The sky over London was bleak and grey, cold drizzle slicking the streets and making everyone outside miserable. I was at my desk being miserable, which was the last place I wanted to be. My head was pounding and I had a mouth full of cotton. I still felt half-drunk. The details were a little hazy, but I suspected I hadn't spent the previous night in my flat. Or possibly not even in a bed.
I was trying to tune out the racket Donovan was making in her office when I heard her say, "What are you doing here?"
There was no answer, but I could see a silhouette through the frosted glass. He walked in and shut the door, and I knew there was trouble.
He was the kind of guy most people wouldn't look twice at: short, body camouflaged in dull jumpers and shirts buttoned up too high. His eyes were soft, deceptively soft; I knew better. That body and those eyes had broken hearts across three continents, including mine. And now here he was, taking up space in my new office.
He walked across the room like he knew every inch of it, like he'd been there a thousand times before. The collar of his black coat was still turned up against the weather outside, the mist clinging to his hair still glistening in the dim light of the room. He sat down across from me and leaned forward. I watched the tip of his tongue appear and swipe across his lower lip before dragging my eyes away. "Greg, I need your help."
Yeah, definitely trouble.
I leaned back in my office chair and put one foot up on my desk. "As I recall, the last time I gave you my help, I lost my job."
Everything about him was camouflage in fact, all designed to make the average person underestimate him. I noticed the contrast now more than ever. I knew better than to believe the sad little smile, the sudden downcast eyes. "I never wanted that to happen," he said. "Sherlock"—his voice breaks a little—"Sherlock wasn't a fake. I needed people to believe."
And for all that I knew without a doubt that John Watson would never let anyone see him looking vulnerable without a reason, I still had to fight the urge to take him home for tea and... sympathy.
"You falsified police documents," I said, swinging my foot down and leaning towards him. "You're lucky I didn't just have you arrested."
"I never properly thanked you for that, did I?" There might have been a hint of promise behind those words, or I might have been imagining things. Again. His eyes were on mine though, and I didn't think I was imagining things.
I cleared my throat and looked away first, feeling like I'd lost the first round. "What did you want, John?"
He brought a folded newspaper out of his coat and unfolded it so I could read the headline when he smoothed it onto my desk: "POLICE BAFFLED BY 'CLOSED ROOM' MURDER". I'd read the story—I kept up with all of the police cases I could. Twenty-three-year-old Ronald Adair, found shot in a grimy bedsit in a grimier part of the city. The police had no leads—it seemed that nobody wanted Adair dead. That alone struck me as fishy. Everybody has enemies.
"I think whoever killed Adair was trying to kill me instead," he said. "You have to help me, Greg. Someone out there wants me dead, and I can't figure out who or why."
I picked up the paper, but I already knew what I'd read there. "Why not go to the police? I'm sure Dimmock would be thrilled to have a lead at this point."
"No one at the Yard will talk to me."
They wouldn't, would they? As far as they knew, Sherlock had led them on a merry chase and then cost a bunch of good officers—including yours truly—their jobs. John would be the last person they'd want to be seen talking to.
I sighed and rubbed at two days' worth of stubble. "No promises," I said. "I'll see what I can find out." He started to say something, but I held up my hand. "First thing, why are you so sure that was supposed to be you?"
John settled back in his chair, his left hand opening and closing. It was a familiar gesture, a tell that he was genuinely unsettled by something. "I lived in that bedsit until about twenty-four hours before the shooting."
"That's a quick turnaround."
He laughed, a dry, humourless sound. "The landlord isn't that bothered with cleaning. I knew I was being followed. It's happened, on and off since—well, since. But this was different. I caught someone spying into my apartment from across the street. It didn't feel safe anymore. So I left."
I watched his face. John had been a terrible liar once. I wasn't so certain anymore. "And you have no idea who might want you dead?"
John smiled, and it was one of the saddest smiles I'd ever seen. "Made a few enemies... before."
He had, no doubt. I had my own experience of ex-convicts coming around looking for revenge, but it had been over two years since Sherlock had taken his swan dive, and John had been—as far as the public was concerned at least—only incidental to Sherlock's investigations.
Not that many of those convictions lasted too long after he died a fraud.
"Right. So you want me to—what, track down who wants you dead? Or focus on keeping you alive?"
His eyes flicked over me once and I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me think of a night not long after Sherlock died. Hell, he'd been lonely and I'd been stupid enough to think I could fix that. He rose to his feet and I followed suit. John leaned over my desk and said, "If you're suggesting that I need a bodyguard..."
I leaned on my end of the desk, and there we were, just a short distance away from each other. "Somebody should look after it."
He smiled like he knew a secret, leaned a touch closer and said, "Just find out who it is for me. I can take care of myself."
Then he turned and walked out of my office, leaving me leaning against my desk with a new case and a feeling I'd just been played.
"You're not taking this job," Sally said, watching me walk out of my office. Sally Donovan had been a good cop, like me. Loyal, too. When I went down for letting a criminal mastermind steer me around London like a puppet, Sally followed me. While she'd been a good cop, she was still a little too bothered about the niceties of 'legal' vs. 'illegal' to make a good private investigator. She'd come around, or she wouldn't. For now she made a good liaison with the Met. Most of them weren't speaking to me anymore either.
"Oh? We're in a position to turn down work, are we?" My head still hurt, so I stumbled towards the coffee pot in the closet we called a reception area.
"Not paying work, no," Sally said, leaning in her doorway. "I bet you didn't even set a price, did you? You were too busy watching his arse as he walked out the door."
"Shut it," I said. I fumbled for a mug, then put it down, changing my mind. "I've got some things to check up on. You?"
"Just that divorce case," Sally said. "Is it wrong that I wish they'd just shoot each other and get it over with?"
I laughed. "You sound more like me every day." I could hear her mumbling as I left the office, turning up my collar against the endless grey drizzle outside. The police down at the Yard might not want to talk to me, but I knew someone who would. There was a certain pathologist down at St. Bart's who would give me information in exchange for a decent cup of coffee.
Molly Hooper was a good kid, and a better pathologist. I knew her from my days with the Met. She was thorough, efficient, and looked damn good in a party dress. Unfortunately, she'd also made it clear that she was staying well away from me until I had things completely sorted with my ex-wife. Lucky for me, that didn't mean she wouldn't talk to me.
I caught her in the middle of making a y-incision down some poor bastard's chest. I guessed his age at about sixty—young enough and close enough to my age to make me feel a little squeamish about watching Molly cut him open. "Be with you in just a tick, Greg."
After the Met sacked me, it had taken me a month to get her to start calling me "Greg" instead of "DI Lestrade". She never did believe that Sherlock Holmes was a fraud. I asked her why once; with all the evidence that Sherlock had hired Richard Brook to play Moriarty, then killed Moriarty before committing suicide, it was hard to believe that anybody would take his side. She never did answer me. She had just looked at me with those big, sad eyes and I felt like a heel for even asking.
Sherlock Holmes had been the type of man that people either loved or hated. Me, I was one of the few who managed to straddle the fence, because I'd known him before he was the great internet detective. To me, he would always be the junkie kid I helped get clean. Kind of takes away some of the romance, once you've seen a guy covered in three-day-old sick.
Molly, though, she'd never seen that. To her, Sherlock would always be the dashing bloke in the coat and scarf, waltzing into her lab like he owned the place and treating her like something on the heel of his shoe. She fell for it hard. Which is why it always struck me as odd, his death didn't seem to faze her in the least.
You never know with people, I reckon.
Molly stepped back from the corpse and pulled off her gloves. "Here to buy me coffee again?" She smiled as she jotted the last of her notes about the man on the slab.
"I'll even throw in a scone, if you'd like. Or anything else you might fancy."
"Careful," she said, slipping past me with her files. "I might take you up on that some day."
Flirting with Molly Hooper was the closest thing I had to a love life, these days.
Over lukewarm coffee in the caf, Molly said, "All right, what are you after this time?"
I pulled out my notepad, a holdover from my days at the Met. "Ronald Adair. You know anything about him?"
She shook her head, "Greg, that's an open police case. I couldn't tell you anything about that even if I wanted to."
"Come on, Molls," I said, giving her my best smile. "You've done it before. You know I won't blab. It's for a case I'm working on."
"I really can't," she said. "Not this case."
I thought about it for a moment, then decided to give her the whole story. "John Watson came by my office this morning."
She lowered her cup, giving me her full attention. She'd known about Sherlock and John, of course, everybody did. "What did he say?"
"He thinks whoever killed Adair was gunning for him," I said.
The colour drained from her face. Peculiar, she hadn't had any particular love for the man who, in her eyes at least, must have been her rival. "Is he all right?"
"John? Yeah. But he's asked for my help."
Molly sighed and poked at the last crumbs of her scone. "I'll phone you tonight with what I can dig up, but you can't keep doing this, Greg. I'm going to get sack—" She broke off and blushed a little. "I mean."
"I know. You're a love, Molly. Thanks." I kissed her cheek then stood to go. "Call me when you have something."
That afternoon I got to spend in a different sort of morgue, looking through old newspaper stories about Ronald Adair. On a whim, I cross-referenced it with the bedsit itself, looking for any sort of connection, any sort of criminal activity linked to the address. It was the sort of detective work that had made my career, the sort that Sherlock had always looked down his nose at.
It was a clever idea, but like a lot of clever ideas, it went nowhere. John's old bedsit didn't have a particular connection to crime, any more than any other address in that neighbourhood. Which, frankly, was still a pretty strong connection. It wasn't a friendly place. I knew John had moved several times since Sherlock had taken his fall. I didn't realise how dodgy his new residences had been.
Time for me to call in a favour.
As I was walking back out into the drizzle I called Donovan. "Speaking of divorce cases... You still in touch with Anderson?"
"Funny. You've decided to be funny now," she said. I could hear her shuffling papers around on her desk.
"Yeah well, I try. Can you get a favour from him?"
She sighed. "What do you need?"
"A police report in the Ronald Adair case. And anything else you can pry out of him."
"Does this have to do with John?" She sounded like a sidecar with too much lemon: sour and bitter. "You know he can't pay you a bloody penny."
"You work your cases and I'll work mine. That's the agreement, yeah?" I already knew what she'd say in return. I could practically mouth it along with her.
"If you can't make your share of the office rent this month, I'm not bailing you out this time."
"I know. Believe me, I know."
She muttered something under her breath. "Fine. I'll call him and see what I can get."
Sally would get what I needed, I knew. Anderson may have kept his job thanks to some decent political connections, but he was never able to refuse Sally anything. I needed to know who the Met had spoken to, what they knew about Ronald Adair. No sense in putting in all that legwork myself when they'd already done it for me.
I stopped at a cafe for another dose of caffeine. I was starting to feel almost human again. Maybe tonight I'd think about having a quiet night in, and not invite the bottle of bourbon this time.
The coffee was just right, dark and bitter enough to suit me. I sat and watched the poor schmucks out in the rain and thought about Ronald Adair and John Watson. If John had been telling me the truth—and who knew with him anymore—the only connection between him and Adair was their address. I tried to focus more on Adair than John, as I sat there, but my thoughts kept drifting.
If Sherlock had been a fraud, how had he managed to keep that secret from John for so long? They'd been inseparable. There hadn't been anything John wouldn't do for Sherlock. Sherlock had been a damned fool to give that up. I thought about the last time I'd seen John walk out my door before today. It had been early in the morning then, and he'd moved around my flat with that same calm, unassuming, 'don't look at me twice' steadiness. As if that had ever fooled me. The things he'd been able to do with his—
The realisation hit me so fast I nearly spilt my coffee. How had Sherlock managed to keep that secret from John for so long?
What if he hadn't?
The Yard had been baffled that Sherlock had managed to commit so many crimes without so much as a single accomplice being caught, or even suspected. But if he'd had one close accomplice, one no one would look at twice, one who—as I realised on the day I met him—was more than capable of committing murder in the name of Sherlock Holmes.
Surely not. I still wasn't convinced that those crimes had been Sherlock's anyway, but... if John had known, and had kept that secret—
I also remembered how broken John had looked at the funeral, how he didn't speak to anyone for weeks afterwards. No, he hadn't known anything, if there was anything to know. He couldn't have. You didn't fake grief like that. Still, something about this wasn't ringing true.
I was still trying to figure it out when I got a text message from Molly. You owe me dinner, it said.
I told her to name the place and time.
It wasn't like I had a date with her. Still, it was dinner with a pretty girl, and I'd be a fool to show up in dire need of a shave and looking like I'd spent the night before in someone's bathtub. (I'd nearly remembered the night before—I was almost positive it had been a bathtub.) I cleaned up pretty well, if I did say so myself. And I did—say so myself. No one else had since Eva took off with the PE teacher.
We met at my favourite Chinese place. The owner's daughter was killed in a burglary attempt and she was grateful when we caught the guy. Ethics not being the problem they once were, I was more than happy to let her feed me every now and then.
Molly looked tired, but pleased to see me. She also had a folder with her, which I took to be good news. We ordered dinner first, the owner tipping me a wink as she took our menus.
"You're lucky you're cute," Molly said, taking up the first folder and handing it over.
"Yes, cute," I said, "Just what every forty-something bloke wants to be called." I took the folder.
"Forty-something," Molly smiled. "That's adorable. I've seen your ID."
Ouch. All right, so I hadn't seen forty in quite a while. Youth was overrated, anyway. I flipped through the folder to find copies of all the post-mortem reports on Ronald Adair. "Gunshot wound to the abdomen," I noted. "Any record here of what type of gun?"
"I don't have the ballistics report," Molly said. "I only tell you what happened—the Met gets to figure out the details."
"Mm," I said. "Still. Kid was clean otherwise, wasn't he?"
Molly sipped from her water glass. "Toxicology report isn't back yet, but initially, I'd say so. He was a perfectly healthy, well-fed, 23-year-old man. With a bullet in his stomach."
"Well at least he didn't die hungry," I said.
Apparently I still hadn't resolved things with the ex to Molly's satisfaction—she wouldn't even hear of me seeing her home. Thought about taking a cab home, but Sally had been right about one thing, the finances were a little tighter than I'd like. And I knew taking on this case for John was a... personal favour.
I was so caught up in thinking this over, I failed to spot the black car tailing me until it was nearly at my side. There was no mistaking that car, sleek and shiny and black. Imposing. I didn't need to see the government plates to know I was about to receive a personal invitation to talk to the British government himself. No one who had any extended relationship with Sherlock Holmes did so without at least one conversation with his older brother. Usually of the ominous variety, where you walk away knowing that if you mess up no one will ever find your body.
As suspected, the car pulled up to the curb next to me and stopped. The back door swung open and revealed a set of legs that were—well, I'll just say that Mycroft's assistants were usually the type to make a man think getting kidnapped by the government wasn't such a bad thing after all. I sighed and walked towards the car. "Hello, Anthea."
"Detective Inspector," she said.
"Not anymore," I replied, clever man that I am.
She smiled, never looking up from her Blackberry. "Not right now." She didn't say another word as we drove through the darkened streets, leaving me to look out the windows at the city outside. We reached the edge of town and what looked like an abandoned warehouse. You'd think Mycroft Holmes didn't actually have an office, judging from his hidden-away meeting places around the city.
The man himself stood at one end of the warehouse, leaning against his brolly as if he hadn't a care in the world. He was impeccably groomed; his tie probably cost more than everything I was wearing added together. He would have been a looker, if not for the supercilious air, the constant self-satisfied look of a plump, spoilt house cat. Well that, and the fact that I never ended a conversation with him without having the urge to strangle him with that old-boy tie.
Lights flickered overhead, shadows chasing and retreating across his face. He was waiting for me to approach, so I did. The sooner I played this game, the sooner I'd be back home. I was reconsidering my night in. Inviting the bourbon over to play was beginning to have more and more appeal by the minute.
"Detective Inspector," he purred, once I'd got within six feet of him.
"You and your people keep calling me that. I'm going to start asking for my pay cheque back, at this rate."
"You might get it." He smiled, thin-lipped. "You're playing a very dangerous game right now, Detective Inspector."
"Oh? I was under the impression you liked that sort of thing."
"There are forces at work here that you know nothing about," he said, voice underlined with friendly menace.
"There usually are," I agreed. "Especially where you and your family are concerned."
"John Watson doesn't need your assistance. In fact, your meddling is putting him at greater risk."
"John's a grown man," I said. "I reckon he can make decisions on his own about what sort of assistance he needs."
Mycroft smiled at that, looking down his imperious nose at me like he was looking down from a pedestal. "He can. And he has. John has made his choice abundantly clear. I'm trying to save you the trouble of discovering that for yourself."
I laughed. "Oh, I see. 'Stay away from the blond, he's trouble.'"
"Yes." Mycroft wasn't used to people laughing at him, especially not when he'd gone to all the trouble of kidnapping them away to a secluded location with handy body-disposal sites nearby. "You really have no idea, Detective Inspector. And I'd hate to see you..." he paused and looked me up and down, the implication unmistakable, "...get hurt."
I raised an eyebrow. "Was that a threat or were you trying to pull me?"
He just smiled. "Stay away from John Watson, Greg. Back away from the Ronald Adair case. It's all been taken care of. There's no need for you to get involved."
"And if I refuse?" I was already involved. I was involved when John showed up at my door, looking vulnerable and sad. Hell, I was involved before that, and I knew it.
Mycroft Holmes shook his head. "I can't be responsible for what might happen to you. And that's a terrible shame."
"I'll take it under advisement," I said.
He glanced over my shoulder, a signal of some sort, as Anthea came forward, her high-heeled shoes clicking on the broken, stained concrete.
"If you'll come with me, Detective Inspector," she said. "We'll get you home."
I followed her back to the waiting car, but not before glancing over my shoulder at Mycroft. He hadn't moved, still leaning against his brolly and watching me leave. "Remember what I said, Greg. You don't know what you're getting into here."
He was right, but that didn't mean I wasn't already in it up to my neck.