Chapter 1: At the Center of the Web
Moriarty has a new plan for Sherlock Holmes and both John Douglas and Daniel Gottlieb have roles to play.
“You are aware of what she plans to do?”
Daniel Gottlieb looked up from the table where breakfast for two was laid out. He put down the pencil he’d been using to make calculations in a small notebook and considered the silhouette of his companion before answering. “Yes. She didn’t go into details, no more so than she ever does, but her intent was clear.”
John Douglas stepped away from window and returned to his seat at the table. “And what do you think about her plan?”
Gottlieb’s mouth twitched slightly. “What makes you think I think anything about it?”
Douglas smiled openly at that and leaned across the table to refill both his own coffee cup and that of his companion. “You think about everything. Trajectories, wind speed, the number of people traveling through a particular section of New York at any given moment - all the mathematics that underpin a life devoted to crime.” Picking up his cup, he blew across it and watched as Gottlieb observed his every movement with great intensity. “So, what conclusions have you come to?”
Gottlieb sighed and relented. “I think we are all better off without the ‘great detective’ to complicate our work. It’s bad enough that we have to deal with this Watson woman, but at least there is only one of her now and she’s distracted with taking care of Holmes - a win on both counts.” He picked up his own cup and sipped the coffee with obvious relish. “I think our employer invests too of her valuable time on this situation.”
“But, can it be done?” Douglas at last uncovered his breakfast and began to eat very slowly, as if savoring every bite. A childhood spent in a reformatory had taught him to treasure simple pleasures.
“I have seen many amazing things. Through careful planning, timing, and patience I have made unlikely deaths seem perfectly plausible. But to remove one man’s brain, place it in another man’s body, and somehow make the composite creature live again? The idea is outlandish. And yet, if anyone can accomplish such a feat, it would be Moriarty.” Gottlieb tilted his head slightly. “What do you think?”
“I think she is emotionally invested in this,” Douglas didn’t look up as he spoke, “and I can’t remember the last time she was emotionally invested in anything.” He paused with his knife upraised. “Intellectually engaged in her work, yes, but this,” he briefly glanced at his companion, “this is something new.”
“Do you mean her plan, her reaction to Moran’s betrayal, or the business at Reichenbach?”
“Perhaps all of them, in that each event is connected with Sherlock Holmes.”
“Emotions can be dangerous in our profession.”
“True, but they can also be…motivational.” Douglas caught Gottlieb’s gaze again and held it for a few moments. Then he smiled warmly and shrugged. “Regardless, Moriarty has committed herself and so it will be done. Whether it ought to be done is immaterial. As long as we complete our tasks…”
“Which we will.”
“Then all that remains is to see what happens afterward.”
“Perhaps,” Gottlieb conceded, closing his notebook and placing it and his pencil in his jacket pocket. “I have work to finish before I visit Newgate.” He stood and shrugged on his coat. “You will be careful today, won’t you, John?”
“Careful and calculating are your strengths, my good fellow. Cunning and charm are mine,” Douglas teased, his eyes twinkling.
“Isaac Proctor was charming and Moran was cunning, after a fashion. Now one is dead and the other soon will be.” Gottlieb walked back to the table and leaned close to Douglas. “Careful will keep you from joining them.”
Douglas placed a hand on Gottlieb’s face and drew him in for a long, lingering kiss. When they parted, he winked at his companion. “I will see you at the mansion. Don’t be late.”
Chapter 2: At the Center of the Web
In a gloomy mansion on a hill, a mysterious woman waits for the oncoming storm and the return of two old friends.
The wind whistled by the windows of the sprawling mansion on the top of the hill, an early sign of the oncoming storm. Inside, the clock on the mantle chimed 11 o’clock, its face illuminated by the soft glow of candlelight. The woman who lived in the house looked up from her chair to check the time. Then she carefully marked the page of the book she’d been reading before laying it aside. She stood languidly and stretched. It was almost time.
Leaving the library, she passed a mirror in the hallway and glanced briefly at her reflection. The black shirt and trousers would have shocked polite society, which expected respectable ladies to wear floor-length dresses and corsets. But she had long ago stopped caring what the unenlightened masses thought of her. As for her servants, they knew better than to comment on her…eccentricities. Besides, they should all be asleep by now. She ran quietly down the main staircase, through the dining room, to the door under the stairs. From her pocket she produced a set of heavy iron keys, one of which she used to unlock the door. It opened silently on well-oiled hinges. The woman looked into the darkness and paused before returning to the dining room for a candelabra. Lighting the candles as she walked, she stepped into the secret hallway and continued onward until she reached the steps that led to the tower.
The steps were steep, so she continued upward at a much slower pace. Once she reached the top, she unlocked another door with a different key. She pulled it open and leaned inside to flip a switch. Suddenly the room beyond was flooded with artificial light and the woman smiled. Electricity was a joy and a wonder, especially since it would help her complete her greatest achievement. Such power should not be wasted, which was why she had spent a considerable amount of her fortune to electrify only the tower laboratory.
Placing the now unnecessary candelabra on a table near the door, she walked to a bank of equipment on the far wall and began flipping switches and turning dials. Soon the room was drowned in the sounds of buzzing and whirring as the various tools she’d spent the last few months constructing came to life. She checked the levels and settings to make sure everything was operating perfectly and then turned expectantly towards a speaker in the main control panel. They should be here any minute. The timing was critical - if she missed the storm because they were late! Well, she’d make sure it was the last thing either of them ever did.
Suddenly the bank of machinery buzzed to indicate an incoming call. The woman pressed a button and spoke into a telephonic device. “Report.”
“It’s Gottlieb.” The sound from the speaker was fuzzy, but the voice was recognizable.
“Daniel! Congratulations, you are the first to arrive. Please tell me that you have acquired my package.”
“Excellent. Bring him up.”
She flipped a switch and turned on the power to the service elevator. The lights behind the ornate metal gate flared and then faded as the carriage journeyed down the tower, through the shaft she’d had quarried out of the stone beneath her home. It would take it awhile to reach the cave at the base of the hill where she had all her most important equipment delivered to avoid the prying eyes of nosy neighbors and the local authorities. The Professor turned her attention to two operating tables in the center of the room. One sat atop a platform connected to a pulley system which led up through a trap door in the roof. The other was surrounded by a tile basin with a drain in the bottom - the better for cleaning up the blood later.
She had just finished her final preparations when she heard the elevator arrive. She turned in time to see Daniel Gottlieb open the elevator gate and push a metal gurney into the room. On top of the gurney was a body, covered in a sheet. She frowned and glared at her employee. “He isn’t dead is he?”
“No, he’s alive, as ordered. But just barely.”
The Professor smiled. “Excellent. Help me move him on to the operating table,” she pointed at the table surrounded by the tile basin, “and then go back down and wait on Douglas. I want the other…deliverable brought up without delay as soon as he arrives.”
The man quietly complied. That was one thing she had always admired about Gottlieb, he wasn’t prone to small talk. Once she was alone again, she uncovered the body and looked down into the familiar face.
“Ah Sebastian. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” She brushed a hand across her former employee’s face, studying the severe trauma to his head. “I’m not sure if you can hear me, Sebastian, but I hope that you can.” She leaned down to whisper in his ear. “You really shouldn’t have tried to betray me, Moran. I would have hoped that you, of all people, would have had better sense.” She stood up to regard him coldly. “But look at it this way, your sacrifice will save your sister and it provides me with a timely opportunity. It just so happens that I need a body.” The Professor walked over to the long wooden table on which her medical tools lay. “And since you no longer need yours,” she picked up the bone saw and looked down at him with a maniacal grin, “let’s see if I can’t put it to better use, hmmm?”
She had just finished removing Moran’s brain when the Professor heard the elevator begin to move. “Perfect timing,” she observed with a satisfied nod. She wasn’t truly surprised, after all she had put her best men on this mission to ensure its success. The Professor washed her hands in a nearby basin to prepare for her next patient.
Once the elevator reached the tower laboratory, Gottlieb opened the gate while a second man pushed the metal gurney into the room. “John!” the Professor welcomed him warmly. “It’s good to see you’ve also completed your task.”
“It was difficult,” John Douglas conceded as he neared the operation table. Both he and Gottlieb avoided looking at the body laying there. “He was well guarded.
“I would expect nothing less.” The Professor paused and her tone suddenly became cold and calculating. “Were you followed?”
“I don’t believe so, Professor,” Douglas answered.
“Hmm,” she narrowed her eyes and studied his face, searching for the truth of that statement. “We will see. Please move Moran’s body to the second table,” she nodded to indicate the nearby platform, “and then bring our other honored guest here so I can continue with the operation.”
Douglas and Gottlieb did as they were told, although they struggled a bit with the dead-weight of Moran’s large frame. Once they’d gotten him positioned, they turned to the smaller body.
“Carefully,” the Professor remonstrated, “you are carrying unique and precious cargo.” Once the second patient was in place, she removed the sheet that had been covering him.
Professor Moriarty looked down in grim satisfaction at the face of Sherlock Holmes. Then she glanced up at Douglas and held out her hand. “Chart,” she demanded. He handed the medical chart over and she skimmed it quickly. “Yes, just as I thought,” she mused, “multiple injuries to the spine, legs, and arms, not to mention the internal organs.” She looked back down at the unconscious body on the operating table. “It’s a miracle the fall from Reichenbach didn’t kill you, Sherlock. I’m quite sure you meant it to kill me. Joan must be utterly heartbroken.” She rubbed his shoulder in what would have seemed like a comforting gesture if it had come from anyone other than her. “Gottlieb, go down to the house. Douglas, guard the cave entrance. Alert me if you see any sign of the great detective’s friends mounting a rescue. The work from this point on will be very delicate and I can’t afford any disruptions.”
“Do you want us to kill them if they do show up?” Gottlieb asked as he headed toward the stairs.
“I do not think that will be necessary, Daniel. I have other, less dramatic measures already in place. If you think direct action is need, consult me first.” Moriarty sounded distracted as she surveyed the medical tools again. “But under no circumstances are you to harm Miss Watson. She and I have…business…”
The two men shared a worried look and then left the room hurriedly just in case she had noticed. They needn’t have bothered, as Moriarty’s attention was completely focused on her nemesis now.
“I told you once before, Sherlock,” she said quietly, with more than an hint of arrogance, “there is no escaping me. Now let’s see if I can move that beautiful brain of yours into a new home so that we can begin our games again.” She glanced at Moran’s body laying nearby. “I owe you more than just one fall.”
Outside the storm began to rage. Lighting crackled along the lighting rods attached to the tower roof and briefly illuminated the two police vehicles that were speeding their way through the darkness toward the house on the hill.
Chapter 3: Ignis Fatuus
I've changed the rating because there is a little cursing in this chapter. I've also updated the previous chapter a bit; it made sense as it was for a one chapter story, which was my original intent, but it needed some changes in order to be continued.
Dr. Joan Watson turned up her coat collar against the rain as she paced outside the mansion. Captain Gregson and Detective Bell had been inside far too long for her liking. They hadn’t made it far, however, she could see them still standing in the entryway deep in discussion with a very determined butler and the homeowner’s lawyer who had just happened to be staying the night. ‘Just happened’ - Joan grimaced - like any of this was accidental. It was all part of a carefully calculated plan. Joan looked up at the house again as lighting struck the tower twice. Where was Sherlock? Was he here or had they been led on a wild goose chase? He was in no state to be moved and Joan was afraid of what further damage the kidnappers may have done to her partner’s fragile body.
Joan noticed lights in the top room of the tower and wondered if Moriarty was up there, looking down on her. Joan’s gut told her that she was behind Sherlock’s kidnapping, but what she didn’t understand was why. Moriarty had shown repeatedly that she didn’t want Sherlock dead, she enjoyed playing mind games with him too much. Had something changed?
Watson looked again at the crowd of people huddled in the entryway and decided she’d had enough of waiting. She strode forward, stepping over the worst of the muddy ruts made by their police cars, and jogged up the steps.
The two men from the house barely registered her as she approached, which was exactly what she was counting on. Gregson had his back to her, otherwise he might have moved to stop her. Bell turned just as she reached the front door, his eyes widening as he realized what she was about to do. Joan nodded briefly at him, then stepped smoothly past the lawyer and into the mansion.
“Miss!” The butler reached out toward her, but she sidestepped him.
“Don’t mind me,” Joan called out as she continued purposefully onward. “I just need to borrow the…you know…” She heard raised voices behind her, but ignored them, trusting Gregson and Bell to run interference for her. She walked swiftly in the first direction that presented itself: up the grand staircase.
She searched quickly, efficiently - opening every door she saw and looking around each room for any evidence that might indicate the presence of Sherlock or Moriarty. She found nothing. The mansion felt like a carefully curated museum - the rooms were well kept and well furnished but not lived in.
She paused briefly in the library. Here at least there were signs of recent habitation. The lit candles were half the height of the unlit ones she’d found in the other rooms and the remains of a neglected fire smoldered in the fireplace. The use of candles was odd in itself, since the house was clearly equipped with gas lamps. Joan picked up a book that lay on a table and glanced at the title on the spine. The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson it read - an unexpected choice of reading materials, assuming this was, in fact, Moriarty’s home. A hint of doubt began stirring at the back of Joan’s mind. She noticed a leather bookmark sticking out slightly beyond the pages and flipped the book open to the marked poem.
Those — dying then,
Knew where they went —
They went to God's Right Hand —
That Hand is amputated now
And God cannot be found —
The abdication of Belief
Makes the Behavior small —
Better an ignis fatuus
Than no illume at all —
Fluttering the pages, she checked them for notes or other markings but found no hints as to its owner. She placed it back on the table and moved on, but every remaining room was just as devoid of clues as the others had been. More perplexing, none of the doors led to the tower she’d seen while standing outside.
She was about to give up when she heard footsteps. Joan turned to see Detective Bell walking swiftly toward her.
“Anything?” he asked glancing around.
“No,” she replied, “just a lot of empty rooms. With one exception, it’s as if no one has been here for a long time.”
“There are several servants here,” he nodded back toward the main staircase, “in addition to the ones we’ve already seen. We haven’t been able to question them yet-”
“I take it the fact that you’re here means we’ve been given permission to search…finally?”
Bell made a face. “Not exactly. We’ve been given permission to look through the building as long as we don’t touch anything.”
Joan huffed in annoyance. “Touch what? This place is more like a stage set than an actual home.” She paused, her head tilted to the side slightly. “Maybe that’s exactly what it is.”
“What do you mean?”
“This is all front-stage, meant to convince someone of a narrative she wants people to believe. There’s nothing of her intellect or personality here. So we need to get backstage.”
“And where is backstage?”
She looked at him keenly. “Have you found an entrance to the tower yet?”
“No, the only exterior doors we’ve found so far are the front door and a servants’ entrance.”
“Send some of your people to search the walls and the grounds. See if they can find any way into the tower. I’ll go down to the first floor and see what I can find there.”
“What are we looking for here? A secret door to a hidden room in a castle tower?”
“Maybe? Moriarty can be a bit cliched.”
Detective Bell gave her a hint of a smile and turned to retrace his steps. This time, Joan followed closely behind him.
When they reached the first floor they parted silently. As he turned toward the front door, Joan studied the now empty vestibule and main hallway. She heard Gregson speaking patiently with the lawyer in a nearby parlor and hurried passed. The last thing she needed was to be caught up in that discussion.
She quietly searched the first floor just as she had done the second. Again she found nothing of interest, at least until she noticed a small door in the dining room. The shape and placement was odd - bit too small and narrow. Was it a pantry? A servant’s corridor? She tried the door and found it locked. Finally, she thought, we’re getting somewhere.
“Can I help you miss?”
Joan turned to see the butler looking down his nose at her in disapproval.
“Where does this go?”
“No where, Miss. It’s just a build-in cabinet, used to store extra cutlery and dinner service.”
“May I see inside?”
“Regretfully no, Miss. I’m afraid I don’t have a key.”
“Wait, you’re the butler, right? Why don’t you have the key?”
“The items stored in there are family heirlooms of great sentimental value, but they are rarely used. Therefore, my master prefers to keep the key with him at all times.”
“And who is he? Who actually owns this place?”
“Professor Worth, a very well-regarded scientist and scholar. I doubt you will have heard of him…in your line of work. He lives here with his daughter whenever they are in New York, but I’m afraid they’re overseas at the moment.”
“It’s hard to say Miss, but we do not expect them back any time soon.”
“It’s Doctor Watson. Not ‘miss.’”
The butler sniffed in disdain. “My apologies Doctor.”
Joan raised her eyebrows slightly. “So who is up in the tower?” she asked, steering them back to the topic at hand.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.”
“There was a light in the tower,” Joan said, speaking slowly and trying not to lose her temper. “And someone’s been in the library tonight. So if it’s not your boss, who is it?”
Before the butler could answer, Gregson appeared in the doorway and motioned to her. “Dr. Watson? A word, please? Outside.” Joan’s pulse quickened at the look on his face and she brushed past the butler with barely a flick of her head.
She followed Gregson through the hallway and down the steps outside, relieved that at least the rain had finally stopped. The Captain slowed so that she could catch up before he began speaking. “Bell says that there’s no entrance to the tower, but he did find a pathway down the hill around the back of the mansion. There’s a cave back there and clear tracks of a vehicle arriving and leaving at speed.”
“That has to be the back entrance! Don’t tell me we’ve missed them!”
Gregson reached toward her. His hand hovered near her elbow without quite touching, as if he wished to comfort her but wasn’t sure if the gesture would be welcomed or appropriate. “I’ve sent someone to follow the tracks so we’ll soon know who left them and where they’ve gone. In the meanwhile, we can search this cave and take this place apart, if need be.”
Joan sighed but nodded her agreement. She set her shoulders and followed Gregson down to the cave.
They didn’t find much in the cave, just a communication box and an elevator. Bell, Gregson, Watson, and two police officers crowded into the elevator and, once Bell figured out the controls, they began the slow ascent to what Joan assumed was the locked tower. While the cops readied their weapons, Joan shifted restlessly, balancing her weight on one foot and then the other, and tried to prepare herself for whatever they might find at the top.
At last the elevator stopped. Gregson pulled open the elaborate gate to reveal a dimly lit, circular room full of equipment. Watson’s eyes were immediately drawn to the center of the room - the operating table and the blood - and felt her heart sink. As the police officers fanned out across the room searching for any signs of danger, she walked quickly to the table of medical equipment. There was a bone saw, forceps, suturing needles, among other devices, and all had been recently used. But on whom? There was no body here.
Joan turned to see Marcus holster his gun and take hold of a chain that hung suspended nearby. She followed the chain from where it was looped through a bracket on the floor, up to where it continued through a hole in the roof.
“There’s something up there.” Gregson squinted. “Is that a platform?”
“Or another operating table?” Joan’s voice was hushed. She turned to Detective Bell. “We need to bring it down here. Now!”
He frowned and examined the pulley system as Joan moved to stand beside him. “Do we just pull on it? Or is there some mechanism that controls it? Something has to be keeping it up there.”
“Sir?” One of the officer’s motioned Gregson toward the bank of equipment lining the wall.
The Captain joined him and studied the controls. “Clear out of the way, you two,” he called behind him. Once Marcus and Joan had moved to a safe distance, he flipped a switch. They heard a low hum and the platform began stuttering downward. Joan found herself holding her breath as it lowered. Once it reached eye level, they could see that there was a surgical table on top of the platform and on top of that lay a body. Watson recognized Holmes instantly.
“Sherlock!” she cried. Bell reached out to hold her back until the platform stopped moving completely, but she shrugged him off and rushed ahead. She noticed immediately, and much to her relief, that he was still breathing. She circled the table cautiously, resisting the instinct to touch him as she pushed her worry to the back of her mind. She focused instead on the detached observation of a doctor and investigator. She studied the careful and precise cuts around the circumference of his now shaved head and the sloppy suturing around the cut. It was was as if the work was performed by two different people of various levels of skill, or perhaps one person working cautiously at first but then rushing the final work. Rushing because they feared being discovered perhaps?
When the table finally shuddered to a stop, she stepped forward and touched Sherlock lightly on his arm. She didn’t expect any reaction, he’d been comatose when she’d last seen him in the hospital. To her surprise, his eyes fluttered open and he glanced around the room in confusion.
“Where am I?” he said. It was Sherlock’s voice but the accent was wrong - harsher and more slurred. “What the hell is wrong with my voice?”
“Sherlock, calm down,” Joan said as Bell and Gregson joined her around the table. “We’ve got you. Everything is going to be alright.”
He turned to glare at her then. “What the fuck are you talking about? Can’t you see? I’m not bleeding Sherlock Holmes. I’m Sebastian fucking Moran!”