The rendezvous had been arranged for weeks. Sherlock was in place exactly three minutes early, found a table with an excellent vantage point, ordered coffee, milk with two sugars. Then, as the minutes passed, another coffee, and another, and still another, at which point he began pouring them into the nearby potted plants. After three hours and six cups of wasted coffee (and some very chipper plants), he concluded that he was being stood up.
Sullivan, where are you? – ES
His mobile rang in response; Sherlock answered it cautiously, careful to use the accent he’d been favoring. “Ja?”
“Is this ES? This is the Berlin Police Authority. How do you know Mr. Sullivan, sir?”
Sherlock hung up the mobile, paid his bill, and left the café. He threw the mobile in the river as he walked by, and it wasn’t until he had a chance to read the newspaper the next morning that he learned that Mr. Sullivan had perished in a car accident the morning before.
Well, thought Sherlock. One down. Only several dozen left to go.
The next job was in Dublin. The only good thing to come from Sullivan’s untimely demise was that it gave him a much easier introduction to his compatriot, Endelstein. The Irishman in Berlin; the German in Dublin; the irony was not lost on Sherlock, but he didn’t much care for irony, because just as he approached the park bench where Endelstein was waiting for him, he spotted the ambulances.
And then he spotted Endelstein, on the ground, with two or three paramedics giving him mouth-to-mouth.
Sherlock kept walking. Just to be on the safe side, he tossed his mobile in the river. Again.
It was a small mention in the paper the next morning; Man dies of heart attack in park, mix-up of medications the cause. Barely worth noticing, really, but Sherlock noticed, because that was two targets, in a row, dead before he could get to them.
But at least that was two down, and still several dozen left to go.
People died in car smashes all the time, didn’t they? And had heart attacks. Just a coincidence. Nothing nefarious in it, of course. Lots of fish in the sea. Sherlock would get one eventually.
Attempt Number Three was a Ms. Judith Waring, of Ontario. She was even in Ottawa, which at least was a nice change of pace, even if it meant a rather tedious plane journey, and Mycroft was being stingy about plane fare so Sherlock had to fly business class. Honestly. He woke up with a crick in his neck in Canada, with outside temperatures far higher than was normal for August, and Sherlock cursed Moriarty’s extensive and annoyingly global network.
Except that when he checked in at the hotel for the conference on Counter-Revolutionary Systems of Global Anarchy and Worlds in Crises, at which Ms Waring was apparently a keynote speaker, he found the entire hotel in complete turmoil.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Sigerson, sir,” said the concierge. “We’ve having something of a crisis ourselves today.” He tried to laugh, but it was forced.
“Oh?” asked Sherlock, but somehow, he knew.
“Yes, the air conditioning hasn’t been working properly in three days, none of the toilets on the ground level are in working order, and to top it off, one of the guests died in her room last night – normally not something that would throw us, but she was apparently one of the keynote speakers.”
Sherlock’s heart plummeted to his feet.
“Oh dear,” he said, and thought he managed to sound reasonably disappointed but not devastated. “I don’t suppose you could tell me who?” And he examined the hundred dollar note in his hands, and made sure the concierge saw it.
The concierge did. “Judy Waring,” he whispered, and relieved Sherlock of the note.
“We’ve provided window units for air conditioning, but she apparently left hers switched off,” said the concierge, apparently feeling as though the hundred was quite generous for a name.
Sherlock frowned. “She was quite young, I understand.”
The concierge shrugged. “Happens more than you’d think, sir.”
“Yes,” said Sherlock dryly. “It does, doesn’t it?”
W dead. Heat stroke. Very strange. Investigate.
Because I didn’t do it.
Sherlock gave up on Mycroft, and instead picked the lock on the medical examiner’s office, and went rooting around in the files.
Deceased: Judith Ann Waring Cause: Heat stroke
Sherlock returned to the hotel, where instead of finding a lobby undergoing a heat wave, he found himself hit with a lovely blast of cool air.
“The air’s back on, is it?” he asked the concierge casually.
“Oh, yes, sir, all day. Work crews finally left this morning.”
Sherlock managed to lift a skeleton keycard from one of the maintenance staff, carefully ducked under the police tape, and slipped into Judith Waring’s room. He peered into the ventilation ducts, checked under the bed, and ran the shower for good measure.
But it wasn’t until he broke into the utility cupboard in the wardrobe that he found what he was looking for: dust on the pipes. Except for the ones running cool air into Judith Waring’s room, which had obviously been tampered with in the previous four days. And a small cap which, upon further inspection, exactly matched those used on carbon monoxide containers.
“Bloody sodding hell,” said Sherlock, and replaced the cover and left the room and packed his bag and got on a plane to Chicago, because it was the first flight going anywhere and really, three attempts to kill anyone in Moriarty’s network had clearly resulted in three accidentally dead bodies, and Sherlock Holmes refused to believe in coincidence.
No one was in Chicago. That is, there were several million people in Chicago, but no one of importance was in Chicago, in that no one in Chicago worked for Moriarty. Which made Chicago a fairly safe place to be, all told, and Sherlock checked into a hotel and paid the ridiculous fee for unlimited internet browsing and set to work.
Thomas Browning, deceased 14th of July, motorcycle accident.
Eustace Weatherby, deceased 28th of July, scuba diving accident.
Nigel Murray, deceased 28th of June, motorboat collision.
Horace Rickles, deceased 4th of July, fireworks explosion.
Scott Andrews, deceased 17th July, overdose.
One after the other, the various members of Moriarty’s cells were dying, one by one by one, and all in what individually could be considered quite boring and banal ways, but all told….they did seem to be rather accident prone as of late.
I don’t need help.
Fine then, I’ll take back the money I sent you.
Spent it already. I meant with the actual operation.
I’m charging interest. I’m not helping you with your operation.
Then why is everyone dying before I can get to them?
I’m quite sure I have no idea.
You are such an insufferable git. And you’ve gained five pounds.
You can’t even see me, and you need a haircut.
Sherlock dropped the mobile on the table and ran his fingers through his hair, which was not in any way in need of a haircut. After the five minutes of sulking he allowed himself, he returned to the internet.
Twenty minutes later, he dropped the mobile in the river, and went to find a taxi to take him to the airport.
The Red Sea was really quite gorgeous during the summer, and not a bit crowded, what with everyone being nervous with Egyptian politics. Ridiculous, really, but it allowed Sherlock to make a last minute reservation at one of the resorts along the coast.
He sat in one of the half-cabanas on the beach. It was hot, but the wind coming in off the water was cool, and at least he had shade and there weren’t too many god-awful tourists around. He also had an excellent view of the pier, where a group of pale and sunburned tourists were standing about, clearly waiting for something. A tour, perhaps, or maybe they were fishing; Sherlock pulled out the binoculars for a better look, and then started to scan the boats and kite-surfers playing on the water as well.
Pleasure boat, mostly Germans, been there a week judging by the sunburn. Kite-surfers, clearly experienced, suits not even damp from having fallen into the water. Fisherman, taking a snooze. Pleasure boat, another batch of Germans, recently arrived and slathering on sunblock as though taking note of the first set of Germans and wishing to avoid their painful fate.
Sherlock sighed, already bored, and waited. At some point, Henderson was going to turn up; this was his favorite resort, scuba-diving his favorite activity, and Henderson had left Heathrow Airport two days earlier on a flight bound for Cairo. Clearly, he intended to partake in something relaxing while all his compatriots were being killed off one by one.
(Accidental deaths, Sherlock’s foot.)
Sherlock hoped he wouldn’t have to wait long. He had no idea what time it was anymore, and the sun was rather warm….
When Sherlock woke up, it was six hours later, and his skin was the approximate color of a tomato.
Sunburnt, send medical assistance.
Aloe vera lotion helps.
Sod off, Mycroft.
The next day, Sherlock returned to his chosen half-cabana, and took up his spot. This time, he wore long trousers, a long-sleeve shirt, and a hat. It was only slightly more ridiculous than the very ridiculous deerstalker, but at least there wasn’t anyone around who would photograph him in it. If John had seen it, he would never live it down, but John wasn’t in Egypt, John was safely home at Baker Street, probably drinking tea and patching the holes in the wall where Sherlock had shot it. And inviting women around. And cleaning out the fridge. And using the microwave for boring things, like popcorn. Sherlock shuddered, and hoped John didn’t burn the popcorn. Microwaved fingers did not smell half as bad.
There were still quite a few people on the pier. There were still pleasure boats with sunburned Germans on the water. And there was still the fisherman, asleep in his boat. Sherlock sighed, and set his cautious eyes on every new addition.
Reginald Henderson never showed.
John is burning popcorn in my microwave, isn’t he?
That means yes.
Where do you keep the popcorn bowls?
The third day was exactly like the second day which was exactly like the fourth day by which point Sherlock was ready to throw his mobile into the Red Sea (which would make a nice change of pace from throwing it in rivers) except that he had one day left before his flight and his sunburn was mostly better and he needed time to determine how else to locate Henderson.
Kill someone, then.
Pleasure boat, with newly sunburnt Germans. Kite-surfers, inexperienced but improving. Pleasure boat, Swiss, this time, quite tanned and thus clearly able to use sunblock properly. (Sherlock again ignored the irony.) Fisherman….
Ah. Scuba diving boat. Excellent.
Sherlock scanned the divers on board, and smiled when he recognized one. “There you are,” he said to himself, and settled in to watch as Henderson fixed his tank to his back, put the respirator in his mouth, and fell backwards into the water.
Sherlock lowered the binoculars; the boat was not going to move while the divers were in the water, and Henderson wouldn’t come to surface for at least forty-five minutes, judging by the size of his tank. Sherlock needed to be able to track the boat and meet it when it came to port.
He adjusted his chair to keep in within the shade, and then checked on the boat, only to discover that everyone on it was in the process of a full-scale commotion.
Which was nothing to say about the water surrounding the boat, which could only be described as befitting a body of water known as Red.
Sherlock pulled out the binoculars again for another look, and could just make out the fins of a dozen sharks in a complete feeding frenzy, and a set of diving fins floating on the water.
“Bloody hell,” said Sherlock, and marched back up to his room.
And then marched back to the edge of the water, threw the mobile in as far as he could manage, and returned to his room again.
Man attacked by sharks in Red Sea; First fatal attack in four years.
Hmm, thought Sherlock, and despite wanting to just leave the resort altogether and head back to Cairo early, he delayed his departure by a day.
The next morning:
Pleasure boat, with Germans. Kite-surfers, looking quite relaxed now. Pleasure boat, with Swiss.
Aha, thought Sherlock, and went to find the boat rental company.
There were half a dozen places where one might rent a boat in order to fish on the Red Sea. Sherlock found the correct boat at the fourth slip, run by a man whose English was somewhat lacking, but whose Egyptian Arabic meshed well enough with Sherlock's Modern Standard that they were able to make themselves understood. The boat in question had been rented every day by the same lone man, who never returned with any fish but seemed pleased all the same. Sherlock inspected the boat, and took note of the peculiar smell of the cooler kept on board.
Fish. And not just any fish. Sherlock paid the man and bounced on his way back to the hotel room. Anyone who didn't know him might have said he skipped.
I beg your pardon?
The fisherman fed the sharks chum.
The sharks weren't fed chum the day of Henderson’s death.
Ergo, when Henderson went into the water...
Henderson was MURDERED.
Sherlock gave up on Mycroft, but didn't throw the new mobile into the river just yet.
Heart attacks induced by improper medication. Car crashes that were not accidents. Excess carbon monoxide in an otherwise secure hotel room. Sherlock would not have been surprised if the next target wasn't killed smoking an explosive cigar - but that wasn't quite the style at work, was it? No - so far, all of the deaths appeared to be accidental, even natural. There were no indicators of foul play, no investigations, no leads and no suspects.
Worse, in faking his death, Sherlock had lost his support structure, and was unable to easily examine the evidence at hand. He was operating blind, essentially, and Mycroft seemed very unwilling to assist. In fact, Mycroft didn't seem to see the problem; he seemed to think that the deaths of Moriarty's various associates was simply a very reasonable solution, particularly since it wasn't Sherlock who was doing the dispatching.
If it's not me, then who is it?
What precisely annoys you, brother? Is it that they are dying before you can get to them yourself, or is it that whoever is killing them is cleverer than you are?
Which did make Sherlock throw the mobile into the river, right before he boarded the plane to Moscow to find one of the last of Moriarty's men left alive.
Boris Yurechenko was frightened, Sherlock could tell that much. Why else would he be ensconced in a tiny seventh-floor hotel room on the outskirts of the city, with the Do Not Disturb sign in a permanent place on his doorknob and every lock secured, not to mention the chair shoved up against the door for good measure, and the rooms on either side booked by him as well for additional buffer?
The only person allowed near the door seemed to be the little old woman who delivered his breakfast and dinner. Tea, some rather questionable buns, borscht, and some kind of grey-looking meat that might have been served to Stalin once upon a time. If Sherlock hadn't been so intent on looking for any sign of the other assassin, he might have pitied Yurechenko his meager and rather dismal fare. As it was, his wasn't much better.
Because this was really Sherlock's best shot at learning who was killing off Moriarty's associates. Eventually, the other man would come for Yurechenko, and then Sherlock could catch him, confront him, and determine precisely the identity of the new threat.
After a week of surveillance in which Sherlock was bored enough to consider just going in, shooting Yurechenko, and being done with it, something finally happened.
The little old woman knocked on Yurechenko's door bearing her morning breakfast tray. But for once, no one answered. She knocked again - and a third time, and finally pulled the key from her pocket and proceeded to open it.
The screams filled the corridor. Sherlock pressed his eye to the keyhole and tried not to bang his head in frustration as the dead body of Yurechenko was carried out of the room, feet first.
When the corridor cleared, he slipped out of his room, and broke into the dead man's room easily, mostly because no one had bothered to close the door. The air in the room was putrid and stale, but the room itself showed no signs of foul play or false entry. The sheets were somewhat damp, as though Yurechenko had sweated a great deal in his sleep, and there was a sweetly sour scent in the lavatory, as though he'd been sick a few times. But otherwise, it appeared as though he had simply...well...died.
And then Sherlock spotted it. The small mouse, in the corner, quite dead.
Sherlock was careful to wrap the mouse in a facecloth before pocketing it. After all, it wouldn't do to end up dead himself. He was fairly certain that he wasn't the target.
He hoped not, anyway.
I need access to a medical laboratory.
I need to perform a post-mortem on a dead mouse.
I believe the mouse was killed by the same means as Yurechenko.
It was either something he breathed in, or something he ate. What did you have for breakfast this morning, Mycroft?
1735 Tverskya Ulitza, 14th floor. The code is "Haircut".
Of course it was.
It took a day or so, but Sherlock determined that the mouse had died of polonium poisoning. In Moscow. Which clearly pointed to the KGB, which made no sense whatsoever, because it was simply too obvious, which meant it wasn't the KGB, and that Moscow simply happened to be the location, and the dead man had definitely been targeted for death.
And whoever had done it had slipped through Sherlock's fingers again, because when he went back to the hotel to find the little old woman who had brought Yurechenko his breakfast and dinner every day, no one had any idea who he was talking about.
Sherlock was so annoyed, he forgot to text Mycroft before throwing his mobile into the river. And this time, the plane he boarded went to Seattle.
Sherlock lost himself in thought somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.
The killings were taking place one at a time, with several days in between each assassination. Therefore, it was highly likely that he was dealing with a lone individual or at least a single assassin, otherwise it would have made far more sense to kill Moriarty’s associates immediately and within a short amount of time, which would have given them little chance for either retaliation or protection. The assassin was well-trained in methods of killing without leaving a trail of suspicion, and moreover seemed to be good with disguises, given that he was undoubtedly posing as a Russian babushka, when in fact he was, according to the boat owner in Egypt, a middle-aged man, rather stocky, with an affable smile and a friendly air.
Or perhaps that was a disguise as well, and Sherlock was dealing with a teenager. He doubted it; no teenager would have the patience for this sort of operation. Middle-aged man it was.
The only question was why someone else would want Moriarty’s men dead, now that Moriarty was out of the picture. Who else would want to clear the field, as it were? Other than Sherlock himself, of course.
The answer was so obvious that Sherlock pulled his mobile from his pocket and was texting Mycroft before he could even really process it.
Where is Sebastian Moran?
Aren’t you supposed to be 30,000 feet above sea level?
Answer the question.
“Sir,” said the flight attendant.
I have no idea where Mr. Moran is at the present time.
“Sir,” repeated the flight attendant, a little more forcefully. “Please turn off your mobile while we’re in flight.”
“Just one moment,” muttered Sherlock, his finger flying over the keys.
It’s him, it’s Moran, he’s the one getting them first. He’s trying to take over as mastermind.
Sherlock had just hit send when his mobile was whisked out of his hands by a rather large man with a deep tan and an extremely bushy red mustache. “No texting while in flight, Mr. Holmes,” he said, and flashed an Air Marshal identification card at Sherlock. “You can have this back when we reach the gate in Seattle.”
“It’s a matter of life or death,” Sherlock said, and the man shrugged his shoulders.
“Not yours, I’m sure.”
The marshal went back to his seat, Sherlock’s phone in his pocket. Sherlock slunk down in his seat and prepared to put on his best sulk.
There weren’t any convenient rivers in Seattle. He threw the phone off the ferry into the Sound instead.
Casey Strumond was not the last of Moriarty’s men, but he was the last who wasn’t Moran, and as Sherlock was very convinced that Moran was the assassin, Casey Strumond was his last chance to catch Moran in the act.
Sherlock decided to stick to Casey Strumond like glue. This proved to be much more difficult than with Yurechenko, because Casey Strumond was clearly an idiot who had no idea that he was targeted for death by two people (because frankly, once Sherlock had apprehended Moran and finished him off either by murder or incarceration, he planned to do the same for Casey).
Casey went to the library. Sherlock skulked in the biographies.
Casey went shopping at Pike Place. Sherlock dodged the fish being thrown at him.
Casey signed up for a whale watching tour. Sherlock added a fourth nicotine patch and tried not to succumb to sea sickness.
Casey was walking along near the Space Needle when Sherlock spotted Moran. It was crowded, with tourists and small children and yapping dogs and everyone carrying umbrellas against the threat of rain, but Sherlock saw him nonetheless. Small man, middle-aged, lithe and spindly, who was attempting to hide behind a tree. Sherlock couldn’t figure out why anyone would actually hide behind a tree – trees made horrid hiding places, honesty – but he began to walk faster, ready to pounce the moment Moran made his move.
Moran moved. Sherlock pounced. The skies opened. Umbrellas unfurled. Casey screamed.
“What the hell?” yelled the bicyclist under Sherlock. Sherlock stared down at the thin person wearing a bike helmet, who was absolutely not Sebastian Moran, on account of being a woman. A rather mannish woman, but all the same, no tell-tale bulge where a telltale bulge ought to be.
“Very sorry, my mistake,” said Sherlock and sprang to his feet.
“Rapist!” yelled the woman, and Sherlock turned to run for it, when he saw Casey Strumond on the ground, holding his calf and screaming to high heaven.
“It stings, it stings, oh god!” he yelled, and Sherlock could see the yellow and red spiderweb already forming under his skin. The bicyclist was still screaming behind him, but Sherlock ignored her and ran to Casey Strumond, and pulled his hand away from his leg.
A circle about the size of a penny on his skin, yellowish red and oozing, and when Sherlock gave it a sniff, he could smell it.
“Concentrated ricin poisoning,” said Sherlock to Casey, who stared at him with tears running down his eyes. “Combined with an acid, which burned through your skin in order to inject the poison into your bloodstream. Who hit you with it?”
“Am I going to die?” blubbered Casey.
“Yes,” said Sherlock. “Who hit you with it???”
“Man with an umbrella.”
“A little more specific, please?” said Sherlock dryly.
“And a bowler hat.”
Sherlock sprang to his feet and scanned the crowd.
And saw him, on the edge, crossing the street – a tallish man, grey suit, bowler hat – and an umbrella.
“Right then,” said Sherlock. “Must run. Might want to put your affairs in order.”
And Sherlock ran, twisting and darting through the crowd which did not have the good grace to part for him as he flew by. Moran walked quickly as he crossed the street, but clearly did not expect to be followed. The light changed as Sherlock reached the intersection, but he didn’t hesitate for a moment, instead barreling right in front of the cars, desperate not to be left behind. Horns blared as angry drivers expressed their displeasure, and Moran stopped to glance over his shoulder.
Sherlock saw just enough of the face to realize it wasn’t Moran – the nose was wrong, the chin was wrong, everything was wrong for Moran.
And the umbrella – something about the umbrella, and the grey suit, and the nonchalant walk…
Sherlock swore, and ran the rest of the way across the street. Mycroft, however, picked up the pace. Except Mycroft was seven years older and just a titch too attached to chocolate cake for tea, and Sherlock was able to grab his arm and spin him around just as Mycroft reached the black car at the kerb (because even in Seattle, there was always a black car waiting for Mycroft).
“Mycroft,” spat Sherlock, and when he saw the man’s face, let go in shock.
John Watson fell against the black car, staring right back at him, clearly taken by surprise. “Bloody hell,” he managed to choke out, before turning dangerously pale.
The window slid down, and Mycroft looked at them both with a sigh.
“Oh, do get in, before you faint in the street,” he said patiently. “Sherlock, close your mouth, it’s quite unbecoming.”
“You sodding wanker.”
The car slid effortlessly through Seattle’s traffic. Sherlock didn’t know where the driver was taking them, and frankly didn’t care. He didn’t think John cared much either, since John was still sitting with his head between his knees, yelling obscenities every few minutes.
“You knew about this?” Sherlock shouted at his brother.
“Polonium is a highly controlled substance, Sherlock. John needed some assistance.”
“This was my operation, Mycroft. Mine. You had no right to give it to John.”
“Bloody fecking tosser.”
“The entire reason I jumped off the roof of Bart’s was to keep him safe, why would you let him risk his life like this? What was the point of me going out there to assassinate Moriarty’s cell if you were only going to let him get to them first?”
“To be fair,” said Mycroft, “John had already taken care of eight of Moriarty’s associates before he requested my assistance. I never approved of your self-appointed mission, brother. And since John had been doing such an excellent job of it—“
“Tosspot sodding prick.”
“I never had a chance, he was always there first!” howled Sherlock. “That fall hurt, Mycroft! You could have at least let me kill someone.”
John lifted his head from his knees. “YOU MADE ME WATCH YOU DIE, YOU INSUFFERABLE TOSSING BASTARD, YOU DON’T GET TO KILL ANYONE.”
“You’re starting to repeat yourself,” Sherlock told him, and John went pale again and put his head back in between his knees. Sherlock snorted. “You just killed every one of Moriarty’s men except one and you’re honestly going to faint because I’m not actually dead?”
“Don’t tempt me,” said John as he reached blindly for the umbrella.
Mycroft discreetly pulled the umbrella out of John’s reach, and managed to look innocent while doing it.
“You changed Sullivan’s medication.”
“I’m a doctor, it was easy.”
“You threw chum in the water to attract sharks.”
“I had a good book and plenty of sunblock.”
“You redirected a hotel’s ventilation system to fill a room full of carbon monoxide.”
“To be fair, he also disabled the toilets on the ground level,” said Mycroft.
“Shut up, Mycroft,” said John and Sherlock together.
“Why?” demanded Sherlock. “Why?”
Sherlock’s heart pounded while he waited for John to answer.
“Because you made me watch you die,” said John again, this time much quieter. “And I knew you did it because you had to do it, because you felt boxed in by whatever trap Moriarty had set for you, and I wasn’t going to let the box stay standing if I could do anything to break it down.”
Sherlock let himself breathe for a moment.
“I saw that babushka every day in Moscow; how did I not know it was you?” wondered Sherlock, and John looked up from his knees.
“I learned from the best,” he said quietly.
Sherlock was flummoxed.
“I jumped off a rooftop, I should at least get to kill someone.”
“Sebastian Moran is currently in Tokyo,” said Mycroft, and handed Sherlock a file. He dropped a similar file on the seat next to John. “There’s a plane leaving in two hours.”
Sherlock looked at John. John looked at Sherlock.
“I want first class,” said Sherlock.
“You’ll have business,” said Mycroft.
“John deserves first class. And he’ll want me to sit next to him so he can kick me periodically.”
“True,” said John, and he grinned as he put his head back between his knees.
First class was very nice.
Even if John did kick him every few minutes, and poke him in the stomach with his elbow, and accidentally turn on the wrong overhead light so that it shone directly into Sherlock’s eyes.
There was always the hope that John would let him kill Moran in the end.
“Not a chance,” said John smugly, and kicked Sherlock’s shoes three rows away.