Jim’s swinging his feet on the examination table, like a drool-lipped toddler waiting for his mother to get through her hair appointment. Toddler in an eight-hundred-pound suit, thereabouts. He made me pay as much for the one I never wear.
It falls to me to listen, take mental notes. Jim taught me that. Paper trails and electronic footsteps—they’re like breadcrumbs. Not that mentally checking off items on a list is any less of a fucking bother, but I’ve learned to get used to it.
Malignant. Terminal. Metastasis, infratentorial growth, rapid glial production, cerebral hemispheres—
“English, Ponce,” I growl. Taking mental notes does no good if you don’t know what the bloody words mean, let alone how they’re spelled. That’s not fair. I know “malignant,” “terminal,” and “metastasis.”
The “neurosurgeon,” a twitchy eejit named Rodney Ponce, is a half-mad dope fiend, but Jim refuses to see a real doctor. “For identity purposes,” he’d cooed at me. A load of rot.
Once upon a time, Ponce had a bright future as a surgeon, before his discovery that various opiates gave him the ability to see things in an even brighter light, and he began writing himself prescriptions and stealing medication from his own practice.
Ponce is one of Jim’s most treasured lackeys. After me, I suppose. Ponce is looking at me like I’ve just pulled an AWM on him. Which would be ridiculous, considering it’s a long-range weapon. At this distance, about five feet, an AWM would blow him to kingdom come. Messy. Not to mention the recoil trying to use a sniping rifle like a handgun.
Ponce’s eyes, a pair of watery greys, shift between the boss and me. Jim’s not even looking at him, so our back-alley doctor grunts a mild “ahem,” and gibbers to me, “It’s a brain tumor, rooted at the—“
Ponce attempts to indicate and area around the base of Jim’s skull with a cupped hand, but recoils at an eyebrow-scrunch from the boss. “Rooted at the back of his brain. It’s called infratentorial.” A hand over my hip has Ponce talking my language again. “Infra—meaning, the back. The back of the brain. His brain is producing too many glial cells, too fast. He’s dying.” He seems worried. Maybe he’s wondering who will pay him a king’s ransom for backalley medical advice once Jim Moriarty is gone from the world.
I glance at Jim. He isn’t kicking his feet anymore, but he isn’t looking at me, either. Just staring.
At what, I’m not sure. Not much to stare at, other than a poster of an Irish landscape, the words “FIND YOUR SILVER LINING” tramping across the rolling hills in ugly, white, ironic typeface. There aren’t any windows in Ponce’s exam room, which, as far as I can tell, is a gutted master bath. We’re in a tower block on the southeast side of town, in the dodgy end. The exam table is bolted to the floor where it looks as though a tub should be. The sink and a small cabinet beneath which holds the medical tools hearken back to the room’s former purpose.
It’s been silent for too long. Silence is never good. Sets my teeth on edge. In Afghanistan, silence means the target has been alerted to your presence and will seek shelter, send his ululating bastard horde after you to pump you full of lead. In the jungle, silence means the cat has spotted you. In that moment, you are powerless. Less than that, you’re the prey.
Jim breaks the silence. His voice is even—as even as that ridiculous up-and-down tra-la-la he calls a speech pattern gets. “Don’t suppose you could give me a time frame?” Jim’s head rolls on his neck, like a charmed cobra, until he’s facing Ponce and he takes in a delicate breath. I realize his eyes have been closed in thought. But before anyone can speak again, they fly back open and bore into Ponce.
The doctor tenses like a tiger the moment a bullet hits its chest. Not a tiger—he’s too thin for that. A fox, maybe. But what’s the point shooting everyday, fuzzball creatures? “I can’t be sure.“
“If you would make an estimate.” Jim is completely still. If I hadn’t slept next to him on and off for as long as I have, I could have been tricked into thinking he was calm.
But the boss’s stillness is his brain at work, plotting. The Moriarty cogs are grinding together at somewhere around villain speed, which, to ordinary baddies like Ponce and me, is an unattainable rate.
I can’t hear it from him. Not from Ponce. It’s too polluted. Not stylish, not classy—it doesn’t suit him at all. The heel of my palm is in pain, and I uncoil the fist I’ve gathered at my side.
“Maybe five weeks.” Ponce is paler than a sheet that’s seen a ghost, wearing a different sheet. I don’t blame him. To my knowledge, no one who’s estimated a time of death for Jim Moriarty in the past has lived to see the day.
Jim isn’t smiling. But he’s not showing signs of distress. He’s slipped off the table and is pushing his hand through one of the sleeves of his jacket. On his way past, the boss gives me a look that’s almost warm, and pats my chest. “Don’t linger.” Then he’s gone. He didn’t want to hear it from Ponce, either.
When I close the door to the exam room with my boot, the slam resounds for longer than I expected.
Ponce is looking at me. It’s that look of nosiness that some of the ill-fated give to Jim instead of to me: The presumption that I am Moriarty’s Number Two Man because I can give Jim something they can’t.
They’re right. But whether they’re correct doesn’t stop them from catching a bullet in the brain.
“Moran—I’m sorry,” Ponce tries. He’s fidgeting, nervous. And for good reason, because I’m advancing on him and rolling my sleeves to my elbows. “I-I’ve got spare pills, needles. Morphine, things like that. He won’t suffer, much.”
I jab him in the nose. Close-quarters combat training ensures that it breaks, and blood spills down his face. His eyes are wide as he backs up, hits the wall, rips the “silver lining” poster.
The hand he raises in defense is bright red. Blood from vital areas is dark. I backhand him. I don’t know why I’m hitting him, but I can’t stop myself. Not as though Ponce really matters anymore. Dying man has no use for a doctor.
My fist connects with his gut. His jaw. His lip. The swing to his cheekbone checks me, and I curse, cradling my fist in my other hand. The knuckles are trickling blood, but only a little of it is mine.
Ponce is cowering, has inched his way to the corner and is quivering pathetically. Maybe he’s afraid he’s going to die. Jim isn’t cowering this way.
With a glance in his direction—he’s still trembling with shock—I riffle through his sink cabinet. The search turns up nothing but a first-aid kit, the tools Ponce had used on Jim following our jaunt to the stolen MRI, and two needles of adrenaline. “Where’s your stash?” I demand.
He doesn’t have anything to say, other than a whimper, so I lob the assortment of useless medical items in my hands at him, and he yelps. The first-aid kit pops open against the tile behind him; he raises a forearm in protection from the syringes of adrenaline. Wise—they scrape against his sleeve and tumble to the floor.
When I raise my hand to him again, Ponce shrinks back, clutching at his chest and nose with one hand, his forearm still hovering over his face. As though I can’t break an arm.
Grabbing Ponce’s forearm, his last line of defense, I tug upwards, and he hovers above the floor like a sack of flour with limbs. “I don’t need you to tell me the whereabouts of your stash to break this, but it couldn’t hurt your chances.”
I don’t have time for one-sided banter with Ponce. For all I know, Jim has already wandered out onto the street and hailed a cab. He doesn’t know what’s best for him.
Ponce’s voice is small. “Under the tiles. The tiles.” He’s holding out a lot longer than I expected.
“What tiles?” A quick shake of his arm has him in tears.
“Next to the sink—please.”
I drop him to the floor and use the heel of my boot like a battering ram against the floor by the sink cabinet, until the rubber sole plunges through a hollow area. The brown paper sack is just small enough to conceal in my jacket pocket when I roll out all the air.
One last look Ponce’s way. He is sobbing. Probably just realized he won’t be able to dull his own pain with the stash I’ve nicked from him.
I laugh, but it feels empty. Bittersweet. I swing the door back open, grimace at the skin stretching over my knuckles. “You’ll live,” I tell Ponce, and step out.
Jim hasn’t gone into the street to hail a cab. He’s leaning against the bare wall, hands hooked over the nape of his neck, eyes half-closed. Thinking again, most likely, though I don’t know that that ever stops.
He gives a small smile. Our eyes don’t meet. On purpose, I think.
The cab ride back to the flat is silent. Again, silence. Damn quiet. I can’t stand it, but I know Jim doesn’t want to hear anything more than the noise of the city, so I keep my mouth shut and nurse my knuckles with a thumb.
Jim is graceful getting out of the cab. Men aren’t graceful. But Jim isn’t a man. He’s not human. He’s more than that. Jim. Boss. He practically dances up the steps to the flat, and I have to take full strides to catch up to him after tossing a few notes at the cabbie.
At the door, Jim’s breaths are slow, steady, as though clearing the steps has been a terribly exhausting ordeal for him. It probably has. My gut twists with something I’d rather not think about. Some feeling. Compartmentalize. Tuck it away with the war. Never think about it again, because it’s so much now that if you think about it, you’ll be sick. I turn the key in the lock, hold the door open for Jim, who walks in with a calculated poise; maybe it’s not second nature anymore.
Jim stands still and casts eyes over the sitting room. I close the door behind me quietly to avoid disturbing him, but he notices everything, and I swear his ears prick up a little at the click of the deadbolt.
He takes out his mobile and starts texting. And now he’s pacing. To and fro, tap-tap-tap. To and fro, tap-tap-tap.
“Jim.” No response, but he continues to pace. “Boss.”
The boss’s hand is so tight around his mobile that his knuckles have gone white, but at least he’s come to a stop. He’s inspecting my shoes with his eyes. “Get a hold of yourself, Moran. Grieving isn’t going to make you anything, other than a less impressive male specimen.”
His voice is sharp. The flamboyant trill has left him, like it’s been sucked out of his vocal cords into a cancerous vacuum. I haven’t heard him like this before. Is this what it sounds like when Boss is worried? I’d die happy not knowing.
“I’m not grieving. You’re still alive.”
“That’s going to change soon.”
Dark eyes are suddenly on mine. They’re fighting for the strength to look angry. Half-winning.
“You don’t want to talk about it?”
The anger drains from Jim’s face as he twists his mouth in a nonchalant sort of way. I half-expect the next word that comes out of his mouth to be “nah.” He flops onto the sofa and lets his head loll back. “Talking is wasted breath,” Jim says, quietly this time. He raises a hand to his face and presses against his eyes with the tips of his fingers. “I have,” puffing out air, “piles. Piles of work to do. Time is my most valuable currency, Moran. And I don’t have much left.”
I feel stupid that he’s holding back on what sounds like a new plan. Jim always makes me feel stupid. “Is this a new scheme?”
Jim’s fingers dance away from his eyelids to make a gesture in the air. “You’ll see,” he says, and it’s almost as infuriating as usual. His fingers curl gently into his palm now, and he taps a knuckle against his forehead. Sometimes it’s like he plucks thoughts from the air. Like he can see them, and decides which bit of genius is most appropriate for the situation.
I guess that’ll change soon, too. I try not to think about that either, tuck it away with the knowledge that Jim is going to die, probably by May. But nothing better comes to mind, and Jim has fallen eerily silent.
It feels familiar. The helplessness against destruction. The sensation at the base of my ribs, that twisting that tells me I’m watching something I shouldn’t be. I don’t know what to expect. I’m not a fucking quack doctor like Ponce. But I know Jim’s brain has already started to go downhill.
Night before last, he was blathering to me in the kitchen, but it wasn’t real words. It started out that way—bossing me around to make a chicken dish of some kind—but sort of slid into a jumble of vowel sounds. Made-up words. He stopped himself in frustration and pointed to the recipe, written in his gentle, swift handwriting. Then he left the room.
It hurts more than it should. Maybe. Maybe it just hurts knowing that I have to see it get worse. Jim is more than this. He’s a genius: The man who transformed criminality from a lifestyle to an art. I’d rather shovel dirt on his coffin today (not today, any day but today) than watch that great brain of his succumb to a damn lump at the back of his head, or wherever it was.
Why’d he have to go and get cancer? Jim never plans for anything that he can’t control. Part of me wishes this is another in his endless stream of crank jokes. That he’ll pop up from the sofa, take me by the collar, and flash me one of those mad smiles. “I got you again, Moran,” he’d say.
I’d kill him myself if he did that.
I’ve been standing in front of the door for the past few minutes, and Jim is peering at me sideways. The look tells me to come closer. I was wrong about Jim being worried. Maybe he’s scared.
My boots clunk across the hardwood paneling. I stop behind him, and he inclines his head a bit. Still quiet. I settle my hands on his shoulders. Let them sit weightier than usual. His shoulders sag under the pressure, but he gives a little sigh of relief.
When he finally says something, it sounds like the old Jim, but it’s not comforting. “I have no intention of putting myself through a great degree more degeneration.”
The thought the boss is too young for this strikes, and I realize that I’m not sure exactly how old Jim is. “What do you need from me?”
“That’s a good boy.” I can hear the smile in his voice. It would grate my nerves if he wasn’t, y’know. “Your final assignment.”
“No.” I was never a strong believer in the Christian faith. Was raised Roman Catholic by my mick grandfather after my father died and Mum drank too much to be of any real use. But God in Heaven, I know what Jim wants, and I feel the sudden urge to pray I’m wrong.
Jim tenses beneath my fingers and tries to shrug them away, but he isn’t strong enough. He never was, especially not now. “Not a question.” His voice is high and away, like it’s hopped into a rogue hot air balloon.
I bend at the waist and get level with him, but he refuses to look at me until I force him with a hand to his jaw.
His face is composed. In fact, it gives off the appearance of latent amusement. But his eyes are too guarded for the façade to be convincing. Jim knows it’s the best he can do.
“It’s my job to protect you.”
“Hurts, doesn’t it?” Always that ridicule.
“I won’t put a bullet in you, Jim,” I say through gritted teeth. It’s all I can do to keep from slapping some sense into him, never mind the cancer.
There’s a real smile on Jim’s lips now. Somehow that’s less reassuring than it sounds. “I didn’t say anything about a bullet.” His fingers slide over the hand that’s at his jaw. It’s the one I roughed-up punching Ponce, and it burns when Jim rubs against the cuts on my knuckles.
I let him guide my hand to his throat. He caresses it like it’s a fucking housecat, and it dawns.
I pull my hand away quicker than if I’d laid it down on a boiling-hot range. “Jim—”
Jim’s touching his own neck pensively now. “’Jim,’” he echoes. Then he’s on his feet again. “I’ll get my affairs in order. Finish what needs to be completed.” He moves carefully, as though he’s concentrating to not lose his balance, stations himself at my side. “Breathe a word of this to no one. And, as always...”
Jim is looking at something. I follow his gaze and lay eyes on my rifle case. There’s nothing I can do but grunt affirmatively.
“Loose ends must be tied.”
No one who’s estimated a time of death for Jim Moriarty in the past has lived to see the day. And, apparently, no one ever will.
I check to make sure the rifle isn’t loaded before I begin handling her. Nothing in the chamber.
I settle the scope gently into the ring bottoms, then attach the tops, and put the finishing touches to Sonja, adjusting her to my preferences faster than the mirrors on an auto. Hold her up to my sniping eye and tuck the buttstock snugly against my shoulder. Ponce’s one window looks into his sitting room two stories below and across me. It slides dead-center of the crosshairs. Perfect.
I hate sniping from a rooftop. I’d much rather perform a warm, indoor assassination from an adjacent window. The wind up here makes things unstable, gives room for error. I never miss, but it wouldn’t hurt to shoot in prime conditions. But I have the best angle this way to eliminate Ponce. I secure the box magazine into place. It’s loaded with five rounds. I only need one.
Sometimes I wonder if coppers will notice me on a rooftop. They never do. London bobbies are so dim, they’ll chase down a machine-gun-toting maniac on foot, futilely waving their truncheons with cries of, “Please, Sir, you dropped your glove!”
No one suspects a city sniping until it happens. And, if it’s out here, in the dodgy end of London, the rozzers will hardly investigate. Just another dead drug addict, Dr. Rodney Ponce will be, and that’s fine with me. Even if I had a problem with that, for some absurd reason, my loyalty to Jim comes first. Above my own life.
Something stirs in my chest, but I push it away. Push it back. Tuck it behind the war, behind Jim… dying, behind his mind turning to mush. This must be what my therapist was trying to tell me about dealing unhealthily with trauma.
Yes, I had a therapist. For all of two sessions. My discharge from the military was only honorable because my C.O. couldn’t scrounge up the evidence to make it anything but, and I was “encouraged” by the government to see a therapist.
I didn’t care what the bitch had to say, and she was more concerned about me than was normal. Probably wanted to tack on another name to the “Sebastian Moran, Jr.” list I’d begun racking up overseas. The bastards won’t see my face unless they look in the mirror; I’ve no intention of raising any of them.
Since it was merely an “encouragement” to see her, and not a direct order, it wasn’t a bother when I stopped attending sessions. She kicked me out for smoking in her office, and I never looked back.
I didn’t need her then, and I don’t now. Therapy is for females, for rape victims, and for puss military men who cry every time they draw their weapons.
After about two hours of no activity, I get a text from the boss.
He’s at home. Take the shot ASAP. You know I hate the rumor mill. –JM
Unless you’re running it. I don’t bother answering. Jim knows I’ll get the job done. But he doesn’t usually check up on me like this. I shouldn’t have left him alone.
I scoff any qualms away and tuck my phone into my back pocket. It’s an iPhone. Uncomfortable thing. It’s bigger than a wallet, and a mite less soft against my rump. I never wanted anything fancy, but that braggart Holmes has one, and Jim likes to tell me things like, “This is how we stay relevant,” which can be roughly translated to, “One day, Sherlock will notice me.”
I readjust Sonja out of habit. Check, double-check, and if you’re sure by that point, you probably won’t hit a tin can in an open field. Raise her back up, settle the buttstock into my shoulder, and that feeling of calm washes over me. I gather it’s the same feeling just before a practiced thespian steps out to perform a soliloquy, or the serene stillness that ripples through a base jumper’s chest a moment prior to taking the plunge. Always wanted to try base jumping, but the boss tells me it’s “frivolous danger.” One to talk, eh?
A glance through the scope and Ponce appears, a flash of white-and-green jumper in the window. As though on cue. He’s bringing a cigarette to his lips and I consider shooting that first, since I’d have four rounds to spare afterward, but this job is serious.
Screw it. I send a bullet straight through his cigarette and it explodes at the filter. In a similar show, three of Ponce’s fingers explode at the knuckle, and I swear I can hear his scream, even from up here. His face is spattered with blood. He looks like a horror comics character, so I put him out of his misery after a one-two count and a shallow breath.
When I get back, the sitting room is empty. This resounding quiet is what it will be like when Jim is gone. I tug that sodding iPhone from my back pocket and raise my hand to chuck it across the room, but resist the urge when I notice the bedroom light is on.
I toss the phone on the coffee table; it connects with a heady clunk. Like a fucking brick.
Jim is on the bed. His suit jacket is god knows where, and his shirt has fallen open. His closed eyelids are rippling as his eyes roll around feverishly behind them. Jim gives a little groan. He never groans.
Rushing to his side makes me feel like a fool when I notice the brown paper bag from Ponce’s “office” is unrolled on Jim’s nightstand. The bottle of pills is missing its cap, and after a hasty count, two are missing. I run my hand up and down Jim’s left forearm. He’s clammy.
I grasp his hand. It’s closed around something—the cap. “Hell of a headache, eh?” I joke, and immediately wish I hadn’t. No reaction from Jim but a furrowed brow and a weak grunt. He’s mumbling something.
It sounds like my name.
I give his hand a tight squeeze, and his grip on the cap loosens, so I take it away. With the full intention of screwing it back onto the bottle. It just doesn’t work out.
Another glance at the boss. He’s calmed down some. The label on the bottle says these are Percocet. Not a stranger to the brand—Colonel Moran has made a few trips round the block—I down a couple and dry-swallow them before the bitterness can settle in on the roof of my mouth, then round the bed and drop down next to Jim.
It’s a dry heat. Like hell, only there’s nothing worth setting on fire because it’s all desert.
I sit up and everything swivels, like my eyes are cameras incompatible with my brain. I’m going to throw up.
Never mind. Upchuck is what the kids do. The ones who still aren’t very sure what it’s like to shoot and kill something. Someone. I take a look around. One glance at the busty Lana del Rey lookalike in tan-and-white camouflage as she brushes past suggests that I am dreaming. The distant popping gunfire suggests the setting.
Afghanistan. Everything is a dulled beige blur. I’m in a tent pitched up by Her Majesty’s best and brightest—as bright as you could possibly be in tan—the Royal Army. The del Rey girl pauses in the entrance to the tent and offers me a coy smile, but looking at her for too long hurts my eyes because the light behind her is like God replaced the sun with halogen bulbs.
She disappears from the entrance to the tent—sort of blurs into the sunlight like a wave of heat you can see hovering over the asphalt in summer. I shield my eyes with a forearm and remember Ponce. Even military training wouldn’t have saved him from my rifle.
“Sitting there for the rest of the war, Colonel? That’ll show the Taliban who’s boss.” Some cunting Irishman pops his gum behind me, and I blend turning to face him and standing up into a single motion. I had forgotten about my too-slow vision, and I have to palm my eyes for a moment as the room wheels around my head like a cheap circus toy.
When I open my eyes again, everything slides back into focus. Relatively. The back of the tent is closed-off, so at least there’s nothing burning my retinas anymore.
Jim isn’t looking at me. He’s too busy brushing sand from his right elbow. Head-to-toe in Royal Army fatigues, he looks ten years younger. The cut of his damned tailored suits is so perfect that it tricks the eye, gives the illusion of an imposing man. But in the RA camo, he looks like a little boy playing dress-up in his father’s closet. It’s almost comical, but I can’t bring myself to laugh. If I laugh, I’ll spew.
The helmet fits, though. I’m sure ego has something to do with that. A blur swirls past Jim’s face, but it doesn’t faze him, so it’s just me. The Percocet have always given me strange dreams.
“You’re hazy.” My voice is scratchy and slow. Everything, slow. I can’t keep up with the boss as he sashays past me and grabs a handful of my arse. “Sharpen up,” I grumble.
Jim just laughs a phantom laugh. A fever-dream giggle that sounds like it’s bouncing off the walls of a cave. He’s headed towards the mouth of the tent. “Any sharper, Moran,” his sing-song voice doesn’t match the hollow giggle, “and you’ll bleed.” There’s more than just distant gunfire. I hear a piano trill at the end of each of Jim’s words.
I trudge after him and roll my numbed jaw. Sandbags could be hanging from my teeth.
He slips through the tent opening as easily as the woman had, but I push aside the tarp, only to be instantly blinded by white sunlight. It has to be forty-five degrees. Sweat trickles down the nape of my neck and stains my collar cooler. Afghanistan is the only place sweat did me any good. So much for dry heat.
There’s usually some bit of greenery to be found in Afghanistan—a few trees, large patches of grass around rivers and oases—but here, in this warped Percocet-istan, everything is awash with brown. Maybe we’re in the Sistan, but a mountain looms Seussian to Jim’s right.
The boss is clunking ahead of me, somehow far ahead, in a pair of biscuit-colored boots. I hurry to catch up, and once I’m at his side, I realize he has been lecturing.
“The difference between these two things is fundamental to our grasp on reality. Because if you fail to understand that,” he pauses to take a short breath and turn to face me, “that fact that not everything you see is the truth—rather, most of it is a lie—then you are not a human being at your core.”
He’s staring at me as though he expects a response. Blinking in the midday sun.
“Missed that first bit,” I reply, and lift my hand to wipe sweat from my hair. I miss completely, somewhere around my earlobe, and my fingertips are suddenly leaden. My arm is suspended in the air for all of thirty seconds before it falls at my side like a sack of flour.
Jim’s big, brown eyes are squinting as they dart over my face. He looks puzzled, but it might be the sun in his eyes.
“This is important stuff. Hold this.” The boss’s gloved fingers grip the edges of his helmet with a comical tin-bucket sound effect. He blinks rapidly as what little shade it provided leaves, and he pushes the helmet into my chest.
I take hold of it with the arm I can still feel. My nostrils are filled with a sickly-sweet odor. It drips backward, up my chest and over my throat and lips until it’s at the back of my soft palette.
Jim tugs a glove from his hand and his first and middle knuckles are clamped around my nose. “I hate flowers. Roses, carnations. Lilies.” He digs the gloved hand, his right, into the helmet and produces a fistful of white flowers. I’m breathing through my mouth now, but I can still smell them, like a thick gel stuck to the roof of my mouth.
“You’ve always known what I wanted. You know now.”
The flowers explode. Whizz like a turbocharged horsefly, and a hole rips through the sleeve of my fatigues. The soldier in me is as much on the alert as possible, yet everything is still so slow. So slow I can see the trajectory of the bullets; they’re coming from behind me. I manage to shove Jim behind a boulder, and I tug him down between my legs.
A grin is peeling his lips apart like the curtains before the second act of a tragedy. There’s never any real mirth in Jim’s smiles, unless he’s cackling inwardly about how stupid I am.
Bullets careen into the boulder. I make a grab for my Browning, air whooshes around my hand, thick as if I were swimming in it (so much for dry heat), and my hand lands heavily on an empty hip. Nothing on my back, either.
Jim’s laughing, so hard that he rests his head against my chest, fine hair and dark eyelashes like a child's. He clings to my fatigues with a tight fist. The stems of the white flowers are still in his hand; they trail sticky, clear blood on my uniform.
It sinks in. We are going to die. Once the bastards realize I’m unarmed, they’ll just walk around the fucking boulder and pop me between the eyes. Jim has led me directly into enemy fire by blathering about nothing. Nothing.
I grab him by the collar—anything to stop that complacent laughter. He quiets down, breath short and heaving through his teeth, and looks up at me again as tears pool in the corners of his eyes.
“We’re gonna die!” I bellow at him. Pieces of our boulder rain around us with another round of crunching zips. Bits of clay-brown in Jim’s hair.
He cups my jaw, and my attempt to jerk away is futile. He can control me, even in my dreams.
“Listen to me, Moran.” Jim begins to trail tender kisses along my neck. Once he reaches my ear, he licks the sand from his lips and whispers, “I’m not going down alone.”
When I wake up, the lights are off. It’s dark outside, but some of the busy London nightlife twinkles through the curtains. Jim is facing away from me, a tailored silhouette on the edge of the bed. His suit jacket is back on his body.
He’s cradling his head, completely silent. I can’t even hear him breathing, but the way Jim is gently, rhythmically bobbing back and forth keeps me from checking he’s not having a seizure or something.
I try to keep quiet, too. If I disturb him, he’ll put up a front that’s painless; the stone-faced Jim. The one he projects to clients.
I still haven’t been able to accept that he’s dying. No matter how many times I think the words “Jim is dying,” it refuses to sink in. Like a sick joke you regret cracking.
Two weeks later, Jim is succumbing to nausea. Saturday, 9:25 a.m.
Jim closed the door to the loo so he could vomit in peace, but I can hear it through the wall. He’s heaving. It doesn’t sound like a normal person’s upchuck—more like Jim is in there, watching someone else do the vomiting for him.
We’re going to be late meeting a client. Jim’s never been late. It’s almost half-past; I’ve been edging toward the door since 9:20. Meeting’s across town at ten, and if we hurry now, we can make it. As I lift my fist to knock, Jim lets out a shallow breath and a small groan. I wonder if he has a headache all the time, or if it’s a recurring migraine. I beat and murdered Ponce too efficiently to have my questions answered now.
A few taps against the door, and I try, “Boss? It’s 9:27.” Silence, so I continue. “We don’t have to go if you’re not up for it.”
Jim flushes the toilet in answer and the sink water starts running.
Just as I begin to curse myself for being a moron, Jim pulls open the door and pushes past me. He dips the tips of his fingers into my back pocket and closes his eyes for a brief moment. It seems like an hour, and I watch him, waiting to see if he’s going to fall. I wish I knew what to expect. Anything.
Jim pulls his hand out of the pocket, ghosts his fingertips along my knuckles. He squeezes my trigger finger briefly before he slips his hand away from mine and he strides into the sitting room.
He catches himself in a stumble and pauses behind the sofa. One hand resting on the back of it, the other coming up to run down his face, Jim gives a breathy chuckle. As though he just got a bill in the mail he can’t pay.
Jim is composed, quick as lightning. It reminds me of his transition after sex. From quiet, open-mouthed orgasm to a shaky-legged equanimity before you can say “knife,” he can shake off anything. Not this, though. Christ, why not this?
He unfolds a pair of aviator sunglasses, waves for me to follow, and we’re out the door and hailing a cab for Romford Stadium.
Jim speaks little during the hurried cab ride to Romford, mostly just small commands to me. He settles into the seat and watches London go past without a trace of a smile. Normally, he smiles. That criminal twisting at the corners of his lips (sadistic, psychopathic), sick as it sounds, is comforting.
I bump my knuckles against his fingertips on the leather, but he curls them into his palm. I study what I can see of his face. A flick of his eyes meeting mine in the reflection of the window clues me in that he’s aware I’m perusing, but it’s for his own good. He looks much the same as usual, aside from a sort of pallid clamminess around his eyes and cheekbones. I wonder if our client will notice. Not unless he’s Sherlock Holmes.
The world doesn’t know it yet, but it will never be the same without Jim.
I’ve been to Romford, but never in the morning. It’s a surprisingly sunny day, which would be nice if I owned a pair of shades. Jim is sporting some designer pair, which I’m sure cost about as much, if not more, than my first car. Knowing him, more.
I raise a hand to my brow and am reminded of my Percocet dream next to Jim. There’s a sudden knot in my stomach and everything does a pseudo-spin. Vertigo? I roll my eyes. Jim’s got bigger problems.
I follow Jim’s lead, as always. He saunters past a slightly overlarge statue of a male greyhound; the crest above its eyes is wrinkled in what looks more like anxiety than determination, but that may have been the intention—the artist’s ironic mirroring of unease in the gambling-addicted patron who’s come back for one last race.
Glancing up, I notice Jim has gotten too far ahead, and I lengthen my strides to catch up to him. He seems to know exactly where he’s going, but now I’m arching my back and throwing my hands up like a hammy Frankenstein’s monster to keep from running into him from behind because he’s stopped short to check his phone.
Jim doesn’t bat an eyelash. Just does a full-bodied turn and flashes me a smile like he has a secret. His aviators aren’t transparent enough for me to know if he really meant that smile or not. Just a pair of almond squares blocking his eyes.
He hits my sternum loosely with the knuckles of his right hand, settles it on my chest nails-down, and looks down at his mobile. “He’s here.” Jim pats my chest and points across the sunlit grounds in the direction of the children’s playground.
I cast my eyes ahead to try and get a glimpse of the client. One grown man, albeit a short one, standing at the wooden edge of the children’s playground, hands in his pockets, brow furrowed, glancing around in an extremely awkward way.
“Is that Watson?” I ask, and Jim laughs, steps over an empty beer bottle. I lean in close to him and hunch my shoulders so I can confirm it more discreetly. “John Watson?”
Jim doesn’t bother to answer. Just keeps meandering along in Watson’s direction. As we get closer, I can see it more clearly. That pudgy jawline; pathetic jacket; that nervous habit of licking his lips. Definitely the man I trailed for what has to have been the most boring month of my entire life—including my final thirty days at Eton, which were peppered with detentions, each one assigned by the same sadistic ass of a professor. These involved copying Latin hexameters by hand for hours on end—an outdated punishment, but the professor was old enough to have shaken hands with Queen Vickie.
And it had been more interesting than John Watson’s comings and goings at the surgery. I thought I was being punished, until I saw Jim’s ecstatic encounter with the doctor and his detective boyfriend at the pool. They’re an item, right?
I followed him around for a month and I don’t know. Sounds far-fetched, but those two are more secretive about where their nuts end up than a pair of squirrels.
Watson looks as though he didn’t know whom he was meeting. I couldn’t have bought the look on his face with a MasterCard. His brow is wrinkled in a way that reminds me of the anxious greyhound statue as he stumbles back from Jim, who has spread his hands and is advancing on Watson like a funny uncle at a social event.
“Dr. Watson,” Jim says, jovially.
“No, you—you stay away from me, Moriarty.” Watson stops abruptly when the back of his shoe knocks against the wooden border for the play area.
I glance at the play structure. Couple of kids scramble around on it in the late morning sun, but none of them seems to be perturbed by our arrival. I suppose if their parents don’t have any problems setting them aside whilst gambling away their inheritance, a gentlemen’s quarrel near the monkey bars shouldn’t be too much of a disturbance.
Jim’s advancing on Watson steadily, more steadily than he was walking about ten minutes ago. He’s grinning madly, and I get to pretend for a moment that he’s all right.
He holds up his hands, inclines his head. “No explosives this time,” in that familiar up-and-down pitch dance. I’m looking at Jim from behind, but I can imagine the maddening half-smile that’s tugging at the corner of his mouth. The amount of fury sparked in Watson’s eyes confirms my suspicions, and the doctor holds a fist at his side.
I’m flanking Jim in seconds, a hand at my hip. Watson looks between us. Confused—maybe he thought I was just there for intimidation. His fist opens either way, and I let my hand relax, just a tad. Settle it over the butt of the pistol.
Watson’s eyes dart between us, Jim and me, again. As though he’s sizing us up before a street fight. I’d lay him flat. He realizes this, I think, and turns away.
“I don’t have to listen to you,” the doctor says, reluctantly, maybe hoping that he really can just walk away, that he’s called Jim’s bluff.
Jim waits until Watson is almost out of earshot before he calls, “Well,” and looks down, toes the gravel with barely-contained delight.
It makes Watson stop walking. I wait to see what sort of threat Jim has up his sleeve, the way I always do, but I study Jim’s features to make sure he’s okay without having to ask.
“I don’t have to blow up a primary school. But flattening a science fair would make my weekend more interesting.”
Watson spins back around, all arms and edgy hesitation, too absorbed in the lives of filthy, idiot children who may or may not exist to notice the tenseness around Jim’s jaw. At the wrong angle to notice his eyes squinting with what’s probably a stabbing pain behind the aviators.
I pray to God he’s not nauseous. Not sure how much good that’ll do me, considering I’m more of a back-pew Catholic, but it’s worth a shot.
Jim’s eyelids flutter for a moment before he forces a smile again. It looks unnatural, but in a way, all his smiles look unnatural. And Watson continues to be concerned with all the wrong things. But that’s a good thing, since there’s no way Jim is going to tell him he is on a tight schedule.
“Let’s just get this over with,” Watson manages. His hatred for Jim is palpable, and when Jim takes the liberty of closing the gap between them, Watson stands his ground this time. I move to get a profile view of them, but hang back to watch. Jim likes to deal with the theatrics on his own.
Jim’s sucked his lips into his mouth to hold back a smile. He raises a hand. Watson’s eyes go to flint and they dart to meet mine, ready to fight if I am ordered to attack. I return his look, and he doesn’t cast gaze elsewhere, not for a moment. Got to respect the man’s determination, but he is military-trained, same as me. Not the same—he’s a trained doctor and I’m a trained killer. But we’ve seen the same things.
A little laugh from Jim gets our attention, but neither of us breaks the gaze. It’s short, one-note, more of a loud, sarcastic breath than a laugh, and Jim follows it up with, “Bring the envelope.”
I’m about to ask, “What envelope?” when I remember Jim’s hand in my pocket after he exited the loo at our flat. A curious dig into the back of my denims produces a neatly-folded envelope, the word “Sherlock” penned across the front in capitals. It has a slight downward slope on the right side. Should be straight. I check Watson’s face, and he’s now glancing between the envelope and Jim, perhaps trying to decide which one poses the greater danger.
Jim beckons me closer. I approach and hold it out to him, but he gives a little sigh and gestures in the direction of Watson, whose trepidation suggests he would much rather burn it.
“Don’t get too excited, you’re only the messenger,” Jim says, and rolls his head on his neck, like that day in Ponce’s office. It’s been two weeks. I try not to think about the prognosis, but it gets tougher with each passing hour. Each hour that Jim and I do something for work is another hour wasted. I don’t dare ask him what he plans to do with his empire, but I know it’s not meant for me. I don’t want it, either way.
He gestures toward Watson again and I snap out of it, quickly approaching the doctor and holding out the envelope. Watson eyes it with care for longer than is necessary, so I shake it at him and he grabs it to make me stop.
He’s holding it up like it’s a press badge at a court hearing. “What is this?”
“A going-away present. I’ll be gone soon, but I can’t leave Sherlock with nothing.” Watson isn’t thinking about death. He’s put-off by the fact that Moriarty appears to think he can just escape elsewhere and not be held accountable for his crimes.
Death is all I can think of. What Jim is saying in “I’ll be gone,” is obvious enough to me that I’m offended when Watson stuffs the envelope into his own back pocket and stands up a bit straighter, answers haughtily,
“He’ll find you no matter where you go.”
I feel an itching compulsion in my biceps as they tense up. The dramatic irony seems to be amusing the boss to some degree, as he’s watching Watson intently through the aviators, but the only thing stopping me from cracking Watson’s skull through one of the play structure’s metal rungs is the knowledge that it would foil Jim’s final plan—whatever it is—to kill off his “messenger.” Whatever that means.
Jim ignores Watson’s hauteur and his shoulders rise and fall casually. “He’ll need closure.”
To be more precise, we’ve gone from Watson. From the dog track, hitched a ride in another cab and spent the next few hours navigating around to London’s more touristy locations—the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, and the Barbican. At each location—besides Piccadilly, where the noise was too much for Jim and he had to return to the cab—we left an envelope marked for Sherlock in Jim’s handwriting. I hate that he won’t tell me what’s going on. I want to shake it out of him. Rattle him until he tells me it’s a big con. Maybe that’s why he isn’t revealing the plan.
I was going to try for a new cab after the art museum because the bastard had gone off with a pair of French tourists as we left the building, but Jim stopped me when he dropped to a sitting position on a bench, his body covering up three of the last four digits to the number for the Bloomsbury Theatre.
He’s been sitting on the bench for a good minute or so before he speaks. “That’s all we needed to do.” He removes his sunglasses, and I notice the dark circles. Jim’s always had them—curse of the insomniac genius, I suppose—but these are worse. It’s the normal shade, but against the pallor of Jim’s cancer-drained face, they stand out like rotting plums under thinly-stretched wax paper.
I fish around in my pocket for the Percocet; I’ll carry Boss up the stairs to the flat if I have to. But, he tugs on my sleeve with fingers that used to be dexterous, powerful. Their weak hold on the cuff of my jacket has the same familiar confidence, intent to grab and pull me down, but it’s contaminated with a sort of regressed innocence that isn’t Jim. It’s not the boss I know.
I sit next to him and ignore the vacant pressure in my chest that’s trying to bubble up into a lump in my throat. He’s still alive. Don’t cry, dolt. He’s just your boss. Only the first time he kissed you, that wasn’t true anymore.
Steady breaths, and the feeling passes, for the most part.
Looking to him brings it back full-force. He’s watching the tourists milling past with an unfocused gaze; I’d say “blank,” but it wouldn’t do him justice. Even if he’s knocked-out by those painkillers, he seems to be in a constant REM state, eyes rolling around like twin ping-pong balls in a pool with a cover. His brain’s always working out a new something or other.
“What do we do now?” I ask, and he smiles.
Jim lifts the hand that’s not curled around my shirtsleeve and closes his eyes, presses his thumb and forefinger to the eyelids briefly. He puts the sunglasses back on. “I have no one to say goodbye to anymore.”
What the hell is he talking about? Is that what this shenanigan has been? Gallivanting about London’s hotspots, choking back tears and dropping off letters addressed to that deduction machine, meeting up with Dr. Boring-Jumpers, and wasting six of Jim’s final hours on this earth—putting the pieces into play for a fucking game with Sherlock Holmes?
I clear my throat. It’s hard to keep my tone even. “You’re saying goodbye to Holmes?” What about me?
“There’s no one else I care about.” Jim caresses my knuckles with the flats of his nails, and I will my heart to steel.
“You’ll do it Monday.” He’s torturing me on purpose. Has to be.
It’s easier to deal with when Jim isn’t acknowledging it. I push my fingers on top of his on the bench. He doesn’t move his away. “I said no.” A final ditch-effort to keep the guilt of my own boss’s blood on my hands at bay.
Jim’s laughter is sharp enough to cut diamonds. A bit of the old Jim peeking through. “You’re right. I hate Mondays. Let’s do it Sunday.”
“You talked me into it. Tonight is the night.”
“Please—” I don’t know what I’m asking for, so I stop to gather my question. He doesn’t encourage me to continue, just keeps watching the tourists with a complacent little smirk. “Tomorrow?”
He shakes his head. “There would be no benefit waiting a day. You’d probably waste tonight and Sunday morning, weeping into my shoulder.” Jim mimes wiping tears from his eyes with his fists and shoots me a melodramatic pout. “Boo-hoo.”
I should hate him. I wait for rage to race through my veins, for the urge to smack him around, but all that comes is a swelling in my throat, and my shoulders feel heavier than lead.
“You’re a terrible bodyguard.” Jim’s dark eyes hold a spark of curiosity as he looks at me, but that smirk is still on his lips.
I pull my hand away and stuff it into my pocket. Damn him. “I’m not just a bodyguard.”
Jim stands up. A thoughtful nod. “Get us a cab.”
Our flat hasn’t been our flat for long. It’s the latest in a string of hideouts that Jim has secured for us. But we’ve been here for a while, so it feels more like home than anywhere else. We stopped at a nacho stand on the way back, at Jim’s request. He’s always told me how fascinated he is by the amount of Mexican food in London. "It retains almost none of its initial Anglican culture. Mexico is very far away, Moran,” he told me once. As though I didn’t understand that.
Jim dry-swallowed a painkiller on the way into the flat. He’s standing in the doorway to the bedroom, placid, maybe feeling the effects of the Percocet already.
We haven’t fucked since the prognosis, but I think that’s my doing as well as his. On nights when he doesn’t have a headache, when he’s not locked himself in the bathroom to contend with the nausea that overactivity has brought about, I’m too busy tucking my fingertips under his ribs, holding him to my chest and thinking. Maybe my dark circles look like his did before the cancer. I don’t care.
I glance at the window. The sun is setting, and I’m disgusted with myself for finding symbolism in that. Jim has disappeared into the bedroom; a click, and the bedside lamp sheds a dull yellow light over the room. The static quiet where I stand in the sitting room makes me gulp back the stone in my throat. It slides down, cold, and drops in the pit of my gut.
When I walk into the room, Jim has one foot settled on the opposite thigh so he can untie his loafer. Some custom job. He made me pick them up from the dealer, an eye-tie greaseball who surprised me with his efficiency and lack of profanity; I remember handing over 1,300 pounds cash, and receiving no change. They seem a waste now.
Jim removes the shoes slowly, then begins work on his tie. His jacket is folded neatly over the footboard. I’m going to burn those suits when he’s gone.
“This is a job.”
His voice cuts across the heavy nothingness and I look up in surprise. Moran doesn’t jump, no matter what the situation. “What?”
He hangs his tie on the bedpost. One-hundred-twenty pounds. “I’m still going to pay you. The money is in that envelope on the kitchen table.”
“I don’t want it.”
“Above taking blood money now, are we?” Jim unbuttons the first three buttons on his shirt, and it yawns open, an expanse of flesh made pale by sickness sliding into view. He swings his legs—if you could call that wobbly, slow lifting of each appendage “swinging”—onto the bed and leans back against the pillows. “Come here.”
I have never not come when Jim’s called, and I won’t start now. My legs are on autopilot, guiding me against my will to the bed. I sidestep Jim’s shoes. Those damn shoes.
Standing next to him now. He looks up at me, and his eyes are large. I have never seen him cry, not even in pain, and the shine that’s glazed over his eyes disturbs me more than any way I’ve seen him, including the day I disobeyed an order. That one day, that only day, when his lips parted into a satanic grin, all teeth, when he smoothed down the lapels of a freshly-pressed Reiss (never heard of it before Jim) and called me “princess.”
If he cries, I will be finished.
He doesn’t. It’s a trick of the light, maybe, but he does hold out an arm, inviting me to join him on the bed, and I do.
My head is on his chest, and I can hear his heartbeat. It’s enraging that it sounds steady enough to be healthy, because I know it’s not true. His fingers are ice as they slip up the nape of my neck and part my hair.
“I want you to burn me.” Jim’s voice is soft and determined, as though he’s saying something he’s been debating in his mind for a long while, and has finally come to a decision.
I nod. My eyes are hot.
He puts his other hand to work, pushing the buttons of my shirt through the holes, pressing his clammy palm to my chest and massaging it in a distracted way. His voice is slow, as though he’s playing Tug-of-war for the words. Percocet must be kicking in. “And you can forever keep me in your pocket; little ashes of bones that you love. You do love me.” Informing me.
Another nod from me, and his chest jumps with silent laughter. He pinches my ear affectionately.
I wasn’t ready to do it, but he’s holding on, keeping the unconsciousness at bay to make sure he’s awake when I carry out my assignment.
It’s been ten minutes since we got on the bed. It seems like an eternity—no, I just wish it could be. Jim is mumbling nonsense (“Let’s steal France, Moran,” “We’ll cut the paintings to ribbons” ) as his eyelids flutter against the pills. Part of me entertains the thought that I could just let him fall asleep, have one more night with him. The rest of me knows how infuriated he’ll be when he wakes up, and I heave my body up.
Jim manages to pull open his eyelids halfway at the shift in position, and he catches my gaze with a shallow intake of breath.
“It’s—make me feel it.” I look away, and he raises a hand in a halfhearted slap to my jaw, misses. “Moran. It’s time.”
It takes him a few tries to grab my hand, but I don’t help him. He wouldn’t want the help. He drags it up to his throat, fragile, already broken by cancer. I realize why he wants to go this way, and a calm washes over me. Just do it. You’ve done this so many times before.
I get on top of him, a knee on either side of his body, and settle my weight on his chest. Jim lets out a rattling sigh and closes his eyes for the briefest of moments, then locks them on mine again.
The old Jim is staring into me. His dark eyes glitter with malice, some private joke he’s working out in his head like a maths equation. My thumb bumps over his neck and presses into his jaw as I pull him into a kiss.
Our tongues slide together for the first time in weeks. The familiarity shocks tears from my eyes. I ignore it, even though one of them drips off the tip of my nose onto Jim’s upper lip. He ignores it, too.
I press in closer. I tighten my grip on Jim’s throat until I can feel him instinctively pull the air from my mouth, and then I squeeze harder. Jim’s tongue is going slack against mine, but his heart is racing in his chest. His brain seems to be the only part of him with a death wish, but the Moriarty brain is king, and that is the only part of him I obey without question.
His hands curl inward against his wrists. Like a spider. I press harder, harder, until his windpipe crunches under my fingers. It feels like papier-mâché that’s caked too thick.
Jim’s eyes are the last thing to stop moving. They languidly lose focus, eyelids drooping under the weight of muscles that no longer have a brain to abide by, but they don’t close all the way. His lashes are dark.
My hands are shaking. I stare at Jim’s body, and I swear he’s smiling. I throw the sheet over that smug face and crawl off him. My breath comes in short, quick spurts. I can’t do this. I did this.
“Boss,” I call, hesitantly, and of course, there’s no answer. Silence, hated, dreadful silence floods my ears. It’s louder than any Afghani gunshots.
The room is filled with a sick mass. It all seems darker, smaller. Tighter. Dense.
I want to skin him. Or have him stuffed. But it wouldn't be the same. He’s not like a tiger. It would be impossible to capture that psychopathic glee in a stuffed corpse. What am I saying?
What am I anymore?
What am I?
In the kitchen. I grip the counter ( “Have you ever seen real marble, Moran? This isn’t it. This is better” ) until my thumbs feel like they’ll break apart. The pit of my chest has a weight in it like a yawn that refuses to slither out of my lungs, and I’m crying.
I whip open the cupboard so hard that it flies back and cracks against my elbow as I drag all of the china, all of Jim’s stupid teacups, from the shelf. The pain is nothing. My eyes burn and I smash the china. The cold, off-white porcelain reminds me of Jim’s skin.
My knuckles are raw and frayed. My head is between my knees, and I’m biting back sobs as though anyone is around to care what the hell I do for the rest of my life, how tough I am.
I am a soldier who feels nothing but the weapon’s recoil when I bring down a target. I am a muscular, glorified goon, and I am ruined.
My chest shudders with grief, and I think of Jim’s final breath. It wasn’t a breath so much as a restrained, halting choke. Jim’s instincts attempting, for less than a second, to draw oxygen through a caved-in windpipe.
I realize I can’t recall his voice at will. Already. I frantically claw through my mind in an attempt to remember some signature phrase of his that I can perhaps hold onto for the rest of my life.
“Mexico is very far away, Moran.”
I squeeze my knees against my temples and still can’t bring myself to hate him, settle my hands at the back of my skull. I can’t just break everything and wallow in sorrow. My final assignment needs finishing. Jim must be burned. But I can’t.
After three hours, I get enough control to open Jim’s envelope. Unlabeled, but for two Xs and his initials, it holds only two things: A glass vial, and 8,000 pounds. Little ashes of bones that you love.
I fight against Jim’s cleaner crew when they try to take the body from me. Their eyes are wide and watery with terror, and they, all of them, have to shove me at once to take Jim away. I have no idea what I look like, but I know that it’s anything but composed. I just shove a handful of cash at them. Half of Jim’s blood money. I can’t live with myself.
But I have to. I cut my feet on pieces of china as I pace the kitchen, waiting for them to return. I don’t trust them. I hate that they will see Jim naked.
And when they return hours later with his clothes in a black binbag and the ashes in an ASDA-brand Tupperware container, I give them the rest of the money from the envelope and send them away.
I return to the bedroom and sit at the end of the mattress, Jim’s Tupperware in hand. I want to open it. But if some of him escapes into the air, I’ll be sharing him with anyone else who draws breath in this bedroom, and that’s not fair. I shouldn’t have to share him.
Scooting back further on the bed, Jim clutched under my arm, I settle into the pillows. I am in the position I was before, when it was a physical possibility for me to hear Jim’s heartbeat, but I draw my knees upward, cradling him to my stomach and wishing I could have done anything other than the hopeless nothing I did do.
Again, I cry. All the tears I couldn’t bring myself to push out when Jim was alive, dripping down my cheekbones pathetically. I did absolutely nothing but wait for him to die.
I must open the container to fill the vial with ashes, which I secure to my dog tags. I have to look for those, haven’t worn them since before I met Jim, but they’re stuffed into the lining of my rifle case, so I throw them about my neck and lean against the back of the sofa. The pain in my feet is bearable, but they look like someone took a knife to them.
I’m rolling bandages around the cuts, a syringe of morphine hanging from the corner of my mouth, when they burst in.
Sherlock Holmes, bright-eyed, mobile in hand. His loyal doctor at his side, and a gray-headed detective trailing behind them both, a look of wonder in his eyes that can only come from a skeptic who has been proven incorrect about something.
The detective approaches me, albeit reluctantly, and holds up his badge and a pair of handcuffs. “Sebastian Moran?”
“Colonel Sebastian Moran.” I surprise myself and the copper with the answer, and he blinks.
Holmes and Watson are looking around the flat. Watson, with a look of surprise—Holmes, with a sort of smugness that reminds me of Jim. He lifts the ashes, turns the Tupperware over in his hands, and raises his eyebrows. I want to crush his hands until they’re only meat.
“Right. Colonel Sebastian Moran, you are under arrest for racketeering, smuggling, murder in the first degree, and for tax evasion.”
These are the charges that should be leveled against Jim. Should have been leveled.
“Moriarty’s dead.” I tape off the bandage and stand up straight.
Watson’s nonplussed. The dubious anger on his face rivals the look of surprise from the dog track this morning. Sherlock simply nods, but his eyes never leave the Tupperware. They bore into it, give it a great stare as he lifts it into the air and tilts it. Lets the dust of Jim cling to the plastic. Entranced. He sets it down on top of the binbag holding Jim’s suit, and his eyes trail to meet mine.
They’re almost confused. On the precipice of disappointment, but something tells me he understands.
“You are the next-best thing, Colonel.”
I am read my rights. I let everything happen to me. They make me put on shoes over the bandages. They take my dog tags, and I keep the tears at bay for a good run, but I have a little weep in the car on the way to the station. No one laughs at me. I’m not sure what I was expecting. The detective keeps his eyes on the road.
The evidence is overwhelming, and I am found guilty on every charge but racketeering. I don’t see why not, but I can’t bring myself to want freedom now.
I realize I am the fall man for Jim’s empire. I don’t care, because I recognize every bit of evidence as it is introduced to the court as one of the envelopes that Jim and I dropped off for Holmes around the city.
I hear that Jim's ashes are stored somewhere in 221B, Baker Street.
My first cell mate insists on telling everyone that I am Moriarty. Probably to keep people from beating him, or to avoid a rough cocking in the showers.
I beat him until he bleeds and push him face-first into the wall of our cell, growl into his ear how pretty you are and press hard against him, just to spite him. The other inmates give me a berth in the yard, and I eat alone, quiet, at meals.
I am all that is left of Jim Moriarty.