Sherlock was standing in complete darkness. The blinds in the brownstone were drawn and his eyes attempted to adjust and scope the house. He had asked Joan to bring in unusual items for him to attempt to find with his limit senses and starting at a familiar location seemed to be a good start.
Just as he reached for a slab of stone Joan probably put in as a joke, he heard quick footsteps running up to the back door. The sound was light but not precise so the person creeping was naturally small and quick, without much training in covering their sound. Then came the sound of the lock being picked sloppily.
Sherlock quietly hefted the rock and crept up to the door. Just as the door swung open, he quickly surveyed the presumed-robber’s head’s position and stuck them firmly on the jaw. The perp collapsed and Sherlock leaned down to inspect them. He had aimed simply to knock them out but the stone was rather hefty and was definitely able to break a bone if not outright kill someone.
The only light was from the back door but it was enough for Sherlock to see the other person was wearing a ski mask. He pulled off the cheap thing and checked for a pulse. It was there, steady, and their jaw appeared to be more or less intact. Well enough. He quickly turned on the closest light and went to inspect the person, woman it seemed, properly.
Slow footsteps hesitantly made their way down the stairs.
“Come on down Joan!” Sherlock called. “I have stabilized the situation. No threat for now. Or at all it seems.” He searched through the woman’s pockets but there were no weapons of any kind, just a slip of paper with directions to the house scribbled hastily and a plastic bag.
“What the hell happened?” Joan said, kneeling next to him.
“I assumed it was a robbery what with the black ski mask but if she intended to do so, she did it rather poorly. Not a single gun on her. Not even a pocket knife. She wanted to come here specifically of course, she had directions, but she didn’t want to hurt anyone. From the plastic bag and…” Sherlock pulled a white handkerchief from her back pocket, “this, we can assume she came for something in particular. Any idea what?”
“Not unless she’s interested in the old Christmas ornaments I just pulled out of storage.” Joan stood up and crossed her arms. “Should we call the police?”
“Of course not. We are the police most days.” Sherlock grabbed the robber and hefted her over his shoulder. “Find a pair of handcuffs for me, would you? Who knows how long she’ll be out? We’ll need to make sure she doesn’t run away before we can question her.”
He walked into the living room and Joan’s voice followed.
“Every day,” she said, “I am thankful that you do not actually work for the NYPD. They have a bad enough reputation as it is.”
Joan did some breathing she picked up from a short-lived yoga class that Carrie talked her into a few years back, and went to make some tea. It was kind of astonishing how making tea had gone from something she used to do to relax after a hard day at work or because she was thirsty, to something that would hopefully hold the world together for a few more minutes until more clarity or someone else showed up with a valid explanation. Now, she took two mercifully clean mugs down, thought about it, and grabbed another.
Sherlock walked in, waving the contents of their intruder’s pockets with that familiar and still somewhat disconcerting glitter in his eyes.
“Tea!” he said. “Excellent idea, Watson. Or two cups! An even better idea!”
Joan sighed, and replied: “the other mug is for our uninvited guest. I mean. I assume she’s uninvited, and you haven’t progressed to actually asking people to break into our home for the defence practice, have you?” She used the stern tone she’d been practicing to try and prevent Sherlock from doing anything from trying to recreate criminals’ explosives in the bathtub to refusing to call Gregson back.
Sherlock did the head-tilt that meant he thought Joan was being ridiculous and he wasn’t above pointing this out with an incredulously comical facial expression or five.
“You’re making tea for our intruder?” he said, dropping the evidence onto the table, momentarily disinterested. “Should I ask whether you’ll be taking muffin baskets to every murderer we successfully convict? Or perhaps I should simply point out that our mystery friend is currently unconscious.”
“I noticed that,” Joan told him, filling the kettle with fresh water. “Probably something to do with you hitting her in the face with a rock.”
“A rock that you gave me,” Sherlock reminded her, bouncing on his toes now in the fashion he did when a little frustrated; Joan had grown quite fond of that bounce, and of causing it. “Protecting my home isn’t a crime,” he added after a moment, faux-virtuous, and Joan hid her smile in a sigh, dropping teabags into mugs.
“You should seriously at least call Bell,” she said. “I don’t think handcuffing an intruder to your hall table falls under ‘protecting your home’ anymore.”
Sherlock waved an impatient hand. “You’re making her refreshments.”
“She almost certainly needs medical attention,” Joan reminded him. Sherlock responded by gesturing at her and raising significant eyebrows. Joan folded her arms. “Did you seriously just ask me to be your mob doctor?”
“Don’t be melodramatic, Watson,” Sherlock told her briskly, turning his attention once more to the handkerchief and the scribbled address now he’d apparently satisfied himself that Joan was going to help him in whatever somewhat illegal endeavour he’d decided on. Joan thought about calling Bell anyway, then reasoned that, well, her tea needed drinking and she’d keep texting him in reserve. Just in case.
“I don’t think the man who spent a month dressing up in costumes to attack me in my own home can actually label anyone else as ‘melodramatic’,” she contented herself with saying, and went to track down their first aid kit.
When Joan had returned Sherlock had deduced a few things from the unconscious woman, but decided to keep his observations to himself.
“Well Watson,” he said as she rifled through her first aid kit unnecessarily. “How have you deduced the situation so far?”
“Pretty simple I think.” She said, casually ticking off her fingers. “Attempted robbery, successful stopping of the robber, detainment and binding of the robber by the deranged resident to use in a game of his own devising.”
Of course she was going to be difficult about the simplest of things.
“Look at this, not as a game for my amusement, but an intellectual problem. A pop quiz! Your help on my cases has been invaluable but, when solving your own, your observations are generally taken over a long period of time. I wish to help that time be reduced that so you may deduce as much as possible, as quickly as possible.”
“And I understand that.” Watson tenderly felt the woman’s jaw for fractures. “I just wish you wouldn’t tie up innocent criminals in our house.”
“You see!” Sherlock couldn’t help his hands flying out and he didn’t want to. Gesticulating was part of his process. “Normally that phrase would be an oxymoron but it makes sense in this case. The woman wanted to steal something from us, something that must have been of value because she couldn’t have known it was in our possession for long before coming to take it. She makes no habit of robbing or else she would have come at a better time and been armed. Yes the house was dark but it’s only eight in the evening. We could have been coming home from dinner. Horrible time to plan a robbery. A practiced thief would know that. This woman did not. Very innocent up to the moment she picked the lock on our back door.”
“So she’s never committed a crime before? There’s a first time for everything.”
“Indeed there is. The question is why now? What did she want from us? I have a few rarities in the house that would fit within a plastic sandwich bag.”
“Wait. So you have large rarities in the house? Legally obtained I hope.”
Sherlock waved a hand at the thought. “Have you recently obtained anything that may be of value? I didn’t see anything extraordinary on your person but of course I was not expecting your groceries to lead a well-to-do young woman to a life of crime.”
Watson sighed and stood, done with her inspection for the moment. “Maybe she has the wrong address.”
“And if she doesn’t?”
“Something could’ve been hidden here without us knowing.”
Sherlock clapped his hands. “Much better! Now where would one hide something where neither of us would notice something amiss?”
“Given the usual state of the house? Anywhere.”
The front door was loudly burst open. Someone ran in only to fall with a scream steps inside the doorway.
Sherlock ran to the entrance to see another woman in all black backing herself against the wall, Clyde the tortoise on the floor in front of her.
“You are the accomplice I presume? Or more likely you are the instigator and the woman we have inside is the accomplice. You are a lot more skilled than her in this area.”
Joan came up behind him and took in the scene.
“You left Clyde out this whole time?”
“Lucky I did seeing as our second intruder has chelonaphobia. Good job Clyde on distracting her.”
The woman looked between Joan, Sherlock, and Clyde, breathing heavily.
“Where is Cathy?”
Joan carried Clyde to the terrarium she insisted that they buy and that Sherlock largely pretended didn’t exist, despite Sherlock’s insistence that their tortoise could turn out to be useful, because she was still above tormenting hapless burglars with reptiles. At least she was so far; maybe if this hadn’t become any clearer in a couple of hours she’d let Sherlock have Clyde back. For now, she gave him some extra lettuce, and quickly checked under the terrarium’s rocks just in case of… well, not knowing what she was looking for didn’t help, but there definitely weren’t any flash drives or blood diamonds there, anyway.
She got back down to the kitchen to find that Sherlock had propped presumably-Cathy up in one of the chairs, her wrists still handcuffed, and made a fresh cup of tea for their new guest. Joan contemplated having a migraine at this whole situation because there was accepting that her life would be different by moving in with Sherlock Holmes and then there was this. She’d already mentally drafted and discarded a half-dozen texts to Bell, reasonably sure that adding in asking for a friend or hypothetically was not going to cover their asses here, and Sherlock would certainly sulk for at least a week if she brought Gregson, Bell, and any other officers they felt were necessary down on their heads.
“Watson!” Sherlock said happily, “nice of you to join us again; this is Lisa, who is perhaps less of an inept burglar than Cathy, but clearly does not do her research or she would have realised that our home contains an animal that would trigger her phobia, thus jeopardising her mission.”
“She also clearly didn’t realise you were going to hit anybody with a slab of stone,” Joan muttered, picking up her own, half-cold tea and leaning against the sideboard. She wasn’t sure if Sherlock wanted her to play Good Cop/Bad Cop, or Normal Cop/Blunt-Object-Wielding Maniac Cop, but she kept near enough to the two thieves to try and present a united force with Sherlock, at the very least.
Sherlock didn’t reply to her comment, though he flicked her one of his favourite half-fond, half-annoyed looks before turning all his attention back to Lisa.
“I’d say that anyone who sent the two of you in as their agents either has a faith in your abilities that is somewhat unfounded or they intended you to get caught,” he mused, “but since that seems like none of my veritable cornucopia of adversaries, I shall instead assume that the two of you are doing this under your own authority. You are clearly here for something small and easy to transport, but your entrance through my front door, rather than through the windows of one of the rooms, implies that you don’t know the location of what you’re looking for.” He turned to Watson, eyes unnervingly alight. “This is turning into quite the scavenger hunt.”
Joan sipped her tea and said: “maybe you should ask her some actual questions; Ms Hudson won’t appreciate it if you undo all her hard work looking for something that you can’t identify.”
Sherlock clapped his hands together and turned back to Lisa, who was sitting wide-eyed and nauseous-looking at their table, hands wrapped around her untouched mug of tea. “Now,” he said, “shall we have a civilised conversation, or shall I ask my associate to bring back the tortoise?”
“Lisa?” A groggy voice came from next to them. Lisa immediately went to the awakened Cathy.
“I’m right here,” she said, cradling the woman’s face gently. “You were knocked out.”
“Did you get it?”
This would be an opportune time to let them talk amongst themselves and reveal to the whole room what it was they were looking for. However seeing as one of them was injured and handcuffed while the other was at his tortoise’s mercy, Sherlock felt he had the advantage and decided to join the conversation.
“If by ‘it’ you mean ‘caught’, then your answer is an absolute yes.”
Cathy’s eyes moved from Lisa to Sherlock. “Are you the one who took the cake?” she said.
“Cake?” Joan spoke up, surprised. “You were breaking into our house for cake?”
Of course they weren’t actually here for cake but the thought was amusing enough to play with.
“Of course!” He exclaimed, as if the solution had just come to him. “It makes sense. I, myself, am often so caught in a craving that I find myself breaking into the nearest dark house to satisfy my sweet tooth.”
Joan glared at him, hardly pleased at his antics. For his part, Sherlock was enjoying himself fully. Incompetent criminals usually bored him but seeing as his own house had played a part there was a bit of extra excitement.
“I work at the grocery store.” Lisa said. “There was a cake I had set aside and you bought it.”
“And of course,” Sherlock said, moving to the refrigerator, “what was inside the cake is the real treasure.”
He took out the plain yellow cake he had paid no mind to earlier and placed in on the table.
“Please!” Cathy pleaded. “We were going to give it back! We weren’t going to hurt anyone I swear.”
“Obviously.” Sherlock said, pulling a large knife from a drawer. “You came unarmed and your girlfriend only has a small pocket knife.”
He cut the cake in half and pulled apart the pieces to reveal a large ruby.
“No,” he said, removing it. “I suppose your plan was more for monetary gain.”
Joan tried vaguely to figure out if things like this had ever happened in her life before Sherlock - not the break-ins, of course, but she was sure she used to pick up cake on a whim and manage not to acquire a gigantic ruby in the middle of it. She looked at frosting and crumbs falling from Sherlock’s fingers as he lifted his hands to hold the ruby to the nearest light,humming a little to himself in a pleased fashion.
Since Sherlock seemed to have drifted off into that place he went when he was right about something and pleased about the whole situation, Joan felt that someone should still be asking questions to fill in some of the holes here. After all, Sherlock might want to do all of this himself, but Joan was still reserving the right to call up Gregson or Bell or maybe both of them, should she need to.
“Okay,” she said, trying to think aloud, “so someone baked a very expensive gemstone into a cake - or maybe you baked a very expensive gemstone into a cake - that you meant to take home with you. Only I managed to buy the cake instead, so something must have gone wrong.”
“Amateurs,” Sherlock interjected; Joan looked back at him to find he was still examining the ruby, one of his cake-encrusted fingers in his mouth. She rolled her eyes at him and his comment, turned her attention back to Lisa and Cathy.
“You didn’t do enough to differentiate the cake, did you?” she realised. “So I managed to buy it, and you got the wrong one - how many homes have you broken into tonight looking for cake? What if someone had already cut it and found your ruby?”
She could see now that the two women weren’t experienced criminals; they couldn’t be, not with a plan this incompetently executed, with so many variables that could go wrong even before they came into contact with Sherlock and his stone slab wielding skills.
“That’s why we had to move fast,” Cathy explained, something sheepish creeping into the edges of her anxious expression.
“I’m sure I could have come up with five better plans in the amount of time you had to think,” Sherlock mused, flicking the sticky ruby from hand to hand in a way that made Lisa flinch.
“Not everyone is you, Sherlock,” Joan reminded him sharply, adding: “you can’t keep that, you know.”
“We have to give it back!” Cathy clapped a hand to her mouth after she’d spoken, like the words weren’t supposed to burst out like that.
So the ruby was stolen. Joan had assumed that all along, because Lisa and Cathy didn’t seem like the kind of women who’d just casually have large jewels to use in baking lying around at home, but it was good to have the confirmation. It still didn’t entirely explain why they thought putting the ruby in a cake in a public supermarket was a good idea, but Sherlock was looking at Joan expectantly, like he’d figured it all out already and was willing to let her have time to deduce it herself, since no one’s life seemed to be in danger. Which, Joan had to admit, made a change.
“You baked the cake to smuggle it out of your workplace,” Joan said, watching the misery on Cathy and Lisa’s faces confirm the story. She turned to Sherlock. “Shouldn’t we be calling the police by now; what if someone else is looking for this? The last thing either of us need is to be implicated.”
“Oh someone has been looking.” Sherlock said. “For a few days now. Any longer and it will no doubt be in the papers.”
“Who told you about this?” Lisa asked, shocked.
“I apologize. I completely forgot to introduce myself. My name is Sherlock Holmes and I am a consultant for the NYPD. This particular case wasn’t handed to me as subtlety isn’t always my favourite mode of solving crimes, however when I noticed a wealthy man with bodyguards walking into the station I took it upon myself to find out his reason.” He turned to his partner. “So sorry about not informing you of this, Joan, but I knew you wouldn’t approve of my eavesdropping. This jewel belongs to Leo Hernandez. It was stolen from his hotel the day before he was planning to send it off to a jeweler to be made into a rather gaudy necklace. An heir to a fortune and he decided he wants to become some sort of hip hop star with excessive ‘bling’ and strange hair styles.”
“We didn’t take it!” Cathy interjected. “I mean, yes obviously we took it, but we didn’t do it to make money.”
“Going to frame your husband for it, were you?” Sherlock said, pointing at her still handcuffed hands. “Rookie move, attempting to break into a house without gloves, not that we wouldn’t have removed them after handcuffing you. Either way I noticed you have a tan line on your left ring finger. You’re married but are having an affair with this woman.” He gestured to Lisa, who was grinding her teeth. She clearly wanted to tell him he had it wrong, but couldn’t. “Better to lock him away than simply get a divorce?”
“Cathy has a lot of savings.” Lisa said. “She’s been planning to start her own business. If he knew about us, he’d take everything in the divorce.”
“Please.” Cathy pleaded, eyes wet. She was so fragile and scared Sherlock couldn’t understand how she had even considered such a plan. The blame for that probably went to Lisa. “If you let us go, we’ll give it back immediately.”
“While I’m sure you would, I doubt how willing your girlfriend would be.”
“We went through a lot.” Lisa said. “You’ll understand that I’m a little reluctant to give that away.”
Sherlock tilted his head to one side, expression thoughtful, and pointed out: “is going to prison together your idea of a happy ending? I can easily facilitate this for you, but I’m not sure that your sense of triumph will last. Orange is such a difficult colour to pull off, after all.”
Joan felt that Sherlock wasn’t exactly in a position to criticize anyone else’s sartorial choices, mandatory or not, but Cathy was clearly getting more and more terrified and she still wasn't entirely sure where Sherlock was going with any of this.
Cathy’s shoulders slumped and Lisa bit hard into her lower lip.
“Of course,” Sherlock continued, tossing the ruby between his hands again, swift enough to make Joan wince, because she had no doubt that the jewel was probably worth more than the brownstone and damaging it wasn't something she wanted to contemplate, “I can ask my associate here to call our friends in the NYPD and inform them that the missing ruby has turned up in a cake that she brought home for tea.”
He tossed the gem to Joan; she caught it, fingers fumbling for a moment, picturing herself dropping it and scratching the brilliant surface. She glared at Sherlock but he wasn’t looking at her, and Lisa and Cathy now didn't seem to know if they should still be looking at Sherlock or if they should now be appealing to Joan. While they certainly weren't innocents here, she didn't like playing games with people and their freedom, and she wasn’t going to stand by and let Sherlock do so.
“The police come over to collect it,” Sherlock finally said, clapping his hands together theatrically, “and we say that we have no idea how we got it. And perhaps the inept thieves who let such a jewel slip through their ungloved hands don’t get caught, and perhaps an ally could look into a theoretical soon-to-be-ex-husband to ensure that a divorce case goes smoothly.”
“Gregson hates it when you help yourself to the police files,” Joan pointed out quietly, but Sherlock didn’t look at her.
“And what would you want in return?” Lisa demanded, while Cathy let out a little sob that might be relief and might be anxiety.
Sherlock grinned. “Now that is the easy part.”
“Part of me feels like this probably isn’t the ideal bargain.”
“No? Would you have preferred bi-monthly?”
“It does seem very you to make a deal with the people who broke into your house.”
“I don’t think they’re capable of any real harm and neither do you.”
"You spend so much time around policemen. I don't know how you can keep such a lax attitude about laws."
"The jewel was returned to its owner and when it comes to someone intruding on the brownstone, well I believe this solution is its own reward."
“But what if someone asks about it all?”
“They’re only giving us one a month. Shouldn’t pile up and if it does we’ll give it away as gifts.”
“No need to jump to that right now. It’ll be awhile before I get tired of these cakes.”