Greg put a lid on each of two takeaway coffees with that weird doubled feeling he always got when doing a morning task over again in the evening, like the world had spun round twice and the day had circled back on itself. He was meant to be cutting down, actually, but there was no way he was getting through this night without reinforcements. So, coffee.
Sally Donovan brought her own over and put sugar in it. Real sugar, not the ersatz lo-cal stuff she usually went in for. One packet. Two. Fuck, she was starting the night off with her knickers already in a larks head and things would only go knottier when Sherlock showed up. "All right?" he said, without much hope.
"Yeah, fine. Great. When I was a kid, I wanted to be in the police. And this is just how I pictured it: whole night driving round and round the M25 with Sherlock bloody Holmes" Sally tore open a third sugar, dumped it in, and stirred in vicious tight little curves.
Greg sighed. He got it, he did. Their world more or less worked. Police work, at the Met, that was a proper job, helping people. They got on, the two of them. And they had a decent team. They got to bring down the baddies -- when there were baddies -- and the rest of the time they did their bit to limit the damage. It worked. And then along would come Sherlock, blazing away like a fucking comet, meteor, whatever, and you couldn't rely on the ground under your feet and it was all flood and earthquakes until he'd gone away again.
Greg couldn't blame Sally for doing what she could to try to keep things on course, because, yeah, Sherlock was an arrogant, annoying sod, but also you never did know if he was just going to light everything up, solve the crime, and go, or if this time he'd crash and burn and you'd go the way of the dinosaurs.
But they were stuck with him. Stuck in the long term because there were cases that were just so fucking murky you needed a flash of light to have any hope, and stuck today because Sherlock bloody Holmes had made quite clear that he'd every intention of just going ahead with his little scheme, with or without a police presence.
There had been a time Greg could maybe have made Sherlock see sense on this one, but these days, Sherlock had John Watson around.
Half the time, John was what the Social Services types called a steadying influence on Sherlock. The lunatic was loads healthier now, if nothing else. The other half the time, John just encouraged the mad bastard; the pair of them could make more trouble than even Sherlock ought to be able to manage.
Greg had given up on arguing with them when he saw the two idiots were dead set on it, and had tried to talk Violet Smith out of the idea of playing bait for a killer instead. That hadn't worked either.
Violet Smith had looked square at him -- near as tall as he was, in her heeled motorcycle boots, and about as broad in her big leather jacket -- and said, "Charlene's dead, my uncle's missing, and you want me to sit this out and wait for you to find the fucker who did it? No chance. Know what your lot told me before I went to Sherlock for help? Said my cousin was probably killed in a drug deal, 'cos a woman who rides a bike has to be a fucking junkie on her way to a rave, right?"
So there wasn't going to be any help there, and the best he could do was go along. He supposed it at least made a change that Sherlock had called him in on a case, for once, if only because Sherlock had wanted to deal with a familiar face if it came to an arrest. This time it was the Met having a visit to Planet Sherlock.
"At least most of the rush hour's cleared out now. Sherlock wanted to spend the whole day at it," he told Sally. "But Violet Smith had to give a piano lesson." That was also why they were meeting at Cobham.
"Just as well; I'd have had to tell you to stick it then, sir," Sally said. She'd been at a training course, and only got back late the night before.
They walked through the big room to a table where they could look out the windows at the car park.
"Swish, this," Sally said dryly, gesturing at the woodgrain on the tables, the occasional leather armchair, the indoor greenery.
Greg nodded. He didn't like it much. Motorway services were going to be grim, and grimy, and no amount of tarting up was going to get around that. They could put in a Marks & Sparks and try to make the place look like a bloody park, but really people came here to get petrol and have McDonalds when they couldn't stand one more minute on the road.
"Manage to sleep a bit today?" He'd told her to, since they were likely to be up most of the night.
"Bit. Got my laundry done -- believe me that needed doing more than sleep."
"Tell me you called your Mum as well," he begged.
"You're safe, sir. I talked to her on the way back. "
The first time Sally had got hurt on duty, Greg had met her mother at the hospital, and after that long tense night, she'd declared Greg was part of the family. Being part of the family meant that if Sally didn't speak to her mother for more than a week, Mrs. Donovan would call him and demand to know what her daughter was doing with her life.
"Right, good." He watched the carpark. "There's Violet."
"Christ, that's her? Xena there gives piano lessons?"
Violet Smith was astride her sleek red and black Honda bike. She reached up and pulled off her helmet, and shook out her shoulder-length dark blonde hair. "Yeah," he said. He watched her strip off her jacket -- it was a hot evening-- revealing something red and sleeveless underneath
Sally snorted. "Just saying sir, you've got a little -- " She mimed wiping drool from the corner of her mouth.
"Leave it out. She's engaged."
Sally grinned. "Asked then, did you?"
"She's got a ring. And do you know how many training courses I can send you on, just the next month?" Greg threatened.
"Send me on one today!" she called after him, while Greg went out to greet Violet Smith.
Violet got a small coffee at Starbucks, brought it to the table, and drank it straight down, black. She looked like she probably had a blackbelt and did stunts for movies. It would be another ten minutes before Sherlock and John got there, so while they were waiting, she went out to the bike again and brought back a thin book called More Fairy Tale Songs For Little Fingers and started colouring in the fat little notes on Humpty Dumpty's Fall in different coloured pens. Some of the notes got little faces drawn in them as well.
Finally Sherlock walked in. As ever, John wasn't far behind, like he'd got caught up in Sherlock's gravitational pull and could never get too far away without swinging back in again. It was hot enough Sherlock had given his big coat a miss, but in his posh suit he still looked like something off the telly A gang of girls sitting around with fancy Starbucks drinks all stared, round eyed, and then all giggled, shrilly.
John glanced at them, then away. John Watson's face seemed to have a thousand different variations on weary resignation. Possibly this had come of living with Sherlock and was like Eskimos having a thousand words for snow. Then again, maybe it just came naturally; John's face moved a lot, and made funny shapes. Sometimes, when Sherlock was doing one of his acts, Greg suspected him of having practised some of his expression in front of a mirror, but John's expressions were always natural and clumsy and odd. He often smiled when he was worried and angry, and frowned when he was relieved. Mostly today he looked tired.
"Ready?" Sherlock crowed, sweeping up to the table, like a big kid ready for a day out.
"Freak," was how Sally greeted the delegation from Planet Sherlock. It was like Pavlov, it really was. Greg would have liked to think the word had softened into just a sort of nickname after all this time, but no, she still meant it.
"All right Greg?" John said, cutting in before Sherlock could fire back. "Donovan, Violet." He nodded at them and then walked on towards the shops.
"Have you set up the wire yet?" Sherlock asked, looking over Violet. "Ordinarily I'd suggest just having the Met install their recording app on your mobile, but with the road noise, a dedicated mic is really the best choice."
"I've got my bluetooth," Violet said, pulling out a little earpiece. "It's not bad, with the helmet on."
"Safer to have the wire anyway. I've got it," Sally said. "Maybe easier to do in the ladies'?" She gestured.
Violet shrugged and they went off together.
"I don't think that's why women usually go to the loo in groups, is it?" Greg joked.
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "Typically, avoiding one woman alone and vulnerable either on her way there or left behind with a group of untrusted men, I'd have thought."
Greg shrugged. He ought to know better than to make little jokes like that with Sherlock.
"Still no sign of Carruthers," Sherlock said. Not a question; if a unit picked Violet's missing uncle up, Sherlock would probably know before Greg did, by whatever means -- blackmailing someone in dispatch or psychic powers, for all Greg knew.
"But you're still sure he'd nothing to do with the girl's death."
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Can you really not keep the sequence of events in mind? Is it early onset senility, or have I made it too difficult for you? It was as a direct result of his affair -- "
"With a student. Yeah, Sherlock, I've got that bit. But are you sure he wasn't in on it?"
"Doesn't fit. He raised her as his own; according to Violet he was shocked and devastated."
Greg had seen his share of blokes who'd just killed their girlfriends or brothers or, hell, their own mums or kids, and were pretty shocked and devastated even with the knife still in their hands. Hell, he'd been bloody shocked and devastated himself, the first time things had gone spectacularly pear-shaped and he'd had to kill someone in the line of duty. For all that Sherlock loved bizarre cases, he seemed to have an awfully simple idea of how people worked sometimes. "Then why did he run?"
Sherlock swooped his hands in an elaborate shrug as if to say, why do you stupid people do any of the stupid things you so stupidly do?
"Look, Sherlock, can't we give it a few more days for patrol to pick up Carruthers? There's no reason to have Violet -- "
"It's must be obvious even to you, Violet intends to find the killer herself, whether anyone comes with her or not. This is less likely to end in tragedy if she isn't alone when she finds him -- or rather, when he finds her."
"Right," Greg sighed, giving in. "You not having a coffee?"
Sherlock grinned and reached out. His fingers wrapped neatly round the cup John had just held out for him.
"How creepy is that?" Sally asked, coming back with Violet.
Violet eyed her uncertainly. "What?"
John rolled his eyes. "Right, we ready?"
Sherlock brought out his mobile, one of those overpriced smartphone things, and started swiping around a map, pointing out places along the road where someone might try to isolate Violet, which bits weren't lit up well, where roadwork was currently going on. From the way they talked, he'd already gone through this with her beforehand.
"For the record, you're mad, trusting him," Sally told her.
"I trust me," said Violet, "You lot are just backup. I'll have my headset on too, so call when you need a stop."
While Violet adjusted her leathers and got back on her motorcycle, they went to the Met car they'd taken for the night. It was a change to have Sherlock not demanding he be given his own cab, but he still gave the car an unfriendly look. Snobby git.
"I'm driving first," Sally said. "Guv can take over after me. If we're all still mad enough to be at this after that, John can drive third shift. Then the freak, if we decide we can risk it."
"John doesn't drive," said Sherlock.
"Then what's John along for?" Sally protested. Which Greg reckoned had to be just Sally trying to wind Sherlock up. She knew better. All night in a car with Sherlock was bad enough. All night in a car with Sherlock deprived of John Watson sounded like a new circle of hell.
"If you figure it out, please tell John," John put in. "Because John's been awake half the week, chasing down dodgy uni students and looking at obsessive motorcycle sites online. John would quite like to know why he's here and not sleeping." He yawned for effect, but he really did look tired, skin under his eyes dark and sagging worse than usual.
Sally put up her hands. "Whatever." She got into the driver's seat.
Sherlock got into the passenger seat next to her without discussion.
Greg raised his eyebrows at John, who shrugged back.
"If he didn't grow up with a chauffeur, that's my whole worldview up the spout," Greg commented.
"Given the way he leaves the loo, I'm pretty sure there were chambermaids, if that helps."
They got in, John on the passenger side, Greg going around to sit behind Sally.
"Oh, don't sit behind me," Sherlock snapped at John, in that manner he put on, like a posh professor scolding a backward kid. "Go round the other side."
"Yeah, why?" John said, at once patient and wryly confrontational.
"So I can see you without getting a crick in my neck," Sherlock said, as if this were the most obvious and sensible reason in the world.
Sally snickered loudly. "Best do it, John. My sis cried six hours once in an aeroplane, when her Ted got packed in a suitcase instead of the carry-on bag."
Greg gave Sally points for a bit of decency there. She could easily have said something implying John was Sherlock's boyfriend instead of a cuddly toy, and that sort of thing always made John edgy and argumentative.
John narrowed his eyes. "Fine here, thanks," he said tightly, and pulled the door shut.
"But I can't see you," Sherlock complained, as Greg settled himself.
"You can hear me."
"And you can see me," Greg put in. "So that's nice for you."
"Right, loads better looking than I am, him," John joked.
"Much," Sherlock said, seriously, "but that isn't the point."
Greg coughed and John failed to stifle one of those weirdly shrill giggles of his.
"What?" demanded Sherlock, "Lestrade is, objectively, much handsomer than you."
"One word, Donovan -- " Greg warned.
"I know, guv, I know. Six week training course in Scotland." She started the car. "I'd be so miserable -- deprived of your handsome face all that time."
"Ta for that, Sherlock," Greg gritted out between his teeth. This was going to be all through the Met by the end of the week. He knew just how Sally would phrase it too: Sherlock says the guv is much handsomer than his own boyfriend.
John gestured to the two in the front of the car. "Ever been on a long trip with small children?"
Greg nodded in wry agreement and took out the receiver for the body wire. It was a black plastic rectangle that looked a bit like an old walkie-talkie. Turning it on, he got a roar of engine noise, and hurriedly turned it to silent.
"Do try to stay at least two cars back, Sally," Sherlock advised. "Our target will hardly start following her if you're following so closely he can't wedge himself in."
"Shut up, freak."
A big juggernaut with VOLVO across the front passed them, and in the next car but one a woman was singing along to something. Summer was drying out the grass on the verge to bleached yellow, but the trees were very green.
"Oh hell," Sally complained, around the time they came round to Dartford Crossing for the first time, "boys and their pissing matches." It was still slow going, the ends of rush hour traffic clearing out, and not full dark yet, summer twilight lingering on. A dark red mini passed them and the van up ahead had one back door replaced in a different colour, green instead of blue. Greg sipped at his coffee -- he didn't want to get through it too fast, but he wouldn't want it as much once it had gone stone cold either.
"I am more intelligent, larger, faster, far more ruthless, trained in a discipline you are unlikely to have learned specific moves to counter, and currently more physically fit," Sherlock told John.
"And modest as all get out," provided Greg cheerfully. Not a hint of anyone menacing Violet Hunter as yet, but Sherlock and Sally had argued more or less continually until John had managed to divert Sherlock into a random meandering conversation that had now somehow settled on fighting skills.
"How," John asked in a smiling way that promised an actual argument brewing between the two of them -- and wouldn't that improve the evening no end-- "exactly are you more physically fit? Unless you mean skinnier. Being fit requires sleeping, actually ingesting nutrition occasionally and... not doing other things."
Greg decided to ignore that last bit of circumlocution. It could mean Sherlock was using again, in which case he didn't want to know because he'd have to deal with it. It could just mean Sherlock had started smoking again, and Greg made a policy of never thinking about cigarettes these days, no matter who was smoking them.
Sherlock looked back at John, one of those odd expressions on his face he usually got when he was staring at something tiny two feet from a corpse that nobody else had noticed, something that would flip the whole case on its head. He frowned, his eyes widened, he leaned towards John slightly and his head even bent to the side an inch or two.
"I've never been shot, had the wound badly patched up by an untrained and incompetent fellow soldier in the field, had proper surgery nearly a day later during which I contracted a bacterial infection that nearly killed me, and then had to regain the use of my arm despite muscle and nerve damage through months of agonising physical therapy. That arm will never move as well as it used to, and a number of other muscle groups have been affected in cascade as you've taught yourself to deal with it."
"Mm," said John. And then, cryptically, "Sixty five."
"Sixty five?" Sherlock demanded, sounding outraged.
"Seventy on a technicality. You said not to give you technicalities. Actually, knowing you, you'd say seventy-five on a technicality."
Oh god, another of those little games of theirs. John was like Greg's dad, master of coming up with little amusements for bored children.
"Yes, fine. I will know eventually."
"Yeah," John agreed mildly.
"At any rate, despite this, John has comparable physical strength in many areas," Sherlock continued, now lecturing like he was Chair of John Watson Studies at Cambridge, "He was given more rigorous training with the certain expectation of having to use it to protect his and others' lives, and then lived that training daily for years. John also necessarily has somewhat wider knowledge of how the human body can be damaged, and faster recall of this information. So, in a theoretical fight, John would win."
John had his eyes narrowed and looked as if he was thinking through the exact words, looking for the place where Sherlock had actually said the opposite. Greg knew the feeling, he did the same when Sherlock said something mildly approving about his work.
"Of course in any actual fight, I would win."
John and Greg exchanged a there-it-is look.
"Christ, John," said Sally, "you've got him better trained these days. Practically tact, that was, for him."
"You can let go now, John," John said, in a quoting voice, "today won't work at all well if I can't speak because you've bruised my larynx."
"I asked you to hit me that time." Sherlock argued. "It isn't a real fight if I ask you to hit me."
"I didn't ask you to hit me."
Greg sighed. "We've talked about this, boys. Do not tell me what the two of you get up to on your own, and I can pretend it doesn't happen."
"How do you reckon you'd win, Sherlock?" John said. "Real, proper fight, I mean, if I was trying. I took down a bloke who'd have made two of you once, and he had a knife."
"Before your injury. But that isn't the deciding factor. Yes, if I were an attacking Afghani carrying a knife and a gun, threatening your life and the lives in your unit, you'd defeat me. If you and I fought now, today, I would win."
"Okay. And this deciding factor would be?"
"You have the strength and training to snap the bones of my arm in your hands, or of my calf with a kick; you could rupture my organs; you could drive shards of broken bone into my brain, put out my eyes, break my back, break my neck."
"Jesus, Sherlock," John whispered.
"Theoretically. But clearly, in a real fight you would do none of those things. So in a real fight, I would win."
Beside Greg, John took a long breath. Christ, that man could take a lot. Greg wanted to shout at Sherlock, but god knew it wouldn't help, and anyway he ignored all attempts at correction, unless it came from John.
"I did tell you, John," Sally said. Greg wished she could just stay outside the perimeter on this one, but otherwise he supposed they'd all be stuck waiting round in silence until Sherlock said something worse.
"Yeah, you did," John agreed in a tired voice.
Sherlock's head snapped round to stare at John. The expression sat oddly on his face, something like unnerved, maybe uncertain, even worried. "Told you what?"
"Crosses the line a bit, Sherlock," Greg said, trying to take John's quiet approach.
"It's fine," John said, still sounding tired.
"Don't be elliptic!" Sherlock complained. "What did she tell you?"
"Same thing you just told him," Sally said, acid voiced. "That you're a sick bastard, and one day you'd probably kill him."
Sherlock turned in the seat, not just his head but twisting beneath the safety belt so that he was awkwardly facing back over the seat to look at John. "I didn't say that," he protested.
"It's fine," John repeated. And then, putting a bit of effort into it, leaving his feelings behind, "Don't worry about it, Sherlock."
"But that isn't what I said! I said that in theory John could beat me by killing or maiming me, but in practice -- "
"You'd win, because he wouldn't and you would," Sally finished.
"No, no, no, no, no!" Sherlock shouted, edging into a full tantrum, which was bizarre to watch done within the confines of a safety belt instead of with a room to pace round in. He pounded a fist against the side of the seat. "That is not what I said. That was an idiotic inference made by you. The actions John could take to decisively defeat me all require serious injury or death. My martial arts training and longer reach give me various options to immobilise or incapacitate John without any long-term damage."
"Well it sounded -- " Sally started, a bit more subdued.
"Only to an idiot who has paid no attention whatsoever," Sherlock snapped viciously.
He focused on John, practically crawling over the back of the seat. "That's what you thought. Knowing me, as you do, that's the conclusion you came to, that I was saying I'd willingly maim you."
"Sherlock -- " John said.
"You're a cretin," Sherlock sneered in his face, and with an eel-like twist was sitting forward again, arms crossed over his chest, glaring forward and looking more than ever like something off the cover of a gothic novel.
"I'm -- look, sorry, Sherlock," John said. Poor bloke simply couldn't win, spun round in five seconds from hurt to shamed and guilty.
"Shut up," snapped Sherlock.
For a while they all did. They overtook an estate car full of crusty-looking teens visibly sharing a joint round, and Greg deliberately looked out John's window instead and watched the oversized wheels of a Sainsbury's Lorry spinning, grey with mud, until they'd passed them by.
Sally ended up driving the full first lap, until, now full night, they'd looped back to Cobham, following a rust-coloured Audi with a spiderweb crack across its rear window into the lot. Sally liked to drive, really, and she also probably knew that without the road to distract her, she was going to get even more annoyed with Sherlock even faster.
When they'd decided to make the changeover, they'd called Violet on her bluetooth. She'd stopped too, and was at one of the yellow Shell pumps, as they were, but they weren't giving any sign they knew each other, in case the whole circus was actually going to kick off sometime.
While Sally topped up the petrol, Greg went to piss out his coffees. He gave serious consideration to getting yet one more, but decided it would do more harm than good. When he came out, the car was parked with the windows down and Sally gone from the front. Sherlock was twisted around in his seat, talking to John, as ever.
Greg knew it was impolite and wrong and often personally damaging to eavesdrop, but he was a copper, which was to say nosy by temperament, habit, and profession.
"-- and if you don't know that --" Sherlock was saying angrily.
"Idiot, yeah. No, Sherlock, I didn't know. For one thing I'd never have come up with something like that. Ta for the image; I'll be weeks with that spinning round in my head."
Greg was very thankful he hadn't come within earshot any earlier. Ambiguity covered a variety of sins he really didn't want to know about. You let yourself spend too much time on Planet Sherlock, it did your head in-- case in point: John Watson.
"I was providing the necessary level of detail to make things clear."
"Okay. I just-- didn't realise that was the way-- that you... thought like that."
"You have the observational acuity of a root vegetable," Sherlock said darkly.
John cleared his throat slightly. "Right, Sherlock? Did you just say I had eyes like a potato?"
"What?" Sherlock asked. It was the voice he used when he thought everyone was spouting incomprehensible inanities just to spite him.
John's voice had a grin in it. "Yeah, that's your cover blown, Sherlock. Never heard a joke about potato eyes? Knew you'd never been a little kid. Admit it, they made you in a Swiss lab."
Greg frowned. Usually John was brilliant about what to say to Sherlock. But this was taking it a bit close to the kinds of comments Sally sometimes made.
"Human: the luxury model," John went on, "Hand-stitched this, individually machined titanium that, balanced to within a micron. Hundred-core processor and bloody petabytes of storage. Go on, admit it. Someone's won a bloody Nobel off you, I bet."
Greg shouldn't have worried. That was exactly the sort of thing to make Sherlock preen. He wouldn't care it was overblown, he reckoned that was his due.
"Petabytes?" Sherlock questioned.
"That's the biggest one, yeah? Whatever the biggest one is."
"How many petabytes? The actual storage capacity of the human brain -- "
"Oh, fucking all of them," John said, with that cheerful annoyance that seemed to be his default mode with Sherlock.
"John, I did mean it. I would -- "
"Right, describe doing that to your own lungs again, and I will be sodding sick over an official police vehicle, and I will blame you, and Lestrade will believe me."
"But I would, before I would ever -- "
"Okay, I believe you. Obviously, same goes for me. Not the lung thing because I didn't have to have pleurodesis, 'cos I'm not a bloody giraffe. Just cut me throat on a bit of rock or something instead."
"What? In your scenario -- which is fucking bonkers, by the way-- I can't cut my throat?"
"In my scenario you're not the one making the choice."
"I'm swapping it round."
"It doesn't swap round. That doesn't make sense."
"Fine, whatever. You know what I meant."
There were about twenty seconds of silence, during which Greg took the last few steps up to the side of the car and opened the driver's door. He didn't bother sneaking, nor making his steps deliberately loud, because either way, Sherlock would just know.
"John," Sherlock said as Greg settled in, "you didn't have pleurodesis, because the problem wasn't chronic, but your lung did collapse."
"Add that in next time and you'll be at seventy without technicalities," John said, sounding again like Greg's dad being indulgent about one of his little games. Most of those had been born on long car trips, as Greg remembered.
Sally came back-- probably she'd offloaded some coffee as well-- and slid into the back seat.
Greg waited to see what Sherlock would do. On the one hand, he clearly wanted to be in front. On the other, in this configuration his easiest line of sight to the back was Sally, who now didn't have to split her attention between him and the road.
"I know it goes against the grain, but you could try sitting with your legs together and let John have some of the seat," Sherlock said.
Well, that had been slightly worse than Greg was expecting, but admittedly not the worst Sherlock was capable of.
"That sort of thing is right out, Sherlock," John snapped, before Greg could say the same thing.
Totally beside how bloody inappropriate it was, the remark was completely ridiculous, considering Sherlock practically put his knees in different counties when he sat on a couch next to John Watson. It wasn't quite that Sherlock didn't believe in personal space when it came to John, it just seemed that he thought the person the space belonged to was S. Holmes. His behaviour got just slightly more antisocial than usual if anybody else got within John's personal radius.
It was their own fault, Greg reflected. There was John, with his fluffy jumper and his little face, looking like he ought to be presenting children's telly. And there was Sherlock, brittle and spiky and expensive-looking. The one looked cuddly and the other looked untouchable, and so strangers came up and touched John and nobody much ever touched Sherlock.
Only it was all backwards, because John was the one who actually winced sometimes at accidental contact, and Sherlock was the one who'd lean on your shoulder and reach into your pockets if he thought he could get away with it. Greg reckoned John had got a bit too much intimate touching through being up to his wrists inside people's guts. There was no need to speculate on how Sherlock had ended up so touch-starved -- he'd just been himself and people had shied away in droves.
"What was it you were saying the other day," Sally said sweetly to John, "him not being a complete misogynistic twat?"
"Not misogyny," John sighed. "Trust me, he is a twat at all times and to all people. He is the fucking king of Inclusive Twattery."
"Sherlock," Greg warned, "one more remark like that, and we will leave you here, and you can see how far you get on this case on foot." John could call it what he liked, and Sherlock would probably say he was just using the most effective weapon for the specific target, but Greg reckoned Sherlock was no different about this than the little scumbags who'd start calling Sally slag and whore in the interview room as soon as she pressed them. He did it in a posher sphere, maybe, but it was the same thing-- go after a woman by talking about sex.
"I'll get a taxi," Sherlock declared, airily.
"You won't have the wire." Or, he did not say, John Watson's company.
"She was crowding John, deliberately."
"She's been driving three hours," John said, "she stretched her legs, it isn't a crime. It's a big enough fucking car, Sherlock."
"You wouldn't leave me behind."
"Right, no, I won't. One more shitty remark, though, and swear to fuck I will put you in the boot and tape your mouth shut. And you know I will do that." Greg carefully didn't think about the way his tone implied he'd done it before. John was living on Planet Sherlock now and didn't always remember how Earth people behaved.
Sherlock considered this. "Fine," he said at last. Then, with a sneer in his voice, "I apologise for the offense, Sally." After that he stared sulkily out the front windscreen, arms crossed on his chest.
"Yeah, that wasn't a bit insincere," Sally said.
"Better than expected, actually," John confessed.
Greg sighed. They were back on the road now. Second time round, moving a bit faster, but fuck, this had been boring enough on the first circuit. He let a struggling 2CV widen the gap between him and Violet's bike. The trees by the roadside were just shadows -- if someone really was after Violet, he supposed they could have pulled off into that, ready to speed out after her. You'd have to be mad to try it, but some people were mad.
For instance, anyone who'd agreed to an overnight on the world's worst ring road with Sherlock and Sally in the same car.
Sally had taken her bag round to the back with her, and Greg heard her behind him settling things, and a brief roar of wheels as she checked the wire receiver and then switched it to silent again.
"Is that the casefile?" Sherlock demanded. "Lestrade, she's not even read the casefile yet." He sounded like a swotty fifth former trying to get a classmate in trouble with the teacher.
"I wasn't going to read it while I was driving, was I?” Sally said, "That's your idea of road safety, I suppose."
"Is this how the Met does business, Lestrade, not even becoming familiar with the case -- "
"Why don't you tell her all about it then," John broke in quietly.
Greg had known Sherlock pre-John, and the man had always been an ostentatious sod. But in those days he'd delivered his showy rapid-fire explanations to Greg in short bursts, always with a certain confrontational defiance, daring anyone to question him.
But in John Watson Sherlock had found a man who admired Sherlock nearly as much as Sherlock did. And was willing to be blatant about it. In front of witnesses.
Almost immediately, Sherlock's investigations gained running monologues delivered to John. He paraded. He positively strutted. It started to feel like a mating display -- Sherlock offering John crime scenes like the world's creepiest bower bird.
Apparently, though, he was annoyed enough at Sally at the moment for that to outweigh everything else. "I'm not going to do Sally's homework for her," Sherlock snarled.
Greg, trying not to let a dirty yellow DeWalt lorry break his sightline to Violet, clenched his jaw. Why did the two of them have to do this posturing dance every single time?
"Right," John said, "because you'd hate having another go at showing off how fucking brilliant you are."
"Don't do me any favours," Sally said. "I'd rather read it."
Greg sighed silently. It took about ten minutes before he heard her blow out an annoyed breath. "Guv, this file -- "
"But it's only got -- "
"I know. But mostly it's been Sherlock and -- "
"And I wasn't around to see things got written up properly. Christ, if it was up to you, you'd wait for John's bloody blog and crib off that, wouldn't you?"
"It wasn't even technically our case until I had it out with Gregson last night." He slowed to let a minicab cross through his lane and off to the left.
"Would you like someone knowledgeable to fill you in?" Sherlock asked with painfully false sweetness.
"Christ," Sally said, with an angry sigh. "Right, go on then. This ought to be good value."
"Three days ago," Sherlock began, Violet Smith came to see me."
"Yeah, and thank god," John put in.
Sherlock twisted round to glare.
"What?" Sally asked.
"He'd just finished off a case for this bloke, Vincent Harden. Nice guy, but chain smoker," John explained. "Just one after another after another-- Sherlock was climbing the walls."
"Ooh, needed a little ciggie-wiggy to get through, did you?" Sally asked.
"Sally," Greg said. This wasn't an area where he reckoned he had anything over Sherlock.
"You kicked it. Not so much as a sniff, guv, in three years. And yet bloody genius boy here can't manage it."
"Please spare me the thought of you sniffing Lestrade," Sherlock said.
"Shut it, Sherlock," Greg put in. That line of insult got shut down every time it came up. He and Sally weren't like that.
There was attraction there, yeah. Sally Donovan was one of the best looking women on the force, hell, in all of London. All right, quite possibly on the globe. He'd have had to be dead not to be attracted to her.
But that wasn't how things went. He was the DI, she was his sergeant.
He'd made a point of kissing her, a quick peck on the lips, the first Christmas party after they'd met, insurance against the first time it happened when they were drunk or upset or something. So it was just something that had happened a few times, never unique or important enough to trip them up beyond a few awkward hours the next day.
It wasn't about sex, for them. It wasn't that kind of relationship. It was less and it was more. He'd never put his cock in her, but one night a year ago he'd held her blood in by main force for ten minutes, and then spent the rest of the night sitting in a plastic hospital chair, and been the one who called her mother, and been the one who drove her home and tucked her into bed and been the one who checked she was taking her pain meds until she was healed up. They'd never been on a date, but they'd eaten off each other's plates and she was the one whose shoulder he'd broken down on when he'd realised his marriage was falling apart. He'd have to have looked up her birthday, but there wasn't a takeaway in London where he couldn't pick out what she'd want him to pick up for dinner.
Their lives didn't exactly revolve around each other, but they at least were both circling the same point, some half-idealist, half-cynical thing called The Job, that was made of Justice and Peace and Getting Paid For It. They were living on the same planet.
"As John says," Sherlock said testily, "I'd just finished a case. Violet Smith's cousin -- "
"That's Charlene Carruthers," Sally said.
"Oh, your casefile at least had that much information, did it?"
"Says she was found in the trees behind Clacket Lane Services. Strangled."
"Which one of your colleagues told Violet was almost certainly the work of Charlene's drug dealer. Based on the evidence that she had ridden there on a motorcycle."
"That was Hopper, yeah?" Sally said, dismissively. "He's a twat. Not in your class, obviously."
"He's a bit old fashioned -- " Greg started.
"When I made sergeant, he asked me if I thought I'd be able to be objective about cases with black women in them."
"What did you say?" John asked.
"I said no, so I'd let him arrest the black women, and I'd take over all the cases with white men, since he obviously couldn't be objective about those."
"Yep," Greg said, nostalgically, eyes on a Mercedes weaving a bit while the driver yelled into his mobile, "First complaint I ever got about you."
"So, she told you her cousin wasn't a junkie."
"She knew her cousin well," Sherlock said. "And I'd met Hopper, so I knew to question his conclusions even more than the usual flounderings of the police."
"Ta," Greg put in, knowing it wouldn't even break Sherlock's flow.
"Charlene had called Violet shortly before she died. In fact, the attack may have been what ended the call. Hard to tell; very bad connection -- "
"Right," said Sally, and Greg heard pages turning, "She said, 'I can't believe -- all this time -- his beard -- talk to that -- ' That's it?"
"Yes. The next night, someone in a car tried to run Violet off the road between junction 5 and junction 6. She didn't see the car properly, and Hopper dismissed it as just a bad driver and Violet distracted with grief. He was busy looking for a drug dealer with a beard, refusing to listen to any of the pertinent details of the situation."
"Basic background should be in the file: Charlene's stepfather, Bob Carruthers, teaches Chemistry, has done since back when the North London campus was the Polytechnic. Met Charlene's mother through mutual interest in motorcycles, married in 1994. Adopted Charlene and raised her as his own. Charlene wasn't seeing anyone, and her only close friend was her cousin Violet, who is engaged to a successful engineer named Cyril. Only change to the household recently: some students Carruthers started bringing round frequently. Carruthers disappeared the day after he learned of his step-daughter's death. His wife found, after he'd left, that he'd taken several large sums out of their accounts over the past months."
There was a moment's silence. "Right," said Sally. "So what's all that got to do with anything?" Greg gave her full marks for effort, she was trying to be patient and actually hear Sherlock out.
Sherlock paused, and Greg realised he was -- probably in deference to John's threat more than Greg's (certainly in no way because he was trying to be a decent bloke) -- censoring his first comment. Effort there as well, believe it or not. "Perhaps you'd see it with a bit more of the detail filled in. John."
"What, you want me to -- yeah, fine." John clearly saw that Sherlock wasn't going to keep himself on good behaviour without help. "So, these students Carruthers used to bring round. Young, good looking blokes. Jack Woodley, Victor Williamson Violet reckoned maybe he was trying to fix them up with Charlene, but they showed no interest. In fact, the girls didn't like them at all."
"They were 'creepy,'" Sherlock commented.
Greg wondered if John would have called Violet Smith a girl to her face. Greg himself wouldn't have risked it.
"Right," John went on, "so, things in the household getting strained. Carruthers acting oddly. Woodley and Williamson spending loads of time round the house. Charlene had complained about it that to Violet."
"Did one of them have a beard?" Sally asked.
Sherlock groaned and put his fingers into his hair. Greg reckoned there was a lot of work and product and probably a hot iron went into that hair, but vain as Sherlock was, when he got proper outraged by the stupidity of other people, he didn't mind wrecking it. "No, no, no, no, no."
"All right, all right, don't throw a wobbly, freak," Sally said. "I'm not seeing it, so you might as well tell me so you can have your little crow about how clever you are. Same as every bloody time."
"Carruthers brought these two students home, attractive young men. At the same time, he was losing large sums somewhere. Carruthers was devastated by his step-daughter's death, and since then has disappeared. Charlene called her cousin in tears and said his beard. How can this not be obvious to you?"
"What, did Carruthers have a beard?" Sally asked. Greg smiled ruefully to himself. He'd said more or less the same thing when Sherlock had gone through this with him.
You sat there, rotating the thing every which way, trying to figure out how Sherlock was looking at it to see what he saw. But every time it ended up going the same way, with Sherlock finally flipping the whole thing over then you felt like an idiot for not seeing it in the first place.
"Yes!" Sherlock bellowed.
"So Carruthers killed her?"
Sherlock sighed. "Think, Sally. Think!"
"She called her cousin in tears, describing someone -- "
"Not describing! She said his beard. Is that what you'd say, describing someone? Not unless you wanted to say his beard was bright pink or there were weasels in his beard. I mean, really. If she was saying his beard -- " He raised his hand, apparently in the belief that he could pull the right answer out of someone if only he gestured emphatically enough.
"Wrong sort of beard," John put in, sotto voce, just as he had for Greg's benefit the day before. He never seemed to get tired of this sort of thing.
"You mean-- oh, wait... a beard. You mean-- what? Carruthers is gay?"
"Had an affair with either Jack Woodley or Victor Williamson. Possibly both but I doubt it."
"Charlene saw them together," Sally said.
"And was devastated to realise that his marriage to her mother was a sham, that she'd been nothing but his beard all these years."
"Now, look, there's such a thing as a bisexual, you know," Sally protested. "Just because -- "
Sherlock flapped his hands, waving this off. "Charlene was shocked and betrayed. She wasn't thinking through the complexities of human sexuality, she saw that the man she thought of as her father was a liar. And whatever his actual preferences, he had been unfaithful. That would have been more than enough to destroy the family. The fact that it was a man made it more of a shock, so that's what she focused on at the time."
"So why don't you think he did it -- Carruthers?"
"She was his stepdaughter -- he thought of her as his daughter. He wouldn't have killed her. And if he had, he wouldn't have dumped her the way she was dumped, in the trees behind a Waitrose."
"So you reckon it was the student, the one he'd had the affair with."
"The one who was blackmailing him -- the missing money."
"So, what, this student murdered her so he could go on blackmailing Carruthers? That's mental."
"I think this man is very mentally unstable."
"You'll be able to profile the hell out of him then, yeah? Just on your wavelength."
"I'd thought you could provide some excellent insight, Sally: the mental state of the third party in an act of marital infidelity."
"Sod off, freak," Sally said.
"Sort of earned that one, though," John said quietly.
Greg didn't agree, but refereeing fights between Sally and Sherlock had lost its interest after a few dozen repetitions. Sally's opinion on Sherlock's mental health didn't need reiteration every five minutes, whatever she thought. And Sherlock's ideas about Sally's sex life didn't need talking about even once. The thing with her and the Andersons was none of Greg's business, and he made a point of not looking out for details, but even what little he'd been unable to help finding out was loads more complex than what Sherlock seemed to think was going on. Sherlock oversimplifying people again, Greg reckoned.
"It doesn't even make sense anyway," Sally complained. "A beard? Who bothers with a beard? So he was gay, who cares?"
"I expect the polytechnic would have, when he first went to work for them. Whether he actually married in order to hide himself or not, a heterosexual relationship was certainly far better for his teaching career. And whether he is primarily attracted to men or not, cheating on his wife with a student would be bad enough. That it's a male student would hardly help either his marriage or his career. Thus the blackmail."
"He disappeared, you said. That doesn't make you think he was in on it?" Sally asked
Sherlock shook his head. "Guilt, shame. He was running away."
Sally blew out a breath of disbelief. "Well if it was the blackmailing student killed Charlene, what's the point of all this? Why would he come after Violet?"
"She was on the phone with Charlene when she died. He heard something that made him think he needed to get rid of Violet. Quite possibly something Violet didn't even hear, because of the bad connection."
"So he tried to run her off the road."
"In a car, at that point, but obviously this could be him," Sherlock said, offhand.
"What?" Greg asked, "Who?"
"Red bike," Sherlock said, and knocked his knuckles against the window. "Been about level with us since soon after we left the service station. May be following Violet, may only be coincidence, I haven't seen enough yet to tell. Could also be Carruthers. He no longer kept a bike, but used to be an enthusiast."
Sally, behind Greg, said, "I'm ringing her." After a moment. "Violet, Sally. Can you hear me? Yeah, good. Look, there's a guy on a red bike. I said -- yeah, red. Sherlock thinks he might be following. Yeah. Yeah… Still, have a look if you can. Yeah. Okay." She paused, hanging up the call. "She says to call back in ten, she'll try to get a look."
Greg could see the guy on the bike now. With the helmet and a jacket on, all Greg could tell was that it was a bloke, not particularly skinny nor fat, not obviously especially tall or short.
"If it is the uncle, wouldn't that mean he was in on it?"
Up ahead, Violet's bike slowed a little, trying to let the other bike drift into sight. Abruptly the other bike switched lanes across the front of a blue Honda, and veered off at the exit.
"That seem a little sudden?" John said.
"Don't actually have to be a killer to drive like a moron on the M25," Sally pointed out.
At a bit after midnight, they rang Violet again and arranged a stop so that Sherlock could take over from Greg. Clacket Lane would have been a bit more convenient, but Greg couldn't see making Violet go back there so soon, so he held off until Thurrock. It was late enough now that the road was as empty as it ever got-- not very-- and they were going at full speed most of the time.
Greg topped off the tank while Sherlock got out and paced out some of that endless nervous energy that only seemed to leave completely when he was between cases and gone boneless on that couch in his flat. Maybe he was looking for the mysterious other biker. Looking at the Krispy Kreme sign, Greg was starting to feel peckish, but eventually decided to give it a miss.
When Greg got back in on the passenger side, Sally snickered. "Look, guv, new victim."
John started. "Sorry, what?"
Greg looked around and saw the woman at the next car frankly staring at Sherlock.
"Not a proper victim," Greg explained to John. "S'what we used to call innocent bystanders who'd get an eyeful of Sherlock and . . . well."
"It's worst in weather like this, when he's not wearing that coat," said Sally. "Freak's got an arse like a brother."
"Like a -- " John repeated. Then, "Oh." Like Greg before him, John was, apparently, realising that for various reasons only Sally Donovan could express an opinion on this particular matter.
After another moment, Sherlock got in. "What?" he said, clearly feeling the tension of silenced laughter in the car. Then, frowning, "Shut up!"
God only knew what he thought was going on.
Greg had been in a car with Sherlock driving before, and he reckoned John must have. Sally hadn't.
"What the fuck are you doing, freak?" she demanded, as Sherlock suddenly slowed down only a moment after speeding up.
"I can't tell if he's wearing two watches, or if that's a medic -- "
"Eyes. On. The. Road. You. Twat!" John snapped. "We've talked about this. You can drive or you can deduce things about the other drivers. Stop trying to do both."
"I can do both," Sherlock groused.
Sherlock on the road would have been fine if there weren't other cars. As soon as there was anything to look at and he had control of the wheel, he'd spend the whole time trying to get a glance into everyone else's windows.
"Experimenting with other drivers by accelerating into their blind spots is right out too," John warned.
"Fine," Sherlock said through gritted teeth.
"Have you got a whip?" Sally asked John, grinning.
"Don't try to flirt, Sally," Sherlock said, "Not even John is that desperate."
"Oh, that's nice," John said. "You're making loads of friends with that, Sherlock."
Sherlock drove in silence and more or less at a steady pace for quite a while, then abruptly moved from the rightmost lane straight across to the left and braked hard. A lorry behind him blasted his horn.
"Jesus," Greg cursed, arm against the dashboard to stabilise himself.
"What the fuck?" John snapped.
"Freak!" Sally yelled.
Then, ahead, there was a terrible crunch and the rolling crash of glass breaking. The cars that had pulled so far ahead when Sherlock braked were now skidding. Two of them seemed to barely tap into each other and there was another crash of noise. Sherlock pulled even further to the side and came to a stop.
"The man in the blue Audi was on his mobile," he said quietly. "Probably fighting with his daughter. He lost track of the road."
Sally was already on her mobile, calling it in.
Greg shook his head. "What a fucking mess."
"Intelligent people have to put aside their mobiles while driving because of idiots like that," Sherlock snarled. "Some of us are perfectly capable of steering and speaking at the same time, but the law -- "
"Sherlock," John said, in a tense voice. "Can you get round this?"
Sally finished the first call. "On their way. I'm ringing Violet now."
They waited for a moment.
"Violet, this is Sergeant Donovan. Can you hear me? Yeah we're stuck -- I said we're stuck behind it. What? No, say again. Say -- okay. Yeah, got it. Got it. Be careful!" She took a deep breath. "She's okay, she was well past the accident, but she says she saw that other bike up there too."
"Damn it," Sherlock shouted, and beat the steering wheel twice with his palms before throwing himself sideways practically into Greg's lap. He pulled the dash light out and smacked it into place, starting it up, and pulled forward in a strobe of light and a scream of siren.
"Fuck," said Sally.
Greg watched out the window as Sherlock edged past the skewed cars, and the mangled mess, all shimmering crushed glass and twisted metal. The people who'd got out of their cars watched, and one took several steps towards them.
Then Sherlock, the moment the car was past, accelerated and took off down the road. In their wake, heads whipped round to watch them.
Behind Greg, John began to laugh, that funny strained high-pitched laugh of his. "The look on their faces," he said.
Greg groaned. "I'm going to be fielding complaints about this for the rest of my life."
"You mean, I am," Sally corrected.
"Shut up!" Sherlock snapped. "Do you see her?"
Then there was the softened roar as Sally brought up the sound on Violet's wire.
Greg already had his eyes fixed on the empty road ahead. "Nothing."
A minute later, Violet said, over the noise, "All right, what's this fucker do-- " and then the noise from the wire went violent and confused. Violet screamed.
"Everyone shut up," Sherlock said, unnecessarily. They were all straining to hear.
Greg looked back at Sally, whose eyes were fixed on the receiver. He supposed this wasn't actually the worst nightmare for them -- for people like him, and Sally. It might be worse to have to see it, to still be stuck like this, unable to act, unable to do anything to help, but have to actually see it happening.
Then again, maybe this was worse, hearing it, imagining it but not knowing.
Either way, he reckoned Sherlock had it better than they did. Sherlock probably wasn't wondering. Sherlock probably had a little mental table somewhere in his head, all the parts of the body mapped to the percussive sounds they made when struck with a fist, with a boot, with a brick, with pavement or the side of a car. Inside that overbright brain of his, Sherlock probably was seeing it perfectly clearly. But Sherlock didn't care.
Or, no, not quite fair, that. Sherlock didn't like seeing people hurt, and every now and again you could tell it actually bothered him. At least a bit. Some people, anyway. It helped -- or maybe helped wasn't the word for it -- if it was someone he knew, who'd shown some admiration -- if there was anything Sherlock appreciated in a person, it was them appreciating Sherlock.
A man's voice said, "Get up!" and then something garbled that clarified into "---king bitch, get in!" at the end. Probably that had meant he was closer to the mic, which meant closer to Violet.
"Get off me, Jack Woodley, you creep," Violet said. "I don't want to go in your fucking grey Mazda. Get the hell off me."
"Good girl," Sally muttered, "keep it up."
Violet went one better, gave a sudden angry yell and there was one of those sounds Sherlock probably could see clearly, someone getting hit, and a man shouted in pain.
"LE57AR--" Violet said, quite clearly, and then grunted and there were sounds of struggle.
"Why -- are you wearing a fucking -- let me -- " and the sound cut off. He'd found the wire.
"Fuck this," said John.
"Damn it," Sherlock muttered, and accelerated.
"Ballsy," said Sally, "trying to get us that plate."
"Might have done better to run," said John.
"Wiping out on a bike like that, might have been in no shape," Greg put in.
Quietly, Sally called in the partial plate.
For once, Sherlock didn't say anything. He just drove, face tight and grim. This was Sherlock caring, Greg supposed. Even if it was only caring about whether he came out on the winning side.
They went under an overpass and when he could see the verge again -- "There!" Greg yelled. "Bike, there, by the road."
Sherlock swerved to the verge and the headlights lit up someone on a bike just where the road started to split off to another exit.
"That's not her," Sally said.
It wasn't. It was a bloke on a red bike, facing back up the road.
"Carruthers," Sherlock said, and jumped out of the car. The rest of them were right behind.
"Police!" Greg yelled. "Step away from the bike, hands in the air."
As the man did, dropping his helmet, Sherlock kicked at a second bike, on its side in the grass. It was Violet's.
"Where's Violet?" Sherlock demanded. "Your niece, Carruthers, where is she?"
"I don't know!" the man groaned. "I was following, then I lost her. I turned round and came back and found her bike."
Sherlock put his hands to his forehead, the way he did when he was about to spout some detail of the local geography. "Moss Lane, then Hotel -- Ashton. KFC, Mexican Restaurant, bowling alley --"
"Jack's flatmate," Carruthers cried, "Charlie-- he works at a bowling alley."
"It'll be closed by now, might go for it if they can get in," Sherlock said, pointing forward, and Greg could just see a little set of concrete steps leading from the side of the exit into the trees, and above the trees the side of a building, probably the hotel.
Sherlock took off, long legs flying, and Greg followed. He knew Sally would keep her eye on Carruthers, who was running along too. He spared a thought to worry whether they wouldn't have been better taking the exit in the car, but Sherlock's mental maps were nearly always right.
They crossed the lot behind the hotel at full tilt, and followed Sherlock's swerve to the left to continue into the big mostly-empty lot of the Hollywood Bowl, barely lit now.
A grey Mazda turned into the lot from the road at the far end and swerved wildly as it turned into the space behind the big building. The car had taken the exit and gone round the long way -- their shortcut from the road had got them there nearly in time.
Sherlock and John had pulled ahead, and by the time Greg rounded the corner of the building he saw they were at the car.
Someone was yelling -- Greg thought it sounded like Violet Smith with somebody trying to cover her mouth.
Two people fell out of the passenger side of the car in a rolling heap. John and Sherlock both jumped forward into the mess, and then John was trying to pull Violet to safety while she was apparently attempting to get in few kicks with her big motorcycle boots.
A shot echoed through the parking lot.
Greg briefly wondered if John was, at this point, just trying to get himself arrested. Then he realised it hadn't been John.
Carruthers walked forward, nearly stumbling, gun in his hand, Sally shadowing a few paces behind. The first shot had been into the air, it seemed. Now he was pointing at the man on the ground. "Jack, you son of a bitch! You killed my baby!"
Sherlock backed off a few steps, and Greg got his first sight of Jack Woodley. He was a big bloke with gingery brown hair, standing with his back against the side of the car. Probably good looking, though his face was a bit banged up now, after his struggle with Violet. "Give it up, Bob," he said, grinning, "you'd never do it. Not after all those times -- "
"Shut up, you sick fuck!" Carruthers snarled at him.
John stepped up to him, calm-looking, hand out. "Give me the gun, Mr. Carruthers."
Greg shook his head. Why the hell did he ever let these maniacs within a five-mile radius of anything dangerous?
"He killed my Charlene. He killed my little girl," Carruthers said, voice breaking. He seemed about to fall over. John reached for the gun.
It went off, and Woodley screamed.
"Fuck!" said -- well, said nearly everyone, Greg included. Sally and John together had already tackled Carruthers to the ground by the time Greg reached them, and soon they had the gun out of his hand.
Once he and Sally had Carruthers cuffed, Greg looked up to see that John had gone back and was bent over Woodley, trying to hold off the blood.
"Let him die John," Violet yelled. "He fucking deserves it! He killed our Charlie!"
Sherlock put a hand on her arm, though he didn't turn his gaze away from watching John work. "Yes, " Sherlock said, all the weight of that deep public school voice making the words sound like the pronouncements of god himself. "He killed her, and he will go to prison. Should your uncle go to prison as well, for murder? Does he deserve it, for the affair, for bringing Jack Woodley into your family's lives?"
"Is he going to die?" she demanded.
"Nah," said John. "Straight through the arm." Everyone else Greg knew who'd been shot, himself included, rolled their eyes when people in films dismissed anything as a flesh wound. Bullets were designed to do a lot of damage.
But John Watson, whose scar was pretty fucking spectacular -- he could be persuaded to peel aside his shirt and show it if he were reasonably drunk -- sometimes got dismissive about other people's bullet wounds. Only after he'd patched them up, though.
Violet, limping badly, walked up to where Carruthers stood. Sally kept her hand on his shoulder, but was talking into her mobile, calling this one in too. He looked dazed and lost -- shocky.
"Explain this to me, uncle Bobby," Violet demanded. "How could you-- how-- "
Carruthers' head drooped. He shook it slowly left to right, then right to left, two totally separate motions, as if he'd forgotten how to work things properly. "Vi-- " he whispered.
Violet just stood in front of her uncle, head up. The only light was from the car headlights, but Greg could see the red patches on her face where she'd been hit. She didn't look down or aside or cover her face as tears streamed down.
"The driver's made a break for it," Sherlock announced.
"Busy here," John said calmly. "Get him yourself."
"You've stopped the bleeding," Sherlock wheedled.
"Yeah, you're not busy. I'm seeing this bastard doesn't get away." Woodley kept grunting in pain as John pressed on an improvised bandage on his shoulder. Sherlock produced a pair of cuffs from his pocket and swung them into John's reach. "Police issue," he assured Greg.
Greg groaned and walked over to Carruthers. "Take care of that one," he said to Sally, gesturing, once he had a solid grip on Carruthers' other shoulder.
Sally went over and snatched the cuffs out of Sherlock's hand. She picked up Woodley's arm on the uninjured side and cuffed him to the car door handle.
Sherlock looked down at John. John looked up at Sherlock. They both grinned, and took off running toward the treeline at the edge of the carpark.
The two twats were having fun. Here was a family in fucking pieces, and those two were like a couple of dogs having a good night out running round chasing rabbits.
He expected it of Sherlock, and it was true that since the advent of John Watson Sherlock had become a lot more manageable. Sometimes Greg suspected John was giving Sherlock marks out of ten, and Sherlock knew he was being docked a full point every time he made a witness cry. But making Sherlock less than a social disaster was as far as it went. It kept taking Greg by surprise that John, behind the grandfatherly jumpers and the agreeable manners, could be quite a hard bastard himself. Maybe it came of being a soldier.
Or, probably, it was just living on Planet Sherlock, where case after case came around, first the clues, then Sherlock being brilliant, then the chase, and then it was done and John wrote it up -- another success. It was just the same runaround to the two of them, over and over, and the people-- the victims and the witnesses and the culprits-- those were just changes in the scenery going by out the windows, more or less interchangeable.
Sherlock helped, and you couldn't argue that away. Some cases were so mad they only made sense on Planet Sherlock. And sometimes a case was so murky you needed Sherlock flashing across the sky to light things up again, however much trouble he was along the way.
But it was hard sometimes, watching those two treat real people's tragedies in the real world like a day at the circus.
John and Sherlock returned dragging a sheepish-looking lad just about the time the ambulance showed up. John glanced to see Sherlock had a good grip on the boy's arm, then ran to talk to the paramedics, reeling off information fast and confident. He'd let Sherlock treat him like an idiot, but when it came to medicine, John clearly assumed he spoke with the voice of the almighty and no one would dare question him.
Sherlock dragged the boy up to Greg. "Agreed to drive because he knows his flatmate's dangerously disturbed. Too stupid to be told what it was all about."
That put them at three prisoners and technically only two officers, and their car still left back on the verge of the main road. Luckily Woodley was mostly out of it. And at the sight of his flatmate bloody and surrounded by doctors, the new kid, who gave his name as Charlie Hall, looked so piss-scared Greg was pretty sure he'd be on his best behaviour. Greg got out his own cuffs and put them on Hall, just in case he had a funny turn and decided to do something stupid.
Luckily it was only another minute or two before the first police car showed up, and Greg could turn over his prisoners and send Sally back for their own car.
He sent one of the newly arrived constables in the ambulance with Woodley, and put Carruthers in the squad car to be got out of there before he tried to kill anyone else or went completely catatonic. He wasn't about to put Hall into the car with him, so they had to wait for another.
Meantime, John had been checking over Violet Smith, whose face was going to be a spectacular set of colours for the next little while. Sherlock had been making a circuit round Hall's car, getting god only knew what kind of clues out of the tyre treads and the lock on the boot, but then he marched up to John and stopped in front of him.
Other people just stopped walking, but Sherlock somehow made that last step, the way he put his foot down, dramatic. He stopped with a flourish. Like a lot of things Sherlock did, it rode just on the edge between impressive and ludicrous. It looked good, but he might as well have had Everyone Look At ME tattooed on his forehead.
He'd put a bit extra into it this time, even. His chin snapping up, his shoe -- which was black, expensive-looking, and weirdly polished and shiny for something that had just gone for a run through the trees -- coming down with a showy snap. As intended, it made John turn and look.
John had been smiling at Violet, and then he turned and saw Sherlock and his expression changed entirely, but into another, completely different smile. There were times Greg really did worry that he was looking straight at Stockholm Syndrome and not seeing it.
"All right?" Sherlock demanded.
"Yep," John said. "Rather you didn't take the bike home," he told Violet, "You've got a bump here," He hovered his hand an inch from the side of her head. He had to reach up a good ways to do it -- next to John, Violet looked more than ever like some kind of amazon.
Luckily, Sally pulled their car in just then, and Greg could put the mess of logistics into her hands. By the time the second car had showed up for Hall, they'd arranged to have both Violet's and Carruthers' bikes taken care of and Violet had agreed to accept a ride home with them.
Sally drove again for the last leg. Greg had been expecting a fight with Sherlock about the front seat, but Sherlock turned out to be the first to insist Violet take it. Maybe giving up a seat to an injured woman was some kind of posh manners thing that had been drilled in so deep even Sherlock's natural rudeness didn't come through.
So John sat in the middle of the back seat, with Sherlock on one side and Greg on the other. It was five in the morning by the time they got back onto the motorway. Just in time to catch the early end of the next rush hour. Three white vans in a row passed them on one side, followed by a blue articulated lorry half-covered in graffiti.
"So, the two of you, running off after that kid," Sally said.
"Yes?" Sherlock asked, haughtily.
"Could've had a gun. Could've done anything. D'you two already have adjacent burial plots picked out or what?"
Before Sherlock could snap back, John chuckled. "Way we muck about, when we go they won't be able to tell which bits are mine and which are his anyway; they'll just stick them all in the same matchbox."
That, oddly enough, not only made Sally snort and then focus on the road, but shut Sherlock up as well. He stared at John for a long moment, looking as if he had something to say, and then put up his mobile in front of his face, thumbing briskly. Probably looking for a new case.
John started yawning within a few minutes. He'd had all the energy in the world when there had been guns and patients and someone to chase about after -- oh, and Greg was unbelievably grateful that John had shown absolutely no sign that night of having brought along that gun of his Greg was pretending not to know about. But now the tiredness he'd started the evening complaining about seemed to have caught up.
Before long his head drooped forward, and the first time they went round a curve, he slowly tilted sideways until his head touched down on the side of Greg's arm.
Sherlock looked over at them, frowning slightly. Greg popped up his eyebrows in a sort of facial shrug that wouldn't disturb John. He'd been slept on before. Worst it ever did was cut off a bit of circulation. Police work was a lot of late nights with people who already lived on coffee and their nerves. He just hoped Sherlock wasn't going to throw a wobbly over this.
Sherlock just raised his own eyebrows and went back to his phone, sighing silently, as if saddened by the frailty of mere mortals.
When Sally had to brake -- morning traffic was starting to pile up now -- John's head snapped up and he blinked in confusion.
Then he turned his head and looked at Greg. His mouth opened. His eyes shut. He clapped his hand to his face. "Christ, I am so sorry. Fuck."
Greg grinned. "It's fine. You only drooled a bit."
John thumped Greg's shoulder, clearly too embarrassed to take a joke. "God, seriously, Greg. Sorry about that."
"Not a problem," Greg said. Maybe this came of so many people teasing John about his supposed relationship with Sherlock, or maybe tough little soldiers had to be extra-careful about safeguarding their masculinity.
"Oh bloody perfect," Sally said, as they slowed to a full halt. Everything in front of them was red with tail-lights. "Another accident, you reckon?"
"We could call, find out what's going on," Greg said with a shrug. In the next lane was a red convertible, just the kind of thing he'd always wished for. Just the kind of thing he was never, ever going to afford.
"Yes, how useful, to know exactly what sort of accident has halted morning traffic this time. That will make it move much faster," Sherlock said.
"You, not curious about something," Sally said. "You feeling well, freak?"
"By definition, I have no interest in the profoundly uninteresting," Sherlock said, all pride and public school.
"I wouldn't mind knowing," John said. "If it's just someone run off the road, we'll be moving again soon, if it's four cars and a construction supply truck's shed its load, we might as well turn off the engine and settle here."
"Oh god," Violet said, and tried to curl up in the seat. She was too tall for it, but ended up resting her cheek on the window.
Ten minutes later they'd progressed a few feet and John had nodded off again. Slowly he began to tip Greg-wards.
Sherlock caught Greg's eye, raised a hand and made a pushing motion towards himself. Greg raised his eyebrows sceptically. Sherlock shrugged.
So Greg pushed gently against John's arm until he was tilting the other way. By slow stages he drooped further until his face was pushed up against Sherlock's arm.
"Aw, bless," Sally said with quiet glee.
Sherlock mouthed "Shut up!" at her in the rear view mirror.
It took another ten minutes before they started moving again, and Greg was thinking about slumping down against the door and trying to get some kip himself. He glanced at Sherlock, who was looking down at John's head on his shoulder.
Quickly Greg turned away again, and stared out the window at a white Skoda.
Well. Poor bastard.
It took them the better part of another hour before they were done with the M25, and then a bit longer before they finally let Violet off in front of her boyfriend's house in Borehamwood. She'd called ahead, and he was waiting at the door as they pulled up. He was a big bloke with a ginger beard and glasses. Sherlock had said his name was, what? Cyril? He didn't look like a Cyril to Greg. Probably remembering wrong.
When Violet got out of the car the guy came running. "Fuck, Vi, what happened?" he demanded, and then just held her, standing in the open car door.
Greg was glad they were leaving her with somebody who cared. Every case meant blundering into somebody's own little world, learning what they did and what they loved, learning as much as their best friends and their family knew, or more, sometimes. You did your best for them. And, some cases, you knew that when you'd gone, that was it, you were leaving someone alone with the hurt or the guilt or the pain. You had to go anyway, because it wasn't your hurt or your guilt or your pain, and you couldn't make it yours and still do the job.
And that wasn't the same thing as hurtling by on Planet Sherlock, all go and all fun and all forgotten by the next day. It wasn't the same, and Greg knew the difference, even if it would have been hard to see from the outside.
Greg got out of the car, grateful to unbend.
"John," Sherlock said, inside, "we're here."
After a moment John groaned. "Oh christ, Sherlock," he scolded, "you should've given me a shove."
"You're always going on at me to let you sleep," Sherlock said coolly.
"Oh for -- " John gave it up.
"I've texted for a cab home from here," Sherlock declared. "Call tomorrow, if there's anything left you need clearing up, Lestrade."
He got out, and John followed, stretching and yawning hugely.
Violet turned round, her boyfriend keeping a hand on her shoulder. "Good night. Thank you," she said.
Then she abruptly lunged forward and hugged John. "Thanks. I'm still mad as fuck at you, but --" she nodded at Sherlock, "Yeah, you were right. So, thanks. For saving my uncle."
Sherlock's expression had gone from bored smugness to offended annoyance at seeing John handled.
"Time to go, John," he announced, gesturing at a taxi that was still three houses up the street.
"Yeah, all right, Sherlock," John said, rolling his eyes cheerfully and stepping back from Violet. "I know, the case has been over whole minutes, and you're bored."
"You're the one who's been whinging all day about wanting to get home to bed."
"Christ," John murmured dreamily, "bed. I had a bed, me. Not seen it in ages. Pillows won't know me. Probably reckon they're orphans." Apparently sleep deprivation made John Watson go whimsical.
Sherlock's mouth twisted in a little amused smile as he ushered John into the cab. And there was that particular headache off Greg's hands until the next go-round.
Maybe John would fall asleep again before Baker Street. Maybe they'd find somebody else's tragedy to play around in, come tomorrow. Events on Planet Sherlock were, thank god, none of Greg's business.
The comet was gone. Things were always a bit murkier in the real world, but the ground would stop rumbling, and Sally would lose that pinched look. Yes, there, she was watching the cab go and visibly relaxing.
Since Sally had already arranged time later -- much later -- in the day to talk to Violet further and finish clearing all this up, Greg got in the driver's seat and Sally came round the other side and they were off again.
"Nice for some," Sally remarked. "Going home to bed."
"That's why we're the professionals," Greg said.
"Could always retire," she suggested. "Get off the force, go private."
"And be in competition with Sherlock?"
"Advertise: we take a bit longer, but we act 100% less of a cunt."
Greg snorted. "You're going in on this with me, eh?"
She yawned. "Ends of the bloody earth, guv. Can we stop for breakfast before we go in?"
"You know how much work it's going to take to write this up so we don't both get thrown off the force? I'm buying you all the breakfast you want."
Greg pulled onto the main road. With any luck the next case would be just normal people killing each other in normal ways for normal reasons. He could hope.
In the next car but one, an orange Subaru, he could see a woman singing along to something. They passed an enormous lorry with VOLVO in chrome across the front grill. In the morning light the trees were bright green and thick on the verge.