For the second time in as many minutes, John Watson stared death in the face. He was either going to die when Moriarty’s snipers fired on him and Sherlock, or he was going to die when Sherlock shot the bomb-jacket so recently ripped from around his torso.
The thought that Sherlock wouldn’t didn’t even cross John’s mind. His immediate reaction was that Sherlock bloody well would. They had seconds. Sherlock wouldn’t shoot the bomb if there wasn’t a way out; he wasn’t suicidal, even to take Moriarty with him into death. Desperately, feverishly, John tried to think like Sherlock.
It hit him like a punch to the stomach. They were standing beside a pool. Water could save them from the brunt of the explosion, and would absorb the impact of any bullets Moriarty’s henchmen fired at the surface. Thank you, Discovery Channel, and its endless re-runs of MythBusters.
Sherlock shot him a glance: Do you trust me? Do you understand? John desperately tried to silently convey that he did. He saw Sherlock’s finger shift against the trigger and moved instantly. He couldn’t wait until after the gun fired. Waiting meant death. He had to risk the snipers.
He barrelled into Sherlock as the explosion blossomed at the edge of his vision. The force of it knocked them sideways as they fell and John felt something sharp – a bullet, a piece of shrapnel, he couldn’t tell which – drill into the flesh of his thigh. There was no time to analyse the injury. There was barely time for a flash of pain and a yelp of surprise before he hit the water and the last of his breath was driven from his lungs.
Sherlock’s hands grabbed his upper arms. The other man kicked downwards, driving them both deep into the water as pieces of masonry and tile splashed around them. Adrenaline was keeping the pain at bay, but the doctor in John knew that he needed to keep his leg as still as possible to prevent further injury. He was highly aware of the debris in the water, and also the red stain of his own blood. The chlorine would probably save him from the worst of infection, he thought dimly as he shoved a slowly falling chunk of roof away from them, but it could only do so much.
His lungs burned to take a breath as Sherlock kicked them along the bottom of the pool, his eyes open and turned on the rippling surface. John dared a glanced upwards. The worst of the explosion seemed to be over and the falling pieces of the walls and roof seemed to have settled on the bottom. There were still smaller bits and pieces drifting down, but nothing larger than his own fist. He looked at Sherlock and desperately pointed towards the surface. He needed to breathe.
Sherlock shook his head. He shifted his grip to the back of John’s head and, before John could think about what was happening, dragged him forwards. Sherlock pressed his mouth against John’s and parted his lips, sharing a breath. In any other situation, John might have balked at the idea, but as oxygen reached his starved lungs he could only be grateful. Sherlock pulled back after only a moment, focusing again on the surface as if trying to see if they still had company.
Whether they did or not, John knew that they would have to go up sooner rather than later. Buddy-breathing was all well and good, but it couldn’t last forever, not without fresh oxygen. He tugged on Sherlock’s sleeve and pointed more insistently. With extreme reluctance, Sherlock scanned the surface once more and kicked them upwards.
They broke the dust-scummed surface and John gulped down a welcome breath – followed by a mouthful of dirty, chlorine-tasting water as Sherlock immediately dragged them under again. He whirled around to glare at his flatmate. He understood the need for caution, because Moriarty and his men might still be around, but he would have liked a little warning. Sherlock held up a hand as if to silence the protest John couldn’t voice underwater.
When no red laser-sights appeared on the water and no bullets punctured the surface, Sherlock eventually nodded and allowed John to return to the top. He gasped for breath, kicking feebly with one leg while the other hung in the water and bled. Sherlock grabbed hold of him, somehow keeping both their heads above the surface.
“All right?” he asked between heavy breaths, his eyes darting towards the red water around them.
“Fine for the moment,” John replied, breathless from both lack of oxygen and the exertion of staying afloat. He glanced around the darkened swimming pool. There was no sign of Moriarty, though the lights had died in the explosion and the only lighting was now coming from underwater, giving the whole place strange shadows. “Let’s get out of here.”
Together, they somehow managed to reach the side of the pool. Sherlock levered himself out as gracefully as possible, then reached down to grip John’s hand. Dragging his injured leg up onto the side pulled at the ripped tissue and he hissed, clutching at it as feeling beyond a dull ache returned.
“Jesus,” he spat, his fingers digging hard into his sodden jeans. Sherlock was glancing around furtively. John recognised the twitchy motion from his days as a soldier. They were in enemy territory, out in the open, with one man injured. Sherlock was scouting for hostiles. Knowing that he would sound the alarm if he saw anything, John checked the wound.
He couldn’t see much in the dim, rippling light. A quick probe told him that the wound had cut deep into the muscle, possibly to the bone. Hissing, he withdrew his fingers.
“Can you walk?” Sherlock asked urgently. “We should take cover.”
John shook his head. “I should keep it as still as possible.”
Sherlock nodded and grabbed him under the arms, dragging him backwards towards the nearest poolside cubicle that was still whole. Undignified, yes, but John was willing to sacrifice a little dignity if it meant staying alive. Once inside, Sherlock straightened and stepped over John, who pulled himself back to the wall. Sherlock closed and locked the door, then pulled his phone out of an inner pocket. After staring at it for a moment, he scowled.
“Damn. It’s dead.” He looked at John. “I should go and get help.”
Panic rose like bile in John’s throat. He grabbed desperately at Sherlock’s ankle, the only thing he could reach. “No! Don’t. Safety in numbers.”
As he spoke, he managed to get his voice under control but he knew that Sherlock had heard the raw fear in his first syllables. What he might not know, however, was that it was not fear for John’s own safety – it was more a fear that Sherlock might run into Moriarty or one of his accomplices and get himself killed. The thought made John feel sick. If he had gone through all of this only for Sherlock to be shot now – it didn’t bear thinking about.
Sherlock paused, looking down on him with a slight frown wrinkling his brow. At last, he crouched down at John’s feet with his back pressed against the wooden door.
“We need to contact the police,” John said, though he had no idea how they might do it, with Sherlock’s phone out of action and his own taken by Moriarty.
“I sent Lestrade a text before I left telling him to check my website at midnight,” Sherlock said softly. His eyes were drawn to the blood stain on John’s jeans. “That should lead him here.”
“Yeah, eventually,” John snapped, pressing one hand to his bleeding leg. He needed to stem the blood flow, but it was almost too painful to touch, let alone put pressure on it. “What if Moriarty comes back?”
As if on cue, they head a door open. Both men froze. Suddenly John wished that Sherlock hadn’t lost the gun in the pool.
Footsteps entered the main pool area with caution. For a moment, Sherlock looked like he was about to stand. John leaned forward and grabbed his arm tightly, holding him down. The cubicles were an obvious hiding place, Moriarty and his men would know that and might decide to shoot first and check for bodies later. Standing would make Sherlock an easy target for a spray of chest-height bullets.
Outside, someone shouted, “Clear!”
More footsteps as others came through from the corridor, and near-silence as they padded around the room, probably checking the pool itself as well as the surrounding area for their bodies. It could only take so long before they came to the conclusion that they had survived and checked the cubicles. John’s heart pounded in a way that it hadn’t since Afghanistan.
Suddenly, a familiar voice called, “Sherlock? Sherlock, are you in here?”
Lestrade. Never had John been so glad to hear the man’s voice. He slumped back against the wall in relief, letting go of Sherlock’s arm so that he could stand and unlock the door.
Through the opening, John could see multiple armed police officers, the torches on their firearms casting long yellow beams across the dusty space. The nearest spun around at the sound and motion of the door, pointing their guns at Sherlock before they recognised him and turned them down towards the tiled floor again.
A moment later, Lestrade appeared in his line of sight and Sherlock started talking urgently, explaining Moriarty and everything that had happened. John strained to hear the words over the ringing in his ears. Now that he knew that they were safe, his body had relaxed – and with the relaxation came the full return of sensation to his leg. He had forgotten – how the hell had he forgotten? – just how painful a shot wound could be. He closed his eyes in an attempt to block it out, and slid into unconsciousness.
At some point, someone must have called an ambulance. John knew this, because when he woke up he was in hospital. The smell – the very texture of the air – was unmistakable. He would know it anywhere. For a long while he lay with his eyes closed, wondering what medication they had put him on to dull the pain.
Eventually, he said, “Hello, Sherlock.”
Someone shifted for the first time in the chair beside his bed and he smiled. It had been a complete guess that there would be someone there at all, but he had suspected. He had hoped.
“Good guess, John,” Sherlock conceded. He cracked open his eyes and was surprised to find himself in a private room. Sherlock smiled at him. “You can thank Mycroft for the accommodation.”
“I will,” John replied with a smile, turning his head to look at his flatmate.
Sherlock was wearing his dressing gown and pyjamas, suggesting that he too was a patient and that he had been in the hospital long enough to have had supplies brought from home. He also looked pale and bored out of his mind. John could see numerous small dressings where tiny cuts had been tended, but there were no large injuries visible, which was a relief.
“Did they catch Moriarty?”
He couldn’t resist the question. As soon as he asked he knew from Sherlock’s expression that they had had no luck. He hadn’t really expected them to have caught Moriarty. The man had got the better of Sherlock Holmes – it was clear that he was no ordinary criminal.
“They’re watching stations and airports, but they won’t get him,” Sherlock said darkly. “No one can.”
“No one but you,” John told him softly.
“Not even me,” Sherlock snapped, propelling himself out of the chair and starting to pace furiously. “I lost him, John!”
“To be fair, you were almost blown up,” he reminded him gently, only to have Sherlock round on him.
“And you were shot,” he shouted. “Because you know me. Because we’re friends.” He said the word with disdain. “This is why I don’t have friends, John.”
He broke off and stared at John. Unsure of what to say to that, John stared back. Then Sherlock turned and stormed out of the room.
He didn’t come to visit again, and a day later John learned from one of the nurses that he had discharged himself. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, while John recuperated from his injury, he was visited by Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, Sarah, even Mycroft, who brought grapes and a copy of every newspaper Sherlock usually had delivered to the flat. But Sherlock did not come back.
As he managed to get up onto his feet and take a few tottering steps, he was told by his doctors that he might be left with a permanent limp. The next time Mrs Hudson visited, he asked her with a heavy heart to fetch his cane.
Mycroft arranged for a sleek black car with blacked out windows to pick him up from the hospital when he was eventually discharged. He was wheeled outside with a bag full of painkillers and antibiotics on his lap, and then helped to his feet by Mycroft’s driver: a six-foot-tall man with muscles barely contained by his suit. He managed to hobble the few steps from the wheelchair to the car with his stick and gratefully sat down in the empty back seat.
Somehow, he made it up the stairs to 221B with his bag on his shoulder and without the help of Mrs Hudson or the driver. He found Sherlock on the sofa in his pyjamas, his black laptop on his knee. Leaning heavily on his cane but refusing to sit, John raised a hand in greeting.
Sherlock grunted at him without looking up. John heard footsteps on the stairs and turned in time to see Mrs Hudson reach the top.
“Oh, John, dear – sit down, I’ll make you a cuppa.”
She bustled past him into the kitchen. With a final glance at Sherlock and a deep sigh, John sat down in his usual chair and stretched out his newly injured leg. Ironically, it was the right – the same leg he had limped on after being shot in Afghanistan. He let out a faint, humourless chuckle.
“Not so psychosomatic any more,” he muttered, and reached over to grab the newspaper from the coffee table, flipping to the cryptic crossword – one of the few things that left Sherlock stumped and made John feel vaguely clever.
He was just about to make a start when he glanced up and looked around the flat. The blown-out windows had been fixed. Sherlock was in his nightwear at three in the afternoon, sulking and poking at the internet. Mrs Hudson was clattering about the kitchen, doing the washing up while the kettle boiled. He had a crossword and his medication was blocking the pain from his leg admirably.
It was almost as if the past few weeks since the bomb spree orchestrated by Moriarty had never happened. Life seemed to be back to normal.
John knew better than to breathe a sigh of relief. Moriarty was still at large, and he would most certainly be back. Either he would come after Sherlock or Sherlock would go after him.
For the moment, though, it was a quiet Sunday afternoon and Sherlock was keeping quiet, giving him a perfect opportunity to focus on the cryptic clues of the Daily Mail crossword. He smiled to himself as he settled back against the cushions. For now, life was good.
It made sense that it was then that everything fell apart.
Mrs Hudson had just brought him his tea when there was a knock at the door downstairs, which she insisted on answering. John went back to his crossword, but by now he was used to listening out in case the visitor was for them. Sure enough, he heard Lestrade’s muffled voice downstairs followed by familiar footsteps on the stairs. He sighed and closed the paper. The man was hurrying: this wasn’t a social visit.
The policeman knocked on the open door before stepping inside and looking around. “John. Good to see you’re home.”
“It’s good to be here,” John said, but he could hear that the greeting was a cursory one. Lestrade was here to see Sherlock and before John had even finished speaking he had transferred his attention to the other man.
“What?” Sherlock said, not looking up. “I’m busy.”
“We have a body,” Lestrade told him. Sherlock continued to tap at his keyboard, disinterested by the thought of a murder.
Lestrade folded his arms across his chest and took a deep breath. “The victim was male: Caucasian, tall, dark hair from what we can tell, below average weight. He was found at the side of a swimming pool, having suffered serious burns to the face and chest, which the pathologist tells me were probably caused by some kind of explosion. He’s also had his heart removed, after the explosion.”
Finally Sherlock looked up. John’s heart skipped inside his chest. The swimming pool and the explosion combined with the description Lestrade had given, which might as well describe Sherlock, made this murder a little too close to home. His mind immediately jumped to Moriarty and he could see that Sherlock’s had done the same, despite his aversion to guesswork.
“You’ve moved the body?” Sherlock asked after a few seconds. Lestrade nodded.
“Technically, this isn’t my case – it’s Gregson’s,” Lestrade said. Sherlock seemed to recognise the name though it was unfamiliar to John – but the tone the detective used told John pretty much all he needed to know. There was clearly some kind of feud between Lestrade and Gregson, probably purely professional. “He mentioned it to me this morning. He was talking about how strange it was that a man who’d been caught in an explosion should be found in an undamaged swimming pool he had no business being in.”
“You saw the similarities with the situation Moriarty contrived, and investigated further?”
“It’s hard not to,” Lestrade said bluntly, “Even for those of us of lesser intellect. Though I did wonder about the heart thing …”
“Hmm,” said Sherlock, putting his laptop aside at last and steepling his fingers.
“What does Gregson think?” John asked while Sherlock was thinking. Lestrade shrugged and shook his head, finally unfolding his arms.
“He hasn’t got a clue,” the detective told him. “Well, he hasn’t much to go on – there were no fingerprints, the CCTV was shorted out so there aren’t any images, and no one he’s talked to saw anything.”
“I need to see the body,” Sherlock said, standing and striding towards his bedroom. “Meet me at Barts, Lestrade. Text me if you find anything new.”
“Can’t,” Lestrade called, stopping him in his tracks. Sherlock turned on him. Lestrade shrugged. “Lost my phone, and your number with it.”
Sherlock glared at him, as if personally affronted that his favourite mode of communication was no longer an option. Then he rattled off his phone number, turned and swept out.
“I can give you his number,” John offered when he had disappeared. He pulled out his phone, found Sherlock’s number while Lestrade was finding his, and then handed it over. He watched as the detective keyed in the digits. “Do you think it’s Moriarty?”
The other man passed him his phone back and nodded, his expression grim. “It’s got to be a message for Sherlock. I doubt we’ll prove anything, but I can’t see how it would be anything else. Unless it’s a copycat, which I doubt because we’ve been keeping the press out of it as much as possible.” He shook his head. “Whatever it is, it doesn’t look good.”
“No,” John replied darkly. “It doesn’t.”
There was a moment’s silence before Lestrade cleared his throat and changed the subject. “So how are you feeling?”
“Not so bad, but then, I only had my dose of pain medication an hour or so ago,” John told him. He glanced down at his leg, which he knew from experience would start to bother him in the near future. He had perhaps another hour or two before the ache started to return. He looked up at Lestrade and smiled. “I’ll be fine.”
“Good, good,” the detective said, returning the smile warmly. Another silence, then he sighed and looked at his watch. “I’d best be off – I should go and tell the morgue we’re going to need that body wheeling out, and tell Gregson that Sherlock’s on board with this one. He’ll probably wet himself with excitement.” Again, there was a hard line of probably-friendly animosity when Lestrade mentioned Gregson. John smiled, sharing the joke, as Lestrade turned towards the door. “I’ll probably see you later.”
“Bye,” John called as Lestrade stared down the stairs. He settled, waiting for Sherlock to return. A few minutes later, he clattered down the back stairs and swept into the living room to grab his coat. Sherlock turned to look at him as he put on his scarf.
“Don’t follow me,” he said firmly, almost glaring. John raised his eyebrows; he had been expecting the complete opposite.
“Well, I wasn’t going to,” he replied. It would be stupid to even try, especially since his leg probably wouldn’t let him get back down the stairs. Sherlock hummed doubtfully and John couldn’t help but snap at him. “I wasn’t! I can barely walk, Sherlock, let alone run across London with you.”
“Good,” Sherlock said, then without another word he turned and hurried out of the flat.
“Well, that was unexpected,” John muttered. He heard the front door open and slam closed. He had sensed from the fact that Sherlock had not visited him that he was keeping his distance, but he hadn’t thought that he would cut him off so completely. Still, he reasoned, perhaps Sherlock was actually trying to be considerate about his recent injury; perhaps Mrs Hudson had him under orders not to strain John’s leg. There could be any number of explanations.
He picked up his tea and took a long drink. At least the flat was quiet and he could do the crossword, he thought to himself as he reached again for the paper. However, as he started to read the clues, he found his mind wandering to the case Lestrade had laid out and wishing that he wasn’t forced to stay at home.
The living room phone rang, jolting John out of a dream that was full of gunfire. He groped blindly for his watch and peered at it, gritting his teeth against the rising pain in his leg. It was two in the morning. He had snatched three hours of sleep. He had another three to go before he could take more painkillers.
The phone continued to ring. He swore and sat up, tossing his watch onto the bedside table and reaching for his cane. The last thing he wanted was to get up and use his aching leg to hobble to the living room, but he couldn’t leave the phone ringing. He swung his legs off the side of the bed, swearing under every laboured breath, and forced himself to stand.
“I am going to kill Sherlock,” he told himself as he limped across the room, relying on his stick to stay even vaguely upright. He pulled open his bedroom door – and the ringing stopped.
John closed his eyes and tried to calm his temper. Sherlock hadn’t delayed answering the phone on purpose, he wasn’t that cruel. He probably didn’t even realise that John was awake, let alone that he had got up.
Sherlock’s voice drifted up the stairs. “Hello? … And? … I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Do not move the body.”
He heard the other man slam the phone back into its cradle and shouted, “Lestrade?”
“Go back to bed!” was all the reply he got. He briefly – very briefly – considered going down to interrogate Sherlock further. Then he shifted his weight without thinking and his right leg almost gave way underneath him and he had to swallow a yelp of pain.
He limped back to bed. He might not be able to sleep through the pain, but at least he wouldn’t have to put any weight on his damaged muscle. He could ask Sherlock about whatever body they had found in the morning.
Dimly, though a haze of painkillers and sleep, John heard his bedroom door click open. He turned his head, frowning. “Sherlock,” he grumbled, not really awake. “Don’t you ever knock?”
With what felt like a great effort, John lifted an arm and rubbed a hand across his eyes. He felt the bed sink as Sherlock sat down on the edge of his bed. He dropped his arm but left his eyes closed; it was too much effort to open them, with the painkillers dulling his system.
“What did Lestrade want?” he asked.
Cool fingers stroked across his forehead, then combed back his hair. He shifted his head, trying to get away mostly on principle. He wanted to reach out and grab Sherlock’s wrist, push him off, but it required energy he didn’t have. Much as he wanted to pretend otherwise, his body was still recovering from the shot, and climbing two flights of stairs yesterday had taken its toll.
The fingers stilled against his cheek, then disappeared. Apparently, he didn’t want to answer the question. John frowned slightly; he didn’t like that Sherlock was blocking him out from this case – from any case. He tried again. “What was it he wanted you to see?”
“I imagine it was the body of Mark Dowling, accountant, who was found dead in a swimming pool last night with his heart missing.”
Not Sherlock’s voice. John’s stomach turned over. He knew that accent, that intonation. He snapped his eyes open, all thoughts of fatigue evaporating as he scrabbled backwards.
Moriarty. The man who had strapped him into a bomb-jacket – who had trained a sniper on him and on Sherlock – who had nearly managed to have them both killed – was sitting on his bed. There was no one in but Mrs Hudson, and John didn’t want to call her in case she too became entangled in Moriarty’s web.
“Hello, John,” Moriarty said with a smile and a condescending wave of his fingers. “Did you miss me?”
John swung his legs out of bed and tried to stand, hand reaching for his cane as he took a step. It wasn’t there. His hand closed on air and he was forced to put his full weight on his right leg for the first time since he was shot. He yelled as it collapsed under his weight, sending him sprawling on the floor, clutching at his thigh.
“Oh, poor John,” Moriarty said as he leaned back to peer at John over the bed. “That leg still bothering you?”
“Yes,” John hissed. He couldn’t move – could barely think. He remembered this pain, the pain of muscles not-yet-healed being torn open once again by too much activity. He had brought it upon himself the last time he had been shot. He almost wanted to laugh at that. Most people were content to be shot once and then live a quiet life, but oh, no – he couldn’t do that.
“Were you looking for this?” Moriarty asked, lifting the cane and then using it to poke John in the shoulder. “If I give it to you, will you cooperate?”
“No,” John replied. He forced himself to put the pain to one side and slowly got up onto his hands and knees. His thigh burned. “Get out of my flat.”
Moriarty laughed. “Oh, John – you really think you have the upper hand here?” He covered his grin with one hand. “And here was I, thinking you had to be at least a little bit brilliant for Sherlock to put up with you …”
John didn’t try to reply. Instead, he focused on getting himself onto his feet. He had just about staggered upright when Moriarty – unsmiling and holding the cane like a weapon – appeared directly in front of him.
“All right, John, this is how this is going to work,” he said softly. “You’re going to come with me. You’re going to do as I say. If you don’t, Sherlock is going to die.” He paused, his eyes losing focus for a moment. “Well. He’ll probably die anyway, but if you come with me you can at least try to save him.”
“And if I say no?” John asked tersely. He wasn’t going to say no. The thought of letting Sherlock’s life slip through his fingers was unbearable, but he had to ask.
Moriarty lashed out with the cane. It connected sharply with the wound on his thigh, sending him tumbling back to the floor, a strangled cry tearing itself from his throat as he went down. Tears blurred his vision as Moriarty bent over him.
“Don’t play games with me, Dr. Watson,” he said softly, his voice rapidly losing its veneer of calm. “We both know you will agree to my terms. But for the sake of argument, if you did say no, I would personally beat you with your own cane,” He placed the end of the cane against John’s thigh and pressed down, drawing another pained sound from him, “And then I would shoot you in the head. Clear?”
“Clear,” John choked. Moriarty withdrew the cane and he curled around his leg, gulping down lungfuls of air to combat the sickness rising in his throat and trying to ignore the saline tang of tears on his lips.
“Get up,” Moriarty ordered coldly, tapping him on the shoulder with the handle end of his cane. Slowly, John took it and somehow levered himself upright. Every movement of his body sent shooting pains through the muscle of his thigh. Walking was going to be a nightmare. He had no idea how he was going to manage the stairs.
There was a familiar click and John realised that Moriarty had pulled a gun and cocked it. He didn’t bother to look around. He already knew it would be pointed at some part of his body that would hurt but not kill him.
“C’mon now, doctor. Let’s be off.”
Gritting his teeth, John began to limp towards the stairs. He had no choice in the matter.
Outside, there was an early morning chill in the air. Although John could hear the rumble of traffic that was constant at every hour in the city, rush hour hadn’t started yet. The light was dim and insignificant behind a pall of clouds and some streelights still shed an orange glow across the tarmac. There was a car pulled up to the kerb; its driver had been leaning against the door, but when he saw the two of them leaving 221B he snapped into action, opening the kerbside rear door. John shivered; he had been hustled out of the flat with as much speed as his injury would allow, and Moriarty hadn’t let him stop to grab even a coat. Moriarty gave John a push and he hobbled over and climbed in without protest. There wouldn’t be much point. His leg was still in agony, and now he was both unarmed and outnumbered: for the time being, he would just have to do what Moriarty and his henchman wanted.
The door slammed shut, and the driver stood guard outside it until Moriarty had climbed in beside John before he took the driver’s seat and started the engine. They pulled away from the kerb and for a second John wondered if he should try to memorise the route. The driver made a sharp left down a side-street. John closed his eyes: what would be the point? He wasn’t Sherlock. His mental map of London was good, but he didn’t know every inch the way Sherlock, and presumably both Moriarty and this driver, did, so he would never be able to work out where he was being taken. He sighed as the car turned another corner, and opened his eyes to look out at a street which, already, he didn’t recognise.
Moriarty patted his knee. “Why so glum, John?” he asked. “You are going to have a chance to save Sherlock – all isn’t quite lost.”
Then he laughed, a nasty little chuckle that told John that already Moriarty was sure he would fail. He turned to face the other man. “What do I have to do?”
“It’s quite simple, really,” Moriarty said. “I’m sending you on a little treasure hunt around London. If you reach the final destination in time, I spare Sherlock’s life.” Moriarty’s lips were curved up into a bright smile, but his eyes were as cold as the air outside. “Easy enough. Of course, there are a few rules.”
Sherlock is better than you, John though viciously, wishing that he could bore that thought right through Moriarty’s skull. And Sherlock is going to put a stop to whatever game you’re playing.
“Rule one: if you fail to find all of the clues or don’t reach the final destination in time, Sherlock is dead. Rule two: if you attempt to communicate with Sherlock, Lestrade, or anyone in the police force, using any means whatsoever, Sherlock is dead. Rule three: If you talk to anyone, including strangers, beyond what is absolutely necessary – for example giving a taxi driver an address – Sherlock is –”
“Dead, yes, I get the gist,” John grumbled.
“Indeed,” Moriarty said. “I knew you’d catch on, John.” He reached out and patted John’s cheek. John gritted his teeth and didn’t move; he wouldn’t give Moriarty the satisfaction of reacting. The other man’s grin widened. “You see, I’m not like Sherlock. I appreciate your mental abilities. I know you’re capable of using that brain of yours – or at least, I hope you are. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to Sherlock, now, would we?”
“You tell me,” John said.
Moriarty sat back, turning his head to stare out of the windscreen. “Ah. We’re almost there. I do hope you’re ready, John.”
John turned to look out of the window. They were in a part of London he didn’t recognise – certainly somewhere outside the centre. The car pulled up a few seconds later. The driver got out and opened his door for him. Moriarty gave him an encouraging smile.
“Out you get.”
John climbed out, very aware of the cold air on his exposed skin. He was suddenly very glad that he wore actual clothes to bed, unlike several friends he could mention. Moriarty too had got out of the car and was watching him with his arms crossed on the roof. John glanced around, looking for the driver. He was surprised to see him fiddling with a nearby Barclays bike stand. He turned and frowned at Moriarty. “What’s he –”
“Oh, you’ll need that,” the man said then he reached into the car and pulled out a plastic bag. He slid it across the roof to John. “And that, I imagine.”
John grabbed the bag by its tied handles and transferred it to the hand that held his walking stick. His leg still felt painful enough to collapse under him if he put too much weight on it, and he didn’t want to risk lifting the cane off the ground to take the bike the driver was wheeling over to him.
“Well, John, this is farewell for now,” Moriarty said as the driver got back into the car. “I’ll be watching your progress with a great deal of interest.”
Then he opened his door, climbed in, and the car pulled away. John made a mental note of the number-plate, though he knew it was probably rented or stolen; Moriarty wouldn’t be stupid enough to have the car he used for an abduction registered in his name. He waited until the car turned a corner out of sight, then wheeled the bike across to the stand and leaned it against the frame so that he could rest the plastic bag on the seat. He quickly untied the handles and checked the contents. A dark winter coat lay on top, folded neatly, and beneath it was pair of trainers with socks balled in the toes. He checked the coat over, delving into the pockets, and unearthed a wallet. It smelled new and leathery, and from what he could tell in the morning light it seemed unused. He shivered as he started to open the wallet, and decided that he needed more protection from the elements before he inventoried his assets. He dragged the coat on, then knelt – ignoring the spasms of pain from his thigh – to put on the socks and trainers. Only then did he return to the wallet.
A Zone One Day Travelcard for the Tube and about a hundred pounds in small notes and coins. He shoved everything back into the wallet and looked at his surroundings.
The road was almost deserted, but for the occasional passing car, and there were few house lights. Still, John couldn’t help but feel that he was being watched. It was probably paranoia, brought on by Moriarty’s parting words, but he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that someone’s eyes were following his every movement. Then there was the fact that he was on a treasure hunt – a treasure hunt set by a madman with criminal connections and plenty of reasons to want both John and Sherlock dead. He gripped his cane and swallowed deep breaths of air. He couldn’t fall apart now.
There would be clues. Moriarty had told him that. His eyes scanned the bike he had been given, looking for any mark or anomaly, but there were none. He checked the coat pockets and the wallet again, but they yielded no answers.
John swore under his breath and resisted the urge to kick the bike’s tyre. No matter which leg he used, the physical pain would out-weight the psychological satisfaction. He kneaded his forehead instead, trying to think like Moriarty.
There was no lightning-bolt of inspiration, or sudden moment of understanding. John looked up with a deep sigh. Sherlock was going to die because he couldn’t even find the first of Moriarty’s clues. He ran his fingers through his hair, glancing around yet again, and his eyes by chance fell upon the rack of bikes. He blinked, then frowned; the bikes on the end looked strangely jumbled, as if someone had tried to store three where there was only room for two. He wheeled his bike over.
The Barclays bike on the end of the stand was different to the others. Its rear end was twice the size of the other bikes on the stand – had two wheels, and a central chain to propel both which had been crudely re-attached to the pedals. He could see thick lines on the bike frame where it had been welded back together. John shifted his weight onto his good leg and pressed down on one of the pedals with his cane. No movement; this bike was hardly meant for riding. It wasn’t even a bike any more, he realised. If anything, with three wheels, it was a trike.
It had to be the clue. There was no other reason for this mutilated bike. But where did it point to?
A vague memory surfaced in John’s mind. Sarah had mentioned wanting to see something, a play, and he had thought about taking her to see it. At the Tricycle Theatre, if he remembered correctly. He remembered looking the place up, weeks ago. Wasn’t it somewhere in Kilburn? Well, Kilburn was certainly beyond the reach of a Zone One travelcard. That would explain Moriarty’s driver unlocking the bike.
John glanced down at his leg. He wasn’t sure his abused muscles could take much cycling – but walking would be far too slow, and he didn’t want to waste his supply of money so early in the day. He didn’t dare. He might need to move fast later on. Carrying the cane was going to be a challenge, but the bike was his only option. Wincing, he stepped over the bike and lifted his protesting right leg onto the pedal as he sat. He took a deep breath, and focused on the task: finding out where he was, working out a route to Kilburn, and getting to the theatre. He couldn’t focus on the pain. He couldn’t let that beat him, any more than he could allow Sherlock to be shot because he couldn’t best Moriarty and his clues.
He gripped the handlebars and pushed off, heading towards the nearest junction to work out what street he was on. His leg screamed at him as he pushed the right pedal down, but he gritted his teeth and tried to think past it. He could do this, he told himself firmly. He was going to play Moriarty’s game, and what was more, he was determined to win.
Kilburn High Road had a few cars running up and down its length by the time John arrived. He was moving far more slowly than he would have liked. The gunshot wound in his leg jarred every time he turned the pedals; he had to keep stopping to rest it – far too frequently. At least here there were railings lining the road, so that when he chose to stop he had somewhere to lean. It wasn’t particularly safe, but there wasn’t enough traffic on the road to make it truly dangerous.
The street itself was lined with shops, but most of the awnings were still drawn up and no one had started dragging wares out onto the pavement yet. He glanced at each one, checking it wasn’t the theatre before moving on. He kept cycling, trying not to wobble too much. He couldn’t remember much from his Google searches. It had taken him most of the ride here to remember that the theatre was on Kilburn High Road – if he was even remembering correctly.
He glanced up, scanning the road ahead, and caught sight of a set of twinkling lightbulbs and a large arrow pointing to an entrance sheltered by a metal awning. His eyes, accustomed now to the light, picked out a sign that stretched over the street and he read the word ‘Tricycle.’
He forced himself to pedal faster, ignoring the stabbing pain in his leg. There was a pedestrian crossing breaking the railings a few meters from the sign so John bumped his bike up onto the kerb and coasted towards the theatre entrance. He stopped by the railings and propped his bike up before he limped across to the entrance and stared down a long, mirrored corridor that sloped upwards to a pair of doors. Gritting his teeth, John started up. When he reached the doors and tried them, they were locked. It wasn’t a surprise that the theatre hadn’t opened yet, like every other shop on the street, but still his heart sank. Was he supposed to stand here and wait until the place opened? Or was the next clue out here? He cupped his hands around one of the panes of glass in the top half of the doors and peered through into the dark foyer beyond.
If the clue was in there, he wasn’t getting at it for another couple of hours. He turned and stared back towards the exit. There were posters on the mirrored walls closer to the street and he had glimpsed hanging artwork above his head on the way in. The clue could be hidden there.
He started to retrace his steps, moving more slowly this time – partly to ease the strain on his leg, partly so that he could scan every inch of mirror for anything unusual. He had found nothing by the time he reached the flat ground and the posters on the tunnel walls just inside the entrance. There was nothing unusual about the artwork hanging from the ceiling: metal plates with cut-outs of a knife and fork, a piece of film, an artist’s palette and brush. They were simply visual adverts for what could be found inside. He checked the film and theatre posters next, checking each one over to see if it had been recently changed or tampered with, or if it held some piece of information that didn’t fit. Nothing stood out to his untrained eye.
Not for the first time, John found himself wondering why Moriarty had chosen him instead of Sherlock. It was Sherlock with whom he had a mental competition. He was just Sherlock’s flatmate, barely even his friend. He was no genius. He rubbed at his eyes with his free hand. That line of thought was getting him nowhere and making him feel hopeless, which was the last thing he needed. He had to do this; he had to find the clue and beat Moriarty’s twisted treasure hunt. He couldn’t let Sherlock die because he wasn’t clever enough. That was no excuse. He pressed his fingers hard into his eye sockets and tried to think like Moriarty – no, like Sherlock.
He checked the posters again, just in case, but even upon close inspection nothing seemed amiss. He stepped back outside into the street to look up at the sign that wound its way through the air above the street. Its hanging letters, spelling the theatre name, held no clue that he could see. He turned back to the façade of the Tricycle Theatre. From the road it looked small. Its entrance wasn’t even half the width of the shops on either side. It didn’t help that the music shop on one side had built out onto the pavement, dwarfing the theatre’s elegant navy awning. The sign that pointed down its recessed entrance, however, leant the theatre some presence with its flashing and twinkling lights.
One of the lights on the sign was out.
John watched the lights follow one another around the outside edge of the sign, each one flashing on in turn – and yes, one of them wasn’t lighting. The rational side of John’s brain told him that it was probably nothing, just a burnt-out bulb. He followed the stream of lights around the sign’s edges, but the dark spot he had noticed was the only broken bulb. It was foolish to get his hopes up, he told himself as he went over to take a closer look.
The bulbs were encased in a plastic barrier, presumably to keep them safe from vandalism and to satisfy health and safety. He leant closer, waiting for the next wave of light to illuminate the dead bulb in bright white. It crawled up the long edge of the sign and passed over the corner.
The bulb wasn’t just dead, and nor had it been removed; it had been smashed. John ran a hand over the plastic cover and found it intact. He tugged at it, but it was solidly sealed to the sign and showed no signs of coming free. How could that one bulb have been smashed accidentally from behind its Perspex cover? What sort of vandal would prize off the plastic cover, break just one bulb, and then replace the cover perfectly? It didn’t make any sense. Unless – unless this was the clue.
It was a long shot. But John wouldn’t put it past Moriarty to make his opening move something tough to spot. In fact, he would have expected nothing less. He reached up to the top of the sign directly above the bulb and couldn’t reach. He gritted his teeth around a curse and transferred his full weight to his good leg. Once he was balanced, he lifted his cane up, holding the handle, and hooked the grip over the top of the sign. He slid it along until he heard and felt it connect with something – something that rustled like plastic. He hooked the grip of his walking stick over where he thought it was and pulled.
Something small but fairly heavy dropped off the top of the sign. He caught it awkwardly, one-handed and fighting to keep his balance without leaning into his other leg. He carefully replaced his cane on the ground and shifted his stance slightly, then held the object up in the moving light from the sign. It was a plastic zip-lock bag, completely transparent and protecting a mobile phone from the elements.
John looked around. Was this a trick? A trap? Moriarty had told him no phones. But why else would this be here – who would leave a mobile there?
The phone received a text message in his hands, letting out a loud double-bleep, and John glanced down. He frowned as he spotted the background behind the ‘one new message’ window. He had seen it before. It was an image of a young girl John vaguely recognised. She was Lestrade’s niece. He had been shown that photo in hospital a few days ago. The girl had been in a school performance and Lestrade had been to see it; he had told John about her part in the kind of detail only a proud relative could manage, in an attempt to cheer him up.
The memory – only from yesterday, but already it felt like a lifetime ago – of giving the detective Sherlock’s number for his new phone surfaced in John’s mind. Lestrade’s phone was missing. And John suddenly understood why.
This was Lestrade’s phone, and it had to be the next clue.
He slid the keyboard out and was presented with a new screen, this one asking him for a four digit pass-code. He swore under his breath. How was he supposed to work out what Lestrade’s pass-code was? He barely knew the man.
John closed his eyes and took a breath. Moriarty wouldn’t set him a challenge that was impossible. Though, that said, much of what Sherlock was capable of was impossible to the average man on the street, and impossible for John. Sherlock had probably watched Lestrade input his code just once, without even seeing the screen, and memorised it from the way the detective’s hand moved over the phone. Surely Moriarty didn’t think John capable of that. He went across to where he had left the hire bike and leant against the railings, staring down at the phone. No, the code couldn’t be one of the random sets of numbers churned out as defaults – or at least, he couldn’t assume that it was. He had to believe there was some way he could work it out.
He closed his eyes and tried to remember Lestrade’s badge number, but he had never really seen the badge for more than a moment. Perhaps if Sherlock were there he could have rattled it off, but he wasn’t. John was alone, and he was starting to feel it.
He jabbed at the keypad in frustration. Pressing four of each number in turn with unnecessary force yielded nothing.
His eyes were caught again by the smiling picture that was Lestrade’s background. The girl, Mandy or Megan or something, stirred another memory. He had only been half listening when Lestrade had been talking about her performance, but nonetheless he had asked if Lestrade saw much of his family. “Not enough,” the detective had replied. “The job keeps me busy. But she made me promise to go to her birthday party next January. She’ll be ten.”
He had zoned out a little as Lestrade had laughed and said the same things everyone said about young relatives: that it seemed like yesterday when they weren’t even able to walk and talk. He looked down at the keypad and did some quick mental arithmetic, then inputted 0101 for January 2001.
The phone didn’t unlock.
“Damn,” John muttered, though he hadn’t been hopeful. 0101 would be easy to guess even if someone didn’t know Lestrade. He tried to think back to that day in the hospital, that conversation. Had Lestrade mentioned a date for his niece’s party? He wracked his brains for a date that would fit.
With a frustrated noise, he tried every date from 02 to 30 with January’s 01, with no luck. Switching the order of the digits was the same: no luck. John closed his fingers tight around the phone, sorely tempted to throw it onto the pavement. How the hell was he supposed to do this? He didn’t have stellar observational skills or amazing hacking abilities. He wasn’t Sherlock.
Moriarty’s smile flashed in front of his eyes every time he closed his eyes, the threats to Sherlock’s life ringing in his ears over and over. Giving up wasn’t an option. He looked back down at the keypad. He tired to think of other numbers that were significant to Lestrade. With a chuckle, John idly pressed in 221, then 2 again to stand for the B that would complete his and Sherlock’s shared address.
The keypad on the screen minimised. John stared, aware that his jaw had actually dropped open in surprise. He hadn’t been expecting that combination to work; he had put it in more to amuse himself and keep his fingers busy while he thought.
It had got him in, though. He swallowed his surprise and brought up the text message screen. There was one unopened message; the rest of the inbox had been wiped. John tapped the touchscreen to open the message.
Well done, John! I
The phone vibrated and let out another double-bleep as it received a second message from the same number. It appeared above the first, forming a timeline.
cracking the Inspector’s
code, Dr. Watson. I
must say, I am
impressed. Be sure to
check out your new toy!
John looked up sharply, scanning Kilburn High Road for any sign of someone watching him. The fact that Moriarty’s texts had arrived just after he had found the phone and the right password respectively – there was no way he could have done that without having eyes on him.
The street was empty, aside from the growing number of cars. Whatever spies Moriarty had tracking him could be in the houses and shops, but whether they were, they were hidden. He hadn’t really expected to be able to see them. Moriarty’s people knew how to make themselves scarce. Despite the red dots centred on his and Sherlock’s chests in the swimming pool, and despite his military training, he hadn’t caught even a glimpse of any of the snipers or their positions. He was hardly going to see the person – or people – Moriarty had tailing him.
He looked back down at the phone and closed the text application. Moriarty had told him to look at the phone, so that was his next task. He skimmed through the phone’s inventory of applications, but most of the icons were greyed out and unresponsive when he pressed them. The web browser still worked, and navigated automatically to Google. John thought about trying to send an email in secret, but thought better of it. Moriarty was watching, and he had forbidden any communication. Besides, Moriarty had already tampered with the phone, if the greyed-out icons were any indication; there was nothing to say that he wasn’t monitoring all activity on it. It wasn’t worth the risk. John scrolled through another page of icons and spotted one that was brightly coloured and lit up: the music library. It came up with a list of the tracks saved on the phone. There was only one, labelled ‘Tiny Catastrophes’. He tapped it once, and the screen morphed into a generic music player. The song started to play, the sound quality slightly tinny through the phone’s speakers. ‘Tiny Catastrophes’ scrolled across the top of the screen followed by the artist name: KT Tunstall.
It felt strange, standing outside a row of closed shops and a theatre while listening to a song playing from a phone. John held the phone close to his ear to catch the lyrics over the increasing traffic noise. When the song reached the first chorus, John started to frown. Hadn’t she sung ‘miniature disasters and minor catastrophes’? Or has he just misheard ‘tiny catastrophes’? He waited for the next chorus, and the next.
She was singing ‘minor catastrophes’. Now he started to think about it, John could remember hearing this song before on the radio as part of the background noise of his life. Had the presenter called the song ‘Tiny Catastrophes’? He couldn’t remember.
He played the track again, listening closely to the verses this time in case he had missed something obvious by focusing on the chorus. Nothing stood out on the second run through, except for that one word different between the song’s label and the chorus lyrics. He exited the music player and went back to the browser, typing ‘KT Tunstall Tiny Catastrophes’ into Google’s search bar. The phone’s screen refreshed, bringing up a list of results. John scanned them. The first few were YouTube hits, followed by lyrics websites – all of them offering him KT Tunstall’s song ‘Miniature Disasters’. He frowned and clicked one of the lyrics sites.
The page refreshed, but instead of bringing up another website he was shown an error page telling him he didn’t have permission to view that page. He frowned and went back, tapping the lyrics result below. Again, the error page displayed. This time, John stopped to read it. Beneath ‘You are not authorised to view this page’, it read, ‘You do not have permission to view this page or directory. Please click the Back button to return to Google.’
John swore and hit the back button. He scrolled down the search results to the bottom and clicked one at random. Again, the message popped up.
Moriarty. It was the only explanation. There was no other reason for such specific error message instructions, or for them to appear no matter what the page. He already knew that the man had locked him out of the phone’s applications; it made sense that he had also locked down the internet. It could be of far too much use on a treasure hunt. Still, it had told him one thing: that the song was mislabelled as ‘Tiny Catastrophes’. Moriarty wouldn’t make that kind of mistake unless he meant to.
Hoping that the internet would at least let him use the search functions of Google once more, he typed in ‘Tiny Catastrophes’ by itself and pressed ‘Search’. A list of results displayed a second later. John allowed himself a tight smile.
At first glance, the results looked unhelpful. Then he spotted one labelled ‘The Freud Museum’ – a location in London, and one he actually could find his way to. He had been there as a student; it was a long while ago now, but he remembered where the place was well enough. He scrolled down the rest of the list, giving each result a cursory glance, but none of them referenced anywhere in London. He focused on the Freud Museum search result. There was apparently a new exhibition opening there, one called ‘Sigismund’s Watch: A Tiny Catastrophe’. With a triumphant grin, John exited the browser and shoved the phone into his coat pocket.
If he took the bike, it shouldn’t take him more than half an hour, even with his injured leg still aching from Moriarty’s abuse. He grabbed the handlebars and set off.
It took John a good twenty minutes to reach the Freud Museum. It looked exactly the same as he remembered: a large 1920s building, its face dominated by white windows, two small blue plaques bearing the names of Anna and Sigmund Freud clearly visible from the street. By now, there was quite a bit of traffic on the roads, though it hadn’t yet reached the gridlock levels of rush hour. Still, he was glad to mount the kerb and rest his hired bike against the hedge that surrounded the Museum. There were no lights on inside the house. John hurried to the sign set into the hedge near the gate to check the opening times.
Wednesday to Sunday, 12 noon to 5pm. It was a Monday. The Museum wasn’t even open today. He slammed his fist into the top of the sign. “Damn it!”
He doubted that he could arrange a private viewing if he rang the phone number on the sign, especially at such short notice. Trying to do so might even count as talking to someone more was strictly necessary, and result in Sherlock being shot. Breaking in was an option, but between the alarm system the building was sure to have and the steady steam of traffic along the road, it wasn’t a good idea. He was bound to attract the attention of the police one way or another, if he tried that. Besides, he wasn’t a housebreaker or a thief; he wouldn’t have any idea of where to begin, unless he simply put his shoulder to the door. Moriarty had to know that the Museum would be closed. He had to have some kind of contingency plan in place.
Unless he thought John was simply so stupid that he would never solve the first clue. John scowled, hoping that wasn’t the case. Not even Sherlock would belittle his intelligence that much.
He opened the garden gate and headed up the path to the front door. It wouldn’t hurt to take a close look at the exterior, even look in through the windows. He started with the glass panel in the door, peering through into the hall. He lifted a hand to the door as he leant in closer, trying to see more.
The door gave a soft click and swung inwards.
John stepped back in surprise, then hissed as he put too much pressure on his injured leg. Still wincing, he glanced behind him to see if anyone had noticed him by the door. The cars were trundling by as before, apparently with no interest. He turned back to the doorway and, using his cane, pushed the door all the way open. Nothing happened. There was no one inside, and no alarms started wailing.
John glanced over his shoulder once more, then limped into the hall and pushed the door closed behind him, not letting it close just in case it was equipped with an automatic lock that would trap him here until noon. Glancing around for the security cameras, and hoping that either Moriarty had disabled them along with the Museum’s security or that he could explain all of this to Lestrade after the fact, he headed for one of the doors at random, passing the propped-open door to the gift shop. He wasn’t happy hanging around in the hall; if anyone had seen him come in or noticed that the door was ajar, he would have to explain himself and break Moriarty’s rules. He found himself in Freud’s study. He was about to turn around in search of the ‘Sigismund’s Watch’ exhibition, since that was what Moriarty had pointed him towards, when the phone in his pocket started to ring.
He pulled it out and stared down at the number displayed across the screen. He cursed himself for not making a mental note of the number Moriarty had used to send the texts. He couldn’t be sure if this was him or not. Whether answering this call was what he was supposed to do, or would count as breaking the rules and cause Sherlock’s death.
His only choice was to answer and say nothing. If it was Moriarty, he would know instantly. If not, he could end the call without saying a word. Moriarty would be watching, and he would clearly see that John hadn’t broken the rules. At least, he hoped so.
He pressed the green button.
“Hello, John. Having fun yet?”
Moriarty’s voice was instantly recognisable. John said nothing.
“I’ll take that as a no, then,” Moriarty said brightly. “I must say, I am impressed – I thought it would take a law-abiding ex-soldier and doctor much longer to actually go inside. Sherlock must be a terrible influence on you, John.”
He was, but John wasn’t about to admit it. He stood in the doorway of Freud’s Study, staring straight ahead and concentrating. Anything Moriarty said might be a clue. Even his taunting might hold some information.
“Don’t worry. I’ve made sure no one will interrupt your visit,” Moriarty continued. “I suppose you’re wondering why I called you.”
“Yes,” John said. He could tell that the other man was deliberately drawing this conversation out, making him wait for the vital information.
“I wanted to give you your next instructions myself!” he said as if it was obvious and John was a dim child who didn’t understand. “Now, you’re in Freud’s study, I can see that.”
John tensed; Moriarty could see him. His eyes automatically sought out the room’s CCTV camera. The man on the other end of the phone chuckled.
“Oh, very clever, John! Why don’t you give me a wave?”
“My hands are a bit full,” John said without taking his eyes off the camera lens. It was true, between the phone and his walking stick, but John was glad of the excuse.
“Of course,” Moriarty replied, the amusement in his voice mellowing a little. “And we don’t really have time for games, do we? In that case, why don’t you go over to his desk. One of my operatives should have left a little something there for you. Go on, John, don’t be shy!”
John went over to the desk and stood behind the chair. Three photographs had been laid out on top of the objects on the desk, each one with a slip of paper clipped to the top.
“What’s this?” John asked, staring down.
“Work out which one is a fake, and you’ll have your next location,” Moriarty promised. “Goodbye, John. Good luck!”
The line went dead. John pocketed the phone and stared down at the images, wondering how on earth he was supposed to work out which photos were genuine and which one was fake. He picked up one at random.
The picture featured Freud and another, dark-suited man standing on an expanse of lawn fringed with small trees and large bushes. John checked the piece of paper, on which there was a description and date for the photo. The man beside Freud was listed only as ‘Secretary of the Royal Society’. Apparently, Freud had been signing the Royal Society charter book. The date was June 1942, and there was even a London address.
The second photograph showed Freud and another man seated on a bench outside a traditional-looking cottage. The description said that this photo was of Freud was Jung and had been taken in 1912. It too offered an address: that of Jung’s home on the outskirts of Zurich. John frowned. Moriarty couldn’t intend for him to leave the country? He looked down at the third image: Freud walking arm-in-arm with a woman, a man close to his other side. He read the accompanying text, which told him the psychoanalyst was with Marie Bonaparte and William Bullitt – at Gare de l’Est, Paris, on the sixth of June 1942.
His heart began to pound. He actually could make it to Paris within the next few hours, if he caught the Eurostar. Then again, a plane from Heathrow could probably get him into Switzerland in about the same amount of time.
Did Moriarty actually want him leave London?
He took a deep breath and looked back down at the photographs. Whether Moriarty was sending him to a location in London or elsewhere, the answer lay in these photos – and there was no point in panicking about travel arrangements until he had worked out which place he had to get to.
He stared down at the photos for a few seconds, then glanced out of the window. Moriarty hadn’t forbidden him from using the Freud Museum itself to help him work out which of the photographs was fake. None of the rules stated that he couldn’t use physical books. He picked the photos up in his free hand and headed out of the study in the direction of the gift shop. There was sure to be a book on Freud’s life there somewhere – the whole museum was dedicated to the man, they had to have at least one biography. Sure enough, John found a biography waiting for him just next to the shop’s entrance. He grabbed the book and went around behind the till so that he could sit down and spread the photos out on the desk.
A visit to Jung’s home might be difficult to pin down in a large biography, even with a date; and he had no idea why Freud had been at Gare de l’Est and so finding if the trip was genuine could also be hard. Joining the Royal Society, though, would be a big enough event to merit a mention. He glanced down the contents list to find where he might find the 1940s, then flipped to the start of one of the later chapters and started to skim each page for any reference to the Royal Society – hoping that he wouldn’t find one, or that if he did, it would be on a different date.
After what felt like a lifetime, his eye caught on the words he was looking for: a reference to Freud joining the Royal Society. He checked the date in the book with the date written on the card. They matched.
John’s heart sank. If the London location was genuine, he was somehow going to have to organise a train or plane ticket.
He shoved the photograph aside and grabbed the picture of Freud and Jung. A Eurostar return ticket would be cheaper and easier to obtain than a flight to Switzerland. He could hopefully cross this image off as genuine next, leaving him to travel to Paris – in theory. It was dated 1912, so John flicked back in the book until he stared seeing dates from before the First World War. There was a whole chapter about Freud and Jung’s relationship. He smiled grimly and started to skim-read, a little more slowly this time. As he came to dates in 1911 and 1912, he started to frown; he had known that the two men had had a difference of opinion, but not that it had started then. He slowed again, reading sentence-by-sentence now, paying attention for any reference to a visit to Zurich. Then he found a paragraph describing ‘the Kreuzlingen gesture’, as Jung called it: and incident when Freud visited a colleague in a nearby town without making the trip to visit Jung in Zurich while in the area. Their next meeting, the book said, was in Munich – much later in the year than the photograph indicated, if the summer flowers were any indication.
John slammed the book shut and scrubbed his hands across his face. There was no way he could get to Switzerland, today, for under a hundred pounds – let along get back to London before his time ran out. He wasn’t even sure how much time he had. Moriarty had never specified.
He decided to check the last of the photographs, just in case. He went back to the same page he had found the Royal Society reference on and started there, his eyes searching for the key words: Gare de l’Est. He found nothing right up until Freud’s life entered the ’50s.
Had he heard Moriarty wrong? Or was it a trick? Was he supposed to find the genuine photograph among the fakes? Moriarty could have set up an elaborate trick. If so, all he had to do was go to the address in London.
He forced himself not to get his hopes up, and turned to the middle of the book, where there were several image pages, the paper sturdier and shinier than the rest. If any of the photos were here, he could definitely count them off as genuine. He flicked through from the back to the front – and stopped as his eye caught on a newspaper photo. It wasn’t identical to any of the images Moriarty had given him, but it showed Freud with Marie Bonaparte and William Bullitt, the same as the Gare de l’Est image on the desk before him. Above the picture, in clear, capitalised newspaper print, it read, ‘Freud arrives in Paris on his way to London.’ The text below the image dated it to the sixth of June, 1942, and placed Freud and his fellow travellers at Gare de l’Est, Paris. Although the photograph wasn’t the same, it was evidence that Freud had been there on that day, with those same people. It was evidence that the photograph was probably genuine.
The image of Freud and Jung in front of the Swiss cottage was the only fake, and so the odd one out. Moriarty’s instructions hadn’t been a trick. He had to get to Switzerland.
John closed the book and placed it on the desk, picking up the fake photo instead. He lifted it up and stared hard at the serious faces, the intricately carved details on the gable end, the almost Tudor look of the white-and-wood exterior walls. Nothing looked out of place, not even the figures who could not have been seated together there, at that time, on that day.
He scrubbed a hand across his face. He was going to have to trek across to Heathrow and see if he could get a ticket on the next flight to Zurich. He doubted he would have enough cash, and Moriarty hadn’t seen fit to give him a card – or a passport, he thought, frowning. How could he be expected to leave the country without a passport? Surely he wouldn’t make such a mistake. John looked down at the image again. A cottage on the outskirts of Zurich. Was that feasible? Did Zurich have cottages on its outskirts? Had Jung lived there at all? Now that he knew it was a fake, he was starting to wonder just how fake. Was the address even genuine? He pulled out Lestrade’s phone and opened up the browser. Google might at least provide him with a few answers.
Nothing happened after the first tap, and John realised that the icon had greyed out. Moriarty had locked him out of the internet. He spat a curse as he put the phone away. He should have been expecting it, really. It was far too useful a tool for Moriarty to let him keep it. But if he had disabled the internet that too meant something: that John ought to be able to work this out without the help of a search engine.
He turned back to the photograph itself, bending over it and squinting. Maybe the address itself was a red herring, and there was more to the clue than he had thought.
The fake photograph was black and white and its details were fuzzed and grainy. The intricate carving on the decorative gable drew John’s eyes away from the figures. Now that he was paying more attention, it seemed almost as if the focus was on the house more than the figures. That was unusual. He peered closer at the carvings. There were lots of swirls and circular designs and – John blinked. There, in the centre of the gable, surrounded by curls of wood but larger than the rest, was a ring bisected by a raised, rectangular block that stretched only just wider than the ring’s outer circumference. He thought he could see what looked like letters written across the rectangle. If he used his imagination, they might just spell out the word ‘underground’ in capitals.
John looked around for something he could use as a magnifying glass, sure that he had seen one since he arrived at the Museum. He couldn’t be sure. It was entirely possible, at this stage, that in his desperation he was imagining things. He grabbed the photo and started to make his way around the shop, looking between the Freudian slippers, the therapy mints, and the identity necklaces reading ‘emotionally unstable’ and ‘neurotic’ for anything that would magnify the image. When his quick search turned up nothing, he headed back to the study. There, on the desk, was a white, square-lensed magnifying glass.
With a guilty glance at the security cameras pointed at him, John picked up the magnifying glass and held it above the photo. The magnified image was even more blurred by poor quality, but he could make out the shapes of most letters. He still had to stretch his imagination a little, but it was legible. The carving formed the shape of the London Underground sign.
He carefully placed the magnifying glass back down on the desk and hurried towards the front door. There was no way that Moriarty would put such an image into this fake photograph if he didn’t intend for John to see it. He folded the photograph in half and slipped it into his pocket as he walked along the hall. He knew where the nearest Tube station was from his trip to the Museum as a student. Finchley Road was a five minute walk away, and less if he used the bike. He pulled open the front door of the Freud Museum and stepped through, closing it with a snap behind him and trying to look as if he had the right to be there. There were a few people speed-walking past on the pavement; one of them glanced his way, but not with any real interest. The drivers of the cars, now crawling along as London’s rush hour gridlock began to take hold even this far from the centre, didn’t even notice him.
John strode along the garden path, fumbling in his pocket for Lestrade’s phone to check the time. He suddenly realised that he had no idea how long he had been in the museum for. It was almost quarter past eight. Moriarty had picked him up from Baker Street just before dawn, which at this time of year was around half past six.
His stomach lurched unpleasantly. Almost two hours, and he had only been to a couple of locations. There was no telling how many more Moriarty would expect him to find. He closed the garden gate and grabbed the bike, turning it around so that he faced the way he had come. He needed to get to Finchley Road and see if any part of the photograph or address corresponded to an underground station as fast as possible. He climbed up onto the bike’s seat and pushed off, nosing the bike onto the road and cycling quickly up the side of the standing traffic. For the first time since the ordeal started, he was glad that he wasn’t bundled in the back of a taxi.
The sun had completely risen over London by the time John arrived at Finchley Road Station, though things still looked dull and grey thanks to the cloud cover. The busy road outside the station was clogged with traffic, and the pavements with people. It was going to be difficult fighting against the flow to exit the station again. John leant his bike against the railings next to a pedestrian crossing and hurried inside. As he was buffeted and shoved by commuters, who glared at him for not moving fast enough, he wished that his leg could carry him faster.
He quickly found a map showing the entire underground system and stepped in close to the wall to inspect it. He found Finchley Road, hoping that Moriarty would send him to an underground station that was relatively close to the Museum. He found it on the grey Jubilee Line, and almost straight away his eyes were drawn to the next stop along.
John pulled out the photograph, unfolding it and staring at the description. In it, Jung’s house was described as a ‘cottage residence’ in Zurich, Switzerland. The next stop on the Jubilee Line was named Swiss Cottage.
“Warped,” John muttered to himself as he put the photograph away. An image of a Swiss cottage and the London Underground symbol, to indicate Swiss Cottage station. “Completely warped. He probably thinks it’s funny.”
He turned and started pushing through the flow of commuters, trying to reach the queue for the automatic ticket machines. There was no way he was going to cycle to Swiss Cottage when it was a two minute Tube ride away. The ticket wouldn’t put too large a dent in the fund Moriarty had given him, and even after queuing it would probably be faster. Besides, it gave him chance to catch his breath and rest his leg. It meant abandoning the bike, but he could cope with that: it was Moriarty’s money paying the rent on it, in any case. He joined the queue, fidgeting with impatience as he watched people with Oyster cards zip past and through the turnstiles.
The station at Swiss Cottage was just as crowded as Finchley Road had been. Thankfully, this time there were people making for the exit along with him – but even though he didn’t have to fight his way against the flow, commuters in everything from suits to hoodies shouldered past giving him dirty looks for not moving fast enough. He gritted his teeth and carried on, trying not to wonder if those same people would look at him the same way if they noticed the limp and the walking stick. He hated the pity people heaped on him when they realised he wasn’t as able as they were, but he had to admit, in the crowded tunnels and staircases, it would have come in handy.
He reached the escalators and stepped on, keeping to one side and letting the commuters go past. Once in the ticket hall, he headed for the barriers and allowed them to eat his ticket as he passed through. The room beyond was full of people hurrying about their business, both coming to and going from the station. He allowed himself to be carried towards the exit. The next clue had to be around somewhere, but there was no way he would notice it with all these people around – especially not if it was as small as the clue at the Tricycle Theatre.
Someone thrust a newspaper into his chest. “Free paper.”
“No, thanks,” John said, pushing the hand away. Someone grabbed hold of his arm, spinning him around so that he almost lost his balance. “Hey!”
The youth with the newspaper let him go and offered the paper again. “You’ll really want to take this one, Dr Watson.”
“How do you know my name?” John snapped. The young man’s face was mostly obscured by a dirty, grey hoodie, but John could see enough of it to recognise a grin.
“Talking’s against the rules,” he said, and shoved the paper into John’s chest so hard that it knocked him off balance completely. He clattered to the floor, almost taking a couple of commuters with him. He landed hard, jarring his injured leg, and couldn’t hold in a yell that momentarily silenced the ticket hall.
In a second, he was surrounded by a crowd, several people asking if he was all right and whether they should call an ambulance, some offering him a hand to his feet. The youth was long gone.
“No ambulance, no, I’m fine, I don’t need an ambulance,” he muttered, snatching hold of the newspaper as a couple of men in business suits grasped him under the arms and lifted him back onto his feet. He didn’t dare risk an encounter with the emergency services. A girl in a red coat handed him his walking stick. He was drawing too much attention, he thought as he thanked her.
“I saw what happened,” a woman said in a disapproving tone. “Young people today, they get away with murder.”
“Yeah,” John agreed, shrugging her off. With a final reassurance that he was fine and another thank you to those who had helped him, he started towards the exit again. With every step, his knee buckled as pain shot out from the half-healed gunshot wound, but he kept going. He didn’t dare stop, in case one of the well-meaning commuters came after him, looking to make sure he was all right. He had already spoken to far too many people. What if Moriarty counted it as a violation of the rules? His heart pounded as he took the stairs one at a time. What if Moriarty took it out on Sherlock?
He couldn’t allow himself to think like that. It was because of Moriarty’s henchman that he had become the centre of attention. He was sure Moriarty wouldn’t see it that way, but nonetheless, he had to try to believe it. He had to carry on with this twisted ‘treasure hunt’, not knowing, unless Moriarty called to tell him, whether or not he had broken the rules – and it would be so much easier to continue if he didn’t imagine that Sherlock had already been picked off by a sniper’s bullet through the temple.
He paused on a landing half-way up a flight of stairs, out of breath partly because of the pain stabbing through his leg and partly because of the fear clenching tight around his heart. He forced himself to take shallow breaths, staving off panic, and instead focused on the lesser of the two evils assaulting him: the pain. He reached down to the site of the wound, but he couldn’t bring himself to touch it. At some point, he really ought to take stock of any further damage Moriarty – and the exertion – had done, but there wasn’t the time. He was horribly aware that he was working to a madman’s schedule, with no idea what his itinerary was supposed to be or how long he could afford to spend at each location. As he limped out into daylight again, his stomach growled. He wondered if Moriarty had even factored in time for him to eat.
The underground station exit had led him to what seemed to be a residential area, with blocks of flats rising on one side of the road and large houses on the other. He turned to look the other way and saw a flight of steps leading up to what sounded like a main road. He decided to head that way. He was more likely to be noticed hanging around with a newspaper if he did so outside people’s homes. Leg complaining, he started up the steps. At the top, he turned left because that seemed to be the direction most people were going in. He had been right about the road: it was broad and clogged with morning traffic, as all the road into the city centre would be by now. However, there were shops lining the pavement: a boarded up establishment and a clothes shop with the black metal shutters drawn down. The next was a Subway, lights on and door sign reading open. His stomach growled again, and John decided to take a calculated risk. He needed somewhere to sit and peruse the paper without attracting attention, which would take time; he might as well eat while he worked on the next clue. Plus, if he solved it quickly, a sandwich was easy to carry. He ducked inside.
He bought a six inch breakfast sub and a coffee and took a corner seat. While he ate, he started to page through the newspaper. It was a copy of the day’s Guardian, not a free paper at all. He glanced at each headline in turn, not quite dismissing any of them as he tried to weight up which was the most likely to be a clue. Or which was a fake. Moriarty couldn’t have known what was going to be in the paper until it was printed – could he? Did he enough influence to have a clue embedded in a genuine copy of the Guardian? Perhaps he ought to find a newsagent’s and buy himself a copy, so that he could check each page.
He noticed as he made his way through the paper that there was no news of murdered men in swimming pools. If what Moriarty had said earlier was true, there were two bodies now: one killed in an explosion, the second presumably drowned, both with their hearts cut out. He shuddered involuntarily as he turned another page. It was a good job the police were keeping the newspapers in the dark about the deaths; it was just the sort of sensationalist story the tabloids would love. On the other hand, reporters weren’t stupid. They sought out grisly murders just like these. Perhaps the conspicuous absence of the deaths in the news was a clue in itself. After all, John knew Moriarty was responsible for them.
He shook his head to clear it. There was no way to prove that without buying more papers, and he didn’t have the time unless he could find nothing else. He went back to turning through the pages and tried to block the images of dead men who bore a striking resemblance to Sherlock floating in chlorinated water from his imagination.
By the time he turned onto the puzzles page, he was feeling despondent and seriously wondering where the nearest newsagents could be found. Then he spotted a splash of blue where there should only be black and white. Someone had scrawled over the cryptic crossword in the bottom corner.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It took John just over half an hour to solve the three clues circled by Moriarty, presumably the three that he was supposed to focus on. The letters already scrawled across the grid were distracting. He had to pause to borrow a pen from the youth behind the till so that he could scribble down his thoughts as he went along. The shop was quiet, but every one of the customers broke his concentration as they described the salad they wanted and loudly refused the jalapenos. Finally, he sat back, the clues solved: 11 across, Marylebone; 7 down, High; 3 down, Street. An address.
He drained the last of his coffee and rolled the newspaper into a tube, which he could shove into his coat pocket. He left the pen next to the till and hurried out, mentally planning out a route. He knew the nearest underground station was Baker Street. As he headed down to the platform at Swiss Cottage, he wondered if Moriarty was deliberately sending him so close to home. Daring him to go back to 221B in case Sherlock was there. It was a tempting thought. He could go home and put an end to the whole thing. But there was no doubt that Moriarty had eyes on both of them. He might even have a sniper rifle trained on Sherlock right now.
No, Moriarty was waiting for him to screw up. John scowled as he stepped aboard the carriage. He had to stick to the rules and keep on the path Moriarty had laid out for him, which meant going straight to Marylebone High Street.
It took five minutes to reach the Baker Street underground station. John joined the commuters heading for the surface. When he stepped out onto street level, he stared for a long moment down the length of Baker Street itself, wishing that he could just walk home. Then he turned away and started towards the next location without a backward glance. It wasn’t worth risking Sherlock’s life. He passed Madame Tussauds at a brisk pace, glancing at the tourists already waiting for the attraction to open. A few minutes later, he saw Marylebone Church rising up on his right, and crossed the street at the traffic lights outside it. He paused for a second to stare up at the dome and catch his breath, then hurried on.
He turned right onto Marylebone High Street and slowed his pace. He was familiar enough with the road to know that it was fairly long: a ten minute walk from end to end. The crossword had hardly been specific about where he was supposed to be. He pulled out Lestrade’s phone as he walked, hoping that a text or call would come in and give him a location, or at the very least another clue.
A couple of minutes passed and nothing happened. John shoved the phone back into his pocket and yanked out the newspaper instead. If Moriarty wasn’t sending him more information, he must already have what he needed. He found a convenient piece of wall to lean against and stared down at the crossword. He was fairly sure there was no clue in the message Moriarty had inscribed, but still he muttered it aloud to himself, “Which is easier, war or my crossword? Enjoy …”
He couldn’t think how that was relevant. He turned his attention to the clues. Aside from the circled clues, there were the crossed out clues. Most were across clues, some corresponding to the grid squares Moriarty had written in but some not. He looked at the clues Moriarty had left untouched. Some were fairly easy to solve, to someone with cryptic crossword experience. The clue to ten down was ‘Dangerous Post (6,4)’ and was obviously ‘Letter Bomb’: no help there, unless it was a threat. Fifteen across, ‘Rudimentary school education (10)’, equalled ‘Elementary’. Moriarty could have meant for him to go to the school he had just passed, but if so surely he would have crossed out all of the other clues. He spent another couple of minutes trying to solve the other uncrossed clues, but concluded that they were probably unconnected. He frowned, trying to think like Moriarty. He had already been set the challenge of the cryptic crossword to find the street; perhaps to find the exact location – the building or business he was supposed to go to – he had to do something different.
He glanced up at the café opposite. Above its large windows, there was a fifty-one: the building number. He blinked at the number etched into the stone and then down at the crossword. Perhaps it was as simple as adding up the numbers that hadn’t been crossed out. He did so, counting carefully so that there could be no mistake: eighty-three. He stared down at the crossword for another moment, wondering if it could really be so simple. He sighed and shoved the newspaper away. There was no way of knowing unless he tried it. He checked the numbers of the shops on his side of the street to work out which way to walk, and then set off, heading in the same direction as before towards number eighty-three.
The shop he eventually reached was one of the most old-fashioned on the street. Its windows were large and the frames were made of an almost honey-coloured wood. The sign above was painted bottle green and read, ‘Daunt Books’. Crossing his fingers and hoping that he was in the right place, John stepped in through the open door.
It was quiet, but he had been expecting that, what with it being so early. The assistant at the desk by the door smiled at him before looking back at his computer screen. There were shelves lining the walls and, in the more open space ahead, large circular tables were also stacked with books. John went further into the shop, looking around and trying to figure out where he was meant to go. The shop narrowed a little beyond the tables, then opened out into a large atrium. There was a set of stairs going down to a lower floor, and a balcony up above. As he walked around the stairwell, he noticed that above each set of shelves there was a label. Scandinavia. Switzerland. Austria. Germany. He glanced across to the far wall and saw that those shelves too were labelled by country. He stopped by a display of maps and stared around. This bookshop arranged its contents by country.
Where was he supposed to go? He looked up at the glass ceiling above and sighed deeply, reaching for the crossword puzzle. He was starting to hate the sight of it.
“Can I help you, sir?” a voice asked. He turned to face the assistant, shaking his head even before he had seen who was talking to him.
“No! No, thanks. I’m fine,” he said, a little more sharply than he normally would have. He wasn’t sure how much talking would constitute too much and break Moriarty’s twisted rule. Even though the bookshop was quiet, he couldn’t dismiss the idea that he was being watched.
“Well, if you need anything at all, just ask,” the assistant said, frowning slightly at him as she turned away and went back to her desk by the stairwell.
John hurried around the far side of a stand of books and pretended to be admiring the stained glass window that filled the shop’s back wall. It held his attention for a moment before he yanked the paper out of his pocket and glanced down.
So far, Moriarty had used two different parts of the crossword to get him here: the clues to give him the street and the numbers to give him an exact address. Was it a fair assumption that he would be using something else to indicate where he should be in the shop? The clues and numbers had served their purpose already, but what else was there? The only other thing Moriarty had added to the newspaper – that John could tell – was the message. John repeated it aloud to himself.
“Which is easier, war or my crossword? Enjoy! Yours – J. Moriarty.” He paused. “War … I wonder …”
It was a tenuous link. But it was the only link he had to a country. Moriarty would know that he had fought in Afghanistan. Sherlock had known that within moments of meeting him, and besides, it would be easy to look it up. He glanced around at the labels nearest to him, but couldn’t see Afghanistan.
He decided to risk a couple of sentences of conversation for the sake of speed, and went over to the female assistant who had spoken to him before. “Excuse me, do you have a section on Afghanistan?”
“Of course, sir,” she said. “It’s downstairs in the far right corner. I can show you if you like?”
“Thanks, I’ll be fine,” John replied, giving the girl a smile as he turned away.
It faded as soon as his back was turned. The Afghanistan section would be in the basement. He stopped on the top step, looking down the flight. The staircase was made of dark wood and old-fashioned in style. Two hand-rails ran all the way down. John gripped one of them in the hand that didn’t hold his cane, braced himself for the pain that steps would undoubtedly bring, and started down, trying to lean on his injured leg as little as possible.
The trip downstairs left every step an agony just when he had thought the pain inflicted by Moriarty was fading to a manageable ache. The shelf labelled ‘Afghanistan’ was one of the furthest back. John tried to focus on something other than his leg as he leant heavily on his cane and stared at the shelf in front of him. The shelves here were wooden, as they were upstairs, but they had been stained a lighter, warmer shade. Instead of glass tiles and wooden parquet, there was cool green carpet beneath his feet. There were more books in the Afghanistan section than John had been expecting, somehow. The majority faced outwards, presenting their front covers instead of their spines. Factual and fiction volumes were jammed against one another – alphabetically by author, as far as he could tell, with no division between the two. It was an interesting system to have adopted, he thought as he looked across the shelf at eye level.
He shifted his gaze to the next, slightly slimmer column of shelves: Pakistan. It was arranged in the same manner. John compared the two, but he could see nothing out of the ordinary about the Afghanistan section. He sighed and stepped closer to the shelves, reaching up for the book at the top left. He had to start somewhere, and he may as well act with some kind of plan, instead of pulling out books at random.
The first book yielded nothing unusual. He put it back, cover outwards, and decided to ignore the other copies of the same volume. He reached for the next title, then the next, reading the author, title and skimming the synopsis before he flipped through the pages. He had no idea what he was looking for, or even if he would find it here. He sighed and shoved the book back. There was only one more title on this shelf. He grabbed the first copy his fingers came to and flipped through the pages.
Something small and white fluttered out from between the pages and landed at his feet. John paused, staring down at it. It looked like it could be blank. His heart began to pound. If it had been marking a specific page, he had by now lost it. He might have just thrown away his only chance of survival – worse, of Sherlock’s survival.
Slowly, keeping his thumb in the pages of the book just in case he had the right one, he crouched down. His leg stabbed as the muscles stretched and he hissed, but otherwise ignored the pain. He grabbed the slip of paper and flipped it over.
Something was printed on the reverse. John felt the tension drain out of his shoulders: all was not lost. He had at least a partial clue. He closed his eyes for a moment, then took a look at the writing.
It was yet another puzzle. John sighed and glanced at the book. The arrows probably didn’t refer to anything in the book – and even if they did, presumably they referred to something on the page the paper had marked, and he had definitely lost that. He put the book back and rubbed at his eyes. He had to work this out.
It couldn’t refer back to the crossword; he had stared at it for long enough to know that the number one was an across and four was a down. He lifted his head and looked from the paper to the shelves. Perhaps the arrows were literally directions: one shelf down, four books across. He pointed at the book he had just put back, and let his hand drop to the shelf below. This was where it would get complicated. There were five titles on the shelf, but multiple copies of each. Was he supposed to move across by title? Or did Moriarty just mean four books? Starting at the end of the shelf, or with the book directly below the one with the note? He decided to try the latter first, and counted four across from the book below the one containing the nose, including every book as one. He pulled out the corresponding volume and flicked through, waiting for it to open naturally onto a page that had been marked.
Sure enough, two pages near the middle folded apart to reveal another slip of paper. This one was similarly marked.
This time, John found the next book more quickly. Moriarty’s notes led him up and down the shelves, forcing him to stretch and crouch to pick out and replace the books. By the time he was directed back to the first book – and presumably had reached the end of the puzzle – he was holding nine pieces of paper, stacked one on top of the other in the order he had found them.
He turned around and stepped over to the computer desk nearby, glancing around furtively for any employees. There were none on this floor at the moment. Though he hadn’t been paying much attention to the words themselves in his haste to find all of them, he had noticed a couple of things. All the words were capitalised, but only one had been followed by a full stop. He moved slips of paper down to the bottom of the pile one by one until he found the full stop. Then he laid out the sentence backwards from its final word on the desktop. The message revealed was a simple one:
ASK AT THE DESK FOR THE BOOK YOU WANTED.
John stared at the sentence. He was amazed that he had managed to find it. The code Moriarty had used relied entirely on none of the books on the Afghanistan shelves being moved. Moriarty had probably come to the shop just before it closed to place all the slips of paper, and assumed that John would arrive shortly after it opened. John checked his watch; it was after ten, and Daunt Books had been open for a full hour. His stomach lurched. It was sheer luck that none of the shop’s patrons has come in and moved these books around, not knowing that there was a code hidden there.
What if there were other clues that were time-sensitive, which might not even be there if he arrived too late? Stomach churning, John collected up the pieces of paper and stuffed them into his pocket. He walked as quickly as he could to the foot of the stairs and started the long climb back to the ground floor. Pain stabbed up into his spine with every step he gained and by the time he had reached the top he was gasping.
“Are you all right, sir?” the female assistant asked, hurrying over. He waved a hand at her, shaking his head and trying not to clutch at his leg.
“Fine,” he managed, forcing himself to keep moving in the hopes that it would prove to her that there was nothing wrong. “Absolutely fine.”
She let it go, though she looked far from happy as she turned to go back to her desk. He balled his free hand into a fist and stumped towards the front desk, leaning into his walking stick. He could have asked the girl for help, but it might draw attention when he had shooed her away so brusquely before.
The man at the front desk looked a little older than John. He smiled at him as he reached the desk and said, “Good morning, sir. How can I help you today?”
“I think you might be able to help me. There was a book I wanted … I think it might have been ordered for me, or left behind the desk, or something …”
“Name?” the assistant said, already tapping commands into the computer.
“John Watson?” John tried, and immediately wondered whether he should have tried Moriarty’s name instead.
“Ah, yes!” the assistant said with a smile. “A friend of yours came in yesterday and asked us to put a copy of A Journey Through Afghanistan behind the desk for you. It should be just here …”
He crouched down to look and resurfaced a moment later with a book in his hand. He slid it across the desk towards John.
“That would be the one,” John told him. The mention of a ‘friend’ clinched it. Moriarty – or one of his people – had to have been here to set things up.
“That’ll be twelve pounds, please, Mr Watson,” the assistant said as he reached for a plastic bag.
“Twelve – oh, of course.” John reached for the wallet. Why would Moriarty pay for the book in advance? He pulled out the correct amount and handed it over, taking the plastic bag in exchange and heading outside.
On his way to the bookshop, he had walked past the Marylebone Church Gardens and noticed a few people seated along the path that led up to the building. He headed back the way he had come; once again, he needed somewhere innocuous to sit and figure out the next clue. The gates were open to the public and no one seemed to notice him as he went inside and took a seat on an unoccupied bench a little way away from the other people who were enjoying the gardens. He settled himself, propping his walking stick against the bench seat and stretching out his injured leg. The pain was a constant burn. He gently placed a hand over the wound. The touch made him wince. It was impossible to be sure without properly checking, but he suspected the wound might be bleeding through his bandages.
There was nothing he could do about that now – not without risking Sherlock’s life by breaking a rule. He pulled the book out of the carrier bag and looked down at it. A Journey Through Afghanistan by David Chaffetz. The front cover proclaimed it a memorial; in smaller letters above the title, John read, “Encounters with nomads, traders and peasants in peacetime Afghanistan.”
He checked the back cover, then carefully turned the pages of the book in case there was a bookmark or folded corner. Nothing. He was fairly sure that he wasn’t being pointed to Afghanistan: his funds wouldn’t get him there, and he probably wouldn’t be allowed to fly out there without a very good reason. So what? He thought back to the clue at the Freud Museum that had led him, eventually, to Swiss Cottage. There couldn’t be anything hidden in the cover image: Moriarty would have had to physically add or remove something, and it was brand new and flawless. That left him with the actual contents of the book. He found the contents page and scanned down it for any reference that might be useful, but he didn’t recognise anything that might point to a location in London.
He sighed and raised his head, staring around at the gardens in an attempt to calm himself. He wasn’t cut out for this. Whatever Moriarty was pointing him to, he couldn’t find it. He wasn’t Sherlock.
Thinking of Sherlock reminded him that he wasn’t far from the flat – from home. He closed his eyes and wondered whether Sherlock was there right now, pacing the room in long-legged strides or lying motionless on the couch with nicotine patches courting the veins in his arm. He might still be out, of course. It wouldn’t matter that he hadn’t slept; so long as there were clues to be tracked down, suspects and witnesses to interrogate, contacts to meet with, Sherlock could keep going on reserves that seemed infinite when there was a case at hand. John’s brows pulled down into an automatic frown of concern. He would much rather imagine Sherlock back at 221B. Even though he would get no sleep there, either, he might at least allow his body to snatch a moment’s rest on the couch.
He sighed and opened his eyes again. Musing on Sherlock’s whereabouts and wellbeing wasn’t helping. Right now, the only thing he needed to think about was the clue, and the consequences if he didn’t solve it. Remembering that there was a sniper rifle apparently trained on his friend was enough incentive to return to the book.
What would Sherlock do, he thought. He had to try to think more like Sherlock and Moriarty – more like a genius. It was all about the little details, things that no one else would notice. No one normal, John’s brain added, traitorously, and then he felt guilty. He shook his head and looked down at the book in his hands. Details. He might as well start at the beginning. He opened A Journey Through Afghanistan again at the first, unnumbered pages, before even the title page. There was a blurb about the author, which John skim-read and dismissed. He turned over to the title page, which was opposite a map of west Afghanistan, alongside a globe image and another map which showed where the country was in the world. He took a careful look both at the pictures and the text, then turned the page again. He was faced with the copyright page. His heart leapt; the book had been published by the University of Chicago press, and every instance of the word ‘Chicago’ had been scored under by a blunt pencil.
Details. Flipping through the book, he would never have seen it. He smiled and murmured, “Thank you, Sherlock …”
Not that the word Chicago actually got him anywhere. It couldn’t mean the city itself. Moriarty hadn’t given him the means to leave the country, and John was sure by now that he was supposed to stay in London. He closed the book and put it away in the plastic bag. He needed a location in London that was somehow linked to Chicago.
“I wonder,” he said to himself, thinking aloud. Moriarty had used a KT Tunstall song for one of his clues, and the location of a theatre for another; unlike Sherlock, he wasn’t oblivious to popular culture – or he was pretending not to be. Maybe he was trying to set himself apart from Sherlock, or prove himself the better of the two, because he saw the value in things Sherlock disdained. Whatever the reason, it gave John food for thought. There were plenty of things Sherlock was unaware of because he considered them unimportant. However, John had only found one gap so far in Sherlock’s encyclopaedic knowledge of London: he knew nothing about the West End. John could remember asking him, incredulous, how he could possibly live in the city and not know the name of a single show. What if the answer to this clue was the musical Chicago?
He had no idea which theatre Chicago was currently showing, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to find out. He stood up, mindful of his leg the moment he moved it, and started back towards Baker Street underground station. It would be quicker to take the tube across the city, not to mention easier on his leg. He also might be able to pick up a flyer there about London’s West End that had details of shows and theatres, which would give him more of an idea of where he needed to be.
Full crossword solution can be found here.
A quick flip through a London Theatre Guide while on the tube between Baker Street and Piccadilly Circus told John that Chicago was playing at the Cambridge Theatre. The directions at the bottom of the page listed the nearest underground station as Covent Garden. John checked the Tube Map he had grabbed at the same time as the guide, and switched to the Piccadilly Line to resurface at the opposite end of London’s theatre district. He paused by the exit, leaning against the red tile façade of the Covent Garden underground station while he checked the tiny map at the bottom of the Chicago page. He studied it to memorise the route, glancing up a couple of times to orientate himself, then put the theatre guide into his pocket and set off.
He crossed the road, noticing that it was much quieter now, and started down a pedestrianised street. Rush hour was finally over, and he was no longer being jostled by hurried commuters everywhere he went. He had been glad of it on the tube; he had even managed to find his way to a seat, which had been a relief to his leg. He crossed the next road at a zebra crossing that led into a small square of open, cobbled space surrounded by shops. He turned down between an Urban Outfitters and a Diesel. This street was narrow, the pavements flagged and the road itself cobbled. As he walked, John noticed the entrance to an arcade that he hadn’t even known existed. He shook his head. At least he was learning more about the city he lived in.
At the far end of the road, he could just make out an oblong sign with letters lit up in red running down the side of the end building. As he got nearer, the letters coalesced from a distant blur into the word ‘Chicago’ in sparkling capitals.
John reached the theatre and walked along its side. As he passed, he noticed the poster beside one of the doors. He frowned. The poster itself was nothing out of the ordinary, or at least, nothing he hadn’t been expecting from the musical. It was a black and white photograph of four scantily clad women, presumably the stars of the show, lined up one behind the other and staring at the passers by from underneath text quoted from a positive review. However, someone had painted a red slash over the throats of all four women.
The theatre was shaped like a wedge, its narrowest face pointing inwards towards Seven Dials junction and the pillar at its centre. John walked around to that side of the building, which was just wide enough for a pair of narrow posters and another entrance. His frown deepened as he realised that the man and woman featured on both posters had the same red paint splashed across their necks. He poked his head around the third face of the theatre; the two posters on either side of the only entrance had been similarly defaced.
This third side was clearly the back of the theatre. John couldn’t help but notice that someone had propped a ladder against the awning that overhung the theatre’s entrances, out of the way of the general public. He turned and walked across to the sundial pillar, then turned around to survey the huge poster that filled the space that overlooked Seven Dials junction. There were two men in coveralls, one standing on a stepladder on top of the awning scrubbing at the poster while the other held it stable. John could see that every single one of the women depicted on the poster had a red slash painted across her neck. Despite the men’s best efforts, the paint was stubbornly refusing to come off.
Glancing from side to side to check for traffic, John took a few steps forwards and cupped his hands around his mouth to talk to the two men. “Hey! What happened?”
They both turned to look at him. The one up the ladder was the first to reply, a very sour expression on his face. “Hoodlums, I expect.”
“Have you called the police?” John asked. He didn’t want to get mixed up in a police investigation. That would definitely break Moriarty’s rules. It was only then that he realised that his curiosity might have driven him to break the ‘no talking’ rule – but it was already too late. He had to simply hope that he would be allowed his two questions. Even so, as the cleaners replied, his stomach squirmed anxiously.
“What do you think?” the cleaner said, shooting John a bad-tampered glare. “One of the managers called them in first thing, but they can’t find anything on the CCTV and there were no witnesses, apparently. Useless sods.”
That sounded like Moriarty, John thought.
“Bloody nuisance, whoever did it,” the other man complained. He was older than the first man by a handful of years, and it showed in the grey at his temples. “This was supposed to be my morning off!”
John nodded sympathetically and raised a hand to wave thanks and goodbye. The men went back to work, though now he was aware of it he could hear the older man grumbling to himself, or possibly to his co-worker. John walked up to one of the posters and stared at it. The red marks across the throats of the characters had to be the clue; the fact that there was no evidence whatsoever of a culprit had only confirmed it. He scraped at the paint with a nail, ran his finger along and then down the stripe of red. Whoever had done this for Moriarty hadn’t been using spray-paint, that much he could tell. No, the paint was in some places thicker, and when he swiped his finger down he could feel the subtle texture of lines that only a brush would leave behind. There were splashes of red left behind by the rough swipe of the brush, and circular drops on the floor where the paint had dripped. John wondered if any of that was actually relevant.
He sighed and took a couple of steps back, looking from one poster to another. It probably wasn’t; if Moriarty wanted him to notice the paintwork itself, wouldn’t he have just painted over the entire poster? No, John thought, the positioning of each brush stroke – over the throat of the man or woman featured – had to be relevant.
What could it mean? Well, if the red signified blood it could mean a cut throat, possibly decapitation. Or perhaps strangulation, which would leave red marks around the neck.
Then there was the fact that Moriarty had painted over the posters advertising a musical. There had to be some link to Chicago – why else would Moriarty deface the posters? After all, neck trauma was hardly specific to a single location by itself. So was Moriarty pointing him towards another musical?
John grimaced as he made his way back to the Seven Dials pillar and took a seat with his back against it, the book Moriarty had had him buy resting on his knee in its bag. His knowledge of West End theatre wasn’t brilliant; it was barely any better than Sherlock’s, truth be told. He knew a little about some of the more famous musicals, but that was all. Not even the Theatre Guide in his pocket could help. It listed all of the current shows in London, but he knew from looking at the page about Chicago that it didn’t contain a detailed synopsis of each musical or play. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the pillar, trying to think of the musicals he actually knew anything about. There was Mamma Mia, but no one died or had their neck injured in that. He knew that Les Miserables was the longest running musical in the West End, but nothing about the plot. Phantom of the Opera had deaths, didn’t it? The Phantom strangled people, or garrotted them, or something.
The red paint evoked a spray of arterial blood more than anything else, certainly more than the red and purple bruising of strangulation. He sighed deeply and opened his eyes, rubbing a hand over his face. At least Sherlock wouldn’t do any better, he thought.
He sighed and watched the men cleaning the largest Chicago poster. He remembered, vaguely, what Harry had told him about the film. She had been to see it several times; she said she kept going back because it was an amazing story, but John still suspected the real reason was the golden combination of Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta Jones. Both women’s characters were murderers, and they spent much of the musical in prison. Were there any other musicals with a prison setting or murderers for main characters – murderers who slit people’s throats or chopped off their heads?
Thinking of Harry recounting the plot of Chicago sparked another memory – another musical she had been to see at the cinema. She hadn’t watched it over and over, but she had liked it enough to want to tell him about it in great detail. Sweeney Todd: the barber whose specialty was slitting the throats of his clientele.
He grabbed the Theatre Guide, silently thanking Harry for her taste in cinema, and ran his finger down the index of entries, searching for Sweeney Todd. It wasn’t listed. He swore, shoving the Theatre Guide away again. The more he thought about it, the more obvious it became that the slashed throats were a reference to Todd – but if the musical wasn’t playing in London, where was he supposed to go.
He tried to think back to what Harry had told him. Todd had killed people in his barber’s chair, and their bodies had been ground up into pies and sold to the public. Horrifying, but completely unhelpful. He reached into his pocket for Lestrade’s phone, hoping he might be allowed a little help from Google, but he was still locked out of every single application. He put it away again and returned to staring at the Chicago posters and trying to remember. The film had had a tag line – hadn’t it? What the hell was it? Something about Todd being the ‘Demon Barber’ …
The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The words returned to his brain in a rush, just as he was about to give up. The musical was set in London. He finally had another location.
He got to his feet. He knew that Fleet Street was at least a ten minute walk from the nearest station, so making use of the public transport would save him barely any time. He glanced down at his leg, remembering both the words of the doctor who had discharged him and his own medical training. He really should rest the injury as much as possible, but for ten minutes on the tube and almost as long a walk anyway, it was barely worth it – especially when the clock was ticking. He sighed and started to walk.
By the time he reached the Temple Bar Memorial with its rearing, reptilian griffin, every step was painful. John tried to block it out as much as he could, but his pronounced limp was starting to catch the attention of passers by. He was fairly certain now that the wound was bleeding again, but he had no choice but to carry on. At least his pyjama bottoms were black; that would make any blood that stained the fabric through the bandages slightly easier to explain away as spilled tea of coffee.
He paused next to a phone box at the end of the Royal Court of Justice building to catch his breath, and to wait in case Moriarty decided to call him with instructions. He even pulled out Lestrade’s phone to check it, but there were no new messages and it didn’t start to ring. He checked the time: twenty past eleven. He put the phone back into his pocket, the nervous tension in his fingers clenching them into fists.
“What now?” he asked under his breath, passing a hand across his face.
He had been sent to Fleet Street – if he was in the right place at all – because of Sweeney Todd, so he could be looking for a barber’s shop. Or he could be looking for the scene of a violent murder, for all he knew. The truth was, beyond the street itself, he had no clue. He had no choice but to walk along it, looking for anything abnormal, which seemed to be his primary method of detection. He couldn’t help but wonder as he started walking again, leaning heavily into his cane, whether Sherlock would have been able to determine exactly where he should be from the posters.
John passed a pubs and a large legal bookshop on a corner. He paused to check the window display in case it was full of criminal justice books pertaining to murder, but there was nothing. He hadn’t really been expecting it. So far, Moriarty’s choice of locations was diverse. He had been sent to two theatres – the Tricycle and the Cambridge – but that didn’t exactly set a precedent, since the Tricycle Theatre itself had been the first clue and the production Chicago the second. He sighed and checked the other side of the road, then moved on. He passed a few shops on the right side of the road followed by the entrance to a church on the left. On the side of the next building were four old newspaper names, from the Sunday Post to the Dundee Courier; they were clearly as much a part of the structure as its bricks and mortar and he stopped to inspect the writing for any indication of tampering, but they gave him no clues. He continued and noted that the architecture on his side of Fleet Street was more modern at this point, in sharp contrast to the buildings he had passed earlier.
There was another bookshop at the next corner and again he stopped to check the window. It was an ideal opportunity to rest his leg and he did so, pretending to peruse the display inside and trying not to draw attention. After a few minutes of gritting his teeth and trying to mentally overcome the ache that was spreading through his whole thigh, he forced himself to keep walking.
He had been walking for less than a minute when the phone in his pocket started to ring. Immediately, he moved to the inside edge of the kerb out of the way of pedestrian traffic and pulled it out, fumbling in his haste to answer.
“Yes,” he snapped, pressing the phone against his ear.
Silence for a few seconds, then Moriarty’s voice came through the speaker, smugness pooling in John’s ears. “Go up, John.”
There was a click, the unmistakable sound of Moriarty hanging up. John swore, causing a young couple who were passing to throw him an odd, offended look. He glanced away, putting the phone back into his pocket.
What was ‘go up’ supposed to mean? He tilted his head back to look up at the façades opposite; the building across from him was impressive, built out of grey stone and easily four storeys with classical pillars rising high above his head, but despite that it was unhelpful. He crossed the kerb and turned to look at the buildings behind him. He had been standing against the window of a narrow Orange mobile shop. Above, the building was white stone and similarly old-fashioned in design, sandwiched between two much more modern buildings. He could count six windows one on top of the other, not including the shop’s narrow glass pane. John turned his attention elsewhere, glancing further along the street. Since Moriarty had rung him while he was in this area, it had to mean that he was supposed to ‘go up’ from this point; otherwise, he could have called when John first arrived on Fleet Street. There had to be some way of getting up there.
He looked the other way, and for the first time noticed a glass door beside the Orange shop. He limped across the pavement. There were buzzers next to the door, but John didn’t bother trying them to see if he could somehow get in. He had seen the next door along, which was clearly labelled as a Fire Escape. There was no guarantee that the residential or commercial access corridors inside the building would lead all the way to the roof, and John wouldn’t put it past Moriarty to make this as difficult as he could for him. A fire escape might go up all the way, however. He decided to risk setting off the fire alarms and went across to the double doors to try them.
For the second time that day, a door that ought to have been locked and alarmed did nothing more than swing open before him. He slipped inside quickly, glancing over his shoulder to check that he wasn’t being noticed. Inside, there was a flight of stairs. John glanced around for security cameras. There was one crouching over the door, angled down towards him. He narrowed his eyes in its direction, guessing that Moriarty was watching his movements. He wanted to check on his leg, but he didn’t really fancy taking his trousers down in front of the man who was responsible for putting him in this situation. It would have to wait. Even if he confirmed his fears that he was bleeding again, there was nothing he could do about it. He started up the flight of stairs in front of him.
John’s breathing was ragged as he stumbled out onto the rooftop. He paused to kick a fire bucket full of sand into place on the threshold to prop the door open. He had no desire to be trapped up here with no way back down. Then he rested his hand on the wall and put all of his weight on his good leg until the pain subsided. He might be working against the clock, but it was worth taking a moment to clear his mind in preparation for the next clue.
When he was able to lift his head and look around, he noticed that there was something sitting on the very edge of the roof directly in front of him. He limped over, not bothering to suppress the hiss of pain brought on by each step while there was no one around to hear him. It was a pair of binoculars. He didn’t dare bend down to get them. Every movement of his right leg was agony, and even when it was still there was the now-familiar ache of healing muscle. He turned his walking stick over and hooked the handle into the strap to lift them up into his hand instead. He gave them a quick once-over in case the clue was on the item itself, then lifted them to his eyes.
After a few seconds, he let his hand drop back down to his side. It was cooler up here and a chilly wind pushed insistently against his left side. The sky above was a heavy shade of grey, punctuated only by the dim circle of the sun, just visible through the cloud cover. The tower-block landscape of north London spread out before John’s eyes. New multi-storey buildings built from metal and glass were crammed in alongside old-fashioned brick-and-mortar; he could see the turrets of the Royal Court of Justice and the face of an office block that seemed to be made entirely out of greenish panes of glass. He raised the binoculars to his face again to take a closer look at the pale stone of the Royal Court of Justice building. He turned his head slowly, scanning the rooftops and the windows for any sign of Moriarty’s interference.
He could see people going about their business in their offices through the strong magnification of the lenses, but nothing that would help him. He looked across the next floor down of the nearest building he could see directly into and paused.
There was a small spray of colour in a window. It was almost too small for him to make out, even with the help of the binoculars. His hand couldn’t hold them still enough to focus. He closed his eyes and took a breath, willing his hand to be steady, and looked again.
It was in the window of an empty office. The monitor on the desk was half-turned towards the window, and unlike those in the other offices, it was dark. The office wasn’t in use today: it would be the perfect place for Moriarty to lay down a clue. John licked his lips and tried to see the image that had been drawn across the floor-to-ceiling glass. It took up less than half of the space at the centre of the office’s transparent wall, and looked like nothing more than a series of colourful lines drawn in what looked like spray paint directly onto the glass. A fat ellipse, its ends flattened, with a line jutting out from the top and bottom curves. The shape was somehow familiar. John ran his eyes over it again. The lines were not just that; there was a triangle on the end of each, both of them pointing downwards.
Realisation hit John like a physical blow to the stomach. The ellipse was the shape of a barrel and the lines were the two ends of an arrow, the triangles forming the fletching and arrowhead. A barrel shot through with an arrow: John had seen that image before. He remembered it from his days as a student. He and his friends at Barts used to laugh about the play on words the image was supposed to convey.
Though he and his friends hadn’t been particularly religious, they had visited the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great a few times. At one time, the hospital and church had been part of the same institution, and so were close together. The church had always seemed as good a place as any to catch a few quiet moments. John also found that sitting in a pew calmed nerves shattered by a tough day in the hospital. So he knew the church well enough, and was particularly familiar with the story behind the strangely secular image on the oriel window above the south aisle. Carved into the stone below the window was a picture of an arrow piercing a barrel – or a bolt passing through a tun, as one church official had explained when asked by one of John’s friends on a slow afternoon. The image was a pun, the bolt and tun supposed to evoke the name of the man who had the window built: Prior Bolton.
The terrible wordplay had made John smile every time he glanced up at the oriel window from that day on. The sight of the barrel and arrow brought a smile to his lips as he stood on the edge of the rooftop and lowered the binoculars. He knew where he had to go.
The church was exactly as John remembered: a huge building of dark grey stone with white accents, a red brick tower rising over the arched entrance. He glanced up at the gold numbers of the clock face, high above on the side of the tower. It was almost noon.
He sighed to himself as he headed for the dark wood doors that led into the church. Everything felt as though it was taking too long. He wondered if he might already be too late. Moriarty had never told him how much time the ‘treasure hunt’ was supposed to take. He knew that his leg was slowing him down significantly. Had Moriarty taken that into account when he planned this?
Even though he could hear nothing from inside the church, he paused by the doors to check whether there was a Monday morning service. Thankfully, there was nothing scheduled for that morning, so he stepped inside. He stopped after a few paces to allow his eyes to adjust to the rather dim interior, sacrificing time in favour of actually being able to see properly to search. He limped across to the desk beside the book stall and handed over another precious portion of his money to the fail looking lady. She thanked him for supporting the church and he offered her a feeble smile as he turned away.
The church was as cold and majestic as it remained in his memory. He shivered slightly as he made his way up the aisle towards the oriel window. He kept his eyes peeled as he passed by the rows of stiff, wooden seating in case Moriarty had left him a clue. He paused a short way from the altar. There was someone standing just in front of the communion rail, and he didn’t want to interrupt if they were praying. He waited until the woman bowed her head and moved away, disappearing through one of the many stone arches that divided the seating from the side aisles. His feet were quiet against the tiles and stone grave markers as he moved forwards. The church was otherwise completely silent. He stopped in front of the oriel window and looked up at it, his eyes finding the barrel pierced by an arrow with ease. He stared up at it, allowing himself a moment to catch his breath. The familiar image, however, was only what had brought him here. It wasn’t going to give him any indication of where to go next.
With a sigh, John scanned the rest of the carvings. He couldn’t remember anything significant from the carvings around the oriel window aside from the barrel and arrow. Still, he couldn’t see anything amiss. He wished he could ask the lady in the book shop, but that would definitely break Moriarty’s ‘no talking’ rule – if he hadn’t broken it already.
He swallowed hard, trying not to think of what might have already happened to Sherlock. Surely Moriarty would tell him if he had gone wrong, or if he was too late or so behind schedule that finishing in time was no longer possible. He hoped that was the case, but a part of him – the part that saw the darkness in Sherlock, the part that remembered Moriarty’s chill voice deep in his ear when he dreamed – suspected otherwise. Moriarty derived some sick pleasure from seeing him fumble around in the dark, searching blindly for clues he barely stood a chance of solving. He would find even more in watching John come home – thinking Sherlock was all right, thinking he had won – only to find Sherlock with a bullet hole in his chest or temple, shirt stained red and those piercing blue eyes bereft of any spark of the intelligence the infuriated and fascinated him both at once.
He stumbled across to the nearest chair and sat down heavily, dropping his plastic bag beside him. His breath was ragged, and it had nothing to do with pain or physical exertion. For the first time that day, he dreaded going home.
He leaned his walking stick against the next chair along and brought both hands up to cover his face, rubbing his fingers into his eyes. He couldn’t keep thinking like this. He had to believe that Sherlock was all right. That Moriarty’s treasure hunt was more than just a trap. He had to believe that there was a way out of this dark maze, and that he would find it if he just kept following the clues. He had managed it so far, he told himself.
Yet he could feel the tug of exhaustion in his bones and muscles now. Even without the injury to his leg, he had been on his feet since early morning, and the unaccustomed exercise had taken its toll. He could have done this easily before the weeks of hospital bed-rest, but not now, and especially not with an unhealed gunshot wound in his thigh. He leant back on the chair and let his hands drop to his sides. Yes, he had managed to follow Moriarty’s complex trail this far, but he had no idea how much longer he could continue like this. He closed his eyes and tried to take deep breaths.
“Come on, John,” he murmured to himself after a few moments. He opened his eyes.
His gaze fell on the wooden barrier in front of him that divided the seats from the aisle. In his haste to sit down, he hadn’t noticed that there was a hymn book just an arm’s length away, propped on the sloping top of the barrier. He reached over and grabbed it, immediately noticing that the hard cover felt loose. He rested the book against the barrier and opened it.
He was presented not with the title page of a hymn book, but rather with the words ‘Henry VI Part Two’. He raised his eyebrows, surprised that Moriarty had given him a Shakespeare play. There was no doubt that the book was Moriarty’s doing: why else would something so strange be here? He wondered how the man had ensured that the book was waiting for him when he arrived – and then he remembered the woman. He had assumed she was praying, but as he had walked up the aisle he had noticed that she got up from one of the seats on this side of the choir. She must have been in place since that morning, waiting to leave the book here for him to find. He looked around, searching the dark corners of the church in case she was still there, but he couldn’t see her. He could barely remember what she had looked like; her hair and coat had both been dark, but there had been nothing unusual about her. He sighed and gave up, turning his attention back to the book in his hands.
Aside from the transplanted cover, it seemed to be a complete copy of Henry VI Part Two. John wondered what he was supposed to look for. He checked the publication information, just in case, but Moriarty hadn’t marked anything for his attention. He tried thumbing through the pages of the book. There had to be another clue, something that would point him to the right page.
He lifted his head, sighing in frustration. Then his eyes fell on the wooden hymn boards on either side of the church and, more importantly, the single number displayed there. He felt a rush of excitement as he remembered that there was no service planned for today. There shouldn’t have been any numbers on the hymn boards at all. He made a note of the number – one hundred and twenty two – and quickly turned to the relevant page.
He was confronted by the first page of Act Four Scene Six. The words directly after the scene number had been thickly scored through with a black marker. He flipped back a page to the previous scene, but there the words were unmarked and read ‘London. The Tower’: the setting of the scene. He turned back to Scene Six. Clearly, there was his clue – rendered unreadable by a layer of ink. He flipped the page, wondering if he could read what had been censored through the paper, but the pen had done its job: it was completely illegible. John sighed; he hadn’t really expected it to be that simple. Moriarty never made things simple. He settled down and began to read.
John didn’t bother reading beyond the end of the scene. There was little point, if he was right in guessing that the location of this scene in particular was where he was supposed to go next. Why else would Moriarty have blanked out this setting and none of the others?
The location had to be somewhere in London: the references to London Bridge, the Tower and to ‘London-stone’ made that obvious, though John had known it anyway from the rules of the game. The question was as it had been from the start: where in London exactly? Presumably wherever the London Stone was located, John thought. He had a vague knowledge of the London Stone, in the same way he knew about the ravens in the Tower of London. Both were supposedly linked to the wellbeing of the city: so long as the ravens and the stone were in place, London and its people were safe. He knew where to find the ravens; that would have been laughably easy. The London Stone, however, was a more difficult prospect. Among the city’s mythical safeguards, the stone was undeniably the poor relation.
He sighed and held the page up to the dim light filtering through the stained glass window beyond the altar. He still couldn’t read the words.
He looked around. On the wall of the aisle behind him were several memorial monuments, each one lit by bright lamps. John got up, careful of his injured leg; sitting down for a while after the exertion of the walk had stiffened the muscles, but an experimental step told him that it was no longer agony to move. He still winced as he limped over to the nearest monument. He glanced around, but there was no one around. As far as he knew, the church was deserted but for himself and the lady in charge of the little shop. He was glad; he felt bad enough holding the page in a beam of light that illuminated a tomb without having anyone see him doing it. He glanced at the name and sent a silent apology to Sir Walter and Lady Mildmay, then turned his full attention to the censored words.
Holding the book, with its ill-fitting hymn book cover, and trying to angle the paper was awkward. John sighed and pulled it out from in front of the light. He leant all of his weight into his good leg and dropped the plastic bag between his feet. Then he juggled the book and his walking stick for a moment, and managed to put a little tear at the top edge of the page near the spine. Then, with a final look around to check that he wasn’t being watched, he tore the page out completely.
The ripping sound seemed loud in the silence of the church. John grimaced and hoped the little old lady didn’t come to find out what had made the noise. He dropped the book into the plastic bag alongside the other one and waited a few seconds, listening for her footsteps. When he heard nothing, he let himself relax a little and turned his mind back to the problem at hand. He put the single page in front of the light, as near to the bulb as he could manage while still able to see enough to read it. Nothing. He tried twisting the paper, millimetre by millimetre, curling it into a narrow U, anything that might break through the sheen of black ink and reflect the light back off the printed letters.
He froze. There. Just at this angle, the paper tilted away from him at almost forty-five degrees, the letters became legible as “London. Cannon Street.”
John wanted to laugh. He felt as though he had beaten Moriarty in some small way, more so than he had with any of the other clues. He was sure this wasn’t how Moriarty had intended him to solve it – that he was supposed to be remembering where the London Stone was located, not using light to see through the black pen. Yet he couldn’t be accused of cheating: Moriarty had never said he couldn’t do something like this. Grinning, he stuffed the page into the bag and picked it up, swinging it gently by his side as he made his way towards the exit.
John took the Underground to Cannon Street. He was sorry to leave the familiar ground near Barts, but at the same time a little relieved. It would be just his luck to run into Mike Stamford or the girl from the mortuary, Molly – and that couldn’t end well. No one in the medical profession who knew, as they did, that he had been shot would be fooled by a brave face if they saw his limp. He wasn’t sure he would have been able to excuse himself quickly enough, or even if he would have been able to get away.
No, it was for the best that he was away from Barts, he thought as he stepped out of Mansion House tube station. The further he was from places and people he knew, the safer Sherlock would be.
He took the walk down Cannon Street as quickly as his leg would allow. He had managed to get a seat on the Underground, and although the mental and physical rest had come like a blessing, he couldn’t afford to slow down. He may have gained himself a little time on the last clue, but he was sure he had wasted much more earlier on. He kept his eyes peeled as he walked for any sign of the London Stone. He knew he was on the right street, but he didn’t know where along the length of the road the stone itself would be, or even if it would be sign-posted. He somehow doubted it.
His eye caught on a sign that read ‘London Stone’ above a recessed entrance surrounded by chalk boards. This was obviously a pub, but the name implied that he was at the least getting close. He slowed down, a piece of him wondering if Moriarty would take drastic measures if he went into the pub and asked where the real stone was. He smiled grimly; of course he would.
The next building had once been grand, but its green marble façade looked as though it had seen better days. John looked up at the glass windows that rose in ranks towards the sky, and when he dropped his gaze he spotted a nondescript little structure, poking out into the pavement. He went over. There was a plaque above a fancy metal grille, which named the contents as the London Stone. Behind a glass pane and badly illuminated from above, there was a plain grey lump of rock. John forced his leg to cooperate as he crouched in front of the grille. The movement dragged a groan of pain from his throat that made a couple of passers by turn to look, but they quickly moved on. John tried to take slow deep breaths through his nose, fighting the wave of nausea that followed the pain. He focused on the blank grey stone in front of him. If he could force his attention onto something, anything, other than his leg, it would remove him from the injury.
The London Stone itself couldn’t hold any information. It looked as if it hadn’t been touched since its interment in the wall of this building. There was nothing scratched or painted onto the glass, or onto any outer part of the little structure that had been built to house the stone. Then John noticed that someone had pushed a small bunch of flowers through the metal grille, which had withered and dried. He thought he could see the edge of something beneath them. He pushed his fingers through the bars and nudged the flowers aside. A key had been hidden beneath them.
John hooked the key out from behind the metal bars. It was small and silver, and looked much like the keys on his key-ring at home. He flipped it over in his palm. The flat, rounded head of the key was completely blank.
He used the London Stone’s housing to pull himself to his feet, hissing as he straightened his leg again and then leaning against the wall with one hand. The pain was getting worse again. He knew that for the sake of his leg he ought to stop, but that hadn’t been an option since Moriarty had appeared in his bedroom. He licked his lips and forced himself to straighten up, reaching for every shred of army training and putting it into practice. He had to keep going, for Sherlock’s sake if not for his own. He gritted his teeth and took a step back from the wall. Sherlock wouldn’t let him down; he couldn’t be the weak link in their little chain.
He raised his head and glanced about him. Since the key was completely ordinary and didn’t point him in a new direction, he guessed that it fitted into a lock somewhere nearby. His eyes caught on a doorway right next to the London Stone, which he had walked past without really seeing just a few moments before. There was a warning sign posted on the wood of the door itself, telling the world that it was under the protection of a security company. The door had been secured with a padlock.
The pain faded a little as John went across to try the key, his brain distracted by the anticipation. It turned in the padlock and John’s face broke into an automatic, triumphant grin. He glanced over his shoulder, wondering if any of the men and women walking past on their lunch hour would notice him, whether any of them had seen him crouch beside the stone before he came to this door and would think it strange. No one seemed to be paying him any attention. He smiled to himself, shaking his head as he slipped inside. Of course they weren’t.
On the other side of the door, there was a large room lit only by the light that filtered in through the windows that looked out onto Cannon Street, though the majority of them were mostly blocked by large, wooden shelves that had been pushed against the outer walls. A couple of feet from the door, in the middle of an otherwise empty space, there was a table. On it lay a single book. John frowned; Moriarty had given him three books now, two in successive clues. It seems strangely unimaginative for a self-proclaimed genius.
He went over to the table. His frown deepened as he read the book’s title: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. He picked it up. It was a hardback edition that had been stripped of its dust jacket, but the bright, cartoonish image of Harry and the school train was still splashed across the cover. He couldn’t quite believe that Moriarty had given him a children’s book, even one that was commonly held as acceptable for adults. He turned the book over in his hands, and noticed a bookmark made of a strip of printer paper poking out. He quickly turned to the relevant pages. The right-hand page was the opening of chapter six, ‘The Journey To Platform Nine And Three-Quarters’. His eyes skipped down the page to check, and sure enough, near the bottom, were the words ‘King’s Cross’.
His first reaction was to grin and slap the book closed in one hand. He couldn’t ask for clearer instructions than that: King’s Cross Station, either at the fake platform nine and three-quarters sign by the entrance beside the luggage trolley set into the wall, or between the real platforms nine and ten. He turned to go, but a though made him pause.
None of the other clues had been presented so neatly for him. Perhaps Moriarty was playing with him, trying to lull him into thinking that the hard part was over – but that made no sense. He sighed and took a step back to perch on the edge of the table and reopen the book. He wished he could just take the clue at face value, but the more he thought about it the more it felt wrong. He put the plastic bag down at his feet, thinking of the books inside it: neither of them had had their pages nicely bookmarked for him. He had had to work to find the answer with those. Why would Moriarty just give it to him this time? He sighed and pulled out the paper marker to properly study the two pages. There were no other locations, however. Perhaps Moriarty was giving him a break, he thought, though that was dubious. If he was anything at all like Sherlock, he would keep pushing – keep testing his mental limits. It made no sense that he would suddenly give him an easy way out.
Then the thought struck him: the bookmark. He had barely noticed it, and yet it was the most incongruous thing about the clue. He closed the book and put it down on the table, then looked at the bookmark. It really was nothing more than a strip of unlined white paper, apparently blank. Then he saw it. In the bottom corner, probably positioned just where they would have been partially hidden by the curve of the pages as they rose from the spine, there were tiny letters. Moriarty must have used a very sharp, very hard pencil. The writing was so faint he could barely read it in the dim light, but after a few seconds he made it out. Just two words: ‘Look around.’
John gritted his teeth and screwed the paper into a ball, throwing it aside. He felt angry – with himself as much as with Moriarty. How much time might he have wasted going to King’s Cross? How much more in coming all the way back – if he had found the little note on the bookmark at all? What if it had made him too late to stop Moriarty?
“Stop it,” he told himself, passing a hand across his face and making himself take deep breaths. He hadn’t been fooled by the false trail. Thinking about how close had had come to a mistake wasn’t going to help. He wondered if Moriarty had intended for him to go astray at this point, and whether that meant he was getting close. He dropped his hand onto the edge of the table and leaned onto it, tipping his head back and idly casting his eyes up to the ceiling.
There were words written on the single square of the grid-patterned hung ceiling that was directly above his head. The letters were just large enough to be read by someone standing below. He read them out to himself. “Go outside. Turn left. Library Place.”
His heart began to pound. What were the odds of him seeing that? Even with the help of the note, they had to be minimal. He swallowed hard. Moriarty hadn’t wanted him to find this one, he thought, that much was evident. He seemed to have gone to great lengths to keep him from the next location. That had to mean that this was important – the final stage of the treasure hunt.
Just in case, John slipped the copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone into the bag of books. He glanced up once again to read the ceiling, and as he walked to the door he repeated to himself, “Library Place, Library Place …”
He locked the door behind him out of courtesy to the security company. He pushed the key into his coat pocket and while his hand was in there he grabbed Lestrade’s phone. He checked the time. It was twenty-five past twelve. Then he turned left and started walking.
He first ran into a problem at Monument Underground Station, where the main road curved around to the left. Across the road, there was a street that continued straight in the direction John had been going. He paused beside the traffic lights’ pedestrian crossing, considering his options. His natural instinct was to follow the main road around to the left. However, after the ‘turn left’, there had been no indication that he should deviate from a path that took him straight forwards. Then there was the fact that Moriarty was playing with him. Now, more than even, John suspected that he was being tested, to see what he was capable of, to see what he would do.
John thought of Sherlock. If it was Sherlock setting these puzzles, which way would he intend for him to go? If it was Sherlock running through the streets, which decision would he make: the main road, or the straight path?
The main road was almost too easy, too obvious, and Sherlock liked a direct route. John had seen him bark out directions to a cabbie enough times to know that. He nodded to himself and waited for the pedestrian crossing light to turn green. He would take the street that would keep him going in a roughly straight line from the London Stone. It was a risk, but then, so was every decision he had made that day. As the traffic lights began to bleep, signalling that it was safe to cross, he took a deep breath and made his decision.
John’s roughly straight path took him past the Tower of London and then onwards, heading east. A couple more times, he was given the option of following a bend in the road or continuing straight ahead, and each time, he did as he had before. His path took him out of the centre of the city into a more residential area, the street he found himself on running parallel to a railway viaduct. He could hear the trains rumbling past every so often as he walked. He passed a small length of shops, followed by yet more housing, and wondered if he was going in the right direction. He glanced at his watch. He had been walking for at least half an hour, and it felt far too late to turn around and go back.
He kept walking, staring at the names of the blocks of flats and streets as he passed, hoping that one of them would read ‘Library Place’. After a few more minutes’ walk, the viaduct peeled away and was replaced on John’s side of the road by a row of houses, sheltered from the road noise by a series of well-established trees growing on the edge of the pavement.
Up ahead, on the opposite side of the road, he caught sight of a brightly-coloured wall on the end of a row of houses. As he approached, the colours resolved into strangely curved images painted onto the wall. As he drew level with the end of the previous row, he noticed that there was a communal garden squeezed in between the two rows, with the mural looming over it. He paused to look back at the row that wasn’t painted, searching for a name, and saw a sign that told him that this was Library Place. His heart leapt in his chest. He had just about given up on his theory that going in a straight line was the right decision.
He hurried across the road as fast as his leg could manage and stepped through into the communal garden beneath the mural.
The painting itself was imposing. It was a mass of faces and figures, and what looked like a barricade of chairs, tables and even doors, rising high up to a painted blue sky. There were to panicky-looking police horses, and a third policeman down in the front being punched. Someone in one of the painted windows had thrown some milk bottles, and someone else a wrench. A man atop the barricade had thrown armfuls of paper into the air. There was even what looked like an aeroplane in the top right, and directly under it a figure that looked suspiciously like Hitler, dressed only in his underwear. John searched the crowded and confusing images for anything that might indicate another location, but there was nothing he could see – or, at least, nothing he could work out.
With a sigh, he turned away from the mural and wandered around the communal area as slowly as he dared. The place was empty and rather unkempt, and there were no clues that he could find. He went back to the road and ventured down the gated side-street that ran parallel to the mural against the side of the other row. There were a few cars parked down there and it led around the back of the row, but again he found nothing. He went back to stare at the mural again. The figures in the violent scene seemed to glare back. There were two signs being held by the painted crowd, but neither of them meant anything to him. He went over to the railings in front of the mural and looked down into the low gap, checking for a sign, but it was empty. In desperation, John went across to the bin at the far end of the mural, just in case, but there was nothing inside it.
John went over to one of the benches in the communal garden and sat down heavily. His leg was aching from the long walk. He wondered if the mural was supposed to point him somewhere. Or perhaps – like the clue Moriarty had left at the bookshop and the Chicago posters – whatever he had been meant to find here had been time-sensitive. Perhaps if he had arrived earlier there might have been something to find.
Now, though, there was nothing. The realisation dawned that he had failed. Whatever he was supposed to do or find here, he was incapable of it – either because he was too late or because he simply couldn’t work it out. Either way, he had failed. He couldn’t move on from this spot. He had no idea where to go.
He thought of Sherlock and his heart squeezed. He was as good as dead, now. John wondered if it was worth trying to call him, to warn him about Moriarty’s plan.
Then he remembered the phone. There was one last sliver of hope: Moriarty could have sent him a message or unlocked an application. He scrabbled for it, yanking it out of his pocket. There were no new messages, so he scrolled through the applications, silently praying that one of them would be active.
They were all greyed out. John scrubbed a hand across his face. He really had failed, then. Moriarty had won. Sherlock was going to die, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.
John sat with his head in his hands. It was over. He had no idea where he had gone wrong, and even if he did, it would take him far too long to put right his mistake. Besides, his detour to this mural had almost certainly put him so far behind schedule that he would reach the final destination too late to stop Moriarty from killing Sherlock.
If Sherlock wasn’t dead already.
He pressed his fingers into his eye sockets, trying to take deep breaths to alleviate the tightness at the back of his throat. It didn’t help. Sherlock was probably dead by now, and it was only a matter of time before Moriarty or one of his henchmen came to finish him off, too. That thought made him raise his head. Did he really want to sit here and wait for death to come to him? No. He couldn’t just sit here doing nothing. He had to do something. He was about to put Lestrade’s phone back into his pocket when the thought struck him again that he could dial Sherlock’s number. Would it make any difference if he explained what was going on? Or would it simply make matters worse?
There was no way of knowing. He stared down at the phone’s screen, scrolling through the menus until he reached Sherlock’s contact details. His thumb hovered over the green button.
But what if this was what Moriarty was waiting for? What if he wanted John to hear the sound that would be punched from Sherlock’s lips by a bullet to the heart?
He swallowed thickly and closed the contact details with a shudder. He couldn’t bear to listen to Sherlock die like that – especially not knowing that it was his fault. He wondered if phoning Lestrade would be any better, but a moment later stuffed the phone away again. Communication was forbidden by the rules of Moriarty’s game, and making any kind of call would feel like he was signing Sherlock’s death warrant.
Well, if he couldn’t warn Sherlock, he couldn’t let himself sit here and do nothing until Moriarty came to finish him off. Not with Sherlock’s life in the balance. He thought of the previous clue and its enigmatic instruction to turn left out of the building. Perhaps he had been wrong; perhaps he should have followed the curve of the road instead of keeping straight. That was the only thing he could think of. It was a long shot – and a lengthy retracing of his steps – but it was something. A sliver of a chance. A tiny grain of hope.
Too small to really believe in, John thought, and passed a hand across his face again. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t make himself think that he could still save Sherlock. He could see the flat in his mind’s eye, imagine Sherlock pacing in front of the windows as he thought, his mind focused entirely on Moriarty’s murders. One sleeve still rolled up from when he had applied the nicotine patches. Then a window shattered around a bullet, sending a spray of glass into the room that nicked Sherlock’s skin – but John barely noticed the little cuts. There was a hole in Sherlock’s chest as he fell, and John could almost smell the blood that poured out from between his long, thin fingers.
Lestrade’s ringtone cut into his thoughts like a punch to the stomach. He snatched it out and stared down at the caller ID, but his vision was blurred and swimming with moisture. He scrubbed at his eyes and looked again. It was an unknown number – but there was only one person it could be. He answered the call and put the phone to his ear.
“John,” Moriarty purred. “Feeling a little despondent, are we?”
John’s jaw clenched at the sickly-sweet false sympathy, and said nothing. The question sounded rhetorical, anyway. After a moment, Moriarty continued.
“It’s been a little while, since we last talked, John, but I’ve been watching. I have to say, I’m very impressed!” he said. “Haven’t you been doing well?”
John said nothing, and listened to the silence of Moriarty’s smug smile.
“And for a moment I though you were going to throw it all away,” Moriarty continued, employing the kind of tone most people used on small children.
John frowned, not understanding what he meant. Hadn’t he already done that, in going to the wrong location? When he didn’t answer, the other man continued, but his voice had taken on a sour note.
“Did I not make it clear what would happen if you were to contact Sherlock?” he said “Was ‘Sherlock will die’ not easy enough for you to understand?”
“You were clear,” John said as his stomach flipped unpleasantly.
Moriarty had access to what he was doing on the phone, as well; he hadn’t thought of that. Then his mind processed what Moriarty had said a moment before. He had told him that contacting Sherlock would have meant throwing his success with the clues away. A spark of hope flared in his chest and he raised his head. That meant he was in the right place, after all – it had to.
He realised that Moriarty had said nothing, and the silence on the other end of the phone was stony. He quickly said, “I didn’t call him.”
“No,” Moriarty replied. “You didn’t. Well, I suppose that’s partly my fault – I got a little distracted for a moment. I do hope you don’t mind. You see, I’m playing a little game with Sherlock, too.”
John tensed at the thought. It was bad enough that Moriarty was treating him like this, but somehow the thought of him manipulating Sherlock into one of his games was worse. John could accept that, to Moriarty’s mind, he was nothing more than a pawn; but Sherlock was supposed to be his mental equal. He was above such treatment, surely?
“What game?” he asked.
“I thought it would be nice to give him a little something to do – keep him busy, while he doesn’t have his toy soldier to play with,” Moriarty said.
John bristled, but said nothing. Moriarty was wrong. Maybe once John had been nothing more than a curiosity – the one person who seemed fascinated by Sherlock’s abilities instead of frightened or irritated by them – a broken toy soldier for Sherlock to fix and play with until he got bored. But John couldn’t believe that that was still the case. He had seen the look in Sherlock’s eyes when for that one terrible moment he had thought that John had betrayed him. He had heard his voice break over his name because he thought that John was the nemesis he had gone to the pool to seek out. Sherlock had ripped the explosives from around him with more desperation than John would have himself.
But Moriarty had seen all that, too. He had been the one putting words in John’s mouth – words that had cut Sherlock right through to the heart he pretended not to have. He swallowed hard. Moriarty knew, and he was using the knowledge against John now – trying to throw him off his guard. Trying to make him think that he was nothing to Sherlock.
A chuckle rattled through the phone’s speaker. “I haven’t upset you, have I?”
“What have you done to Sherlock?” John asked, careful to keep his voice as neutral as possible. There was no point in raging at Moriarty; it would only amuse him, and get John nowhere.
“Nothing!” Moriarty said. “Nothing at all. We do have an agreement, after all. Didn’t I promise you that nothing with happen to Sherlock? As long as you succeed, of course …”
No, John thought, but he said nothing. It wasn’t wise to antagonise Moriarty.
“I’ve just given him exactly what he wants – what he needs,” the other man continued. “A nice case to keep him busy.”
“The murders,” John said flatly. He had known that Moriarty was behind the deaths of the men with their hearts cut out, but the words – so close to a confession – sent a shudder down his spine.
“Now, now, John – where’s the fun if I tell you all the answers?” Moriarty replied, and once again the grin was audible in his voice. “Anyway – it’s Sherlock’s job to worry about that. All you have to do, John, is worry about Sherlock.”
John was starting to wonder if there had been a reason for Moriarty’s call beyond simply baiting him. He tightened his grip on his cane.
“Well,” Moriarty continued after a short pause. “Worry about Sherlock and complete my treasure hunt. You really are doing well, you know!”
“Thanks,” John said. He knew that the tightness of his jaw could probably be heard on the other end of the line, but he was past caring what Moriarty knew about his mental state.
“Especially considering that leg. How is it, by the way? It looks bad, from the way you’re limping about the place. I do hope this isn’t too much for you.”
“I can manage,” John said, because it was true – so long as Sherlock’s life was on the line, he would keep going regardless of the pain and the further damage he was probably doing to his injured muscles.
“Well, I think you ought to have a little rest,” Moriarty said in a sickly-sweet voice. “There’s a cab pulling up just by the gates there. It’s for you. Go on.”
John didn’t have much choice in the matter. He rose to his feet, trying not to wince and to minimise his limp as he headed across to the black London cab that had indeed just pulled up at the roadside. As he approached, the cabbie wound down his window. “Cab for Mr Watson?”
“Yeah, thanks,” John said, pulling open the back door and climbing in.
“I’m going to hang up now, John – but don’t worry,” Moriarty said, as the phone bleeped into John’s ear. “I’ve left you a little present.”
He hung up. John took the phone away from his ear, and saw that there was a new message. He quickly opened it, ignoring that the driver was asking him where to go. The message read:
51° 29’ 11.59” N
0° 0’ 33.64” W
It took him a moment to realise that string of numbers and characters were geographical coordinates. He swiftly closed the text and skimmed down the list of applications on the phone. The internet was still unavailable, so looking it up on Google Maps was out of the question – but right down at the bottom there was a GPS program. He opened it, then cursed as he realised that Moriarty had wiped the program of its map software. The GPS was working, but instead of a spider’s web of streets, the screen was blank but for the dot denoting John’s current position.
John sighed and brought up the text again so that he could manually input the numbers Moriarty had sent him into the GPS. It took him a few minutes of flipping back and forth between the two screens, double- and triple-checking that he had the right coordinates before he accepted them. The GPS brought up a little spinning hourglass as it calculated. Then the view zoomed out, John’s dot becoming a little arrow that pointed towards a marker at the point of the coordinates. The bottom of the screen displayed the distance: just under four and a half kilometres. He suddenly felt glad that Moriarty had called him a taxi; his leg definitely couldn’t handle a four kilometre walk.
He checked the little compass at the top of the screen, then looked up at the back of the cabbie’s head. The man was fiddling with the radio, in lieu of having anything else to do. John noticed that he had already set the meter running, and wasn’t complaining that he was being paid to sit by the kerb on a relatively quiet street. He cleared his throat to get the man’s attention.
“Listen, can you just head, sort of, south-east?” he said, well aware of how strange it sounded.
In the rear-view mirror, John saw the man’s eyebrows go up, but he said nothing other than, “Sure.”
John breathed a small sigh of relief as they pulled away from the kerb, glad to be on the move again. He had wasted valuable time moping beside the mural – but that could hardly be helped, as apparently there had been no clue to find there. He had been waiting for Moriarty’s call the whole time.
He dropped his gaze once again to the screen of Lestrade’s mobile phone. He wanted to keep a close eye, so that he could tell the taxi driver when to head in a more easterly our southerly direction.
They drove roughly south-east until they hit the Thames – or so the cabbie assured him. The river was hidden by rows of terraced buildings. John kept an eye out, and sure enough the next time they flashed past an alley, he saw water. The cabbie glanced at him in the rear view mirror. “What now, then?”
“Where’s the nearest crossing point?”
“Rotherhithe Tunnel,” the man replied after a few moments’ thought. “It’s a few minutes behind us now, but it’s probably the nearest.”
“Double back, then,” John instructed wearily. As the taxi turned around, he wondered if he was making the right decision. He reasoned that he most likely was. The Thames cut a line through the centre of London that ran roughly west to east, with a few curves along the way: if the GPS was telling him he still had to be quite a way east of this point – which it was – it was likely that the coordinates lay on the other side of the river.
As the driver had promised, it took only a few minutes to reach the tunnel and drive through it to the southern side of the river. When they were back out in the grey afternoon light, he asked, “South-east again?”
“Yeah,” John said. He stared down at the mobile phone screen, watching as the numbers at the bottom slowly changed and the arrow shifted its direction a fraction at a time.
He barely noticed the streets passing him by, but he was glad of the rest from having to notice every detail of his surroundings in case it was relevant. It was almost soothing, simply staring at the screen and waiting for that crucial moment when there was a change. He watched as the arrow slowly swept around, until at last it was pointing simply to the left – eastwards.
“Turn left,” John told the driver.
“Right you are,” the man replied, taking the next left turn which led them between an industrial estate and a school. As they drove further down the road, he asked, “What is this, anyway?”
“Treasure hunt,” John said, thinking fast. It wasn’t entirely a lie, either, he thought with a humourless chuckle. “My friend’s given me some coordinates I have to go to.”
“Oh, I get it!” the driver said, glancing over his shoulder and grinning at John as he pulled up at a roundabout. “Left here?”
“No, right,” John replied, pointing towards where he could just see a turning that would keep them going in the right direction.
As he made the turn, the cabbie asked, “What’s the treasure?”
For a moment, John wondered how the conversation would go if he told the man the truth: that the treasure waiting for him at the end of this was Sherlock, Sherlock alive – and perhaps his own life, too. He laughed to himself as he imagined the look on the poor man’s face.
“I don’t know,” he said. He couldn’t tell the man, in any case; that would run the risk of breaking one of Moriarty’s rules, and for all he knew, the taxi might be bugged.
The cab pulled across the junction and went straight ahead This street was edged on one side by a tall brick wall with barbed wire at the top, while the other was filled with more housing. It had a right-angle curve at the end, which the driver had no choice but to follow. They continued until there was another turn – right this time, to keep them going east – while John watched the little arrow dither on the screen.
“Take the next right, as well,” John said, glancing up as the cabbie made the first turn and seeing that there was another road leading off to the east. They were in a residential area, now, with modern blocks of flats rising all around them. This street – Barfleur Lane, leading to Foreshore – was pleasant, with trees ranging along the car park between two different rows of buildings.
As they reached the far end, however, John’s stomach clenched. It was a dead end, and still he was nowhere near where he needed to be. Through the gap between two buildings, he could once again see water: the Thames, blocking his path for a second time.
”Dammit!” he growled.
“Seems like your friend’s leading you a merry dance,” the cabbie commented as he spun the cab around. “Back through the Rotherhithe Tunnel, then?”
“Yeah,” John said, slumping back in his seat. This little detour had cost him precious time, and he didn’t think he could reasonably ask the cabbie to break the speed limit for him – not without a full explanation, and that was something he definitely couldn’t offer. He would just have to sit tight and wait until they were on the other side of the river, then make up as much time as possible.
A thought struck him as the taxi wound its way back towards the main road. This was obviously one of the looping bends of the river. He tried to call to mind his mental map of London, but it was nowhere near as detailed as Sherlock’s, and he was in unfamiliar territory. Even though he couldn’t confirm it with his own knowledge, the idea lurked in his mind that he could be back-tracking only to find himself on the wrong side of the river a third time. The coordinates could simply be further around the outside edge of this sweeping C-curve, not on the inside.
They were almost back to the main road. He had to make his decision now. Once they were on their way back to the tunnel, he would have to stick to it – and possibly face driving all the way back, if he was wrong.
“Wait,” he said as the taxi driver flicked on his indicators. “Wait. Turn left here – keep heading east, as much as you can.”
“This side of the river? You sure?” the driver asked, and John nodded.
He wasn’t sure, but anything felt better than back-tracking. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves and watched through the windscreen as the driver pulled out onto the main road. He had made his choice. He would live with the consequences. He could only hope that they would be good.
Five minutes later, the little arrow had slowly ticked up until it was pointing straight to John’s left. He looked up and saw that there was a convenient turn coming up ahead. “Could you take the next left?”
They turned, and John saw that the road split again a short way ahead. The driver slowed a little, since there was no one directly behind them, and glanced at his face in the rear view mirror. “Straight on here?”
“Please,” John said, though he frowned as he spotted the sighs for parking up ahead. The road looked suspiciously like another dead end, and John was dreading being cut off by water yet again.
He glanced at the GPS, but it told him nothing good: he was still nine hundred or so metres away from the coordinates. The taxi slowed and John raised his head to look around. It was indeed a dead end. There was a sign indicating a car park to the left, but straight ahead there was no way through for a vehicle. There was a row of cars and vans parked up, but they looked like they probably belonged to employees.
“Looks like your friend’s got the better of you again,” the cabbie said with a chuckle, swivelling around to look at John. “That’s the Cutty Sark up there – he’s cut you off with the river again.”
John’s heart sank. His assumptions had been all wrong. He scrubbed a hand across his face, mentally berating himself for his stupidity. He should have just let the taxi driver return to the tunnel and cross back over – not over-thought things so much to have made the wrong decision.
He took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. “How fast can you get me to the other side of the river?”
The cabbie sucked at his teeth. “Directly opposite the Cutty Sark? This time of day, I’d say twenty minutes, maybe half an hour.”
John glanced at the fare. It was already standing at over twenty pounds. He thought of the little supply Moriarty had given him and hoped it would be enough to cover whatever further distance he had to travel. He nodded. “Right. Do it.”
“You’re dead set on this mystery treasure!” the cabbie laughed as he swung the car around and set off.
“You don’t know the half of it,” John replied, without a flicker of humour.
He sat back and put the phone down on the seat beside him. There was no point in staring at the little arrow until they were on the other side of the river. He glanced at the clock on the dashboard: quarter to two. By the time he reached the coordinates, it would be over an hour since Moriarty’s call. He rubbed a hand over his eyes. It was going to be difficult to resist the urge to compulsively check the time. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes.
In the front seat, the cabbie coughed. John opened his eyes, feeling strangely blurred around the edges. He was sure he had only shut his eyes for a moment – but the clock was now displaying two o’clock. The looked around him. They were driving along a pleasant but narrow tree-lined road, with a few parked cars scattered along it. There was a sports centre on one side – or more likely a school, John thought, noticing that all the players on the football field were children.
“How far along here do you want me to go?” the driver asked.
John scrabbled for the phone and blinked down at it until the image came into focus. A moment later, he said, “Can you turn right here?”
The driver put on his indicator, but only pulled up at the side of the road and pointed. “That’s a park, I don’t think there’s access. Sorry, mate.”
“OK,” John muttered, looking down at the GPS again. The coordinates were eighty-five meters away, in the direction of the river but almost certainly on this side.
Then again, he had no idea what was waiting for him when he reached them. They were just another stopping-point on the treasure hunt, and could lead him somewhere entirely different – and that could be problematic, because he was unfamiliar with this area. He had no idea where the nearest underground station was, or how far he would have to travel to get to the next location: at least if the taxi was still here, he could be taken as far as Moriarty’s money would stretch. It was a gamble, presuming that he would work out the clue fast enough to be able to tell the cabbie a location, but it was one he was willing to risk. The only problem would be paying for it. He glanced up at the fare and grimaced. Already it was over forty pounds.
Pulling out the wallet, he did a quick count of his money: it could definitely cover the cost, plus a bit more. He pulled out fifty pounds in notes and handed it over. “Here,” he said. “Could you wait for a bit?”
“Sure,” the cabbie said with a nod, much to John’s relief.
He climbed out of the taxi and started towards the river. His leg was still from the long rest that sitting in the cab had brought, but it was a little less painful for it. He leant into his cane as he walked, willing the ache to remain dull enough to ignore.
The GPS led him straight towards a large, round building topped off with a dully mirrored dome. He hadn’t even noticed it from the road. There was a signpost a short distance from it, which he glanced at; it told him that the domed building was the entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Frowning and double-checking the phone’s screen, he went inside.
There was a spiral staircase on one side and a lift on the other, but when John pressed the call button, nothing happened. John closed his eyes, mentally cursing Moriarty; he wouldn’t put it past the man to decommission the lift just to force him to take the stairs. With a sigh, John turned towards the spiral staircase and started down, each step sending a spasm of pain through his thigh, but he gritted his teeth and moved as quickly as possible. At the bottom, he was presented with a tunnel stretching into the distance, the lighting casting a greenish glow onto the rounded tiled walls. He looked down at the screen of the phone, but it had lost signal underground. John spat out a curse and pushed it into his pocket. He would just have to hope that whatever was at the coordinates would be obvious. He started to walk.
A few metres down the tunnel, someone had graffitied the tiles, painting over one tile at a time to create a blocky image in some dark shade. John glanced at it in passing, and then stopped short as his brain instinctively processed the letters.
GO HOME, JOHN.
He took a step closer. It was hard to tell in the strange light, but the paint looked like it might be red – perhaps even the same shade of red that had been splashed across the throats of the Chicago posters.
His throat was suddenly tight. Even though there was no indication, no signature, nothing to link the words to Moriarty’s game other than John’s first name, he knew without a doubt that the message was meant for him. That this was his final instruction: to go back to Baker Street and face whatever was waiting for him there.
The image of Sherlock lying in their front room in a pool of blood flashed through his mind and he swallowed hard, locking the knee of his good leg to keep it from shaking. John took a deep breath and forced himself not to panic. It didn’t stop him from rushing back to ground level, however, and by the time he was getting back into the taxi his leg was painful enough to make him feel queasy. He slammed the car door.
“221 Baker Street,” he said to the driver. “Fast as you can.”
The drive was hell. Every traffic light seemed to be against them, every roundabout filled with a stream of cars. The time dragged and with every passing minute John’s dread grew until his chest felt as though it had been filled with stone. It only took half an hour, but by the time the taxi turned into Baker Street, John’s heart was pounding as if he had run a marathon.
At least the trip had given him time to formulate a plan. He needed to get up to 221B as quickly as possible, that much was obvious – but he also wanted to get Mrs Hudson out of the house. The last thing he wanted was for her to be caught up in this. As the cabbie slowed, paying attention to house numbers, John pulled out the wallet Moriarty had given him and shoved the rest of the money through the plastic barrier between front and back seats. He wasn’t sure if it would cover the fare, but that was part of his hastily thrown together plan.
He threw himself out of the taxi before it had quite stopped moving. His leg stabbed with pain as he dashed to the door, but adrenaline kept him on his feet as he hammered the knocker.
“I’m coming, I’m coming!” Mrs Hudson called from the back of the house as she approached the door, and John dropped the knocker. He stood on the front step, fidgeting with nerves and unable to stop himself from glancing up at the windows in the building opposite. They were all dark and empty; he wasn’t sure if that was comforting or not.
Standing there, listening to his landlady unlock the door, John realised just how much was dreading what he would find upstairs. Sherlock dead, Sherlock dying – or worse, Sherlock alive and well until the moment he stepped inside. Yet the urge to simply push past her and run up the flat was still there. He steeled himself; he couldn’t do it just yet. Not while she was still in the building.
“John!” Mrs Hudson said when she opened the door, obviously surprised to see him. “What are you doing out? You should be resting that leg. Did you forget your key?”
“Yes, Mrs Hudson,” he said quickly, taking her arm and gently moving her aside so that he could get into the building. “Could you do me a favour? I didn’t have quite enough on me for the cab fare …”
She narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips, but nodded once and turned back down the hall. “I’ll get my purse. What on earth were you doing out, anyway?”
“I went to see Sarah,” he lied, glancing back at the taxi. It was still there, and the cabbie was counting the money he had left.
“She should be coming to see you!” Mrs Hudson said disapprovingly as she passed John and went out onto the street.
John waited until she had bent to speak to the taxi driver through the window before he closed the door, as quietly as possible, and bolted it. He felt a little bad, locking Mrs Hudson out of her own home – but he knew that he would feel far worse if anything were to happen to her. He hurried to the stairs and took them two at a time, the adrenaline pulsing in his veins pushing aside the pain.
Standing at the door of the flat, he stopped, his hand an inch from the handle. He had no idea what was on the other side of the door. He braced himself for all the terrible things he had been imagining throughout the day, and took hold of the handle.
There was no point in doing this slowly. It would be better to treat it like taking off a plaster: do it quickly, and in theory there would be less pain. He took a deep breath and shoved open the door.
No blood on the floor. No body. Just Sherlock, sitting in his armchair by the fireplace, his eyes closed and his fingers pressed to his temples. Breathing. Alive.
The sound of the door had obviously disturbed his thoughts, because a second later he looked up and snapped, “Mrs Hudson –”
He didn’t get any further. Whatever admonishment he had been about to give their landlady for interrupting, it seemed to have frozen in his throat. John stared across the room at him, watching the rise and fall of his chest, and the frown-lines starting to crease his brow.
“John?” Sherlock said eventually, rising to his feet.
John swallowed hard and shifted his grip on his cane so that he could stumble another couple of steps into the flat and close the door behind him. His leg was starting to hurt again.
“Sherlock,” he breathed.
A slow smile was spreading across his face, much to Sherlock’s bewilderment, if his growing frown was anything to go by. John couldn’t help it. It was over. Sherlock was all right, and he hadn’t been gunned down the moment he arrived back at the flat. Somehow – against all the odds – he had won Moriarty’s game. The treasure was his: Sherlock would be allowed to live. He wanted to laugh, let alone grin like an idiot.
He could see Sherlock’s eyes tracking over every inch of his body, taking in the new coat, the plastic bag full of books still dangling from his fingertips, the clothing he knew John wore to bed. He could almost see the cogs of his brain whirring around as he tried to understand the picture he was presented with the same way he understood crime scenes.
“Where have you been?” he asked, when his initial once-over didn’t give him all the answers he wanted.
“Long story,” John said. He nodded towards the two chairs by the fire. “Let me sit down.”
“I thought you were upstairs,” Sherlock said. The frown still hadn’t disappeared.
“Nope,” John replied, taking a step forward.
“But I thought I heard …” Sherlock began in a soft voice, tilting his head back to look at the ceiling.
John looked up too, a cold feeling settling inside his chest, though he couldn’t quite think why. “What?”
“Must have been nothing,” Sherlock said, shaking his head as he looked back at John.
“No, what did you hear?” John asked. He wasn’t sure why he wanted to know, but once again dread was crawling up his spine like an icy snake.
“Footsteps,” Sherlock said, his eyes flicking again to the ceiling.
A warning light flicked on in John’s brain. They were still in danger. How could he have thought that it was over? Moriarty would never make it that simple. No, this was a trap – and he had walked right into it.
“Sherlock,” he said with as much calm as he could muster. “We have to go.”
Before Sherlock could say anything in reply, someone in the kitchen clapped. Sherlock whipped his head around, and John knew then who it was from the way his whole body tensed. The slow handclap continued until a figure appeared in the doorway.
“Oh, well done. I wondered how long it would take you to figure it out.”
It was Moriarty, standing in their kitchen and smiling just as he had at the pool – like a man holding all of the cards. John’s stomach plummeted.
“John –” Sherlock began, turning to face him, but he didn’t get any further. He wasn’t looking at John’s face, but at his chest. He looked down. The red dot of a laser sight danced over his heart. When he looked up, Sherlock too was pinned into place by the same tiny circle of red.
“You’ve done a very good job, John. I was hoping you’d make it this far.” Moriarty walked further into the room until he stood between them. He clasped his hands behind his back and smiled, turning his attention from John to Sherlock. “After all, it would have been so disappointing to have to cut out your heart from a distance.”
Sherlock’s face pinched in confusion. “What?”
He took a breath to say more, but was interrupted by the shattering sound of breaking glass. The window next to John exploded into glass shards. He raised an arm to protect his face from flying bits of window pane and something thudded into his side with more force than any of the broken glass could possibly have. He staggered, and put too much weight on his injured leg. It collapsed under him and he went down with a yell that was half pain and half surprise. He hit the floor hard enough to knock the air from his lungs, and heard Sherlock shout his name once.
He pushed himself up onto his elbow – and gasped as an unexpected pain curled under his ribs. He looked down, pressed a hand to the patch of coat that was inexplicably wet and hissed as another jolt of pain stabbed into his side. He lifted his palm, just far enough to see that it was stained red with his blood.
It was a gunshot wound – and it seemed to be bleeding at an alarming rate. He pressed his hand down onto the hole in his coat. Had the bullet in his shoulder bled as much? He couldn’t be sure. But this shot had struck him in the side, just below his ribs, not in fleshy muscle. His doctor’s knowledge of anatomy told him that it could easily have struck major blood vessels on its way in, not to mention bounced around from bone to bone doing untold internal damage. In any case, it wasn’t good.
His army training kicked in almost like second nature, firmly telling him not to panic. Panic would achieve nothing. Applying pressure to the injury and trying to control the bleeding might save his life. He tried to follow his own instructions but it was awkward in this position, lying on one side, propped on one elbow.
“What have you done?”
At the sound of Sherlock’s voice, haggard and barely more than a whisper, he looked up. Moriarty had his back to him and was partially blocking his view of Sherlock, but he could see enough to know that he was furious without needing to read Sherlock’s expression. His long fingers were curled into tight, angry fists and it was clear from his body language that he was fighting the urge to throw a punch. The red spot shivering over his chest was the only thing stopping him.
Moriarty laughed, and John saw Sherlock’s knuckles go white. “Didn’t you get my message? Come on, Sexy, I thought you were clever!”
“I am,” Sherlock said in a tight voice.
John recognised the smirk in Moriarty’s tone as he replied. “Clearly not all that clever. Did you really think I was going to physically remove your heart?”
Sherlock’s face twitched. It wasn’t much of a tell, but John knew that if he hadn’t been keeping his expression carefully in check, irritation would have flashed across his features. The trail of heartless corpses Moriarty had left for Sherlock had been a threat or warning, even John could see that – but clearly not even Sherlock had seen this coming. Once again, he had been out-manoeuvred; once again, Moriarty had got the better of him. John could well imagine how much that stung.
“Far too messy,” Moriarty continued with a chuckle. “I mean, can you imagine getting bloodstains out of this suit? No – and besides, this way is just as effective. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Sherlock said nothing, but his eyes gave him away, darting down to meet John’s gaze for the briefest of moments.
“What now?” he said as he looked back at Moriarty.
“I thought we could settle it once and for all – who’s the best, you or me,” Moriarty said, going across to the table by the window and taking a seat on the side nearest to John. “A fair game.”
He gestured at something on the table. John craned his neck, but from the floor he couldn’t see what it was. He looked instead at Sherlock, and found his friend looking incredulous.
“Chess?” Sherlock spat. His eyes flicked across to John again. “You want to play chess?”
He didn’t have to say the words for John to know what he was thinking. You want to play chess while John bleeds out on the floor? Moriarty knew it, too; his grin widened as he nodded. “Yes. Come and join me.”
Sherlock didn’t have much choice. He walked across and sat down; although the laser sight was no longer visible to John, he knew that it would still be there.
“Now,” Moriarty said, leaning towards Sherlock across the table. “The stakes.”
John realised that he wasn’t even looking at Moriarty as he talked; his eyes were fixed on John – on his hand where it was pressed to his side. He looked down at the site of the injury. It was definitely bad. Blood was welling up between his fingers, and he knew that despite his best efforts he was getting weaker. He couldn’t put as much pressure on the wound, and his elbow was trembling. He was starting to wonder how much longer he had before the blood loss sent him into unconsciousness.
“You really should pay attention, Sherlock; this is very important,” Moriarty continued after a few seconds. John tried to convey with his eyes that it was all right, that it was safe for Sherlock to look away, that he would still be here – conscious and alive – when he glanced back. Finally, Sherlock tore his eyes away from John and focused his gaze on Moriarty.
“What?” he snapped.
“If you win this game of chess,” Moriarty said in a low and intimate voice, “I will admit that you have won, willingly hand myself over to Detective Inspector Lestrade, and make a full confession.”
“And if you win?” Sherlock asked.
“Well, John and I had a little agreement,” Moriarty said, twisting around in his seat so that he could look down at him. “I promised I wouldn’t kill you if he followed my instructions – and I am a man of my word, so …” He turned back to Sherlock, a grin blooming across his face. “I suppose we continue as we were. The game goes on. After all, I do enjoy playing with you, Sherlock.”
He spoke the last in a dark, predatory voice that made John’s skin crawl.
“But whether you win or not, Sherlock, I’d advise you to play fast,” Moriarty continued, throwing a glance down at John. “I’m not sure how much longer the good doctor can last without medical attention …”
Sherlock was looking at him again. John shook his head. He wanted to tell Sherlock not to worry about him, wanted to tell him to simply play the game of chess and win because locking Moriarty up was more important – but even breathing was difficult. His elbow wobbled, and then slipped out from under him. The jolt of hitting the floor sent a spike of pain shooting through his body. He gasped for a breath. The coils of pain wrapping around him squeezed tighter. His vision blurred and darkened as he rolled onto his back, hands clutching uselessly at the bloody hole in his side.
The last thing he heard before his mind spun away into unconsciousness was Moriarty’s cold, cruel chuckle.
Sherlock stared at John’s limp body. He knew John was alive; his chest rose and fell with each shallow, irregular breath and his face was drawn into a frown, as though he could still feel the pain. Yet Sherlock’s heart fluttered against the inside of his ribcage like a small and very frightened animal. He was almost shocked at the intensity of the feeling.
Almost; he had felt like this before, the last time he had been face to face with Moriarty. Then, it had been a strange hybrid sensation, half way between fear at the sight of John’s blood and euphoria that his initial reading of the situation – of John as the enemy – had been wrong. Now, however, there was nothing to distract him from the twisting of his insides because his friend was hurt.
While his stomach roiled with panic, his mind, trained to be analytical and dispassionate, assessed the situation. He didn’t dare move from the chair to help John; there was still a sniper rifle trained on him, and both of them shot solved nothing. John had taken the bullet low in his torso, which meant that most of his internal organs could have been damaged, let alone a number of major blood vessels. It was hard to tell what the flow of blood was like; John’s hand pressed over the wound had hidden it from his sight before, and now it was on the far side of his body. From the way John’s hands had been shaking just before his collapse, it didn’t look good.
His heart rate sped up. He knew that the chances of a gunshot victim’s survival were dramatically improved quicker they received medical attention. Doctors called it the Golden Hour. Sherlock wondered how accurate that name was in practice. If the bleeding wasn’t bad, John might have an hour.
Or he might have minutes.
Sherlock’s insides did something unpleasant, and he dragged his eyes away. He focused on Moriarty, but John’s body was still in his peripheral vision. “Oh, very good,” he said, narrowing his eyes. “Did you sit me here so I’d be distracted?”
“Is it working?” Moriarty said with a slow and easy smile. His eyes sparkled – not with hate or malice, but with genuine enjoyment. Reading the cues in the other man’s body language alone, Sherlock might have believed they were on a date.
“No,” he replied tightly, and it took every ounce of his willpower to keep his eyes locked on Moriarty’s and not to glance at John.
Moriarty leaned forward. “So make your opening move, Sexy.”
Sherlock properly looked at the chess set for the first time. It was ordinary: black and white pieces arranged on a board made of card. He was sitting in front of the white pieces.
That in itself was a statement of Moriarty’s confidence. Not that conceding the opening move meant much to a skilled player; Sherlock had played enough matches against Mycroft to know that. And there was no doubt that Moriarty would be good. He wouldn’t have made the challenge, otherwise. Still, Sherlock smiled to himself. He had been taught to play by Mycroft, who now played the biggest and most elaborate game of chess – with people, instead of pieces, and the world instead of a board. Moriarty might think he was good – but Sherlock was sure that he was better.
Then John shifted and let out a breath that caught on his vocal chords and produced a broken moan. Sherlock’s concentration shattered, his head snapping up to watch for the movement of his chest. Still there, and still sporadic enough to tighten the vice around his throat.
“Tick tock, Sherlock,” Moriarty murmured.
Though he hated to admit it, the other man was right. John was running out of time. At the back of Sherlock’s mind, the thought lurked that he might have run out already. Even if he got to the hospital with a pulse, there was only so much that surgeons and doctors could do. It might not be enough.
He looked back down at the board. He was absolutely certain that he could beat Moriarty. Logically, it was the sensible decision – the only decision that was right. Defeat Moriarty and put him behind bars, where he could no longer pose a threat to Sherlock and those close to him, not to mention the general populace. Sacrifice John to the greater good.
There, Sherlock faltered, his eyes dragged back to that frown line between John’s brows. He hated to think of himself showing weakness – having such a weakness – but even that couldn’t stop him from wanting to smooth that frown away, and the pain with it. With Moriarty behind bars, John would be safe, he thought. Safe, perhaps; but probably also dead.
Sherlock faced Moriarty. The other man was watching him with every sign of interest. “Well?” he prompted. “Have you come up with a little plan?”
He reached out without even glancing down and placed his index finger atop one of the chess pieces. His eyes were locked with Moriarty’s. There was no turning back now that he had touched a piece, but that didn’t matter. There was only one move he could make.
“Yes,” he said, his voice absolutely steady, and he toppled the white king with a single flick of his finger.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
John woke slowly. There was an ache spreading inwards from just under his ribs on the right hand side of his body, sharpening with each breath. He could hear a regular bleeping, which he recognised as a heart rate monitor after a moment’s thought. There were sheets over him and a mattress beneath him. There was also a hand curled around his and a weight on the left side of the bed. He cracked open his eyes.
Sherlock was sitting on a high-backed chair beside the bed, his body slumped forward. He had folded one arm onto the mattress against John’s thigh and was using it as a pillow. His other hand was holding John’s, his grip tight even in sleep.
He smiled. Moriarty had kept his word; Sherlock was safe. His right arm felt heavier than he remembered as he lifted it, reaching across to stroke the curls off his friend’s forehead. He frowned as Sherlock stirred; there was something crusted onto his temples and into his hair that looked like dried blood. Then Sherlock opened his eyes.
“Hello,” John said.
Sherlock sat up quickly, though he didn’t whip his hand out of John’s as he had expected. “John,” he said, his face slack with relief. For a long moment, he simply stared at him, before he seemed to pull himself together and said in a more collected tone, “How are you feeling?”
“I’ve been better,” he managed. The pain was bad, but nowhere near what it had been in the flat.
“I should get a nurse,” Sherlock said, but he didn’t move. He just kept on staring at John as though he was never going to look away.
“What happened?” John asked. He couldn’t wait any longer. He knew that they had both got out of the flat alive, but he had to know whether Moriarty was in custody. “Did you beat him?”
Sherlock looked away and John’s heart clenched horribly.
“You didn’t lose,” he said flatly. He hadn’t even considered the possibility that Sherlock would lose. He had thought that perhaps Moriarty would double-cross them or go back on the deal if he lost – but never that he would win. He swallowed hard. “You didn’t.”
Sherlock met his gaze again and said, “I forfeited the match.”
“What?” He tried to push himself up onto his elbows, because it felt ridiculous to be conducting this conversation while he was flat on his back, but the pain was intense and he slumped back, panting. When he could speak again, it was through gritted teeth. “Why? He was going to confess –”
“And you were going to die,” Sherlock replied.
John had taken a breath to argue whatever point Sherlock made, but that stopped him short. He stared up at Sherlock until the other man looked away. He tired to pull their hands apart, as well, but John tightened his grip. He was reminded of that moment, when he had first walked into the flat and made a comment about how nice it would look when they cleared out the junk that turned out to be Sherlock’s things, strewn about the place. Then had been awkward enough: neither of them really sure what to say to make things better. This was worse. There wasn’t anything to say that could turn back the clock and make it so that Sherlock didn’t have to make that impossible decision between his life and Moriarty’s freedom.
He licked his lips and murmured, “Thank you.”
It wasn’t nearly enough, and Sherlock still wasn’t looking at him. His face might as well have been etched in stone.
“I should go and get the nurse,” Sherlock repeated after a long silence.
“Must have been hard,” John said. He wanted Sherlock to understand the sacrifice he had made in letting Moriarty win – in giving up the victory that he knew Sherlock craved.
Sherlock turned to look at him, the blank statue expression falling away into a mix of confusion and frustration. “No,” he said. “You were going to die.”
John opened his mouth to speak, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. Sherlock took advantage of the fact that his grip had loosened in surprise, and took his hand away. He stood and went over to the door, but he paused before opening it.
“There will be other opportunities to catch Moriarty,” he said with his back to John. Then he opened the door and went out.
John stared up at the ceiling. He hadn’t been expecting that, though to be fair Sherlock’s parting comment had taken the edge off his surprise. When he put it like that, it made sense. Still, he was shocked that Sherlock hadn’t given in to the irresistible pull of a mental challenge, in favour of – presumably – an emotional imperative.
The door opened and John turned his head to find a nurse approaching his bed and Sherlock skulking in the doorway as though he wasn’t sure if he was welcome. The nurse asked him the usual round of questions – how he was feeling, what the pain was like on a scale of one to ten, if he wanted anything – while she took his pulse and checked the machines he was hooked up to. Then she told him that his doctor would see him first thing in the morning. He glanced at the watch pinned to her blouse; it was the middle of the night, so no wonder he wasn’t here. She pulled back the sheets to check the site of the wound, which John avoided looking at, and promised to come back with a higher dose of medication as she tucked him back under the covers. Then she closed the door and it was just him and Sherlock again.
“You can sit down,” John said, when he stayed over by the door. Sherlock looked over at him sharply, as if he hadn’t been expecting the invitation. “If you want.”
“I thought you’d want to rest,” he said. “I can go.”
“You can stay,” John offered, raising one shoulder in a half-shrug. It was all he could manage without causing himself more pain. When Sherlock said nothing, he added, “If you want.”
Sherlock didn’t smile, but the tense edge to his expression softened in something that looked to John like relief. He came over and sat back down in the chair, folding his hands into his lap. John wanted to reach out, spread out his fingers and hope that Sherlock took the hint and took his hand again. He didn’t, partly because it meant facing the possibility that Sherlock wouldn’t, and partly because his body felt like it was held together by limp spaghetti instead of muscles and tendons. Even talking was getting to be too much effort.
“I’ll wake you when the doctor comes,” Sherlock murmured, as if he had read John’s mind.
The words were simple, but they told John that Sherlock would be here until the morning. He couldn’t resist asking, “What are you doing here, anyway? It’s hardly visiting hours.”
“I refused to leave,” Sherlock replied. He wasn’t looking at his face yet again, instead focusing his attention on his hand.
“I bet they loved that,” John muttered, mostly talking to himself but letting Sherlock hear.
Sherlock chuckled. “Oh, yes. They were going to have me thrown out, until Lestrade pulled his badge and told them to lay off.”
John smiled as he let his eyes drift closed. Tiredness was rapidly winning the battle against the pain that threatened to keep him awake, and Sherlock was here, and would be here when he woke up. He felt long, cool fingers slide over the back of his hand and curl under his palm. He flipped his hand over and closed it, taking Sherlock’s hand in his before he let himself fall into sleep.
His second stay in hospital courtesy of James Moriarty was different to the first, mostly because Sherlock left the building only once in the whole time he was there. It was the morning after he had been admitted. After the doctor had seen him and explained the operations they had performed to save his life, the hospital staff had allowed the police in to collect statements.
Lestrade had insisted that Sherlock accompany him to Scotland Yard, while Sally Donovan took down John’s account of what had happened. Sherlock hadn’t been happy about it, and he had only gone on the condition that Donovan sit with him until Sherlock got back. She had agreed – mostly to shut him up, John thought – and patiently recorded John’s explanation of the previous day’s events. It took quite a while to explain the clues Moriarty had left and list the locations, and by the time they were finished Sherlock was back. John didn’t miss the fresh clothes, or the fact that Sherlock no longer had blood matted into his hair.
He suspected that getting Sherlock cleaned up was at least partly the reason why Lestrade had taken him out of the hospital in the first place. When Sherlock wasn’t looking he mouthed, “Thank you,” at the detective, nodding in Sherlock’s direction, and received a wink and a smile in return.
“We’ll do everything we can to find him,” Lestrade promised, but his voice was heavy and apologetic as if he knew already that they would fail.
“You won’t,” Sherlock said promptly as he sat back down beside John.
“Well, we can try,” the detective sighed. “Forensics have been going through your flat, anyway. There’s a laptop they can’t get into, found it in your room, John.”
“Yeah, Sergeant Donovan mentioned it. I gave her my password, so if it is mine, you’ll get in with that,” John replied.
“It could be Moriarty’s,” Sherlock said, folding his arms. “I could have told you, if you’d let me see it.”
“I know you could, Sherlock – and that you could probably hack into it, if that’s the case,” Lestrade said. It sounded to John as though he had had this argument more than once already. “But I really shouldn’t be letting you consult on this case at all. Yeah, I know, I’m probably going to need you at some point,” he added, holding up a hand to silence Sherlock’s protest before he could start. “I’ll admit that. I’d just rather leave it until I’ve exhausted all my other options – the ones that don’t mean bending the rules.”
“Fine,” Sherlock replied.
“I’d better get back, see what they’ve come up with,” Lestrade said, nodding at John. “Hope you’re feeling better soon.”
A couple of days later, Mycroft visited, bringing an offering of grapes once again. Sherlock, who had been curled into what looked like an extremely uncomfortable position in the chair while texting, bristled at the sight of him and turned his whole body away in quite visible disgust.
“Sherlock,” Mycroft said with a brief nod. He put the grapes on the table at the foot of the bed. “John. I was so sorry to hear about what happened.”
“Where were you?” Sherlock spat, turning his head so that he could just see his brother from the corner of his eyes. “Where were your people? Your surveillance?” He paused to choke out a humourless laugh. “God help us if the British government can’t even afford spies who can tell the difference between an early-morning drive with a friend and a kidnapping by a sociopathic criminal.”
“You’ve been watching the flat?” John asked, and immediately felt stupid as Sherlock rounded on him.
“Of course he has,” he snapped, glaring at him, John suspected, because he still couldn’t bring himself to look at Mycroft. “He can’t stand not knowing absolutely everything.”
“I have had my people keep an eye, yes,” Mycroft said smoothly, as if there was nothing wrong with that. “Unfortunately, there was a rather pressing incident that morning, and my more personal interests had to be put aside in favour of national security.”
“Then what’s the point of you?” Sherlock said, by Mycroft ignored him and continued to speak as though there had been no interruption.
“I’m afraid I really can’t say more than that. Please believe me when I say that I wish one of our operatives could have been spared.”
Could Moriarty have orchestrated something like that, to keep Mycroft’s eyes elsewhere? John certainly wouldn’t put it past him. He glanced across at Sherlock and wondered if he was thinking the same thing.
Sherlock, however, had turned completely away from his brother, hunched up his shoulders and engrossed himself in his mobile phone. John cleared his throat and made himself smile at Mycroft. In a half-hearted attempt to break the frosty silence, he said, “Well, thanks for the grapes, anyway.”
They made awkward small-talk about the weather and the traffic and Mycroft’s detestation of the rush hour until Anthea – or whatever her name was today – knocked on the door and called Mycroft away to some mystery appointment. It seemed very well-timed, in John’s opinion; the knock came at exactly the moment that the pressure in the room became unbearable and he had run out of things to say. Perhaps Mycroft had arranged it in advance, or perhaps Anthea simply had a sixth sense for horrible levels of awkwardness. Whatever the reason, John was grateful that she interrupted when she did, and doubly so that Mycroft didn’t make a return visit.
Over the next few days, while John recuperated, Lestrade made frequent visits to keep them updated on the case. The laptop found in John’s bedroom turned out to be Moriarty’s and much to Sherlock’s disappointment the police specialists managed to crack the password without assistance. Although the laptop yielded a set of fingerprints and quite a lot of video and audio files that added credence to John’s statement, the fingerprints brought up no hits in the database and there was nothing indicating accomplices or potential hideouts on the hard drive. Once, while Sherlock poured over a series of screenshots and transcriptions, Lestrade leaned over and admitted quietly to John that he mostly came because Sherlock incessantly texted him with questions and instructions alike when he didn’t and it was driving him up the wall.
By the time he was discharged, they were no closer to finding Moriarty than they had been last time and Sherlock’s frustration was clear. He seemed incapable of sitting still, and had taken to pacing up and down the length of the room until John felt dizzy and ordered him to sit down.
When they left the hospital, John pushed in a wheelchair by an orderly and carrying a bag full of dressings, painkillers and various other medications on his lap, they found that Mycroft had sent them a car for a second time. Sherlock purposefully walked straight past it to the taxi rank. John sighed and indicated to the orderly to follow Sherlock, despite the fact that the car door had been opened by the driver, another tall man with more muscles than his suit really allowed for and a tell-tale distortion in the back of his jacket indicating a gun and holster. It was simpler than arguing the point.
John knew that the flat had been turned over by the police, in case Moriarty had left anything that might be a clue. He also knew that Mrs Hudson wouldn’t have been able to stand the resulting mess for more than five minutes, so he was hopeful that it wouldn’t look like too much of a disaster when they got back.
At Baker Street, Sherlock passed some cash through to the cabbie and stood on the pavement while John clambered out, wincing and trying to move without twisting or bending in the wrong direction. His whole torso still felt bruised by the ordeal. Once he was out, Sherlock grabbed the bag from the footwell, unlocked the door with his shiny new key and bounded up the stairs without waiting. John sighed and followed him, taking each step one at a time.
The flat wasn’t exactly as they had left it, but minus the bloodstains and broken window. It was tidier, and Mrs Hudson had obviously been in to clean while they had been away. John leaned against the doorway and stared into the living room. Everything was in its place. The skull was grinning at him from the mantelpiece and Sherlock was fidgeting by his armchair. He smiled; it felt like home.
“You should sit down,” Sherlock pointed out, and John gladly went over to his armchair and lowered himself into it with a long sigh. Only then did Sherlock sit down opposite him. “I was thinking.”
“Makes a change,” John muttered as he closed his eyes and leaned his head back.
“I was thinking,” Sherlock repeated. “You could sleep in my bed.”
John’s eyes snapped open. “What?”
“And I could sleep in yours,” Sherlock added quickly. “My room is on this floor, and you shouldn’t have to climb two flights of stairs …”
He trailed off and looked away. His shoulders were drawn up and his back was straight, the hands in his lap curled into balls of tension. John smiled and said, “That would be good, actually. If you don’t mind, until I’m – well. Not as pathetic.”
He laughed softly, even though it hurt, but Sherlock looked up at him with a frown on his face. “You’re not pathetic,” he said firmly. “And it’s fine.”
Then he got up and swept past John into the kitchen, and a moment later the kettle clicked on.
John had wondered in hospital how long it would take before Sherlock got bored of simply sitting in one room with him, doing nothing but talk whenever he was awake and feeling well enough to string words together. Normally, he tired of something so simple in a matter of hours. When they arrived back at the flat, he had been expecting that things would return to normal: Sherlock dashing across London on cases and, as soon as he was well again, dragging John with him whenever he could get away with it. It therefore came as a shock when Lestrade came to the flat the day after John was discharged to ask Sherlock for help, and he said no.
“What?” John said, before Lestrade could get the word out. “Sherlock –”
“I’m not leaving you here,” he said in a very small voice, as though he wanted to keep Lestrade from hearing.
Suddenly, John understood why he had barely left his side since he had come round in hospital. Sherlock was afraid – of what Moriarty could do, and of what might happen the next time one of them was alone. He wanted to reach out and touch Sherlock, or do something to reassure him, but he was all the way across the room and he didn’t have the energy to get up and walk over. Besides, he had no idea if it would be welcome in front of Lestrade, or at all.
“Sherlock,” he said after a moment. “I’ll be fine. You should go and help – they need you.”
“He’s right,” Lestrade said quietly, glancing between the two of them. “Anyway, you text me for updates every five minutes – why don’t you just come and have a look at what we’ve got for yourself?”
Sherlock opened his mouth to argue, but John interrupted him. “Sherlock. I’m a big boy, I can look after myself. Mrs Hudson changed all the locks, Mycroft has his ‘people’ watching –”
“And I’ve got a couple of plain-clothes officers in the sandwich shop next door,” Lestrade finished. He glanced at John and said rather apologetically, “Sorry, should have told you that before, but … we figured it better safe than sorry.”
John shrugged; he wasn’t all that bothered about people watching the comings and goings, so long as those people were on his side – especially now. He looked across at Sherlock. “See? It’s OK. I’ll be OK.”
For a moment, he thought Sherlock was going to argue further. Then he turned and grabbed his coat. “I’ll meet you there.”
“Thank you,” Lestrade said, the relief audible in his voice. He glanced across at John as he headed out of the door. “And thank you, for persuading him.”
Once he was gone, Sherlock threw his coat back onto the hook and strode across to John. He bent over the chair and slid his hands onto his shoulders, his grip almost painfully tight through the material of his jumper. “If anything happens, you phone me,” he said, his gaze boring into John’s as if he could dig the instruction deep into his mind. “I don’t care what he tells you, you phone me.”
John reached up and placed his hand over Sherlock’s. “I will,” he promised, even though he knew he would break it if Moriarty came and threatened Sherlock’s life again. “I’ll phone you. But I won’t need to, Sherlock.”
Sherlock said nothing, but he did release John’s shoulders and go to get his coat. He paused in the doorway and turned back. “I’ll tell you about it when I get back.”
John grinned at him. “Good.”
Sherlock stayed out for the rest of the day. John spent most of the day half expecting him to come bursting back into the flat to check on him, but he didn’t so much as send a text. Mrs Hudson made John dinner, despite his protests that he could manage, and insisted on washing up when he was finished. When he started to yawn over his after dinner cup of tea, she excused herself and left him under orders to get some sleep. He had been intending to wait up until Sherlock returned, to hear if they were any closer to Moriarty, but the call of a warm bed and oblivion was too strong. He finished his tea and shuffled into Sherlock’s bedroom.
He hadn’t been sure really what to expect, when he went into Sherlock’s room for the first time. Given the way the rest of the flat looked when he was left to his own devices, John’s best bet was three-day-old experiments festering on every available surface and the bed an unmade heap of pillows and sheets.
It hadn’t turned out to be that bad. There was clutter, but there was also floor space and a lack of unwashed clothes or crockery strewn about the place. There was an experiment on the window ledge, but it was small and self-contained, and it didn’t smell of chemicals or decomposition, so John wasn’t going to complain. The bed had been made, though he suspected that had been the work of Mrs Hudson. On top of the chest of drawers lay Sherlock’s open violin case. Sherlock had brought some of John’s things down the day before, and given him a shelf in the wardrobe.
Still, it was strange. He felt like a guest, as though he needed permission to touch anything in here. He undressed quickly and climbed into the bed, careful not to move too quickly in case he pulled at his stitches. Sherlock’s bed was luxuriously large, which John suspected was his reason for choosing this room, even though it was the smaller of the two. John lay back and stretched out on his back. The painkillers he had taken with his meal were starting to kick in, and with the pain washing away it was easy to drift away into sleep.
John stirred as cool fingers brushed across his cheek. He was warm and comfortable, and still mostly asleep. He turned his head into the touch with a sigh.
A memory surfaced, as clear as if he was re-living it: Moriarty sitting on the end of his bed, touching his face, letting him think that it was Sherlock. He grabbed at the fingers, one hand finding a wrist and gripping it, the other punching forward through the dark and closing around a handful of cloth. He dragged himself up into a sitting position, breathing heavily and shunting aside the tearing pain in his side.
Then his sleep-blurred vision came into focus and he realised that it was Sherlock, staring at him in shock. He closed his eyes and slumped back, releasing him so that he could clutch at the bandages on his side and curse under his breath.
“John?” Sherlock said, his voice brittle.
“Don’t do that,” John said through gritted teeth. “Just – don’t.”
“I’m sorry,” Sherlock said quietly, and the hurt in his tone made John look up. He reached out and grabbed Sherlock’s arm before he could get up and leave.
“No, wait – it’s not –” He stopped and sighed. “Look, when Moriarty came to get me, he … came into my room and – did that. I thought it was you, until he spoke.”
Even in the dark, John saw anger flash across Sherlock’s face. “That wasn’t in your statement.”
“Yeah, well,” John muttered. “It wasn’t exactly the most important thing to get across, was it?” Then he realised what Sherlock had said and asked, “You’ve read my statement?”
He had told Sherlock about the treasure hunt while still in the hospital, but hadn’t gone into specifics. For one thing, he hadn’t felt up to repeating the day’s events a second time, this time with Sherlock’s incessant questioning instead of Donovan gently prodding him to go on when he stopped.
Sherlock nodded. “He recorded your movements via CCTV footage. He had copies of your phone conversations saved to the laptop, and some messages that were obviously sent to him by his surveillance people – unfortunately untraceable.”
John looked away. So, Sherlock had seen him fumbling his way across London. He suddenly wished that he had done better – been better. He thought back to the moment when he had completely given up hope and sat down beside the mural, and a flush crept up the back of his neck.
Sherlock murmured his name and he glanced up. He was staring at him as though seeing him for the first time. “You are brilliant.”
John laughed, and instantly regretting it because of the pain that lanced through his side. He pressed one hand harder into his side, as though that would help, screwing his eyes closed and willing himself to bear it. He felt Sherlock’s palm slide over his other hand, which had tensed into a fist.
“I’m not,” he managed through gritted teeth. He wanted some kind of distraction from the pain, and talking to Sherlock was his only option.
He heard Sherlock move, then the bed dipped as he sat down on the edge. “You are.” His thumb ghosted over John’s cheek before his hand came to rest on his shoulder. “You beat him.”
He opened his eyes. Sherlock seemed very close. He pulled his hand out from under Sherlock’s and reached up. He was going to curl his fingers around Sherlock’s shoulder, but then his knuckles brushed against the other man’s cheek and he found himself instead sliding his palm against the side of his neck.
“He was going to kill you,” John said. “Couldn’t have that.”
There was silence for a moment, then Sherlock let out a breath and murmured, “I’m sorry about before.”
“You didn’t know.”
“I didn’t mean to wake you,” he continued quietly. “You should go back to sleep.”
He made no move to get up, and his gaze flicked away. It was hard to see in the dark, but John thought there were the beginnings of a frown developing between his brows. He didn’t want to go, John realised; just like that afternoon, he didn’t want to leave him alone. He tightened his fingers slightly against Sherlock’s throat to get his attention.
“You can stay,” he said quietly. He knew that Sherlock had spent the night before sleeping on the couch – or, more accurately, lying on the couch watching the door. He could understand Sherlock’s concern. Truth be told, he had been quietly fretting about Sherlock all afternoon, and it was a relief to see him. He licked his lips and added, “If you want. Your bed’s big enough.”
Sherlock was silent for so long that John thought he had said the wrong thing. He pulled his hand back from his neck, but Sherlock caught it in mid-air and started to smile. “You don’t mind?”
“Stay, Sherlock,” he murmured, giving Sherlock’s hand a squeeze. “Just let me move over.”
He shifted across the bed, wincing as the movement pulled at the wound in his side, then settled on the other set of pillows. Sherlock hesitated, so John reached out and took hold of his arm and tugged.
Sherlock got up to pull back the covers and slide between them, and then lay still and stiff on the other side of the bed, as though there were an invisible line down the centre that he didn’t want to cross. John smiled and reached across until his hand bumped against Sherlock’s, and laced their fingers together.
“Night, Sherlock,” he said as he closed his eyes.
He felt Sherlock run his thumb experimentally along the side of his hand and smiled. “Good night, John.”
John opened his eyes the next morning to find Sherlock curled into his side, one hand laid flat on his chest above his heartbeat and his head resting right above the scar on his left shoulder. His arm had at some point insinuated itself around Sherlock’s back. He raised it to curl around the other man until his hand was resting lightly on his waist. Sherlock looked up.
“Morning,” John said, his voice still rough with sleep. It looked as though Sherlock had been awake for a while, certainly long enough for him to have rubbed the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes. John smiled at the thought that Sherlock had stayed next to him, content for once to lie still and quiet.
Sherlock said nothing in return. He shifted slightly, putting a little more of his weight onto John’s chest, and leaned up to press their mouths together. It was brief, nothing more than a gentle press of lips, but when he pulled back John let out a sigh. He lifted his hand to catch around the back of Sherlock’s neck and drew him in again, his eyes sliding closed. Sherlock’s breath shuddered against his skin, and then they were kissing again.
When they parted, Sherlock’s eyes were warm and bright. John threaded his fingers into the soft curls at the base of his skull and asked, “Are you going back to Lestrade today?”
“I said I would,” he replied, and there was genuine regret in his tone.
They were still close enough together for John to feel each of Sherlock’s breaths across his face. He traced a circle behind his ear and, when Sherlock shivered, he did it again. In a wry voice, he murmured, “What would they do without you?”
“Not very much, I imagine,” Sherlock replied, a sardonic smile flashing across his face. Almost immediately, however, his expression became serious again as he murmured, “I’ll find him. I will find him.”
“I know,” John said.
Sherlock sighed and turned his head, burying his face into the crook of John’s neck. He tangled his fingers into Sherlock’s hair and closed his eyes, combing through the tangle of black curls with his fingers. Moriarty was still out there, and John had a feeling that he wouldn’t stop baiting Sherlock until either he was behind bars, or one of them was dead. Neither of them could ignore that, just as he couldn’t entirely disregard the pain that was starting to return the more he woke up. He would need to move out of the warmth and comfort of Sherlock’s bed to find the painkillers soon.
For now, however, he was content to bear it and lie still with Sherlock pressed against the length of his side. For now, everything was fine.
Huge thanks once again to Ice_Elf, for the excellent (and short-notice) beta and for putting up with me and cheerleading and generally being awesome throughout.
Thanks also to the wonderful people at the sherlockbbc LJ community, who let me use their wonderful ideas for wacky locations around London for Moriarty's treasure hunt.
A lot of research and planning went into making this fic what it is, and because I am a massive dork, I put it all in a big chapter-by-chapter Notes Post on my LJ in a big so anyone who's interested can look. More (and more detailed) thanks can be found there, along with a whole bunch of thought-process and reasons behind why things turned out the way they did in the fic. If you're interested, check it out. :)
And finally - thank you, for reading this fic. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!