The breeze on Las Vegas Boulevard is mild and foreign, as soft as air conditioning in the October evening light. Sherlock strolls past the huge jutting leg of a half-scale model of the Eiffel Tower just as neon radiance floods up its length. He threads his way among the tourists and sees and deduces: gum-chewing adulterous somewhat incompetent mugger grew up in Botswana dropout has three kids lost his car keys fucking her history tutor…
Four months on from public suicide, Sherlock still has his mind. Violently, literally, he threw the rest of himself on to the rubbish heap that grey afternoon in London. What he kept is what he needs, the discipline that has carried him through the underbellies of Marrakech, Rio, New York and Montreal to finally unearth three identities: Jordan Graf, Oleg Kolyvanov and Philip Zagami, the snipers hired to kill his friends. Moriarty’s network, which consisted mostly of cells connected through the mastermind, seems to have decayed quickly, but these men have motive enough to target Sherlock for self-protection if his survival becomes known. Zagami is a mafioso, Kolyvanov is still an unknown quantity, but Graf is a simple thug, and Sherlock has discovered that he is coming here soon, flush with the proceeds of a hit.
Sherlock restrains his lip from curling as he strolls through the technicolour absurdities of Vegas, no longer surprised to see his image reflected in the window of a passing bus as ginger-haired, sun-hatted and dressed in an ugly yellow t-shirt. He sucks a few facts from a poster advertising the World’s Greatest Hynoptist! then mounts an ornate footbridge via an outdoor escalator that would seize up after two days of London weather and crosses the boulevard, looking down at the grimy tops of palms, the rush of traffic, a patch of the perpetual Vegas construction where piles are being driven in a pattern that suggests a palatial building which Sherlock erects in his mind then deletes as irrelevant. His focus is contemporary data and as he walks he files in his head the day’s acquired resources: casino layouts, security camera locations, miscellaneous ephemera gleaned from maids and croupiers engaged in conversation by Sherlock’s confused tourist persona. Filed in his head are dozens of balconies, walkways and scaffolding towers, all viable sites from which to shoot a man in the casino, street or forecourt below. The endless security cameras of this paranoid town are a problem, but one that must be chanced. He has mapped and assessed their locations.
Since flying into LAX he has focused on this goal. After research online he purchased a 1907 Smallbore target rifle for his intended killshot and a .22 Colt pistol in case exigencies oblige him to shoot close up. He filled the trunk of his rental car with ammunition and in the arid scrub of the Mojave he practised for two days straight, primarily on cacti and also a coyote which he hit more by chance than judgement. Its screams merged with the lancing desert sunlight like an audio-visual club to the brain until he searched for it among the scree of cartoon-like boulders and shot the creature dead to shut it up. It only occurred to him afterwards that he could simply have driven away and resumed elsewhere, an error attributable to the dreadful heat.
After his practice sessions, he is still not as good a shot as he would like, but the level of skill he has achieved should suffice for a medium-range target. And while gunman and sniper are words for the kind of men whom in London he would either hunt or disdain entirely, here he finds his normal methods so cramped – his deductions blindsided by cultural differences, his access to resources barred by anonymity – that he does not entertain the idea of an elegant kill, only one with a verifiable, immediate result.
That is logic.
John called him that, just before what Sherlock has now filed on his hard drive as The Trick, and it needs to be true. Any emotions he may have experienced were deleted after the call and the jump, during the minutes his body spent convulsed with reactive weeping in a Barts storeroom while Molly stood guard. In this exile he has become himself again. A pure intellect, focused on its goal.
Every morning, John makes tea. He drinks it, and eats an apple.
The difference today is that he makes a cup for Sherlock too. Strong, with a couple of sugars, the way he always liked it. John places it at Sherlock’s empty seat, opposite his own at the Baker Street kitchen table. It goes unacknowledged, which is how things always used to be as well.
How would a man crack in peacetime? Would he do what John is doing now? Every day for the past month the thought of making a second cup has surfaced inside him, and until today he has let it sink back again under its own weight.
John, as a rule, does not crack. He copes. And today it seems he copes this way.
He sips his own tea and watches the steam from Sherlock’s rise and lose itself in the air, vigorously at first and then in slower, lazier strands. Everything comes to an end, and John himself is no longer begging for miracles, only seeking a détente with the memories that are always with him… a familiar voice struggling unthinkably with tears; the moment he realised that he was trapped watching a suicide; dark hair sopping with blood, and a head lolling gently around to reveal eyes as vacant as glass. The hands that cradled Sherlock as he died were not John’s. A close friend died in Afghanistan while under his care, as John held him, and he had not even felt about that man the way he felt…
John stops. There is a place in his head where he can’t go.
Wrapping his hands around his Armed Forces mug, he thinks of the conclusions he’s reached over the last four months. Other people, the unthinking and the well-meaning alike, believe that Sherlock was revealed as a fraud and killed himself to avoid the disgrace. They even tell John meaningfully You’re stronger than that, of course, and he forces himself to nod, but he can’t think in those terms. Life has made it quite clear to him that people fail and die in a thousand ways, and for a man as emotionally mercurial and intellectually rigid as Sherlock mental breakdown must be a possibility. But lifelong hypocrisy?
He remembers the oddness in Sherlock’s voice as he denounced himself. And Moriarty’s body was found on the roof. Of course the press framed Sherlock for killing Richard Brook and then himself, but if Moriarty forced him to make the phone call and offered the choice of being shot or jumping afterwards – either of which would look like suicide – then a logical man like Sherlock would choose the less certainly fatal option. As for why Moriarty killed himself, well, the man was psychotic and for some reason fixated on Sherlock as the only challenge worth living for. Having removed that challenge, he realised his mistake.
How banal of him, Sherlock seems to comment in John’s head. John though is just relieved the bloody homicidal lunatic’s gone. Amongst other things, it gives Sherlock’s death some shred of purpose. And it means John can at least mourn in peace rather than having to hunt Moriarty down.
As he looks out of the window at the sunny street he’s glad he stayed at 221b. Carrying on is what people do, and this is his home, and there’s Mrs Hudson to think of. Financially she’s OK, as Sherlock transferred substantial sums from his inherited family wealth both to her and to John. Which is of course another thing people do – arrange their affairs and perform small kindnesses before inflicting devastation. Sherlock seems to have realised he was going to die… does that undermine John’s theory?
John closes down on the thought. Another day battling unanswerable questions won’t change anything. Instead, he looks at Sherlock’s old red mug, steaming itself cold on the bare tabletop, and knows what he wants to do today, although it will hurt him. Sherlock’s science kit and many of his books have long since been cleared away, not to a school, because Mrs Hudson couldn’t face that in the end, but to his bedroom. The result is a mausoleum which neither of them dares to enter, and that’s not helping anybody. John knows that the way forwards is through, however painful. After all, you invaded Afghanistan, says an echo in his head.
He’s going in.
Since coming to America, Sherlock’s rhythms have changed. His previous irregular sleep average of five and a half hours a night is diminishing further, and he wakes more often and to instant alertness. When he neglects to eat, the consequences seldom catch up with him as they did in London.
It’s almost as if the lunatic desert sunshine has fused with his intent. Rising early on his second morning in Vegas he feels impelled from the bed by internal pressure, as if purpose itself were a combustive fuel. This is a day for action. He dresses, pocketing the phone which he keeps locked Irene Adler-style (if far more securely) and via which he occasionally allows himself to visit, late at night, the blank page with that one line He was my best friend and… he will not think about that now.
He leaves his anonymous motel room to begin the hunt.
However, there is a difficulty, in that even Sherlock cannot deduce that a tattooed man walked down a particular street two hours ago simply by looking at the pavement (the ‘sidewalk’). Clad in sunhat and shades, sweating through layers of vests that make him appear to be of more standard build, he uses his Midwestern accent (perfect, while his approximation of a Southern drawl is too inconsistent to risk so close to the South itself) to accost bellboys and reception staff in search of his ‘friend’. One youth loading suitcases into a coach at the back of a Strip hotel misinterprets his deliberately awkward questions as a come-on and for a moment Sherlock eyes him up and down – stocky, dark-haired, sloe-eyed – and does consider the invitation. That receptivity shocks him in the moment of thinking, and still more in the aftermath, because it is utterly inefficient.
(Once John challenged him to waste an afternoon and they did so together, in Regent’s Park. Sherlock has archived his astonishment at his own behaviour, and also the brief 4.30pm impulse, left unacted-upon, to kiss his flatmate.)
The risk of personal contact pays off. At the Paris, the Strip hotel with its own Eiffel Tower, a croupier tells him that a man with Graf’s tattoos has been splashing money at the blackjack tables; a receptionist confirms that he is staying upstairs.
Sherlock retires to an absurdly palatial lavatory and for thirty-five seconds sits head in hands on a rhinestone-inset toilet lid. If Graf is going back and forth from the elevator bank to the gaming floor, he will of necessity pass through the Provence village, an indoor plastic warren of kitsch food outlets. All of which have fake upper stories, except for Le Crêperie, whose plastic window is not entirely false, opening instead on a narrow space containing cleaning materials and enough room for a man to crouch and wait.
Sherlock returns to his motel room to collect the smallbore rifle.
The room at the back of 221b is crammed with all that was or is Sherlock. It’s dusty, of course, if only a little, and the thing that strikes John most is the disorganisation. It’s piled with boxes and boxes of flasks, test tubes and books, all left where Mrs Hudson set them down.
Sherlock would never have put up with this mess in his bedroom, whatever he did to the living room and kitchen. The framed periodic table is covered with a thin film of grime, the bust of Goethe seems to be peeking at John through a gap in the boxes that are piled up on the smart mahogany-frame bed and the whole place smells stale, with hints of nicotine, aftershave, preserving agents and some other elusive element, some essence of Sherlock that sends a bolt straight to John’s hindbrain. But he’s ready for that, or trying to be. He steps quickly over boxes to fling open the window at the back of the room.
At some point everything around him, the visible sum of Sherlock’s life, will need to be sorted through and mostly thrown away. John acknowledges that thought then skirts round it; he has a marginally less painful purpose today and he needs to get stuck in. Sherlock’s second-to-last request of him was that John should drag his name through the mud. That nonsense was surely forced out of him by Moriarty, but there was a real earnestness in his voice. He was pleading for something. To have any chance of finding out what, John needs to look for clues.
John gets his mind as right as he can, then begins to sort. He doesn’t stop until hours later, when his hands and eyes are rasp-dry with dust. By then he’s found nothing suspicious among the beakers and clothing and books, just endless chemistry notes, an exercise book filled with indecipherable code, a cache of family photographs of the kind Sherlock stubbornly denied having, and at last a set of leather items which John puts quickly aside because what they taught him was painful enough even while Sherlock was alive.
But the memory won’t let go that easily. It was late evening, and John had had a drink, and he told his flatmate, ‘I could give you anything she could’. Sherlock responded with one raised eyebrow, then for an excruciating half-hour he lay mute and abstracted under the clumsiest attempt at domming John had made since medical school.
John stands in the sunny autumnal cool of the bedroom, and knows that he was – is – in love with Sherlock. And the man was gay, and masochistic, and gorgeous, but he’d preferred text games with a woman over all the care and tenderness John could have offered.
John knows that, and he’s somehow still standing, with his arm wrapped round his waist like he’s holding himself in, and it isn’t quite working. He feels he might physically choke with loss and longing, and he covers his mouth with his other hand, telling himself he can and will get through this, for Sherlock, he will not break into pieces, but apparently that’s what’s happening as he half-sits, half-falls onto the side of the bed, dislodging a box of chemistry kit, and the only thing that comes to him when he casts around for strength is the image of Sherlock’s dead and bloodied face.
A gout of wracking tears bursts out of him, and he slides to the floor to curl up with his knees against his chest, hating the pain and welcoming it because Sherlock is dead. Perhaps if he can make himself smaller the pain will shrink too?
John cries. And cries. Then he gets up and dusts himself off, because what else do you do? And he carries on searching.
Sociopath, an imbecilic psychiatrist labelled Sherlock at the age of 15. Now, as he assembles his rifle in the narrow space above the crêpe shop, generating a series of metallic clicks as counterpoint to the hum of voices below, the diagnosis comes back to him. Although clearly a side effect of doctors’ fear of superior intellect, the terminology seems not entirely inauspicious. Sherlock has never deliberately killed before, but the dispatch of a worthless individual like Graf can present no problem to a truly logical man. In any case, John shoots people, so it can’t be very difficult.
Sherlock has already waited for two hours to ensure that his entry into this secret area has not been observed, crouching beside his locked suitcase ready to play the ruined gambler seeking a place to get his head down without paying. No security guards have come for him, but to his frustration he saw Graf pass among the ambling crowds under the fake plastic window. In the flesh, the man seemed almost impossibly solid, his muscular torso scantily covered by a ridiculous yellow vest, in the company of a woman who seemed to consist fully five per cent of implants. Sherlock could only watch, and preview the twitch of his finger on the trigger, rehearsing the moment when intent would cross into completion and his first target would be dead.
Now he passes another hour, and one more, waiting motionless behind the opaque plastic window with one pane cut out, the rifle bipod resting on a dusty stool and the endless roar of conversation, purchases, beeping slot machines filling the stuffy air. He holds himself so still that a feeling of remoteness sets in, as if his intellect were drifting above his body, loosely tethered, capable of jerking back at any moment. It’s a form of rest, and it allows him to escape, for a moment, the fullness of what he’s doing and contemplate instead how a soldier, how John might approach this work, with its heat and waiting and the need afterwards to emerge from a side door and melt into the casino crowd before anyone even considers investigating the fake window. John would in fact be more suited to this than Sherlock is. But John is so very far away, and for some reason he appears now to Sherlock with almost hallucinatory clarity, first at the kitchen sink making tea in a horrible jumper, and then pulling rank at Baskerville. At six months’ and five thousand miles’ distance, that second memory sparks an unmistakable thrill in Sherlock’s groin. How odd: why now?
Graf wanders into view again, arm in arm with the implant woman.
It’s impossibly soon. Sherlock jolts back to himself, his throat closing with panic. He fumbles for the trigger, trying to sight efficiently. He is in control of himself, his tireless work of four months has led smoothly to this moment, and he will not weave with the gun like an utter fool, but his hands are slippery with sweat and why won’t the damn crowds get out of the fucking way so he doesn’t hit them, and Graf is strolling, onwards and onwards, talking to the woman who’s mincing along beside him in ridiculous shoes and there is data, data, risk assessment, calculation of angles but no shot. Until Graf has gone past.
Sherlock takes his hands slowly off the rifle. He stands up in the tiny cleaning space, looks around at the stained walls, files what has just happened, and as far as possible resets. He wasn’t ready to shoot. There’s no excuse for that, and he has only increased his danger, but still he is occupying an excellent vantage point. Next time he will be prepared. The situation is under control. He only has to wait.
Some minutes later, one of his phones vibrates. It’s a message from the anonymous contact he pays via the internet for ‘any unusual information concerning the late Sherlock Holmes’. The woman reports a New York underworld rumour that Holmes is alive and has been seen there, asking questions.
Sherlock’s heart falters in his chest. Obviously that cannot be happening as such, but for a moment he feels it. He must speed up his operations. He must kill Graf and move on to hunt down Kolyvanov and Zagami. He must allow no more lapses. He must concentrate. He does concentrate.
But there is no sign of Graf for the next seven hours.
Sherlock’s vision swims with watching. Ten thousand people amble, prance and blunder by, stopping at the ‘outdoor’ tables of the crêperie or keeping their eyes on one another, so wrapped up in their secrets of sex desire fear money which Sherlock sucks from them automatically until he’s beyond surfeited with minuscule humanity. The fake Paris sky, an unchanging soft luminescence, glows above them and it crosses Sherlock’s mind that he could shoot someone, anyone, at random, just to change something in this utterly sterile dreamland.
The thought circles him and returns, eventually settling into place among the options that are utterly unacceptable but nevertheless creeping gradually over him – shoot at random, shoot himself, forget his mission and go home, simply close his eyes and give in to the dream that John is here and he has someone to talk to, someone to smile at him, someone to tell about this.
Graf is in view.
The assassin is wandering along with his woman again. She is blatantly only with him to fund her cocaine habit, but she’s smiling at him, and he is smiling at her, as if their counterfeit of a connection somehow made him special – and surely Graf believes it does. His shaven head catches the light as if commending itself as a target, he steps into an open space between two untenanted plastic tables, and Sherlock is prepared, the gun in position, his hand steady, his purpose set, needing only the twitch of a finger to translate judgement into execution, which will merely be the application of necessity, no violation of any rational moral code, because this man, this thing would have dared to harm Martha Hudson, and the thought of her bleeding to death on the floor of Baker Street brings Sherlock to the point where… where…
His finger still will not move. The sensation of it, tense and rigid, fills Sherlock’s mind, terrifying and absolute. He would damn this worthless creature to the ends of the Earth, but he cannot, it seems, take the small, final, rational step and shoot him dead.
Sherlock is, after all, not John. Who knew that could be a disadvantage?
Graf is gone.
Sherlock leans back against the wall. He finds himself sliding down it – thinking as he does so how very odd, how histrionic, I really can’t be doing this – until he’s sitting on the floor, trying to control his breathing. Succeeding. He is controlling his breathing.
Failure is not an option. He will find another way. He will return to his motel room for the night now and tomorrow… tomorrow he will not feel that he is unravelling, unravelling, unravelling…
Sherlock packs up, slips out, heads for his motel room. He will force himself to think.