Takes place after the events of “Free Will.”
It was late afternoon when John and Sherlock left Ian’s house.
News of Ian Littleston’s death had obviously already leaked, as the press was already gathered on the sidewalk. Sherlock only hoped that they hadn’t yet heard who the heir to the estate was.
Looking through the door, he saw Mycroft’s car pull up and he looked at John. “Ready?”
John pulled his shoulders back and lifted his chin in a nod, and the butler opened the door. Sherlock went first, clearing the way for John. Not surprisingly, he was recognized right away. Shouts came from all sides. “Mr. Holmes, what can you tell us?” “Is it true that Andrew Littleston kidnapped you?” “Why are you here? Is this death suspicious?”
He ignored all of them, and plowed through the crowd on his way to the sidewalk, Mycroft’s driver already standing with the door open. John clambered in behind him, exhaling loudly as the door closed behind them. “I gather they haven’t heard yet,” he said.
“Mycroft said something about a press release tomorrow morning.”
John nodded, eyes sad. “He’s really been very helpful. However is the British government managing without him?”
Sherlock huffed. “You don’t think the death of Ian Littleston counts as something the British government is concerned about? Keeping the financial markets stable is fairly important, I’m told.”
John just shook his head. “Now that’s not something I thought I’d ever be connected to.”
“Don’t worry. The markets don’t know you’re involved … yet”
“Thank God. We’ve got a few hours then. Maybe we should stop at the grocery and stockpile some items for the siege ahead?”
The next few days were a nightmare, and John was forever grateful that they were a blurry nightmare.
First, there was losing the father he had only just discovered. He’d only spent a few hours with Ian, but he had liked the man and regretted they’d never have a chance to know each other. In any normal life, that would be a major event right there, but in his?
Well, there was the money. Ian had been so clever, so tricky in his generosity. John had outright told him he didn’t want to be saddled with a fortune, so Ian had worked around that. He’d set up a trust fund that would pay John “rent money” every month—except the sum would be enough to buy 221B Baker Street outright, or to rent a flat in the most expensive neighborhood in London. Or so John imagined. He just knew it was far more than he could ever spend.
In addition, Ian had—in the name of keeping a “roof overhead”—left him two houses. John had no idea what to do with those, either. But how could he complain? Ian had been generous, and had still put most of his fortune into charity. As long as John kept a good money manager (he was sure Mycroft could recommend someone), he could simply go about his life as usual.
Except—none of this was ‘normal,” anymore.
Not that his life had ever been what you’d call normal, other than his nice, ordinary, middle-class childhood. When he thought about it, he wasn’t even sure he knew what normal was, but he was sure that running around London chasing criminals with Sherlock Holmes was not it.
Barricaded in their flat, ignoring the hordes of reporters outside, John made tea. (He made lots of tea.) He’d called the surgery before the media frenzy to say he wouldn’t be in for a few days, and obviously taking a case right now would be impossible.
All he wanted was for his life to get back to what passed for normal. Or familiar, at least.
He walked back into the sitting room and set a cup of tea next to Sherlock, sprawled on the couch. “We really need to look into getting an exit out the back one of these days.”
“Fire escape?” Sherlock didn’t bother to open his eyes.
“I meant a secret exit. A tunnel, maybe?” John gave Sherlock a sharp look. “I’d think you’d be the one going stir-crazy, not me.”
“You’re never satisfied, are you?” Sherlock swung his feet to the floor and picked up his tea cup with one fluid movement. “Did you want me shooting the walls?”
“No. God, no,” John said in a hurry. “But I wouldn’t mind getting out of here without having to face … them. What I wouldn’t give for a nice, simple crime scene.”
Across the room, Sherlock’s lips twitched. “To think I lived to see the day John Watson would look forward to a murder.”
John smiled back at him. “I didn’t say murder, Sherlock. Just a nice little crime scene. Something normal.” He huffed a laugh. “As if that’s normal. When did my life get so weird?”
Sherlock stood and looked out the window, sipping his tea. “It looks like we’ve got international press out there, now.”
“Christ, really?” John went and looked also. “We’d better hope there’s not a fire, because with all those people on the sidewalk, the flat will burn before they can get the fire department here.”
“You’re right, of course.” Mycroft’s voice came from the doorway. “We’ll have the police clear some room.”
“Mycroft? How on earth did you get in here?” John asked, stunned.
“Did Sherlock not tell you about the secret tunnel, John?” Mycroft gave his lazy, polite smile. “You do know you aren’t trapped in here, either of you?”
Sherlock shrugged. “The press is boring. You can’t chase them, you can’t punch them, they just lie in wait. I had enough of them last year. They’re boring now.”
“Yes, well, John put up with them longer than you did while you were ‘dead,’ Sherlock, and I don’t hear him complaining.”
“I was just about to whittle my way out of 221C with a spoon, Mycroft,” John told him bluntly, “So if you’ve got a way out of here without the press seeing, I’m all for it.”
Mycroft smiled. “It may not be possible without the press noticing, but getting you both out of here is necessary.”
“At least it’s not another press conference,” groaned John.
The day the news broke, Mycroft had insisted. Or, to be clear, Julia, the public relations employee Mycroft dispatched to their flat had insisted. She had told them they wanted to stay in charge of the story, and the only way to do that was to be the ones giving out the information. She had bullied John into his suit (he refused to buy a new one), and put him in front of a ravenous press room.
To be fair, she had done most of the speaking herself. She had talked about Ian’s commitment to helping others and how he had established two major charities before his death. She explained that, yes, his younger son’s own actions in (allegedly) kidnapping Harriet Watson and Sherlock Holmes had had a direct effect on his decision. Ian Littleston, she said, expected people to be responsible for their own actions, and had long since informed his heirs that they could expect nothing if they didn’t live up to his standards. But, yes, Andrew Littleston still retained his generous trust fund.
John had been impressed. He had watched enough of Greg’s press conferences to know how difficult it can be to keep the media hounds on track. He and Sherlock had been standing to the side, with Sherlock being his usual tall, arrogant self that just dared the members of the press to imply that being kidnapped had been anything other than his own idea.
They hadn’t realized at first that John was there in any capacity other than Sherlock’s sidekick.
When Julia had announced Ian’s bequest to his long-lost son, the room had exploded. Not literally. (John would almost have preferred it had been literal.) He had had all he could do not to cut and run when every single face and camera lens in the place had turned to look at him.
He gave Julia full credit for her next piece of showmanship, as well. She had projected the photo of him and Ian from his graduation for the room to see. It not only gave the impression that they’d known each other all along, but it put the family resemblance right there for all to see.
Naturally, there had been questions about why Andy had kidnapped Harry and Sherlock, but she skimmed past them, saying she could not comment on an ongoing investigation. Instead, she had turned the reporters’ attention to the two charities, introducing the chairmen who would be running them.
It had been a masterful production, and John told her so. He didn’t generally have the patience for this kind of event (more than Sherlock, though), but he knew a well-played hand when he saw one.
That had been the last time they’d been out of the flat, though. By the time they returned after the press conference, the vultures were already hovering outside the door.
The first thing John did once he was inside was to apologize to Mrs. Hudson for the inconvenience.
But now, with Mycroft offering a chance to get out, John would almost be happy to endure another press conference. But that wasn’t to be today.
Today was Ian’s funeral.
The funeral was an ordeal. There was no other way to describe it, thought John. Oh, it wasn’t as traumatic as his parents’ had been. Ian hadn’t had time to become a huge part of his life, so that helped the emotional, grieving aspect, but still. There was nothing easy about this.
The press had been stopped at the gates, thankfully, but the funeral was still crowded, packed with people not only showing their respects for a giant in the financial world, but also avid to be part of an event the gossip columns were mad over. Hard though he tried to keep to himself, people kept coming over to introduce themselves and express their sympathies.
And, of course, dig for information. Everybody wanted to know everything. How had he kept the secret for so long? Why had it been a secret? How had his mother known Ian? Had his father known? Was it true that Andy had tried to kill him? For the most part, the questions were wrapped up in polite, social murmurs, but the curiosity kept pushing at him, keeping him off balance.
He couldn’t believe how helpful Sherlock was being. For once, he wasn’t trying to draw the spotlight, but instead stuck to John’s shoulder, from where he loomed whenever a ‘mourner’ became too obstreperous. (The fact that Sherlock could identify rudely pushy when he saw it amused John, considering how clueless he was whenever he did it himself.)
It was helpful, though, especially considering how far out of his depth he felt. Hobnobbing with the ultra-rich was decidedly not something he had much experience with. He had let Sherlock convince him to get a new (designer, even) suit for the occasion because he knew the power of a proper uniform, but beyond that … John wasn’t exactly intimidated, but this was not a crowd of people he felt comfortable with.
He felt a breath behind his ear as Sherlock leaned forward. “You’re better than all of them, you know that, right?”
John turned his head. “How did you know … never mind. Thank you. And yes, you were right about the suit.” Sherlock smirked his of-course-I-was-right smile and John grinned at him and then stifled a sigh as two men approached.
“Dr. Watson? My name is James Littleston, Ian’s brother. This is Tobias Leonard, Chairman of LSE.”
“So, that makes you my uncle, then? Pleased to meet you.” John shook hands with both men, withstanding another round of calculating looks. After years in the army and with the two Holmes brothers, measuring looks didn’t faze him at all, but that didn’t make the conversation any less awkward, he thought, as he introduced Sherlock.
“The famous detective, yes,” said Tobias. “I remember how interested Ian was in your story several years ago when you, er…”
“Jumped off a building?” Sherlock asked smoothly. “Yes, he mentioned that the other day.”
“Of course, we didn’t know then that it wasn’t you he was interested in, but rather your friend,” said James, still watching John. “I’m told you didn’t know?”
John’s eyebrows quirked at the direct question, but he answered calmly, “No, not until Andy kidnapped Sherlock and my sister. I had no more idea than you did.”
“I find that fascinating.” Tobias edged closer, face alight. “I worked with Ian every day for years and he never gave a sign. But—there was that picture of the two of you? The resemblance is striking. From your graduation, was it?”
“Yes, from medical school,” John said. “Ian funded my education through a scholarship fund, and introduced himself at graduation to offer his congratulations. At the time, I didn’t give it a thought. I didn’t even know the picture existed until last week.”
“Medical school,” said his uncle. “So you actually are a doctor? It’s not something ridiculous like a doctorate in psychiatry?”
John laughed and ignored the implied skepticism. “That wouldn’t be nearly practical enough for me. No, I’m a surgeon—or, I was before I lost some of my fine motor skills in Afghanistan.”
“Afghanistan?” Tobias asked.
“Yes, I signed up with the RAMC after uni, was on my third tour when I took a bullet in the shoulder and came back to London.”
“Fascinating,” the man breathed. “I mean, we’ve read so much about you, but who can tell these days what is true?”
John gave a laugh and resisted the urge to nudge Sherlock with his elbow. “Believe me, I know all about the rumor mill—especially once the press is involved. So, you’re Ian’s brother, then?” he turned to James. “He said he had a sister, too? I’m afraid I don’t know much about his family.”
“Your family, too, Doctor, apparently.” James’s voice was polite but not warm. “Yes, Ian had a brother and a sister—Marie, who is over there with her two daughters, Meredith and Marilyn. I have a son, Joseph, who’s around here somewhere.”
“So, I have cousins, then.” John wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He wasn't sure he was up to having more family to deal with--he had enough trouble with Harry.
“Yes, we’ll have to do a family dinner sometime soon. Everyone is dying to meet you.”
“I’m sure, and full of questions, no doubt,” John said. It wasn’t a question.
“Oh, yes. We’re all quite curious about you. You understand, I’m sure, considering what a surprise this news was.” His voice was hard, now.
Sherlock spoke. “You want to know why Ian left so much money to John, when he didn’t know him, instead of to the extended family that he knew.”
The older man met his eyes. “Yes, in fact, I do.”
Sherlock leaned forward, eyes keen. “Did you consider that it was because he did know them? That he decided to give his money away to charity rather than fund another generation’s faults?”
James drew himself straight, every inch shouting offense. “What are you saying, Mr. Holmes?”
Sherlock looked down his nose at him, matching him with his own inborn aristocratic hauteur. “Just that, after Andy’s actions, Ian opted not to support more idle, rich lifestyles. Instead he put his money into two charities, with a comparatively small bequest to his long-lost son, John.”
“Yes, 'long-lost' until he discovered he was in line to inherit a fortune.” And now James’ voice was brittle, cold with indignant outrage. Tobias blinked and edged back, clearly taken aback at the sudden turn to the conversation.
John started to draw breath, but stopped as Sherlock put his hand on his shoulder, and said, “Do you also know that the charities were actually John’s idea? That he refused to accept the money Ian wanted to give him? Ian actually had to insist that John accept anything at all. There are multiple witnesses to that.”
James' eyes narrowed. “Nobody mentioned that.”
“It’s true,” John told him. “I’m a doctor and a soldier. I don’t know anything about handling large sums of money. I told Ian it would be a disaster and I didn’t want the responsibility—something he apparently had thought of already, since he had already split off his personal wealth from the company.”
“Yes,” Tobias put in. “But that was after Geoffrey died. He said at the time that it would be better not to tempt Andy, that he needed to know he wasn’t going to be a billionaire when Ian’s time came. He muttered something about money costing him too much already, though I’ve never been sure what he meant.”
James was still watching John. “You knew that Ian’s other son had died in a hunting accident, Dr. Watson? And you say you’re a soldier? How much do you know about guns? Would you know how to make one explode?”
Tobias turned his head to stare at his companion as John stood dumbfounded at the implications in the man’s question, feeling the beginnings of rage stirring in his gut. “What are you…?”
“Mr. Littleston is just making suppositions without all the facts, John, which you know I’ve always said is a capital mistake.” Sherlock’s voice was equally icy now as he spoke directly to James, eyes boring into the other man’s. “He needs to remember that you had no knowledge of your connection with Ian until last week. He should also remember the other events of last week—how his well brought-up nephew committed multiple violent acts in an attempt to save his inheritance. Perhaps he’s looking at the wrong nephew.”
“What are you saying, Mr. Holmes?”
Sherlock smiled at James, but there was nothing friendly in his expression. It was the smile he gave particularly stupid criminals as he explained exactly how stupid they were. The smile that said, even by normal standards, you are an idiot. “I’m saying that you might want to think about the changes Ian made to his will after his son died last year, and consider why he might have considered them necessary. And why he might have looked favorably on a son who never asked for anything, but earned his own way, his own chances, and who spends his life helping others. There might be a perfectly good reason that Ian didn’t want to leave his money to more relatives who couldn’t be bothered to earn their own.”
Silence for a long beat, while the two men absorbed that, looking around as if making sure nobody else had heard. “Are you saying … what do you mean?”
“He’s saying that it’s been a pleasure meeting you, gentlemen,” John said, stepping into his familiar role of interpreting Sherlock’s less socially-acceptable tendencies. “And, what excellent timing. It looks like we’re ready to go in. Come on, Sherlock.”
He walked away and tried not to smirk at the condescending smile Sherlock gave to his new-found uncle as they walked away. “Feel better?” he asked, as they found their seats.
“Much. It’s hard to believe that you and Ian are related to him. He’s an idiot.”
“Yes, well, every family has at least one.”
Sherlock muttered “Mycroft” under his breath as the music started, and John tried not to giggle.
The less said about the funeral, the better. It was dull. It was crowded. There were no interesting displays of hysterics to enliven things.
Sherlock really didn’t know why he’d come. Except, well, he hadn’t been here for the last funeral John had attended, either. He felt like he owed him.
He wondered if his funeral had had as much media attention. (Probably.) He tried to amuse himself by deducing the other mourners. That one was having an affair. That one had spilled his coffee at breakfast three mornings ago. And that one …
He thought it was obvious, the mourners who were related to Ian. They were the ones sending dirty looks at John. Not threatening ones, he was relieved to note, but not entirely friendly. He supposed they had hoped for a piece of the estate and were disappointed that almost all of it had gone to set up those two charities. Though, Mycroft had told him that Ian spread his shares in the company among his nieces and nephews to help ease some of that tension.
No, most of the relatives were watching John with an avid curiosity tempered by disbelief. Ian had kept the existence of a third child remarkably quiet. Until the last couple of days, only his lawyer had known why John Watson was named in the will. Ian’s family had had no idea.
He looked at Andy, sitting flanked by two police officers. He looked devastated, but not because his father was dead. Or, well, not because of the death. He had gambled everything for his father’s estate, but had failed. Sherlock still couldn’t believe his stupidity. Ian had clearly told Andy what would happen if he broke the law, yet he had gone ahead anyway.
Criminals were so stupid. It almost made him miss Moriarty—except, no, that game had stopped being fun the minute he had strapped John into a Semtex vest. The minute he had threatened everyone Sherlock cared about. (Almost to Sherlock’s surprise that he did care.) The minute Sherlock had been driven to three years of exile on his self-appointed quest to bring down Moriarty’s organization.
Sherlock hadn’t truly appreciated loss until he had lost his life. Or, well, lifestyle. And John.
He dared a glance at John, relieved to see him sitting calmly, stoicly. He hadn’t known Ian that well, after all. This was more a trial to endure before they could get back to their real lives at Baker Street.
Though he did wonder how long the press would be camped on their sidewalk.
John said as much in the car on the ride home.
Sherlock gave him a measuring look, observing the strain of the last two weeks, the barely-recovered illness that still left a trace of a cough. The worry, the emotional burden.
He thought about the boredom, trapped inside the flat. No cases, no clients.
“Suppose we get out of London for a few days?” he finally offered.
“What? Why? Is there a case?” John asked, an edge of eagerness to his voice.
“No, no case, but if we don’t give the press something to look at, they’re bound to get bored, wouldn’t you say? And last I heard, you inherited a house.”
“Two, actually.” John’s face looked brighter already. “It would be irresponsible of me not to take a look at them, wouldn’t it?”
“Absolutely. I would be very disappointed in you.”
John actually giggled for a moment, then asked. “But, wouldn’t you be bored?”
Sherlock sighed and shook his head. “Not any more than the last three days. And it would be good for you.”
“I can’t argue with that. I can’t even remember the last time I had anything resembling a holiday, unless you count hospital stays.”
“Baskerville?” Sherlock suggested.
John chuckled. “Being chased by a giant hound in terror for my life? It doesn’t exactly fit the definition.”
“You’re a military man, John. I don’t picture you sitting on a beach—not unless you’ve just stormed it.”
“After Afghanistan, I don’t really long for sand very much. One of those houses was in Scotland, wasn’t it? And one in Sussex?” John looked out the window for a few minutes and then turned back to Sherlock with a smile. “Which one would be less boring for you?”
Chapter 3: Getting Back to Work
After their holiday, John and Sherlock get back to work.
It was over a month before they returned to Baker Street.
John had told the truth when he said he couldn’t remember his last holiday. Other than a handful of family trips when he was young, he had worked through school breaks, and his leaves from the army had never been what you could call relaxing. Then, once Sherlock entered his life, events had rushed at such a full-on pelt, the idea of a break longer than the rare Sunday afternoon just simply wasn’t possible.
The long, dark hours during Sherlock’s three year “hiatus” didn’t count, of course. Those hours of doing nothing had been anything but relaxing.
So, these weeks in the English countryside had been a revelation. No midnight calls out of bed. No crime scenes to dash to. No toxic experiments in the kitchen.
The most amazing thing to John was how much Sherlock had thrived. He had fully expected him to be begging to come back to London by the third day, but Sherlock had depths he hadn’t expected. Unlike John, Sherlock had grown up in the country and knew its rhythms. His frenetic pulse had modified to the slower pace and, to John’s astonishment, he had actually relaxed.
That in itself had been a revelation.
They had taken long hikes during which Sherlock expounded on birds and plants and bees. Especially the bees. John was tickled to learn that his flatmate was fascinated by them.
Really, it had been idyllic. John thought Sherlock might actually regret their return as much as he did.
Not that he wasn’t eager to be back to work. John simply couldn’t sit still and do nothing indefinitely. He needed a purpose to his days no less than Sherlock did, and as they got closer to London, both of them had been leaning forward as if urging the train to go faster, faster. And now they were here, eager to go.
John paid off the taxi. (Something he’d noticed Sherlock was letting him do much more often these days.) He turned on the pavement and looked around, trying to stifle the sense of glee. This was a crime scene, after all. There was a person lying dead; it wasn’t a happy occasion.
Still, for John and Sherlock, it was normal, and therefore a relief for both of them.
They had barely been at the Baker Street flat for an hour, had barely had time to unload their bags and gift Mrs. Hudson with the jars of honey Sherlock had insisted on bringing her, when Greg had called.
“When do you think you’ll be back from holiday,” he’d asked, and John had been as eager as Sherlock, flying out the door not a minute later, calling for a taxi.
John held his hands behind his back (it was more dignified than rubbing them in joyful anticipation), and ducked under the police tape after Sherlock. His flatmate was in rare form, eyes snapping with interest as he swept forward, scanning and absorbing details from the street, the buildings, utterly ignoring the policemen
John, on the other hand, couldn’t help but notice the stares. It seemed that the entire Met was staring at him, whispering behind their hands. He didn’t look that different, did he?
In fact, he knew he didn’t. The only thing he had bought (other than rent) with his new income was food, train tickets, and taxi fares. He was still trying to get used to the idea of owning any house, let alone two of them.
But the point was that he hadn’t exactly gone on a wild shopping spree. He might invest in a warmer jacket when the weather got cold. (He’d always secretly been envious of Sherlock’s coat, not that he could pull that off at his height. But the idea of a really good jacket that kept him warm was appealing.) And he admitted it would be nice to be able to replace some of his clothes when they got destroyed, rather than trying to mend them. He was actually quite good at mending, but it got boring. But, really, it’s not like he needed anything … so why was everyone looking mildly disappointed that he looked the same?
He stifled a sigh and headed after Sherlock. One of these years he’d get used to being stared at.
He wasn’t as successful at hiding his second sigh. There was Sally Donovan, playing gate keeper again. She had obviously been taunting Sherlock about something, John could tell by the way he was holding his shoulders. John might have salvaged something like a working relationship with her after the Reichenbach fiasco, but she and Sherlock were both still holding grudges. Their interactions had gotten more acidic, to the point where Greg had needed to separate them more than once. When Anderson was in the room, it was even worse.
Sally saw him coming. “And there’s the millionaire, now. When are you going to kick this one to the curb, John, and get a flat of your own now you can afford it?”
John raised his eyebrows but merely said politely. “You don’t discard friends, Sally.”
“Yeah, but you can’t possibly want to live with the freak, do you?”
John’s eyes narrowed. “All these years and you still can’t remember how many times I’ve asked you not to use that word, Sgt. Donovan?” He was perfectly calm, but his tone carried years of military authority with it.
That was uncommon enough to have caught her attention, but Sally had also been one of the officers in the room when John had faced down Andy Littleston several weeks ago. She hadn’t forgotten the waves of cold menace coming off of mild-mannered little John Watson, and while he was being perfectly polite right now … She cleared her throat. “I just meant, congratulations, now you’ve come into money, John.”
“You mean congratulations that my father is dead?” he asked sharply, not giving an inch. “Thank you so much. May we go through, now?” Without waiting for a response, he marched through the doorway. He glanced back when he realized Sherlock wasn’t with him.
Her face was stunned as she stepped aside. She didn’t notice the small smirk of appreciation as Sherlock paused at the door. “You really should remember not to underestimate him. You’d think even you would’ve learned by now.”
And with matching grins as they both tried to stifle a giggle, they walked into the house.
Greg greeted them with relief, but Sherlock brushed it aside, eyes already on the body in the middle of the floor. Greg huffed a little, but merely said, “Glad the two of you are back. You doing all right, John?”
A nod. “Yeah, I’m good. Thanks for asking.”
“You look relaxed. Sherlock behaved himself, then?”
Sherlock glanced over his shoulder, but relaxed when he saw John’s face, calm and open. “It’s the first holiday I’ve had since I was a kid, but it’s good to be back. What happened here?”
Before Greg could start, Sherlock said, “Man in his mid-forties, obviously a businessman, something like banking, and just returned from holiday himself. Cause of death appears to be strangulation, but perhaps you could take a look, John?”
John gave a polite smile to Greg and came to examine the body, giving a sideways look at his flatmate as he examined the marks on the neck. “He was just being polite, Sherlock.” He paused, then bent and took a closer look at the victim, checking the color of his fingernails. “There’s something else … poison, too? Seems rather like overkill, doesn’t it?”
“That’s what I thought, too,” said Greg from the door. “And we found a discarded knife outside, as if it had been dropped. No blood.”
“No stab wound on the body, though,” said John.
Sherlock was already scanning the floor. “There is blood, though. Not a lot. Over here under the window.” He squinted up at the window, clearly painted shut several years ago. “There’s a smear of blood on the sill. Where’s the knife?” Greg handed over the evidence bag. “Yes, there are tiny traces of paint on the blade, see here? Along with…”
He walked back to the door, examining the lock. Really, Anderson was an idiot. “This lock has obviously been forced. See the marks on the knife? The two men were trapped in here during their fight."
“Obviously. The victim and his killer. Didn’t you see the scuffs from the shoes? You’ll need to check out the man’s brother-in-law, Inspector. His wife, too. She’s been systematically poisoning him in tiny doses so as not to alarm him, but he put the pieces together. He slipped, though, and mentioned it to her brother while they were out for drinks, and to protect his sister, the man brought our victim here to confront him. They fought and this gentleman ended up dead for his pains, but the door had swung shut and latched. The murderer was frantic by this point and took the knife from the dead man’s pocket to try to jimmy the window, but that didn’t work—he was too short to reach it comfortably—but without any skill at locks, it took him longer to break out than he would have liked.”
Sherlock looked around the room. “I’m sure he left all kinds of lovely DNA evidence all over the room, not even counting the blood spoor on the window. I don’t imagine you’ll have much trouble.”
He looked over at John, standing with that gleam in his eye that always showed how much he appreciated Sherlock’s genius. Simple though this case had been, it was their first in weeks, and Sherlock could almost feel the synapses in his brain firing. He felt alive, and watching John, he saw that he felt the same way.
Greg was watching them with satisfaction, shaking his head. “Just like that, it’s that easy. Huh. It’s good to have you back.”
“Is it, really?” Anderson’s voice came from the doorway. “Do you suppose I could get in there to do my job now?”
Sherlock saw John rolling his eyes and hid a smile. “You mean now that I’ve done your job for you? Why, certainly. Be my guest.”
“I don’t need your sarcasm,” Anderson snapped.
“No, you just need my help. Isn’t it pleasant that things haven’t changed while we were away, John?”
Anderson turned and looked at John, surprised. “I didn’t realize. You’re here? I would have thought you’d avoid crime scenes now that you’re independently wealthy.”
John just shook his head at him. “Just because I have enough to cover the rent doesn’t mean I’m wealthy, Anderson. Besides, it’s not like we do this for money.”
“No, which is what makes you both fre—“ Sally, standing behind Anderson at the door, belatedly remembered John’s threat.
“Freaks, you were going to say, Sgt. Donovan?” John filled in mildly. “Why, because we donate the use of our time and our unique skills to help you catch murderers? We do it for the greater good. What’s your excuse?”
Sherlock glided over to stand next to his flatmate. “Why, John, it’s obvious. They do it for money. That makes everything all right, didn’t you know? Altruistic motives are always suspicious to people with a basic, mercenary way of viewing the world.”
“Altruistic?” Donovan repeated with a squeak. “You?”
John took a step to the side, moving between them. “Donovan, it’s clear you’ve learned absolutely nothing in all the years I’ve known you. This man almost died to save my life—to save Greg’s life! He’s never said a word of blame to you about your … contribution … to those events, and still shows up every day to save your professional neck by finding the killers you would miss.”
He was breathing harder now, Sherlock saw, but still in control. “And yet you persist in doubting Sherlock Holmes has good motives? You heard the recording. Even Moriarty knew that he is on the side of angels. What on earth is it going to take to convince you?”
Sherlock was frozen, unexpectedly touched by the defense. He had heard John speak up for him any number of times in the years they’d known each other, but not like this. Nobody else was moving, either, until John gave a brief nod and said, “Right,” and nudged his way through the door. The four left behind just stared at each other. Each was remembering John’s threat to Andy Littleston last month. Each was remembering his military training, and his steadfast loyalty.
Sherlock was the first to move. “Twice in one day, Sally? An accomplishment even for you, especially when one considers how much it takes to make John lose his temper. One would think you would have enough sense to remember he’s had a rough month and might need a little consideration?”
“What, this from you?” Anderson spit out.
“Yes, Anderson. It can hardly come as a shock that I look after my friends, can it?” He followed John out of the room, and looked around. There he was, standing at the corner, shoulders stiff and erect. His soldier pose, Sherlock thought. He started forward, but a hand caught his arm.
“Just give him a minute,” said Greg. “I’m just glad he restrained himself from punching her. I’d hate to have to arrest him again.”
“He’d just escape again,” Sherlock said with a smile.
“You forget, he didn’t escape last time. Some lunatic took him hostage,” Greg said with a chuckle.
“True.” Sherlock smiled at him, surprised that the events of that night had receded to a point where laughing was possible. As always, though, other memories of that night intruded. He said, eyes on the still figure, “I often can’t believe my luck, to have him as a friend when I don’t deserve him.”
Greg looked at him, traces of disbelief on his face. “What makes you think you don’t?” Sherlock started to turn away, but Greg grabbed his arm again. “I’ll admit it’s an unlikely pairing, Sherlock, but you are two of the best men I’ve ever known. If idiots like those two in there can’t see it, pay them no mind. You two keep watching out for each other. That's what friends do.”
Sherlock was staring, but Greg shrugged it off and nodded his chin at John who was looking their way. “Go on, he’s looking for you. I’ve got a brother-in-law to find.”
Sherlock walked across the pavement, with John falling in step beside him when he came level. The two of them strode shoulder-to-shoulder down the London street, neither talking.
“I knew that holiday was a mistake,” John said finally. “We’ve been away too long.”
“They’ve forgotten all that patient training of yours.”
A sharp exhale. “Something like that. I shouldn’t have lost my temper. It’ll just make them worse next time.”
Sherlock glanced down at his friend, taking in the lines on his forehead, the strain back around his eyes again. “I may hate myself for saying this, but I didn’t think Sally and Anderson any worse than usual. Are you sure they’re the ones you were angry at?”
John’s walk slowed as he thought about that. “That’s very insightful for a sociopath, Sherlock.”
He smiled. “I’ve been taking lessons.” They walked for a bit, then he said, “So, what’s really bothering you?”
“It was the way everybody was watching when we got there, as if they expected me to be different. And assuming that because I’m supposedly rich now, I wouldn’t want to work with you anymore, which is ridiculous. Not to mention thinking I’m rich in the first place—do they not bother to read the news? I think I’m mostly just tired of being stared at.”
“We all need to make sacrifices for our fame, John,” Sherlock said breezily, stopping in front of a café. “Not only that, you haven’t eaten since we got back which always adversely affects your mood. Come on, the owner here owes me a favor…”
“We can eat for free,” John chimed in. “Yeah, I’ve heard that before.”
They were settled at a table, a large sandwich in front of John, Sherlock with tea, when they were recognized. This wasn’t uncommon, though Sherlock should have expected it now, with their recent headlines.
“Oh my God,” the young woman practically squealed. “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson! I just had to say hi. I’m such a huge fan of both of you!”
“Er, thank you?” John said, doing the social niceties as usual. Fame was so boring.
“It’s just so exciting to meet you! Both of you! I never dreamed you would eat here!” Sherlock wondered if her voice could attain a higher pitch. Dogs would come running soon.
“Yeah, thank you,” John said again, still patient, but with a slight strain around the eyes. Which was understandable, Sherlock thought, since they had stopped here because John had been under stress because of Sally and Anderson. He didn’t need to be pestered.
“Yes, thank you,” he said firmly to the young woman (adult teenager, works in a cheap clothing shop, just broke up with her boyfriend), “But as you can see, we’re in the middle of lunch.”
“Oh! Oh, of course. I’m so sorry,” she stammered. “I just had to say…”
“Yes, yes, thank you.” Sherlock said bluntly, wondering how long it would be before she got the hint. He restrained himself from waving his hand in dismissal, since John insisted that was rude.
After a few more stammered excuses, she went back to her own table, where she leaned toward her friend and whispered something before they both giggled.
John just shook his head. “I never understood how girls do that, that giggling thing. Harry and her friends used to drive me mad.”
“They’re just being silly. I bet they don’t giggle at crime scenes, though.”
John laughed and took another bite of his sandwich, though he flinched a bit as another peal of giggles came from the other table. He leaned forward and said quietly, “I could be wrong, but I think they’re talking about us.”
Sherlock started to open his mouth, but stopped at the look on John’s face. Of course, he was joking. “I think it highly likely,” he agreed, taking a sip of his tea. (Mediocre at best. Not nearly as good as the tea John brewed at the flat.)
He managed to sit without fidgeting while John finished his meal and then happily left the restaurant, though the two girls followed (still giggling). He glanced at John who luckily seemed amused. “I’m thinking we could give them the slip without too much trouble.”
Sherlock refused to glance back. “Hardly worth the trouble, unless you want to take a cab back to Baker Street?”
“No, let’s walk. It’s good to be in London again.”
Sherlock agreed, but had to suppress a wince at another squeal from behind them.
“When exactly did we become rock stars, John?”
“Beats me, Sherlock.”
Later, back at the flat, John tackled the pile of mail while Sherlock lay on the couch, flicking through emails.
“I can’t believe how much mail piled up in just three weeks,” John said in disbelief. “I thought people didn’t even USE the post anymore.”
Mrs. Hudson had thoughtfully separated their mail while they were gone, and Sherlock had been surprised to see how much larger John’s pile had been. Not that he minded. John was so much more suited to tedious paperwork than he was.
He looked up, though, when John started swearing. “What?”
“So far, every one of these has been an appeal for money. Apparently the entire city of London thinks I’m filthy rich and have nothing better to do with my money than give it to them.” He flung down the envelope in his hand and looked at the next in the pile. “Or, no, apparently the entire country. This is from Suffolk. What is wrong with people?”
“This happens to lottery winners all the time,” Sherlock told him.
“That’s all well and good, Sherlock, but I did NOT just win the lottery!” John pushed back in his chair, running his hands through his hair in frustration. “I thought Julia’s press conference made it quite clear that I had only inherited rent money.”
“Excessive rent money,” murmured Sherlock.
“Well, yes,” John said with a grin, “But the general public weren’t to know that, were they? So far as they know, I still need to work for my bread and butter. What makes them think I’ve got money to spare?”
“Well you do have money to spare.”
“But why on earth would they think I’d just give it to them?” John gestured at the pile of letters. “Half of these are sob stories, people in desperate need. All right, if you’re desperate, you’ll try anything. Fine. I can understand desperation. But this one …” He pulled one out of the stack. “This bloke wants money to support his gambling habit so his wife won’t find out. This one wants cash so he can quit his job. This one wants cash to supplement the money he’s getting on the dole because he doesn’t feel it’s enough. Christ, Sherlock. People really are idiots.”
“I keep telling you,” Sherlock said, unable to hide his smile. “What’s the other half? You said half are sob stories.”
“Requests from charities, mostly. Churches. Food kitchens.” He rummaged in the pile. “Oh, this is different. An invitation to a club. A club. Do I look like a man who belongs to a club to you?”
“God help me, no. Though that could be in here, too.” John stood up abruptly and headed to the kitchen and started making tea-making noises.
Sherlock walked over to the desk and browsed through the envelopes. “You’ve got an invitation to a ball here, John.”
“Not interested. I left my glass slippers with Harry,” John called from the kitchen.
“Oh, don’t tell me you’ve deleted that? Cinderella? The fairy tale of the girl who goes to a ball in disguise and falls in love with the prince? Harry made me watch that movie hundreds of time.”
“Apparently I’m fortunate not to have had a sister,” Sherlock said, shuffling through envelopes. “An invitation to go hunting?”
A bark of a laugh from the kitchen, then John came in, carrying tea. “It can’t possibly be more fun than hunting criminals. I’ll pass, thanks.”
Sherlock sipped at the mug John handed him. “I had no idea you were so popular, John.”
John had sat down in his chair, as far from the pile of envelopes as he could reasonably get. He held his mug in front of him, inhaling the steam, hands wrapped around the sides. “I thought Mycroft had this under control. Julia’s press campaign was brilliant. How did so many idiots misunderstand?”
“The key word there is ‘idiot,’ John. If they weren’t idiots, they’d know how to think.” Sherlock slit another envelope open and glanced at it absently. Another sob story, except … not quite.
“You’re sure this is a crime?” John asked again. “Not just an attempt to con me, like most of them?”
“Definitely. But not a con—it’s a victim. Look at the handwriting. The way the pen digs into the paper at the end of each word? The slight quaver, here in the signature? She’s being abused and needs the money for a new flat.” Sherlock squinted at the paper. “It could be blackmail, I suppose, but she’s not asking that much money. Regardless, she’s in fear for her life. You can see it in the shape of the ‘O’.”
John shook his head in disbelief. “Only Sherlock Holmes could possibly get all of that from handwriting in a time when absolutely nobody has good handwriting anyway because everybody uses computers.”
“Says the man always looking for excuses for his own poor handwriting.” Sherlock sniffed.
“I’m a doctor. I don’t need any other excuse.” John looked at the letter again. “So, what do we do? Tell Lestrade?”
“Oh please, that would just get the bureaucracy involved. I say we go visit this poor woman on our own.”
“That’s only going to make her think I want to give her money, Sherlock, and I am not giving this woman money.” John tried to make his voice as firm as possible.
“Not very chivalrous of you, John.” Sherlock was already at the door, reaching for his coat. “Coming?”
John sighed, but his heart wasn’t really in it. Of course he was coming.
Forty-five minutes later, they were knocking on the door of a small cottage on a crowded, narrow street. John could feel the skin between his shoulder blades crawling with the sense of being watched. As a soldier, he had an excellent sense of paranoia (honed to extra keenness through years with Sherlock Holmes), and he knew without a doubt that somebody was definitely watching.
There was no answer for a long time, then the door opened just enough to show a timid eye and a sweep of wispy brown hair. “Yes?”
“Good afternoon. My name is Sherlock Holmes, and this is my friend, John Watson. I believe you sent him a letter?”
The eye blinked, but nothing happened. From behind the door, there was a baby crying, but the woman made no move. Then, “Come in, quickly,” she said and stepped back from the door.
They entered, but John looked back as he closed the door, scanning for surveillance, then took a step into the small sitting room. The woman was standing in the middle of the floor, baby clutched in her arms. “Is this about the money?” she asked breathlessly, a wild hope in her eyes.
“Your letter wasn’t very specific,” Sherlock said in a soothing voice as he surveyed the dingy room, the squalor everywhere except in the crib crowded into the corner. “John can’t know if he can help you without knowing all the facts.”
“You can help me?” It was practically a whisper.
“That depends on you,” Sherlock said. With surprising delicacy, he drew out her story. The abusive boyfriend, the threats to her child, her determination to protect her baby. Also her absolute conviction that he would find and kill her if she tried to leave.
John stood near the door, eyes on the road as he listened. Sherlock never failed to amaze him, even after all these years. The pre-Fall Sherlock would never have been able to talk to this woman with such sensitivity, no matter how good Sherlock was at faking concern. But since those years on his own, without the rest of them making excuses for him, Sherlock had finally grown up. The hidden depths weren’t so hidden anymore.
And so he watched with something akin to awe as Sherlock coaxed the story from the frightened woman. This was a Sherlock that Donovan and Anderson refused to admit could even exist. They would never believe it wasn’t a trick of some kind, more fakery, but John knew Sherlock well enough to know that at this moment, he cared about the girl’s plight.
What John wasn’t sure of was exactly why. Oh, there was no doubt in his mind that Sherlock would stop an abuser if he crossed his path. (In fact, he had. Often.) Whether it counted as “caring” or not, Sherlock worked very hard to keep people from being hurt when he could. But John couldn’t figure out the attraction of this fairly ordinary domestic problem. He didn’t pretend to know how Sherlock knew there was a crime being committed (or about to be?) from the girl’s letter, but was that the real reason he had come?
It certainly wasn’t because he was trying to spend John’s excess cash—and there certainly was an excess of cash these days—but Sherlock had to know that giving money away to just one of these sob stories would just generate more appeals. Lots more. Like ants at a picnic, it’s not the first one you need to worry about. It’s the hordes that come after it finds the first crumb of food.
Still, John kept an eye on the door as Sherlock absorbed the woman’s tale, and so he caught the flicker of shadow as a man came up the street. “Sherlock,” he said quietly.
He didn’t miss how the woman froze, clutching her son. “He’ll kill me if he finds you here.”
“I don’t think our being here will make a difference one way or another,” Sherlock told her, as he settled back in his chair, his eyes on the door. John stepped to the side, hidden from the door, ready to watch Sherlock’s back when the man entered.
He burst in like a bull, stopping short when he saw Sherlock apparently relaxing in his chair. “Who the bloody hell are you?”
“My name is Sherlock Holmes, and you are?”
John almost chuckled at the look of disbelief on the man’s face, until he noticed the rage burning just below the surface. And the look he gave his wife. “And what the hell do you want?”
“I was concerned for Regina, here, and thought I’d stop by and make sure she was all right. It doesn’t do to ignore possible dangers, after all, and this isn’t the best of neighborhoods.”
The man took a step toward Sherlock, just shy of being outright threatening. “And what business is it of yours?”
Sherlock’s eyebrows rose. “Why? I can’t show concern? It would be unfortunate for all parties concerned if something happened to her, wouldn’t it? Or her son? Isn’t it best that we all agree we’re looking out for her best interests?”
“And I say it’s none of your business.” Now the man leaned in, looming over Sherlock’s seated form as his hands curled into fists. Regina cowered in the corner, clutching her son, and John decided he’d had enough.
He cleared his throat, startling the man, who hadn’t noticed he was there. “No need to get upset,” John said in his most polite tones. “This is just a friendly visit—unless you make it otherwise.”
The man looked him up and down, obviously not impressed. “Am I supposed to be scared? Just who are you?”
“Dr. John Watson, friend and colleague of Sherlock Holmes. You might have heard of us?”
The man blinked, trying to think. It was obviously a painful process. “The detective what jumped off the roof and came back from the dead?” He turned back to Sherlock, still reclining in his chair.
“Exactly. It’s so pleasant to be recognized.”
Now the man looked shaken. Coming back from the dead had done wonders for Sherlock’s reputation. “What are you two doing here? You … know Regina?” His eyes turned toward her.
A slight smile. “Not in that sense, no. Like I said, we’re just here to make sure she and the baby are well, and looking to make sure they stay that way.” Sherlock rose to his feet, and John could see the satisfaction on his face as the man dropped back a step
“Of, of course,” the man stammered, looking between Sherlock and Regina, still unsure, still trying to figure out what Sherlock Holmes was doing in his house. Nobody did threats quite like Sherlock did, and a few more not-so-subtle threats later, the two of them were on the sidewalk again.
Sherlock was looking pleased with himself. “That was quite diverting. Aren’t you delighted, John? That man has been abusing that woman for months and we just stopped him. We’re saving all that extra work for Lestrade and his men, because it certainly would have escalated quickly. You should be pleased.”
John gave a brief nod, but he wasn’t convinced. The man’s belligerence had been simmering just below the surface the entire time they were there, and John had no doubt it would explode again, and soon. Maybe not today, but it wouldn’t be long.
“Let’s just stop at the cash machine up ahead, shall we?”
Which is how he and Sherlock found themselves breaking into the same house in the wee hours of the morning, stashing an envelope of cash in Regina’s dresser drawer, along with an address for a safe, cheap flat for rent on the other side of London and a clipping for an office needing a file clerk. There was no name on the envelope, but the message was clear.
John just hoped this wasn’t a mistake. He kept thinking about ants at a picnic. One wasn’t a problem, but if it found a crumb? Soon there would be dozens.
In which things go a bit not good.
Before long, Sherlock was reading John’s mail more eagerly than John was. He delighted in teasing John about the charity invitations, of course, but his favorite part was looking for crimes. Considering they came in letters begging for money, there were a surprising number of them.
Many of them were just pathetic people looking for handouts, which he was happy just to bin, but others? He found it surprisingly satisfying stopping crimes before they were committed for a change, though the domestic disputes were somewhat dull. The con men delighted him the most. The mere fact that they had the audacity to write directly to Sherlock Holmes (well, John) in an attempt to con money from him? There was something almost endearing in their conviction that they wouldn’t be caught.
Really, John’s mail had become a welcome diversion when there were no real cases.
He had protested about the money, but Sherlock pointed out that he should really do something with the excess “rent” money each month, and it’s not like John was a selfish person. He actively liked helping people. It was being inundated by begging letters he didn’t want. (Sherlock had agreed before he realized how entertaining they could be.)
They had compromised, though. For the people who really needed immediate cash, they would leave exactly that—cash—anonymously, with whatever help the person needed. Hotline numbers. Rental and job ads. Numbers for government agencies who could help. “It’s like being Robin Hood,” John had said, “Without having to rob the rich first.”
Sherlock had had to be reminded who Robin Hood was, but was almost disappointed when John insisted that no, they were not going to become thieves. Not that he really wanted to turn to crime (though the look on Mycroft’s face would be priceless). No, this was just something to do between cases. It was almost entertaining.
Over the next five months, he and John caught three con men, and helped five ordinary people who were simply out of their depth. It didn’t even necessarily cost money, either. Most times, they just needed a little guidance, or a subtle threat to someone causing them trouble. (Sherlock tried to leave the boring ‘guidance’ part mostly to John.)
And then, seven months after John’s inheritance, things went a bit not good.
Sherlock was proud of his reputation. He told the truth when he said he didn’t care what people said about him—because except for John, and maybe Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade, that was true. But that didn’t mean he didn’t appreciate that he had a reputation. Since his return from the dead, people tended to take him more seriously.
He found that amusing because, except for Mycroft and John, most people had no earthly idea what he had been doing during those missing years. For all they knew, he’d faked his death just to sit and watch crap telly all day. (Wasn’t that a shuddersome thought?) It’s not like they knew he’d taken down an enormous crime syndicate practically single-handed. Apparently being able to convincingly fake a suicide, though, was “impressive.” (He didn’t like to think about how many idiots believed he’d actually come back from the dead.)
Now, when he introduced himself, people tended to blink and look slightly frightened—which could be an enormous advantage when making threats.
Which is why he couldn’t believe he’d ended in this situation.
He tried again to move his wrists, his arms, but couldn’t. Taunting him from the table four feet away were bottles of water that his parched mouth was longing for, but tied to this chair, he had no way to reach them.
Whoever had arranged this kidnapping was sadly much more efficient than the last one, and more ruthless. He hoped John had a plan, because for once, Sherlock wasn’t sure he’d be able to get out this on his own.
“Sherlock? I’m back,” John called as he struggled up the stairs with the shopping. “I hope I got the kind of salt you wanted. I tried to call, but you didn’t answer. Who knew there were different kinds of salt, anyway?”
He maneuvered his way through the door and stopped dead in his tracks, bags dropping to the floor. The sitting room was pure chaos, papers and books strewn across the floor, chairs knocked aside, and a spilled cup of cold tea next to the couch.
There was no sign of Sherlock.
John stepped into the room, face blank with shock as he looked around. Then he saw the note taped to the door.
(Sorry, I know, relatively short chapter, but chapter 8 will make up for it!)
“Ten million pounds by tomorrow?” John said in disbelief. “That’s just not possible.”
He held the ransom demand in his hands, shaking his head. He had merely left the flat for an hour. A run for milk and other necessities, and a stop at the dry-cleaners. He had left Sherlock asleep on the couch. Everything had been peaceful. Normal.
But now? He stared around the room again, taking in the papers on the floor, spilled from the desk in what appeared to have been quite a struggle. If he were Sherlock Holmes, he no doubt would be able to see exactly what had happened by the angle the papers had fallen. The way the pillows had landed on the floor, the chair knocked askew would speak volumes.
But he was no Sherlock Holmes.
He stared back at the ransom note. That was a first, he thought wryly, as his brain tried to make jokes. He and Sherlock had been kidnapped more times than he could remember, but this was the first time it had ever happened for money.
The note was mundane in the extreme. No attempts at being clever, like Moriarty had been. Nothing subtle. Just a blunt warning not to involve the police, and that he would be contacted with instructions.
His phone beeped with an incoming message. He pulled it out to look, still numbly staring at the note.
It was from Sherlock. Or, Sherlock’s phone. A picture of an unconscious Sherlock tied to a chair, a trail of red blood trickling down his face, absorbed by the gag in his mouth. John’s heart wrenched in his chest.
Fine. No police. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t call the most dangerous man in England.
He paused a moment, thinking about the efficiency of the kidnapping. How they had timed it perfectly to John’s brief absence. How they had taken Sherlock—a man well able to defend himself. Could they be monitoring his calls as well? Or—more likely—had bugged the flat? He took another look around the room and thought.
If he weren’t going to call the police and had just received a ransom demand, who would his logical first call be? His accountant, he thought. Or the bank.
Little did the kidnapper know (he hoped) that in this case, the man in charge of his finances was also in charge of the British government. Not that Mycroft personally did John’s books these days, but he seemed to take great pleasure in oversight (which was Mycroft all over, really). As if he didn’t trust John to be responsible. Still …
He picked up his phone and dialed the number saved as “$$$.”
Mycroft answered. “Yes?”
“We need to get to the bank right away.”
Mycroft started to say something, but John interrupted (as a wealthy man might when speaking to his accountant, he assumed). “Yes, I know you’re busy, but this is urgent. My flatmate has been kidnapped, sometime in the last hour, and I have a ransom note. So obviously I need to go to the bank. The note says no police, so let’s try not to make a scene, shall we?”
Now Mycroft’s voice was crisp and edged. “Do you need me to send a car?”
John thought a moment. Without Sherlock, it would help if somebody were to take a look at the crime scene, wouldn’t it? And who better than Sherlock’s big brother? “Yeah, good idea. Pick me up on your way, then we’ll go on to the bank together.”
He disconnected, stomach churning. He knew Mycroft would put the pieces together, but still felt queasy using that tone of voice toward the British government.
John met Mycroft at the front door. “There’s at least one new camera inside,” he told him quietly before leading him upstairs. “I assume the kidnapper is watching everything, but I knew you’d want to see the scene. Calling my ‘accountant’ was the only way I could think to manage it.”
“Sorry to be so abrupt on the phone, but it was urgent,” John said in a normal voice as he led Mycroft into the sitting room.
“He heard them coming, and was waiting behind the door, but they were too many for him,” Mycroft said, after one of those unbelievable Holmesian scans of the room. “The struggle was quick, and … oh dear.” He pulled out an empty syringe from under the couch.
John swore under his breath. With Sherlock’s past history, adding anything chemical to his system could be unpredictable. He gave a quick look up to remind Mycroft of the (other) camera and asked, “Is there any way we can find out what that is? The wrong drug could kill him. You know how sensitive he is.”
“I know, Dr. Watson. We can only hope that they won’t risk giving him anything else. You can’t get ransom for a dead man. I assume they do, in fact, want ransom?”
“That’s heartless, even for you,” John told him, as he pointed to the ransom note he’d put in an evidence bag on the desk. While Mycroft examined it, he knelt to pick up the papers from the floor. They had cascaded smoothly, like a deck of cards, except … “There’s something missing.”
“See, here? They pulled something out of the pile.” He tried tapping the pile in his hands into something resembling order so he could flip through it easily. “This is the begging pile.” At Mycroft’s raised eyebrows, John explained, “Since Ian died, I’ve gotten dozens, hundreds of letters from people wanting money. Initially we mostly just binned them, but Sherlock actually decided they could be interesting, that there were hidden puzzles, so he would go through them when he was bored. Whatever was taken was some kind of begging letter—someone looking for money.”
“It seems like they decided not to wait,” Mycroft said drily. “Is there any way to determine which letter is missing?”
Aware of the spy camera, John shook his head. “Not without Sherlock. He’s the one who sorts through the mail,” was all he said, but he gave a quick flick of the eye toward Sherlock’s computer. Because Sherlock, of course, kept a chart of everything. John had seen his spreadsheet tracking arrivals, amounts requested, level of urgency, and a dozen other factors that were only meaningful to him.
Mycroft turned to look at the room. “Should I send cleaners while we’re at the bank? This amount of work might be bad for your shoulder.”
John pulled himself wearily up into the desk chair. “That might be best. It’s not like we need to preserve the crime scene for the police.” He ran a hand through his hair, thinking that Mycroft’s people would be thorough and absolutely covert in picking up any clues.
“Of course. Shall we go? I’ve called ahead to the bank manager for you.”
“I’m not a child,” John snapped. “I survived without him for three years, it’s not like I’m not used to his being gone. I just hope the bank comes through. It’s not like I have ten million pounds. Did nobody read that stupid press release about my just having rent money?”
“I’m sure people did, Dr. Watson, but that doesn’t mean they believed it.”
“No, you’re right. Let’s go. Let me just grab my laptop,” he said, as he tucked Sherlock’s computer under his arm and left the room.
“You’re luckier than you deserve, Mr. Holmes. He’s obeying orders like a good boy.”
His masked kidnapper (5’11”, hint of brown hair showing under the mask, extremely fit, used to guns) had strolled into the room (10x10 feet square, cinder block, no windows, steel door) and was leaning against the folding table, carelessly swigging down water while Sherlock tried not to think how thirsty he was.
“I admit, I expected more trouble from a man with his reputation, but apparently he’s so worried about you, all he did was call his accountant. Or at least, the man looks more like an accountant than most I’ve seen. You should feel gratified that he apparently wants you back so badly.” He stood and circled Sherlock, disgust on what Sherlock could see of his face. “Frankly, I don’t see the appeal.”
Carrying the water with him, he left the room.
Once in the car, John pulled his phone out of his pocket and scrolled to incoming messages. He gave it to Mycroft, whose face stilled at the sight of his unconscious, bleeding brother.
“I was only gone an hour, John said, feeling panic rising now that he wasn’t under surveillance. “He was asleep on the couch when I left.”
“They were obviously quite efficient,” Mycroft said in his soft voice. “There was nothing you could do.”
“I should have been there. I could have stopped it.”
“No, John, you couldn’t. Kidnappers can be very patient, waiting for just the right moment. They could have been planning this for weeks. You can’t blame yourself.”
John stared out the window, knowing Mycroft could read exactly how much he blamed himself. After a moment, Mycroft said, “It was well done of you to see the hidden camera.”
John exhaled a tiny laugh. “Years of practice, so thank you for that. And for coming as my ‘accountant.’ I figured they needed to see that I wasn’t going to the police, and that you’d want to see the scene as quickly as possible. I couldn’t think of any other way to do it that wouldn’t look suspicious.”
“Which just reinforces what my brother sees in you, John,” Mycroft said to his astonishment as the car pulled up at the bank. They got out and walked inside without glancing at the pretty brunette leaning against the wall with her Blackberry.
Two steps inside the lobby, they were directed to a private room by a non-descript man in a good suit. Inside, Mycroft immediately took a seat at the conference table and opened the file waiting there.
“When you said your ‘flatmate’ had been out for an hour, I did a scan of the CCTV footage.” He handed John a photo. It showed two burly men carrying a large box out of 221B. The next image showed it being stashed in the back of a white van whose plate was splashed with mud so as to be unreadable.
John shook his head, trying to ignore the ice forming in the pit of his stomach. He checked the time stamp on the surveillance photo. “They were fast, Mycroft. I had only been gone about fifteen minutes when this was taken, and that text was only about 45 minutes later. To have gotten him out and driven to wherever he’s tied up that quickly? They can’t have gone far.”
“I’ve got people running footage to track the van, of course, but knowing this is a kidnapping for ransom? How … unusual for my brother.”
John gave a small grin. “It’s almost cliché. He’ll be mortified. It’s not the kind of criminal element that usually targets him.”
“Maybe the variety will keep him distracted.” Mycroft glanced at his watch.
“You do realize that I don’t have ten million pounds, right?”
“Of course, John. You don’t think I’d let that little detail get in the way, do you?”
“I probably shouldn’t even be surprised.” John said with a rueful smile. “Though, I think when this is over, we need to make sure people know that I am not in fact a millionaire. Nobody seems to believe me when I tell them.”
“You’d think the clothing would be a dead giveaway.”
“I’m a simple man, Mycroft.” John was gratified when Mycroft shook his head slightly but quickly changed the subject. “What do you think about telling Greg? I mean, I know the note says no police, but does anybody really expect me to do that?”
“I think in this case, my people can handle this more discreetly than the Met can, but letting Greg know certainly seems reasonable. He’s shown himself to be resourceful, and he knows Sherlock.” He glanced at his watch again. “He should be here any moment.”
John just raised his eyebrows, and Mycroft said, “He got word that his account is severely overdrawn and he needs to come in person to get it straightened out.”
“Oh, that’s almost cruel, Mycroft,” John said, just as the door opened and an irate Greg was ushered inside, stopping mid-tirade when he saw them. “Effective, though.”
“Good afternoon, Greg. I hope you’ll forgive the deception, but we have a problem.” Mycroft handed him the ransom note and the CCTV photos, then showing him the picture on John’s phone. “Discretion is definitely the greater part of valor, and we haven’t a lot of time.”
“Holy…” Greg’s mouth was open in disbelief. “When did this happen?”
“About two hours ago. We’re just forming a strategy and thought you would like to be involved.”
“Damn straight, I would.”
“Well, the first thing to know is that they planted a spy camera in the flat, so anything I do is being reported back,” John told him. “So here’s what we’re thinking.”
Before long, and there were papers strewn around the table. Mycroft’s people had tracked the van to a parking garage, but it had left ten minutes later, an obvious decoy.
“They must have transferred Sherlock to another car,” Greg had said, and so they had begun doing traces on all the cars that had left the parking garage in that 30-minute window.
“There are no cameras inside the garage?” John asked, looking up from Sherlock’s still-password-locked computer.
“Yes, but one of them had a mishap for a brief time this morning. Garage security found its lens spray-painted black. It lost about an hour.”
“We can still check the footage from the other cameras, though,” Greg said, “Look for cars that moved above and below that level during the blackout. And we can check the cars that were parked on that level, too, can’t we?”
Mycroft nodded. “Of course, but it takes time. Of course, the kidnapper would know we would be able to do this and would have planned accordingly.”
“Yeah, but he doesn’t know we’re looking. He doesn’t think you called the police.”
“But he knows Sherlock and John’s reputation. At the very least, he can be sure we’d be looking after the ransom is paid.”
John agreed. “Yes. If he’s smart, he’ll have arranged it so that we’re chasing red herrings when we do.” He pointed at the map in front of him. “Look. It’s a public garage, but it’s got exits into this hotel and that office building. They could have trundled Sherlock into either one. He could either be in one of the empty rooms, or have been taken out a different exit.”
He pulled out the enlarged copy of the proof-of-life photo of Sherlock tied to a chair. “I don’t get much from this other than the cinder blocks in the wall, so, most likely a basement, yeah?”
Mycroft took it from his fingers. “I would agree. I also wonder if the office building uses chairs like these? Most office chairs are on swivels these days, and while this one is quite generic, the fact that it has four solid legs and full-length arms makes it at least somewhat distinctive.”
He looked across the room, but Anthea was already nodding and typing into her Blackberry. “Yes, sir. We’ll also run names for the companies renting space in case of past connections.”
“Don’t ignore the hotel,” Greg said. “They have conference rooms and plenty of reasons to have generic office furniture.”
John turned back to the computer, wondering what made him think that he could possibly crack the password. Sherlock deduced his own a dozen times a week, but the other way around? How could John out-deduce Sherlock Holmes? Still, he had to try.
He stared at the keyboard. If Sherlock had used something truly random, this would never work. He really should be letting Anthea or one of Mycroft’s computer geniuses do this. He didn’t even know how many characters the password would be. He started typing random sentences. You’llnevercrackitjohn. I’msmarterthanyoujohn. JohnWatsonisanidiot. Iamsherlocked. SHlovesIA. TheWoman.
This was pointless. Sherlock’s password would surely be an ultra-secure combination of upper and lowercase letters, with characters and numbers mixed in. It would be truly random, long, and complex. It’s not like, with his memory, that he’d have trouble remembering it like normal people. God knew Sherlock was not normal.
He thought back to that first night, with Jennifer Wilson’s pink phone, and how Sherlock had deduced her password because she’d scratched it into the floor with her fingernails. Idly wondering whose name Sherlock might scratch if this all went badly, he typed “Rachel” into the computer, and gasped.
“I don’t believe it. And he says I’m sentimental.” Mycroft and Greg looked up as John bolted upright in his chair. “It’s Rachel.”
“From a Study in Pink?”
John nodded, torn between a happy glow at solving it and a wistfulness at Sherlock’s unexpected proof of sentiment. That night had changed everything for both of them.
Not wasting time, he opened the spreadsheet program and opened the file called “NotChoosers.” He started scrolling through the entries—hundreds of them—and groaned. “I should have brought the letters along. How will we figure out which is the one missing?”
“You had no excuse for taking them with you, and the camera was watching, remember?” Mycroft said. “May I?”
John handed the computer over and sat back, thinking. Sentiment. He just hoped he’d be able to tease Sherlock about this later.
Waiting is hard.
The kidnapper came back several hours later, carrying a laptop. He tapped at the keyboard a moment and then held it up for Sherlock to see video from their sitting room. John and Mycroft were talking about his drug history, and then John bent down to the floor and rummaged through the papers strewn on the floor. Sherlock almost breathed a sigh of relief when he saw him notice the missing page. He felt almost concerned at John’s apparent lack of worry, then blinked at the body language between the two men. Mycroft was acting … subservient? And John as if he were used to being waited on? (Cleaners, indeed!) Ah, but wait. John took Sherlock’s laptop with him when he left the room, no doubt to check for the missing letter. Sherlock just hoped he could crack his password.
The kidnapper snapped the laptop closed and walked around behind Sherlock to untie the gag. “Who is the man with him?”
Sherlock tried to answer, but his mouth and throat were so dry and swollen, he couldn’t even manage a croak. With a look of disgust, the man grabbed a bottle of water and held it up for Sherlock to drink, water spilling onto his chest when he couldn’t gulp fast enough.
“Now, he’s not going to pay for a dead man, so don’t make me lose my patience. Who’s with Watson?”
“Accountant.” Sherlock couldn’t help his voice cracking as he answered. “Financial advisor, really. He helped with the estate.”
The man nodded. “Didn’t think he looked like a copper. What’d they mean, he doesn’t have the money?”
Sherlock tried clearing his throat and wished his head didn’t ache so much. “It was set up like a trust fund. He can’t touch the principle. Just gets enough for living expenses.”
“For that dump you live in? How big is this trust fund?”
Sherlock tried not to wince at the insult to his beloved flat. The man looked like he was considering cutting his losses, though, so Sherlock said, “I don’t know the exact figure, but I know it’s big. The monthly payment is far more than he can spend each month.”
“How much more?”
Unable to move his arms, he gave a tiny shrug with his eyebrows. “I really don’t know, but enough that I wouldn’t doubt there’s enough money there for you. He just needs to find a way to access it. I’m sure he’ll do it, but I don’t know if it’s possible by tomorrow morning. You know how lawyers like to slow things down. ”
The man stared at him, as if trying to decide if he was lying, and Sherlock tried to make his face as convincing and earnest as possible. “You’d better hope that he’s got a good one, then, Mr. Holmes. Because I’m not a patient man.” He looked at the water in his hand and started to tilt it toward the floor, then laughed and held it to Sherlock’s lips again. “Wouldn’t want you to dehydrate before I get my money, now would I?”
He waited until Sherlock had finished the bottle and then retied the gag. “Can’t have you drawing any attention to yourself. Not that there’s anybody who would hear you but me, but I have sensitive ears.” He gave him a slap on the cheek. “So, you be good, now.”
Sherlock closed his eyes briefly as the door shut behind the man. His mouth was dry again already, and his head felt like it was going to split open. He hated gags, hated them. It was like the kidnapper knew that not being able to talk was top of Sherlock’s Hate-Most list. Well, that and torture. He reassuringly had so far not been tortured.
He still couldn’t move his arms or legs, though. Whoever had tied him to this chair knew what they were doing. They had a nice line in mental torture, too, with the pile of water bottles taunting him from the table.
They had a surveillance camera at 221B, too, obviously. Going by the video he’d just seen, though, John and Mycroft knew it was there. He mentally congratulated John on spotting it.
He wondered if John would be able to crack his password. John knew he kept thorough records of the more interesting letters, and would be able to identify whichever was missing if he could just access the spreadsheet. He had spotted the camera, though, and the missing letter. And he’d been smart enough to contact Mycroft covertly as his ‘accountant,’ so maybe this would work.
He closed his eyes again, trying to ignore the headache and the residual dizziness from whatever sedative they’d given him. He retreated into his mind palace, remembering the recent letters, comparing them to the spill of letters on the floor in the video, the location of the break. If he could figure out which letter it was, he could figure out what his kidnapper wanted.
They were back in the car again, and John already felt helpless. He said as much. “I can’t stand doing nothing.”
“I do know that, John, but there is no alternative,” Mycroft told him. “If you were out all night searching for Sherlock, the kidnapper would know. You must play the part of the anxious friend, waiting for news.”
“I know that, Mycroft, but that doesn’t mean I don’t hate it.” John tried hard not to snap. He knew Mycroft was having as bad a day as he was. The signs of strain were subtle because he was so very good at hiding them, but they were there. “Are you going to get any rest tonight?”
“What do you think?”
“Don’t give me that look, Mycroft. I think that you need some rest as much as I do. You’re as worried as I am.”
The merest twitch to his cheek, then Mycroft said, “I really must remember to stop underestimating you.”
John smiled back at him. They rode in silence for a moment, then he asked, “So, the only camera is the one in the sitting room?”
“Yes. We tracked the frequency, but that doesn’t help much, other than letting us see what the kidnapper sees. It records video and sound, though any sounds from outside the room are muffled.”
“So, if I’m in my room, I can’t be watched?”
“Correct.” Mycroft handed him Sherlock’s computer as the car turned onto Baker Street. “We added some extra levels of security so that this signal cannot be hacked. Here is a still from the video feed, so you can see the angle. If you are seated in your chair in the sitting room, your laptop screen will be off camera. But, don’t forget…”
“That the kidnapper doesn’t know I know about the camera, and I can’t spend all my time locked in my room. I know.” John got ready to get out of the car. “I’ll see you in the morning, then?”
“I wouldn’t miss it.”
It was a long night for John. Oh, he’d spent some time wandering around looking lost and hopeless. Sherlock may have doubted his acting ability to cover for his death for months, but for a few hours in one room in the flat for a grainy security camera? This he could do.
After a time, he had wandered into the kitchen and gobbled down the contents of a leftover Chinese container from the fridge while out of sight of the camera, before listlessly working his way back to his chair with a cup of tea. He turned the telly on and randomly flipped channels for a while before turning it off and throwing the remote across the room and staring at Sherlock’s empty chair. Finally, he opened Sherlock’s laptop and pretended to futz around, distracting himself.
The security camera had no way of knowing he was having an online chat with Anthea. Between the covert efforts of the cleaning crew earlier and the spreadsheet from Sherlock’s computer, they had determined the missing letter. It had been written 22 days ago by a woman worried that her husband was about to do something stupid.
She wrote that they were in danger of losing their home and he had been approached by a man he had met in prison about a job that would pay enough to save their home. She said he was a good man who had tried to go straight since being released a year ago, but was sorely tempted now. Couldn’t they give her enough money that her husband wouldn’t get involved with whatever this job was?
“Good thing they didn’t know Sherlock photographs every letter, eh?” he typed to Anthea. Then, he had a thought and asked, “They can’t see what I’m typing, can they?”
He could almost see her smirk as the reply came back at blazing speed. “Luckily, no. Considering the speed you type, they’d be able to track everything. If you used all ten fingers, it would be harder.”
“Funny. Have you found any connections yet?”
“Working on it. Don’t look so cheerful.”
“Exactly how many people are spying on me right now?”
“That’s classified.” And again, he could almost hear her laughing at him.
“Right,” he sent back. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go cry for the camera now, and then I’m for bed.”
“Pity we don’t have surveillance in there,” she replied. “Sleep well, but remember to look tired in the morning.”
He scowled at the computer, trying hard not to laugh. Once again, he had to admit having Mycroft and his spies in his life was normally intrusive and almost creepy, yet when it came down to it, enormously helpful.
With a (faked) sigh, he shut the computer and then stormed into the kitchen and poured himself a drink, knocking it back in full view of the camera before sliding down the doorjamb and putting his head in his hands. He tried hard not to think about all the times he had done this before, when he had thought Sherlock was dead. For that matter, he could be right now, for all John knew. The agony of not knowing, of not knowing if Sherlock would be back, was all too familiar. For a moment, the despair was not faked at all.
His mobile chimed in his pocket.
Surprised, he pulled it out. It was a text from Sherlock’s phone. He lifted his head, wide-eyed, and looked around the room. Sherlock’s phone had been off and untraceable all day. He hoped Mycroft’s people were on the ball and would give it another try now.
The message read: “—Are you missing your ‘friend’?”
He swallowed hard and sent back. “—Yes.”
“—If all goes well, you’ll have him back soon. Probably. Maybe.”
John just stared at the phone for a moment, and then typed, “—Why wouldn’t I get him back?”
“—Just be sure to behave yourself tomorrow”
“—Can I talk to him? I need to know he’s okay.”
The kidnapper was just playing with him now, and John fought to keep his temper. “—Fine, but I’m not paying anything if I don’t know for sure he’s alive.”
“—So little faith, Mr. Watson.”
John restrained himself from throwing the phone across the room—a display that would clearly have made the kidnapper happy. Instead he leaned his head back against the wall and took several deep breaths. Then he climbed to his feet and headed for his bedroom.
Enough games for one night.
“Rise and shine, sunshine.”
The kidnapper was back, and Sherlock opened his eyes, blurred from hours of inward focus. He blinked and saw a hint of disappointment in the man’s jaw that Sherlock didn’t look like he was suffering. Being in his mind palace was almost meditative when he could focus solely on it. He supposed that was one advantage to being tied up in a featureless, boring room with nothing to do. No distractions—other than the pain from the lump on his head and not having been able to move in hours.
The man stepped around him and removed the gag. Sherlock tried not to show how relieved he was as he moved his tongue around, trying to find any moisture anywhere, easing the jaw muscles. He drank gratefully when another bottle of water was offered.
“There now. All refreshed?” The kidnapper pulled out a phone which Sherlock recognized as his own. The man turned it on (that explains how Mycroft hadn’t tracked it), and looked up, fingers poised to dial. “Now, your Mr. Watson isn’t going to pay me my money unless I can prove you’re alive, so I’m going to let you talk to him. I’m warning you, though. If you say anything that makes me suspicious, I’m going to inject you with the contents of this syringe, walk out, lock that door, and leave. Full stop. And that will be the last of you. Are we clear?”
Sherlock was proud of himself, that he was able to keep his (dry, cracking) voice from breaking as he said, “Quite clear.”
With a nod, the man placed the call on speaker, holding the phone in front of him. “Mr. Watson?” he asked when John picked up. “Do you have my money?”
“If you mean my money that you want, the bank assures me it will be ready by 11:00. Can you prove to me that Sherlock is alive?”
The kidnapper looked at Sherlock, who said, “J- John?” Damn, there was his voice creaking again. “I’m right here, John.”
“Sherlock.” He could hear the relief. “Are you all right? Not hurt?”
“Just a bump on the head and some bruises,” he said, keeping his voice level this time. “Did you really get the money?”
“You know how good my accountant is, Sherlock. He’s been working nonstop since I called him yesterday morning.”
“It sounds like him. You’re okay, though?”
“Me? I’m not the one who’s been kidnapped, Sherlock.” A pause, and a sound like John licking his lips. “You think your kidnapper’s going to play fair? He going to give you back if he gets the money?”
Sherlock looked up at the kidnapper, reading what he could in the chin and bits of mouth he could see, the eyes staring at him through the mask. “I know what he wants me to say,” he answered carefully. “My read is that he will be ruthless if double-crossed, but if he gets what he wants? I think he won’t kill me outright, though judging by the supplies laid on, I doubt he’s going to voluntarily let me out of this room. My hope is that he’ll tell you where to find me when he’s got the money. I can’t say for sure if he will, though.”
“He’d better.” Now it was John’s voice showing cracks from the strain. “I hope he knows what I’ll do to him if he doesn’t.”
“Maybe I should remind him you’re a doctor. People forget.”
“It’s not the doctor he needs to worry about if you get hurt, Sherlock. It’s the soldier who’ll be coming after him.”
Sherlock was watching the kidnapper, standing a little too erect in front of him, and starting to make wind-it-up gestures. “People forget that, too. You’re so mild-mannered, it’s like your secret identity. Now, go pay the man his money so I can get out of here. This chair is getting exceedingly uncomfortable, but that’s how kidnappings go, isn’t it? They can’t all be amusing.”
“Don’t do anything stupid, Sherlock.”
“I could say the same, John.”
The kidnapper pointed the syringe at Sherlock and raised the phone. “Right. Noon, Mr. Watson. I’ll text you the details.”
He disconnected and looked at Sherlock. “Soldier?”
Sherlock gave a brief nod. “And a doctor. It’s always good to remember that he spent years in a war zone.”
“I’ll remember.” He looked down at the gag in his hand, then shrugged. “Seems hardly worth it.” And walking over to Sherlock, he plunged the syringe into his neck.
Back at Baker Street, John stared down at his phone, replaying the conversation with Sherlock in his head. Sherlock was always surprisingly sensitive when people forgot and called him “Mister” Watson rather than “Doctor,” but it really didn’t happen all that often. It was right there on his blog, after all, and that was usually the first thing people found on him, even before all the newspaper articles.
And, had Sherlock mentioned something about not all kidnappings being entertaining? He felt a memory stir, and fighting it, glanced around the room, remembering something…
Like that there was a camera pointed his way, and if he were going to have any revelations, he’d best do it out of sight. He looked at the clock and then went to the kitchen to find something for breakfast. It was going to be a busy day.
That fleeting memory taunted him while he brewed his tea, though. Mister, instead of doctor, an amusing kidnapping, not knowing he was a soldi… no. It couldn’t be.
Leaving his tea cooling on the counter, he headed up to his bedroom. He wanted to be sure this was a secure.
Once there, he called Mycroft. “I just got a call,” he said.
“Yes. We weren’t able to trace it entirely, but the signal is definitely close to that parking garage. We’re narrowing it down. What did the kidnapper say?”
“He let me speak to Sherlock, so he’s at least alive.” He recounted the conversation, including Sherlock’s read on the kidnapper’s state of mind and what John thought he was hinting at at the end. He was almost hoping Mycroft would tell him he was imagining things.
“I’m having Anthea run the names right now, John, but I think you’re right. He’s been very bitter since his father died, and he would be just stupid enough to come after you and Sherlock to get his own back.”
“But … how? He’s still in prison, isn’t he?”
A rustle of paper from the other end. “He is, but apparently his former cell mate is cousin to the letter writer’s husband. I’d wager that they set this up between them for shortly after the cell mate—the name is Sam Lester—was out. Presumably he was meant to gather a team and do the dirty work with no-one being the wiser about the prison connection.”
“So my half-brother is still officially an idiot, then. Just smart enough to hire the professional the government was good enough to introduce him to.” John sighed. “I’m not even going to ask how Sherlock figured this out.”
“We were just about there from our end,” Mycroft said. “Mrs. Raster—the letter writer—appears distraught and her husband didn’t come home last night. We couldn’t approach her, you understand, but we were watching. Running the list of known associates, we had connected him with Lester, but hadn’t made the final connection to Andy Littleston until just after you called.”
“At least that gives us something to go on.”
“Indeed. I’m sending you the man’s picture now, though I doubt he’ll be within sight during the ransom drop.”
“Right. I need to go get ready. You’ll send a car? Or should I get a taxi?”
“I think a taxi, but with one of my drivers, don’t you?”
John smiled. Working with the Holmes brothers was never boring.
Because, naturally, ransom drops always go smoothly.
“You know what to do, Dr. Watson?”
Making eye contact with the driver in the rearview mirror, John nodded. “I’ve never done a ransom drop before, but it seems pretty straight forward. Go to a specific phone and wait for instructions.”
“We have a team surrounding the park. You’ll be under surveillance the entire time.”
“Story of my life,” John said. “I’ll be fine.”
Ten minutes later, he got out of the cab, trying not to clutch the briefcase full of money. He looked around to catch his bearings, then walked to the pay phone at the corner. Checking the time, he nodded to himself. Three minutes to spare.
He scanned the street and surrounding buildings, wondering if the kidnapper could see him, if he could see that he was alone. Or appeared to be. Mycroft’s people were hard to spot, even for him.
At his back, the phone rang, and he entered the booth. “Yes?” he said, answering the phone.
“Well done, Doctor Watson. You’re following instructions remarkably well. Let’s see how you do on this next part. There will be a test later on.”
“Let me talk to Sherlock.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible, but I assure you he’s fine.” The voice at the other end was smooth and cold, not at all reassuring.
“And I should accept your reassurances why?” John asked mildly.
“Because I hold the cards. If you don’t do exactly as I say, he will die.”
“Or he could be dead already.”
“That would be bad business on my end, wouldn’t it?”
John kept his voice level. “It would, but for all I know you are a bad businessman. I have no reason to trust you.”
A harsh laugh. “That’s why they call it faith. Besides, you have no choice. Transfer the cash into the bag in the booth. If we find any tracers or dye packs, your friend will die. Then leave your mobile in the booth, and get in the car.”
John blinked as a taxi pulled up in front of the phone booth, fighting memories of the first night he had saved Sherlock’s life. Leave his phone and get into a strange car? Mycroft was going to kill him.
But he had no choice. He knelt down and awkwardly transferred the money into the canvas satchel, then placed his mobile in the empty briefcase, then walked out and got into the car.
John watched the driver, noting how he kept clutching at the steering wheel, unable to keep his hands still. How he constantly checked the mirrors, making frequent turns, the picture of nervousness.
He looked out the window, noting their route, heading farther from the center of the city. “I suppose it’s pointless to ask where we’re going?” he asked.
No answer, not that he expected one.
“Your wife didn’t happen to send me a letter, did she?” John asked softly.
The man’s eyes jerked to the mirror, meeting his, wide with surprise, but he didn’t say anything. John pursed his lips, considering the probability the car was bugged somehow. “I only ask because somebody stole a letter when Sherlock was taken. I don’t know who it was from, but I remember it being from a wife concerned about her husband. Something about being pressured into doing something.”
Again no answer.
“I’m surprised you didn’t just have me put the money in the car,” he said. “I’m guessing that if you wanted to be sure to keep me and the cash together, it’s because my life’s on the line in case of a double cross, yeah? Knowing that I would do it to save Sherlock’s life?”
The driver’s knuckles were white on the steering wheel now.
“I guess the question, then, is how far are you willing to go for a job you didn’t want to take in the first place,” John said quietly. “Two lives on the line, but you don’t strike me as a killer. Are they threatening your wife, to pressure you into this?”
“Shut up!” The driver’s voice was strained and loud as it bounced off the closed windows. “Just shut up. I’m doing what I have to do.”
“So am I,” John told him. “Just remember she asked for my help, would you? If you help us, we can help you.”
A squeal of tires as the driver pulled into a parking garage. John sighed. Whoever was in charge had obviously seen too many movies. They drove quickly up several levels, stopping short of the roof. The driver didn’t move. Just pointed and said, “Get out. Go over there.”
“Regards to your wife,” John said as he opened the door. He looked around at the cars, and saw a white van parked up the aisle. He headed that way.
As he came level with the van, a man stepped in front of him, and he heard another sliding in behind. “Gentlemen,” he said calmly, though his heart was racing, gearing up for combat.
“I believe that bag belongs to me.”
“I’m willing to trade it, at least,” John said, eyes on the van, not flinching when the muscle behind him stepped up and searched him.
When he confirmed John was unarmed, the leader waved his gun at the briefcase. “Open it,” he directed.
John turned and rested the bag on the back of one of the parked cars and opened it. Piles of stacked bills fluttered briefly as the lid lifted. “Do you want to count it?” At another gesture, he held up a random stack, flipping through to show it wasn’t blank paper. He lifted several of them, to show there were no dye packs.
“Well done. I thought you might have trouble when I heard your inheritance was tied up in a trust fund.”
John shrugged. “Luckily for both of us, my accountant is very good and very convincing. Now, where’s Sherlock.”
The man gestured at the van. Warily, John walked over to it, one eye on the leader, now holding the satchel, another on the muscle who shadowed him, circling around so that John was still in the middle, just closer to the van.
“Go ahead,” said the man with the gun. “Open it.”
John did, eyes trying to adjust to the dark as he peered inside.
Careful though he was, he didn’t hear the man behind him before he’d been hit on the head and shoved in the van.
His last thought as the door slammed behind him and he lost consciousness was that Mycroft really, really was never going to forgive him for this.
Sherlock groaned, blinking bleary eyes as he struggled to wake up, fighting whatever drug the kidnapper had injected.
He was still tied to the damn chair, was his first thought. He wondered how many hours it had been. His muscles had long since passed the cramping stage, stuck in the same position for who knew how long now.
He looked over at the table again, with its pile of water bottles, trying not to think about how thirsty he was. He didn’t care about the hunger, he was used to that, but the thirst—and having water right there, just out of reach—was going to drive him mad. He tried squirming against his bonds again, even though he knew it would be pointless.
And was shocked with his right arm came free.
Apparently the kidnapper wasn’t entirely a sadist, he thought as he started working at the ropes tying his left arm to the chair. It wasn’t easy, with fingers numb from hours (days?) with little circulation and no movement, but with a little perseverance, he would at least be able to reach that water.
He would address being locked into a secure room afterward. First things first, after all.
John groaned in the dark. His head was killing him. What had happened? Where was he?
Oh, right. That bloody van.
Fighting dizziness, he sat up, relieved to be able to. He leaned against the wall and reached up to feel the lump on the back of his head, feeling wet blood in his hair. It was pitch black in the van, for which he was momentarily grateful as he blinked his eyes and tried to force himself to think.
It wasn’t until the light-headedness had subsided that he realized the van wasn’t moving. He felt his way along the wall and found the door, fumbling for the handle. His relief when the door opened was only slightly tempered by the flare of pain as the light poured into the van. The parking garage hadn’t seemed so bright before.
Hand in front of his eyes, he stumbled out, clutching the door to keep his balance. He needed to find a phone. Squinting at the signs, he headed toward the exit just as a car came around the corner. John held up his hands, hoping to wave down the driver, hoping the blood wouldn’t scare them off, but the car was already stopping.
“Dr. Watson?” It was his driver from this morning, already scrambling out of the car to reach out a steadying hand. He pulled the back door open and eased John down, already reaching for his phone. “I’ve got him. He’s all right.” He gave the address and then pulled a first aid kit from the boot, cracking one of the compresses and handing it to John.
John gratefully held the ice pack to his head. “So, that went well, then,” he said with a wince. “They’ve got the money, and we’ve got nothing.”
“We’ve got you, though, and we were a little worried about that for a while, Dr. Watson.”
“We lost the car about 15 minutes ago. The turn into this garage was blind, and there are so many taxis on the street …”
“And I was out just long enough for them to get away. Wonderful.” John closed his eyes and concentrated on letting the ice numb his headache, wishing it could do the same for the sense of failure.
The driver looked up as more cars came up the ramp, and gave a nod. “Cavalry.”
John nodded back and then instantly regretted it, pressing the ice harder against his aching head. Mycroft’s people spread out, already collecting data, taking photos, but John just sat with his eyes closed, hoping the headache would recede soon so he could help instead of feeling helpless.
He heard footsteps coming, punctuated by the tap of an umbrella and momentarily pressed his eyes more tightly closed before opening them and seeing Mycroft’s perfectly polished Italian shoes in front of him. “Tell me.”
John swallowed and did as he was told. “I don’t know what else I could have done, Mycroft,” he said when he’d finished. “I had to get in the car.”
Mycroft sighed. “It’s my fault for not sending someone else.”
“You didn’t have a choice. The kidnapper said it had to be me.”
“Nevertheless, I should have arranged an accident or something. Sherlock will be furious that you’ve been hurt, and he will, of course, blame me.”
“Sherlock knows both of us well enough to know that I don’t need you to put me into danger, Mycroft. I find it quite well on my own." John looked around at the team poring over the van. “So, now what? They’ve got the money, they’ve still got Sherlock, and all we’ve gained is my mild concussion.”
Mycroft looked at him, face carefully blank. “We’ll continue following the leads we had, but otherwise? Now we wait.”
(Yes, I know, it's short, but this was the logical break point between chapters, so... sorry about that!)
Four hours later, and John was ready to tear his way through the walls, if only he had the energy.
He’d spent hours poring over photos of every car, every driver who had entered or exited that parking garage. The cameras that should have recorded the ransom exchange, of course, had been blocked, just like before.
Meanwhile, they were searching the buildings on either side of the original parking garage, looking for Sherlock. Since even Mycroft’s manpower was limited, the police were officially involved now, helping the search.
“I feel like we’re missing something, something obvious,” John had said, wishing hard that Sherlock was there to spot it and then scoff about how obvious it had been.
He frowned at the blueprints for the hotel and office building, something nagging at him. Something familiar, but not quite… “Mycroft? I know the parking garage only has exits into these two buildings, but what about the other, adjacent buildings? Are any of them connected with LSE? A place Andy might have been familiar with?”
Mycroft looked thoughtful and pulled up a fresh screen on his computer. “Very good, John. The building next to the hotel is owned by a subsidiary of Little Stone Enterprises, built ten years ago. Andrew might well have been involved somehow, back when Ian was still hopeful he’d be an asset to the company.”
“Then, let’s go.”
Greg cleared his throat. “There is a small matter of a search warrant. You need permission.”
Mycroft gave him a that-doesn’t-apply-to-me look, but Greg was stubborn. “We have reason to justify the search in the other two buildings, but not this one. It’s not attached to the garage, and it’s privately owned. We can’t just go barging in there.”
John cleared his throat. “I think I could help, there. Ian Littleston was my father, after all. I’m guessing the person who is running his business would be willing to do me this small favor, don’t you?”
That should do it, thought Sherlock, as he pried the last support bar from under the table.
He still wasn’t sure why the kidnapper had bothered to supply a folding table for the water, but he was grateful. Taking the table apart without tools had been difficult, but Sherlock was nothing if not persistent. When his first plan of standing on the table to shimmy into the air ducts failed (ducts too narrow), he immediately transferred to plan B. Breaking himself out.
Pausing to stretch his abused fingers, he examined the metal strut in his hands, hoping it would be thin enough to slide into the door frame to jimmy it open. He had tried to be quiet at first, in case his kidnappers were lurking outside, but it quickly became clear that (as expected) they had abandoned him.
Taking a quick breath for luck, he measured the flat side of the strut against the door … and exhaled in relief. It was going to take some effort, but this was doable. He was going to get out of here.
And then he was going to help John recover that ransom money, if it was the last thing he did. He had told Andy Littleston never to come near John Watson again, and he almost looked forward to proving what a mistake this had been.
His ears caught a sound outside. Silently, he stepped behind the door, metal strut held ready in his hands for whatever was to come.
“Right, thank you, Tobias. I know Ian would appreciate it. I promise we’ll be as discreet as we can,” John said. “Well, actually, we’re just outside.”
A moment later, building security opened the door and waved them in. ‘Okay, people,” Greg said to his team as they streamed into the building. “Everybody be on their best behavior.” He turned to John. “We can hope, anyway.”
“Yeah,” John said, turning to greet the executive who had just entered the lobby. “Tobias, it’s good to see you again. Thank you so much for your cooperation. This is Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade.”
“Well, when you told me your friend had been kidnapped … it’s the least I can do,” Tobias said, shaking his hand. “And I appreciate your discretion, Inspector. Having police swarm through the building is bad for businesses, even when it’s for something completely unrelated.”
“I understand, which is why we’re very grateful.”
John’s eyes were scanning the lobby, mind not attending to the social niceties. He wanted to be out there searching, not standing here talking. He frowned to himself, eyes unfocused, trying to damp down the frustration.
Then he blinked, realizing the janitor passing across the lobby had frozen, thinking John was staring at him. John smiled apologetically at the man, and then blinked again, realizing he looked familiar. “Greg?” he said quietly, letting his gaze slide off the man. “Do you see that janitor over there? I’m pretty sure he was driving the car this afternoon.”
Greg was already talking into his radio, but the man had spooked and was walking quickly toward the door. He wasn’t fast enough, though, or subtle enough, and was intercepted by Donovan just as John and Greg came up from behind. “We’d just like to ask you a few questions,” Greg said, being quiet, trying not to make a scene.
“But, no…” the man protested as they ushered him out of the lobby, into the security office.
“Where is he?” John asked. “He must be here. What did you do to him?”
“Nothing!” the man protested. “Look, you were right before, okay? I never wanted to be involved in this, and I certainly didn’t sign up for anybody being killed. That’s why I came back!”
“What do you mean?”
A familiar but unexpected voice answered from the doorway.
“He means he came to let me out.”
John rushed over to give his friend a hand, seeing how wobbly he was on his feet. He helped him sit down and bent to look at the clotted cut on his scalp.
“What do you mean he let you out?” Greg asked when the commotion had died down.
Sherlock rolled his eyes at the question. “He came and unlocked the door. Obvious.”
“And almost got bashed on the head for my pains,” grumbled Raster.
“I had gotten free from that damn chair, and was working on a means of prying the door open when he unlocked it,” Sherlock explained. “I stood behind the door, planning on knocking him out so I could escape, but he blocked me and shouted he was there to help.”
“And you believed him?” Greg asked.
“Not at first, no. Not until he told me his wife would never forgive him if he were involved in a murder, and that he hadn’t planned on any of this going so far, hadn’t wanted to be involved in the first place. It was really quite boring, but his wife did write us a letter, remember John? And he said you offered to help him if he helped us, which is just like you. So, as he didn’t have anything more deadly with him than a key and a penknife for cutting rope, I believed him.”
“And you just let him leave?” Greg’s voice was still dripping with disbelief. “Sherlock, he still helped kidnap you!”
John spoke up. “But he was coerced. It was obvious in the car this afternoon that he didn’t want to be involved but felt he had no choice. I told him we could help.”
Sherlock nodded, wincing as John examined his sore wrists. “I told him to go ahead and that we would talk to him and his wife later, and then followed a few minutes later. I arrived in the lobby just in time to see you drag the poor man back here.”
“Well, he’s not getting off scot free,” Greg said. “Right this minute, he’s the only kidnapper I’ve got, but if he helps us round up his friends, that would go far toward convincing me he’d had a change of heart.”
Someone brought John a first aid kit and he was cleaning the blood off Sherlock’s scalp. “What did you do to your hands?” he asked, and Sherlock explained how he’d taken the table apart. (“Tricky without any tools.”) By then someone handed him a protein shake which John insisted he drink before he would allow him to show them where he’d been held.
They all silently absorbed the dismantled table, the frayed rope, the chair crammed into the corner as Sherlock explained his plan to pry the door open. He was still talking, despite his voice being croaky from disuse, when Greg insisted he go. “You need to be checked out by the medical team,” he told him. “Yes, I know John is a doctor, but he’s had a rough day, too.”
Sherlock looked up, only just now noticing how gingerly John was holding his head. John shrugged. “Ransom drops are riskier than I expected. It’s nothing, just a headache.”
“You didn’t tell me you were hurt,” he said, voice accusing, but eyes bright with concern.
“Usually, you don’t need to be told, you just deduce it,” John told him with a smile. “You’re sure you’re all right?”
“Yes, I must be more tired than I thought,” he said in a clipped voice, the kind that he used when he was ignoring weakness. “Let’s go home.”
Sherlock wasn’t the least surprised to find Mycroft at the flat when they arrived. He could see Mycroft had been worried, though he hid it well. “How touching,” his brother said as they came in. “Matching concussions.”
“His is newer than mine is,” Sherlock said as he slouched into his chair. “He was obviously careless.”
John gave a laugh. “Ingrate. See if I pay ten million pounds for you again.”
Sherlock was staring at John. “You paid the ransom?”
“Of course I did. Hours ago. Try to keep up, Sherlock.” John looked surprised, and Sherlock wondered what had been in that syringe, his brain was so sluggish. “What did you think? I was going to try to bargain? Ask for a sale price? Be serious, Sherlock.”
“I thought you were bluffing about the bank. Your money was in a trust fund, how could you…?”
“You know your brother better than that, Sherlock. Of course he made it happen. It’s not like I needed the money anyway.” John grinned at seeing Sherlock speechless for probably the first time in his life. “I just hope Mrs. Hudson doesn’t decide to up the rent, or we’ll have a problem.”
He went into the kitchen and (predictably) started making tea. Sherlock looked at Mycroft. “Ten million pounds?”
“That was the asking price,” Mycroft said. “Knowing how difficult you are, I thought it was rather high, myself, but John insisted.”
Sherlock’s brain was racing in place, like a tire spinning in mud—going nowhere very quickly. “I … had no idea they were asking so much. How did John…?”
“Without hesitation,” Mycroft told him firmly, his eyes unusually soft. “His only thought was to get you back safely.”
“I would never have let him…”
“You know he doesn’t care about the money, Sherlock. He never wanted it.”
Sherlock frowned. “That’s not the point, Mycroft. I wouldn’t have let him … and he was hurt! He could have been killed. You know as well as I the statistics on how many kidnappings go wrong.”
A rustle of sound from the kitchen, as John walked in with tea. “That’s exactly the point, Sherlock. I wasn’t going to let you become one of those statistics. And Mycroft is right—I don’t care about the money.”
John handed the mugs around, but Sherlock just stared at the steam wisping off his. Why would John have done that? Didn’t he know that he would have escaped? They were even in the building, searching for him, when he did. If they’d been that close, why bother with the ransom?
He looked up, to see both of them watching him, remarkably similar expressions on their faces. Then John said to Mycroft, “He doesn’t seem particularly happy to be back, does he?”
“No, but then my brother has always had a hard time expressing gratitude. He’s thinking right now that we were foolish to worry since he obviously was able to escape on his own. He’s forgetting, of course, that he was tied so securely that, had his captor not cut the rope around his arm, he would likely never have gotten out of that chair.”
John nodded, not looking at Sherlock. “Not to mention that, had I not shown up at the ransom drop, they would have killed him hours ago. Or if the briefcase had been empty.”
“All right,” Sherlock snapped at them. “Fine. John did exactly what he should have done. I’m sure his concussion—I’m still waiting to hear how that happened, by the way—was all part of the plan. But you’re both missing the point.”
Mycroft raised his eyebrows in that insufferable way of his. “And what point is that, little brother?”
“How are we going to get John’s money back?”
And for a moment, Sherlock wondered if his concussion was worse than he’d thought because John and Mycroft just looked at each other and burst into laughter.
John couldn’t help himself. It didn’t matter how long a day it had been, or how much his head hurt. He laughed. “Mycroft! Why didn’t we think of that? We could try to get the money back.”
Mycroft chuckled, his eyes dancing with more mirth than John had seen before. “It’s an idea, of course, John. Although, it might not be considered wise to be in possession of so much counterfeit money. We might be better served by actually catching the kidnappers.”
“Why, Mycroft,” John said, eyes wide, “That’s a brilliant idea. I see why you’re the one running the British government. Oh god, my head. Don’t make me laugh this hard.”
Sherlock’s face was actually pink. “All right, all right. Just tell me what you’ve put in place … wait, counterfeit?”
Mycroft smirked. “With some real currency mixed in, but yes, very good counterfeit.”
“We didn’t hold much hope for the tracking bugs in the case—which they promptly exchanged for another bag—but there were a couple of tiny, what were they, Mycroft? Microdots? On the actual currency.”
“Yes, along with tiny chips on the inside of the paper wrappers. Cash ransoms offer so many possibilities for tampering, and kidnappers usually don’t think beyond the actual bag it’s carried in and those messy dyes banks like to include.” Mycroft took a sip of his tea, looking smug.
John looked at Sherlock, hunched in his chair with a petulant expression. “And then there are the other leads. How did you connect Andy to this?”
Sherlock’s face brightened and he sat up. “I remembered the missing letter, of course, though I didn’t know the identity of Andy’s cellmate. The kidnapper, though—the only one who I saw—consistently referred to you as ‘mister’ rather than doctor, and seemed to have the same blind spots that Andy did when he kidnapped me. Though I will say these abductors were rather more efficient.”
“Leaving you in an LSE building was remarkably stupid, though,” said Mycroft. “Unless they were hoping to try to implicate John somehow, or connect you to the company in a negative way.”
“I believe that’s exactly what Andy hoped,” said Sherlock. “It was indirectly through my actions that he was written out of his father’s will, and his ill-conceived kidnapping of me that led to his arrest. I believe he bears me more of a grudge than he does John. From John he just seems to want money.” He met John’s eyes as he squinted over his tea, oddly tentative. “So, it was counterfeit, then? It wasn’t your money?”
“Ian’s money, really, but yeah, some of it was. Mycroft decided the risk—since it was really very convincing counterfeit—was worth taking. When we catch them…”
“Because we will catch them.” Mycroft put in.
“Yes, when we catch them, not only will they have kidnapping charges, but possession of highly illegal counterfeit money as well.
“Except for Andy,” mused Sherlock. “In this regard, he’s safely in prison with no contact with the money.”
“Don’t worry about Andy,” said Mycroft. “I already have sufficient evidence connecting him with that hidden room at LSE where you were kept, Sherlock. Only he and the architect knew it was there—until now. He’s also had some interesting withdrawals from his own trust fund lately, as well as some … interesting … visitors in prison. I’ll pay him a visit tomorrow.”
“No,” said Sherlock, “WE will pay him a visit. I promised him last time that if he interfered, I would make him sorry.”
“Understood,” Mycroft said, putting down his tea. “You both look tired. Is there anything else?”
John looked up. “Yes, there’s just one more thing.”
Three days later, Sherlock watched with a sense anticipation fluttering through his fingertips as Mycroft entered the interrogation room. Mycroft had blocked all of Andy’s communication, so he had no way of knowing whether the kidnapping and ransom demand had been successful, and Sherlock found himself eager to see the look on his face when Andy saw him.
He gave him credit. Andy did a decent job of covering his shock at seeing an unfamiliar man. Not good enough, of course, but still. Creditable. “Who are you? A lawyer?”
Mycroft gave his slow smile. “I’m not a lawyer, Mr. Littleston, though I have some papers I believe you’ll be interested in.” He pulled a file from his briefcase and laid out a series of photos on the table. “Do you know this man?”
Andy stared at the pictures, his poise faltering. They were images of the kidnappers being arrested, their faces clearly captured. There was also a photo of the bag full of money, and images of pages of paperwork—along with a close-up of one sheet of account numbers.
“I’m sure you thought these accounts were secure,” Mycroft began after Andy had gaped long enough, “However, we were able to find these links to tie them to you.” A sheet of paper joined the photos on the table.
“Look,” Andy said, a tremor in his voice, “I don’t know what you’re implying, but I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve been right here in prison where I’m watched all the time. I haven’t done anything. I don’t even know this person.”
Sherlock shook his head at the blatant lie and watched with amusement as Mycroft pulled out one more photo. This was a security camera shot of the kidnapper standing right next to Andy. “You mean your old cell mate?” Mycroft asked softly. “I’m sure he’d be devastated to learn he’d made such a small impact in his months living in the same cell. He certainly had plenty to say about you.”
Andy’s eyes were darting about the room now, as if looking for an escape. Sherlock could almost feel sorry for him. Really, considering he shared genes with both Ian Littleston and John, the man was appallingly stupid. He was stammering now, trying to make excuses, whining about not knowing what Lester had planned, it was entirely a coincidence.
Mycroft let him babble for a few moments and then said, “I believe you were warned not to mess with Sherlock Holmes or John Watson again. You really should have listened.”
“But, I didn’t!” Andy looked desperate. “I just … You don’t understand. I needed the money. I needed it. It should have been mine in the first place and then this nobody comes along and steals it all. How could I just let that happen? How could I ignore that? It was mine.”
“Actually, Mr. Littleston,” said Mycroft. “It was your father’s, and its disposition was entirely up to his own discretion. He made quite clear that he would not abide by illegal, violent actions, yet you committed them anyway. Not just once, but twice, and against your own brothers—a crime particularly heinous in my eyes, I might add.”
“You can’t prove that,” Andy said, “I mean, it’s just hearsay. Your word against mine.”
“Yet, luckily, my word carries more weight than that of a convicted felon.” Mycroft pulled out a newspaper and laid in on the table. “Page twelve.”
Looking nervous now, fingers shaking, Andy fumbled with the paper until he turned to the correct page. “The obituaries?” he asked. There was no response so he turned back to skim the page until his eyes were arrested by one entry. “That’s … that’s me.”
“Indeed,” Mycroft said. “Apparently you were killed yesterday in an unfortunate jail house accident, something about an argument over soap. Very tragic, of course.”
“But … but … I’m not dead.” Andy’s voice was flat, numb, and his breathing had quickened. He was close to hyperventilating, Sherlock thought, enjoying the show.
“No, Mr. Littleston, but as of this morning, the world believes that you are.”
“You can’t do that. Nobody can do that!”
“Faking a death is easy if you know how.”
Andy turned and stared at him, eyes wide. “You’re going to kill me.”
Mycroft chuckled. “Don’t be silly, Mr. Littleston. Why would we do that? Of course, you’ll be moving from this facility very shortly. Your family and friends all believe you’re dead, of course, though I can’t imagine they’ll mourn too much. You’re not exactly well loved, you know. On the plus side, the rather intimidating men to whom you owe so much money will be appeased, believing you’re dead, so you no longer need to worry about them.”
“But … why?”
“Sherlock warned you, Mr. Littleston, but you didn’t listen. In your greed and hubris, you not only went after John Watson’s inheritance, but you threatened Sherlock Holmes. I don’t take either of those actions lightly.”
Andy was pale now, shaking his head, unable to comprehend what was happening. “I don’t understand. Who are you? Why would you care?”
Mycroft gave another slow smile. “Let’s just say I take my brother’s welfare much more seriously than you ever did, Mr. Littleston.”
“Yes, did I neglect to say? Sherlock Holmes is my brother.”
“I … I could help you find him,” Andy said wildly. “I’m the only one who knows where he is. I’ll … I’ll help you find him … just, don’t do this.”
At Mycroft’s sideways glance, Sherlock reached out and flicked the light switch in his room, making himself visible to the interrogation room. Through the mirror, he met Andy’s wide, disbelieving eyes and then gave a smirk and a little wave.
Mycroft stood and said, “I hope you’ll enjoy your new accommodations, Mr. Littleston. They’re rather more isolated than those to which you’ve become accustomed, but I’m sure you’ll adapt. You’ll be there rather a long time. Good day.”
Sherlock joined Mycroft in the hall. “So, what’s going to happen to him?”
“I have a secure facility up north I can send him to. He’ll be well treated, but his access will be … limited. No face-to-face contact with anyone. No contact with the outside world, though we might allow books from time to time. And, of course, he’ll be there indefinitely since the world believes he is dead. Satisfactory?”
“Short of giving him a concussion to match John’s? Yes.”
The two brothers walked toward the exit in unusual accord, satisfied with the day’s events. Sherlock didn’t say anything as they worked their way through the security checkpoints, but as they exited the building he asked, “What did you think of John’s proposal the other night?”
“I think it has merit, considering your lifestyle, though it seems too self-sacrificing, don’t you think?”
Sherlock nodded. “I do. He’s sacrificed enough for me already. He deserves to keep his reputation.”
“I agree. So what I think we should do is this…”
Yep, we're just about there, folks. The last chapter is more by way of an epilogue.
And so, once again, Sherlock and John were splashed across the front pages of the newspapers. Garish photos, tacky headlines, all shouting how John had sacrificed his fortune to save his friend.
They told how Sherlock had escaped and then helped capture the kidnapper. How the kidnapper had been cellmates with John’s half-brother, imprisoned for an earlier kidnapping attempt of Sherlock Holmes. The realization that the half-brother had died in prison just added to the flames.
It was a sensation.
Julia had been drafted to write more press releases, and they had endured another press conference, where John stated that he had no regrets, having given up his inheritance to save his friend.
Somehow, the fact that most of the money had been counterfeit never made the papers.
Neither did the fact that they had recovered the money—all but a small amount that somehow ended up in Mrs. Raster’s hands in a plain brown wrapper later that week.
No, Sherlock and Mycroft agreed with John that it was probably for the best of people did NOT know that John had excess(ive) funds. It just seemed to draw out the worst in people. It was easier to let the public believe that he was poor again, having nobly sacrificed his fortune.
Frankly, John preferred this over his first idea. He had originally planned to pass a story that he’d lost it all gambling—anything to get the word out that he was back to having to work for his living. He was touched when Sherlock and Mycroft insisted on the noble self-sacrifice story instead. After all, he had sacrificed it for Sherlock—or at least had meant to, they told him. Why not take the credit for being the best friend that he was?
He had to admit, he didn’t mind the extra sympathy, though it was uncomfortable for the first few weeks until the sensation died down. It made for a much better story for getting dates, on the rare occasions he tried to chat up a girl, too.
True, he had to fib a bit when the weather turned cold and he started showing up at crime scenes in a very warm, very flattering coat that looked like it had been made for him. Or the remarkably well-fitting suit he wore the next time they were invited to Whitehall. And he never seemed short of money to hand out to Sherlock’s Homeless Network, or for ready cab fare. In fact, he and Sherlock had a special line of credit with all the cab drivers these days, so that they never had to pay cash—that had always been such an inconvenience when chasing down criminals.
No, if John seemed to have more cash on hand than people would expect, it was easy to point to their flourishing crime-fighting business (partnership? endeavor?) and Sherlock’s obvious background of Old Money. Because, having lost his fortune for his friend’s sake, wouldn’t it be natural for Sherlock to share his own in return?
To all appearances, then, things were back to normal.
Not that, for these two, anything was ever actually normal.
Which was just the way they liked it.
I'm still enjoying John and the Littlestons, so there's probably going to be at least a LITTLE more to this series--some one-shots about John/Sherlock/Littleston interaction. If you all are interested, that is? I'm glad everyone's enjoyed this as much as I have!