Molly had known that faking a man’s death was going to lead to complications, eventually. She’d just never thought that it was going to lead to being whisked away in the dead of night by a stranger with a black Limousine.
She wasn’t too alarmed. Molly had gotten a postcard from her “French cousin” Auguste Vernet earlier in the week. The picture on the back was of a place she didn’t recognise and the name scrawled across it was unpronounceable. All she could tell was that it was grubby, smelt like cheap alcohol and came from somewhere in eastern Europe.
Dear Molly, (it read)
My trip to the Ukraine was highly educational. I also bumped into some friends. Only for a short get together, but we had a good chat. How’s Mr. Baker? Better? Worse? Please write to me soon.
It was the type of letter Molly usually got. Vague, carefully worded, but not exactly the enigma code. Most of the time these letters were just his way of keeping the only promise Molly had forced him to make before he had slipped away over a year ago; let me know you are still alive.
However this was the only letter she had ever received with a post-script. A messy, hastily written, barely legible postscript.
Our old school friend Darlene Ire maybe dropping in on you. Sorry for the short notice.
Molly hadn’t a clue who Darlene Ire was, but when there was a knock at her door in the middle of the night, and a young man in a chauffeur’s uniform had asked for her by name, Molly had quickly changed out of her Elmo pyjamas, grabbed her hand-bag and left without questions.
Molly was getting a little too used to having to do Sherlock’s odd jobs about London.
At first it had been little things. Sneakily looking up someone’s police file, or doing a small experiment and sending him the results. Basically it was the same sort of stuff she had been doing for Sherlock before, only now it was via encrypted postcard correspondence. But soon she was breaking into stranger’s apartments to collect their phone messages, or using her holiday leave to go to Cornwall and take pictures of a specific shipping container that may or may not have been used for something illegal in the past month.
And that was before his requests got weird.
Oh yes. A limo ride at two in the morning was one of the least dubious acts Sherlock had asked her to do over the past year. It was almost pleasant.
The limo pulled into a back-street and shuddered to a halt. Molly sat motionless while the driver got out, rounded to the back of the car and opened the boot. Molly looked out the window to see if she could recognise the area. Nope. She had gotten into a car with a stranger, drove to an unknown location and the driver was now getting some unknown object out of the boot. And yet she was trying to stifle a yawn. What had Sherlock turned her into?
The door across from Molly opened and the chauffeur slipped inside. His hands held a bottle of champagne and two flutes.
‘Thirsty?’ The chauffeur asked. Molly didn’t know how it happened but the driver’s voice had somehow become a lot more feminine during their drive. Molly smiled as everything clicked together in her head. Was this what Sherlock felt like all the time?
‘Yes please, Ms. Ire.’
The woman tilted her head for a moment and then removed her driver’s hat. Underneath her hair was still neatly pinned in a way that reminded Molly of all those glamorous stars from silent movies. In fact Darlene Ire may as well been in black and white. Ivory skin, silky black hair; the only thing that spoiled the effect was the woman’s eyes which were a clear, piercing blue. The poor forensic examiner, who had just pulled on a pair of jeans and a baggy jumper before heading out the door, felt like the gawkiest creature on the planet.
Ms. Ire held a glass out to Molly. She took it while the other woman poured.
‘Ms. Ire?’ the woman asked. ‘Honesty? That’s the alias he chose? Bit overblown, wouldn’t you say? Unless…’ she stopped filling Molly’s glass and moved to her own. ‘Did he say my first name was Darlene?’
Molly’s eyebrows furrowed but she nodded all the same. The woman who wasn’t Darlene Ire laughed.
‘And he says I’m the one who likes to play games. I’ll have to remember that one.’
‘I don’t need to know your real name,’ Molly said quickly. ‘I get that you may want to keep things quiet, or something. Not want your name being associated with something… not on the level.’
A grin spread across the woman’s face as she took a sip. ‘I think it’s a little late in the day to worry about sullying my reputation.’ The woman’s eyes flickered over Molly. Scrutinizing. Inquiring. Almost deducing. Molly felt her skin grow warm under the cold stare.
‘Er… while the champagne’s lovely and everything, would you mind telling me what Sherlock needs me to do. Please, I mean. If you don’t mind. That’s why we’re here… Isn’t it.’
‘Oh, I know why I’m here.’ The woman’s voice was dark and low. ‘I owe him a favour. More than a favour, actually. I owe him my life.’
‘Oh. Well I suppose there are many people who owe him that. But that’s not what I meant…’
Darlene Ire ignored her comment. ‘Yet I am not exactly sure why you’re here. What’s a nice girl like you doing in a mess like this, as the old saying goes.’
Molly blinked, not certain how to respond. Then she coughed.
‘He saved your life.’ she said. ‘I saved his.’
‘Ah, I see.’ The woman leaned forward. ‘You’re his keeper.’
Molly ducked her head. ‘No. I wouldn’t say… That’s more John’s… I just help out from time to time. When he needs me to.’
As she said those words out loud she realised how pathetic she must have sounded. Molly Hooper. Human Doormat. She felt a hand below her chin and her face was tilted up to meet the woman’s eyes.
‘I can see why he trusts you.’
Molly could feel her ears burn as the woman gave her a Hollywood smile and pulled her hand away. Molly hadn’t noticed that when the woman had gotten into the back of the limo she had bought a small suitcase with her.
‘My name’s Irene Adler,’ said the woman, opening the suitcase. ‘And we’ve got ten minutes to get ready. You’d better drink up, Molly Hooper.’
‘Irene Adler?’ Molly’s voice went up a register. ‘No wait. You’re not. Sorry, it’s just… Different Irene Adler. Must be.’
The woman had flipped open a compact make-up kit and was carefully highlighting features that were attractive enough not to need high-lighting. ‘Let me guess. You thought I was dead.’
‘No. No I… I did an autopsy on an Irene Adler. No you. Obviously. That Irene was definitely dead at the time.’
Irene gave Molly a side on look. ‘One would hope. Hurry up.’
Molly gulped down some champagne, so she could ask her next question. ‘So wait. Was that meant to be you? At Christmas?’
‘Yes. Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated. And I wouldn’t mind keeping things that way.’ She included her head to the suitcase. ‘There should be a dress in there that will fit you.’
‘What?’ Molly was still struggling with the fact the woman next to her was meant to be dead. Did anyone really die anymore? Was she going to get to go to that Michael Jackson concert after all? Was he next film she saw going to star Heath Ledger and Britney Murphy? Her eyes shifted to the suitcase ‘Oh… Thank you, but I don’t think…’
‘Honey, I’m afraid we are way past thinking.’ Irene snapped the make up kit shut and unzipped the suitcase. She snatched a dark blue dress from inside and flung it at Molly. ‘Put this on.’
‘Er… okay. Where…’ Molly was going to ask where they were going to change but the question dropped away as Irene unbuttoned her chauffeur’s uniform and peeled it away. Molly averted her eyes from the creamy white skin that was appearing before her. ‘Oh. Here. Oh. Are you, are you sure there’s enough… room in here. For that. To do that… changing?’
Irene slipped off her trousers in one fluid motion. Obviously, she was used to getting out of clothes quickly. ‘That’s why I rented the Limousine. On with the dress, so I can do your hair and make up.’
Molly swallowed. She didn’t feel comfortable getting dressed in front of Toby let alone a complete stranger, and not in the back of a car in the middle of some unknown street.
‘Are you sure that you really need me to do this. The stuff Sherlock normally gets me to do is a little more, you know, toned down. Something where I have to find a marshland or look up a type of chemical compound…’
‘Molly.’ Irene’s tone suddenly became more commanding as she locked eyes with the forensic pathologist. ‘Get changed. Now.’
Molly could tell Irene Adler was as used to giving orders and having people obey them, as she was getting out of clothes.
This chapter has been brought to you by the Beta Kadorienne, and by the number 5 and 12.
As they drove through the late night streets (or early morning), Molly was still struggling to pull her royal blue dress both upwards and downwards.
‘I think this dress may be a bit short,’ Molly squeaked. Irene turned her eyes from the road for a second to look at the pathologist in her passenger seat. The woman raised her eyebrow.
Molly glanced at Irene’s bright red dress. It was shorter than Molly’s. And lower. And tighter. But it was more than that. It looked to Molly like Irene had painted that dress onto her naked body. With a dress like that Molly couldn’t help but wonder why Irene bothered wearing a dress at all.
‘For me,’ Molly tried to explain. ‘My dress is too short for me. I don’t do dresses normally. I don’t think I’ve worn a dress since last Christmas.’
‘Really?’ Irene made it sound like Molly had been deprived one of life’s essentials. ‘That’s a shame. They suit you.’
Molly didn’t know how to respond to this comment so she changed the subject with a cough. ‘So, you still haven’t told me where we going. What is it that Sherlock needs us to do? Last time I heard he was in the Ukraine.’
‘He was, but that was months ago. What did his message say?’ Irene asked.
‘The usual. He picked up some information about some of Moriarty’s crew, found them and took them out. Mentioned you would be coming. Oh. And he asked about Doctor Watson. Like always.’
Irene gave Molly a small frown. ‘Why doesn’t he ask John himself?’ Molly looked out of the window. The grand buildings of London’s CBD had faded away a while ago and the suburbs were now drifting away too. Molly had no clue where they were heading.
‘He doesn’t know Sherlock’s alive.’
Irene’s eyes widened. ‘What? He hasn’t told John?’
‘I don’t think he’s told anyone. You’re the only other person I know, who knows.’ Molly couldn’t help but smile. ‘It’s a bit of a relief actually, to talk about it. Get if off my chest.’
‘I can’t believe he hasn’t told him that he’s not dead.’ said Irene. ‘I’m going to have to have a few words with him next time we meet.’ Molly could just envision Irene Adler’s next conversation with the exiled detective. She had a feeling it wasn’t going to be pretty.
‘I’ve already tried telling Sherlock that he should let John know. He’s convinced that telling him would put him in danger.’
‘John Watson is an ex-military medic. He can take care of himself,’ Irene said stiffly. Molly didn’t take offence. She knew that the woman’s tone was not aimed at her. Irene took a breath and let the topic drop.
‘Last time I saw Sherlock he said he was on the verge of a break-through,’ Irene explained. Molly shifted in her seat to face more towards Irene. It felt like she was about to get the set up of a Bond movie. ‘He’s about to take down a major branch of Moriarty’s operation. The problem with that is that as soon as he does it every other branch is going to know he’s not as dead as they had been lead to believe. All of the other little rodents are going to scurry back into their holes when they hear the news and it’s going to be just that much harder to entice them out again. Once Sherlock takes out the European segment, the rest will be onto him.’
‘So what is he going to do?’
‘You mean what are we going to do?’ Irene gave Molly a glimpse of her slow seductive smile. ‘I’ve recently received some information from an old acquaintance that was very interesting.’
‘I know what he likes. Turns out that he had to give Jim a considerable amount of money a while back for reasons he didn’t care to discuss. This meant signing a check and handing it over to one Mr. Ethan O’Brian; Moriarty’s accountant.’
‘An accountant?’ Molly scoffed. ‘The world’s most brilliant criminal mastermind had an accountant?’
‘Oh, believe me Molly dear. When it comes to the crime, the only thing that anyone keeps records of is where the money is coming from; and where it’s going to. O’Brian is the man who organises the funding for almost a third of all illegal activity in the western hemisphere.’
‘What does this have to do with us?’
‘We’re going to steal it.’
Molly Hooper’s mouth dropped open. ‘What?’
‘Well, take it from him, at least.’ Irene pulled out an USB drive from… where had she pulled that USB from? ‘Mr. O’Brian is having a little party at his estate tonight. We’re going to attend.’ She dropped the USB into Molly’s hand. ‘All you have to do is find his study, go into the Brooks account and download everything. Tomorrow our favourite Detective Inspector will receive an anonymous e-mail and Mr. O’Brian will be in the awkward position of explaining why he has given over twenty million American dollars to an African war lord.’
‘Good… all of that sounds good. I just don’t know how that’s going to help Sherlock.’
‘Sherlock hopes to force them out into the open by cutting off their funding. The only way that they’ll be able to keep afloat once their assets are frozen is to try and expand their efforts, regardless of the risks. We’re going to cut off their retreat.’
‘You think it will work?’
‘I don’t know.’ Irene said honestly. ‘But even if I thought his plan was rubbish I still would be here. Sherlock needs to get back to his London life. The sooner the better.’
Molly nodded to herself and then looked at the USB in her hand. A thought crept into her mind. ‘Wait a second, if I’m downloading the account information, what are you going to be doing? Couldn’t you do this all yourself?’
‘I could, but for some strange reason Sherlock doesn’t have complete faith in my loyalties. It may have something to do with how I used to work with Moriarty, but that’s beside the point.’
Molly couldn’t help but stare at Irene’s profile as she continued driving. ‘You used to what?!’
‘Calm down. It was strictly professional. It’s not like I invited him over to watch episodes of Glee.’
‘How did you…’
‘You should really think about taking down that blog. I’m certain it has given people diabetes. In any case, I have no fondness for Jim. Especially since he tried to have me beheaded not too long ago.’
Molly was seriously starting to question Sherlock’s famous reasoning abilities in making her get into a car with this woman. The sound of the road shifted from asphalt to gravel as Irene turned the car down a driveway. Molly could see a house in the distance that she could have sworn she saw on an episode of Grand Designs. It was one of those huge white modern cubes where one side was completely glass so that everyone could look straight inside and see how obscenely wealthy the owners were. Molly hated those houses. She’d always wondered how anyone could feel comfortable sitting on their own couch in sweatpants and eating leftover Chinese when the whole neighbourhood could peer in at anytime. Maybe that was the point. Maybe the windows were that big because it was an invitation to look. Hello everyone. We don’t have a thing to hide so feel free to watch us whenever you want.
Irene’s voice crashed through Molly’s architectural musings. ‘That’s why you’re here, Molly Hooper. I’m sorry dear, but for tonight you’re not only Sherlock’s keeper. You’re going to be mine. Plus, while you’re busy playing Nancy Drew, I’m going to do my bit. Don’t you fret.’
‘I’m going to be the one who “distracts the guard.”’
Molly couldn’t help but let her eyes flicker over Irene’s figure once again.
‘Yep.’ she said half to herself. ‘That’s a good plan.’
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a fanfiction writer in possession of a fic must be in want of a beta. Mine was Kadorienne.
It had been years since Molly had read The Great Gatsby. She was pretty sure that the only reason she had read it was for her English class in high-school. All she remembered about the book was the following:
- Tom was a racist wanker.
- Gatsby shouldn’t have gone swimming.
- Eyes on a billboard. For some reason they were important but Molly couldn’t for the life of her remember why.
- Tom seemed to have a thing for Gatsby.
- The party scene.
The party scene was her favourite part. In fact the party scene was the only good part. Molly knew she was missing the point by liking it so much. That party was there to show how little anyone knew or cared about Gatsby and how isolated he was even when surrounded by hundreds of people.
It didn’t stop Molly from considering it one of the most glamorous scenes she’d ever read. The elegant women, the dashing men, the jazz music, the laughter. It sounded so much more thrilling than the parties she would go to in high school. They were all cheep beer in plastic cups and some jerk from your geography class asking whether he could feel you up, before vomiting in the pool. Luckily for strange, awkward Molly Hooper, invites to parties were few and far between.
The scene at O’Brian’s estate, however, was the closest Molly had ever been to a Gatsby party.
The valet drove the limo away (he seemed slightly surprised by who was behind the wheel) and Irene linked arms with Molly, carefully guided her up the stairs to the front door of the imposing white cube. Beside the entrance stood a huge grizzled man with a tailored suit and an earpiece. Molly had expected the man to stop them and ask them all sorts of questions, but Irene shot him that smile of hers and they both passed through the door as though there were obviously meant to be there. Molly suspected some sort of Jedi mind trick but for once in her life managed to keep this potentially embarrassing observation to herself.
The place was packed, dark and loud. It was more like a night-club than someone’s party. However someone had switched the thumping beat of migraine-inducing base, and neon glow sticks, with dimmed mood lighting and a live band. There wasn’t one person Molly could see who wasn’t gorgeous. Or who, at least, had paid enough money to make a highly-qualified surgeon make them look that way. Molly dealt with the human body on a daily basis and she knew that women with waists that small didn’t get breasts that big through luck.
And yet in spite of all their tinkering with their physiology –all their nipping, tucking, and pulling -Irene was still the most striking woman in the room. Hell, the most attractive person male or female…
Objectively speaking, of course.
Molly knew she was a different story. Sure, she was in a pretty blue dress and sure she was in high heels and lipstick. It didn’t make her one of these beautiful people. It simply make her look like a five year old who is playing dress up in her mother’s best clothes. It was the same no matter where she went; down to the pub, a friend’s housewarming, a Christmas get-together at the office. How could she be in her thirties, have a medical degree, her own apartment and still feel so… juvenile?
Suddenly -too suddenly for Molly- Irene slipped her arm around Molly’s waist and pulled her close so she could whisper in her ear.
‘I am about to make a wild speculation,’ murmured Irene. ‘You have never been to this type of event before. Am I right?’
‘Yeah.’ said Molly, ‘Well… no I mean. I mean no.’
‘I can tell. Do you know the secret to not feeling self-conscious, Molly dear?’
Being someone who isn’t me, Molly thought to herself. Her actual reply was ‘No.’
‘It’s pretending you’re not self-conscious. Just act like you don’t care what anyone here thinks about you. They’ll be too worried about themselves to pay any attention to you, anyway.’
Molly fiddled with the hem of her dress, because with Irene’s arm around her she didn’t know where else to put her hands. ‘I’m not a very good actor, Ms Adler. I care what people think.’
‘Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Just follow my lead.’
The woman’s arm lifted from Molly’s waist, but only so she could take her by the wrist. Molly felt herself being lead through the mass of writhing bodies.
‘Where are we going?’
‘I have a contact here. He’s the one who knows where O’Brian’s office is and he has the key codes to get in.’
‘Okay! Great! Why doesn’t he get the account information?’
‘He’s not up for anything adventurous,’ Irene said, weaving her way between a couple who had no inhibitions when it came to public displays of affection. Well… at least not outside the bedroom. It took a lot of “persuasion” to get him to help us this much. After he gives us the key codes he’s out.’
Molly rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, how helpful.’
‘I know. There is no such thing as chivalry anymore.’
‘Hey, as long as we don’t have to be damsels-in-distress anymore, I’m fine with the trade off.’
Even through the constant rumble of conversation, Molly could here Irene’s laugh as clear as a bell. She was surprised to find herself smiling in turn.
‘So where is your friend?’
‘I haven’t the faintest clue. I told him that we would get his attention.’
It was then that Molly saw their destination, like Hell rising up to greet her.
Irene was pulling her towards the dance floor.
‘No. No no no no.’ Molly tried to tug her wrist away, but Irene kept her grip firm. ‘I don’t dance. I’ve can’t dance. I have never danced, I never will dance. Dancing requires co-ordination and the ability not to fall over while wearing high heels. I can’t…’
Irene stopped trying to pull her forward but fixed Molly with a stare. A cold, weary stare that made it clear that Molly had no choice in the matter, so there was no point in arguing.
‘We don’t have time for this,’ Irene said.
‘Irene, I can’t. I honestly can’t. One little pep talk about overcoming self-consciousness isn’t enough to…’
‘How about a reminder that if we don’t get on that dance floor, our mutual acquaintance is going to have to remain banished for years, or how we can stop Moriarty’s gang from destroying the lives of hundreds of people across the globe?’
Molly groaned and avoided looking Irene in the eye. However, she could still tell with her peripheral vision that Irene’s lips had stretched into a smirk.
Damn it. She knew she had already won.
‘Okay! Fine. But I wasn’t lying when I said I couldn’t dance. I haven’t a clue what to do.’
Irene renewed her grasp on Molly’s wrist and gently guided her towards the dance floor. The crowd seemed to peel away and all that was left was Molly, Irene and a few other couples who were dancing (or at the very least had enough alcohol to believe that they could dance). Molly felt Irene’s hand leave her wrist only to go back to its original destination; her waist. And this time it bought a friend.
‘Don’t worry so much, Honey,’ the woman said. ‘I’ll lead.’
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Edit: This chapter was edited by Kadorienne. She however did not do this edit to alert you that she had edited this chapter nor edit my edit. So don't get confused.
Molly couldn’t stop laughing.
Maybe it was the champagne she had in the Limousine, the collective pressure of the past year reaching breaking point, or the utter bizarreness of her current situation, but as she and Irene twirled and swayed on the dance-floor, there was nothing Molly could do to stem her giggling.
Or maybe she was just having a good time.
And if she wasn’t completely fooling herself, so was Irene.
The woman was as good as her word. With her leading all Molly had to do was follow her steps. Irene was the perfect guide, although a small voice in the back of Molly’s head raised the question of where Irene learned how to lead. It didn’t last for long. Molly was vaguely aware that people where watching her, cheering, jeering, making lewd remarks, but for some reason Molly just couldn’t muster up enough energy to care. All of that was being spent keeping up with the woman in the red dress.
Then Irene stopped. The music didn’t nor did the other dancers but Irene stood stock still, her head tilted to the side. Molly suddenly felt that old familiar rush of anxiety come hit her. She couldn’t believe it, but she wished they were still dancing.
‘What is it?’ Molly tried no to pant. ‘Is it your guy? Can you see him?’ Irene pulled Molly closer to her as though she was using the mortician as a human shield.
‘I can see “a” him but not the one I was expecting. Things may have gotten complicated.’
‘Do you see the blond man in the corner, with the euro-trash ponytail?’
Molly turned her head slightly and caught a glimpse of the man Irene was referring to, from the corner of her eye. He seemed to be pretending to listen to a red-headed woman that was at least half his age. His pupils were unnaturally dilated and he couldn’t stop rubbing his nose.
‘I see him.’ said Molly.
‘It would probably be best to avoid him. Bumping into him may result in some unfortunate questions.’
‘”How come you’re not dead?”’
‘Oh. That could be awkward.’
Molly’s attention was grabbed by the frantic waving of a hand on the other side of the dance floor. A middle aged, bald man in a neat grey suit was sending frantic gestures in their direction. Irene craned her long neck to see what Molly was looking at. Irene sighed in satisfaction.
‘Finally. I was beginning to wonder whether he was going to stand us up.’ Irene took Molly’s hand and draped the pathologist’s arm over her own shoulder like a jacket. ‘Come on, Molly. Enough pleasure. Time for business.’
Molly followed along behind Irene. Their dancing certainly seemed to make an impression. There were certainly a series of disappointed moans as the two women moved their way off the dance floor and into the crowd again.
Gee. You’d think that they had never seen two women dancing before.
The man in the grey suit sidled up towards Irene and gave a nervous cough.
‘Hello, Jack.’ Irene’s voice was smooth. ‘Good to see you here. I was afraid you wouldn’t find us.’
‘You were kind of hard to miss, Mistre… I mean… Ms Adler.’
Molly raised her eyebrows at “Mistress” but Irene didn’t miss a beat.
‘Jack, it’s probably for the best that you don’t use my name under the circumstances. Speaking of, this is my associate for the evening. You can call her Daisy. Daisy, this is Jack Brown. He’s an old business client of mine.’
Jack Brown gave a short nod in Molly’s direction and Molly returned it, all the while thinking that Jack Brown was the most boring pseudonym anyone has ever made up. It was only one step away from being “John Smith”. She didn’t care much for the name Daisy either.
‘Do you have the information we need, Jack?’ Irene asked. Jack fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a grubby little scrap of paper. He held it out to Irene, but when she didn’t move to take it, Molly plucked it from his hand. She slipped her arm from Irene’s shoulder and unfolded it. All that was scribbled were the numbers 24601. Molly folded the paper up again and looked back at Jack Brown.
‘Where’s his office?’ she asked in the tone she normally used when recording medical findings from a body on her diaphone. Clear, concise and clinical.
‘On the second level. Third door on the right. Type the code into the lift. It will take you there. I’m sorry, that’s all I’ve got.’
‘Hang on, how do you know…’
‘It’s not important how he knows,’ said Irene sternly, before looking back at Jack. ‘Where is the lift?’
‘Over there. Next to the staircase. If you get stopped by the security, you’re on your own. Also the code I gave you is a guest pass code. It only works for a limited time. If you’re not back up here in half an hour, you’re going to have some explaining to do. And I don’t think O’Brian is the understanding type. He’s more of the paranoid-to-the-point-of-hysteria type.’
‘Half an hour?’ It was the first time Molly had heard Irene’s voice as anything but controlled. ‘There is no way we can get it done in half an hour. There’s too much data we need to download.’
Jack’s shoulder’s stiffened. ‘Well, you’re just going to have to figure something out. I’m putting too much on the line for you as it is.’
‘This isn’t what we agreed.’ Irene’s voice was as smooth as black ice. ‘You help us get the account information and I don’t tell your wife about…’
‘Look, I know the score.’ Jack sounded almost frantic. ‘But I’m between a rock and a hard place here. I don’t help you and I lose my marriage. But if O’Brian finds out I lose my head. This is all I can do.’
‘All you can do?’ Irene looked as though she was going to verbally shred Jack Brown, when Molly interjected.
‘It’s fine. This is good enough. We’ll work things out once we’re down there.’
Irene turned her head to Molly and then back to Jack. In an instant she was back to her composed self.
‘Yes. Daisy’s right. We’ll just have to compromise. We can be resourceful when we need to be.’
Molly was about to ask another question when the music abruptly stopped. A light switched on somewhere in the middle of the crowded room and in the centre of the light stood a man. All talking stopped and turned towards the spot-light. Molly craned her neck to see what was going on.
The man in the middle of the crowd looked like the type of guy she was always being introduced to at barbeques by some well-meaning friend. They were always nice enough, but after seven minutes of trying to hold a conversation with them, Molly would make up some pretext to wander away, so she didn’t have to talk about podiatry or fishing anymore.
From years of painful experience Molly had learnt to spot his kind from a mile away.
This man’s hair was short, dark and receded, making his forehead seem far larger than it really was. He had a thin-lipped smile and wide blue eyes that made him look like he was eternally surprised. He was dressed all nerd chic – an expensive business suit coupled with a t-shirt with an ironic pop-culture reference and a pair of Chuck Taylor all stars. A man in a charcoal suit –obviously an assistant/security officer - handed him a microphone. It squealed with feedback before the man started talking.
‘Whoa! Okay. Sorry about that, everybody. I won’t keep you long, but I want to thank you all for coming to my party! Yeah! Woo!’
Molly’s mouth dropped open a fraction.
This man was O’Brian?
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O’Brian’s voice was reedy, high pitched and overly enthusiastic. Molly instinctively hated him.
‘It’s just so good to see so many happy, familiar faces.’ Molly looked about. There were at least a hundred people at this party, and there was no way he could recognise anyone in the dark. Also as far as she could tell, no one was smiling.
‘I’m so glad we’ve had such a good turn out. Particularly after the year we’ve had. I know, I know. It’s been rough for us. Real rough. Business has been hard, the economy has slumped again and we’ve lost a lot of good people. One in particular. You all know who I’m talking about. Our main man.’ O’Brian nodded and grinned as though people were responding to him. Every single person was silent. ‘Yeah, yeah. Deeply missed. Deeply missed. But you know what? You guys are still here. You guys just keep on soldiering on! That’s what you are. Troopers. And that’s what tonight is about. Celebrating the how, in spite of the crap we’ve had to wade through, we are still standing.’
The party-goes clapped at this, more out of obligation than shared sentiment. O’Brian either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
‘Don’t forget that! This party is for you! This is a party to remember what we have achieved this year. And’ something flickered in O’Brian’s eyes, ‘a time to get rid of the dead weight.’
There was a groan from behind the accountant. O’Brian moved out of the way, giving Molly a clear view of the two security agents dragging forward a bound and hooded man. His suit was torn and bloody in places and his groans were muffled by the pillowcase duct-taped over his head.
‘I’m sure you’re all familiar with Demyan Kozlovsky? Head of our shipping operations in Ukraine?’
Molly’s mind was suddenly filled with a postcard she had received back in June.
I’ve met a guy called Demy here. A real charmer. Has the knack for setting up lonely guys with beautiful women. He’s like his own personal e-harmony.
Molly had known what Sherlock had really meant by that, and the fact that he was in charge of “shipping” only solidified her suspicions in her mind. She had often thought about asking Sherlock to not send her this type of information. Molly wasn’t naïve. She knew about human trafficking, and how it was a very real thing in many parts of the world, but somehow, Sherlock’s postcards made the concept more real. But Molly had never gotten around to telling him not to talk about the kinds of things he discovered on his travels. She knew that if it was her, she would need someone to tell, even just to get it out of her brain for a while.
‘We’ll I’m very sorry to say that Demyan is no longer going to be working for this company.’ O’Brian rubbed his hands together. ‘Yeah, I know. It’s a shame. Demyan’s done some real good work for us over the years but after what happened in Kiev last July, we have mutually agreed to end our business relationship. We’ll be sad to see him go but we all know that this is the way our company works. But I think he deserves a proper send off for all the work he’s done. C’mon people, round of applause.’
The crowd did another rendition of their half-hearted clap, and O’Brian, opened his coat, pulling out a knife –
Molly didn’t watch what happened. The only way she knew it was over was that she heard the thud of a body hitting the ground.
‘Demyan Kozlovsky, everybody!’ O’Brian sounded like a game show host, as the security guards dragged the body away. He handed the knife to someone who looked like a P.A. While she pulled out a handkerchief and wiped the blade clean, O’Brian kissed his hand. ‘Enjoy the party.’
And with that the accountant retreated into the throng, the band started up again and everyone began to dance and chat and laugh again. Molly would have thought she had the world most vivid and violent daydream if everyone wasn’t trying to avoid stepping in the trail of blood that was still spreading over the hard-wood floors. Molly closed her mouth. It had been a long time since the sight of blood had made her feel the least bit squeamish, but this…
Molly felt a hand slide into hers. She looked over to see Irene staring back at her, with eyes full of concern.
‘Come on, honey. Let’s get this done and get out of here.’
Molly followed after Irene. As they passed through the crowd, Molly noticed that Jack Brown was well and truly gone. Now his paranoia seemed totally justified. If O’Brian was the sort of man who had no problems knifing a man in a packed room of party goers, he was definitely not the sort of man you wanted to cross.
And she and Irene were about to do just that.
Sherlock had better be grateful when he got back. Good and properly grateful. There ought to be flowers or something.
Irene stopped outside the lift and looked around, to see whether they were being watched. But, after O’Brian’s little speech, everyone seemed intent on not noticing what was happening around them. She held out her hand and Molly gave her Jack’s lift code.
‘Have you got a watch or a timer on your phone?’ Irene asked as she punched in 2 – 4 – 6 – 0 into the keypad.
‘Yes. I have one on my phone. Have an alarm go off in thirty minutes?’
‘Better make it twenty five. I, for one, don’t want to be stuck down there, do you?’
Molly nodded as she set her phone for twenty-five minutes. When she was done she looked up at Irene with a grim smile.
‘We could just walk away,’ said Irene. Molly lifted her chin.
There was a small pause while the women looked at each other trying to decipher each others’ expressions.
‘We’re not going to, though.’ said Molly. Irene beamed.
‘Not on your life.’
She punched in one and the lift door slid open. Molly and Irene entered the steel box and let the door close behind them.
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The lift was taking longer than Molly expected. She kept trying to moisten her lips but no matter how hard she tried her mouth stayed bone dry. Her brain wouldn’t stop running through all the possible scenarios – at least all the unpleasant ones. What if they didn’t get to the bottom in time and they just had to go straight up again? What if the lift shut down or released a poisonous gas like in a Bond movie? What if the doors opened to those security guards standing in front of them with a set of pistols, or a machine gun?
Molly jumped. She looked back at Irene, and tried to cover her embarrassment with a cough.
‘What? Yeah. I’m fine. Under the circumstances.’
‘Have you ever seen…’ Irene paused, ‘anything like that before.’
Molly pursed her lips. ‘I work at a morgue, remember. I’ve seen plenty of dead people.’
‘True. But have you seen someone die before, is the question.’ Irene squared her shoulders and looked ahead. ‘It’s the type of thing that can really mess with your head. If you let it.’
Molly clenched her jaw. What did Irene mean by “If you let it?” Did she look like the sort of person who let things get to her all the time? She was Molly Hooper. She cut up corpses for a living! She helped a man fake his death. She had been doing undercover work for Sherlock for months now. Why did everyone always treat her like some sort of eternal child? She was probably the same age as Irene. Hell, she may have been older. She didn’t need to be mollycoddled, particularly not by some stranger who had the nerve to give her life-advice after knowing her for an hour. A tiny all-too-rational part of her brain suggested that maybe the reason Molly was so angry about Irene’s supposed jab at her coping abilities, had less to do with what Irene actually said, and more to do with how she wasn’t coping. How seeing a man get stabbed in a crowded room and no one doing a thing to help was like something she only saw in her nightmares.
But that part of her brain was quickly drowned out by the roar of every other emotion that was crashing through her mind.
‘I’m not letting it get to me.’
‘So you have seen people actually die before, then?’ Irene sounded sceptical. ‘Right in front of your eyes?’
Molly sniffed, ‘Just one.’
Irene looked Molly over and the pathologist knew she was about to ask her the one question she didn’t want to when the lift jolted to a halt, the doors swishing open with a pleasant “ping”.
Molly strode out and headed for the third door on the right, like she was leaving the question behind.
The question did stay in the lift, unsaid. But Irene followed.
Molly stopped at the door and put her ear to it. Irene stopped behind her for a moment and waited. Eventually she spoke.
‘Molly, what are you doing?’
‘Making sure no one’s inside.’
Irene rolled her eyes and nudged Molly out of the way, taking the doorknob in hand and twisting it.
‘There is a party going on upstairs, honey. Do you really think that O’Brian’s going to come down here to do some paperwork between coke lines?’
All the same, Molly couldn’t help but notice how gently Irene pushed the door open. She seemed afraid that it was going to squeak.
It’s a good thing no one was in the room. Otherwise Molly’s gasp would have given her and Irene away. All Molly could think about was that scene in Beauty and the Beast when they entered the Library.
‘Yes.’ Irene’s heels echoed as she walked across the hardwood floor. ‘Good thing he put his desk in the centre or we may never have found it.’
‘I’m amazed they could fit this underground. I think this is the size of my flat. Twice.’
‘I doubt your flat’s this tasteless, Molly dear. Faux-leather seats, bear skin rugs, mounted animal heads. Does O’Brian strike you as an outdoors-y type?’
‘No.’ Molly was still gazing around the room. ‘Actually, he looks like he’d disintegrate when exposed to natural light.’
Irene laughed. Molly didn’t know why but she always felt vaguely proud when she made this woman laugh.
‘It’s not all bad.’ Molly had to admit. ‘I mean he’s got good taste in books.’
‘You sure of that?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Take a look at them. A close look.’
Molly furrowed her brows and stepped closer to the bookcase. It was more than a bookcase really. It was the mother-ship of bookcases. The whole wall along the left hand side was in itself one enormous bookcase. Molly leaned forward to look at the titles more clearly. Tolstoy. Kafka. Orwell. Foster. Byatt. Wodehouse. Shakespeare. Byron. Shelley. Keats. Morrison. Austen. Dickens. Beecher Stowe. Wilde. Eliot. Bronte. Eco. Hemmingway.
Molly rubbed her arm. ‘I’m not sure what you’re getting at. I can’t find a pattern. They just seem to be random names.’
Irene was at the desk, sitting herself in the computer chair and pressing the on button. ‘Not the names, Molly. The books. Look at the books.’
Molly turned back to the bookcase and pulled out the closest book. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Trans. by J.M.Cohen. It was a beautiful book. Hardback and bound in a dark green cover, with gold lettering. On the front was a sketch of the ancient and addled knight on the world’s skinniest horse, accompanied by a weary looking Sancho Panza. Something about Sancho’s expression reminded Molly a little of John Watson. She opened the book, being careful not to crack the spine.
Crack the spine…
This book was almost brand new. There wasn’t a mark on the pages, no smudges or creases of any kind. It was pristine. Not pristine in a way that suggested that the reader had OCD; pristine in a way that suggested that it had never been read. Molly put the book back and pulled out another. It was the same. And another. The same. Molly looked at the lip of the bookshelf. The layer of dust was unbroken except for the places where she had pulled out the books herself.
None of these books had ever been read. They were just there for show.
Molly’s mind backtracked to when she was younger and she would save up all her pocket money for a new Doctor Who book. While her parents would spend their days trawling through antiques at the local show ground, Molly would sit in the car and pore through her new adventure. Something about O’Brian stashing away all these books and never even bothering to open them just seemed obscene.
‘Oh.’ was all she managed to say out loud.
‘Oh, indeed.’ said Irene. ‘Now let’s get the account information and get the hell out of here.’
The loading screen on the monitor had finished flickering and the warm up tones had sounded. Molly was pulling her USB out of her clutch purse when Irene said two words Molly didn’t want to hear.
‘Yes. Oh dear.’
‘What? What’s “oh dear”?’ Molly strolled over to Irene and peered over her shoulder. Irene sighed.
‘Karma is coming back to bite me.’
On the screen in friendly letters was a message Molly felt she should have anticipated. Should have but didn’t.
The screen was flashing the words “Please Write Password.”
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Edit: Never mind. Found one. Her name is Kadorienne, and she can beat up your beta any day. So there!
‘I think that Jack and I are going to have to have a talk about what constitutes help.’
‘Have you tried 24601?’
Irene tapped in the numbers. The screen flashed red. Molly ran her fingers through her hair.
‘If I had any ideas I wouldn’t have asked that pillock for the codes.’ Irene’s tone was level but her eyes were harder than Molly had ever seen them.
Sherlock would have been able to work out the password in minutes. Seconds.
Irene stood up.
‘There has to be something in this room that will give us the answer.’ Her voice was determined.
‘How do you know that?’ Molly asked.
‘Look at this room. What do you notice about it?’
‘I don’t know, Irene. Look we’ve only got twenty three more minutes…’
‘It isn’t natural. It’s a stereotype. What do you have in you study at home?’
‘I don’t have a study. My flat isn’t big enough.’
‘Fine, what about your workspace when you’re at St. Bathes. What do you have there?’
‘Photos… files. Books I’m reading…’ Molly shook her head. ‘I’m sorry; I don’t know what you’re getting at.’
‘This isn’t a real person’s study. This is the sort of study you find in a catalogue.’
Molly looked around. Irene was right. Molly’s workplace had empty cardboard coffee cups that she hadn’t gotten rid of, scraps of paper with people’s phone numbers on them and drawings by her four year old nephew. The study was like the books. Immaculate. There was nothing in this room remotely connected to the man who Molly saw upstairs.
‘Also think of the party,’ Irene continued while her eyes scoured the room. ‘Was that party like any party you’ve ever been to? Or was it more like those parties you see in American movies?’
‘American movie party. Definitely.’ Molly agreed. ‘But I just thought it was weird because I don’t get out that often.’
‘Really?’ Irene gave a smirk. ‘Well, we’ll have to rectify that at some point. We work this out, Molly dear, and I’ll owe you a night on the town.’
‘Oh, you’ll owe me a lot more than that,’ Molly said before her brain could filter the words her mouth was saying. Then realisation struck her and she felt a blush blast across her face. Irene had already turned to look at the pathologist, her mouth cocked in a lopsided grin and her eyebrow raised.
‘Is that so?’
‘Oh gosh! I mean… I didn’t mean... I’m so sorry.’
‘Oh don’t be sorry, honey. And certainly don’t tell me what you “really meant”. It would just spoil the metal images I have in my head.’
Molly felt the blush begin to invade every square inch of her skin. Sherlock was right. She really did need to learn when to stop talking.
‘Sorry. Um… so what was your point again. About the study and the party and stuff.’
Irene tilted her head to the side and sighed. She seemed reluctant to let the conversation to slip back on topic. ‘My point was O’Brian suffers from a terminal lack of imagination. He sees things and he copies them. If he had to think of a password it would be something within his eyeshot.’
Molly nodded. That made sense, she supposed. Irene span on her heels and sat back in the computer chair, swivelling it from side to side. Molly stood silently while Irene shifted the direction of the seat, taking in everything within her line of sight. Her eyes rested on the bookcase.
‘Les Misérables, The Count of Monte Cristo and Lord of the Rings are the only titles I can make out at this distance. It has to be one of those.’
Molly walked over to where the books were and looked at their spines. There was nothing to indicate which of the three he would have chosen. Molly reached for The Count of Monte Christo.
‘Don’t!’ Irene shot to her feet and raced towards Molly. Molly looked at Irene.
‘What?’ Molly jerked her hand away as Irene slapped it.
‘Check the dust!’ Irene hissed. Molly cocked her head, confused. Then she looked back down at the three books.
Along the edge of the shelf the dust was undisturbed in front of The Count of Monte Christo as well as Les Misérables.
But before Lord of the Rings was a gap in the dust, exactly the same with as the book’s spine. It had obviously been shifted when someone had slid the book out.
Molly looked at Irene with a newfound amazement. True, Irene’s detections weren’t exactly Sherlock Holmes fast. But damn it, she came close.
The woman slid out the book and let it fall open. The pages weren’t like those of Don Quixote. They were a little worn. A little smudged. The book was obviously loved by its owner but there were the unavoidable signs of wear. This book had been read, and read frequently.
‘So O’Brian likes Lord of the Rings.’ Irene murmured. ‘Should have been obvious.’
‘Hey,’ said Molly. ‘It’s a good book.’
Irene tilted her head. ‘Really? A Tolkien fan, are you?’
Molly tried to think of a reply that didn’t make her sound like a complete nerd. She couldn’t think of one.
‘Maybe I’ll have to put it on my reading list.’ said Irene. She stalked back to the computer seat and settled herself down again, leaving Molly fiddling with the hem of her dress. The pathologist didn’t know whether Irene had meant that comment as a jab or a compliment. The woman tapped the book’s title onto the keyboard and pressed enter.
The screen flashed red again.
‘Wait.’ Molly moved behind Irene and took the book from her. ‘I think I remember a part in the book where the heroes have to guess a password.’
Irene looked at her. ‘You do?’ Molly flipped through the pages.
‘Yes. They have to get into a place called “The Mines of Moria” but the door is shut. There’s an inscription on it that says “speak friend and enter.”’
‘You think that’s the password.’ Irene looked sceptical.
‘No that was the clue.’ Molly couldn’t find the page. ‘It was actually a riddle. They didn’t need a password, they literally had to speak the word “friend”.’
Molly didn’t look up from her book, but she heard Irene’s fingers on the keyboard again. Molly looked up just in time to see that red flash.
‘Not friend.’ Irene sighed. ‘How much longer do we have?’
Molly put down the book and pulled out her phone.
Irene ran the heel of her hand over her eyebrow. Then she lent forward and looked at the screen.
‘Molly Louise Hooper, you are wonderful.’
Molly pulled her head back a bit and furrowed her eyebrows. How did this woman know her middle name?
‘Look! At the monitor. What does it say?’
‘Please write password.’ Molly read. She looked down at Irene. Irene looked back at her. Then realisation hit Molly in the back of the head.
‘Oh! Of course.’
Irene shook her head and typed in P-A-S-S-W-O-R-D. The screen flicked to life and the desktop emerged.
‘That was the most convoluted way of working out one of the world’s most common passwords.’ said Irene. Molly nodded.
‘It’s one step away from just using your middle name.’
Irene laughed and pulled up a document that said “Account Information – Richard Brooke Affiliates.” Inside was a list of names. Well, maybe calling a list was selling it short. It was more like a phonebook’s worth of names. Molly’s eyes widened as Irene scrolled down.
‘No way,’ said Molly. ‘There is no way all these people were working for Jim.’
‘They probably don’t know it.,’ said Irene. ‘In all likelihood they were just working for some man who was working for some woman who was working for some man who was working for Moriarty. I think it was only a select few who had any direct contact with him.’
‘You mean like you?’ Molly asked. Irene blinked.
‘Well.’ Irene rolled her head back. ‘I’m not just anyone.’
Molly held out the USB and Irene took it and plugged it in, but she didn’t start the download. Instead she clicked on find and typed in her own name. Molly frowned.
‘What are you doing?’
‘A little side mission.’ Irene opened her file and took out her phone. ‘Moriarty owes me back-payments for services rendered. I think he didn’t feel the need to pay me, what with me being dead and everything. I’m just collecting my pay check.’
Molly wrapped her arms around herself, while the woman in the red dress entered all her account information into her phone. Molly wasn’t certain she liked the sound of “services rendered.” Especially services to Jim. She swallowed. ‘Irene, I’m not sure… we don’t have time...’
‘Already transferred.’ Irene slipped her phone away. Then she exited her file and hit the delete button. Her name disappeared from the list.
‘Why did you do that?’
‘Molly, we are going to be delivering the account information to the police, remember. When they come to raid this office and find out who else was on the books, I don’t particularly want my name to be on the list.’
‘But everyone thinks you’re dead.’
‘Exactly. Who else is going to protect me reputation?’
Molly took a step back from the desk while Irene started the download. ‘You didn’t come here to help Sherlock at all, did you, Irene?’ Molly said slowly, understanding rising and with it anger. ‘You only came here to get the money –money you probably conned some innocent people out of—and to take your name of O’Brian’s black list. This was all about you.’
Irene turned in her chair and stood up. She looked like a sculpture, complete with a cold, hard, unmoving face. Her voice was completely level. ‘Firstly, no one is innocent. There isn’t a person who I have crossed that didn’t deserve it in some form or another. Secondly, I am here to help Sherlock. I just don’t see a problem with helping myself at the same time. And thirdly, Molly Hooper, don’t judge me. Yes, I am doing something for my own benefit. I’m not ashamed of that. Why are you doing this for Sherlock, Molly? Because you have a crush?’
‘What?’ gasped Molly. ‘No. I’m doing this because he needs help. He’s my friend and he needs… It’s not…’
‘Oh don’t be ashamed. Believe me, dear, I get the appeal.’ Irene took a step forward and looked Molly square in the eye. ‘The Byronic figure. The white knight. The genius. The justice seeker. But this is more than just attraction playing here, Molly. There are lives at stake. Your life. This is real danger you are wading into and you are gaining nothing from it. So you’re helping him out, why exactly? Because it wouldn’t be polite to say no?’
Molly clenched her jaw. ‘Stop it.’ Irene seemed to be looking at her with either contempt or pity, and it was taking all of Molly’s energy not to slap that expression off the woman’s face. Irene lifted her chin.
‘You may think I’m being selfish. Maybe I am. But that’s how I have survived. I would rather look after my own interests every now and again than live my life solely for someone else’s benefit. When was the last time Sherlock did something for you? When was the last time you did something for you?’
Molly could feel herself tremble with rage. This was more than the irritation she had felt in the lift. That was just a mix of adrenaline mixed with bad timing. Now Irene was truly acting as though she knew Molly.
And the worst part was Molly wasn’t certain Irene was wrong.
‘You could benefit from this too, you realise.’ Irene’s features shifted towards coyness. ‘If you give me your phone I could transfer some money into your bank account as well.’
Molly stepped back. ‘No.’
Irene moved forward, closing the gap. ‘You wouldn’t be taking it from an orphanage or a children’s hospital, honey. You would be taking it from a career criminal. I’ll even point out which are the worst ones, if it makes you feel any better.’
‘I said no.’
‘You would be like Robin Hood. Robbing from the rich. Giving to the poor. Only in this scenario the poor is you.’
‘Irene, just leave it.’ Molly snapped. The woman leant back appraisingly. Molly hated being appraised.
Molly was about to make a highly persuasive argument, when the sound of heavy footsteps sounded in the hall. She saw Irene’s eyes widen. On the other side of the door Molly could make out voices:
‘I realise that the transition has been hard on you. It has been hard on all of us. I’m just saying that we can’t keep defaulting back to “What would Jim do?” You’re the one in charge now, Seb. You’re going to have to make the choices.’
Molly glanced at the monitor. The download was only 39% complete. That little blue-green circle was still spinning around and around. Irene turned off the monitor in a bid to make the computer at least look off, but the download continued. The voices grew nearer.
‘We can’t just lea…’ Molly said, but Irene grabbed her by the arm.
The pair hurried over to the corner of the room. Molly saw the broom closet that she hadn’t noticed before.
‘I said move.’
Irene flung the door open and dragged Molly in behind her. The closet door shut at almost exactly the same moment as the study door opened.
There was no retreat now.
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Molly was amazed that someone would make a broom cupboard this small. Broom cupboards weren’t known for their space but this one seemed smaller than most. It was like some sort of anti-TARDIS.
The two women tried to scrabble for room as quietly as humanly possible but they were competing against two brooms, a mop and a bucket, and they were all uncooperative. Irene and Molly were pressed up against each other, all elbows, shoulders, knees and chins. Irene tried to stabilize herself by leaning her hand against the wall, accidentally capturing Molly’s hair between her palm and the wood panelling. Molly tried to pull her hair away but her foot got wedged behind her own calf, twisting her around.
If was only a matter of time before one toppled over. Molly just wished it hadn’t been her.
Thankfully Irene grabbed Molly before she was able to clatter into the cleaning equipment, one arm snaking around the pathologist's waist and the other gripping her by the shoulders. The steps outside came to a halt. Molly could hear her own thumping through her. Or was that Irene’s? She was so close to the other woman that it was difficult to tell Irene’s heart beat from her own. The conversation continued the people outside obviously oblivious to what was happening in the cupboard ten feet away. Molly tried to pull herself upright again but Irene held her tight.
Molly whispered over her shoulder. ‘Irene…’
‘Irene, I’m good now.’
Molly sighed and decided to just let the other woman hold her while they listened to the conversation.
For a while most of the sound was O’Brian fussing, like an old woman at a tea party. Did everyone have drinks? Was anyone in need of a top up? He had a lovely Sauvignon Blanc from his private vineyard in New Zealand that he had been saving for a special occasion. Ms Pinto looked gorgeous tonight? Was that a Vera Wang? If anyone was hungry he could have someone bring down some snacks.
Molly was so relieved when a strong decisive voice told him to sit down and shut up. If O’Brian had gone on for much longer she didn’t know whether she would have been able to stop herself bursting out of the cupboard and telling O’Brian to do that herself. There was a soft squeak as O’Brian sat down on one of the lounges that were scattered throughout his study.
‘So.’ said the same voice again. ‘What are we going to do about the Ukraine, Moran?’
‘I’ve already told you, I don’t know.’ This voice was younger than the other man’s. More clear and clipped; regimented perhaps. ‘I don’t even know why I am in charge in the first place. I was meant to be Jim’s “security advisor”. It’s not like he gave me a road map or anything.’
‘Ha!’ said a low, slick-toned man. He didn’t laugh. He just said the word “Ha”. ‘That implies Jim Moriarty actually had a plan. The lunatic did whatever took his fancy at the time.’
‘You make him sound like some naughty school kid with ADD.’ said O’Brian.
‘Maybe. Probably because he was.’
‘How dare you.’
‘He liked it that way! Don’t try and deny it.’
‘He was an artist!’
‘Is that so?’ The man asked dryly.
‘Yes! Just look at the way he took apart… what’s his name… that detective that he was infatuated over. First he ruined his legacy, then his reputation, then his closest relationships, THEN his life. Only then. It was like watching Da Vinci strip away the layers of a corpse to see what makes a man work. Only he did it with a man’s soul.’
The other man scoffed.
‘Very poetic, O’Brian. Especially for a glorified accountant. But it doesn’t change anything. If Jim was really a genius he wouldn’t have had to give himself a projectile lobotomy.
Molly could hear the scrape of the sofa against the carpet as O’Brian leapt to his feet. Molly was certain that this argument was about to get a little less verbal and a little more physical. However Moran’s voice cut through the emerging shouts.
‘We are not here to discuss the pros and cons of Jim Moriarty’s business skills! O’Brian, sit down. Milverton, could you please refrain from stirring the pot for once in your life? Huh? Particularly in such poor taste?’
‘Hey, I didn’t mean any harm by it. I miss the maniac too.’ said Milverton. ‘He was good for a laugh. But I don’t believe in glorifying the dead and forgetting all about their faults and foibles. (A) The man wasn’t perfect or he would have died, and (B) We can’t go around trying to figure out what Jim would have done in our place because we can’t be positive Jim knew what he was doing, half the time. From now on we need to do things our way.’
‘And what is “our way.”’ The new voice belonged to that of a woman. She had an accent Molly couldn’t pick. Spanish maybe? ‘How would you run this enterprise, Milverton, in a post-Moriarty world?’
‘Well there’s the obvious.’ This time a high pitched American man spoke. ‘Find the Key.’
Molly’s breath hitched, her mind backtracking to a miserable wet day in Heathrow Airport.
It had been the day Sherlock had left London.
His death was officially complete. Molly had done all the paperwork. The funeral had been held with the wrong man in the casket. Even the reporters had gone to smell out new gossip, leaving the step of 221B for the last time.
Now that he was officially dead Sherlock had to find a way to bring himself back to life.
Molly wasn’t sure how Sherlock had managed to make himself seem shorter. Or was this his normal height and as The Great Detective he somehow made himself look taller? With his hair cropped short, a pair of square-ish glasses and a baggy football jumper he had managed to make himself into a completely different person. Sherlock reminded Molly of Clark Kent.
They were sitting in an airport café an hour before his flight, and Sherlock had not stopped talking since they had sat down. He was filling Molly in on every fact Molly could possibly need to know as well as many she never would. When she had dared to interrupt his eruption of words to ask why he was telling her all this, the man had sounded so tired.
‘I may not come back. If I don’t I want someone to know the truth.’
She hadn’t asked any questions after that. She only listened.
The bombardment of information continued while the minutes had worn thin. Molly hadn't struggled to remember so many details since her medical exams at university. Molly wished she could take notes but knew how stupid that would be if they fell into the wrong hands. But Molly knew that most of the information was falling straight out of her head and Sherlock wasn’t going to have time to repeat himself.
But one fact stuck. It stuck because it was the last detail Sherlock had given her. It stuck because he had lent forward and grabbed her hand. And it had stuck because he had prefaced the fact with the words: ‘This is the most important thing. You cannot forget this Molly Hooper. If you only take one thing away from this conversation let it be this.
There is no key.
It was an illusion. A piece of misdirection, so we wouldn’t see what Moriarty’s other hand was really up to. It was his biggest lie. Even bigger than the one that made me a fraud. Remember Molly. There is no key.’
Then he had kissed her forehead, dropped her hand and disappeared into the crowd.
Molly hadn’t seen him since.
Molly was brought back to the present by Irene’s finger’s rearranging themselves on her shoulder. Irene wasn’t able to see Molly’s face from her position, but Irene was observant, and clever and knew a hell of a lot about how a body reacts. And it wasn’t as though there was anywhere to hide in this space.
The pathologist knew she had given something away.
From the other side of the door, there were a series of groans.
‘Not the key again.’
‘Go die in a hole, Porlock.’
‘Your plan is bad and you should feel bad.’
The American piped up again. ‘No, I’m serious. If we can just find out where he stashed it…’
‘He didn’t stash it anywhere.’ said Moran like he was talking to a particularly stupid child. ‘Moriarty was a control freak. He kept that key locked away in his brain, and when that bullet tore through it the key went too.’
‘Yeah,’ said Porlock. ‘But he wasn’t just any control freak was he? He was a control freak who liked to watch you dance. He’d make you struggle for every inch, come away with less and be grateful for it. Tell me you don’t think he would get some sick gratification to know that even after his death we were still scrabbling to find the key.’
‘Yes… Which is why he wouldn’t have hidden it anywhere.’
‘Or hidden it in the most obvious place. Somewhere so obvious we would never look’
There was a silence. Molly was worried that her heart beat was too loud. She could feel Irene’s breath pass by the soft hairs at the back of her neck.
‘That does seem very Jim.’ said the man who had shouted O’Brian down when they had first entered the room.
‘Oh?’ drawled Milverton. ‘And where is the most obvious place you can think of Sutton? His diary?’
‘His phone?’ asked Sutton. There was another pause.
‘Did anyone check his phone?’ asked Moran.
There was a flurry of commotion as the leaders of the world’s most feared criminal organisation exited the room on mass, on the hunt for a dead man’s phone.
The door snapped shut. Molly slowly pulled herself from Irene’s arms.
‘You think they’re gone?’ she whispered, opening the cupboard door a crack. The crack disappeared as Irene leant her hand against the door. Molly spn around to find herself nose to nose with the other woman.
‘Yes, but there is a more pressing question that needs to be asked.’ Irene moved closer, caging Molly in. ‘You are just full of surprises aren’t you, Molly Hooper.’
Molly tried to avoid her eyes but there weren’t many other places to look. ‘What? I don’t know… I’m not sure…’
‘Don’t be coy, honey.’ Irene grabbed Molly’s hair at the scruff of her neck and pulled her head back so that she and the pathologist were eye to eye. Irene’s smile was hard. ‘Tell me where the key is.’
All hail to Kadorienne the amazing flying beta.
Molly gritted her teeth and stifled a grunt. Irene’s grip was relentless, with her fingers threaded between the strands of the pathologist’s hair, locking Molly’s head in place. How could this woman be so strong?
‘Irene, let go.’ Molly wasn’t surprised when she didn’t.
‘So Sherlock told you about the key.’ Irene moved forward, crushing Molly against the door. As though the closet wasn't claustrophobic enough before. ‘Seems like the faith you have in him is mutual.’
‘He didn’t tell me anything.’ Molly grabbed Irene’s wrist in an attempt to pull the woman off her. Irene pinned Molly’s forearm to the door with her own before giving her a pitying look.
‘Molly, please. I have a lot of experience in this. I know when people are lying to me. I know when they are keeping a secret.’ Irene leaned forward and pressed her cheek to Molly’s, whispering in her ear. ‘And I know how to get them to talk.’
Molly swallowed. She suppressed the urge to ask Irene “how” but only just.
‘Molly,’ Irene breathed. ‘I like you. I think you’re sweet. But I don’t think you know how important that key is. If you don’t tell me what Sherlock told you, I am afraid I’m going to have to do something… drastic.’
For the first time that night Molly felt scared. Okay, no, that wasn’t right, after all there were stabbings to be considered. But this was the first time Molly felt like there was a real possibility that she could be in physical danger. She wanted to keep Sherlock’s confidence. Sherlock trusted her in a way she had never been trusted before. And it was evident that Sherlock didn’t fully trust Irene, or he wouldn’t have made Molly tag along to keep an eye on her. Fat lot of good that was. Molly had just stood by while Irene stole vast amounts of money from Moriarty’s gang and now the woman was threatening to do unspeakable things to her if she didn’t tell her about the key. Molly hadn’t failed Sherlock when he had jumped from the roof of St. Bart's and she didn’t want to fail him now. But then he was also the one that had gotten her into this mess in the first place. If it wasn’t for him, she wouldn’t be stuck in the closet of a murderer’s house, being menaced by the woman he had sent to help her.
Molly was getting the distinct impression that Irene Adler was a very dangerous woman.
Irene tugged on her hair again, obviously growing impatient. Molly had to think fast.
‘Last chance, Molly, dear.’
‘I don’t know where the key is. I don’t even know what the key is. Sherlock only mentioned it to me once, and he didn’t go into detail. I swear.’
Irene leaned back and examined Molly’s face. Molly wanted to squirm away from her gaze but Irene’s grip tightened.
A smile broke across Irene’s face.
‘Honey, I have no idea how you have managed to keep Sherlock’s survival a secret for so long.’ Irene released Molly’s hair and stood back. ‘You are too honest for your own good. Terrible liar, but at least you can edit the truth to your favour.’
Molly reached up and began massaging the back of her neck.
‘What, you were…playing with me?’
‘Not entirely. What did Sherlock tell you?’
Molly’s eyebrows furrowed. ‘You can’t be serious.’
‘Hardly ever serious, but always curious.’
‘You threatened and manhandled me, and now you expect me to do what … spill the beans?’
Irene crossed her arms. ‘That’s what most people do. And many have paid a reasonable price for the privilege.’
‘What? What does that… You know what; I’ve decided I don’t care.’
Molly pulled open the door and stumbled out of the closet. Only the click of heels on polished wooden floors let Molly know that Irene followed her out.
‘Oh honey, please don’t tell me that you’re angry with me.’
Molly pursed her lips. ‘Oh, I’m not angry, no. Why on earth would you think that, Irene?’ Molly wanted to run. She wanted to put as much distance between this horrible woman and herself as possible. But the part of her mind that was still capable of processing rational thought reined this impulse in.
The USB was still in the computer.
Molly darted to the desk and turned on the monitor.
Download 100% Complete.
‘Finally.’ Molly said, tugging the USB from the slot and slipping it into her handbag.
‘You sure you don’t want to don’t want me to put a little extra into your account, darling?’ said a voice behind her. ‘It seems a shame.’
‘You know what.’ Molly turned and looked at Irene. She felt her face flush red and her voice go up an unattractive octave, but Molly was well passed caring at this stage. ‘Don’t call me darling, or honey, or try to bribe or threaten me. Okay? It’s getting old.’
‘Oh, congratulations, Molly. I see you’ve finally decided to grow a spine.’
‘Is that what you tell yourself? That you have a spine?’ Molly moved towards Irene so that they were face to face. The woman was still taller than her and Molly knew she wasn’t impressive or intimidating. But if Molly had needed intimidation to get her point across, she would have never gotten anything done. ‘From what I’ve seen you just manipulate, intimidate and connive your way into getting the things you want. That’s not being strong. That’s just being a control freak. And yeah, maybe I am spineless. Maybe I am a doormat. But seeing as “having a spine” seems to get you alone and friendless, pretending to be dead and having to constantly watch your own back out of fear someone you crossed will take revenge, I would rather be a doormat any day. Anything to stop me turning into a selfish, paranoid, scheming cow like you!’
Molly was surprised at how loud her voice was at the end of that sentence. She was surprised that she had – for the first time in her life – managed to say exactly what she wanted to say and say it well.
But she was most surprised by the look of genuine hurt of Irene’s face.
Molly was about to take it back. Molly was an expert at taking things back. For Molly the word “sorry” was like the word “and” or “the”; it was a word that was used in almost every sentence. But then her mobile alarm beeped. They had five minutes to get back to the lift.
So instead of “sorry” Molly said. ‘Come on. We have to go.’
Irene’s face was unmoving, but her eyes didn’t meet Molly’s.
‘I’ll catch up with you in a minute.’ she said.
‘But the lifts are going to block you if…’
‘I said, I’ll catch up.’
Irene turned her back to Molly. The pathologist licked her lips.
She couldn’t wait for Irene. They had to go and they had to go now.
‘Okay. Don’t wait too long.’
There was nothing else Molly could do. She went to the study’s door and paused, only turning back to see Irene standing next to the desk in the centre of the giant room.
She looked very alone.
Updating? This fic? It's a sign of the end times. Kadorienne has beta'd once again.
As the lift doors opened and Molly stepped back into the party, she tried to hold down the sickly feeling in her stomach. Yes, the way Irene had messed with her was on the edge of cruel, but Molly should have exploded like that. The words she had said were now seared into her brain and she could do nothing to stop the repeating themselves over and over and over. Molly had never said such horrible things to anyone.
Oh hell. She was becoming Sherlock.
Molly weaved her way through the crowd and pulled her mobile from her bag. She was going to have to walk down the street and call a taxi. Molly was certain that Irene was not going to give her a lift back to her flat now. Molly found and empty corner to stand in and tried to remember the number of a cab company, all the time keeping her eye on the lift.
The time was lit up on her phone’s dash, reminding Molly in a not-very-helpful way that Irene only had two minutes and twenty eight seconds before the code no longer worked. What happened if Irene got stuck down there? Should she try going down again and risk being caught? Maybe she could call the police and organise a raid. If the police searched the house they would find Irene too. She would be arrested with the rest of the party goers, but Molly could go and bail her out. Besides it was better than what would happen if O’Brian found her in his study. Or maybe she could…
The lift doors opened and Irene emerged, as elegant and confident as ever.
Molly couldn’t help but feel that the other woman’s surfacing was a bit anti-climatic.
Abandoning all thoughts of a heroic rescue mission, Molly tucked herself further into her corner and tried to find an app on her phone for a cab. She was scrolling through her options when an elbow slammed into her wrist, knocking the phone from her fingers.
‘Excuse me.’ said Molly even though it wasn’t her fault, and knelt to pick it up. As she did she looked up to see the man who had bumped her.
It was the blond ponytailed man Irene had pointed out before.
He hadn’t even noticed Molly.
His eyes were to busy focusing on Irene.
The man had already handed his drink to the person standing next to him and was making his way towards Irene. Molly grabbed her phone and tried to following him. The crowd was to thick and too drunk to navigate through properly. Besides there was no way Molly could get to Irene before Ponytail did. He had too much of a lead.
But then again she didn’t have to.
Molly grabbed the blond man’s jacket sleeve and spun him around. The look of confusion on his face was only compounded as Molly smacked him across the face.
Everyone within a twenty foot radius fell quiet. The blond man brought his hand to his cheek, touching it gingerly.
‘What the hell, you crazy bitch.’
Molly slapped him again. Hey, he had called her a bitch and it couldn’t make the situation any worse.
‘What the hell?’ Molly said. For some reason she was doing a Scottish accent. Why the hell was she putting on a Scottish accent? What part of her brain decided that in a dire situation like this the thing it could do to help was to give her a Scottish accent? She’d never even been to Scotland! ‘What the hell is it? Hell is going to seem like a vacation when I’m finished with you.’
‘Listen lady. I have no idea what’s going on. I don’t even know you.’
‘Oh really? You don’t know me. Just like you don’t know my sister? Just like you didn’t know she was sixteen?’ Molly went to slap him again but this time two big hand latched around her arms and pinned them to her sides. Molly looked back to see one of the security guards who had been standing behind O’Brian when he had done his speech, although this time he had a very unprofessional grin of amusement on his face. The man with the Ponytail was a sickly grey colour.
‘Wait, are you Gwen’s sister. Look she told me she was eighteen, alright? She shouldn’t even be at clubs like that if she’s sixteen. And in that dress that she was wearing? She was practically asking for it.’
Molly suddenly didn’t feel too bad about slapping the guy.
‘You slimy little turd. If my father was here would have stuck his shotgun in your face and…’
‘Okay, that’s enough.’ The security guard began dragging Molly away from Mr. Eurotrash. ‘Let go Miss.’
‘Yeah get the psycho chick away from me.’ He called after Molly and the security guard. ‘You’re lucky I don’t sue your ass for assault.’
As Molly was being pulled though the crowd it suddenly dawned on her what a colossal mistake this was. O’Brian had killed a man in front of his guests just over half an hour ago. How did Molly know there wouldn’t be similar repercussions for attacking one of his guests? At the very least she was going to have to explain why she wasn’t on the guest list.
Well she had just created a sister, a father, a shotgun and upbringing in the highlands from thin air. She’d be able to think of something.
A hand landed lightly on Molly’s shoulder and she turned to see Irene’s face next to hers.
‘Sir, I’ll take it from here.’
‘You know this girl?’ the security guard asked.
‘Yes. I’m sorry, has she been causing trouble. She always gets like this when she’s had too much to drink. I’ll take her straight home.’
‘See that you do. And miss,’ the security guard turned Molly so she faced him. ‘I have a younger sister too. Nice work.’
‘Thanks?’ said Molly before the security guard winked and left her with Irene. The woman linked her arm with Molly’s and dragged her towards the exit.
‘I told you that you were too faithful for your own good.’
‘You saw that.’
‘Hard to miss. Scottish accent?’
‘I have no idea. It just happened. The blond guy was heading straight for you and… yeah’
Irene smiled. ‘So you decided to swoop in and save me even though I’m a selfish, paranoid, scheming cow?’
Molly ducked her head. ‘I’m so sorry I shouldn’t have said…’
‘Forget it. You can make amends another way.’
Irene opened the front door for Molly.
‘You can by me dinner.’
It was weird, sitting on the hood of a Limousine in the middle of the night, trying not to get chip grease on their expensive dresses while they ate junk food from the only open take-away shop they could find at two thirty in the morning.
Weird, but in a good way.
‘So how did Sherlock tell you that he wasn’t dead?’ Molly asked, popping another chip into her mouth. Irene swallowed before she spoke.
‘He just showed up on the doorstep of the place I was staying in Singapore about nine months ago. No explanation. Didn’t try and soften the shock. He just walked right through my door and launched into one of his monologues. I don’t even think he said “Hello.”’
Molly lent back and laughed. Good to know that Sherlock was remaining Sherlock-y.
‘Has he always been like that?’ Irene asked.
‘Since I first met him. Only instead of bursting in and rambling off facts and me he burst in and asked for a leg.’
‘A whole leg. And then when I asked why he needed a leg he just looked at me like I was an idiot for denying him such a simple request. “Doctor Hopper. I only asked you to give me a human leg without justification, official paperwork or even telling you my name. Must you make everything into a song and dance?”’
Irene held her ribs while Molly did her impression of the world’s only consulting detective. Molly herself had to admit it wasn’t bad. Irene peeled off her high heel shoes and folded her legs beneath her.
‘We did well tonight, you know. I mean there were some patches I would do over.’
‘The broom cupboard?’
‘The broom cupboard and the name-calling and attacking the party guests, but all in all I think we did very well, wouldn’t you.’
‘Yeah. We did well for our first mission.’
‘First?’ Irene raised an eyebrow. ‘You think Sherlock will send us on others?’
‘Oh shit, I hope not. No offence Irene, it was lovely to meet you and everything but if I had to do tonight again I think I would have a heart attack.’
‘True.’ Irene sighed. ‘But it was nice being called by my real name again. Strange thing to miss, I know. But I do.’
‘Well it was nice to have someone to talk to about Sherlock. You have no idea how stressful it is trying to hide the fact he’s alive from everyone.’
Molly looked down at Irene. The other woman tilted her head.
‘Okay, maybe you do.’
Irene took the last chip and lay back on the limo’s hood next to Molly. It was cold and their dresses weren’t helping much but the hot-chips were warming them from the inside out and the stars were spread out above them.
‘So. About the key.’
‘Irene, please don’t ask.’
‘I wasn’t going to ask anything. I was going to tell you what it was. You said Sherlock didn’t tell you what it was.’
Molly looked across at Irene. Her face was serious and beautiful in the glow of the street lights.
‘It’s a code. A security code that could open any digital system. They say that’s how your ex managed to break the Bank of England, Pentonville and the Tower of London all at the same time.’
‘What really? Jim had something that could break into all those places?’
‘Of course. How else could he have gotten in?’
Molly put her arm under her head. This didn’t make any sense. If there was no key, how did Moriarty pull off all those crimes? What did the key have to do with Sherlock? And why did Moriarty’s old gang think it existed if they were on his side?
‘You look confused.’ Irene propped herself up on her elbow so she could study Molly more clearly. Molly let her. It’s not like she could work anything out from Molly’s expression. Molly hadn’t a clue what to think.
‘That’s because I am. This is probably the only time when I’ve gotten an answer as to what’s going on and all I’ve got is more questions.’
‘Hard isn’t it? Only being a small part of someone else’s story. You always feel like you’re missing out on the best parts, and you’re never going to find out how it ends.’
Molly sighed. ‘And even if you did know the end, it wouldn’t make any sense.’
They lay in silence for a while. The legendary London fog was beginning to descend and all their stars had gone into hiding.
‘Oh no.’ Molly groaned. ‘I have work tomorrow. I’m going to be wreaked.’
‘You’ll cope. If anyone asks say that an old girlfriend dropped in on you and dragged you away to a wild night of partying. After all, you’re good at the half truths.’
Molly giggled in agreement, before rubbing her eye with the heel of her hand. Reluctantly she sat up and slid off the limo’s hood. Irene did the same.
‘Can I ask you a personal question Molly?’ Irene said. Molly hesitated.
‘How have you managed to keep Sherlock’s secret for so long.’
Molly shrugged. ‘No one’s ever asked me if he was still alive.’
Met up with Darlene. We had a good catch up. She seems to be enjoying her holiday. Between you and her having so much fun globe-trotting, I was thinking of taking a little time off myself. You know, just packing as much as I can into my little Pinto and driving north until I find somewhere quiet to read my Master and Commander books. Sounds like heaven. Although I bet you think I should be reading Kubla Khan or something enlightening.
I want to send some stuff to our Aunt Moran in Canada. Do you remember where she lives? I thought she lived in a place called Sutton but then I thought I heard about her moving to Milverton. Is that right?
Mr. Baker’s okay for the moment. Darlene is worried about him, though. Write to me soon.
P.S. Darlene was wondering if you knew where her keys were. She’s been looking for them.
THINGS WENT WELL WITH O’BRIAN. THERE’S A MAN WHO DID NOT LOOK SEXY ON CRIMEWATCH.
MOLLY’S A SWEET THING. BRIGHT TOO. AND RIDICULOUSLY LOYAL. I HAVE NO IDEA WHY YOU WANTED TO DRAG HER DOWN WITH YOU.
TELL HIM YOU’RE ALIVE. I’LL COME AFTER YOU IF YOU DON’T.
And thus end the first in what will hopefully be a series. After all it's not much of a femslash fic if they don't even get to first base. All hail to Kadorienne for all her hard work and thank you to everyone who has shown their support.