"Hey! Ac-Tor! Give us some lines, then!"
Richard sighed inwardly as he walked towards the small group of men standing in the corridor. Two years ago he'd been absolutely terrified of entering prison, anticipating all sorts of ill-treatment and abuse. The reality had been this; a bunch of idiots showing off by pushing him around a bit but always with an eye on the warders, much like he imagined school must have been.
"To be, our not to be," he declaimed with excessive passion. "That is the question." They laughed at him, as they always did, but none of them took offence and he passed by them without further trouble.
Richard's mood was too high today for Goyes and his mates to bother him for more than a few seconds. His pace quickened as he headed towards the cafeteria, pressed into service as a makeshift auditorium. Last dress rehearsal this afternoon, then the first of the three performances. It was an almost laughably amateur production; he'd be performing to an audience of inmates, the other performers' wives and girlfriends and some of the prison staff. It didn't matter. It was acting, and better still, Shakespeare, and best still, he had the lead. He'd worked on it as hard as he was sure he ever could have on any previous professional role. His swansong, his farewell to this place. Three more weeks and he'd be out.
"Richard! Can I have a word?"
Bother. He turned round to face the prison senior welfare officer. "Of course, Lynn. But I'm on my way to our last rehearsal; if it's not urgent could we make it tomorrow?"
She seemed slightly taken aback as usual by his attempts at polite avoidance. "It's not urgent. I just want to discuss a few points about the psychiatric assessment."
"How about tomorrow morning, then?" There was no point in trying to get out of the conversation completely, much as he'd like to. Release on parole required all the set procedures to be completed. They didn't have to let him go yet if he didn't co-operate; his sentence was four years.
"That's fine. Ten o'clock." She didn't ask him if he was free. One of the things you got used to; your time was everyone else's to allocate. "Good luck for tonight. I'm looking forward to seeing it."
"Thank you." He wondered briefly what she'd make of his performance, then he reached the rehearsal and forgot her.
Richard thought of Lynn again, for some reason, as he waited for the curtain to rise that evening. Just one of the prison's endless little people, fitting the prisoners into their boxes, physically and mentally. Two years and none of them had reached quiet, co-operative Richard Brook at all. He could feel himself sliding into the play's character, disdain and malice for the people who thought to control him. As the curtains opened he started to laugh, a sound both rehearsed and genuine.
"Now," he murmured into the darkness, every word projected clear to the back of the hall,"is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this son of York."
Afterwards they'd made arrangements for the performers to see their families. Richard sat on the first row of chairs, chatting politely to the director and waiting for the signal to return to his cell. Instead the senior warder came over to speak to him.
"There's a guy from the Home Office wants to speak to you, Brook. Interview room three."
Richard got up. "What's it about?"
"Some sort of review of prison theatre, the governor said."
Richard shrugged inwardly. Another interview. At least he might be able to talk theatre at this one, although the man was probably just looking for budget cuts like everyone else from the government right now.
The man behind the table rose to his feet as Richard walked in, and Richard felt a sudden sense of dismay and dislocation. Sherlock's brother. Mycroft Holmes. What ill luck.
"Hello?" he tried, running a hand nervously over his prison-short hair.
"Good evening Mr Brook." Mycroft's face was impassive. "Congratulations. That was quite a performance."
"Thank you." It had passed in a bit of a blur to Richard but everyone had praised it. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad. "You'd like to know about the theatre group? They're very good; all volunteers. I don't think the production costs much at all."
Mycroft smiled briefly. "Budget details are available, thank you, Mr Brook."
"Please, call me Richard. So what would you like to know?"
Richard flinched at the name. "What?"
"You played Richard the Third as Jim Moriarty. Why?"
Oh God."I didn't mean... I didn't know you'd be here. I meant nothing by it, nothing about your brother. It just fit the role so well. I'm really sorry if you were offended."
"Not offended, no." Mycroft was considering him. The silence grew.
"What do you intend to do upon your release, Richard?"
"There's a theatre group in Finchley; I've got an audition. Nothing big- very little, really, but it's a professional role. After all this," he gestured vaguely at the prison walls, "I've got to start again somewhere."
"And where will you stay?"
"I think the probation service will find me a hostel place, until I get settled."
Mycroft wrinkled his nose slightly at the prospect. "I have been remarkably impressed both by your performance tonight and your earlier renditions of the character. If you will permit me, I will find some more suitable accommodation and I may be able to make one or two introductions to acquaintances on the London stage."
Richard couldn't believe what he'd just heard. "You'd do that for me? After what happened to your brother?"
"The trial proved conclusively that Sherlock's suicide was in no way your fault, Richard. I have a personal debt owing; your defence mentioned nothing of your earlier interrogation."
Richard blinked. Yes, the interrogation. Had Mycroft been involved? It hadn't been important; he'd forgotten pretty much all of the detail. "That was a matter of national security, they said. I wasn't allowed to mention it."
"And you quite correctly didn't." Mycroft pulled his unopened case towards him, stood up to leave. "I intend to repay my brother's debts in full, Mr Brook. I will see you in three weeks time." He left Richard smiling delightedly. It seemed that he had an unexpected ally, and a future considerably brighter.
The next morning Richard was in a very different meeting, and shifting uncomfortably."You're saying what? That it makes me dangerous?"
"Heavens, no!" Lynn's laugh was a little forced. "Nothing in your assessment gives that sort of cause for concern. It's just that we think you ought to consider some therapy, after your release. For your own benefit."
"I'll certainly do that, Lynn. I'm sure it's just a reaction to stress, as you said. Everybody forgets things occasionally, don't they?"
"Yes, of course." She smiled, apparently relieved. "That was all. Well done for last night, of course. You were brilliant. Very scary. It was like there was someone else completely up there."
Richard grinned. "That's what acting's all about. They come alive just long enough to speak their lines and play out their story. And Shakespeare makes it easy, of course. Richard the Third is a marvellous character to play." He stood up. "I'd better get some rest. I'm doing it all over again tonight. Thanks, Lynn."
He wasn't going to worry now about her concerns. He might have a poor memory in places but it wasn't affecting memorising his lines. In three weeks time he was starting again, and then what would the past matter, anyway?
"Spices in the top left cupboard."
"Thanks Mike." Richard pulled the box down, found the paprika. He was cooking tonight for Mycroft, a thank you dinner for everything the man had done. Jobseeker's allowance didn't stretch to meals out but at least he could cook.
His flatmates were going out for the evening. Mike was a graphic designer, Andrew a mature history student. The house in Camden was small but comfortable, the rent a bit beyond his means but Mycroft was making up the difference, until he found work. There were auditions coming up; also the other man's doing. Mycroft truly believed in his talent.
By the time the doorbell rang the food was in the oven and Richard had changed into a clean shirt and black chinos. He opened the door, smiling.
"Mycroft! Please do come in! Drink?"
"Thank you. Just a glass of water for now, if you would have no objection."
"Course." He led the way to the tiny sitting room. "Just us two tonight."
"Indeed?" That was a sharp glance. Mycroft didn't think he was making a pass at him, surely? Because really he didn't know the man that well. He was just grateful.
"The boys still be back later, of course. I meant to eat, two of us."
"And to talk. Unless you think the house may be bugged?".
Richard laughed at the deadpan joke. "Come on. The probation service don't have the budget, and I don't think anyone in the world still thinks I'm a criminal mastermind!"
Mycroft sipped at the water. "John Watson does."
Richard was instantly sober and unamused. "That's not fair. Watson's partner killed himself in front of the man. You can hardly expect the poor guy to be rational about it." He really didn't like remembering the sight of John Watson in court day after day, just watching him, all through his trial. Why couldn't he forget that along with so much else?
"You don't object to his campaign, then? It's undoubtedly libellous. Other men might sue."
"I don't really know anything about it." He'd told his solicitor eighteen months ago that he didn't want the details. He'd assumed that it had died down by now. "I don't want to get involved with Watson or anyone else from that whole mess. I've served my time and I'm moving on."
"Quite so. An audition tomorrow, I understand?"
"Coronation Street. One off character but it's a great chance- if they like you they write you in again. Unless they've killed you off, of course."
Mycroft's lips twitched at that. "Dead characters can always come back. Thus fiction is distinguished from reality."
"Except for that canoe guy."
Mycroft snorted. "Obviously faked at the time. I did drop a word in the ear of the insurance company but they chose to take no notice."
"What do you actually do for a living, Mycroft?" Richard had been wondering for some time.
The man looked straight at him, briefly. "You might say that I untangle problems for the government."
"It sounds a bit like what Sherlock wanted people to think he could do. Was that where he got the idea? From your job?"
Mycroft put down the glass. "A disturbing thought. Both you and I know exactly how far Sherlock's real capacities went."
Richard sighed. "He was a great actor, certainly. I never imagined when I met him that I'd end up... well, with people... You know."
"Accessory to murder and kidnapping." Mycroft said, dryly.
"Yes, that. I still don't really know how it happened." The blur of his memories again.
"And yet you pleaded guilty."
Richard shrugged. "People started turning up dead and obviously I hadn't tried to stop him. It's the one huge regret of my life. But I've done my punishment now, and Sherlock's gone for good. I don't really want to discuss it any more."
"Of course not. Then tell me all about this part tomorrow instead, Richard."
After that rather inauspicious start the rest of the evening went more smoothly. Mycroft really was a charming man, when you got him alone. When the evening was over Richard had a sudden impulse to ask him to stay. Way, way too early, he told himself. He knew nothing really about the man and his tastes, he'd only been out of jail a week and the dead brother was still very much between them. But he did insist that Mycroft come by for coffee one evening next week and was delighted when he agreed. He set his alarm for plenty of time to get to the audition, and curled up in his bed in his own room, in his own house. Things really were looking up at last.