In hindsight, John knew he should have suspected trouble when he came home to find Sherlock in a good mood – a good mood after his brother had paid him a visit. Sherlock was practically beaming, which should have been encouraging but was alarming instead.
“Blimey, you’re cheerful,” John said. “Is Mycroft dying?”
Sherlock glanced up at John from where he lay stretched out on the sofa. “You passed him on the stairs just now. Did he look like he was dying?”
“No, though he did seem a bit preoccupied. I think he might have walked past without seeing me if I hadn’t said hello.”
“Ah, so you noticed as well.” Sherlock was looking smug now, and John wondered what Sherlock had done this time.
“Sherlock, what have you done this time?”
Sherlock snorted indignantly. “What have I done? I’m not the one who’s trying to ease a guilty conscience by bribing his brother with gifts.”
John frowned. “Mycroft’s capable of feeling guilt?” Then he remembered what else Sherlock had said. “Gifts?”
“Well, it’s actually a gift. Singular. Oh, but, John, what a gift.” Sherlock’s eyes became dreamy. “I don’t know what he’s done and, at this precise moment, I don’t care.”
John snapped his fingers in Sherlock’s face. “Where is it? What is it?”
“Are your skills of observation really that appalling?” Sherlock sighed wearily. “Yes, of course they are.” He started massaging the bridge of his nose. “The prezzie is sitting beside the armchair.”
John spun around in surprise. “Where? I don’t see it. Is it behind the cat carrier?”
Sherlock glared at him. “It is the cat carrier or, rather, what’s inside.” He sprang from the sofa and dashed over to the cat carrier, looking for all the world like a little boy on Christmas. “You don’t know how difficult the wait has been, John, but I wanted you to be here when I opened it.”
John managed to keep a straight face, but only just. He couldn’t help being amused by Sherlock’s excitement. Maybe owning a cat – or any pet at all – was a complete novelty. Maybe Sherlock hadn’t been allowed to have any pets when he was a child, or the neighbours had reported him to the RSPCA and Spot or Mittens had been taken away.
“Would you like to do the honours?” Sherlock asked, nodding at the cat carrier.
“What? Oh. No, no. It’s your present. You should open it.”
“Very well. If you insist.” Sherlock lowered himself down on his haunches and released the latch.
At first, there was no movement from inside the cat carrier. Then, it slowly began to emerge. There was a pink nose that twitched as it sniffed the air. This was followed by the first glimpse of whiskers and then a snout – a very long and pointed snout. John screamed and leapt on top of the armchair.
“What the fuck is that?”
Sherlock regarded John calmly. “What do you think it is?”
“A huge fuckin’ rat!”
“Ah, that’s not entirely accurate,” Sherlock said. “It’s actually a canine/rat hybrid – to be specific, the product of a highly complex genetic experiment involving Matilda the Westie and Briggs the brown rat.”
“It’s a giant rat, Sherlock!” John shouted. “A giant rat!” He grabbed the Union Jack cushion and clutched it tightly in his hand, fully prepared to whack the rat if it ventured too close. At the moment, it was still sitting in the cat carrier, but John was sure that, when it struck, it would be fast and deadly. “Where’s it from? Sumatra?”
“No Baskerville. I would have thought that even you’d manage to work that out.” Sherlock shook his head sadly. “After Mycroft learned about H.O.U.N.D., he thought another inspection of Baskerville was in order, only this time it was real. And thorough. Very thorough. Mycroft’s people discovered a whole lab that was completely hidden. It’s where they found Charlie.”
Sherlock jerked his chin at the cat carrier, and John whimpered, trying to press himself further into the armchair. John had caught a glimpse of light brown fur, which meant that the giant rat was almost free.
“Why did you say ‘Sumatra’?” Sherlock asked.
“You asked if the giant rat was from Sumatra.”
“Oh. I don’t know. It was the first place that popped into my head.”
“But why Sumatra? Why not Kuala Lumpur or Basingstoke?”
John threw up his hands. “There’s a ginormous rat in our flat and you want to discuss geography?”
“Why did Mycroft have to go and give you a giant rat? I mean, what did he expect you to do with it?”
Sherlock glanced down at Charlie, who was sniffing at his trousers, and grinned. “Conduct experiments, of course. Oh, don’t look at me like that. I’m not planning to torture it. I was thinking of something more along the lines of a behavioural study.” He eyed Charlie again and frowned. The rat was pressed against his leg in an almost affectionate manner. “It must have been sedated at some point as it seems rather docile. No doubt, it will grow increasingly hostile as the drug wears off. It is part Westie after all.”
John stared at Sherlock in disbelief. “Umm…have you actually seen a Westie? They’re not exactly the most aggressive dog.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you’d been bitten by one, John. No, they’re vicious creatures. Vicious.” Sherlock’s eyes narrowed for an instant, and he seemed lost in some memory.
John snapped his fingers from where he stood on the armchair. “Sherlock, if you don’t get rid of that thing, I’m leaving you – and when I say you, I mean Baker Street.”
Sherlock smirked. “Of course you do.”
John didn’t leave Baker Street, but that was mostly because he was unable to leave the armchair. Sherlock had found this highly amusing until he’d needed his laptop and John refused to fetch it. Sherlock had wanted to find out what giant rats ate, as he thought some food might give Charlie the incentive to move – or do anything other than rub against his leg. John handed Sherlock his mobile and suggested that he phone a pet shop. After Sherlock informed the pet shop clerk that he couldn’t possibly leave the flat to buy Supreme Reggie Rat, the pet shop clerk suggested that he try giving his rat some carrots or lettuce. Before John could stop him, Sherlock was bellowing for Mrs. Hudson.
To her credit, Mrs. Hudson only shrieked when she saw Charlie, though this might have been because the armchair was already occupied and Charlie was blocking her route to the sofa. When she ran into the kitchen, John thought she might be seeking safety on one of the chairs or on top of the table, but then she reappeared with a broom and started hitting Sherlock. John was surprised because he didn’t think they even owned a broom. Maybe Mrs. Hudson had been tidying the kitchen earlier and had forgotten to take it back down with her.
“OUT! OUT! OUT! I want it out of here, Sherlock! OUT!”
Sherlock ducked as Mrs. Hudson took a swipe at his head. “Mrs. Hudson, please! You’re being completely irrational!”
“You brought a bloody great rat into our home! How do you expect me to feel?”
Sherlock quickly swerved to one side to avoid another blow from Mrs. Hudson’s broom, nearly tripping over Charlie in the process. “Actually, it was Mycroft who brought the bloody great rat, not me.”
“Then you can tell your brother to come round again and get rid of it!”
“Yes, yes, all right,” Sherlock said. “I’ll get rid of it, though I refuse to involve Mycroft.”
Mrs. Hudson lowered the broom, though she was watching Sherlock and Charlie warily. “Do you mean it, Sherlock?”
“Yes, of course. If the giant rat upsets you that much, it must go.”
“Really?” John studied Sherlock for a moment and shook his head. “No, you were determined to keep him five minutes ago. What happened?”
Sherlock sighed and then threw himself across the sofa dramatically. “I just remembered that it was a Dobermann that bit me, not a Westie.”
John’s brow creased. “I’m sorry but how do you confuse the two?”
Sherlock glared at John. “I was in Scotland at the time.”
“It’s not just that, John. I’ve reached the terrible conclusion that Charlie wasn’t sedated. What we’ve been seeing is his actual temperament.” He gazed down at the floor and winced. Charlie was trying to climb up on the sofa to join him.
“Are you sure it’s not drugs?” John asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the disturbing tableau in front of him. Mrs. Hudson was similarly captivated as she continued to stand in the middle of the living room wielding her broom.
“If you’d come down from that armchair, you’d see that Charlie’s beady little eyes are bright and alert.” Sherlock heaved another sigh. “No, unfortunately, he’s just another stupid, pointless rat.”
As if he’d understood the insult, Charlie gave up trying to scale the sofa and turned towards Mrs. Hudson, who dropped her broom and clambered up on the armchair beside John.
“You’d better call your brother because it’s not as if we can drop Charlie off at an animal rescue shelter or ship him back to Baskerville,” John said.
Sherlock scowled. “I can’t. It will be like the pony all over again.”
“When I was eight, my parents gave me a pony for Christmas,” Sherlock said. “I became bored with it after an hour and asked if I could have a microscope instead. Mycroft has never let me forget it.”
“Sherlock, just how rich are you? No, don’t answer that. It’s not important right now. Our priority should be Charlie, unless…” John paused, regarding Sherlock with a thoughtful expression. “Could you afford to buy an animal sanctuary?”
Sherlock gave John the look he usually reserved for Anderson. “We need someone we can trust, someone who could be convinced to take Charlie and keep quiet about it.”
“A patsy, you mean,” Mrs. Hudson said.
“Yes. Now, who do we know who fits that description?”
John shrugged. “Molly?”
“Oh!” Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson cried in unison.
“He’d be perfect. He knows about Baskerville and he’s grown accustomed to dealing with rather unusual requests.”
“And we’d be doing him a favour. I’m sure he must be lonely now that he’s divorced, poor dear. Charlie could keep him company.”
“Would you like to call him, Mrs. Hudson, or should I?”
“Whoa, hang on a minute,” John said. “Lestrade? Really? You can’t be serious.”
Sherlock crossed his arms over his chest. “Do you wish to get rid of the giant rat or not?”
“Well, yeah, but-but it wouldn’t be fair. Lestrade can’t say no to you.”
“Exactly,” Sherlock said. “That’s why he’s perfect.”
Sherlock wasn’t happy when he realized that he’d have to answer the front door because Mrs. Hudson wouldn’t budge from the armchair. He was even more put out when, two minutes later, Mrs. Hudson had not only managed to vacate the armchair but had launched herself into Lestrade’s arms.
“Hey, now, what’s this?” Lestrade said. “What’s the matter, love?” He rubbed Mrs. Hudson’s back gently and made the appropriate shushing noises.
Mrs. Hudson sniffed and pressed her face into Lestrade’s chest. “Oh, Inspector, I’m so upset!”
“There, there. I’m sure we can sort something – OH!” Lestrade started violently and pulled away from Mrs. Hudson, blushing. “Umm…Mrs. Hudson, did you just pinch my bum?”
“I’m so sorry, dear. I don’t know what came over me. It must be all the stress I’ve been under.”
Lestrade smiled and patted Mrs. Hudson’s shoulder. “It’s okay. It’s happened before. Actually, it’s happened a lot. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s some sort of emotional release.”
Mrs. Hudson nodded. “Yes, I’m sure that must be what it is.” She turned her head to Sherlock and winked. “Well, I mustn’t stand around here all day gabbing when there’s work to be done.”
Lestrade frowned in sympathy and confusion as Mrs. Hudson headed for the door. Then he jumped again when he spotted Charlie. “Christ Almighty! What the fuck is that?”
“It’s a new breed of dog,” Sherlock said.
Lestrade’s frown deepened. “It’s got a long skinny tail.”
Sherlock smacked a hand against his forehead. “Did I say ‘dog’? I meant cat. It’s a new breed of cat.”
Lestrade stared down at Charlie for several seconds and shook his head. “It’s a giant rat.”
“Lestrade, I realize that it bears an uncanny resemblance to a giant rat, but – ”
“Sherlock, I know a rat when I see one. I had a pet rat when I was a boy.” Lestrade crouched down on the floor to get a better look at Charlie, and Charlie scurried over to him eagerly. “Hello. Aren’t you a lovely?”
John groaned and covered his eyes. “Oh God, he’s petting it.”
Lestrade glanced at John in surprise. “What are you doing up there? Surely, you’re not afraid of a rat.”
John peeked at Lestrade through his fingers. “Not just any rat: a giant rat.”
“I think he’s sweet,” Lestrade said. “He reminds me of Splat.” He scratched behind Charlie’s ear, and Charlie started wagging his tail. Sherlock gasped and grabbed John’s mobile to film the event.
“Splat?” John asked.
“My pet rat. I called him Splat because it rhymed with rat.” Lestrade rolled his eyes when John and Sherlock looked at him strangely. “I was seven, okay? I didn’t know it was a crap name.” He smiled down at Charlie and stroked his back. “I bet you don’t have a crap name.”
“It’s Charlie,” Sherlock said, “though you could change it to Splat if you wish.”
Lestrade froze, eyeing Sherlock cautiously. “Why?”
“Because I’m giving him to you. Happy birthday, Lestrade.”
Lestrade grimaced. “It’s not my birthday.”
Sherlock dismissed this technicality with an impatient wave of his hand. “Fine. It’s for your last birthday – the one I missed.”
Lestrade snorted. “You’ve missed the last five or six birthdays – not that I’m counting.”
“Well, then,” Sherlock said, “I have a lot of catching up to do. Take the giant rat.”
“But-but…” Lestrade gazed down at Charlie, who was staring up at him adoringly. “I don’t know anything about him. I don’t even know where he came from. He’s like something out of Baskerville.”
Sherlock smiled fondly. “Very good, Lestrade. He is from Baskerville.”
“Yeah, thought as much. My second guess would have been Basingstoke.”
Sherlock’s mouth fell open and he shared a startled glance with John. Charlie rolled over on his back, his long tail wagging even harder as Lestrade rubbed his belly.
“Sherlock,” Lestrade said, “I think you’ll find that Charlie is actually Charlotte.”
The one thing that had kept him going all those years in prison was the thought of revenge. He was going to kill the man who had put him away. But, first, he had to get to him.
Two Toes Tony was relieved that the building had a fire escape – not just because he was missing so many digits but because he had forgotten to bring any rope. His relief transformed into joy when he found an open window at the end of the fire escape. Slipping through this wondrous portal, Two Toes Tony entered DI Lestrade’s flat.
He didn’t notice it at first. He had pulled the screwdriver from his tool belt and was caressing it lovingly, fantasizing about the many ways he could put it to good use. It wasn’t until he heard the hiss that he looked up.
It was a rat. It was a giant rat. It was a giant rat with bristling fur and sharp yellow fangs. As it began to hurtle towards Two Toes Tony, a growl emanated from its throat and saliva dripped from its snapping jaws.
Two Toes Tony screamed, dropped the screwdriver, and plunged out the window. As he fell from the fire escape, he sprained one toe and broke the other.
“Charlie?” Alerted by the scream, Lestrade ran out of the kitchen. “What’s happened? Is it that peeping Tom again?”
Charlie turned away from the window, her long tail knocking the screwdriver under a table. She scampered over to Lestrade happily, and Lestrade bent down to pet her.