The past is never dead. It's not even past.
--William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun
Sherlock barged into Lestrade's office and leaned over the D.I.'s desk reading next month's budgets upside down and sneering at the smell of the half-eaten sandwich balanced precariously on a six-inch stack of file folders.
"Dimmock? I called you, Lestrade, not that adolescent with delusions of power and the mental capacity of Molly's cat. Why was I working with Dimmock on the last case? Where were you?"
"First of all, Dimmock is a fine investigator. You're lucky he was willing to bring you in. Second of all, it is none of your damn business where I was. Third of all, get your paws off my paperwork, and get out of my office. You did just fine without me. We're not joined at the hip, thank bloody Jesus."
"The point is not that I do just fine without you--which I do. The point is that I know you're hiding something--and you have been for quite some time. I'd like to know what it is."
"And I'd like to go on a bicycle tour of France tomorrow, Sherlock. We can't always get what we want, can we? And you can just bugger off because my personal life is none of your concern."
Sherlock's eyes narrowed as he hovered over the desk, scowling at Lestrade. "l'll find out eventually, you know. I could have Mycroft follow you. I can access all your personal records with a phone call to the right person. Why not just save the fuss and tell me? Unburden yourself, Lestrade." Sherlock grinned, enjoying the fact that Lestrade was clearly becoming uncomfortable with the interrogation.
"You'll figure it out within a day or two, I'm sure. I'm tired of all the damn secrets anyway. All they do is weigh you down--so sleuth away all you want. There are clues all over Baker Street right now, I'd wager. But for now, just get the fuck out of my office."
And of course, Lestrade was right. Had Sherlock wanted to unravel the mystery earlier, he could have done so in a matt er of hours, he told himself. He simply didn't know there was a secret to be uncovered until now. Hmpf.
As it turned out, it was a mundane and supremely boring secret, and decades old besides.
When he returned to the flat, Sherlock noticed that there was a garment bag hanging in the coat closet. John had had his dress uniform cleaned and pressed and had shined his squeaky black shoes and left them in the closet too. The next day John got a haircut--close-cropped, neat as a pin, regulation Army cut. And he had the barber shave him as well. There was a notation on a small scrap of paper and an obituary cut out of the morning paper. Three calls on John's mobile to Lestrade in the past eight days--one late at night and lasting more than two hours. John's online history showed he'd purchased two well-reviewed books about the Iraq War recently--one a memoir and another a book of photographs with commentary by a journalist known for her clean, powerful prose. H e had them both sent to Lestrade's flat, not Baker Street.
* * * *
"Who died? You're going to a funeral today--a military funeral," Sherlock cornered John as he made a cup of tea, having just finished putting one more buff and shine on his shoes.
"Uh. . . no one you know. A soldier--an engineer in Iraq. Very bad luck. Helicopter crash."
John didn't meet Sherlock's gaze, but kept his eyes on the kettle and drummed his fingers on the table.
"How is this fellow connected to Lestrade?"
John looked surprised for a second, then nodded. "Of course. He said if you were bored enough, you might start working on this little mystery. I don't really think it's my place to tell you, Sherlock. Sorry. Maybe when we get back this evening, you can show some normal human kindness and just ask Greg. But he may not want to talk about it."
Sherlock scowled. 'Why do you know and I don't? You barely know him, and I've been his friend for five years. . . ."
"Well, no. Fine. Colleague, then," Sherlock grumbled. "But I know him a lot better than you do, so I don't understand why . . ."
"Okay. Look Sherlock. He didn't really say I couldn't talk about it with you. It's just . . . you've got to promise to try to act a bit normal about it. Don't make any snide comments, don't ask him questions in front of other people. Don't blurt things out the way you usually do. Just . . . if he doesn't want to provide you with any details to file away, then that's that. You don't get to understand everything, about everyone. Sometimes people need to hold onto their secrets--for any number of reasons. Got it?"
Sherlock really didn't get it, but he nodded gravely anyway. He knew that was the right response, the expected response, at least.
John poured a dribble of milk into his tea and explained, "The man who died was Lieutenant Charles Gregory Parker. He was thirty-one years old, an army engineer assisting the Americans building some infrastructure in Iraq. He grew up in Manchester. His parents were both teachers, Rebecca and George Parker. He was adopted as an infant. . . . He was Greg's son, Sherlock."
Sherlock blinked for a moment and stepped back. "But . . . that's ridiculous. He never mentioned a son. How odd. People usually do talk about their children, don't they? Ad nauseum, in fact."
"He'd only really met him as an adult and only a couple of times. I think once when the boy was about 18 and going off to university, and then again about a year ago when he was home on leave. Look, I don't think he had any regrets about how it went--the adoption, I mean. He was sixteen or seventeen and so was the girl, so . . . that was the right option, I'm sure. And as I understand it, Charles had a really admirable career and a loving family. I think Greg was proud of the decision. But now . . . well, this is a tragedy, even if Greg didn't really know the boy that well. Or, I guess even moreso because he didn't know him. They'd only just started a relationship, and now . . ."
Sherlock watched John sip his tea and walk to the window to look out at nothing in particular. He wondered what was going on in his head. Who was he thinking about now--Charles Parker or one of his own fallen friends?
"And you're going to attend the funeral with him, then?"
"Yeah, he asked if I'd go, and I said I'd be proud to. It's important to have people there to bear witness and show some respect for the family, I think--any military family. I'm really glad he asked me and Mrs. Hudson to go with him. He thinks he'll be fine, but you never know how you'll react in the moment. He might need some familiar faces."
"Mrs Hudson is going? Why is she going?" Sherlock snapped. He couldn't identify the precise reason for the sudden constriction in his stomach, but he knew he was certainly irritated to hear that Mrs Hudson had been asked to attend this event and he had pointedly not been asked.
John laughed. "Oh, she insisted. Greg tried to put her off, but when she heard us talking in the front hall a few days ago, she pieced it together and then just invited herself along. And she's made some sort of cake to take to the Parkers too. God, she's a stubborn one, isn't she?"
John patted Sherlock on the shoulder and left to finish dressing. Sherlock considered staying in his dressing gown the rest of the day to sulk, but changed his mind after twenty minutes. Instead, he put on a dark suit, white shirt, and aubergine tie, sat on the sofa, and waited.
Lestrade stopped to collect John and Mrs Hudson at half three. When he opened the door to 221B, John shouted out from his bedroom, "Be right down, Greg. You and Mrs H go on and get in the cab, if you like."
Sherlock stood up. One long, slim black and white line--accented with a slash of purple-- next to the window. He looked at Lestrade and crushed the fabric of his overcoat, draped across the chair in front of him, with his fingers. John was right, he thought. They weren't friends, so he probably shouldn't ask. Mycroft would say that it was presumptuous and vulgar to invite oneself to such an intimate event. He didn't give a half a damn what Mycroft thought, but he did know this was one of those occasions when things ran more smoothly if everyone observed every social nicety and convention.
So he wouldn't ask. He just nodded at Lestrade. "Hello."
Lestrade folded his arms over his chest and leaned back against the doorframe. His eyes were tired and red. He looked old, thought Sherlock. He usually didn't look old. He usually had a haggard, but pretty lively look about him. Not today, though. Today he looked a little more like John had looked when Sherlock first met him. Interesting.
Finally, John descended the stairs. "Sorry. All ready. Off we go." Mrs Hudson called from her flat, "I've got the cake! Come on now, boys, or we'll be late!"
Lestrade unfolded his arms and shoved his hands into the pockets of his dark grey overcoat with a sigh. He glanced at Sherlock with a smile detectible only to someone with perfectly honed skills of observation, then turned to trudge down the stairs. "Come on then, the pair of you. Let's get moving. The army waits for no one, right John?"
Sherlock slipped into his coat and followed John and Lestrade down to meet Mrs Hudson. Sherlock offered to carry the cake and John offered her his arm, and the four friends walked silently out into the cold, cloudy London afternoon.