Chapter 1: Mr. Melas and Mr. Holmes
As mentioned, this is a meme fill. The original prompt can be found here: http://sherlockbbc-fic.livejournal.com/18842.html?thread=111111322#t111111322
A very specific disclaimer - not only are the characters not mine, the premise of the story and several key plot points are not mine either.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The first time Mycroft Holmes met Mr. Jason Melas he did not make the best first impression. It had been some time since an interpreter had been required in his office but still he knew from experience how to interact with the man and with the minor Greek diplomat for whom he had been called. He said hello Mr. Melas when he arrived, and at the end of the conversation he politely expressed appreciation for his services. In between he did not acknowledge the man at all because social convention dictated that he should focus his full attention on the diplomat. The interpreter was there to do a job, not to be included in the conversation. It was civil and completely acceptable.
Of course, this did tend to dehumanize the interpreter somewhat no matter how legitimate it was. There were few other situations in polite society where one could acceptably speak directly through another person while simultaneously pretending that he was not there. This did not typically bother Mycroft. In fact he rarely spared the interpreters a second thought, and he remained untroubled by the fact that their names and faces often faded quickly from his memory. He had many other, larger things with which to concern himself.
In this particular case, however, his usual inattention was undermined somewhat by the fact that he ran into the very same man not two hours after the meeting. The man was standing, of all places, on the sidewalk right in front of his flat.
“Good afternoon,” he said with a polite incline of his head, deciding that the meeting could hardly go unacknowledged. He deliberately kept his expression neutral; he was not yet prepared to acknowledge that he was confused by the man’s presence.
“Nice to see you again, Mr. Holmes,” Mr. Melas said with a gentle smile. He was a smallish man – of average height but slight. He had fine features and dark, friendly eyes. Though his voice bore a slight accent, his English was flawless. It was something Mycroft had noticed earlier during the meeting; he was precise as well as quick, and the wording he chose was nuanced and eloquent. He’d done an excellent job.
“Yes, and you.” Mycroft paused next to Mr. Melas on the sidewalk, waiting for him to say something more. It was ridiculous and a little egotistical, but Mycroft was having difficulty breaking out of the assumption that Mr. Melas was there for reasons that had to do with him.
Mr. Melas gave him a slightly awkward smile. “I’m just waiting for a taxi,” he offered after a pause. Mycroft nodded slowly. Not for him, then. He should have taken this as a cue to continue on his way; normally he would have, in fact, but in this case he found himself lingering.
For another long moment, neither of them said anything. Mycroft spent this time trying to get a good read on the other man. He’d been in England for some time – that his accent was so faded betrayed this. The cut and quality of his suit suggested relative wealth, though whether this was inherited or acquired Mycroft could not tell – he had no idea what the money was like in translation. He was well-read, probably – his turns of phrase in the meeting had been too elegant to have been acquired via rote learning. He looked to be in his mid-forties, was probably unmarried, and… and there was something oddly familiar about the man, as though Mycroft had seen him before today. Any further attempts at deduction were stymied by this niggling and frankly rather distracting sense of familiarity.
Suddenly, Mr. Melas chuckled quietly, as though he could tell he was being unsuccessfully analyzed. “I think perhaps we might be neighbours,” he explained, gesturing toward the door next to Mycroft’s own. “I live just there.”
“Ah. Of course.” Mycroft managed to sound both interested and pleasantly surprised. This was all he managed to get out, however. He felt rather flustered about being caught out not recognizing that the man was his neighbour. Surely people ordinarily knew who they lived next to. This slight embarrassment seemed to have caught hold of his tongue; for the life of him he couldn’t think of what to say next. He was saved by the arriving taxi.
Mr. Melas smiled again before turning to open the door. “I’m sure we’ll run into one another again soon,” he said.
Mycroft found he could do little beyond returning the smile.
It was a few weeks before he saw Mr. Melas again. This time he made a better impression. This was aided by the fact that Mr. Melas had come in apologizing from the start; it was much easier to put one’s best face forward when all one had to do was kindly assure someone that they had nothing to be sorry for.
Mycroft hadn’t noticed anything at all until someone rang at the door. It was Mr. Melas and he seemed rather perturbed. “I’m so sorry to disturb you,” he began, a strong hint of agitation in his soft voice. “It’s my upstairs bath – one of the pipes must have burst.” He gestured toward the wall between Mycroft’s flat and his own, as though to emphasize Mycroft’s relative proximity to the disaster. “It’s been leaking into the room for some time, I think. I had no idea, I haven’t been home. I’m so sorry but I think you’d better check along the wall in case it’s come through to your side.”
Despite Mycroft’s hesitations – surely he needed to get back to deal with the problem in his own flat – Mr. Melas insisted on accompanying him on his check of the rooms along the shared wall in case he needed help cleaning anything up. “Don’t worry about my flat – I’ve called someone. Please, it’s the least I can do.” He spent a great deal of this time fretting about not having found the leak sooner – he seemed sincerely distressed by the idea that he had inconvenienced his neighbour. His sincerity was charming rather than being cloying, and Mycroft found that he did not mind reassuring him.
When they discovered a moderately large puddle creeping insidiously out from the wall in the kitchen, they sopped it up quickly using most of Mycroft’s towels. With the remaining dry towels, they constructed a makeshift dam along the base of the wall to slow the spread until the water was shut off and the pipe repaired. Mr. Melas then stayed to help with the more finicky tidying up until the plumbers arrived at his own flat. Mycroft insisted that this was not necessary, but his neighbour was adamant. Mycroft made tea and as they drank and tidied they chatted about Greece and then about Proust and then about their shared love of Seurat and their shared dislike of The DaVinci Code, skateboards, and performance art.
When the plumbers arrived and Mycroft once again had his flat to himself, which was normally his strong preference, he found that he was a little sorry to see his neighbour go.
Something about rolling up one’s shirtsleeves and doing battle against a seemingly endless tide of water has a way of bringing people closer together. Or at least of making near-strangers into relatively friendly casual acquaintances. At least it had in this particular case – Mycroft did not have any similar experiences with which he could draw comparisons. Nevertheless, he did feel a greater connection to his neighbour after the flooding incident.
In the weeks that followed, Mycroft and Mr. Melas exchanged friendly greetings and sometimes brief small talk when they ran into one another outside the flats. When Mr. Melas went home to Greece for a week, Mycroft watered the plants he kept on his front step. When he returned, he brought back some lovely olive oil as a thank-you gift. They came to call each other by their first names. It was an amiable, neighborly sort of relationship. For Mycroft, who found that he had little time for anything more than that, it was pleasant.
When he’d gone a few days without seeing his neighbour at all, therefore, Mycroft noticed. It took him some time to decide what to do. He didn’t wish to overstep his boundaries and after all, perhaps he was overreacting. He decided to mind his own business. Another day passed. There were two newspapers lying unretrieved on the steps and a letter protruding halfway out of the slot in the door. No one was watering the plants. He changed his mind. Pulling the letter back out of the slot, he knocked on Jason’s door. Once. Twice. After the third time he heard footsteps on the other side of the door. After a long pause, the door opened.
“I…” He frowned, momentarily distracted. His neighbour looked horrible. Drawn, pale, and shaken. “I think I must have received some of your post by mistake,” he offered, brandishing the letter. He swallowed. “Forgive me for being forward, but is everything all right?”
Jason hesitated for a moment. It almost seemed as though he was looking over Mycroft’s shoulder for something. Then he shook his head. “Come in,” he said. “I’ll tell you what has happened."
As far as I know, Mr. Melas is not given a first name in the original story so I have assigned him one myself. If this is an oversight on my part then I apologize very sincerely. I have stayed away from "Chris" because although I want to keep original names, I do not wish to confuse him with the Geek Interpreter on johnwatsonblog.co.uk
The timing of this story is a little tricky because in the second chapter John mentions having been to the Diogenes Club before. So I guess it could be post-Reichenbach (but in that case so far post that people have stopped mentioning and thinking about it) or else I will have to ask you to kindly overlook this small timing glitch. I couldn't bring myself to simply keep the Diogenes out of it.
As a general rule Sherlock did not care to be summoned by his brother. This fact had been reinforced for John on numerous occasions. It seemed mostly to be a matter of pride, which Sherlock had in spades. He didn’t like to be told what to do and thus he did not care to be sent for on someone else’s time. John suspected it might also have a little to do with antagonism for it’s own sake; Sherlock seemed to derive great pleasure on occasion from denying his brother simply because it was Mycroft who was asking.
The funny thing was that when Mycroft attempted to solicit their help for a case (or rather Sherlock’s help – John had the distinct impression that the elder Holmes merely tolerated him rather than assuming any meaningful contribution on his part), the pattern of Sherlock ignoring him, Mycroft attempting to persuade him, Sherlock refusing to help and all the rest was apparently just part of the game. While his friend was selective in his other cases, John had never known Sherlock to ultimately turn down a case that was brought to him by his brother. Perhaps it was because he knew they wouldn’t be dull; Mycroft tended to see though the dull ones himself. When a case required more leg-work than Mycroft was willing to complete, it was normally one that defied easy solving, and that normally meant that it was exactly the sort of case Sherlock craved.
Still, there was typically the silly little dance of refusal and persuasion before anything was accepted, and the absence of such back-and-forth in this case had John suspecting from the beginning that something was different.
It had been a quiet week and Sherlock was desperately bored, anyone could tell. He’d blazed straight through a particularly aggravating stage of restless agitation, and now, apparently too disinterested even for that, he’d been lying on the sofa in his blue dressing gown and staring listlessly at the ceiling for the last day and a half. John, if he had to admit it, was rather bored himself, although for reasons he couldn’t quite remember he’d taken to making a big show of how Not Bored he was. “I’ve been meaning to get to this for ages,” he told the unresponsive form that was his flatmate as he plucked an old paperback off the shelf. “It’ll be nice to have the chance to read it.” He settled into his chair with a cup of tea and smiled brightly. “Lovely and relaxing, this,” he added, opening the front cover. Sherlock huffed.
He’d started off well but he’d slowed rather quickly. The atmosphere in the flat was too heavy, somehow. For the past hour or so he’d simply been flipping pages at the appropriate time so that he wouldn’t have to admit to Sherlock that he’d lost interest.
When Sherlock’s phone pinged, announcing the arrival of a text, John looked up with great hope which he did not even bother to disguise. Sherlock’s face betrayed nothing as he read the message, but a moment later he sprang up abruptly from the couch with more energy than he’d displayed in days. “Sherlock?” John prompted as his friend strode off toward his bedroom.
“Case,” Sherlock said simply. “We have to go meet my brother.”
“Mycroft?” John asked, still processing Sherlock’s enthusiasm. His friend didn’t answer – he’d already shut his bedroom door. John turned instead to Sherlock’s phone, which he’d set on the coffee table. The text was still up on the screen. Diogenes. Please come. MH
It wasn’t exactly terribly revealing, but John thought he might know what had piqued Sherlock’s interest. It was rare for a Holmes to say ‘please’ and when he did, he usually meant it.
Sherlock was inscrutable when he emerged, fully clothed, from his room. “Are you ready?” he asked. “I’ll go down and get a cab.”
When they got to the club, Sherlock seemed to know already where he was going. He strode past the silent main room with great purpose and down a quiet hall toward the back of the building. John had never been to the Diogenes with Sherlock before, and honestly he’d expected an entrance. Something about the quiet, fussy atmosphere of the place seemed to be begging for someone like Sherlock to barge in and clamor about. On the few occasions John himself had been here, he’d found it was all he could do to suppress the urge to stomp through the place calling for Mycroft at the top of his lungs. He’d been interested to see how his friend, who was not generally known to suppress himself for the sake of rules or manners, handled the situation.
Against all odds, however, Sherlock turned out to be incredibly well-behaved. His steps were scarcely more than tip-toeing and he didn’t say a word as they moved through the club. When Sherlock turned to make sure John was following, John gave him a questioning look. Apparently surmising what he was confused about, Sherlock offered a shrug, then paused so John could catch up. “On occasion when Mycroft is out of town, I find this to be a rather soothing atmosphere for thinking,” he explained in a very low voice, “I’ve no interest in attracting the ire of those in charge.”
Leaving John with this puzzling information, he quickened his pace again, gliding on ahead until he reached the proper door. He knocked with considerable force; the sound resonated through the club as though it had been a shotgun. There was still some of the old Sherlock there then, obviously. John found this vaguely reassuring.
Mycroft emerged into the hallway with a look of irritation. “Must you?” he whispered. “I didn’t say a word,” his brother retorted breezily as he passed by Mycroft into the room.
Inside, a thin, dark man with a haunted look met their gaze from an armchair, then turned to glance at Mycroft, who had re-entered behind them. He closed and locked the door, presumably to ensure that they would not be disturbed, then moved to one of the other chairs. “Sit, please,” he said graciously, gesturing to John and Sherlock. When they had complied, he offered introductions. “Sherlock, John, this is my neighbour, Mr. Melas. Jason, this is my brother and his associate.” The man in the chair cast his eyes on each of them in turn, offering brief smiles that would have seemed warmer were he not so visibly nervous. Sherlock did not smile back – he seemed to be scarcely paying attention at all, in fact. He was too busy watching his brother. John offered a small nod and an even smaller smile. What on earth was going on?
“Mr. Melas has recently had a rather harrowing experience, the details of which I think you may find very interesting. I’ve asked you to meet us here because there is a possibility that his flat is being watched and it is desirable that no one knows you are consulting on this case.”
“Should I choose to consult on it,” Sherlock cut in.
Mycroft smiled. “You will, I think.”
For a moment they seemed to stare each other down, Mycroft looking rather sure of himself and Sherlock trying not to look as intrigued as he probably was. John was about to cut in with an attempt to bring them both back to the conversation when Mycroft turned back his neighbour. “Jason, perhaps you would like to tell my brother about what has happened so that he can decide for himself.”
Mr. Melas nodded, then began his story.
I promise that ending both this chapter and the previous one by saying that Mr. Melas is going to tell his story without actually telling the story is not a heavy-handed attempt at a cliffhanger - his account is simply too long to be able toss it in with this chapter without making the lengths far too variable. It's pure aesthetics (isn't that ridiculous?). In case you were wondering.
Chapter 3: Mr. Melas Tells his Story
I have been working as a translator since I came to this country twenty-two years ago, and it has been a good profession for me. I speak several languages but Greek, my mother tongue, is the one with which I am primarily associated. I do not wish to sound conceited, but I have gained a very good reputation for myself at the Greek embassy and among wealthy tourists who wish to be shown around London, though I doubt many know of me outside these circles. The majority of my business is generated by repeat clients and by word-of-mouth, but I am also registered with a translation service based in London, and on occasion I receive requests for my services via this channel.
Three days ago I received a call from a man who told me he had received my name and contact information through the service. It is unusual for clients to call me directly in this way – typically the services makes the arrangements – but the man, whose name was Harry Latimer, was hoping to hire me for that very afternoon. I assumed that he had been encouraged to make his own arrangements directly because of this short timeline; this would not be entirely unheard of. As I had no other obligations I accepted the job. There is a certain implicit trust in a business relationship of this type, particularly with private clients, and so I thought nothing of it when it was arranged that my client would pick me up in his own car and bring me to his home.
The car arrived only a few hours later. I can’t recall any particular details about it except that it was large and beige. I was greeted outside the car by the same man I had spoken with on the phone. He was an attractive young man, tall and clean-shaven. I was surprised, actually; most of my clients tend to be older. I decided that perhaps he might work for whomever it was who had sent for me.
The back of the car was separated from the driver by a curtained partition behind his seat. When I got in, I thought at first that the windows must be very heavily tinted, because although it was a lovely day the car was very dark inside even with the roof light on. As we pulled away, I looked a little more closely and realized that I couldn’t see out the windows at all; they’d been blacked out. This I found alarming, and I was about to say something when my traveling companion pulled out a handgun. He didn’t point it at me, he simply set it on the seat beside him. He didn’t need to point it. His meaning was clear. His face, which had looked so friendly at the door, had become suddenly menacing, and somehow he looked much larger and broader than he had only moments ago. I was terrified. I found I couldn’t say a word. Then he spoke.
“We are in need of an interpreter for a very sensitive job, Mr. Melas,” he said. His voice was like ice. “I’m sure you’ll forgive the secrecy. If you cooperate, we’ll pay you very well for your services and send you on your way in only a few hours. Do you think you can help us?”
What could I do? I truly believed that I would not be allowed to return to my home should I refuse this man. I nodded. Almost immediately his expression returned to something much more genial. “Good,” he said, and then he settled back in his seat. But of course the impression had already been made. I couldn’t forget the way he’d looked at me a moment before.
We drove for over an hour in silence. I tried to determine the area but of course without being able to see out it was impossible. I know that it was a long drive, though, because I glanced at my watch as I left the car and it was already half four. I was moved from the car to the house very quickly, but as I was spirited in I noticed a fair-sized garden with a few large trees. The house was fairly large but it was difficult to see many details. There was a flower bed along the front of the house with red geraniums. That is all I can remember.
Indoors, the house was modern. I’m not sure I can describe it well. The furniture was dark and boxy and the surfaces were largely glass and metal. But then at the end of the hallway there was a suit of armor. I remember because I thought it seemed rather out of place with the rest of the house. Latimer led me into a large room to the left of the armour. He didn’t have his gun out – he didn’t need it, really – but I knew he was still carrying it. There was another man in the room already, an older man of perhaps fifty who was seated behind a large desk. He laughed when I came in – laughed as though this was all some sort of amusing game.
“Mr. Melas,” he said, standing. “Welcome. I hope you’ll forgive any inconvenience we may have caused you on the way here.” I bristled a little at this. It seemed as though he thought I should be relieved now that I had arrived. But of course I said nothing. “We have a special job for you this evening,” he continued. “I think with your abilities it should be no trouble.” He indicated that I should come over to the desk, and I complied. He handed me a piece of paper. “We would like to have this translated, Mr. Melas,” he told me. “Unfortunately myself and Harry here have found our own abilities inadequate.”
On the paper was written, in two different hands, a question and answer, both in Greek. The question was written carefully but was clumsily phrased, as though the writer had perhaps decided what he wanted to say in English and then translated it himself word by word, without proper conjugation or form. I could tell that a native speaker had had no part in its production. It essentially amounted to “Will you give us access to your research? If you do, we will leave her alone.”
The response, in contrast, was written in language that was deeply complex, if a little archaic. It was as though the writer was deliberately making himself difficult to understand. The author of the question had made a rather blunt attempt to translate this himself – there were notes above some of the words in English in the same handwriting. It was clear from what he’d come up with so far, however, that he was out of his depths. In effect the response said that its writer could not and would not tell them anything. This I relayed to the man with the laugh.
There was a second part that I did not tell him about. When considered in combination with the willfully complicated language the writer had used, perhaps to necessitate the inclusion of an outside party, the second part seemed as though it might be a message to me. It read “I urgently require aid.” This I kept to myself.
When I had given the man my translation of the response, he seemed unsurprised. He laughed again; it was quite chilling. I could not imagine what could possibly be so funny. I began to wonder if it was not some sort of nervous habit, but in truth the man appeared to be enjoying some part of the proceedings. “A pity,” he said without sounding terribly disappointed. “In that case I think we shall require your help for just a little bit longer.” He gestured to Latimer, who slipped out of the room immediately.
The man then turned his attention back to me, and for a moment his eyes grew cold, just as his associate’s had in the car. “I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that we require absolute precision in this affair. Relay exactly what is said to our friend and give us the answers exactly as you receive them and there will be no problems. Do you understand?” Again, I nodded. “Good,” he said quickly. Then, a little louder,
“Harry, if you’ll show him in?”
Latimer reappeared, gripping the arm of a second man. He pulled him to a chair and sat him down roughly. It was all I could do not to exclaim in alarm. The man’s arms were bound in front of him, and, horribly, his face was so disfigured and swollen by bruises and lacerations that I doubt he’d be recognizable even if I had known him. In addition to the bruises, there were several bandages on his face. Given what the exposed parts looked like, I did not wish to think about what must be under them. In spite of his injures, however, he was very alert, and I noted a spark of what seemed to be determination in his eyes when he met my own.
As soon as the man had been placed in the chair, the older man got down to business. “Right, Mr. Melas,” he said as though we were making light conversation, “will you please tell him the following: It will not go well for you if you do not begin to cooperate with us.”
The prisoner’s eyes flashed with anger when I told him this. “I am no criminal,” he said, and I relayed this back to Latimer and the other man.
“Surely a simple formula is not worth your life,” was my employer’s response.
“My integrity is worth much more than that.”
It went on like this for a time, but then something slightly extraordinary happened. “Think of Sophie,” I said to the man upon prompting.
The man in the chair seemed to decide something in his mind. I thought he was about to give in but instead he said, “My sister will come to understand what I have done.” I can’t explain why I took this as I did except that he so greatly emphasized who this Sophie was when surely everyone except me was already aware. It seemed as though he was testing me. This information was fairly innocuous, but would I try to discover more, now that he had implied that he was willing to offer it?
Without thinking, I nodded slightly to show him that I understood the significance of what he’d told me. For a moment I was worried I had given something away, but I don’t think that Latimer or the older man took any notice. “She will come to understand what I have done,” I relayed to them.
They said nothing about the change in wording, and I took this as a promising sign. When the man in the chair answered their next question I again changed the words in his reply, this time more obviously. “I will die before I do anything to help you,” he said. “You will never force me to do what you wish,” I told them. Still, they said nothing. I was now sufficiently confident that neither of them could understand a word of what passed between myself and the man in the chair. When they told me what to say next, therefore, I added a question of my own.
“Is your sister with these men?” I asked.
“She is close with the younger one,” he told me once he had provided a response for our captors. “She does not know that they are dangerous.”
“Who are you?” I asked him the next time.
“My name is K-R-A-T-I-D-E-S,” he told me. I realized that he was clever to have spelled it. The other men may have grown suspicious had they heard him say his name.
We carried on like this for some time, our captors – for I did consider myself a prisoner as well – no wiser for what we were doing. He was, I discovered, a chemical researcher from Athens. He’d been abducted and brought to this place when he came to England in order to find his sister. It was slow-going, obtaining this information one short question at a time, but as the minutes wore on I felt as though we were making great progress.
I think I could have learned almost everything had we not been interrupted. I was about to ask him what exactly these men were trying to obtain from him when someone opened the door and a young woman entered the room. She must have been about twenty years old, and she was quite lovely, with long, dark hair and pleasant features. “Harry,” she said to Latimer, who took several steps toward her, “Dez said you were back here with Wilson. Are you–” When she realized what she had walked in on, she stopped short and went very red in the face. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were… what is this, Harry?” She seemed genuinely shocked and I couldn’t help but realize that whatever was going on, she’d had no idea that Latimer was a part of it. Her eyes widened as she glanced from him to his captive. I imagined that, as I had been, she was rather shocked by the state of the poor man with the fierce eyes and the mangled face.
She stared at the prisoner for a long, silent moment. I almost had the impression that she was trying to see something that she sensed she was missing. Then, in an instant, her expression changed from horrified wonder to something else altogether. In that moment I couldn’t read it but a second later her actions revealed that it must have been recognition. “Oh my god. Paul?” she asked. She spoke in Greek now. I could hear doubt in her voice. And fear. He nodded. “Sophie,” he said weakly. He sounded deeply worried. At the sound of her own name, she rushed to him, kneeling beside his chair and taking his hands in her own. “Paul. What happened to you?” He looked as though he might say something to her, but before he could, Latimer advanced on the pair. The girl turned. “What is going on, Harry?” she asked him harshly in English.
He had no answer for her. He simply stalked over, grabbed her hard around her arm and wrenched her away. “Not now, Sophie,” he said to her in that same menacing voice he had used with me in the car. In a moment, he’d dragged her from the room. She was still calling out for the man in the chair, for Paul. After a moment a door slammed from somewhere deep within the house, and then we could not hear her anymore.
Our captor tsked. “Poor Sophie.” His voice had a sing-song quality to it that made my skin crawl. “Now that she’s seen you I suppose we shall have to keep her here until you have agreed to work with us. It would be too dangerous, I think, to let her out and about with what she knows unless she was worried she’d implicate her own brother as well if she spoke up.” He chuckled again, then gave me a meaningful look and I realized I was meant to translate this also. Seeing how the encounter with his sister had affected the poor man in the chair, whom I counted as my ally by now, I couldn’t bring myself to translate such mocking words directly.
“He says they must keep her here now that she’s seen you unless you agree to work with them,” I told him. Only his eyes were capable of much expression, Mr. Holmes, his face as swollen and as wrecked as it was. Even so, I do not believe I have ever seen a face that said so much as his did when I told him that. I was worried for him then. Certainly, I thought, it is over for this man. Whatever the formula was, I was sure that he would not survive long once he gave it to them. I did not know what would become of his sister.
Imagine my surprise, then, when instead of pressing this seeming advantage, our captor rose from his seat and said, “Thank you, Mr. Melas. I believe that is all we will require from you at this time. We shall have to give our friend some time to consider his situation.”
That was it, more or less. Before I was taken back out to the car by Latimer, the other man warned me that should I be tempted to contact the police or try by some other means to rescue Paul Kratides, I would find myself in a great deal more trouble than I could manage. Given what I had seen at the house, I did not doubt for a moment that this was the case. As I was being led out of the room, he gave me a envelope full of money. I felt deeply conflicted in accepting it but I was too afraid to refuse. I only wished for things to go as smoothly as possible until I was back in my flat.
In the car, I tried to pay attention to the turns we were making, with the absurd idea that I might be able to work out where we had come from when we arrived back in London. I could not, of course. We took so many turns that I’m sure that some of them must have been part of a deliberate effort to make navigation impossible. I don’t know if Latimer caught on to what I was attempting to do all the same, but after about half an hour he called up for the driver to stop. “I’m sorry, Mr. Melas, but I think we will not be able to take you any further,” he said with a gesture that indicated that I should get out of the car. I obeyed, scarcely giving a thought to where I might be. It was a relief simply to be free of this man. As the car drove away, I saw what looked like a village down the road a little from where I had been deposited, and I walked toward it. In this way I ended up in Little Amwell. It was lucky, in retrospect, that I had not had the courage to refuse payment, for I had brought no other money with me. As it was, I was able to ask directions to the nearest bus, and I arrived back in London around seven o’clock. I took a taxi back to my flat and I remained there without leaving at all for several days.
I don’t know what to do, Mr. Holmes. I would go to the police, but with no proof of such a wild story, what would I say to them? Also, I fear that Latimer and his accomplices must be watching me to ensure that I keep silent. And yet I feel as though I must make some effort to send aid to Mr. Kratides. For three days I have been haunted by the memory of his horrible beaten face and the thought of that terrible man standing over him, laughing and laughing. When your brother suggested that we contact you, I knew it was the right decision. Thank goodness he came by when he did, or I am certain I would still be paralyzed by this terrible indecision. Mr. Kratides deserves better than someone who is so impotent in the face of such threats.
Chapter 4: Sherlock Takes the Case
It was quiet for a time after Mr. Melas finished speaking. It was Sherlock who broke the silence.
“Mr. Melas, if you’ll excuse us for a moment, I would like to speak to my brother.” Melas nodded, though he seemed rather confused by this development. Sherlock did not wait for confirmation from Mycroft. He simply stood and swept out of the room. “Excuse me,” Mycroft said a little more politely before slowly rising and following Sherlock out into the hall, leaving John and a bewildered Jason Melas to smile awkwardly at one another.
Sherlock gave his brother a shrewd look as he entered the hallway. “What is this about, Mycroft?” he asked, his tone hushed in deference to their surroundings. Mycroft gave him a warning look and led the way into a smaller room. It was the middle of the day and the club was not terribly busy; this room too was otherwise unoccupied.
“I sent for you because I thought you would find this case interesting,” he answered once they’d entered. He was the picture of indifference, although Sherlock suspected rightly that this was largely put on. “Are you interested or not?”
“That is not what I meant.” Of course he was interested. A mysterious man and his sister being held captive at a location that had yet to be discovered for purposes that were – well, deducible but at least not immediately apparent? This was the most interesting case his brother had called him in on in a good many years.
Still, this meant something to Mycroft and he wanted to know what it was. “You’ve only ever asked my help for the sake of England. You've never called me on behalf of a private citizen before and I’ve never known you to be quite so neighbourly in the past. So what it is, brother? Someone to water your plants? Someone to borrow a cup of sugar from? Someone to notice if you have a heart attack so your corpse isn’t discovered days after the fact when the neighbours begin complaining of odd smells and we all break in to find you’ve been half-consumed by your cat?”
Mycroft made a face. "Charming imagery, but moot, I'm afraid." Sherlock paused. This little detail was clearly intended to distract him from his previous line of questioning. Still, he couldn't help himself. He tilted his head and gave Mycroft a quick once-over glance that told him next to nothing. “What happened to your cat?” he asked.
“Mummy’s cat,” Mycroft corrected. The cat, named Jane, had been Mummy’s constant companion in her golden years, and had been taken in by Mycroft following her death. The common assumption between her sons was that Mummy had acquired this cat because she longed to finally mother something whose name she never had to repeat or spell for people.
“Mummy’s cat,” Sherlock repeated.
“She died in her sleep.”
“Oh?” The interest that Sherlock showed in this fact would no doubt be called indecent by his mother were she still with them. “How long ago?”
It was as though Mycroft could sense why his brother was interested. “I had her cremated months ago,” he answered dismissively. Sherlock sagged.
“Oh.” Dull. To his knowledge, there was nothing useful to be done with the ashes of cremated cat. Cat-related curiosity sated, he returned to his original line of conversation. Neither brother stopped to wryly consider the fact that this little exchange constituted more 'catching-up' with one another than they had otherwise done in months.
“I’m not going to help you with this case until you tell me why you want me to.”
Mycroft drew himself up with a deep breath. “I have come to count Jason as a friend,” he admitted, bracing himself for Sherlock to say… something. Mycroft was generally no more partial to friendships than Sherlock had been before he’d found his flat-mate. Somehow he was worried that his recent acquisition of one would make him prone to ridicule from his brother. But Sherlock said nothing about it.
After considering Mycroft’s admission carefully, Sherlock seemed to make some kind of decision. He shrugged, then almost immediately shifted gears. “They’re going to take him again.” The two men had still not received their answer from Kratides. They were bound to eventually have further need for an interpreter.
“I know,” Mycroft said. He looked worried.
Sherlock cleared his throat. “So. Sophie Kratides has been in England for some time. At some point she meets a handsome young man, he sweeps her off her feet, etcetera, etcetera. Possibly he found out after he met her that her brother could be exploited for something, but almost certainly he knew who her brother was before and went out of his way to get to know her.”
“Almost certainly,” Mycroft agreed.
“Then Latimer and this Wilson person contacted Paul Kratides, probably with pictures of Sophie or something else to prove that they were close to her. They made their demands and threatened Sophie’s well-being if he did not comply. He likely tried to contact her in order to warn her away from these men, but he couldn’t reach her or she didn’t listen. Or perhaps he feared that warning her away from them wouldn’t be enough. Either way, he came to England himself, probably to try to convince her to come back to Greece with him, perhaps because he thought she’d be safe if she were nearer to him. But they found him before he could get to Sophie and they took him to the house.”
“Kratides’ face was badly beaten but only his face, as far as could be seen,” Mycroft cut in, picking up where Sherlock left off. “Latimer was still keeping Sophie on hand. If she came across Paul they wanted to keep her from recognizing him.”
“Until they realized they weren’t getting anywhere. When she came in with Melas there, they wanted her to discover that her brother was being kept in the house. Now he knows that they’ll have to keep her there as well until he becomes more compliant.”
Sherlock turned to look out the window for a moment, raising his hand in a gesture meant to imply that he was considering some detail. In reality he was trying to cover his smile – this was rather fun. He enjoyed working with John, and even Lestrade most of the time, but he’d forgotten how satisfying it was to reason with someone who matched him pace for pace. It was nice not to have to stop and explain himself. In that moment he made his decision.
“I’ll help. But I’m not doing it on my own while you run off to your office.” If Mycroft cared so much about this case he could certainly put in a bit of effort. Anyhow, it would be good to have more people on this – solving it swiftly was probably important for Kratides.
“I’ll do what I can,” Mycroft began, looking hesitant, “but –“
“Fine,” Sherlock cut in before Mycroft had time to make excuses. “What have you found so far about Sophie Kratides?”
“I haven’t had time yet. I contacted you as soon as I heard Jason’s story.”
“Find out as much as you can about her and her brother. Then find her address and go to her flat. Take your friend with you. It’ll be better if we keep track of him, and anyhow perhaps if she has pictures he can identify Latimer.” He knew his brother must suspect, as he did, that the name Latimer had been an alias.
Mycroft turned slightly pink. “Sherlock, I can’t go around finding my way into people’s flats. If someone saw–”
“Do you want my help or not?” Sherlock challenged, knowing he had the upper hand. He could tell by his brother’s demeanor that this case was important to him, and he knew he could talk him into helping far more than was usually his wont. “Anyway, I don’t have time. John and I need to go to Bart’s.”
Sherlock strode back into the room with such purpose that for a moment John thought that the brothers had rowed in the hall and Sherlock had refused the case. “John, we’re going,” he said simply. John frowned. “Aren’t we going to–”
“Yes we are, and even with four of us there is a great deal to be done. Mr. Melas, I’ll need the shoes you were wearing when you were abducted.”
Mr. Melas looked at him in wonder. “They are these ones,” he said after a moment, gesturing to the shoes on his feet.
Sherlock nodded as though he had suspected as much. “In that case I apologize for making you catch a cab in socks. I’ll have them, please.” John joined Mr. Melas this time in staring at his friend in astonishment. Surely this could wait until another pair of shoes had been acquired. He looked to Mycroft, thinking he might provide a voice of reason. The elder Holmes was doing something on his phone and did not appear to be paying attention to the exchange.
“Oh, for goodness' sake,” Sherlock said after a moment. “John, trade shoes with Mr. Melas, please.”
“You’re the same size. Yours are wider but that shouldn’t be a problem. You can’t wear his to Bart’s anyhow, don’t want to contaminate the soles.” Sherlock paused, staring between them both. “Come along,” he prompted after a moment, “I can’t imagine Mr. Kratides would appreciate your dawdling.”
John knew there was no point in arguing. He unlaced his shoes and carried them over to Mr. Melas, who took off his own shoes and passed them to Sherlock. His friend had been hovering next to the interpreter’s chair waiting to receive them. When they were handed to him he immediately turned them upside-down and looked at the soles. He frowned. When he gave the shoes a thoughtful sniff, John looked away, slightly embarrassed. He could only imagine what Mr. Melas must think of them both.
“These look very clean,” Sherlock said to Mr. Melas.
The other man nodded. “The road to Little Amwell was muddy. I cleaned my shoes off thoroughly when I got home. I dislike untidiness.”
John sighed softly to himself. Sherlock wasn’t going to like that. His friend made a face and handed the shoes back to Mr. Melas. “We could still check to be sure. There might be something left,” John ventured. He wasn’t sure if this suggestion was intended to ensure thoroughness in the case or was simply a stab at placating Sherlock. Either way his friend was having none of it.
“Not worth it. Look at them, they’re immaculate. Disinfectant and surgical spirit. I doubt there’s anything left to see. No point checking the flat for leftover mud either – it’ll all look like Little Amwell, mark my words.” He sighed heavily, and John could tell that he was quickly re-evaluating his plans. “Go with Mycroft,” he instructed Mr. Melas. The poor man was still seated in his chair, sock-footed and bewildered. “Stay with him until you hear from us. Tell him to text me Sophie Kratides’ address once you’ve arrived.”
He strode briskly toward the door. John accepted his shoes back from Mr. Melas, shoved them on hurriedly without bothering with the laces, and followed. “Where are we going then?” He asked as he caught up with Sherlock. His friend seemed to still be considering this himself. “Little Amwell, I think,” he said finally as they stepped out into the afternoon sun.
Sorry for the long gap before an update - it's a combination of me trying to be careful with the story and exams. I WILL finish this (there are plans and everything, I promise) but updates may be slow still for the next few weeks until things wind down a bit.
Chapter 5: Mycroft Does Some Legwork
88 Crown Lane in Southgate. Above the Chemist’s. MH
Are you there now? SH
We are en route. MH
Text me once you’re in the flat. SH
You’re not coming now? MH
Obviously not. SH
I cannot break into a young girl’s flat. MH
It’s vital for the investigation. And I’m not going to. SH
Why not? MH
Answer your phone. MH
Text me once you’re in the flat. SH
Mycroft had begun his research into Sophie Kratides on his phone even before Sherlock left the club. It didn’t take long to discover where she lived – near Middlesex University where she was a student. He’d made some discoveries about Sophie’s brother as well. Paul Kratides was in his seventh year of employment as a chemical researcher for a Greek biotech company. His residence was in Athens, but he had used his passport to enter England at Gatwick three weeks ago. Harry Latimer, as they’d suspected, had been a dead end. But perhaps they might be able to determine who he was after they’d been to Sophie’s flat.
About an hour and a half after Sherlock and John left for Little Amwell, Mycroft and Jason hailed a cab to take them to Southgate. They could have left even sooner, but Jason, after offering to help with the searching, had dozed off in his armchair. Mycroft, recognizing that his neighbour had likely slept very little in the days since his encounter with Latimer and Kratides, had been loath to wake him until it was necessary to move things along.
Now here they were, sharing the back seat of a cab. Neither of them said much; Jason was still slightly groggy and Mycroft was caught up with his attempts to communicate with his brother. When it became clear that Sherlock had no interest in turning up and doing the breaking-in part of things himself, Mycroft scowled at his mobile for a moment before tucking it away inside his pocket. Jason, who had been watching, offered a sympathetic little grimace.
“Is everything all right?” he asked gently. He sounded slightly nervous, though it was difficult to tell whether he was nervous about the business with Kratides or if he had gleaned enough about Mycroft and Sherlock’s relationship over the course of their brief encounter to fear that one or the other might call off the investigation out of spite or sheer frustration.
Mycroft, wanting to be reassuring, quickly vanished all signs of agitation from his face. He was good at hiding such things when it suited him. “Fine,” he assured him. “He says they’ll meet us there. We may arrive before them, though. I understand there are a few more things they wish to enquire about in Little Amwell.”
Jason nodded. There was something grim in his expression. They sat in silence for a few minutes. Mycroft tried to think of something comforting to say, but he found this was not his strong suit. After a time, Jason spoke. “It’s very good of all of you to help,” he said with a level of sincerity that Mycroft was not used to. “I appreciate it very much.”
“It’s no trouble,” Mycroft insisted kindly. Jason was too polite to contradict him, although they both knew that in fact several people were going well out of their way.
When they arrived outside 88 Crown Lane, Mycroft made one last-ditch effort to get out of what was coming next. He called Sherlock’s mobile from the pavement while Jason went into the shop and chatted to the man behind the counter. Sherlock didn’t answer the first or second time he called. Mycroft didn’t bother with a third attempt. Damn him. Their usual approach to mutual cases generally worked very well; Mycroft provided the initial access and extra resources, and Sherlock did the leg work, which Mycroft detested, particularly when it verged on illegal, and which Sherlock seemed to relish. He knew why things were different this particular time – Sherlock, who rarely failed to press an advantage when he had it, recognized that Mycroft’s personal stake in this case tipped the balance, allowing him to insist on a greater level of involvement. Whether he was doing this for some higher purpose or simply for his own amusement remained to be determined. Either way, grateful though he was for Sherlock’s help with the case, Mycroft was finding it rather aggravating.
Once he’d made peace with the idea that Sherlock would not be coming until they were in the flat already, Mycroft spent a few minutes trying to come up with an alternative to physically breaking in. Perhaps they could speak to the landlord, pretend that Jason was a concerned relative, and get him to open the flat for them. This was risky, however. If the landlord was the chemist then he may have already spoken to Jason for too long to believe this fabrication. If it was someone else then first of all there was the potential for a considerable time delay as they waited for him to arrive, and then there was the possibility that the knowledge that two strangers were rooting around in Sophie Kratides’ life might get back to Latimer. He sighed. Other scenarios involving attempts to con strangers into letting them into the flat carried similar risks. Was it really necessary to get into this place at all? He thought back to the little evidence they had to go on, and to Sherlock’s text. It’s vital for the investigation.
So breaking and entering it was. He momentarily considered slipping off to do it now while Jason was still in chatting with the chemist. That way he wouldn’t have to worry about his friend seeing him in a startling new light, and the chemist would remain distracted. He decided against it, however. It would be better to have Jason there in case anything went wrong. Well, nothing for it but to press on then.
The bell on the door tinkled as he entered the shop. He could hear the last snippets of a conversation between Jason and the chemist in what sounded like Arabic. He smiled politely. “Did you find what you were looking for?” he asked, thinking it would be less suspicious if Jason made a purchase.
His friend blinked in confusion for only a moment before nodding. “Oh, yes,” he said, then turned to the man behind the counter. “Forgive me, I was caught up in talking to you, I forgot I came in for… these lozenges.” He gave the man a winning smile that was clearly meant to distract from the fact that he’d grabbed the first thing he saw off the shelves. It seemed to work. Presumably to seal the deal, he said something kind in Arabic as he was paying. The man smiled shyly and wished them well as they left the store.
There was an outdoor stairway along the back of the building leading to the upstairs flat. Mycroft was grateful, at least, that they were not on the side of the building; from the back they were far less visible. As Jason kept watch below, he ascended the stairs with care. He paused about halfway up, feeling deeply embarrassed. Jason, who was meant to be watching the laneway along which they’d just come, was instead watching his ascent with a curious sort of interest. He could sense that his neighbour was rapidly drawing new conclusions about what sort of person he might be now that he was watching him behave like some kind of delinquent. “I don’t normally do this,” he assured him, flushing slightly. “That is to say I never do. I don’t generally believe in house-breaking as a reasonable method.” It was suddenly very important for Jason to know this.
Jason nodded, though Mycroft could not help but think that there was a part of his expression that made him seem slightly doubtful. “Extenuating circumstances,” he said agreeably. But he continued to watch Mycroft curiously as he climbed the rest of the way up.
The door at the top was locked and heavy. He knocked on it, partly to be sure that no one else was inside and partly to make it look like he had a legitimate reason for being there. No one answered. There was a window next to the door that could be reached by leaning slightly precariously over the stair railing. After an appropriate amount of time had passed, he leaned out and inspected the window under the guise of looking through it to see if anyone was home. He tried pulling up the bottom half. It was stiff, but with some work it slid open. He glanced furtively around, then called “Hello?” thorugh the open bottom half. It was silly to bother, really, because there was no disguising the necessary next step.
He turned to look down the stairs at his neighbour. “When I’ve got in,” he instructed, “come up quickly and I’ll open the door for you. All right?” Again, Jason nodded. Mycroft wondered briefly whether he was always this agreeable or if gratitude had rendered him incapable of contesting anything that was asked of him. He didn’t have time to wonder this for long, though, because as he climbed up onto the rail, attempting to steady himself by leaning out and placing his hands on the window sill, he suddenly found he had a number of more pressing things to wonder about. This included such important musings as was he actually limber enough to do this? How often were one-storey falls fatal? Oh god, where was he meant to put his foot now that he’d taken it off the rail? Was a three-piece suit really appropriate attire for this sort of task? Was the edge of the window actually strong enough to support all his weight like this? Would the window be large enough to crawl through? And, crucially, what on earth had possessed him to carry his umbrella at a time like this?
Seizing the umbrella with a momentarily free hand from where he’d hooked it over his arm, he tossed it back onto the steps, realizing that it would be much easier to retrieve it after he’d opened the door. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of that before he started this. Apparently this whole business had him exactly as flustered as he'd expected it might. At least after witnessing such a foolish mistake Jason would certainly believe his previous assertions that breaking into flats was not an activity in which he was well-practiced. He drew in a deep breath, trying to steady his nerves. The window was open as far as it would go, which would have to be sufficient. He had one foot on the rail still, and this steadied him, but the other was dangling precariously. He drew up his knee. It almost but not quite reached the window sill. Well, one good heave and they’d see what happened. He positioned his hands on the inside of either side of the window, then pressed his lips together with grim determination, ducked his head down and pushed off with his remaining foot while simultaneously pulling himself in toward the window with both hands.
It worked, mostly. Knowing that he had an audience he would ideally have liked to have handled the whole ordeal more gracefully. But he’d got himself most of the way in, and that certainly counted for something. One swift catch of the upper part of the window with one of his hands, a bit of wriggling as he brought his other leg up, and then all he had to do was grasp the edge of Sophie Kratides’ kitchen counter (for the window, it turned out, was in the kitchen over the sink) and pull himself in.
As for the counter dismount, luckily that was without witnesses. It was graceless but also relatively painless. He stood and quickly smoothed his clothes out a little, then reached up and closed the window. He laughed incredulously to himself. It was difficult to believe he’d just done something so ridiculous and frankly dangerous, and once he’d wrapped his head around that it was even more difficult to believe that he’d managed to pull it off without being caught or seriously hurting himself. If he was honest it was rather exhilarating, at least now that it was safely in the past.
By the time he’d undone the deadbolt and opened the door, Jason was standing on the landing expectantly, holding his umbrella. He looked rather impressed. Mycroft gave him a very sheepish smile. He entered quickly and closed the door. Mycroft cleared his throat. “Well. I had better let my brother know that we’re inside.” He smiled to himself, but as he’d turned away to send the text, Jason didn’t see.
Just a heads-up - the /9 chapter listing is a soft number. I had it planned for roughly nine but some moments have turned out to be longer than expected, thus necessitating a few more chapters. Just in case anyone is particularly numbers-conscious.
As he spent more and more of his time following Sherlock around on cases, John had become better at guessing the purpose of his flatmate’s bizarre behaviour during an investigation. When he became belligerent in order to startle people into giving up information that they had intended to keep to themselves, or knelt on the floor and sniffed like some kind of bloodhound for the scent of something whose presence he already suspected, John didn’t even bat an eye anymore. When he held his hands up in front of himself and began to scroll through an imaginary store of ideas in his ridiculous mind palace, John knew he was not to be disturbed. Although there were still things that Sherlock did that were initially surprising, John had learned to take these odd behaviours in stride, and if he gave himself a moment, he could normally come up with at least some explanation for what Sherlock might be doing.
For the life of him, however, he could not figure out what they were meant to be doing in Little Amwell. He’d been expectant at first. Even though trudging through the village like this seemed relatively pointless and Sherlock didn’t even appear to be looking at anything in particular, he’d had faith that there was a reason for this trip. But as more time passed and nothing was said to provide any insight, John began to grow doubtful. When, about ten minutes in, they stopped at a small shop – Sherlock wanted to purchase driver’s map of Hertfordshire, a map that John paid for in the end because Sherlock strode out with it, leaving the owner to look expectantly at him until he handed over the money – he thought that at least this had to signify some kind of concrete progress. But as soon as they were both out of the shop, Sherlock put the map in his pocket without looking at it. He paused for just a moment, as though considering what to do next, and then he continued on down the road in much the same manner as before.
“What I don’t understand,” John said after they’d walked around for a good twenty minutes more while Sherlock considered whatever they were here about and he tried to come up with a list of useful contributions he might make to this case, “is why we haven’t called the police. I think we should, really, or at least let Lestrade know what’s going on. A man has been kidnapped, after all,” he added when his suggestion was met with silence. “Sherlock. I think it’s actually very important that we call Lestrade.”
Sherlock paused mid-stride, and for a moment John thought that his suggestion was being seriously considered. It turned out, however, that Sherlock had simply received a text. He quickly fired off a reply, then returned the mobile to his pocket. He needn’t have bothered, as a response came seconds later. He replied again, then resumed his previous pace.
“What do you expect that Lestrade will be able to do about this?” he asked after a few more steps. His mobile sounded again but this time he read and replied to the message without breaking stride.
“I don’t know, Sherlock. But someone is in rather serious trouble and I think we have an obligation to inform the Yard. Remember how he reacted when you didn’t tell him about Jennifer Wilson’s suitcase? What do you think will happen if he finds you’ve been keeping an entire case from him?” Nothing probably, he thought. Unfortunately he hadn’t realized how ridiculous it would sound to threaten Sherlock with vague ramifications from Lestrade until he’d already said it.
“That was a case he called me in on,” Sherlock answered dismissively, still scanning the way ahead of them for some unknown thing rather than looking at John as he spoke. “He didn’t call me on this one – I got to this case without him. I am under no obligation to include him now. I only have to tell Mycroft what we find. Anyhow, we aren’t even in London. It’s none of his business.”
John shook his head, slightly amused in spite of himself by how possessive Sherlock sounded. “Melas was kidnapped in London. I think he would agree that a crime committed in London makes it the Yard’s business.” Sherlock didn’t answer so John continued. “Sherlock, a man’s life may well be at risk. I think we need to use all the resources we have. Maybe this isn’t the first case like this. Maybe there have been other interpreters before and the Yard has information that we don’t.”
“They don’t.” It was infuriating how sure of himself Sherlock could sound, the fact that he was probably right notwithstanding. John opened his mouth to reply, but shut it again as Sherlock’s mobile sounded the receipt of another text. Sherlock seemed to smirk slightly when he read it. “People look to the police the way children look to their parents,” he pontificated vaguely in John’s direction as he tapped out a response. “They expect them to have the power and the wherewithal to step in and solve problems with some kind of ineffable, superhuman knowledge of what to do. But the police are just men, and not even particularly clever men. Consulting with them will only slow us down.”
Again he seemed to have barely answered the last text before his phone sounded the receipt of another, and then another. But Sherlock had either ceased to notice the alerts from his phone or, more likely, he was deliberately ignoring these messages. He pulled the map from his pocket and unfolded it, all but disappearing behind it as he held it up in front of himself. When his phone stopped signaling the receipt of texts and began to ring instead, he pretended to be too preoccupied with the map to notice. When the phone rang out the first time and then immediately began ringing again, John briefly considered simply retrieving it from Sherlock’s coat pocket and answering the damn thing himself, but he quickly decided against this particular course of action. If Mycroft wanted to reach them for anything urgent, he had John’s number. As he was so far only attempting to contact Sherlock, John could only assume that it was part of this ridiculous power game between the brothers.
When the call rang out a second time, John cleared his throat until he was sure that he had his friend’s attention. “Sherlock, what are we doing here?”
Sherlock shrugged. “Stalling.” He glanced sideways for John’s reaction and was met with a stony expression. “Well, investigating as well,” he added in his own defense. “It’s a hub, John. Approximately half an hour’s drive from here by a tortuous path. It’s a reasonable place to start.”
John sighed. Fine. A hub, a reasonable place to start. But what about the rest? “Stalling for what?”
Sherlock flashed a profoundly self-satisfied smile. “My brother hates to do his own legwork. Who knows when I shall have another chance to compel him like this?”
John frowned, doing his best to talk himself out of becoming irritated. If they did not have time to speak to Greg Lestrade, then how was it that they possibly had time for Sherlock and Mycroft to play these ridiculous games with each other? Sherlock, noticing his expression, tsked quickly and shook his head. “We’re still here for a reason. I wanted to have a look at the roads. Surely that is a better use of my time than to follow Mycroft around and perform all the unseemly little tasks on his behalf because he has become too respectable to do them himself.” He frowned. “Mycroft has a great mind, John, a very great mind, but he wastes it on government nonsense because normally he doesn’t care to extend himself any further.” Sherlock seemed to grow rather thoughtful as he said this, but only for a moment. Then he shook his head slightly as though to clear it and continued on as if the change had never occurred.
“Tracking down the residence of Sophie Kratides is hardly a four-person job. As you are no doubt thinking even now, she and her brother are unlikely to appreciate it if we squander what time we have by moving around all together in a merry little group when there are other tasks we could be accomplishing simultaneously. Mycroft doesn’t need our help. He can find a way into the flat if he wishes, and once he’s inside he’ll know what to look for. There’s no reason for us to be there at all. He simply thinks he needs our help because he prefers to think of himself as the sort of person who is not up to housebreaking.” His phone pinged again. He barely glanced at the message before composing and sending a short answer and returning the mobile to his pocket. “But in fact he is more than capable, and while he an Melas are there, we are free to come here and see about the roads, as I mentioned.”
“The roads?” John repeated. He still wasn’t exactly convinced that their coming out here was not motivated largely by things that were outside the interests of Paul and Sophie Kratides, but Sherlock did have a point. If there really was information to be gathered in Little Amwell then they might as well take advantage of having people in two places at once.
“The roads. There aren’t many winding roads that lead to Little Amwell, all things considered,” Sherlock explained, gesturing vaguely at the map. “This one, perhaps, and possibly here. Certainly not the A10, and even the main road north can hardly be described as meandering. That’s interesting, don’t you think?”
John nodded with a dawning understanding. “So,” he ventured, “you think you can figure out where they came from based on the roads?” He did his best to keep any hint of incredulity out of his voice. He wasn’t doubtful, or at least not entirely doubtful. Mostly he was impressed. Although perhaps a small part of him wondered if this was really too little to go on even for Sherlock.
His friend shrugged. “Perhaps. Given how frightfully little we have to work with, at least until we know more about Sophie Kratides and the mysterious Mr. Latimer, it’s certainly worth considering.”
John nodded again as he thought about this. Then another thought occurred to him and his face fell. “Sherlock, you could have found a map on your phone that was just as well-suited to looking at roads as that one. Why did we have to come all the way out here?” Suddenly the story about delegating in order to use their time more effectively seemed far more difficult to swallow. Which was a shame because he would have preferred to be convinced by it.
Sherlock seemed unperturbed by this question. He raised his eyebrows. “Research into an alternative possibility.”
John sighed inwardly. There were times he wished that Sherlock would just say exactly what he meant so that he could stop asking. Even if they both knew he wasn’t as clever, he would at least be spared in this way from having to constantly reaffirm it. “What is the alternative possibility?”
“The geraniums, John,” Sherlock offered meaningfully and with relative enthusiasm as though this was meant to explain everything. John gave him a look that informed him that no, in fact, that was not enough to go on.
“Melas didn’t say much to describe the house. It was large, there were trees in the garden, and there were red geraniums along the front of the house. If they were trying to throw him off then perhaps they simply circled the village a few dozen times, varying the route slightly at each turn, then dropped him off precisely where he’d been all along. That would be clever, wouldn’t it? What would ever possess him to suspect that he ought to be leading us all back to Little Amwell? Except that we have been up and down nearly all the roads looking for the one distinguishing feature he was able to provide, and so far I have only seen one house with red geraniums out in front.”
John was duly impressed, and perhaps even a little excited by this possibility. It was a wonderfully simple plan in its way, if only they could now find the house with the geraniums. “Do you think that house–“
“No,” Sherlock answered quickly and with a hint of frustration. “No substantial trees in the garden and the house itself was too small. The house Melas was taken to had a suit of armour in the hall. You couldn’t fit something like that in a modest little cottage on the main road.”
Sherlock seemed genuinely disappointed that the answer was not Little Amwell. John was disappointed as well, but he thought it was very likely that their reasons for being disappointed were rather different. He was disappointed because it would have represented a tremendous break in the case; Sherlock, he suspected, was disappointed because he wanted the kidnappers – Wilson and Latimer – to have been that clever.
“Oh. That’s… a shame,” he concluded lamely, at a loss for anything else to say.
Sherlock made the kind of face he sometimes did when people around him were stating the obvious. “There’s still this road,” he said, turning a corner abruptly. John simply followed. There hadn’t seemed to be any particular systematic approach to their course, but Sherlock must have been keeping track. His pace seemed to quicken as they walked along, as though he was eager to find that the house with the geraniums was there after all. His phone rang again as they walked, but again he either didn’t notice it or ignored it.
They had no luck. Not on that street and not on the two remaining streets. John noticed his friend was scowling slightly as they reached the end of the last road. He seemed to consider something for a brief moment, then he shrugged. “We might as well go back.”
They took a bus back, then caught a cab from the station. As they settled into the taxi, Sherlock received another text. John couldn’t quite read it from where he was seated, but the news must have been good. Sherlock, who had been quiet and fretful only moments before, straightened himself with a new energy. For the briefest moment, John could have sworn he saw the flicker of a smile on his friend’s face. It was hard to tell, though, because a moment later Sherlock brought a hand to his mouth to stifle a soft cough. He instructed the driver to take them to 88 Crown Lane before turning to John.
“There, you see?” he said. “Mycroft can manage his own dirty work when he pleases.” His tone was almost dismissive, but something about his sudden change in mood betrayed a greater level of interest than he was admitting.
John kept his expression neutral. “Oh? Good. That’s great. And we’re joining them now?” Sherlock nodded but didn’t say anything more. He was a little surprised; Sherlock hadn’t sounded in Little Amwell as though he intended to go to Sophie Kratides’ flat. It was good, though - surely in this case four people were better than two. More people finding more data, provided they could all remain focused on the case. He stole a sideways glance at his friend. Sherlock was staring out the window with a faraway expression that revealed nothing to him. It was a posture that he maintained until they reached Crown Lane.
I have never been to Little Amwell so any inaccuracies regarding the amount of time it would take to wander around it, the relative winding of the surrounding roads or the presence of geraniums in front of people's houses are entirely my fault - please forgive them if you can.