The misuse of Mr Holmes’ name had given Andrea Morton a short lunch meeting with the head of the Secret Intelligence Service in her office, and though Lady Smallwood remained professionally polite, Andrea could tell that she was really pushing the other woman’s patience.
Three weeks ago they had lost track of Mr Holmes’ brother. Sherlock had been on his way home from dismantling Moriarty’s network, when news about a small branch in the former Yugoslavia had surfaced. Impulsive as only Sherlock Holmes could be, he had gone in without proper preparation or intelligence.
And now he was lost. Or he had been. After having used up all favours he had with people at foreign intelligence services, Mr Holmes had tracked him down. Andrea really wished she didn’t know about some of the things he had promised to get the information he needed, because she wasn’t sure she was ready to lie under oath for him. He had asked for help, though, and to Lady Smallwood she had no problem bending the truth a little.
Andrea had started her career in public service at an entry-level position in the SIS shortly after Lady Smallwood had been promoted to its head. Knowing of, and working for, a woman in such a high position had been incredibly inspiring to Andrea, but the work itself had been less so. She still admired Lady Smallwood, but her interpersonal loyalties had shifted over the years.
“Ms Morton,” said Lady Smallwood, closing the file Andrea had brought her after having sifted through it, “you know as well as I do that there are at least a few hundred new terror threats directed at London every week. I’m sure this one is prioritized according to routine like the rest of them.”
“Again, ma’am, with all due respect,” said Andrea, “I’m not here to do your job, I’m here to do mine. There is an important anti-terrorist bill up for vote in Parliament shortly—“
“I’m aware, the news talks of little else.”
“—and Mr Holmes and I both feel that it would be unwise to let the MPs go to this vote with a huge terror strike fresh in memory. We can’t have this vote be emotional, it has to be logical. Too much is at stake.”
Lady Smallwood continued to seem unimpressed. “Why the concern about this particular threat?”
“One of our agents has already died for this information, you can’t say that about most of the other threats,” said Andrea. She was really proud of herself for having found a case where this was true. It had been a freak accident by the looks of the report, but a man was dead either way. “And it’s not just one source, there are many of them.”
“I can’t assign resources based on your hunch.”
“Mr Holmes’ analysis.”
“Be that as it may…”
Andrea took a deep breath. “I understand, ma’am. Thank you for your time.”
She closed the lid on her half-eaten salad and got up. Lady Smallwood held out the file for her, but when she took it, Lady Smallwood didn’t let it go.
“How sure is Mycroft about this?”
“Sure enough to send me here.”
“What would you need to quietly look into it?” asked Lady Smallwood, finally letting go of the file.
“I’m… not sure,” said Andrea, pretending to think it over as she put the file back in her briefcase. This was it. “Usually, Mr Holmes would take things like this to his brother, but as you know…”
Lady Smallwood nodded. She had been informed about Sherlock’s doings about a year ago when he’d had run-ins with the Norwegian intelligence service and Mr Holmes had needed help with some under-the-table diplomacy.
“Is he done yet?”
Andrea nodded. “More or less.”
“Then perhaps it’s time to bring him home, if you’re as sure about this as you say you are.”
Andrea nodded again. “Yes, ma’am. Last time we had contact, however, he had put himself in a bit of a… predicament.”
“Unsurprising,” muttered Lady Smallwood. “Tell Mycroft that if his office brings Sherlock home, I’ll make sure to smooth out any minor incidents on the understanding that Sherlock will look into the terrorist cell when he gets back.”
“I’ll take it to him.”
“Ms Morton,” said Lady Smallwood, as Andrea was about to leave. Her heart skipped a beat as she stopped at the door. “Is it a good bill?”
“No,” said Andrea with a sigh. She hoped her relief wasn’t obvious. “At least not yet. Hopefully it can be the basis of something good, but what’s most important is the debate and the discussion.”
Lady Smallwood nodded and told her to leave the door open as she left.
Andrea felt almost giddy as she left the SIS building. She couldn’t believe it had actually worked. This probably wasn’t what Mr Holmes had had in mind when he had asked her for help getting his brother back, but he probably wouldn’t mind.
Taking the first train home in the morning had a surreal feeling about it. The platform was almost empty, except for those poor souls whose commutes were too long or work schedules too cruel. And the odd person doing the walk-of-shame.
Or perhaps she was part of the cruel-work-schedule crowd?
She and Mr Holmes had been stuck in the bunker-like office under the Diogenes Club for almost five years – or three days, according to the actual calendar – trying to put together the best way to actually get Sherlock back now when they had some backing from the SIS. It wasn’t that she minded living at the office now and then – they had foldout beds in the back room and the Club’s kitchen was superb – or working eighteen hours per day, but the lack of daylight messed with her head and she lost track of time.
She much preferred these long stretches in Mr Holmes’ official office at the Palace of Westminster, even if that meant that she had to play the role of an actual secretary and Mr Holmes the one of a statistician. She liked her role much more than he did.
Now things were set. In a few hours, Mr Holmes would take a plane down to Belgrade and she would be on the right side of a long, hot shower, and hopefully sleeping.
As she got on the train she put in her earbuds. She was half-way through The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; she had a little trouble following the plot when she was sleep deprived, but nothing compared to having Stephen Fry talk to you the entire way home. Even if it increased the risk of falling asleep on the train.
She wrapped her coat closer around her and sat down, telling herself that really needed to get out of the office more.
It was a very sad fact that she had to leave the country to be sure her days off stayed that way, but Andrea had little self-preservation and therefore she didn’t even leave the city most times. She was promised two uninterrupted vacation days, but if she only made it through this morning without a call from Mr Holmes she’d be more than pleased.
If she made it through a day it would be a miracle.
She closed her eyes again after checking the time – 08:42 – inhaling deeply and enjoying the fact that she had woken up by herself this morning. No alarm. No phone calls. Just her body deciding that she had slept enough.
On the floor she found her black joggers (that she had ‘borrowed with no intention of returning’ from her brother). Yawning, she put her hair in a ponytail before going to the kitchen. On some subconscious level she noticed that her bedroom was in great need of some tidying up, but it never reached a more aware state.
The clothes could stay on the floor another day. It was not worth spending one of her days off on. Period.
First stop: coffeemaker.
With a smile she wrapped her arms around herself as she watched the mug fill up with black coffee. The scent filled the bright kitchen, but she picked up the mug and brought it to her nose to inhale it further. People who said oil was black gold didn’t know what they were talking about.
Andrea put in a couple of drops of milk after carefully sniffing the box, determining that it was fresh enough, and left the kitchen. It was years since she had a solid breakfast.
She curled up on the kitchen chair she used as a desk chair in the sitting room/office and turned on her laptop. Like every morning, free or not, she opened her work email and her personal email, in that order, and found nothing that was either interesting or important.
Perhaps she really could get the entire morning uninterrupted. That would be amazing.
Are you coming
home for Christmas?
Mum, it’s October.
I barely know my
schedule for next
The world can do
without you for a
weekend, you know.
Ha! I wish.
Let me know when
Andrea’s hand trembled so badly that she dropped the glass on the kitchen counter. It didn’t break, but she cursed loudly and left it lying there. She made her hands into fists, pressing them against her eyes and forcing herself to breathe through her nose.
She had just got back from Parliament where they had passed the anti-terrorist bill. They had passed an anti-terrorist bill with a live bomb underneath them, joking about the irony of having a vote like that on the fifth of November.
The fifth of November
She would never forget. She would never forget how she’d lied, how she had purposefully misrepresented evidence and how that had probably saved her life. That was not a good moral of any story. What if she hadn’t found the file with the dead agent? What if she hadn’t gone to Lady Smallwood on a whim? What if she had called their people in Belgrade and got Sherlock out via Zurich instead? What if he hadn’t been forced to take the case?
There were too many what-ifs looping in her head and she couldn’t think! She could barely breathe.
She wondered if this was a panic attack, and if so, if she could rationalise her way out of it. The answer to both was probably no.
Her mobile vibrated on the counter next to her. She jumped. With her heart working its way out of her chest, she read the text message.
It was from Lady Smallwood and read: Good job.
Andrea exhaled slowly. She picked up her glass and reached for the wine. Her hands were still unsteady, but she managed to not spill. She stood there at the counter, staring out of the window in front of her. In the distance she could hear fireworks. Tomorrow the news would talk about bonfires that had gone out of hand and the drunken accidents that were bound to happen on nights like these.
Good job? With the bill or with the bomb?
At least Mr Holmes’ good judgement was intact in the eyes of the SIS. That was something.
She refilled her wine glass and brought it with her to the sitting room where she curled up on the sofa with her laptop. She was going to watch comedy shows on Netflix until she fell asleep, and no one could stop her.
She forgot to charge her mobile on purpose.
”See, the problem with the educational system today is that no one...”
Andrea’s mind drifted. The man’s voice was slowly fading into the background noise of the restaurant. This was one of the longest first dates she’d ever been on, and yet the main course had just arrived. She offered up a polite smile every now and then as her date reduced complexed social issues he clearly had no deeper knowledge of to catchphrases and debate soundbites.
Working with the people she did, Andrea rarely felt like the most intelligent person in the room, even with two master’s degrees (one in national economics and one in international relations) and a bachelor’s in mathematics. She figured she should be grateful to Tinder for reminding her how stupid the general population was.
She reached for her wine, wondering if people actually snuck out the bathroom window when they were on dates or if that was a romcom thing. It probably was. She wasn’t in any way dressed to climb out of a window, anyway.
At least it was a nice restaurant. And he was easy on the eyes. If he’d only shut up… or at least ask what it meant to be a nonpartisan political analyst, then maybe, maybe, she could fake an interest for long enough to get to the famous desserts Mr Holmes had mentioned.
It was fun playing the airhead assistant now and then. The first time Mr Holmes had asked her to do it, she had almost felt like a traitor to women everywhere. These days, Andrea saw it as going undercover. She had even made up a few aliases for herself, playing the spy her nieces thought she was. (She had never thanked her brother enough for getting that idea into their heads.)
If men underestimated her because of her four-inch heels, sleek black dress and push-up bra, then the fault was on them. If women took her for a clueless bimbo, well… the fault was on them too.
After almost ten years working for Mr Holmes, it was rarely a part she could play on the domestic scene anymore, since most people either knew her, or knew of her. Europe too, was growing smaller with each summit she attended. So her grand spy career had mostly been narrowed down to the odd business meeting where blank stares or some batting of long eyelashes often did the trick.
She stood by the bar in the back of the room, nurturing a dry martini. It was stirred, not shaken, and with a lemon peel, not an olive, but she still felt a little bit like James Bond. The men in the room clearly thought she was the Bond girl though, judging by the looks they gave her.
She ignored them. Tonight she was there in the capacity of Andrea Morton and no one else, but if anyone of the Russian delegates this party was for wanted to spill state secrets, then she would happily listen.
It was supposed to be just business, but nothing with the Russians was ever “just” anything. Perhaps it wasn’t like at the peak of the Cold War, back when the best Bond movies were made, but it lingered. So she was there because she could talk trade agreements like it was the latest blockbuster and because Lady Smallwood trusted her – or at least Mr Holmes, and Mr Holmes trusted her – to pick up on anything else that could be potentially useful.
This was the type of event that made her wish she had overtime in her contract. All-nighters at the desk was nothing compared to getting ogled by men she shouldn’t offend. Undercover, she told herself, and left the bar to mingle.
Barely missing banging her knee on her desk on the way in, Andrea hurried to pick up Mr Holmes’ landline ringing on his desk.
“Mycroft Holmes’ office,” she said, pinning the phone against her shoulder as she searched for something to take a note with. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m calling for Mycroft, is he free?” said a man on the other end. “I couldn’t reach him on his mobile.”
Andrea vaguely registered that the man called her boss by his first name. “No, he’s with Lady Smallwood. I’m afraid it will take all day. What is it about?”
“Just tell him to call me at Sherrinford.”
“Of course, sir. Can I give him a name or tell him what it’s about?”
“All right. Thank you, have a nice day.”
Andrea hung up. She copied the note from the envelope she had scribbled it on to a post-it, which she placed on top of the file in the middle of Mr Holmes’ desk.
She didn’t think twice about it.
Wrapped in her mum’s green dressing gown, Andrea tiptoed into her parents’ kitchen on Christmas morning. Her hair stood in every direction and she had trouble keeping her eyes open, but she had heard noises from downstairs, which meant dad had started to make hot cocoa for Christmas breakfast.
“Happy Christmas, princess,” her dad said, smiling at her as he stirred the milk. “A bit early still, isn’t it?”
“Mmm,” Andrea agreed. She gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Happy Christmas. Is there coffee yet?”
Her dad chuckled. “It’s Christmas cocoa, not Christmas coffee.”
“Hmmm…” was all Andrea had to say about that, before proceeding to put on the coffeemaker. While she waited, she curled up on one of the kitchen chairs, one foot on the seat, hugging her knee. She watched her dad putter about, humming So This is Christmas out of key. Her mum would get up soon too and before they knew it, her nieces would come storming in, ruining the calm for the rest of the day.
Andrea had been here since yesterday, in her parents’ home, two hours by train from London and the Palace of Westminster, and for the first time in almost two months she felt perfectly safe.
Andrea turned on the light before fumbling to turn off the soft, generic tune that was her phone alarm. She then rolled over to her back, sighing, and stared at the ceiling. Her life seemed like a never-ending parade of hotel rooms lately. The recent vote in favour of a referendum about EU membership had stirred up so much controversy that she’d thought it best to be down on the continent to keep an eye on things.
She reached out to unplug her BlackBerry.
Only one urgent email in her work inbox. Four new emails in her private one (two blog subscriptions, a reminder about her sister’s hen party, a reply to a forum comment). She read the comment, then marked all the others as ‘read’. Twitter was uninteresting, and the more conventional news outlets didn’t report anything of value. Her Instagram feed had only been updated by her cousins in Australia – she dutifully liked all the pictures of flowers and children and more flowers. Tinder was… no. Just in London. It was hard enough to find time for dates when they lived in the same city. It was her turn in three different Scrabble games, but that had to wait until after coffee.
She put away the phone, sighed, and pushed herself up. At it again. No point in delaying it.
“If they really wanted to, they could totally....”
Andrea wondered when the man at the other side of the table would realise that she wasn’t listening anymore, and that she had long ago moved on to making checklists in her head about what she needed to do tomorrow. He talked so passionately about… music? Football? Star Wars? God, Andrea had no idea.
Was he the worst date ever, or was she?
She could pretend to be interested in… photography? Seriously. She had to start listening.
Or stop suggesting dinner as a date activity. It was just so convenient, because she had to eat. It saved time! It was two birds with one stone. Sort of. The date almost always turned out to be a disappointment.
He was gorgeous, though. And she really, really wanted to have sex tonight.
Andrea never snooped unless she was ordered to. Except when she did.
Most of the time, her unauthorised snooping involved Mr Holmes’ personal calendar to make sure he kept medical appointments. Lately, it occasionally involved somewhat immoral background checks on her upcoming Tinder dates.
This time, it wasn’t even snooping for the sake of snooping. This time, it was a way to be one step ahead just in case. Or that’s how it had started, and now she didn’t know where it would stop.
Three days ago, the genius that was Sherlock Holmes had run away from the hospital mere days after having had a bullet pulled out of him. Now, back at the hospital and another surgery under his belt, Sherlock had become septic. Andrea hadn’t known what exactly that meant more than that it was bad, so while Mr Holmes had pretended to be unaffected by it, Andrea had started reading.
Wikipedia had confirmed that, yes, it was bad.
Sherlock’s medical records were a disaster. It surprised her that Sherlock had his parents listed as his next-of-kin. She thought that, surely, he would have written over his medical directive to Dr Watson by now.
Then she tried to – on paper – see if there were any living relatives that could possibly be a match with Sherlock if he would need blood, organs, bone marrow, whatever. She knew she was grasping at straws, but she wanted to have at least something to present to Mr Holmes. A small sliver of hope. Maybe a few hours saved because the work was already done.
She couldn’t persuade Lady Smallwood to give her an aeroplane and save the day, this time.
This was how she had found Eurus Holmes. A year younger than Sherlock. Assessment notes that could fill a small room. A death certificate.
The odd thing wasn’t that she hadn’t known her boss had a dead sister – it had taken almost a year before she learned he had a living brother. The odd thing was that there were assessments made after her death conducted at a place called Sherrinford. Once Andrea started to pull on that string, everything seemed to unravel.
She sat at her desk, glancing twice in the direction of Mr Holmes’ office. Then she tapped the word ‘Sherrinford’ into the SIS database and kept reading.
You know I’m not
I thought that was
you entire job, sis?
I’m not a spy.
You just work with
Be careful, okay?
I’m a political
I can get is a
Newspaper mogul found shot in his own home, the headlines said. The media discussed the integrity of the free press and called it a threat to democracy. Andrea wondered how many people around Europe sighed in relief when they woke up to the news of Charles Augustus Magnussen’s death.
She knew she wasn’t one mourning his passing.
She stood on a small podium in a room that usually was used to debrief police officers. In front of her were all the members of the SCO19 team that had been called out to Appledore last night. All of them men, and none of them happy to spend today at the station. She felt their discontent, and she didn’t really blame them.
Andrea was acutely aware of her four-inch heels and her seasonally appropriate nail polish, her red lips and her gold earrings. To them she was a bureaucrat. A paper pusher. A woman. She dressed the part. Undercover, said the voice in the back of her head, but she wasn’t sure it was the truth.
This was an easy enough task. She was there to have them all sign non-disclosure agreements about the events of last night. They were police officers, they knew the drill. Some of them found it unnecessary, since talking about open cases just wasn’t done.
“It’s not an open police case,” said Andrea. “Mr Magnussen, and his death, is a matter for the SIS. If anyone has an issue with that, they can take it up with their superior. Either way, no one is leaving this room until everyone has signed.”
Unsurprisingly, no one made a fuss. Andrea thought of Lord Smallwood as she collected the signed agreements, and about how Sherlock didn’t deserve this amount of effort and protection. Her boss did deserve some peace of mind, though. So…
“Thank you for your cooperation, gentlemen.” Andrea closed the folder with all the paperwork. “Happy holidays to all of you.”
Mum, how do I
get wine out of
a suit jacket?
Do you really need
your mother to tell
you to take it to the
Love you too.
Don’t forget your
Andrea would never admit it out loud, but Sherlock Holmes’ Twitter feed might be the best thing that came into her life in 2017. Her only regret was that she couldn’t retweet anything in fear that her boss would notice it. She didn’t even mind that the little brat had been tweeting all through the meeting that classified the murder he was caught on film committing. At least not as much as she probably should.
She was sick and tired of that video footage. She had stared at it for days, playing it back and forth to see how to best edit it to make it look as if Sherlock wasn’t as trigger happy as the Watsons. In the end, she was pretty happy with the result. It would probably need a bit more attention by someone more tech-savvy than she was, but it was a more than sufficient first draft and it seemed to have given Lady Smallwood and Sir Edwin the right idea of what they wanted to achieve. It wasn’t the first time she had helped to falsify evidence, but it was the first time she had needed to manipulate video.
If she could only wiggle her way out of having to go back to the SCO19 team and tell them the ridiculous official story of what they were doing on Christmas Day, she’d say she had good hopes for this year.
”I don’t understand how anyone can go into politics.”
Andrea blinked, baffled by the woman’s dismissiveness. Apparently bad dates came in all genders. What was she even going to reply to that? Excuse her life choices and agree that it was horrible? Defend them?
She reached for her drink, shrugging. “I don’t understand how people can watch football.”
That made the woman laugh and agree with her. It was a nice laugh. Andrea was sure it could fill a room and make others smile. It made her smile, at least. It wouldn’t make up for the woman’s attitude towards her work, but it could make the rest of the dinner bearable if they stayed away from work related topics.
It would be a challenge, but perhaps it would even do her good to spend an entire evening talking about things not even closely related to her job.
The text message went out to all her close contacts. It was a half-truth, but it needed to be said: she was physically fine. She had been on her way from the hotel when the news reached her that bombs had detonated at Brussels Airport. She had turned around on the spot, walked back to the hotel and locked herself in her room.
It was a coward’s reaction, a voice in her head told her. When the reports came about the bomb at Maalbeek station, she told that voice that it was a survivor’s reaction. She sat on the bed in her hotel room and watched the news show the same footage over and over again.
She marked herself as safe on Facebook for the ones who hadn’t received her text.
One by one she managed to account for her friends. When she had got a sign of life from all of them, she went downstairs. The hotel lobby was full of people, all of them silently watching the same broadcast she had been watching.
She stood in the back of the room, her arms around herself, relishing the feeling of not being alone.
Sometimes, coming home to her empty flat was the best thing in the entire world: No noise. No one to make the least bit of effort for. Just her and her Netflix account.
Other times, coming home to her empty flat was crushing: No one to ask about her day. No one to give her a hug. No one with a tail to wag, even.
She wouldn’t be able to keep a dog, though, not with her hours. And those same hours didn’t really make it any easier finding someone to ask about her day, either. Or perhaps she was being too picky? She had a long string of first dates, but very few second. That might say more about her than the general dating pool.
So for the time being, she settled for Netflix. And occasional Skype calls to her nieces, when she needed a little bit of an ego boost. It was nice being someone’s hero on days when she didn’t feel so super herself.
Tonight, when that strangely bubbly tone told her that someone was calling, she had already crawled up with a blanket on the sofa. Most of her days ended that way now. She reached for her phone, hesitating for a moment as she wondered if she was going to pick up at all, but after a deep sigh, she put on a smile and did.
Instantly, her screen was filled with the faces of two girls – Lisa, eight, and Sarah, five – who both screamed greetings at her. The smile came more easily.
“Shouldn’t you two be in bed?” she tease-scolded them. “It’s way too late for children to be up.”
“Then you should be in bed too,” Lisa said. “You’re the baby.”
“I’m your dad’s baby sister, not a baby, there’s a difference.”
The girls giggled. Andrea smiled. They kept talking nonsense, namedropping cartoon characters – or classmates? – Andrea had never heard of, but she nodded along anyway while she waited for her brother to realise his phone was missing.
That happened soon enough, giving Andrea a front row seat to the girls were being told to not take daddy’s mobile and go brush their teeth.
“Don’t yell at them,” said Andrea when her brother’s face became visible. “I think that was the best thing that happened to me this week.”
Her brother frowned. “You look terrible, sis. I hope it’s the lighting.”
“I’m not wearing makeup.”
“That’s not it. How are you?”
Andrea inhaled. “In one piece.”
She saw right away that her brother didn’t find that funny. Deep down, she didn’t either.
“I’m okay, don’t worry.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Andrea smiled. “Go make sure your monsters brush their fangs.”
“I’ll call you later this week, okay?” he said.
Andrea nodded and the call ended. She sat with the phone in her hand for a while. She had been telling the truth; that had been the best thing that happened this week. But now Netflix didn’t seem at all as satisfying as it had only a few minutes ago.
Mr Holmes placed a cup of coffee on the coffee table. “Courtesy of Marcus, not me.”
“Bless the both of you,” Andrea said, reaching for it with the hand not fiddling with a pen. “I thought everyone had gone home. You haven’t… locked Marcus in the kitchen or something?”
“The thought did occur to me,” said Mr Holmes and sat down in a leather armchair next to her. “He sent up a thermos and some sandwiches before he closed the kitchen for the evening.”
“Remind me to tell him I love him,” said Andrea.
It was election night. The future of a union was on trial. Again, the voice in her head said, and blamed Scotland and the last referendum for her first grey hairs.
Andrea blew on the coffee, pretending to ignore the reporting on the referendum on whether or not to stay in the European Union. This process had been gruesome. There had been casualties. Still, the waiting was the worst. Not objectively, of course, but… the waiting was the worst. Honestly, it was a minor miracle she her hair wasn’t completely grey by now.
She and Mr Holmes had set up camp in one of the back rooms of the Diogenes Club which was furnished with monstrosities such as a TV. They had three TVs down in the Bunker, but for election nights they often went up here. This had been a tradition of theirs, watching the elections together, since the second general election she had worked for him. They might do nonpartisan work, but every election changed the way the game was played, and they liked to know the game.
“Is this what football is like for normal people?” she asked after glancing back up at TV and seeing the jump in counted votes.
Mr Holmes looked up from what he was reading with the hint of a smile. “You really must ask someone else.”
Andrea threw the pen at him. It bounced against his arm and he rolled his eyes at her, going back to reading the trade agreement between Norway and the European Union.
She turned back to the TV with a smile. This was going to be another long night. She wondered if there was any microwave popcorn in the kitchen.
“A un moment, c'est parti en l'air…”
Andrea had no idea why she had expected Tinder to produce better dates in Brussels than in London. She had accepted to meet this man for lunch to get a short break from everyone around her heckling her about the result of the referendum. One lunch. One meal without needing to be the personal embodiment of a referendum result.
That was obviously too much to ask for. She only had herself to blame. She should have lied and told him she was a stewardess, and not that she worked for the British government.
“Excusez-moi,” she said, interrupting him when she’d finally had enough of hearing her countrymen being called stupid. “I’m going to Brexit now.”
She got up, leaving him to pay. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been this mad.
Lady Smallwood looked very collected as she walked across the foyer of the SIS building. Perhaps a bit more tired than usual, but there was no way anyone could tell that a few hours ago she’d lost all her security clearances and been accused of treason. Perhaps the guard tailing her was an indication, but up until this morning, she had been the head of the SIS, and for that reason she had a security detail.
Andrea picked up her two paper cups of coffee and got on her feet as soon as she saw her coming.
Lady Smallwood frowned. “What does he want now?”
“Nothing,” said Andrea quickly. “I mean—I’m not…”
“It’s not a very good career move to be seen with me right now.”
“I’ve brought coffee,” Andrea said, almost talking over the unnecessary advice. If standing up for Lady Smallwood was career suicide, she was long gone. Earlier today, she had told Mr Holmes off for apprehending Lady Smallwood on just the word of his junkie brother. At some point, her boss had to stop bending over backwards for his brother, and this, apparently, was where Andrea’s patience ran out.
Lady Smallwood looked suspicious, but she took the coffee.
“I can walk Lady Smallwood out,” Andrea said to the guard. “Your service is no longer required.”
The guard hesitated.
“It’s not even ten meters to the door,” said Andrea. “We’re outside the security line. You can stand here and watch us if you want, but you’re not coming with us.”
The guard shrugged and walked away. Andrea watched him for a moment before turning to Lady Smallwood again.
“Why are you doing this?” asked Lady Smallwood as they walked out the building. “Has Mycroft—“
“Lost his marbles? Yes.”
Lady Smallwood hid a laugh with a cough. Andrea smiled, briefly, holding the door for her. A few steps away from the entrance, Lady Smallwood stopped.
“What’s Mycroft playing at?” she asked, looking around. “Is there a car taking me to an empty warehouse somewhere?”
“No, I— Mr Holmes has nothing to do with this,” said Andrea. “I didn’t want you to be escorted out by security. You deserve better than to be treated like a criminal because Sherlock Holmes thought he had an epiphany.”
“I can handle the Holmeses.”
After a moment, Lady Smallwood shook her head. “This is stupid of you.”
“I’ve done stupider things.”
“Are you sure?”
Lady Smallwood smiled. “So the coffee really isn’t drugged?”
“Only with an extra shot of espresso.” Andrea made a face. “But I think it’s cold now. I waited a while before you came.”
“How about I buy us new ones?” said Lady Smallwood. “If you really are this boneset on throwing your professional image down the drains.”
“I’m not, ma’am,” said Andrea. “And I don’t think I am. Having spoken to you, Mr Holmes knows you’re not the leak.”
“Yet it exists under my leadership.”
Andrea didn’t know what to say to that. It was true. There was a leak somewhere at the highest level. Even if it wasn’t Lady Smallwood, it was a chilling thought.
For now, she wouldn’t think about that, but rather the woman being wrongfully accused of it.
She smiled. “I’d love that coffee, ma’am.”
The conference room on the sixth floor of the SIS building had huge windows overlooking the Thames. It was such a sharp contrast to the Bunker that Anthea experienced some weird form of jetlag for the first few days she worked there.
After the Norbury Incident the government – and the SIS itself – had ordered an investigation into what had happened, how it could have happened, and to determine if there were any others like Vivian Norbury. Andrea’s name had come up in the discussions of who would lead an investigation like that, seeing how she was outside the organisation, yet had a security clearance high enough to be allowed to look at most of the things she’d need. She had jumped on the opportunity, and Mr Holmes had obliged. Their relationship had been rather frosty since he had accused Lady Smallwood of treason, and some distance would probably do them good.
Daylight and incredible views aside, Andrea found the work a bit lonely. They were nine people in total conducting the investigation, but Andrea spent most of her days – and nights – alone, sifting through papers and wishing she could read as fast as Mr Holmes.
At first, she had pretended that she was James Bond, but that had been weird. She wasn’t an action spy. If she was anything, then she was George Smiley.
“There's a mole, right at the top of the Circus,” she muttered to herself, tossing another dossier on the pile next to her chair.
She stretched. They would have a debriefing soon. Hopefully, the others had found more useful things.
There was something in the back of Andrea’s mind every time she swiped her Oyster card these days. Most days, the bodies of her fellow commuters drowned it out. Other days it was the stress of running late. Or the work that waited for her at the conference room overlooking the Thames.
It was still there though, the prickling feeling in the back of her mind. Something grinding. Something to push down and store away. Because even if she had a car, she wouldn’t drive it to work through the London traffic. And there was no way she’d walk all the way. And she had to get to work.
The carriage was the bomb. Maalbeek station. Liverpool Street and Aldgate. King's Cross St. Pancras and Russell Square. Edgware Road and Paddington.
Most days she didn’t think about it. It was only a feeling she couldn’t shake when she hurried to squeeze herself into the carriage right before it left. It was routine, it was everyday, even if her end stop was different for now.
She listened to the relationship podcasts her brother recommended. She swiped her Oyster card. She got to work.
She wasn’t afraid.
So you’re actually
a spy now, sis?
No, I’m a civilian
who works for the SIS.
That’s exactly what
a spy would say.
Lisa wants to take
you to career day.
Don’t get her hopes
up, but I’ll think
You’ll get a ‘World’s
best aunt’ mug if you
Would be for that then.
Andrea sat in the driver’s seat of the black Jaguar, waiting for Mr Holmes outside the Elm’s Cottage Drug Rehabilitation Clinic. Had she known that she’d be driving the Holmes brothers around the English countryside today, she would have worn sneakers, but now her high-heels were tossed in the backseat and she was trying to reschedule both her own meetings and Mr Holmes’ via her phone. Even though she spent all her time with the internal investigation over at Vauxhall Cross at the moment, she still had full access to Mr Holmes’ personal calendar.
This wasn’t the first time she had waited for Mr Holmes as he dropped his brother off at a rehab clinic, and she’d be surprised if this was the last. She had been a bit surprised, though, when Mr Holmes had called her up and asked her to drive them here, because they hadn’t exchanged anything other than professional emails for weeks.
She had said yes without a moment’s thought, hence the need for rescheduling. She had often suspected that she was the closest thing Mr Holmes had to a friend and it hurt, seeing him go out of his way for Sherlock and getting so little in return. She wondered if it was rooted in guilt, somehow. She felt slightly guilty for not having been there for him when Sherlock had so obviously gone completely off the rails. She could claim that she didn’t know, but that wouldn’t be true – she followed the man’s Twitter, after all.
When Mr Holmes came back to the car he looked disturbingly neutral. She hated when he wore that mask in front of her, because he had to know that she saw past it by now. It was a clear signal that she shouldn’t ask questions, though.
Without a word, she started the car. It would be a long way back to London.
It was early morning when Andrea left the SIS building by a rather anonymous side door. She had put her hair in a ponytail and washed away her makeup hours ago in a poorly lit bathroom. She straightened her back and took a deep breath of the cool air. London seemed particularly grey and foggy, but even with the rain heavy in the air Andrea found it refreshing, almost cosy. It had been a long night. She had sent the rest of the team home around midnight – the SIS didn’t encourage people to sleep at the office – but she had stayed to stare at the flowchart mapping all information paths and times in the hopes of figuring out who knew what when.
It had been on the tip of her tongue for hours. When she finally got it – or thought she got it – she had written down the names and dates on a post-it, along with a note that she would come in at 2 a.m., and pinned it in the dead centre of the flowchart.
When she turned left to walk to the nearest Tube station she saw a familiar black car slowly drive up to her. She shook her head, not bothering to hide a yawn, as the car window was rolled down.
“Good morning, Mr Holmes,” she said with a tired smile. “How long have you been circling the building?”
“Can I offer you a ride home?” he asked.
“No, but walk with me,” she said, and opened the door for him.
For a moment, he looked as if he thought she was joking. Then he told his driver that he’d call when he needed him, and stepped out. She felt an urge to take him by the arm and walk along the Thames as if they were lovers, or in a black-and-white movie.
It was a good thing she was on her way home. She was clearly too tired to think straight.
“Lady Smallwood is still waiting for your call,” said Andrea after they’d started to walk.
He gave her a strange look.
“I’m just saying,” she said. “There are better ways to spend the nights than stalking your employees.”
“I was in no way—“
“Yes, you were.” She tried to hide a yawn this time. “I don’t worry about it, I’ve been expecting you.”
He didn’t reply, and they kept walking in silence. She wanted to tell him about the post-it she had stuck to the flowchart. Partly to hear his thoughts, to get confirmation that she was probably right, partly to brag. She counted every step she took in an effort to stop her tired self from telling him state secrets. He would know them all soon enough anyway.
“This is me,” she said, stopping at the Tube station.
“Are you sure I can’t drive you home?”
It was tempting. So very temping. All she wanted was to be home, in her bed, with the covers over her head.
“Yes, I’ll be fine.” She gave him a smile. “Thank you for walking me.”
She got out her Oyster card before she had the chance to change her mind.
Andrea signed a greeting to the doorman at the Diogenes Club. Out of all the skills she’d learned while working for Mr Holmes, sign language was the last one she had expected when she first started. She let the doorman take her coat as she stepped out of her pumps. She took the shoes by the hand and tiptoed her way to the door leading to Mr Holmes’ office. Walking almost barefoot over the plush carpet always felt a bit decadent, and every time one of the patrons saw her and gave her disapproving looks it felt like rebellion.
This time, no one saw her, and it mostly felt like coming home after a long vacation.
They were done with the investigation into the Norbury Incident, but so far she had only shared the results with Lady Smallwood. They had agreed that there weren’t any need to rush it. What damage could be done, had already been done. No other leak had been discovered – which didn’t mean there wasn’t one – and Norbury hadn’t sold anything that was still hot. Next week she had a meeting with Parliament and she wouldn’t be surprised if a few heads would roll as a result. It wouldn’t be Lady Smallwood’s though, and that pleased her.
When she got down to the Bunker, Mr Holmes was just walking back to his office. He gave her a shorter nod.
“Morning,” she said, and sat down on the last step of the stair to put her shoes back on. “I’m going to be at Westminster on Thursday. I thought I’d stay in that office for the rest of the day.”
“Of course,” said Mr Holmes. “Is there anything in the report I should know about?”
“I’ll ask Lady Smallwood to send you a copy.”
Mr Holmes entered his office, leaving the door open, and Andrea got to her feet. That was more of a ‘welcome back’ than she had expected.
The Queen was making rounds in Manchester after the bombings at the Arena. Andrea was standing, leaning against Mr Holmes’ desk, watching the news on mute. It was hard not to be impressed by the Queen’s stamina. Andrea hoped she’d have half that energy when she was in her 90’s.
“Are there actually more… incidents now?” she asked, not taking her eyes off the screen. “Or have we just forgotten?”
“It’s always worse now because it happens now,” said Mr Holmes without looking up. “But yes, we had a few good years after the Belfast Agreement, and you’re perhaps too young to remember the time before that.”
“I remember,” she muttered. She did, theoretically. She didn’t remember being scared before, though. She didn’t remember taking detours on her way to work to avoid the larger hubs. She didn’t remember thinking twice before booking tickets to events. She didn’t remember worrying about her loved ones when they were out and about.
“Turn that off,” said Mr Holmes. He offered her the papers he had been reading. “I need your eyes on this.”
Andrea sighed. She turned off the TV and took the folder. It was a priority list for the upcoming negotiations with the European Union.
“I’m going to need a refill,” she muttered, flipping through the papers. “Do you want one?”
“No, thank you,” he said, already back to reading the next report.
Waiting for the coffee to be done, she started to read the list and notes Mr Holmes had given her. The task was an utter mess. How do you prioritise one trade deal over the other? Environmental issues over economic ones? And where to even start with the exchange of knowledge and intelligence?
She looked up from the list and towards Mr Holmes’ office with a big smile. He had given her this as a distraction.
There was something special about audiobooks. It was like someone read to you even though you were an adult. It worked even if it wasn’t Stephen Fry reading to you. She went through more books now than she ever had, even if she didn’t always follow along and had to go back multiple chapters because who was that character now?
She had stopped listening to books during her commute, in favour of the never-ending stream of podcast recommendations from her brother, but almost as soon as she got home she connected her phone to the speakers and let whatever novel she was on start playing. Margaret Atwood. John le Carré. James Clavell. JK Rowling again (because Harry Potter and Stephen Fry). Nobel laureates she’d never heard of.
They filled her flat, with their words and others’ voices. They took her away from London. They suggested happy, or at least hopeful, endings. They (almost) replaced Netflix as her constant background noise when she was alone, and the result did wonders. While listening to three chapters of A Clash of Kings, she cleaned the entire kitchen. The ending of A Man Called Ove helped her finally rinse the water trap in the bathroom. The only thing it didn’t help with was sleeping, which instinctively felt off to Andrea since that was the only time anyone had read stories to her as a child.
She had also picked up the habit of buying all the books she liked on hardcopy. So far, they all sat on the floor next to the sofa, but she figured that if she found the right book to listen to, she’d probably sort out a bookshelf as well.
“You look nothing like your profile picture.”
“And according to your profile, your name is ‘Anthea,’” said Sherlock, getting up from the table. “So I suppose we’re both liars.”
She moved his hand as he tried to pull out the chair for her. “Honestly, Sherlock, what have you done with my date?”
“I slipped him something,” said Sherlock, sitting back down. When he saw the look she gave him, he added, “Nothing lethal. I’ve used it on John multiple times. Also, you can do better.”
Andrea rolled her eyes, but sat down at the table all the same.
“Couldn’t you have just stopped by the Bunker if you wanted to talk to me?” she asked. “I know you know where it is.”
“I wanted to be sure my brother wouldn’t bother us.”
“What makes you think I won’t run back and tell him?”
“Tell me about our sister.”
She hesitated. Not for long, but she knew he had noticed and that he wouldn’t believe her if she denied knowing anything.
“What do you know?” she asked, stalling for time to figure out what to do. To her surprise, Sherlock broke eye contact. Briefly, but still. She realised that she had confirmed something, but for the life of her she couldn’t figure out what.
It slowly dawned to her that he probably thought Eurus was dead. They had probably thought it kinder to tell him that when he was a boy, rather than telling him they had locked her up in an asylum with cannibals and murderers. The reverse “your dog went to live at a farm in the countryside” explanation. It was macabre, but she could see her boss believing it to be a kindness.
Then her insides then turned into ice, because… what if his parents thought the same? What if his parents thought their daughter had been dead for decades?
The long, dragged-out silence was broken by a waiter asking if they wanted to start with something to drink.
“Just water, thank you,” they both said.
Andrea watched the waiter leave before turning back to Sherlock. “Why are you talking to me and not your brother?”
“Because I have an easier time telling when you’re lying.”
Andrea narrowed her eyes. She knew it was a statement of fact, but it felt like an insult.
“Is her name Eurus?” asked Sherlock.
“What? Is your lie detector not calibrated yet?”
“I take that as a yes.”
Andrea rolled her eyes. “Yes.”
“What happened to her?”
“You should talk to your brother.”
“All in due time. What happened to her?”
Andrea pursed her mouth into a thin line. She wasn’t going to answer that.
“Where is she?”
“I don’t kno—“
“Yes, we’ve established that.”
Andrea smiled sweetly at him as he tried to stare her down. She didn’t know quite what it was, but she knew she suddenly had the upper hand.
“I work for your brother,” she said. “You can’t stare me into talking.”
“Well, this was lovely,” she said. She pushed the chair back and stood up. “I should go.”
Sherlock grabbed her wrist. On instinct, she twisted her hand toward his thumb and broke free. He looked appropriately shocked.
“Sorry,” he said. “Please. Don’t talk to Mycroft.”
“Are you going to?”
He nodded. “I needed to be sure, or I’d risk being sent back to Elm’s.”
She smiled. “You look good, Sherlock.”
He nodded again. She left him there without another word, her fingers itching to text Mr Holmes.
Yet for some reason she didn’t.
Andrea sat on a hard chair in the A&E’s waiting room. There had been another bombing, this one in central London. It was reported as a gas explosion, but she knew differently. She had known before Mr Holmes came back to the Bunker, dusty and shaken, and told her about it.
A DX-707, Mr Holmes had said. On the way over here she’d sent a strongly worded email To Whom It May Concern to do a proper inventory of their stock to see if any of their Patience Bombs had got wings recently.
Mr Holmes, Sherlock, Dr Watson, and Mrs Hudson were all in the Bunker. All of them seemed miraculously unharmed. Scratches and bruises. Though here she was, in the A&E, waiting for news she would never receive. She couldn’t keep her left leg still, and she had to constantly remind herself not to chew on her thumbnail – a habit she had eliminated years ago.
It was ridiculous. They were all safe.
A bomb had gone off in central London and no one was even injured. It was a miracle. Yet she had counted her dead as soon as she’d learned of the address, and she hadn’t bounced back from that. Her nerves were on the outside, and for the part she was about to play she did nothing to control it.
Undercover. Undercover, undercover, undercover. This wasn’t real.
Except it was. She kept thinking about the bomb under the Palace of Westminster that didn’t go off because she lied to Lady Smallwood. And how she ran back to the hotel when she heard there had been an explosion at the airport. And the Queen talking pop songs with injured tweens. And the trucks. All the trucks. And—
She rose from her chair when Sir Edwin came. He looked ragged – she realised that he actually considered Mr Holmes a friend.
“How is he?” he wondered before he even reached her.
“They’re operating on him, but…”
Sir Edwin reached out and put a hand on her arm when she didn’t finish the sentence. “Can I get you anything? Tea, or a sandwich, or…?”
“Coffee would be… It would be…” Andrea stuttered, only half-acting. “And, ehm, do you know anything about his brother?”
Sir Edwin shook his head. “Sorry, luv. They are still going through the rubbles, but I’ll make sure you’re updated. Will get you that coffee. Milk? Sugar?”
Andrea shook her head. “Thank you.”
He patted her sympathetically on the arm, forcing a smile, and left her again. When he disappeared she took a deep breath to bring herself back to a reality where this really was just an act. She took out her BlackBerry from her handbag and sent a text message.
Sir E just left to fetch me coffee. How long do you need me to keep him occupied?
She really preferred playing the airhead assistant.
Andrea stood almost in attention when Sherlock and his parents left Mr Holmes’ office. She wasn’t proud, but she had seriously considered hiding in the back room until she was sure they were long gone. In the end she had stayed put at her desk, staring at the office door and fiddling with a pen.
Mr and Mrs Holmes didn’t look at her as they walked past. Sherlock met her eyes, nodding discreetly. She stayed, standing behind the desk, until she heard the door at the top of the stairs close. Then she quickly walked over to Mr Holmes’ office. After one last deep breath, she opened the door that had been left ajar.
“Mr Holmes,” she said, tentatively. “Mycroft…”
Her boss leaned against his desk, face in his hands, but when she said his name he looked up. He looked incredibly tired.
“Should I ask?” she wondered, unsure if she was allowed to actually enter the room.
“Do you… need anything?”
“Yes, I need to visit Sherrinford again,” said Mr Holmes. “Half a day would probably be sufficient. Could you find a suitable day during this week and coordinate it?”
“Of course, sir,” she said. “How about starting with a large coffee and a strong whiskey?”
Mr Holmes sighed. “Make it a strong coffee and a large whiskey.”
She smiled. “Yes, sir.”
“Ms Morton,” said Mr Holmes as she turned to leave. “Sherlock says you knew about Eurus.”
Andrea nodded. “I found her records after Sherlock had been shot.”
“I should explain—“
“You don’t have to,” she interrupted. “Sir. You were a child as well.”
Mr Holmes looked surprised, something she had only seen twice before. A part of her ached for him in that moment. His office was soundproof, so she had no clue about how the meeting with his parents had gone, but she had a feeling it hadn’t gone all that well.
“I’ll get you that whiskey,” she said.
“Bring a glass for yourself as well.”
She nodded. Then, over a bottle of whiskey she nicked from upstairs, Mr Holmes told her about his sister.
Andrea had no idea how her brother and niece had managed to talk her into this, because this was a bad idea. She sat in the back of a classroom filled with eight-year-olds, waiting for their teacher to call her up to the head of the class so that she could talk about her work.
And not the parts that had her brother calling her a spy, but the parts associated with her official title of nonpartisan political analyst. She was about to tell a room full of children about political analysis, which was hard to get even adults to be interested in or follow along with.
Not to mention that she risked disappointing Lisa, which frankly was the worst part.
“We have a guest with us today,” said the teacher. “This is Lisa’s aunt, and she’s going to tell you what it is she does at her job.”
The children applauded. Andrea wanted to disappear through the floor. Yet she got up. She smiled. She walked to the front of the classroom. Undercover, a voice in the back of her head whispered, you’re undercover.
“Hi, everyone,” she said, smiling. Always smiling. “My name’s Andrea, and I’m Lisa’s aunt. I work as a political analyst for the government. That means that I work with a lot of different things…”
Keeping her words as short and simple as possible, Andrea described fragments of what she did. Gathering data. Analysing it. Presenting it. She had met three Prime Ministers. One of the most recent assignments she’d had was for the Secret Intelligence Service – but she couldn’t tell them anything about that.
Lisa beamed at her throughout it all. The teacher thanked her. When they left. Lisa held her hand, swinging it back and forth. Andrea hadn’t felt this tall in months.
It never got old, entering the Palace of Westminster with her own badge. Passing through what felt like always increasing security did. She hated the photo-ID she had to wear around her neck for the terrible photo of her; she loved it because it meant she belonged here.
It felt like a life time ago when she had first set foot in this office, in this building. In reality it had been fourteen years. She had been so young and naïve then. Not a single grey hair and mildly shocked when Mr Holmes had shown her the small microphone hidden in the lamp on her desk. Now she’d seen four general elections and three referendums, and she had helped change and shape this place to simultaneously fit the needs of the new political climate and preserve political traditions.
She didn’t come here on November fifth anymore, but there were three hundred and sixty-four other days of the year, so no harm in that. No more than the odd look from Mr Holmes, but that she could live with.
She lingered in the doorway while Mr Holmes was wrapping up a conference call with Frankfurt, carrying a file that was mostly an excuse to enter. It was ridiculous that she was nervous, and even more so that she thought she needed a reason to come inside.
When Mr Holmes saw her, he waved her in. Moments later, he hung up.
“How did it go?” she asked, handing him the file.
“Well, you know,” Mr Holmes muttered. To keep up the façade and provide an excuse for him to have this office, he needed to produce a number of in-depth statistical analyses each year. He called them ‘mental exercises’ and ‘crossword puzzles’, but she knew he found it boring most of the time.
He started to go through the file she had given him. It was a year-by-year overview analysis of GDP development for all European non-member states compared to both the EU and the rest of the world. When he got to the first diagram he reached for his glasses, and only then did he seem to notice that she was still standing there.
“Yes?” he asked.
She took a breath. “I thought you should know that Lady Smallwood has offered me a job.”
Mr Holmes sat up straighter, putting down the glasses on the open file. He nodded. “She told me she would. It’s not as Norbury’s replacement, is it?”
“No, counter-terrorism. Domestic.”
“You would do well there.”
Andrea nodded. “Thank you, sir.”
Mr Holmes was silent. His gaze shifted. Andrea unintentionally stood up straighter. It was hard not to under his eyes, and she hadn’t been able to shake the habit during all the years she had worked for him.
“You’ve considered it.”
She nodded again.
“Are you going to accept?”
Andrea was surprised to hear that it was a question. She couldn’t tell if it was genuine, or if he was just asking out of courtesy.
“No, I would go insane if I worked with terrorism all day,” she said, smiling. “I think I need that kind of thing mixed up with lighter things like international trade agreements and obstructing the course of justice.”
“Are you sure?”
“Having a public career has never been for me.”
Mr Holmes gave her a real smile and nodded once. With that, he put on his glasses and turned to the folder she had brought him.
She deflated a little when he wasn’t watching her anymore. It felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She knew she would regret not taking the offer Lady Smallwood had given her, probably multiple times, but it would pass.
She was where she was supposed to be.