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The Ballad of Lady Smallwood

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1. The hand that signed the paper

"Hardly merciful, Mr Holmes."

Mycroft Holmes was turning aside, his body language closed.

"Regrettably, Lady Smallwood, my brother is a murderer."

A murderer? So what did that make her? She'd slept for the first full night in months when told of Magnussen's death, dreamt of Jim on their wedding day, and woken with a smile on her lips.

And now she had to send the man who had given her that release to execution by proxy.

She signed in all the places they asked her; submitted to a retina scan, pressed her thumb onto a pad. She considered asking for a basin to wash her hands, to complete the betrayal, rejected the idea and called for her car instead.

They were heading west, towards the Hammersmith flyover, when her rebellious heart at last took control.

"Stop!" she ordered her chauffeur.

Shades of last year, when Jim had still been alive, before that reptile had spread his foul slime over the most generous man she'd ever known. Remembered words came to her lips. "Turn the car around. We’re going back into town. Turn around."

"Ma'am?"

"If a one-way trip to Serbia's the best Britain can do to reward the man who rid the world of Charles Augustus Magnussen, then I'm a banana."

----

2. The finger joints are cramped with chalk

"Rheumatics, I'm afraid. Plays merry hell with my line dancing. To be honest, it was a relief when Mike called. Gave us an excuse to beat a decent retreat. Sherlock always did play the poor boy like an instrument -- of course, the piano's been beyond me for years, not that I was ever any good. Mike, you see, thinks of rules as things to be circumvented; Sherlock never sees them at all. Tell me, what is this undercover posting really about?"

"I'm sorry, I'm --"

"Bound by the Official Secrets Act. Of course, my dear. So's Mike. But to get Sherlock to go along with it -- No. Different question. What brings you here?"

She reached into her bag. "This."

The Dynamics of Combustion

"My dear, no-one outside the family's read that in years. I was twenty-five years ahead of the field and the wrong sex to boot. Way out of date now, of course."

"Still, you're a genius in the principles of complex systems. Which is what I need. If I describe a system, can you show me the optimum pressure spots for total disruption?"

"I'll give it my best shot. Because if someone's using official nonsense to hurt my baby boy, my actions, I promise, will be ruthless, resolute and bloody."

----

3. A hand rules heaven

"Frieda Nordstrom? She's just finishing her Bikram class." A driving rock beat pounded through the door the attendant indicated.

"I'll wait outside."

The instructor emerged, towel round her neck. Nothing like the photographs. Heavier musculature, spiky blonde hair, work on jaw, nose and ears. Hazel eyes, not ice-blue. Accent, as she spoke to lingering students, native New Jersey.

"Frieda Nordstrom?"

"Yup, that's me. Can I help?"

"You're my only hope."

Smile perfectly judged: flattered, amused and just a bit baffled. "Obi-Wan Nordstrom?"

"Ms Nordstrom, when you were in Europe, I believe you collaborated on some memorable performance art. Bond Air 2012, for instance."

"I helped. If you contacted the artist --"

"I'm sorry to break bad news, but I'm afraid he took his own life. Two years ago."

Her hand went to her mouth, again well-judged. "Oh my God. But -- it's a shock, but not really a surprise? A guy like that --"

"Leaves a gap impossible to fill. Not someone to go gently into that good night. So a friend of mine thinks. I believe you know him? Holiday romance, maybe? Anyway, he asked me to mention the Vatican cameos to you. He wants to give your collaborator the tribute he deserves, and told me you could help. Will you?"

"Oh, yes. Sod Bikram!"

----

4. Hands have no tears to flow

"Why would I give a feck about Sherlock's future, Lady Smallwood?"

"It's a rather nice place you've got here. Thanks to him. View of the Downs, roses, beehives -- "

"They're going."

"Are you sure? I took a look on the way in. Unusual type. Cornish black honey-bees. Major grants in the pipeline for preserving rare native species, or so they tell me. I don't think you're the woman to let personal preferences stand in the way of a big payoff downstream, somehow."

"Assume I did have a belated generous impulse, how do you reckon I should play it? Not the chocolate type, Sherly."

"You managed Magnussen's diary. You scheduled appointments for his victims and he squeezed them."

"Soundproofed office. Never heard a pip squeak, Lady Smallwood."

"Oh, you didn't have to. Not for what I want. The diary's enough. I just need names."

"Names?"

"I need to send a message. In fact, to broadcast it. So just give me names of anyone you can think of in communications who might have good reason to be glad Magnussen's no more, and I'll be on my way."

"OK, you're on. That lad's going places -- provided he keeps dodging bullets. Some day I may want to sell another story: Sherlock Holmes: Memoirs of a Beard."

 

----

5. Great is the hand that holds dominion over Man by a scribbled name

"How can this even be possible?"

She'd always been a good actress; had even, briefly, contemplated running away from Cheltenham Ladies College and going on the stage. It hadn't been acting, though, her response to seeing James Moriarty's face on the screen.

It had been awe.

How can we have made this possible?

Not her alone: Janine and Sherlock's mother and that Adler woman, all unseen, all overlooked, each with her own agenda and together stronger than tungsten.

She turned to Sir Edwin.

"Has the Prime Minister been told? And Mycroft?"

She phoned Downing Street herself and repeated the PM's instructions aloud, with that image still on the screen before them all.

"Sherlock Holmes is recalled to deal with the crisis. All charges dropped."

A clock ran down in her head: so long to turn a plane round, so long for ATC to acknowledge, so long for traffic between London and Fitton. A heightened tension in the room told her when it was time, before her iPad did.

She got to her feet as the door opened, walking round the table and extending her hand.

"Sherlock. No-one could have predicted this would happen. But whatever the circumstances, can I be the first to say, 'Welcome back'?"