock barked. “Take me there!”
This turned out to be a box in a cupboard in the office supply room. It was, or so he heard from overhead, and outside, mostly populated with things customers left – scarfs; mitts; gloves; mufflers; ear muffs; there was even a skier’s snood, in the modern sense of the word. Sherlock was half in the cupboard, and half out digging in the box. But it was no good.
Finally, he sat back on his heels and aimed a silent snarl at the dark cupboard.
The overhead light blinked. Into the silence, Danas said, “Sherlock… what are you doing?” There was a silent plea in there, that he say something – anything at all – that would make it look less like a Sergeant of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary had brought a large and frantic nesting bat on premises. Particularly since she was now surrounded in curious staff. Instead of an answer, Sherlock hauled the box out of the cupboard and upended it on the floor. He tossed the box aside and scrabbled through the contents.
There it was. He clutched it and leapt to his feet with a happy little cry. “I knew it!” He gave a little hop of delight and then brought the hat to Danas. “This is going to be Daniel Farrar’s. A match to his set – you’ll be familiar with the gloves. No one well-turned-out as he liked to be, would neglect a hat, particularly not for a walk as far as Trinity to here and back. This will have been found the morning after his death, and the hairs inside will be a match.” He shoved it at the woman, and then glanced over the men standing around her. Who was it? He studied their faces until: “You… you found it.”
The short, round man who had been operating a fork-lift blinked, “What? How’d you-”
“Never mind that! Just tell me where and how.” Sherlock suggested. “Was it in the building? Or outside?” He snatched the hat back and snuffled it. It smelled like salt, but also like vegetation. There was a slight discolouration on one side, the side that had been on the ground, and the material seemed almost starched. “Outside then. Where?” He handed Daniel’s hat back.
“Sergeant, sorry about this, but we’re not telling him a single bloody thing more until you explain how he’s doing that.” This was the man who had met them by the gate.
“The hat was sitting in snow and frozen when you found it. Stop sitting there like knobs and look at it,” Sherlock said testily. “If you won’t tell me, I’ll go out and look for it myself. There’ll be some sign of passage or other. And it will be well travelled enough that you’d have noticed a hat there.” She started around them, for the door.
Danas snagged him by the coat. This snapped material rudely against the wound in his chest, and Sherlock felt the blood drain from his face. His breath came out in a sharp hiss. Danas caught his shoulder. “Second time I’ve seen you do that. Are you hurt, Sherlock?”
He huffed air and said, “Can we just get on with it? I think there must be a dock or something. His clothes were so clean, and the ground wasn’t frozen enough to keep them from getting filthy if he was dragged to the river.”
“That’s more than these people need to know.”
“Oh come,” his voice rumbled in his chest. “We’re all adults here.” He pulled away from her and walked out into the hallway. “We should be mature, do this the easy way.”
The man who’d greeted them now leaned on the doorframe. “What I said stands. How are you able to do all this? I mean, we all suspected that it was kids from Cambridge breaking in here for some prank or other, how do we know it’s not you?”
“Oh my God,” he opened his arms and turned in place. The man’s name-tag said Bill Dyer. He was probably in charge then. “Clearly, the telly was your sitter. No matter what you’ve seen on late-night, if a person is guilty of breaking and entering, at a premises where he very likely committed a murder, he does not return to the scene of the crime to help investigators.”
“He does if he’s crazy.” The man pointed out.
“I’m not crazy,” Sherlock said tartly. “I’m brilliant. Now either help me or stay out of my way.”
“Wait-wait,” Danas swung in between them, she glanced back and forth as she spoke. “Sherlock, slow down. Mr. Dyer, I’m very sorry; Sherlock has some special skills useful to the investigation. He’s a bit brusque, I know, but I must insist we take him where you found this.” She held up the hat she had folded in her other hand.
Sherlock watched the man’s face and relaxed the instant he realized he would cooperate. Finally, Bill Dyer motioned at the round fork-lift operator. “Rick. We’re taking him outside.”
Rick, for his part, seemed to fear Sherlock. His eyes darted to the young man who walked with him toward a gate on the back of the property. Out back, there was a lot with a few gritters, ploughs, and large snow blowers sitting about. Sherlock didn’t give them more than a cursory glance. What he was looking for would be beyond this and down by the river.
“I found the hat near the back of the lot,” Rick said a bit shakily. “Right over here.” He walked to a location and pointed at the ground beside him.
Sherlock crouched down beside the gritter, which, at least, gave him shelter from the wind, and then looked at the surroundings. Windy, sparsely treed and exposed. But the hat had smelled of pine. So had it simply blown up here? Tucked down by the wheel like it was, there was little wind reaching it. So Sherlock walked off the back of the lot. There was a knee-wall there, which he had to heave his body over, but no more wire fencing. Wind had cleared much of the snow here, and piled it in drifts in other places. He walked for long enough to feel the dominant airflow and then turned off to his left.
“Who owns that land?” he asked Bill Dyer, the man had walked all the way out here behind them and now stood glaring at Holmes.
“No idea. It’s private property as far as I know.”
“See that,” Sherlock walked over toward Danas, who shivered in her coat. “There’s some kind of an eave down there by the water. Something’s down there.”
“I’ll find out who owns it,” she told him. “We’ll check it out.”
“Or we can go now,” Sherlock suggested to her. “Or, you can turn around, and I could go now.”
“Sherlock,” she pressed the tips of her gloved fingers to her brow and sighed. “Just leave this part to me? I’ll get you in there. Have patience.”
“Patience,” he scowled at her. “Dull.” But at least he hopped the knee-wall and headed back through the parked snow removal vehicles.
He didn’t care about the handshakes, or whatnot, going on behind him. Sherlock let himself into the relative warmth of the warehouse and walked back through to the front. He picked up the Gucci Aviator sunglasses he’d seen in the lost and found and tucked them into his pocket before heaving a deep sigh and walking out to sit in the front with the administrative assistant.
He’d convinced her of the value of her perfume bottle by the time Sergeant Danas arrived.
“Thank you for coming,” the girl at the front desk actually got up to wave at Sherlock as he pushed the door into the porch, and then to the outside.
“Oh,” Danas glanced across at him. “So you can be a charmer if you want to, then?”
“Uh… no.” He looked at a loss and didn’t appreciate it much when she started laughing. He climbed into the car and turned up the seat warmer. His chest was burning. Not his lungs, but the injury on his upper chest. He’d been in the warm for long enough it had begun stinging and hurting. He tucked a hand inside his jacket to pull the shirt he wore out away from the gauze bandaging and buckle the coat outward so that it wouldn’t rub.
Danas pulled them out onto the road. “What happened?”
Sherlock glanced at her profile, a silhouette with the sun where it was. Her features were remarkably even. “What do you mean?” He took the shades out and slid them on. They fit nicely.
“How did you get hurt?”
He debated telling her, though… he didn’t really know why. It wouldn’t matter. “I… I got in a sword fight.”
Alexa had a round, belling laugh. Then she caught that he wasn’t kidding, and that she was essentially laughing at his hardship, and tried to restrain herself. Sherlock found this comical, and had to look away, or risk grinning. She pulled herself under wraps and said, “A sword fight, really.”
“You’re not much for lying, Sherlock Holmes, not even to save your own skin.” She nodded. “So, where did you get into a sword fight on Cambridge Uni campus?”
“Fencing.” Sherlock told her and then winced a little. “Without the protective clothes on.”
“I thought you were supposed to be a genius.” She grinned and then glanced his way. “It’s not bad is it? I mean… would you need to see a doctor?”
Sherlock shook his head, “A scratch.”
“That’s what Mercutio said before his spirit ‘aspired to the clouds’.” She told him. “If you need a doctor, Sherlock, please give me a call.” She fished a card out of her pocket and laid it in his lap.
This made Sherlock settle in his seat. People didn’t casually quote great works to him in general conversation, well, outside of his family. It gave him some peace of mind insofar as trusting this woman went. He shut his eyes under the Gucci shades, a soft smile on his face as they drove back to campus.
She… seemed like a good decision. And he didn’t have a lot of choice.
“It’s your turn next.” The woman tapped the card on Sherlock’s lap. “Do you understand what I’m saying, Sherlock?”
“Duh,” Sherlock said and gathered his courage. He looked at her. “I have Daniel Farrar’s laptop.”
She blinked a few times and then nodded. “His keys were missing. You took his keys, went into his room, and looked around. Why’d you take the laptop?”
“To learn more about him,” Sherlock said. “I… come on, I’d just found a dead person. He’s my age, well, close to my age, and he’s done. Drowned. And I had to know if he was suicidal, or killed, or even clumsy. I had to know why.”
“No. Not suicidal, though some of his distant relatives have depression, and panic attacks. Not clumsy, or his clothes and things would show signs – dings, dents, all sorts of things. I didn’t find his cell though, and he didn’t have one on him. It could be in the river.”
“Or it could be under that little eave back there,” she noted. “I’ll get to work on that as soon as you’re situated. Where is the laptop now?”
“My room.” Sherlock nipped his bottom lip. “I’m pretty sure that’s excellent grounds for Husher to arrest me. I was hoping you could take it.”
“We’re not moving it right now,” she told him. “Do you think you can take it to Concert Hall? I mean, there is some risk if the DI is out looking for you that you’ll be caught red-handed.”
“I can get it over there.” Sherlock told her. “I have practice from 5PM to 8PM.” He pulled the car door handle and was outside before she could say another word. He was a quick boy.
Danas frowned, pressed the button for the car window and called after him, “Take care of that injury…. Sherlock?” He gave no indication that he’d heard.
Sherlock would have crumpled the paper if he’d been able. This thing… it couldn’t be beyond him. It just could not be.
He watched her, at the end of the row. She was twiddling her pen and actually paying attention to their History Professor while Adriana Chamberlain fiddled with her hair and tossed occasional glances back in his direction. Sherlock didn’t know what those little looks were supposed to mean, only what they were – urgent, irritated, and sort of disbelievingly curious. So he ignored them. He turned back to his paper. It was a mess.
Emma Brighton is a writer.
She’s here because it behooves her to become credentialed.
She believes that, here, she can learn from the best.
She believes that Cambridge will help her become a better and more accomplished writer.
Because Cambridge is great and it attracts great talent.
Great talent exhibits some ratio of creativity.
Cambridge will make her more creative.
That is a logical fallacy.
She is also here because she is a Brighton.
There is no other place Dublin and Candida Brighton would allow her to be.
She is here because this is where the Brightons are.
Since 1808. Since it meant something to say I’m a Brighton.
Since Branwell Brighton wrote ‘The Wrack and Ruination of The Fleece’.
Which was a gothic horror about a ‘proto-vampire’ – an ancient and aggrieved sidhe.
Who was also known as The Golden Fleece, or so the book alludes. Due to her hair.
But you’ve never read this book, Bulwick.
Branwell has four more. His daughter, Amity, wrote six. They’re all deliciously horrible.
No matter what she thinks. No matter how she feels. No matter what you want me to say.
Emma is here because of Golden Fleece. They all are.
Sherlock knew this to be true. In his idle time – during one of his classes where he’d already completed the textbooks and required readings – he’d done further research on the Brighton family. His family had always mixed circles with the old peers of England, neither truly one of them, nor separable from them. In many ways, they had the perks yet avoided the poisonings. But Bulwick would shred this. He hated how Sherlock wrote, which was – Sherlock thought – concisely. Worse. He wanted Sherlock to be florid, and, more than anything, not to write the truth.
Logic, fact, and puzzles, these things weren’t ‘creative’, even if he had thrown in a vampire. Even if he could quote skin-crawlingly unnatural passages about Branwell’s primordial beauty, Fleece. Quoting them wasn’t writing them. He wrote like… like – he lifted up his scribbler to inspect it at eye level – like a guy.
Bulwick’s dim little eyes were used to the curves and swells of girls.
Sherlock dropped his book on the desk before him with a sigh.
Had Emma read Branwell’s book? For a moment he burned to ask her about it.
But it didn’t matter.
His History prof puttered through the suffuse sunlight at the front of the class, and ignored him. Not only was his the last seat in the rear of the room, Sherlock had scored full marks on his examinations thus far. His father had always told him The successful are their own masters, Sherlock.
Well, Bulwick was trying to master destroying Sherlock’s First Class standing.
Nothing he could do. The Uni brass hated Sherlock. Not all of them, but more than was enough.
So Sherlock looked at the opposite page. It was another person’s Cambridge journey. He’d texted Danas. It turned out she’d called Daniel’s missing best friend, Kirk Butler. He had been very broken up, she said. Now Sherlock had stitched his own information into hers.
Daniel Farrar couldn’t afford to be here.
His mother went to Kingston and is a teacher, and his father dropped out of Middlesex.
His father later vanishes from Daniel’s life. The mother remarries.
Stepfather is an Earthworks Superintendent.
Daniel came here on a pair of scholarships for Linguistics. He’s actually quite good.
I know this because I’ve seen the practice tests for those examinations.
He has a job. People don’t know that. He was a language centre monitor at the uni.
It’s on record.
He came here because he wanted out of his hum-drum, no-one life.
He befriended Emma. That can’t have been accidental.
He has her phone number on a list.
She is the only person on the list who is moneyed.
The other names on this list… something must tie them together.
Why was he carrying those numbers on him when he died?
Or was it coincidence?
Well, there was an excellent chance that was the case, that the paper was some old relic from some class project, or other. Except if you went through Daniel’s pockets in his room, you’d find that only 30% of the time did he leave contents in them, only if they were in the basket to be washed, but if he’d folded them over the back of his spare chair to keep for a while. He’d told Danas that they had to mean something, and she’d said she would go back to look at them again.
Because he could do nothing else, he texted Merriweather: Do the names Nigel Howe, David Hollingshead, Peter Meade, and Raymond Whittle mean anything to you?
She didn’t come back to him within the next 10 to 15 minutes and he returned to work on writing a biography – foolish term for this assignment – for Brighton and her being here. Maybe he should mention the temperature of her lips, or how she tasted of peppermint. That might get him a grade. It would be salacious enough….
When he looked up, there was Adriana again, her face lit with interest, disdain, and confusion. He was used to that look from Mycroft. That made his lips curve into a gentle smile as he averted his gaze at the page before him and wrote:
The trick about crime is,
committing and resolving it
commands not just skill,
The Holmes family made their own luck. Adriana was murmuring to Emma when Sherlock checked the clock. Though Adriana looked back at him, Emma’s lips tightened, and she refused to turn her pretty head.
Sherlock felt his jaw clench a little: Fine by him. He put away his books and set his violin on the desk. This, finally, caught Emma’s eye, though she looked away, quickly.
It was the violin, Sherlock felt, not him. She was in love with it, Vivaldi, and Dvorak.
Sherlock was just the messenger.
When class broke, he was in the lofty halls of King’s College, out through the back door, before Emma had moved from her seat. However, he had to credit Adriana – she could sprint in four inch heels. She caught hold of him, which caused him to instantly stop all resistance and move in anticipation of her direction, seeing as she had hold of his left arm. She steered him back toward the class.
“She’s broken up enough, over you, as it is. I am not letting you ruin Emma’s chances of a perfect score in Bulwick’s class, you prat,” she said urgently, under her breath. “You’re not heading to lunch. Get in there and talk to her.”
The class was quite empty, sans even the Professor, by the time Sherlock slunk back inside. He stood at the back as Adriana shut the door. Emma didn’t look his way. That was… strange. She’d practically sat in his lap last night. He cocked his head and headed up the row toward her. He took the only desk that was in front of her and sat facing her, but her golden shield of hair was all he saw.
“What did you do?” Adriana crossed her arms and growled.
“I didn’t do anything.”
Which… knocked Adriana out of her castigation, “Then… then why was she crying this morning?”
“I dunno,” Sherlock looked at Emma for a scant space of seconds, set down his books, picked up the violin case, and slowly nudged it onto the desk with her. She’d wanted to fool around with it last night. Maybe it would awaken something in her today, and he could get to the bottom of this blasted foolishness.
Dead boy, Emma. Bigger issues. Focus.
Her slender white hand came down on the violin case. After a few seconds, she moved and threw the little latches binding it. Then she opened the case. Sherlock’s hand flew, seemingly of its own accord as she began to open the lid. His fingers exerted just enough pressure to keep it from opening more than a couple of inches.
“I won’t hurt it,” she said lowly.
He felt his lips compress, and then he slowly rolled his fingers into a fist that slid to the desk in which she sat.
She opened the lid and there it was.
She undid the velvet cord bindings.
Her fingertip glided over a string.
It made a hoarse rasping sound that startled her.
Which made Sherlock turn away and laugh, “Idiot. It’s not a bloody ukulele.”
“Don’t call her an idiot,” Adriana fumed down at him.
But Emma gave him a shy smile. “I didn’t expect that.”
“Clearly.” he said, only half interested.
“I didn’t expect for it to be so exquisite, play such beautiful music, but to actually be so difficult an instrument… to master,” she said patiently.
His eyes averted downward. Oh. Not the violin then. He glanced towards the windows and took both the violin and bow from the case. He gave the bow a soft shake in air got up, and sat on the desktop with his feet on the seat. “Here. Watch this.”
Sherlock took a deep breath and steadied himself before bopping the bow gently off the top of Emma’s golden head. She looked up at him.
“Pay attention.” He told her. “Even Maestro doesn’t know I can play this, so I’ll be damned if I’m wasting my effort, Brighton.”
She sat back and blinked up at him.
Then he set in on Paganini Caprice Nr. 5. Some people very much hated this solo. He could understand that. To him, it sounded like someone who might be bipolar had tried to put to music what their condition was like. In particular, the mania. His chest gave a pull as he played, it stung, but he played on, eyes shut against the overhead lighting. His finger’s now splendid instincts guided him through. Some small mistakes. She wasn’t likely to have heard them. He told himself: Nearly perfect. Getting there. Getting faster.
Sherlock huffed a breath at the end and set the violin upright on his knee to look at her.
Emma’s face was aglow. Instead of a comment, the light gathered, and she smiled at him. The girl’s beauty was radiant, transformative. Her fate might be a runway, or a big screen. But Sherlock didn’t care about the future. He’d put an end to the twaddle of now. That was all he’d wanted: not to have to think about it anymore.
He looked at the grand rows of windows and exhaled gratefully.
“So.” He glanced down at her. “Are we good?”
Emma got to her feet and smoothed her dress. “I don’t understand you…. Do I?”
“Oh my God,” Sherlock said tightly. “How difficult is this? Are. We. Okay? Whatever the hell is going on – and I assure you, I don’t care what that might be and don’t even care to imagine – I’m asking you, Emma Brighton, are-”
She kissed him well before he got to the vowels in good. Not a little one either. The only other person who’d ever unleashed such ferocity onto his lips was Merriweather. His knees went weak. His fingers clutched the violin and bow. Thankfully, he was sitting.
It was wonderful.
“Emma!” Adriana exclaimed with low urgency. “Oh my God! Get control of yourself.” But then she laughed in disbelief.
Emma did release him – she surely had him like a sphinx a man in her talons – but she kept one hand on his cheek and the other in his hair. For his part, Sherlock felt enfeebled. His lids were low on his pale green eyes, and he rested against her a moment, his curls against her sweetly dimpled chin.
Why did this matter?
It served no purpose.
Then his phone gave a ping and he felt himself jolt back to business. He laid the bow in his case and pulled the mobile out with a soft cluck of his tongue. Messages. It forced Emma to release him.
Merriweather. Sherlock smiled. She’d texted: I know Ray Whittle. He has something in common with you. And it’s not bouncing around the sack with me either. So don’t go there, twonk. Something else you both like.
Meaning he was another customer.
He replied: When can I see you?
She texted: If you’re still in History, I’m almost over there.
Sherlock got off the desk and excitedly tucked the violin and bow away, latching the case.
“What’s on?” Emma asked him.
He didn’t look at her, “You know that project the three of us have been working on?”
Emma caught his hand, which forced his gaze up to hers. Surprisingly, she looked determined. “Has something happened? Something I should know about?”
“The less you know, the better, don’t you think?” he told her and carefully extricated his hand. She caught it back again. “I’ll only land you in trouble.”
“I need to know,” she gave his arm a tug – right arm, so it caused him no discomfort. Her other hand came to rest lightly on his side at the bend of his ribcage, which made him feel strangely unsteady. “And, Sherlock, I’m sorry… but there’s more. There’s something I should tell you before things, possibly, get out of hand. You see-”
The door opened to admit Merriweather. Today, her hair was not in those ingenuous, tiny braids, but straightened into an ash blonde silken bolt that looked silvery. She had her coloured extensions – pale pink and lavender – in place. They folded over in a clip, a spray of beautiful colour and whip straight silver blonde, hanging over the left side of her crown. She’d laid low at her hair dresser’s place again. It made him smile because he could deduce her pattern.
Pamela wasn’t smiling. She glanced into the room and bared her teeth at Emma Brighton. “I don’t suppose I need to carry a cattle prod to convince you to keep your hands off?”
Sherlock blinked at this and began to point out, “That would be several thousand volts of electricity across her heart, Pam-”
“He’s not yours, Pamela,” Emma nipped in sweet, cutting retort.
Pamela’s smile grew into a show of fangs. “He’s been mine for half a year, dear.”
“Not yours,” Sherlock said reflexively. He thought better of the statement and half-turned toward Emma. “N-not yours either.” What a mess!
“Whatever,” Merriweather sighed as if she should have a fire screen. She strode up to Sherlock and crossed her arms under her breasts. But her voice was gentle, although it was worried. “I’m buying you a can of mace.” She smoothed his shirtfront up by the throat. Gently. She knew about the injury.
Sherlock couldn’t help the cocky half-smile. Seeing it, Merriweather put her head down and shook it, but she was smiling at her shoes. He was such a self-satisfied little thing. “Okay… where are we?”
Holmes blinked at her a moment. He needed further clarification of the question to answer.
Pamela turned to take in the tall brunette. “Are we leveraging Chamberlain now?” She glanced back at Sherlock. “God, what is it with you and tidy women? Can’t you find someone with an extra eye to do your bidding? Or a hunch back?”
Sherlock shouldered the strap for the violin. “Will you please shut up about immaterial things? So unpleasantly low. You and I have more important matters, Merriweather,” he paused. “Although… Emma says she has some news, first, that she’d like to give before things ‘get out of hand’.”
Pamela closed her blue gray eyes. “Oh, honey, that ship has sailed.”
Sherlock’s teeth clenched a moment and he elbowed Pamela. “Stop. Listen. Emma?”
“It’s Aaron,” Emma said softly and stepped forward, close to Sherlock. “He’s heard about us.”
“Us?” Sherlock cocked his head. “What us?”
“You and me. That we’re seeing each other.” Her neck arched just so. If he were to lean forward he could easily kiss her. This inclination simply didn’t exist in any cell of his person at that moment. “When I first walked out on him, he laughed at me. Like… he expected me back, because he said you’d never have me. Because he said you.... You see, he said that-”
“Because you’re gay,” Chamberlain said flatly.
Sherlock flinched away from Emma, his elegant gaze suddenly averted. “Thank you, Adriana, for your promptness.”
“No problem,” she said and cocked her head. Suddenly, she smiled at him – impressively pleasing in a manner one seldom saw of humourless and vinegary Adriana Chamberlain. “But you make a piss-poor homosexual, Holmes, the way you reacted to Emma just then.”
“Uhm. Yes. Not gay,” he confirmed with a softly embarrassed nod.
“More like misanthropic.” Pamela said seriously. She looked up at the tall, slender, curl-crowned boy who conquered so many of her waking thoughts – her silver lining. “I don’t think he likes… connections.”
“I’m getting that,” Emma replied in what was almost an aside. She nodded at Adriana.
Sherlock backed away from the lot of them, “Can’t you see that’s not important? There is someone dead and… and… no one seems to want to know what happened to him. It’s like you’re all sheep, perfectly content to let these officers, with little more than Year 7, fumble around in the snow out there. They could stretch your necks back and slice them. You’re stupid. If they’re carrying a badge and wearing a uniform, it’s like you don’t even ever think to doubt them.”
“Some of them are clever,” Pamela told him in reply.
“One.” He told her. “One of them is clever.”
“Alright, fine,” Adriana held up emphatic hands, “but what the blazes are we talking about?”
“Daniel,” Emma turned her friend’s direction. “I’ll skin you, Adriana, if you tell anyone else about this, do you hear me? Our friendship will suffer, I promise you that.”
“What? Did… did you do something?” Adriana looked stricken.
“We’re doing something,” Sherlock told her. “And, no. No one here killed him.”
“Well, then… that means… Emma, what does our friendship have to do with,” her gaze darted from Sherlock to Emma and back again in quick succession, “him?!”
“Not him. Not this. Our friendship would suffer because if you told someone, you’d get in the way of what he’s doing. What we’re all doing.” Emma said quietly. “For Daniel.”
Adriana drew forward, her hands extended toward Emma, and her voice dovelike in its softness. “Emma, you are not a policewoman. I mean… what could you possibly be doing… and how do you know, even, that he was killed? I mean….”
“Drowned,” Sherlock said.
“Adriana,” Emma jutted her chin and rolled her eyes to keep the sting of tears from wetting her cheeks. “Listen. The police let things slip, sometimes when they don’t mean to, and this is our turf. We know it better than they do. I’ve been helping Sherlock to find out what happened. What really happened. Daniel wasn’t suicidal. That’s rubbish.”
“Oh my God, please tell me you’re having me on right now.” She blinked. “Please tell me you’re kidding about this, Emma. Because this isn’t possible for you. I mean, it’s not something for a bunch of students to play around with. He’s dead, and that’s a police matter.”
Sherlock, who found this line of reasoning devoid, interrupted with. “I think I found the original crime scene today, Emma. A few miles from here.”
When she turned, Merriweather’s silver-pink-lilac hair fanned out like the wing of an owl. “How do you know, babe?”
“I found it.” He glanced at Emma. “I found the missing hat.”
Emma’s acrylic nails shimmered as they flicked up to cover her mouth. “Daniel’s rabbit-fur hat.”
“The same,” Sherlock said and then noted. “I handed it over to Constabulary, Emma. They’ll find his hairs among the rabbit fur and confirm it soon enough. But I know it’s his. I think I’ve seen the place where he died. Sergeant Danas is working on getting us in there.”
Emma turned to Adriana at once. “You can’t tell anyone this.”
“They’d never believe me,” she fumed at her slightly shorter friend, “because this is so crazy. He’s a violinist, Emma, not Tintin!”
Sherlock guffawed, “I’d look odd as a ginger.”
“Hot.” Emma told him smokily. That shut him up.
It made Merriweather roll her eyes. “I suppose we should be grateful he knows who Tintin is,” she sighed at last, “but, Chamberlain, it’s not a game. Sherlock’s gotten further than the Constabulary had on any of this. They picked him up to find out what he knew. He’s been helping them along with clues. It was Sherlock, on his way home from violin practice at West Road, who found Daniel.”
She gawped for a moment and then her eyes lit with devious whim. “I could have you out of Cambridge with this.”
“Adriana!” Emma barked and turned so suddenly her swing coat slapped her friend at the legs.
“Maybe,” Pamela walked up and linked arms with taller Sherlock. “But I don’t think you’d want Ellery and Rupert to know what you’re doing with Douglas Keith. Or what you did with Connor O’Grady, and,” she stuck out her fingers and began to tick them off, “Colin Keating, and – God what were you thinking – Sam “Bam-Bam” Daft, of the wrestling team, of all people. Aren’t Ellery and Rupe born again? I can’t imagine what they’d do with your monthly allotment if they found out you’ve had more banging than a door knocker.”
Adriana, now ghostly pale, sputtered in disbelief. “How do you… how…?”
“Oh, come now, it’s not as though I’ve breathed a word of this before you gave me reason to, Adriana.” Pamela turned Sherlock gently and glanced over her shoulder with the sleek cheeks of a kit, “We’re all ladies here, excepting this pretty thing,” she gave her head a tip in Sherlock’s direction, “who you will never again threaten, in or out of my presence. Do you understand me?”
Wow. Sherlock turned his head to look down at Merriweather’s steel with wonderment. Surely a girl like this one could stand even before Sir Lockton? Ah, but the thought of what he could do to her. Sherlock shook her grip away and went toward the door himself. He stood with one hand on the latch and said, “Let’s not be disagreeable. Chamberlain, you have my leave to do your worst. But understand I will retaliate immediately using all methods at my disposal. Can we agree on that?”
“I…” she simply blinked at him.
“Excellent,” as if Sherlock chose to interpret it as ‘aye’. He looked at Emma. “So I need to watch out for Aaron then? Some misguided phantasm he’s having that we’re a couple?”
“You’re not leaving without giving me the full story,” Adriana said stoutly. Her coat waggling attractively as she strode up to stand before him, fully his height. She reached out and put her hand over his on the latch to detain him. “We’re for your suite, Sherlock Holmes. If… if I’m about to help you, which – you’re in luck – I consider to be helping Emma… I want the full story.”
He considered the girl a moment and then relented. “Meet Merriweather and me at my suite. We have a little detour we have to make.” Sherlock glanced up at Emma and checked her expression. She didn’t looked thrilled to hear he was heading off with the small blonde, on his own. Lingering behind them, Merriweather’s expression was best described as unreadable.
Perhaps she’d long ago given up on hope.
Sherlock followed Merriweather’s willowy body, her extensions fluttering behind her. Though they stopped for a look, they bypassed the chapel, which appeared to be full of people from King’s Drama practicing roles for a Holiday production about which Sherlock – predictably – didn’t care. He didn’t dislike theatre. He just often found it uninteresting, badly written, and pedestrian.
They hurried along, puffing smoke in the chill air, as their legs worked. He could easily outpace her, but she was doing double-duty and waved him back at one point. She trotted back to him. “Emma’s crazy ex at 11 o’clock. Just let him get where he’s going a minute.” She linked arms with him and set off at a walk.
Sherlock glanced down at her, askance.
“Well,” she reddened, “it doesn’t look like you’re seeing Emma Brighton right now, does it?”
It actually made him look away and chuckle. “Clever girl.” Her fingers tightened on his arm.
They made their way to staircase A’s art room. Merriweather knew every art room in Cambridge and made her way to the white, airy Messy Room – easels arrayed all around, and only a pair of people working on paintings at the moment. Sherlock found he was pleasantly surprised the floor of a room with ‘mess’ in its name was so relatively tidy. He strode across it, ignoring curious glances, and followed Pamela to the back of the room. She opened the shutters at the fluted windows there – each tall and narrow like a champagne glass – and settled into one of the two recessed chairs under the pair of windows.
He stood over her a moment before he prodded the grey, unappealing chair, and sat, himself. He tucked the violin underneath it. Merriweather reached down, picked it up, and put it between her chair and the wall. “Safer over here, considering those big feet of yours.”
Sherlock shrugged and showed Pamela the message she’d sent him.
“Right,” she said quietly. “Ray Whittle-”
“Not having sex with you.” He waggled the mobile phone at her.
She pulled a face, “Like you care. But the point here is, I have an in with one of them. I can get you Ray Whittle. Though… I have to warn you he’s afraid of you.”
Sherlock blinked, “Of me?”
“Of the Holmes family name.” She turned in place and stared at him a moment. “Better get used to that, babe. Even Emma’s intimidated.”
“That’s beside the point… and rubbish,” he told her, stopped, and then said. “How do you know that? It’s not like she’d voluntarily talk to you.”
“I pick up diet pills for one of her friends. She told me.” Merriweather smiled. “Your family isn’t quite celebrated, isn’t quite peerage, it isn’t quite… a lot of things. But all it means is you’re kind of like ghosts. All anyone knows for certain is not to cross Sir Lockton, or Dame Lydia.”
Sherlock glanced away from her and stared at the wall, his brain vapour-locked for a number of vacant seconds. His next awareness was that this conversation was… unhelpful, and – wait a second. He came about, “But not you.”
“What?” Pamela stopped fishing in her pockets and cocked her head.
“You’re not afraid.”
Merriweather stared at him. “I’m afraid of your father,” she told him flatly. “But not for myself.” To distract herself from the sudden silence inevitable in the wake of this, Merriweather took out her mobile phone and put it in her lap. She got the text she wanted, picked up her mobile, and set the phone on his thigh. “Any idea why Emma’s on this list?”
Sherlock shook his head. “Not enough information. Can you round up Whittle?” Sherlock checked his watch and rubbed his hands together.
“Easy-peasy,” she nodded. “Where do you want him?”
“Concert Hall.” Sherlock rubbed his hair with his open hands. “Nigel Howe… is a history nerd. Don’t know about him. David Hollingshead is physics, though. Peter Meade is in the arts with you, as in, he’s training to become a photographer. If I give you his room number and college, can you get him?”
She took some time to consider it. “I’ll do what I can. Think you can get the physics and history guy, or is that just pushing it?”
He looked up from tapping away on his phone. “Well, I’ve hacked the registrar, at least, so I know what I’m looking for.”
Her eyes widened until he could see white most of the way round gray-blue, in spite of her superbly extravagant false eyelashes. “When’d you do that?”
“I can’t believe the stones on you,” she leaned in and whispered to him. “You stupid prat! Why would you go and do a thing that could get you sacked?”
“I wanted to check on someone’s records.” Sherlock said softly. And then, for some reason, he admitted. “Mycroft’s records. He’s… not above lying about graduating double-first just to dig at me, self-congratulatory plonker. He’s hard to best, that one.” Sherlock felt a bit lost and flailing at the end of that confession. He nipped the inside corner of his lower lip between canine teeth and let the flesh roll free.
“Ah.” she said on the matter. Very possibly, no one was better acquainted with Sherlock’s troubled family relationships than the little blonde beside him now. She was, for one thing, intuitive, and for another, too well connected for Sherlock to successfully hide from her. And she suddenly reached up and smoothed the curls at his left temple. “But he’s not you, Sherlock. He can’t be you.”
“Could you say anything more inconsequential?” Her palm glided down to his cheek and warmed his flesh there. Sherlock closed his eyes.
She should kiss him now. He was shaking inside, weakened, with no resistance left. This monumental thing he’d done for a dead stranger had grown large and uncontrollable, seemed so insane, and had pulled in police who knocked him up with threats. It was too much.
It was too much alone.
But she didn’t kiss him. Her small, warm hand dropped from his cheek. His eyes opened heavily.
Pamela was afraid to simply kiss him… because he was moody. He was venomous. Often he would bite and poison her just to safeguard that frozen creature inside himself. Over time, he’d taken the gutsy little genius and made her reticent, hesitant with him. He hadn’t dimmed her concentration any, however. She searched his face. “Sherlock,” she said, “It’s going to be okay, all this. Right?”
For her? “It’ll be fine. Relax.”
He saw her eyes narrow, but she chose not to pursue it. “Because it’s you asking…” she got to her feet before him, “I’ll put it out there, quietly, that I want to meet up with these three at West Road after the practice. I’ll bring Ray myself. He’s a good little doggy, Raymond. Really badly wants to hump my leg.”
Sherlock felt his teeth clench. He averted his gaze, smoothed his expression, and immediately busied himself fetching up his violin. But when he looked at Merriweather’s broad, lovely face, again, she was grinning.
And Raymond Whittle wouldn’t have enough pud to piss with if he touched her. The Holmes’ boys didn’t play well with others, and they didn’t share. “He’s a plank.” Sherlock rumbled as he walked out of the Messy Room with Merriweather beside him.
She laughed at him. “Good thing he’s not trying to poke your leg. Now come on, we have to catch up with those goddesses you insist on frequenting.”
Stripped down to his crisp blue shirt and designer trousers, Sherlock used the cork board wall in his front room to chart out the crime. He hadn’t been this detailed at any other time, neither with Merriweather – who hardly needed it – nor Emma, who definitely did. But there was no need to hide his involvement from passing police now. There were only a few incriminating sections he would take down and lock away when this current ordeal – laying it all out for Adriana – was over and done.
His fingertip ran across the quick sketch of Dyer Ice Removal and came to rest on the lot around back. “The wind is strong in this section of the Cam. Daniel’s hat was found beside large equipment, in a relatively sheltered position. It argues he either paused there for a windbreak, or, more likely, that his hat blew there after being dislodged – arguing he wouldn’t have recognised it as a windbreak, and would have shied from possible detection in the lot.” His fingertip slid to the next slice of paper pinned up. “And we have the structure on this land here, which Sergeant Danas is working on; abuts the water; perfect, given the condition of the body. I wish I could get there… his phone is still missing… I would like to look for it there. Just that little thing is all… that couldn’t do any harm to anyone.”
Adriana flinched. She scanned the faces of the other two girls with her. Surely they were horrified by this freak!?
But they betrayed only grim attitudes of attention.
Merriweather glanced at last. “It helps if you try to focus on what recommends him.”
“Uh… his shoulders and…” Adriana looked at Emma on the couch beside her and admitted. “I mean, he’s rather enjoyable from behind.”
“You have no idea,” Merriweather spluttered and then clapped a hand over her mouth. The other girls looked at her a mix of curiosity and scandal, even Emma unable to contain her amusement.
Pondering the drawings and charts of the crime that he’d made, Sherlock pinched the bridge of his nose and managed, by the slim half-moons of his fingernails, to hold his patience and not toss the lot of them out of his suite. He sighed weightily and vanished into his bedroom.
“I’m sorry,” Merriweather called after him. “I’m sorry, Sherlock. I shouldn’t have-”
Sherlock bent himself and mussed his dark hair, suddenly too drained to contemplate his next steps. He brought the laptop out of his room. When he came out, he looked critically at Pamela. While he tried to be vexed at her poor taste, his brain told him:
She changed her foundation to classic- from natural-ivory.
That means she’s gotten pale these last few days.
Extra concealer below the eyes.
Dark with sleeplessness.
Her affections are bruised.
And without her… who would knock my door?
Who would talk to me?
Pathetic. He sighed. “So,” he folded down at the table between him and the girls and drummed his fingers on the laptop he set before him. “Chamberlain, I have a job for you, if you’ll have it.”
“I’ll do it if she doesn’t,” Emma said at once.
“I know,” Sherlock agreed. “I’d be better served having you take this to West Road for me, except D.I. Husher knows your face and someone may tag along with you. It would be much safer for Chamberlain to do.”
“Then I’ll do it,” Adriana reached a hand and linked arms with Emma. “What is it? And, I warn you, I just had my nails done.”
Sherlock guffawed because she so reminded him of Emeline in that moment. It was charming. Adriana’s eyes widened as if surprised. He pushed the laptop toward her through a flat-earth sea of sheet music and maths of all kinds on the table. Emma was the one whose hand came to rest on it. “This…?”
“They… they searched my room for it. You?” Emma’s eyes goggled. “You had it all along?”
“I did. Emma… they said he was suicidal. I had to truth-test that, and Daniel was dead, so it’s not as though there was another way to ask him about it….”
“Right… right.” Emma turned to Adriana. “You have to help us, please, Adri.”
“Emma, really, don’t do the big puppy-dog eyes thing at me, it’s perfectly despicable. I’ll help you, okay?” Adriana patted her friend on the hand and then glanced at Sherlock. “But while I agree about the looks, Emma… he’s a freak. Sherlock Holmes, you don’t belong with a girl like Emma by any stretch of the imagination. Now, as politely as possible, for you anyway, tell me what I have to do.”
“And make it quick,” Merriweather jabbed him with her French tips and showed him her cell. She had a text that said: Yeah, I’ll meet you up tonight, honeypot. –PM
PM. Peter Meade. She was a honeypot indeed. But in the computational sense, Peter.
Sherlock half-smiled and looked at her. His voice rumbled in him, “Got him. Good show.”
“Go fetch, Ray?”
She grinned and rose to his feet. “Better than present company. Thought you’d never ask.”
“Not. Funny.” He told her retreating back. But she only ignored him. And it didn’t seem to matter to him, right then, that he would soon have two amongst the most popular girls in Uni all to himself the moment his front door closed.
He redirected his attention to said girls. “Daniel’s list of names… we’re meeting them after West Road tonight. It’s about time we found out what Daniel was doing right before he was killed.” Sherlock rose to his feet and looked at them.
“Sounds dangerous,” Adriana said bitingly.
“Could be.” He hoped not. “Are you in?”
“Yes,” Emma said without hesitation.
And then, more sluggishly, Adriana added. “Of course.”
Sherlock’s body felt strangely drained. If he thought about it…
“I haven’t eaten in a long time.”
Back stage, in one of the stalls in the Men’s toilet, he took off his shirt and checked the crusted and deeply bruised condition of his sword wound. It smelled antiseptic. He didn’t know much, beyond that. It might be healing. It might be infected. It hurt. He didn’t have dressings to exchange for these, so he pulled the tape tight over the injury with the dressing already on it. It would have to do.
Sherlock Holmes, sword fighting without the ‘Bedlam suit’… no way could he let Mycroft get wind of that. The family already thought he was reckless.
He could hear that all noise outside the Men’s Room had died away.
It was time to get to the stage. He shrugged his jacket back on, buttoned it, and took his violin out into the brief little hall that led up a narrow flight.
There was a hush as he came to the stage. The lights were already suitably lowered. Everyone was at their places. The orchestra watched him make his way from the wings. Beyond him in the relative dark, applause struck up as he reached the front of the stage. He cast a dark glance at Maestro Fiedler, who was coming to see him. He could hear the stage creak, it was so hushed. The man set his hands atop Sherlock’s shoulders, which forced Sherlock to look up, “How’s the chest doing? Still cramping?”
“I’ve let it rest.” Sherlock told him with a nod. He stepped back and set down his violin case on the small table set beside his place for just such things. He flipped the locks with his thumbs and glanced out at the crowd.
“I don’t want you doing yourself harm, Sherlock.” Maestro said.
“I’m fine.” His jade eyes scanned the expanse of Concert Hall seating. He only just lucked into Merriweather because she flicked on her cell to catch his attention. Adriana sat between her and Emma. And Ray was beside her. This audience was like a massive chess board. They were in place.
Now all he needed was Danas, so he could pass the albatross of Daniel’s laptop, and enough of the names on Daniel’s number list to show up that he could establish a pattern. Sherlock had texted David about tutoring and said it was urgent, and Nigel Howe from Adriana’s phone while she’d had a few words with Emma in private. Nigel was much more likely to show up here than Hollingshead.
But… he’d have to wait and see.
And, of course, none of it had a thing to do with Sibelius.
Maestro had returned to tap his podium with the white baton. The orchestra came quickly to order, except for Sherlock, who was still setting up. He rolled rosin over the bow with a gentle hand. He felt far away up the river by the salt domes. This place felt like a dream he was having.
He heard very little of what Maestro was saying, or, more likely, heard it and dismissed it in the same firing of neurons. He flicked the bow in air, set it to the strings. Then he waited. Maestro raised his baton and sliced downwards. Sherlock’s violin poured out the confusion that frustrated him. He could feel the bittersweet landing of the orchestra reaching for him. It became like a struggle between a pair of lovers – one, the stronger one, was reaching out; but the other, the sharper one, kept pushing away. But pushing and holding on, their hands were always on one another. That was what the music had transformed into and it sent shivers down Sherlock’s spine. That shiver was his last external awareness. From there, he moved into that interstitial space, like a suspended dusk, where he only heard and only understood music and his breathing.
Coming out of that zone was like the breech of a soundproofed chamber. He was flung onstage in the middle of a concert, sucking air, feeling pain stab across the injury in his chest, feeling breathless from the sheer cardio of playing that hard.
A massive cheer went up, like a deafening rush of noise from the seats. He had to wheel in place, because the orchestra was whooping and applauding too. When Maestro came toward him, Sherlock almost felt like asking the man What just happened? He felt like he’d missed the whole thing – the entire onstage experience replaced by this strange communion in his head.
“What’s on your shirt?”
Sherlock glanced down at the dark blue shirt and saw a dot of blood just below his collar bone. He nodded at it, “Blood.”
Maestro’s eyes widened. “Muscle cramps?”
“I have a little cut.” Sherlock admitted to the man.
“Take a bow, and I’ll meet you back stage.”
Sherlock blinked. “It’s a little cut. I’m not stopping practice for a little cut.”
“Do as I say.” Maestro said sharply. “Bow. I won’t have you out here bleeding. There’s a First Aid Kit by the store room, you know. Tend to the cut. We’ll warm up Paganini. We’ll wait.”
Sherlock did as instructed. Backstage, he found the First Aid Kit – how stupid of him not to go hunting for one to begin with. Fiedler was CPR and First Aid Certified, of course he’d have one. Now it hurt so bad to daub the cut with alcohol that he danced in place, swearing and cursing. He said an emphatic ‘Fuck’ as he smeared on the salve, and then stuck his fingers together with the surgical tape. Eventually got himself bandaged again. It took a while for the shaking to die down. Sherlock took a few pills and swallowed them dry.
He was back onstage within 15 minutes. He didn’t want to check out in the midst of UPCO’s practice like that again, but his wishes had very little part to play in the matter. The problem was that his enflamed mind had been conditioned to consider going deep in the music a recuperative exercise. Like sleep. So he lasted only several minutes with conscious awareness of the outside world. He was, however, fully conscious of the powerful music they were making. Once he finished a few sets he stopped, turned, and shook his head at the orchestra. Yes, they were idiots, but they were musically-gifted idiots.
“Well-done, well-done!” Maestro sighed and rubbed his eyes. “My God. Sherlock… I don’t know what you did-”
I found a dead teenager and started a criminal investigation.
“-but it’s working. Keep doing it.”
Oh heavens, no.
Sherlock couldn’t contain a laugh on the end of that, but it was lost in the applause.
Fiedler balanced the baton between his hands and said, “Bravo all! We’re breaking early.” His voice only just reached above the noise: a combination of the crowd’s approval and people getting ready to leave the concert hall. As Sherlock put his violin away the darkness before him became dotted with more and more, empty orange seats.
When he could – because he was getting congratulations from the orchestra, which was almost more than he could follow with the goings on – Sherlock ducked backstage to text Merriweather: ‘Look for Sergeant Danas. I didn’t see her.’
Merriweather texted back: ‘I’ve been through the people still here a couple times, Sherlock. She hasn’t shown. There’s some big, broody guy with the Constabulary though. Thinning light brown hair and gray eyes. Like his face is shut off? Do you know him?’
Husher. D.I. Husher had come instead. Something was wrong.
Even if they’d searched his apartment, the laptop wasn’t there. Chamberlain was a moving target right now. But no one knew about Chamberlain. Not even Danas. Did he stand to be arrested?
Sherlock had taken down any part of the crime scene run-through that he’d drawn for Emma and Adriana. He should have been safe, even if they’d handed over warrants to search his rooms.
Arrests weren’t something to be toyed with.
And he had too much to do.
He wet his face and glared in the mirror of the Men’s Room he’d ducked into. “I know I’m right.” He knew, just knew, he’d pointed out the structure where Daniel had died. He knew he could find the one who’d done it if they’d just leave him alone and give him time. But they weren’t going to do that. He’d have to make his own time.
“You all right, Sherlock?” one of the oboe’s asked.
“Yeah, I’m great.” Sherlock dashed off. He hadn’t even been aware of the young man at the other sink. So… maybe not so good.
He hurried out of the Men’s room and down the brief stairs toward the side exit, and darted back. There was someone standing outside, and the haircut alone put him in mind of the police. But okay. He knew of a window that would let him out. Sherlock diverted up the stairs to the second floor.
He huffed air and typed: ‘Abort. Get yourselves and the list clear. Text me from a place.’
She replied: ‘Is this guy bad?’
Worse. He was a ‘good guy’ who was no good. Sherlock texted back: ‘He thinks I’m guilty = he is a dangerous moron. Get clear.’ Where the hell was Danas?
Out in the audience, Merriweather – a plastic smile on her lips – showed Adriana and Emma the message Sherlock had sent. Emma’s dark eyes widened. She recovered hurriedly, and smiled at the little prodigy. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Merriweather’s arched brows rose. To all outward appearances she was relatively happy, but she was whispering: “Honey, if Sherlock didn’t have creepy enemies, I think he’d have to hand in his ‘Holmes’ card. You want to snog him? You’d best get insurance. And we… we need a plan.” She thought a moment. “We’re going to head outside and text the list to join us.” As she whispered this, her hand folded over Ray Whittle’s wrist on the rest beside her.
“The list, they’re here already? How’d he do that?” Adriana, jammed between their conversation, asked. Her dark eyebrows jumped. She was clearly surprised and afraid.
“Relax, okay, Adriana? I’m right here to help.” Emma said comfortingly.
Merriweather’s teeth gritted. She caught hold of the brunette’s wrist. “Ugh. Trust me. Please, okay? For him? Uh, I mean, for Emma – do this for Emma. But we can’t get you caught with that laptop right now, that bloke down by the stage is serious bad karma. Like, as in threatening Sherlock, bad karma.”
“What bloke?” Adriana asked.
Both Merriweather and Emma looked. The tall and cadaverous man Pamela had seen before, as well as both of his cops, had disappeared. She could think of one thing they pursued, and one place to pursue it. “Shit,” Pamela whispered hoarsely. She turned her attention to her glittery cell phone and texted Sherlock: ‘Hide, babe.’
As he silently paused on a landing to the second floor – actually the web of catwalks above the stage – Sherlock received this text. He quickly turned off Sounds on his mobile. There was only one thing this could mean: D.I. Husher was backstage.
Sherlock prowled along the walks with extreme care, more like a cat on the tips of its toes, than something 10 or 11 stone, at that point. He froze in place at the sound of Maestro Fiedler below him.
“What do you want with him?” the Maestro said sternly. “He’s a student, and my charge. I won’t simply hand you a child that’s in my care, badge or no badge.”
“We’re investigating the death of a young man, Mr. Fiedler. Daniel Farrar. What we want with Holmes isn’t your concern. It would be wisest for you to just get him out here.” Husher droned.
It irked Sherlock to hear Fielder referred to as anything other than Maestro. He moved slowly along the walk until he could see the tops of their heads. Their conversation was now very clear to him.
“Sherlock has nothing to do with that Daniel boy. They live in different worlds.” Maestro said airily. His baton waved in air. “You’ll be wasting your time and his.”
“Really… what time does he leave here after practice?” Husher’s voice was thick with derision.
“At seven in the evening.” Maestro said defiantly. “He is a good boy, Sherlock. A virtuoso. I will not have you interrupting his practice here.”
“And he never stays later?”
“He does, within reason, but he has a curfew. It is for 10:30PM. He’s a studious boy of First Class standing at this establishment. In two disciplines. You’re wasting his time. You should leave.”
“Well it seems he can stay out later than 10:30 and not turn into a pumpkin,” Husher said sarcastically, “seeing as he found the body and put a call through to Emergency Services later than 1 in the morning. From Trinity College, mind you, where he must have picked a lock to get at the phone he used. Still sure he’s a good ickle boy?” Then Husher pushed past Maestro and directed his men. “Spread out. Find him.”
Maestro was powerless to stop them and stood glancing about. He exhaled after they’d gone, a deep, worried sigh of, “Oh, Sherlock.” The tone of it, so like a viola’s lowest register, made Sherlock’s eyes prick. He blinked a few times as he moved on, quickly, but quietly now. It wouldn’t take long for them to find the stairs up here. There was a props room with a row of windows in the back.
He made it to the prop room, and had to pick the lock there as well. He could hear them coming on the stairs less than eight feet off to his right. His head throbbed with the power of his thudding heart, but – lips pressed tight – he used the controlled and measured motions he knew would get the job done. Rising, he swung in through the door and eased it shut. He locked it. Sherlock had crossed only half the room before he heard them in the upper halls. They tried the knob behind him, which made his stomach fall so desperately that he felt instantly sick.
Even with them calling for a key, and trying the handle, Sherlock went steadily to the casement and opened the window there. Below him there was a row of yew trees. Owing to the hour, no one stood about smoking or talking. Good thing, as he hadn’t the time to worry about observation, even if seen. Sherlock hiked up on the shelf, which caused his eyes to water from the pain in his injured chest, shoved the window, and dropped out like a cat.
A branch whipped him under the chin on the way down, which smarted, but nothing touched the violin case on his back. He soon found that hugging the building both hid him and eliminated tracks in the snow.
Sherlock made his way to a path within a handful of seconds, and walked along it with his coat’s hood up over his dark hair. He was an anonymous shape in the dark… except for his violin. How easily it could betray him. So he was paranoid until he made it past Queen’s College. Once there, though, he took off with a burst of speed, wanting nothing more than to hide from this in his suite, even though he knew it was the one place he couldn’t go.
God, where was Danas!?
It occurred to him to check his phone, whose Sounds were off, thus it couldn’t tell him if Pamela texted him. He headed up the King’s Parade and saw that she’d come through. Her text said:
‘In Trinity Bar. Emma told the musk-ox at the door you were her guest.’
Sherlock amended his path in the direction of Trinity’s Great Gate. He didn’t know much about the bar at Trinity, but that it existed, was on the ground floor, and was between the Great Court and Angel Court. Oh. And only Trinity College members and their guests could get in. This left him concerned he would have to wrestle a musk ox tonight. But he needn’t have worried. Emma was standing outside, waiting for him. She seemed like a flower in her swing coat.
Sherlock walked through the wood hall toward her, and her face lit with relief. Even with people filing in and out of the College bar, she stepped up on her toes and brushed her lips to his. The rush of noise… was impressive.
He was a little red in the cheeks as she led the way inside. Her little display had gotten him a lot of looks. Sherlock wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Only aware he didn’t need attention right now, and was rather put-out with her.
At least their little table was in the back. He immediately saw that the summons had netted all the young men they’d sought. Seeing him coming, they grew quiet and sort of… baffled, well, except for Hollingshead, who knew Sherlock and the Holmes Family by reputation. That guy fixed him with a dark look and cocked his head. He grumbled as Sherlock drew closer: “Something wicked this way comes.”
“Amen, brother.” Merriweather actually rubbed her hands together – she did that when excited. “Proper wicked. Hello Sherlock.”
Sherlock pulled up a chair from one table to his own, but gave the people at the original table no explanation for it. He simply took the chair and ignored their dark looks. There were two of them. No need for four chairs.
On his left sat Pamela who he acknowledged with a curt. “Merriweather.” She beamed at him, excited for what was to come next, and chuffed he’d gotten away.
Sherlock handed his violin to Pamela with a knowing glance. For an instant, they paused, all four hands upon it. He could see in her face he’d dulled her enjoyment of this phase of investigation. This gesture was the wrinkle. It meant he was undertaking a labour he wouldn’t risk the violin to. Now he was entrusting it to her, and Sherlock trusted few. He had only a moment with her before Ray Whittle returned from the bar with some drink or other. But the table was packed, so there was nothing he could say. For the others, this incident passed by in a quick meeting of gazes and the smooth hand-off of a somewhat battered violin case. They saw nothing more.
Hollingshead sighed windily. “I suppose the only thing left to ask now is, why are we really here?”
“What do you mean, mate?” Ray Whittle swung an arm around Merriweather’s shoulders and gave her a squeeze. “I know why I’m here.”
“Hey, lay off her, man,” Peter Meade complained.
Sherlock honestly wanted to swear at both of them, but he cooled his temper and turned his attention to David Hollingshead. “Explain.”
“Sherlock Holmes doesn’t do,” Hollingshead hooked his fingers in air for quotes, “the ‘social’ thing. Not now. Not ever.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Emma touched Sherlock’s arm. “He’s here, isn’t he?” But the look he gave her touch betrayed a certain distance.
“He’s here, means he’s got an ulterior motive,” David told her shortly. “Apart from being a violin zealot, that thing over there is the single coldest excuse for a person I’ve ever met. And I’m in the maths and physics department. Trust me, he doesn’t care about you,” he motioned around the table, “this… so why are we really all here, Sherlock?”
Adriana made a small snerking noise of amusement, immediately met by a dark look from Emma. It was Merriweather, though, whose lips narrowed and whose eyes seemed to want to offer comfort. He had no use for that.
“Good show, David,” Sherlock said in as businesslike a manner as he could manage, “on motives. However, I see no need for you to make this more unpleasant than it has to be.”
The young man guffawed. “Did I ever tell you that I fancy Christina Lloyd, Sherlock?”
“And did I tell you that I can’t help who fancies me,” Sherlock said coldly. “I wish I could.”
“You’re not human,” Hollingshead snorted in reply.
“Oh, so that’s why you’ve come,” Sherlock quirked a bitter smile for a moment. “I had forgotten what a censorious prat you can be. I didn’t steal Christina, David. I didn’t know she was alive – a good approximation of her perception of you. Has nothing to do with me. Besides, I see you’ve moved on, unless you’ve taken to wearing perfume.”
“Yeah. You’re making it up,” he scoffed. “There are three girls at the table and you’re saying-”
Sherlock indicated each girl with his flattened hand. “Pink Sugar. Envy me. Angel. What’s your girl wearing? You’re covered in it.”
Emma giggled. He’d correctly identified everyone’s perfumes.
Merriweather brought her hands together. “Guys, focus okay? This is kind of important. David, on behalf of my boyfriend-”
Reflexively, Sherlock snapped. “I’m not your-”
“I’m sorry about Christina. If it’s any consolation, she’s been through three guys this year, and seems kind of flighty to me.” Pamela looked at Sherlock sharply. He shut his eyes and rubbed an aching temple, quite obviously.
“Don’t let me impinge. By all means,” his voice was leaden.
“Oh….” David reached across the table to squeeze Merriweather’s hand. “I can’t tell you how nice it is to meet you, luv.” A transparent dig at Sherlock, given Holmes’ evident exasperation.
Her small teeth gritted, Merriweather indicated Sherlock. “Go for it, babe. We don’t have all night. Well… you don’t, anyway.”
Sherlock glared at her.
This made Hollingshead’s grin broader still.
“I don’t get this… the way you two are acting,” Ray glanced from Pamela to Sherlock. “She’s your bird?”
“Nope.” Sherlock reached in his pocket and took out the forgotten shades and, with them, the slip of paper for which he was really searching. “No. Merriweather is all yours, Ray. Good luck.” But, seeing the sudden smile on Ray’s face, he added. “She’ll crush you.”
Whittle’s joy withered into uncertainty, particularly when he checked the raptor-like stare Pamela levelled on Sherlock Holmes. They were like two powerful countries locking eyes over their national pride and a hotly contested stretch of land. The table filled itself with silence.
And then Sherlock tucked the shades away and pushed the paper into the center of the table. Curious eyes followed his gesture, and then leapt up to his attractive face. “So, these are everyone’s mobile phone numbers, excepting Merriweather’s and Chamberlain’s there. Do you know where these were found?”
“Your number too, Holmes?” Peter looked up from the paper David had pulled their way and frowned.
“Why so surprised?”
Peter added a hasty, “I’m not surprised.”
Sherlock smiled a little. “No, you see, Peter… no one else said anything. You were startled to find my mobile listed there. Now, the only person who would be startled – other than myself – would be someone who knew why I didn’t fit.”
Peter rocked back in his seat, raised, and spread his hands. It was the universal gesture of ‘I’m not touching this’. Peter, being as large and stout as he was, wasn’t the sort of person Sherlock wanted feeling threatened, so he leaned back himself and patted air. “Relax,” Sherlock said. “No one’s being accused of anything. Just that I want to know what’s on. The police are going about, Peter. It’s a matter of time before they come to talk to you… if they haven’t already.”
Ray looked pale as he raised a long, thin hand. “They talked to me this afternoon. Well, they: her. This tidy Italian girl-”
“She’s Greek,” Sherlock said. “And she’s a Sergeant…. What did she ask you?” Raymond Whittle had seen Danas in the afternoon. She’d still been working the case. Sherlock’s gaze brushed the table. His fingers tightened on Danas’s business card in his pocket. She just didn’t seem the type to betray him… so something was wrong.
“Questions about Danny Farrar,” Ray joined his hands on the frosty glass before him and looked around the table. “What’s going on here? Why did he have our phone numbers?”
Sherlock lifted the index finger that had curled against his lips. “He didn’t just have them. He died with them in his pocket.” His gaze slid to Peter. “But he only contacted you. I know he didn’t call me. If he had… that’s not a thing I would forget.”
“Because no one gives you a jingle,” David Hollingshead sneered, “because no one can stand you.”
Sherlock glanced at the table and let that one lie. Nothing he could say about it. It was true.
“I think I’m gonna go,” Peter said after a moment.
“I think you’re not,” Sherlock told him. “Look, police are crawling all over West Road right now. They were looking for me. My name’s on the list. How far do you think you’ll get?”
“I didn’t hurt anyone!”
Sherlock leaned toward him, “Neither did I. I don’t want this any more than you do. Now, why did Daniel contact you? What were our names doing on that list? It makes us all look suspicious.”
Nigel shrugged and spoke at last. “Well, all I know is I didn’t do cack to Daniel Farrar. I didn’t know that guy from Adam, and that’s no word of a lie.” His accent was gruff. Like Sherlock, he was a Londoner, but he came from a very different part of the city than Sherlock had ever lived in.
Then it struck him. “Okay-okay… wait. Nigel’s from Tottenham. Ray....”
“Isle of Dogs. That area,” he said nervously. “Not like you.”
Holmes’ long hands flickered in air, “Shut up about me, I don’t matter. David?”
He sighed, “Hackney. So we’re all from London. What does that matter?”
“Are you in on scholarship?” Sherlock asked.
They mostly were, as it turned out, apart from David, whose family had made good investments and who – along with his working a job – were paying his way.
“I’m not on scholarship,” Emma said and tapped a phone number on the paper. “I’m on here.”
“He liked you though,” Sherlock said. “You were someone he’d once protected, who then spoke to him kindly, each time he encountered you. For someone like Daniel to be greeted warmly by someone of your position?”
“It would be kind of like a Holmes talking to him,” Hollingshead said and then glanced at Peter, “Or a Merriweather.”
“Oh I’m a lost cause,” Pamela said.
“So am I,” Sherlock noted. He glanced around the table. “Oh… oh, I see…. Peter, did he talk to you about his ambitions at all? This table is a mix of people from his social class, and people from Emma’s, people who were, for whatever reason, attainable to him.”
“Like a ladder,” Merriweather cocked her head. “Like we black sheep are the lower rungs… and he lucked into Emma’s good graces.”
There was a moment of silence. Then Peter pushed his hands through his short, dark blonde hair. He sighed and removed folded grey card stock from the pocket of his jacket. “I was gonna throw this away. Now it seems I’m better off giving it to you, Holmes. He talked about you. He said someone like you was how we should try to model ourselves to be: luminaries. In your case, he said the violin was going to get you out of whatever trouble you’d made with your family.”
Sherlock chuckled and said, “Oh my God. There’s no violin in creation-” but he cut himself short and smoothed his jacket with a deft little clearing of the throat. “Explain, Peter.” He extended a hand and took the folded paper that Peter Meade proffered.
Noise rolled from a throng at the billiards table. Sherlock’s table waited in the warm light from their overhead lamp, for the racket to stop. Then Peter gathered himself.
“Something about there being a sort of informal club since he’d come to Uni. He’d struck up with some other guys. It was to get ahead, so sort of a study group. You know? They were getting better grades within weeks, he said, but they were also learning other stuff, like… the rules for polo, fox hunting – which is all wrong, by the way – and fencing and all stuff like that. Like… learning how to do investments and buy stocks. So, no one really teaches people from my neighbourhood how to do proper investments with their money. I was interested in that. But they were even learning how to talk more like, well, like you.” Peter pointed at Sherlock, “And he was saying he was keen to get you in, because you’d make it easier. You’d have a lot to teach us. You’re, you know, ‘one of them’, but everyone who should be all chummy with you… treats you like dirt. So weird. But Daniel thought you’d be, uh… an easy mark, seeing as you were ostracized by your own class.”
Now Sherlock sank back in the seat he occupied. “He’s clever… Daniel. He’s right. Well. Apart from the notion I’d care about being ostracized by a gaggle of idiots.” Sherlock’s long fingers drummed the paper on the table before him, which turned out to be a pamphlet that stated simply Ye are the salt and the light. Salt and Light Society. Learn the real secrets of success. Join us. with a phone number corresponding to Daniel’s mobile. “But did he ever say who ‘these other guys’ were? Did you meet any of them?”
“So he… he was trying to ape the upper classes?” Emma sat back with a slight frown. She looked down at the table. “Poor thing. I rather liked him the way he was.”
Peter shook his head, disregarding her. “They meet once a week at the Pyramids.”
Sherlock blinked and suddenly realized. “The pyramids… the salt domes. Isn’t it. At Dyers?”
When Peter Meade’s expression showed shock, Sherlock knew he had it. “What night?”
“They didn’t say,” Peter shook his head. “I was supposed to call him for details if I wanted to join up with the Society.”
Nearly too excited to be still, Holmes sucked a silent breath and exhaled. “Did you?”
“Yeah, but it just was going to voice mail, and in the morning… you know….” Meade looked tormented as he bowed and shook his head. Sherlock knew all too well, actually. Peter added, “But I know it was in the evenings. He told me dress warm, but not to bring a torch. I couldn’t tell anyone, Holmes. It makes me look… guilty or something.”
Sherlock got to his feet and fished his spare key out of his inner jacket pocket, a rather delicate exercise with his chest in its current regrettable condition. He laid the key, with its gold-link chain and gold tag reading S Holmes, onto the table with a clack, and slid it to Merriweather.
“Where are you going?” she caught up the key and started to struggle to get out of the booth.
“Hey, you shouldn’t,” Peter caught her by the elbow. “You shouldn’t get involved in this. Flimsy, pretty thing like you shouldn’t-”
“I’ll bust your chops if you don’t let me go,” Merriweather hissed at him.
And he wisely let her go.
But he couldn’t have her following him, so Sherlock planted a hand on the table and leaned in close to her face. Predictably, Pamela froze. He watched her pupils overflow their bounds and expand into gray-blue. There were times when venom had its uses. She’d gone perfectly still. “Protect my violin,” he told her. When he inched forward to whisper in her ear, all he had for her was, “The laptop, hide it, Pamela.” He was sure the noise of the place would keep their confidence.
“Sherlock,” she cautioned him.
But he turned and was through the door in a matter of seconds. Emma also shouted after him. His brain was full of other, louder echoes, and he didn’t heed her.
Sherlock fumbled with his phone as soon as he was out on the night-lit grounds, snow scrunching under his too-thin boots as he ran, immoderately, even in spite of the ice and frost. Danas didn’t pick up. He tried three times and then went to her voice mail.
What had gone wrong? Sherlock slowed at the corner of a building and panted, “Danas. Husher’s got people at the Uni. What’s happened? Do we have access to the shed? I’ve figured something out-”
He nearly ran into Aaron Bryford headlong.
The tall Boat Clubber gawped and backed away when he saw it was Sherlock Holmes facing him. For his part, Sherlock sorted out his Burberry coat and looked up – several uncomfortable inches – at Bryford’s broad chest. A little higher… and there, at just about the level of stratocumulus, was Bryford’s square chin and slightly bloodshot eyes. A waft of beer rolled down the mountain.
He’s been drinking.
Set of brows.
“I’ve gotta run.” Sherlock told the phone. He flicked the button to turn it off, pocketed it, and extended his hands before him. “Bryford, it’s a misunderstanding. She’s confused. It’s the violin she wants, not me.”
“Yeah, oh yeah. Makes perfect sense,” the towering, square-chinned guy nodded. “I almost didn’t recognize you without your toy. Too bad it isn’t here. I was gonna take that little cello thing and shove it right in-”
Sherlock jerked his frame back hard, and a bit to the right, to avoid Aaron’s grab at his coat.
This stunned the jock and he froze.
“Look, I’ve told her that I don’t care. I’ve been clear there’s no hope. Don’t waste your time doing this. Go reason with her,” he looked Bryford over and amended, “uh, when you’re sober.”
“That’s not going to change a thing about you though,” Bryford grumbled and threw his arms out beside him. “And you’re the problem here.”
There was a short moment where Sherlock had no idea what had happened, just a blur, a sharp pain in the side of his jaw, and then the sudden disappointment of frost-covered grass and hard-packed, frozen ground. He struggled to gain control of his perceptions and pull himself to his feet. Sir Lockton reacted badly to malingering. A Holmes acquitted himself as a man and got back up again, straight away. So he reeled in the black, noiseless space between awake and unconscious, unable to give in.
Rarely had his father ever struck him with a closed fist.
The cold hit him. Hands seized him at the shoulders and squared him up.
This was Uni.
His vision began to come back. There were more people around him and one was Sebastian Wilkes. In fact, Sebastian had a hand propped at the front of Sherlock’s coat. The other gestured at Bryford. Sherlock looked down and couldn’t feel Seb’s hand. He couldn’t feel… the pain in his chest. He also couldn’t hear through the morning buzzers inside his skull. He continued to try.
“… mad? Go the hell back to Clare and drink, you stroppy git. For Chrissakes, do you even know where you are?”
Sherlock blinked and fought to focus.
“… can’t thrash him in front of King’s, man! He may not be worth the steam off my piss, but this is his College. You can’t do him here. Go the hell home!”
“Let me have him, Wilkes! He’s been messing about with my Emma.” Bryfrord started forward. Somewhere in Sherlock important nerves kicked, and he jetted back to consciousness.
“Look! He hasn’t the stalk for that,” Sebastian shoved Bryford back with his other hand. “She’s done with you, old man. Go the hell home before people come out here. They’ll kick seven bells of shit out of you over this, even if it is just him.”
There were about six people from Kings standing in the snowy lawn. Sherlock heard his own laboured breathing, his mind racing. But he still couldn’t seem to get command of his swaying body.
“Hey! What the Christ are you doin’ down there!” a voice shouted from windows overhead. The tone alone betrayed the one calling knew very well what was happening, and was willing to join in if it didn’t stop.
A second call, closer, came down from above, “Wilkes… need a hand?”
“…wasting time,” Sherlock mumbled threadily.
“What?” Seb glanced in his direction. “Shut up, you pap.”
Bryford backed away, his hand extended in Sherlock’s direction. “This isn’t over! This is not over, Sherlock Holmes!” He turned and made his retreat.
Sherlock tipped his head back and to the left. There was a small and recessed door. Sebastian had come through that door with his boys.
Seb shook him to get his attention back. “You’re damn lucky I happened on you on the way out, Holmes. Now fly right, you bitch-piss.”
When Seb let him go, Sherlock sank to his knees. He touched the side of his head gingerly. Ow. My God, he hadn’t even seen it coming. Nothing. In front of him, Sebastian ducked down a few times. Sherlock looked up at the older boy.
“You’re pathetic.” He said and chucked Sherlock’s keys at him. They hit Sherlock in the belly and fell to slide off his designer trousers to the icy grass. “You know that? You can’t even defend yourself like a man. And look at you staring up like some frightened girlfriend someone manhandled. God!” he set his hands on his hips in disgust. “I suppose I’ll have to carry you inside?”
One of his friends chuckled and gave Sherlock’s hood a tug. “Come on, princess.”
Sherlock ignored this and picked up his keys. He reached for the sunglasses on the ground.
“Oh God,” Seb gave them a flick in Sherlock’s direction with the toe of his boot. “And you’re a thief. Great. You’re great. Aren’t these Vardy Pittman’s lost Guccis, he was all over looking for?”
Sherlock froze, his green eyes alert, and his head brutally clear. The box at Dyers: full of single mittens; keys on twist-ties; utilitarian fingerless gloves that transformed into mitts; frayed wool scarves; workmen’s balaclavas; a rabbit-fur hat; Gucci shades. He’d been an idiot.
Sebastian was still expanding on his new theme. “I mean, I say lost, but, of course, I know-”
Holmes took off so fast, there was little but the sudden airborne frost, the wind, and the flap of his coat out behind him. Sebastian shouted after him, but didn’t pursue. There would be no hope in it, in any case. Sebastian Wilkes was nowhere close to fast enough to keep up. Few people were.
Sherlock’s family had known the Pittmans forever. Translation: as long as Sherlock had been alive, the Pittmans, McKenzies, Clefs, and Murray-Heaths had been in the picture.
They were part of the fencing/polo set. Over the years, Mycroft had whipped one after the other of their ilk in one sport or another, until he had achieved that most ‘Holmsian’ of things: unrivalled dominance. They were people of a higher status, socially, some of them being peers, but lower, operationally, being less adept, having fewer contacts, amassing less wealth than the cunning Holmes family.
Sherlock had had to put up with boys like these for years. One year, at the Christmas party Emeline inflicted upon her youngest and most rambunctious son every year, Vardy’s brother, Dean, had locked Sherlock in the pantry. He’d spent three hours there before 14 year old Mycroft had figured things out and come to get him.
It seemed impossible to him.
Now, he couldn’t seem to find them. He checked the gym with the pistes, anything approaching a games room in their Colleges, and each of their en suites on campus. These guys were thick as thieves. He felt to find even one of them would be the key to finding them all. But he searched until there was only one last place he could think of. He trudged up the Cam, his body heavy with the weight of what he was about to do, not just to the Pittman family, but to all the families, his own included. His childhood memories too.
His phone pinged. ‘Where are you?’
It wasn’t Merriweather or Emma this time. Long odds on that!
It was Danas. Where had she been? He was vexed, but also pragmatic.
‘The sunglasses at Dyers, the ones I took from the L&F box. They are Villard/Vardy Pittman’s.’
‘Who is that?’
‘Daniel used to watch Vardy and his friends fence.’ He thought about it and added. ‘You know, with swords?’ She knew he’d gotten a sword wound while investigating this crime.
Danas didn’t take long to reply. ‘Sherlock, WHERE ARE YOU?’
If he answered that, she would come and stop him. He looked up from his phone at the hulking front-end loaders and gritters that loomed out of the dark. Somewhere along the way, it had begun to snow. His hood was up though, and, though he was chilly, he wasn’t really cold.
His mobile pinged again. ‘Do NOT go near these people, Sherlock. WAIT FOR ME. I’m coming.’
He tucked his mobile away. My… she loved her all caps, Danas. The wind caught his hood and threw snowflakes at his bare throat. He ducked his head low, wishing he had a good scarf. He could, of course, take one from the Lost and Found at Dyer’s. There would be a certain element of irony in that. His gloved fingers tightened around the shades in his pocket.
The snow got thick in this exposed stretch of the Cam. He kept a straight line only by focussing on the thatch of trees down by the river. Soon, he pushed the short wire fence under his boot, the season’s snow having blown to this corner of the clearing, and built up to such a level as would let him easily walk over the top of it. His were the only tracks coming in this way.
Beyond him was a small, dark, wood structure with a large pair of doors at the front and a smaller slab door along a rickety wood porch at its flank. The wood was old and deep brown, the stain long since worn away so that the water was slowly disintegrating the shed. The nail heads had turned hand cut shingles dark with rust. Wind made the trees above it moan.
What a God forsaken little shack.
Sherlock edged down the porch as quietly as the old wood allowed. The door was not locked. The latch, oddly, worked as if oiled. Because it was well-oiled. And well-used. He paused a moment before opening it, exhaled, and then the door glided open and he was inside shutting it.
Inside in the bright glow of a lamp.
One large lamp could warm this place… relative to the outside.
The tall young man inside with him was indistinguishable, standing back-on to Sherlock, and in a tailored hooded coat. In fact, Sherlock just knew that the coat was pricy, as were the jeans and boots.
There was no one else… he looked around.
Sherlock was surprised to find the inside of this shack better kept than the exterior. For one thing, its roof was patched. There were also black tarps duct-taped along the ceiling and sections of the walls. The wood was clean and bright. The ring of benches that sat under the lantern looked comfortable, owing to the patchwork of various blankets and pillows there. It didn’t… smell bad in here. Surprising. The waft of cold at his ankles, it came from the inky black water at the back of the structure. He turned to look over at the broad sealed doors which had been insulated with newspapers and more tarp. This was a boat house. One end of it was on shore, and the other, though closed, stood on thick wood posts over the river. The double doors between this room and the water yawned so that the oil lamp’s rays reflected on water that looked oily black in confinement.
Sherlock’s only company stared out at the water as if alone. But that wasn’t the case anymore. Finally, someone else knew what he’d done.
“So. Is this the light?” Sherlock asked.
The figure didn’t even move.
“The salt being Bill Dyer’s salt domes: the Salt and Light Society?” It was like talking to his mother’s lawn statuary. “You spent time in Dyer’s on the night of Daniel’s death?”
His voice was sad. “He liked to pace when he was thinking. He always paced a lot when he was talking to me. This place isn’t big enough.”
Sherlock felt the wind knocked out of him. “Tim?”
Timothy Murray-Heath turned to take Sherlock in; Sir Timothy Murray-Heath, who was the son of a Baron, yet always decent to Sherlock Holmes, if despairingly juvenile.
“No-no,” Sherlock said faintly. He stepped forward and took out the sunglasses. He extended them to Timothy. “Vardy… Villard, not you. You would never. You wouldn’t do business with this Society because of who you are, Tim. You….” But his voice fell away. Tim was an oaf, but an oaf who’d accepted Sherlock in situ, no matter the opinion of the rest of the social set. “No.”
Timothy took off his gloves and folded them into his pockets. “I’d do business with him. I didn’t care for Daniel’s Society. I didn’t even know about it at first, really. He’s just this blonde guy who watched me fence…. I wish it had stayed that way. I… I made a mistake. I thought I could trust him. I thought… a lot of things.” He took back the glasses and turned them over in his hands. “Thanks. Can you get them back to Vardy? I’ve had them for a month now. I just forgot.”
“Of course.” Sherlock took them back and then just stared at the front of Tim’s coat, feeling things, none of them good. Sadness took hold of him.
“Sherlock… it was my mistake, not yours. Don’t look that way, okay? And… what happened to your face?” He ducked down a little.
“Aaron Bryford.” Sherlock said emptily. “Not important.”
“Bryford. What an ass. Two brain-cells on shift work. It’s swelling though.” Tim’s hand reached out and laid itself on Sherlock’s cheek in a luxurious sweeping gesture that made Sherlock freeze.
No one had ever touched his face that way before. Except girls.
Sherlock blinked. “Oh. Okay. So Daniel was gay. And you two were together. Makes this a crime of passion. Something went awry and you lost it. You drowned him.”
“I made a mistake. Like… a massive, I-can’t-ever-take-it-back, mistake. God… I’m so sorry.” Tim collected himself and nodded at Sherlock. “And I’m not gay. I just kind of was curious. I… liked him a lot. I thought, you know, he was right for me. As it turns out, he wanted my help with this little lean-to.”
Sherlock’s misty-jade eyes turned upwards to take Tim in. “You mean he wanted you to teach them, the boys in the Society?” He eased Tim’s hand aside thoughtlessly, with the back of one wrist.
“Uhm, yep. Daniel was really driven, kind of unrelenting about things. He reminds me of you when you were a kid, you know? Only it’s like he didn’t grow out of it.” Tim’s smile was bittersweet. He touched the purpling side of Sherlock’s face this time. He used extreme care and turned Sherlock’s head a little. “Bryford really walloped you one. I’d kick his ass… but I don’t know if that’s going to work out, because what happens to me now… is kind of up to you.”
Sherlock shut his eyes. He’d known Tim for so many years now: a large and dumb oxen of a boy; three years his senior; good-natured; harmless…. There’d been a tragedy for him, recently. It had torn his family apart and sent Murray-Heath home part of a term. Sherlock hadn’t even looked in on him. He hadn’t even thought about doing so. This was a friend of the family. This was someone who had treated Sherlock as an equal in the past. Sherlock stood his ground vastly divorced from his present situation. He felt anesthetized. “Then tell me why you drowned him.”
“Well… that night it was basically ‘Help me… or I’ll tell your mother you’re gay’, right? My mother. I mean, dad died less than three months ago. She’s reeling… and he’s threatening to tell her something like that? My family would implode on something like that. You know them.”
“Yes.” Sherlock swept the hand away again. “Why didn’t you help him?”
“I don’t know. I would have, I think, but… I just have been under such pressure – the lawyers and estate; mother, and her pills,” Tim paused to catch his breath. “And I thought he cared about me, not any of that. I snapped and started pushing him around. That was up at Dyer’s, when he was planning. After he fell in the salt, he got up and left me there. I should have walked back to Cambridge. I wish I’d…. Anyway… I came down here and we got to yelling. I shoved him. When he fell in, I swear I went to help him, but then, I just… didn’t. I had hold of his coat and I just didn’t lift him out. I let him go. I was just so pissed.” Tim blinked away moisture and sighed. He looked down from his memories at Sherlock’s pale face, and pushed his hands forward. “What now?”
Sherlock closed his eyes. “I’m… I’m thinking.” If Oh my God, you fool qualified as thinking.
His long fingertips ran down Sherlock’s neck into his coat and jarred Sherlock’s thin frame. His mouth fell open in time with his eyes widening. Cold. Gooseflesh prickled his skin. “Don’t do that.” Sherlock backed away and said reflexively.
Tim’s fingers slid out again. But they came to rest on Sherlock’s face. It was unwelcome, and uncomfortable. Sherlock, however, had backed to a row of wood crates that prevented further retreat.
Timothy’s smile was bittersweet, “You know what? I knew you came here – to Uni – but I was like What odds about Mycroft’s unpleasant little brother?” he paused. “Then you went after me on the piste, and I couldn’t detect a thing about that that painful little menace that used to haunt the Holmes house. By the time you were done…. I’ve been far gone since dad died, and then… Daniel. But I felt something again. You’re magnificent. You’ve grown so beautiful. There’s this pale fire in your eyes. I just… the way I feel about you-”
Whoa. Sherlock turned his head when Tim moved down against him. “No.”
Timothy stroked the dark curls at the side of Sherlock’s head. “Easy. Take it easy. Easy, luv. I don’t care who you are, or aren’t, even if your family does. You know it’s true. And I’ll give you whatever you ask for that’s within my reach to get. You’ll be safe. It’s all right.”
Enough of Tim’s weight was on him that his voice squeezed out. “No, Tim, you don’t – no, I don’t like this. I’ve got a girl.”
He turned Sherlock’s head by a mix of fear and sheer force. “One of the Merriweather’s girls? Yeah, I checked into that. She’s just for getting you high. If it wasn’t for that, you’d never go near her. Want to know why?”
Sherlock said, “No.”
Tim’s mouth came down over Sherlock’s bowed lips. Sherlock began to struggle at once, as was, he suspected, a matter of course. The sheer weight of this guy, against him, was an overwhelming force on its own. He didn’t care that Sherlock shoved at him frantically. He pressed Sherlock like a weight.
If he didn’t get air he would pass out. He was afraid of what would become of that. So Sherlock caught hold of his panic and stopped fighting. Tim kissed him, and he shook and waited.
Tim read this as acquiescence, as expected. He moved them. Sherlock’s legs bumped the benches and he bolted back and fell, but in a controlled way, because Tim, who had moved to his neck, was also guiding him down. If he was pinned by this guy, it would be over.
With a good deep breath, Sherlock corkscrewed and threw all his weight against Tim’s hands on his wrists. The larger boy was halfway over the benches; this worked to smaller Sherlock’s advantage. Tim tipped. When Sherlock stomped a designer boot down on the guy’s calf, he was suddenly free and falling onto the floor opposite Tim, who was also falling, and needed his hands to catch himself.
Sherlock took the only route available to him: he rolled und the bench and came out the other side with a hiss.
“Sherlock!?” Timothy scrambled up again. He favoured one knee now though. He sucked in air through his teeth and reached down to cup his hands around it. “You don’t know yourself!”
“I know you’re unstable and a murderer.” Sherlock said coldly. He wiped his lips off with his right sleeve. The bastard had no right. “Under no circumstances are you repeating yourself with me.”
“I said I wouldn’t hurt you!” Tim shouted. He caught hold of his temper almost visibly and said, “Sherlock, please. Our families are friends. This would be easy. It’s perfect. You’re just brilliant.”
“Yes, thanks. And when I’m done, a damn few heads more than your mother will know what you did.” Sherlock knew he couldn’t make the door before Timothy. He turned and crashed into the icy arms of the Cam.
It was horrible. Cold shock ripped through every system in his body. He treaded water and jaggedly sucked air. It was only about six and a half feet here. He had no more time. With what air he had, he made for the bottom and pushed toward the dull light beyond him. Then he was outside in impossible cold, heading for shore. He couldn’t make it to the safety of the other shore, so when he came out into the soft snow and churning wind, he could hear Tim crashing through the trees shouting for him. He sounded furious.
Sherlock scrambled through the icy grass and flattened to the wall of the shed. It had worked at West Road. Maybe he could use the clearance between the trees and his body to get through to the snow clogged field? It was more difficult going in this unkempt place, but it proved possible.
He floundered in the snow by the gate, tumbled over, and, from there, broke into a dead run. Behind him, he could hear Timothy coming. He was bigger, heavier, but also stronger, with longer legs. Sherlock didn’t know, of the two of them, which of them was going to be faster. He measured his run in agonising increments. He made it over the knee-wall into the back lot of Dyers. He lost time there, because his limbs were clumsy with cold and he fell.
But he scrambled up and pounded through the back lot toward the lights of the building – white and red in the snow. Timothy stepped right on his heel and spilled him down on the lot, catching hold of his wet coat. He was shouting something, but Sherlock wasn’t hearing well above his pulse and the winter wind. Sherlock jerked free of the coat his mother had given him, scrambled up, and kept running.
His head was woolly. The world wasn’t knitting together right. His lip and bottom of his chin were bloody from the last fall, and even the blood felt like ice. He moaned in the bitter cold that beat his defenceless body.
Run for the lights.
Please, let this have worked.
His shoulder hit the side of the building. It didn’t hurt. Sherlock felt pretty sure that was bad.
Figures were running toward him, silhouetted against red and white lights – of police units. Danas had guessed exactly where he was going to go. When Sherlock reached them, he was half afraid they would arrest him, but the only hands that touched him also pulled him into a warm coat one of the Constabulary had hastily shrugged off. Sherlock gasped, unable to speak around the shivering.
“Secure him!” Danas was shouting. She ducked in to touch his cheek and ask, “Sherlock, honey, are you okay?”
Amazing. By some stretch of the imagination, did he look okay?
“Secure him.” She directed again. “Get him in a car before he freezes to death.” Danas hurried down along the side of Dyer’s bellowing: “Hands up!” She had a huge voice when roused.
Sherlock could hear the Constabulary arresting Timothy down by the very door that Daniel had used to pace among his salt ‘pyramids’, but he seemed sapped of the strength to turn his head. “I’m glad I'm numb,” he slurred.
“You’ll be all right, son.” Sherlock knew this tall man who called him ‘son’. He’d also been the one to donate his thick, warm jacket to Sherlock. Now he began to pick Sherlock up into customary threshold-carrying position.
His sluggish, ice-jammed, brain supplied. Great.
“I can walk.” Sherlock’s voice smeared with the effects of hypothermia. The large officer set Sherlock down on his feet again, and kept getting taller and taller.
Sherlock discovered he couldn’t walk. The dead giveaway was that he folded down to the parking lot like wet laundry without a boy inside. “Uh-hm,” Jimmy nodded down at him gravely and picked him up. “Aces for effort, son.”
“Guh,” Sherlock pressed to the man’s heat like a thermal vampire.
“You shouldn’t do reckless things.” The man sighed, but caught himself before issuing a scolding.
Once he was in the police car, the heat didn’t seem to penetrate. He shuddered so hard the unit shook. It was a protracted hell of damp blankets, cranked heat, and uncontrollable shivering. Someone had swapped his insides for a bag of frozen turkey thighs.
Shortly after, Danas climbed in the front driver’s side, then she climbed out, and took her jacket off. When she got back in, she scooted around and laid it over the top of his head. “You look miserable.”
Only his eyes were visible in the mounds of blanket. “Where were you?”
“Trying to stay on the case,” she said acidly. “Politics. Look it’s not relevant anymore. My side was right. Husher’s side wasn’t. Thank God it didn’t cost you your life. Would you just try to rest?”
In spite of everything, he was having a hard time stringing words together.
Not thinking? For once, not a problem.
Midwinter was being televised this year.
It was convenient how no one had mentioned that to Sherlock until the night of the performance. He arrived and was ushered to a chair where women lifted his face and touched the fading bruises – they were much further along than the injury in his upper chest, but, thanks to doctors, that was coming along as well.
He’d woken up in his bed, sore, groggy, and naked, the night after ‘solving’ Daniel’s murder. Danas had brought him upstairs and helped him out of his jacket and shirt. Once she’d seen the wound she’d excused herself to call a doctor that often worked with the Cambridgeshire police. Sherlock had collapsed in his bed while she’d boiled the kettle for him.
It was the doctor who had stripped him naked. The doctor had made record of the bruising on Sherlock’s wrists from having been grappled-with and restrained. Sherlock had never spoken about it. Yes, it had been a male doctor, but Sherlock didn’t care for anyone to see him undressed. That feeling had been very keen having been attacked by Timothy Murray-Heath earlier in the night. Sherlock had been highly uncomfortable and uncharacteristically jumpy through the examination.
So it was he’d woken up naked, and… to Mycroft. So… the day had gone distinctly downhill. His twenty-four year old brother had sat in the chair beside his bed reading the Uni newspaper and sipping tea. Someone at Regency house had had Mycroft let in. In spite of the fact Sherlock had found Merriweather asleep on his couch, still with his violin beside her, it hadn’t been her.
Worse again, Mycroft had been directed to remain here for the week. Lockton’s doing.
So Mycroft was in the audience right now. It was horrible. Walking around Cambridge with Mycroft was like walking about with a celebrity who magnetically attracted the staff. He had been ever-so perfect here, a master of conforming to expectations and toeing the line. Mycroft was a right plonker; he never made a mistake with, or in, his life.
Thankfully, Sherlock was jarred out of this line of thinking. A portly, olive skinned woman arrived before him and bent to look at his face closely. She addressed the tiny, Scottish girl who had brought her to him to begin with. “Oh, you’re right, Maggie. It is beautiful, he’s like the surface of a glass figurine, but any kind of bisque is going to be too dark… and too warm. We’ll go with alabaster and find me the white powder… we’re definitely going to need the powder.” Then she selected a bottle from a case beside her and poured out some pale fluid with just a hint of pink. She dampened a sponge, daubed the fluid, and started to tap the mix at his cheekbones. The fluid was cool and very smooth, and there was nothing Sherlock could do but suffer the indignity.
His brows pulled up at the centre of his forehead. “Is this really necessary…?”
She laughed and daubed the span of skin between his puckered eyebrows. “So pretty! It’s all for the cameras, dearie, and we’ve been told you’re going to be front and centre tonight. Well, your skin is spectacular, so not as much work. Apart from the bruises. What happened?”
“I’m a boy.” He said leadenly. Therefore, not pretty.
“Ah. Well. We’ll hide the bruises for you if you let us do our job.” The smiling woman stopped fussing in the fragrant box of goodies on the brief little table by her, and rubbed her thumbs along his eyebrows. Everything she did to him was efficient, but, thankfully, gentle. Not many people touched his face. It felt odd.
He thought about other things.
Like Daniel. Who was missing this, the way he’d be missing everything, forever. And Timothy, whose father hadn’t lived to see the day his son had been arrested on murder charges. Of course, Tim was already home with his family and their powerful lawyers around him. Sherlock couldn’t square that: how the judge had allowed Tim out on bail. Thinking about it made him… uncomfortable.
So he didn’t think about it.
He thought about… the contracts that Daniel Farrar had made with seven children. Forgotten in his room on cardstock tags were the names of kids from sundry charities. Sherlock had heard that Farrar’s mother had been by to pick up his things, and she’d left the tags behind. Daniel’s family was equally as poor as the charity kids, and, besides, they wouldn’t be out this way again. So Sherlock had secured Pamela’s cooperation.
Pamela had the list in her black-velvet wallet and Sherlock had supplied money. They would see that the final contracts of Farrar’s were honoured. With Tim already out of jail for his murder, this was the only other thing Sherlock could think to do for Daniel. After all, like Daniel, Sherlock had been in the icy arms of the Cam, and he’d also been attacked by Murray-Heath, though he hadn’t told a soul the particulars of that clash. He didn’t talk about it. Instead, Sherlock coldly, stubbornly clung to Daniel’s final obligations.
“Oh. All right, luv?”
Instead of saying more, the make-up artist before him pulled a tissue she daubed below his pale eyes. Her face set, she selected a brush she tapped into white powder and carefully swept along his skin. “Stress, I’m sure.” she said and carried on, without ado, like a proper Englishwoman.
When she was done, he picked up his violin and caught his reflection in a glass. Still his stone face, with the same green eyes sapped of colour, only with skin that was somehow flatter, and somehow gauzy. He sighed and went to warm up in the back. As he approached the stairs leading to the catwalks Sherlock had to force the memory of leaping from the second-floor window and creeping along the broad outer wall of the Concert Hall, now inextricable from his use of the same technique to evade Tim, from his mind. He wished it would just go away. But things he witnessed were forever sealed in the amber of time.
He felt entirely deadened as he began warm-up. Gradually, the exercise of playing – he’d chosen Sibelius – began to loosen the nuts and bolts inside of him and pry up the boards to the smoking ruin of anger and betrayal underneath.
Mycroft’s voice made him jolt back to reality. As he did nowadays, he skittered back and prepared to take flight as required.
Mycroft looked immaculate in his pin-striped three-piece and lustrous purple tie, an effect ruined by the snicker. “My, aren’t we jittery? The prospect of being on any and every telly in England isn’t for the faint of heart. You’re such a rabbit, Sherlock. Pity you aren’t made of sterner stuff.”
Sherlock shut his eyes while his mind bubbled up Tim’s devastating control of his smaller, thinner person, and when he took in his brother again, he said, “Oh, I firmly resolve to learn to punch a man out as soon as humanly possible. And I’ll show you, first thing. Promise.”
Mycroft’s mockery dimmed to annoyance.
Sherlock turned away, and back to warm-up, with a sneering smile. One of his Vivaldi solos. “You’re not supposed to be back here.”
“For some reason…” Mycroft sighed and walked around to face Sherlock with the dourest of expressions, “I thought I should talk to you. I’ll be in a cab before you’re able to get clear of the stage tonight, I suspect.”
“Wasting your breath.” Sherlock turned away again, and swept into his solo, his fingers moving at blurring speed along strings – graceful, beautiful, even to his mind.
Mycroft gritted his teeth. “I’ll be leaving about an hour after the concert-”
“Or, here’s an idea, you could leave now,” Sherlock invited his brother keenly and followed this with a dark look. But he wasn’t going to go. Something was up, because he’d already been on the phone with the Home Office from Sherlock’s rooms today, trying to extend his leave. Thankfully, that seemed to have fallen through.
There was a long hesitation, rather than true silence, from Mycroft. “You… told me everything, didn’t you, Sherlock?”
Sherlock half-turned, “What are you talking about?” He snuck a glance and could see that Mycroft’s blue eyes were shut. He seemed to gather himself.
Another long, loaded pause, “You told me everything about the altercation with Tim.”
“Oh that.” No. “Yes.” Sherlock turned away and slipped into the comforting melodies of Vivaldi. He kept his breathing even. There was a paper thin separation, yet, between him and the molestation he’d had at Timothy’s hands. If Tim was talking about it, if the doctor, College nurse, or anyone else suspected, there was a possibility that Mycroft would know.
Sherlock ignored this. Mycroft needed to Go Away. Ignoring him helped. For a while he played.
Mycroft’s voice was cold as he said. “That violin is your witch’s heart. If you know anything about witch folklore, that is….”
Irritating prat. Sherlock tried not to care… he fought to ignore this. But he couldn’t help it in the end, and simply couldn’t prevent himself. His pale jade eyes slid to measure his brother’s stern, hawk-like face – so like Lockton’s in some ways – and he admitted, “No.”
Mycroft’s chin rose. “Hm. Not very well read, are we?”
Ah. “Weren’t you leaving?” Sherlock closed his eyes and focused on the strings, on their fluidity, and how they put him in mind of a continuum that could tap at any place in time, like a rap on a door. His fingers flew over them at death-defying speeds. Every man is a time traveller, but while playing, Sherlock felt himself reaching forward and backward at once. And the rich, ringing voice of it made him love this instrument of his. He abruptly stopped his solo, reached up, and adjusted a peg, fractionally.
Mycroft now leaned a shoulder on the wall beside him. Into the silence he said. “Witches have two hearts. They have the one that’s inside of them, and the one they can put anywhere at all… because it’s not made of flesh and blood. While it’s safe the witch is impervious. It could be a lump of coal, or an ashtray. It’s just an object. That’s your violin. The only reason you ever seem alive.”
Sherlock looked quickly up from the rosin he’d just taken from his violin kit in the case.
Mycroft patted the left breast pocket of his suit, his tone tart. “That inadequate little clock inside your chest doesn’t feel anything. It’s all the violin, I think. God help us if you ever stop playing.” He straightened and left the wings. Sherlock, as yet, hadn’t moved.
He hadn’t known what to say.
Did he seem dead to his brother? Without the violin he’d be hollow. Sherlock turned around and faced the wall, just so he could stop the input of data into his head. Mycroft had a list of parables under his belt like the New Testament. What Mycroft couldn’t do was say straightforward things like I hate you, or You constantly disappoint me.
The next thing he heard was Maestro calling him. “Sherlock. Hurry, hurry! They’re taking seats!”
It was a good 10 minutes after that, that Sherlock had his cue to go onstage. The crowd rolled with applause, which he tried to ignore. They couldn’t yet lower the lights enough for him to get in that intimate place in his head. So he amused himself by finding Merriweather in the seats. She raised her chin when he looked at her, ready to serve. Emma was front row, with Adriana. They both looked up at him with excitement in their young faces.
He didn’t know why it surprised him to find Danas there too. But she was, and she appeared staid and steady. Her faith in him seemed, somehow, complete. An adult had never looked at him with such confidence before. It was embarrassing, but also gratifying.
Sherlock’s gaze swept the entire crowd through introductions he, likewise, ignored. But his eyes didn’t find Mycroft no matter where they looked. Because… because he’d left. Sherlock looked down at the tips of his shoes. He’d gotten his way. He gazed up at the crowd again, unable to know that his stare held a stamp of intensity that transfixed not just the audience, but the cameras now coming to bear on his fiery-eyed youthfulness.
Sherlock raised the violin and eased onto his chin rest. He breathed evenly and opened his pale eyes.
When Maestro cued him, his bow leapt like a living thing to strings.
Take that, Mycroft.
Midwinter finally began.
End | Thanks for reading!