There was an irritating buzzing somewhere below us. It was too far away to hit and I refused to open my eyes to find the source and silence it.
Sherlock continued sleeping the sleep of angels amidst the bunched duvets and far flung pillows. I hooked my leg more firmly across his chest, felt it rise and fall with the sated rhythm of his breathing and drifted, once more, away.
Behind me, a scuttling sound grew louder. From the floor, an angry buzzing persisted. I curled more tightly around Sherlock and pulled a pillow over my head.
I felt a thump on the mattress. The vibrations drew closer. I flung my arm behind me, swatting blindly.
“Kill it,” Sherlock muttered.
“Trying,” I said. My fingers closed around the smooth shell, squeezing tightly. The noise from Sherlock’s side of the bed ceased. “Thank god,” I sighed, fumbling the mobile in front of my face, trying to find the off button. It buzzed louder. I squinted at the lighted screen.
Tell him he’ll like this one.
Groggily, I read out the words.
“What does he know?” Sherlock grumbled, turning. His lips found my neck, a hand slid beneath my arm and down my side. “I like this one,” he murmured, clutching one of my buttocks possessively.
There’s nothing like having a lover awake in one’s arms wanting more to bring the blood to all the right places. I dropped the phone and reached for him.
It buzzed between us.
“Oh, for…” Sherlock snatched the phone up, glaring at it.
I read the screen with him: The body’s nearly changed back.
Sherlock sat up. I curled around his hips, bit gently at the swell of his arse. It was likely to be an interesting case, but not one that couldn’t wait a few more minutes.
He began poking at the screen.
I smoothed a hand over his hip and between his legs. At the small of his back, I nuzzled and kissed; reached around to stroke, fingertips feathering from root to tip of his cock.
The phone pinged.
Sherlock groaned softly, “Millennium Bridge.” He slumped sideways onto the mattress, hand around the phone.
I pressed up against his balls, teased gently along his cock, pinched very lightly at a nipple.
“We should go,” Sherlock said, without conviction.
“Five minutes,” I murmured and slipped from behind him. “Just five minutes.”
“Yes,” he said as I held myself above him on one elbow and used my other hands. He spread his legs. “Is five minutes enough?”
I eased myself inside. “When it has to be.”
In the taxi, Sherlock thumbed through the file of photos Lestrade had sent. The lighting under the bridge had been poor in the first shots before the lamps were set up, but the metamorphosis was so rapid that it had been worth capturing what they could.
I peered over his arm at the images. “Never seen one here,” I said. “Have you?”
Sherlock shook his head. His phone beeped and he opened a new file of photographs. A wing had been recovered from the shrubbery along the river walkway and it appeared to be retaining its form. Its edges gleamed a golden brown in the photograph, its translucent centre revealed the foliage beneath it.
Sherlock paused in his perusal and turned to me. “Where have you seen them before, John?”
I smiled. It’s always a pleasure to have Sherlock’s attention. “Not the same species, but, years ago in the Caribbean, I saw a green one from a train window.”
“A live one?”
“Very much so,” I replied, thinking back. “Taking flight from the edge of a railway bridge. Perhaps they like bridges.”
“Water supply,” Sherlock said.
Greg looked relieved to see us. “What do you make of the photos?”
“New to me,” Sherlock said, “but not to John.”
Greg raised his eyebrows.
“Witnesses?” Sherlock asked, slipping away. He stopped beneath the spot-lighted body, looking up to study the way it was wedged between the steel cables, one leg dangling, the metal digging into the soft flesh of the ensnared torso, unprotected now by its carapace.
“Just a couple lads from the flats nearby, out skateboarding along the walk in front of the school. They said they heard a sort of chittering from under the bridge and the older one lost his balance. When he had caught his board, his brother turned his phone light up towards the sound. What they saw caused a panicked call to their mother,” Lestrade said, catching up with Sherlock. “When she got here, Mum phoned us. Call was logged at 23:06.”
Sherlock turned. “Where are they?”
“At the A&E. Probably taking an oath of sobriety; I think a lager or two might have been involved. I’ve never seen two boys trying so hard not to show how freaked out they were, but the clinging to their mother gave it away.”
“And the mother?” Sherlock asked.
“Strangely calm,” Lestrade replied, almost as if it had just struck him. “Though I’ve seen parents do remarkable things when they’re defending their children.”
“Defending? Did either have a record?”
“No, and Mum, a paralegal in the City, was making sure this didn’t turn into one,” Lestrade said, nodding. “The older boy described the chittering as being like words. That whatever was up under the bridge was calling his name.”
“Maybe mother knew what it was,” I suggested.
“Cause and time of death?”
“Shock and blood loss between 21:00 and midnight,” Molly replied.
“So between nine and eleven,” Sherlock said. “The skateboarders found the deceased still vocalising shortly before 11.”
He completed a figure eight around the table with the wing laid out upon it and the one with the body. “Anything else?” He had snapped on gloves and stopped to stare intently at the corpse.
“Help me turn her over,” she replied. “One of the most interesting features is on her back.”
I moved to assist, the feature of interest obvious once we had the body on its side.
“Tissue samples confirm that the wing retrieved was torn from the body at this site. The wound, however, is larger than the corresponding structure on the wing. The proportion of human and non-human genetic material varies between the body and the wing; the edges of the wound on the body have predominantly human genetic material while the edges of the wing are predominantly non-human. However, the steamfly genes are present at a low level throughout the body.
“Blattella germanica of the order Blattodea, colloquially known as the German cockroach,” Sherlock supplied.
Molly smiled thinly. “There was something else from the bloodwork.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow.
“She had recently been pregnant,” Molly stated.
“More precision, Molly,” Sherlock said.
“Are we talking miscarriage, childbirth, egg laying or what?” I added, palpating the abdomen.
“Twenty-four to thirty-six hours since the end of the pregnancy,” Molly replied, looking up at Sherlock. “I’ve seen no other signs of pregnancy in her body and no signs of a disease that might produce those hormones in her blood and I re-ran the tests three times,” she continued, rounding the table to stand next to me. “That this individual has recently been pregnant is all I can affirm.”
I looked at Sherlock.
“A trip back to the river to look for her ootheca,” Sherlock said, tapping at his phone. “Approximately 82 centimetres long and 23 centimetres wide,” he added as he headed for the hall. “I’ll tell Lestrade to inform the River Police.”
“Anyone using the quarantine area, Molly?” I asked. She shook her head. “You might want to reserve it, and brush up on your entomology. He’s found smaller things.”
“Right,” Molly said in a small voice.
I turned towards the doors, swinging back before I reached them. “Thank you.”
“Right,” she said again.
Greg met us as we approached the bridge, strobing blue lights reflecting off the glass walls of the office building to our left. “We’ve got a positive ID,” he said, “Dea Blatto…”
Sherlock snorted. “Birth certificate, passport, corroborate that?”
“Yeah,” Greg confirmed, scowling. “Born in Haddington, Scottish mother, German father, dual national.”
“One of them has a sense of humour,” Sherlock said. “What else?”
“Thirty-five, set designer at Shakespeare’s Globe for the last three years, worked in Bayreuth for five years before that and in Edinburgh for six after finishing university there. Has a studio flat this side of the river two developments east of here and a German boyfriend who visits every couple months for a week or so. Employers happy with her work, not so happy to be woken in the middle of the night to tell me about it,” he said and handed Sherlock his mobile. “Have a look at that.”
Sherlock squinted at the screen and re-played the clip of CCTV footage. I leaned over, but couldn’t see much at that angle. Sherlock handed me the phone and started for the bridge. “You were right, Lestrade. Unless this turns out to be a very elaborate publicity stunt gone wrong, this might be a ten.”
We stood in the forecourt garden of the Tate Modern, Sherlock slowly circling the raised platform that held the officially untitled sculpture popularly dubbed Renfield at the Asylum.
“The footage from the museum cameras’ just came through,” Greg said.
Sherlock strode towards him and swiped the phone from his hand.
“I wasn’t finished looking at that,” Greg protested.
“They agree,” Sherlock said and thrust the mobile back at Greg. “Any evidence of tampering with the cameras?”
Greg tapped at his screen, read for a moment. “Not according to our preliminary inspection.”
“So, we are to believe that this inanimate object hopped off its platform on the lawn, slipped through the trees and chased the deceased across the bridge, and in an effort to elude her pursuer, the deceased shifted to her alternate form and attempted flight,” Sherlock scoffed. “Unsuccessfully, I might add.”
“The German roach is capable of flying,” I said, “even if they rarely do it. If you had the capacity, in an emergency, wouldn’t you use it?”
Sherlock's eyes slid towards me, an odd expression flitting across his face. It had already vanished when he continued speaking. “You’re missing my point, John. The shapeshifter is a living creature with the familiar motivations living creatures share.” Sherlock jumped onto the platform. “But what is this supposed to be?" He gestured at the crouched giant made of resin and wire. "How is it capable of motion?" He peered at the bald pate, into an ear. "What initiated its movement, if some mechanism makes capable of motion.” He studied the musculature of the heavy thighs, the knobby expanse of the nearest knee, then leaned very close to the enormous face of the hyper-realistic nude, taking out his magnifying lens and peering at something in the vicinity of the mouth.
I edged closer, hairs raising as Sherlock moved so near to an orifice that might just include teeth.
“Do you know what the popular name of the sculpture alludes to, Sherlock?”
“No. Should I?”
“It might be relevant. He’s a character in the book, Dracula, a servant of the vampire. Renfield wanted immortal life and he ate living things in hopes of achieving it when Dracula declined to bestow it upon him. In Renfield's cell in the asylum, cockroaches were the only living things available to him. He ate them avidly.”
“A novel, John? You’re quoting a novel to me?”
“Yeah,” I answered slowly, thinking about the power of naming and the crowds that had flocked to the opening days of the exhibition, murmuring and jesting and taking photos in the courtyard and posting them with captions like "Renfield and Me". I considered the vastness of the internet where the statue's nickname would have been echoed in reblog after reblog. I felt the menace in my bones. But Sherlock wouldn’t have listened to me if I’d cautioned him to come away at that point, he was too caught up in the challenge it presented. So targets for a kill shot ran through my brain, the lines of sight to them shifting as Sherlock changed position and I moved closer. The weight of the pistol at my back was some comfort, but affecting a creature of that size with the calibre weapon I had would require all my skills. I was sure that anyone watching me would deduce my intent from my body language. From the corner of my eye, I saw Lestrade stop leaning against the bridge supports and start towards me.
Sherlock pulled an evidence bag from his coat pocket. Something metallic glinted in his hands and he leaned closer still.
I reached behind my back.
Sherlock jumped down, dropped something into the evidence bag as he walked towards the bridge. “There,” he said, handing it to Greg. “Test it. I believe that is chitin from the carapace torn from Ms Blatto’s shoulder. The carapace could have been washed away in the river or…” He turned back to look at the statue. “…ingested by an inanimate object that shouldn’t need to eat and shouldn’t be able to move.”
I kept the statue in sight as I backed away after Greg and Sherlock turned and strode towards the nearest constable. It may have been a trick of the light, but the sculpture’s eyes seemed to gleam as we retreated.
The lights of the police helicopter hovering above the Tate’s forecourt illuminated the embankment in both directions and much of the southern foreshore as well.
Inside the lobby of the Globe, lights had come on and a guard was approaching the glass doors with a phone to his ear and a key in his hand.
Greg snapped his mobile closed. “Snipers are in position; the subject is covered. Nothing has been found in her flat nor on the river banks so far.”
“This location makes the most sense. The security is excellent and when she wasn’t here, she usually wasn’t far,” Sherlock said.
The doors opened.
Greg flashed his warrant card and motioned his search team forward. “Start at the east end and keep me informed,” he said and followed Sherlock through the lobby and up the stairs. The guard was jogging ahead to open the inner doors before Sherlock reached them.
In the pit, Sherlock stood motionless, fingers steepled under his chin, eyes flickering from the dark corners of the galleries to the numerous openings behind, beneath and above the stage.
“What colour did you say this egg sac thing would be?” Greg asked.
“Reddish-brown,” Sherlock said. “And check to see if any nymphs are already emerging.”
Greg grimaced. “Right. I’ll start at the top gallery, then.” He pointed at me. “You look after him, yeah.”
“Always,” I said.
“John, the cellarage,” Sherlock said, waving at one of the low doors in the front of the stage.
I was walking towards it when Sherlock bounded past me and onto the stage. “Hey,” I called as he disappeared through the arches at the back. I ran around to the steps and hurried after him.
We were inside the heavens a moment later shining our phones into shadowy corners. “Wouldn’t a roach have preferred something underground?” I asked.
“That’s why she was so clever, John. Basements are where people are unclogging sewage drains and checking gas pipes, storing and shifting crates and tanks. She chose up here. Less disruption.” His light played over the beams and pulleys, ropes and shelves. “There,” he said and dashed across the floor, grabbing a burlap sack from atop a pile of rough woven cloth on his way. “Shine your light up here,” he said as he climbed onto a thick coil of rope.
I saw it then tucked back on a high wooden cross beam. It glistened.
Sherlock dropped his phone as he reached for it. I stepped closer, holding the light steady for him.
With his extended fingertips, he eased the ootheca forward into the sack. “It appears to still be closed,” he said.
“Good,” I replied and knelt down to retrieve Sherlock’s phone from where it had caught in the crossed straps of a harness. I slipped it into my pocket.
“Damn,” Sherlock hissed. The coiled ropes rasped against one another as his weight shifted. He was no longer in my torchlight. His feet hit the wooden floor. I shifted the phone and heard the creaking of hinges. I lunged forward, caught the tails of his coat. My phone fell through the trapdoor, its light flashing across the wooden beams before it was gone in the brightness below.
“Greg!” I yelled
I closed my elbow around a post, felt the pull on Sherlock’s coat increasing, more weight suspended from it. I guessed that Sherlock was holding on to the sack rather than using either of his hands to catch the door frame. I felt among the folds of his coat for his waist, a leg, anything onto which I could hold more securely.
“You could let go,” I suggested through gritted teeth.
“Lestrade!” Sherlock shouted.
“You found it?” Greg called.
“For the moment,” Sherlock said. “How are you at catching?”
I heard Greg running, getting closer.
I had managed to get my arms securely under Sherlock’s arms, my forearms resting on the frame of the trapdoor. The squared edges of the beam were digging into the inside of my other arm. I braced another against the floor. “Can you get one of your legs back up?”
“Not without swinging them,” he said.
“This is a bloody awkward angle,” I replied.
“Sherlock! Hang on!” Greg yelled.
I heard something heavy scraping along the wood.
“Can you see what he’s doing?” I gasped.
“Something useful, hopefully.”
I heard an echoing thump, then another.
“Sherlock can you let the sack down?” Greg asked.
“It doesn’t have much of a drawstring,” Sherlock replied.
I felt a slight lessening of Sherlock’s weight.
“Sir!” a voice called. More running footsteps resounded across the stage. There was a metallic clang.
“I’ve got it now,” Greg said. “You can let go of the sack.”
I felt Sherlock exhale.
More voices rose up through the trapdoor.
“Can you pull back a little, John,” Sherlock asked.
My joints seemed locked in place. “No.”
“We can give you a bit of a push up,” Greg called.
The drag on my muscles lessened. There were footsteps on the stairs. Sherlock rose enough to get an elbow on the edge of the frame, then a foot on the other side. He pushed back against me, got his arse over the edge and onto the floor.
Greg hurried across the room.
“This is a sight,” he said, stopping short.
I let go of the post gradually, flexed the arm and winced.
“There’s another surprise downstairs,” Greg said.
We all heard the steady tap against the wooden floorboards.
The helicopter no longer whirred overhead, but the embankment was still ablaze with unnatural light.
Lestrade and his men had departed. Ambulance doors were closing on the portable incubation unit containing the ootheca and its two biohazard-suited attendants as we crossed the street and mounted the steps to the riverside footpath. Behind us, without flashing lights or sirens, the ambulance quietly pulled away.
“Busy night, brother mine,” Mycroft said as we joined him looking out over the dark river.
The jangle and clink of metal on metal echoed from the Tate’s forecourt gardens. I turned. Inside a large, grey lorry, metal nets were being lowered over the Renfield sculpture and bolted to the floor.
“One of yours?” Sherlock asked.
“They all are now,” Mycroft replied.
“Mm,” was all Sherlock said.
“Do you find them or do they find you?” Mycroft asked.
“Or is it you they have a nose for Doctor Watson?” Mycroft asked, turning to face us.
“I wouldn’t know,” I replied.
“Mm,” Mycroft said and gestured towards the Jaguar. A driver leapt out and opened the back door for him. “I take it you wouldn’t care for a lift home,” he said.
“Much as I hate to tell you you’re right, Mycroft, you are,” Sherlock replied.
“Ta, all the same,” I added.
Mycroft smiled that tight smile of his. “You’re welcome, John.” He got into the car. “I always know who I can contact if I need an extra hand,” he added as the door closed.
I looked up at Sherlock. He shrugged and leaned down. “He still doesn’t know about the other extra bits,” he whispered in my ear.
I chuckled as we turned and headed for the bridge.