The car door began to shut. Through the closing gap, something pale streaked.
Alistair paused. “Shall I remove it, sir?” he asked.
“No,” Mycroft replied, mobile in hand. “The meeting has been moved up.”
John heard the meowing from the bottom of the stairs. Gray met him half-way up, trotted past, mews sharp and loud. As John entered the sitting room, he could hear the variations in the kitten’s cries as he checked each corner of the downstairs hallway for Sherlock.
The manila envelope on his laptop caught John’s eye. It bore no writing. He slid out the photographs of Baker Street at night, raindrops on the lens distorting the images.
“Ah,” John said when he came to the still that had captured most of a number plate.
Gray complained all the way up the stairs, into the sitting room and from atop the back of Sherlock’s chair.
John glanced over the photographs. “I’m sorry I’m not Sherlock.” The cat stopped meowing, eyes on John. “He had tests to run that he couldn’t do here.” John looked into the kitchen. The plaintive yowls resumed. John walked towards the overturned bowls on the floor. “I see,” he said, righting them.
“Not a piece of kibble in sight,” John remarked and pulled a large bag from the cupboard. “You are thorough.” The plastic crinkled loudly as John pulled the seal apart. “This problem, I can help you with.”
Gray appeared by his side, thrust his head under the stream of food and started crunching. John adjusted his aim. Gray flicked his ear at the occasional bit that grazed him on the way to the bowl.
“I can’t complain about you not feeding yourself.” John looked around. “Where’s Red? Did you eat all his food, too?” he asked as he rinsed and refilled the water dishes.
Downstairs, the door opened and shut. Gray spun around and sped between John’s legs as he set the water down, mews echoing off the walls.
John followed him.
“Oh, John, did you get the envelope Mycroft dropped off?” Mrs Hudson called when John came into view.
Behind her, Gray was sniffing along the bottom of the door and meowing.
“Yeah,” John said, descending further. “When’d he come by?”
“Not ten minutes after you and Sherlock left,” she said. “I was just going over to Mrs Turner’s. She had tickets for the cinema. Do you know you can print them out from your computer now?”
Gray was up on his hind legs, scratching along the door jamb.
“No I didn’t, actually,” John said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been.”
“Well, you can. And they scan them when you get there. Don’t even read them, just wave a little machine over them before they admit you.” She glanced at Gray. “I told Mycroft to mind the kittens running out when I let him in.” She peered up the stairs. “Red hiding?”
“I haven’t seen him yet,” John replied. “But I just put food out. He’s probably found it by now.”
Gray made a circuit of the hallway and started up the stairs, sniffing and meowing more softly.
“He misses Sherlock when he’s not home, doesn’t he?” Mrs Hudson said, watching the cat’s ascent.
John half turned. “He didn’t get to nest in Sherlock’s hair much today. Puts him right out of sorts when that happens.”
“Well, I’ll come up and see if I can console him,” Mrs Hudson said. “I bought the cutest little feather thing on a string yesterday. I thought he and Red might like it. And the cake I made this morning will be cool by now. Shall I bring some up?”
“I’ll put the kettle on.”
The screen between the front and back seats rolled down. “Well, moggie, what shall we do with you?” Alistair asked, peering over the partition.
Ears flattened, Red stared back from a corner by the seat, exposed now that Mycroft had taken the attaché case away.
“You got rather wet in your dash for freedom.” Alistair shook his head. “I think you’ve traded more for less.”
Red lifted a forepaw and licked the spiked fur.
There were two clicks and a large chamois sailed over the partition. It settled in a soft mound on the carpet. “There you go.”
Red hissed, ears flattened.
In the front seat, a mobile buzzed. Alistair turned away.
Red’s ear cocked for an instant then flattened again. His eyes narrowed at the amorphous shape on the floor. Crouched, he crept forward and sniffed.
“Yes, please. No time for breakfast this morning.” Alistair glanced over the back of the seat.
Red was digging the claws of an outstretched paw into the cloth.
“Any chance you’re...” The call ended. Alistair tapped the phone against the leather. “He who hesitates is lost,” he said. “Hopefully, she isn’t allergic to the likes of you,” he added over his shoulder.
Gray sat down on the tangle of string and bright feathers.
“I think we can declare it a success,” John said, setting down his mug.
Mrs Hudson beamed. “I thought they’d like it.” Her gaze swept around the edges of the carpet. “I’m surprised Red didn’t come out from wherever he’s tucked himself up though.”
“We may have to move the furniture again to find him,” John said.
“But he hasn’t done that in a long while,” Mrs Hudson replied. She bit at the edge of her lip. “You don’t think...”
Gray lifted his head and sprang towards the door, skidding as he made the turn into the hall, meowing at full volume.
“Well,” John said, “we can consult the expert in a minute.”
Alistair leaned across the seat to push the door open. Anthea handed in the bag she was carrying and followed it into the car.
“Unless someone storms out, they aren’t likely to finish anytime soon,” she said, opening the glove box and setting her Blackberry on the tray. “Let’s see if we can eat before that happens.”
“That bad, eh?” Alistair remarked. He did not reach out to brush away the raindrops caught in Anthea’s hair. He pulled the stapled edges of the bag apart, lifted out a plastic bowl and passed it carefully to her.
“That bad." She pried the lid off the bowl and took a sip of the miso soup.
A mew sounded from the back seat.
Anthea tilted her head back and saw the tip of a ginger tail.
“So he took him,” she stated.
Alistair pointed over his shoulder with his chopsticks. “He leapt into the car before I could get the door closed.”
“And you weren’t instructed to remove him?”
“I was told we’d be late,” Alistair replied.
Anthea raised an eyebrow and finished her soup.
The next mew was louder. Red scrabbled up the back of the front seat.
Alistair observed the needle-like claws unhooking from the leather upholstery a few inches from his face and winced. “Perhaps we should feed him.”
The meowing had stopped. There were footsteps on the stairs. Gray was riding on Sherlock’s shoulder when Sherlock appeared in the doorway.
“Mycroft has him,” he said.
John scowled. “Who?” he asked, the possibilities being manifold.
“Red,” Sherlock replied, eyes sweeping the room.
“He couldn’t resist,” Mrs Hudson said, heading for the kitchen. “I should have known the envelope was just an excuse.”
Sherlock strode to the desk and flipped through the photographs. “Took him long enough,” he said, dropping them back on the table. “Anthea informed me of Red’s location when she texted the name and address that matches this number plate.” He picked up John’s dish and ate the rest of the cake on it.
Grey stretched forward and sniffed.
“Why didn’t Mycroft pass on the information when he first saw the CCTV footage?” Sherlock grumbled.
“He kidnapped the cat,” John said, cutting another slice of cake. “Why didn’t he just ask? I said we were looking for a home for Red.”
Sherlock held out his plate and John slid the piece of cake onto it.
“Of course, kidnapping is more Mycroft’s style,” John added.
Sherlock shook his head, mouth full of cake. He swallowed some. “It would appear Red took the initiative,” he said around the rest.
Mrs Hudson came in with a mug of tea and handed it to Sherlock. “I warned him the kittens were sneaking out every chance they got.”
“Oh, really,” Sherlock said, taking the tea.
“So where’s Red now?” John asked.
Sherlock handed his mobile to Mrs. Hudson.
She perched on the edge of the sofa next to John. “What’s he doing?” she asked, squinting at the phone and tilting it so John could see the video playing.
“Eating salmon sashimi,” Sherlock replied, “in Mycroft’s car.”