The Double Walker
Art | Story – magicbunni.deviantArt.com
The clinic felt cold and crowded with the air conditioning roaring away above him. John disliked the heat, but then, several years in Afghanistan had taught him tolerance. Cold was something he’d always hated. It came from early childhood remembrances of his father losing jobs, and the family limping through winters on what could be scrimped, saved, borrowed, or begged. That had been seasonal work. John had decided for the steady course of the military. They’d paid to make him a doctor, and he’d given them a good 5 years of his life in gratitude.
He hated the cold.
He also disliked this meeting.
The senior doctor in the clinic had a small, sterile, ice-cold office in the back, quite close to the fire door that, once upon a very distressing time, John had dragged a shot, bleeding Sherlock Holmes through by sheer physical force of will. It was his loyalty to that same man that was the cause of this very meeting.
“Frankly, John, I didn’t believe Sarah when she told me you rejected the offer of a fulltime post.” Doctor Rangan looked up at him curiously. “I think the entire clinic is reeling.”
“I’m sorry,” John said uncomfortably.
The man’s dark brown gaze glided down to stare at paperwork at his desk. “So… I thought I’d appeal to you in person. We could bring in someone new, of course, but you’re well known here, and well thought-of, I should hope you know.”
“Very good.” The man cleared his throat and knitted his long dark fingers before him on the desk. He stared. John felt himself glance at Dr. Rangan’s hands. John always watched people’s hands, but it wasn’t for any deductive reason to which Sherlock would lay claim. Afghanistan had taught him that’s where the trouble started. He was safely in London, but his brain chugged along as if still in the tribal regions. And what would Sherlock see in those long fingers and their pale nail-beds? If only Holmes could lean over Watson’s shoulder right now and begin his autocannon barrage of deductions. How painful this was. How painful rejecting this was. How he could use Holmes’ support.
Dr. Rangan began again. “Is it the salary? We’re prepared to negotiate with you, John. We know you’re overqualified for here. You could walk into any hospital in London and become a surgeon. We’ve seen your records. But you bring such knowledge and experience to this clinic, and you’re so steady that everyone’s skills have grown from associating with you. I can’t replace that. I’m prepared to offer you-”
John held up both hands, “Oh no-no. Please don’t.” He really didn’t want to hear the number. He was afraid it would make him ashamed of what he was about to do.
Dr. Rangan blinked in surprise.
“Have you spoken to Sarah?”
The doctor raised a hand. One curled knuckled tapped his lips. “About you?”
Oh, dear God. Best steer clear of that, in case dating fellow doctors was frowned upon by the management. “About the situation,” John opened his hands before him, “about my… other job.”
Rangan’s expression darkened some and he sat back in his chair to consider John. “Sherlock Holmes…. The clinic buzzes about him. I’ve come into the break room to hear the nurses talking. Something about a blog? Sarah has told me about some of his… exploits, but I understood that was an unpaid position?”
“It is,” John shut his eyes and opened them only when his phone pinged. He took it out and checked it by habit, but only had the time to confirm it was Sherlock.
“Is that him?” Rangan asked offhandedly.
“It’s at the end of my shift so he’s, yes, he’s probably got a case, or-” John tucked the phone away and sighed. “I’m sorry, Kumar, I really am. I’m just not ready. I mean… yes, it’s unpaid, but these cases....” John’s hands opened on the arms of the chair. He found it impossible to explain.
There was a long moment of silence before doctor Rangan sighed. “The offer still stands, John. We won’t be interviewing before the end of next month-”
John’s phone pinged.
“-and I want you to give it some serious-”
“-thought before you-”
“-dear God, is that still him?”
John nodded and smiled, “Yes. Please ignore him. He has raging ADHD.” Ping.
“You might want to check those.” Dr. Rangan fiddled with the pen he held in his hands.
I also might want to throttle him. “Thank you,” John sighed and took his phone out and fiddled with the controls to turn off the sound of incoming texts. Then he flipped to read the texts:
‘At Scotland Yard.’
‘Oh God let this end.’
‘Nightmare of nightmares, I am in Lestrade’s team meeting.’
‘John, get down here as quickly as you can.’
‘Get. Me. Out.’
It took every erg of energy that John could muster at that moment, not to laugh out loud. As it was, the smile that crossed his face drew doctor Rangan’s attention immediately.
“Something good?” he asked curiously.
“Something too good to be missed,” John almost broke up on that last part. He tucked the phone away. “But it will keep. I… maybe we should talk about schedules. I want to help, of course, and do more, but there are the demands of Scotland Yard besides, and maybe if we could think of something?”
“But they have a slew of medical examiners at their disposal,” the doctor sat forward again. “I don’t follow, John. Why is it you that they need? Is it… your combat experience, somehow?” Kumar pulled out a desk drawer and drew out a large square of paper with schedules hand-written on it.
“Not precisely,” John sighed and leaned over the paperwork. “You’d have to know Sherlock.”
Sherlock was the only person in the room who leaned back so far in his chair that he could look at the ceiling. He rocked it left to right softly, unable to be still, and his fingers fiddled on the armrests. Currently, he was looking at the fiberglass ceiling panels and wishing he could hop onto the table, push one out of its T-bars and escape like Indiana Jones. He could use the bullwhip to shut off the lights.
Lestrade paused, mid progress report and addressed the fact Sherlock Holmes’ behaviour was now pulling most of the attention in the room, “Sherlock?”
Sherlock’s deep purring drone drew out the words, “Mind-numbing.”
“Sherlock,” Lestrade’s face appeared between Sherlock and the ceiling. “Sit up straight.”
“Oh God, why?”
“Because you’re not fourteen,” Lestrade shut his eyes and gathered his strength, and then he caught hold of the chair in which the branch’s latest acquisition – the world’s most insouciant, and only, Consulting Detective – perched, to pivot it upright. At least Sherlock didn’t resist. He looked around the police gathered at the large table, groaned, and put his head in his hands, liberally messing up his dark curls. Lestrade clapped him on the back. “Good lad.”
“Die. Oh please, someone, die.” Sherlock shut his eyes and prayed. He rubbed his forehead.
“Sicko.” That came from the officer directly on his right. Sherlock, however, was too miserable to respond. He took out his phone and began searching the internet for violent crimes in London.
He glanced up three minutes later. Something… something on his periphery… had alerted him. It had sucked him out of the noiseless insulation of his concentration and deposited him on the tail end of Lestrade’s sentence: “-crime numbers have been impacted, as you can imagine.”
Holmes scanned the table for the offender. His eyes lit on the police psychologist and bounced away as a matter of course. He’d been dodging Dr. Callum Kerr for weeks. Sherlock had no idea – and this was rare – what colour the man’s eyes were. He might have had heterochromia and that would have been a happy mystery. He was indirectly aware of Kerr staring at him.
When nothing came up, Sherlock grew confused. He shut his eyes, inhaled, exhaled, and let his eyelids drift slowly up. Inside his mind, he shut out the dull prattle at the end of the table, and he began to read the entire room. This was a very demanding thing to do. It was exhausting.
Some minutes later, something else came up on radar, something jarring. He focused on one person, Sergeant Ling. He studied her hard-bitten profile where she sat across, and three seats down, from his present position. The meeting rolled on. Sherlock’s phone gave a soft chime – that would be John texting him.
Lestrade’s voice penetrated his shell of peace. “Sherlock’s effectiveness is a matter of record, Anderson. Since he got the badge, he’s closed 45 cold cases apart from the active investigations we’ve called him in on. You point me at another person who does that in his spare time.”
“It’s because Freak’s addicted to misery,” Donovan fired back. “A day without a grisly crime scene to enjoy is a day without sunshine.”
Sherlock cocked his head, barely focused on this.
Donovan growled, “You’re the type who’d tuck into tomato soup with people impaled all around you, do you know that, Freak?”
“Love tomato soup,” Sherlock said flatly. His gaze glided across to Donovan, “And you’re the type who’d sanctimoniously starve to death; how stunningly moronic that is. Believe me, people killing one another is inevitability. It’s entirely inadvertent that it gives me something fun to do.”
She stood up. “You’re sick.”
He sneered, “And you’re supposed to like solving crimes. Or why else be here?”
“I can’t believe law enforcement is forced to look at a criminal like you every day.”
“You’re a half-wit and I have to look at you.” Sherlock snapped on the way to his feet.
“Sherlock!” Lestrade swore under his breath. Without John Watson along to moderate, Sherlock was unmanageable: saying what he wished; doing as he pleased; hissing and growling like a semi-feral animal. “Sherlock sit down!”
His eyes had been scanning the table, restlessly, and now he exploded. “All of you, shut up!” Raw aggression stiffened his body language. And he was a big guy.
“You’re out of line.” Lestrade told him.
Sherlock rounded on him, “You brought me here. I told you never to bring me here for inanities! I told you I wouldn’t abide this!”
Lestrade would’ve had the badge of anyone who dared speak to him like that, and yet, with Sherlock, it was an expectation. Lestrade opened his mouth to reply, and then, like magic, Sherlock’s hostility switched off, replaced by unruffled composure. He’d turned in place and extended an arm across the table. “Wait. Wait there,” he said lowly, “you can’t go yet.”
Police who had started to rise, having had enough of him, now froze at the deep, mollifying note in his voice. It was soothing. Plus, no one had a clue who he was talking to, at least not until Sherlock walked his side of the table to stare across at Ling. Cops moved out of his way.
Finally, Sherlock grimaced and rubbed his temples with a soft grunt. “Your gun. Leave your gun. And your badge, I guess. Like in movies. Just leave them.” His fingers flicked in air.
Ling rose slowly, like an ash cloud of pumice over a volcano, out of her seat. “What the hell… is this Freak talking about?” She said the entire sentence through her clenched teeth.
“Oh, this is so not my problem,” Sherlock muttered to himself, but he put a long hand through his dark curls and restated the demand with a more pronounced flick of his hand. “Your gun. Leave it. Badge too.”
“Slow down.” Lestrade looked between them. “What’s going on, Sherlock?”
Sherlock put his head down and exhaled. His hands came to rest on his narrow hips. “I don’t want to deal with this.”
“Deal with what?” Lestrade asked him.
Ling sneered, “Nothing. He’s crazy, boss. It’s a load of cack.”
That had been the wrong thing to say. Sherlock made an inarticulate grumble. He prowled around the end of the table and extended a hand at Ling. “Look at her. Flat affect; dull eyes; hesitation marks under her shirt-cuffs; and every time you mentioned a forecast further out than a month, her face would present utter misery. She’s suicidal. She won’t make it to next month. Do you really want her to have a gun?” Sherlock stopped when he could look down at Ling. He cocked his head at her. “Someone died. Someone you think you can’t live without. Did I make that up?”
She went pale and grim, and closed her eyes.
Lestrade turned in place, “Mandy?”
“He’s a liar,” she said, but… there was breathlessness about her voice as she did so. “He’s-” she was forced to put her head down.
Sherlock pushed one stiffened arm aside, reached in, and took away Ling’s gun. He shoved it at a nearby cop, wordlessly. “Smell the curry? Someone brought Indian take-away. Mmm,” he said that last lustily – his chest rumbling like the innards of a cello. With that Sherlock Holmes headed out the door.
He’d found the curry dishes and busily served himself. Several minutes after, Lestrade located him sitting lotus in the far corner of their section. He looked out the window at the jagged skyline of London and munched curry rice. At his side sat a stack of case files from Homicide and Serious Crimes. Several were open with Sherlock’s fluid handwritten notes, each word oddly far from the last, jotted on a notepad that was coded by case file.
Lestrade stood beside him and gazed out over a summery city patterned with cloud-cover; neither man spoke. He’d seen Watson’s comments that Sherlock’s capacity for silence was maddening. According to Doctor John Watson’s blogs, one of the most challenging things about living with Sherlock Holmes was the silence. Having been through the team meeting, it should have been hard for Lestrade to believe, but this Sherlock acted as if he existed on another plane, one in which he was the only living being left. The busy energy that typified Holmes was shut away. It left Lestrade feeling kind of… cut off. Three minutes passed and Sherlock didn’t look his way. He was so… unusual.
When Sherlock finished his curry and washed it down with the last of his Perrier water, he simply set his elbows on his knees, knitted his fingers at his lips, and stared at the street below.
“Do you know I’m here?” Lestrade asked.
Holmes’ green gaze pivoted up to take him in. “Something?”
“Yeah, something,” Lestrade bent over him. “You’re going to have to do better than that next time we call you in for a meeting.”
Sherlock blinked, “Better than preventing officer suicide?”
Dammit. There was that. “About Mandy Ling… you saved her life, that’s certain. That was… good of you, Sherlock.”
“Ah. Tell John.” Sherlock reached out to tap the window. “He’s not here yet. Something has delayed him. The recent messages on his blog, combined with his restlessness coming home from work suggest that it’s related to his position at the clinic.”
“Think he’s about to be down-sized?” Lestrade asked. There was real regret in his voice. Some people around here – though not all – thought well of John Watson and his exemplary military record. He, for one, respected John, and didn’t want to see unfortunate things happen to the man.
But Holmes only scoffed. “John Watson dug through human bodies in such dire shambles the men had one foot in the heavens, and yet he made them live. His qualifications are so far beyond that piddling little clinic. He will not be downsized. They’re going to offer him a fulltime job, and he, being John Watson, and loving life, will have to refuse. It will be difficult for him, and when he hurries back here, he’ll need consolation. He is that type of man.”
“But… that makes no sense,” Lestrade said. “I mean, he’s a good man. He deserves the position and the money. I mean, unlike you Scotland Yard doesn’t pay him.”
“Well it had best change policy on that.” Sherlock shut the folders nearest him and glanced up. He was rewarded by Lestrade’s expression, which, yes, wondered why they hadn’t made provisions for a highly trained man like Watson.
“It’ll be a tough sell.”
“Then take it from my salary.” And Sherlock flipped the notepad to the first page, which said SHERLOCK in oddly-spaced all caps and, underneath, Don’t Touch, and then he spoke slowly, “I won’t work with anyone else.”
“Okay.” Lestrade set his hands on his hips and stood in silence for a while. “And you don’t feel bad stymying his medical career?”
Sherlock’s lips pulled to a sudden gritting of his back teeth. “He’s given up years of his life to deep enemy territory and ruined bodies… shattered minds,” Sherlock got to his feet. “Now all he wants,” Sherlock raised a hand and pointed his first two fingers at his temples, “is this. I don’t know why. I don’t care. Thus, I’m not doing something to him, Lestrade; not standing in his way. I let him take what he needs. That is all that is required to take the keys to John Watson.”
Lestrade wasn’t sure what to say to that. He felt… bowled over. Some button had been pushed, certainly, because Sherlock wasn’t one to share. Now Lestrade found he couldn’t approach the strange disconnection of Holmes’ sentiment – couldn’t pick up something so intimate and acutely unfeeling. It had too many sharp angles, and required tongs. Lestrade looked down at the tips of his battered shoes. God. What must he think of me, then? What are the keys to me?
Sherlock looked out over the city anew. Lestrade reversed his logic.
What are the keys to him?
Likely, Lestrade would never know. His phone went off and he plucked it off his belt to give the text a read. “Something weird. Hm. Litres of blood in an artist’s loft in Blackfriars over in the Cheapside area. No body.”
“That’s not Met jurisdiction,” Sherlock’s brows rose and he noted aloud. “That’s the City of London Police Department.”
“It is,” Lestrade heaved a sigh and then showed the phone to Sherlock, “but someone, someone over in Counter Terrorism and Serious Crime Directorate, wants to talk to our CD, and by that, I mean you. They’ve sent me a formal e-mail too. Looks like word is getting around.”
Sherlock’s expression shifted. It became happy. “Missing body. Thank you.”
Lestrade’s lip curled up in disgust that had zero impact on Holmes. The tall Consulting Detective merely stalked away and left Lestrade stood there, thinking: So much for Doc Watson getting done and needing reassurance when he arrives at the Yard. However, it was such a curious thing to have a direct invitation from the City of London Police Department, who worked closely, and yet remained highly autonomous, that Lestrade didn’t question his next actions for longer than a moment. He felt for his keys and followed Sherlock Holmes’ long summer coat through the office.
They rode in Lestrade’s Toyota, Holmes outright refusing a police car. He sat in the back, rather than the passenger side. Lestrade knew better than to comment on it. Sherlock wasn’t like most people. He treated this ride no differently than he would a cab. The entire trip over – at least as far as Lestrade was given to notice – Sherlock’s green eyes were lightly shut. He seemed to be gathering himself. Or it might have been excitement. Nothing had come up on the radar for him in two and a half weeks now.
The lofts were in a stone building of advancing age, which stood close to the water. In fact, the lofts were linked by a death-defying staircase, which was supported only at the wall, and which reached up seven stories. The lift looked even dodgier. In any event, Sherlock was the spirit of fearlessness. His long limbs devoured stairs, which, while the treads were worn and the railing stout, but rather open, he judged to be quite acceptably sturdy.
As soon as he saw police tape, brass-buttons, and red and white checks, he was off like a bloodhound.
The loft in question was on the fourth floor, simplicity to find. It was the centre of a witches-brew of activity that had people in nearby lofts peeking out worriedly. Sherlock hung by the front door in a state of excitement that wouldn’t allow him to be still. Lestrade’s glance confirmed Holmes had, in fact, paused at the threshold in order to first text John Watson.
“He’s on his way,” Sherlock said merrily. He put the phone away and closed his hands together before him, about to push into the room beyond.
“Good to hear,” said a woman who approached the door from inside the loft. She measured the strangely enthusiastic man who fairly quivered in the glow of the skylight, and cocked her head, “I gather… you’re Sherlock Holmes?”
Sherlock’s eyes crawled what he could see of the apartment beyond her. He ignored her.
“He is,” Lestrade stepped in where John Watson normally would, and extended a hand to the woman. She took and shook it, graciously. Lestrade chose to continue, all the while wondering if he should bother. “Sherlock, this is Senior Investigating Officer Charlotte Warren.”
“Lovely,” Sherlock glanced brightly her way. “Can I come in?”
“I heard about your deductive work on the Met police conspiracy. It was exceptional. So I called you here.” The woman’s hair was blisteringly red in the natural light from the hallway. She was in her mid- to late-thirties, and distractingly attractive, which was part of the reason why Lestrade knew exactly who she was. She was sizing up Holmes at the moment, as if debating her decision. “Several of my peers believe you’re a killer and a confidence man, Mr. Holmes.”
“Lovely. Can I come in?” Her peers didn’t matter.
She remained in place, barring the doorway. “I think otherwise.”
Sherlock had no opinion.
She issued a steely demand. “Prove me right.” After a moment wherein he met and held her darker green gaze, SIO Charlotte Warren stepped aside. Slowly, and with his eyes on her, Sherlock circumnavigated the woman.
“Thanks,” Lestrade nodded as he followed. But she flanked him, so Lestrade slowed.
She spoke in a lowered voice. “So that’s Holmes.”
“That’s him.” Lestrade glance to see what Sherlock was doing. He was walking in slowly, his eyes combing the very air around him, it seemed.
“And he’s truly yours then? I wondered if… but here you are to unleash him. Admirable. He’s quite a victory for your team,” SIO Warren straightened and joined her hands behind her stylish coat. “Of course, I’d hoped to involve him in the City of London PD. Investigating fraud is complex, you understand. There’s often considerably less tangible evidence to go on than a murder. But I was blocked several times by men above my head.”
He couldn’t really say ‘I’m sorry’, because he wasn’t. Lestrade had risked his career more than once for Sherlock. Yeah. He wasn’t giving him up. Hell, he didn’t even feel motivated to share the man.
She seemed to guess this as she looked his way. “Well… congratulations, DI Lestrade.”
“Uh, yeah,” Lestrade wasn’t sure why this suddenly embarrassed him, but he had to look down and away. His gaze caught the end of Sherlock’s coat and bounced up to his shoulders. Sherlock turned his head and his dark hair shone, in an unholy corona, outlined by the light from studio windows beyond. Not for the first time Lestrade prayed Sherlock would do his worst, and by that, he meant utterly entangle the villain behind this.
“How does he work?” SIO Warren crossed her arms and asked. Her pursed lips caught Lestrade’s attention and he had to shake himself. It wouldn’t do to get on like an idiot around Charlotte Warren. He’d make a fool of himself. And… what the hell kind of question was that anyway? How did he work?
“Well,” Lestrade rubbed his chin. “Far as I can see, you… wake him in the morning, feed him leftover Chinese, point him at a crime scene, and get the hell out of the way.”
“I… I don’t understand.”
Lestrade’s brows went up, “Uh, good show. That’s correct. That’s it, exactly.” He checked his watch. “He’ll need his assistant at some point here. That’s John Watson, by the by. Nice bloke. You can talk to him, Watson.”
“I’ve heard his name before,” she admitted. “He’s a medical doctor – quite accomplished. He’s spent most of his adult life in Afghanistan. All true?”
“That’s him. Sherlock showed up with him one day, like – God, I don’t know how a thing like Sherlock meets a person, really. But good luck. John Watson, you can think of him as a translator.” Lestrade broke off his examination of Sherlock’s slow turn in the room. “Your best bet doing anything with Sherlock is going to be working through John Watson.”
This morning’s meeting had taught him that much. Somehow, John channeled away some of Sherlock’s worst habits. Speaking of which, Holmes’ body had drifted to a halt and his frame was beginning to stiffen.
“Oh, that’s… mm. So when does he arrive?” she seemed torn between paying attention to Lestrade and trying to follow what Sherlock was doing, holding so still.
“He’s got something going on at the clinic where he works,” Lestrade rolled his shoulders to clear them of tension, and glanced around at the City police. “Gonna have to wait and see.”
“You lot,” Sherlock’s body snapped around to the right facing deeper into the loft. He raised his voice. “Okay-okay. Too loud. Get out. All of you. Shut up and get out.”
All around Holmes’ booming voice, City police straightened and glanced around them, unsure who he was speaking to in such a tone.
“Yes you. And don’t look at me. It’s confounding. Get out.” He pointed at the door.
Warren made a little moue of disbelief.
There were mutters. Some soft swears. None of the City police looked very pleased to find out it was them he was addressing. Dark looks swept over him and Lestrade, and more than one expression of disgust and antagonism sprang up.
Whoa. Lestrade winced and glanced at the SIO. “We should remove them, quickly.” as in, before Sherlock got a head of steam. He could be a tyrant in a tantrum – a real little soldier’s boots, or however that went.
The SIO gave herself a shake. “You mean…. Remove my investigators? Why’s that?” She glanced around her in the sunny room as if the reason was something in there that she could lay her hands on. And it was – it was Sherlock – but she’d best not touch him. Lestrade had done that a couple times before and Sherlock Holmes did not like human contact.
“Sherlock doesn’t play well – doesn’t do anything well with others, and… and his bite is much worse than his bark.” Lestrade stepped aside and allowed Charlotte to command her men to wait outside on the nightmare staircase – soon to be dubbed ‘hellcase’. They were grousing loudly, and Lestrade couldn’t blame them. Sherlock soon stood alone in the loft, both the commanding officers far back by the door for the moment. The door Lestrade used to shut the other police out.
“Now keep quiet as you can,” Lestrade muttered. “Keep behind him so he don’t see us. Otherwise, we’ll put him off.”
She looked fascinated, and more than a little perplexed. “Is this the ‘get the hell out of his way’ part, then?”
It made Lestrade chuckle. “More or less.”
Less than six feet in front of them, the rainclouds cleared. Sherlock Holmes could now see the spartan loft as the person living here saw it, every day. And that person was….
Female. Early twenties.
Ah relief! He could hear himself think again.
Artwork, both digital and physical media.
The sun had made the room hot. Sherlock took off both his coat and his jacket, dropped them on the floor, and stepped further into the room. He smoothed his elegantly pinstriped shirt. Walls, ceilings, the fridge, every surface was a riot of colour. All around him, there were creamy, rich pastels, excellently blurred watercolours, and the light-captivating luminance of gouache paint; so much to see, in fact, that it had nearly deafened his senses walking in here, in spite of how slowly he’d gone. This was like being at his uncle’s house in France, just… the first few hours, he couldn’t contain his thoughts. They’d overflow, even when he closed his eyes. He reached a hand back and cupped the back of his head, trying to hold it all in.
That was this room full of artwork.
For a while, he shut his eyes. It let him catalog what he’d already seen.
Solid, marketable artist, in the style of-
Incomplete thought meant there was something he’d missed; something that bent his neck at an uncomfortable angle and drew his eyes upward.
He scanned the room at his eye level of better than six feet.
Where she bothers, the same signature. Same artist.
Above him there was a vivid, boiling, scarcely controllable war of canvases. Around him, technically excellent paintings of Big Ben, children, London, dockyards, clever vector art, and the odd fractal piece. Sherlock adored fractal math.
She’s mastered many styles.
No photos of her. Not vain.
No photos of friends and family.
Sherlock sat on the floor and leaned back. He sank down until his curls hit the carpet. She must have done this. It was the only comfortable way to see what she’d done up there. The ceiling had wires extending down. Her abstracts hung high above in contorted layers – some of them with canvas cut and peeled open so that others could push through. It was like watching World War I footage of fighters. That wasn’t just storage up there. Holmes’ sat up and did a slow head-turn at his eyelevel.
Abstracts on ceiling.
Hung higher than the light fixtures.
Abstracts invisible at night.
Pass detection unless looking up during the day.
Socially acceptable, approachable pieces at eyelevel.
Unable to properly bury her past.
He rolled up to his feet and followed the coppery tang of blood in the air. Sherlock tucked his hands in his pants pockets and walked through the spare front room. It was populated by art supplies, a small flat-screen television on a makeshift stand, and three easels whose canvases were protected by opaque dust-covers. And a futon. Most of the money went into supplies. But that didn’t draw Sherlock’s attention. He walked down three steps beside the kitchenette into a small dining room area… and stopped.
Estimate… four and a half or five pints of blood.
It was blackening in the sunlight. “Do we have samples of this?”
“Oh man,” Lestrade said from the top of the steps.
Charlotte topped the stairs that headed down out of the kitchen. “We do,” she said grimly.
Sherlock’s eyes followed the spray patterns in the blood. There was so much of it. He rarely saw so much at a scene. The blood painted everything. He looked up and found splatters on the dark and violent abstracts overhead. It streaked the walls and blinds, coated the Japanese style table and cushions, and stained the wood floor up to a large circular void.
Area rug. Removed.
Sherlock estimated the volume of the void would equal about a pint. Though the full volume soaked in the rug wasn’t possible to estimate. He didn’t know what kind it was, or the material. Other rugs in the house might help him get a figure.
Steps up to lofts – no blood on the wood treads.
They used the lift.
Average human woman: 8 to 11 pints of blood, depending on size.
Sherlock moved on into the bedroom. He paused to glance into the loo. It was crowded with so many paintings that the door couldn’t be closed. One would have to shut the bedroom door. Her room was much the same – storage, but these paintings were wrapped in brown paper and had tags and addresses on them to indicate they’d been sold, some for a couple of hundred pounds, one for 500£. Sherlock sorted through them, nothing had gone for under 40 quid.
Her bed was a single mattress, neatly made, set on a low, makeshift frame made of wood. He got down and found that the area underneath was packed with art books and supplies. Nothing off. No drugs. Nothing she was hiding. Just the abstract paintings, and she’s done a very bad job of that.
24 paintings, in the bedroom, sold.
4 in the laundry. Sold.
2 in the lav. Sold.
Beginning to be successful.
Tired of hiding.
Sherlock very possibly found and checked every socket in the house, and every corner, but her mobile phone was as missing as this artist was. And yet her purse was on her night-table.
He smiled tightly as he prowled the loft.
He should give her a call. He thought this as he stood out on her balcony, the wind fingering his curling hair. The balcony door had already been open, but he frowned at the layout. No way. No way could someone get onto this balcony without breaking their neck. The distances were too great unless you felt like repelling. To get a body off, you’d have to pitch it over the side and have it drop four storeys, or lower it down and hope no one saw.
Three people in the building across the way watched him right now. He gave a crooked smile and went back inside.
“She let her killer in… or her killer was already in.” He told the SIO and Lestrade as he came from the bedroom. It was getting easier to move around in the stimulation of the rooms now, at least.
Lestrade looked up from where he held up one of the covers on her latest paintings. “Sherlock.”
SIO Warren, standing behind Lestrade’s shoulder stared wordlessly in Holmes’ direction.
“Do we know anything about her? Boyfriends? Colleagues? I should say, do you know. She has acquaintances, but doesn’t get close. It’s something she wants to change since she’s bought a thank you card this week. Bill’s still in the bag. Pink card. It’s for another woman. She’s single, trying to date, but that’s a recent thing. There’s someone she set for, can see that in the recent purchases: dark, smoky eye shadow, plum gloss – dark colours for being out at night – and she’s on the pill for a month and a half according to the prescription in her purse. He’s someone her friend-” Sherlock stopped. Something was wrong with the police. He skirted the mess of blood and walked into the front room toward them.
Now they both looked from the canvas straight at him.
“Better come here, Sherlock.” Lestrade grumbled. He dropped the dust cover over the back of the painting and Sherlock turned to take it in. When he froze, he did so completely, as wild horses freeze, not even breathing. Inside his head, the complex alchemy reset and left him utterly blank. Like a refusal, his mind wouldn’t clear this barrier before him. Blank. Blank.
A spark lit.
John and Sarah.
He was in the reference photo on the corner of the canvas – drinking dark wine, half-turned in John’s direction, deeply amused and smiling. John opened his arms, talking. Sarah laughed. Sherlock looked very happy. He hadn’t very often seen himself look happy. He stared.
The acrylic of the reference photo – itself printed off a laser jet – was almost finished.
The colours in the painting beggared those in the printed photo.
Sherlock sucked a breath. Nothing. Why did he feel nothing?
And he couldn’t focus. He was flat. In this state, he did a slow turn in the room. Everything slid off. Nothing penetrated. It was creepy. Until his head sparked. In starts, his eyes found many things, then very many things, and then the loft fell on him like a tsunami – everything started coming in faster and faster and assaulting his brain like mammoth hail. It was too much material. He shut his eyes, but the feed kept coming. It blazed up out of his memory, shuffling and rearranging at amazing speed, combining with older memories, searing his nerve endings – faster and more.
He started feeling queasy, remembered touching his forehead, and then he hit blackness.
John clapped his cheek. Holmes was still on his feet, but something was happening to him. His breathing was shallow; he flicked his head to clear it, but it wouldn’t clear. His head was a mess.
Lestrade had hold of Sherlock by the elbow and the shoulder. “What’s happening to him?”
“I just got in the door. How would I know? Come on, Sherlock.” John, once assured that Holmes would remain on his feet, shifted his hands to take Holmes’ pulse. Fast, but steady. “Just nod if you can hear me, okay?”
Sherlock nodded slowly.
“Can’t talk?” John asked.
Another nod. John looked right and saw the painting. His eyes widened. “That’s us at Pensaci Bene! At supper… at Alda’s… what’s that doing at a crime scene?” He diverted away to Sherlock, since Holmes had just pulled away to settle on the lone futon against the brick wall. “What happened? What just happened to you?”
“Don’t know,” he winced and checked his watch, “only been on the scene 35 minutes. Nothing unusual.” He put his head down and held it in his hands.
SIO Warren jerked a thumb in the direction of the picture, “What’s the meaning of this, Mr. Holmes?”
John glanced her way, “It’s just Sherlock.” He caught himself and extended a hand. “I’m sorry. It’s reflex. I’m John Watson. I work with-” John started to point at his flatmate.
“I know. And so I figured,” the red haired woman shook his hand. “Senior Investigating Officer Warren. I called Mr. – I called Sherlock Holmes in on this scene. I certainly didn’t expect this.” She said as she took her hand away and tucked it in her pocket. She looked at the painting. “Do you know this woman?”
“No,” John shook his head. “I… I don’t have an explanation for-”
“Yes,” Sherlock droned. “Yes we know her. Look where we are, John. Think. There’s only one person we’ve encountered at Alda’s capable of all this.”
John turned and looked around him, only, Sherlock noticed, at eye-level. His face went through a sudden paroxysm. “Oh my God. Sofia. What happened? Is she okay?”
“If Sofia somehow managed to bleed out 5 or 6 pints and survive, she’d still be in critical trouble.” Sherlock raised his head and looked around him experimentally. Good. Better. He was online and it was as if he’d come into a new room. His knowledge of it was now somehow multidimensional, alive with the person John and Sarah had set him up with in the late spring. The girl who had spoken to him so hopefully, tipped her head just so, and whose powder had betrayed faded tracks of tears, was now an inescapable feature of these rooms. His head throbbed, but it worked.
Sherlock had known she was in trouble. But he’d been distracted with other cases, and also uncomfortable with her interest in him.
“She’s a friend and a patient of Sarah’s,” John told Lestrade numbly. “She… she’s curious about Sherlock, and so we had her meet us up at that restaurant. It didn’t go well. Sherlock, you know-” John glanced up at Lestrade, who, from the look on his face, could only imagine. “Well, he saw something about her, that she’d been crying before she’d come to join us… and she ran out. That was the last time we saw her.”
Sherlock said. “Sarah saw her once more, afterward. Sofia gave a story about a death in the family. But there is no family. Look at this place. There’s no one at all.” He walked over and started going through the mail on her phone table, “Sofia Rothingham. Woman of many faces.” He looked directly up above his head at a terrifically dark and brutal abstract.
John’s eyes widened. “Oh-my-God,” he breathed and turned in place. “Sherlock, after the case, The Photography Club case… she’d put a note under the kitchen door and I stuffed it in my pocket. But it warmed up soon after and I switched out coats. She left a note for you and I….”
Holmes dropped the mail he held onto the table again. “She left me a note, and you took it? Why?” He crossed the room in just a few long steps. “Why would you do that? I told you she was in trouble; I tried to find out what she was afraid of; I later sent Sarah to inquire with her. Sarah is someone that Sofia trusts – given my work, why would you keep back a letter Sofia came all the way across town to deliver to me?”
John shook his head, “It was right after the Club case, Sherlock – you’d been through hell. You needed rest and food, and that’s without thinking of the emotional toll. You were fragile. I was looking out for you! You couldn’t take up on a new case right then, so I thought-”
Sherlock’s teeth flashed and he snapped, “You aren’t my keeper, you are my assistant. Nor do you remotely approximate someone who can make decisions for me.”
“You’d been exposed to heaps of cocaine again, Sherlock. You took weeks to get right.” John rubbed the side of his face and broke off. He was suddenly fixed on the realization Sarah didn’t know about her friend’s murder yet, and that it was his thoughtless action that had condemned this girl. He couldn’t do anything about it. It was too late to prevent it. He heard himself murmur, “Oh my God.”
Holmes paced and growled, “Well it wasn’t going to kill me. More than I can say for Sofia.”
John put his hand up across his mouth and looked around him. It took only a few more steps for him to see the bloody massacre of the sunken dining room. He stood shaking. Then he turned on his heel and headed for the door. He had to get clear of here.
“Where are you going?” Sherlock’s deep voice called out behind him. He could hear Sherlock start in his direction, “John.” But John slammed the door on the tail end of that and headed down through the knot of police on the staircase. It was like there wasn’t enough air.
By the time John reached the sidewalk he was seeing black dots in front of his eyes. He caught a cab almost immediately and shoveled money at the driver. He wanted to lose himself in the city.
An hour and a half later, Sherlock Holmes sat in Scotland Yard. He was in a glass box. It was the spare office. It had no blinds. The air exchanger blew cold air down the back of his long neck, which he hated. He sat in a straight-backed chair at a black Formica-topped desk. Apart from the light overhead, there was nothing else in the room. This box, with its steel-framed glass door, was informally known as the office of the Consulting Detective. Something which he could never admit to was that, during his first few nights spent utterly engrossed in Cold Cases in this room, members of the Late Turn had rigged the door, turned out the lights on the floor, and left him.
It crossed his mind again, now that he was alone.
It had been a simple enough thing to go to 221B Baker Street and find Watson’s coat buried on the tree behind the door. Sherlock had fished the note out and cabbed back to the Yard. He… had half expected to find John in the apartment, in fact. But… no John.
Now he opened the envelope.
He didn’t feel anything for Sofia.
Well… curiosity. He had, of course, noticed that she was beautiful, with massive curls of honey hair, and a smile that lit the general rosiness of her face and eyes. He had, of course, noticed that she didn’t seem to find him distasteful. And she was an artist. Artists were very creative. He was also very creative. Already, something in common. John had been the first person in his life to point out there were similarities between Sherlock and certain of the murder victims he admired – Jennifer Wilson; Melody Doyle. What did it mean? Sherlock laid the letter and white envelope on the desk before him.
Hope was for the feeble. It was for the fond.
Sherlock snuffled his fingertips.
He remembered the waft of perfume as Sofia had settled into the booth beside him. The smell of her had made his stomach tighten. His senses had registered a threat and put him on guard. Sherlock knew he was, by nature, forward, emphatic, and aggressive, and, of course, he was male. His nature was not somehow magically different with women, except he couldn’t allow himself…. Ah, but he could smell that lightheaded perfume now.
What was it? He’d smelled it before.
God – Anthea wore it too. It had the power to make him guttural.
His brain supplied.
Thank you. Sherlock opened the letter before him. It was soft pink card stock, locally sourced by the watermark, and very artistic, as was the pretty handwriting inside, which was almost like calligraphy. He could smell the dot of perfume that oiled the bottom of the page, below the scrawl of her signature – Sofia.
When he’d been little, he would make deals with himself, like this: If I don’t see this, then you will not be dead. The same fascinating self-delusion kicked inside him now like the moribund leg of a bug. Which girl was it for? Didn’t matter. He could not kill, or spare, Sofia by reading a letter. But he might be able to find her. So Sherlock shut his eyes and put aside soft pink, perfume, and women. Those were not things he could make work. Labyrinths, lies, murder, and the machinery of decay, those things were his province. Those things, he could work.
And you are dear. I promise.
Meeting you, I couldn’t catch my breath.
You are so very, very handsome.
So penetrating and bright.
But forget my foolishness. Let me start over.
I shouldn’t have run out as I did. Please don’t be cross. Don’t think I’m crazy. It has been a hard two years for me.
The fingers of Sherlock’s right hand flexed over the table and his gaze lingered on ‘two years’.
You were right. I stood outside of the restaurant and had my little few tears. I thought it was silly too, but agreeing to see you was such a big leap for me, Sherlock. The man Sarah described to me was just too strange, too creative for me to pass up. I had to see. But that meant I had begun to live again.
“So you hadn’t been living for two years,” Sherlock took that to mean. “Why?” Her abstract paintings flickered through his visual memory with such force he had to shake his head to clear it.
So I cried.
Now Sherlock sat back and shut his eyes. He wished he could say he had no point of comparison for those last two lines, but – embarrassingly enough – he did. However, that was a good twenty years in the past for him now.
I am hoping – I am sorry for doing this Sherlock, and it’s not why I wanted to see you – but I am hoping you can help me. No. Help me. Help me, please. I want to be safe. I know that you, with your intellect, you can make it so, you can protect me. I am afraid to tell you more in a letter, but I will tell you this, and I know it will be enough: 2009; fire; Ark-Co.
And… this is so puerile. So silly. But please don’t dislike me for running off on you.
I would like to see you again.
Such dark, lovely cologne.
And such attractive eyes.
He shivered, but it wasn’t something that would have been perceptible to someone standing outside this room. Okay…. Had he ever gotten a letter like this one? It wasn’t a love letter. That sense was also superfluous. But something about it felt highly private. He didn’t want anyone else to see it.
Like Lestrade right now. He was outside the box staring in at his captive, as so many of them did when they stuffed him in here for a time-out. Coming into this room, he felt so out-of-control. Would they take away his letter? He didn’t want this falling into the wrong hands. It had the immediate power to hurt him. He knew, because reading it had hurt. He was often numb, but not yet insensible enough to fail to recognize his own pain. He’d almost rather burn it, apart from the absence of a lighter, and the fact it was evidence. And that it would make him feel he might be unstable.
He wasn’t feeling stable. Not at all.
Sherlock took out his phone and texted John unsteadily.
‘Scotland Yard. Come at once.’
He had no way of knowing where John was. For instance, he was unaware that John was sitting on a bench across the street from the Yard, a hollow man, tormented by guilt, but still so loyal as to not trust Met police with his flatmate’s wellbeing. When the phone in his pocket pinged, John took it out and read the message. He rubbed his swollen eyes with his fingers and wondered if he should go up there. Was he any good to Sherlock at all? God the trouble he’d made.
He’d killed a girl.
‘I killed a girl.’
The reply came back.
‘Where are you?’
John sighed and shut his eyes.
‘I’m no good for this, Holmes. I can’t help you. This whole nightmare is my doing.’ He’d spent hours trying to figure out what he was going to say to Sarah. He couldn’t find any path to follow that didn’t also terminate their relationship. He couldn’t do that. He needed that woman in his life, just the sound of her voice, the touch of her.
How had he let this happen?
His phone pinged.
‘Who said she was dead?’
John blinked. The clouds cleared back from his shoulders. Daft flatmate! Who had said it? He’d said it, though not in so many words.
‘You said six pints and she’d still be in critical trouble.’ John fumbled across his phone’s keyboard with an oath that startled a passerby.
Sherlock, in contrast, texted with the fleetness of a rabbit:
‘Absent from sentence = the word dead.’
‘Need assistant. Come now.’
‘Bring blank sheet of paper folded as for a standard envelope: 240 mm x 165 mm.’
‘Tuck it in your sleeve.’
Needed it in a hurry, did he? John got to his feet and stalked across the street with the light. Holmes could consider it done. He snatched up a paper from the first floor supply room and folded it into the right size. It went right up his sleeve, wrapped around his wrist, at the edge of his shirt-cuff. He took the stairs up, not because it was Sherlock’s habit, but because they let out in a less obvious location than the elevators. On the way up, Sherlock texted him the number of the glass cube he was using as, John smiled at this, an office. Take that, Met police – Holmes had an office at the Yard.
When he exited on the floor, it was only a short walk to the clear box that Sherlock occupied. He eased around the corner and in through the door.
“No blinds yet?” John motioned at the walls as he crossed to the desk.
“If there were blinds, they couldn’t watch me,” Sherlock said simply. He looked up at John and blinked a little. “John… I’m sorry I-”
“Stop,” John put both hands on the desk and leaned over it to look down on the letter. “So I’m assuming you’re about to walk that out of here. Nothing Sofia wrote to you would be fit for the likes of Lestrade’s team.”
“Very good deduction,” Sherlock nodded over his knit fingers. “They’ve headed to the coffee machine now. I’d like to switch them. Left sleeve, yes?”
“Absolutely. But you could tell that since I first came in.” John acknowledged.
Sherlock nodded. He laid his own hands on the table. One settled on the envelope, and the other on the letter. He shut his eyes for a moment. “Lift up your hand and point at me when I say so.” His gaze darted around him. “Let’s go… now.”
John lifted his left hand and pointed. “Okay, what’s on?”
Sherlock seemed to shove his wrist away, but what he really did was pick up the softly pink letter in his right hand, as if showing it to John and shove John’s pointing hand outward. His deft fingers nipped into John’s sleeve – John felt the heat of them cross his wrist as Sherlock pulled out the folded paper there. When he laid his hand down, it was with two sheets, not one. He tucked both into the envelope, which he drew across the desk toward him. The pink paper slid out under his flattened hands. It had only been partially tucked away.
“She says things in this letter,” Sherlock murmured softly. His hands knit on the desk, the pink letter now bowed between them, being folded over. “Things that… things they….”
“You don’t need to explain it,” John told him, “I get it.”
Sherlock’s green eyes darted up.
It was so moving, the way his expression went sometimes: when his brows drew up at the bridge of his nose like a study in helplessness. It cast away years off his age.
John nodded. “How do I get it into my coat?”
“Not yet.” Sherlock drew his hands over the edge of the table and seemed to smooth his impeccable gray jacket. “Let me fold it smaller first.” He rose to his feet and glanced across at John. “Oh, they’re back. Are you ready? This will be quick.”
Sherlock quickly shook his hand and neatly inserted the folded letter into his sleeve. John’s eyes widened minutely, but he kept his calm and smiled. And that is how you stole off with evidence from inside a sealed glass box, broad daylight, in the middle of Scotland Yard. “Tricky, you are tricky.”
“Frighteningly, that’s one of my better qualities.” Sherlock released him and looked at the floor a moment. “You didn’t kill her, John. Not that I’m so certain she’s dead… or not dead… but… you didn’t kill her.”
John lowered his head and flushed. He was miserable. “I’m sorry, Sherlock. So very sorry.”
“Me too,” Sherlock’s great, infamous voice sounded hollow for a moment… and then snapped back as cold as a winter blast. “But you did no violence to that girl. You didn’t kill her, John. Don’t confuse integrity with culpability. You are a good man. It was a slip-up she should have checked on.”
Mutely, because he couldn’t trust his voice, John nodded at the floor.
Sherlock studied him closely for a moment before saying, “We’re leaving.”
“To where?” John blinked up at him.
“To supper. For you.” Sherlock told him. “The day has been too eventful. It’s getting late. I’m sure you haven’t eaten since this all unfolded. All I ask is that you pick somewhere close to the Islington Central Library. There are a few good places nearby, and a nice little French coffee shop and delicatessen if your appetite hasn’t recovered.”
“If they trotted out a cow, I’d take a stab at it.” John said in return.
Sherlock pulled on his coat and chuckled. “Then I’ll think of something.”
“And Lestrade’s just going to let us go?”
“You expect they’ll bar us in, or something?” Sherlock asked lightly.
“No, that would be sophomoric.” John glanced back at the letter sitting atop the paperwork about the case on the desk behind him. “We should leave quickly, Sherlock.”
“I know.” Holmes pushed the door and glanced up at Lestrade. He did something he despised, then – he explained himself. “John needs food. I need to think. We’re going.”
“Keep an eye on your phone, Sherlock.” Lestrade sipped coffee. “Let me know what you come up with.” He called out on their heels.
John shoved the door to the stairs closed behind them and the pair of them bolted to the lower levels and out the front. They hurried down the street and lost themselves in foot traffic before ducking into a taxi. Sherlock heaved a sigh and pulled out his cell as they wove through cars for Islington.
John sat companionably with him and took out the letter. Sherlock stilled, but didn’t look at him. John gave the paper a snuffle. Perfume. It smelled predatory. Such a perfumed letter was not the kind of missive Sherlock could ever allow people like Anderson, or Donovan, or any of dozens who despised him, to see. He’d made the right call.
John tapped the back of Sherlock’s hand with it. “Look. Take this. It’s not my business.”
He might have been mistaken, but Sherlock seemed distinctly grateful when he closed his hand over the letter, and made it disappear, harmlessly, into his jacket pocket.
“Any clues in it?” John asked after several moments of road noise, London car-horns, and the soft patter of rain. It was still relatively early in the summer.
Sherlock turned his head, appreciatively. He said, “Yes. 2009; fire; Ark-Co.”
“Ah,” John said. “Thus the library, right?”
“Yes,” Holmes held up his phone and showed him a home page for a large Pharmaceutical company called Ark-Co. “Among other things.”
At the corner of Holloway Road and Fieldway Crescent, John led the way out of the cab into the late afternoon sun. The days were getting longer. This was a time that Sherlock didn’t appreciate. He preferred the dark hours. His favourite seasons were the spring and autumn, with their balance of warmth and darkness. Therefore, it wasn’t unexpected that, when he got out of the cab, he also glared at the western sky for not being a lusty shade of purple yet.
Sherlock glanced up at the edifice. “Hard to look at it and realize that people considered this library a curse,” he tugged his gloves into place, glanced up at Edmund Spenser and Francis Bacon, and led the way inside.
“So what are we looking for?” John sucked in a deep, cool breath, musty with the unmistakable smell of books.
“The year 2009,” Sherlock glanced over his shoulder at John. “It’s not well hidden. This shouldn’t take long.” He grinned as they passed through a knot of students.
“Because we’re looking for a fire in 2009, right?” John agreed.
Sherlock’s brow wrinkled, “We are?”
“Sofia used the word fire,” Sherlock noted. He turned around and walked backward through a sunny hallway. “Are we to assume she meant a fire, such as a house fire?”
“I don’t think we can rule it out.”
“Look, she tells me in the letter that she hasn’t really been alive in two years. That is very straight forward. It tells me that when she mentions 2009, she’s talking about the year, not a pin number, airport locker, ad nauseam,” Sherlock ruffled his dark curls, which were still quite trim, and turned the right way around. “When she talks about fire, there are more possibilities. Two years ago, was she involved in a fire? She would have been 19 at the time. How does this line up with Ark-Co? That clue is very unclear. Ark-Co is a pharma-company that put a manufacturing facility in London in the 1990s. It creates millions, even billions of quid worth of drugs – profits a billion and a half dollars a year on Adheradall, alone, and another 320 million pounds annually on Vlaxa. Know what those are, John?”
“Drugs for ADHD,” John said and then smiled, “Which ‘you do not have’.” Or that was the world, according to Sherlock.
“Yes. I don’t. Thanks,” Sherlock grinned irrepressibly. The death of a girl only clouded his mood intermittently. In truth, with a case at hand, he was largely an open sky. All was academic, and he felt very little when in the midst of a puzzle. “So, the little pigeon you decide to march in as a blind date hasn’t felt alive in two years, and happens to be embroiled in some kind of debacle with the likes of Ark-Co, which makes billions of quid a year.” They detoured down a narrow, cold set of stairs.
“Is that what she said?” John asked as they drew into a quieter part of the building.
“Is that was she said to you? That she hadn’t felt alive in two years, I mean, implying that you were a quick-fix for that, you know, for her?” John zipped his coat against the wall of cooled air. At least it wasn’t rolling off Holmes.
Sherlock did avoid his gaze, though. John had never met anyone quite like him – a man so secretive it was difficult to discern if he had a private life. John suspected there would be wall upon wall between Sherlock Holmes and even his dearest friend, whoever that was.
They ducked into a room that held several large microfiche machines, all of which were deserted at the current hour. Or perhaps they weren’t terribly popular? Sherlock selected one, and flicked it on, then threw himself down into a chair. John pulled a chair over close to him and looked at the man’s profile. It was frustrating when Holmes shut down. Talking to him, outside of cases, was a delicate act. Sherlock had once called an enemy of his a cipher. John, however, began to see that, between the two of them, the real cipher, the superior one, was Sherlock Holmes. Back dealing with the crooked cop who’d had Sherlock shot, it had been apparent from the condition of his work environment that he had everything to hide. But, with Sherlock, nothing in his life looked for show, and he seemed to conceal nothing. Ask him one question, any one, outside of a case, outside of deduction, and an answer would be in doubt. His evasions were artwork.
“Hm,” Sherlock’s brows went up. “Would you do me a favour and power up the others?”
Sherlock sat back, puzzled, “So that I can use all of them.”
John grinned and turned on the other microfiche. He quickly got involved with one, which seemed particularly persnickety. Its controls were touchy and it scrolled far too fast. Yet he didn’t give up on it until he’d learned the right tricks to control its output. Why he put himself through the effort, he wasn’t entirely sure. Perhaps he simply excelled at dealing with difficult pieces of technology – he looked across at Sherlock. Point won.
In two hours, John had a list of all the notable fires in the London area for that year. He also idly wondered if, in two years, he would be able to come down here and scroll through 2011 to find the raging spat of arson fires behind The Burning Question case of late spring. His name, and Sherlock’s, would probably never come up in the papers. Online, however, it was documented how the world’s only Consulting Detective had broken the case. Not that the media was reading Doc John Watson, war vet’s, blog. That was back before this horrible calamity had befallen Sofia Rothingham. Back when she’d had time and John might still have gotten Sherlock to her. If the girl felt alive after so short a meeting with Holmes, what could John say? That she was childish? Naïve? Sherlock would say those things. But John would say… that he understood perfectly. Sherlock Holmes had breathed his strange, distorted, inverted, and irrefutably real life into John. It had taken about five minutes and one meeting.
The man was magic – black magic. Good magic. He was-.
“What?” he looked back at Sherlock, surprised to find the man standing quite close by.
“I’ve said your name twice now,” Sherlock noted peevishly and cocked his head.
“I was… I was just thinking.”
“Dwelling isn’t thinking,” Sherlock slapped him in the side of the head with his gloves and John spun the chair and made a grab for the taller man. He was impossibly annoying.
“Get back here, you irritant,” John chuckled. “Stop being so quick.”
“That would be maladaptive,” Sherlock stretched against one of the machines he reached down and carelessly switched off. Its whirr of fans died to nothing. “You need to eat. Your stomach is starting to growl loud enough to interrupt my train of thought. It’s like having a resentful dog behind me.”
John chuckled. “I suppose so. Feeling like Thai. Is there anything near?” He gave his stomach a soft rub, just under his sternum.
“Yeah,” Sherlock’s neck popped as he tipped it side-to-side to stretch the nerves. They had both settled their bones into research this afternoon, and now they were waking like bears after winter. John was stiff, grumbly, and hungry, and Sherlock, well, he wasn’t the average bear.
Holmes brought them upstairs and out into a darkened, thankfully, rain-free, street. It was a very few blocks to the nearest Thai restaurant. John had expected much worse, given he was with Sherlock, and when Sherlock said a restaurant was ‘near’ he could often mean, you’d reach it within 30 minutes if you went at a dead run. His ground-eating dead run. As far as men went he was a race car.
“You seem surprised,” Sherlock paused as he pulled the door.
“Uh, well, it’s so… weird without the Russian mafia, or Chinese assassins, or even the police keeping tabs on us.” John shook his head. “However shall I digest?”
“I’m sure something will arise.” Sherlock was so charmed by John’s sentiment that he gave a sudden wink, which was him in a very good mood. He walked inside smiling, and they found a table by the windows, so that Sherlock could look out into the street on his left and into the restaurant on his right. One never wanted to risk his boredom. In fact, Holmes was looking around now.
John scoffed. “Want to go walkies?”
“Shut up.” Sherlock complained and then had to bite down on his lopsided smile. “You make me sound like the family spaniel, doing that.”
“I’d have gone with sniffer-dog.”
“God,” Sherlock exhaled and began to fiddle with the little oil lamp whose cupped flame had been disturbed by his sigh, “will you never let that go?”
“Looks like City Police are thinking you’d be a good addition there, too. What’s going on with that? That woman, Warren? She was staring stick pins into you. You worked with her before?”
“Never,” Sherlock shook his head gently. “But I have figured out their cases in the past and called in tips. This is all anonymous of course,” he peeled the paper from straws their server had set on the table before them. “I tried to work with them in person once, I mean… I was kind of much… younger.”
“How young?” John joined his hands under his chin, fascinated by this little vignette.
“The investigating officer said he’d grind my bones to make his bread.” Sherlock actually flushed and then chuckled, which proved he’d found it funny in retrospect.
After they ordered drinks, John unrolled his napkin and gazed around the nicely lit restaurant. He heard the bustle of other people – people who lived in a shallower world than the one Sherlock occupied – going about their business, like it was no more than white noise. They were like frogs in wells, unable to see the big picture, the full sky. He thought they lived separated from reality.
“Tea and lemonade,” the server told them happily. “And you’re not hungry, right sir? I just need to confirm that’s true.”
“Go tell your boss I mean it.” Sherlock gently sipped tea, a nonpareil of tea-cup etiquette.
She gave a little bow. Sherlock inclined his head, just so, and she scurried away. Then he leaned back in his seat at the small square table. Holmes looked out through glass dotted with light from the intersection beyond and said. “What did you find? I saw you were looking up information about fires.”
John took a folded sheet of paper from his pocket and handed it over to Sherlock. The man scanned a list of fires inside London city limits. John tried to guess his thoughts.
No loops or hooks in open letters, such as a and o. Honest.
Mild, uniform slant. Not varied.
Cautious. Careful. Stable.
They were quite opposite in nature. Sherlock tucked the page inside of his pocket, and considered John. It put a trifling smile on Sherlock’s face. “Any connections to Ark-Co?”
“None that I could find,” John took a swallow of his lemonade and crunched the tiny ice chips. “The closest thing I got was a car fire within a block of the place.”
“Curious,” Holmes’ brows drew down. He was interested in this development. He whipped up his phone and started searching the internet. “What was the cause determined to be?”
“Recall on an engine part ignored.” John said.
“Type of car?”
Sherlock found it and started reading, his brows drawn down as John’s Kai yang arrived with a liberal side of rice. John knew better than to delay. At any moment, something could strike Sherlock, and he would be out the door, so John – who was generally famished by the time Sherlock dragged them into a restaurant – had learned to dine efficiently. For instance, he’d paid in advance.
He looked up at Holmes. “You had five machines going at once. What did you find?”
“I found out that Sofia Rothingham didn’t exist before two years ago. I mean, my phone tells me there are records of her, but scratch the surface and she goes away. I could find no record of a graduation from an art school – not everyone announces that in the papers anymore, of course, but the more telling thing is that she has no birth announcement in North Yorkshire, which, if you’ve heard her out for more than a few minutes, is where she was born.”
John paused over his chicken. “Oh, come on now. That’s out of that flick, what’s-it called? It has Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle and-”
My Fair Lady.
“-Sherlock! It’s out of a show. People aren’t really able to do something like that though, you know, figure where everyone comes from just from them talking for a minute or so. She could have moved all over England and picked that up. People move all the time, so you don’t really know-”
Sherlock winced and tapped his phone. He turned on the cell’s speaker and held it out across the table to sit almost at the end of John’s nose. He could easily read the name Sofia R on the screen and her phone number. Then her answering machine went off.
‘I’m not in right now. If you’ve got somewhat that you’ve got to talk to me about, please leave a number. Unless it’s about bills. Okay. Just kidding.’ beep!
Sherlock hung up the cell and tucked it into his pocket. “North Yorkshire.”
They both sat in silence. Sherlock was now subdued and didn’t lift his eyes from the table.
“You’ve called her.” John sat back and blinked widely at the realization. “Oh wow. That’s how you knew her message would, you know, prove she was from one place or another. She’s programmed on your phone and you’ve called her.”
Holmes sipped his tea unthinkingly. He looked like he didn’t taste it. His eyes remained silently oriented on the sugar dish before him. The message was crystalline: John, drop it. And usually, John would. But this was tremendous and he couldn’t ignore it.
“Sherlock…. How long have you been calling her? I mean, when did this start? Were you calling her in the spring?”
“It’s not like that. It’s – no.” Sherlock cut the speech stream off abruptly.
John’s jaw sagged. He pulled it back, “So what is it like, then?”
“I just thought,” he took a breath – made a soft huff of it, actually, “that I should apologize, you know, after I left the restaurant. Because you were furious, as you recall. And you hurt my arm. Ergo what I’d done had been a serious thing, interpersonally, so I looked her up online and called her to prove to myself, one way or another-” his voice abruptly fell away.
Silence hovered like candle smoke over the table.
John had been blindsided.
Sherlock wasn’t a man who made connections. He didn’t reach out to others without a damn good reason, and that went triple for women, or so John had seen. What did it mean? Did Sherlock know? Well… if he did, why did he seem so confused? John’s chair creaked as he leaned back a little. Okay. Careful now. “Did you call her more than once?”
Sherlock’s head rose minutely, and John saw it coming – the flash of pride and half-lidded eyes with his lip’s faint pursing. He was about to shut off. And then it all fell away. His chin dropped and his eyes began to widen. Light flushed across his face – John could see pupils pull back from the pale foggy jade of irises. And then Sherlock scooted up onto the table, literally had a knee on it, so he could grab two fistfuls of John’s coat and pull him out of his seat with that uncanny strength of his.
“Sherlock, what madness are you-”
A whooshing sound; the light became blinding.
Sherlock unleashed all the power in his long legs and heaved them both up and back. John had only just begun to turn his head when glass, wood, insulation, wiring, table legs, stone tiles, all sorts of debris, pelted him. It flew in time with what had to be the bottomless, ground-shaking whump of a mortar shell. No. Not a mortar. His brain was replaying the sound of a mortar. He saw flashes of red. The roar of an engine so close he could smell fuel, that was real, and in the sudden sparking darkness of midair, it hit him.
Pain lanced through him, but Sherlock’s long fingers still had hold. In the darkness, it was hard to make anything out. John took Sherlock’s full weight for a stunningly painful moment. It drove the wind out of him as Holmes’ elbows came down, and John had only kinesthesia to tell him that Sherlock had tumbled over him and crashed into something brittle that snapped. Then John skidded up along the momentum bearing down on them. He clawed for the front of Sherlock’s coat, but it was too far, and those long white fingers were now nerveless.
They’d let John go.
When he came too again, John was outside in the smell of smoke. He was disoriented and bleeding. He didn’t know what happened. Something about a vehicle…? Oh shit. IED. Where were the rest of his unit? “Staff Sergeant Cook?” he wheezed and forced his eyes open.
No answer because… he was on the sidewalk. In London.
Cook was about 6000 kilometers North East of here as the crow flew, and may God find him in better condition than his Army surgeon right now.
Getting up – fighting to his unsteady feet – was hard. John’s clothes were scuffed, as was his skin, which was red with sliding down the walk and half onto the parking lot. He couldn’t describe the soreness in his battered body, it hurt to breathe. Moving made his nerve endings fry. But there was this little problem: he was outside the restaurant, and the screaming and unbridled panic was inside. With Holmes. And he could smell smoke and see the flicker of flames. John wiped blood from his face and sucked a valiant breath.
“Sherlock?” he bellowed as he made his way in through the massive hole in the front of the Thai restaurant. And, oh God, his server was dead, crushed under the massive, red, runaway truck. He ducked down and pushed inside through a passage so narrow it wouldn’t have admitted a larger man. “Sherlock Holmes! Sherlock!” Smoke was becoming thick in here.
Many of the cute little lanterns had toppled, and they were full of oil. Table cloths had lit. John punched out the fire extinguisher by the door on his right and started spraying the larger of two fires. He shouted at dazed diners and staff, “Front door is behind me. Everyone grab your neighbour and move-move-move!”
The sudden draft made the second fire flare. People finally stopped staggering around and stumbled sensibly out of the building.
“Sherlock!” John hurried through the sparking darkness alone. He nearly fell over Holmes.
Apart from his long legs, Sherlock was under a table. He seemed to have crawled there. Just as John was finding him, he was sitting up and blinking, but he was exceedingly dazed. Blood had made a veneer from his hairline down his cheek, and into his shirt. John caught hold of Sherlock’s hands – they were pulling his knees slowly up to his chest. He was shaking. Not calm. Or together. Not like John.
So John dropped to one knee. He had to reach his flatmate quickly. “Sherlock. Look at me.”
The green eyes were having issues with focus, but they looked at the sound of his voice. He wasn’t really conscious yet. It was some twilight state between being awake, and being home.
“You need to come with me now.” John gave a tug, but Sherlock wouldn’t budge. “Look around you! The smoke is getting thick. The place is on fire!”
The bow of Holmes’ lips had begun to move. He started to reach up and find the blood on his face. That was yanking him closer to consciousness.
“What?” John shoved in as close as he could and leaned an ear to listen.
He was saying. “-elect to go out the back – out the back there’s no fire yet.”
Of course. It hadn’t consciously crossed John’s mind yet, but of course. John chucked the exhausted extinguisher far off to one side. He inched forward, the heat beating down on his back beginning to feel quite uncomfortable. The whoosh of flames above and behind became unmistakable. The fire had arrived. “Damn! Sherlock, it’s do or die time!” He pulled the man out from under the table, reversed his hold on Sherlock’s collar, and dragged him clear of the worst of the flames.
That quick rescue proved to be the last straw.
Sherlock barked, “What the hell are you doing!?”
A cook and several staff met him half-way across the dining room. “The front is blocked.” John shouted over the growing inferno. He was nearly yanked off his feet when Sherlock caught hold of his belt and used John’s body to lever himself up. John caught Holmes under one arm and pulled. “All right?”
“It’s burning.” He glanced around at red cinders the airflow was spreading through the room, seeing patterns.
He was still dazed.
“Stay by me.” John told him gruffly, and hacked for air in the first billows of smoke now falling around him. John didn’t know which way to go now. The men were no help. They milled, shouting in a language he didn’t understand, and gesticulating at the flames, deserted tables, and booths.
Sherlock got a good grip on John and shoved him forward. “Back door. This way,” Holmes had to shout above the smoke. Then barked the same command in what sounded like Chinese. Whatever he was shouting at them seemed to shock the staff around.
All eight of them hurried back through the kitchen and out into the alley behind. It was only then that John could hear things like his own laborious breathing, Sherlock swearing under his breath, and the dish-boy sobbing. Two of the young girls who had been waiting for orders kept thanking John and Sherlock, over and over.
Sherlock turned his head to look at the flickering glow staining the cobalt sky. “No, we can’t stay here. We need to keep moving, John. We need to stay out of-”
The door on the building opposite them in the narrow alleyway burst open. Several kitchen staff rushed out, all led by an older Chinese gentleman. He spotted one of the chefs and shouted in rapid-fire Cantonese. Then he took in their smoke-darkened, in some cases blood-stained circumstances, and John presumed, realized nothing he was saying mattered. These people had only just escaped with their lives. “Fire Service on the way – come in! Get inside! Come on!”
Along with the staff, John and Sherlock were herded into the neighbouring restaurant. They rushed through the back of the house and into a staff room.
Sherlock caught hold of John and led him around a corner to a men’s room. They collapsed against the wall inside and struggled to catch their breaths.
“You’ve got a-” John pointed at Sherlock’s forehead.
“Yeah-I-know,” He said in one exhausted exhalation.
Holmes was first to move from the door and start cleaning himself up. As he carefully swabbed his face of gummed blood – his jacket off, as it was still in good condition – John felt along his neck with careful fingers. There was nothing out of place, thank God. He pulled Sherlock’s head up a little and felt along the area of the cut.
“Damn-it-John!” Sherlock gripped the edge of the sink and curled over it. Muscle stood out across his wet shirt as he hung on. John couldn’t make it hurt any less. He had to know the extent of the damage.
He sighed in relief. “It’s a closed head wound.”
“Then get your fingers out of it!” Sherlock’s voice belled in the bowl of the sink.
John took his hands away and wiped them in a wet paper towel “You need stitches.” He went out in search of a First Aid Kit and found one in the room they’d left behind. He dressed a second degree burn there with quick efficiency and took the kit to Sherlock. He was ringing out his shirt over the sink. He looked furious about it.
“Two weeks old. Halston. And I’m bleeding all over it.” He flicked the shirt out right and pulled it on with a look askance at the kit. “Oh God I hope you’re not thinking of actually giving me stitches. There’s not enough Scotch in the building equal to the task.”
John winced as he pulled on a pair of the surgical gloves. “Sit still as you can. I’m going to clean it.” Sherlock buttoned up as he sat and let John go to work on the cut just above his hairline. “Well, I didn’t know you liked Scotch.”
“I like Scotch,” Sherlock said wincingly. He pushed on against the pain, “But old stuff, really. Otherwise, you know, there’s 30 year old Glenfiddich at the flat… you may not be aware. It’s not for any occasion…. Just because it’s good.”
John finished with swabbing and smiled at this. “Sherlock, I can’t put a butterfly in here.”
“I should hope not,” the man sniffed, but he knew that John meant butterfly tape. He cleared his throat a little. “Will it hurt a lot?”
“It will sting, but I’ll be quick.” John said ruefully.
To his credit, Holmes didn’t make a peep during the entire process of suturing the cut. His fingers, on the edge of the bench, were white-knuckled, but he bore it. With Sherlock squared away, John started cleaning himself up. This was quicker, more efficient, and yet somehow as thorough as when Sherlock had done the same. He was used to blood and war.
“All right?” Sherlock came back into the men’s room with bottled waters. He set one on the counter beside John and looked at him curiously.
“Well enough,” John knew he was bruising badly across his ribs and side, but that information would do nothing to help Sherlock, so he withheld it. “So…. What the hell was that?!”
Sherlock uncapped his drink. “Exactly what you think it was. Now we have to quietly get out of here. We can’t try the roof with so many firefighters around. The crowd is pretty thick though. We may be able to use them as cover to get to a cab.”
“Particularly if they think we’re both grilling next door,” John smoothed his shirt and pulled his jacket on over it again. Not as pretty as Sherlock had come out of it, but not at all bad. “And I don’t mean grilling in the good way.”
“There’s a good way?” Sherlock’s brows rose.
“Oh God, you’re not handy at all, are you?” It made John grin. “Let’s go.”
“Stay by me.”
“Don’t worry,” John’s hands flexed in air, avid for the feel of his gun. “I will.”
Smoke funneled down the alley outside the restaurant. Sherlock brought John to the right and they trotted through smoke and shadow, hands over their faces to keep from breathing in the soot, cinders, and motes of ash. It looked to John that the whole building was to be a loss. They exited into the flow of foot traffic headed away from the building, and the general milling of curious onlookers. Sherlock bobbed and darted, and John lost him for a number of seconds.
He crossed the street following his flatmate’s sudden reappearance in a sheltered doorway. John joined him in the narrow awning and they leaned there, gathering themselves, both of them sore and greatly battered.
John swigged the last of his water and laid the empty on the stoop, hoping someone would take it for a recycle. He looked at Holmes’ pale, tight expression. “Head hurting then?”
“I’ll live.” Sherlock looked him over critically, in two sweeps. “Side?”
“Honestly? Hoping to get back to the flat.” He had a little something in the fridge, and by ‘something’ he meant he’d seen Sherlock take enough of a pounding – had endured enough himself in the course of investigations – that he kept local anesthetic and syringes about. Lidocaine and very tricky bupivacaine phials sat in two of the egg cups in the fridge. In his own way, he was becoming as bad as Sherlock Holmes.
“Dangerous place for us to go right now.” Sherlock felt along his brow line, which was burningly tight with pain.
“We need to rest and think.”
“And we’ll do that,” Sherlock continued to watch him. His head tipped off to one side. He sped out the door.
“You see something?” John called after him, loath to move from that very spot.
“Yes,” Sherlock dropped his gloved hand and indicated the taxi pulling to the curb. “Our ride.” It was uncharacteristic, but Sherlock opened the door and waited for John to climb in first. He slid into the cab afterward, with a wince.
On the way to… wherever they were going… John had no idea and was in no fit condition to argue.
The cab hit a red light and Sherlock stepped out. “Go around the block. Pick me up on the other side.” He tapped the cab.
“Sherlock!?” John growled, but there was a light rain going now, and John didn’t want to have to deal with the chill. He sat in the cab and worried, but it was as simple as Sherlock’s statement. They went to the next light, and around the block, and there he was, waiting.
He climbed inside, smelling of the freshness of rain, and they were off again.
Within thirty minutes, Sherlock let the way into Sofia’s apartment. “I stole her spare keys from her night-table.” The lights were still on in the sunken dining room. The heat – never adjusted by the police – kicked in. It spread the steely smell of blood around the apartment until Sherlock opened a window.
“We can’t stay here.” John opened his arms and exclaimed.
“You think she’d have a problem with it?” Sherlock took off his gloves and looked in the fridge. He took out the milk carton and gave it a shake, then opened it for a sniff, and checked the date: perfectly respectable milk. Setting it on the table, he continued on with a bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice. “We’ve come to help her, John. I assure you, if she could, she’d put us up.”
Oh, she’d put Holmes up, all right. That was no kind of secret.
“You can’t just do that – go through her fridge like that.” John told his flatmate, but, honestly, was already sinking down on the couch. He sat warm, tired, and badly banged up – and not in the sense for which Sherlock would have used the term. His entire body throbbed with pain.
“I’m sorry, John.” Sherlock murmured as he took down glasses. “She’s not here to drink it, and might never be again.” And they needed it, given what they’d been through. Otherwise, every scrap of food would end up in the rubbish. When you died, it wasn’t as if someone was assigned to come in and clean up the blood, or donate your perishables to charity.
Sherlock’s hand froze on the bevelled glass before him – pale orange glass. She had green, yellow, and purple of the same stamp. Sofia found clear glass uninspiring.
Motivated by diversity.
Sherlock touched his forehead and cussed at his mind Oh shut up.
Getting it to stop made his head ache. Having won this single, non-essential, principally Pyrrhic victory against the prevailing avalanche of his thoughts, Sherlock decided to carry the milk and the painkiller to John and count himself as lucky. The pain in his head was bad enough to be nauseating, something he would need to hide from John right now, lest he do what so many loyal men would – forget his own comfort, and serve his liege. John Watson was annoyingly like a medieval knight in his altruism.
John opened his eyelids slowly to find he’d slumped against the large pillow at the end of Sofia’s futon. Now he rubbed his lids and looked at Sherlock. “Sorry. I’m sorry.”
Why was he…? Sherlock dismissed the bewildering comment and handed John a glass of milk and a white tablet. “Painkiller.”
“You should have it.” But John picked it up and took the glass of milk. He was in too much physical distress to argue. It was down the hatch before the next thought occurred to him. “Sherlock… what did I just take?”
“It’s 15mgs of co-codamol.”
“Ah, could you check again, Sherlock? She couldn’t have that in the house unless it was by prescription, because you can’t get that dose over the counter in this-” he froze and looked up at his flatmate, stretched tall overhead, sipping a pulpy glass of orange juice. After a moment’s loaded silence, Watson got up, strode to the door, and stuck his hands into the pockets of Sherlock’s long coat hung on one of the hooks there.
Holmes actually jumped. “What are you doing? Or… what do you think you’re doing?!” He set his glass down on the brevity of a living room table and stalked over to yank the coat away from John.
“You bought drugs,” John said curtly. “You got out of the car, you walked down the block, and you bought drugs.” He held up the baggies he’d found. “You know how I feel about this!”
“John,” Sherlock held up his hands and spoke slowly. “Those are not for me.”
“Is this all? Is there some cocaine on you?” Honestly, he felt he was about to pitch a fit. “Empty your pockets, Sherlock.”
Sherlock dropped the placating pose and fired back, “No!”
“So help me God,” John heard his voice rise, “if you don’t empty your pockets right now, I will walk out of here and go straight to Mycroft with these – these… what are these?”
“The first two are both co-codamol; a baggy of 15mgs and a baggy of 30, and low-dose, slow release hydrocodone.” Sherlock considered John quietly. “You’re in pain, John. Actually, you’re like a dog in pain: happy enough when someone looks in on you, but otherwise beset.”
“I’m like a what?” John said shortly. It didn’t help that his voice was practically a snarl. “Did you just compare me to a dog? Really?”
Sherlock blinked at him like he was an operant chimp behind glass: something in a study.
Observational skills. Matchless. Social skills. Also matchless. In that they were nil.
Sherlock walked back and picked up John’s abandoned glass of milk. He brought it over. “If somehow… that’s bad… it’s still not all bad. Dogs may be stupid, but they’re stupidly loyal. That is terribly valuable. Besides, John, you think you suffer quietly, but to me, your behaviour screams the difference. Since supper was ruined, you’ve tried not to move. That’s not who you are. Pain is changing who you are. Therefore-” he offered John the milk and took back the baggies of illegal pain meds, which he tucked into his coat pocket.
Sherlock was trying to help. Sherlock was being rational, and to his mind, John’s reaction was incoherent. Holmes had even drawn up a large glass of milk so that John wouldn’t feel nausea on taking the codeine. John took a slug of that milk, thinking of his stomach and how he’d always hated throwing up. “And… and you didn’t buy cocaine. I mean… did you know the person you bought this stuff from?”
“Yes, I did,” Sherlock’s expression became solemn. He motioned at the coat behind him. “I… couldn’t risk something unforeseen, like accidentally buying from police. I needed someone reliable for this.”
“And your… friend-”
“-didn’t offer you cocaine?”
Sherlock’s gaze averted and he spoke breezily. “Of course he did. He handed me an eight-ball. For free.” Then Holmes’ great green eyes came up and fixed on John. “I just didn’t take it.”
“You… okay. God. Thank you,” John sighed. He shut his eyes and felt himself relax. The pill was taking hold. His grinding pain was lifting so that he could move more freely. When he opened his eyes again, Sherlock was gone.
He could hear rustling, and then the tapping of Sherlock’s fingers on the keys of a laptop. Fine. That was fine. John checked the lock on the door, finished his milk, and kicked off his boots. It was dark in the front room, anyway. He silently thanked Sofia for the use of her futon, and pulled the blanket at the foot of it up over him.
A little late on, he thought he heard Sherlock run the shower, but, for the most part, John was heavily asleep. He didn’t dream about the war. With the drugs in his system, he didn’t dream about anything.
But he thought about Sarah.
When John woke, he found Holmes staring at the unfinished painting.
The coming sun folded back the haze and brought the lighting up on their night out now frozen on canvas. Sherlock’s head drooped a little. He was perched on the lone stool in the grey predawn.
“You haven’t been to bed.” John sat up with great difficulty and found a chilled glass of milk with another pill beside it, waiting. This, John thought, must be how gods feel when man leaves wine and cakes on their altar. It hurt to stretch, to move enough to pick up the milk and take the pill. Only when he’d hungrily finished the glass, did it occur to him this also meant Sherlock had thought of him.
John was the type who returned favours. Underneath it all, John sort of dreaded that he was exactly the loyal dog Sherlock had compared him to. Deep down, under the lessons life drummed into him, was a reservoir of his unconditional feeling. Pass through the houses of razors and jaguars, and one could reach it. Just where on that long walk was Sherlock? In the gloom? In the cold?
It made John wish he could help, because as hard as it was to get through to John Watson, was as difficult as it was – given Sherlock Holmes – to so much as find the first door.
He got stiffly to his feet and walked over to Holmes. His eyes were closed. Was he asleep sitting up? Precarious on the narrow stool! He shouldn’t startle the man. But he had to check the sutures, so John moved delicately.
There was blood in his hair. So there had been some bleeding in the night. If he’d showered, as John remembered, it had probably happened then. He took hold of Sherlock’s head and gently tipped it down a bit. Better angle for someone shorter than he was, perched on a stool.
Sutures were holding. There was some pinkness on the edges of the scar – a good healthy colour. It wouldn’t hurt to give it a little disinfecting. John touched the skin of Sherlock’s forehead right below the wound. It was bruising. This was expected. But the wound itself didn’t have that hot flush, or pale greenish glow he saw with infections.
Doing well. Thankfully.
“When the truck came through the window, according to what I’ve been able to put together, I struck the windshield. At that point, I started to black out and lost my grip on you. I’m aware, because of the physics involved, that you would have gone over the cab. I imagine you were thrown clear, out into the parking lot. I’m forced to assume that I rolled down the bonnet and was thrown into the tables. The table edge was how I hurt my head. I’d say we got very lucky, John. That wasn’t an accident.”
“We got lucky because you can’t sit still for a minute,” John stuck his hands in his pockets and told the man. “You have to be doing something at all times, even if all you seem to be doing is looking around.”
John felt envious. Holmes was neat, smelled fresh, and was cleanly shaven, even if his clothes smacked a bit of smoke. He still slumped with his arms crossed tight on his chest and his eyes closed. Because… he’d taken nothing for pain, John guessed. He’d caved in a windshield and been tossed into the furnishings. He needed to take a God damn pill. For that, Sherlock would need convincing. John had just the thing.
Sherlock’s eyes pricked wetly when John daubed the wound with alcohol. This was involuntary, and caused by the sharp sting. That didn’t make it any less strange.
Sherlock’s lips tightened. Muscles in his jaw worked, he was so angry.
John brought him a pill. “You have to take this, okay?”
His green eyes opened. Sherlock gave the stool a push, and pivoted away. He’d turned his back. “Those aren’t for me.”
John’s lip curled. Damn stool. He walked around it. Sherlock looked steadily at his chest rather than at the pill in his hand. For a moment, John Watson found nothing useful to say. Sherlock could be so difficult; things rested like a feather on a pin. He was so conscious of everything anyone said. John lowered his voice. “Don’t be a martyr, Sherlock.”
Dammit. John sucked a long, steady breath. “You can take this and nothing bad will come of it. I’m saying it’s okay.”
There was some small pause during which Sherlock’s hands flexed to wrap his arms tighter around the pain that had him hunched up. “What if I like it?”
“What if you…?”
“What if I like it a lot?” He looked at the floor off to one side.
Oh for God’s sake. What could he say to that? You won’t wasn’t going to cut it, not for this guy. So John did the only thing he could think of. He put out his left hand and wrapped it over the crown of Sherlock’s head. His curling hair was warm. “If you turn out to like these a lot, then we’ll handle it, but for Christ’s sake Sherlock… will you just do what I say?”
John could feel Sherlock sigh against the front of his shirt. Then Holmes extended a long hand. Victory. John put the pill into it and went to pour milk.
“Yes, and strawberry?”
“You want them together?”
“John, please,” Sherlock looked at him reproachfully. “Unless she has banana, it’s the best game in town. Everybody knows this.”
Everybody age 10 and under. John grinned as he poured up some chocolate-strawberry milk. He shuddered to imagine the sugar content. But then, his friend was so very thin, and needed sugars so very badly. John stood, hands on his hips, to watch Holmes take the pill. He knew exactly how fast the pain would begin to recede. Sherlock, poor sod, was in misery.
“So. What do we have?” John asked. “Why would someone, under any circumstances, ram their truck through a restaurant and burn up?”
“Oh. Bad job, John. Saw it on the news. No one burned up in the truck. In fact, the thing was stolen from a worksite. The driver was never caught. One witness describes seeing a relatively tall Caucasian man with brown hair exit the cab. A second describes a black haired man, shorter, possibly Asian.”
“Eyewitness testimony,” John rubbed his stubble and checked his watch.
“And it was smoky, and there was panic, ad nauseam.” Sherlock hugged himself again and shut his eyes. John got him off the stool and walked him to the futon.
“Look. Try to rest until the pill takes hold. I need a shower… and a shave too. God.”
Sherlock grinned at this. “Even your stubble is blond.”
John gave him a look. “Lie down and don’t take the piss out of me.” It amused Holmes. Not the desired effect. The genius laughed as he settled on Sofia’s futon.
“The loo is well stocked, you’ll find. Extra toothbrushes; extra god-awfully twee soaps; there are plenty of fresh razors,” Sherlock’s voice bubbled with mirth and a long hand flipped in air, “but they smell like candy-apple, or Creamsicle, or… estrogen. And they’re pink.” He settled back into the large pillow and sucked a breath that he held a moment before he exhaled slowly.
The pill was hitting.
Well, John didn’t give a damn the colour, as long as a razor worked. He wasn’t partial to two-tone brown and heaps of camouflage either, but it emphatically beat getting shot, so he’d worn it for years. Maybe the hot water would help with the stiffness.
He’d just cut the water when the door opened. “So fire. Either Sofia is psychic, it’s coincidental, or there is a possibility of more than one meaning to that clue of fire.” Somewhere out beyond the shower smoke and the steamy shower glass, Sherlock opened his hands in air.
“Trying to take a shower.” John pulled the towel on the door down into the stall and tossed Holmes a cross look.
“No you’re not. I waited until you were done. Now shut up, John, this is important. Hear me out. I searched. There’s no living record of Sofia Rothingham. Our Sofia Rothingham. There are two, but one married into the name, is 44, has two children, and is living in Leeds, and the other is in first school in Cornwall. No wonder I couldn’t find any mention of a Sofia Rothingham in reference to Ark-Co. I think she made herself up. There is, however, a Sophie Rothingham of Bedale, North Yorkshire, died when she was 7. That’s as close to our girl as I can come. These two could have lived within streets of one another, in fact, been childhood friends. Sophie would have been 21 later this year. But our girl… who knows how old she really is… well, I do. But I’ve been over her bedroom, and I can estimate her at about 24. But who cares – not relevant right now,” his long hands waggled in air at his temples a moment, as if erasing a whiteboard between his ears.
John smiled in spite of himself. That was the same age range he estimated to be Sherlock’s as well. Cozy. Well… it might have been. His expression darkened. Sherlock seemed to be thinking for a moment. Though his muscles protested, and his flesh was painted black and white like a pinto horse’s, John used the time to dry as economically as he could. Without the pills Sherlock had thought of, John knew he wouldn’t have been moving around right now. He would have needed to let the air passively dry him off. Speaking of which. “Time to go away, Sherlock. In light of this, we probably need to discuss this whole idea of me time-”
“Ohhhh, I’ve been a twit. Ark-Co. Fire.” Sherlock’s deep voice rolled through the shower all the way from the doorway. “What’s the obvious connection between these words, John?”
If he didn’t give this answer some thought, Sherlock wouldn’t go away.
“Well… if she’s 24 or so, she could have….” John straightened up and blinked. “She worked for them and they fired her.”
Sherlock’s voice had that low, gravelly warmth it took on when he was satisfied with something. He was hunching above his mobile phone, tapping away. “Yes, good. Very good, John! They have multiple University Hire Programmes. One of their College Outreaches is to Askham Bryan, which has a campus in Bedale; they’re looking for nurses... and… according to Ark-Co Online they only College-hire the best and brightest.”
“So we know the year she would have graduated,” John gave up and climbed out swathed in a massive towel – pink with tea roses. The girl liked her towels. And her pink.
“We do,” Sherlock nodded and turned to show John the phone extended on his long, indefatigable arm. “Plug that into Askham Bryan’s school records for Top Ten Most Proficient and you have… six names, John. One of these girls is Sofia. I just need photos. Yearbooks. Something. I’ve been all over the apartment – she doesn’t have anything. On the Internet there’s a photo here and there, but nothing from her year so far, and nothing solid.” Sherlock’s hand dropped to his side and he exclaimed. “Have these people never heard of Facebook?”
John barked with laughter and had to catch one bit of the towel.
Sherlock’s eyes widened. “Oh my God, you’re…. Your side, it’s...” his free hand waggled in air, “purple, like a plum.” Holmes looked grim for a moment, before he bounced forward again. His tone was low and serious, “John, look, maybe you should sit this next part out. We should take you to see Sarah. She can-”
“No she can’t.” John said leadenly. “It just needs to heal, Sherlock. That’s all.”
“I think, John – I believe going to Sarah with something like this is a wise-”
“No, damn it, Sherlock, will you just try to think, for once!” John snapped. He regretted it immediately.
Sherlock had gone still. Sherlock always thought. John knew he did. So he could deduce that by ‘think’ John probably meant something else, something esoteric enough to require the quick shorthand. Knowing John, he very likely meant feel. Sherlock rarely felt his way through things. He simply did them. Faced with this, Sherlock wasn’t sure what to do. “Not right, yes? Did something wrong?”
God. John looked at the floor searchingly and wondered if he’d hurt his flatmate. Probably not, he judged: Sherlock Holmes was unassailable. Or kept a lot inside. If that was so…. “Sorry. Sorry for that. That was… yeah. And, Sarah, see, she doesn’t know yet. Sofia’s her friend, and I haven’t – I don’t know how to tell her I forgot about the note, and now Sofia’s, uh-” John didn’t want to reach the end of that line. How dismal it sounded. And was.
Sherlock smoothed his jacket absently, turned, and left the hallway without a word.
It wasn’t personal. He was finished with the conversation.
John joined him in the front room some minutes later. He was standing just past the stairs and studying the bloody walls. As soon as John came to a stop behind him, Holmes half-turned and looked up at him. “John… we have to tell Sarah.”
He didn’t say anything more. Instead, he walked up the stairs and clapped John on the shoulder before he went to his coat hanging on one of the hooks on the back of the door. “Problem one.”
John walked out in his wake and watched Sherlock stab the lock with Sofia’s key and give a deft twist of his wrist. He didn’t move like anyone else John had ever met. That was part of his magic. When he turned off those movements and ‘became someone else’ through his art of disguise, he could become just about invisible.
Sherlock looked aside at John. “The state of her dining room indicates a very bloody event. The rug is missing. Natural expectation is that the body is rolled in the rug and removed. That’s the simplest explanation.” He turned and leaned his long frame on the door. “Do you know what’s bothersome about this, John?”
John opened his arms, “Where do I begin?”
Now Holmes cocked his head. He gave the floor a tap with the heel of his excellent shoe. John looked down at it. “Noise? I mean, are you bothered that it would have made a ton of noise?”
“Artists are a noisy lot, lugging equipment in and out. Besides, inspiration is never quiet. Think about the floor John. Think about gravity.” Sherlock blew past John as if not a millimeter of his body knew the meaning of discomfort. John still felt sore and out of sorts, but he’d had many a day like that in the field, so he soldiered on. That’s what he was, after all.
John walked away a few steps on with his frown on the floor as he went. A sudden snapshot of the surgery in Afghanistan flickered through his memory and then his head came up. “Blood. There should be blood on the floor. I mean… there would be no cleaning up the drops from wood plank.”
“They could have wrapped her in a tarp. One assumes she painted on her deck since she had an easel out there. She had a few waterproofed tarps inside that would have protected a 5x5 canvas from the elements.” Sherlock said and then added. “However, the two I saw were in her bedroom. Nothing there appears to have been disturbed.”
He pushed the button and waited then shoved the filigreed steel door for the lift aside. When he stepped in, he immediately got the sliding pocket magnifier out. Sherlock studied the buttons and closed the thing to turn his attention to the floor.
“Tile is old enough to have cracks and a lot of wear,” John remarked. “It would show blood.”
“Not to mention the fact the dirt on this floor is weeks, maybe months old. It hasn’t been cleaned.” he muttered. “She had a large injury. She was bleeding.” He plucked his bottom lip and postulated.
Body in tarp.
Tarp in rug.
Two layers between victim and open air.
Clumsy to move.
Impossible to control pooling and flow of blood.
High probability of blood escaping.
No blood drops outside of dining room.
“How did they get her out?” he muttered to himself. Sherlock refused the lift. He walked down the fretful wood stairs, suspended, as they were from a tall rectangle of solid brick, air slowly swirling around his ankles, seeing as the staircase wasn’t enclosed.
John shuddered a little when he looked down. Then he realized. “So, Sherlock. I have no idea how they got her out of here. I mean, there should be some sign. What does that mean?”
“Means we’re going around back,” Sherlock said. “No matter how improbable the means, the person who did this left the building with a rug, and a woman. Period.” Sherlock rubbed his forehead and winced.
“Yeah, don’t do that.”
Sherlock paused by the front door, “Itchy.”
“Don’t scratch,” John reached in his pocket and took out an alcohol swab. “Don’t scratch while it’s trying to heal. If it gets bad, you need to clean it with this. It’ll help.”
Holmes rolled his eyes and refused the tiny package with the alcohol towelette inside. This meant that, an hour and a half later, after he’d been up and down what seemed like every inch of the alley more times than John cared to count, Sherlock sat on a stoop with his long legs extended before him as John swabbed the injury. With it cleaned, John folded the swab and pressed it to Sherlock’s forehead. He held it there and smirked as Sherlock fidgeted. It wasn’t pain, but relief. His usually roving pale green eyes were shut lightly.
Eventually, he sighed, “I wish I wasn’t like this.”
“Hurt?” John nodded in agreement. “I wish you weren’t too.” He looked up at the blue sky, rolling with clouds, up above the valley of buildings they sat in. Peaceful day. Kind of.
Sherlock’s green eyes half-opened, “No, I meant human.”
John’s image of the blue above, the sunny day, and the pleasure of his flatmate’s genius went dim. He suffered a deep chill, but like the body wave of an earthquake event, it was far down in his interior. “What else would you be?”
Sherlock looked into his hands, “Something better than this.”
John stepped away and tossed the swab in the trash – he thought Sherlock already was. He glanced back, “We should head somewhere. Get you some fluids.”
“I’m not ready yet.”
John’s lip curled. “What does that mean?”
“It means we’re not done here yet.” His pale eyes followed something else in the alley.
When John turned, he saw a teenaged girl with a bloody mouth and chin was limping along the span between buildings toward them. Sherlock had already been watching her approach.
“Hey!” John called out to her. She slowed, which was the natural reaction of a young woman hailed in an alleyway by two strange men. John pointed at his lip. “I’m a doctor. Can I take a look at your abrasions?”
Sherlock rose from the steps, which made John curse inwardly. His razor-like stare and six foot plus frame did nothing to reassure the girl. This was clear from the way her hands gripped the handles of the bike. But she also looked curious about him.
Holmes sized her up for a moment, tucked his hands in his pockets, and walked over toward her. His eyes were now on the sky blue bicycle she pushed along with her.
“And they call them comfort bikes,” Sherlock frowned at the large wheels. “Full-length chain guard would have been a wiser option…. I can fix that.”
“At least as well as Doctor Watson, over there, can fix the scuff on your chin,” Sherlock said with a glance of practiced sympathy. It was something he’d picked up from television. “I’d be a little more worried about the sprained ankle you’re walking around on.”
“He’s really a doctor?” She glanced his way.
“He really is,” Sherlock glanced around the other side of the bike. “You took a tumble. Looks like you nearly had a collision. Red paint on the back freehub-”
“A guy cut in front of me to make a corner before the lights!” She pointed a herself with a jagged fingernail. “Not my fault. I ended up all over the walk. Look at my face!”
Sherlock sized her face up and determined, “He deserves a scratch. John?”
“Here,” John didn’t pay any attention to the bike. He was looking at the girl’s ankle. He shifted his attention to inspect her face. “Ah, what a right bastard that driver was. You could have hit your head without a helmet.”
She flushed and glanced at where Sherlock laid a hand on the bike.
“Hey, don’t try anything funny, big guy. I live in this building,” she pointed at the one beside them, opposite Sofia’s. It must have been a bit confusing when Sherlock told her ‘I know’, but she was in enough physical discomfort that she agreed to hobble off and sit on the step Sherlock had occupied, so that John could get a better assessment.
“Hit your head?” John asked her.
“Landed on my face.” She said darkly. She had a small, pretty face – possibly part Asian.
Sherlock carried over the bike. It looked curiously small with him. He sat on the stoop beside the girl and turned the bike upside down so that it stood on its seat and handlebars. Sitting before it, he inspected the wheels first.
John caught hold of her head.
“Hey! Don’t do anything, I’m warning you!” she wailed.
“Relax,” Sherlock told her conversationally. “We’re with the police. You’ve seen them about, yes? Yesterday evening and they’re back this morning?”
“Yeah,” she let John move her head about on her neck. “Police have doctors on staff?”
“I have,” Sherlock glanced back at her. “I’m a specialist. A Consulting Detective working with Scotland Yard and the City Police. How’s her head?”
“Good,” John sighed and peered into her face. “Her pupils even and reacting to light, normally. You need to get a helmet, miss.”
“Okay, dad.” She scoffed in retort.
Sherlock smiled at this and John gave him a hard look. At the very least, he turned away to hide his amusement, and went back to the bike. John took out another alcohol towelette and went to work on the young woman’s chin. Surprisingly, there was no complaint of the sting, though she did look grim.
After a moment, the girl asked, “So why are the police up in that apartment?”
John paused and glanced at Sherlock so quickly he could feel the wind of his half-turn. Sherlock was entirely unsurprised. “You live on the fourth floor. When you came into the alley, I saw you look up at your window.”
The girl froze, “You… did?”
“I did.” Sherlock picked up a nearby fragment of wood and jabbed the stuck bike chain with it.
Sheepishly she said, “I saw you too. I saw you on the balcony yesterday afternoon, you know, where the artist girl usually stands before she paints stuff.”
Sherlock looked the young woman’s way, “Her name is Sofia. Her loft is full of paintings, so many, in fact, that they hang from wires on the ceiling. It’s engulfing.”
The girl sat back slightly, out of John’s ministering hands, clearly trying to imagine.
Meanwhile, John blinked. From the ceiling? They did? He… hadn’t noticed.
The girl nodded. “Yeah… I admire that. Artists, I mean. I respect them.”
“So you would watch out for her. She never knew this, but you would check on her, wouldn’t you. That’s your nature. You’re like Doctor Watson, here: the protective type. Another person would have run the bike into the car rushing at them and then pinned the driver for a small fortune, but you couldn’t do this. It’s against your ethical system.” Sherlock turned away from the bike and picked up her hand. He turned it over in his much larger white palm and pointed at a tattoo on her wrist. “Tattoos are so easy, so autobiographical. Modern simplified Chinese for mountain.”
She blinked and showed him her other wrist.
“Flower,” he said. “So you see yourself as very strong but also welcoming, companionable. You are responsible. So you checked on Sofia as a matter of course. When I showed up on her balcony-”
“Yeah, so, I’ve never seen anyone else up there. Let alone a guy.” She glanced over Sherlock. “I thought you might be, you know, her boyfriend or something, but she didn’t come out.”
“No,” Sherlock released her hand and looked off to her left. “She didn’t. She’s missing. So tell me… what did you see?”
John finished cleaning the cut in her chin and carefully pasted the butterfly bandage in his back pocket over it. He moved on to her lower lip.
“I didn’t see anything.” She said… and then paused. “The lights were on all night over there. I mean, that’s not right. It’s not like I know her, but.”
Sherlock told the girl. “Trust your wits. It isn’t right. Tell me what you saw.”
“Shadows on the blinds, like two or three almost like… fussing with the blinds – like she doesn’t have people over there that I’ve ever seen, and here are all these guys-”
“So two or three men?” Sherlock waved John’s efforts off and interjected.
“Yeah,” she looked up at the building beside them and thought. “Something else, too, I thought I heard something hit the ground. It was really late, but I thought I heard something. Just it’s dark as pitch in this alley at night, you know, at this time of year?”
“There aren’t lamps,” Sherlock motioned around him.
“Right, just the door-light halfway down, and that light-bulb has been out for about a year. I know because, I can sleep with my curtains open now.” It made her frown. “I didn’t get up, you know, because it was so late. I… I wonder if anyone else did.” She looked up at Sherlock and had to blink away the beginnings of tears. “You think that was her… don’t you?”
“Did it sound soft, and like it had give?” Sherlock asked her.
“It sounded like the noise you get when someone throws down a big stack of newspapers, before you cut the plastic ties that keep them together? Like… heavy and muffled. It was so loud though, I mean, how stupid could they be?” She rubbed an eye and hunched up, unhappily.
“Oh,” John nodded at her as he returned to attending to her lip. “I’ve worked with Sherlock, here, for a while now. I’m sorry to say that, in that time, I’ve learned never to undervalue the stupidity of the human mind.”
Her expression was stark at the sentiment.
“Speaking of which, you have a sprained ankle. I expect you to go upstairs, have your parents take you to the nearest surgery, and for you to follow the doctor’s orders, okay? You want to protect someone, start with yourself. You won’t be much of a mountain if the foothills can’t hold you up.”
“Yeah, funny,” she told him wryly. “Thanks, doc.”
Sherlock finished fiddling with the chain and turned the bike over. He lifted it up and put it on the landing. John held the door for the girl to go inside. The bike now made the telltale proper clicking as she leaned on it and navigated the hall of the apartment complex.
“If you hear about anything else,” John detained the girl a moment, “call Scotland Yard and ask to leave a message for Sherlock Holmes.” He stood in the doorway to be sure she made it to the lift all right, and raised a hand in parting as she smiled from inside.
When he turned, he was forced to fall back against the door lest he stomp on one of Sherlock’s paws. Holmes had collapsed over the stairs, head thrown back, and arms extended above him, like a happy housecat in the sun. The expression on his face was nothing short of beatific.
“What are you doing?” John admonished, “And why are you grinning?”
Sherlock ruffled his dark hair a little before he sat up and got to his feet. “Let’s get you some breakfast, shall we?” He stuck his hands in his pockets and wandered away.
“Wait-wait!” John minced along behind him, still too stiff to make much of go of running. “You were not grinning contemplating my bloody breakfast, Sherlock. Don’t be coy!”
“God. Me. Coy.” He actually opened his arms and started laughing.
“Sherlock, fine, then don’t be cryptic – that better.” John scurried in beside the man. “And the … the ‘Mountain/Flower’ girl, why don’t I feel like she’s a coincidence?”
“Because she’s not.” Sherlock walked and watched John. “But there is an element of luck here. Yesterday, on the balcony, three people watched me from across the way, but she’s the only one who really seemed to mean it. Those few seconds’ observation kept nagging on me until I realized she knew something was wrong. How could she know that? She’d watched over here before. She knew something unusual was going on. Maybe she thought Sofia had moved and was simply curious, maybe she wondered at all the police cars, but... what if she’d seen something? What if she wasn’t sure what she’d witnessed? Well… looking at her age, and the hour of the day, as well as the relative position of this apartment, this is the most likely point of exit and entrance for her. Simply hunting two birds with one stone – search the alleyway; see if I lucked into the girl. And luck. Very good luck.”
“Something to smile about, I guess,” John said guardedly.
“Oh that wasn’t it.” He turned and walked backward in front of John for several steps. “I was grinning because Sofia’s not dead. Now let’s breakfast, shall we?” He spun in a belling out of his designer coat. “Could really use a cup of tea.”
John couldn’t sit still, couldn’t look at her, as Sarah crossed the filtered sun of the deli to arrive at their table. Once she’d found him, recessed as they were, she’d hurried over to him and pulled a chair for herself. John, staring disconsolately at the paper mat before him, felt more than saw her fingers reach out and fold over his joined hands.
“Sherlock called me. John, will you look at me? What’s happening? What’s wrong?”
John gathered himself before he turned his gaze to her. She was so pretty and soft. Her long hair was currently pinned back in a fabric flower clip that looked like a pale blue rose and a pair of buds. Why did she seem, to him, to be across the Channel when she was right in front of him? Sarah seemed, somehow, to respond to this. She reached out a hand and smoothed her fingertips across one of his eyelids, gently as a breeze. They came away with tears.
“John,” she sounded breathy. “You’re scaring me.”
“Worst part is… it doesn’t get any better.” John sucked in air and steeled himself. “Sarah, I inadvertently created a situation… and Sofia’s missing. I don’t know if she’s alive or dead.” He didn’t add that it was not looking good.
Sarah’s body went rigid with unpleasant surprise. In fact, John could feel her fingers stiffen inside his hands. He didn’t release her, and had no plans to unless she forced the matter. The sounds of the moderately full deli around them, the terror in her eyes, and some score or other of Bond’s looping overhead, became the soundtrack for this horrible, vaguely mad, and definitely stomach-grinding moment.
“What are… you going on with?” Sarah shook her head. “No, John. I talked to Sofia, Friday.”
“Sarah, I’m so sorry. The trouble she was having, the issues Sherlock conjectured she was facing, back in spring… they caught up with her. She sent a letter, but I was taking care of him, you know, after The Photography Club case. I held it back from him…. She’s gone, and I honestly don’t know if she’s dead or alive. I’m so sorry.”
“Sherlock, don’t.” John swung toward Holmes’ deep voice, and Sherlock stopped his advance on the table and backed up a few steps.
Sarah got to her feet and turned in Holmes’ direction.
Hurriedly, Sherlock offered her a coffee. She ignored it and stared wordlessly at him. Of a sudden, her great, round eyes spilled out tears. They slid down her lower lashes and leapt for it, onto her coat.
Sherlock backed up and sucked a breath. “John. Get up here.”
John did exactly that. He rose from his seat and wrapped his arms around Sarah from behind. She caught hold of his hands around at her waist and shuddered silently, a strong woman, a staunch confidante, and devoted to her friends. To lose one was a staggering blow for her. John could hardly bear to touch her having been the cause of this misery. If she’d slapped his hands away, he would have been able to understand the sentiment.
“All right, I’m okay....” Sarah squeezed John’s hands as a signal she’d had enough and he released her. Reluctantly. “Let me think,” she said a bit brokenly, for several seconds, no one moved, and then she stepped forward. Her head rose. She considered Sherlock Holmes before her. He looked unmoved and supremely confident. Not careworn in the least.
And what he said was, “Don’t want coffee, then?” He offered a cup again.
Sarah gave a little burst of laughter and glanced at John to check if he’d heard the same. That much, John could nod to confirm. “Coffee,” Sarah took both cups from Sherlock and passed them to John to set on the table. Unoccupied, Sherlock’s hands sank down beside him, just like the emotions that coloured him had faded. When Sarah returned her gaze to him, it left nothing between them but the blatant power of his full attention. Men had withered under that gaze.
But Sarah Sawyer frowned, glided forward, and slipped her arms around Holmes. His frame stiffened, but he stayed put. Her face was in his chest, which left him little to read with those great green scanners of his. “I’m sorry, Sherlock,” she said.
That part of him – the pure spectator – shut down, and Sherlock finally touched her. He set his long hands on the upper arms of her smart little coat, and rubbed gently. He told her, “Sarah, I see it in your face. I’m doing it. You needn’t be desperate for my help….”
She stepped back and straightened herself, then returned to the table. There, she sank in one of the plain wood chairs and took up the coffee Sherlock had bought her in shaking hands. She was mildly amazed that it was her favourite.
When Sherlock’s fingers came to rest against John’s shoulder, he jumped. He’d been so fixed on how Sarah was holding up. “Sit down, John.”
“What? Me?” John glanced up at his flatmate.
“You look… wobbly. Sit.” Sherlock nodded. John took the seat across from Sarah.
They had a recessed table. Doing this in a public place had been Sherlock’s insistence, a safety valve, John felt, for Sherlock’s own unsightly emotions. It had worked, in its way, and this small corner had given them what shelter it, and its half-wall, could.
Holmes dropped into the chair beside Sarah and turned in her direction. He leaned with his head tipped to one side and peeked around her hair. “You should both eat now. Emotions are… overtaxing.”
“My appetite’s done,” Sarah glanced at him ruefully. Her eyes still glittered with tears.
“Lovely. I ordered a basket of chips,” Sherlock told them. “Should be by soon. Not eating will do nothing to improve the situation.”
“I have to say I’m gutted, Sherlock.” John shook his head.
“But you’ll still have to eat. You have a lot in front of you.” Sarah glanced across at him sympathetically. “Besides, you would never harm Sofia intentionally, John. Whatever else came to pass, you don’t have it in you. Right now, please just let’s focus on helping Sherlock to find her.”
“You have work.” John pointed out.
She blinked and then said quite candidly. “One of my friends is missing and may be dead. I’m going to do whatever’s required to get her back.”
Sherlock now gazed at the menu on the table and smiled quietly. He didn’t dare speak a word about that last declaration, seeing as John was uneasy about Sarah’s involvement in any of their cases. John was queasy when he thought of Sarah Sawyer getting mired in this one. But Sherlock’s green gaze slid to the left, and Sarah’s aqua blues to the right, and, between them, sealed a contract.
She was in before the basket of chips arrived. When it did, the serving was huge with three types of hand-made deli dipping sauce. The smell was delicious enough that it made John shiver.
Sarah swallowed hard. “What? No pork scratchings?” She rubbed her red and tearstained face.
Sherlock pushed the menu her way, “I’ll bring you whatever you like. Just…”
“I’m sorry,” she told him. “I won’t cry again. Where are we in the investigation?”
“City Police involved me yesterday at 6:30 PM. It took some time to realize this was Sofia’s place. Sarah, I warn you, there is a lot of blood. I’m still figuring out what it means and I may have a job for you to that end, it depends on how the day goes.”
“Okay,” she said with a nod. It was all she could manage.
Sherlock continued. “She left me a very interesting note,” he flashed the pink paper at her and Sarah sat up with a blink, “with the clues ‘2009’, ‘fire’, and ‘Ark-Co’ written inside. In fact, I may have a job for you to-”
“Stop,” John rubbed his face. “Just, can we not sink Sarah deeper and deeper in this mess?”
“John,” she turned his direction. “I swear, you are the kindest, sweetest man I’ve met, but if you don’t stop doing that, I’m going to box your ears for you. Sherlock, carry on.”
Holmes seemed rather daunted by her now. “Well. I was… going to add that Sofia appears to be a 24 year old ex- employee of Ark-Co. Whatever happened to her, she felt the need to change her entire identity. Sofia Rothingham isn’t her real name. Given the situation she adopted it.”
“She,” Sarah shook her head and frowned, “How do we know she hasn’t just done the same thing all over again? Things were going wrong, so she just vanished out of one identity and jumped into another.”
John spread his hands, “Well, she was pretty committed to this new life she’d built. You should see her paintings – amazing stuff. She had a strong friendship with you. And she really wanted to see Sherlock again.”
“Mawkish, John. There are reasons why. For one, even leaving your old life, there are things you take with you, preparations you would need to make. Secondly, there were men seen in her apartment, and-” Sherlock sat slowly upright. He seemed to be considering something.
“And why did you say she’s still alive?” John opened his hand on the table. “We know the dining room rug is missing. We know that it was dropped off the balcony. Why do you say she’s alive because of that?” He glanced apologetically at Sarah, “Logically speaking, her body still could have been inside.”
Sherlock’s lips suddenly tugged into a half smile. “Ah…” he said breathily and closed his eyes. Sherlock put his head down, smiled, and murmured, “Ah, dazzling.”
John and Sarah looked at one another, askance. Sherlock seemed to be in the throes of some kind of private passion.
John tapped the table top. “Uh, in public, Sherlock.”
“Who cares?” Holmes sat up quickly enough that it made them both jump. “If you, and three uni mates, say, killed a woman and tucked her in a rug to hide her, would you chuck it off the fourth floor of the building and leg it outside to collect it? Or would you, for example, worry that the rug might come undone on the way down and spill out the body? Or that the loud sound that would result would cause it to be noticed? And if the body had slid free, you know… how does that look to you?”
John sat back and thought about it. “I wouldn’t do that, I mean, to begin with, of course, but even hypothetically.” He started in on the chips. “It looks insane.”
“What if Sherlock was in the alley,” Sarah dipped her fingertip gingerly in a white sauce and tasted it. Her brows went up a moment, indicating it was good. “You know, ready to ferry it away.” She stabbed chips with her fork and pulled the white dip her way.
“Bit of a better picture, I admit,” John nodded. “I mean, I could drop the rug, and just leg it out of there and take the tubes if I wanted. Well, presuming I wasn’t covered in lots of blood.”
“Oh no problem,” Sherlock grinned at him. “You’re so good, you walk on air, John, and so you don’t track a single drop outside of the dining room area.” Sherlock’s gaze rolled over the chips for a moment and muscles flickered in his cheek. John wondered if he ever got hungry.
Then he frowned and told Holmes, “Yeah only that would take an angel, or a devil. I’m neither of those. And it’s not how bloody scenes work. I’ve been in – or… just know that I know.” John rubbed his eyes to try to dismiss the gore-soaked memories of Afghanistan’s surgeries.
“Yes. I know you do,” Sherlock agreed with him and sat back. “Even if you had watched the building for weeks, as these men must’ve, and you knew it was pitch dark in that alleyway late at night, there is the question Why? If I wanted her dead, I could go into the flat, break her neck, and throw her off the balcony. Such damage could be explained as a consequence of the fall – the lofts have 14 foot ceilings; Sofia is four storeys up, that’s quite high enough to result in a broken neck. Now, what did they do?” He opened his hands before him and dropped them to the table. The action might have been Sherlock setting down a box containing his deductions.
His rapt audience didn’t answer. Or move.
“Think now. They go in. They have a little chat, or a little threat, that ends in damage to Sofia. Then they control the bleeding, get it stopped. They are able to remove her from the front room without tracking blood.”
John was shaking his head.
“I know,” Sherlock held up a hand to his flatmate. “Bear with me. They clean Sofia and take her out of the building. My money, and the fact Ark-Co is involved, says that she’s drugged. However, she leaves, more or less under her own steam. She’s out of the building before the remaining man rolls up the rug and pitches it off the balcony. Why take the rug? Because this will make it seem as though she’s been murdered and the body has been relocated inside of it. But the rug is incidental – it might have been a suitcase, the tarps, or even her bed’s duvet, just something that could hide a body. Out in the alley, a car was sitting waiting – I noticed the tire tracks because they were so unusually close to the wall. I thought it strange, as you wouldn’t be able to open the driver side door. But it’s not a problem when the driver has no intention of getting out. It would have put the car deep in shadow in the earlier hours of the night, say midnight to 1 AM? It was invisible until it coasted out of the alley. So, the rug goes in the boot; and Sofia goes in the back.”
“Not in the boot.” John sighed softly. “So….”
“So they need her for something.” Sherlock nodded. “The man who tossed the rug was the last out of the building. You can bet he was moving. He’d choose the lift over the creaky stairs. Possibly, he took a second car, but there’s no evidence of that outside of the logistics of kidnapping a woman when you already have four people in a car, also, the redundancy of a second car if the first experiences trouble is highly logical. It is an engineer’s move. Similarly, one individual took the riskiest action, that’s tossing a rug that would have been very challenging to move. It was expedient, and it was the last thing done. The rug did wake some of the building next door, but it wouldn’t have fit in the lift, and, frankly, would have been dangerous on that staircase.”
“But isn’t getting three men into her apartment at that hour of the night riskier, if she had no reason to trust them?” Sarah opened her hands. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… if Ark-Co is involved-”
“-and if she knew they were from Ark-Co, or not, a woman doesn’t let in three men at that hour, Sherlock. She had no reason to trust them.”
“You’re thinking about it backwards. They knew her schedule. They’d been watching her for weeks, Sarah: they’d caught her, so there was no need to rush. Getting copies of her keys, letting themselves in, it’s all very simple, and you can even hire someone to do it for you. They were already in her home when she arrived. That negates much of the risk.” He picked up his phone.
Sarah uncovered her lips and told him. “Some Fridays she volunteered at a blood bank, you know, getting people in and out, helping them through the process, cleaning the place up. She would have been there late, around 11 o’clock.”
“Sherlock suspects she was a nurse.” John added.
It struck Sarah as odd, but only for a moment. “It would explain quite a few things she’s known.” She wiped off her lower lid. “She was fascinated whenever we talked about the clinic.”
Holmes stopped tapping on his phone and leaned back in his seat. “And the argument in Sofia’s didn’t really stir her neighbours. Means… it had to be much quieter than the scene suggests. But if they got in, controlled her, and subdued her quickly. And they took her and the rug out as expediently as they could…. Adequate planning, but poor execution with the blood; there was so much of it, none of it tracked around. Well, apart from police.” He shook his head.
John noted. “With that much blood, she’s still in serious danger.”
“Certainly, if it’s all hers,” Sherlock’s lips compressed a moment. “They were doing something with the blinds. What was on the blinds?”
John noted, “Looked like arterial splatter.”
“No smearing. No signs of clean-up. If you aren’t cleaning them up, what are you doing, John? Looking out at the next building? Possible, but risky. Or you could be squirting the blood on there to begin with.”
Sarah’s eyes widened. “What if it’s not all hers? Could someone else have been bleeding?”
“God, woman. Think. I bet they brought some to the party, freshly squeezed.” Sherlock told her.
John turned toward Sarah Sawyer’s now optimistic face. “So the job you want Sarah to do wouldn’t be collecting blood samples, would it? Lots of samples?” He glanced to Holmes.
“But you can do that! I don’t have a badge. I can’t even get in there.” She exclaimed. However, there was no masking the determination stamped all over her features.
“Of course you can. I’ll take you in,” Sherlock said quickly. “And you’ll need to deliver the samples to St. Bart’s for me. Molly Hooper is the person. Tell her Sherlock Holmes sent you. And… expect her to be overly interested in who you are.” He flapped a hand in air.
Sarah didn’t know exactly how to interpret this so she shook it off and continued. “I still don’t see why you wouldn’t do it?”
“Oh, we’re supposed to be dead right now. Seen the news? That Thai restaurant that burned not far from the Central Library?” Sherlock told her.
“Ohmigod,” she breathed. “You two were there?”
Unlike John, Sherlock eased back to dodge the hand Sarah reached for him, it almost looked like an accidental confluence. “Yes. A truck ploughed through the front wall in a respectable attempt to crush us, ergo, the furthest, darkest corner of this frankly too-beige deli. Far too beige. Speaking of which, have John show you his side when you have a chance: lovely shade of puce.”
“Sherlock.” John said warningly. He hadn’t been with Sarah yet, in fact. He really didn’t want her first glimpse of him half-dressed to be with that clinical stare she could don, or worse, to be full of pity.
Sarah doggedly refused to let the magnitude of their news so distress her that it would throw her off course. It was a decision so conscious John could fairly see the effort of it crossing her mind, on her face. No doubt Sherlock could read it easily. “Then I’m… I’m getting us a cab then,” she said stoutly and wiped her hands in the paper napkins on the edge of the table. “John, we need to get you painkillers.”
“I have some.”
“Is Sherlock all right?” and, knowing Sherlock was loath to take pills of any kind, she fixed Holmes with a glare. “Are you listening to John?” She watched Sherlock wither down in his chair, and his expression go sour.
“He’s good,” John smoothed the ruffled waters between the pair of them. “He’s on top of it.” He hoped that was true. Sherlock would, after all, have to agree to another pill not long from now. On an empty stomach the codeine was nauseating.
“If that’s the case,” Sarah raised her head and inhaled, “we’re going to Sofia’s so that I can get started with the collection as soon as possible. We need to find her. I’ll fetch a cab. Stay here, boys.” She nodded and walked out of the deli.
John sat in silence a moment, sun checkering the remains of the empty chip basket in front of him, which still smelled ridiculously good. He let his mind rest, just let it sit empty.
“What is?” John looked up to find Sherlock’s gaze preoccupied with the menu on the table. He idly flipped a page.
After a heartbeat or so, Sherlock said. “Sarah.”
John felt himself still. “Really?”
Sherlock only nodded.
“How… do you mean, not bad?” John asked quietly.
He’d stewed about Sherlock’s feelings, or lack thereof, for months. It seemed Holmes could take, or leave, his flatmate on any given day. So how did Sherlock feel about him living in the flat? Also, did the abuse he faced from police ever penetrate? Was he just an associate of John Watson’s, or was something deeper, maybe even not platonic, going on with him? And now this? ‘How does Sherlock feel about Sarah’ had scarcely darkened John’s door, compared to his oft confused suspicion she was somehow seeing two men at once: John, by choice; Sherlock – oh, John didn’t know – hopefully parasitically? Only Sarah didn’t seem averse to it. Just look at the man: bloody exceptional; irritatingly tall; exhilarating as all hell, plus the looks. John shut his eyes and willed himself not to start that foolishness.
Sherlock closed the menu and rose from the table. John followed his quick motions as they flowed together in spite of the physical pain he still had to be in. It was when Holmes joined Sarah outside and slipped through the door of the cab she stood beside, that John realized he’d already missed his window.
Lestrade was among the bustle of police on the crime scene. More precisely, he was standing at the top of an alley talking to Sally Donovan, whose expression was tight and stressed. John figured she really had no business being here, this region being outside of Met jurisdiction, the scene being SIO Warren’s, but it wasn’t going to be Sherlock’s problem for once. They were on the wrong side of the building for it, so neither of them saw Sherlock heading inside. John found this rather humorous considering the choke-chain the DI could make of his presence. Apparently, he was too occupied in dealing with Donovan.
“That’s Sally there,” John noted of the woman. “Remember Sally?”
The corners of Sarah’s lips drew down. “The one who calls him Freak? I’d rather not, thanks.” Her tone held the kind of cold that John found only a woman’s could.
John couldn’t quite conceal his approval.
Before them, Sherlock glided up the stairs, his coat riding pillows of air in the great open shaft of the staircase. Sarah, however, had never seen the stairway of doom, and balked at the bottom. The rickety affair with its chunky handmade railings had not nearly enough plank balusters, and no inner railing either. She clung to the brick wall on her ascent, and marvelled that Sherlock could scoot along with such pluck, each time the shadow of his coat swept over her.
For all that speed, he waited for them at the top. When he reached the door that he’d so recently locked, he caught hold of Sarah’s elbow and leaned to her ear to murmur, “Calm and confident. Yes?”
She nodded once and smoothed the powder on her recently teary cheeks.
“If challenged, defer to me.” He straightened, assured himself of John’s position, and tugged his gloves before stepping inside the room. He went about five steps before stopping and pointing upward. “There you are, John. The paintings I suspect you were too exhausted to notice, and let’s slow down a minute for Sarah. She’s never been.”
Indeed, Sarah’s eyes were drinking the dichotomy in. Her head turned in an arc from shoulder to shoulder – so much to see, and so much of it was dumbfounding. “I knew she was an artist,” Sarah murmured to Sherlock and John, “but this is just… incredible.”
Sherlock’s brows went up. He nodded in agreement, which for Holmes was high praise. As Sarah walked deeper into the room, John stayed close behind her. Oddly, so did Sherlock. She walked to the painting of the three of them at Pensaci Bene! together, Sarah clapped a hand over her mouth. John knew it was hitting her that this was really Sofia’s home and she was really gone. He couldn’t imagine what Sherlock thought about the moment. Or if he thought anything about it at all. His expression was its standard.
“Where is it?” Sarah asked dryly.
John glanced across at her, “Where’s what?”
Sherlock’s low voice rumbled, “Crime scene.” John turned his head in the direction of the sunken dining room and Sarah started forward at once. She’d properly read his cue. As soon as she set off, Holmes stepped behind. When the time came, he caught her on her slender upper arms.
Sarah lost her footing. She was a doctor, certainly, and a very good one. But she wasn’t a wartime surgeon, and this was her friend’s blood. When she pulled herself to rights, Sherlock turned her toward him and inspected her dampened face. “All right,” he decided, “I’ll see to it you have what you need to collect samples.”
Sarah nodded and looked in John’s direction for support.
“Sarah,” he told her evenly. “You can leave. I can do this.”
But she staunchly shook her head and walked down to study the patterns in the blood. It beggared her mind just trying to imagine what kind of disturbance could have caused this. And relatively quietly. John wished he could say the same. He’d seen people die in far too many ways.
She turned and narrowly avoided a City Policeman as he cut through from the bedroom. He gave her an odd look, but passed her by when he saw she was with John. He’d assumed she was another Met police Sergeant. Who else would have the nerve to traipse onto a crime scene?
Sherlock returned with an evidence kit – who knew where from – which he set on the floor beside Sarah. “Know what you’re doing?”
Sometimes one could almost hate Sherlock Holmes for his shameless self-assurance. He swept away from her into Sofia’s bedroom, and straight out onto the balcony.
“We’ll meet up at St. Bart’s,” John told Sarah. “If there’s any trouble, call me. Okay?”
“Be careful,” she told him gently, and stooped to open the kit.
John walked out to join Holmes on the balcony.
“What are you doing?”
Sherlock said nothing for a moment, but simply loomed, silently.
John cleared his throat a little. When that didn’t work, he just asked. “What are we doing?”
Clearly in a state of distraction, Holmes stood carefully in the shade of the building, quite close to a large, weathered easel. “We’re getting out of here past Donovan and Lestrade.”
“Why are we sneaking around?” John corrected course before he could be chastised. “I mean, I know why we’re sneaking around. It’s because we were targeted by Sofia’s kidnappers, maybe her killers, last night. So they know what we look like. But why are we sneaking around Lestrade?”
Sherlock glanced over John. “What I look like, at least. And look at them, John.”
“Okay.” John stared at the Sergeant and DI far below. There didn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary taking place, down there, in fact.
Sherlock started in as soon as John’s attention fixed. “Sally touched her pocket. Now she’ll motion at the building. Now back to her pocket.” John watched this take place almost in time with Sherlock’s commentary. “See how she swings the whole arm from the elbow as she points at this building, John?”
Stabbing gesture with hand.
Cannot control anger.
“I… I do. What’s going on I wonder. Lestrade is looking a bit strained there… frazzled.” John wasn’t really all that eager to get on the bad side of that, come to think of it, thus the wisdom of sneaking out. Sherlock could read it in his face and acted according to his plan.
Holmes led them back inside where, momentarily, he bridled at the presence of a City officer in Sofia’s bedroom. It was a baring of his teeth at the imposition and John couldn’t miss it. But was it about Sofia? Probably just that the officer has surprised Sherlock. Besides, Holmes had likely slept in here just hours before. No way to know. In fact, John didn’t know if Sherlock had slept at all. With his taxed reserves, injuries, and, most importantly, since he’d somehow avoided concussion, John hoped he had rested.
“Nothing about this building, this murder, or Sofia can cause Donovan that much anger.” Sherlock led them by Sarah without a word. She glanced at them, her expression set and determined, but also worried for them. “Except me. What’s small enough to fit in her pocket, and clearly related to me.”
“The note. They’ve figured out what you did with the note.”
“Hardly,” Sherlock said softly. “They just know I tricked them. They’d take ages figuring out how, if I helped them, they wouldn’t be done by now.”
They stepped around the corner and almost into SIO Charlotte Warren. She looked the pair of them over wordlessly, her face a careful blank that could neither be careful, nor blank enough to safeguard her from Sherlock.
One button done on coat.
In and out of air conditioning.
Breast cancer pin. Smell of cigarettes. Not hers.
Lestrade’s brand. Lestrade has been smoking.
Gait stiff. Hands tense and flexing. Nervous.
Why is she nervous?
She nodded at him and went in the pocket of her coat to take out a perfume bottle. “So we found what went on the envelope, Sherlock,” she said lowly. “Where’s what went in the envelope?”
“Morning,” Sherlock took the Coco bottle from her, fiddled with the cap, and gave the pump a snuffle before handing it over again. He stood back and tucked his hands in his pockets. To John it had looked like the SIO had handed him a bloody rag and thought he might be able to find Sofia with it.
How poorly did they understand this guy?
The SIO’s lips squeezed down on a smile that was pure entertainment. “Don’t even try. Signs of disturbance all over the room,” she said softly. “You spent the night in there, going through things.”
Sherlock peered into the flat with seeming innocence. “Of course. I’m on the case. I have a badge. Somewhere. Would you like to see it? John?”
Charlotte glanced over her shoulder and suggested. “I believe you, Sherlock Holmes. Let’s go up a level, gentlemen.” She started toward the next landing, “DI Lestrade’s on his way in, and you’ll want to avoid him and that half-pint bull-dog Sergeant of his. They’ve got a word or two they’d like to say to you, Holmes, not that I think you’ll want to hear any of it.” She stopped on the steps and told the City Sergeant behind her, “Delay the DI. Politely. Call me when they’re clear of the lift.”
Sherlock’s second look at her was more appraising.
She slowed as they reached the fifth floor, but they still climbed to get out of earshot. “So, Sherlock, the letter’s a big bone for that little bull-dog to chew. Sofia Rothingham,” she looked his way enquiringly, “your bird?”
“No,” he said shortly and then winced and admitted. “Wanted to be.” It seemed to cost him in dignity, having to admit that. Much of his poise and self-respect was assembled whole cloth – John knew well – from his assertion that he didn’t need people. This girl had badly wanted to be needed by him, which flew in the face of Sherlock’s worldview.
“Perfume on a letter,” she told him. “Not an innocent letter.” She snuffled her open hand. “Not even an innocent perfume, in fact. She must have said something compromising. You took the letter. I’m told that you did it in one of those crazy glass offices, under full view, with the letter on the table in front of you. Lestrade says that sort of thing is quite possible for you.”
“It’s my letter,” Sherlock told her haughtily. “I needn’t have brought it to police attention to begin with.”
“You didn’t,” she replied. “I somehow doubt you would have. Doctor Watson did.”
John winced, “Yeah. That’s true, that is.” He snuck a glance through filtering sunlight at Sherlock only to find the man unperturbed… which made sense. Sherlock knew exactly how the police had found out about the note to begin with. He’d been there.
Finally, they stopped on the sixth floor. She led the way down to the lift. “Okay, so I’m cutting you loose. Sergeant Donovan has been all over DI Lestrade about bending Section 60 so that she can Stop and Search you, Sherlock. Be aware.”
Sherlock’s arms came up and swung out in air. “It’s a letter. Last time I read it, Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act really didn’t apply to letters, or would you care to explain, precisely, how a piece of paper is a dangerous object or offensive weapon?”
“Wicked bad paper-cuts,” John said soberly. “It happens.”
Charlotte Warren’s lopsided smile, the one that smothered her delight under heaps of cynicism, was back. John couldn’t escape concluding she had a really lovely face, this woman. The SIO said, “I don’t have to tell you that DI Lestrade is very good at threading loopholes, do I? That’s why you work with him, I suspect. Drugs, weapons, or stolen property, Sherlock – they can Stop and Search anyone.”
But John had already twigged by the time she said it. Sherlock had three types of prescription drug not indicated for him in unmarked baggies on his person right now. He could not allow Sherlock to be searched by police. Thus, John was immediately resolute. He glanced up at the SIO. “Thank you. Very much. Sherlock, we’re out of here now.” He caught Holmes by the sleeve and was surprised how easy it was to guide him along toward the lift.
John leaned on the button. The SIO stood behind his back with Holmes. “Give me the letter, Sherlock. That’s all that they want.”
“No.” Sherlock said. He reached out and helped John pull the accordion-like metal screen back as the lift arrived. They were both too battered for one of them to do it if two could make lighter work. “No. That’s not all.”
“Okay. I’ve met some of your team today. Most of them honestly think you’ve done this, Holmes, simply because your path had crossed with this girl, so I can acknowledge what you’re saying. But that’s all I want. I checked your record, and you have no arrests of this nature.” She whipped an arm out and caught the filigreed steel before either man could get inside the elevator. “They’re looking for enough to arrest you on. Keeping back this letter you didn’t know she sent, it looks very dodgy.”
“The contents of the letter are private,” Sherlock said crisply.
“I honestly don’t care to judge what she wrote to you, outside of the evidence it may supply. This is my investigation. Give me the letter and no one in the Met sees it. You have my word.” She dropped her arm. Sherlock stepped into the lift. John followed him closely and pulled the steel grill back into place between them. Much as he appreciated what she’d done, they needed to get out of here.
She shook her head and checked her phone. “Listen to me. The downstairs neighbours reported the sound of more than one person in Sofia Rothingham’s apartment. Could have been two or three, they’re saying. Doctor Watson’s skin is in the game here as well. You need to try to trust me, even if only for his sake.”
John stilled. Two or three people. John. Sherlock…. Sarah. He didn’t need to look to know that Sherlock Holmes had already thought of-
Sherlock’s coat fanned as he stepped forward. The lift had already begun to close its door when he extended a soft pink, oft-folded, slice of paper to the woman. She nodded and took it from him before they vanished out of sight. Then Sherlock leaned heavily on the wall of the lift.
He pulled his cell angrily out of his pocket and texted with quick, infuriated stabs.
“What are you doing?” John had to try twice to get the first few words out.
Sherlock rolled his body along the wall from his shoulder to his back, so that he leaned on the elevator wall, phone extended to John. His expression was devoid. The text said.
‘Make no stir, take what you have, get out quickly and quietly. Go where planned. –SH’
Sarah. He was telling Sarah to get out. What a relief.
God it was madness, this Case.
John leaned back on the wall across from Holmes and put his head in his hands. Oh hell. Okay. So now Lestrade’s men thought they’d done this? No wonder Lestrade had looked so tense and their perennial thorn, Donovan, so electrified. The only thing between Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, and a mob of angry greatcoats out to lynch a Freak, was a thin line of disgruntled City police, and the red-headed SIO who’d just snuck them out of the building. Meanwhile, someone had slammed a truck through a restaurant and burnt the building down to get rid of them.
And they’d only just started.
“What was she into?” John let his hands dropped and sighed. He turned his head, “Sofia?”
Holmes’ voice sounded empty, “They kidnapped her. There could be many reasons for that. One of them is that they need to know what she knows. Or they need to know how much she knows. They might have fired her, but Sofia also escaped. She’s creative. Clever.”
John said, “She can clear us.”
“Yes she can, if we’re in time. We can’t be found standing over a body, John. If it looks that way, we’ll have to abort.” He shut his eyes and looked at the wall, but nothing could block the bitterness that stamped his smooth face in that moment. “All it means is… work faster.”
God he looked exhausted.
It had occurred to John that if they arrived on the ground floor as someone like Anderson was coming in… then that would be it and they’d be caught. Sherlock would be stopped and searched. But John was a doctor, with access to these types of medications, and he could safely hold the drugs. Or more safely. Even if they also searched him, his profession would badly confound any discoveries. John felt reasonably confident that Sarah would immediately vouch for them. And, underneath his altruism, fudging numbers had been the exact reason John had insisted on doing the drug cabinet inventory at the clinic for the last two months. Thank God. So before they reached the ground floor, John stepped forward and shoved his hands into Sherlock’s coat pockets.
Sherlock looked down at what John was doing with a remarkable lack of curiosity. At that close a span, it was impossible to look up at his green eyes and miss the dark hollows inside of Sherlock Holmes. He was a crevasse, a vessel cracked and empty in the places human society made full. In other people. But Holmes survived unfilled; unused.
John stepped back, the drug baggies went deep into his own pockets. He didn’t take his eyes off Holmes. “You gave them the letter.”
Sherlock had shut his eyes, “My pride. Not worth your freedom. Now give those back.”
“John…” Sherlock’s voice dropped so low John had to focus on every word. “You don’t have a record. You don’t want this trouble. It would ruin your career. Ruin you.”
“Well, not planning on getting caught.” John told him, and it made Holmes smile suddenly.
The elevator bounced to a stop and Sherlock’s great, pale greens opened in his catlike face. “We’re on our own now. Ready?”
“If you are,” John nodded.
The door slid. There were no police outside of it. In fact, there was only a man taking delivery of a parcel, so Sherlock pushed the steel cage back with a soft purr of, “Oh, I’m always ready.”
“Where are we?” John asked.
Sherlock led them both up out of the tubes and they headed for Regent’s Street. He didn’t like being underground all that much. It wasn’t that he was claustrophobic, but that he seemed to need to see the bustle of the buildings and skies, the world beyond the glass of a cab. The tubes with their dips into relative nothingness, proved difficult for him. However, he travelled on them so little that no one expected to see him there, tall, imposing in his high-collared, long summer coat, his artfully short hair just beginning to grow out a fraction. He looked dashing, even in yesterday’s suit.
“We’re underneath Ark-Co’s head office.” Sherlock told John lightly.
“Oh my God, why?” John asked under his breath. “What are we doing here?”
“Well,” Sherlock led them onto the street and swam into thick London foot-traffic. “I’m checking out their wireless access points right now, John. Very soon you’ll be walking in with a CV.” He pointed right and said, “Kinko’s over there.”
“I’m doing what?”
“Well they’d know me, it’s why I have to keep moving.” Sherlock said, and shifted the phone to his ear. His voice took on that crisp sing-song it could have when he was rolling out a plan before him like a red carpet for himself. “Hello Elliot. I have a special order. See my text. Thank you.” He checked his watch and hung up.
“Elliot Luxe,” Sherlock tucked the cell in his pocket and led them into Kinko’s. “Knew him in Uni. He’s an electronics guy. Nothing he can’t hack. Well, almost nothing. He also runs a courier service around the London downtown, anywhere in London for select customers.” Holmes led the way to the bank of computers in the back and grinned. “Oh, and Mycroft positively hates him.”
So, of course, Sherlock had to make the acquaintance of this guy.
Sherlock pulled out a chair in front of one of the credit-card computers. He sat down in it and stretched his long back, enjoying the pull of muscle. “He’s a little strange though.”
To keep it in perspective, John reminded himself that this was coming from Sherlock Holmes. He pulled up a chair and watched Sherlock stuff someone else’s card into the slot and flick through menus and programs. “Thank you Charlotte,” he muttered.
“Oh my God, you stole the SIO’s credit card?”
“She wants to help me?” Sherlock nodded at the computer. “She’ll take this charge. A dead man can hardly use his credit card, and I’m running low on pictures of the queen. You?”
“Still have a few left.”
“Well save them up,” Sherlock began typing madly on the keyboard. “And get my phone.”
John sighed windily through his teeth, but bore it. He took Sherlock’s phone out of his pocket sort of like he would have pulled shrapnel out of a corpse, and it got him a dark look from Holmes.
“Text from your electronics friend saying the package is underway.” John’s voice dropped, “Oh, and he also said he’d heard you were dead. How did he hear you were dead?”
“It’s Elliot.” Sherlock shrugged. “Everybody who’s anybody in the criminal underworld uses him. Well. And me.”
“So you’re mates are you?” John put the phone down within reach of Sherlock and the genius snatched it up and split his time between typing madly on the phone and on the keyboard.
“Elliot doesn’t have those.”
“Neither do you. So you have something in common.” As soon as he said it, John realized it had come out badly wrong.
But Sherlock didn’t seem to notice. In fact, he made no retort, whatsoever. Doggedly, he worked on the CV he was typing up, or John presumed that’s what he was doing. Off on Sherlock’s left, he studied Sherlock’s profile closely. Was the man insensate? Was that it? During The Burning Question case, John had seen – well, more heard – Lockton Holmes slap Sherlock hard in the face. Did Sherlock’s emotional deficiencies bring extremity out in a person over time? Could the sheer nonexistence of feeling in Sherlock’s personality drive someone to hurt him?
John couldn’t even tell if his last words had offended this man.
Why didn’t he say something? Why didn’t he point out it was a friend saying it?
Holmes focus made the questions virtually irrelevant. John feared it didn’t matter to Sherlock because John Watson was something else: assistant; adherent; experiment; and not a friend. Which made him wonder, really… was that what he wanted? Did he want to befriend this ‘strange being’, flatmate of his? John had lots of friends. His face went grim, because Sherlock didn’t.
“Oh.” John exhaled his misgivings and decided that he shouldn’t be thinking about things he couldn’t change, and yes, he was being annoying right at that moment. He went away to look at the rest of the shop.
Moments later, John paused by some light pink stationary. So where was the love letter by now? The one Sofia hadn’t meant to be a love letter. Or had she? Today, he couldn’t imagine anything but wireless routers and fibre optic cables interfacing with Sherlock. God, that poor girl.
His mobile phone pinged.
‘Go to the printer and pick up the CV.’
So John did just that. He brought the pages back to Holmes, somewhat amazed at the lack of spelling errors and grammatical issues; the CV was smoothly professional. Holmes’ had written it in less than 10 minutes. “Brilliant… but who is Farley Goldsack?”
Succinctly, Holmes replied, “That would be you.”
John blanched, “What? I can’t lie my way through this, Sherlock. I’ve never worked with DNA-”
“Oh for God’s sake, Molly can do it. It’s not hard.” Sherlock got to his feet and took Charlotte Warren’s card back. He tucked it into his pocket. “Besides it’s here.”
John heard the bell from the Kinko’s door and turned to see a fit blonde girl in biker’s shorts and a racer-back halter walk in. She took off her aerodynamic silver sunglasses and made straight for Sherlock Holmes. “Sir, this is for you.” She extended both hands before her, a manila package between them.
Sherlock took it from her. “Thank you, Elliot.”
The girl gave a small nod. “How pleasant that you didn’t burn up, Sherlock. It would have been a blow to the global intelligentsia.”
“Satisfied that you think so,” Holmes had already turned his focus to the package. He sounded comparatively distracted as he replied. “I suppose.”
“Just a diversion. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have paying customers. Stop calling me.” She turned on her heel and walked out of the building. John saw her climb onto a strangely black and yellow-striped bike and positively rocket into traffic.
“That’s Elliot?” John said as Holmes returned to stand beside him.
“No,” Sherlock was already tearing through the packaging and breaking into the soft interior. Packing bubbles sprayed a pell-mell mess across the desk and floor. “That’s a drone. All she does is say what he tells her to. There’s very little deviation. They’re very well trained.”
“Not like me.”
“You,” Sherlock looked at John oddly. “I wouldn’t know where to begin.” He went back to the package again.
“Somehow, I doubt that,” John grumbled, and, gratified by this, Sherlock chuckled. He opened a small, hard-shelled glasses-case and took out the glasses.
“Oh my God, these are marvellous.” He opened the arms and inspected them carefully before setting them on the table between the pair of them. John looked at the glasses speculatively. They gave every appearance of being something out of Dolce & Gabbana – rimless and pricey. He imagined they’d look astonishing on Holmes, who extended a hand and pushed them slowly across to John.
“Oh God,” John sighed. “What are these for, Sherlock. I’m not Superman.”
“He wasn’t the one with the glasses, as you’ll recall… well, per se.” Sherlock picked them up, opened them, and slid them into place. On John’s face. Then he smiled. “We’ll have to let Sarah have a look at you, I think, may break that long dry spell you mutter about.”
John felt his lip curl an instant before he picked up Sherlock’s gloves and whacked him across the back of the hand with them. Sherlock jolted, gave him a measuring look, and took the gloves away. “Now, don’t be childish. It was a commendation; they suit you, though we’re going to have to do something with the hair.” From the base of the box, Sherlock pulled out what looked like a tablet PC. This was actually a small slate, which went directly into his coat’s inner pocket. He gave it a comforting pat with his long fingers, like a mother would the back of a child.
“What are you planning?” John watched his flatmate circumnavigate the table in the hushed light from outside. He also watched cars go by beyond the window behind Sherlock. John was only peripherally aware of the return of this habit. It was no different than when he’d watched for suicide bombers in cars, in Afghanistan. It was innate to the adult he’d become.
Sherlock stopped in a whirl of long coat, and then he smiled. “Come. I’ll show you.”
That’s how they wound up in Armani. Every soul in the store seemed to know Sherlock. He walked into the back with a small trail of young men shoving clothing at him, every thread of which he ignored, no matter how pitilessly fashionable their appearance. Sherlock collapsed onto a round seating affair, every spare inch of which he took with his long legs, and then began typing on his phone. All he said was, “This is John. There must be a jumper, but make him look nice.”
That was it. John was immediately swept into what felt like a firestorm of pricking measurements. His entire body ached – he didn’t appreciate the fuss in the slightest.
Sherlock, at one point, walked over and casually pulled the prescription drug baggies out of the pocket of John’s coat. There was not a word from the staff as he did so. He might have pulled out a baggy of crack and these young men wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow at him.
John was eventually shoved into a dressing room and ordered to change. This was all very unnecessary if you asked him… but damn had they found him clothes that fit well. It was… strange to John’s eyes. He considered himself too mature to have his head turned by thread count and some pretty brand names. Sherlock was the swanky one. But he honestly couldn’t remember looking so fine. It was a far cry from sand-clotted fatigues. He’d gone to weddings not looking this smart.
“Uhm,” he peeked out of the dressing room. “Okay. Done.” He stepped outside. All the young men stopped what they were doing and turned to Holmes. Sherlock stopped checking his watch. Those hammer-blow green eyes leapt up at John, sharp, critical, and cutting as surgeon’s shears. And then Sherlock rocked back on his heels a little and handed the young man next to him an odd black credit card.
“Don’t worry John. It’s on big brother. My big brother.” Sherlock walked through the young men to join John. He reached his long hands and settled the shoulders of the blazer to his satisfaction. “Really, now,” he said in a strangely muted tone, “we must find a place to take you when this is done.”
John froze and looked up at Sherlock. “What do you mean?”
Sherlock straightened John’s lapels with fleeting, easy, practiced motions. “I mean Sarah needs to see this. Clearly, she has no idea what she’s up against.” He chuckled on the end of that.
Now John felt his teeth grit together. “Sherlock, I swear, don’t stand there being a complete-”
“It’s not cleverness.” All his amusement had vanished, and he’d stopped fussing with the clothes. Sherlock took a step back and smoothed his jacket. “Am I…? Did I say something… unpleasant?” his voice died out.
Pitiful. John marvelled. “You really don’t know?”
“John,” Sherlock looked at him with that same fierceness John had first seen during the trumped-up drugs bust… that had been based in sad fact. Sherlock didn’t want to deal with it, he just wanted an answer.
“You’re fine,” John sighed and held up a suited-arm with the shirt-cuff between his fingers and palm. “Why am I dressed like this?”
“Oh my God, look at the shoes,” Sherlock moaned as he stooped and walked around John. He half-turned, “I’ve got to have a pair delivered, Reynard.”
“Yes sir.” One of the young men smiled and scurried away.
Sherlock turned to John. “Shirt, jumper, jacket, trousers – all very fit – but the shoes are news, John. Must have them. Now, you’re going to walk in there for an interview. They’re looking to fill several positions, clinical and non-clinical, in fact, and you-” Sherlock picked up one of John’s hands and laid a thumb-drive into it, “are going to interview.”
“I’m a surgeon,” John said lowly, “not a geneticist, Sherlock.”
“Wear the glasses, the glasses have a transmitter, and this,” Sherlock handed John a hearing aid so small as to almost be invisible. “I’ll hear you. I can help.”
John felt his aching body tense further. “You’re not even a surgeon.” But he slid in the almost invisible ear piece anyway.
Now Holmes opened his long arms, “Doesn’t matter if Farley gets the job or not. What matters is that someone inside the firewall plugs in the thumb drive, preferably, more than one person. HR is best. They’re not likely to scan it with their AV just because it exists.”
“Do what with their what?”
“God,” Sherlock closed his hands in a gentle double-clap of John’s upper arms. “You are so quasi-computer-illiterate, John Watson! Make the nice lady take the long ‘proddy’ thing and put it in slot-B. Hm. Wait. You should be good at this.” He released John and went to get Mycroft’s black card half-way across the store.
“Oh my God, he’s a raving madman. I’m listening to the plan of a raving lunatic.” John bundled up his clothing and runners into Armani bags. Like a small buzzing in his ear, John suddenly heard Sherlock’s voice.
“I heard that.”
“Dear God,” John whispered and touched the small device tucked in his ear like a hearing aid.
“The wire comes in contact with the glasses and the signal gets a substantial boost. And leave your old clothes. I’ve told Reynard to send them with the shoes. Now do you think you can come on, princess? Daddy has work.”
“You’d better hope what I heard was static,” John muttered. When he looked up, Sherlock was outside, and he could hear road noise. This panicked him a little. “Sherlock?”
“We have to test the distance, John,” Sherlock told him. “Stay calm.”
“Someone tried to mow you down with a truck.” John nodded in departure and headed through the front doors of Armani in one determined gush. Outside, the pair of people whose path he’d stepped into detoured around him with a demure ‘sorry, sir’. Just weird.
“I know, I haven’t forgotten.” Sherlock said calmly. “But this is important. Years back I worked a case for the Ark-Co HQ in Dublin – they know my face. You have to get that thumb drive inside Ark-Co. I can’t.”
He’d worked a case for them. So it was all down to John Watson now.
John fiddled with the thumb drive.
“Stop that,” his ear said.
Odd. How did he know…? Then again: Sherlock.
Nothing he could do about it. John couldn’t exactly answer Sherlock back right then. He was sitting in an office in front of a pretty, young Human Resources rep who was making him feel every inch of his 29 years at the moment and – dear me – her taste in shirts ran to low-cut, drafty, and-
“Her face is about 12 inches up from there.” Sherlock’s amusement was transparent.
John didn’t know about that. She was young enough that they were pretty damn high and – wait a second! John shut his eyes in comprehension. When he opened them, he scanned the unenlightening room around him, not really focussing on anything until she sat down with a pronounced bounce that drew his attention immediately back to –
“Honestly, John, I really don’t need to be staring at those all day. Let alone gaging the air temperature given – ugh, is this your mind, really? Good God. You’re simian.”
Couldn’t really fire back at that either. John bitterly thought that Sherlock couldn’t understand any of this. He didn’t crave companionship, or seem to care for sex, not even in a gregarious, solely visceral sense, not that that was John’s modus operandi. It really wasn’t. Likewise, Sherlock couldn’t possibly know that John hadn’t been with a girl since the feisty American E-6, a Staff Sergeant, who’d taken a liking to him in Afghanistan – Kitty Lenox. They’d hit it off, and managed to be on again and off again, around their different assignments, for over a year. Whenever they’d been within feasible driving distance, they spent free time together. That’s how it had worked. He still thought about her, worried, really. Not that he could mention this to Sarah. Or would to Holmes. Unless it got him his own way, or resulted in serious crime, nothing about human emotion was pertinent to Holmes.
“All right, Mr. Goldsack,” she leaned forward over her desk and John looked at the wall. In his ear, Sherlock actually smothered laughter, “They’re ready to see you now.”
He almost wished she could come. In some regards – two… regards – she was a lot like Kitty.
The man who walked out to greet John was somewhat less impressively dressed, certainly. John handled this with aplomb, of course. The man’s chest would have been covered in ribbons and crosses before he’d worry about it.
“Mr. Goldsack?” the man asked.
“Yes, and you are?”
“Ivan Lieber.” The tall, affable-looking man nodded in welcome, and John could actually see he gave a measuring glance and came up with approval. It was at times like this one where John was reminded that Sherlock was a genius. He manipulated people’s perceptions with childlike ease. One quickly purchased suit, and John was being treated like a lord. But, Ivan Leiber: there was another name for Sherlock’s research. He might be able to do something with that.
Sure enough, Sherlock cropped up in his ear. “One of the heads of Clinical Pharmacology.”
Not so bad. “Nice to meet you.” John smiled.
“Recently back from Afghanistan?”
“Yes,” John said with a nod. “I took some time off to rest before I started back.”
Sherlock had very little to say through the first half of the interview. That was almost entirely about Afghanistan. John had no way of knowing, of course, but Holmes sat back in the Starbucks near the building, burning the free Wi-Fi, and pulling his bottom lip gently as he listened. He hadn’t asked about Afghanistan. He didn’t ask personal questions. So this was like manna, this glimpse of John’s life which John would share with others, but, for some reason, never spoke about with his flatmate. In spite of all Sherlock had seen. Like the sleep disturbances that overtook John. Like the nightmare he’d overheard during the Burning Question case, and the sleep-talking Watson sometimes did, which was often chilling enough to bring Sherlock to check on him. Sherlock Holmes didn’t check on people. But he couldn’t stand the sound of his flatmate’s voice sometimes – the awfulness in it.
This was not something he could speak of.
John, meanwhile, was beginning to wonder if the entirety of the interview was going to entail him talking about the war. He was careful not to use specifics, what he spoke about was a gloss of things he and others around him had experienced. It was uncomfortable. This was the sort of thing he generally didn’t bother with around Sherlock. Holmes’ life was so exciting. There was no time for the prosaic and tragic war stories that made up John’s young-manhood. Was there?
“Your experience is varied.” The man nodded at John. “In some cases, working with us would require a security clearance. I assume you’d be able to acquire one.”
“I’ve done in the past,” John glanced around the room, at the groaning bookcases, the large picture of the queen on the far wall, and the green rolling hills of Derbyshire in photos opposite – Neolithic ruins in the centre. What would Sherlock make of all this? Then his eyes lit on something unexpected. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed it before. “That’s beautiful, that painting is.”
“Oh?” Ivan swivelled his chair a little. “Oh yes, that it is. I do enjoy that one. It’s an abstract, not usually my thing, only the mood of it, you know, with all the green. It seems to fit well. I rather like the outdoors.”
“I should say so,” John countered, “you’ve enough photos of the henge at Arbor Low I’d say you’re either an amateur photographer, or would’ve fancied being an archeologist.” at which point the man launched into an exposition on the Bull Ring.
John, however, was busy focusing on the painting behind him.
His ear said. “I need graphics of that painting. Snap it with your phone. Do it.”
But there was no way John could whip out his mobile and photograph that without it looking suspicious. It would also destroy the polite fiction that he was interested in Mam Tor, barrows, and all those dusty elements of Neolithic Britain, which, while important, simply didn’t appeal to John.
“No. Listen. Admin Assistant will come to the door. Take the photo.”
Almost before Sherlock finished explaining, the secretary did tap at the door. Whatever she wanted required immediate attention. Who knew how Sherlock had pulled off something so distracting. When Lieber exited, John quickly took out his phone zoomed the painting, and photographed it, many times. Sherlock – spoiled little brat – should be happy with that. Still finding he had time to spare, he quickly put the mobile phone away again, sat forward and plugged the thumb drive into the back of the laptop before him.
“Sorry about that.” Ivan Lieber smoothed his tie and settled back down again.
“My car alarm in the parking lot, it’s usually not touchy. Had to hand over my keys, you know, turn the damn thing off again. If you focus… you can hear it.
“Ah,” John laughed. They were on the fifth floor of the building. “I plugged in my drive. Very eager for you to have my CV, and also dying to know how an abstract, green or not, plays into your larger picture of Neolithic England? Fascinating stuff.”
“Oh,” the man laughed. “That’s a gift from one of the staffers here at Ark-Co – a talented artist, really.”
“I’ll say, and I do appreciate abstracts,” John lied, now relying on Sherlock to fill in any blanks if the man should start asking intelligent questions about that – though it seemed unlikely given there was only the one in this office, and none of the books he could see on the shelves were about art. “What happened to him? It’s not half bad.”
“Her…. She’s a staffer.” He pulled a grim face. John noticed that his fingers suddenly folded on the desk, into fists. “Talented girl. When I look at it, the shape almost seems to be an earthen ring, like the earth and limestone structures, sort of like in-”
John had already tuned it out. So the painting wasn’t one of Sofia’s then. He’d wasted Sherlock’s time, and felt foolish about it now. How puerile the idea was – that they’d hang the painting of a girl they’d abducted, out in the open. John looked at his hands a moment, disappointed, and up again.
He was no Sherlock Holmes.
John’s phone pinged and he held up a hand. “I’m very sorry, Doctor Lieber. If you’ll allow, I need to check this.”
“Of course,” the man said, and then smiled convulsively. “Not an offer, is it?”
John glanced up at the man with what approached a genuine smile. Not bad if he could get a looking at here. Of course, his resume was utterly bogus, and there appeared to be no technical questions involved in this phase of interviewing. He checked the text message, which said:
‘Send me the photos.’
Oh my God. Really? He couldn’t hold his pee for another five minutes? Metaphorical pee. But this interview as almost over, just the same. John knew the signs. Still, he hurriedly sent the photos to Sherlock in an e-mail. It would be the only way to shut the man up. Well… unless he could lean out the window and hit Holmes with a blow-dart full of neuroleptics. That put a smile on his face.
The phone pinged almost immediately. Because Sherlock was nigh unto psychic. Again, Doctor Leiber granted Watson – Goldsack – leave to check his phone. This time the message said.
‘At St. Bart’s with Dr. Hooper. Been 30 mins. Tea and waiting. Be careful. Good luck! –S’
She found it amusing to sign off her texts like that, ‘–S’ as Sherlock sometimes did. He smiled and tucked the phone in his pocket. John couldn’t look at his watch, he realized with a chuckle. It was his scratched, dinged, 30£ Afghanistan timepiece, with which he had counted off so many heartbeats he couldn’t begin to number them.
“Something good, then?”
“I’m sorry. It’s my girl, wishing me good luck over here.”
“Ah,” Lieber sat back, joined his hands, and nodded at John. “I think we should set up a secondary appointment for you, Doctor Goldsack. This will be with some of the other staff. I have no doubt you’ll soar through anything we throw at you. I suspect you have nerves of steel.”
I suspected the same… then I met my flatmate… he’d give a lama ulcers, John thought.
Sherlock spoke in his ear. “Take the second interview. The number he needs is on the CV.”
“Excellent news,” John rubbed his hands together and was genuinely displeased and trying not to show it for all that he was worth. Sherlock would see through John’s facade, but this man wouldn’t. “Oh, that’s first-rate. When might that be?”
“Later this week – I’ll phone you up with details and we can arrange it. I don’t suppose you play golf, do you?”
“Sorry,” John smiled. “But I’m game for the shooting range if you’re ever headed there. The number you’ll need is on my CV.” And he could always shoot himself to get out of the gut-crunching torment that would be an interview with geneticists and the like. What had Holmes gotten him into?
Lieber double-clicked something on the desktop and repeated a number back to John, who nodded. This was pure trust. He hadn’t learned the thing off, or even noticed it. But Sherlock didn’t crop up in his ear, so John had faith it was good.
“I’m in.” Sherlock told him seconds after. “Take the drive back. Get out.”
As Doctor Leiber turned his chair and picked up one of his business cards from the bookcase behind him, John eased out and quietly pulled the thumb drive free. He tucked it into his pocket and reached up to take the card he was offered. “Thanks.”
The grinning head of Clinical Pharmacology shook John’s hand. “I think you’d fit well here, Goldsack. You seem to have an air of maturity, and the experience on this CV is second to none! HR just got off the phone with one of your references, by the way. He had splendid things to say about your work in CF Research, you know, before your tour.” They started out of the office.
“Oh,” John had no idea what Leiber was talking about and felt himself flush a little. “Well, that’s good. Better than if he picked up and went ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about’.” He laughed, a sure warning the tension was getting to him. He had ‘references’ answering phones for him now. “Real comedians, some of the people I’ve worked with.”
“Oh, there are some like that here too. With hope, you’ll get to meet them.”
Doctor Lieber walked John all the way to the lobby, still eager to talk about the war, as it turned out. John was grateful for this – for the fact he didn’t have to listen to Sherlock and begin to fabricate answers to questions he, as a gifted battlefield surgeon, couldn’t necessarily understand. But, engaged in such a conversation, John found that he watched people’s hands closely as a matter of habit, and that his war-practised gaze leapt up along the lines of coats for weapons. He checked faces last. Sherlock, in reverse… mostly.
He took his leave of Doctor Lieber with a final handshake in the lobby.
Once John was outside he felt sort of weak-kneed. He’d never done anything like that before. He’d just participated in a con, and he’d worried the whole time, that he’d be caught. John sighed as he walked in the direction Sherlock instructed for him. “You should have told me the glasses let you see and not just hear,” he sighed.
“Well, they don’t let me photograph.” Sherlock said back into his ear. “And you never asked.” But he sounded like he’d found his trickery entertaining.
John stopped on a corner and looked around. “Where are you?”
“Taxi at the red light. Get cracking.”
Well. John found the cab among the several others sitting at the red because Sherlock popped the door open. He hurried over and scooted inside. The cabby found this odd, but didn’t make a complaint about it. As John was shutting the door, the taxi took off again.
When he turned to Holmes, he found the man had a chic hat on his short clipped hair. It was trendy, stylishly industrial, and looked Armani. The thing made Sherlock’s brows and eyes a mystery, and shadowed his high cheekbones and the bridge of his straight nose. It was very sharp with the coat. John nodded, “You have to quit doing that.”
“Doing what?” Sherlock sipped an iced coffee.
Morphing into another person between glimpses. “Not telling me everything the equipment does.”
“But…. I’ve never done it before,” Sherlock noted. “First time.”
“And, already, you have to quit. Poor you.” John took the glasses off and folded them closed. “While we’re at it, you need to stop telling me half the story.” He blew out air in a stressed sigh.
It was now impossible to try to read Holmes’ expressive brows, or his pale jade eyes, but the bow lips gave Holmes away. Sherlock’s lips compressed together a moment, then gave a faint pop as they opened again. John had seen that before, usually accompanied by a tired expression as Sherlock seemed to realize, for all his cleverness, there were things he couldn’t get out of. He returned to his iced coffee. John turned to look at traffic and missed Sherlock’s sudden grin.
There was no need for Sherlock to respond, really. John had said his piece. “You won’t like this.”
“Won’t I?” Sherlock said inquisitively.
“Sarah will have been at St. Bart’s with Molly for about an hour by the time we reach.”
He didn’t need to see Sherlock’s eyes about this either. The sudden bunching of his lips was followed by a groan.
This time John looked out the window to hide his smile. God, he hoped Holmes walked in there in the hat. Right now, he looked like a free-range model, long, slim, indecently posh, and sprawled in the cab. Clearly, he awaited the arrival of a random photographer. The well-groomed elegance of his current appearance was just plain unreasoning. Molly Hooper would be struck dumb.
The trip to St. Bart’s, took 15 minutes. Not great, but not bad. John paid up and they slunk inside. Well, Sherlock slunk. He was already in a mood.
“Nothing.” Holmes’ tone was surly.
“That’s a lie.” John noted.
“It’s a white lie, and white lies,” Sherlock looked at John as they stepped in the elevator, “are good.” He reached around an intern and pressed the button for the mortuary. Then he stood back, looked at the ceiling, and closed his eyes. He might have been praying, if he hadn’t been half devil.
White lies… are good. Save that one for the blog. He boggled the mind.
John could hear the two women laugh, companionably, before he even entered Molly Hooper’s cold demesne. She was a bit of a Persephone, Molly. Her long hair was up in a pair of tails high on the crown of her adroit head, sort of like the horns of a goat. After a rap of the doorframe, John stepped in the door without giving it much thought. The women seated at the long, dark lab table, close to one another, froze sipping tea.
“Doctor… Watson?” Molly cocked her head at him. “Well, hello.”
Sarah’s eyes widened. She sat up straight. Her mouth fell open a little. This was all very startling for John. To top it off, she delivered a breathless, “John?”
“Still,” he nodded at her… and wondered if this was something akin to how Sherlock felt when he pulled his chameleon trick: like it was John who was acting strangely, not him. He smoothed his suit.
“Love… the suit, it’s…” Sarah got up, her hands flipped in air, demurely, but she didn’t cross to him. He had no idea why she should get to her feet like that. Somewhere off behind John, Sherlock came into the room and chuckled.
“You did this?” Sarah addressed tall, grinning Sherlock, but motioned at John.
Sherlock said. “Sergio Armani did this, really. The credit card was simply an abettor.” He spread his hands and looked joyfully down at his creation.
“God,” John rubbed his forehead. “Been a beast of a day. Thankfully, you’re fine, Sarah.”
“Uhm. Yes. Well… just talking to Molly. Which has been… enlightening.” Sarah’s eyes followed Sherlock, off behind John’s back. So John turned. Sherlock had doffed the coat, dropped the hat on top, and pushed his hands through his short hair. No. That wasn’t going to help matters. Holmes frowned a little at the pain in his sutures. His fingers came away bloody.
John only just beat Sarah to the admonition: “Be careful.”
Molly Hooper, however, stopped staring and started to move again. She clattered up to her feet, very nearly tipping over the stool on which she sat, and squeaked, “Sherlock, why are you bleeding?”
“Because I have a gash in my head,” Holmes said moodily. “John? See to this.”
“I’ll do it,” Molly said quickly.
John met her gaze for a moment, and then… conceded. Sherlock, in the meantime, shot him a look that was one part acid, one part snarling animals. But he waited. Molly Hooper circled the table to where Sherlock now pawed in the volumes of coat to find the pocket. Frustrated, he bundled the whole thing up and tossed it to John. “Could you possibly find the gear?”
“Pain relievers. Pain. Relievers.” Gear being slang for street drugs, though neither of the women present seemed to realize this.
Sherlock glared at him, “Could you possibly hurry?”
“Sit.” Molly told him gently.
He glanced her way, “No, thanks.” His fingers caught a dribble of blood as it reached his eyebrow, and Sherlock bent to keep blood clear of his precious, precious clothes. And shoes. John realized. He didn’t like making a mess of those if he didn’t have to.
“Sit down, Sherlock.” Molly’s voice was suddenly firm. “You’re bleeding.”
John split his time between watching Sarah observe all this, glancing to make sure Sherlock was all right, and searching for the pills. When he had a baggy, he backed away from the long table to take out the pills. Sarah might not know the slang, but she’d know an unmarked bag of recycled prescription drugs on sight. It would make for an uncomfortable conversation. He needed to take a pill as well, by now.
He laid Sherlock’s coat on the lab bench and turned to watch Molly. She was, of course, a medical doctor. She’d simply had a couple of years more training in order to take over autopsies down here. Her movements were quick, deft, but gentle.
“What happened?” Molly cleared her throat a little and asked him. She caught up gauze from the small kit she’d laid out beside him and smoothed the blood away from his brow with such tenderness that John felt rude for watching it. Molly’s glance made out bruises on the back of Sherlock’s hand, and abraded skin there too. “Did you… get in a fight?”
“John?” Sherlock said leadenly. Though he didn’t bother to open his eyes, or look up, John knew this was his way of saying ‘intervene’. Except John couldn’t really do much to help. This was a tricky relationship, one full of pricks and thorns. He couldn’t easily reach in without coming out bloody.
But something in his nature told him he had to try.
“Well… the day’s been a walking disaster, you see. We’re on a case and it’s become really… physical.” John decided to deflect and set his hands on his hips. “Sutures holding up, Molly? He’s been through a lot the last two days.”
Sherlock fired back a low growl of warning, “John, don’t help.” Implying he was helping the wrong one of the pair of them.
But Molly simply tipped her head to one side. Her fingers opened to gingerly move dark curls aside. God she was gentle when she touched him. John was speechless.
“The technique… is a bit wanting, I’m sorry, Doctor Watson.” She looked his direction curiously.
“Yeah well he was squirming,” John took off his overcoat and added it to Sherlock’s. “Really, that was because there was no anaesthetic. You know how it is.”
She really, really didn’t. Molly gawped at him. In her world there were no battlefields. She laid a protective hand across Sherlock as if shielding him from his flatmate. He looked at it with the same vexation as if bird droppings had just struck his coat. His favourite coat. Really, it was appalling. Molly, friendly, pretty, and bright enough to run this place at her age, had always helped Sherlock by giving him access to St. Bart’s labs, even though she really shouldn’t have. She broke rules for him. Her career could easily hang in the balance. At the very least, she deserved not to be treated as if contagious.
John suddenly found himself a bit put out for the tall, pretty brunette.
“Okay,” Molly said too lightly. She gathered herself and turned to Holmes, then bent slightly to look into his green eyes, “I… Sherlock… I could give you a shot of something. For the pain.” Her tone was a bit grave. She searched his face as if committing it to memory.
“I’d much rather,” he paused. Then his brows went up a little at the bridge of his nose, “I’d much rather if you’d look at the blood Doctor Sawyer brought in than spend time doing this. Both John and Sarah can deal with this cut. But the blood…. I need to know if it’s all from the same woman.”
“From your girlfriend,” Molly said. At that moment, at least to John, she was utterly unreadable. To Sherlock, it was another story. He leaned back from her quite slowly. Pain and longing could drive a person mad and – her eyes had gone hard as lumps of glass. He’d never seen them do that. It was off-putting. Her tone became brittle as she straightened and looked down on him. “Yes… well… Sherlock, you see, this lab, and all of its solvents and equipment-”
He could work with hard. “She’s missing.” Sherlock said levelly. He leaned in, looked up, put himself in her direct line of vision. “She’s in serious danger.”
Molly’s hand dropped, but went nowhere near him. She stepped back and averted her gaze as she carried on, “Which… which doesn’t change the fact-”
“She’s not dead yet, Molly. You can still help me save her.” He half rose to get her attention.
Something flashed across her expression that truly startled Holmes, and he was left staring at her with a distinct sense that, if she’d been another person, she would have struck him in the face. He sank back onto the stool and calculated the probability at about 55 percent that her next words were-
“You… need to get out of my lab, Sherlock Holmes.” Molly stepped back and hugged herself.
John’s jaw dropped. Major problem.
“Please,” Sarah’s voice wobbled. “This is my friend. She’s an artist, and clever. Full of life and-”
John caught hold of her.
But it was too late. Molly’s tone was acid, “I don’t want to hear about her. Sherlock, it’s time. I’ve… I’ve had enough. Get out.” She stepped aside as if he’d climb out of a chair in a lab he very much considered his own, really. That had been presumptuous.
Sarah took a breath that sounded like a broken sob. “Wait, please, Doctor Hooper.”
“Sarah,” John whispered and collected the woman. “I’ll explain. Come outside. Just come on.” He gathered her up and pulled her out the door, but he stayed within earshot, just around the frame.
Inside the room, Sherlock’s eyes lingered on the doorway. John had better not be on his way to a coffee pot for two, right now. He could expect to pay for being the kind of bastarding flatmate that left his fellow to fend for himself without even a pain pill. Traitor.
But Molly. He had to placate her and-
“You should have said,” she looked away at the wall.
“Said?” Said what? What the hell was she on about? “Look at me.”
“Why would I do that?”
Sherlock couldn’t answer that. He had to see her face, for one; it wasn’t possible to influence her properly unless she was attending to him, for another. Well, control her, really. But that reminded him of Mycroft, and he had to close his eyes and curse for a moment.
Okay. She wouldn’t. So he would move.
“You should have said there was a girl.” Molly bit her top lip and rolled it out from her teeth.
“There is no girl,” Sherlock blinked and touched his aching head. “Well, there is a girl, and she’s in terrible danger. I’m working that case for the City-”
“You went out with her,” Molly challenged him. “Doctor Sawyer told me so. All this time asking and she just shows up. It’s like I don’t even-” Molly had to stop.
It was hard to look at her since Sherlock could read humiliation; woe. He started to get confused, which he patently disliked. He had to push. How much could he push? No idea. Damn woman.
“She was foisted on me,” Sherlock said evenly, like soothing an injured horse. “Flatmate. Sarah. They thought it would be… fun somehow. I don’t find such things any fun.” His fingers looped in air, softly, like waving off smoke. When he opened his eyes again, Molly was much closer, though he hadn’t heard her move. Quiet girl.
She looked up. “Why her?”
Her voice was strange: steely, but shaking. Sherlock cocked his head. Was she asking why Sofia was missing? Why John and Sarah had chosen her? Or –? “Explain.”
She bared her small, white teeth a moment, and then made a second attempt. “Why go out with her, Sherlock?” Her look stated, categorically, he’d better get with explaining.
“I didn’t.” It was such a needless and uncomfortable conversation. He resented her for it.
“Yes, you did.”
“Molly, this is irrelevant! God, my head is aching.” He pushed his palm against his forehead. His hand was shaking.
She straightened. “Take off your jacket.”
“No,” he snapped. “I’d honestly rather bleed.”
For a moment, she did nothing. Then she retreated and brought syringes from the table across from her. Sherlock was already unbuttoning, always up for needles.
She explained, “Sarah said you were both injured, so I…. I didn’t realize it was… my gosh, that big gash in the head you have. For you, that’s pretty serious, thinking as you do and all.” She inspected the first of the syringes.
Ah. And there was his self-effacing Molly. She’d reappeared as soon as he’d taken off his jacket and chucked it on the stool beside him. He unbuttoned his left sleeve and rolled it up. Her eyes followed the action as if it was fascinating, snagging on every bruise, and raw scrape. He would never understand this woman. Sherlock glanced down at the dark bruises along his forearm and the bend of his elbow. They were alarming, he supposed, though he’d had worse.
She stammered, “Dem-Demerol. Can you take Demerol?” She turned his arm a little, the violent bruising up along the back made even Sherlock blink in surprise, and, upon seeing it, of course, it hurt.
“I can take Demerol. Just hurry.” He stared up at her differently, now she had something he wanted, and Molly looked from the needle in her hand across to him, not sure what was happening.
Sherlock watched her straighten his arm as if a bystander. The needle hovered. She tapped his vein carefully, gently. The vein swelled. He watched the quicksilver tip sink in, which should have hurt, but flushed his skin instead – mortifyingly confused with memories of heat, high, and pleasure. She depressed the plunger and his breath caught. Humiliating. He hated it, but couldn’t stop it.
When she injected him, his brain expected the molten flash of cocaine. She was a woman and that’d been how he’d… managed such things, which he hadn’t tried since he’d quit, but that his body chemistry seemed to recall.
Molly puzzled at his pupils dilating to black dimes.
“Finish,” he said tightly.
“Sorry,” she told him. “I mean, I’m used to dead people, mostly. I don’t want it to burn, or hurt.”
“If it hurts, let it hurt,” he told her. “That’s good enough, it’s…” the pain drew back. Sherlock sucked an unsteady breath. “I’m not seeing this girl, Molly. But because John arranged for that one encounter, I believe half the Met thinks I killed her. I need to find her. Alive. For my own sake. Will you analyse the blood?”
She slid the needle out. He watched her place a little wad of cotton over a red bead of his blood. Reflexively, he folded his arm up. His pain had evaporated. Sherlock watched her closely and determined she was Molly again; she was going to comply. He couldn’t see the molten line that ran between her hands, her needle, his arm, and his brain. That one wasn’t a conscious connection.
Molly blinked rapidly and rolled his sleeve down. She buttoned it and glanced up as if astonished. Sherlock simply watched her.
Straightening, she smoothed her white coat and cleared her throat delicately. “So…” Molly snuck a look at him, “they think you did this?”
He blinked slowly, “Molly, listen to me, I didn’t harm that girl-”
“Of course you didn’t,” she scoffed and then touched his hair aside. But he didn’t move. She placed her fingertips on his forehead and pressed lightly. It didn’t hurt him. “Are… are you sure you’re all right?”
“Your perfume…,” he said absently. Her Sung perfume penetrated his senses, and, for the first time he didn’t find it’s fruity, floral mix unpleasant. That was new.
“Uhm. What about it?”
“Making me hungry.”
She took her hands back and stared at him. Then she said, “You’re a lot of things. I mean, you’re brilliant and tricky, you’re, uhm, handsome and intense, but not violent, particularly not with women.” Molly Hooper stepped back, “There’s me. Being selfish. And you didn’t even shout about it. I… would have shouted, but you, you know, just try another path. You try until I give you your way.”
“Now, now, Molly,” Sherlock tipped his head to one side, “all will be forgiven if you help me.”
“Oh yes, I know.” She looked at the floor and tucked her hands into the pockets of her white coat, “With you, a deal must always be struck.”
Something happened behind her eyes, in that little overworked brain of hers.
The woman he knew. Sherlock felt himself smile slowly. “Ideal.”
“I’ve got an injection for John,” Molly smoothed his sleeve and looked at him, which Sherlock found odd. He ignored it and considered his next steps. She continued, “Doctor Sawyer – Sarah – told me that the accident was serious? You’ve got some serious bruises.”
Sherlock didn’t answer her on the matter. “Start on the blood? There are a lot of samples.” He said lightly as he pulled away from her in favour of texting John. “I need you to be meticulous.”
‘She’d doing it. Come get a shot of Demerol. Love Demerol. Terrific.’
Sure, he was put out with the man, but, by in large, John’s had been a reasonable decision. Plus, thanks to that move, John had missed what the injection had done to Sherlock, which had spared a lot of personal pride. And, of course, it didn’t matter what Molly saw. He glanced at her. “Still here?”
She stopped staring and blinked at him. “Ah… oh yes, of course…. If you’re sure you’re all right.”
He waved her away.
Molly picked up the case that Sarah had brought and walked into the back. “So we’re looking for a difference.”
“Yes we are,” Sherlock looked up from where he sat, but his gaze darted from her to the remaining syringe on the table. Demerol was bloody lovely.
She paused by a door. “I’ll do my best.”
“That’s all I ask,” he said distractedly and wished she would go away. The burning bend of his elbow tugged at pleasant sensations in the rest of him, none of which were welcome in her company. When Sarah walked in with coffee, Sherlock felt he might have crossed the room, gripped her by the arms, and pecked her on the cheek. “Sarah.” His voice had a grumbling note that made her look up in surprise.
“Black, two sugars,” she walked to him. “God knows how you can drink it like that. It could honestly be used to seal a roof. Well, all right, figuratively.” Then she saw the needles and stopped. “Are you… all right?”
Sherlock took the coffee, reached out, and gave her hand a wordless squeeze. When he returned his attention to the slate he’d set on the table when fishing through his coat. He pulled up the photos of the abstract painting John had e-mailed him.
Behind him, Sarah stood motionless. She was pretty sure he’d just clasped her hand. John had told her he’d probably never touch her. Nothing personal, he just doesn’t touch people. Weird.
“Where’s Molly?” John asked quietly as he dropped into place beside Sherlock, his body half-turned to take in Sarah’s curiously amazed expression.
“Working on the samples Sarah so kindly supplied. Any trouble getting out of the artist’s loft, Sarah?” Sherlock asked distractedly. “I kept an eye on it on the way in, and it doesn’t seem you were followed here... so you’re doing something right, or it’s dumb luck.”
“Aren’t you sweet,” she laughed. “Actually, Sherlock, it went like you said. The City police seemed to think I was with DI Lestrade. I mean, I overheard someone say I’d come with Lestrade’s people. And I never ran into anyone from the Yard, in fact.”
Sherlock nodded as if that reaction had been the only logical outcome, and pushed the slate in John’s direction. “Want your Demerol, John? I highly recommend it.”
“Took a pill, actually, thanks.” But John took his hands out of his pockets and checked the needle. That kind of looked like… a lot. She hadn’t shot Sherlock with that much, right?
John shoved Sherlock’s hair aside and pulled his head around. He looked at Holmes’ swollen pupils. Or he was wrong and she’d hit him with quite a bit of the drug, that was certain. However much she thought he weighed, she’d estimated high. Sherlock simply didn’t eat enough to get much over 79 kilos, he was long and slinky. And now soaring. “What ever happened to not taking medications?”
Holmes’ brows pulled up above the inner corners of his eyes – so innocent. “You said I needed painkillers, and I’d be all right. I thought you would prefer this to what I’d been using.”
With a sigh, John settled back and rubbed his palms on his expensive trousers. “Demerol slows brain activity for 2 to 4 hours, Sherlock, and I think she overshot your weight.”
Sherlock blinked slowly. The reply was delayed, and supressed. “What?”
“Well, you’re always gadding around in that greatcoat of yours. It makes you look beefier.”
Sherlock blinked, “You’re telling me she made me dense?”
Sara stepped forward and curled her hands over his shoulders. “It’s all right, Sherlock. We’ll help you keep on top of things.”
He laughed at the inanity, “Oh God.”
John blinked a few times, rapidly. Sherlock was solid. He hadn’t budged a millimetre when Sarah touched him. In fact, he now leaned back against her so that his dark curls brushed against her cheek. His eyes closed. One of the most atypical things he’d ever seen Sherlock do, but there was no cause to feign a disguise. This was Sherlock then, right? This was him and… Demerol. The Sherlock he’d be, if the monster intellect hadn’t scratched the surface of his brain raw decades ago. Company didn’t even give him pause now that he was drugged.
The implications…. John shook his head to clear it. He had to focus on Sofia.
Sherlock’s green eyes half-opened on the slate before them. “I’m not able to rule it in or out. Ivan Lieber’s painting needs professional analysis.” He sat forward, stuck a fingertip on one edge of the slate, and spun it on the glassine surface of the table. The uneven green ring began splitting into whirling green concentric circles like tree rings, and became oddly uniform. This image fell apart as the slate came to a stop again.
John looked up at Holmes, “But Doctor Lieber said it wasn’t from Sofia. He said someone still on the staff had-”
“People lie, John. I have to get some of the abstracts out of her apartment somehow, get them and the photos to an art critic. Even if she was selling them online… there’s no one to ship them now. We’re going to have to go in and take them.”
“So theft then?”
Sherlock’s lips compressed in irritation. “Borrow them.”
“Stealing things from under the noses of the City and the Yard police causes us problems, Sherlock. Didn’t we learn that lesson? And by ‘we’, I mean ‘you’,” John told him. Though it really was Sherlock’s letter to begin with, there was no way John was supporting a plan that involved making off with more of Sofia’s belongings. Though, really… he’d helped with the letter.
Holmes sat back and looked at Sarah. “I may have a job for you.”
“Oh good,” she nodded cordially.
“Hear that? And she brings me coffee,” Sherlock turned his head to take in John. “And she’s a doctor. You can be replaced, John.”
“She’s a crap shot.” John growled his annoyance at Holmes.
“There is that,” he glanced at Sarah. “Work on it.”
Sarah smiled patiently, “No.”
“Okay,” Sherlock accepted this and opened his hands. “This would be so much simpler if she’d signed all her works on the front like a sensible girl. Why doesn’t she sign them all on the front?” He sighed and picked up his coffee, which he sipped. His other hand pulled the slate closer. “Since John’s being a spoiler, but I can’t replace him, have to get creative.” He started tapping the slate quickly, his fleet fingers disconnected, it seemed, from the difference in cycles that should have taken hold of his brain by now.
Sherlock smiled, but it wasn’t the normal quick flicker. It was a slow burning smile that had a distinct rise and fall. He pushed the slate in John’s direction. John glanced down, “I mean, maybe she has some other storage for them?”
“You’d be okay stealing from there?” Sherlock chuckled.
John looked up at his flatmate. “I’m trying to keep you out of the hands of the police.”
“And I’m going to regret giving this slate back to Elliot. It’s so lightweight and so powerful. And quiet. Such a good assistant.”
“Aureate Gallery on Bruton Street?” John ignored Holmes and read aloud for Sarah’s sake.
“Has seven of her paintings on display, four of them are abstracts,” Sherlock smiled again. It was strange, that slow warming up and cooling down. “That, and a true expert, may prove enough. Don’t you think, John? Or are you still thinking Lieber wouldn’t have come up with a fabrication rather than say she was in the boot of his car?”
John remembered the car alarm going off in the garage and thought of Sherlock. “She wasn’t though, was she? I mean that was you that caused the car to start alarming.”
“Yes it was,” Sherlock nodded. He scooped up the slate and went for his hat and coat. “And it took a fine flash of connivance to get around the cameras, thanks. There’s a very narrow passage around the flank of the garage will let you do it. I just put my foot through the slats in the concrete and gave the boot a little push. Off it went. Can always count on bankers, lawyers, and management to have touchy car alarms. You certainly require a lot of maintenance, John.”
John chuckled in response to that and then glanced at Sarah. “Want to go to an art gallery?”
“Of course she does,” Sherlock said with that throaty rumble of his voice in his chest. He rolled the hat on over his curls, pocketed the slate, and stalked for the door. “She’s going with me, and I know all the good places.”
It was a different dynamic with the three of them.
Sarah made a huge difference. She was able to scout for them, buy things for them, and take all sorts of action out in the open. She was also a very pretty young woman. Taxis preferred her. People stopped to help her. Information flowed freely to her. Sherlock watched this with a growing sense of admiration. It was impressive, the difference a woman made.
About the time a man gave up the taxi he’d gotten, so that she could climb aboard, Sherlock turned sprightly to John. “If you don’t want her, can I keep her?”
“What the hell are you on about?” John growled.
“Don’t be jealous. Oh, I want her now… but not like that.”
Huffily, John strode up and climbed into the cab. It didn’t matter to him how Sherlock said he wanted her. When you were Sherlock Holmes, you were vibrant, larger-than-life, and impossible in any sense of the word. He was magnetic. And so his innocent nudges couldn’t help but hold an unvoiced threat. John took Sarah’s hand possessively in one of his and looked at its smooth beauty. He wanted those for himself.
She laughed and gave his fingers a squeeze. “If Sofia knew what we were out doing, I think she’d be astonished… and also grateful,” she winked at Sherlock as he got in. Then she tossed a look at John and her cheeks reddened, “Particularly about him.”
Sherlock, coming in on the tail end of this statement, had no indication that he was the ‘him’ in question. He simply gave the driver directions and settled in his seat.
Sarah leaned closer to John. “I know it’s not the time… but you look so smart in that suit, John.”
From his seat, Sherlock made a small sigh. He’d fully anticipated, even plotted, that there would be some of this, but he didn’t want any part of it. Not that John cared. He sucked a breath and nodded without daring to look at her, and, certainly, not at Sherlock’s sour mood. It wasn’t so long ago that he and Sarah had managed their first really passionate kiss – they’d been in the Athenaeum Hotel about to go after Russian mobster Rurik Zyza, in fact. Less than a week ago? The life of a Consulting Detective was a full and furious one. The life of a Consulting Detective’s assistant was one part house servant and one part spy.
He reached across and checked Sherlock’s pulse against his watch. Well, he tried. Sherlock snatched his arm back, which meant that John had to give him a look and try again. Instead of Demerol, John had opted for the codeine. Sherlock’s pulse throbbed steady, slow, and deep. Nothing was wrong there, but it was alarming for John. Demerol could be habit-forming, and not something he would have shared with Sherlock. Of course, there was no way for Molly to know….
John eased back. They’d arrived at the Aureate Gallery. Sherlock shot out of the car so quickly that John expected he’d burned half the Demerol in his system. He was through the door to the place before John had turned his head around. Sarah paid the cabbie with a hurried, “Go after him, John.”
He didn’t need any further prompting. “See you inside.”
The lofty interiors of the Aureate Gallery were white and wooden, ceilings covered in long planks of whitewashed board like massive wainscoting. Sherlock, in his grey charcoal coat, looked out of place in the bright, cheerful place. John checked behind him to see Sarah come through the doorway and glance about the collection of strolling gallery goers, and the white walls. She made for the dark pillar that was Sherlock Holmes, as did John.
“We meeting Raz here?”
“God no.” Sherlock shook his head. “He wouldn’t come in the door, I don’t believe. And he’s been a bit put out by your attitude regarding the ASBO.”
“That little prat is put out?”
“I should think so,” Sherlock’s brows went up and he removed his gloves. “I texted him earlier, and he told me if you’d be along, I should piss off.”
Sarah’s brows drew down in disapproval.
“Your friends are charming.” John groused.
“Not a friend,” Sherlock turned to John, and his coat floated out around him, a pool of darkness in the whiteness. “And gratitude’s half-life changes in accordance to the person, John. I may have done him a favour, but, in his mind, that was some time ago. Let’s find her paintings, shall we?”
Sarah cocked her head, “Aren’t you waiting for your art expert?”
“Already here.” Holmes smoothed the curls that framed his face, even though his hair was very short now, and led the way around an employee who had come to welcome them. John nodded in greeting, and followed. It was Sarah who stayed behind and spoke to the young man.
In the back of the building, an arched doorway took them out of the luminous watercolours and white planks, and into a shadowy black room. Holmes nodded as if this met with his expectation. His coat fanned through the black doors like the wings of the fallen. Inside, a young woman caught her breath and fell back. It was difficult to say whether he’d surprised her, or whether the svelte couture had given her pause. John recognized that, until his hair grew into the mass of curls in which he could hide again, Sherlock’s looks were rather on the beautiful side of masculine appeal. It was damn amusing to watch, particularly in the Yard, where he was so hated, and, now, so doggedly pursued by several of the rookies – a few of whom were male.
Sherlock led the way through dark halls lit by track lights, until he found the first of the abstracts that struck him as Sofia’s. Standing before it, hunched in a long, scuffed, clearly expensive coat, was a long-haired woman. She seemed about Sherlock’s age and very pretty, after a too-thin fashion, but some sickness sapped the roses from her cheeks. Her hair was a nest of stringy colours and extensions. Thin and pale, she shivered microscopically as she looked at the painting. “Holmes.”
A shadow of a smile touched her pale lips. “You gotta pay me up front, babe.”
“Oh, you know I can’t do that,” Holmes fell in beside her without looking at her. “You need a fix. And a bath. And a week of Sunday dinners, I think.”
“Touché. A flock of touchés.” She said darkly. “Quitting’s… gruelling. It’s… a nightmare.”
“Quitting,” Sherlock sucked a steadying breath and exhaled, “is worth it.”
For a moment, neither spoke, though John could feel a tension in the air between them he hadn’t anticipated, it was underscored as Merriweather turned her head minutely, just barely looking in Sherlock’s direction.
“Okay, hot shot. I got your jingle and all. Pretty picture you sent, now what’s going on?”
“A girl is missing.”
She snickered. “Jesus why are you such a humanitarian?”
“That seems an odd thing to complain of.” Holmes tipped his head a little and looked at the painting. As he leaned forward into the light the girl quite honestly gave him a looking-over. She made a soft, rueful sigh and hugged herself tightly.
“Okay, so you’re right.” She sighed, “I know how you love hearing people say that.”
“Of course I’m right.”
Behind John, Sarah arrived, guided by the gallery employee. She reached up a finger to shush him, and dismissed the young man with a soft murmur of thanks. She turned to look at the pair before the painting, a tableau of too-tall, too-slender, and rather unusual.
“Well it’s a difficult thing to do, Sherlock,” Merriweather revealed. She acted as if Sarah’s arrival was of no importance. “You know, to look at the early work of an artist and quickly align it with the finished product of a successful professional.”
“You asking if this was done by the missing girl?” She reached a fur-cuffed hand into her pocket and took out a mobile phone she showed to Sherlock. It was bizarre seeing the reversal. “The girl who did this little number sent to you, I think, by the handsome little blond back there? Did you doll him up?”
“Yes.” Sherlock said. When he looked at her this time, their eyes met, and they both smirked and looked away. Clearly, there was a lot of backstory going on here.
Merriweather had a throaty chuckle. “You don’t like boys, so you’re working an angle – you have something going on with the missing girl?”
“I have something ‘going on’ with the City Police,” Sherlock said.
“Quite serious.” Sherlock said dryly. “I have a badge.”
She laughed so hard at this that she almost doubled over and had to put a hand on the wall to keep from losing her footing. “You? Someone gave you a bleedin’ badge? They had to be rat-arsed! Or do they know you at all?” She had to wipe her cheeks as she righted herself. “God.”
“Not helping.” Sherlock told her critically. He looked at the painting. “I’m not you. Tell me why this is Sofia.”
“Sofia’s her name, huh?” She turned to look at him and then glanced over John and Sarah. In that look they could see for the first time, under the greyish skin and hollowed cheeks, the miscellanies of a pretty face. Maybe she saw, in them, the kind of people she’d resisted becoming. Either way, she dismissed them and turned to Holmes, “So… do you want to know who I think she is? This Sofia?”
Sherlock turned around in a hurry. His coat clapped against the black panel walls.
“No. I’m not kidding,” and the woman chuckled, “which you know, because the OCR is fully engaged. Reading me that hard, you know I’m not lying, Sherlock. I think I’ve seen her work before.”
His voice was a mere breath, “How long ago?”
“Three years ago in an amateur exhibit. I can’t be sure, but I never forget a painting, Sherlock. I still have photos.” Her head turned so that her blue eyes took in paintings further down the hallway. “This one’s got talent. She’ll sell. If she’s not dead… which she will be if you keep hanging around her. Once you get her back, you really want to consider leaving her alone.” Her high-heeled boots clacked down the hallway full of abstracts.
John didn’t appreciate the thin woman’s sentiment, which was, going by Sarah’s suddenly annoyed expression, an affliction that was getting around. But Sherlock merely turned and followed Merriweather.
Before them, she muttered, “God knows you’re the kiss of death.”
“Where are we going?” Sarah asked quietly, once Holmes was further out of earshot. Or she figured he was, anyway. “That girl isn’t well. And she’s terrible to him.”
“She’s trying to quit drugs.” John explained. She fastened her arms around one of his and they walked companionably in Sherlock’s wake. “It makes a person temperamental.” Sherlock’s personality seemed to have stalled somewhere between temperamental and wildly high, in fact.
“Oh lovely,” Sarah said tightly. “Just the person we want around a former cocaine addict.”
“We have to have some faith in him, Sarah.”
Twenty minutes later, after they’d gotten off the tube and walked to the small, dark flat Merriweather occupied, John was not feeling as confident. There were towers of magazines and books inside, such that it was possible to believe that her new addiction was to be hording. The sitting room had only enough space for a low table, one chair, and a television – large and flat. The rest was book shelving, with only a break for a small computer table and a laptop at the only window. The girl sat at it as Sherlock walked slowly through the flat.
Oddly, the television came on when she began to type.
“Could you watch her?” John asked softly.
“Absolutely,” Sarah crossed her arms on her ribs and stared at the girl’s turned back.
John went quietly in search of Sherlock. He was in the small kitchenette down the hall and off to the left. He stood over a small, scrupulously maintained drug kit, his fingertip idly against a cotton ball. With his back to John, Sherlock reached to pick up a bottle of pills with one hand and a baggy of cocaine with the other. He set the pills down. The cocaine he held out before him like a drying photo in a dark room. John watched as Sherlock’s fingers slowly opened and the baggy dropped onto the table with a soft plop. He stared down at it a moment, and then slid the bottle of pills to sit directly in front of it. He closed the kit.
“Buprenorphine,” Sherlock said and drew out the word, “Subway. She can shoot Subutex if she feels like. I like the needles so….”
Yes. It was a marvel. He liked needles. Someone should have foreseen a potential for disaster there. And Sherlock had gotten a lot of positive reinforcement. John eased into the room and picked up the bottle of pills. It didn’t have a prescription label. His lips drew into a line at that. These were street drugs. “Is this what you used? Subutex?” Please God, via prescription. He found he didn’t like to think of Sherlock managing all this on his own, and with no guarantees the drugs he was taking to treat his addiction were safe.
There was a long pause, long enough that John thought he’d gone too far, and the conversation was over. But then Sherlock said, “This isn’t how I quit.” He took the bottle away and set it back on the table in front of the cocaine again. Then he left the kitchen.
John stared at the cocaine for a while, unable to fathom how such an insignificant thing could outwit a man like Sherlock Holmes. He followed Holmes back into the tiny front room.
There, Merriweather rose to her feet. “Finished poking at my stash, Sherlock?”
“Yes,” Sherlock said barrenly.
“Check the Media Centre over here,” she motioned at the television and then tapped her laptop keyboard. “Sit with me and I’ll explain it.”
John didn’t follow the majority of that conversation. It was heavily influenced by artistic styles and other minutia about which he knew vague little. Sherlock and the woman spent the better part of an hour going through photographs. Holmes was listening with undivided attention. But what struck John most was that Merriweather was an utterly different form of life when she was talking about art. Her body language opened up; her hands gestured widely; her tone of voice was sure and lush. She acted less like an addict, and quite a bit more, well… like Sherlock.
“See, the stuff you have is a few years down the continuum even from the one you texted me. You can still see the same elements; you can still see she’s using the fan to finish, and she’s always mixing a deeper red, like a bit more magenta than it could be, maybe should be. She’s got issues with the colour red. But patterns are still up in her work: lots of rich reflections; lots of doubles; the numbers even go exponentially. I’m sure you can see the math in her abstracts. I mean, it’s a strange thing – abstracts like hers imply a lack of control. The math is in the strokes, and even the number of strokes. I’ve never seen anyone else use this sort of style,” she waggled one of several art magazines she’d brought for reference at him. “She’s weird enough that her stuff stood out to me.”
“The connection’s not solid enough, Pamela.” Sherlock said over his steepled fingers. “I see it… I don’t know that it can be trusted, statistically.”
“Fine,” she swivelled on the floor and sat on her heels. “You went out with this bird, right? That means you know everything from her occupation to her cup-size.”
“Granted.” Sherlock watched the girl tap on her laptop.
The girl smiled abruptly. “So where’s she from?”
Sherlock nodded. This was an acceptable path, “North Yorkshire.”
Merriweather turned her computer in Holmes’ direction. “Scarlett Walker. That’s the name of this artist… although she seems to find Mars Red more fitting. If I’m right, then you’ll be able to connect Scarlett Walker to North Yorkshire, correct?”
“Oh my God,” Sherlock said coldly. In fact, he was tapping on the slate on his knee. “Don’t have to.” John realized, immediately, that Scarlett Walker was a name on the list of Top Ten Most Proficient that Sherlock had pulled earlier in the case.
Merriweather didn’t, and couldn’t, know this. “But why not?” The girl – Pamela – demonstrated the greatest degree of lively curiosity that John had seen from her thus far. She seemed quite normal now. “I mean, I would have thought of all the evidence I could hand you, her name, and her coming from the same place would meet-”
“John,” Sherlock looked over his shoulder and held up the slate to John, who bent to consider it. It was an Ark-Co HR record for Scarlett Walker. Sherlock got to his feet his voice intense. “Scarlett Walker. RN. Records ending in 2009. She worked on clinical trials.” He swept around the corner heading for the front door.
“Oh God.” John said reflexively. Why get rid of someone on a clinical trial? He could think of one perfectly excellent reason. He just barely had begun to follow after.
Sarah hesitated and glanced at the woman, “Really… thank you for your-”
But Sherlock shot back down the hall and looked into the room. “Pamela.”
“Oh Christ. What now?” she snickered.
“Get off the drugs,” Sherlock said bluntly. “It’s a waste of your clearly superior observational skills. There is no one sharper at spotting fakes… when you’re not strung out. Do you understand?”
John could have been mistaken, but he didn’t think he was. When she smiled, it was genuine and, at the very least, hopeful. “Yeah, fine. I’m doing it.”
“Afternoon,” he vanished around the corner again.
Pamela cast a final look at John, and it was very serious. “Keep him out of trouble.”
“I’ll do my best.” John reached a hand to clasp Sarah’s and they both hurried out the door. Sherlock already paced down the sidewalk without them, too excited to stand still for long enough to fetch a taxi.
“Who was that?” Sarah asked. It was hard to hear her over the noise.
Sherlock glanced down at her. “Pamela Merriweather.” He returned to his phone.
“I know her name,” she nodded patiently. “How did you meet her?”
“Oh,” he said lightly. “Uni. Gifted programme all her life. Big deal at Hamilton Kerr.”
My God – he was answering questions about his past to Sarah now? Sarah? “How’d she end up like that?” John jabbed a thumb behind him, patently ridiculous in terms of actual direction now that they were so far away, but he’d had this conversation with Sherlock before. He now got that it was almost always symbolic for ‘Back there’.
“Well,” Sherlock tapped the mobile’s screen. “Family history. Drugs. Thought her artwork hinged on being high. Dunno. Didn’t ask her. See her though? Amazing.”
Sarah’s eyes widened. “You’re calling someone amazing?”
“Well, I can do what she does, but I don’t have the foundation in art. House stuffed with books and scholarly journals, even cocaine can’t turn off her gifts.” Sherlock looked blankly at his phone and took out the slate. “Scarlett Walker, by the way, did come from Bedale. She is Sofia. Not only is she on Askham Bryan’s list of Top Ten Most Proficient and one of the six names, I’ve just found a few newspaper clippings of her as a teen: Aspiring Girl Lands London Show. How about Local Artist Sweeps Local Arts and Letters, or Local Artist Wunderkind – God I hate that term, but a good photo. You’ll recognize the curls.” John watched Sherlock hand the mobile off, in what had to be an historic moment, to Sarah.
“Oh, she’s so blonde!” Sarah exclaimed as she glanced down at the picture.
John glanced over the pixie-faced girl, with her smiling arched lips and large blue eyes. Certainly looked like a miniature version of the woman he remembered. Only more blonde.
“She’s good,” Sherlock fiddled a curl. He took his phone back and tucked it away. “She darkened her hair. Honey blonde. She didn’t go over to brunette, or red, or anything radical. It’s just enough to make her hair sufficiently different.”
They stood in the press of the tube station. Sherlock was remarkably close to others, Sarah in particular. They were shoulder to shoulder in the corner they occupied so that Sherlock could watch the tidal ebb and flow of people passing by. He’d been thinking and detoured out of the crowd to consider his options. “You understand what I want, Sarah?”
She reached down and gave the belt of her coat a tug. Her nod was grave. “It’s crystal. I hope you’re right, Sherlock.”
“If she gave blood, there is some small chance that people working for Ark-Co made off with it. Be sure, when you get to the blood bank, you try to come in through the back, and look for any other way inside.” Sherlock reached up to rub his forehead, but John stopped his hand. The Demerol was bothering him in fits and starts, and he seemed to want to wring it out of his front brain with his long, strong fingers.
However, “I know you can’t feel it, but the cut is still there, Sherlock. Try not to tug on it?” John felt in his pockets for an alcohol swab and came up empty.
Holmes accepted this. “Sarah, get on the tube. We need to find her. Text us. Considering they turned a Thai restaurant into a brick box of cinders, you’re taking substantial risk on yourself. I texted Charlotte Warren’s number to you, along with DI Lestrade’s. Be judicious, but use them if you need them. Just remember to lie about seeing us.”
“I understand,” she nodded at them. “Be careful. Whatever you’re about to do.” She leaned in and kissed John on the cheek, then reached a hand to squeeze Sherlock’s forearm gently. “I want my boys back in one piece.”
Sherlock’s brows went up a bit. He peeked across at John, who was steady and not put-out by this sentiment, in fact. He watched Sarah turn and stride away into the crowded station. She was on the train and on her way before John looked back to Sherlock Holmes.
“So we have a solid connection between Ark-Co, Sofia, and Scarlett, sure, but how do we find her, Sherlock?” John turned and fell in step with Holmes. They weren’t for the tube, it appeared. Bit disheartening, seeing as how John’s battered flesh was crying out for a seat, or better still, a bed.
Outside, the streets were clotted with job-goers on their way home. For some reason, with the police out to nick him, and Ark-Co set to either kill, or hire him (depending on John’s identity at the time), John’s heart lifted because he wasn’t one of the ‘salary men’ caught in traffic. He scrutinised Holmes in the press of people, his gaze as oblique as he could manage. As if it mattered. Sherlock didn’t even watch where he was going – well, not consciously – he was so busy tapping away on his slate. John saw this and marvelled at how habit-forming Consulting Detectives turned out to be. He knew of no more potent drug, and no substance more dangerous.
Sherlock led John, unerringly, into a taxi. He didn’t even seem to look. “Ivan Lieber is either seriously misinformed, or he lied to us.” Sherlock handed over the slate and relaxed in the cab’s back seat. The driver awaited direction.
John glanced down at the slate and read for almost five minutes. Early in that interval, Sherlock handed a note to the cabbie and the cab pulled out into traffic. “This guy interviewed her. I mean... how can he act like he doesn’t know how she left the company? According to these HR records, it’s pretty standard for him to hold check-ins with the University hires as part of their quality measurements. Her scores were excellent – he notes it in her New Hire Review. As soon as she was eligible, she tapped Ark-Co’s – looks like extensive – Tuition Assistance Programme and started on a degree in Pharmacy. He was monitoring her.” John handed back the slate. “Not a bad place to work… if you put aside kidnapping.”
“John…” Sherlock turned off the slate and tucked it away. “Okay. We need to talk to this man. I know you don’t like this, but we’re going to intercept him. We need to talk to him.” He glanced at the cabbie quietly and down at John with pursed lips. Talk meaning they were going to hijack the man.
Brutal. John had no stomach for it.
So he thought about what Sherlock really needed for a moment. He remembered Lieber’s big hands – knuckles swollen with digging for the history of the English countryside – as they folded into fists on the desk. “No, Sherlock. This guy is a talker. He loves history, you know? He’s curious about the past. He… doesn’t strike me as a bad man. I think… I’ve got just the thing. Stop up on this corner here.”
Sherlock’s lips tightened. “Why?”
“Farley’s going to have him out for drinks, is why.” John said. “Still got those glasses?”
Sherlock leaned back in his seat and broke into a smile.
John, by full dark, knew more than he’d ever cared to, and was now begrudgingly interested in the following archeological topics:
- Anglo Saxon hordes of gold, particularly in Staffordshire
- The Uffington White Horse
- Excavations in the Vale of the White Horse, generally
- Anything to do with bodies being dumped in bogs
It took Ivan quite a lot of stout to get on his way, really. John, a quarter less his height and much less his weight, had also had a few, though he’d spaced drinking around food. It still wasn’t a good idea with the painkillers. He felt pretty good, and willing to curse Lieber’s height, weight, and – in John’s current condition – any hardy Germanic beer-imbibing genes that had come to London with his great grandparents.
“We should walk some of this off, old man,” John blinked widely for effect. “I’m not quite your girth and all that.”
Lieber gave a laugh. “Of course.” The man said and glanced at the empties on the table.
They sorted out the bill and John got them both outside, talking, as he walked, about the odds a horde as large as the find in Staffordshire could ever surface again. “Thousands,” John marvelled, “a guy finds thousands of gold pieces in his field one day, all of it worth seven figures.”
“Metal detectors,” Leiber raised a pointed finger upward as they crossed a darkened alleyway. “Why did we go to medical school?” He laughed and didn’t detect Sherlock Holmes as the man fell into step behind him. Leiber gave himself a little shake. He was surprised at how bungling his steps were. Talking avidly about his favourite things in the world, he’d entirely lost track of his cups. “Wouldn’t mind having that luck, though it would be hard not to keep at least a few pieces for home, yes? Just for display?”
“Not my thing, mate. I’d be afraid I’d be robbed, you know, by the Museum of London.” Both John and Lieber laughed at the notion. Then John forged ahead, “I’m rather into paintings for display, anyway. I wanted to talk to you about the one in your office, really. Haven’t been able to get it out of my head! See, I’ve been collecting the work of this local artist, and I have a feeling she’s going to be big one day – Sofia Rothingham, she is. I should take you up to the Aureate Gallery. You’d be stunned,” John slowed and turned, seeing as Leiber’s fading steps pulled to a stop, “how truly similar the work in your office is to her abstracts… I mean… to the eye of an expert.”
From his vantage, John could see Sherlock lean on the building only steps behind the man.
“I don’t know that name.” Leiber said quietly.
“Pity,” John told him. “I think you’d like her. She’s a very nice girl. Talented. Ethical. Funny thing is, if you go digging in recent art history deep enough, you bump into this little girl in North Yorkshire painting just like her – a Scarlett Walker. You might know the area. Ark-Co has a school over there they hire from.”
“Askham Bryan,” Leiber blinked at John blurrily. There was a long pause, which John waited out with the steadiness of a dog on point. At a villain. Finally, Leiber spoke, “I knew a Scarlett Walker from Bedale. She… was a painter, sure, but she was dead interested in Viking Age England. So, you know, we would talk about Anglo Saxon gold like this too. Such a nice girl, Scarlett.” His fists tightened at his sides. Ivan Leiber looked out at traffic like he’d love to leave.
“What happened to her, Doctor Leiber?” John probed. His tone was subdued.
“Why do you ask?” The man strode choppily ahead, suddenly cross.
John hurried along and ducked in front of the man, which forced him to a halt. “I need to find her, actually.”
“Well I don’t know where she is!” Leiber told John stormily. “God knows where she is, poor child; she dropped off the face of the world after she-” he actually clapped a hand over his mouth.
“After she what?” John stuck his hands in his pockets in the advancing dark. It seemed he could see it creeping across the sky as Ivan debated all this in his muddied head.
“Who are you?” Leiber breathed. He pointed at John. “Who are you, really?”
John shook his head and suddenly saw a glimpse of the world as he imagined Sherlock saw it. “Who I am doesn’t matter. Where is she? If you know… you have to tell me, Ivan. Her life is in danger.”
“I don’t know anything about this. Don’t ask me about it.” John watched the man throw up his hands and then smooth his hair nervously with one of them. He wasn’t sure what to do, where to go. John took this as a good sign that he had doubts about what had become of Sofia.
“Then tell me what you do know.” John suggested. “She’s in serious trouble, I suspect, and I know you actually like Scarlett. You aren’t a bad person. You can help her.”
“There’s nothing I can do about this! Leave me a-” he turned around and almost collided with Holmes, who now leaned against the bricks of a wall beside him.
“Hello there.” Sherlock said with a slight smile. He glanced quickly over Leiber.
Unsteady. But not inebriated. In control of his faculties.
Never breaks eye contact. Does not hesitate when speaking.
Wants to leave rather than try to lie – a bad liar.
And look at his shoes….
Holmes nodded in agreement with his own assessment, “I suppose it remains to be seen how good, or bad, a person you really are, doesn’t it? Here’s a test. You can help me, or you can condemn another person to death – unless you figure those dark rumours making you sweat right now, for rubbish, and surmise they’ll let her go, free as a lark, once done with her.” Holmes got up from the wall and walked over with a tug of his excellent gloves. “Let’s see…. You certainly did have something to do with the disappearance of Sofia Rothingham… look at your face. You’re wracked with guilt, even though… it was a passive role. You suspected – or dreaded – but either way, remained silent about the affair. Silent like right now, in fact: how you haven’t screamed bloody murder about being assaulted by strangers over here, and that’s not simply because you want to do something about the situation. Look at those stalwart, old loafers: thick leather, hand-crafted, worn-in and weathered. It’s history; tradition; status quo; and most of all, comfort. You do like to be comfortable.”
Leiber suddenly looked afraid. “Who… who are you? How do you know that?”
Sherlock stepped aside to allow several giggling young women in tiny skirts to pass. He gave them a sweet look that had them squealing in delight a little further on. Good looks. Great distraction. “You need to tell me what Scarlet did to deserve all this.”
“I can’t,” Leiber said and hurried away. He looked for a taxi in the roadway. Sherlock strode along almost directly beside the harrowed Doctor.
“What did Scarlett have to do with Ark-Co and fire?” Sherlock asked.
Leiber’s hands almost clapped over his large ears in dismay. “Stop it! Listen to me, young man. Some alarming elements cropped up after Ark-Co got involved with Ignis Ray Pharma, very upsetting! You’d better leave it alone! Nothing of the sort is going on. Ark-Co follows the rule of law.” He raised his chin and smoothed a non-existent tie before turning and crossing the street.
“Should we follow?” John asked.
“Why?” Sherlock laughed in amazement and spread his long arms. “I asked him to tell me about the link between Sofia – Scarlett – and fire and he warned me about Ignis Ray Pharma.” Sherlock gave a happy little gesture goodbye as the harassed man botched his large frame into a taxi and looked fearfully their way. Then Holmes twirled, or so John would classify that jaunty little move, and set off in the opposite direction of the cab. He might have whistled.
“Ignis is Latin for fire,” John sighed and followed Sherlock’s wake. He caught up with Sherlock, “Looks like Merriweather was right.”
“Yes the drugs haven’t fluxed her cortex yet. Miraculous, considering if you think I could push a lot of cocaine, Merriweather could fairly have shot hers out of a garden hose.” Sherlock smoothed his hair and took out the slate. But he was a bit shaky, John noticed. As if he was still thinking about the cocaine in Merriweather’s kitchen. Then Sherlock settled in to the case again, “Need a place to sit down and look into this, John.”
“And we should get off the street. We’re too visible here.” John held his distracted friend back from traffic with one extended hand, and then gave him a tug on the front of the coat when they were good to cross.
“Oh, he’s a talker, all right – as evidenced by the relentlessly jejune torment I had to sit through while you were in that bar.”
“Relentlessly,” John stuck his hands in his pockets and muttered. “Relentlessly jejune.”
As they reached the opposite sidewalk, Sherlock’s arms opened, his hands cued the orchestra in his brain. “We have to find her tonight! That man will be gabbling like a budgerigar to anyone who will listen, by morning. Approximately an hour after he arrives at work, the fact you and I have survived will be well established. Child’s play to extrapolate our identities after he starts in.”
“You extrapolated his ethics from his loafers to work out why Leiber sat by and let this happen to Sofia.” John felt himself grinning in incredulity. “If they know you at all, they’ll know that was you. It was astonishing.”
Sherlock looked back at the slate. His voice was subdued, “You think so?”
“Of course I bloody think so. It is so.” John snorted. “Follow me. We’re running critically low on red meat.” He grinned at the oddly displaced thought, which was a little something he’d picked up from the Marines in Afghanistan.
Even with John’s querulous appetite, he still got through steak and chips at a shop four streets over. Not at all aiding John’s digestion was the fact Sherlock would only sit in the front of the house at a window. He would not be dissuaded. He unscrewed the bulb in their lamp and spent the better part of the meal letting his tea get cold in front of him while his fingers rattled against his phone and the slate in turns. Twenty minutes ago, John had prodded the genius into muttering, “Reading about Scarlett’s – Sofia’s – Ark-Co projects all night. Two years of records. Nothing stands out. No idea why she was fired… changed her identity. Records expunged.”
Good thing John could keep himself company.
“Anything else?” the server asked. She smiled at them warmly. “Want some dessert?”
“I asked for hot tea,” Sherlock said distractedly. He never looked up from the slate. “Take this away. It’s cold.”
“But, sir, I-”
John reached a hand. “It’s okay. I understand. He’s… focussing, and he can lose track of time.”
“No he cannot.” Sherlock enunciated. Then he tapped the table with a fingertip. “Hot tea.”
She carried the cup away with a worried expression on her young face.
“Sherlock,” John grumbled, “if you don’t stop scaring the staff, I’m going to knock you on your-”
Holmes put his fingertips to his temples and then pushed his hands out in air beside him in a motion identical to sweeping items off a cluttered table. “Ignis Ray – IR Pharma – is a subsidiary of Ark-Co. They have an overwhelming controlling stake, Ark-Co, but haven’t moved to purchase Ignis yet. It’s been five years. Perfect arrangement if you want to lay your mistakes at someone else’s feet. Ignis is heavily influenced – its board of Directors is appointed by Ark-Co – but it’s still nominally independent. Meanwhile, Ignis has offices in a different location than its parent company, and, among other things, is involved in arranging the freight of Ark-Co pharmaceutical products. That gives them storage facilities, John. They ship by road, air, and sea. Of these, air freight is our least likely candidate. Airports are a little too excitable about security these days. But road or sea… lovely locations to keep a girl.” He shoved the slate at John. “But which. I need a way to figure out which. And tea. Where is that girl with the tea?”
John chucked money on the table. “I’ll buy you some at Starbucks. Belt up and lets go.” John got out of his seat and made for the door. Sherlock didn’t budge. “We don’t have time for this.”
Slowly, he got to his feet. Sherlock seemed distracted by his thoughts, thus his motions were slow as he put his things away. This might have been the Demerol, but smart money was on the delay being caused by a snag inside the crucible that was Sherlock’s head. John waited it out patiently, his eyes never straying far from the road traffic outside. Although… it seemed that Holmes had chosen this place wisely. Closer inspection revealed that unlike with the Thai place, there was no intersection with a road perpendicular, which would allow for a determined assassin to T-bone a vehicle into the restaurant. There also appeared to be a–
Sherlock glanced his way, “We’re set back at least five yards from the road and there’s a plinth and a knee wall along the edge of the lot, John. I wish you’d relax.”
“Quite all right.” He glanced out the front as they moved along behind some older diners toward the main doors of the building, and then he stopped. “Police coming. Leiber didn’t wait. The odds he’d do so were a little less than even, but we did threaten his stable environment, he called the Yard on us. Want to go out the back?”
“Absobloodylutely.” John did an about-face and they headed for the back. About halfway there, Sherlock caught hold of his jacket and pivoted them both into a booth. He gave his hat a little tug. “Keep your eyes on me. I’ve got two coming in from the back.”
“Why so many?” John marvelled. “We just spoke to him. Ivan Leiber isn’t that important an individual, is he?”
“But he is with Ark-Co, and if that name got into the ears of someone at the Yard, it’s possible that Lestrade’s feelers picked it up. Charlotte has the letter now. The clues are in the open. Two men harass an Ark-Co official?”
“And what if he gave descriptions?” John sighed and looked from the police in the front of the house, scanning the room, to those in the back. “Where do we go?”
Sherlock smiled up at a passing waitress. “Miss, is it possible we could get something on the balcony?” he used his best Metro impression. “A little more private?”
The girl brightened and looked between them warming. “Well, I’ll go have a look.”
“Follow her,” Sherlock said coldly. “Don’t look in the direction of the police, even if they stare at you. I won’t be far behind.”
John got up from his seat and followed the waitress across the crowded restaurant. His spine prickled, but he refused to glance at police, which was ridiculous, as he had a badge on him – Sherlock’s Consulting Detective badge, which Lestrade had gotten him when the CIA had come sniffing around.
He dropped into the seat of an empty table as soon as the server carried away the mugs that had been left behind by earlier patrons. Sherlock was two minutes behind by John’s watch. He slunk through the balcony with his coat folded over one arm. The coat was very distinctive.
Moving as he did, with the unsociable coolness he did, it was hard to pin him as Sherlock Holmes. He looked like he should have been lounging in the select section of a blue-blooded nightclub. “John.” he said softly.
John got up, and in the bustle of people going from the table near the back, Sherlock went over the low wall around the tables and was free in the alley. John quickly followed. Though they took curious looks, no one tried to detain, or delay them. From there, they walked down the alley. Sherlock ducked through a dark passage into the opposite building. They came out in bright, busy kitchens. “Sorry… got turned around. Which way to the front?”
Then he ignored the directions of the kitchen staffers and went out the back.
John could make comparisons between escaping those few city blocks and white-water-rafting, which he’d done with his mates back in school: there was more planning to it than anyone outside the hobby probably expected, and a lot of physical hardship. And so it was with this escape Sherlock fell into dead silence, such was his concentration. The need to run in fits and starts began to dwindle. They were surrounded. Getting clear of the first ten blocks took an hour, and like the feline he was, Sherlock dearly wanted to get up onto the rooftops. Doing so would make a racket they couldn’t afford at the moment.
The pair of them huddled in a recessed doorway in an alley, just barely hidden from the floodlight a rolling Met police unit shone down the long black tube between brick walls. John held his breath. There was nothing for the nerves like hiding from oodles of circling police. All that he could think was that Sofia was alive. Sofia needed them. Meant they couldn’t get caught. Sherlock’s phone made a soft ping lost in the crackle of tires on unkempt asphalt. He checked who had texted only after the unit rolled by, but he didn’t try to leave the shallow doorway.
“What’s it say?” John whispered.
“Sarah,” Sherlock replied quietly. “She contacted Charlotte Warren. We’re persons of interest in the disappearance of Sofia Rothingham. Nothing on the news, but City and Met police are aware of it and hot to nick us both. Donovan’s chuffed, I’m sure. The British Transport Police aren’t under the Home Office… so there may be hope if we reach the London Underground.” He put the phone away, reached out, and pulled John back into the scant doorway. The police unit had cleverly backed up to shine the light again. “Lestrade’s told them who they’re dealing with,” Sherlock murmured. “They’re being extra painful.”
“Are we able to get out of here?” John asked. He desperately wanted to go home, in fact, and take a couple more painkillers as well. It had been hours now, and he was badly in need of pain relief. Sherlock also had to be suffering.
When the light passed, Sherlock picked the lock beside him and stepped into the back of a paint shop. The storage area was dark, smelly, and predictably full of paint tins. John could vaguely make out the small chest under a lone window. He went to huddle in it. His body throbbed so badly that he wished he could crack open a tin of terpenes to take pain meds with. Sherlock remained with his back against the locked door. He texted hurriedly. A shadow passed over John’s head. Someone looking in the window above him? John froze, as did Holmes. Next, the doorknob rattled. They were trying the locked door. By now, John was holding his breath. When he studied Holmes he found his friend’s expression padlocked, distant, and all business. They stood, and sat, in silence until the attention passed.
Sherlock texted. John’s phone pinged.
‘Sarah’s in the car coming to get us. Bringing water. Parched. Hurting.’
John smiled at this and texted a reply.
‘If I’m trapped, tired, and sore all over, at least the company is good.’
There was a pretty long pause before the reply.
As impossible as he would have deemed it in the cramped, airless, and fume-filled room, John fell asleep. He jerked awake only when Holmes – his coat smelling like fog and wind – slumped onto the chest beside him. “John. Here.”
Sherlock gave him bottled water.
“What did you do?”
“Went to meet, Sarah.” He nodded. “She’s pulling the car around. Give me a pill, John.” His hands were shaking.
His movements stiff and painful, John pulled out the pill baggies and decided the dosages. He gave Sherlock a studied once-over in the light of his mobile phone and handed him one of the more powerful pills. Sherlock waited like a baby bird, his lips half open with a steady pant of air passing between, his body quivering, and his eyes clouded. When injured, there was a genuine difference in resilience between a depleted body like Sherlock’s, and a fed, rested, and maintained one, like John’s. As the hungry, sleepless, sapping hours rolled on, the gulf between them would only widen.
John steadied the bottle so that his flatmate could drink. “It won’t be long,” he muttered soothingly, “It won’t take long.”
When John took his own pills, he watched Sherlock’s huddled body. Holmes rocked slightly and each steady puff of air had a soft groan on the tail-end. John fairly willed the pain relievers to blossom in the man’s stomach, course through his bloodstream, and penetrate the barrier between blood and brain, because he’d only ever seen Sherlock in such a state once before. And the man had been shot at the time.
“Your mobile, Sherlock.”
John slipped it from the man’s inner jacket pocket as gently as he could manage. He checked the message, which was Sarah’s.
‘We have a problem. You’re flagging. I need to get you in the car. But there are police checkpoints all along here. I need you to go another 5 blocks.’
John looked at Holmes. He had slumped against the flats of paint beside him and was breathing hard. This was a man who didn’t breathe hard after running across a ward.
She texted a reply.
‘Can you go 2 blocks?’
That… might be possible. Or, no idea.
“Holmes, can we go 2 more blocks?” John asked.
Sherlock’s breathing was levelling as he asked, “Depends on the direction.”
‘Can try.’ John texted in reply.
How weird it was, texting her from Holmes’ phone! It was almost like she was another woman, entirely, with Sherlock.
Together, they worked out a plan that would take Sarah through the checkpoint closest her, and allow her to intercept them a few roads over. Her turn to change direction would be innocuous enough, even if noticed. John tucked Sherlock’s phone in his own pocket and rose stiffly to his feet. His ribs pinched achingly. His lungs burned for a few deep breaths, but then he was able to muster himself to move again. He turned to Sherlock.
Holmes’ green eyes were open, “Is it time?”
“The Met has checkpoints on the roads. Sarah needs us to go a few blocks.”
His lips flattened a moment, but his eyes lit with resolve. “If that’s what she needs.”
Thankfully, the effort had switched from searches to checkpoints. John kept Sherlock to alleys, with only brief forays into the street. The pill he’d taken began to cut into Holmes’ pain as they walked, and, by the time they dropped into Sarah’s car, he was grim, yes, but in control of his faculties.
“All right?” Sarah asked.
“I hate Lestrade right now,” John pointed out. “But he’s damn effective.” The seatbelt he pulled across his chest sat painfully over John’s badly bruised skin, but he let it lie.
Sarah informed them. “At least I’ve had a call from Doctor Hooper; seems she wants us back at St. Bart’s about the blood. She’s beginning to get data back now.”
“Which is where you’ll be going,” Sherlock told her, “And then you’ll text us the findings. We have to get across town to the offices of Ignis Ray Pharma.”
“Which are where?” Sarah scanned her options ahead and pulled into the middle lane.
“Newham. We’re going to Silvertown.” Sherlock raised the slate and pointed it at John. “We’ll start on the banks of the Thames.”
“Why there instead of… wherever they ship freight with trucks? What made the decision?” John was surprised.
Sherlock’s bowed lips pulled back to dimple his cheeks. He was irritated. “Trucks come in and out of the Ignis Ray Pharma Silvertown facility, and it’s on the Thames, giving them more than one way to move her around. Going after their truck freight right now… the police presence makes heading there untenable. And give me back my mobile.”
John handed it over. “And if she’s not in Silverton?”
“Then we have a problem. We’d need to get back into town without being spotted by anyone from the Met. Ignis’ freight depot is between Mooregate and Shoreditch. Less than 20 minutes from New Scotland Yard, and right on top of City jurisdiction. Which makes it an issue, seeing as the area is crawling with Met police right now.”
Sarah’s expression darkened. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’ll stick you in the boot and drive you there if you think she’s at that place.”
“Unsafe,” Sherlock told her while tapping on the mobile that John had handed over. “Just get to the nearest DLR line. We need to get on the grounds. Facility is reasonably large. Means there will be a door someone forgot to lock, or a window someone left ajar, John. It’s human nature.” He added,
The Docklands Light Rail got them to the area they needed, but it was late at night and a cold walk from the station down to Ignis Ray Pharma’s buildings in Silvertown. John was grateful for the pills he’d taken. Sherlock, unyielding to the wind and muffling fog, seemed to find fatigue impossible. He also seemed to have unerring skills at navigating in a smoky wall of weather.
When they arrived at the lit sign for Ignis Ray, John followed Sherlock behind it. There was a simple wire fence between the service road and the parking lot. Scaling it was quick work for Sherlock, though the pain of misusing his injured body was evident in an uncharacteristic wince. John couldn’t make it over the fence without help. This meant Sherlock was forced to scale it again, boost John over, and clamour over it a third time. By the time they were both on the other side, it was clear that Holmes was in a great deal of discomfort, and John was quite eager to get him to rest. But they were off again within five minutes.
For the most part, Sherlock kept to shadows. Eventually, they slipped from tree shadow into the black skirt of a building.
It was hard to say if the fog down by the river was on Sofia’s side, or not. It was thick enough that a veil covered the water and everything John squinted at on the North bank. But the powerful overhead lights caught in droplets and created a bright halo in air. They stood to be detected in the same glowing fog that concealed their actions. Sherlock took no chances, and kept to the cloudy shadows for the most part. Meanwhile, John found himself with fingers crossing and uncrossing, as he prayed that Sofia Rothingham was hereabouts, somewhere where Sherlock could reach her.
John blanched when – while silently navigating the grounds – he saw the mountain of shipping containers. In fact, he tugged Sherlock’s arm, but his flatmate only whispered in his ear. “No power. She will have lost blood. She’s in one of the three buildings… but which?”
Good Lord. How was Holmes going to determine that?
John thought it impossible, and would have called the police… if they’d had a shred of evidence to warrant it. Sherlock turned what had to be the millionth knob to find it locked… but the next door on was ajar on a brick. Sherlock pointed and John found himself in military mode, with low, loose knees, and paying attention to Sherlock’s every gesture. But they made it inside unmolested.
John wanted to duck in the nearest room, but was detained by Sherlock. “Look. Stop. You’re in a panic.” The man pointed through the glass door and gestured at a panel John could see protruding from the wall. Sherlock leaned in again to say. “Lights are on motion detectors. We can’t go in any of these rooms.”
Clever boy. John’s brows went up. “Well, what are the odds they don’t know we’re here?”
“Excellent,” Sherlock told him. “Be aware I’m deep in the network of the parent company. I know where the cameras are in the Ignis buildings. Coverage is thin inside, thicker out in the containers. But what we’re looking for might not survive a night in the containers. Therefore, it’s not in the containers. Follow me. I’ll keep us away from the cameras.”
They wound up downstairs in the janitorial area. Sherlock quickly got John into coveralls that were a little too large, so John rolled them up. Holmes climbed into a pair and tucked the hat and coat in a plastic bag he put on a cart with a large rubbish bin on the front.
“I’ll do, but you’ll never work,” John leaned on his mop and rolling bucket and scoffed.
Sherlock looked baffled. “Why’s that?”
Laughable. “Because you look like a fugitive GQ cover. There’s nothing you can do about it, Holmes. It’s just you. We’ll need to get you something better, like a Security jacket and hat. You’d look sharp then.”
“Oh my God,” Holmes hissed through his teeth, “is this Fashion Week, or are we solving a case?”
John backtracked, “More convincing. I meant you’d look sharper, you follow, as in much more convincing as Security, you know, the clever hat and all?” John pointed at his own head.
Sherlock reacted with a precise demonstration of his hands in air. “Push the bucket. Shut up.”
Along the way, Holmes actually did collect rubbish here and there. It was unbelievable, given he couldn’t throw out as much as a paper napkin properly at home. Holmes maintained the illusion of janitorial staff – a tall, beautifully-kept, janitor with pristine fingernails, and a violinist’s hands. Who might have been on a magazine cover. Ridiculous. But there was something in the way he moved, how he was, that made you forget what your eyes actually saw. John chuckled as he wheeled behind his flatmate. He had no intention of mopping yet another floor. It was bad enough cleaning up after Sherlock. He wasn’t cleaning up after the staff of Ignis Ray.
They did a circuit of the building on all floors, Sherlock putting aside a large bundle of rubbish no less than four times. Meanwhile, John worked on a plan of convincing Sherlock that house-chores were practice for the next time he had to disguise himself as a menial.
They left behind the carts as they went to the second building. Sherlock set his phone’s screen display to low. “No messages.”
“Molly’s not done? It’s been hours.” John thought about it, “Or Sarah can’t find her.”
“Or Sarah didn’t reach her,” Sherlock added and missed the worried look that crossed John’s face. He texted Sarah quickly – Update me – and tucked the phone away again.
“How are we getting in this one?” John moaned softly as the second of Ignis Ray’s buildings loomed out of the fog.
Sherlock held up a card he pulled from the pocket of the overalls he wore – which, being gray in the thick mist, nearly made John lose track of him if he got too far ahead. Holmes had a key card. He used it to get them in with a soft admonition. “From here on out, there will be a record of what we’ve done, something that will break pattern for Security, given the man who owns this card should be at home asleep right now. We’ll have to be quick about it, John.”
“That’s great news,” John said dryly. “You just tell me when it’s time to run for our-” He clammed up in a hurry. They’d hit a hallway with a corner office that was glass at the front and side. That meant Sherlock and John had a decent vantage, from the darkened hall, of the lights of police vehicles beyond the front entrance. The SIO stood just inside the door. Beyond her, Lestrade paced back and forth like a leashed hound. Neither of them even glanced in the direction of the hall at a 45 degree angle to them, they were too busy gawping at Sofia.
John almost said her name. The one thing that stopped him was Sherlock’s hand across his mouth. It eased away and John whispered. “Sherlock, they found her. It’s over.”
Holmes’ head cocked slightly.
Hair newly cut and styled.
Recently coloured with some signs of lighter roots due to haste.
Slightly darker than I remember.
Now John looked up at Sherlock. “She’s all right. It’s okay. We can just back out of here and no one needs to know we broke in. Once we’re clear, I’ll text Sarah. Sherlock, don’t you see?”
She raised her hand. Sherlock strained to hear her soft voice and made out the words ‘not a funny prank’, ‘degree in nursing’, and ‘part time’.
“You’re going to have to come with us,” Charlotte Warren glanced back at Lestrade. “I’m going to drive Miss Rothingham over to the station, Graeme. This needs untangling. Do you think Sherlock might have done… those things to the apartment for some reason?”
Sofia touched the nest of her throat with one hand. “What things? Whose apartment? Mine? Not mine, yes?” but for the moment, she was ignored.
Charlotte’s lips narrowed slightly at Lestrade as she considered this angle. “They did see one another. He doesn’t seem the type.”
“He’s not the, uh, crime of passion type, or the passion type, really, at all. But he’s a well good lock pick, that one, so… he could get in. But this… wasn’t him. No.” Lestrade rubbed his face, stuck his hands on his hips, and glanced at Sofia. “Though that’s a better question for Miss Rothingham than me, SIO.”
“Fair enough,” Charlotte said and her gaze scanned the room so that John sank back to the wall lest she glimpse them. Realistically, she had a bad angle for it. Sherlock didn’t budge. He simply stared.
Lestrade’s voice registered disbelief. “Miss, you’re the last person we expected to answer the bell when we got over here.”
“Oh. It’s the hour, yes?” She agreed. “And why are you here?”
“Silent alarm.” Lestrade said.
John looked up at Holmes’ unreadable expression, which was focused as the point of a compass whose one arm pinned Sofia, and the other, himself. Had they tripped a silent alarm coming in? And what was going on in Sherlock’s head right now?
Lestrade straightened and looked Sofia’s slim frame over. She was a tall, pretty girl with tremendous waves of honey hair. Like Sherlock, she was visually striking. “You’re sure you’re unhurt? Nothing wrong with you?”
She turned around and picked up a purse and coat from the front desk, her soft voice clearer now that she was facing the right direction. “Apart from being worked to death? But I’m a part timer. And brand new. I suppose one does have to expect it. I’m sorry… I was about to go home. I’m knackered. Will this take much longer?”
“Not at all. Pardon us, DI Lestrade, and please listen for your mobile phone.” Charlotte told him as she turned to escort the puzzled girl to the door.
Lestrade watched them exit and stood a moment longer, his face mystified. “What the hell…?” he muttered. Lestrade glanced around the area, which made John and Sherlock draw further down into the hallway, his angle being slightly better, but then he turned and followed Sofia and SIO Warren outside the building.
As soon as the doors to the foyer, and then to the lot, shut, John put his face in his hands and laughed shakily. “Oh my God. She’s all right.” When he pushed his hands up through his hair, Sherlock was gone, though the rattling and rambling from the break-room made it clear he hadn’t gone far.
He was pacing along, his long, deft hands – the rudders to his brain – flailing about him in air, directionless. They flicked from his forehead to his hips, to smoothen his jacket, seeing as the overalls had been discarded on the floor with the bag of his coat on top. He pressed his fingertips to his eyelids, moved them off to his temples, acknowledged John with a glance and exploded. “How? How?! No… this makes no sense. How is she here? I mean working here? God!” He checked his phone, and, seeing nothing, snapped at it. “Useless! You are useless!”
“Sherlock, take it easy.” John counseled. Not only was he speaking at a normal volume, or better, the man was positively quaking.
He swept close. “Now, John, listen to me – How? Think. She was taken: the blood in the apartment, the car in the alley, her letter and the missing rug. We know she was taken. She didn’t just walk away.” Sherlock’s chest rumbled those last words.
“She’s walked away before.” John pointed out. “She’s adopted a whole new identity. Sherlock, you just saw her; she was right here, in front of the both of-”
“She walked away to hide from Ark-Co and Ignis Ray, not to come back as a part timer here!” Sherlock swung around to point at him. “She was abducted. She did something; she knew something, and it cost her her career. She ran away because she thought it could cost her her life. And now what am I supposed to believe? They let bygones be bygones and hired her back? She hid for two years, man! Can that kind of mistrust vanish in seconds? And I suppose she tripped the alarm, herself, and left the building with the police for her own … oh.” Skidding to his knees, he scrambled for his coat, which lay in the pile of coveralls, and whipped out the tablet. Then he typed wildly. Sherlock’s breaths whistled through his clenched teeth as he read and worked the phone, almost gasping for air. The wind had been knocked out of him.
John watched this. “She was just here, right in front of us. She’s okay, Sherlock. Calm down.”
“No-no-something’s wrong.” He breathed airlessly. “My God, how is this happening to me?”
He scrolled through the tablet as he rose to his feet again, and his head cocked a little. He turned the slate and moved his fingers to zoom the article he’d inadvertently flipped to. Then he stuffed the slate away in the coat he’d pulled up with him, and dialled out on his mobile.
“Sofia’s found, man.” John opened his arms, utterly in disbelief. How could this pass Sherlock’s notice? How could he not be folding up to go home right now? “She’s no longer missing. As in safe.”
His head was bowed, his fingers squeezing the pain at the bridge of his nose. “Shut up. Get out. Just get out of my sight.” Sherlock said unequivocally.
John took that opportunity to go out into the hall and check the likelihood anyone had heard the commotion Sherlock had been making. The man had obviously lost his marbles. John scowled. They should be making a straight line for Molly and Sarah with the news. But Sherlock had been wrong. So, instead, expect Sherlock to throw a hissy. John shook his head and ducked in the closet marked Caretaker, still able to hear Sherlock’s voice from up the hall. That meant anyone within a radius of two or three halls could hear it.
“Sarah? Tell me.” Sherlock’s voice vibrated with pressure.
Across the city in St. Bart’s Sarah stood with a grateful hand on Molly Hooper’s wrist. The other woman was beaming. Sarah nodded and gave the girl’s wrist a squeeze. “Oh! She’s brilliant! Molly, I mean. She’s found it! I can hardly believe it myself. It’s the blood cholesterol, Sherlock. I mean, the blood type, just about everything else is identical, but the cholesterol is vastly different. I mean too different to be from one girl. I tested some of her old blood from the bank. Sofia’s cholesterol was low. She was vegan. But this other blood is high, with a lot of-”
The world inside of Silvertown’s Ignis Ray facility stopped spinning like a top. Sherlock shut his eyes and sucked a breath in through the nose. He stopped feeling slightly ill. There was no need, because he was not going mad. “Anything else?”
“She gave a pint of blood on the same night that she disappeared. It disappeared too. The older blood, from midweek, they didn’t take.”
“They needed fresh,” Sherlock confirmed.
Across the city, Sarah nodded her agreement as if he could see it. “The blood bank she worked at was stuffed that night, and there aren’t many security measures on the place. I almost walked from the back door to the front without a single person noticing I was where I shouldn’t have been. It was just as you suspected.”
“Yes,” Sherlock nodded softly. “Yes, I see.”
“What do I do now?” Sarah asked seriously. “What do you need?”
“I need you to find the birth announcement or hospital certificate for Scarlett Walker. Quickly. Text me the findings.” Sherlock said quietly. “I’m close, Sarah.”
“Then I’m doing it,” she said right before he hung up.
Sherlock tucked his mobile away. He stared into the face of the big Security Guard for only a moment before they both moved. They met with a thud between their prior positions. Sherlock had connected with the man’s jaw and thrown his momentum off to the right. But the Security Guard quite easily outweighed him. His fist buried in Sherlock’s belly, once, twice. Sherlock’s breath went out and his knees hit the floor. For a few, dark, confused moments he wrestled to maintain consciousness.
When he faded back into his throbbing body, Sherlock found he was still on his knees. Only seconds had passed then. The Guard had hold of his hair. Nothing he could do, because Sherlock had discovered he couldn’t make his body comply with his wishes. It occurred to him that he was only semiconscious. This wasn’t improved when the guard slapped him, hard, in the face.
Sherlock spilled on the floor, only to have the man pull him up to his hands and knees again.
The world was dim and shaky. Sherlock barely held on to it.
“He’s up here! No, in the building, you twat…. No, up fucking here, inside the building, with us!” The guard’s voice spiked with agitation. “No, I don’t know how – I thought he was fucking dead! Now he’s walking through walls and showing up on my fucking coffee break; he’s right fucking here!” The fingers in Sherlock’s hair shivered. There was a longer pause. “Like hell I’m doing that. You come do it. I’m with the fucking Church of England, mate, and do you have any idea what that would do to my fucking karma?”
The irony almost made Sherlock smile.
“Okay, fine. I’ll bring him.” The guard finished and hung up with a curse. Apparently, he had one left to spare. There was a pause of several seconds before the burly man spoke again. “Okay, you slippery, supposed-to-be-dead, genius bastard. I’m going to carry you down to my mate so he can drown your arse, so no sudden moves.” With that, he started to get into position to pick Sherlock up. He did this as if he didn’t expect Holmes was really awake.
Halfway through the motions, Sherlock opened his eyes and smiled, and, in a very normal voice asked, “Now, how, exactly, did you know I was a genius?”
“JESUS!” The man yelped and backed up almost to the door.
“Is ‘genius’ something Sofia says about me? She’s here, then. I was right. And she’s been warning you about me.” Sherlock curled his legs under him and dusted off his hands. He gave his stomach a gentle probing with his fingertips. The pain made him feel sick, and he couldn’t quite keep that off his face.
“You burnt up.” The man stuck out a finger at Sherlock.
“Your findings are premature. What really happened was that I saw the truck coming, got on the table, and up over the bonnet. Apart from some cuts from the glass, the real damage went on below me. Oh and I got a look at the driver. He’d closed his eyes before the impact. You can tell him I’m coming for him after this is resolved. He murdered a girl. Bad thing.”
“You’ll be dead in an hour. Good thing,” the guy snapped. “Doesn’t make a difference how bright you are if it won’t keep you from drowning. Now come with me! I can’t be fagged with carrying you, but I don’t mind thumping you to submission.”
Holmes drew slowly to his feet. “You sound like a lovely person.” Sherlock said dryly, “May I point out it does make a difference how bright I am if, by your logic, it does keep me from drowning?”
“Shut it!” the man made a reach for Sherlock, and John released all the tension in his body in a resounding lash of the broom he’d fetched. It smacked the back of the man’s head and splintered. The Security Guard dropped like stone. The end of the broom flew at Holmes, who dropped down under it and turned to watch it smack against the wall, ricochet into the fridge, and come skidding across the floor. It stopped by John’s feet in the broad doorway.
“Security Guard outfit,” John panted. He ducked down and picked up the hat, walked over, and delivered it to Sherlock’s seemingly numb hands. Holmes’ fingers folded around it reflexively. “More your speed. Get his jacket. We need to get away from here.”
“Okay,” Sherlock said.
John walked out into the hallway and put his hands on his hips. Inside the room, Sherlock took off his coat, jacket, and shirt and began changing into the Security Guard’s outfit. The shirt was a little large, but he folded and tucked the sides until the fit was better. His jacket went on, and the security coat over that. He took the radio, security badge, and weapons as well. Then he smoothed his hair and put on the cap. The expensive coat went neatly folded and placed on top of the fridge before Sherlock texted Lestrade. “John.”
“We need to move him outside.” Sherlock nodded. “There are cameras on the front lobby.”
“No we don’t. We need to leave out the front door, and-”
“Yes. We do.” Sherlock’s fingers ran over his belly carefully.
He’d been hurt in the scuffle John had heard. Hurt in the stomach. “Sherlock, it’s madness.”
“Really?” Sherlock looked at him. “You met her for about ten minutes in a dimly-lit restaurant.”
John opened his mouth and then closed it again. This was Sherlock – Sherlock Holmes – he was speaking to. People’s raw fear of his observational skills had made him into a social pariah. “Really?”
Holmes stared at him levelly. “We’re not done here, John.”
John strode in, caught hold of the downed guard’s elbow, and pulled him easily out through the hallway. “Well, while I was in the closet, I found another of those garbage carts.”
They walked the cart out through the freight elevator. Once they were outside, Sherlock cuffed the man to a steel bollard, popped the cap off a Sharpie pen, and wrote on the man’s chest:
Ask me about – kidnappings and drownings.
He also drew an arrow across the man’s shoulder pointing back at the building.
“All right.” Sherlock sighed and listened to the stifled night air for a moment. “So they’re going to expect me downstairs for a dip.”
John’s expression soured and he was distinctly aware of the nearby river sounds at those words. Then his attention caught on: “Downstairs?”
“He kept saying ‘up here’. ‘He’s up here’. ‘Come up here’. And ‘fuck’, incidentally. When he’s in the nick, he should sit down with a Thesaurus.”
“Sherlock.” John growled.
“Right. He came from a level below the ground floor. There’s only one according to the blueprints I looked at earlier. Of course, they might have concealed a sub-basement, but I’m going on material we know right now. The basement is used exclusively for long-term storage.”
“Sounds perfect,” John nodded. “Well… let’s go back inside. There are a couple of things I want to take with me if we’re going downstairs after all.”
Sherlock got them back through a security door, proving the card was good. From there, John brought Sherlock to the little cache he’d made in the Caretaker closet and handed Sherlock a fire axe.
“Really?” but Holmes shouldered the thing and grinned like an idiot. It made John scoff with amusement and shake his head.
“Well, I don’t have my gun.” John picked up the other fire axe, the plastic packing ties that could double as flex-cuffs, and two cans of spray paint, one of which he gave to Sherlock. He carried a small sack of useful things. “No windows. If we get separated, use the paint to leave me a trail.”
Sherlock shook the aerosol paint with animated glee, “John… that leaves everyone a trail.”
“Then be tricky. Only leave the real guides… at my eye level.” Not bad, right?
“Granted. We’ll go into the plus and minuses later,” Sherlock flipped the can over in air and caught it again. “It’s been a long day. There’s only one place to look here. Let’s go get her, John.”
As they started down toward one of the doors to the basement, or so the plans by the elevator designated, John could see the front of the office was lit with the silent, rotating lights of a police cruiser. He paused, crouched, and sprayed a green arrow on the floor marking their way.
“Lestrade,” Sherlock said.
“He’ll get in okay?” John asked.
“You don’t think my would-be murderer, out front, gives him reasonable grounds to suspect there’s evidence in the building that relates to the offense at hand?” Sherlock asked.
“I think he quite properly believes that he’s gotten Sofia back, and you’re rattling about in here, obsessed, attacking guards you cuff up to the building’s security bollards, Sherlock. That makes you look even guiltier than the team already suspects you to be.”
“Then we mustn’t be caught by Lestrade before we’ve proven me right by delivering Sofia. So no more spray paint arrows for them, John, unless it’s misdirection.” Sherlock said coldly. He turned and stalked away, which left John awash in misgivings. This time… was Holmes going crazy? Or was he right? Then he could hear someone far down the hall rattling the front doors.
John had to run to catch Sherlock.
At the elevators on the back of the building, they discovered there were two doors to the basement.
“What if they take her up through one door while we go down another?” John worried.
“Then police are outside,” Sherlock said. “I texted the SIO to hold the girl they have, if she’s still there, that is.” First he showed the text: ‘Not Sofia. Hold her.’ then Holmes made a determination and chose the door on the right side of the building. “They’ll have someone waiting at the downstairs. It could be a fight when we come out. If they have guns… but if they had guns they wouldn’t be talking about drowning me.”
“Maybe, if they didn’t want it to look suspicious?” John pointed out.
“Firstly, they aren’t that bright, and secondly, they didn’t know that I’d texted the Yard.” Sherlock glanced down at John and his eloquent brows rose as if that should have been enough to explain. Then his lips compressed. “Come on, John. They could shoot the both of us and overnight us to cold storage in Sweden, there’d be nearly no trace we were ever here. Well… some discrepancies in card access, the guard I left outside, my coat upstairs, and your green paint arrows – most of which is rather easily covered up. But these people want to dunk me in the Thames, instead. They’re not thinkers. If they had firearms, they’d shoot up the walls.”
And so would you, John thought, uncharitably. “Well, if they have guns, we’re dead as soon as we go through the door.” John sprayed the graphic by the elevator so that the right door to the basement was circled.
“I said no more of that.”
“And I never agreed.” John noted.
“Idiot.” Sherlock sighed, grinned tightly, and took his left hand out of his pocket. “That guard hit me in the stomach with a knuckle duster.” A silvery ridged job that Sherlock now wore. “When we’re down there, if I can get close enough, I can do some damage with this.”
“And the axe, I suppose, is window dressing.” John’s tone was wry.
“You expect me to hack them to pieces?” Sherlock blinked.
“Never mind. Aren’t knuckle dusters illegal in the UK?”
“Quite. So keep quiet about this. Solid steel. I’d rather like to keep it. And the matching police baton.” He tapped his belt and nodded.
They walked down the stairs with John in the lead. He was in a state of anticipation. He could see the vast room beyond was dim. The stairwell, in contrast, was well lit. It was a very bad situation for them, but they sat it out until John felt confident he’d seen as much as he could, and they entered the room. It was, by now, the small hours of the night. A man sat sleeping at a desk that John couldn’t have seen, off on the right. It was dumb luck.
“There’s ether in the bag.”
“Excellent organic solvent and good at getting rid of grease stains,” John said clinically. “Maintenance closet had a little bottle. If you want to knock the guy out, there’s ether in the bag.”
“Then get it ready, and I must say you’re chilling when you’re efficient, John; quite the professional.” Sherlock said as he walked to the man. He took out the baton, flicked his wrist to extend it, and shoved the tip of the thing into the man’s throat. John circled around behind the chair, out of their victim’s sight.
The Security guard made a gagging sound. His eyes came open in a hurry, but he couldn’t sit forward without doing himself serious injury. Sherlock spoke slowly and clearly, “Don’t. Scream.”
As he reached for the baton in his throat, Sherlock smacked him in the side of the face, sharply. It happened at incredible speed! In bearing, it was oddly as if Holmes held a rapier.
“Shit,” the man wheezed. “Are you him? What do you want?”
“Keys. And her location.”
“Oh God,” the man shut his eyes. “She said you’d come in here. I told her… she was crazy. No one but no one messes about with Ignis Ray.”
“It’s not Ignis Ray’s neck,” Sherlock said sweetly. “It’s your neck. It’s your neck I’ll break.”
“They’ll kill me if I-”
“Really? Interesting. I’m right here, right now. And I won’t let you die. Now where is Sofia Rothingham?” Sherlock’s tone was frigid. When the guard didn’t answer, he wrapped long fingers around the man’s throat and squeezed until the portly guard clawed at Sherlock’s arm, his lips going purplish.
John bit down on his urge to stop his flatmate. He only thought of Sofia. To that end, he opened a drawer and took out keys. “Which one is it, mate? He doesn’t care about you. You’ll die in some basement in Silvertown, and that will be all.”
The man’s flapping hands clawed the desk. The items on it sprayed everywhere, until he emerged with one set of keys that he flailed in air – trying to point in a direction. Sherlock let up at once and the man gasped and coughed. John felt numb looking at the ring of bruises on the guard’s throat. Sherlock was strong. And angry.
John looked up into that pale green gaze across from him and froze at its steady calm. “Make him go to sleep now, John.”
The guard was still struggling when John dosed him with ether. Slowly, his struggles diminished until he lay still. But his pulse was fast and strong. John bound his wrists with doubles of the plastic ties from the bag, looked up at Sherlock, and breathed, “Okay.”
“Oh. Well isn’t this nice.”
Sherlock jolted beside John, and they both looked in the direction of the East-End accent.
A trio of men came from the direction the man had been pointing in. In the lead, the largest of them moved cockily; John thought this was probably due to the massive muscles built on the back of his no-doubt multiple gym memberships having crushed his brain. Aside from that, he was an unhealthy tan; his hair was short and slick; and when he saw the pair of interlopers he faced, he laughed and opened his arms. “You’re not Barry. You’re a scarecrow and a garden gnome, come to visit.”
“Bad guy,” Sherlock took off the Security hat and gestured. “A boxer of approximately 30-31; very possibly on steroids; look at the way that-”
“Not the time.” John indicated in an aside.
Holmes took the news gracefully. “Of course. Carry on.”
The huge and leering stranger snapped out one of the telescoping, stainless steel batons at the end of that. The dim fluorescent light along its quicksilver surface looked malicious.
But the two men directly behind the giant exchanged glances, perhaps noticing:
a) Barry was gone.
b) So was the man at the desk. Or so it appeared.
“Oh, hey,” John nodded in greeting, reached over the side of the desk to where he’d leaned them side-by side, and picked up one fire axe.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Sherlock said as he picked up the other.
He gave it an immediate swing, but like a golf club. Forgotten on the desk, was a steaming mug of coffee that now shot through air and impacted Mr. Gym Box square in the forehead. It snapped in several pieces and spewed its scalding hot liquid all over the man’s head. The giant howled and pawed his face.
John blinked, “Your dad took you golfing?”
“In Scotland. Boring.”
“Ah. Well, they know we’re here now.” John lifted up the axe and lopped air, the blade making a deep rushing sound that set hair on end, as he did so.
Now that the giant’s spray tan was mottled red with burn blisters and rage, he sputtered and bellowed, “You stupid, puffed-up, clever dick! You’re dead!”
Honestly, as he came at them, John hurried out to one side. Mr. Gym Box looked like a charging bull. In response, Sherlock braced himself, set a foot on the corner of the desk, and gave it a violent shove. The hulking man slammed into it and tumbled over in a fountainhead of white-out, staples, and sticky notes.
Sherlock was nothing if not an innovator.
It really became a melee from there.
“Hey, short-arse. You might as well give up before-”
John caught the man making for him in the forehead with the back of the axe. One swing dropped him. He wound up crawling on the floor for the remainder of the fight, trying to do the little things, like remember his name, where he was, or reckon why people kept treading on him.
In fact, John had to chase down the other man, who howled like a beaten dog as he ran – having started a footrace the moment John had socked his friend in the head. This man didn’t appear to like being chased with an axe, and, much to John’s complete disbelief, turned out to be running to a toilet. He locked himself inside, screaming every time John knocked. John considered using the axe to snap the lock, but decided against it. The problem had taken care of itself, he supposed. He started running to get back to Holmes.
…. Who came sailing around the corner of the large storage shelves at a dead run. “Gogmagog, back there, took the axe.” Sherlock said snappily. His mouth was bleeding, and John guessed he should be glad that was all that had happened to the man. They both fell into a companionable hustle through the long flank of the building. The giant-sized man turned the corner behind them, axe raised in his huge hands.
“He can’t chase both of us,” Sherlock noted breathlessly. His body was giving him fits of pain.
John wasn’t any better. “Not leaving you. Think… of… a plan.”
“Okay. Got one,” Sherlock skidded to a stop, turned, and charged at the huge man hurtling in their direction. This caused John to wipe out on the shop floor while trying to loop around. He smacked his knees, bumped his chin, and shot up like a runner off blocks to power after Holmes, only just clinging to the axe.
Gym Box used the axe clumsily, really. John bristled, because the huge thug already had the axe raised in preparation to cleave open Sherlock’s ‘clever dick’ head. Not to put too fine a point on it. In reply, Sherlock’s baton came out and snapped back like a silver snake’s tongue. John, who knew how to use an axe – thank you volunteer firefighting programme – was now at his best dead-run, and prepared a swing to counter. Sherlock shot to the left without warning. The axe would have pinned his longer coat to the ground if he’d had it on. As it was, the shock and steely ring spurred John faster.
John swore the next move he saw was like something out of an action movie: Holmes reversed the baton in his hand, darted behind the man, leapt for momentum, and swung. The connection was terrific. It slung Sherlock out and back a good five feet.
Wow. But there was no time to applaud that impressive move. John was – and he couldn’t believe he was thinking this outside of some jousting re-enactment or something – parrying an axe blow. The shock of it went all the way down his arm through his shoulder and back, and ended up shooting through his heel like lightning. John yanked hard to the left and shouted. “My axe.”
It shot out of the massive man’s hands and clattered to the floor.
And the giant fell. Sherlock’s blow had ended the mad dash through the downstairs. But like the nerves of a massive bull elephant, it had taken a moment for the signal ‘pass out’ to get into their attacker’s brain. Once he hit the floor, quite like a sapped wall, blood spilled out from his nose.
John didn’t have the bag with the plastic ties anymore. Bad luck, that! Instead, he hurried to snatch up the other axe and stood shaking with adrenaline, waiting… but no one was coming. All he heard was a steady knocking. And then Sherlock folded down to his knees. He sat back on his heels with a gasp.
“All right?” John broke from where he’d stood waiting and hurried over. “Sherlock?”
“One minute… just… a minute.” He filled his cheeks with air he blew out.
Holmes closed his eyes and admitted, “Yes.”
“Going to pass out?”
John winced. He laid one of the axes down and placed the flat of the other against the back of Sherlock’s long neck. The cold had the best chance of helping him maintain. “Deep breaths, and squeeze your fists okay? Keep at it. Muscle tension will raise your blood pressure…. Still there?”
“Yes.” Sherlock said. He started to struggle to his feet in spite of the fact his voice was thready. “Keys. I still have the keys. Listen. Do you hear it?”
John’s attention turned from Sherlock – who he was supporting on his way up to his feet – to the outside world. He could hear something… dimly. Banging. But it was coming from the wrong direction for Hysterical Toilet Man.
Sherlock took a deep breath and headed in the direction of the noise. “Hurry. He won’t be out for long.” Their steps got steadier as they went. And they multiplied? No. There were more people running through the vast store room.
“It’s Lestrade,” Sherlock said almost to himself. “I hope.”
As they came to a line of steel doors at the back of the room, the banging grew louder. John felt himself surge forward. When he could hear her muffled voice, his eyes began to sting with waves of relief. Sherlock had been right – Sofia was alive.
“Hurry, hurry! Keys,” Sherlock shoved them at John and danced back to look around the row of towering storage shelves that shielded them. He panted noisily, wracked with pain, and John tried key after hasty key, gripped in a wordless passion. His focus came to a surgical point and filtered out the cries of ‘POLICE!’ and ‘Drop the weapon!’ behind him.
Right until a low growl came from closeby, “Drop the axe, Holmes! You’re wanted for questioning. Don’t resist. Don’t-”
“The men down here were set to kill us,” Holmes panted, “I’ve issued an Any Person Arrest.”
“You have a badge, Freak!” This was Donovan’s voice. “It’s just a bloody arrest. Now shut up and drop the axe!” But, by the sounds of the activity behind John, she also began sending officers to search for Ignis Ray guards.
But that didn’t stop them harassing Sherlock. John began to turn from what he was doing.
“Keys, John!” Sherlock barked at him. “Focus!”
Okay. Keys. Focus on the monster ring of keys. John blotted out the rest, only dimly aware of Sherlock handing over the axe, of police jerking him away from the wall and turning him on his unsteady feet, of them pulling his hands behind him and cuffing him. It had to hurt. But none of it mattered, because John had found the key.
He wrenched the door open and, from his vantage, a blur passed him by.
Sofia Rothingham – whoever else she was – collided with Sherlock’s bruised and aching body with enough force to rock him back against the police. He huffed out a gasp. His tone was dry, “Hello again, Sofia. You might have told me about that monozygotic twin of yours. What’s her name?”
Sofia squeezed him hard, until he wheezed, in fact. She managed to push out the name, “Vivien,” but was clearly trying very hard not to sob. Sherlock would appreciate her restraint given his weakened condition.
His head sagged forward almost onto her shoulder now. “So… what did they do to your hair?”
“Cut it all off,” she told him with a hiccup of air. “They said they didn’t want the care of it.” It was unevenly hacked away, and so short that it might have had two inches where it was longest.
John looked from the room, which was like some kind of third world medical affair – bare cot, IV pole, basin, bucket – to the girl. She had survived. He felt shaky. When John looked her over… she was all right and in one piece, though both of her arms were bandaged. John left the keys dangling in the door, their mission in this world, accomplished. Then he did what any Doctor would do. He walked to stand behind Sofia, reached out, and put a comforting hand on her back. He gave a little rub when she shivered.
But he also texted Sarah with his free hand. John added to this, “I suggest you take the cuffs off Sherlock, please. Not only is he an officer of the Met, he took a pretty good beating getting through those thugs. As his doctor, I’d like him off his feet.”
Lestrade stepped in. “Get them off. I… I need to hear this from you, Sherlock. You… you all right, Holmes?” It was an odd tableau for anyone who knew Sherlock.
John opened his arms a little. “Let him catch his breath, man. It’s been a night.” He’d completed a text of: ‘Alive. Police are here. Pls call - get Sofia’s apt cleaned.’ When he was done, he looked up at Sherlock and Sofia and blew out a long breath of air. Thank. God.
Sarah’s text came back: ‘I love you. Both.’ It was… stunning. Confusing. John didn’t know what to do with it, so he simply tucked his phone away. Okay….
“Uh…” John looked up. “Okay. I’d like to have a look at you, Sofia.”
But there was nothing doing on that front. She wouldn’t budge.
Sherlock’s cuffs came off. The first thing he did was reach up and run his hand across her butchered hair. “Bloody short.” His other hand came up to give her head a rub. “Feels strange.”
She cringed against him.
“All right, Sofia?” Sherlock reached down to rub her arms. “Let go…. Let me go now.” It was only when he started to flag that she stepped back and reached for John.
Her face was red with tears. “I’m sorry… I believe I… lost my composure. He’s… he’s bloodied.” At some point, Sherlock’s lips and chin had smeared her cheek and ear with blood. There was a small pool of it drying on her neck, staining her rumbled night-shirt. They’d taken her in her pyjamas, John scowled: a thin shirt and little shorts. She’d have died of exposure if they’d tucked her away outside.
“He’s hurt,” John pointed out the remnants of blood on Holmes’ face.
Sherlock gave his face a wiping up with one hand. “He’s fine. Sofia, pay attention. This man over here is DI Lestrade.” Sherlock motioned at the DI who stared, incredulous, in her direction, but who also shrugged off his long coat and set it over her shoulders. Sherlock added, “He takes instruction well. I work with him frequently. That means you can work with him. And Lestrade, here’s your girl. The one SIO Warren has is a duplicate, the sister Vivien. If I were you, I’d take Sofia to the Met for a statement as soon as possible. She’s not safe until you have her story on record. And… I’m at the end of my tether. Evening.” Sherlock’s eloquent hands stopped painting his meaning in air, and he panted and took a few steps back. Withdrawing a little wasn’t enough, so Sherlock turned and walked away from the scene. He was done.
“Sir,” one of the police motioned at Holmes as if there was a problem. It earned him a glare from John, who followed Holmes away, astonished that it wasn’t good enough, apparently, that he’d solved an impossible crime for the Yard.
Lestrade shook his head. “Let him go…. I’d say drive him home, but he wouldn’t go in a cruiser. Someone order him up a taxi. Now.”
Then Lestrade looked at the pale, huge-eyed, girl before him: the artist behind wave after wave of marvellous paintings in the loft. He, his squad, all involved, had trusted she was dead. Still, he and Charlotte had found the ties between Ark-Co and Ignis Ray, given the clues of ‘Ark-Co’ and ‘fire’, so they’d hurried here on the strange coincidence of a silent alarm, but they really hadn’t thought…. It was her personal white knight – more of a Black Prince, really – that had scorned at the judgment she was dead. Lestrade turned to look after Holmes and caught John Watson’s backward glance. He nodded at the doctor. Poor bastards looked exhausted.
“There’s a lot I have to tell you, sir, uhm, DI Lestrade.” Sofia said quietly. “I’m… I’m not hurt. Can we go to Scotland Yard and start in?”
John’s glance showed Sergeant Sally Donovan trotting over to fall in step a few feet behind them. She touched John’s back. “Axes? Really?”
“I didn’t have a sidearm.” John shrugged. “Wait until you see the big guy. I could have brought a cannon and he would have trashed me. Huge.”
Sherlock was oblivious. His hand steadied his long frame on the casements full of crates.
John stepped out to walk beside him. God he was aching. “Where are you going?”
“Well, here’s my master plan: upstairs to get my coat; home to get a shower; and then straight into my bed.” Holmes told him with a quick quirk of a smile.
“Sounds phenomenal,” John agreed and then turned to Donovan. “Oh. There’s a bad guy locked in that loo, by the way.”
“In the loo?” she asked curiously. And then she snorted, “As in he ran in, and locked you out?”
“He didn’t take well to us running about with axes, I guess.” John made a blithe shrug.
Dear God. Sergeant Sourpuss actually smiled.
They slept only for four or five hours.
John only woke because Sherlock sat on the edge of his bed. He’d probably had only four hours as, by the smell of him, he’d been up for long enough to shower. Something was wrong. He was still in his long blue bathrobe. In fact, he was softly rocking back and forth with pain. John had taken meds to his bedside, in fact, and had been resting comfortably. John sat up and turned on his bedside lamp.
Sherlock Holmes had come to wake him because he didn’t trust himself for medicines, and because he was, to every appearance, miserable as a thrashed child. John quickly realised he’d omitted setting out medicine for Holmes before he’d turned in… this was his bad work, in large part. He reached out and touched Sherlock’s back, lightly. “Okay-yeah. It hurts. Just wait here.” John hurried downstairs, got painkillers from his coat and fed them to Sherlock with a large cup of milk.
“You’re too thin. You’ve got no reserves, Sherlock. You should eat.” John blasted his flatmate.
“Not a good plan,” Sherlock told him with some finality. This was because the pain was making him queasy. He followed John downstairs with slow, careful motions.
In the front room, John got him out of the robe to look at the damage the knuckle duster had done to his middle. The thing had been made of steel. The spans between each finger loop had had a slightly raised point, perhaps for emphasis. The amount of deep bruising was devastating, hand-in-hand with the impact Sherlock had received from the truck. He looked horrible.
“Any pressure? Do you feel pressure inside any of these bruises, Sherlock? It’s important.”
“No.” Sherlock lay on the couch watching all of this curiously. He was in miserable condition, so covered in bruises and abrasions he looked cut of marble and heavily included granite in equal parts.
“So I’d normally say we need to get ice on these… but they’re old enough now it might serve us better to get blood-flow out here to heal them.”
“Reabsorb the blood.” Sherlock blinked as if only just considering this for the first time. He really had no inclination toward taking proper care of himself.
“Exactly.” John rubbed his short blond hair and pointed at the kitchen. “I can get the kettle going. Just a towel with some sufficiently warm water will help. About 10 minutes on the bad area. Not for the shot to the belly yet, though. For the next 48, that’s a job for frozen peas.”
Sherlock’s brows quirked up. “Ooh. Love frozen peas.” He reached back onto the arm of the couch and pulled his new hat down to cover most of his face. “Peas. Bring it on.” His lips gave a soft pop.
“Idiot,” John snorted and closed up the top of Sherlock’s robe. He also took away the hat.
“What about yours?” Sherlock rolled himself upright with some effort. “Your bruises?”
“Mine are healing,” John told him. “Because I eat meals and rest like a sensible person.”
“Oh.” Sherlock looked away as if – in his opinion – John was being too sensitive on the matter. He checked his phone. “Sarah sent birth records for Vivien and Scarlett, by the way; incontrovertible proof that Vivien Walker exists, and was faking the police out.”
“She was in on it?” John put on the kettle.
“Sometimes our siblings are not our ‘friends’, John.” Sherlock snuffled the air and frowned in consternation. “Uhm… do I smell something like… roast?”
“Yep. Flies in the face of everything you know, but I bought a slow cooker. Big one. I chucked in beef and veg with some stock before we turned in.”
Holmes looked at the wall beside him and began scanning the bookshelf there. Eventually, he got up and went into his room.
John knew that for exactly what it was – the same sort of thing cats did when they stopped to groom in the middle of a strained situation. Sherlock was hungry. He could eat every scrap of this stew. But John was also ready for that, with cornbread, rolls, an entire tray of date cookies – all store bought. The whipped cream and pumpkin pie he’d found in the fridge wasn’t. That was trademark Mrs. Hudson, in fact.
He set out his stew first, though, purposefully taking a large bowl. There would be no seconds.
“Do you know how to make dumplings?”
Sherlock was at the table when John turned, now dressed in a clean pair of pyjamas and the blue silky housecoat he favoured. John finished sucking the tip of a burnt finger, and brought the first bowls to the table. “Nope.”
“Can you learn?” Sherlock picked up his spoon and poked at the thick stew. “I like dumplings.”
“Did your mum used to make them?” John scoffed at him.
Sherlock’s brows went up. “My mother? My mother didn’t do cooking.”
He was doing well. Sherlock was talking to him about family. John continued to look into his bowl in the predawn dimness of the kitchen. “You had a chef?”
“Mm. Good.” Sherlock said in response. He took another spoonful and shivered in delight. “So I made some productive use of my time, seeing as I couldn’t really sleep much. I logged in at the Yard and got Sofia’s story. You may be interested in knowing she’ll be staying with Sarah the next few days, by the way. Might put a crimp in your plans for Sarah’s lie-low. Or sofa. Or her, for that matter.”
“How do you know?” John shook himself and qualified, “About where Sofia is staying?”
Now Holmes distracted himself with selecting a hot roll and giving it harsh treatment with the butter knife. “Sofia texted me. Sarah went to the loft and got her some clothes. Picked her up from the Yard. Brought her home. Blah.”
“Okay,” John said noncommittally, though, inwardly, he knew he wore a smile. “How is she?”
“Still jumpy. Sarah is taking tomorrow afternoon off and bringing her to a psychologist.” Sherlock said that last lowly. “I told her it would be a waste of time.”
“Why a waste of time?” John glanced up curiously.
“They can’t prescribe drugs, John,” Sherlock pushed a buttered roll John’s way, which was uncharacteristically thoughtful of him. Made John wonder was there something wrong with it? “And they can’t change the past.”
It was somehow pathetic. John took the roll with thanks and settled back in his chair. “So what would you do for her? I mean, if not a psychologist, what?”
“Well, hire someone to clean up her loft, for one, but I see someone already thought of that.” Sherlock’s smile flickered and died out.
“You could spend some time with her.” John suggested moderately. “You make her feel secure.”
“Mm. Did you make tea?” Sherlock left the table to pour himself a cup of boiled water and steep a teabag. But at least, John thought, the idea had been planted like a spanner in the revolutionary machinery inside his skull. After a couple of minutes, John checked him.
Sherlock stood by the stove and stared at nothing. John’s lips compressed at how truly feckless his flatmate could be. Holmes was often childish, but he was desperately childlike when approaching anything charged by powerful emotions, the sort of things that came of friends, family, much of his past, and the uncomfortable – maybe painful? – idea of companionship. “Come back to the table, Sherlock. Eat your, uh… breakfast, I guess.” John rubbed his hands in the legs of his cotton pajamas. “You know… I know how to drop a topic if you say you just can’t take any more.”
Holmes settled down with his gaze averted. He laid down his black tea, two sugars, “Wouldn’t want to be rude.”
“You?” John laughed.
“To you.” Sherlock added coldly, and then ladled himself more stew. He’d been through the first bowl in record time. “Dumplings.”
“Yes. Got it,” John chortled. Sherlock was regularly thoughtless and rude to him. He just didn’t mean to be. That made all the difference in the world, actually. “Okay. I’m going to say three words, here – 2009; fire; and Ark-Co – now tell me about Sofia.”
Sherlock, spoon still in his mouth, walked to the living room and came back with the pink letter. He laid it on the table and inhaled the rest of his soup before setting in on an explanation. John helped this along by topping off Holmes’ bowl again.
“We were right about the year. That part took care of itself in the course of her letter to me.” He lifted the thing and gave it a soft snuffle, his green eyes narrowing as he set it down again.
“It was clear her issue was regarding the company. Ark-Co is in serious trouble with the City. You know how they are about fraudulent practices and the like. They’re also not getting fan-mail from the Met right now. But that last bit – fire – that was the tricky one. First, we were correct in our assessment.” Sherlock pulled the slate out from under the morning Metro. John was beginning to see Sherlock hadn’t really slept at all yet. Food on top of the pain pills he’d just taken would make short work of that. Maybe while he was out, John could slow-cook something for when he woke up. That point in the day was sure to be 12 to 14 hours out, 8 if the pain started to wake him. But John resolved he would put his phone by Sherlock’s bed, with some pain-pills, and wake the idiot to take his next dose. God knew Sherlock couldn’t take care of-
“Not paying attention,” Sherlock tapped the slate and the display got brighter.
“Sorry. Doctor-stuff in my head. Yeah.” On the screen was a letter about Scarlett Walker’s job termination. “Signed and dated in the summer of 2009. About the same time as Sofia Rothingham miraculously rises from the dead over in Bedale, I expect.”
“By the way, in her report, uh, Scarlett confirms Sofia was a friend,” Sherlock flipped to the police report on the slate and pushed it across the table at John. “According to her, they used to draw together when they were children. Scarlett felt that Sofia – the original Sofia – would have wanted her to use her identity if it was a life-or-death situation. Scarlett correctly intuited her life was in danger. She vanished for a while and resurfaced as Sofia.”
“I can’t imagine… I mean, most people would be dead. She’s very astute,” John said.
“Artists notice things many other people don’t. To them, matters may be so clear it can seem contrived, or confusing, when other people fail to notice, or acknowledge, them… or so I’m told.” Sherlock ate another spoonful of stew and shrugged.
“By whom?” John asked curiously.
Oh hell. John almost punched air. Finally, he had some tiny and tangible piece of Sherlock’s past. He hid his smile by looking down at his nearly finished bowl. He was almost full. The rest of this, tea, and a cookie would do the trick. Sherlock would likely finish the entire crock, all the rolls, the rest of the cookies, and the pie. Total weight gain? Nil.
“So,” John looked up, “fire meant that she was ejected from the company. We knew that.”
Sherlock’s voice rumbled. “Better than that, John. Way, way, better than that. It’s why she was fired and it has to do with your burnt Toyota. Scarlett Walker was a nurse on clinical trials of a drug called Prometheum. Want to guess what it claims to do?”
“No clue.” John had forgotten about eating now.
“Know who Prometheus is?”
“Uh… god who brought fire to man? Is that right?” John blinked.
“Titan,” Sherlock nodded. “Name means ‘forethought’. The rest is right. He brought the knowledge of fire from Olympus to mankind. He was ruthlessly tormented for his actions.”
John considered Sherlock a moment. If he were a demi-god of some kind, and certain circles acted as if he were, it would be possible to see Holmes in that role – bringing fire, or light, to man. Only to have it rebuffed.
“Mm. It turns out part of the record that was expunged goes into why they bought Ignis Ray Pharma. Ignis was developing Prometheum. There was a leak, you see, and Ark-Co found out. Well, I wouldn’t want anyone in the way of billions in profit either. Prometheum was a threat. They bought controlling shares of Ignis over the course of a few months. This happened before Vivien and Scarlett were scouted by Ark-Co. Scarlett, it turns out, was always a bit of a humanitarian. Viv, however, majored in business – she has a degree in some management discipline or other. Not important. What is telling is that they were both hired around the same time, and both brought on in order to work the transition of Prometheum testing and production from Ignis Ray to Ark-Co. Scarlett landed in Ignis Ray as a nurse on clinical trials. Vivien landed in Ark-Co, managing finances.”
“What does the drug do?”
“It’s not a treatment for ADHD symptoms. Over the course of 5 years, it supposedly modifies for rectifies ADHD. It changes the way the brain behaves for good… or that’s what prelim tests began to show. At that time, Scarlett was excited. She and her sister were going up through the ranks of Ignis Ray and Ark-Co quickly. Ark-Co was noticing their successes. All good.” He ladled out more stew for himself. “Then something happened to a couple of the kids in trials. They started to fixate, become inflexible, and some even seemed to develop a predilection to violence. Then one of them was released from the study. Only she didn’t want to leave London for Wales – as in, decided she was never leaving London again – so she set fire to her parent’s car. The girl’s name is Penny Folland, and, right now, she’s in an institution downtown. Now, before Prometheum… she was normal, apart from the ADHD. Ark-Co said she was an outlier. She’d developed childhood schizophrenia and it had nothing to do with the drug. It wasn’t easy to prove one way or the other, given the small sample size of children who developed issues. Then Scarlett blew the whistle, as they say of these things. She threatened Ignis that she’d leak documents to the press, actually sent them to Ark-Co’s Board of Directors, and sank years of Ignis Ray’s clinical trials. Billions gone. Ark-Co did a review and shut the trial down. Ignis Ray contested the findings, and had Scarlett fired.”
“Okay… why run away like she did?” John blinked.
“Because she had a word of warning,” Sherlock nodded. “I suspect this was our mutual friend Leiber again, though she doesn’t state his name on record. He honestly likes the girl. Somehow, she ended up seeing a document that stated Ark-Co was furious with her interference, and was quite deeply invested in Prometheum. She describes the atmosphere around her as ‘threatening’ in one line and then ‘murderous’ a few lines later in the police report.”
“So why kidnap her?” John asked.
“Well,” Sherlock sat back with a smile. “They made some superficial changes and started Promethium up again under another name, as it turns out. This time it’s called Vestiam – Vesta or Hestia being the goddess of the hearth, by the way – and, what do you know, for some reason, they become afraid of springing a leak again.”
John’s eyes widened. “So they already know something’s off.”
“Then they figure out one last tidbit no one realized, seeing as the departments and companies were so unrelated – the girls are identical twins, and Vivien had been seen logging into Scarlett’s laptop using Scarlett’s credentials on more than one occasion. This is why Scarlett’s alive, or that’s what the Ignis Ray official who spoke to her when she was first brought to storage in Ignis Ray told her. Back when she was Scarlett, Sofia saved herself by never admitting guilt when challenged on blowing the whistle. No one could tell who really killed Promethium: Scarlett, or Vivien.”
“So they wanted to talk to the pair of them.”
“Apparently,” Sherlock spooned his stew around. “Vivien maintained it was her sister. She donated several pints of blood for the apartment scene just so Ark-Co could grab her twin and confirm it. Imagine what a terrible surprise it was to find out they hadn’t disposed of Scarlett, and were, instead, starting to focus on devious and venal Vivien – who had just proven, by giving up her sister, exactly how devious and venal she could be. I should add that my research since has proven that, when Promethium was killed, a series of firings moved Viv up the chain in Ark-Co quickly. She learned how to position herself, how to use the massive failure of a product as her springboard. If you look at her employment record over the last two years, you can see her angling herself into a good place in case Vestiam died. Which she expected. She may be an unethical viper, but Viv knows her sister is bright. She knew that if Scarlett was right about Promethium, then Vestiam stood a high probability of failure. Rinse. Repeat.”
John sat in stunned silence. “So the three men at the apartment spread around blood from Vivien, the stolen bag, and some they must have extracted from Sofia by force.”
“Sedation.” Sherlock nodded. “Molly found signs of sedative as she made her way through the remaining blood samples. Really stupefying bit of work there. She finished all of them even when I had the information I needed.” He spread his hands in bewilderment, and went back to the stew.
John held his tongue on the idea that she might appreciate him enough to pull an all-nighter as she had. His mind’s eye saw Doctor Molly Hooper touching Sherlock’s skin with utmost delicacy. But this would never occur to Sherlock. Thus, silence endured for the better part of fifteen minutes, with Sherlock pressing toward the bottom of the crock pot and looking for more. John got up and washed dishes, in fact. “So she saw her days as numbered. No wonder Vivien was happy to leave with SIO Charlotte Warren.” Sofia had been betrayed by her own twin. Horrible.
“Speaking of which,” Sherlock kicked the door to the fridge closed with his heel and sat down at the table with the entire pie and a fork, “it was a hostage exchange with her this morning: my letter for her credit card. I kind of like the SIO’s style. See what you miss when you sleep?”
John could only laugh at that. “She does seem rather clever, Charlotte Warren.”
Sherlock poised over the lid… his fork wavered. He took a few swallows of his tea and tried again. But still… he didn’t lift the clear plastic cover from the pie. Curious stuff. John dried the bowl and spoon he’d just washed. He turned to the sound of the fork clattering to the table. It jerked Sherlock awake again. Holmes blinked, but the sheer lack of comprehension in his expression told the tale. The engine between his ears had put its foot down. He was out of time.
Sherlock made it as far as the couch, in fact, and might have been asleep before he lay flat against the cushions and pulled up the knitted blanket to his waist; medical magic, those pain pills. John cut himself a generous slice of superlative pumpkin pie, drew some tea, and sat down in front of the telly with a sigh. His cell said he had an hour before he had to be at the clinic, beaten and bruised as he was, there were bills to pay.
Before he left the flat, he moved Sherlock’s cell over by him, poured up a glass of pulpy orange juice, and laid out another painkiller. As he straightened and stood over the ‘world’s only Consulting Detective’, it felt as if the real world was like a massive telly, now on pause… because Sherlock Holmes was fast asleep.
And that made John smile. He couldn’t imagine what drama would be on when Holmes hit play again, but John Watson was one of the few people in the world who hoped he always had a part to play. Last night, he felt they’d done something truly heroic. Today was about the little things that would keep them going. John was good at those. He shut the lights and adjusted the heat, and locked the doors before he went out into the dawn.
~ End | Thank you for reading! ~