Lestrade had, apparently, been getting the notes for two months before one of them was brought to his attention. He and his team had been hacking away at a triple murder in Pimlico for days—the killer had left all manner of prints on any number of surfaces but wasn’t in the system, the murder weapon had been left behind, and the three men lying in pools of their own blood bore no relation to one another or, as far as they could trace it, to the house or its owner. Lestrade was fielding phone calls every ten minutes from either his super or a particularly thorough and annoying reporter from the Mail, asking whether or not this was a serial killer, and would the populace of London be able to sleep at night, and how likely was the killer to be an immigrant? Every time his phone rang he was considering switching teams.
Which made the note a welcome diversion. Donovan brought it in on a pile of evidence reports, saying, “We’ve found the freak of the week, sir.” She tapped the note, taped inside one of their plastic evidence bags, and gave him one of her most mischievous smiles before turning on her heel and heading back to the bullpen. The note was written on the back of a takeout menu, in all caps. He was about to chuckle and pin it up with the other crank notes when–
OBVIOUS. IF HOUSE OWNED BY MAN NAMED JONES, ARREST JONES. KILLER IS HIS BROTHER. SH.
Shaky writing, for all the attention to maintaining a fairly consistent size of capital letters. The menu was for a Chinese takeout near Baker Street. Lestrade thought he might have even eaten there a few times, late at night after getting monumentally pissed.
Jones. He leafed back through his notes—the house was owned by a man named Jones, Gareth Jones, recently moved to London from Wales. On a whim, he ran Jones through the database. Jones, Gareth had a record a mile long, for assault, for robbery, for drug running. Emboldened, he flexed his fingers.
>query>>next of kin
He picked up the note and strode to his door. “Donovan!”
“Have we gotten any more of these notes?”
She looked at Anderson, that simpering git, and smirked. “Oh yeah.” Anderson pulled a drawer out and plunked down a huge file on his desk. Lestrade picked it up and went back into his office.
He put it aside, to consider later.
Later came when they had arrested Jones, Wilfred, late of Cardiff and now of Pentonville. He had come upon the three men meeting in the house his brother was renovating, planning on getting Jones, Gareth back into the game. Filled with unpleasant memories of his brother’s previous criminal activities, Wilfred had flown into a homicidal rage and killed them all with a wrench that happened to be handy.
There were, all told, some three hundred notes. Not all of them were written on proper paper. Napkins, Oyster cards, request slips from the British Library, even what looked suspiciously like the sleeve from a Savile Row suit had all been pressed into service. In two months this person had written three hundred missives to New Scotland Yard in reference to fifty different cases, open and closed. Some of them weren’t even in Lestrade’s division. Some of them were meant to be kept entirely under wraps, like the burglary at the Victoria & Albert and the murder of an Albanian diplomat in a secret brothel beneath the Tate Modern. Same handwriting. Sometimes the shakiness of the handwriting was directly proportional to the scuzziness of the paper.
It was late when Lestrade finished going through the file and cross-referencing his penfriend’s suggestions with the Yard records. Of the thirty cases that had resulted in arrests, in all but one the person arrested was the person “SH” had named. Lestrade sat back in his chair, looked out the window at the night traffic moving down the streets of London. Twenty-nine out of thirty. And SH had given them names for other cases, too, other leads.
He went back through again, looking for a proper name. He found it towards the beginning.
ASSUMING SOMEONE IN YOUR DIVISION (THAT FORENSICS MAN WITH THE HAIR OF A MAN PRE-EMPTIVELY USING ROGAINE?) HAS BINNED EARLIER NOTES. PLEASE CONTACT WHEN YOU’D LIKE TO FEEL LESS OF A FAILURE
SHERLOCK HOLMES 0778662
At first, Google was less than helpful. Eventually Lestrade turned up a blog, slickly designed, filled with random facts about the distribution of clay particles in the London water table. There was a number, the same as on the note. Going back over, Lestrade noted the times of the posts– random, irregular. Months would go by with nothing and then, in the space of four days, there would be twenty posts. Ink spots and pen identification. Correlation between public transportation usage and reaction time to gunshots. There were no comments, though the counter registered quite a few regular visitors. And then, on page 34, a post consisting of a single line:
“I wonder if a steady introduction of a 7% solution of cocaine into the water supply at New Scotland Yard would result in smarter officers or if the resulting activity would be sound & fury etc”
Hardly any punctuation. Cocaine. Jesus.
To the database.
>Place of Residence>>567C MONTAGUE PLACE WC1B London
What the hell was that?
Lestrade had been on the force upwards of twelve years. In all that time, he’d never seen an asterisk as the answer to “has this person been convicted of something before or not.” Either someone had, or someone hadn’t.
Not for the first time, Lestrade had that feeling in the pit of his stomach, usually reserved for the moment just before making a tit of himself over a woman (or, occasionally, a bloke) or before deciding on some drunken act of physical heroism. That feeling, that pit-clenched feeling, nearly always resulted in pain and mangled feelings (and, once, an arse-over-teakettle plunge down a flight of stairs at a posh women’s college.)
He looked at the clock. 11:20. Donovan and Anderson had long gone home. He wondered if Sally had been the one to preserve the note with the crack about Anderson’s hair, which really was too shiny and full to be believed. 11:30. He thought about his flat, empty while his girlfriend was in Edinburgh for a conference, the hours between getting home and that last wank before bedtime.
567C Montague Place.
Twenty-nine in thirty. Certainly worth a look.
567 Montague Place turned out to be ideal, stakeout-wise. Four flats, including the basement, and C was the top floor. The label by the buzzer said “GO AWAY” in the same shaky blocks. He thought better about pressing the button. There was an all-night café across the street, and Lestrade plunked himself down at a front table with a terrible Americano and the Times crossword, ready for a long night.
He didn’t have to wait long. At 12:56 a cab pulled up and disgorged a tall, dark-haired young man swathed in a coat that looked much too large for him. He paused on the sidewalk before taking the front steps two at a time. A minute later the light went on on the third floor, and Lestrade felt pleased he had guessed correctly. He stirred the now-cold Americano and idly considered whether he should purchase another when the girl behind the counter, sounding bored beyond all human comprehension, came up to his table.
“Sir, are you with the police, sir?”
He looked up at her, nose ring and too-tight shirt, and stammered, “Yes, yes I am.”
“There’s a phone call for you.”
“What?” He stared at her and she stared back, her face filled with the kind of contempt his niece reserved for adults who presumed to think they could speak to the young.
“On the phone, man says to get the copper at the front table to pick up.”
Lestrade looked up at the window. There was no movement behind the curtain. He followed the girl to the counter and picked up the phone as though it would bite him.
“You may as well come up. Coffee’s better up here, anyway.”
“Who is this?”
“Oh, God.” And a click, and the dial tone. He placed the phone back in the cradle and said “Thanks” to the girl who had already returned to texting and went back to his table, but instead of sitting, he looked up at the window. There was a shape behind the curtain now, a human shape. Lestrade sighed and picked up his bag, walked across the street. The door buzzed without him even pressing a button, and two flights later he was face to face with Sherlock Holmes.
Lestrade hadn’t known quite what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t this well-tailored ball of barely-restrained energy currently puttering about an appallingly untidy flat making Lestrade coffee. The records gave Sherlock Holmes’ age as 29, but the unnatural pallor of his skin and his general malnourished appearance made him look much, much younger. Judging by the cut of his suit jacket he had money but the flat was a mess, piles of books on makeshift shelves and various scientific equipment everywhere. Lestrade wondered which illustrious family this waif was a younger son of.
And then he realized that Sherlock Holmes had been speaking. Nonstop, almost since Lestrade walked in. “...I really wonder that the Yard manages to arrest anyone at all, if you’re the finest the force has to offer. A surveillance van at the very least would have been more appropriate—especially given the number of notes and their accuracy.” And then he was standing before Lestrade, a mug of coffee in his hand.
“Um, no. Thanks.”
He took the cup and looked at it, suspiciously. “Don’t worry, there’s nothing untoward in it. Just coffee.” Lestrade decided that taking a sip would go a ways towards establishing his credibility as not a moron so as he drank (really, he hadn’t been joking, this was top-hole coffee) he looked at his host, now seated in a ratty armchair across from him.
“Go on, I’m sure you have questions.” Blue eyes stared out at him out over truly ridiculous cheekbones and out from under a fringe of dark brown curls. Lestrade got the uncomfortable feeling that this man already knew everything there was to know about him.
“Ahem. Um, thank you for the coffee.”
Sherlock Holmes rolled his eyes and stood up, getting a cup for himself, which he proceeded to ignore. Lestrade was having a hard time ignoring the alarming jut of shoulderblade against fine wool, and could hear his mum’s voice tut-tutting that boy ain’t been properly fed in days, I’ll bet my wages.
“I’m not here in an official capacity, strictly speaking—”
“I already know that, Detective Sergeant.”
“—and yes, a number of your suggestions have corresponded with the existing case records.”
“How many?” Lestrade knew that look, even if it was on the face of a madman. It was the look of someone wanting desperately to be recognized as being right.
“Enough. Why didn’t you call the tip line with any of this information?” He got out his notebook and waited for a response.
“I detest waiting on hold. The notes seemed quicker.”
“Posting notes is quicker than the telephone?”
“Oh, no. Not the post. I had them sent in with your food deliveries. You really are an appallingly habitual lot. All a terrorist would need to do would be to watch the delivery door and find the right curry house to really do some damage.”
That explains the general greasiness, thought Lestrade. He wasn’t quite sure what he hoped to learn from this person, other than “how” and “why” and possibly “where are your parents?”
Just as he was about to ask his next question, the obvious and uncomfortable one–“Were you involved with any of these crimes yourself”–there came a loud beeping from the vicinity of Sherlock Holmes’ chair. He grimaced and pulled a mobile out of his pocket.
“Terribly sorry, Detective Sergeant.” He proceeded to type something, very fast, before stowing the mobile away.
“It seems I have to step out. You can wait here, if you like. I shouldn’t be more than three hours. I have to go to Shoreditch to see a man about a fire hydrant.”
And he was standing, throwing on the very dramatic coat that would look less cartoonish if he filled it out better, and was heading out the door.
“How do you know my rank?” was all Lestrade could sputter out.
“Your suit. You wear one, first of all, which means you’ve ascended past the rank at which a uniform is necessary. But you don’t wear a very good suit, which means you’re either not paid well enough to afford one or not in front of cameras often enough to merit one. So, not higher than DI. You have enough muscle in your legs to spring up two flights of stairs in under fifty-seven seconds which means you’re out in the field often enough that you get exercise but you don’t wear the work boots or orthopaedics favored by the constabularies of the world, so. Obvious. Detective Sergeant it is.”
“Holmes. Pleasure to meet you, I’m sure our paths will cross again.” And with a swirl of coat he was out the door, leaving Lestrade and his coffee alone.
It was almost 2 before Lestrade let himself into his own flat, still mostly unsure if the events of the evening were real. But there was the file and all the notes from Sherlock Holmes, and the aftertaste of really good coffee was still wafting around his mouth, and his notebook had new entries in it; “Prolonged drug use” and “Skull?”
He remembered the skull, now, sitting atop a pile of records. Bach, possibly. He passed one hand over his face, contemplated calling his girlfriend. Decided against it and went to brush his teeth.
There was a man on his sofa when he came back to the sitting room.
“If you are considering going for your sidearm, DS Lestrade, I can assure you, it is a futile gesture. Please. Sit.”
This man, long-nosed, well-trimmed and with the plummy tones of one used to speaking and being obeyed, had obviously been leafing through the file, still open on the coffee table. He looked like a sleek and well-fed otter, the buttons on his three-piece suit straining slightly under pressure from an incipient gut. There was something familiar in the way this intruder was looking at him.
Lestrade took the armchair across form the sofa, cataloguing mentally all the items in his living room that could be used as weapons.
“Breaking and entering is against the law. And I am an officer of the law. Please tell me why beating you up isn’t a viable option. Thirty seconds or less would do.”
The well-dressed intruder brushed an imaginary crumb from his lapel and stood, looking out the window.
“You spent a quarter of an hour between one A.M. and one thirty in the home of one Sherlock Holmes, DS Lestrade.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“That’s a pity, because you were seen entering and you were seen leaving. Unless you’re planning on constructing an elaborate and amnesia-based alibi, I doubt anyone would believe you.”
This man’s smile didn’t quite meet his eyes, but there was a certain twinkle about the irises, the crease of the skin around his nose that said yes, this was a man who was capable of being amused. He continued.
“Sherlock Holmes is my younger brother, D.S. Lestrade, and I’m sure you can imagine what a handful he can be. I am willing to offer a considerable sum of money to you, on a regular basis, to keep me informed on his activities with regard to the Metropolitan Police.”
“You seem to have a good handle on his movements already.” Lestrade tried to keep his voice even. Who was this ridiculous man to offer him money to spy on someone he hardly knew? “Why not just call your brother, Mr. Holmes?”
“Mycroft. Please.” Lestrade nearly rolled his eyes before remembering that this man had broken into his apartment.
“Get the fuck out of my house.” Mycroft Holmes winced as though unaccustomed to hearing rough language of any sort and raised his eyebrows at Lestrade.
“Detective Sergeant, I know already that the–missives–my brother has sent you dovetail with nearly sixty percent of the cases referenced over a two month period. I know that he sought you out at that café tonight. And I know that my brother, though he may be one of the most intelligent men currently residing in Western Europe, has a dangerous predilection for illegal substances and a disregard for his own well-being.”
He walked towards Lestrade, still seated in the armchair; looked down that imperious nose.
“My brother doesn’t like people. He doesn’t like work, he doesn’t like family, he doesn’t like food or drink. The only things he has shown an interest in in three years are drugs and sending notes to you, Detective Sergeant. Please. Consider it.”
Mycroft Holmes picked up an umbrella Lestrade hadn’t even noticed was there and opened his front door.
“I’ll be in touch. Have a good evening.”
The next morning Lestrade managed to get up early and arrived at work before any of his team had shown their faces. He found Superintendent Bell in his office, going through his voicemail.
"Can I have a moment, sir?" The file was heavy under his arm.
"Come on in." Bell didn't raise an eyebrow when Lestrade closed the door behind him and out the file down on he desk. He continued with his impassive stare as Lestrade recounted the events of the previous day. His face only betrayed interest when Lestrade told him how accurate all of Holmes’ predictions were. When he was done Bell sat back and pursed his lips. Lestrade liked his boss; he had to be upwards of sixty but showed no sign of slowing down. He was careful, fair, and a determined fan of the Tottenham Hotspurs, not that anyone held it against him.
"Have we ruled out the possibility that this Good Samaritan was involved in any of these cases?"
"I've gone through it and can't see how he could have been."
"Hmm." He picked up one of the notes from the file and held it up, peering through his bifocals. It was written on very nice stationery. (JEWELS LEFT ENGLAND THREE WEEKS AGO YOU'LL NEVER RECOVER THEM NOW. DO YOU ENJOY THE TASTE OF FAILURE? CALL ME. SH) There were several of those in the pile, all insults and commands to get in touch.
"What are you proposing?"
"Pick a case, from one of the ones he didn't write about. A cold one. See what he says."
"And if he gives a solution?"
"Follow up with real police work. See if he's right."
Bell closed the file, drummed his fingers on its side contemplatively. "Lestrade, what are you hoping to get out of this? Putting aside the financial improbability of the Met hiring an outside consultant, it doesn't exactly look good for us if we're turning to note-writing psychopaths to deal with our unsolved cases."
"I wasn't saying we pay him. I'm saying we use him. There's something there, sir. I can tell in my gut."
Bell’s expression over the rim of his glasses was impossible to read. "At the moment, my answer is no." Lestrade deflated.
"At the moment, Lestrade. You need to find out more about this man. I am particularly interested in the anomalous asterisk where his priors should be. Get me a profile by the end of the week, and we'll take it up again on Monday. OK?"
He slid the file towards Lestrade, who nodded and made his exit.
That evening after his team had left—he didn’t feel comfortable discussing this with them, especially after the quizzical and slightly disdainful look Sally had given the file on his desk—Lestrade turned to the Met database and Google to fill in the gaps of his knowledge of the Holmes brothers. He sat up an hour later, frustrated to the point of forcible hair removal. Besides minor listings in the attendance logs of minor international conferences—on climate change, on energy security, on the trading price of tea, of all things—Mycroft Holmes was a ghost, noticeable only by his absence. His official records were practically nonexistent. Apart from the record of his birth (four years before Lestrade, in Essex, parents deceased, son of an Earl, which, he supposed, would make him Sir Mycroft, God help him) there was nothing that could be of any help to Lestrade. The absence where there should be a presence, evidence of a normal British life, only demonstrated that Mycroft Holmes was someone very, very important, much further up the food chain than Lestrade could imagine. High enough that he could expunge his wayward younger brother’s criminal record, though patriotic or law-abiding enough to let evidence that there was a record to expunge remain.
Before he completely ripped his hair out Lestrade ran the search on Sherlock Holmes again. Google turned up an article from the Trinity College, Cambridge student newspaper from four years earlier, detailing an explosion in one of the rooms that drove a porter to press charges against a student, one S. Holmes, though no other details were given. His record in the Met database offered no new information, that same asterisk a slight to Lestrade’s sense of honor. Who was this drugged up Cambridge toff, that he got his eerie older brother to clear away his past mistakes?
He thought of the untidy flat, the older Holmes’ seeming unwillingness to dirty his hands with his younger brother’s affairs. Unlikely that the records purge had been at Sherlock’s request.
In the elevator, after putting the file to rest in his desk, Lestrade’s mobile chirped in his pocket. He didn’t recognize the number as he picked up.
“I hope you’re aware of how easy it is to obtain the personal mobile numbers of the officers of the Metropolitan Police.” Holmes the younger, his voice breezy and precise in Lestrade’s ear.
“Holmes, how did you—”
“Trivia. We weren’t able to finish our discussion last night.”
“I wasn’t aware there was anything to discuss.”
“Let’s not pretend that this isn’t the most fun you’ve had at your job in months. Meet you in an hour, at the Volunteer near Regent’s Park.”
Before Lestrade could object, Sherlock rang off. “Damn.” Lestrade put his mobile back in his pocket.
“Bad news?” It was Donovan, in her coat and catching the elevator with him.
“Yeah, you could say that. Where you off to?”
“Down the pub with Anderson. Join us?”
“Nah, got to meet someone.” Sally raised her eyebrows.
“Hope she’s pretty. See you later!” She called over her shoulder as the doors disgorged them into the lobby. Lestrade hung back, watched Donovan catch up to Anderson. His hair really did look improbable. Lestrade sighed and walked out into the crisp London evening, bound for Regent’s Park.
The Volunteer was a fairly touristy pub just off Regent’s Park, packed with French families warily watching their belongings. Lestrade found Sherlock sitting at a table near the back, texting as though his life depended on it. (Odd that he had begun thinking of him as Sherlock and not Holmes). The circles under his eyes were lavender bruises, and he looked up at Lestrade’s approach.
“Ah, Lestrade. What are you having? Lager, I imagine.”
“Yeah.” Holmes signaled the barman and a pint appeared before him, as if by magic. Holmes was nursing what looked suspiciously like water.
Why meet in a pub if he wasn’t going to drink? Lestrade remembered the older Holmes’ warnings about Sherlock’s personal habits.
“I met your brother after I left last night.”
Shutters descended on Sherlock’s face, and his eyes became instantly unreadable. “How much did he offer you? To spy on me?”
“We didn’t discuss particulars. I told him to call you if he was so concerned about your well-being.”
“It isn’t my well-being he’s concerned for.”
“Certainly sounded like it.”
“My brother is an officious, overbearing, micromanaging megalomaniac with a paranoid secrecy complex.”
“Who seems to be very concerned about the general state of your health. I’ve known you a day and a half and I can’t say I blame him.”
Sherlock laughed, a sharp bark over as soon as it began. He chugged his drink and signaled for another.
“What I do with my personal time is not my brother’s business. He should confine himself to the acquisition of state secrets and leave me the fuck alone.”
Lestrade grinned, in spite of himself. “What? What’s so funny?” Sherlock looked both confused and offended.
“I thought he was government, it’s nice to know I was right.”
That laugh again, the quick drain of the glass. “Ah, yes, but which government? My brother has never felt the need to specialize.”
“He has done rather a nice job with your permanent record.”
“What.” The icy tone was unmistakable- Lestrade had the uncomfortable feeling of being right again, that Sherlock didn’t know that his older brother was protecting him, though he was sure that wasn’t how he saw it.
“You think I’d have sat outside your flat with a coffee if I had actually seen your criminal record? How many times you been arrested, Sherlock?” Lestrade kept going, even as Sherlock looked away, anywhere but at Lestrade’s face. “I bet you’ve been traipsing all over this city in the course of gathering all the information you’ve seen fit to bestow on the Yard. I bet you haven’t always found the police as sympathetic as I am.”
“You don’t know—you don’t know the first thing.”
“I bet that if your brother ever saw fit to unlock your record I’d find a number of drug-related arrests. He could probably have kept you from being convicted but I’m sure it wouldn’t have stopped the cops from picking you up—”
Abruptly Sherlock rolled his eyes and stood up. “This tiresome attitude towards recreational drug use is at best pedantic and at worst infringes on the basic right to live as one wishes. If my habits are anathema to you, Lestrade, it’s certainly not anything I can help. Now, if you ever feel like being less of a prude, you have my mobile and you certainly know where to find me.”
With that, he left Lestrade alone at the table. To satisfy his own curiosity, he picked up Sherlock’s glass and gave it a cursory sniff.
“Gin and water.” The barman appeared abruptly at his elbow.
He pointed at the glass. “Gin and water. He’d had four before you arrived. Said you was good for the tab. Hope he was telling the truth.” Lestrade sighed and handed over the last of his cash.
He arrived home an hour later, having stopped off at the Tesco for a great deal of wine and the makings of pasta. He planned on getting quite drunk and then watching telly until he passed out. Instead, when he passed his building, a sleek Jaguar with government plates was idling outside, and upstairs, Mycroft Holmes was fastidiously inspecting his record collection.
“Do civil servants not believe in telephones anymore? Or doorbells? I have working models of both on my person and in this flat right this bloody moment.” Lestrade couldn’t stop his voice from becoming a petulant shout.
“Ah, Detective Sergeant Lestrade. I’m glad I was able to catch you at a more reasonable hour,” Holmes said smoothly, as though Lestrade had just given him a friendly greeting and a warm welcome into his home.
Lestrade hung his head momentarily, then proceeded to the kitchen and began unloading his groceries with as much dignity as he could muster.
“And how is my brother this evening? I can see that his sparkling personality is having its usual effect.”
Lestrade chose not to answer, and instead concentrated on bringing water to a boil and starting in on his first bottle of red.
“Mr. Holmes, if I’m going to be your sniffer dog I’ll need access to his files.” Mycroft Holmes looked taken aback. “I don’t see how that would help.” Lestrade took another long pull of alcohol. The older Holmes was wearing another prize of a suit, three piece and expensive, a kind of sartorial rebuke to the world at large. The entirely superfluous umbrella was casually draped over one arm.
“Here’s how this is going to work. I will continue speaking to your younger brother and, where possible, I will refrain from hitting him in the face when he is annoying. If and when there is information I feel square with sharing, I will do so, but I will accept no funds from you of any kind. And I want his file. His whole file, unexpurgated. And yours, too, if you are feeling in a generous frame of mind.” His speech had begun before he even realized that he was agreeing to this— whatever this proposition was. Lestrade felt the way he did the one time he’d gotten lost while traveling, on back roads in the south of Spain, unmarked lane after byway passing as the open sky baked the countryside to a bright crisp. And why on earth had he asked for Mycroft’s file?
“I can provide you with access to certain of my brother’s records that may have a bearing on your interactions with him, but by no means will I open the book of his life to you. Or to mine, when it comes to that. I am sure this answer does not come as a surprise.”
Lestrade passed one hand over his face as if trying to wipe the memory of the last two days away.
“Send the file to me at the Yard, let me know how to get in touch with you. And don’t come to my bloody flat again unless I’ve invited you.”
Mycroft raised both his eyebrows and smiled, and it seemed to Lestrade that the smile actually went a ways towards being genuine this time. Genuinely frightening, that is. He picked up a briefcase Lestrade hadn’t even noticed and pulled a manila envelope out, placed it on the kitchen table.
“Happy reading. I trust you will not share this information with your colleagues at the Yard. Even Detective Superintendent Bell.”
Lestrade gaped at Mycroft Holmes as he walked out of Lestrade’s flat, down the stairs. He heard the purr of the Jaguar coming to life and choked down another glass of wine. He’d have a hangover in the morning. He hoped the reading material would make it worthwhile.
The next evening—Thursday, it was, and his report due to Bell in less than 24 hours—Lestrade found himself on the steps of the Montague Street flat, waiting for Sherlock Holmes. The file Mycroft had given him sat inside his bag, and he’d stayed up the better part of the night reading it. His head was still pounding with the remnants of his hangover. Still, he’d read it, and he hoped that this evening’s meeting would leave him on a slightly more equitable footing.
Sherlock appeared before him in a cloud of fabric, silent and wary, and Lestrade pulled back at the sight of an ugly bruise on his left eye.
“Oi, what’s this?” Lestrade couldn’t help pointing, like some kind of injury tourist.
“Shut up.” Sherlock pushed past Lestrade on the stoop and took the stairs two at a time, Lestrade right behind. The flat looked the same as it had on the previous visit, only this time, the skull had been upended and was being used as a receptacle for what looked like socks. Lestrade gingerly moved a pile of books out of the way and sat down on the couch as Sherlock strode around, mumbling about tea under his breath.
“Your brother has seen fit to release some of your files, Sherlock.” Lestrade winced as he heard china breaking in the kitchen.
“My” —crash— “brother” —crunch— “can go fuck himself, quite frankly.” He reappeared in the sitting room with two cups of tea and a fresh cut on his hand, possibly china-induced. Lestrade accepted the caffeine gratefully, and hoped it would help his headache.
“And did you learn anything useful about me from my files, Detective Sergeant?” Trust this madman to use his title like an insult.
“Not particularly.” That part was certainly true. The charges enumerated therein had been much as Lestrade had expected; three arrests for interference with a police officer, two for tampering with evidence in the course of an investigation, and six for possession of a controlled substance. The drug charges alone should have been enough to send him away for a good number of years but evidently the younger Holmes had more people in his corner than just his scary relative. The notes appended to each arrest were, in some case, practically apologetic about the necessity of arresting him at all—invariably Sherlock had been discovered with drugs on his person at a crime scene, attempting to “help” the supervisory officer. Idiot.
“I’d like to ask you a few questions about this habit of yours, if I may.” Holmes rolled his eyes and blew on his tea, as if to say ‘Go on, if you must.’
“How would you characterize the frequency of your usage? Daily? Weekly?” Lestrade had his notebook out, now, though he doubted he’d be able to concentrate enough to write anything down. A great deal depended on how this interview went, and he had the awful feeling that he was already bollocksing it up.
“Tedious. Humans are known to turn to activities generally considered dangerous or illicit as a result of a variety of situational stimuli. Why should I be any different? When there isn’t anything interesting on, or as an avenue of inquiry, or when I’ve been in a row with–” he cut himself off, either bored or wary or both, and resumed blowing on his tea. “I find it calming, more often than not.”
Lestrade raised his eyebrows in skepticism. “Calming? You don’t seem to go in for opiates. Your arrests were for a wide array of uppers—cocaine, methamphetamine—Christ, even PCP.”
“That was research.”
“I can imagine the published work that particular experiment must have produced.”
“Next question, for God’s sake.”
“You haven’t answered the first.”
He scoffed. “I don’t know, how often do you drink coffee?”
Lestrade considered. “Four or five a day.”
“Well, you drink coffee, and I take a 7% cocaine solution. We all have our little helpers.”
“Four or five times a day? Christ, Sherlock!”
“Oh, shut up! It helps me think.”
“How can snorting coke–”
“I do not snort cocaine, thank you, I’m neither a coed nor a stockbroker.”
“How do you take it, then?”
Lestrade put both hands over his face, out of words. Unbidden, a memory surfaced of his mother’s brother, his Uncle Howard, twitchy and sallow, wincing every time the curtains opened at Christmas dinner. He remembered the track marks and the origami Howard had constructed out of old lottery tickets, and at that moment he wanted nothing more than to punch Sherlock Holmes until he saw reason or God or both. “Please help me understand you before I have you sectioned.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes and set his tea down. “On average, a human at full intellectual tilt uses only ten percent of their brain’s analytical and reasoning power. Mine at rest is at least twenty to twenty-five percent active, and before you ask, yes, I’ve run tests. Cocaine has the opposite effect on my brain than on most poeple’s. It keeps me from completely running myself off the tracks when I’m bored.”
“And how often is that?”
“Practically always. This line of questioning is already driving me to consider slightly increasing my normal dose.”
“Not on my account, please.”
“Give me something to do, then. I can’t keep cadging information on interesting cases out of trainee officers in pubs. They’re starting to know me. I’m starting to run out of trainees.”
He looked dismayed at the thought of more nights of interrogating the Sergeant Donovans and Constable Parkers of the world. Try as he might, Lestrade was sure the look on his face was one of blockheaded confusion.
“So you want to work for the Yard–”
“I want to consult for the Yard, good Lord, do I look like I yearn for fallen arches and a government pension?”
“–because you’re often bored, and when you’re bored, you turn to Class A narcotics? Am I understanding this correctly?”
Sherlock looked at Lestrade like he’d suddenly begun reciting poetry, like he was going round declaring his love for post boxes or bits of wood.
Lestrade fastened up his notebook as he attempted to organize his thoughts, seesawing between feeling that the past few days had been a massive waste of time and the desire to save one, just one, of the selfish junkie arseholes that had paraded through his life since Uncle Howard had died in a tip in Camden the year Lestrade had graduated uni. He didn’t have the words– or the intimacy with this still-strange man– to elucidate for him the path he was heading down. Sherlock Holmes might believe that he was exempt from the basic facts of chemistry, of dependence, but Lestrade knew better.
“Listen, Sherlock, I know you’re smarter than me, and I know I could use your skills, and all– God knows we’ve got a bunch of weird unsolved cases down at the Yard–”
“Marvelous! When do I start?” Sherlock visibly brightened.
“I’m not finished!” Lestrade practically shouted. God. I sound like Mum. A chastened Sherlock sat back and drank tea, staring at Lestrade in sullen, resentful silence.
“You cannot work for me high. You cannot consult for the Yard with drugs in your system. This is not a point of negotiation. This is not optional.”
Sherlock practically slammed his mug down. “You cannot restrict my personal affairs—”
“You sign up to work with cops you have to play by cop rules, you great berk. Want to tell me where you got that massive shiner on your face, then?”
Sherlock actually had the gall to look abashed. “I had a difference of opinion vis a vis pricing.” And then, begrudgingly– “With my supplier.”
Clarity dawned. “Ah, run out of money, have we? Let me guess, you got cut off from your trust fund? That’s why you seem so motivated to procure freelance employment with the Yard– you need cash.”
Sherlock stood as Lestrade made this pronouncement, and Lestrade could tell he was right by how massively irritated Sherlock looked. He snatched Lestrade’s cup of tea practically out of Lestrade’s hand and went to the kitchen. Lestrade didn’t know boiling water could sound cross.
“It is infuriating to me that a man of your position has such a provincial moral worldview–”
“I’m a policeman, Sherlock. What worldview would you suggest I take? No, wait, don’t answer that.”
“You should accept–”
“I shouldn’t accept, Sherlock.” Lestrade stood, batting aside the proffered tea. “You take drugs because you’re bored. You want cases because you’re bored. You can have either cases from me or drugs. You have to choose.”
Lestrade picked up his bag and began leaving the flat, attaining the landing before Holmes caught up with him.
“You tell my brother that I won’t be bullied.”
“I’ll tell him nothing of the kind. I’m not your messenger and I’m not his, either.”
“Oh, aren’t you? Taking his files and coming to my flat and paying attention to his warnings about my sanity. I bet you even agreed to inform on me, although judging by your shirt cuffs you foolishly insist on refusing payment.”
“You invited me to your flat, you boffin, with your hundreds of notes and your stupid insights into my cases. And if your brother is offering me the information I need to make decisions, how am I supposed to turn him down when you’ve given me fuck all?” Lestrade shouted. Sherlock looked mutinous and if he didn't un-bollocks this situation, Lestrade was going to lose whatever–whatever this was. This man would kick him out of his flat and the next time Lestrade saw him he would be in a tip, dead.
Lestrade sighed. "How much?"
"How much do you owe?"
Sherlock stared at Lestrade. Can he really not know what I'm asking him? thought Lestrade as he sat his bag down. "Your dealer. How much do you owe him?"
"None of your business." The spite in his voice was tempered by something else, something Lestrade couldn't quite identify.
"It is if you’re going to be working with me. You can't be coming in high and in hock, ok?"
"So I've got the job?" Hope. And shame, too, fluttering around the edges of Sherlock's voice.
"You've got a trial run, Monday at the Yard at 11:30. In the meantime you pay off your dealer and begin embracing sobriety in whatever way you like. Now. How much do you owe?"
Sherlock stood, paced the room a little bit. "Five hundred."
Relief that it wasn't more made Lestrade’s hands shake as he worked his wallet out of his pocket. He'd gone to the bank earlier, withdrawn from his savings, cursing himself the whole way through and wondered just what it was he was doing.
"Here." he held out the stack of twenty pound notes and as Sherlock moved forward to take them Lestrade grabbed him by the wrist.
"Now you listen to me, Sherlock Holmes. I'm giving you this money with the understanding that you will do your damnedest, right?" he hoped he didn't need to elaborate. He was buying Sherlock's life from him, plain and simple, and if Sherlock did something to endanger himself, well, then Lestrade was going to collect. Just how he wasn't certain.
"11:30. Be on time, yeah? And the extra twenty is for you to get yourself some food. Fainting is frowned upon at New Scotland Yard."
He released the bills, hoping he hadn't overstepped his bounds. Sherlock looked down on them as though they would bite him and when he looked up, Lestrade couldn't read his expression at all.
"Thank you." The words seemed to be pulled out of him, some deep place Sherlock rarely visited.
"Don't make me regret it."
Where other junkies Lestrade had met and (ham-handedly) tried to help would say "Of course sir" or "You won't regret it" or "I'll never touch the stuff again, you have my word, beginning of the rest of my life," Sherlock Holmes just stood there, the money to pay off his dealer in his hands, looking very apart from the world that Lestrade moved around in.
"Well. I should go take care of this, then." Lestrade took that as his cue and picked up his bag.
"See you Monday?" He held out his hand, which Sherlock stared at and deliberately wouldn't take. Lestrade put it back down, aware that he had just been insulted.
"Monday." He didn't move when Lestrade left, or appear to have moved when he looked up at the window and saw Sherlock's form against the curtains, looking down at Lestrade's cash in his hands.
And when Lestrade got home, there was that idiotic Jaguar, only it was pulling away from his flat, and when he got upstairs there was no interfering, housebreaking, suit-clad Holmes sneering down his aristocratic nose waiting for him. There was only a cream-colored envelope on the mantel and a check, for ten. thousand. pounds.
Lestrade thought he was going to be ill.
He remembered striking the deal with Mycroft, and he specifically remembered clarifying that no money would be changing hands. So he took the check and he put it back in the envelope and read the note it came with– My thanks, DS Lestrade, for all your assistance in this matter – and put it into the inside pocket of his bag, where he fully intended to keep it until Mycroft Holmes popped up again.
He had no doubt it would be soon.
The next morning he went in and gave his report to Superintendent Bell–told him that Sherlock Holmes, though undoubtedly an unstable and possibly unreliable person in general, if given the right motivation, could be an undeniable asset to the Yard. He outlined his plan for DI Bell and hoped, hoped hoped that the man would acquiesce, mostly owing to the fact that Lestrade had already counted on Bell doing so. Bell mostly sat and rubbed his arm throughout the conversation, silently reading along with the report and occasionally giving Lestrade that look through his glasses that said kindly get on with it I haven’t got all day.
When Lestrade was done, when he’d given his final salvo– Sherlock Holmes has the makings of a great man, and if we’re lucky, we might even help turn him into a good one– DI Bell was looking at him as though he’d suggested the Yard wear crimson uniforms and Elizabethan ruffs.
“Well, what do you think, sir?” Lestrade added, to fill the silence stretching out between them.
“I think it is an absolutely ridiculous plan, Lestrade, and I wonder about your sanity and sobriety that you are suggesting it to me now in any state of seriousness.”
“Sir, I know it’s unorthodox–”
“This man is a substance abuser and a criminal. And you ask me if I’ll give him free rein over the records of the Yard? Lestrade, have you lost your goddamn mind?” Bell stood, and leaned over the desk.
“I thought you were mad when you came in here with this ridiculous story and this file full of bullshit but I can see now that you’ve just allowed yourself to become–” –wince– “convinced–” here Bell clutched his chest, wheezing with every breath– “by a madman.” And Lestrade was on his feet, dialing 999 with all his might.
The doctors said Bell would make it, but that he wouldn’t ever come back to the Force. His wife found Lestrade in the waiting room, and with tears in her eyes thanked him for saving her husband’s life. “I just dialed for the doctors, Mrs. Bell,” Lestrade found himself saying as he held her hand in his, skin paper-thin under his fingertips.
He went back to the Yard and found his report on Bell’s desk, still awaiting signature for approval. Summoning his courage– or cowardice, as it could more rightly be termed– he tried to remember every swoop of his superintendent's handwriting as he scrawled on the cover page—
“APPROVED FOR TEMPORARY EVALUATION SPR. BELL”
With the door closed Lestrade date-stamped the cover sheet, then dropped the whole thing on Donovan’s desk. It would buy him some time.
He hoped, hoped against hope, that Sherlock Holmes would come through.
When Monday came, Holmes was late. Thirty minutes late, as it happened, and though Lestrade had planned on him not arriving on time, the sight of a jumpy, impossibly fair-skinned figure striding through the bullpen towards him was a surprise.
Donovan was escorting him, and from the determined and angry set of her mouth she had just been told something that didn’t sit well with her.
“Is this yours, sir?” she said, indicating Holmes, who seemed not to know quite where to stand. Sherlock looked very, very pale, and thin, and when he thought Lestrade wasn’t looking darted nervous looks at the precise location of each CCTV in the office. The bruise on his face had faded to a lurid yellow, and his hands, though not quite shaking, seemed clamped to the pockets of his coat.
“Yeah, Donovan. Thanks.”
He held the door of his office open and closed it behind Sherlock as he entered, leaving Sally to gape after him in a not entirely charitable expression.
“What did you say to her?”
“Only that the rate of genital herpes in males ages 35-42 only increases as the population ages, and that if she is going to continue performing fellatio on her coworkers, she might as well use protection.”
“She called me a freak.”
“I’m amazed she didn’t say worse.” Somehow that wasn’t the right response, and Sherlock rose from his seat, began pacing back and forth.
“I’ve spent an extremely tedious weekend without stimulus in order to be ready for the enthrallments you have no doubt prepared for me, so let’s get on with it.”
Lestrade held back on his assertions that this is what you’ve been begging for and you ungrateful sod and plunked the case file he’d prepared down on the table, with more force than he customarily used.
“There you go.”
“What is this?” Sherlock eyed the file with distaste, but under the scorn that laser vision was locking into focus, an imaginary grid, snapping into place.
“It’s a case file. You’ve been begging me to see one via curry mash note for months.”
“What’s the case?”
“Robbery / homicide. Pensioner dead in his flat, no signs of how the killer got in, his safe open, valuables missing.”
“What were the valuables?”
Sherlock focused the full force of his attention on Lestrade. “Gold.”
“Yup. According to his lawyer, Mr. Christie had thirty thousand pounds worth of gold in that safe, and it’s missing.”
For the next ten minutes, Sherlock didn’t speak. Lestrade busied himself with paperwork but out of the corner of his eye, he watched Sherlock, who had commandeered parts of the floor and laid out the crime scene photos side by side, forming a panorama of the scene that even Lestrade hadn’t been able to piece together. He crouched in the center of it, looking over every photo, scanning the report only twice.
Finally, he stood, sighed, looked at Lestrade as though he’d proved a disappointment.
“That you consider this to be an adequate use of my talents.”
Lestrade laughed. “And have you solved it, then?” Lestrade, of course, had his own theories about the case—a feeling, as the saying goes, about who was guilty and why and even (he was sure, but couldn’t prove it) how.
“Of course I’ve solved it. Any fool could have solved it, had he eyes in his head and the brains to utilize them. Victim eighty five to ninety-five years old; given the level of muscle deterioration and the cartilage growth rate around his ears and nose I’d put it closer to ninety, but let’s give the range to be safe. Military man, judging by the state of the flat pre-robbery–hospital corners on the blanket on the sofa, for God’s sake, and the magazines arranged on the coffee table. The killer knew him, knew his habits, knew the way the door would click close behind him and lock from the inside. I’d say a lover judging by the positioning of the body.”
“Lover?” Lestrade asked, incredulous. There was a manic gleam in Sherlock’s eyes, now, as he warmed to his subject. He walked around the photos as though he were walking a crime scene, drawing Lestrade’s attention here and there as he took him through the crime.
“Look– the victim is positioned on his back, obviously laid down carefully, almost tenderly, with his body weight distributed evenly on the carpet. The signs of struggle are only from the waist down, showing that he was killed in a seated position, like so. A very unusual position for a man of his advanced age to be in, and that suggests an extremely limited number of scenarios, the most likely of which is he had a lover who was straddling his thighs. And for an elderly man with a weak heart–pacemaker installed, not more than ten years old, so it had been in good condition before he turned seventy five or eighty–a position like that means drugs, and drugs mean a younger woman. So. You’re looking for a younger woman in the employ of his lawyer who has suddenly changed her eating habits–she’ll be about five seven, slightly plump, wearing a size eight shoe.”
“How’d she do it?”
Sherlock rolled his eyes at Lestrade. “It must be awful not being me. She comes to see her older lover, obvious. She makes sure the secondary lock is engaged so that it locks behind her after she’s done. She does something alluring to get him into the position where he is seated on the floor; he takes his medicine for the evening, presumably to facilitate coitus, only there’s something wrong with the medicine, something is blocking his airways, and she holds him down and prevents him from calling for help.”
Sherlock looked back down at the photos.
“She most likely held him to her bosom, specifically to the gap between her breasts, as a method of depriving him of oxygen as the poison did its work.”
“Oh, yes. A small amount of digitalis introduced into Viagra capsules would, over time, increase the effect of the medication, and if a slightly larger amount were introduced at one time, the effects would be almost instantaneous. And, given the results of the drug, very hard to trace. There would have been traces of makeup and perfume on his face when she’d done.”
Lestrade grimaced at this mental image, of poor Mr. Christie with bronzer on his face, which in the photos in his flat looked bright and kind. “And the gold?”
“Oh, that. Sold, most likely in Paris. She probably didn’t get a very good price for it, but then she still has some left. And the lawyer most likely didn’t know what his employee did. Or if he had his suspicions, he didn’t let on.”
Lestrade looked at the photos radiating out from where Sherlock was standing, felt the confirmation of all he’d suspected click into place with a satisfying whisper. He’d known there was something off about that lawyer’s secretary, too apologetic and well-fed by half, and now, now he had proof. Of a sort.
“Do you see anything here that will hold up in court? Anything that can be used as proof?”
Sherlock scoffed. “Proof. What do you need proof for?” And looked again at Lestrade as though he were some alien thing.
“For justice, Sherlock.” He saw the younger man’s shoulders round out a bit as he returned to contemplating the photos.
“Well bless your heart, Detective Sergeant, I do believe you have a streak of sentiment about your person.”
“I’m a policeman, Sherlock, it’s kind of my thing.”
“Well, I can’t give you proof from photographs. Can I see the crime scene?”
It had been two weeks since Mr. Christie’s death and Lestrade had ordered the flat kept cordoned off, so theoretically everything should be the same.
“We can. But first things first.”
He opened up his desk, pulled out the plastic canister, held it out to Sherlock.
“What is that?”
“You’ve been arrested for drugs six times, I’m fairly certain you can figure out what this is.”
Those pale eyes narrowed at Lestrade. “You want me to submit to drugs testing?”
“Do I look like an idiot?”
“I said I wanted you clean and I meant it. You’ve seen the file, and you’ve confirmed one or two things I thought myself—”
“—unlikely you came to any of those conclusions on your own, you flat-footed prematurely grey idiotic excuse for a public servant—”
“—and as you’re in my field, you play by my rules. So. To the toilet with you. If all is as it should be tomorrow I’ll take you to see dear Mr. Christie’s flat.”
“And if it isn’t?”
Lestrade stepped up close, got a good look at Sherlock’s face. Pale, clammy, blood vessels inflamed around the eyes and–
Pupils like pinpricks, a grain of sand in a pale sea.
“You’re high right now, aren’t you?”
Sherlock snatched the sample jar from Lestrade’s hand and strode out of the office.
Twenty minutes later Lestrade checked the loo–the jar was there, empty, and the window open, and Sherlock Holmes nowhere to be found.
The next morning Lestrade found himself at his desk earlier than usual. His girlfriend had come home from her conference and promptly broken up with him, and she was at that very moment moving her things out of his flat. He had been staring at his computer screen for twenty minutes without registering the words and his coffee (horrible, institutional, disgusting styrofoam cups and powdered creamer) had gone cold on his desk.
He was startled out of his own brain by the clearing of a voice at his doorway. Sherlock Holmes stood at the threshold, shiner replaced by a split lip. “You should get a hobby.” Lestrade said, gesturing at Holmes’ face. “Something other than getting your face cracked open every few days.”
“Why do you think I’m here?”
Lestrade sighed, waved him in. He took one of the seats across Lestrade’s desk, took in the photos and the piles of papers. “She was cheating on you, at any rate. It’s probably for the best.”
His only response was to gape. “Come again?”
“Your girlfriend. She left you last night. You’re here earlier than you usually are— your team hasn’t even arrived yet, and you’re staring at your computer, specifically, at a spot on your computer that, until recently, held a polaroid photo affixed with tape to the monitor. Obvious.”
Lestrade hung his head, passed one hand over his face as though the action could erase the feelings of irritation and begrudging agreement. “Yeah, thanks for being so tactful and understanding.”
“You’re welcome.” Sherlock was looking around the office, checking the locations of the cameras again– and was Lestrade going mad, or did one of them move, infinitesimally? He put it out of his mind and returned to the problem at hand.
“You ready to be a grownup?”
“I’m here to renegotiate our agreement.”
“Our agreement is two days old and you already broke it.”
Holmes rolled his eyes. Lestrade had the brief realization that, for Sherlock, having to explain himself was a burden he shouldered every time he spoke to another human being. How many people understood what he was saying at first blush? How many people just dismissed him as mad or odd or autistic or all of the above?
“What about our agreement do you want to renegotiate?” Lestrade asked, relenting. He took a sip of coffee before remembering how cold it had gotten and made a face.
“I’ll submit to drugs testing, provided that when there are interesting cases, I can have access to the crime scene right away instead of having to see the files later.”
“Sherlock, I can’t–”
“You can, and you know it. Deputize me. Swear me in as a freelance advisor. A consultant, if you will.”
“I won’t get clearance for this, Sherlock. I do have superiors, you know.”
“Please, Lestrade.” As he said this he was looking carefully at the nameplate on Lestrade’s desk, the one he got when he made detective. DET. G. LESTRADE. His ex had had it made up special, just before leaving him for a burly football coach. Lestrade weighed it in his mind, thought of the paperwork he’d forged, the lies he’d have to tell. He thought of the mountains of cold cases, the murderers he could put behind bars. The families to whom he could deliver answers, if only Sherlock Holmes were on his side and cooperating. He sighed.
“You test every day you’re working with me, and every day you’re not you go to Bart’s and submit samples for testing there.” Sherlock could barely restrain a grin and leapt out of the chair, holding his hand out. “Reporting for duty, sir.” Lestrade handed over a sample jar, and Sherlock took it, swooping out of the room in a swirl of coat. Donovan appeared at his door, a look of confusion and anger on her face.
“Sir, will you please explain what’s going on?”
She crossed her arms and looked mutinous.
“We’re taking him on as a consultant on a freelance basis.”
“What the fuck? With respect, sir, of course.” Her exclamation brought Anderson, that twat, along with Dimmock, sailing into his office.
“What’s going on?” Anderson asked.
“DS Lestrade has gone and hired that freak that writes us notes as a consultant.”
Over the chorus of “whats?” that engulfed his office Lestrade tried to make himself heard. “We’re not paying him, if that’s what you’re worried about, look he’s been right about a lot of cases, give him a chance, all RIGHT. THAT’S ENOUGH.”
Lestrade rarely yelled at his team. They were a good lot, for all their idiosyncrasies and petty jealousies, and he hated to use what his nieces called his Grown Up voice on them. It had been a long morning, however, and it promised to be a long day, and he just couldn’t bring himself to care.
“It’s irregular, I know. But he’s got a knack with crime scenes that I, for one, would like used to our advantage. Now, your objections are noted–”
Donovan scoffed a little, under her breath–
“And I would very much like for you all to return to your duties while I deal with this. All right?” They filed out, one by one, looking confused and surly, and Lestrade wished with all his might that Met officers were permitted to drink on duty. Sherlock returned, bearing his testing sample sealed in an evidence bag.
“Here you go, Detective. Shall we visit Mr. Christie’s flat?”
Lestrade was already picking up his coat. “Yeah, give us a tick.” He walked over to the lab tech and handed over the sample, asking him to screen for narcotics and to text Lestrade the results, and then he was off, leading Sherlock Holmes to a crime scene.
All in all, it had been an odd morning.
Six hours later, and they were pulling a furious and sobbing Mary Lennox-Hill out of the office of Mr. Christie’s solicitor. Sherlock had found heelmarks, hair, and a bead from one of her earrings in the carpeting at the scene, simply by glancing and sweeping his fingers over the pile. Lestrade had never seen anything like it. One sweep and Sherlock knew the whole story of Mr. Christie’s life. He was explaining himself now, practically rubbing his hands together with self-satisfaction.
“She couldn’t help herself when she heard about the gold. She’s got debts, she thinks ‘I’ll just loosen the old boy up and take what isn’t being used.’ Went on a special diet so she’d be at her most ‘attractive’, quite erroneously as it happens, and then when it was over went off it.”
“To think. If she’d worn different earrings or her hair up this whole thing might still be cold, and she’d have gotten away with it.”
Sherlock sniffed. “Maybe. Probably. I don’t know.”
Lestrade’s phone beeped.
COCAINE NEG HEROIN NEG METHAMPHETAMINE NEG OXYCONTIN NEG MARIJUANA NEG
“Am I clean?”
“You tell me.”
Lestrade stowed his phone, only to pull it out again as it began ringing in his pocket.
Donovan shouted to be heard over sirens in the background.
“Double homicide in Hyde Park, sir. Victims handcuffed together.”
Lestrade sighed. “I’m on my way.”
“There’s something odd about this, sir— both victims are blue.”
“Yes sir, bright blue. And it ain’t makeup, sir— Forensics are checking now, but it appears to be a full-body situation.”
“Huh. Text me the entrance and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Bringing the freak with you?”
Sherlock stiffened— Donovan could easily be heard, even with the background din of their combined crime scenes interfering.
He held the phone away from his mouth for a moment. “Two victims, handcuffed together, blue from head to toe. Interesting enough for you?”
“Yeah, he’s coming with me. See you soon.”
He cut off her protests by hanging up the phone and flagged one of the uniforms over. “Hyde Park, lights on.”
“Yes sir.” Lestrade climbed in the passenger’s seat.
“Where am I supposed to sit?”
“I’m not a criminal, thank you. I’ll take a cab.”
“Sherlock, it’ll take you twenty minutes.”
“Text me the address.”
He strode off in the direction of the high street, arm raised. Lestrade tried to keep his irritation out of the text, typing out the location in Hyde Park to Sherlock. In a way he was glad of the respite, glad of the opportunity to formulate a strategy of just how in the world he was going to broach the obvious topic of “You gamed your drugs test and I don’t know how but I know you did it, because no one gets that out of their system within less than twenty four hours, you twat.” Twenty minutes later he pulled up at the crime scene, lights a-blazing, and Sherlock Holmes was exiting a cab at the same time. Donovan glared at Lestrade as he led Sherlock under the tape.
“What do we have, Donovan?”
“Two victims, handcuffed together at the wrist, they’re blue. And what do we have here?” She fixed a belligerent glare in Sherlock’s direction. Sherlock, for his part, was ignoring her with all the insouciance of a people whose manors had, for generations, been staffed by the Donovans and Andersons of the world.
“Sally, you remember Sherlock Holmes.”
“Sergeant,” Sherlock said, barely registering the intense dislike radiating off her like petrol fumes.
“Sir, the ME’s just finished his examination. He thinks it’s a surface tincture but needs to run tests—can we release the bodies?”
“Not yet, I haven’t seen the scene.”
“I’ll hold him off then.” She made no move to do so, however, leveling a malevolent glare in Sherlock’s direction. Lestrade couldn’t blame her one iota.
She shook herself out of it. “We got clearance from the Super to bring him on then, sir?”
She was walking a thin line, and she knew it, questioning him like that, for all she was right. Lestrade tried not to let his guilt over forging his incapacitated Super’s signature show on his face as he lied, lied to his sergeant, that yes, he had gotten clearance to bring a madman along on the case. She nodded, tight-lipped, and he had no doubt that he’d get a well-deserved talking-to the next morning.
Lestrade grabbed two evidence suits and held one out to Sherlock. “Here.”
Sherlock looked at him as though he’d proposed a kilt and duffel coat as an appropriate crime scene ensemble. “Cop rules, remember?” Lestrade could feel the authority shaking in his voice but couldn’t bring himself to care, his curiosity was so strong. He could see Sherlock observing, could see the intake of information pick up in his eyes, the tiny darts from side to side that had nothing to do with paranoia and everything to do with the absorption of every single detail about the scene. He found himself reaching for that hope again as he waited for Sherlock to take the suit.
It seemed an age before a pale hand reached out and took it, and Lestrade spared himself the awkward sight of heron legs pushing into blue crime scene suit as he put on his own covering. When he was done he looked around to see Sherlock folding up his coat, reverently placing it on a makeshift table the ME boys had set up.
Donovan came back to lead Lestrade and Sherlock over to where the bodies lay, handcuffed together and face down in a pool of blood and sick. Two men, mid-twenties, vaguely unkempt in the way of fashionable young people the world over, and yes, decidedly blue.
“Time of death?” he called out, and by osmosis the answer came back, his team as ever having anticipated his question. “Two hours.”
“A jogger found them. He’s over there. Lost his tea, probably rethinking his entire exercise regime, entirely useless for questioning purposes,” Sherlock said, probing the skin at the back of one of the corpse’s neck. He moved on to quickly, gently rifle through the pockets of the taller of the two men.
Lestrade watched him, anxiously hoping that none of his team would come by and ask questions. Abruptly, Sherlock stood.
“They were friends, and both were wealthy. This one had recently moved to London; they indulged in some Class A action, earlier this afternoon, heroin probably. They were arrested and escaped the bust, but the poison killed them before they could get their cuffs off.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes and snapped his blue nitrile gloves in dissatisfaction. “Expensive clothes, high level of attention to personal grooming. This one—” indicating the taller corpse—“is wearing clothes from makers generally favored by the wealthy denizens of Birmingham, but his suit jacket is a bespoke Savile Row job, and it’s at least ten years old. He used to live in London but moved to Birmingham for work, and is back in town reuniting with his old friend. Puncture marks between his knuckles—habitual user, probably had collapsed a few veins in his time, had to move on to different injection spots. They both have fresh puncture wounds indicating that they’ve shot up recently.” He walked carefully around the bodies, the blue suit flapping in the light breeze around his thin frame. “And then, of course, there’s the food.”
Donovan scoffed at Lestrade’s back. “You’re having a go, ain’t ya?”
He barely looked at her, just bore down on the smaller of the two corpses and checked his teeth.
“They’ve eaten today, but not in the last twelve hours. Cuffs are standard Met issue. So, two men, reuniting after a long absence, arrested in the last—call it four hours—managed to break away from the pack.”
“Oh, come off it—“
“They break away from the pack and aren’t sure where to go, so they cut through this park in an effort to get towards the industrial areas where one might find wire cutters or bolt cutters, anything to get the cuffs off. They begin to grow ill, their illness intensifies, and in their wild efforts to get away from one another and seek help they begin to fight. That’s the cause of the bruising and blood. Unfortunately they can’t get away, even though this man has broken his own wrist.”
“So it was poisoning?” Lestrade was dizzy in the wake of this tidal wave of deduction. An entire narrative, unfolded in less than five minutes, as clear and concise as if it had been fiction. He’d never seen the like of it.
“Yes, poisoning, obvious. If you test these men’s blood you will find a high concentration of sodium nitrate. No doubt there are other poor sods in a row on a ward somewhere in London, dying by bits and pieces.”
“So it’s not murder.” Anderson chimed in, dubious.
“For fuck’s sake.”
“Language, darling, please. In the presence of the dead.” Lestrade warned.
“And just why are they blue, then?”
“Are forensics men not required to take basic biology or medical courses any more? Sodium nitrate affects the blood, causing a distinct blue tincture to the skin.”
Anderson muffled something impolite.
“Anderson, I know your relationship with a certain coworker is, in a budding stage, but let me give you some advice that you will no doubt ignore to everyone’s dissatisfaction—do try and remember that Sergeant Donovan can do better than you, has done better than you, will do better than you, and I hope for all our sakes that she realizes it sooner rather than later.” Sherlock hissed this through clenched teeth in a poor attempt to keep Lestrade from overhearing.
Anderson merely gaped as Sherlock turned his attention back to Lestrade, stripped off his gloves with neat precision and began tearing at the Velcro of his suit.
“Thank you, Lestrade, it’s been most interesting.”
“Hang on, you’re not done yet. Where did these gentlemen get poisoned? Where were they busted? You can’t expect us to just—“ Anderson began sputtering, but was interrupted by Donovan shouting for Lestrade.
“In this one’s pocket, sir! Credit card receipt for Le Forge.”
Sherlock beamed. “Of course. They serve fried food of a pretentious and vaguely French nature at large communal tables with – all together now – communal salt cellars.”
Donovan proceeded with bagging the slip, not giving comment.
“Donovan, send someone to Le Forge and alert the DOH. Start Smith calling the hospitals.”
“He should call St. Mary’s first—they’re the closest to the restaurant.”
She stood and walked purposefully towards the squad cars strobing silently at the park’s edge, purposefully not looking at Sherlock. This new arrangement was too new and fragile and strange for Lestrade to risk making a judgment on how she’d feel about working with Sherlock in the future, though from the looks of Anderson’s face he’d be doing his damndest to win Donovan over to his side. Though he didn’t like to think it, Lestrade hoped Donovan would come to see the utility in using Sherlock as a resource. It was a dim hope, but Lestrade allowed it for himself, just as he allowed himself to believe Sherlock would be less of a prat towards her in the future. There would be little chance of that either, and it was a pity.
Lestrade sighed and passed a hand roughly over his face, attempting to scrub some energy into himself before the long slog of evidence collection began in earnest. He realized with a start that Sherlock was staring at him with what looked quite endearingly like uncertainty, hands hovering over the Velcro at the front of his crime scene suit.
“Sherlock, you don’t have to hang around. Be available tomorrow to give a statement, all right?”
Sherlock nodded, and slowly began to divest himself of the blue monstrosity. Once he’d gotten his coat back on he looked altogether out of place, the bright fluorescence of the squad car lights flashing over his face, closed like a book.
“Thanks for your help.” Lestrade said, extending his hand. This time, Sherlock took it, after an unconscionably long time spent looking at his hand as though it would bite. He shook it firmly and turned to go, before Lestrade said—
“By the by, did you get everything sorted?”
“Your—your disagreement.” He pointed again, vaguely, in the direction of Sherlock’s face. The split lip had healed, mostly, leaving behind a patch of dried blood. A dark gleam came into Sherlock’s eyes as he looked away from Lestrade and towards the trees across the square.
“Yes, sorted. Thank you.”
He strode off without a backward glance.
It would be the making of Lestrade’s career. Crime scene teams found the culprit in the communal salt cellars on three of the long tables at Le Forge. One of the busboys, a twitchy twenty-something working his way through Central St. Martin’s, had grabbed what he thought was a container of salt from the pantry when he went to refill the cellars—he hadn’t looked close enough to see that it said “Saltpetre.” Being so figure-conscious, he hadn’t touched any of the food at Le Forge in weeks, so he remained hale and hearty while twenty-six people writhed in hospital beds at St. Bart’s and St. Mary’s. The two men were James Trilby and David McCaffrey, and they’d been arrested in a bust at a posh private club but had managed to give the drugs squad the slip.
Lestrade left the Yard after forty-eight hours straight at his desk, filling out form after form after form. He hadn’t seen Sherlock, though he had gotten regular texts from his pal at Bart’s that he’d been reporting for drugs testing, all suspiciously negative. He managed his stairs and his keys and even shucking his coat and tie before he realized, shame-facedly, that the flat was not empty. His posh housebreaking friend was seated in his favorite armchair, attention focused on a mobile in his hand. At Lestrade’s polite clearing of his throat Mycroft Holmes looked up, smiled a bit in that alarming way of his, and stowed the mobile in a discreet inner pocket.
“I understand congratulations are in order, Detective Sergeant.” He held out his hand and unconsciously Lestrade took it, wiping his clammy palm on his trouser leg first.
“In a manner of speaking, considering that it was almost entirely your brother’s doing.”
“Dare I guess that my brother has been of assistance?”
“Dare if you like, it was bloody brilliant.” Lestrade dumped his coat and his bag and his tie in a heap on the floor and went to the kitchen, hunting for the last bottle of wine he knew he had somewhere, pretending not to have noticed the look of distaste on the older Holmes’ face at Lestrade’s untidiness.
“I suppose it would be hoping for too much, if I asked if this newfound sense of vocation is keeping Sherlock away from his more destructive habits.”
Lestrade poured himself a generous dram of the red, a decent bottle his ex had bought for a dinner party. A party he hadn’t attended—he’d been knee-deep in Thames mud that night, fishing a schoolgirl’s corpse out of the water where it had been weighted down by her father. He swallowed the wine a little too quickly and sputtered.
“Carefully, Detective Sergeant. I wouldn’t like to report that you have a drinking problem.”
He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and was about to make a smart remark when something clicked—
“Did you just make a joke? A frankly appalling joke?”
Mycroft looked smug in the way that men who constantly control their facial expressions manage smugness, with a slight crinkling of the eyes, a tightening of the lips.
Lestrade passed over it. “I don’t suppose you’d care to join me?” Mycroft shook his head.
“Marvelous. And to answer your question, he says it has. He tested clean the day of the case, and has been submitting samples daily since that I haven’t gotten the results for yet.”
Mycroft raised his eyebrows. “And you don’t believe him? Or the tests?”
“He was high the day before. It takes time to get that out of your system. He could have brought in a clean sample, goodness knows he’d be able to conceal a Ziploc full of urine under that ridiculous cloak of his.”
“But he has been cooperating.”
Lestrade wanted to whine in frustration. No, you don’t get it. “He’s going through the motions.”
Mycroft looked slightly pleased, more than anyone else in his position could justify.
“That is more than he’s attempted in four years, Inspector.”
“I’m a DS.”
“Not for long.”
“Are you interfering with my career, Mr. Holmes?”
“No, I’m not, I assure you. I merely have… access to information before it is generally available.”
Lestrade groaned and covered his eyes with one hand.
“No need to look so chagrined. You are a man of talent; your superiors have noted this about you long before now, and this is merely the moment that they have chosen to act on it.”
“I may or may not have forged paperwork to get Sherlock in as a consultant.” The words slipped out before Lestrade could catch them.
Mycroft sighed and shifted his weight. He pulled the mobile from out of his jacket and began texting.
“Regrettable, certainly, but not beyond mend.” The mobile was stowed again as silently as it had emerged.
“Thank you for your assistance in this matter,” Mycroft said, picking up his umbrella to leave. Before he could turn to go Lestrade said “Wait,” moving to where he’d let his bag fall and fished the envelope out of the inner pocket.
Mycroft looked at him impassively.
“Your check, I’ve been meaning to return it to you, but it’s not like I’ve got your number to ring you up and tell you to come get it.”
“I said I wasn’t going to take any money from you, and I won’t. And either way, he didn’t owe as much as all this.” He held it out to Mycroft who took it, his face now bolted down tighter than a drum.
“How much did my brother say he owed?”
“Five hundred pound.” Mycroft, this time, was the one to draw one hand over his face as he pulled out his phone. He pressed a button and held it to his ear, walking towards the window.
“Upgrade surveillance, level three, subject S. Holmes, code 18 dash 95A. Immediate location and status check.”
Lestrade began to think that he had made an idiotic mistake. “Oh, hell.”
“It isn’t your fault. People far less gullible than you have been taken in by my brother, and I’m sure that you won’t be the last.” Mycroft was still holding the phone to his ear, waiting on a response from whoever was on the other line.
“How much does he owe, then?”
“Thousands of pounds, to several different parties. Up till now Sherlock has been able to obtain his supplies by lending himself out, so to speak—deducing who had been dipping into the stock, who had been shorting the returns, that kind of thing. I believe this strategy may have earned him a few enemies, some of whom have decided to charge him interest.”
“Shit buggering fuck.”
“Indeed.” Mycroft turned his attention back to the phone, and after a moment, his face cleared. “For the moment, it seems that my brother is in his flat.”
“Oh, good.” Mycroft gathered his umbrella and walked towards the door, and when he reached it, he turned towards Lestrade. “Coming?”
He grabbed his jacket, hoping he remembered where he dropped his keys.
The ride to Sherlock’s flat was one of the strangest fifteen minutes Lestrade had ever spent. Mycroft’s car was a Jag, sleek lines and buttery leather, and in the front passenger’s seat was a beautiful woman in a pinstripe suit whose eyes and thumbs never left her mobile. The moment they arrived Lestrade barely waited for the car to come to a complete stop before popping open the door and dashing up the stairs of Sherlock’s flat as fast as his chain-smoking out-of-shape legs would carry him. The man himself was stretched out in an armchair—strictly speaking, only half of him was actually in the chair. Torso and up were on the chair, and his long legs were stretched out, barefoot, pajama-bottomed and rumpled. There were no new bruises—no visible ones anyway.
“Good evening, Lestrade.”
“Listen, you twat—“
“Oh, for God’s sakes, Mycroft, I should have known. Well done, Lestrade, convincing me that you weren’t on his payroll.” He didn’t open his eyes as he delivered this tirade. His face looked pinched and worn.
“I’m not—but he also didn’t lie to me about how much he owed to shady people!”
“Sorry, mum, I’ll make sure to brush my teeth before I go to bed without my supper.”
“All right, fine. You want to act like a child? Fine. You don’t respect me? Fine. You don’t respect your brother? Fine.”
Lestrade was so angry that his hands shook as he pulled out his phone. He looked between Sherlock and Mycroft as he dialed the number for the Met drugs squad.
“This is DS Lestrade, calling in suspected drugs activity in the area of Montague Street, NW-1, request send team immediately—“ Sherlock was on his feet, attempting to get the phone like a five year old playing keepaway.
“Mycroft, tell him—“
“I’m telling nothing to DS Lestrade, Sherlock.”
Abruptly, the action stopped. Lestrade hung up the phone as he got Corrick’s OK that the team—a very discreet team, he was assured—were on their way. Sherlock was looking at Mycroft with an impossibly blank face, the shadows on his face deepening to bruises.
“You don’t like me bullying you or coddling you or protecting you, Sherlock, so I’m not going to. I’m going to step aside and let the drugs squad comb through this flat from top to bottom. I won’t lift a finger when they find the three grams of cocaine in the toe of your slipper, or the gram under the hard palate in the skull you seem perversely determined to use as an ashtray. I won’t even flush the morphine you have taped to the underside of your toilet tank when I avail myself of your facilities later tonight.”
As he spoke Sherlock’s face shut down even further. He closed his eyes as Mycroft approached him, stopping within arm’s length.
“The furthest I will go, Sherlock, is when they arrest you and charge you with possession of a Class A substance—and it will be your first on record, you can be sure—is to make sure the prosecutor presses for your remand to a rehabilitation facility instead of the jail time which society believes you no doubt richly deserve.”
Outside, lights began to flash. Lestrade felt he was intruding on something intensely private, but hadn’t he been dragged into this? He’d as much right as anyone else to be here.
“Aren’t you tired of this, Sherlock? Tired of being the smartest person in the room and having to resort to the preferred chemical solution of the overpaid and arrogant just to tune all the extra data out?” Sherlock swayed on his feet, an infinitesimal movement. “Aren’t you ready to try something different?”
“What else is there, Mycroft? Nothing works.”
“This man is offering you an opportunity, Sherlock. You know that. You’ve known it for months, that this is where this habit of yours would end.” He put one hand on Sherlock’s shoulder, and Sherlock practically leaned into his touch.
And just like that, Sherlock broke. To Lestrade it sounded as though he sniffled, once, like his nieces did when they were trying very hard not to be heard crying. Mycroft didn’t attempt to hold him closer, but kept one hand on his shoulder as Sherlock pulled himself together.
Lestrade waited a moment. When the lights from the drug squad’s cars came to a stop outside 567 Montague Street, he cleared his throat. The brothers parted and Sherlock looked at him through red-rimmed, unfocused eyes.
“If I might make a suggestion, if the drugs squad knew you were on your way to rehab, they might be persuaded to overlook pressing serious charges.”
Sherlock looked at him for a long moment, then nodded.
“Let’s get you packed up,” Lestrade said, moving to the doorway.
“Detective, please assist Sherlock in gathering his things. I will have a word with the officers.”
Lestrade looked to Sherlock, who gave a small nod and moved towards his bedroom.
“Don’t keep him out of your sight, Detective.”
Lestrade turned to follow Sherlock down the hallway. The bedroom was a stark contrast to the rest of the flat—tidy where the rest was chaos, almost monk-like in its austerity.
Sherlock was sitting on the bed, unmoving.
“You might want to get dressed. It’s a bit nippy out.” No answer. Lestrade went to the closet and took out the small suitcase he found there.
Sherlock was looking at him with the oddest expression on his face, a mixture of anger and shame and resentment and a glimmer around the corners of his mouth that looked like hope.
“Will you still let me on cases?”
“Get clean. Stay clean. I think we can work something out.”
“I was lying, you know. I faked the tests.”
“I know you did.”
Lestrade rolled his eyes. “I’m not a complete fool.”
“I was taking less. I was trying to cut back.”
“I know. Was it getting easier?”
Lestrade handed him the suitcase, and Sherlock stood to take it, looking at his bureau in the corner like it was a foreign object.
“I had an uncle once—”
Sherlock looked at him, sharply. Lestrade sighed. It had been a rough night, and he suddenly didn’t want to bring Howard into this, didn’t want to make this coltish boy a substitute for the uncle he couldn’t save. “Never mind. Point is, I’m on your team, Sherlock, and if you ever need anything, please. That is to say, I’m here.”
After a long silence, Sherlock replied. “Thank you, Lestrade.”
The noises of the drugs squad came filtering down the hallway. “Let’s get you packed up, so we can parade you all contrite-like past Corrick on your way out, eh?”
Sherlock scoffed. “I’ve never managed contrition in my life, I’m certainly not about to start now.”
“I thought not. But it was worth a try.”
Twenty minutes later, after Lestrade and Corrick had inspected every item that made its way into Sherlock’s suitcase as Sherlock sat, looking mutely and unseeing at a spot on the far wall, Lestrade saw him stowed in the back of Mycroft’s Jaguar as it idled by the kerb. The drugs squad found exactly what Mycroft had said they’d find, exactly where he said they’d find it.
Before getting into the back next to his brother Mycroft held out his hand and Lestrade shook it.
“Thank you again, Lestrade.”
“Anytime. Of course not anytime, necessarily, but—yeah.”
“Just so.” Mycroft smiled a tight-lipped semi-grimace and released Lestrade’s hand. Before Lestrade could say another word he was in the Jag and pulling away.
Lestrade thought of all the times his family had tried to do the same for Howard that Mycroft was doing for Sherlock, and how little it worked each time, and turned towards the direction of the Tube. He had cold case files aplenty back at the office. Maybe they would be enough, for the time being.