This was probably a bad idea, Greg Lestrade thought as he set the phone receiver down. What with the budget meeting running long and the various minor fires he’d had to put out that morning and the incident reports from the Tolman case that still needed reviewing, he’d nearly forgotten he was expecting a visitor until the call came from downstairs. Ah well, too late now so might as well hope for the best. Greg sighed and made his way down to the lobby.
The last time he and Inspector Kurt Wallander of the Ystad Police Department had been together, things hadn’t exactly gone according to plan. Greg had spent an odd weekend in Sweden just over a month before. Not exactly a disaster, but Greg preferred to avoid a repeat performance of all that awkwardness and tension if at all possible. Kurt wasn’t exactly comfortable with their…relationship, if that’s what you could call it, and the man could be morose at best and prickly and combative at worst when he was uncomfortable. So yeah, probably not the best idea to meet here at the Met. If Greg could have had his way he would have preferred to meet Kurt at the airport or, better yet, his own flat. But a D.I.’s work was never done, and he had things to take care of before he could clock out on his long weekend. At least Kurt would understand that.
Despite his misgivings, he warmed with a genuine smile when he saw Kurt looking a bit small and lost in the lobby, his visitor’s badge dangling from his jacket lapel and a small travel case trailing behind him. Kurt turned and his weary face brightened when Greg called to him. They shook hands, and Greg made his apologies as they walked to the lift.
“Sorry I couldn’t meet you at the airport. It’s just…well, you know how it is.”
“Of course, it was no trouble at all,” Kurt replied. “I’m actually glad to have the opportunity to see the famous Scotland Yard.”
“Oh! Would you like a bit of a tour then? I could arrange that.” Before Kurt even had a chance to respond, Greg was bounding out of the open lift doors and wrangling up a young detective sergeant to take him around. He relieved Kurt of his luggage and sent him off with a wave.
“Just have him bring you back ‘round to my office when you’re done.”
Greg hurried back to his office, ignoring Donovan’s quizzical look as he passed by her cubicle. He closed his office door and set Kurt’s bag next to it, then went to his desk and tried to concentrate on tackling his inbox (which he could swear had doubled in the last ten minutes) in spite of the minor jig his stomach was doing.
Kurt returned about forty-five minutes later, coffee in hand, and took a seat in one of the visitor’s chairs in front of Greg’s desk. He seemed quite relaxed and amiable, which allowed Greg to relax a bit himself – if Kurt wasn’t anxious around his work colleagues, there was no reason he should be.
“Right, there’s just a few things I need to wrap up here, then we can grab a late lunch. Unless you’re hungry now? I can send someone out to pick up a sandwich or something for you?”
Kurt shook his head. “I’m fine. The coffee will tide me over.”
“Okay then, shouldn’t be too much longer,” Greg said and turned back to his computer. Before he could complete a single keystroke he caught a flash of raven hair and blue scarf out of the corner of his eye; they were coming his way and moving fast. Greg’s stomach clenched and he launched himself out of his chair towards the door. Not quick enough – Sherlock breezed past him and came to a stop in the middle of the office. Completely ignoring Kurt, he spun around to address Greg.
“I need you to go to Cardiff.”
“Sherlock,” Greg said, keeping his position near the door in the hope of escorting Sherlock back through it as soon as possible. “Now is really not a good time…”
“Oh, come on Lestrade,” Sherlock barked. “This one’s at least a seven, possibly an eight if my initial hypothesis is wrong, which is doubtful.”
“Well, what’s that to do with me?”
“I need your assistance.”
Greg refused to be moved. “Why not drag John along like you usually do?”
“He’s away. With Sasha, or Penny, or whoever the latest one is.” Sherlock waved a hand dismissively.
Greg made a hypothesis of his own and narrowed his eyes. “They’re not in Cardiff, are they?”
Sherlock gave him a withering look. “No.”
Greg sighed and shook his head. “Look Sherlock, we are not going to Cardiff,” he said, and winced when he’d realized that he’d said we.
“Why not?” Sherlock’s face gave no sign he’d noted the inclusive pronoun, but long experience told Greg that it was too much to hope that he hadn’t.
“I have other plans, obviously.”
“Well change them,” Sherlock countered.
“I’m not going to change them! The entire bloody universe doesn’t revolve around you, you know.”
“An innocent man may be sent to prison and a murderer may go free. Do you really want that on your conscience?”
Greg glared at him and Sherlock took a step back, pausing as if to regroup. Greg could almost hear the gears whirring in Sherlock’s mind as he sought a leverage point to get his way. His gaze inevitably landed on Kurt, and in an instant he was stepping forward, hand outstretched.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize you had a guest. My apologies for being so rude. Sherlock Holmes.”
“Kurt Wallander,” Kurt replied, shaking his hand.
Sherlock’s eyes darted quickly up one side of Kurt and down the other. “You’re a policeman…a detective,” he said. “Scandinavian accent. Swedish?”
“In town for the weekend,” Sherlock said, glancing at the bag by the door. “Business or pleasure?”
“Business,” Lestrade stepped forward and interjected just as Kurt answered, “Pleasure.”
“A bit of both,” Kurt tried to save it with a shrug and a smile, but the almost imperceptible quirk of Sherlock’s upper lip made Greg uneasy.
“Sherlock, stop it!” Greg’s voice was almost pleading. “Kurt’s a friend of mine and is in town for the weekend, yes. And I offered to entertain him this evening – show him the sights of London and all that. I can’t just go running off with you.”
“Of course not,” Sherlock agreed. “That would be terribly rude of you, Lestrade.” Turning to Kurt with a smile, “Have you ever been to Cardiff, Inspector Wallander?”
“Can you tell us what is the case you are working on?” Kurt asked. Greg felt the situation slipping away from him. With a heavy sigh he shut the door of his office and sat back down at his desk. Sherlock smiled slyly and pulled up a chair.
“Douglas Majors, fifty-three, Conservative representative of the Lisvane ward on the Cardiff Council, accused of stabbing his mistress to death in a hotel room three months ago. No sign of forced entry. His DNA and her blood were on the knife found at the scene.”
“Well, that all seems pretty straightforward,” Kurt said.
“Ah, but this is where it gets interesting,” Sherlock preened. “Mr Majors maintains that he couldn’t have done it, as he was tied up at the time. Quite literally.” Sherlock drew out his mobile and tapped at it a few times, then passed it to Kurt, who donned his glasses to look at the small screen. His brow furrowed as he studied the image for a moment before he passed it along. Greg reluctantly accepted it, and was met with the image of a middle-aged man lying naked on a bed, blindfolded and elaborately bound in rope.
“Are there no other suspects?” Kurt asked, taking the mobile back and glancing at it again before returning it to Sherlock.
“The wife and the councillor’s aide, but the local police maintain that their alibis check out.”
Kurt took off his glasses and tucked them back into his breast pocket. “You have your doubts?”
“Mmm,” Sherlock hummed his ascent and nodded slightly.
“Can’t this wait until next week?” Greg feebly tried to put off the inevitable, but he could see Kurt’s interest had been piqued.
“No, the trial is set to begin Monday,” Sherlock replied. “I don’t know why they waited this long to call on me. Blame the defence’s foot-dragging for the compressed timeline.”
“Perhaps he could have done it if he’d had an accomplice?” Kurt suggested.
“Perhaps,” Sherlock said. How he managed to sound both noncommittal and encouraging, Greg didn’t know.
“Or someone who knew about his rendezvous…a jealous wife, or political rival? Have you interviewed the wife yet?” Kurt continued.
“No, not yet. That’s why I need your assistance – multiple threads to unravel and not a lot of time to unravel them. What do you say, Inspector? I promise we can have this wrapped up by tomorrow evening with your help, and you’ll still have time for some R&R. I hear Cardiff is lovely this time of year.”
Kurt looked at Greg, and he shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose if you want to go, I won’t object.”
“Excellent!” Sherlock exclaimed. There’s a train leaving Paddington Station at 5:15 – that gives you plenty of time to grab a bite to eat and pack.” Sherlock was already up and moving towards the door. “I’ll collect you at Cardiff station.”
Rooms always seemed quieter when Sherlock left them. Well, perhaps not so much ‘quieter’ as more still – like a stick stirring up the waters into a turbulent whirlpool had suddenly been removed.
Greg heaved a sigh and then turned back to his computer screen.
“You don’t mind, do you?” Kurt asked after a few moments.
“Why should I mind?” Greg replied, trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice and mostly succeeding. “But you really have no idea what you’ve just signed us up for.”
They arrived at Paddington Station a little before five, and Greg insisted they splurge on the first-class carriage. He said he’d make Sherlock pay for it, and Kurt suspected he meant something more than simply being reimbursed for expenses.
They’d wound up having a very late lunch indeed, as Greg had been interrupted several more times with pressing administrative matters that simply couldn’t wait. He was sullen and quiet throughout their meal of pub burgers and chips. Kurt struggled to keep some semblance of conversation going, unable to elicit even a hint of that charming grin and warm laughter that usually came so easily to Greg.
Afterwards they took a taxi back to Greg’s place – a modest one-bedroom second floor flat. Kurt’s investigator’s eye couldn’t help but pick up the tell-tale signs of a busy bachelor: kitchen bin overflowing with take-away containers, a basket full of laundry on the sofa, rugs in some need of hoovering.
“Make yourself comfortable,” Greg said, tossing his keys onto a small table near the door. “I’ll just need to pack a bag – won’t be a mo.”
Kurt took a seat on the sofa and Greg followed after him, muttering an apology before grabbing the laundry basket and disappearing with it into the bedroom. Kurt could hear him opening and closing drawers and wardrobe doors a little more emphatically than was strictly necessary as he packed.
They hadn’t spoken much in the taxi on the way to the station, and the silence between them followed them onto the train and pressed on as the cityscape gave way to suburbs, and finally the English countryside.
Perhaps this was a bad idea, Kurt thought. He may have made a mistake following Sherlock’s lead, but to be honest he was relieved by the diversion. As much as he’d been looking forward to seeing Greg again, he was anxious about how it might go. What did they really know about each other, anyway? What if they didn’t get along after all and he was stuck in a strange city for nearly four days? At least looking into this case would give them something to do – something that was familiar to them both, even if it was technically work during their holiday time. At least it took the pressure off of him to be entertaining, which had never been his strong suit.
After thirty minutes of staring out the window and listening to Greg flipping through the pages of a magazine he had picked up at the station, Kurt decided to play the peace-maker.
“He isn’t quite how I pictured him,” he said.
“Who?” Greg responded without looking up from his magazine.
“Sherlock Holmes. The way you had described him, I was expecting some sort of manic space alien or something.”
“Oh I don’t know. I reckon that’s a pretty accurate picture.”
“He seemed perfectly charming to me.”
Greg looked up then and fixed him with a piercing gaze. “Well of course he did, he wanted something from you. He’ll charm the tits off you if charming suits his purpose. He was looking for leverage to move me, so he used you.”
Kurt felt his hackles rise at Greg’s tone and the implication that perhaps he had been duped. Determined not to pick a fight, he let go of his annoyance as best he could and kept his voice neutral. “He is very observant. I’m curious to see him work. You obviously think very highly of him. You said yourself he’s been invaluable to you on any number of occasions.”
Greg closed the magazine and set it aside. “Yeah, I’ll be the first to admit he’s a bloody genius. But all that comes with a price. Just wait – you’ll see what I mean soon enough. A little dose of Sherlock goes a long way. I’ll be buggered if you’re not ready to strangle him by this time tomorrow.”
“Fair enough. You know him best,” Kurt conceded.
“Yeah, I suppose” Greg muttered, facing forward again and leaning back in his seat.
Kurt turned and looked out the window at fields and hedgerows that were a deep, muted green in the late afternoon light of an overcast sky. He searched for something more to say, but when he looked over at Greg again, his eyes were closed, inviting no further conversation. Kurt’s gaze fell upon the jacket that he had draped across the armrest between them, and a thought occurred to him that made his heart beat faster. But what would it matter here? None of the other people on the train knew them, or were paying them any attention. He hesitated a moment, then slipped his hand beneath the jacket until the backs of his fingers brushed against Greg’s thigh.
“I’m sorry for dragging you out of London. I hope I haven’t ruined your weekend,” he said.
Greg glanced down, then met Kurt’s eyes. He shrugged and gave a slight smile. “Nah, it’s not like I had anything actually planned.” He slid his open hand under the jacket and rested it on his thigh. Kurt’s fingers began stroking the inside of his palm.
“Just, you know,” Greg continued after a pause, “thought maybe I’d take you around to the major sights, or catch a West End matinee. Mostly I just thought we’d go down the pub and watch some football.”
“I don’t much care for football,” Kurt murmured, leaning closer so that their shoulders touched.
“Oh, then I don’t see how this could possibly work,” Greg replied, lowering his voice as well. Kurt trailed his fingers up the inside of Greg’s wrist, and watched as the pulse in Greg’s neck quickened.
“Well, I suppose I could try to overlook it. But between that and your thing for opera, it could be very difficult – just warning you.”
“Hmm,” Kurt breathed, rubbing the back of Greg’s hand with his thumb. “How about I agree to tolerate your sport fetish if you agree to tolerate my lack of it.”
“Deal. I suppose it’s a good thing, then, us running all over Cardiff on a murder investigation we have no business getting involved in. At least it’s something we have in common.”
“Not your idea of fun, though?”
“No, it’s my idea of work. And I won’t even be getting paid for it.”
“We’ll just have to be sure to make time for other things, then.” Kurt’s hand left Greg’s wrist and made its way between his thighs. Greg inhaled sharply and looked at Kurt with a broad grin.
“I’ll hold you to that, Inspector.”
Kurt laughed and pulled his hand back. He laced his fingers together with Greg’s and didn’t let go until the train pulled into Cardiff Station.