…and I don’t just do what your brother tells me.
Detective Sergeant Greg Lestrade was interviewing the witnesses. The witnesses were not impressed, and judging by the cut of the older one's suit as well as the bored expression on his face, it would have taken a lot more than murder by broad daylight to impress him.
"Really," said the man, who Lestrade had pegged as a banker or a stockbroker or something equally boring and involving a desk, "you ought to ask my brother."
"Your brother wasn't facing the scene," said Lestrade. "He told me he was already walking away when it happened."
The man shrugged.
Lestrade sighed, and turned to the man's younger brother, who was clearly trying to see past the line of policeman to the victim, still lying on the lino. A rubber-necker, fantastic. Probably just wanted to have his say so that he could tell his mates down the pub later how he'd helped with the investigation. He was much younger than his brother, uni or just graduated, most likely.
"Right then," said Lestrade, unable to hide his irritation, "why don’t you tell me what happened when the knives were drawn, despite already being on your way out?"
The young man didn't take his eyes off the body. "Wrong question. And it was only the one knife."
Lestrade thought about just going back and telling the DI that the witnesses were being uncooperative, but the ghost of that morning's conversation was still sitting on his shoulders. Excellent job on the forest case, Lestrade, how is it you’re not DI yet? Lestrade didn’t know either, and suspected it had much to do with lack of application on his part. It was only recently he’d been thinking it about it, and usually in conjunction with the way Rebecca introduced him to her friends. Regardless, whinging about uncooperative witnesses did not win anyone promotions.
"All right then, I'll play," said Lestrade. "What's the right question?"
"It's not what happened when my back was turned but what happened before. Obviously I can't tell you what happened when I wasn't watching, but I can tell you that when your suspect in the red jacket entered the store, he wasn't carrying a knife anywhere on his person, and in particular not the knife that was used on the victim, which is far too long to have fit in his jeans pockets, and too heavy not to have created some kind of pull on the jacket itself, which I would have noticed. Therefore either he retrieved the knife once in the restaurant or else never had the knife at all. When he entered, he went straight to the table with the victim. I didn't hear him order but it must have been a complicated request as he spoke to the waitress at some length, which unfortunately blocked my view of the victim."
Lestrade stared at the young man, and wondered if his DI wasn't taking the mickey on him. But the young man kept talking.
"Now, the victim was already in the restaurant when we arrived, which meant he had been sitting there for at least half an hour already when his companion arrived, and I rather suspect more because he had a half cup of tea that had gone cold already and half a dozen used napkins. He knew his companion, was quite relieved to see him, but did not shake hands or otherwise express concern for his lack of punctuality. And in fact, I don't believe the man was late; the victim never looked at his watch while he waited. It's also worth noting that he had a shopping bag at his feet. But all of this is inconsequential. What you really ought to do is talk to the waitress, because while she was taking the suspect's rather lengthy order, she also cleared away the debris on the table."
Lestrade wasn't sure what to say to any of this.
"The waitress," prompted the young man.
"What does a cup of cold tea have to do with anything?" asked Lestrade.
The young man sighed. "Not the cold tea."
Lestrade gave the young man a cursory glance, and then went to talk to the waitress, who tearfully said she'd taken away the cold tea and a pile of used and crumpled napkins besides. When Lestrade looked in the rubbish bin, he found the napkins and tea bags and half-eaten pastries, but he also found a large manila envelope that clearly showed the imprint of a knife of about the same size and shape as the murder weapon.
By the time all of this was accomplished, the two men had given their names to the DC and disappeared.
The fingerprints on the envelope matched the victim, but not the suspect, and once this was pointed out, the case resolved itself. Suicide by murder, more or less, with a suspect who actually wanted to go back into jail, and a victim who wanted to ensure the insurance money for his wife. Lestrade wasn't sure how to write it up, but decided to include the young man's suggestion about the waitress, which his supervisor thought was brilliantly funny.
"Teenage boy notices a nice piece of arse and thus solves a murder case? I'll just recruit your replacement from the local Boy Scouts, shall I?"
Lestrade took the ribbing with his customary good nature, didn't bother to correct anyone about the young man's age (because after all, he had resembled a gawky teenager), and resolved to pay more attention to the bit players in subsequent murder investigations.
It served him well for a few months, and he firmly believed that it was this attention to detail that resulted in the promotion, well before the close of the year. He wondered sometimes about the young man and his older brother. He doubted he would see them again; neither were quite the type he expected to find while on a murder investigation.
It ought to have been open-and-shut; after all, there had been a witness who supposedly locked the murderer in a convenient broom cupboard immediately afterwards. Except half of London had lost power, the sun was setting, the building was incredibly humid, and the murderer had disappeared from the locked broom cupboard.
"This key," insisted the janitor, holding up the key used to lock the broom cupboard. "I used this key, and there ain't no other key that opens that cupboard, because I'm the only janitor on staff, so I don't see how he could have escaped."
Lestrade rubbed at his eyes, wondering if the janitor realized he was only digging himself deeper. Not that Lestrade thought the janitor was lying, but there was still the problem of a body and someone who had killed it.
"Yes, Mr. Stanislav, I understand that," said Lestrade wearily. He saw Anderson wave at him from the corner of his eye. "And I believe you. Here, I'm going to leave you with Sergeant Harrison, he'll take the rest of your statement."
He left Mr. Stanislav, still howling, and went over to Anderson, shining his torch along the way. The lights were still lowered in the room; full power couldn't be restored until the body was moved, and Lestrade hoped Anderson would tell him he was done.
"Fried," said Anderson.
"Is that so?" Lestrade looked at the body draped over the transformer. It didn't look fried, just a bit redder than normal, but there was an odd scent in the air that Lestrade couldn't quite place. Not quite like death - something more cheerful and anachronistic.
"His death took out half of London's electricity - if he's not dead, there'll be people who want him that way."
"Compassionate, you are, Anderson."
"There was a scuffle, and I don't think he got the worst of it, necessarily. Blood on his knuckles. But he was alive when he hit the transformer, even if he wasn't conscious."
Lestrade shined his torch in the area, frowning. "How much longer until we can move the body?"
"Move him out."
It took five minutes to remove the body, and another twenty to replace the transformer. The lights snapped on, along with the massive fans and generators, and Lestrade heard the faint cheer from the crowd. He glanced at his watch; a full two hours, London had been in blackout. It could have been worse, but Lestrade was almost glad he'd been at a crime scene in Wimbledon, and not in the middle of the city for it.
Harrison was still interviewing Mr. Stanislav. Lestrade caught the end of it.
"...blood on his hands."
"The victim?" asked Lestrade.
"The other one," said Mr. Stanislav. "That's how I knew he'd done wrong, blood on his hands. That's when I locked him in the cupboard. I didn't find...the body until after."
Lestrade looked carefully at Mr. Stanislav's face, but the only red was in his cheeks and his eyes. No bruising, no trauma other than what finding a dead body in a darkened room would do to a man.
"Show me the broom cupboard, now the lights are back," he said, and Mr. Stanislav took him out into the corridor, down a little ways, and showed him the cupboard.
It was tiny, just big enough for a mop and bucket, the sink against the wall, and the small transom window three meters off the floor. Lestrade switched the light on - the door locked from the outside, and a quick test proved that, once locked, was secure from both sides of the door. The window looked painted over, but Lestrade thought he could see paint scrapings along the floor.
The right question.
Lestrade looked at the sink, and thoughtfully ran his finger along it.
"Wet," he said aloud.
"Inspector?" Harrison was at his elbow.
"Harrison," said Lestrade. "Have forensics examine the sink for blood residue."
"He washed his hands?"
"But he couldn't have escaped; the window's three meters off the ground."
Lestrade glanced at the sink, and tried to lift himself onto it. It held.
"Bloody hell," said Harrison. "Prints, forensics, the whole lot."
Lestrade stared at the transom window while Harrison went to find the forensics team before they left the scene. It was small - he didn't think he'd have been able to wriggle through it - and Mr. Stanislav had described the man as thin and relatively scrawny. He would have had to have been nimble to get up and out that way - not to mention intelligent, to stop and wash the blood from his hands.
The blood from his hands.
Lestrade frowned, and ran back down to the transformer room.
"Is Anderson still here?"
"The victim - you said he'd been in a fight. Was he bloodied?"
"A bit, scrapes mostly."
"But enough to leave blood on the other man's hands?"
"Maybe a trace or two," said Anderson, but he sounded doubtful.
Back to Harrison. Lestrade could feel his blood ticking right along now.
"Forensics is taking samples now."
"The dead man's identification - have we learned anything about him yet?"
"Robert Chapman, twenty-three, lived in Chelsea. Haven't found place of work, but he had a badge on him, no identifying organization listed."
"Chelsea? What was he doing in Wimbledon, much less here?"
"The badge doesn't match the ones used by National Grid or any of the electrical companies. It also doesn't match any Ministry badge in our registry."
"Right then. We have his address in Chelsea?"
"We do, guv."
"Traffic to Chelsea is going to be a nightmare," said Lestrade grimly.
It was. Rush hour was normally long since over, but the lack of power had left people stranded, and once stranded, they took to the pubs to chat, drink, eat, and commiserate their lot in life. With full power restored to the city, dinners eaten and pints consumed, rush hour was simply recommenced several hours later. Chelsea was not especially far from Wimbledon, but with every person out on the streets, it still took obnoxiously long to get there.
Lestrade wasn't sure which flat was Chapman's, but every light was on in the building, which put him just enough on edge. Harrison was tensed next to him.
"Family," he muttered under his breath.
"At twenty-three?" said Lestrade. "Flatmate."
Harrison nodded, and clenched his jaw. They got out of the car and went into the building.
Lestrade fingered his badge in his pocket. He hated this part; show up at the door, flash a badge, and with just a few words, kill someone's friend, lover, spouse, parent, child, sibling. There were a thousand reasons why he'd joined CID. This was the one reason he had waited ten years before signing up.
"Fucking hell," he muttered as they passed noisy flats with children and flats that reeked of cooking oil.
Chapman's flat was on the third floor, which was fairly quiet. The light from the flat shone through the open door into the hallway. Lestrade and Harrison glanced at each other, and then carefully approached the door.
Lestrade knocked on the doorframe. "Excuse me, is anyone here?"
A man answered, sounding calm and cultured, if slightly amused. "May I ask who is calling?"
"Detective Inspector Gregory Lestrade and Detective Sergeant Timothy Harrison. May we come in?"
Lestrade pushed the door open. The flat was empty, except for an impeccably dressed man in the center of the well-lit room. He leaned on his umbrella, and glanced at his watch, and did not even seem to blink at the two men standing in the doorway.
"Well," said the man. "I suppose I should allow for traffic. Is it still a nightmare? But really, three and a half hours to arrive? I expected better."
Lestrade frowned. Something about him...
"Do relax, gentlemen, I’m not the least bit dangerous. Oh, and congratulations on your promotion, Inspector."
It clicked. "The knifing at the restaurant," remembered Lestrade. "You were there with your brother."
The man smiled slightly and nodded.
Lestrade's mind whirred with possibility.
"Before you label me as a criminal mastermind," said the man dryly, which of course was exactly what Lestrade had been doing, "I think you should know that I did not murder Robert Chapman."
Which made sense – the man wasn’t skinny enough to fit through a transom window, and Lestrade didn’t think he would have been able to clamber up the sink, either.
"What are you doing in his flat, then?" demanded Lestrade.
“You’re never his flatmate,” said Harrison.
“Indeed no,” said the man, scandalized.
“Too detached to be his father,” continued Harrison.
“Clever, Sergeant, though not entirely correct. We worked for the same entity; I am merely here to settle a few affairs left unattended due to Mr. Chapman’s untimely death.”
“What affairs?” asked Harrison, while at the same time Lestrade asked, “Do you know who killed him?”
The man in the suit smiled, but it was strained. “Work-related matters, Sergeant Harrison, which let me assure you have no bearing on your case. And speaking of which—“
The man pulled an envelope out of his pocket, and set it down on the table.
"A suicide note, in Chapman’s own handwriting.”
Lestrade stared at the envelope. “From your pocket?”
“Indeed,” said the man calmly.
“Robert Chapman was murdered,” said Harrison.
“Was he? I was under the impression that no murderer was found at the scene of the crime, and the only witness could not see the action, but only hear it from across a darkened room. Hardly a reliable witness.”
Lestrade clenched and unclenched his fists. “You bloody bastard.”
The man shrugged. “There are higher powers at work here, Detective Inspector, and I'm afraid we cannot allow you to continue this investigation further. I advise you to drop it."
“You’re the higher power?” said Lestrade, and the man smiled as if pleased with Lestrade’s cleverness. “Who are you?"
The man smiled. It was quite an affable, friendly smile.
"Oh," said the man, "I believe you know my name already."
And he left the flat, walking around Lestrade and Harrison, and strode out the door, as if completely unconcerned that either man might stop him. He was right.
The next morning, the commissioner stopped Lestrade as he got off the lift.
"Interesting case for you in Brighton, some kind of smuggling ring. Their department doesn’t have the manpower for it, what with tourists mucking about getting lost and mugged and what have you."
Lestrade frowned. "Sir, the blackout murder—"
The commissioner shook his head. "Not our problem anymore."
Lestrade stared at him and remembered the odd confrontation from the previous night.
"There was a suicide note," continued the commissioner.
“There was a murderer.”
“Who left no fingerprints, murder weapon, or DNA, and was only seen by one confused old man who swears he locked him into a cupboard,” snapped the commissioner. "Robert Chapman threw himself onto the transistor hoping for a quick and painless death, and took out a third of London’s power with him. The only thing left to do is file the paperwork. "
"And it doesn't sound altogether too neat an ending to you?" scoffed Lestrade.
"I'll take the Brighton case, fine, but let me continue to follow up on—"
"No," said the commissioner shortly.
"Greg." The commissioner sounded less annoyed than peeved off now. "Let it go. The case is closed." He ducked back into his office, and had Lestrade not been standing in the corridor in shock, he probably would have missed the next words. "I'm sorry."
"Shit," muttered Lestrade, and stormed off to his own small office, where he slammed the door and fumed, unable to sit or pace in sheer frustration.
We cannot allow...
We! As if the wanker was all-powerful, all-seeing, all-controlling and could simply wave his hand and make an entire assault case disappear. Lestrade half wondered if he hadn't conjured up a case in Brighton, too, just to make doubly sure that Lestrade was out of the picture for a while and unable to follow up on the leads before they melted away into dim memory.
Who was the wanker, anyway? Miles, Molford, something ridiculous, Lestrade couldn't remember.
Still angry but now with purpose, Lestrade logged into his computer and drummed his fingers on the desk while he waited for the proper pages to boot up. It took a few tries to find the files on the knifing incident, and Lestrade had to read it twice before he realized that there wasn't any sort of name listed that was even close to the oddball name he was sure he remembered.
Higher power, the man had said. Lestrade sat back in his chair; high enough that he'd been able to wipe his presence from a crime scene?
Lestrade read the report again, slowly. There was one oddball name there, but it didn't quite fit Lestrade's memory of the man with the umbrella. Curious, he typed it into the search engine.
Bingo. A small handful of hits, mostly for possession, and better yet, one indicating he'd even been taken into custody that morning and was currently sitting on his duff in a custody station near the Uxbridge Road. Ridiculous to think the well-heeled man was a druggie, but Lestrade had to see. Lestrade hit the print button and pushed himself from the desk with enough enthusiasm that his rolling chair skidded into the wall behind him.
"Guv," said Harrison as Lestrade walked to the printer. "The car's waiting for Brighton—"
"Not yet, Harrison," said Lestrade as he ripped the printout from the printer. "Couple of loose ends to tie up first."
Lestrade liked Harrison. He liked him more when he heard Harrison say into the phone, “Yes, sorry, there will be a slight delay for our departure to Brighton….”
Lestrade’s journey to CID hadn’t been exactly smooth, but that was because it took him a while to decide he wanted to go there. Even as a tyke he’d wanted to be a police officer, but the original draw had been the hat and the uniform. Later, as he grew older and less enamored by the costume, he’d wanted to drive in the cars with the lights and the sirens blazing, and had fantastic daydreams about chasing the bad guys, saving the girl, and handing small children lollipops. Being in a suit and tie had somehow never really fit in with the fantasies, and it wasn’t until he’d been in uniform that he realized his interpretation of law enforcement had been somewhat skewed.
Anyway, no one wore the hats much anymore, and without the hat, he figured he didn’t owe it to his five-year-old self to remain in uniform. He applied for the transfer to CID, was accepted, and started the slow rise to Detective Inspector. He decided the five-year-old would have been mollified to know that even without the uniform, he was still chasing the bad guys, saving the girl, and had once given a small child a sweet in his pocket. It was a cherry-flavored cough drop, but Lestrade figured it still counted for something.
He didn’t think much about the years he had spent in uniform, except as something he had to do to get to where he was. But he’d spent more time in the uniform than most of the tossers in CID, and while CID officers did not technically have any superiority over their uniformed counterparts, he knew that this wasn’t always the case in actual practice. So if the other detectives tended to dismiss the uniformed officers or treat them as their lackeys, Lestrade piled on the courtesy.
And sometimes, it paid off.
The custody officers at the Uxbridge Road station were not very busy; when Lestrade came in, they were howling with laughter about something, and not a dry eye in the house. One officer rose to his feet when Lestrade came in, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes.
"Morning, guv, what can I do you for?"
Lestrade flashed his badge. "Good morning, officer; Detective Inspector Gregory Lestrade, I'm looking for someone taken into custody this morning, records show he's here. Sherlock Holmes?"
"Oh, him." The joy went straight out the man; he almost deflated on the spot. "Yeah, we got him, Inspector. You can have the wanker if you want."
Lestrade raised an eyebrow. "Is he causing trouble?"
"In a manner of speaking."
There was a buzz behind the counter, and every officer there let out a groan.
"The devil," muttered the custody officer, leaning over to shut off the noise. "Here, Rogers, I thought you turned that off?"
"Must have slipped," said Rogers.
The officer jutted his thumb at the monitors on the counter behind him. "There's your man on the screen, Inspector. Bloody sod."
About half the cells were empty. The men and women in those filled appeared to be occupied, either with sleeping off their nights or reading. Except one, less a young man than a teenager wearing his father’s clothing, who paced back and forth, a short journey that likely did nothing to ease his tension. Every time the young man reached the wall, he touched it briefly with his fingers, as if tagging it, before turning sharply around and heading in the opposite direction. The cell was of a comfortable size, but not quite large enough for anyone to stretch their legs in such a fashion. It was probably why the man reached up to hit the call buzzer after every second or third lap, clearly agitated.
"How long has he been up to that?"
"About an hour after he got here. Never asks for anything except his brother, who is not his solicitor we imagine, given the eyeroll he gave us when we asked. An' his brother ain't here, and we rang the number given for him and he didn't answer. Been tryin' all morning."
“Don’t forget the tea,” said Rogers, and the officer moaned.
“Right, the tea. He asks for tea, so we gave it to him, thinking he'd drink it and maybe quiet down, but it only made him worse. Wasn't the right kind."
"Bloody wanker has standards," said Rogers, rolling his eyes.
Lestrade glanced back at the monitor. "Why's he still here?"
"You'd have to ask his arresting officer - who was it, Rogers?"
"Quartermain," said Rogers with as little enthusiasm as possible.
"Oh, right. Well, that figures; Quartermain's the sort to take things personal-like. Apparently Mr. Holmes wasn't none too pleased with being taken into custody, any more than he is with the tea. 'A course, Quartermain's not the one listening to the buzzer all morning, is he?"
“Tosser,” said Lestrade sympathetically, and the officers nodded, muttering, “Too right” under their breaths.
"Is there an interview room open?"
"We can scrounge one up for you, yeah," said Rogers.
"Don't suppose you know where I could find Quartermain?"
Fifteen minutes later, Lestrade had found Quartermain, retrieved the pertinent file, and returned to the custody suite, where Rogers was able to inform him, in a voice full up with irony, that the young man had fallen asleep five minutes earlier. Lestrade grinned.
"What a shame to wake him up," he said, and left the file and two cups of coffee on the table in the interview room before going to retrieve the sleeping man.
Sherlock Holmes was slumped over and asleep. Lestrade almost didn't recognize him; his face was peaceful in sleep, and didn't have any sort of indication that the kid was strung out on dope or cocaine or whatever it was he'd been carrying. But the hair was mostly the same, dark and curly and just a bit too long over the ears, and he was dressed much better than most of the druggies picked up in the wee hours of the morning. There were dark circles under his eyes, a scratch along one cheek, and mud caked on his shoes. Lestrade contemplated him for a moment, and then Rogers opened the door with a screech and a clack. Sherlock Holmes’s eyes opened instantly at the sound, as if he’d never really been asleep at all.
"Come on," said Lestrade.
The boy scanned Lestrade with surprisingly alert eyes. "An interview room?" he asked. "That's a bit irregular, isn't it?"
"How did you know—?" Lestrade shook his head. "You know? Save it." Sherlock followed them soundlessly down the corridor and up the stairs to the interview room. The cups of coffee he'd left there were no longer steaming.
"One's for you," said Lestrade, and the kid shrugged. “I promise it’s better than the tea – not that that’s saying much.”
"No, thank you," he said, but it wasn't automatic, much more like being polite to strangers had been a lesson not quite learned when young and he hadn't entirely dispensed with it just yet. "But one of your cigarettes would be appreciated."
"And what makes you think I smoke?"
His grey eyes were steely and solid. "You do."
Lestrade pulled out the pack and the lighter from the inside pocket of his jacket. He tossed them on top of the file and drank some of his coffee while he watched the boy fumble with both before finally lighting the cigarette and sitting back with a relieved sigh.
“You saw me smoking a year ago, is that it?” Lestrade asked, straddling the other chair. Something about the kid made Lestrade want to keep him anonymous. Even knowing his name – and really, who named their kid Sherlock, poor bugger must have been beaten up in school every day for years – Lestrade couldn’t manage to make the label stick. Or maybe he just didn’t want to. Easier to think of him as kid.
“Do you remember me at all?”
The kid frowned, staring at Lestrade for a moment. “From the knifing in the restaurant. Congratulations on your promotion, Inspector.”
“How’d you know I was promoted?”
“You were a sergeant then. If you were still a detective sergeant, you’d never have been allowed access to me, since I’m not exactly under the jurisdiction of CID, but of the narcotics division, nor was I involved in anything your department believes to be of note. Therefore, you must be of a particular rank to talk to me without someone from narcotics present.” He took a drag on his cigarette. Lestrade made a pointed look at the mirror along one wall, and the young man snorted his disbelief that anyone was behind it. “Doubtful, though I’ll admit I’m not overly familiar with one-way mirrors.”
Lestrade couldn’t fault him for the reasoning. “I suppose you’re going to tell me why I’ve pulled rank, then?”
The boy was thoughtful. “Let’s see. Clearly you want something from me. I suspect it’s a recent issue, otherwise you would have been able to find me in the last year simply by tracing my name – it’s not that common a name, after all, and you’re the police, meaning that you don’t need to rely on a phone book. You’re CID, which shows that someone believes you have some amount of intelligence, so I’m going to surmise that this desire to question me is extremely recent – perhaps as recent as the last twenty-four hours. So what could have occurred in the last twenty-four hours to make you want to talk to me? And it appears you actually slept last night, not well, however, but still giving you enough time for a shower and shave, and a change of clothes, so it must be something you were given when you arrived at work this morning. It’s – oh, nine-thirty now, so within the last few hours. So something in the last twenty-four hours, but coming to a head only this morning. How convenient for you that I’ve been arrested.”
“I had nothing to do with that,” said Lestrade quickly.
The boy snorted and looked around for an ashtray. “You’re in CID, stop acting like a moron. You only found out about this in the last few hours; I was arrested four hours ago.”
Lestrade leaned over his chair. “Wouldn’t you like to know why I’m talking to you?”
“What makes you think I don’t?” challenged the boy.
“Because if you did, you would have told me, instead of going on for five minutes about why we’re in this room.”
There was a gleam of appreciation in the boy’s eyes. “All right, then. What do you want to know?”
Lestrade passed him an ashtray. “I’d like to know your brother’s name.”
The boy didn’t even blink while he stubbed out his cigarette. “I’d like another fag.”
Lestrade handed him one.
“Possession, resisting arrest, assaulting an officer, obstructing an officer in the performance of his duties,” mused the boy, lighting it.
“Clever,” said Lestrade.
The boy snorted. “Stating the obvious; back down to the level of minions, Inspector.”
It should have hurt, but Lestrade tried not to laugh. “Can’t stick you with possession, you don’t actually have anything on you,” said Lestrade, glancing at the file between them. “Can’t stick you with assault, either; you didn’t hit or try to hit anyone.”
“Not with fists, anyway.”
“Lucky for you, insults don’t count. What I can’t figure is why you resisted arrest when you knew you were in the clear – and if you’re clever enough to know that I smoke and was promoted in the last year, you know that the other two wouldn’t hold up.”
“Principle of the thing,” said the boy. “And my arrest would annoy Mycroft.”
Mycroft. “Your brother.”
“Yes,” said the boy, pleased. “Filled with brotherly affection, you know, it does bother him when I make a nuisance of myself. What better way to show him how much I care than by giving him reason to be exasperated with me?”
“Prepare for disappointment; you’re free to go.”
“Is that it?” asked the boy, somewhat disappointed. “No slap on the wrist? No time in a cell contemplating my mistakes? You aren’t even going to let me have a phone call?”
“No,” said Lestrade. “Get out of here and go home.”
“Can I have another cigarette?”
“Buy them yourself,” said Lestrade, and held the door open.
The boy sighed for opportunities lost, and went to inspect the one-way mirror first. “Hmm,” he said. “Interesting.”
It was while the boy passed Lestrade on his way into the corridor that Lestrade caught the odd, vinegary whiff. He caught the boy by the arm.
“What were you doing on the Uxbridge Road, anyway?”
The boy looked surprised. “Buying cocaine, of course. What else do you do on the Uxbridge Road?”
They continued down the corridor. Lestrade thought about hauling him back, shoving him back in the chair, and yelling until he was hoarse – and instead began to laugh.
He was still laughing in the car on the way to Brighton.
It was three days before Lestrade was able to return to London and his computer terminal. He wouldn’t have been a bit surprised to find that Mycroft Holmes had disappeared into the ether, but sure enough, there were half a dozen hits on his first try, and that was just on the open internet alone.
The disappointing part was that the hits showed that Mycroft Holmes was a terribly pedestrian, unimportant mid-level governmental bureaucrat. Lestrade wasn’t sure what he’d expected, really – something darker and sexier than just another government flunky.
Except. A mid-level government stooge would not be able to make an entire case disappear, suicide note or no. He wouldn’t have been able to erase himself from confidential police files, either.
Nor was it just the death of Robert Chapman – Mycroft Holmes could hardly make a blackout in London disappear from the front page, but reading the articles, it would seem that the blackout and Chapman’s death had nothing to do with each other in the slightest.
“And James Bond works for a trading company,” said Lestrade aloud.
There was a knock at Lestrade's door the next morning. Lestrade hadn't even been awake to drink his first cup of coffee, and thought about just not answering, because who knocked on a door at half six, anyway, except the police? Lestrade was the police, no police officer would knock on his door unexpectedly, they'd just barge right in. But when the knock came again, polite but insistent, Lestrade decided it was at least worth a look through the keyhole.
Lestrade couldn't decide whether to laugh or bang his head against the wall.
"I'm not even dressed yet," he shouted through the door.
"By all means," said Mycroft.
Lestrade was going to just grab a pair of convenient trousers before letting Mycroft in, but the thought of meeting Mycroft while still grubby from sleep and a three-day case in Brighton was unbearable. The shower was blistering hot and not quite as short as it ought to have been, considering someone was waiting for him, and Lestrade briefly entertained the idea that Mycroft would tire of waiting and simply go away. Lestrade doubted it; anyone who showed up somewhere at half past six in the morning wasn't likely to simply give up.
"Detective Inspector," said Mycroft Holmes pleasantly when Lestrade finally opened the door. He did not look the least bit put out about the wait, and Lestrade wondered what would have happened had he made breakfast in the meantime, too.
"Oh, please do come in," said Lestrade dryly.
"Thank you," said Mycroft, and tapped his umbrella on the floor as he entered. "I haven't been in one of the flats in this area in years. They are quite bijou, aren't they?"
"That's one word for it," said Lestrade cautiously. Other words included small, ramshackle, desperately-in-need-of-paint, and please-don't-examine-the-fridge-too-closely. Lestrade didn't spend a lot of time at home.
Mycroft peered at some of the objects on the mantelpiece. "I suppose your fiancee has other intentions regarding your future domicile."
Lestrade's stomach went icy. "How did—"
"I wanted to thank you for your services the other day."
"With my brother. He told me you were the officer who released him without charges."
"The charges were flimsy at best anyway," said Lestrade. "And anyway, wouldn't you have just wiped his slate clean later? You're apparently very good at doing that."
Mycroft raised an eyebrow. "Am I?"
"What I don't understand is how a minor government official is able to make an entire police case disappear."
"My goodness," said Mycroft calmly. "Did someone do that?"
Lestrade snorted and stormed back into his kitchen, just to have the satisfaction of having walked out on Mycroft Holmes. He stormed back out a moment later, because it was surprisingly unsatisfying, if one was only going into the next room.
"You deliberately let a criminal go free—"
"No," said Mycroft firmly. "I assure you, Detective Inspector, no criminal went free."
"Someone murdered Robert Chapman," snapped Lestrade. "And whoever did it is probably having mai tais on a beach already."
"Nothing in that statement is correct," said Mycroft. "Robert Chapman wrote a suicide note.”
“You and I both know that isn’t true.”
Mycroft shrugged, with a small, almost regretful smile. “Regardless, the issue is closed."
"The issue was never really open to begin with!"
"No, it wasn't," agreed Mycroft.
"What gives you the right to take control over a police matter—?"
"There I must stop you." Mycroft glanced at the note on the mantelpiece, and then fixed his gaze on Lestrade. It was disconcerting. "Robert Chapman’s death was a much graver matter than you supposed, and my people could not risk it being advertised in any way. It was much safer, and simpler, to take care of it from behind the scenes, which is what we did. What is it that upsets you, Inspector? The perception that a criminal has gone free, which I have already assured you did not occur? Or that we believe you incapable of the job?"
Lestrade hitched his breath. "Vigilante justice."
"I'm the law," snapped Lestrade. "But you did this."
"You are not the only law there is, sir," said Mycroft coldly, and then he banged his umbrella against the floor with a deep breath. "I did not come here to argue. I came here to thank you."
Lestrade crossed his arms and waited.
"My brother does not speak to me often," said Mycroft carefully. "But he has spoken of little else but you over the last few days. I think you impressed him."
"I would appreciate it if you would speak to him again."
Lestrade was struck silent for a moment. "Good God, why?"
"I think," said Mycroft, "you would find it quite informative." He tapped his umbrella on the floor again. "Good day, Detective Inspector."
Lestrade waited until Mycroft was nearly out the door. "Being a minor government official doesn't make you the law."
"And of course, if it's on the internet it must be true."
Lestrade frowned. "How do you know I read that on the internet?"
Mycroft smiled in response. Lestrade's fists clenched, aching to punch him.
"Only fiancees and great-aunts refer to people by 'darling'," said Mycroft, indicating the note wedged in between the flotsam and jetsam on the mantelpiece. "And the handwriting's much too young for a great-aunt. Besides, either you greatly value quality coffee, which I doubt, or it was a gift from someone who appreciates a decent brew when she stays the night." He touched his forehead in a near-salute, as if tipping a hat that wasn't actually there. "Good day, Detective Inspector. Do call on my brother. You may find it to be beneficial to us all."
Lestrade waited until the end of the day, not because he had better things to do – the criminal underbelly of London was surprisingly quiet and he was fairly sure that Harrison spent at least an hour playing Spider Solitaire on his computer. But Lestrade wasn’t anyone’s lackey, let alone a middling government bureaucrat who redefined middling government bureaucracy with a shrug and a tap from his umbrella. So he waited until the end of the day, and might have waited until the end of the week or possibly the end of time, except that Sherlock Holmes’s listed residence was on his way home, and it was raining.
The kid opened the door, took one look at Lestrade, and then slammed it shut again.
He opened it a second time, glaring. “Do you at least have a warrant?”
“I’m just here to talk.”
The kid slammed the door again, mostly for show, and opened it a third time.
“My brother sent you.”
Lestrade bristled. “Your brother can go to hell.”
The kid caught the door mid-slam and looked at Lestrade approvingly. “Come in.”
Lestrade stepped into a cross between Frankenstein’s laboratory, a public school dormitory, and a Victorian novel. It was a single-room flat, with a miniscule kitchenette along one wall and a threadbare sofabed along another. No telly, only a folding table holding a high-end laptop, some kind of chair that was clearly being used as a wardrobe, and a wooden stool that might have been pulled from the rubbish bin. A fancy array of microscopes, test tubes, hot plates, and other chemistry-set gear were lined up along the wall under the windows. There wasn’t a single surface that didn’t have some kind of bubbling mass, discarded clothing, unidentifiable stain, or pile that might have once been something edible – and looking up, Lestrade was dismayed to find that this assessment included the ceiling. He thought about trying to identify the smell, and then realized that he probably didn’t really want to know anyway.
“Not what I expected,” said Lestrade.
Except upon reflection, it very nearly was. The boy didn’t seem to notice, anyway – he bounded across the room as though suddenly filled with energy. “Tea?” he asked hopefully.
“No, thanks,” said Lestrade.
“Did Mycroft slip you my address?”
“I’m not here because of your brother.”
The boy snorted. “No, but you wouldn’t be here without him. And clearly you’re not happy about it, but here you are anyway. Tea?”
“I don’t know why I’m here,” said Lestrade, more cross than he intended.
“I do. It’s for tea.”
“I don’t want tea.”
“But I do. Kettle’s on the counter. If you can find it. The counter, I mean.”
“I’m not making you tea.”
The boy sighed and flopped down on his chair. “Then what are you here for?”
Your brother asked me to come ‘round, thought Lestrade, and might have said it just to see the boy’s reaction. Instead, he started to examine the debris in the room.
“No drugs,” said Sherlock helpfully. “Not because I don’t keep them, I just happen to have run out at the moment.”
“That why you were on the Uxbridge Road?”
“That was four days ago, Inspector.” The boy grinned at him. “So what has my brother done to annoy you recently, other than recruit you in his scheme to keep tabs on me?”
“Nothing. Made one of my cases go away.”
“Well, of course he did, Buck House employee’s death causing a blackout over a third of London? Wouldn’t hardly do.”
Lestrade stared at him. “Wait, how do you know he worked for the Palace? We didn’t even know that.”
“Oh, I didn’t have anything to do with it. I have my networks. Be grateful Mycroft only packed you off to Brighton instead of Australia.”
“No one is packed off to Australia these days,” said Lestrade. “And besides, your brother is a minor government official, he can’t transport anyone anywhere.”
“You’re half-intelligent, Inspector; you and I both know better.” The boy leaned over the settee and began rooting around in a dusty pile of clothes for something. “Mycroft doesn’t work for the Queen as much as with. Or maybe she works for him. I’ve never quite been able to read him on that, but what’s life without a mystery, eh?”
“Civil servants don’t work for the Queen.”
Sherlock didn’t appear to have heard him. He reared up, holding a violin case in perfect condition. “Do you mind?”
“Oh, please,” said Lestrade dryly.
The boy opened the case to show the one item that might actually be worth anything in the entire flat, the laptop and Lestrade included. It was clearly the only item the boy cared for or about, given the sheen on the wood, and the way he carefully lifted the violin out of its case and stroked it before settling it under his chin. He played a few notes, corrected the tuning on a string, and then played one long chord before turning his gaze on Lestrade again.
“Has anyone questioned the other one?”
“The other one what?”
“The other gentleman taken into custody with me.”
Lestrade shrugged. “Not my division.”
“Should be.” The boy played another chord.
“And here I thought you said I was half-intelligent.”
“You are. The imbeciles currently handling the case are not.”
“You were picked up for possession, he was picked up for dealing. There really isn’t much of a case.”
“Quarter intelligent,” said the boy, and plunged right into some kind of classical piece that Lestrade couldn’t quite identify. His back was ramrod straight and his arm moved rapidly, drawing the bow back and forth. The boy stopped mid-note and swore. “You still don’t ask the right questions, you know. You didn’t back at the restaurant, and clearly a year and a promotion didn’t teach you much.”
Lestrade watched the boy rub his fingers, and thought. “All right. You were on the Uxbridge Road, buying.”
“That was my intention, yes.”
“But you weren’t carrying when you were picked up.”
“Also correct, much to my chagrin.”
“So something prevented you from buying. I take it from this game of cat and mouse it wasn’t the act of being arrested.”
Sherlock played a long, almost cheerful sounding chord.
“Something prevented you from buying before the police arrived. I doubt it was your sense of self-preservation—“
There was a protesting shriek from the violin.
“So clearly it was something that you witnessed or heard, possibly from those around you. So what was it? What did you hear or see that would have stopped you from doing something you had every intention of doing, legal or not?”
“That,” said Sherlock, sounding quite smug, “is the right question.”
Lestrade waited, but he didn’t continue.
“Well?” asked Lestrade.
“What, me?” asked Sherlock. “It’s the right question, Inspector. But I’m not the person you should be asking.”
“Why would I ask someone else why you didn’t buy drugs?”
But he had gone straight back into the music, and watching his outline against the window, Lestrade could see that it wasn’t so much stiffness that kept him ramrod straight while playing, but tension. It was only visible as the boy continued to play, because Lestrade could see it released with every note, as the boy slowly lost himself in the music which flowed from the strings.
Lestrade let himself out before the song was finished. He had the feeling the boy was finished talking, anyway.
To his surprise, it wasn’t much trouble getting a chance to talk to Kevin Ramsdale. And it wasn’t much trouble figuring out why Sherlock wouldn’t have bought from him, either. It was because Kevin Ramsdale, despite his insistence that he was selling drugs, wasn’t actually selling drugs at all, but information, and Kevin proved to be the weakest link in a chain that was far more complex than just selling drugs.
The trouble came after, when Lestrade was called into the Commissioner’s office for what he thought would be congratulations, and instead was called on the carpet for sticking his finger into another division’s case.
“They didn’t have a case until I found it for them,” argued Lestrade.
“Oh, and you weren’t royally pissed off last week when your blackout suicide case was taken away?” snapped the Commissioner.
Lestrade sucked in a breath.
“That was different.”
“No, it wasn’t. You went in and stole their case just as clean as yours was stolen from you. I didn’t have anything to do with it and I wouldn’t have wanted it to happen, but that doesn’t give you the right to fockin’ do it to someone else.”
The words sounded familiar, only Lestrade thought he’d remembered saying them first. “I should have come to you.”
“Fockin’ hell, you should have. And next time you will.” The Commissioner fell back on his chair, and tried to catch his breath. “They’ll want another ten minutes of me wiping the floor with your arse.”
Lestrade didn’t say anything. He probably would have wanted the same, had he been on the other side of the door, and knowing this rankled. He gripped the back of the chair and watched his knuckles turn white.
“How did you know?”
Lestrade looked out the window. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
The Commissioner huffed.
“Remember the kid from the knifing last year? The one who looked at the waitress? He was the bloke arrested with Ramsdale.”
“Gets around, does he?”
“Ramsdale said he sold to the kid, but the kid was picked up clean. I ran into him later, and he said he wouldn’t have bought from Ramsdale anyway. Just – knowing what he’d said about the waitress, it made me think that something wasn’t quite right.”
The Commissioner shook his head. “And so you went barging in and confronted Ramsdale yourself instead of going to his arresting officer with the information? Christ, Lestrade. Do you know what you would have done to Harrison or Denton if they’d pulled the same shite on you?”
Lestrade sighed. “I know.”
“Then remember it next time.” The commissioner turned to his computer. “Now sod off and let me get some work done.”
“Well, I could suspend you, but I don’t see the point of giving you a holiday for interfering with another officer’s work, so instead I’m just going to put you on call duty for the next two weeks.”
Lestrade winced and thought of what Rebecca would say. The Commissioner noticed.
“Good, working already. Get the fock out.”
The next week was a lesson in how to operate without sleep. Lestrade vaguely remembered going on little sleep in university, but it had been years since he'd gone without at least a solid five-hour block. Being on call was clearly an excellent deterrent to messing around with other division's cases; Lestrade barely had two hours to himself away from Scotland Yard before he was called right back in to cover someone’s arse. In his less lucid moments, Lestrade found himself asking witnesses questions which they’d already answered, several times, without discrepancy.
And then there was Rebecca, who was peeved because the double shifts meant that he had to cancel on the dinner she'd planned for them to give that weekend. Lestrade hadn't particularly been enthused about hosting a fancy-dress dinner for friends anyway - privately he'd hoped for a murder or kidnapping or something that would tear him away - but he knew it was important to Beck, so he'd gone along. That was one saving grace of being on call, it gave him a rock-solid excuse to get out of the dinner, even if Rebecca did think he had pulled strings to do it.
She didn't really think that, anyway. Her father was a police officer, she knew how it was. That was one of the things he liked about Beck; she understood when work interfered with life, and she didn't complain.
After a week, Lestrade began to get his feet back under him as he grew accustomed to the lack of sleep. It was while passing by Sherlock Holmes's flat on his way home one day, and hearing the violin music float down from the open window, that he thought that really, he ought to see him.
The door was open; Lestrade could have walked straight in and probably robbed him blind for all that he noticed. Instead, he leaned against the doorjamb and watched the kid, who played in the exact spot he'd left him the week before. He might have even been wearing the same clothes. Lestrade took the time to give him a good scan.
Young - but not so young as he'd first imagined. Past university, at least, scrawny, hair too long and curly and Lestrade couldn't be sure, but he didn't think it had been washed in some weeks. The air in the flat smelled like stale cigarettes and week-old milk left on the counter, which most likely accounted for the open window. It was the clothes, and the violin, that didn't quite fit the picture. The violin was obvious; no one expected a druggie to play the violin with such nimble fingers, and without sheets of music either. The clothes were less obvious, but Lestrade noticed them now. Actual trousers, not jeans; a shirt, not a T-shirt. Bare feet, but Lestrade could see the shoes by the door weren't trainers, but a slim-line Doc Marten that nearly resembled something dressier. He might have been dressed by his mother or grandmother, except the clothes were worn with careless abandon, and the casualness of someone who'd never really known anything else. And the colors - dusky purple, dark grey, not colors an older woman would necessarily choose, not the fussy type who bought her son's clothing, anyway.
The music stopped, and Sherlock looked over his shoulder at him.
"You," he said.
"You were right. About Ramsdale."
"Of course I was." Sherlock set the violin down on the wingback chair, which had most likely been the mysterious wardrobe of Lestrade’s last visit. Also incongruous in post-university years; what kid owned a wingback chair? "I thought you were here to tell me something new."
"'There isn't anything new."
"Wrong. You've been working around the clock, so clearly there's some case or another."
"I've been working around the clock as punishment for sticking my nose in cases that don't belong to me. Because you told me to, I might add."
"I never understood that phrase - might add. Either add it, or don't, but there's no reason to say you might add it if you already have." The boy draped himself over the sofa in the corner. "Anyway, I didn't tell you to stick your nose in their business. I just told you that there was more to the case than there seemed. Any idiot could have figured that out, if they'd paid attention."
"And you're not an idiot, I suppose."
"I didn't think you were, but then you went getting yourself suspended, so I might have to change my estimation." He began rolling up his shirt sleeves; Lestrade could see the track marks on the inside of his arm.
"Might have to change mine of you," said Lestrade quietly. "Not an idiot, eh?"
Sherlock glared at him. "Didn't think you were here to arrest me."
"I'm not, but you seem like a clever bloke to me. Wouldn't be clever to shoot up in front of a police officer."
Sherlock gave him a hard look for a moment, and then pulled a cigarette and lighter out from under the chair cushion.
Lestrade watched as he lit up. No point in asking why he bothered to shoot up in the first place. There was never a good answer to that question. And anyway, given his clothes, the flat, the expensive laptop and violin, not to mention the brother, Lestrade thought he had a pretty good idea.
"I wasn't suspended."
"Then why are you here? You don't have anything new to tell me, you weren't suspended for following what I gave you, and you could be at home doing whatever it is you do with your fiancee right now, but instead you're in my flat."
Lestrade didn't know how to answer, mostly because once it was spelled out, he wasn't sure why he was there, either. Instead of thinking about it too hard, he focused on the one thing that did make sense, mostly because it didn't.
"How do you know I have a fiancee?"
"Your shirt, your shoes, your watch," said the boy.
Lestrade waited, but the kid didn't continue. "Going to elaborate?"
The boy sighed, blowing out a ring of smoke. "Your shirt is not quite new nor is it exactly in style, but it was purchased in the last year. Moreover, while still conservative, it has a thin pinstripe pattern to it. Given a choice, most straight men would chose a white shirt as daily wear; the shirt you're wearing isn't something a man would purchase for himself, it's purchased for him by a woman. Therefore, a woman bought you that shirt. Your shoes are the same as the shoes you wore last year; I can tell based on the scratches along the leather on the sides. However, the soles have been replaced as they are clearly newer than the rest of the shoe. Further, the leather has been shined lately. Again, something you would be unlikely to do on your own, so clearly this has been done for you. A mother might buy you a shirt, but she wouldn't pay attention to the upkeep of your shoes, therefore it must be a woman who is living with you. A girlfriend, at a minimum.
"The watch confirms it. You weren't wearing that watch a year ago, so clearly this is a new purchase, and further it's a model that only came onto the market in the spring. A girlfriend might buy you a watch for a special occasion, but this watch happens to be one of the more expensive models, and a mere girlfriend is unlikely to spend such an amount unless an actual commitment was made. You're not wearing a ring, and as you're wearing her shirt and her watch, it's unlikely you would be the type of man to forgo a ring, thus, fiancee."
Lestrade shook his head in disbelief.
"Did I get it?" asked the boy, after another drag on his cigarette.
Lestrade saw the track marks again, and felt a pang of regret. "Idiot," he said.
The boy raised his eyebrow. "I wasn't wrong."
"Not about Rebecca, no," said Lestrade, and sat down across from him. "Hand one over."
"Because I'm pretty sure nicotine isn't the only drug in this flat," said Lestrade.
Sherlock handed over the pack and the lighter, but he didn’t give away a thing.
“How did you know about Ramsdale? You never said.”
Sherlock grinned. Lestrade could see the pleasure shine in his eyes so that they turned silver. “Oh. That is a story. It started with a duck….”
The next week, Lestrade visited again, telling himself it was only to make sure Sherlock hadn’t killed himself with an accidental overdose. He hadn’t; in fact, Lestrade seemed to think he was glad to see him; there was a cheerful song on the violin, and a space cleared on the sofa for him to sit down. It was about as much of a welcome as he figured he’d ever get, and as the weeks went on, this proved to be true. Sometimes, Sherlock was completely sober, even if filled with nicotine; others, Lestrade could smell things that were not tobacco, even if he saw no evidence of them. But other than dilated pupils and a slight pause before speaking, Sherlock showed little outward sign of being high – in fact, half the time, Lestrade thought he seemed even more lucid, or at least better able to explain himself without insulting Lestrade’s intelligence while doing so.
After a few months, the weekly visits became habit. It even seemed like the incidents where Sherlock was strung out on something or other had grown fewer and farther between. The track marks on his arms faded. There were more cigarettes, but that was a preferable vice, considering. Lestrade even saw Sherlock eat a quarter of a sandwich once. There was little conversation; Sherlock might have liked to claim his intellectual superiority, but he didn’t much care to discuss anything.
There was, however, chess. Lestrade had spied the rather unusual chessboard in the corner on his second visit, and spent the entire time setting it up. The pieces were from different sets, with a queen who resembled Cleopatra and a king who might have been Ghengis Khan, and Lestrade couldn’t hope to identify the bishops. When he returned the next week, Sherlock had moved one of his pawns into play.
Lestrade didn’t know much about chess, beyond the basic rules and a few of the more common tricks. He played, not having a clue as to what he was doing, with no intention of doing anything but engaging the young man who stormed and flustered and played violin in turns. The more erratically Lestrade played, the more excitable Sherlock became. Lestrade half thought that Sherlock enjoyed Lestrade’s lack of chess knowledge more than Lestrade enjoyed watching Sherlock pull at his hair because of it.
Lestrade seldom saw any evidence of anyone else at the flat - which is to say, never. He supposed Mycroft might have visited once or twice, and really, the idea of buttoned-up Mycroft in Sherlock's pestilence-filled flat was enough to put a grin on Lestrade's face for an hour. So when he bumped into the young man in the corridor one day, it took him a moment to realize that the leather-coated kid had come from Sherlock's door, and in fact, Sherlock was still standing in the doorway, watching him go.
"Give it back, Victor," said Sherlock suddenly, and the other young man looked back with wide eyes.
"What?" asked Victor.
"His wallet," said Sherlock firmly, and the kid let out a heavy sigh and gave Lestrade his wallet back. Lestrade had to resist the urge to thank him.
"Wanker," said Victor, but didn't sound particularly peeved.
"Sod off," replied Sherlock in kind as he disappeared down the stairwell.
"Friend of yours?" asked Lestrade.
"Got your wallet back, didn't you?" said Sherlock, and went to set up the chess board.
Lestrade glanced inside the wallet. "Wait. I had fifty quid in here."
"Did he leave the credit cards?"
"Then don't complain." Sherlock fell into the wingchair and draped one leg over the arm. "Victor once nicked the wallets from every professor in the span of an hour, and replaced them with packs of mints. Brilliant."
And that was saying something, Lestrade figured. He sat opposite Sherlock. "Can’t really imagine you sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture about art history."
"Which is precisely why I never attended lectures of any sort. It's your move."
"And Victor? Graduated from lifting professor’s wallets to lifting them from unsuspecting police officers."
"He's not that bad a bloke," said Sherlock. "And I don't see him much anymore; he was only here because he couldn't decipher a letter."
Lestrade waited a few moves before speaking again. "Illiterate?"
Sherlock snorted. "Do you really think I went to the local comprehensive, Inspector?"
Lestrade took one of Sherlock's pawns, and Sherlock scowled.
"It was in code," Sherlock said triumphantly.
"No, the tattoo across his arse. Of course the letter."
"What's the tattoo across his arse in?" asked Lestrade innocently, and Sherlock laughed. Lestrade grinned back at him.
It was another five minutes - and two pawns, a knight, and a bishop - when Sherlock spoke again, right after Lestrade managed to barely slip out of a check in the nick of time.
"It was an easy code."
Lestrade watched at Sherlock took one of his rooks, and then shoved a pawn carelessly forward.
"I broke it in less than five minutes."
Lestrade took one of Sherlock's pawns. "Slow for you."
Sherlock glared. "Well, it was in German, that slowed me down."
"Bletchley Park regular, you are," said Lestrade while Sherlock took his other rook.
"That would have made it interesting," said Sherlock smugly.
Lestrade moved one of his knights into play, and Sherlock shook his head.
"That's a ridiculous move, you're leaving your Queen open."
"No, I'm not."
"I can take your Queen in two more moves and you'd be in checkmate in four."
Lestrade frowned and stared at the board.
"Don't you think ahead?" said Sherlock, utterly disgusted. "You don't even plan what you're doing, do you?"
"How can I plan? I don't know what you're going to do."
"Beat you, obviously," said Sherlock. "I'll let you take it back, since you're being stupid about it."
"No, I want to see what you have in mind," said Lestrade, and leaned forward to watch.
Sherlock sighed, and moved his bishop. Lestrade stared at the board, couldn't see how his queen was in danger, and moved his knight.
Which was when Sherlock swept in for the kill.
"How did you know I was going to move the knight? I could have moved another pawn."
"You only move your pawns when you're not paying attention," said Sherlock. "But because I warned you, you paid attention."
"You tricked me."
"I played you. There's a difference."
Lestrade looked at the board, and the smug look on Sherlock's face, and let out a laugh. "I'm just another code to you, aren't I? You're not happy until you've figured out the real meaning behind the mystery."
"Isn't that the point?" said Sherlock.
Lestrade shook his head, smiling. "Bloody hell, you would have made a sodding good detective."
Sherlock leaned forward to set the board up again. Lestrade watched him, and when the board was ready, made the first move.
Four pawns, a rook, and a bishop in a neat little maneuver that had Lestrade chuckling, and Sherlock spoke.
"You said would have made a sodding good detective."
Lestrade glanced up. "You've got a record, mate."
Sherlock stared at the board for a long time, slid down on the chair, before he made his next move, and when he did, it left his queen open. Lestrade saw, and took a pawn instead.
"Idiot," said Sherlock, his voice cold and angry. "Take it back."
Lestrade set the pawn down on his side. "No."
"Take. It. Back."
"I want to see what you have in mind," said Lestrade.
Sherlock's eyes blazed with intensity. And he beat Lestrade five moves later.
Sherlock didn’t speak again until Lestrade was leaving. “You always come on Tuesdays,” he said suddenly, and Lestrade glanced at him. “Why do you always come on a Tuesday?”
Rebecca had Pilates on Tuesday nights, but Sherlock probably knew that already. And anyway, that was only the reason it was Tuesday nights, and not the reason it was any night. “I’d rather not surprise you on another night, and find you with a straw up your nose,” said Lestrade finally.
The words came back to haunt him every night for weeks. Half the time, he thought Sherlock had planned it exactly the way it went down – Tuesday night, Lestrade on his way, a mirror set out on the chessboard. Watching from the window until he saw Lestrade coming down the street, then sticking the straw up his nose. Lestrade stood stock still in the doorway for a moment, willing the scene to be misinterpreted, but he’d already learned the lessons Sherlock had taught him well.
Lestrade wasn’t stupid. He turned around and called Harrison, who arrived with the narcotics team ten minutes later. Lestrade was sitting on the doorstep, head in his hands, when Sherlock was brought out in handcuffs. He didn’t want to leave before it was over, but all the same, he didn’t want Sherlock to see him. It didn’t matter; Lestrade had no doubt that Sherlock would know exactly who reported him, anyway.
Lestrade was still sitting on the doorstep two hours later, despite the cold and the dark, when the black car pulled up to the kerb. Lestrade didn’t notice. The car waited, engine running for a few minutes, before Lestrade’s phone beeped with a text alert.
Get in. MH
Lestrade looked up at the car. The door opened, and numbly, Lestrade got to his feet and went to it.
"Not terribly intelligent of you, Detective Inspector," said Mycroft Holmes, somewhat scolding. "What sort of person willingly climbs into an unknown vehicle?"
"You sign your texts."
"True, I suppose the vehicle was hardly anonymous. Still, you are quite surprised to see me, so I don't believe you connected my initials together with my name. Then again, I suspect you have not been thinking clearly in the last few hours, or I would not have found you still here."
"Who the hell signs their texts?"
Mycroft Holmes raised an eyebrow. "You hardly have my phone number already stored in your phone, Inspector. Had I not signed it, you would not have possibly known who was texting you. Please buckle your safety belt; while my driver is excellent, I cannot speak for the rest of society."
Lestrade worked his seat belt with clumsy fingers and wondered if he ought to check for rope and bricks. But Mycroft Holmes would hardly ask him to put on his seat belt if he was going to be dumped in the Thames, would he? "Where are you taking me?"
“Do you think I’m going to kill you and drop you in a convenient river?” asked Mycroft, amused.
“No,” lied Lestrade. “And anyway, the last text on my phone is from your number, telling me to get in your car. Pretty damning evidence.”
“Look at your phone again,” said Mycroft. As soon as Lestrade did, he saw the text somehow deleted from view.
"At any rate," continued Mycroft, "I am merely taking you home."
Lestrade glanced out the window. "This isn't the way home."
"It's an alternative route." Mycroft stared straight ahead. "I want to let you know - I do not blame you for your actions this evening."
Lestrade remembered Sherlock brushing by him on his way to the patrol car, eyes blank and nose red. He concentrated on the passing traffic to try to push the image from his mind. "I did what I had to do."
"You shouldn't feel guilty. My brother...has had difficulty since leaving university. He is not what you would call a 'people person', and unfortunately living in the world, one must interact with people. I had hopes that his friendship with you might be his saving grace."
"I'm not his friend," said Lestrade quickly.
"Perhaps not," said Mycroft, but Lestrade didn't think Mycroft was necessarily refuting his protest. "You were correct in calling for assistance."
"Oh, now police interference is preferable? When it's your own brother and not half of London blacked out because of a body on a transformer?"
"Ah," said Mycroft softly. "Still bitter about that."
Lestrade didn't answer.
"It may comfort you to know that Robert Chapman’s murderer is—"
"I don't give a bloody fuck where Chapman’s murderer is or how you've 'reprimanded' him."
Mycroft Holmes fell silent. Lestrade closed his eyes, saw Sherlock's back hunched over the mirror, and opened them again.
"Where is Sherlock now?"
"In care, which is to say, no longer in custody. There is an extremely good facility outside London, and he has been settled comfortably there. In a manner of speaking, his being somewhat out of himself at the moment made the transfer much easier; I very much doubt he would have taken himself."
"A rehab centre."
"A clinic," corrected Mycroft. "I should tell you, he has been before. My brother is...difficult."
Lestrade laughed without humor. "Your brother is a madman."
"High-functioning sociopath, he calls it. I believe he finds the label more amusing than accurate. Not all of the traits are applicable. For one, a sociopath would rarely run afoul of the law, yet my brother runs headlong towards it, and in fact, is fascinated by it."
"He should have been a detective," said Lestrade, and the bit of conversation from the previous week taunted him. "He's more than clever enough. He would have been great."
"Come now, Detective Inspector, can you see my brother tracking time in uniform, waiting to enter the ranks of the CID?"
Lestrade tried, and it brought a smile to his face. "No."
"That door is closed to him and has been for years. And I shall tell you from experience - it is fruitless to try to mold Sherlock into your own image. Don't look for yourself in him, Lestrade. It only brings resentment for both of you."
Lestrade looked at Mycroft then; the man still sat primly in his seat, eyes locked ahead, and despite the calm tone, Lestrade could see him sifting through his own memories of his brother.
"Forgive him, Detective Inspector."
Lestrade shook his head. "I...I can't."
"He is a man who needs forgiveness."
The city passed by in an anonymous streak of color. It was still rush hour, but the car never stopped moving; Lestrade supposed the driver must be very good, as he didn't seem to be susceptible to the typical ebb of traffic. Instead they flowed through all the color and life of London, made all the brighter and more vibrant by night and wintery cold, and Lestrade let the lights and faces blur together into a pleasant background. All at once, he didn't care if Mycroft really did intend to drop him headfirst into the Thames; he only wanted for this infernal interview to be over.
"Sherlock, if he does well, will be allowed back into society in a few months' time."
Lestrade had no doubt that Sherlock could fool the doctors into thinking he did well, whether or not he was doing well or not.
"I would ask that you not forget him in that time."
"I could spent the rest of my life and not forget that bloody kid," said Lestrade.
"But you won't forgive him?"
"I trusted him," said Lestrade quietly. "I thought - Christ, it doesn't matter what I thought. I was wrong about him. I was wrong about everything about him."
"No, Inspector Lestrade, I assure you, in most things, in the important things, you were not."
"Snorting cocaine isn't important? Destroying his genius isn't important?" snapped Lestrade.
"He likes you. I dare say he respects you."
"If he respects me so much, then he should have respected who I am and what I do enough not to shoot up on the day I visit him! I trusted him, I believed in him. I even believed that he was clever enough to see my shoe and know my entire life history, and if that's not crazy I don't know what is. I started to think that he wasn't just a madman but a great man, that maybe he'd be able to use his intelligence to do something fantastic in the world instead of staying in his festering flat, playing his blasted violin. And do you know, I think he might have started to believe it, too. I was watching him grow up, take responsibility, to actually be a man, and then he had to go and do this colossally stupid, childish thing - and I don't understand why. Why does a man with so much to his advantage throw it all away, and not just throw it away, but burn it in the process? He's killing himself, and you—"
There was a darkness in Mycroft's eyes that made Lestrade stop there.
"We do what we must, for who we can, Inspector," said Mycroft stiffly. "Please do not assume that I do not care for my brother in the manner with which I have found the most success."
Lestrade sighed, and covered his eyes. "I'm sorry."
"It is not your fault. My brother could excel at many things, Inspector. Unfortunately, the only thing he does well is to prove a disappointment."
"I'm not forgiving him."
"I'm no longer asking for him to be forgiven," replied Mycroft.
"I'm not forgiving you either."
"Why would I need forgiveness?"
Lestrade glanced at him; Mycroft had the gall to actually sound as though he had no idea what he’d done wrong. “You were playing me, all along. You were using me as a bloody pawn in order to save your brother from falling. You thought – you wanted me to save your brother because you couldn’t, so instead of feeling guilty when I failed, I’d be the one awake every night wondering if I’d said or done something different—”
Mycroft didn’t say anything.
The car rolled to a stop. Lestrade stared at the building, dimly recognizing it but not quite understanding why.
"Home," said Mycroft.
"No," said Lestrade, blinked again, and remembered the building. "Not mine, anyway."
"Soon enough," said Mycroft.
"I can't save your brother."
"No," said Mycroft. "I understand that now. I am sorry that I asked you to try."
Lestrade stepped out of the car. As soon as he shut the door, it slipped back into the stream of traffic, and was gone. Lestrade didn't watch it go. Instead, he looked up at the building, counting until he found the windows on the fifth floor, and as he saw the tree silhouetted in the window, remembered with a jolt that it was a week before Christmas. And Mycroft Holmes had just put his younger brother in a rehab clinic, where he’d be kept from all family contact for weeks.
Lestrade took a deep breath of crystal-cold air, and tried to forget the brothers. His Tuesdays yawned in front of him.
It was probably just as well. Sherlock was a complication. His life didn't need additional complications in it.
Lestrade pulled the stiff invitation out of his pocket and threw it into the bin on his way upstairs. It had been a stupid idea, anyway.
Bonus points to those who caught the teeny tiny ACD nod.
Lestrade didn't go down to the custody suites often. Criminals were more impressed by uniforms, no matter what insults they shouted. But there were some cases, and some suspects, who seemed to need a little quiet time in the cells before being questioned and released. Lestrade wasn’t sure if it was fear, or introspection, or just boredom, and he really didn’t care. If giving up a few hours meant he might get results, then he went down to the custody suites and spent a few hours waiting.
He was just passing by the holding room, where suspects waited to be processed, when he heard a familiar voice.
"Assault in a pub, even more pedestrian, car smash resulting in pile-up – do check your rear-view mirror on occasion, you might find it useful. You two were fighting each other, how interesting. Ah, I see, domestic – and of course he’s not having an affair, pull your head out of your arse and wash the dishes like he asked you to do.”
Lestrade tried to ignore it, but the voice stuck with him while he made his way to Wescoat’s cell. Even Wescoat’s thicker-than-pea-soup Cockney couldn’t dislodge the drawl from Lestrade’s memory, and it was with some relief to both of them when Wescoat agreed to tell Lestrade everything he knew.
"Right," said Lestrade, straightening his legs. "Donovan, take Mr. Wescoat to a room upstairs and get him something to drink. Westie, I'm going to get that information for you and meet you there."
Donovan and Wescoat headed down the corridor to the elevators. Lestrade went in the other direction towards the booking desk. Despite the suspects still waiting to check in, it had been relatively quiet and Lestrade was hoping for a few minutes to look up the information for Westie.
He walked into what had to be one of the worst moments for the custody suite staff in the last year.
“AND WE SAY, NO MORE!” howled the all-too-familiar young man, standing on a chair in the center of the room, ignoring the two uniformed officers who were trying to tug him back down. The rag-tag bundle of suspects surrounding him cheered and raised their hands high in the air. For a moment, Lestrade thought he had walked in on a Neo-Nazi rally, until he realized that the men were all holding either packs of cigarettes or lighters.
"GENTLEMEN, for I see by your chosen brands of cancer that you are gentlemen indeed—"
"The tyrannical government can tell us where to park and who to marry and how fast to drive and when is and is not an appropriate time to bathe in the Thames, but are they going to tell us where we are allowed to partake in a pleasure that is legal?"
"No, my friends, no!" shouted the young man on the chair, still struggling to stay upright with two - no, now three - uniformed police officers trying in vain to pull him down. "Now is the time when we must take a stand for what we believe in, and I, for one, believe in the right to destroy my lungs in any location I see fit! They came for the opium dens, my friends, and we said nothing! They came for the heroin addicts, and still we said nothing! They came for the crackheads and alcoholics and sniffers of glue, and we stood idly by! But now, friends, they come for us, and is there no one left to speak?"
Lestrade covered his face with his hands, but he wasn't sure if he was doing it to cover his exasperation or laughter.
"NO!" howled the nicotine-filled mob.
"Let us protest in the only way we know how!" shouted the boy.
"RIOT!" yelled a suspect.
"No, though an excellent suggestion, good sir! No, friends, let us – smoke!"
He leaned over, took a lighter and a cigarette from a set of outstretched hands, and lit up, seemingly oblivious to the riot that had broken out around him anyway. The three officers gave up trying to pull him down, as he was only smoking and not trying to bash anyone's head in, and instead concentrated on trying to quell the violence around him.
Lestrade reached over to the desk, picked up the bullhorn, and in an incredibly well-coordinated set of moves, both turned off the lights and hit the foghorn button simultaneously.
When he turned the lights on again, everyone had stopped moving, except for the young man still standing on the chair, happily smoking a fag.
"Sherlock Holmes," said Lestrade through the bullhorn. The extra volume wasn't strictly necessary, but it seemed ridiculous not to utilize it.
"Oh, hello, Detective Inspector," said Sherlock Holmes, and he blew out a ring of smoke. "I wondered if you'd turn up here."
"Same to you," said Lestrade.
Five minute later, Lestrade and a uniformed constable led Sherlock down a corridor. “Really, Sherlock, of all the places to start a riot—“
“It was taking entirely too long to process all of us,” said Sherlock. “And I like smoking in public, don’t you?”
“That’s not the point.”
“Of course it’s not the point, otherwise you and half the building, officers included, would have joined in. Are you going to put me in a cell to think about what I did?”
"Ah, the exit is the other way."
"Yes, so it is."
Lestrade nodded to the constable, who promptly unlocked a nearby door. Lestrade pushed Sherlock inside and switched on the lights, which bounced off the one-way mirror.
Sherlock looked around and frowned. "Oh, now, really."
"You said you wanted to spend more time with a one-way mirror," said Lestrade, and shut and locked the door.
There was still the matter of Mr. Wescoat, who by virtue of actually being Lestrade's suspect, took precedence. Lestrade tasked one of the constables with looking up the records Westie had mentioned, and then ducked into the viewing room where Donovan waited.
"Is he settled?"
"Getting antsy, but all right so far." She was young and cautiously enthusiastic. She questioned everything, which ought to have been a good thing in a detective, but for some reason grated on Lestrade’s nerves. But this was only her second case, and Lestrade hadn’t decided whether or not to like her yet.
"Good. There's a kid in Four; I don't want to ignore him but I can't deal with him right now. Get him a tea and a sandwich and a pile of the day's newspapers and magazines, whatever there is to read. Tell 'im I'll be there in about an hour, and whatever he says, don't let him get under your collar or let him leave that room. Find out who took him into custody and why. Oh – and a chessboard."
“Pawns and kings and rooks – you do know what a chessboard is, Donovan?”
“Do you want me to play him, sir?”
“No – wait. Play one piece, and tell him it’s my move, and that I’ll play the next one when I get there. I don’t care what piece you move, but let him think I did.”
"Sir - I'm sorry, is he part of this case?"
Donovan looked confused.
"Go," said Lestrade testily.
Donovan went, but Lestrade could tell she was put out at being dropped down to the level of a gopher. Lestrade didn't care. He glanced at the file he had so far on Westie, took a breath to calm himself and get his brain back on the case, and went to talk to the man.
It was well over an hour before he was done interrogating Westie, and then there was the mountain of paperwork to fill out and the bits and pieces to clear away. Lestrade didn't want it to sit too long, lest he forget the details. Fortunately nothing Westie had told them was time-sensitive, and because Lestrade could see that Donovan was fairly hopping with energy and irritation, he set her the task of writing it up.
"You’ll need to arrange for tonight’s transport. We'll probably need the dive team."
"Right, guv." She liked this part better, Lestrade could tell. It was probably her first chance to throw what little weight she had. Lestrade had felt the same way once, and he liked her just a little more for it.
"Donovan," called Lestrade, remembering. "What'd you find out about the kid in Four?"
"Oh - uh..." Donovan fumbled and pulled out a file. "Taken in about five hours ago. Minor theft."
Donovan went to make her phone calls and write the reports, and for a moment, Lestrade wondered if it was too much for a new sergeant. But Sherlock, waiting in Four, was gnawing at him. He glanced at the file, wondering how a druggie could be picked up for only a minor theft.
By the time he'd stopped laughing, he was at the door to Four. It was harder to keep a straight face - and remembering the kid's extremely good observation skills, Lestrade wasn't all that sure it was worth it.
"Your new sergeant doesn't know the first thing about chess," Sherlock Holmes announced when the door opened, his back still to Lestrade.
"What makes you say that?" asked Lestrade.
Sherlock didn't respond. He didn't need to - there had only been one move made on the board, and looking at it, Lestrade could reach the same conclusion.
"My bishop jumped his pawns."
"Indeed. It would have been far more impressive and believable as a move you'd requested, if you also did not play chess. I know otherwise."
Lestrade shook his head and replaced the bishop to its square. He dropped the file on the table next to the chessboard and sat down. "You didn't eat the sandwich."
Now that he sat across from him, Lestrade could see the marked change that eleven months had made. Sherlock looked no less gaunt or thin or young, but he did look as though he actually had managed to take care of himself. His clothes were neat and clean. His face might have been slightly hollow, but there were no dark circles under his eyes, which were bright, not with drugs, but with excitement and interest. His voice was calm and pleasant – he actually sounded as though he was enjoying himself. Lestrade, for a moment, felt hopeful.
Sherlock spoke. "Not hungry. The tea was weak, too."
"The coffee's worse."
Lestrade pushed a pawn forward and opened the file. "You stole a coat."
"I liked it." Sherlock moved a pawn to match Lestrade's.
"Obviously you liked it, but the point is you stole it, and not only did you attempt to leave the shop without paying for it, you announced your intention to do so before walking through the security screens while wearing it."
"Had to do the thing properly."
"Properly would involve paying for it." Lestrade moved a second pawn, and Sherlock immediately copied him.
"If my intention had been only to steal the coat, then yes, there were other ways of going about it. But while I do like that coat, its acquisition was not my final objective."
"Oh, I realize that you had other motivations. It’s only that stealing a coat is a funny way of going about them.”
Sherlock glanced up. “I’m clean, Inspector.”
“Yes,” said Sherlock quietly. “Nine months now.”
Lestrade believed him, but he wasn’t sure if that wasn’t just wanting to believe Sherlock, or actually doing it. “Congratulations.”
“In that case, I’m at a loss for what your motivation could be."
"Are you, Inspector?" Sherlock looked up at him innocently. "What else does the file say about me and my coat?"
"Not your coat."
"Your move, Inspector."
Lestrade moved the previously offending bishop. Sherlock tsked, but was ignored. "You do realize that impersonating a police officer is a more serious crime than actually stealing a coat."
"I wasn't impersonating a police officer."
"When asked your name, you gave them mine."
"Oh, now - I didn't claim to be you, I only claimed to be a person answering to your name. Hardly the same thing. If I'd identified myself as Detective Inspector Lestrade, then you could claim I was impersonating a police officer."
Sherlock swooped in and took Lestrade's bishop. Lestrade, to his credit, did not blink, and put his knight into play.
"If you wanted my attention, you could have just dropped in to say hello. You didn't have to steal a coat."
"I like the coat."
Lestrade stood, left the room, banged his head against the wall, and came back in, just in time to see Sherlock play his knight to mirror Lestrade's.
"What kind of game are you playing?" Lestrade demanded.
"Yours, apparently," said Sherlock, studying the board. "The way a person plays chess is very telling to the way they think. I'm trying to determine how your mind works, Inspector."
"Well, I could beat you in seven more moves, given the lack of attention you're giving this game, but where's the fun in that?"
"If you wanted to see me, why not just come and see me?"
"Boring. Besides, I have to tell Mycroft what I want for Christmas somehow, or he'll fill my wardrobe with jumpers."
Lestrade turned, ready to go back into the hall, when Sherlock spoke again.
"Oh, don't hurt the wall, Lestrade. Besides, it's your move."
Lestrade sat down again, and shoved a piece forward - he wasn't even sure which one. "All right. You stole a coat and gave my name as yours with the sole intention of seeing me again."
"You never write, you never call."
Lestrade was determined not to feel guilty. "What do you want?"
Sherlock looked up, and somehow, Lestrade knew he'd just let himself in for it.
"You've been a Detective Inspector for a year and a half now. You're just settling into the job, and it scares you to death - not the job, you love the job, it's the settling, because suddenly you're the one in charge, and while this is what you've always wanted, you miss being able to look to someone for another opinion and your new sergeant is just that – new, and you’re not sure you trust her just yet. You're recently married - congratulations, by the way, I'm sure the wedding was lovely given that you had nothing to do with its planning - and your wife is loving and caring but wedded bliss is turning out to be less blissful than expected, isn't it? She might have known about the late nights and emergency calls but it's quite another to live with them. It's not that you don't want to go home, but you still feel the need for the extra hours and the extra effort at work, to prove that promotion was deserved, and it's rather more to juggle than you'd thought it would be. I'm not saying you're in over your head, Inspector, because it's quite plain to me that you are not, but I believe you are aware that you are merely treading water at the moment, and if you do not step up your game, when the tide comes in, you risk drowning. You need someone you can trust, who is able to see the details as well as the larger picture, who can interpret what you cannot, and who can help you stay afloat. In short, Detective Inspector Lestrade - you need me."
Sherlock reached over, and placed his queen. "Check."
Lestrade blinked. "You're kidding me."
"You want to join CID?"
Sherlock sighed, sounding much older than he really was. "Obviously not. And I would never be allowed, not as long as Mycroft refuses to wipe my record clean."
"Then I don't understand.
"I am offering you my services as a consulting detective."
"Me," said Sherlock. "You're still in check, you know."
Lestrade moved his knight to defend his king. "There's no such thing as a consulting detective."
"Of course not, I'm the first," said Sherlock, turning his focus back to the board and moving a rook. "Very likely the only, as I believe the only other persons qualified are either running the British government or writing pop novels about astronomy."
Based on Sherlock's derisive tone, Lestrade had the idea that he didn't think much of either of those endeavors. He studied the board for a moment, and then made another play. "All right, you want to be a consulting detective. What exactly does that involve?"
Sherlock copied Lestrade's move again, clearly glad they were once again on the same metaphorical playing field. "Quite simple; if a particular case is beyond your capabilities, you would give me the facts and I would tell you where you were wrong."
"Oh, is that all?" said Lestrade dryly. "And I suppose you'd be well paid for this consulting business?"
Sherlock waved his hand. "Doesn't matter. Better if not; the moment Mycroft learns I have a job, he'll cut my allowance."
It was such a stark reminder of Sherlock’s youth that Lestrade wanted to hit his head against the table again. "So I'm to let you look at confidential police-only details of all the sordid crimes within London—"
"Only the interesting ones."
"Oh, I see. All the details of all the interesting sordid crimes within London, so that you can solve them, and what's more, you'll do this for free?"
Lestrade fell back against the chair. "How can I refuse," he said dryly, and rubbed his face with his hands.
"That was sarcasm."
"Very good observation," snapped Lestrade. He crossed his arms and looked at Sherlock. "I should let them book you for inciting a riot."
"Hardly; your conscience won't allow it."
"Besides, Mycroft will be along shortly to secure my release."
"You forget, Mycroft doesn't know you're here. You gave a false name; there's no record of a Sherlock Holmes being taken into custody today."
"Do you really think that would hinder Mycroft?"
Lestrade had to admit it probably wouldn't.
"But yes - now that you mention it. I would like to bet. Let's say you send me back to the holding cell. If Mycroft does locate and release me tonight, then I am right and you will give my proposal an honest try - say, one case, to determine whether or not you find my services useful. If, however, you return in the morning and I am still here, then we will say no more about it and you can forget I ever mentioned any sort of consulting role for myself."
Lestrade watched him for a moment. He glanced at the board, then back to Sherlock's face. It was probably a trap.
"All right," he said. "See you in the morning."
Before Lestrade left, he reached over to the chessboard one more time, and moved his queen in.
Of course it was a trap; Sherlock was a far better chess player than Lestrade. The only trouble was that Lestrade couldn't quite tell if it was only the chess game that had been a trap, or if Mycroft was in on the consulting detective nonsense too.
Which was why, when he found the dark car with tinted windows waiting outside the station, he thought he'd just ask him. Except it wasn't Mycroft who stepped out of the car, but a young woman with dark hair, texting madly away on a mobile phone.
"Hello, Detective Inspector," she said pleasantly.
"Hello," said Lestrade, instantly on guard, wondering if this wasn't something Rebecca had up her sleeve. Hadn't one of her girlfriends just been talking about doing this to check on a possibly cheating husband?
"Please, get in the car."
The window lowered, and Mycroft Holmes's face appeared.
"Oh," said Lestrade, and got in the car. The woman followed, and the car moved into traffic.
"You have an assistant now," Lestrade said to Mycroft.
"Promotion," said Mycroft, and Lestrade thought he heard a bit of pride.
"No longer middle-management, then?"
"Quite middle, I assure you," said Mycroft. "And how is Sherlock this evening?"
Lestrade was not taking the bait. "I wouldn't know."
The woman laughed, and Lestrade frowned at her.
"Rather cheeky of him to incite a riot and then actually smoke a cigarette under the noses of half a dozen constables, but then again, we are discussing my brother, whose favorite activity is being cheeky."
Lestrade sighed. "Bloody wanking hell."
"You are under no obligation to do what my brother asks, of course."
"Your brother wants me to breach police confidentiality and to involve an unpaid, unsecured member of the public full access to private files," snapped Lestrade. "You don't have to tell me what I don't have to do."
"I do, however, think it would be a good idea."
Lestrade blinked a very slow blink. "Really."
"My brother is quite discreet. I daresay he is more discreet than I am."
Lestrade snorted. To his amazement, the woman chuckled as well.
"At any rate," continued Mycroft, with an admonishing glance to his assistant, "I believe you can trust him. And I must say - I think this might be good for him."
"You thought I'd be good for him before," Lestrade pointed out. "It didn't go so well."
"No," said Mycroft after a moment. "But this is hardly the same, is it not?"
“Oh, completely different. Before, it was just a few hours a week. Now you’re asking me to risk my job.”
Mycroft sighed. “It’s a most disconcerting habit you’ve picked up, Detective Inspector.”
“Refusing to do whatever it is I ask of you.”
“And yet I always end up doing it anyway,” snapped Lestrade.
“Quite so,” said Mycroft.
Lestrade didn't answer. He looked out the window, and was somewhat relieved to see that he recognized the neighborhood.
"You didn't have to say anything to me," Lestrade said finally. "You know where he is, he’ll be free as a bird in the morning, and I'll have to make good on the bet or he'll just go stealing coats all over London."
"Is that what he stole?"
"Oh, you know perfectly well what he stole. He wants it for Christmas."
"Perhaps I can use it to wrap the coal," said Mycroft dryly, and Lestrade had to remember he was too annoyed to laugh.
"Sir," said the woman, and Mycroft straightened.
“Inspector, I’m afraid we’ll have to cut this interview short. Do consider his proposal.”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Always,” said Mycroft, and if Lestrade hadn’t been so annoyed, he might have caught the surprise.
The car came to a stop; Lestrade looked out to find himself home. He looked back at Mycroft.
“Did you just jump every red light in London?”
“Not every red light,” said Mycroft. “It will be a few hours before your dive team is assembled and ready to begin; I suggest you have dinner with your wife and perhaps a quick…nap.”
Lestrade sighed. “Go and get your brother. Tell him I’ll see him tomorrow afternoon.”
“Goodnight, Detective Inspector Lestrade,” said Mycroft with a smile, and the car pulled away.
It was a long night at the docks; the only silver lining was that it was successful, which considering that the goods had been underwater for a week by then, was saying quite a lot. The dive team hadn't been very positive at the outset, but even they were pleased.
"Lucky to be doing it now, sir," said one of the divers to Lestrade, while the trunks with the stolen artifacts were being brought up.
"In the middle of the night in November?" Lestrade couldn't quite believe there could be a worse time.
"Tide's quiet, not many boats about - the visibility is excellent, allowing for night," explained the diver, and looking out at the water, and the dim glow of the lights the divers used below, Lestrade supposed that was true.
Even so, the dive wasn't finished until just past two, and Lestrade didn't finish his own paperwork until nearly four, and didn't see much point in going home just to wake Rebecca, catch a few hours of sleep, all before coming back in to start another day. There was a fold-up camp bed in his office for a reason, and a text message to Rebecca would hopefully quell any argument from that quarter.
Lestrade had hoped to be able to at least sleep more than three hours - even on a camp bed, it would have been better than only being able to sleep for one or two at home. Unfortunately, the phones started ringing at 7, and despite his door being closed, the constables started knocking on his door half an hour later, and by 8, Lestrade gave up any pretense of trying to rest, folded up the camp bed, and wondered if he couldn't find a doctor to give him an intravenous line of coffee. Even the god-awful station coffee, provided it was black and strong enough (two things it only rarely actually managed to be, and never at the same time).
Forensics needed his signature in order to examine the trunks and their contents from the dive last night. The constabulary in Cardiff needed to confirm an address for a suspect in a related case. The dive team needed signatures to confirm the times they'd been working, in order to apply for the overtime involved. Donovan was dispatched to pick up an additional suspect, Rebecca rang wondering if he'd be home for dinner, there were seven messages on his voicemail and the entire computer system froze twice. By the time Lestrade arrived in the Commissioner's office to give him the morning update on the case, he felt as though he'd shoved a week's worth of work into two hours, on an afternoon nap he took when he was ten.
Lestrade wasn’t able to sit down until just before lunch, by which point he’d decided to forgo eating in favor of a snort nap at his desk. He had only just rested his head on his hands when his mobile rang.
"Detective Inspector Lestrade? This is the Charing Cross Custody Suite. We wanted to let you know that the twenty-four hours are nearly up for Sherlock Holmes; did you want to go ahead with the charges?"
All thoughts of sleep dissipated. "I'm sorry, what?"
"The twenty-four hours - we're going to have to release him in about forty-five minutes unless you'd like us to go ahead and charge him with..." Lestrade could hear the constable shuffling through some papers. "Minor theft, falsely identifying himself to an officer, impersonating an officer—"
"He wasn't impersonating an officer, he just gave the name of an officer instead of his own."
"Ah. Well, there's a few other things, including inciting a riot and smoking on government property. Did you want to go ahead and proceed with the charges?"
A choice, Mycroft had said. Go and get your brother, Lestrade had said. Goodnight, Mycroft had said.
"That wanker," said Lestrade finally.
“Not you,” said Lestrade. “I’ll be there in half an hour.”
Lestrade entered the custody suite an hour later, cursing and angry, and when he saw Sherlock Holmes sitting on the bench by the processing desk, the cursing only got louder. Sherlock glared at him, the exact sort of glare that Lestrade saw on toddlers at the park who had just been told it was time to go home. The fact that his clothes were wrinkled and worn, and the way his hair stuck up at the back didn't dispel the image.
As if Lestrade had ever had a choice about any of this. He wondered if all the Holmeses saw everyone as their pawns in one massive chess game, or if it only felt that way sometimes.
"Been wondering when you'd turn up," said Sherlock bitterly.
"Traffic," said Lestrade through gritted teeth.
He resisted the urge to drag Sherlock by his ear, and instead led the younger man to the car. "In. The passenger side, you berk."
"I can drive."
"Not this car you can't," said Lestrade grimly, and started mentally cursing Mycroft Holmes, beginning with the previous day and working backwards.
Sherlock sat straight next to him, hands on his knees. He didn't seem inclined to talk, and so Lestrade didn't bother to try, but every time Lestrade glanced at him, Sherlock's face still appeared stony and petulant.
Lestrade found a parking spot not too far from Sherlock's flat, and hopped out of the car. Sherlock was slower to follow, but did, careful to walk several steps behind.
"I assume you still live here," said Lestrade.
"Yes," said Sherlock, after a moment.
Lestrade followed him inside; Sherlock climbed the stairs slowly, unlocked his door, and left it open while he stood in the center of the room, staring numbly around him.
"You can go now, Detective Inspector," said Sherlock. "Have a good life."
It was the quiet, resigned, and ultimately lonely tone that did it. Had Mycroft Holmes been anywhere near, Lestrade would have beaten him silly and then hung him upside down to dry.
"Christ," muttered Lestrade, and pushed Sherlock in the rest of the way, then slammed the door behind him. "Utter, complete, total, ridiculous, numbskull, daft, bugger, hell, wanking, sodding, mess of a—"
Still grumbling every epithet he could imagine, regardless of appropriateness or whether it was even cursing or not - and being in his line of work, he had a few - Lestrade shoved and dragged Sherlock to what he had already assumed, correctly, was a lavatory. He reached into the shower, turned on the spray, checked to make sure it wasn't going to scald Sherlock red, and then shoved the young man under it, clothes and all, before sliding the curtains closed.
Sherlock let out a yelp.
Lestrade grabbed the cake of soap from the sink and tossed it in over the curtain. "And don't come out until you don't smell like piss anymore!" he yelled, and left the room.
It took twenty minutes before Sherlock came out of the lavatory, dripping wet but at least no longer smelling like a cross between a cigarette factory and the dry, stale air of the custody suite. Lestrade, sitting on the sofa, didn't look up from the papers and photographs he'd laid out on the folding table.
"You're still here," he said, staring at Lestrade.
"Oh, good, the cocaine left you one brain cell, at least," said Lestrade. "Are you going to help solve this case or not?"
Sherlock cautiously made his way over to the table. He didn't say anything, but he did reach out and touch one of the photographs.
"Two brain cells."
"From two victims, both pierced, but the larger one is clearly male and the smaller female, I suspect fully grown, and taken either while the victims were alive or at least only newly deceased—"
Sherlock sat down on the wingchair, but didn't stop talking. Lestrade watched him become more and more animated with every photograph, piece of evidence, and corresponding deduction, and grinned.
Another nod to an ACD story; points if you catch it. :)
Chapter 5: Epilogue
Once again, I quote from The Hounds of Baskerville, and yes, there’s a few lines meant to echo A Study in Pink, as well. Much kudos to Wendymr for the Brit-pick and police procedure assistance – but this epilogue is a surprise for EGT, since the story exists solely because of her prompt, and I hope she likes it.
I have to admit, I am surprisingly sad to post this epilogue. It's been such a fun little ride, I loved writing Lestrade and how he and Sherlock met. Your comments and kudos have meant to world to me. Thanks muchly to everyone who takes the time to leave a comment or a kudos - until next time! :)
....and I don't just do what your brother tells me.
John did not want to go to Scotland Yard. At all. The tiniest fraction of anything. He didn't want to suffer the pitying glances or the disdaining eye rolls; he didn't want to chance meeting the superintendent or Sally Donovan, either of whom he'd be more than willing to punch (again, in one case).
He especially didn't want to rehash anything from the eighteen months he'd lived and worked with Sherlock Holmes, and he didn't really care that Lestrade had asked for his notes.
"It's on the blog," said John flatly. "And I know you've read it."
"That's what you wrote afterwards, John. I know you kept notes during cases, too, and you never wrote about even half of the cases you and Sherlock took on for us, not to mention the ones you found yourselves."
John rubbed his face wearily. "Why? What good are my notes going to be to you?"
He could hear Lestrade hesitate on the other side of the line. "Look, can you just come down to the Yard and let me look at them? You don't have to stay, you know I'll keep them safe."
"No," said John, and hung up the phone. Except hanging up a mobile wasn't as satisfying as slamming a receiver down to hear the comforting brrnng as it protested, so John threw the mobile across the room. It slammed into the smiley-face and the battery popped out. The clatter it made as it fell to the floor behind the couch was better, at least, and with a sigh, John went to put the phone back together.
He had no idea why he was still in Baker Street. He'd been telling Mrs. Hudson for months that he was going to leave, but he was still there. Mrs. Hudson didn't say anything, she just patted his shoulder and brought him tea, and didn't even bother to say she wasn't his housekeeper. John had the idea that the line had been more for Sherlock's benefit than his, anyway. Sherlock had been a genius, but he needed reminding of things sometimes.
The next morning, John woke up, showered, dressed, drank his tea, ate some toast, gathered the notebooks and threw them in a paper bag. He put on a jacket and went outside and walked the entire way to Scotland Yard, where he collected a visitor's badge at the front security and headed toward the lifts. He cursed Lestrade's name under his breath; it shouldn't have been that easy to get in, Lestrade shouldn't have put his name on the visitor's list when John had flatly refused to come in. It rankled that Lestrade had seen right through his protests.
No one looked at John on the way up to Lestrade's office. As much as he'd dreaded the recognition, that rankled, too.
By the time John reached Lestrade's office, he was angry and tired and heartsick and just wanted to drop the notes on Lestrade's desk, or possibly shove them up his rear end, and skulk back to Baker Street where he could go back to being bored as hell. But there were voices coming from inside Lestrade's office, and the door was nearly closed, only a thin sliver of the room actually visible. John paused outside, and couldn't help but listen.
"....so you don't think—" The voice wasn't quite familiar, but sounded official in a way that John couldn't quite place.
"I never did," said Lestrade firmly. "I knew him, okay? I knew him for seven years and I saw him at his very worst, and look - I don't believe it. I don't believe a word of it, and so I'd like you to go back through the evidence as carefully as you can, exactly as if it's a brand-new case, and tell me what you find. Look for what isn't there. And ask the unobvious questions."
"All right," said the voice, somewhat doubtfully, and the door opened. A young man stood in the doorway, and stared at John, who tried to look as if he wasn't eavesdropping.
"John," said Lestrade from his desk, and didn't sound one bit surprised. "Good man. You brought the notes?"
John lifted the paper bag.
"I'll get to work," said the young man, and he disappeared down the corridor.
"That's it?" asked Lestrade, eying the bag.
"I write small," said John, and he dropped the bag on Lestrade's desk. "Who was he?"
"New assistant," said Lestrade absently, reaching for the sack. "Coffee? It's awful."
"And they say that's not a selling point," said John.
There was a shout from the other end of the corridor: the same young man as before. "Guv! Murder!"
"The young ones get so excited," said Lestrade dryly, and he shut his laptop and grabbed his coat, and was out of the door before John could say another word.
And then, just when John was debating whether or not to grab his notes and go or stay and have horrible coffee, Lestrade popped his head back in. "Well? Aren't you coming?"
"Oh, God, yes," said John, and left his notes behind.
It was what Sherlock would have called a boring murder. The weapon was there, the body was in broad daylight, and the murderer had dropped his library card. John loved it. He loved it so much, he didn't even mind Anderson's sideways look or the questioning stares from the constables and sergeants that circled around the scene. It was boring and stupid and the murderer would be caught within the next few hours and he could almost hear Sherlock's sigh of frustration for not actually being needed. He thought of Mrs. Hudson telling Sherlock that there'd be a nice murder soon, and he grinned as he helped Anderson with the cleanup.
"Thanks," said Anderson when it was done.
"Anytime," said John, and turned to look for Lestrade.
John saw him, on the far end of the scene, talking to someone. It took a moment for John to recognize the man, because it had been three months since he'd seen Mycroft Holmes, and John had tried to forget him as best as he could.
Mycroft looked exactly the same, which would have been strange for any man mourning his brother, except Mycroft was Mycroft, and had sold Sherlock out for a few stories. John thought about walking over and punching Mycroft in the nose - and honestly, why was his first reaction to anything these days punching them in the nose? It hadn't gone terribly well with the superintendant. His therapist would have a field day, probably.
Instead, John crossed his arms and watched as Lestrade and Mycroft carried on with their conversation. Mycroft was standing at ease, resting on the infernal umbrella, but Lestrade was anything but comfortable. He paced, he shifted his weight, he shook his head, he rubbed the back of his neck. John stopped being annoyed, and started paying attention.
You see, but you don't observe.
So John observed. Mycroft was comfortable, and Mycroft was only ever comfortable when he was in charge. Mycroft was calm and collected and did not appear to be a man whose brother had leapt to his death only months before. Mycroft was...amused.
John took a breath, and tried to will the urge to punch Mycroft in the nose away. Even if Sherlock would have approved.
Lestrade, now, he was not amused, not one bit. The pacing, the shifting - he was frustrated and tired and John had the idea that he was refusing to do whatever Mycroft was requesting. (Ordering. Mycroft might request, but they weren't ever actually requests, because "request" suggested that one might be able to refuse, and not even Sherlock had been able to refuse Mycroft's requests.)
And then Lestrade looked over his shoulder, right at John, before turning back to Mycroft, who had also been looking right at John, with a small smile on his extremely punchable face.
Ah. Well, then.
Lestrade stopped pacing, even if the rubbing and the shifting continued for a few more minutes. Finally, Mycroft lifted his umbrella to swing it, and John blinked, because he could have sworn that he saw Mycroft wink at Lestrade, just before sending a salute in John's direction, and heading toward the ubiquitous black car that waited at the kerb.
Lestrade took another moment - probably to swear up a blue streak - before he turned and joined John again.
"I need a pint," said Lestrade. "Coming?"
"It's not quite noon."
"I didn't ask the time, I asked if you wanted a pint."
"Only if you tell me how long it's been since you and Mycroft Holmes started seeing each other."
Lestrade stared at John. "I'm not dating Mycroft Holmes."
"Are you sure?"
"I can't stand the insufferable git, so yes, I'm fairly certain."
"I'm getting better at observing things," said John.
"No, you're really not." Lestrade sounded annoyed now.
"Have a lot of conversations with him that don't go your way? Because I think that's what passes as dating for Holmeses."
"You would know," Lestrade shot back, and rubbed his eyes. "Christ."
"Just because you see two men having a conversation on the street doesn't mean they're shagging," said Lestrade finally.
"Just because you wanted Sherlock to shag your socks off!"
"Oh, fine," snapped Lestrade. "Whatever gets you through the night. Or off. I don't care. Do you want a pint or not?"
John thought of the wink and the salute Mycroft had given him, the way Lestrade was angrily defensive and how Sherlock's observations were never, never wrong.
I don't just do what your brother tells me.
"Yeah," said John. "Sure."
John saw the black car pull away from the scene as he and Lestrade left. He resisted the urge to wave.