A crowded street and someone lying on the ground, unmoving. There’s blood. A flashback to a day like this three years ago. I ignore it and push through the onlookers, shouting “I’m a doctor. Let me pass.”
The man in the street is well-dressed. A banker or executive of some sort. We’re not terribly far from Canary Wharf, so either is possible. There’s another man in a uniform shirt standing next to him. The uniformed man has tears streaming down his face. “He jumped in front of me!” he shouts. “I didn’t mean to hit him!”
Someone bumps into me as I move even closer. “Sorry, mate. Just trying to help,” I say. He grunts and fades into the mob.
The uniform says the driver is a delivery guy. Looking closer at him I can see he’s early twenties and frightened out of his mind. His car is idling nearby, the front badly dented.
“Has anyone phoned the police?” I shout and kneel next to the man on the ground. People in the crowd look at each other. Everyone’s been so busy filming and tweeting and uploading that no one’s done anything practical.
I pull uniform-shirt down and hand him my phone. “Call the police. Ask for Lestrade. Tell him there’s been a murder.”
Uniform-shirt cries harder. “Murder?! I said it was an accident! He jumped in front of me!”
I grab my phone back and hold uniform-shirt by the wrist so he doesn’t bolt. When I get Lestrade on the line I make eye contact with the driver so he gets every word I’m saying. “A man’s been murdered. He was shot, and then hit by some poor guy in a car when he fell.”
Uniform-shirt crumples to the ground in a ball of shock and tears.
“He’s dead. But you’ll need to send an ambulance for the man that hit him.”
I looked around as I followed Lestrade into his office to give my official statement – such as it was. I didn’t recognize any of the people. “New group?”
Lestrade shrugged. “Not that new. Anderson’s in Manchester a year now. Donovan’s been in Plymouth since.... It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other, I suppose.”
I gave him a tight-lipped smile and accepted the paper and pen he offered me.
“What were you doing over there anyhow?”
“I’m working at Docklands. Was on my way there when I saw the commotion.” I finished my statement and signed my name.
“How’ve you been, John?”
“Good. Good. Keeping busy. Getting on.”
Lestrade nodded. “Between you and me, getting rid of Anderson and Donovan helped. Their smugness was almost choking.”
“How’s the wife?”
“This’ll be number six. Interestingly, my relationship improved vastly once....” He looked guilty. The conversation stalled and I started to leave. Our awkward goodbye was interrupted by my mobile.
“Mrs Hudson! How are.... Really? Did you call the police?”
Lestrade stood up straighter, alert. I held up one finger. “Hang on. I’m there now, actually. Yes, I’ll come. I’ll see you soon.”
I hung up and looked at Lestrade. “Someone’s broken into the old flat at Baker Street.”
“Why’d she call you and not us?”
“Mycroft, apparently. He’s told her to call me if anything ‘unusual’ happened, instead of the police.”
Lestrade frowned and offered me a lift to Baker Street.
Mrs Hudson met us on the street. She hugged me warmly and fussed over me for a few moments until I disengaged myself and reminded her why we were there.
“He’s still there,” she whispered loudly. “Thumping around and banging doors. I thought it was him for a moment.” She paused. “You don’t suppose it’s his ghost, do you?”
“Don’t be silly, Mrs Hudson. It’s probably just an inept thief, or someone with a grudge against Sherlock that doesn’t know he’s... gone.” It was the first time in almost three years that I’d said his name.
“I don’t understand why the flat’s even still empty after all this time,” Lestrade said.
“Mycroft wouldn’t let me show it. He pays the rent so I can keep it vacant. All of Sherlock’s belongings are gone, though, so I don’t know why.”
“The whole family’s a bit odd,” Lestrade commented. To me, he said, “Ready to go up?”
Without thinking – and without any sort of weapon – I took the lead. The door was closed but not latched. I nudged it gently and let it swing open quietly. I slipped in, aware there was someone in the kitchen, opening and closing doors, thumping shelves and walls as if he were searching for something.
“Please don’t make another move,” I said.
The person turned abruptly.
“Ah, good. You’re here. Can you explain to me where the hell all our things have gone?”
Sherlock came to about ten minutes later. He was on Mrs Hudson’s sofa with an ice bag over his swelling eye.
“Good. You’re awake,” I said. “I fucking hate you.” I had already told Lestrade what I thought of him as it became clear that he had known all along that Sherlock was alive and in hiding.
Mrs Hudson sat in her chair, crying quietly. “You horrible boys. You and your brother, Sherlock.”
For the first time ever Sherlock looked truly repentant. He sat up slowly and I could tell that wherever he had been hadn’t been relaxing. If it was possible, he was thinner and paler than before.
Lestrade stared at the floor. I squeezed Mrs Hudson’s shoulder and she patted my hand.
“Did Molly know? Was she in on this, too?”
Sherlock and Lestrade exchanged a look. That was all the answer I needed. I left the flat without another word. Through the closed door I could just barely make out Sherlock asking Mrs Hudson where his things had gone.
Furious, I went home.
In which the crime is revealed and a sniper makes an appearance.
The incessant ringing of my phone woke me. At first I couldn’t understand why it hadn’t gone to voicemail and then it dawned on me. Mycroft had somehow disabled it. He’d probably found a way to increase the volume of the ring as well.
“What,” I snapped.
“You’ve kept the same number.” The voice was cool and even, familiar and rumblingly low.
“I’m hanging up.”
“Wait, John. Please.”
Maybe he meant it. Maybe he was pretending. Against my better judgement, I waited. “Go on.”
“Not over the phone. Can I see you?”
“Now? Sherlock, it’s four in the morning.”
“Yes. Fine. Whatever. Do you need my address, or are you standing outside my door already?”
“Oh, I have your address,” Sherlock replied. “But I want you to meet me somewhere. Call it ‘neutral ground’.”
“Neutral ground” turned out to be the roof of the building across from Mrs Hudson’s. The sight of Sherlock standing near the edge of a roof made me uncomfortable and I said so.
“Hold my hand, then,” he said flatly and took my right hand in his left. Raising his right hand, he pointed across the street to the open window of our flat. Our old flat. Sherlock’s flat. Two-twenty-one Baker Street. Whatever it was, the windows were open and someone was inside, pacing the floor; the silhouette was clear through the drawn shades.
“I assume that’s Mycroft?” I asked. Sherlock shushed me.
The person stopped pacing and moved close to the window as if he were about to look out. A split second later, a shot echoed from the floor below us.
The street was suddenly flooded with police. They stormed the building. Sherlock kept hold of my hand even as Lestrade appeared on the rooftop.
“Alright?” he asked, panting slightly after his sprint up the stairs.
“Did you get him?”
“We did. And you’re sure that’s the same guy who killed Garland Peters?”
“When you compare the bullets, you’ll find they match. And I’m sure Moran will tell you who hired him to kill Peters.”
“Sorry. Who’s Garland Peters? And Moran?”
Lestrade said, “Garland Peters is the man who was shot this morning. Some sort of internal auditor or financial consultant. The word is he was about to file a report naming some executive types who’d been skimming company funds. One of them hired this Moran fellow to shut him up.”
Sherlock picked up where Lestrade left off. “Moran is one of Moriarty’s hired killers. He was the last one. The only one left who could harm you. When I heard he’d been contracted to kill Peters I knew I had to let him see me. Draw him out. He didn’t know I was aware of him, so he never suspected a set-up. Sherlock turned to face me directly. “I’m sorry, John. I didn’t stop him before he had a chance to kill Peters. I know that sort of thing bothers you.”
“I’m sorry that I made everyone keep you in the dark. Surely you can see why I was doing it.”
“It should have been my decision. I can take care of myself, you know.”
“Not against Moriarty’s men. You and Mrs Hudson. I had to keep you safe.”
“We’re fine now. You’ve got Moran.” I realised Sherlock was still holding my hand and pulled away from him. “Safe to go down?” I asked Lestrade.
“We’ve got him locked up tight.”
“Right. Goodnight, then. And goodbye, Sherlock.”
For the second time in less than twenty-four hours I walked away from Baker Street.
The sun was just starting to rise when I made it home. I hated the idea of missing another day at work, but I was too exhausted to be of any use.
“You needn’t worry, Doctor Watson. We’ve made sure you’ve been granted a leave of absence from your job.”
Mycroft Fucking Holmes was standing behind me.
Wherein a partial story is told and sleep is finally possible.
I found myself in the back of Mycroft’s car, heading out of the city. Mycroft sat next to me, reading emails on his Blackberry as if I weren’t there.
I didn’t want to be there. I wasn’t sure how I got there. I wanted to assume I’d been drugged. Abducted. Brought against my will. Anything except the truth that whenever a Holmes brother asked, I followed.
“Where are we going?”
“Nowhere in particular.” Mycroft didn’t look up from his phone.
“You can just let me off here, then. I’ll find my own way home.”
Mycroft chuckled and finally looked t me. “I can understand why you’re upset with us.”
I assumed he meant himself and Sherlock, and not that he was invoking the royal plural. “Do you? Do you honestly get it? I would’ve thought that required some level of human emotion.”
“Neither of us is completely devoid of feelings, John. We’re just better at controlling them. I’m better than my brother, of course, but he was always a bit high-strung.”
“Can you just take me home now, please?”
“I’m afraid not. We’re almost there.”
“There” turned out to be a quiet cottage. The area surrounding it was largely vacant – there wasn’t a sign of human life anywhere. Mycroft walked with me to the front door. “He’s expecting you,” he said, and turned to go.
“You’ve kidnapped me to force me to see Sherlock?”
“Have I? I don’t seem to recall you putting up a fight. We both know you’re dying to find out how he accomplished his disappearing act, where he’s been. What he’s done. You would follow him into Hell itself, John. You can at least follow him into Sussex.”
And in the time it took me to glance at the door and back, Mycroft was gone.
Left with no other choice, I knocked. Sherlock opened the door, but only as far as the chain lock would allow it.
“I’d prefer not to be punched in the face again,” he said.
“I’ll do my best.”
Sherlock’s bruised face looked worse than it had the night before. I supposed the darkness had masked the worst of it. Guilt almost welled up, but I pushed it aside.
Sherlock folded himself into a high-backed armchair and motioned for me to have a seat. “You look well,” he said. “Limp seems to be gone again. Went away the moment you went up the stairs to Baker Street, didn’t it.”
It wasn’t a question because we both knew he was right.
“Been keeping busy?” He asked with an air of casual conversation. “Working and the like? Dating? Seeing anyone seriously these days?”
“Cut it out,” I said. “You probably know every detail of my life down to the last time I took a shit, so stop pretending.”
“You’re still angry.”
“Brilliant. Another brilliant deduction from the consulting detective.” I stood and pulled out my phone. I would call Mycroft and demand that he come back and take me home and then I would sell everything and leave the country. I’d go to America. Surely Mycroft’s authority wouldn’t reach that far.
There was no cellular service.
Of course there wasn’t.
With a sigh, I sat back down.
“So have you been here all this time?” I asked.
Sherlock shook his head. “Off and on, when I needed to regroup. The first year I moved constantly. I tracked down Moriarty’s men. Dealt with them one at a time. Moran was the last one. The trickiest one. But even he got careless.
“I killed the rest of them, John. I had to. I knew I couldn’t hide forever and they would be after you, and Mrs Hudson, and Lestrade again. You saw that for yourself.”
“At Baker Street? You mean Moran thought he was aiming at Mrs Hudson?”
“No, John. He thought he was aiming at you.”
A sobering thought.
“Since it wasn’t really me, who was he aiming at?”
“A mannequin on a pulley system. Mrs Hudson was safely out of range, making it move around the room. Leaving the windows open was her request – to save having to replace the glass.”
I giggled. The sheer insanity of the situation, a lack of sleep and food, and the much-delayed adrenaline crash made me giddy.
“So aside from assassinating assassins, what have you been doing?”
“Travel. I went to Italy. Russia. Asia. North America. I’ve been dabbling with beekeeping.”
“Beekeeping?” I was now on the verge of hysterical laughter.
Sherlock looked offended. “I got the idea from a writer. I don’t think much of his books, but I find his blog interesting. “
“You look like hell,” I blurted.
“Bees are very demanding.” He was so sincere in his delivery that my mad giggling gave way to maniacal laughter.
“Oh, Christ, I’m exhausted,” I said when I could breathe again. “The past two days have been unreal.”
“Your room’s up the stairs and to the right. Mycroft’s already brought some of your things.”
“Of course he has.” I stood and ran my hands through my hair, considering my words. “Come with me?”
We fell asleep back-to-back, but when I woke up, Sherlock’s arm was locked around my waist as if he were afraid I would disappear.