“You’re not my 2:00.”
Mycroft Holmes paused just inside the door of the therapist’s consulting room and arranged his features into a well-rehearsed smile – the one that was meant to project an air of amiable command. He chose his expressions the way he chose his ties, each selected more for their desired effect on his audience than for any indulgence in self-expression. He shut the door without turning and leaned lightly upon the handle of his tightly furled umbrella.
“Indeed not, Ms. Thompson. May I call you Ella? I’m afraid Mr. Browning will need to reschedule. You’ll be happy to note, however, that his current medication regimen does appear to be helping ease his depressive symptoms.”
“I’m sorry, who are you?” Ella’s eyes were wary and she sat up in her chair, rigid and alert.
“Merely someone in need of a little information,” Mycroft continued. “I was wondering if you might update me on Doctor John Watson’s condition.”
“Of course I can’t do that,” she answered, a note of tension in her voice. “Now, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
“I’ll go just as soon as you tell me what I want to know.”
Ella launched herself out of her chair. Brushing past him, she threw open the door only to be greeted by the sombre countenance of Mycroft’s security detail filling the entire frame. Slowly, she closed the door again and turned to face Mycroft.
“Who are you?”
Mycroft broadened his smile. “Please, have a seat,” he said, and made a sweeping gesture with his hand as if inviting her into his own office. She returned to her chair and sat down, stiffly, keeping her hands folded in front of her and her eyes on Mycroft.
“Now about Doctor Watson…”
“I can’t tell you anything about any of my patients,” she interrupted.
Mycroft cocked his head and tuned his smile to fade, his brows to furrow. “It’s a matter of national security.”
“Look, if you want confidential patient information, you’ll need to come back with a warrant.”
Mycroft allowed himself to bark out a dry, almost mirthful laugh. “I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. I’m not the police.”
He really hadn’t meant to spit the final word out with such venom, but judging by the way Ella flinched and looked at him with curious interest, she’d noticed. Damn.
“Little problem with the men and women in blue then, have we?” she asked.
“Of course not. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the police. Maintaining order is a worthy calling; they sacrifice a lot so the rest of us can go about our business relatively unmolested.”
He was over-explaining and there was a touch of defensive in his voice. Interesting.
“And is that what you do as well?” Ella inquired. “Is that what it’s about for you? Maintaining order?”
He had underestimated her. It was a flaw of his that he’d never quite been able to remedy, a pitfall of nearly always being the smartest person in the room. Ella was actually quite perceptive. He noted the way she leaned forward now, pen tucked securely between the fore- and middle fingers of her right hand – she was in full therapist pose. Good. Perhaps he could turn this to his advantage now that her defences were somewhat relaxed.
“In my own, minor way, yes, I suppose you could say that,” he said, moving towards the chair opposite her and settling down into it. He rested the point of his umbrella on the floor and gently twirled it from left to right and back again in a lazy, seemingly casual, rhythm.
“How so?” Ella probed.
“Oh, I’m afraid that’s classified.”
“Hmm, not so minor a way after all, then?”
“I don’t like to brag.”
“Well, if you don’t have a problem with the police writ large, perhaps you’ve had a negative experience with one representative of the service in particular.”
Mycroft shifted uncomfortably and stopped fiddling with the umbrella. He pinned her with a look from under heavy lidded eyes.
“I’m not here to talk about me. I assure you, my childhood was a happy one. I am fulfilled in my work. I have no sexual dysfunction of which to speak. I believe that covers all of the major life issues people generally bring to you.”
“Of course. You seem very well adjusted…”
“…very well put together, very controlled.”
“Your point, if you have one?” While the tone he was aiming for was exasperated boredom, it came out sounding more like bitter peevishness. He’d better adjust.
“It’s just that, when someone like that does lose control – when they let the mask slip as it were – it’s significant.”
“Did it slip?” Ah, innocent curiosity – much better.
Ella smiled and simply said, “Police.”
After the briefest of pauses to regroup, Mycroft decided to regain control of the conversation by ignoring her last few remarks.
“Doctor Watson has taken up with one Sherlock Holmes, and involved himself rather deeply into a recent and highly dangerous police investigation,” he began.
“Yes, A Study in Pink – I’ve read about it on his blog.”
“You say he has trust issues, yet within twenty-four hours he’d placed his trust in a narcissistic, self-styled sociopath.”
Her calm and unflappable demeanour was starting to vex him.
“And,” he continued, injecting more bite into his tone, intentionally this time, so as to make his challenge clear, “the tremor in his left hand caused by PTSD – you think he’s haunted by his experiences of war, but your assessment is wrong. He craves the danger and excitement. He misses it.” The gauntlet thrown down, Mycroft sat back in his chair and waited.
“It’s not unheard of for PTSD sufferers to become risk-taking thrill-seekers,” Ella replied. “If you’re anxious and hyper-vigilant over nothing all the time, it can be a relief to actually have a tangible reason for those feelings. Generally speaking, of course.”
“Of course. So what do you think it says about him? The kind of person he is? That he should muck about in dangerous police business for a lark?”
“I’m not at liberty to answer that.”
“But you must have an opinion?”
“Must I? It’s clear that you certainly have one. I’m more interested in hearing that. ‘Mucking about’ – there’s a bit of judgment there. What’s driving that?”
She’d managed to turn things back around on him again. But, he had to admit, it was an interesting question. What, indeed, was driving that? Was he harbouring unconscious resentments towards Doctor Watson? It remained to be seen what sort of effect the good doctor would have on his recalcitrant brother, but, truth be told, he was hopeful for a positive outcome.
The silence that descended between them would have made most any other man anxious and eager to break it. But the space between words is a place of power, and Mycroft inhabited it as easily as he did the halls of Westminster. He dismissed the need to answer Ella’s question outright in favour of sharpening his focus inward. Like a foxhound chasing its fleet-footed prey, he pursued this line of inquiry into the shadowy undergrowth of those tangled, unseemly places in his mind that he chose not to frequent with any regularity.
Resentments towards the police, then? No, that was a blind end. Towards a police officer? A vision, unbidden, of Detective Inspector Lestrade’s rumpled and careworn visage appeared before his mind’s eye. The tightness in his chest that the vision elicited would seem to indicate he was on the right path. Mycroft took a deep breath, and forged ahead.
Gregory Lestrade. His dealings with the man had been fairly limited. Until the recent business with the cabbie – and not counting incidental CCTV appearances – the last time he had set eyes upon him was nearly five years ago. Well, five years, three months, fifteen days to be exact; Mycroft had an impeccable memory for dates, and this one in particular seemed to have an uncomfortable hold on his mind.
Lestrade – then a newly-minted DI – had done a good turn for his brother, letting Sherlock in on a case in which he really had no business getting involved. Mycroft thought to intervene at the time, but seeing Sherlock’s energy and enthusiasm for the game after so long and painful an absence had stayed his hand. Perhaps solving the thornier problems of the police was just what he needed to lure him away from the siren’s call of cocaine. So, apart from the obligatory initial meeting with the DI to gauge his intentions and character, Mycroft opted to simply wait and watch.
He was a decent, if not a particularly bright man, and he had much to learn about the finer points of public relations. Still, he was as loyal as a well-trained spaniel and relentlessly persistent – traits that seemed to serve him well in his line of work. Mycroft was impressed by his quiet fortitude, and had kept a close eye on him for some time, under the auspices of keeping watch over Sherlock.
Lestrade consistently spent late nights at his desk, pushing paperwork, rallying his team, avoiding the crushing loneliness of an empty flat. Mycroft had found it oddly comforting to have the DI’s company on his monitors as he himself spent yet another Friday night poring over communiques and strategizing how to outmanoeuvre the Russians and the Chinese. He had come to think of those times fondly as their Friday night “dates,” which, now that he considered it, may have been a bit forward of him.
It wasn’t long before Sherlock’s abstinence from the needle came to an abrupt, and one might say if one were jaded by past experience, inevitable end. He had intervened at that point, meeting with Lestrade face-to-face to ask him to retain a working relationship and keep his brother occupied.
He had selected the time and place of their meeting with great care: alone, outdoors, away from prying eyes and ears, off duty and no pressing cases, just a chance meeting between friends. Mycroft had been at his most accommodating, coming alarmingly close to ingratiating, he thought now with disdain. They had spoken of the weather, as mundane social conventions dictated. Lestrade had inquired after his brother’s health. Perhaps it had been ill-timed, perhaps he had chosen the wrong phrasing, but at any rate, it was then he had requested – as a personal favour – that Lestrade continue his mutually beneficial association with Sherlock.
Lestrade’s brows had furrowed and his mouth had turned, inexplicably, into a frown. “A personal favour?” he’d practically snorted. “Look, mate, I don’t know you. I can understand you wanting to look out for your brother and all, but I’ll not jeopardize my career for an unpredictable junkie, no matter how much of a bloody genius he might be.”
His words had carried the sting of a rattan cane, which may have been why Mycroft had abruptly dropped his friendly demeanour for what David Cameron had once not-so-affectionately termed his pit viper pose (though he had told himself at the time it was for expediency’s sake – he’d had another pressing appointment to keep, after all).
“Oh, but you will, Detective Inspector…perhaps not in service to your own advancement, though you’re not as lacking in ambition as you choose to appear. But I dare say when – not if but when – you are once again out of your depth and the choice is between using that junkie or having another body or two turn up, you’ll be happy enough for his help. Make it official now, and you can avoid the humiliation of grovelling later.”
Lestrade had narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips, but Mycroft had been confident he knew which buttons to push, so it had come as no surprise when the DI finally swallowed his pride and acquiesced.
“Fine. He’s got another chance, but if he fucks up again I’m done with him. Do you hear?”
They had parted ways stiffly and less than amicably. Mycroft had come away from the encounter more bruised than he liked to admit, but his error seemed so glaringly obvious to him in retrospect. Of course Lestrade had reacted to him so coldly! He had assumed familiarity based on an entirely one-sided relationship, if you could call it that. Lestrade knew virtually nothing about him, while he knew practically every detail of Lestrade’s life, from his penchant for Marmite sandwiches to his preferred bathroom reading (the Daily Mail – appropriate enough to the environs of a bog). It seemed silly now to have taken Lestrade’s rebuff so personally. Given the time and opportunity, the man might warm to him. He could, after all, be as charming as need be to ensure it. All it would take was a sufficient amount of contact; simple enough, though hardly easy considering they were both slaves to public service. He would need to put his PA on the task of scheduling once he’d updated the detective’s file.
Well, that was that – problem identified, obstacles enumerated, plan of action decided upon.
Mycroft emerged from his reverie and took a deep breath. A quick glance at his watch showed that scarcely five minutes had passed, though it had seemed a good deal longer.
“Well, this has been most enlightening. Thank you, Ella,” he said, and abruptly stood to leave.
Ella sat up and stared quizzically at him. “Sorry?”
“You shall, of course, be compensated for your time. In exchange, I would request you keep our conversation confidential. I may not be one of your regular patients, but I consider this a consultation, of sorts. Please mention nothing to Doctor Watson about my visit.”
Ella shook her head. “I don’t understand. What’s been enlightening?”
Mycroft replied with a smile, for once borne more of felicity than expediency. “Good day!” he said, with a slight nod of his head. He took his leave of the consulting room and made his way out of the building, closely, but unobtrusively, shadowed by his security detail.
“Did you get what you needed, sir?” his PA asked as he entered the car, her eyes never leaving her Blackberry, her nimble fingers never ceasing their dance upon the tiny keyboard.
“Yes, quite. Make a note to upgrade surveillance on Detective Inspector Gregory Lestrade. Grade 3, active.” Preparation, Mycroft knew from long experience, was at least three quarters of the battle. He would need to arm himself with additional information before his campaign could swing into full gear. But, as he’d just learned, information alone wasn’t enough. “And find some time in my schedule next week. An hour should suffice.”
“Very good, sir,” she said, handing him a file.
He donned a pair of reading glasses, settled into the supple leather of the car seat and, with some relief to be back in the reassuringly familiar world of politics, he turned his attention to the gathering clouds over the Middle East.