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Sherlock Holmes and the Rosenthall Curse

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London, England – July 1, 1873

     Lady Rosenthall leaned happily against her husband’s shoulder as the carriage pressed on through the night. The stars were just visible outside the carriage window. Lord Rosenthall was a steady, comforting presence to her left. In her lap, clutched between her gloved hands, was an item far more valuable than the emerald that hung round her neck. The shiny, silver plate was small, but it would soon hold a place of honor at Rosenthall Manor. The two of them had done it, they had been the victors at the fiftieth annual Danse Ball.

     From the time she had watched her first Danse Ball at the age of five, Lady Rosenthall had wanted to win that silver plate. The dance was the highlight of her year, and she’d only ever missed it once. She couldn’t wait until the time when her partner would take her by the hand and lead her out on the floor, but as she grew older, it always seemed further and further from reach, even after she married Lord Rosenthall . . . especially after she married Lord Rosenthall. He loved her, she never doubted that. The large, emerald dangling from her neck was a sure sign of his love, but crowds and big to dos did not set well with him. Lady Rosenthall hated to see him in pain, so she always handled the social affairs. Lord Rosenthall hated to see her in pain, too, and he’d even suggested she enter the dance with another partner last year, but the doctors had advised against it. “Weak constitution,” she’d heard that far too often for one lifetime.  

     But now they had done it. Not only had they entered, they’d won. Weak constitution, societal norms, and wagging tongues be damned. It was a dance competition after all, and they had danced the best.

     Lady Rosenthall pressed closer into her husband’s side. Her body ached, but it was all right. Her feet were especially sore, but that was her fault for dancing in new shoes without breaking them in. When her husband had presented her with them earlier that morning, though, she couldn’t resist. The stark, green shoes were a perfect match for her necklace. To top it off, he’d even had her initials sewn into the sides of the shoes in a lovely gold.

     “Thank you,” she whispered, suddenly feeling very tired, but content nonetheless.

     “For you, always,” he whispered back, pressing a kiss onto her forehead.

     She smiled and let herself sleep just a moment as the carriage approached Rosenthall Manor.

     When they arrived, Henrietta greeted them at the door. Lady Rosenthall presented her with the plate, and Henrietta beamed with pride. She’d been caring for Lord Rosenthall since he was a child.

     “I always knew he had it in him,” Henrietta whispered, and Lady Rosenthall squeezed her hand.

     “Did you win? Did you win?” Henrietta’s daughter Maddie appeared from behind her mother’s skirt.

     “She refused to sleep,” Henrietta explained.

     Lady Rosenthall smiled and showed Maddie the plate. The young girl gasped. “Oh, I knew it! I knew you’d win!”

     “Off to bed now,” Henrietta chided and pushed Maddie off down the hall. “The whole house is abuzz, despite the hour.”

     The whole house that meant. .  .Alden. Lady Rosenthall groaned at the thought of having to converse with her brother.

     “He is your brother,” Lord Rosenthall spoke. He knew that groan all too well.

     “He will try and spoil my night,” she lamented.

     “He is your brother, always.” Lord Rosenthall reached up and lovingly touched her cheek. She leaned into the touch. Oh, she was so tired. Lord Rosenthall held up his hands expectantly and she nodded. He deftly removed the necklace and kissed her cheek before turning to leave for his study. Nothing more was spoken.

     People had always wondered how the vibrant Claudia Lyons could marry the semi-recluse that was Beckett Rosenthall, but he had proven his undying love for her, three times now. The first was the necklace. The second was taking her wayward brother Alden in without a second thought, and the third was tonight, this perfect, perfect night.

     Lady Rosenthall went to take a step and winced. “These shoes.”

     “I’ll draw you a bath, miss.”

     Lady Rosenthall nodded as Henrietta walked off. She hobbled to the stairs, the plate clutched in her hands. The stairs were slow going, but she refused to relinquish her high. Nothing could strip this feeling from her, not her shoes, not the pain . . . not even her twin brother.

      Alden was waiting at the top of the stairs. “Returning in disgrace, I see.” He watched her limp and Lady Rosenthall knew what he was thinking. “He thinks my dear Beckett stepped all over my feet.”

     Lady Rosenthall said nothing, simply showed him the plate. Alden’s tongue caught in his throat. It was another moment before he spoke again. “Well, I suppose congratulations are in order. Miracles do happen, you know.”

     “Lord Rosenthall is a fine dancer. This is a beautiful night. Not even you can ruin this for me. Goodnight, Alden.” Lady Rosenthall turned and hobbled on. Her feet were really starting to hurt, burn even.

     “I wouldn’t expect him to do it again, you know, now that he’s back in his room with those – boxes.”

     Lady Rosenthall stopped and slowly turned back. “You know it to be true. He may have played the fool for you, but it ate him up inside.”

     “He loves me, Alden.”

     “Oh, so marriage is pain? Yours is certainly painful to watch.”

     Lady Rosenthall opened her mouth to speak, but winced as a throbbing pain shot down her left side. She placed her hand on her hip to steady herself. “Are you quite well?” Alden asked.

     “You’re free to leave anytime, Alden. The door is always open,” Lady Rosenthall spoke at last. She clutched the silver plate close to her chest. “And my marriage, while it is none of your concern, is exquisite and heartbreaking, and you and the rest of this world will never understand.” Alden was silent, and he almost looked sorry. Lady Rosenthall turned and completed the hobble to her bedroom.

     Once in the room, she could hear Henrietta preparing her bath. Her dressing gown was laid out on the bed. She set the plate down with the utmost care and turned her attention to the most important task at hand, removing those damned shoes. As soon as they were off, her feet seemed to hurt even more. Lady Rosenthall inspected the cuts on her heels and blisters on her toes. Henrietta would certainly have words for her.

     Lady Rosenthall took a step, but staggered back as another shooting pain shot up her left side. She made a noise, perhaps to scream, but there was no sound, only darkness as her body gave out and she collapsed to the floor. The silver plate sat on the bed, catching the moonbeams as they filtered through the curtains and danced across the floor.

 

London, England – May 1, 2023

     It was a surprisingly lovely day in London, which was good news for the crowd gathered for the press conference. “Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, we are honored to gather here today at the newly completed Schuemer Center. This multi-use facility proudly stands on the Rosenthall estate, lovingly donated to the Schuemer Foundation by Miss Maddie Hatcher. Today, the dreams of many converge. The dreams of a nature preserve, the dreams of a new museum to showcase the rich history of this estate, the dreams of new classrooms waiting to be filled with music and dance. The dreams of the perfect wedding, the perfect ball. So many dreams, and it’s all thanks to Lloyd Schuemer and his vision. I could go on and on, but I’ll let him do that. It is my pleasure to introduce Lloyd Schuemer.”

     Applause filled the air. Photos were taken by camera and phone. Lloyd Schuemer stepped forward to the podium. “What a lovely day,” he began. “I take that as a good sign. My grandmother was a firm believer in signs. She learned that from her grandmother, a proper English lady, and it was her stories that propelled this yank across the ocean to seek his heritage. That journey led me to my ancestors, the Rosenthalls, and then here to Rosenthall Manor. In my quest to find my ancestors, I also found a community in need of a creative space, a wilderness in need of conservation, and a house, a beautiful Manor house in need of preservation. My work back in Silicon Valley provided the funds, yes, but Miss Maddie Hatcher provided the heart. Miss Hatcher, I cannot thank you enough for donating your land, an unprecedented gift, and I am eternally thankful.”

     Miss Hatcher stood and made her way swiftly to the podium. She was very quick for her ninety-five years. “Oh, and Miss Hatcher is apparently going to speak.” Lloyd stepped back and clapped, shooting his team a sideways look of warning.

     Miss Hatcher cleared her throat and leaned into the microphone. “I want to thank you all for coming, but I’m not sure why you’re here. I’m not sure why I’m here. I really thought I’d be dead by now, but, oh well. There are forty different types of trees out here, at least there were. I had them all named, but then some of them had to go for this.” She gestured back to the large building looming behind them. “Do you like it? I think it’s rather ugly, but they didn’t ask me. I suppose it’ll do, in a pinch. Ball room’s nice. Lady Rosenthall did love to dance.”

     Lloyd Schuemer sprang into action, one of his assistants gently leading Miss Hatcher back to her seat. “Thank you, Miss Hatcher, thank you very much. Dancing, that brings us to our big announcement. For our first event at the Schuemer Center, we will be bringing back a tradition, a proud tradition, one that has been gone for one hundred and fifty years too long. On July 1, the Schuemer Center will be hosting the return of the Danse Ball!”

      A shocked hush fell over the crowd. Finally, a reporter spoke. “Are you serious?”

     “I was expecting this,” Lloyd conceded. “And I’ll take it. Go ahead.”

     “You aren’t worried about the Rosenthall curse?”

     “No, I am not worried about something that doesn’t exist,” Lloyd spoke with confidence.

     “Is that why you’ve got Scotland Yard on standby?” Another reporter gestured to where a handful of coppers, including Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade, stood off to the side.

     “Told ya they’d think we were hired security,” Sergeant Sally Donovan mumbled to her boss.

     “Large crowd, high profile, standard procedure,” he answered back.

     “Don’t you all have something better to do, like solve crimes?” a reporter taunted.

     “Told ya,” Sally muttered again.

     “Thank you, Sally,” Lestrade murmured and offered the reporter a half ass smile. “Slow day,” he replied.

     “Please, the police are just doing their normal jobs,” Lloyd assured, pulling the attention back to the podium. “It only seemed fitting, given the significant anniversary, and the history of this sacred ground, that we bring the Danse Ball back.”

      “The sacred ground where Lord Rosenthall murdered his wife?”

     “There’s a reason the 1873 ball was the last.”

     “Miss Hatcher, how do you feel about this?”

     “Poisoned necklace, wasn’t it?”

     “Whatever happened to that necklace? Worth a bloody fortune.”

     “No, shoes, it was the shoes, arsenic.”

     “Nobody knows, Rosenthall shut up after he offed his wife. Never spoke again.”

     “Whatever happened to those shoes?”

     “I heard you can buy ‘em on eBay.”

    “The Danse Ball, is about more than the tragedy of 1873,” Lloyd spoke forcefully, ending the conversation in the crowd. “We do it a great disservice to remember it as such. This center stands for the future. It is time we shake off the ghosts of the past and bring back - the Danse Ball!” Lloyd Schuemer pulled a chord to his side, and a large, brightly colored banner unfurled at the top of the building. The group on the dais applauded loudly. It was only somewhat reciprocated by the crowd. “Before the big night, you will be as excited about this as we are, I promise you. To tell us more, I’d like to introduce my assistant and right hand, Jeanine Bowers.”

     The woman who’d spoken first resumed her place at the podium. “Truly, we are very excited about the Danse Ball. And yes, the winning couple will receive the traditional, silver plate. More than that, the Schuemer Foundation will donate one million pounds to the charity of the winner’s choice.” Jeanine took a moment for that to sink in. “One hundred and fifty years ago, the Danse Ball brought together five couples who competed for a title. Today, the Danse Ball will do the same, five couples will have the chance to showcase their skills in various styles of dance. In the past, the couples were from high society, but we wanted to be sure that today’s Danse Ball represented the London we know and love. That’s why, this year’s participants will be five, celebrity couples who represent the diversity of this great city and her people.”

     “What couples?”

     “Like Dancing with the Stars?”

     “I love that show.”

     Jeanine pressed on. The crowd was turning back to their side. “Admission to the live dance on July 1 will be based on a lottery system. The dance will also be televised nationally, and everyone will have a chance to watch the contestants practice and prepare online. This will truly be an interactive experience. In tandem with the Ball, the Rosenthall Museum will be opening its first exhibit, containing sixty different puzzle boxes made by Lord Rosenthall himself. The museum staff, Gordy give a wave.” A lanky, young man stepped forward and gave a quick wave. “We have been working closely with Miss Hatcher to comb through and catalog the many long neglected treasures of Rosenthall Manor.”

     “What, you’ve been in the house?”

     “Puzzle boxes, boring, let us know when you find the necklace.”

     “Or the shoes.”

     Jeanine cleared her throat, endeavoring to press on. Maybe they weren’t coming around after all. “We want to tell the whole story of this great land, the families who lived here, and still do. The final goal, of course, is to preserve Rosenthall Manor and restore it to its former glory.”

     “Where will you be moving, then, Miss Hatcher?”

     Miss Hatcher shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, around. Cemetery, most likely.”

     Lloyd Schuemer stepped forward and stood beside Jeanine. “We really hope you all will see the opportunities here, all the good that’s being done.”

     “Hey, what’s in the box?” a reporter suddenly asked.

     “What’s that?” Lloyd remarked, obviously confused.

     “I’m getting this tweet, over and over.” The reporter looked back at his phone. Others followed.

     “Me, too.”

     “Me, too.”

     Lloyd looked around, still confused. “I don’t see a box.”

     “This box?” Gordy pointed to a bright, green box that sat on the dais. Suddenly its presence was very obvious. “Someone handed it to me, told me to set it up here,” he explained to Jeanine when she gave him an accusatory look.

     “Do you know about a box?” Lestrade looked to Donovan.

    “No, I assumed it was part of the show,” Donovan stammered.

     “Right.” Lestrade moved his hand to his weapon and they started to make their way to the stage.

     “What’s in the box?” someone asked again.

     “No!” Lestrade shouted as Gordy reached out and pulled the cover off.

      Panic and – nothing.

     “Jesus Christ, Gordy!” Lloyd exclaimed.

     “Oh my God,” Gordy gasped with sudden recognition. “That could’ve been a bomb! We could’ve been blown to bits! That would’ve sucked for my internship.”

     Jeanine yanked the green box away from him. It was only cardboard, wrapped cardboard. There, on the dais, sat another, smaller box.

     “Is that a puzzle box?”

     “Like Lord Rosenthall used to make?”

     Lestrade and his officers were at the dais now. “Nobody touch it! We are all going to leave here, calmly and quietly. Please follow Sergeant Donovan as she. . .”

     The Detective Inspector was cut short as a phone began to ring, very loudly.

     Lloyd pulled his mobile out of his pocket in disbelief. “That’s not my ringtone.”

     “Brahm’s ‘Eight Pieces,’ Lady Rosenthall loved that melody,” Miss Hatcher mused nostalgically.

     Everyone gasped and stepped back as the puzzle box clicked and popped open. Inside, was a pair of green shoes. There were bloodstains on the insides and the letters CLR were stitched on the outsides in gold thread.

 

221B Baker Street – The Same Day

    Sherlock Holmes flopped uncomfortably on the couch, his blue dressing gown spilling down onto the floor. “John,” he croaked. Nothing. “John!” he spoke with more force.

     “I’m coming.” Dr. John Watson entered the room, shopping bags in hand.

     Sherlock moaned and flopped the other way dramatically. “Your progeny has poisoned me.”

     “It’s a stomach bug, Sherlock, a minor one.”

     “Infected me with a parasite,” Sherlock pressed on. “The fruit of your loins. . .”

     “Yeah, don’t call her that.” John began to empty the bags and set their contents out on the table before the consulting detective.

     “The fruit of your loins has struck me a mortal blow, John.”

      “Right, so I got the Lucozade,” John spoke up, tuning Sherlock out. “I got some soup, more tea, some biscuits. . .”

     “Why is it those colors?”

     “What?”

     Sherlock leaned in to inspect the liquid in the bottles. “Why is it those colors? Nothing should be those colors.”

     “I dunno, so kids and athletes will drink it?”  

     “Children are idiots. Athletes are idiots,” Sherlock mumbled.

     “Yeah, no argument on that second one.”

     “And disgusting, children are disgusting.”

     “You didn’t have to go to the museum. I told you. . .”

     “Not go to the museum? Honestly, John, like I would trust such an important topic to those idiots.”

     “Highly trained. . .”

     “Highly trained idiots. I really question that school you picked for Rosie.”

     “The very expensive school we picked for Rosie.”

     “I don’t remember that part.”

     “Course not.”

     Sherlock picked up one of the bottles. “This one is the color of cyanide.”

     “You’ll find it contains very little cyanide, with a pleasant hint of citrus.”

    Sherlock eyed him and picked up the next bottle. “This one is the color of arsenic.”

     John sighed and picked up the food and moved to the kitchen. “Doesn’t matter, you won’t be going on anymore school excursions, you are now banned from them, by rule of the board.”

 

     “Do you all know who this is?” the curator asked the group of children and adults. She gestured to the early human’s exhibit, to a very specific skull. “This is Angie. Angie lived over a million years ago. She lived with her family, just like you all live with your families. She helped them catch food and prepare it. She helped to keep the children safe. She. . .”

     “He,” a voice corrected loudly from the back.

     “I’m sorry,” the curator fumbled.

     “He lived with his family, clan, whatever, yes, but I don’t think he particularly enjoyed their company, given the worn state of his teeth on the right side. That’s classic stress ware, even when you figure in poor diet, hostile environment, etc. The smaller size of the head and less pronounced slope could account for the male/female confusion, that or you’re just bad at your job. It no doubt added to his stress level. The stress obviously came to a head, no pun intended, as you can see from the large, gaping wound on the back of his skull where he was struck with a death blow by a large, sharp instrument. But you were probably going to tell the children ‘she’ slipped and fell, so as to spare their feelings.”

     Silence.

     “Who can find a sharp, blunt instrument in this poorly designed exhibit that might have dealt the death blow?” Sherlock looked expectantly to the children.

    Rosie Watson’s hand shot into the air. The other children simply stared, and Kevin Hardy cried.   

 

     “You’re also banned from bringing snack,” John reminded. He opened one of the kitchen drawers in search of the can opener. There was no can opener, but there was an assortment of petrified fingers.

 

     “Oh, there are none left,” Bernard bemoaned as he looked at the empty plate.

    “No, there should be exactly one left.” Sherlock looked at the plate quizzically.

     “Well, there’s not. I always try to nick one, if there’s extra. Most parents bring extra, you know, for the staff.”

     “I pay you, why should I have to feed you, too?”

     “Courtesy?” Bernard shrugged.

     Sherlock rolled his eyes and looked back at the plate. “Seventeen, there were seventeen crumpets, one crumpet per child. There are currently sixteen children here today because Sophia has the ‘ick,’ as you all so professionally put it. That means. . .” Sherlock straightened up and stepped into the center of the multi-colored room. “Someone has stolen a crumpet! One of you is a thief. You were clearly instructed to take one crumpet each, but someone in this room got greedy and nicked a second.”

     He began to walk slowly through the room, staring down each table. “At the rate you all shove food into your mouths, that crumpet is long gone, at least physically, but the crime remains. Do you know what they do to thieves in some parts of the world? They cut off their hands, chop them clean off. Other places brand thieves with hot pokers with letters or symbols, so everyone will know the terrible, awful thing they did.” He paused and steepled his fingers under his chin. “And then there’s solitary confinement.”

     “It was me! It was me!” Little Noah stood up, practically in tears.

     “Found you,” Sherlock hummed. The other children, save Rosie Watson, stared on in disbelief, and Kevin Hardy cried.

 

     “Keep this up and you’ll be lucky to attend her graduation.” John gave up his hunt for the can opener with a huff. “Don’t we own a can opener?” he asked, stepping back into the sitting room.

     “What’s that?”

     “The thing, the simple machine that opens cans.”

     Sherlock paused and thought. “I melted it.”

     “Why . . .”

     “For science, John, science.” John really should know better than to ask that question.

     “Fine, I’ll borrow one from Mrs. Hudson.”

     “It was that crying kid, wasn’t it?”

     “What?”

     “The child that always cries. His parents complained, didn’t they?”

     “All the parents complained, Sherlock, not just the Hardys. I get no calls about Rosie’s behavior, but I get all sorts about yours.”

     Sherlock scowled and picked up another Lucozade. “This one looks like Mercury.”

     “Pick your poison,” John sighed.

     “Hemlock,” Sherlock muttered under his breath.

      “What’s that?”

     “Arsenic it is,” Sherlock proclaimed and selected the green tinted drink. He moved to sit up and take a drink, but cringed as pain rippled down his lower abdomen.

     “Still in pain, I see. Have you been using the heating pad?” Sherlock’s silence told John everything he needed to know. “Do you even remember me bringing you a heating pad?” More silence. “Right.” John looked around the floor and soon discovered the neglected pad warming a space under the side table. “I’m certain the floor doesn’t need warming.” He walked over to Sherlock and helped him sit up and lean back against the couch. “Keep this here.” He tucked the heating pad against Sherlock’s front. “And drink this.”

     Sherlock took the drink and tentatively took a sip. “Ugh, I hope actual arsenic has a more pleasant taste.”

      “You know, your side might feel better if you actually slept on your bed, and not the sofa. Not as young as you used to be, Sherlock.”

      “You’re old!” Sherlock nearly spat out the drink with his hasty, indignant reply.

      “And you’re cranky.”

      “Mycroft’s old,” Sherlock assessed with a small smile. “Where’s my mobile? I want to text him that.”

      John found his phone and passed it to the consulting detective. “Right, when was the last time you threw up?”

      “This morning.”

     “This morning when?”

      Sherlock sighed, unhappy to be interrupted from tormenting his older brother. “Uh, you had taken Rosie to school, but Mrs. Hudson hadn’t left for her card game yet.”

      “So, like 9:30?”

      “Sure.” Sherlock set his phone down and took another drink. “Mmm, just as bad on the third take.”

     “Well, keep going. I’m going to pop downstairs, check on Rosie, get the can opener.”

      “The what?”

      “The can opener, Sherlock! How do you – never mind.”

      “Why would I need to open cans?”

       Two sets of feet could be heard on the stairs. The first was small but fell of energy. The second was larger and older, but just as excited as the first. Rosie bounded into the room, Mrs. Hudson close behind her. “Yoo hoo, boys,” Mrs. Hudson chirped.

      “Daddy!” Rosie threw her arms around John’s waist.

      “Look at you!” John exclaimed. Rosie was wearing a very sparkly, silver dance costume. “You look just like a star.”

       “A twinkling star,” Rosie informed as John gave her a little twirl.

      “Mrs. Hudson, this is beautiful.”

      “Oh, it was nothing.” Their landlady tried to play it off, but she really loved the praise. “I was happy to do it.”

      “Thank you.” John leaned over to hug her as Rosie approached Sherlock.

      “I’m sorry you’re sick.”

      “You poisoned me,” Sherlock told her, pointblank.

      “Rosie, remember Uncle Sherlock isn’t feeling well.” John moved over to her, as if to usher her away.

      “It’s fine, John. Given her immune system, it’s highly unlikely she’d catch this particular viral strain again. I’m the one in danger here.”

      “Your Uncle Sherlock is having a dramatic day.”

      “Do you need anything, Sherlock?” Mrs. Hudson asked.

      “I think I got it from Kevin Hardy,” Rosie explained. “He never washes his hands.”

      “Everything is Kevin Hardy’s fault, you’re quite right, Rosie,” Sherlock surmised.

      “Hey, how ‘bout you show us your dance moves?” John attempted to redirect the conversation.

       Rosie shook her head no. “I want you all to be surprised at the dance.”

      John smiled fondly and touched her face. “You will be the prettiest star onstage.”

     “This is a nice costume, Mrs. Hudson,” Sherlock admired. “Good to see you were able to repurpose some of your old dance outfits.”

      John’s eyes nearly popped out of his head as that fact sunk in. “What? These are yours? My daughter is wearing your . . .” He couldn’t finish that thought before doubling over with dry heaves.

      “No, no, I got this stuff at the shops!” Mrs. Hudson hurried to explain.

     John looked up at Sherlock who shook his head no. John promptly doubled over again.

     “Oh, Sherlock!” Mrs. Hudson stamped her foot in frustration.

     “Mrs. Hudson was a dancer?” Rosie asked.

     “Yes, an adult dancer,” Sherlock replied.

     “I want to be an adult dancer one day!” Rosie exclaimed.

     “No! No!” John’s voice was very loud in the small room. “I mean, you can be whatever you want to be, Rosie, like a ballerina, on a professional stage, with lots and lots of costumes, full costumes, head to toe costumes.”

     “I’m sorry,” Mrs. Hudson whispered to John.

     “It’s all right.” John held up his hand. “Just, uh, next time buy the fabric and send me the bill.” He was about to say something more, but his phone started vibrating constantly in his pocket. “Sorry.” John pulled his phone out and moved away into the kitchen.

     “You spoil everything, Sherlock,” Mrs. Hudson hissed before stepping out.

     Sherlock smiled at her before turning his attention back to Rosie. “Did you know stars are actually dead?”

      “What?”

     “Well, most of them are dead. Scientists aren’t sure how many, but a good lot of them are deceased. A star’s light travels so slowly, that by the time it reaches our eyes, it could have been dead for years.”

      “Why do they die?”

      “Run out of gas, I suppose. Boredom, maybe.”

      “Hold on,” John interrupted. “Sherlock, check your mobile.”

      Sherlock reached over and picked up his phone. There were several, new messages, and only one of them was from his brother. “What’s in the box?” Sherlock read as he clicked on a message. A video popped up.

     “Right, and there’s Lestrade.” John took a moment to read the text. “Mrs. Hudson?” he called down the stairs. “Mrs. Hudson!”

      The landlady was back up the stairs in a flash. “What is it, John?”

     “Oh, this looks promising.” A sly smile spread across Sherlock’s face as his eyes furtively scanned all the info. “It’s got to be an eight, at least.”

     “Um, I think we have a case,” John spoke. “Are you up for this, Sherlock?”

      Sherlock looked offended. He stood quickly, the plug of the heating pad yanking out of the outlet. “I have my heating pad. I have my arsenic. Let’s go.” He took another drink and gagged.

      “Blue is the best,” Rosie mentioned.

      “Good to know.” Sherlock slipped out of his dressing gown and grabbed his familiar coat.

      “You’re probably contagious,” John pointed out.

      “Fine, I’ll stand next to Anderson, or Donovan. Put me between Anderson and Donovan.” 

     “Can you watch Rosie, Mrs. Hudson?” John asked.

      “Oh, of course, you boys go on. We’ll be fine.” Mrs. Hudson held out her hand and Rosie gladly walked over to take it.

      “Right, you be good.” John kissed his daughter’s head. “We’ll be back.”

     Sherlock was already out the door. “Come on, John.” He stuck his head back in the room.

     “It’s on, isn’t it?!” Rosie exclaimed.

     Sherlock smiled. “Yes, young Watson, the game is on!” With that, he was gone, John following close behind.

 

 

Lab at St. Bart’s Hospital – Later That Day

     Sherlock examined the shoe in his gloved hand. John and Lestrade stood to the side with forensic team members Molly Hooper and Phillip Anderson. “I put them through every test. They appear to be authentic,” Molly explained to John and Lestrade.

     “That’s because they are authentic,” Sherlock spoke up. “These are the shoes Claudia Lyons Rosenthall was wearing the night she died.”

     “Those are the shoes that killed her?” Anderson voiced with awe. “I love my job. Someone take my picture with them.” He passed his phone to Molly who reluctantly took a photo as he posed.

     “The shoes she was wearing on the day she died, yes,” Sherlock reiterated with irritation. “Where’s the box?” Lestrade pointed to the table and Sherlock rolled his chair a little further down, careful of the chord of his heating pad.

     “Where’d they come from?” John asked. “If they were murder weapons, wouldn’t they be locked up in one of your vaults?”

      “Yeah, well, things were kind of kept all over back then. Lots of people coming and going. Things go missing,” Lestrade struggled to explain.

      “Things go missing today,” Sherlock pointed out. “Evidence is just as easy to nick now as it was a hundred years ago.”

     “How would you know?” Lestrade asked.

     Sherlock was silent. “Oh, these are things I don’t need to hear,” Lestrade groaned.

     “This is a modern box, made to look old,” Sherlock observed. “It was triggered by a certain sound, in this case a certain song.” He set the box down and turned his attention back to the shoes, taking them from Anderson’s hands.

     “Does he have a heating pad and an energy drink?” Lestrade asked after a moment.

     “Yeah, bit of a stomach bug,” John explained.

     “Oh, so the great Sherlock Holmes is human after all,” Lestrade mused. “It’s hard gettin’ older isn’t it, Sherlock?”

     Sherlock faltered for a moment and shot Lestrade a hard look before returning to his work.

     “Body doesn’t hold up as well as it used to,” Lestrade added.

     “So,” John spoke up, trying to change the subject, “the Schuemer Center is unveiled today, on the former Rosenthall property. They announce the return of the Danse Ball, and then these shoes show up in a mysterious box.”

     “The Rosenthall Curse,” Anderson spoke in a hushed tone. He seemed to realize, for the first time, that he’d touched the shoes. He quickly spat in his hand, clasped it to his heart, and spun around three times.

     “I’m seriously starting to question your reinstatement to the force, Anderson,” Lestrade remarked.

     “No, the Rosenthall Curse, it’s a thing,” Anderson stammered.

     “Oh, please,” Sherlock groaned.

     Molly ignored them and leaned in to Sherlock with genuine concern. “I’m sorry you’re sick. Do you need anything?”

     “Space, thank you, Molly.” Molly sighed and moved away.

     “It’s got to be a threat,” John surmised. “Or a publicity stunt, maybe both. Murder weapon sent back to the scene of the crime, one hundred and fifty years later.”

     Sherlock set the shoes down. “The shoes were not the cause of Lady Rosenthall’s death.”

     “You’re kidding, those things were doused in arsenic,” Anderson protested.

      “There was a lot of residual arsenic,” Molly agreed.

     “Yes, because arsenic was used to make this distinctive green shade.” The consulting detective held up his drink in comparison. “See, arsenic. Did someone get a little heavy handed with the dye, yes, but that was not intentional. Everyone assumed it was the shoes, and that the poison entered her bloodstream through the cuts on her feet, but that was all circumstantial. These shoes never killed anyone, and neither did Lord Rosenthall.”

     “Then who did?” John asked.

     “Don’t know, not yet, but I’ll get there,” Sherlock spoke with confidence.

     “He loved her, so much,” Molly’s voice was soft. “It was a fairytale romance, young, beautiful lady, full of life and joy.”

     “He, the older man, quiet, solemn, set in his ways,” Anderson added in.

     “But he loved her from first sight. They met at a dance, but he didn’t dance. She did, though, and he loved watching her.”

     “She loved dancing for him. She could’ve had any man there, but she loved his eyes on her. Then he disappeared, took a long trip, and she almost married someone else.”

      “She was going to be engaged to someone else,” Molly corrected. “And then there was another dance, and he was back.” She paused to catch her breath as the emotion of the story caught in her throat. “He walked straight up to her, offered her his hand, and in it he held an emerald necklace. She put it on, and they were married the very next week.”

     “He took her to Rosenthall Manor, and they spent five happy years together.”

     “But there was something she’d always wanted to do . . .”

     “Dance in the Danse Ball,” Molly and Anderson spoke together.

      “And they did dance, he danced for her, and they won. He loved her for everything she was, and she loved him for everything he was.” Molly put her hand to her mouth to stifle a cry.

      “Then she died, and he was convicted of her murder . . .” the words faltered in Anderson’s throat.

     “Lord Rosenthall barely spoke again, never said a word in prison, just sat there making his puzzle boxes, then he wasted his days in his big, lonely Manor with those same boxes. His light, was gone.” Molly wiped a tear from her eye.

     “What an appalling performance,” Sherlock voiced after a moment.

     “You don’t appreciate love, Sherlock,” Molly spoke, her voice hard. “I never thought Lord Rosenthall murdered her, even as a little girl.”

     “Congratulations, you have one up on Scotland Yard,” Sherlock quipped.

     “Listen,” Lestrade defended, “the Yard wasn’t convinced either, all right, but he didn’t mount a defense, just sat in silence. He served twenty years and then was released to sit in his Manor. All he did was make those boxes ‘till he died.”

      “Were there any other suspects?” John asked.

      “Claudia’s brother, twin brother, Alden Lyons.”

     “Ah ha!” John crowed and everyone looked at him. “Sometimes it is twins,” he said pointedly to Sherlock, who simply rolled his eyes.

     “Yeah, he was the main one against Lord Rosenthall, and all the evidence pointed that way, so. . .” Lestrade explained. 

      “People wanted the evidence to point that way because Lord Rosenthall was different,” Sherlock spoke with emphasis. A momentary silence filled the room.

      “Very well, Lestrade,” the consulting detective’s deep voice cut through the poignant stillness he’d created. ”I will solve your 150 year old case.” John flinched a little at that statement, and it did not go unnoticed by his partner.

     “I called you to help with my current case, the Schuemer Center, and the box.”

      “I will solve both your cases,” Sherlock amended. “I will need to meet with these Schuemer people.”

     “Good, cause they want to meet with you, too,” Lestrade informed. He held open the door.

     “Oh, like now?” John asked.

      “Rich Americans, times doesn’t wait for them,” Lestrade quipped.

     “Molly, unplug my chord,” Sherlock spoke as he stood. “My heating pad and I are needed across town.”

 

Taxi Cab in Route to Schuemer Center – Later that Day

     Sherlock flipped through his phone, his eyes quickly scanning a page before thumbing to the next. John sat beside him, turning his phone over in his hands, his teeth worrying at his bottom lip. His mind was still back in Bart’s lab. “Lloyd, it’s an odd name,” Sherlock spoke, his voice disrupting their silence. “Ll-o-y-d,” he sounded out. “Lloyd. I don’t like those two l’s.”

     “Is a bit odd, yeah,” John halfheartedly agreed. Sherlock eyed him before turning back to his phone. There was another moment of silence.

     “Just say it, John, whatever it is. Your thoughts are very loud and distracting.”

     “Right.” John took a breath and cleared his throat. “What you said earlier, ‘bout solving the old case, the Rosenthall case, it worried me.”

     “Why?”

     “Cause of what happened the last time you felt the need to solve a hundred year old case,” John replied, thinking it rather obvious.

     “What happen . . .” Sherlock started, but then paused as the memories returned. “Oh, right, the drugs and the . . .”

     “Overdose,” John supplied for him.

     “Honestly, John, that was seven years ago.”

     “Doesn’t matter, because you’re an addict, length of time doesn’t matter.” John was trying his best to keep his voice restrained. Sherlock payed him no mind, kept his eyes on his phone. John sighed with frustration and turned to look out the window as the silence dragged on.

     “No drugs, John, I promise. Just the natural high of the case.”

     John looked back and found that Sherlock had actually bothered to set his phone aside and make eye contact. It was brief, but the sincerity was felt.

     “If anything is ever troubling you, you know you can talk to me, right?”

     Sherlock rolled his eyes, and returned to his phone. “Now you sound like my brother.”

     “Don’t insult me like that,” John joked. He cleared his throat again and shifted in his seat. “I can’t believe we’re heading to the Rosenthall Manor. Never thought I’d see it. I heard the stories, of course, when I was a kid, but – I never thought I’d get to step into those stories.”

     “Mycroft told me my bedtime stories, and I most certainly did not want to step into them.”

     “Big, gothic Manor. Lots of history. Myth meets truth,” John rambled on. “Not to mention the millionaire and his fancy center. Lots of layers. This one’s going to need a really good title, like the perfect title.”

     Sherlock groaned loudly and let his head flop back. “If you make another title wall out of sticky notes in the flat, I will set it on fire.”

 

 

 

The Schuemer Center – Just a Little Bit Later that Same Day

     Sherlock moved around the dais outside the Schuemer Center. Everything had been left as it was that morning for the announcement, per Lestrade’s instructions. The rental company stood off to the side, watching Sherlock as he surveyed the scene, taking measurements, peering through his magnifying glass, and taking the occasional photo. The rest of the group was gathered near the stage, John taking notes as they talked.

     “How long is this going to take?” Lloyd asked as he watched Sherlock.

     “Hard to say,” Lestrade replied, much to Lloyd’s chagrin.

     “Four hours of overtime,” Jeanine whispered not so quietly to Lloyd. She was holding a large, black tablet which seemed to be the most important thing on the face of the planet, at least to her. “Closing in on five hours of overtime.” Lloyd looked back at the rental company, and they gave a cheeky wave.

     “Mr. Schuemer, your mobile was the one that triggered the box?” John asked.

     “Yes.” The multi-millionaire reluctantly turned his attention to the matter at hand.

      “Any trace on the call?” John looked to Lestrade.

      “Burner phone, not much luck there,” the Detective Inspector lamented.

     “But that wasn’t even my ringtone. My ringtone is . . .”

     “God Save the Queen, or My Country Tis of Thee, depending on your heritage today.” Sherlock appeared beside them. “Consulting Detective Sherlock Holmes, I believe you sent for me.”

     “Yeah, four hours ago,” Lloyd replied, frustration, weariness, and a mix of other emotions obvious in his voice.

     Sherlock took a quick beat to analyze the multi-millionaire before him. Lloyd Schumer - No tan, no veneers, works hard to appear English as opposed to the Californian he is. Surprisingly all right with being named Lloyd, not all right with original nose. At least two nose jobs. Wearing at least five different designers, more money than sense. Nervous tick of scratching forehead has led to increased baldness on right temple.

     “So sorry, had to see a man about some shoes.” Sherlock looked at Lestrade.

     Jeanine looked up from her tablet for the first time since they’d arrived. “So they’re real?”

     “Yes,” Sherlock replied. Jeanine and Gordy took in similar breaths of awe. Lloyd grimaced and absentmindedly picked at his forehead.

     Jeanine Bowers – Nice suit, but still has tag hidden away inside, she’s returning it, and not for store credit. Carpal tunnel in left wrist from constantly grasping something tightly, but refuses to wear a brace. Doesn’t get much sleep, and enjoys three, no four glasses of merlot a night, the cheap kind. Does she always stand this close to her superior?

     “What’s going to happen to them?” she asked.

     “They’re evidence, again,” Lestrade replied.

     Jeanine and Gordy were obviously disappointed with the answer. Jeanine turned her attention back to her tablet. “Can they get on with this, then?” Lloyd looked from Lestrade to the rental company.

     “Oh, yeah, sure.”

     Lloyd cleared his throat pointedly. Jeanine looked up and snapped her fingers, signaling the rental company. Sherlock jerked as the crew finally sprang into action. “Where’d they come from?”

     “Been here the whole time,” John muttered. “Mr. Schuemer, who would’ve reset your ringtone?”

     “I don’t know. I just got the phone yesterday. I try to keep it on me, but . . .”

     “He’s always forgetting his mobile, leaves it everywhere,” Jeanine added without looking up.

     “Thanks, Jeanine.” Lloyd scratched at his head.

    “But it had facial recognition or a password, or something?” John pressed.

     “Hadn’t been set up yet,” Jeanine mumbled.

     “Amateurs,” Sherlock sighed, not as quietly as John or anyone else would have liked.

     “Right.” John jotted down a note and turned his attention to Gordy. “And you said the box was handed to you by another worker who told you to put it on stage?”

     Gordy ? – First job, first pair of professional pants, first professional shirt, borrowed tie, startled appearance is his natural resting face.

     “Gordy,” Sherlock snapped, “what kind of an idiot in this day and time accepts a box from a person he doesn’t know and sets it on stage in front of a large crowd without a question asked?”

     Gordy struggled to speak, but finally managed. “I deserve that. I’m not a very good intern, it’s true.”

    “An intern, thank you!” Sherlock exclaimed.

    “But there were so many people, and I’m not sure who all my bosses are, and Jeanine told me not to bother her, unless someone was dying, and then I needed to really think about it,” Gordy rushed to explain. “And I don’t like crowds. I just like the history part.”

     “It’s all right, Gordy, you’re not alone in your idiocy, because what group of people sits onstage with an unfamiliar box?” He looked at Lloyd and Jeanine, before turning his attention to Lestrade, who had just been joined by Sergeant Donovan. “And what idiot sits back and lets an unfamiliar, clearly not screened by security box sit onstage at a very high profile event?”

     “Nice, Sherlock, real nice,” Sally replied, daggers in her voice.

     Sherlock smiled at her and looked back to Gordy. “Plenty of idiocy to go around.”

     Lloyd scratched at his head again and inclined his head towards Lestrade. “He said you were like this, but I guess it’s one more thing to check off my English card, being insulted by Sherlock Holmes.”

     “English card, what’s that?” Sherlock asked.

     “Yeah, he’s not going to get that,” John told Lloyd. “It’s nothing, Sherlock.”

     “I saw the box, Mr. Holmes, but I thought it was something for Miss Hatcher,” Jeanine explained.

     “Ah, Miss Hatcher.” Sherlock turned his focus to the elderly woman seated behind them.

      “Take it easy, Sherlock,” John whispered.

     Miss Hatcher – Old . . . really old . . . like so old. .  .and . . . cheese, butter, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, flour and pepper.

     “Yes, dear?” Miss Hatcher looked up expectantly.

     Sherlock faltered. “You - you live . . .”

     “Oh, aren’t you a handsome one? Would you like a candy?” Miss Hatcher asked. She fished a brightly colored wrapper out of her sweater pocket.

     “Yes,” Sherlock replied and took the candy from her. He unwrapped it and put it in his mouth, sucking on it as he considered her further. “You live in that old house?” he asked around the sugary circle.

     “The one back there, yes? Course, you can’t see it from here anymore cause of this.” She gestured to the Schuemer Center.

     “Did you know about Lady Rosenthall’s shoes?”

     “Shoes? I have 57 pairs of shoes, and I have 157 toasters.”

     “Fascinating,” Sherlock replied in earnest without a hint of sarcasm.

     Miss Hatcher smiled and offered Sherlock another candy. He readily accepted it.

     “We have a very special relationship with Miss Hatcher,” Jeanine explained.

     “And apparently so does Sherlock,” John observed.

     Sherlock took a moment to crunch and swallow the candy before speaking again. During that time, John watched as Jeanine showed something on her tablet to Lloyd, and it was the first time since they’d arrived that he seemed happy, pleased even.

      The consulting detective turned back to face them. “A mysterious puzzle box containing the shoes of Lady Rosenthall ends up onstage, despite zero security precautions. Aren’t really guarding the Crown Jewels, now are we? Of course, seeing as Jim Moriarty stole, no, fondled those once, maybe that’s not the best example.” A sudden pain in Sherlock’s lower stomach and the faint whisper of “Miss me?” in a familiar voice in the back of his head momentarily distracted him. John gave him a sideways glance, but Sherlock shook the feeling the second after it arrived. “Your gift giver, whomever he or she is, will strike again.”

     “More threats?” Lestrade asked.

     “Threats, no, messages certainly. I just need to figure out who they are, and what they want.”

     “Good,” Lloyd spoke with a smile. “Follow me, please. Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, I have a proposition for the two of you.”

     As the group headed for the Schuemer Center, Gordy hung back and helped Miss Hatcher to stand. “What was that about, you and Miss Hatcher?” John asked.

     “She’s old, it was distracting, and oddly - endearing,” Sherlock replied, the word foreign to his mouth.  “By the way, do we have the stuff for Welsh rarebit at home? I suddenly want some.”

      Once inside the Schuemer Center, John let out a low whistle. It was a very impressive facility. “So this is what all the money in the world gets you.”

     Sherlock was instantly drawn forward to the large, glass windows that looked out over what was left of the Rosenthall estate. There sat Rosenthall Manor in all its dilapidated glory. “That’s it, then?” John stood beside him.

Rosenthall Manor – Sad, so very sad. That’s ridiculous, Sherlock, a house can’t be sad.

     “Oh, that’s my house. Hello, house!” Miss Hatcher waved at Rosenthall Manor as she walked by on Gordy’s arm.

     “Shame we couldn’t have kept the shoes,” Jeanine spoke up. “They would have been a blockbuster exhibit for the museum.”

     John waited until she had passed before leaning over to Sherlock, whose eyes were still transfixed on Rosenthall Manor. He’d gotten a good look at Jeanine’s tablet. She was checking their Twitter, which seemed to be gaining followers by the second. “Do you think they did it themselves, as a publicity stunt?”

     “No, not them. Someone wants attention, though.” Sherlock’s stomach smarted again and he rubbed at it.

     “You feeling all right?” John asked. Sherlock gave a quick nod.

     “This way, gentlemen,” Lloyd called. John and Sherlock pulled themselves away from the windows and followed the group upstairs into a very extravagant ball room. John let out another low whistle.

     “This is it, the home of the new Danse Ball. Now, I can hire all the security in the world, but there will be more boxes, right?” Lloyd looked to Sherlock.

     “Yes.”

     “You could cancel the ball,” Lestrade suggested.

     “That’s not going to happen,” Lloyd assured. “That box and those shoes are an Internet sensation. More people are interested in the Danse Ball now than ever. We’re trending worldwide. Did I like the live surprise, no, but I can’t argue with the numbers. I prize safety as much as the next person, and I will hire extra security. No one’s getting hurt on my watch, or yours, Mr. Holmes.”

     “I haven’t decided to take your case,” Sherlock spoke, coolly. He really couldn’t stand impertinence, especially when it was American made.

     “I believe you will,” Lloyd replied, absolutely sure of himself. “Will everyone agree with my methods? No, but I’m used to that. In fact, two of our celebrity competitors have respectfully withdrawn from the Danse Ball. I can’t blame them, danger makes some people nervous. Not all people. That’s why I’d like to offer the empty slot to you, Mr. Holmes, and Dr. Watson.”

      John let out a laugh. “Are you serious? No. . . .”

     “Yes,” Sherlock replied without hesitation.

 

Taxi Cab in Route to 221B Baker Street – Even Later That Same Day

     After quite a bit of back and forth, Sherlock had agreed to give John the night to sleep on the Danse Ball decision. “People will really talk now,” John said for the hundredth time. “And I don’t care, really, I don’t. People think we’re an item, fine. It’s just - I may want to date again someday, you know, not that I’ve been doing a lot of that, but I’ve been thinking about getting back into it and. . . .”

     “It’s fine, John.”

     “And you just said yes, like yes, without even a thought yes.”

     “I like to dance.”

     “Yeah, but I don’t.”

     “I gave you the night to think it over.”

     “Well, I’m pretty sure my answer won’t change.”

     Sherlock didn’t say anything, just got out of the cab as it pulled to a stop, leaving John behind to pay. As John headed up the stairs and into the building, he heard Rosie’s excited cheers. The little girl ran out of Mrs. Hudson’s flat and threw her arms around her father’s waist. “Hello, you.”

     “Daddy, you and Uncle Sherlock are going to be dancers, just like me!” she squealed, bouncing up and down. “Yay! Yay! Yay!”

     Sherlock stepped out and clapped along as Rosie bounced. John gave him a stern, albeit defeated look. “You are a very bad man, Sherlock Holmes.” 

 

221B Baker Street – That Night

     221B was silent, which was odd for 2:00am, seeing as Sherlock was usually up still working. John used to keep vampire hours with him, but fatherhood had changed that. Sherlock was perfectly fine to solider on alone most nights, but he’d been oddly tired tonight. John had reminded him he was recuperating and suggested an actual night spent sleeping in bed might be just what the doctor ordered. A steady rain had started to fall earlier, and it beat against the windows with a pleasant thrum.

     “It’s raining, it’s pouring,” a voice sang softly from somewhere.

     Sherlock blinked his eyes half open, momentarily surprised to find himself actually in bed. He could hear the rain, but nothing more.

     “It’s raining, it’s pouring, Sherlock is boring,” the voice sang again, louder this time.

     He knew that voice. He knew those words. Sherlock’s eyes snapped open. He started to turn his head, to sit up, but he couldn’t. It was like he was frozen to his bed. Every part of him was suddenly made of iron, and he couldn’t move, no matter how hard he tried. His mind was racing, and he tried to speak, to form words, but he couldn’t even do that. The most he could manage was a small gurgle.

     “Did you miss me?” Jim Moriarty asked, appearing suddenly, directly in Sherlock’s line of site. Sherlock tried to pull back, but he couldn’t. All he could do was watch. “I can tell by the look in your eyes you did.” Moriarty reached forward and tapped on the detective’s cheek, right below his open eyes. Sherlock grunted, even though he wanted to shout. “Oh, shh, shh, dearie, you don’t have to say anything.”

     Moriarty pulled back and began to walk around the room. “I love what you’ve done with the place, so domestic, so drab.” He stopped to look at one of Rosie’s drawings pinned to the wall. “So boring.” He turned back to Sherlock. “Kid’s drawings, really? Is this your life now, Sherlock? I should’ve killed you years ago, blown you away when I had the chance. Spared you this embarrassment.”

     Every part of Sherlock’s mind was screaming at him to move, to do something, but he couldn’t even manage to twitch a finger. “Or you could’ve actually fallen to your death when I gave you the opportunity. Jesus Christ, anything, to save you from this.” Moriarty gestured to the art wall and sighed. “Sad, it’s just sad. I expected more.”

     Sherlock grunted again and Moriarty was back by the bed. “Oh, look at you trying to figure it out. You’re so cute when you’re thinking.” Moriarty grabbed one of Sherlock’s scarves and wrapped it around his neck. His tone shifted to imitate the consulting detective as he spoke. “Why is Jim Moriarty here? I deduce this has to be a dream. But I can’t move. Why can’t I move? Dream paralysis, but that hasn’t happened in a very long time, not since I was a kid and my sister murdered my best friend. So, why now? And why Jim Moriarty? I haven’t been haunted by that terribly attractive bastard in a long time.” Moriarty tore off the scarf and dropped it on the floor. “You’re so predictable, Sherlock. I, on the other hand, have always had the element of surprise.”

     Moriarty leapt up on the bed with a gleeful laugh and began to slowly crawl up Sherlock’s body. The detective’s heart beat faster. He was about to vibrate out of his skin, but he could not move! “So what’s different, Sherlock? Hmm, what’s wrong? What is it? You can tell me. You can tell your old friend, Jim.” All Sherlock could manage was a choked noise. “I asked you, what - is - wrong!” With the last word, Moriarty struck Sherlock with force in his lower stomach, sending a wave of pain jolting through his entire body.

     Sherlock cried out, and he could actually hear his voice this time. He sat up, suddenly able to move. “Sherlock? Sherlock!” John’s voice called from upstairs. He heard his flatmate’s frantic feet on the stairs. Sherlock managed to take in a breath and quickly access the situation. Moriarty was gone, the dream was over. His lower stomach still throbbed, and he gripped it, trying hard not to double over.

     John plunged into the room. “What is it?”

     “I’m fine, John.”

     “Are you all right?” John went to the window, making sure it was closed. “Is anyone else here?”

     Sherlock shook his head. “Dreaming, just a dream.”

     John paused. “Night terrors? You were having night terrors? Isn’t that my department?”

     “8.7 percent of the population experiences them, John.” Sherlock shifted on the bed and winced slightly at the pain.

     “Right.” John stepped forward and turned on the bedside lamp. “I knew you pushed it too hard today.”

     “Oh, come on,” Sherlock whined.

     “Humor me.” John took Sherlock’s face in his hands. He felt his temperature and checked his pupils before taking his pulse. “You don’t have a fever, but your pulse is racing. Should slow down in another moment. Stomach still bothering you?”

     “Slightly.”

     “Right, I’m going to get you a drink, your heating pad, and some paracetamol.”

     “I don’t need all that,” Sherlock huffed, clearly annoyed.

     “You’re gettin’ it anyhow.” John turned to find Rosie standing in the doorway, her stuffed hippo clutched to her chest. “Rosie, love, you should be in bed.”

     “I heard shouting,” she spoke in a soft voice.

     “Uncle Sherlock had a nightmare, that’s all.” He patted her head. “Be right back.” John left the room and Rosie approached the bed.

     “Hello, young Watson.”

     “Was your dream scary?” She clutched her hippo a little tighter.

     “It was alarming, yes.”

     Rosie hugged the hippo again and then held it out, offering it to Sherlock. “Here.”

     “What’s this?”

     “Sir Portly will protect you. He protects me.”

     John returned, supplies in hand. He paused at the sight in front of him. “Rosie, Sir Portly is a toy. He cannot stop my mind from crafting nightmares as I sleep. He cannot stop an armed robber. He certainly cannot . . . .”

     John cleared his throat, and Sherlock stopped. He took the hippo and set it on the bed. “Thank you, Rosie. That is very kind of you.”

     “You’re welcome. Good night, Sir Portly. Good night, Uncle Sherlock.” Rosie walked back past her father, who patted her on the head again.

      “I’ll be up soon, love.” As soon as Rosie was gone, John returned to the bed. He set the bottle of blue Lucozade on the side table and passed Sherlock the medicine. Sherlock went ahead and took it, knowing there was no use in protesting any further. John plugged in the heating pad and situated it on the bed.

     “You be all right, then?”

     “Yes.”

     “I’m upstairs, if you need me.”

     “I am aware of your location in this flat.”
     John nodded. “Night.”
     “Good night,” Sherlock sighed. Once John was gone, he took another sip of the drink and then attempted to find a comfortable spot on the heating pad. Eventually, the ache in his stomach faded into a dull throb. Sir Portly stared back at him from the other side of the bed. The rain continued outside, and Sherlock shifted a little, making the pain flare up again momentarily. “It’s raining, it’s pouring,” a voice faintly echoed. Sherlock reached out and grabbed Sir Portly, pulling the stuffed hippo close to his chest.

 

Taxi Cab in Route to the Schuemer Center – The Next Day

     John and Sherlock sat in silence for a moment, both engrossed in their respective phones. “You sure you’re feeling up to this today?”

     “Ask me that again, John, and I’ll toss your mobile out the window. I am fine,” Sherlock spoke with force. John nodded and turned his attention back to his phone.

     “And you don’t want to know anything about our fellow competitors?” He’d been reading up on the rest of the contestants in the Danse Ball. He had no idea what Sherlock had been engrossed in all morning.

     “Why do I need to know them? They’re our competitors. I’m a better dancer. We’re going to beat them, that’s all I need to know.”

     John looked down at his shoes awkwardly. Eventually he was going to have to tell Sherlock the awful truth, but maybe he could stave it off a little longer. “We’re going to be seeing a lot of these people, Sherlock, for several days. So, maybe you could not, do your thing.”

     “My thing?”

     “Your super quick, rapid deductions that make everybody feel terribly inadequate?” Sherlock didn’t respond. “Sherlock?”

     “Fine.”

     “Thank you.” John leaned back in his seat. “You been reading up on the case all day?”

     “No, watching dance videos on YouTube. It’s been a while. I need to brush up.”

     “You remember we’re here to solve a case, right?”

     “Solve two cases,” Sherlock corrected.

     “Right, two cases.”
     “And win a dance competition.”

     John sighed and leaned over, looking at the video on Sherlock’s phone. It was of an elegantly dressed couple clearly engaging in some sort of formal dance. “Yeah, I’m not sure you’re aware of exactly what a celebrity dance competition is.”

     “It’s a competition where the best dancer wins. What else could there be, John?”

 

All Over the Schuemer Center – That Same Day

     There was a lot more to it, starting with legal.

    Jeanine perched on the edge of the desk as Sherlock and John made their way through the stack of paperwork in front of them. “Sign here, and here.” She turned Sherlock’s page and John followed suit. “Sign here, and here, and here. Initial here.”

     “I’m not signing away my first born, am I?” John joked.

     “Rosie will do as she’s told,” Sherlock simply stated.

     Then there was the photoshoot.

     “All right, you stand here, and Dr. Watson you go right here, right here real close.” The photographer arranged the two of them accordingly. “It’s great to see the two of you finally together.” John sighed and momentarily looked at the floor. “Oh, you didn’t bring the hat,” the photographer bemoaned as he stepped back. “Wardrobe,” he called off, “do we have a Sherlock Holmes’ hat around?”

     “On it!” a voice called back.

     “Why are we taking photos?” Sherlock asked, an edge to his voice.

     “For the show. Look here now.” The studio lights flashed. “Maybe not so stern next time, Sherlock. Like, relax a little.”

     “Yeah, he really can’t do that,” John cautioned.

     Several more pictures were taken, with and without the hat. “All right, now I need you all to walk towards me, dramatically,” the photographer instructed.

     “Why?” Sherlock asked.

     “For your video intro.”

      “Video what?”

     “The video that plays when it’s your turn to dance,” the photographer explained like it was the most obvious thing.

     ‘Told ya,” John muttered.

     Sherlock sighed and walked forward. “That’s great, perfect,” the photographer spoke as he recorded away. Sherlock turned and abruptly walked off the set and right out the side door. “But we’ve got more to shoot.”

     “He’s not coming back,” John imparted.

     And after that there was the interminably long interview portion.

     “Favorite flavor of ice cream?” the reporter asked.

     “Mint chocolate chip,” John replied.

     She looked at Sherlock expectantly. “Sherbet,” he finally answered.

     “Great. Next, cat or dog?”

     “Cat.”

     “Really?” The reporter considered John. “I pictured you as more of a dog person.”

     “Our flat has a no pet policy,” Sherlock spoke coolly.

     “All right.” The reporter gave a small smile before asking her next question. “Do the two of you have any announcement you’d like to make, you know, concerning your relationship?”

     “Yes,” John spoke up quickly. “We are mates, two completely platonic mates who solve crimes together - and enter dance competitions – for charity.”

     “Really, nothing more than that?” She was disappointed.

     “Nope, that’s us,” John concluded.

     “Um, pizza or pasta?” She moved on to the next question.

     “What is the point of this?” Sherlock asked.

     “Oh, well, there’ll be a bigger, publicity panel before the competition, but this is all for the website, for your profiles. This helps the people get to know you before the show, before they cast their votes.”

     “Cast their votes?” Sherlock pressed.

     “Yeah, winners are determined by popular vote,” she explained.

     “Oh good lord, it’s a democracy.” Sherlock slumped back in his chair, terribly appalled.

     “People really like the human interest bit,” the reported confided.

     Sherlock quickly looked over at John, grabbed his hand, and sat back up. The mood swing was enough to make John sick. “John Watson is my dearest friend. He is the most caring person.” John tried to pull his hand back, but Sherlock gave him a pointed look. It spoke volumes, and John pursed his lips in resignation. Sherlock looked back at the reporter, his face suddenly soft and vulnerable. “Why, just last night, after I had a nightmare, he came to my bedroom and checked on me. He got me something to drink and some medicine. I got a viru – ick, I got the ick from his daughter. He has a daughter. We take care of her. When I was sick, she gave me her stuffed hippo, Sir Portly, to protect me.”

     “Aww.” The reported clutched her hands to her heart. She looked down at their joined hands, a twinkle in her eyes. John swallowed the urge to rip his hand away.

     “John, show her pictures of your spawn,” Sherlock instructed.

     John sighed and reached for his wallet with his free hand.

     After even more inane questions, there was the meeting with wardrobe.

     The designer walked around the two of them, sizing them up. “Right, so I’m thinking of something modern for the two of you, something contemporary, but with flare, and maybe some fringe.”

     “What about tuxedos?” Sherlock asked, genuinely confused that this wasn’t already the assigned attire.

     “Tails, good idea,” the designer assessed, “but tuxes are too formal, too stodgy. I’m thinking glitter, lots of glitter.”

     “Isn’t this a dance competition?” Sherlock practically exploded. “When do we get to dance?”

      Finally, after they had been fitted with appropriate Schuemer Center practice attire, the two of them were escorted into a very large dance studio.

     “At last,” Sherlock breathed, but halted the moment they walked through the door. “Who are these people?”

     “Our competitors,” John whispered, “the ones you didn’t want to know about.”

     The feeling in the room was far from mutual. “No way! No way!” one person shouted.

     “Yes!” another cheered.

      “Told ya,” a third boasted and held out her hand. Her partner sighed and fished out some money.

      Two exuberant, young men ran up to them. “Mr. Holmes, we love your work – love it!” one of them gushed.

      “And you’re the John Watson!” The other grabbed John’s hand while the first pulled Sherlock into an awkward selfie.

      “You must be Tad and Jeremy, with Bump In the Night?”

      “That’s us. We ain’t afraid of no ghost,” Tad quipped.

      “Yeah, delightful.” John smiled.

       Tad turned his attention to Sherlock, who was still being pulled into selfies with Jeremy. “I just want to say, Mr. Holmes, we have so much respect for you. We may not always come to the same conclusions, like in Baskerville, but we are all seekers of the truth.”

      “Ghosts don’t exist. They’re something feeble minded people make up to help them grapple with loneliness and oblivion.”

      “Oh my God, Tad, Sherlock Holmes just insulted us.” Jeremy was practically beside himself.

      Tad hurried to fish out his phone. “Can you say that again? Our followers will love it.”

      Jeremy reached out and grabbed John’s arm. “It’s so nice to have another couple here, sharing their passions.”

      “We’re not a couple,” John quickly replied. “Just friends.”

     “That’s what this one said at first, too. Now it’s two years of married bliss.” Jeremy showed off his ring.

     “Oh, cheers.” John smiled weakly. Sherlock was just staring at Tad’s phone, not saying anything. “We’re just gonna, head over here. Come on, Sherlock.” John took his friend’s arm and led him away.

      “No worries, you can insult us later,” Tad assured.

     They had only taken a few steps before they were intercepted by the next couple, who were only slightly older than Tad and Jeremy. The woman reached out her hand and took Sherlock’s. “Mr. Holmes, we just want you to know, my husband and I are praying that you’ll be able to solve this case.”

      “Ewww,” Sherlock replied and John abruptly cleared his throat.

      “Thank you, he means thank you. Hi, John Watson. You must be Sylvia and Edward Smith with Praise Parish?” John shook their hands.

      “Yes, not professional dancers, just lay people, but this money would mean so much to our work,” Sylvia explained.

      “The country is full of run down parishes in need of assistance,” Edward added.

      “It’s an honor to be competing with you both, truly.” Sylvia placed her hands over her heart.

      “May the best partners win.” Edward placed his hands on Sylvia’s shoulders.

     “Thanks, that’s us,” Sherlock quipped before stepping past them. He was quickly met by two new people.

     “Can you tell what I cooked for dinner last night?” one asked.

      “What?”

      “My sister and I have a running bet. Can you tell what I cooked last night?”

      “Down to the specific ingredients,” her sister added.

     “John?” Sherlock called out. John excused himself from the Smiths and returned to Sherlock’s side.

      “Katie and Kimberly Miles, Cooking with the K’s. Nice to meet you.” John shook their hands.

      “Twenty pounds says your friend can’t tell us what we cooked last night,” Kimberly goaded.

     Sherlock was about to speak, but John cut him off. “He doesn’t perform on demand. Lovely to have met you.” John took Sherlock by the arm and moved him on. They were immediately stopped by the last couple, which seemed to be the youngest of all.

     “Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, you all are badasses, and we know badasses!”

     “Shasta and Francis with Disaster Gals. Yeah, your show is fun. You definitely like your explosions.” John shook their hands, eternally grateful they were the last set.

     “Your blog,” Shasta told John, “it inspired me and my girlfriend to start our own. Thank you, so much.”

     “Oh, cheers.”

      “We did your fake death on our show,” Francis told Sherlock. “Recreated it exactly. We got so many hits from that. Did you all watch it?”

      “Uh, no, not our best day,” John imparted.

     “But your blog is the best,” Shasta pressed on. “Even if we have more followers now, you all were the inspiration. Oh, what are you going to title this one?”

     “Do you have more followers?” John asked, suddenly feeling very defensive.

      “Come on, John. Nice to have met you, or whatever.” This time, Sherlock led John away and to the practice barre in front of the wall of mirrors. Once there, John stood back and surveyed the room.

      “Sherlock, have you . . .”

      “Noticed we’re the oldest couple in the room? Yes.”

      “That’s a boost for my confidence. We’re the grandpas.”

      “Don’t be ridiculous, Rosie isn’t nearly old enough to have children.”

     John let out a strange, throaty sound and turned around to look at the mirrors. He could feel all the eyes on his back. “We have to have more followers than Disaster Gals,” he mumbled, fighting the urge to pull out his phone and check.

     Sherlock sighed and turned around to face the group. “I can hear you all thinking, and it’s very annoying. John asked me not to do this, but it seems to be what you all want, so here we go.” Sherlock took a breath and John whirled around in a panic, but it was too late to stop him. In that second, everyone had fished out their phones, anticipating what was to come. “One of you has perpetual bad breath, but your partner doesn’t want to tell you. One of you has forgotten a very important date today, and if you don’t figure it out before you go home, there may not be a need to remember it next year. Someone here had bacon last night, even though you’ve sworn a vegan vow. One of you is contemplating cheating, and another of you is fine with roleplay, but you’re really not sure about the school girl skirt, or the handcuffs. Oh, and someone here is really into erotic asphyxiation. You need to rethink your safe word; your life depends on it.” Sherlock took a satisfied breath and turned around. John smiled faintly at the stunned faces and also turned back to the mirrors.

     “What the bloody hell was that?”

     “Evening the playing field. They’re all off kilter now, and they’re young, meaning they’re foolhardy.”

      “You’re foolhardy,” John pointed out.

      “Yes, but I’m also a marvelous dancer. Trust me, John, we can’t lose.” Sherlock started to do some stretches. “You might want to do some stretches, limber up. You’re not as young as you used to be.”

     Sherlock looked so pleased, and John’s heart broke a little. He was going to have to tell him. No better time than the present. John swallowed heavily. “Sherlock, I . . .”

     The door to the studio opened and in walked their instructors. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is lovely to meet you all,” a very tall and thin woman announced. She was petite, but formidable, dressed all in black with a ruby walking stick. “I am Mme De Beaux, your principle instructor.”

     “Yes!” Sherlock voiced.

      “I see I have a fan.”

      “She’s danced for the Paris Opera Ballet and Moscow Ballet. She was hit by a bus in her late twenties, ended her professional career, but she taught herself how to walk again, and dance. She came to my boarding school once. She’s the best,” Sherlock whispered to John, who turned a paler shade of dread.

      “These are my associates, Nate Fulkerson.” A shorter man to her left waved. “And Willie Boss.” The man to her right raised his hand. “Together, we’ll be preparing you for the Danse Ball. Over the next few weeks, you will learn a variety of styles from the classics to modern dance. I know you may be feeling timid now, but there is a dancer in all of us, and together we shall find her or him.”

      “Amen,” Sylvia and Edward interjected.

      “Yes,” Mme De Beaux acknowledged. She moved into the middle of the room, the sound of her walking stick echoing through the space. The group naturally gathered around her, still maintaining a respectable albeit apprehensive distance. “We have all danced at some point in our lives, even if we didn’t realize it. Dance is the ultimate form of expression.” John could feel Sherlock agreeing beside him. He was so excited, like Lestrade had just handed him a triple murder.

      “We are all sharing here in this sacred space,” Mme De Beaux continued.

      “Amen,” Sylvia chimed in again.

      “Oh, do be quiet!” Sherlock snapped. “Go on, Mme De Beaux, please.”

      “Yes, well, since we are sharing, we would first like to share with you all a sample of the dances we’ll be teaching you.” Mme De Beaux removed her long, black shawl to reveal a simple, black leotard. She passed the shawl and her stick to one of her associates. “Mr. Holmes, would you like to share what you know?” She extended her hand to him.

     “Sherlock, and yes!”

     “Please, before you crush the practice barre with your enthusiasm, join me on the floor.”

     Sherlock released his grip on the barre, wiped the sweat off his hands, and gladly joined Mme De Beaux. “We’ll start with the basics, a waltz.” Music began to filter through the room. Sherlock placed his hands in the appropriate positions, and then he and Mme De Beaux were gliding through the room like they were on ice. This was doing nothing for John’s already queasy stomach.

      “Very good, and now a foxtrot.” The music changed, but the grace and beauty continued. At one point, John looked up and noticed that Jeanine was standing near the doorway, filming on her tablet. Oh no, they were going to be filming. People were going to see this.

      “Excellent. A tango?”

      “Thought you’d never ask.” The music changed and suddenly Sherlock was leading Mme De Beaux through the room and everyone applauded, save John. He really wanted to melt into the floor.

      “A tarantella?” Mme De Beaux challenged, and Sherlock eagerly and successfully accepted.

      After a moment, she regretfully brought them to a stop. “Sherlock, I could dance with you all day, and you obviously know your classics. But this competition will showcase a variety of styles. Nate, why don’t you share with us?” Mme De Beaux stepped back and her associate assumed her place. The music changed to something with a decidedly more country western feel, and Sherlock’s face fell. He moved back as Nate broke out into a line dance. John took a breath. This would help to level the playing field.

      Sherlock didn’t say anything for a moment, just watched Nate’s feet as they moved. “All dances are a series of steps that coordinate with beats in the music,” he spoke to himself. Sherlock hesitated only a moment further before stepping forward and joining Nate in the line dance like he’d been doing it for years. The crowd went wild, except for John.

      “Oh, bloody hell!” John shouted, in spite of himself.

      “All right, all right, let’s see what you’ve got.” Willie stepped forward and the music switched to a hip hop song. Sherlock stopped dancing for a moment and watched Willie as he tore up the floor. A moment was all it took, though, and then Sherlock was dancing right along with him. The room was about to erupt and John was seriously going to bolt.

      Mme De Beaux held up her hand, and the music cut off. “Sherlock, clearly you are the one to beat, but fortunately this competition contains the element of surprise, a live, voting audience. But I hope you all were watching your fellow competitor here.” Mme De Beaux took Sherlock by the shoulders. “This is a man who loves to dance, and he is not ashamed of it. Harness his passion, and you, too, will be a contender in the Danse Ball.” She released Sherlock and returned to the center of the room. “Now, we’ll begin with some simple steps.”

      Sherlock rejoined John, all aglow. John seriously wanted to vomit, and he wished he could blame it on Rosie’s virus as opposed to his nerves. “Don’t worry, John, I’ve got us,” Sherlock assured as he moved John’s hands into position.

      An hour later, though, that assurance was gone, because now Sherlock knew for certain what John had known all along. He was a horrid dancer, like the worst. John’s feet throbbed from where Sherlock had stepped all over them, and he knew Sherlock’s had to be hurting, too, because he’d trampled all over him. The other couples were whispering about them, eternally grateful that Sherlock had a major handicap after all.

      “Everyone take fifteen minutes,” Mme De Beaux announced. She cast John a pitiful look as she passed.

      Sherlock was still standing right in front of him and John could feel the rage emanating off the consulting detective.

      “I . . .” John struggled to begin.

     “Can’t dance,” Sherlock finished, his voice the tensest John had ever heard it.

     John took a breath and stepped back. “I’m gonna step out for a bit.” He moved away, leaving Sherlock frozen to the spot.

     John left the room, ignoring the snickers of his fellow competitors. His feet carried him down the hall, past the entryway and on to the other side. He looked up and realized he was standing in the Rosenthall Museum. Everywhere he looked, he could see cases full of puzzle boxes. John meandered through the cases, glancing at each one. They were all very intricate.

     “Oh, come on, Pete, sit straight,” a voice huffed and John whirled around. Gordy had half his body inside one of the cases. He looked up and noticed John and all but fell out the back of the case.

     “You all right?” John hurried over to him.

     “Yeah, I’m just clumsy.” As John helped him up, he noticed the large, yellow and greenish bruise on Gordy’s forearm. “See, clumsy.”

      “Didn’t mean to startle you, I was just looking round.”

      “That’s all right.” Gordy returned to his work, carefully situating the box before locking the case. He watched John for a moment. “Are you okay?”

      “What?”

      “It’s just - you look like me. I know that look, and that feeling.”

      “No, it’s uh – first day of dance lessons.”
      “Oh, right. Right.” Gordy nodded and a moment of awkward silence passed between them.

      “There’s a lot of boxes here,” John stated the obvious.

      “This isn’t even half of ‘em. You should see the Manor, rooms full of ‘em,” Gordy explained. “Course, that’s all Lord Rosenthall did for sixty some years. Lived to be a hundred and three”

     “Wow.”

     “Yeah, just him and his puzzle boxes. Sad, really, but I get it.” Gordy sighed but then perked up again. “Miss Hatcher has a name for them all. That one there is Peter, and Hagar. Hannibal, Beatrice, Vernon, and Eustace.”

      “How does she tell them apart?” John laughed.

      “Each and every puzzle is different, no two boxes are alike. Solve the puzzle, and you find the name.”

     “Huh.” John’s phone chimed and he sighed. “Duty calls.”

      On his way back to the studio, John came across Sherlock. He was standing at the large windows looking out at Rosenthall Manor. Jeanine walked past them both on her way to the museum. “Hang in there,” she told John with a little laugh. John swallowed the lump in his throat and cautiously approached Sherlock.

      “I should have told you I can’t dance, but to be fair, you never told me you were that good.”

      Sherlock was silent. John waited for a moment, and he had just decided to move on, when the consulting detective spoke. “I like that house, and it’s ugly, but I see its appeal. I like you, and you are a terrible dancer.”

      “This is the worst pep talk ever.”

       “I see your appeal, too.” Sherlock turned and started to walk back. “Come along, back into battle.”

      Two hours later, John was exhausted. His blisters had blisters and his feet were numb. Sherlock was still emanating rage, but it was slightly less rage than before. “That’s it for the day,” Mme De Beaux announced. “Even though we are in the early stages, it is never too soon to start thinking about music. Music is the backbone for any dance. As partners, the two of you will be challenged to find a piece of music that perfectly encapsulates your relationship, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.”

      “Wagner, we’re doing Wagner,” Sherlock told John. “Sturm und drang.”

      “Of course, this is a competition for a national palate, so your song choice has to come from a pre-approved list. Nate will be passing the song sheet around. I bid you all adieu until tomorrow.” Mme De Beaux donned her black shawl, collected her cane, and walked out.

      “Song sheet?” Sherlock’s voice dripped with disdain.

      Suddenly Jeanine was at their side. “Sorry, boys, one last thing. You’ll both need to get a physical, just to be sure you’re in tip top shape. Get your doctor to sign these.” She handed John a set of papers. “And you might want to ice your feet.” Jeanine gave him the same, smarmy smile she gave him earlier, and John gritted his teeth.

      “You want me to set you up with someone at my office?” John asked, tucking the paperwork into his side pocket.

      “No, I’ll handle it,” Sherlock replied, eager to get his hands on their copy of the song sheet.

      Once he had it, confusion was immediate. John looked at the sheet and started laughing. “What is this? Are these even names? There is no reason for this hyphen, or this capitalization. What is that, some sort of symbol?” John laughed so hard his side hurt. It was all contemporary pop artists from the past twenty years. At this point, it was just best to embrace the madness.

 

221B Baker Street – May 3, 2023

     John entered the building and double checked his watch. Was it really that late? He’d need to change quickly, check on Rosie, and then he and Sherlock would have to hightail it across town if they were going to make it to dance practice on time. The very thought made his stomach somersault and his feet ache. “I know, I’m late,” John announced as he entered the flat. He expected to meet an already dressed, eager Sherlock, but what he found was just the opposite.

     Sherlock was face down on his desk. Rosie was on the floor reading and Mrs. Hudson was sitting in John’s usual chair, sipping tea. “What’s going on here?” John asked.

     “Hi, Daddy,” Rosie chimed from the floor.

     John stepped around to greet her. “Hello, love.” He bent over to kiss the top of her head. She was happily curled up on the rug, reading to Billie, the skull.

     “Why is my daughter reading to the skull?” John inquired of Mrs. Hudson as he stepped back.

     “I’d already heard the story five times. I figured Billie wouldn’t mind.”
     “Right.” John watched as Sherlock flicked something on his phone before his arm fell back, limply to his side. “And what’s going on here?”

     “I don’t know.” Mrs. Hudson sipped her tea. “Sherlock has a word for it.”

     “Ennui,” Sherlock sighed, flicking his phone again.

     “Oh, good, it’s an ‘ennui’ day.” John stepped over Rosie and sat in the chair on the other side of the desk, watching as Sherlock continued to flick at his phone. He was listening to something, John could tell that much from the earbuds disappearing into the mess of dark curls. Another moment of silence later, Sherlock pulled the earbuds out, but he didn’t lift his head.

     “It’s pointless,” he muttered.

     “What is?”
     “This music. These ‘songs’ from the blasted ‘selection sheet.’ What’s the point of dancing if you can’t dance to Wagner, or Beethoven, or Bach?”
     “You seemed to manage just fine yesterday.”
      “I was showing off.”

     “Yeah, I know you were.”

     Rosie walked up to the desk and tapped on Sherlock’s head. “Can I listen to your music?”

     “Knock yourself out, young Watson.” He waved his hand and Rosie picked up his phone. She put in the earbuds and walked off.

     “Dancing used to mean something,” Sherlock lamented. “You wore tuxes and shined your shoes. You danced in great halls and judges judged you, not ordinary people. Ugh. It’s a disgrace.”

     John looked over at Mrs. Hudson, who was still just sitting there, sipping her tea. “Don’t you have something on, Mrs. Hudson?”

     “There’s nothing on the telly,” she imparted with a small smile.

     John looked back to Sherlock, who was still face down on the desk. “We can always pull out, solve the case without having to dance. So far nothing has even happened.”

     “It will.” Sherlock finally sat up, a piece of paper stuck to his face from where he’d drooled.

    “That’s lovely.” John reached forward and yanked the paper off.

     “You just want to get out of dancing,” Sherlock accused.

      “No shit.”

      Sherlock moaned and put his head in his hands. “I’ve been waiting for this case for years, the one that required dancing to solve it. So close, and yet so far.” He dramatically reached out to nothing before flopping back in the chair.

      John sighed. “You’re makin’ me feel really guilty about my two left feet.”
    “Not guilt, but you should feel shame, or embarrassment. Bad, definitely.”

     “Sherlock, you were at my wedding, you saw me stumble through my first dance with Mary.”

     “No, I was playing the violin, so my focus was on myself.”

     “Course it was.” John sighed. “For being such a great deducer, how could you not deduce that I can’t dance? Hmm? You are able to predict everything else about me.” John was truly mystified by this.

     “I didn’t want to assume you were bad at everything.” Sherlock sat up and looked him in the eyes.

     “Cheers.” John swallowed the urge to deck him.

     “You two shouldn’t fight in front of Rosie,” Mrs. Hudson spoke up. “It’s not good for her to see her parents fight.”

     “Doesn’t matter anyhow, that playlist was put together by a twelve year old girl.” Sherlock turned to locate his phone, remembering that Rosie had it. She was dancing around the room, thoroughly engrossed in whatever track was playing.

    “You and that playlist have a lot in common,” John quipped.

     Sherlock held up his hand to silence John as he continued to watch Rosie. An idea was forming. “Do you see that?”
     “What? Rosie?”
     Sherlock quickly stood and walked over to Rosie. “I need my mobile back.” He held out his hand and Rosie took out the earbuds, handing it all back to him. He hurriedly attached the phone to the sound system. “Track fifteen, is that the one you were listening to?”

      “I liked dancing to it.”

     “I know.” Sherlock turned the sound up until the track was playing through the flat. “Dance on, young Watson.” Rosie smiled and resumed her dance. Sherlock looked for his violin. Once he had it, he listened for a few minutes before starting to play along. “It’s a simple song, John, like you. But, we can add multiple levels to it and elevate it, like me. See, you and me?”

      “I get it, yeah.”

     “Most importantly, Rosie likes it.” Sherlock continued to play on as Rosie danced.

     “Come on, John.” Mrs. Hudson stood and offered her hand to him. He accepted it, and the two of them settled into an awkward sort of foxtrot. “You’re too stiff in the hips. You need to loosen up.” Mrs. Hudson moved her hands down and gripped his hips, moving them from left to right.

     “What is my life?” John Watson thought to himself. Rosie picked up Billie the skull and twirled around Sherlock and his violin.

     “I wouldn’t change it for the world,” John’s own mind supplied a moment later. Although, he would prefer it if Mrs. Hudson would stop gyrating his hips.

 

Schuemer Center Dressing Room – May 4, 2023

     John dried off his hair as he came around the corner back into the dressing room from the showers. Just another lovely, demeaning dance practice to mark off the calendar. John sighed and started to open his assigned locker. He heard a snicker and voices from the next row over.

     “I took this in practice,” Tad whispered. John could hear the faint sounds of a video playing. “I’m going to turn it into a meme.”

     “You’re so bad,” Jeremy whispered back.

     “Hashtag, John Watson can’t dance.”

     The two of them laughed and John swallowed back the bile rising in his gut. He was about to clear his throat, when a locker opened and something clattered to the ground. “What’s that?”

     “I don’t know.”

     “Where’d it come from?”

     John’s mind sprang into action, and he whirled around the lockers. Just as he’d thought, there was a mysterious package lying on the floor. This one was wrapped in red. “Don’t touch it!” John instructed. “Do not touch it. I’m going to get Sher . . .” John turned to leave, but Sherlock was right there. “When did you get here?”

     “I felt a disturbance in the force,” the consulting detective attempted to joke, but John wasn’t in the mood. “I just walked in.” Sherlock’s eyes spotted the box and lit up. “Ah, a present!” He dropped to the floor and began to remove a pair of gloves and his magnifying glass from his pocket.

     “Do you always have that in your pockets?” John asked. Sherlock’s silence was confirmation.

     “Oh my God, Tad, that box was in your locker! And now Sherlock Holmes is sleuthing! Film this!” Jeremy smacked Tad’s arm.

     “I am,” Tad assured, already one step ahead of him.

     “Maybe we should hold off on the livestream until we’re sure it’s safe?” John attempted to reason.

     “For those of you just joining us,” Tad spoke into his phone, “a mysterious box was found in my locker after dance rehearsal. Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are investigating in real time.”

     “Does anyone else know the code to your locker?” Sherlock asked.

     “No, just me,” Tad replied. “Sherlock Holmes is questioning me,” he then told the phone.

     “What about him?” Sherlock gestured towards Jeremy.

     “No, I have a policy about his dirty underwear,” Jeremy assured.

     “Charming.” Sherlock touched the top of the box.

     “Sherlock, do you think we should call Lestrade, or the bomb squad, just to be . . .” John’s voice died in his throat as Sherlock pulled off the red box to reveal the smaller puzzle box inside.

“Or just rip the top off.”

     “We’re not looking for a bomber, John. We’re searching for a puzzler.” Sherlock picked up the puzzle box and turned it over slowly in his hands. It had a set of shallow, carved blocks on top. Sherlock pushed one, and it moved.

     “Sherlock is looking at the puzzle box now.” Tad held his phone up high to get a better view.

     “They’re in here!” Shasta cried out, and suddenly there was a commotion coming through the door and crowding around them.

      “This is the men’s dressing room,” Jeremy pointed out.

      “Thought you could keep this all to yourself, did you?” Francis accused.

      “It was in my locker!” Tad fired back.

      “Ed, give me your mobile,” Sylvia instructed.

     “What is going on here?” John demanded of the crowd, but they were paying no attention to him.

      Suddenly Jeanine was there, standing up on the bench. “Hey, we get first dibs on any discoveries!” she called, holding her tablet up above the commotion.

      “No, this is great,” John spoke into the chaos. “Let’s all circle round and lean in real close. Have you people lost your minds?”
      “Jeanine, what’s going on here?” Lloyd Schuemer appeared, Gordy close behind him.

      “They found another box.”

      “Oh, good, the gang’s all here,” John surmised.

      “That’s a box from Miss Hatcher’s house,” Gordy mentioned, and John was about to turn and ask him how he knew that, when . . .

      “Everybody shut up!” Sherlock shouted. He slid the last block into place and the box popped open. The room fell silent.

      “What’s in there?” Kimberly hazarded to ask.

      Sherlock pulled out a handful of papers. “Papers? I was hoping for a finger, or an ear, something exciting,” Francis bemoaned.

      John rolled his eyes and knelt beside Sherlock. “Receipts, old receipts.” Sherlock sniffed the papers and chewed on an edge or two.

      “That is terrible museum practices.” Gordy sounded appalled.

     “All from the late 1800s, all torn out of something larger. Partial grocery receipt.” Sherlock held the paper up to the light.

      “Hold on.” John pointed to a specific line item. “That’s a lot of laudanum. And what’s that?” He pointed to another item.

       “Make up, I believe. The note bears Lord Rosenthall’s stamp, but these goods were signed for by an H, the second initial is torn off.” Sherlock turned his attention to the next two pieces of paper. “Account book, two different years, with a significant loss between the two.”

      “That’s a lot of money,” John agreed. He pointed to the next set in Sherlock’s hand. “Are those RSVP notes?”

      “Social engagements. A yes to a dinner in 1871, and a no to a croquet tourney in 1872.”

      “These are from Rosenthall Manor! The place is full of papers like that!” Gordy announced.

      “So how did they end up in a puzzle box in one of my lockers?” Lloyd asked.

      “Miss Hatcher did it!” Jeremy shouted out.

      “Miss Hatcher, really?” Jeanine stared him down. “She’s on her fourth nap of the day.”

      “You can check the security cameras!” Katie chimed in.

      “Great idea, only we don’t have them in the dressing rooms,” Lloyd pointed out.

      John and Sherlock shut them all out as they looked at the last piece of paper. “Gambling debts,” Sherlock muttered.

      “Pretty bad gambling debts,” John added.

      Sherlock laid the papers out in the box. “What are you trying to show me?”

      “Lady Rosenthall knew about Lord Rosenthall’s gambling debts, and she confronted him, so he killed her,” Edward started.

      “But not with the shoes, he poisoned her with laudanum!” Francis finished.

       “Wrong.” Sherlock closed the box. “Well, this has been truly illuminating, but playtime is over.” He stood and looked to John. “We need to pay a visit to Rosenthall Manor.”

     John’s phone beeped with a reminder. “Yeah, but not tonight.”

      “What on earth is more important than this?” Sherlock demanded to know.

      “Rosie’s ballet recital.”

      “Right, see you all tomorrow.” Sherlock tucked the box under his arm and headed out.

      “You are going to take that to Lestrade, right?” John asked as they walked out, leaving the rest of the group to scratch their heads and conclude their various social media posts.

 

Recital Hall – Later that Evening

      Sherlock sat in the front row, a string of seats saved beside him. Mrs. Hudson tapped him on the shoulder and joined him. “Sherlock, how did you get the front row?”

      “I have my ways”

      “This is nice.” Mrs. Hudson settled into her seat. “Where’s John?”
      “I don’t know, doing something parental.”

      “I hope Rosie’s not nervous.”

      “Our girl? No.”

      “Who’s this fifth seat for then?” Mrs. Hudson inquired.

      “Molly has a date, no doubt a new flavor of the month.”

      Mrs. Hudson cleared her throat and Sherlock looked up from his phone. “Hello, Sherlock,” Molly spoke sheepishly. “This, uh, this is Blake.”

     “Good to meet ya.” The broad shouldered, red haired man took Sherlock’s hand and shook vigorously. “Molly is always going on about the Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.”

      “Oh, Blake, it’s not that much, not really.” Molly tried to play it off. She pulled Blake over to meet Mrs. Hudson before the two of them had a seat.

      John hurried up the aisle and ducked into his seat. He was holding a bouquet of flowers. “Oh, John, you got her flowers,” Mrs. Hudson crooned.

      “You got her flowers for doing something she wants to do and is also good at?” Sherlock was truly confused.

      “I got her flowers because I love her.”


      “Ah, did you . . .”

     “Put your name on the card? Yep.” John leaned over to say hello to Molly and meet Blake. When he leaned back, he whispered to Sherlock, “At least this one doesn’t look like you.”

      “It’s progress.” Sherlock opened his program. “Rosie is in the fifth group to dance, which should be in thirty-six minutes, provided we start on time.”

     John looked back. Several sets of eyes met his and scowled. He smiled awkwardly and turned back around. “How did you get front row again?”
      “I have my ways,” Sherlock repeated. A teenage boy made sure the microphone cord was all taped down onstage before turning to head up the aisle. Sherlock pulled an envelope from his jacket and handed it to him. “For your troubles, Trevor.”
      “Anytime, Mr. Holmes.” Trevor pocketed the envelope and walked on.

      “Always tip your techies,” Sherlock advised. John was stunned into silence. “Oh, it was bitcoin. Calm down, John.” The lights began to dim and they all turned their attention to the stage.

      Halfway through the second dance, Sherlock was starting to feel uncomfortable. The ache in his stomach was back. It’d never really left, but had assumed a small part on the sidelines of his everyday life, so small a part that he hadn’t really noticed. He did now, though. The ache continued to grow, and with it came the nausea. Sherlock set his teeth and tried every mind trick he could think of to get over it. He was granted a momentary pardon as Rosie took to the stage. It was a real delight to watch her dance. Once she was gone, though, and his row was cheering, he was pitched forward with the wave that crashed over him. It was all pain and nausea and he needed to leave.

     “I’ll be back,” he told John before pulling himself up and hurrying up the aisle. Sherlock managed to find the nearest men’s room and open a stall before collapsing in front of the toilet. He vomited several times over before the dry heaves set in. The pain in his stomach was excruciating.

     “Those are some tiny toilets,” a familiar voice spoke. “The tiny toilets are freaking me out. Why are they so wee?” Jim Moriarty tore his attention away from the child size urinals and moved in behind Sherlock, a dark specter looming in the bathroom door. “How’s it hanging, Homes? I gotta say, you’ve looked better.”

      Sherlock moaned and somehow managed to vomit again. He pulled back and instantly noticed the rich, red color swimming in the bowl. Sherlock touched his finger to his lip and felt the blood. “Uh oh, puking up blood, that can’t be good.” Sherlock leaned back against the wall of the stall and Moriarty knelt down beside him. “Oh, it’s thinking, thinking about the last time it puked, the last time it ate, drank, slept. How often has my stomach hurt and I’ve ignored it? How long has this really been going on? You’re so good at ignoring your own transport, this is going to be a hard one. Nothing more boring than basic bodily functions, am I right?” Sherlock gagged again.

     “Now you’re thinking, but I drank the off color drinks. I’ve even been using the damned heating pad. Ah, it’s so frustrating!” Moriarty gave an exaggerated sigh and joined Sherlock on the floor. “But I’m still here, and this time you can’t blame sleep. So what’s wrong, Sherlock? Huh? If I’m not a dream, what am I?” Moriarty’s face lit up in a sickening smile. “What am I, Sherlock? Tell me what I am, and I’ll go away.”

     “You are a vile annoyance,” Sherlock spoke with cold precision. “Bugger off.”

      He closed his eyes and reopened them. Moriarty was gone, but Kevin Hardy was standing out near the sinks. He made eye contact with Sherlock and started to cry before running out of the bathroom. Sherlock sighed, and wiped off his mouth. He flushed the toilet and stood, pain rippling through his midsection. Moriarty’s final question echoed through his mind, but he shook it off. Sherlock washed his hands and tentatively left the bathroom, making his way back to the auditorium and the front row.  By the time he was seated, he was completely ready to play it off like it was nothing at all.

The Schuemer Center – May 5, 2023

     “I’m sorry, boys, but you can’t dance.” Jeanine put on her best, fake sad face as she broke the news.

     “What?” John asked. Also, why was he the one upset about this? Sherlock stood like a statute beside him.

     “No more dancing until you turn in those doctor’s forms.”

     “I turned mine in,” John protested.

     “But your partner didn’t. Sorry, it’s the rules.” Jeanine took her tablet and left. “I’d get on it ASAP if I were you, Mr. Holmes,” she called on her way out.

     “Sherlock, I told you I’d fix you up with someone at the surgery.”

     “Don’t need you to. Got it covered. Going tomorrow.” Sherlock was already heading for the door.

     “So we’re actually blowing off practice?” John was so confused.

     “You heard Jeanine, we’re not allowed.”

     “We need to practice.”

     “You need to practice,” Sherlock corrected. “Believe me, John, I have calculated exactly how many practices you need to be anywhere near respectable. We’ll make this up.”

     John sighed and reached for his phone to call a cab. “Don’t need a cab,” Sherlock spoke as he turned and headed around the Schuemer Center.

     “Where are you going?”

     “To our appointment.”
     “With who?”

      “Rosenthall Manor.”

     As the two of them approached the gray, weathered house, Miss Hatcher opened the door and waved at them eagerly from the front steps. Sherlock waved back. “I do wish you’d tell me these things,” John imparted as they strolled across the lawn.

     “I thought you wanted to get inside Rosenthall Manor?”

     “I do, but information is a good thing. Sharing information with your partner is an even better thing.”
     “Maybe I like to watch you squirm.” Sherlock smiled at him.

     “How very Moriarty of you.” John had meant it as a jest, but Sherlock stopped dead in his tracks.

     “What am I? What am I?” the voice bounced around in Sherlock’s head, and his hand unconsciously gripped his aching side.

     “Sherlock? You all right?”

     Sherlock shook his head. “Mind palace moment.” He took a breath and bounded up the stairs to greet Miss Hatcher. “Miss Hatcher, thank you so much for inviting us over.”

      The consulting detective tried once more to deduce the older woman before him. Miss Hatcher – Much older than Mycroft. Really, what is the point of living this long? Cauliflower florets, potatoes, carrots, butter, thick cut bacon, brussel sprouts, eggs, and fresh cut chives.

     “No trouble at all, dearies.” She hugged Sherlock and then hugged John. “I don’t get very many missionaries out here anymore. Come on in and tell me about your god.”

      “Miss Hatcher, it’s John Watson and Sherlock Holmes, we’re investigators,” John reminded.

     “Oh, I get even fewer of those. Come in, come in.”

     Miss Hatcher led them through the heavy doors, which John was surprised she could still open. Then, they were inside Rosenthall Manor, and it was dark and dusty and crammed full of stuff. Miss Hatcher was a hoarder. There were stacks upon stacks of newspapers and magazines and phonebooks and the list went on and on. John covered his mouth and coughed at the dust.

     “Through here.” Miss Hatcher led them off to the left into a smaller room. This room was well lit and actually looked lived in. It was like a mini-apartment with everything a woman in her 95th year on earth might need to get by. “Have a seat.” Miss Hatcher slowly sat on the orange and brown floral sofa. Sherlock sat beside her and John took the chair that matched the sofa.

     “I made you all some tea. Boys love tea.” She gestured to the spread laid out on the table. John smiled and picked up a cup. He took a drink and tried to hide his grimace. It was unbearably sweet. “I also put out some candies. I remember you liked them the last time.” Miss Hatcher held out a crystal bowl full of hard candies. Sherlock took a rather large handful and stuffed them in his pocket. Miss Hatcher seemed pleased. “Investigate away.”

     Sherlock downed his tea in one drink and returned the cup. “Actually, Miss Hatcher, I’d like to investigate your house.”
     “Oh, what’s it done now?”

     “Not sure yet.”

     “Now you listen here,” Miss Hatcher spoke to the walls, “these two gentlemen are going to ask you some questions, and you’d better behave.” Silence. “It heard me.”

     “Excellent. I think we’ll start out there.” Sherlock stood and John followed after, still very confused.

     “Oh, I’ll have the houseboy show you round.”

     “Houseboy?” John asked.

     Miss Hatcher picked up a bullhorn from beside the sofa and pressed in the alarm. John and Sherlock covered their ears. A few seconds later, a much frazzled Gordy appeared in the doorway.

     “Gordy?” John hadn’t anticipated that.

     “My houseboy!” Miss Hatcher chimed.

     “I’m actually here for the museum, cataloging and sorting and . . .”

     “Sometimes he rubs my feet.”

     “And sometimes I rub her feet,” Gordy concluded.

     “Don’t care,” Sherlock spoke. “Show me to another room.”

     “Oh, all right.” Gordy turned to leave and Sherlock and John followed after. The intern turned too quickly, though, and banged his elbow against the door. John winced.

     “You boys have fun!” Miss Hatcher called after them.

     Gordy led them into the first room on the right “This was Lord Rosenthall’s study, where he did most of his work.” John gaped at the number of puzzle boxes that lined the walls of the room. Some stacks stood from floor to ceiling. In addition to the boxes, the room was littered with piles of paper. The papers were old, but the piles seemed new. “Used to be so many boxes in this room you could barely get through the door. That was the first hurdle. All these papers is the second. I’ve been cataloging and sorting, got a system set up. Bills, receipts, ledgers, and so on.”

      “Gordy, how long have you been working on this?” John asked.

     “Not long, really.” He paused. “I don’t have much of a life.”

     Sherlock walked over to the covered desk and chair near the back of the room. He yanked the sheet off the chair and sent up a storm of dust. “Lord Rosenthall’s desk,” Gordy coughed. Sherlock knelt before the chair and stared at it, steepling his fingers in front of his face. John knew that look all too well.

     “You want to show me the other rooms?” John made to leave, hoping Gordy would follow.

     “What’s he doing?”
     “I need you all to leave, now,” Sherlock instructed.

     “What? Why?”
     “It’s his mind palace, it’s a thing. Come along, Gordy.”

     “I hope he doesn’t mess up my system.” Gordy looked over his shoulder as he left.

     “Your piles will be fine,” John assured.

     Once out in the hall, John looked around. He could hear Miss Hatcher puttering around in the first room, but the rest of the house was eerily silent. “She live alone?”

      “Yeah, in that front room. I don’t know where she’ll go once we move everything out.” Gordy grimaced. “She keeps saying the cemetery.”

     “Oh, that’s right, this is going to be a house museum one day,” John recalled.

     “Once we get offsite storage for this stuff. Lots of rooms in the Schuemer Center, but none for archival storage,” Gordy rambled on. “Have you seen the aquarium room?”
     “There’s an aquarium?”
     “On the lower level, yeah. You should visit it.”

     “Not much for aquariums,” John confessed.

     The natural break in the conversation gave him a moment to ponder. “Schuemer has all the money in the world. He could get storage anywhere.” Gordy shrugged nervously and rubbed the back of his neck. John made note of that.

     “It’s got to be climate controlled and all that,” Gordy added.

     “All the money in the world,” John reiterated and Gordy smiled weakly. John decided to change topics. “Gordy, you knew those papers yesterday came from this house. Who has access to this place?”

     “Well, Miss Hatcher lives here, and there’s me, and then Jeanine and Mr. Schuemer come over to yell at me sometimes.”

     “Yell at you? ‘Bout what?”

     “I’m not working fast enough. I’m too careful.” Gordy reached out to lean against the bannister to the stairs and slipped, stumbling a little. “I try to explain I can’t rush through a room, it takes the time it takes. Especially with those puzzle boxes, I pull the wrong one and I’ve got an avalanche.”

     “Why the rush?”

     “They want the perfect exhibit for opening.” Gordy shrugged. John chewed on his bottom lip and looked away. “Wait, do you think Jeanine and Mr. Schuemer are planting the boxes?”

     John opened his mouth to speak, but Sherlock appeared in the doorway of the study. “No, they’re not. Find somewhere else to jabber.” He slammed the door closed.

     “How ‘bout that tour, Gordy?”

     Back in the study, Sherlock returned to the chair. He could hear John and Gordy’s footsteps receding, and then it was just him and the silence. But he wasn’t alone for long, for in another moment, there was Lord Rosenthall at his desk. The years melted away and the room was younger, but still full of puzzle boxes. An older Lord Rosenthall sat the desk, carving away at the top of a box. His wrinkled hands made quick work of it. His movements were sure, but everything else about him spoke to a profound sadness. A distant clock chimed somewhere, and Lord Rosenthall ceased his work. He stood from the desk and shuffled a well-worn path to the west, stopping before the wall. Why was he stopping? After a moment, he turned and shuffled over to the eastern wall and stopped again. What was he looking for?

     Suddenly, there was loud, 1940s big band music and just like that Lord Rosenthall was gone. Sherlock grunted in frustration and called out, “Mrs. Hudson! I mean, Miss Hatcher!”

     A record scratched, followed by silence. It was short lived, though, for in another moment there was Wagner. Sherlock could live with that. He pulled the six slips of paper from his non-candy filled pocket and considered them in the space. “There are many things in this room, brain, let’s not get too excited.”

     John and Gordy made their way around the first floor. “I think she likes you’re here,” Gordy spoke. “She only plays music when she’s happy.”

     “Oh, cheers.” John followed Gordy into overfilled room after overfilled room. Some rooms had appliances (toasters, blenders, televisions, etc.), some rooms had dishes, while others had clothes. There were also more puzzle boxes, so many puzzle boxes. In every room, John double checked the windows to make sure they were secure. Eventually, they made their way up to the second floor.

     At the top of the stairs, Gordy reached out and stopped John. “Weak boards, be careful. You have to scoot along the wall.” As they scooted, John noticed just how worn the floor was here, as if someone had walked it over and over every day for many years. It was a clear pacing pattern between the first bedroom and the second a little further down the hall and on the other side.

     John and Gordy ducked into the first room. “This is Lord Rosenthall’s room.” Unlike the rooms downstairs, this room wasn’t filled with clutter, it looked exactly how Lord Rosenthall had last left it. John felt sad and cold, but he swallowed it and continued his examination of every entry and exit point.

     “House seems pretty secure,” he mentioned to Gordy as they scooted on down.

     “Miss Hatcher puts all the money, what’s left of it, into the roof and the windows. She’s kept the place standing, even if she doesn’t believe in dusting, or pitching stuff.” At the end of the rough patch, Gordy darted across the hall to the second room. “This is Lady Rosenthall’s room.”

     John looked at the worn floorboards, and realization hit him. “He was pacing the floor, all the time, between his room and hers.”

     “Why?”

     John swallowed hard. “To see if a miracle had happened and she’d come back.” He stepped into the room and it was like stepping back into 1873. Everything was as she’d left it. The curtains were drawn around the large bed, and a faded dressing gown was draped over a chair. John could see Lord Rosenthall now stepping into the room to find his wife crumpled on the floor. His mind was suddenly filled with images of his darling Mary crumpled on the aquarium floor, and he had to beat them back. That wouldn’t do him any good.

     John took a steadying breath and moved further into the room. He checked the windows, all secure. On his way back, he noticed the only thing that seemed slightly amiss, two empty brackets on the wall near the abandoned vanity. “What’s this?”

     “The space for the Danse Ball plate. That’s what Lord Rosenthall was doing when the cops showed up to arrest him, hanging the plate.”

     “Where’s the plate now?”
     “Alden sold it off.”

     “Claudia’s twin, right?”

     Gordy led John on to Alden’s room at the end of the hall. “No one much liked him,” he explained. The room inside was filled with a variety of broken knick-knacks and busted furniture. “See?”

     On the way back down the hall, John stopped Gordy and pointed to a small door in the wall. He lifted it up and looked down into the cavern below. A set of old ropes swayed slightly. “Dumbwaiter,” Gordy explained, “goes all the way to the cellar.”

     The cellar was the biggest source of clutter of all. John opened the door and found that he couldn’t move, the room was too packed. “This place is a death trap.”

     “Yeah,” Gordy agreed.

     As they returned to the front entrance and Miss Hatcher’s quarters, Sherlock’s hand shot out of the study. John took the series of photographs the hand was offering before it disappeared back into the room. “He’s a bit odd, isn’t he?” Gordy mused.

     John considered Gordy for a moment. “Genius often is.” Gordy looked at John and blushed slightly.

     “Miss Hatcher . . .” John stepped back into her room. Miss Hatcher squealed and ran up to hug them both.

     “Home from the war, the both of you!”
     “Miss Hatcher, its John and Gordy.”

      “I know that. Come, sit. Would you like some tea?” John politely declined as he sat beside her on the sofa. “Miss Hatcher, do you recognize these items?”

     Miss Hatcher looked closely at the photos. She pointed at the one of the box. “Why Geri, what have you gotten yourself into now? Naughty box, wandering off.”

     “Do you remember any other people coming into your house, strange people?”
     “There’s you, your tall friend, this handsome young man here.” Miss Hatcher reached out and took Gordy’s hand. “Then there’s a very tight woman, and the American. And the usual ghosts.”

     “Ghosts?”

     “Lord Rosenthall, Lady Rosenthall, sometimes Alden, he’s very troubled that one. Sometimes my great-great grandmother Henrietta walks through.”
     That name sparked recognition in John, and he looked at the picture of the receipt. “Miss Hatcher, could this H be for Henrietta?”
     “Probably, she was Lord Rosenthall’s housekeeper, as was my grandmother, and my mother. Lord Rosenthall left this place to my mother, and she left it to me. We were all he had in the end.” Miss Hatcher stood up and shuffled over to a basket. She returned with a very modern looking photo book. “Some very nice, young man scanned all these photos and put them in a book for me.” She gave Gordy a wink as she passed the book to John.

     He flipped through the pages. There was the wedding photo of Lord and Lady Rosenthall. Even in the old photo where people never smiled, the two of them looked in love. The large, emerald necklace was displayed prominently around Lady Rosenthall’s neck. “Whatever happened to the necklace?”
     “Not sure,” Gordy replied.

     “So it could still be here?”
     “Maybe, if Alden didn’t pinch it.”

     “Alden,” Miss Hatcher sighed, turning to a family photo. “He never could get it together, and by the time he was finally ready, it was too late.”

     John turned another page and there was a picture of a very old Lord Rosenthall holding the hand of a young girl. “Miss Hatcher, is that you?”

     She smiled and stroked the image fondly. “For you, always.”

     “What’s that?”
     “Lord Rosenthall was a man of few words, but they were always important. This was the day he told mama and me he was leaving us the house. ‘For you, always.’ He reserved those words for the people he truly cared about.”

     John watched as her hand lingered on the photo. “What happened to Lady Rosenthall, Miss Hatcher?”
     “Time. It happens to us all, some faster than others.” Miss Hatcher turned the page and her jovial mood returned as she launched into another story.

     Several hours and stories later, John became aware of the time. So did Gordy. “I need to get back to work.”

      “I should get Sherlock.”

     The two of them returned to the study, but Sherlock wasn’t there. “What has he done to my piles?” Gordy sobbed.

      John muttered apologies and left Gordy there. He went room to room, looking for his friend. He found the consulting detective huddled in the appliance room, clutching an old blender.

     “You messed up Gordy’s piles.”

    “I improved his system, he’ll figure it out soon enough.” Sherlock’s eyes darted around the room.

     “What are you doing?”

     Sherlock held out the six pieces of paper to John. “Comparing those to their brethren in the study.”

     “You turned these in to Lestrade.”

     “I turned the box in to Lestrade. He’s got the photos.”

     “You gave me the photos.”

     “Oh, we should return some of those.”
     John sighed. “Did you unlock the mysteries of Rosenthall Manor?”

    “Lord Rosenthall was good with money, even when he was spending exorbitant amounts of it. Not only did he manage his accounts, he managed the Lyons’ money. Claudia was broke. Her father made some bad investments, and Lord Rosenthall knew that. He apparently didn’t care. He married her anyhow.”

     “He loved her,” John interjected.

     “Sentiment,” Sherlock scoffed, his eyes still darting around the room. “There are three different sets of handwriting on those documents. The receipt is written in rough hand, informal, most likely by someone in a lower social class, but it is also written with sadness. You can tell by the slant of the pen when it was writing. What was the person, presumably this H, sad about?”

      “H is Henrietta, Miss Hatcher’s great-great grandmother.”

     “The two account pages were written in a more formal hand, most likely Lord Rosenthall’s. They were written with excitement, which you can tell from the clipped numbers. He’s spending money, but he’s happy about it. Why? The gambling notes are written in the same hand, but they’re not Lord Rosenthall’s debts. Yet, they’re written with a great deal of patience and understanding.”
     “Her father’s?”
     “Not likely. That paper was produced in 1872. Rutherford Lyons died in 1870.”

     “How can you possibly know that?”

      “His funeral notice.” Sherlock pulled out a frayed and crumpled piece of paper and passed it to John. “Gordy will want that for his piles.”

     “What else have you got in your pockets? You’re like Mary freakin’ Poppins.”

     Sherlock clutched the blender tighter, his eyes moving even faster. “The RSVP cards are in a woman’s hand, presumably Lady Rosenthall’s. I found so many cards in that room, 227 to be exact. Lady Rosenthall enjoyed being social. She reveled in it, and most of them were yeses, except for September 1872 through May 1873, then they’re all no’s. Why? WHY!” Sherlock stamped his foot and grunted. “There are 304 appliances in this room, 157 toasters, 34 blenders, 23 vacuum cleaners, 19 tellies, 7 microwaves, 43 toaster ovens, 2 VCRs, 11 radios, and 8 record players.” He slumped back against the nearest shelf.

     “Yeah, you’re overstimulated, and we need to go.” John walked over and helped him up. Sherlock was still clutching the blender. “Let’s leave the blender here.”

     “No, I need it.”

     “We don’t need an ancient blender, Sherlock.”

     “I said I need it, not you.”

      John let it go and lead the other man down the hall. When they reached Miss Hatcher’s quarters, she stepped out to bid them farewell. She smiled fondly at the blender clutched in Sherlock’s hands. “I know you and Thaddeus will be very happy together.” She touched his face gently, and to John’s surprise, Sherlock didn’t pull back. “There’s something else you need.” Miss Hatcher selected a book from one of her shelves and passed it to Sherlock.

     The consulting detective looked down at it, Stomach Ailments and Their Cures. Miss Hatcher hugged them both. “You boys have fun at the races.” With that, they left Rosenthall Manor, slightly the wiser and up one blender.

 

221B Baker Street – Later That Night

     “I’m afraid everything I’m going to say has already crossed your mind,” the pink duck told the pirate duck.

     “And I believe my answer has already crossed yours,” the pirate duck fired back. Moriarty knocked the pirate duck off the side of the bathtub using the larger, pink duck. Down in the tub it went, landing in the drain. “That’s how it should have ended, Sherlock. I gave you a perfectly good out. Not my fault you failed to jump.”

     Sherlock spat into the toilet and tried to calm the cramps tearing through his abdomen. “I did jump.”

     “But you failed to stick the landing.” Moriarty tossed the pink duck into the tub with the other one. “Your ducks are lame. Your life is lame.”

     “Then – piss – off.” Sherlock struggled to get the words out around the constant feeling of nausea.

     “Not how it works, and you know it.” Moriarty pushed his foot playfully into Sherlock’s back. “I told you the rules, dummy. Tell me what I am, and I go away.”

     “I don’t know what you are.”

     “I think you do. I think you’re afraid to say it.” Moriarty pulled up close and rested his head on Sherlock’s shoulder. “Don’t be afraid, Sherlock. You can whisper it to me. Go ahead and whisper in my ear. Come on and answer the question for your old friend. What am I?”

     Sherlock steeled his resolve and stood up, sending Moriarty tumbling to the floor. “I’m getting rid of you tomorrow.” He flushed the toilet and forced himself to walk out on unsteady feet.

     “It’s a date!” Moriarty called after him.

 

St. Bart’s Hospital – May 6, 2023

     Mike Stamford sat down at his usual lunch table with his usual lunch. He had exactly twenty minutes to enjoy the flavorless sandwich before enduring another class period with some of the most hopeless medical students he’d ever encountered. There had to be at least one potential doctor among them, it was the law of averages, but they were so timid . . . and terrible. Mike sighed and took a bite of his sandwich. There was no point in postponing the inevitable.

     “Hello, Mike.” Suddenly, Sherlock Holmes sat before him, offering him a popsicle. “Care for a lolly?”

     “Sherlock?”

     “Yes. Care for a lolly?”

     “What are you doing here?”

     “Offering you a lolly. You don’t want it?”

     “I’m eating my sandwich.”

     Sherlock looked at the sandwich in question. “This is better.” Mike conceded and accepted the popsicle. The two of them sat in silence for a moment, munching on their lollies. “Is John with you?” Mike asked at last.

     “No. I came to call on you, all on my own. I need some medical advice.”

     “Bit odd, but all right.”

     “Why is it odd? You’re a doctor.”

     “Yeah, but you live with a doctor.”

     “I live with a soldier,” Sherlock corrected.

     “What kind of advice do you need?”

     “First, I need a physical, and I need a doctor to sign off on this.” Sherlock pulled the Danse Ball form out of his jacket and waved it in the air.

     “Oh, right, you and John are in that competition.” Mike laughed. “What’s that like?”

     “When you suggested John as my flatmate, you might have mentioned his appalling lack of rhythm,” Sherlock spoke briskly.

     “I never thought it’d come up.” Mike finished his lolly and checked his watch. “I’ll be sure and vote for you, though.”


     “Excellent. So, you’ll do my physical?”

     “What? I have class . . .”

     “Yes, a medical class, with doctors, or doctors in training.”


     “Sherlock . . .”

     “Mike,” Sherlock spoke, and his whole demeanor changed. This was no longer the sarcastic and self-confident man Mike had known for years. There was something incredibly vulnerable about this Sherlock. “I think there’s something wrong with me. I’m nauseous sixteen hours out of twenty-four. My stomach is in constant pain, and I’ve started vomiting up blood.”

     “Jesus, Sherlock. I had no idea.”

     “So, I believe I need to see a doctor, and here you are.” Sherlock smiled, trying to regain some of his usual bravado. “Make me your case study for the day, your lab rat. Whatever charges, expenses there may be, you know I’m good for it.”

     “That’s not how it works, Sherlock.” Mike’s watch beeped, signaling the end of lunch. “I’ve gotta go to class, I’m sorry. But you should see someone. John could probably set you up with someone at the surgery.”

     Sherlock nodded, but as Mike passed he grabbed his hand. Mike turned back, and the consulting detective looked him straight in the eyes. “You’re off to your basics in medicine class, where you have twelve students, twelve students who are already giving you indigestion even though you’ve only eaten one bite of sandwich and an ice lolly. You think there are some descent doctors among them, but so far you’ve been unable to weed them out. You hate them.”

     “I do,” Mike heard himself saying without a second thought.

     “Make me your practice patient for the day, and I’ll weed them out for you.”

     Mike’s eyes narrowed on Sherlock. This man knew exactly what he was doing.

     Fifteen minutes later, Sherlock stood in a hospital gown in front of a group of slack jawed students from all walks of life. “This is Patient X,” Mike explained. “He’s come here with some very specific problems, which we’re going to help him get to the bottom of.”

     “I also need a physical.”
     “And a general physical as well.”

     One student raised her hand. “I thought we were talking about chapter twenty today?”

     “Nope, no books today. We’re going hands on, so glove up everyone.”

     “Are you Sherlock Holmes?” another student asked.

     “No, I’m Patient X, and if you so much as mention the name Sherlock Holmes in relation to any of this, the British government will personally wipe all your social media accounts and confiscate all your devices,” Sherlock assured.

     “Let’s get started, shall we?” Mike held up his gloved hands and sighed as he watched the group struggle to put on theirs.

     And so it began, the poking and the prodding, the blood pressure cuff and the light in the eyes. The light in the ears, which slipped a little and hurt a lot.

     “Bloody hell!” Sherlock roared, covering his ear.

     “I’m sorry. I’m new at this,” the med student struggled to explain.

     “No, you’re bad at this, and you never wanted this. You wanted to be a painter.”

     “How did you . . .”

     “Paint flecks under your fingernails. You scrub your hands every day, but you also paint every day, so there’s no getting rid of the flecks. Mummy and Daddy don’t want you to be a painter. They want you to be a doctor, but you are miserable.”

     “I am so miserable.”

     “Go home, be a painter.”

     The student smiled and let out a large breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. “Thank you. Thank you so much.” She shook Sherlock’s hand before walking triumphantly out the door. “She’s a terrible painter,” Sherlock confided to Mike, “but it’s best to crush one dream at a time. One down. Who’s next?”

     After the basic, physical tests, came the drawing of the blood, all the vials of blood. One student considered Sherlock’s outstretched arm. After several moments of silence, Sherlock finally spoke. “Perfectly good vein, right there.” He pointed to the middle of his arm. “Just shove the needle in.”

     The student gagged at the thought. “Do not vomit on me.”

     “I’m sorry I just can’t - I can’t handle blood, not even a little. Just the thought . . .” The student gagged again.

     “You need an office job,” Sherlock suggested.

     “I do. I really do.” The student stood up and walked out of class, murmuring his apologies to Mike.

     “Next!” Another student sat down before Sherlock. Without a word, she gripped his arm, put the needle in, and began to fill the vials. “Nice work. Mike, this one moves on.”

     After the blood was drawn, and some orange juice was consumed, Sherlock lay back on the examining table. “Abdomen’s not up there,” he advised the student, who moved down some with his palpations. Sherlock was still trying to get a read on him, when he pushed on Sherlock’s lower right side and pain shot up his body.

     “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

     “You didn’t need to impale me!”

     “No, it’s uh – Dr. Stamford, this doesn’t feel right.” The student stepped back and Mike took his place.

     “This is going to hurt, Sherlock.” Mike pushed down on the same spot and Sherlock almost saw stars. “What felt wrong?” he asked his student.

     “Hardness.”

     “Correct. The abdomen should not be rigid. On a scale of one to ten, one being the best and ten being the worst, how bad does it hurt, Sherlock?”

     Sherlock took in a raspy breath. “Solid seven.”

     “Liar,” Mike muttered and stepped back. “Right, we’re taking a fieldtrip to CT.”

     Once inside the CT machine, Sherlock closed his eyes and tried to retreat into his mind palace, into a nice, quiet room. It looked oddly like the flat on Baker Street. “You’re doing great! Just lay back and relax!” a loud voice spoke, or rather screeched, over the intercom.

     Sherlock sighed. “No that one, Mike. He’s out.”

     After the CT was complete, there was only one more thing left to do, besides wait for the test results. “Seeing as Patient X is a male, in his early 40s . . .”

     “Late 30s,” Sherlock corrected.

     Mike gave him a knowing look and continued on. “He needs a prostate exam.”

     “Which will only be administered to me by the best potential doctor in the room,” Sherlock spoke up. “The rest of you seem fine enough. Two of you will wash out later this year, but the rest of you will do, except for you.” Sherlock pointed at a particular girl. “You should leave now, go and write that book you’ve been planning.” The girl nodded in confusion but did as she was told. Sherlock looked back to the rest of the students before pointing at one of them. “You, congratulations.”

     “Yes!” The student clapped his hands. “I won!” Mike passed him the gloves and his expression instantly shifted. “Oh, I won.”

     Exactly four, exhausting hours later, Sherlock was waiting in an empty consultation room. He could feel Moriarty behind him, watching him, but fortunately he wasn’t saying anything. Sherlock took his phone out of his pocket and began to play the song he’d selected for the Danse Ball routine. Now was as good a time as any to practice. Just as he’d reached the end of the song and given a little twirl, Mike walked in, results in hand.

     “Tell me, doctor, will I ever dance again?”

     Mike gave a sad smile and cleared his throat. “Listen, Sherlock . . .”

    “Just tell me, Mike.”

     Mike nodded and hung the CT scans up on the light board. Sherlock stepped up to examine them, even though he wasn’t sure what he was looking at. He knew many things, but his knowledge of the human anatomy, save for the pressure points needed to incapacitate a person, was limited. Moriarty was suddenly there by his side. “What am I, Sherlock?”

     “This spot here, that’s a tumor. Um, these smaller spots in your lymph nodes could be mets.”

     “It’s malignant.”

     “What am I, Sherlock?” Moriarty was practically whispering in his ear.

     “I’m not an oncologist, but, yeah, it looks that way.”

     “How bad is it?”

     “You need to see a specialist, Sherlock. I can recommend some people.”

     “How bad?” Sherlock repeated, a tense desperation coating his voice.

     “Definitely stage three, judging by these and your blood work. Maybe worse.” Mike swallowed hard and looked away.

     Moriarty was pleading with him, but it wasn’t nice. “What – am – I?”

     Sherlock took a breath and looked Moriarty in the eyes. “A cancer.”

     “Stomach cancer, looks like,” Mike spoke softly.

     “Ding ding ding!” Moriarty cheered. “And the circle gets the square. Tell him what he’s won!”

     “How long do I have?” Sherlock asked.

     “Well, with the right treatment,” Mike began. Sherlock heard bits and pieces about surgery and chemotherapy and the right diet, but it was mostly white nose.

     “I’m laughing, I’m crying, Sherlock is dying,” Moriarty sang.

     Sherlock closed his eyes to shut it all out. He must have had them closed for longer than anticipated.

      “Sherlock, you all right?” Mike asked.

     “How long do I have?” Sherlock asked again.

     “It depends . . .” Mike stammered.

     “You know what I mean.” Sherlock was very firm.

     Mike took a breath and looked back at the scans. “Seven-eight months, maybe.”

     Sherlock nodded and straightened up. “Will you sign my physical form?” He handed the paper to Mike.

     “Sherlock . . .”

     “Will I drop dead before July 1?” Mike faltered. “Then sign my form.” Mike signed the form in resignation and passed it back. Sherlock tucked it inside his jacket.

     A silence stretched out between them. Sherlock had to break it. “You have been invaluable, Mike. Seeing as Patient X never existed, I think it best you destroy these results. Should there be any fees for your time today, do let me know.” Sherlock turned to leave and stopped. “Don’t tell John.”

     “Course not.”

     Sherlock nodded and left the room. He was partway down the hall, his mind reeling, when Mike grabbed him by the arm and lead him into the nearest supply closet. He snatched up a bag and began to fill it with medicine. “If you won’t see someone, at least take these, they’ll help with the nausea.” Mike paused before adding another medicine to the bag. “And some morphine, for the pain.”

    “Not supposed to take the stuff anymore.”

     “The pain’s gonna get worse, Sherlock.” Mike handed him the bag.

     Sherlock accepted the bag and let it hang heavily by his side. Mike hesitated and then reached out to grip his shoulder. He squeezed once, trying to convey how truly sorry he was. Mike withdrew his hand and slowly left the room. Sherlock hung back for a second longer before following. The two men went their separate ways. Silence followed Sherlock back out to the street and into the taxi he’d hailed to take him home.

      “I’m laughing, I’m crying, Sherlock is dying,” Moriarty sang once more, ending the respite.

     “I won your little game, now leave,” Sherlock whispered harshly. His throat was tight, and his eyes burned. Tears threatened to spill over his lashes, but he refused to let them.

     “I’m a changeable guy, remember? It is my only weakness, after all.” Moriarty cuddled up into Sherlock’s side. “I’m afraid it’s you and me from now on . . . ‘til death do us part.”

 

221B Baker Street – May 7, 2023

     Sherlock Holmes was in a terrible mood, for very obvious reasons. Of course, the biggest reason was only obvious to himself. John suspected lack of sleep, and that was certainly a part of it. The consulting detective hadn’t slept any the previous night, his mind and his unwanted roommate far too loud. Sherlock had stared at the ceiling for hours, trying to determine the exact moment things had felt “off.” Maybe if he’d actually paid attention to his transport over the years, he wouldn’t be in this state now? Maybe if he hadn’t taken all those drugs? He despised uncertainty.

     “You lead a banal, average life, Sherlock,” Moriarty sighed and rolled over on the bed. “And now you’re going to die a banal, average death. Cancer, how boring.”

     Sherlock placed a pillow over his head, trying to drown him out. “Want me to push that down for you?” Moriarty offered. “Suffocation would be sexier. Any death would be sexier. If I were you, I’d find a way to die on this case, go out in a blaze of glory.”

     Sherlock rolled over away from him, keeping the pillow clamped tight. “What’s this one about? Oh, right, dancing. Hmm.” Moriarty mulled it over. “You can poison your shoelaces. I’ve got a lovely recipe for botulinum toxin. Or, you can rig a stage light, stand under it at the right moment, splat.”

     And so the night had gone, hour after hour, until Sherlock now found himself sitting at the kitchen table, staring at the cracked and peeling surface. John sat across from him, casually scrolling through his phone and munching on his breakfast. Mrs. Hudson, who was always there in the mornings for some reason, fixed another cup of tea. “Sherlock, don’t you want any breakfast?”

     “He never does breakfast during a case,” John spoke up. He’d already been snapped at three times that morning by the detective, and he thought it best to spare Mrs. Hudson the same fate.

     “But you need your energy for dancing,” Mrs. Hudson pressed on.

     “I would gladly eat, Mrs. Hudson, if there was anything close to resembling food in this wretched flat,” Sherlock spat. A small part of him felt guilty for the look of hurt that flashed over Mrs. Hudson’s face. When they were too busy with work, a case, Rosie, she did the shopping for them, even though she didn’t have to.

     “Fine, you boys know where the grocer is. I’m not your housekeeper.” Mrs. Hudson set down her cup and hurried out, obviously upset.

     “Nice.” John looked at Sherlock and shook his head. “I’ll have to smooth that over later.”

     Sherlock turned away and winced slightly, biting his bottom lip to hide it. The only sound for a moment were John’s fingers clicking away on his phone. It was terribly annoying. “What are you looking at?”

     “The website,” John answered after a tense silence.

     “Why? We already have a case, we have two cases, a case within a case.” Sherlock stood up and walked into the other room. He couldn’t sit there any longer.

     “I’m just looking.”

     Sherlock turned back, and there was Moriarty, leaning over John’s shoulders and starting at the phone. “Oh, this one involves a wolf, you could get yourself mauled,” he suggested. “And here’s a nice car bombing, nothing says glorious bang like a bunch of explosives.”

     “What are you looking at?” John asked.

     “Nothing. Nothing!” Sherlock moved back into the sitting room.

     John could tell this was going to be a fun filled day. “Will we get to dance today?”

      “Yes, John, I got my physical. I am a responsible adult, thank you very much!”

      John could argue with that. Sometimes he felt like he had two children. Just then, Rosie stepped out of the bathroom, towel wrapped around her wet head. “All done?” John asked. He pulled her up onto his lap. She was carrying around her two, rubber ducks.

      “Daddy, my ducks weren’t where I left them.”

      “No, what do you think they were up to?”

      “I think they were playing a game, and Captain Quack was pretending . . .”

      Sherlock was quickly back in the kitchen. He knew he’d knocked those ducks over last night during his sick spell and that Moriarty was a figment of his mind palace, but what if they figured it out? The chances were beyond negligible, but in that moment, Sherlock was irrationally terrified those two ducks would give him away.  “Rosie, they are pieces of rubber made overseas under terrible working conditions. They don’t play games. They fell off their shelf and into the tub. They don’t feel things, or engage in meaningful conversation. They are stupid, pieces of rubber. They are what they are!”

     Rosie frowned and pulled closer into her father’s side. John held her tighter and stared at the consulting detective in disbelief. Sherlock felt his throat go dry. “I’ll wait outside,” he mumbled before collecting his jacket and leaving the flat.

 

The Schuemer Center – Later that Day

     John had been right. It was a fun filled day, a fun filled day in hell. Sherlock’s mood failed to waiver from abysmal, and John was pretty close to livid. It was probably the worst rehearsal they’d had since that first day. He wasn’t sure if they were accidentally stepping on one another, or if it was intentional.

      Mme De Beaux commanded the center of the room. “That’s enough now. You all may take a break.” John instantly sagged against the wall. Sherlock maintained his distance. The other contestants eyed them and whispered to one another. John could only imagine what they were saying.

      “I’d like to introduce a new style, interpretive dance.”

      “Great,” John thought, “since I was doing so well with all the others.”

      “Interpretive dance is a combination of multiple movements to tell a story, to convey an emotion,” Mme De Beaux explained. “Nate and I will demonstrate. Interpretive dance is a perfect vehicle to communicate strong feelings, such as sadness, fear, anger.”

     “Let’s go with anger,” John suggested, his tone a little more bitter than he would have liked.

      “Anger.” Mme De Beaux nodded and looked to Nate. The two of them took a moment, and then they were moving across the room. John was always surprised by Mme De Beaux’s speed and agility, especially now because it seemed as if she could really murder Nate. If this dance was a fight, she was winning. About four minutes later, the two of them stopped, obviously out of breath. “Anger is a good emotion,” Mme De Beaux spoke, trying to compose herself. “Anger at the world. Anger at your circumstances. Anger at the choices you’ve made.” She took a breath. “Return to your partners and take a few moments to explore this emotion. Think back to a time when you were angry with one another, and relive that fight with your movements and not your words.”

      John sighed and pushed himself away from the wall. Sherlock returned to face him, somewhat reluctantly. Mme De Beaux began to play some sort of music. The rest of the room moved around them, but they stood still. Sherlock wouldn’t even look at him properly. Fine, John would use the consulting detective’s stupid face for inspiration, and he would do whatever the hell he wanted to with his feet. Suddenly he was moving, and he couldn’t care less what he looked like. He probably looked like a raging lunatic, but his feet moved with the most confidence they ever had. Stupid Sherlock getting them in this mess. Stupid Sherlock yelling at Rosie, Mrs. Hudson, and everyone else. Stupid life that led him here, dancing with Sherlock and not his wife.

     John was vaguely aware that Sherlock was dancing now. If he’d been in a better frame of mind, he would have realized how oddly in sync they were. Mme De Beaux noticed, and when the music stopped she applauded them. “Gentlemen, that was inspiring.” John took a breath and looked around the room and then back at Sherlock. The consulting detective seemed to be in some sort of trance. Suddenly, Sherlock let out a scream of pure anguish. The room fell silent.

      “That’s enough for the day,” Mme De Beaux finally spoke. “Tomorrow you’ll pick your choreographers and start crafting your numbers.”

      Without another word, Sherlock turned and walked out of the room. John let him go. It was minutes later before he walked out, followed by multiple sets of eyes and whispers. After his shower, he stood in the dressing room replaying the day in his mind. “You think they’ll make it to the dance?” Jeremy asked Tad.

      “Uh, no,” Tad replied.

      “Shame,” John heard Edward speak up, “John finally found something he doesn’t suck at.”

      Was John invisible in this space? Seriously? He was really going to say something this time. John closed his locker and was about to speak when Sherlock entered the room. The words died in John’s throat, and he busied himself with his phone as Sherlock buttoned his shirt beside him. There would need to be words eventually, but it didn’t have to be right then.

      As John scrolled through his Twitter feed, a certain post caught his eyes. It was from Katie of Cooking with the K’s. It was of a yellow package sitting on a bench that was identical to the one in their dressing room. “Someone left me a gift,” the caption read.

      “Sherlock . . .”

      “John, I know. I . . .”

      “No.” John stopped him and showed him the phone. Just then, Jeremy, Tad, and Edward were tearing out of the room ahead of them, mobiles at the ready. Sherlock and John followed quickly behind them. They all tumbled into the women’s locker room.

     “It was in my locker!” Katie proclaimed.

     “I’ve left my locker open all week,” Francis whined. “And nothing!”

     Sherlock sat down next to the box and began to examine it. John looked around and realized everyone had their phones out and were recording. He pulled his out, deciding to do the same. No fighting the inevitable in this case, and he’d be damned if they were all going to get more followers off their investigation.

      “Lloyd, we’ve got another one,” Jeanine spoke into her tablet as she entered the room.

      Sherlock already had the top off and had unearthed the puzzle box inside. There was a series of trenches carved into the lid, with a tiny silver ball at one end. It was clear that the ball needed to get to the other side. Sherlock picked up the box and turned it carefully in his hands. Lloyd entered the room, looking a little the worse for wear, in John’s opinion.

     “This is the third one,” Jeanine whispered pointedly to Lloyd. He gave a visible gulp.

      Sherlock quickly worked the ball to the other side, and the box clicked open. “John, what are you doing?” Sherlock looked back at him. At that moment, John realized that while he had his phone on the correct setting, he had never actually hit record.

      “Nothing, apparently.”

      “I can give you a tutorial later,” Jeremy offered.

      “How old do you think I am?” John ignored his response and leaned in closer to Sherlock. The contents of this box were less than the last one, just two letters, and one of them wasn’t even in English. “What is that?’

      Sherlock turned the letter over in his hands, holding it up to the light. “Russian. ‘Lord Rosenthall, I thought you might be interested in the second one. They are a set after all,’” Sherlock read.

      “Of course he speaks Russian,” Shasta marveled.

      Sherlock read on. “My offer is good for another three months. Same price as before. The beauty and value is no less.”

      “The shoes!” Tad cried out.

      “You don’t buy shoes one at a time,” Kimberly retorted.

      Sherlock turned his attention to the second letter. The very top portion had been torn off. “All is forgiven. Grief is a terrifying beast. Rosenthall Manor will always be your home. Return at your convenience. I have something to give you. For you, always.” The letter was clearly signed by Lord Rosenthall.

      “For you, always.” John knew the words. “Miss Hatcher said Lord Rosenthall only used those words with people he cared about.”

      “So like one person?” Shasta quipped.

      “Is the letter for his wife?” Sylvia asked.

      Sherlock sniffed the paper and tasted it. “No, this paper was made at the turn of the 20th century.”

      “Who was he writing to?” John thought out loud.

      “Maybe he found someone else after all?” Katie suggested.

      “No,” John and Sherlock spoke together and looked at one another.

      “We should pay Miss Hatcher another visit,” Sherlock recommended as he closed up the box.

      “You’re not going back there again without my permission.” Lloyd Schuemer was suddenly very vocal and very forceful. “Gordy is on a deadline, and he doesn’t need you distracting him.”

      “We won’t, we’ll visit Miss Hatcher,” Sherlock reasoned.

      Lloyd was having none of it. “I brought you here to figure out who was leaving these boxes, and you’re clearly doing a bang up job. I don’t care who or what killed Lady Rosenthall. I care about this dance, and it not blowing up in my face.”

      “Yeah, you obviously don’t care, just use it all for hits and follows.” John pointed to Jeanine and her tablet.

      “I don’t want to see another one of those boxes,” Lloyd practically spat. “Is that clear, Mr. Holmes?”

      “Perfectly,” Sherlock replied after a very tense pause.

      Lloyd turned to leave. “I’d avoid the museum then,” John spoke, and Sherlock smiled.

     A few minutes later, the excitement in the dressing room was over and they were back in the hall. The box was tucked under Sherlock’s arm. “I’ll get this to Lestrade.”

      “Right.” John nodded. An awkward silence started to accumulate.

      “I’m sorry about earlier,” Sherlock mumbled.

      “What?”

      “I apologize for being a cock earlier. I was working through something, but I shouldn’t have taken it out on you, or Mrs. Hudson, and especially not Rosie.”

      “You’re only human, Sherlock.” John knew he hated that idea. “Apology accepted.”

      Sherlock looked back at the box, John’s words making him think of the second letter. “Want to tell me what it is, this thing you’re working through?”

      Sherlock shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. I’ve made up my mind.” John knew enough to leave it for the time being. “Should I get flowers, or chocolates? What does one usually get to apologize?”

     “Mrs. Hudson might appreciate flowers, but I think Rosie would just like a hug.”

 

Backer Street to Mycroft’s Home to the Schuemer Center – May 8-14

     After that first week of rehearsal, time seemed to speed up. Sherlock decided he was going to make the most of it. He was going to take the nausea meds, eat something green, and try to rest when able. He was going to shut Moriarty out and focus on the case and the competition. What happened after July 1 was a battle for a later date.

      Sherlock stood at the kitchen table. The surface was cluttered with various fruits and vegetables along with fennel seeds, apple cider vinegar, peppermint, lemon water, and rice water. The blender he had taken from Miss Hatcher’s sat in the center of the mess. Rosie rolled an orange around the table. Sherlock looked up from the page he was reading in Stomach Ailments and Their Cures. “What is fenugreek seed?” Rosie shrugged. “This will have to do.” Sherlock set the book down and surveyed the table. “Right, young Watson, what should I put in the blender for my special smoothie?”

     Rosie began to hand him things and Sherlock tossed them into the blender. John entered the room, home from the surgery. “Hi, Daddy.” Rosie waved from the table, too busy with concocting to get up.

     John walked over and hugged her. “What’s going on here?”

      “We’re making special smoothies.”

     “Healthy smoothies,” Sherlock added.

     “You went shopping?” John was shocked.

      “Yes, I am a capable adult, John.”

      “Did you get milk?”

      Sherlock paused. “No.”

     John nodded and looked at the fridge. The shopping list was still pinned to it. “Didn’t take the list, I see.”

      “I just realized that was there.” Sherlock turned his attention back to the blender. “What else, young Watson?”

      “Just add ice.”

      Sherlock unceremoniously dumped a handful of ice in the blender.

      “You did wash that thing, right?” John asked.  “It had twenty-five years’ worth of dust on it.”

      Sherlock paused and looked at Rosie. She scrunched her face up in disgust. Without a word, Sherlock dumped the contents in the trash and began to wash the blender in the sink. John fought back a laugh. He helped himself to one of the berries on the table before offering one to Rosie. “Have you decided on a choreographer yet?”

      “Don’t be daft. I’m going to choreograph our dance.”

      “Course you are.”

      “I know our strengths, weaknesses. You seem to respond better to anger, makes sense.” Sherlock put the blender back together. “Mycroft is going to assist me, which should help keep the anger present.” Sherlock grabbed a handful of green stuff and tossed it into the blender. “Round two.”

 

      Mycroft Holmes set the arm weights back in their respective racks. He took a breath and checked his pulse. Right on schedule. Now it was time for some cardio. Mycroft turned towards his treadmill, when there was an insistent rapping on his large, glass door.

      Mycroft shouted and whirled around, grabbing one of the fencing swords. He pointed it at the door but then instantly lowered it. There stood his younger brother, some sort of odd, green colored drink in hand. “Mycroft!” Sherlock called. “Let me in! Look, I made you a healthy thing. It’s green.”

     Mycroft sighed and went to disable the security on the door. “You don’t have to do that, just unlock it.” The older Holmes fought to maintain his patience as he opened the door.

     “Thank you.” Sherlock slipped into the room. “You’ll want to call your security people, reboot the system.”

      “You can call or send a text, brother mine, let me know you’re coming.”

     Sherlock set down the gym bag he was carrying. “No time, wanted to get here before you started cardio. Had a bit of trouble with the blender, but I made you this.” Sherlock offered him the green drink.

      “What on earth is that?”

       “Healthy drink, full of nutrients and proteins, stuff that keeps the weight off, which I understand is important for a man your age. Very little poison.”

      Mycroft took the drink and sniffed it with suspicion. “It smells rancid.”

      “I told you it was healthy.”

      Mycroft set the drink aside. “What do you want, Sherlock?”

      “To help you diversify your cardio routine, with some dancing.” Mycroft just eyed him. “I assume you know about the Danse Ball?”

      “Yes, a bit embarrassing if you ask me, but Mummy and Daddy are thrilled.”

      Sherlock groaned at the thought. “I’m experiencing minor issues choreographing our number.”

      “Am I supposed to care?”

      “I don’t care if you care. I just need your assistance.”

      “Why me?”

      “You think the most like me, and you’re a good dancer.”

      “Don’t insult me. I’m much smarter than you, and I’m a masterful dancer.” Mycroft moved off towards his treadmill. “See yourself out, little brother.”

     “Do this for me, and I’ll tell you something about myself.”

      Mycroft paused and turned back. “I already know everything about you.”

      “I can promise you, you don’t.” Sherlock’s expression told Mycroft everything he needed to know. There was something here.

      “Fine.”

      “Excellent, I imagine four sessions, maybe five. At the end of it, I’ll share my news.” Sherlock began unpacking his bag. “These are the different dance types. We have to incorporate ten into our number. John is really only good at the interpretive dance, and only if he’s angry, so we’ll need to feature that. Oh, and Mme De Beaux is our teacher, so I’d prefer not to embarrass myself - more than I already have. That’s mostly John’s fault, though.”

      “Mme De Beaux?” Mycroft sounded shocked. “I didn’t know she danced anymore.”

      “Obviously you are behind the times, per usual.”

      “Last I knew, she had a very different life.”

      Sherlock plugged his phone into Mycroft’s sound system and selected the song he’d chosen. “What do you know about Lloyd Schuemer?”

      “Tech tycoon, rich American, spends money like it’s air. Wants to be British, but who doesn’t?”

     “What’s his connection to the Rosenthall family?”

     “Why would I know that?”

      “Because I’m involved, and you’re Big Brother.”

     Mycroft sighed. “Lord Rosenthall had an uncle who immigrated to America. He had a daughter who had a daughter who had a son who had a daughter who married a Schuemer.”

      “Very generous of Miss Hatcher to donate her home and land to a distant relative.”

     “We all have our eccentricities, brother mine.”

     “That we do.” Sherlock hit play on the song and Mycroft looked ill.

      “What in Margaret Thatcher’s name is this?”
      “Once you swallow your taste and go numb inside, you’ll find it’s easy to listen to.”

      “This news had better be worth it,” Mycroft warned.

      “I promise you it’s golden.” Sherlock smiled.

 

      At the end of the week, John was feeling somewhat optimistic. He felt like he was improving. Progress was slow, but at least it was moving in the right direction. He wasn’t ready to get Sherlock’s opinion on that yet, but he was feeling better.

      The consulting detective was waiting outside for him. It was a rare sunny day in London and the taller man seemed to be soaking it in. “Part lizard, are we?” John joked and Sherlock startled a little. That was odd. Sherlock usually knew when someone was twenty feet away, much less five.

      “Ready to go?”

      “Yeah, let’s get a cab.”

      “You weren’t appalling today,” Sherlock spoke after a moment.

      John sighed. He should have known that was coming. “Thanks.”

     The two of them were heading for the road, when Gordy came tearing around the Center. “Help! I need help!”

      “Gordy, what’s wrong?”
      “It’s Miss Hatcher, she’s fallen!” Gordy took John by the arm, and the two of them raced back to Rosenthall Manor with him.

      “Did you call an ambulance?” John asked.

      “My mobile is buried!” Gordy shouted.

      John was on his phone with emergency as they entered the house. Gordy led them to the study. A large tower of puzzle boxes had collapsed and was strewn across the room. Miss Hatcher was on her back, boxes covering her legs. She tried to get up and John hurried to her side. With gentle, but forceful touches, he tried to keep her still. “Miss Hatcher, you need to stay still, all right? The ambulance is on its way.”

      “She fell from up there.” Gordy indicated a rickety ladder that was still somehow leaning against the part of the wall that hadn’t collapsed. “I never should have let her up there, but she insisted.”

      “Get those boxes off her legs,” John instructed.

       Sherlock and Gordy began to remove the boxes, and Miss Hatcher was obviously distressed. “No, no! Alden, you have to find Alden!”

      “Miss Hatcher, you have to stay still.”

      “Alden, it’s always Alden. I was trying to find him.” She reached out and took Sherlock’s hand. “Find Alden, save him.”

     Sherlock took her hand gently in his. “I solve the case. Dr. Watson saves the life.”

      Miss Hatcher turned her attention back to John. “Take care of my pet, feed him, and water him. He likes my lemon cookies for treats.”

      “What pet?” John looked to Gordy.

      “She doesn’t have any pets,” Gordy spoke sadly.

      Miss Hatcher started to cry. “Tell Lord Rosenthall I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She rested her head on the ground, strangely silent despite the tears that were rolling down her cheeks. John rubbed her arm in comfort as the ambulance sirens sounded in the distance.

 

Baker Street to the Schuemer Center to Craig the Hacker’s Flat – May 15-21

      Sherlock eyed the case wall critically from his position on the coffee table. He really needed a second set of eyes. “John!” He turned, and John was standing right beside him. “Since when do you stand on the furniture?”

      “You’re allowed up here, so am I - when Rosie’s not around. What have you got?”

      “We have more followers than Cooking with the K’s and Praise Parish, but we’re currently behind Disaster Gals and Bump In the Night. Most unfortunate you didn’t get a video of the last puzzle box.”

       “Yeah, I know.”

       Sherlock took a drink through a very bendy straw of the smoothie concoction he was holding.

       John made a face. “That smells awful. How can you drink that?”

      “Suppression of gag reflex.” Sherlock took another drink and John made another face. “You complain when I don’t eat, now you complain when I do. Which is it?”
       “I’m just surprised at the health kick, that’s all.”

      Sherlock eyed him and drank until there was a definite sucking sound at the bottom of the glass. “You need to post more videos of Rosie.”
     “I’m not exploiting my child for more followers.”

      “What kind of parent are you?” John wasn’t budging. “Fine, take a video of her with someone else, like Mrs. Hudson. The public loves children with old people, or so I’m told. Oh, I can take a video of the two of you, and I’ll remember to hit record.”

      “Got that out of your system now?”

      “Almost.” Sherlock picked some pages off the couch and added them to the wall. “I make us look good. You make us look human, John. You really must do your job. Now, what do we know?” Sherlock leaned back to examine the additions. “Sylvia’s left leg is 2 millimeters shorter than her right, which makes their turns rough, not smooth. Tad seems to have chronic left/right confusion, and Katie refuses to acknowledge her shoe size is actually a half size up.”

      “Hmm.” John pursed his lips and looked to the other part of the wall, to the space actually designated to the case, which was noticeably empty. “Do you think we should work on the actual case, as opposed to the competition?”

      Sherlock dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand. “We’ll get to that later.”

 

       As Sherlock and John entered the practice room at the Schuemer Center, John was met with a surprise. The rest of their competitors were gathered around one of the walls, a wall that had been blank until they’d taped a bunch of photos to it. Everyone was extremely animated. It was obviously a heated conversation, and the more he looked, the more John recognized those photos. Those were evidence photos. John shook his head and eyed Sherlock. “You knew this was going to happen, didn’t you?”

      “The average person is terribly predictable, John. Leave some photos lying round, and they’ll cut your workload in half.”

     “Lord Rosenthall was not going back to Russia for a Russian bride!” Katie practically yelled at Jeremy.

      “Claudia wasn’t even Russian,” Kimberly added.

     Sherlock walked up to the crowd and moved through it. Everyone tried to get his attention, but he ignored them. As soon as he reached the wall, he began to rearrange the photos to his liking. The debate continued around him.

     “Maybe it was wood for his puzzle boxes?” Edward suggested.

      “What if he made puzzle boxes for the Tsar? What if Lord Rosenthall wrote the letter? He wasn’t the receiver, he was the sender.” Sylvia sounded very pleased with herself.

      Sherlock gave a loud, exaggerated sigh. He turned to look at Sylvia, and she tucked her necklace into her mouth. It was an unconscious thinking mechanism. He’d seen her do it more than once, and it was no less disgusting now than the first time. As Sylvia pulled the necklace out, Sherlock’s eyes grew wide. “Two hearts,” he spoke, pointing to her neck.
     “What?”

      “Your necklace.”
      “Two hearts for our two daughters.”

      Sherlock turned back to the wall and began frantically moving pictures around. “Sherlock?” John asked. He knew the detective was on to something big.

      “Two necklaces, there were two necklaces! Lord Rosenthall got one for Claudia before they were married, and then he returned to Russia four years later and purchased a second, identical necklace.” Sherlock tapped the picture of the account book pages.

      “Who was the second one for?” Shasta inquired.

      “Alden Lyons.”

      “Alden?” Francis scoffed. “That twat?”
     “For you, always,” John spoke like it was the most obvious thing. “The gambling debts were Alden’s.”

      “And Lord Rosenthall was going to give Alden the second necklace to pay them off. But then Claudia dies, and he goes to jail. But what became of Alden?” Sherlock steepled his fingers in front of his mouth, staring so intently at the wall that it was a wonder it didn’t burst into flames.

      “Wasn’t Alden the second suspect?” Tad brought up. “What if he murdered his sister because she knew about his gambling? But he didn’t know that his bro-in-law also knew and was going to fix it?”

      “What if he suspected his sister was going to tell her husband not to help him?” Shasta added, the excitement in the room reaching a fever pitch.

      “Alden poisoned the shoes!” Edward shouted.

      “It was never the shoes!” Sherlock bellowed, before returning to his intense study.

      Silence.

      John knew this could take a while. “Any update on Miss Hatcher?” he leaned over and whispered to Francis.

      “Gordy says she’s expected to recover, but she’ll be in hospital for a bit, and then maybe some rehab. We’re taking up a collection for flowers and a card.”

      “Ta. Remind me later.”

      More silence. John noticed a file hanging on the wall, not a picture, an actual, yellowed file. This was something he hadn’t seen before. Correction, he had seen it, but not since that first day when the shoes appeared. “Sherlock, is this the original coroner’s report?” Sherlock didn’t respond. “Lestrade is going to catch on that all his evidence is missing.”

     “If he doesn’t want his toys played with, he shouldn’t leave them out,” Sherlock murmured.

     “Alden could have strangled his sister,” Kimberly spoke up.

     “No marks on the body.” John reviewed the coroner’s report.

     “Maybe he didn’t mean to kill her? Maybe they were arguing and he pushed her and she cracked her head?” Katie theorized.

      “No head injury.” John further confounded them.

      “Maybe she fell in such a way that she broke her neck? And Alden panicked and blamed it on Lord Rosenthall?” Sylvia laid out. John couldn’t immediately dismiss it. It wasn’t a very thorough coroner’s report. Seems everyone’s mind had already been set against Lord Rosenthall.

      They all looked at Sherlock expectantly. “Wherever Alden was in the late 1800s, Lord Rosenthall was writing to him and asking him to return to the Manor. He’d spent twenty years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, a crime Alden made sure he was convicted for, and yet he still wanted to give him the necklace. Human emotion is typically very base but this, this is complex.”

     “Maybe he was luring him back so he could get revenge?” Tad suggested.

     “Oh!” Jeremy gasped. “Oh!” They all looked at him. “It’s a love triangle! One, big, Victorian threesome!”

      They all looked back at that wall. “Huh,” John vocalized and Sherlock tilted his head, trying to examine the pictures from another angle
      Mme De Beaux entered the room and was stunned with what she saw. No one was dancing, or doing any sort of practicing in the practice room. She wrapped her cane on the floor, and everyone startled. “We must all be feeling very sure of ourselves, seeing as free practice time is being used for anything but. What can possibly be more important than an impending competition aired on national television?”

      “A Victorian threesome,” Jeremy replied.

 

       A few days later, John was on his own at the Schuemer Center. Sherlock was off choreographing the next part of the song with Mycroft. John really hoped the time didn’t come when they both showed up to teach the dance to him together. One Holmes brother was quite enough. For his own sanity and the sanity of everyone who knew them, John was having to carve out little times when he could come and practice on his own. Yes, it was a partner event, but if he was with Sherlock all the time, he’d have to kill him. Sometimes solo study was better, and it was easier to do it at the Schuemer Center. Chalk it up to muscle memory, or something like that.

     Shasta and Francis had booked the practice room, so John was dancing up and down the large, empty halls. He was concentrating on his footwork, trying to get it right. Sherlock and Mycroft had recorded a video for him, which would have been highly entertaining under any other circumstance. But after watching the same thing over and over again, and listening to the same thirty seconds of the song over and over, John was about ready to pull his hair out. He was never getting this song out of his head, thank you, Rosie. No, that wasn’t fair. Thank you, Sherlock, thank you for all this.

      John literally stumbled over his own feet. He sighed and decided to take a break. Just as he pulled the earbuds from his ears, he heard a loud crash and lots of swearing. John tucked his phone in his pocket and crept down the hall. He’d never been in this part of the Center before. Lloyd Schuemer’s office was on the right, the door slightly cracked.

     “Lloyd, calm down!” he heard Jeanine shout.

     “I don’t have what they want, Jeanine, what I expressly told them I’d have by now!”

      “I know, but Gordy can work faster, he’ll find it.”

      “Last time we pushed Gordy, Miss Hatcher ended up maimed!”

      “She did that to herself,” Jeanine argued.

      “After she saw us yell at Gordy. She has some odd affection for him. I don’t know.”

      John crept until he was barely able to see through the slit in the door. Lloyd scratched with fervor at his temple. Jeanine was beside him at once, removing his hand. “Stop it, you’ll make it bleed again. We’ll find it.” She began to rub his shoulders, her touch tender, and he complied.

      “If we don’t deliver, it won’t be shoes or papers in the next box, it’ll be somebody’s head.”

      “Don’t say that.”

      “How did they even get the shoes?”

      “I did what you asked me to.” Jeanine sounded defensive.

      “I know.” Lloyd gave a weary sigh. “They already have an operative here.”

      Jeanine stopped her motions and pulled back. “What? Who?”

      Lloyd shrugged. “Shockingly, they didn’t volunteer that info.”

     “We screen all our people,” Jeanine stammered.

     “Maybe I should get Sherlock Holmes’ opinion, since he’s doing such a bang up job!” Something else smashed in the office.

     “Break all the antiques, Lloyd. That’ll solve our money woes.”

      John needed to see more of the office, so he made a decision. He put his earbuds back in, and pretended to be listening to music on his phone, but really he was filming. This time he made sure to press the record button.

      John danced backwards into the office and twirled around a couple times, ignoring the protests. A moment later, he feigned realization, mumbled his profuse apologies and rushed out. He quickly pocketed his phone and deemed the practice session done. There was someone who needed to see the video ASAP.

      

      “Hullo, Craig.” John greeted their hacker friend as he opened his door.

      “John, good to see ya. Is Sherlock with ya?”

      “We’re not always together.” John wished he didn’t sound so defensive.

      “All right.” Craig shrugged it off. “Come on in.”

      Craig made short work of uploading the video and splitting it into still shots. “That’s what I’m interested in, the things on the walls. Is that a chunk of flooring?” John pointed at the screen.

      Craig zoomed in. “Chunk of flooring with Jesse James’ blood.” He moved on to another frame. “Pistol owned by John Dellinger, and an advertisement for H.H. Holmes’ attraction at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He’s a murder fetishist.”

      “A what?”

      “He likes collecting stuff related to famous murders and murderers. It’s a thing. Huge market. These are high ticket items.”   

     “So he could have already owned Lady Rosenthall’s shoes?”

      “Yeah, probably.”

      “And he may have sold them on eBay?”

      “Give me five minutes.” Craig turned to his computer, cracked his knuckles, and got to hacking.

      John retrieved his mobile and cued up the video from the initial Danse Ball press conference. He’d watched it once already on the ride over, and that’s what had given him the idea for the eBay search. It was the first time he’d really payed attention to Lloyd’s expression in the video. The multi-millionaire looked shocked certainly, but he also looked terrified, like he’d seen those shoes before.

      At the end of the video, John looked up. The flat was oddly quite, save for the clacking of computer keys. “Where’s Toby? Is he outside?” Toby was Craig’s bloodhound and had “assisted” Sherlock on more than one case.   

      Craig was silent for a moment. “Toby died.”

      “Oh, I’m sorry, mate.”

      “He was old, lived a long life.”

      “Still smarts, though.”

       “Yeah. I think that’s why Sherlock doesn’t come round anymore. We skype, but it’s not the same. I get it. We all have to work through our grief.” Craig pressed the enter key on his computer and leaned back. “Got it.”

      John stepped up behind him and searched the screen. “Those shoes weren’t sold by Lloyd Schuemer. There’s a second party involved, a Bowzer360. Shoes sold to SexyMama1928 for a hefty price.”

      “What else have they bought?”

      “Nothing, and they used a public computer to make the purchase, like a library or something. But look what else Lloyd has been letting go of.” Craig clicked to the next screen.

      “A villa on the Cayman islands, bit out of my price range.”

      “Looks like the millionaire is in need of some quick cash.”

      “Right. Craig, do you think you could, without getting caught, get me specs and numbers on the Schuemer Center job?”

      Craig smiled. “Give me a day or so.”

     “Thanks, mate. Just text it to me.”

      A thought occurred to Craig. “John, I’m not sure I can.”

     “What?”

      “Vote for you in the Danse Ball. You and Sherlock are great, but the Disaster Gals are smoking.”

      “Surely you can hack the system and cast multiple votes?”

      Craig looked terribly offended. “That’s not ethical.”

      John just stared at him, waiting for the punchline that he was sure was coming. Apparently this was no joking matter. “See you later, Craig.”

      In the cab on the way home, between enjoying video messages from Rosie who was with Molly, and rolling his eyes at the endless string of frustrated messages from Mycroft, a new one popped up from Craig. John opened it. It was a picture of Sherlock and Toby. “For Sherlock, when he’s ready.” John traced his finger over the dog with fondness. Part of him was surprised Sherlock hadn’t mentioned Toby’s passing, but another part understood completely. Sentiment was not the consulting detective’s forte. It was difficult for him to process it, let alone allow himself to actually feel it. Another text from Craig popped up. “Found Bowzer360.” There was a picture of a young Jeanine Bowers and Lloyd Schuemer at a video game conference in the 1990s in California.

 

Schuemer Center to Baker Street to the London Library to Mycroft’s Home – May 22-28

     John yawned and shifted slightly on his feet. A pointed throat clearing reminded him that he wasn’t supposed to be moving. John mumbled a tired apology and attempted to remain still as the tailor did his work. Christ, he was tired. It was early, too early, but it was the only time he could get by the Schuemer Center to do his costume fitting before his shift at the surgery. Solving cases, dance rehearsal, full time job, raising a daughter, putting up with Sherlock - the days were long. John yawned again and looked at the material of the shirt he was wearing. He was pleased with their outfits, much to his surprise. He was sure they’d be flashy with feathers or something equally horrid, but this, this wasn’t too bad. Of course, dancing in it would be another matter.

     After his fitting, John slowly made his way to the entrance. The building was eerily quiet, and he wasn’t sure Lloyd or Jeanine were even in yet. John decided to swing by the loo before heading off to work. He walked in to find Gordy brushing his teeth in the sink, obviously still wearing his pajamas. He had a nice, new bruise sprouting some lovely colors on the side of his face.

     Gordy looked like a deer caught in the headlights. “I don’t sleep here!” he hurried to speak around the glob of toothpaste.

      “What?” John was too tired to process this.

      “Nothing. Getting an early start. Puzzle boxes aren’t going to count themselves.” Gordy spat in the sink and made for a quick exit, his toothbrush still dripping.

     “Gordy, your face.”

     Gordy felt the bruise. “I’m a rough sleeper.”

      “Are those your jammies?”
      Gordy hesitated. “Casual Friday.” He left a befuddled John behind, and it wasn’t until much later, when John was almost to work, that he realized it was Tuesday, not Friday.

 

      “We’re home! We’re home!” Rosie announced as she entered the living room, John close behind. Rosie skipped over to where Sherlock sat, working on the couch, sipping on another of his blender creations. He only ever looked up from his work for her. “We made our own books at school today. Want to read mine?” Rosie offered Sherlock a construction paper book.

      “Are there pirates?”

     “No.”

      Sherlock mulled it over. “I’ll still read it.” He took the book and Rosie climbed up onto the couch next to him.

      John busied himself putting away the groceries, save for that evening’s supper. First, he had to clear the smoothie detritus from the table. At least it wasn’t body parts. Rosie and Sherlock were finishing up as he stepped back into the living room. “Gripping storyline, young Watson. If it is a series, I should like to read more.”

      “Put your book away and wash up,” John instructed. Rosie slid off the couch and hurried to her room. They’d have a couple minutes before she was back, the child had a slight obsession with the foaming hand wash. “Sherlock, I think we need to track Gordy. I was at the Schuemer Center early this morning, and so was he, brushing his teeth, in his jammies.”

      Sherlock was engrossed in his work again, and he wasn’t looking up for John. “Don’t worry about Gordy. He’s not going anywhere.”

      “Little harsh.”

      “No, I mean he literally doesn’t go anywhere, John.” Sherlock waved his hand at his desk where his laptop was sitting open. John walked over and looked at the flashing screen.

      “You’re already tracking Gordy?”

      “Divide and conquer. You go to Craig’s and I put a tracer on the intern. He goes from the Schuemer Center to Rosenthall Manor and back, except when he ventures slightly north in search of sustenance, or to visit Miss Hatcher.”

      “So he is sleeping there?”

      “In the Manor, yes. I believe we’ve discovered Miss Hatcher’s pet,” Sherlock mused. “Course, we could always set a trap with lemon cookies to be certain.”

      “We should pack a lunch for him tomorrow. Miss Hatcher did ask us to feed him.”

 

     It was a rare, weekday off for John, and was he relaxing at home, no. He was trailing behind Sherlock, per usual. John was expecting they’d end up at St. Bart’s, Scotland Yard, or somewhere like that. He certainly hadn’t expected to end up at the London Library. “I’ve known you thirteen years now, and I’ve never once seen you enter a library.”

      Sherlock feigned offense. “I am a patron, John.”

      “Can’t remember the last time I had a library card,” John wondered aloud. “Will they even let me in?” 

       “You have a shirt and shoes, and we won’t be checking anything out.”

       “We won’t?”

       “No, we’re here for some expert advice.”

       “From who?”

       Sherlock didn’t answer. As soon as they were inside, he turned and went down a set of sidesteps. The steps led them down to the bowels of the large building. Here were all the discarded file cabinets and the old records. John was seriously starting to wonder what kind of secret society he was about to encounter, when Sherlock turned a corner and there sat a group of four, senior citizens among a row of old microfiche machines. “Sherlock!” they cheered in unison.

      “John, I’d like you to meet Dolores, Cheryl, Hamish, and Roger, the Genteel Genealogists.”

       “I came up with the name,” Roger announced proudly.

       John couldn’t stop the smile that was spreading across his face. “Lovely to meet you all.”

      “Sherlock, it’s been so long.” Dolores held out her hands and Sherlock took them.

       “Yes, well, I had to wait for the changing of the guard.”

       “If you’d just paid the fine, they wouldn’t have revoked your privileges,” Cheryl pointed out.

      “It was the principle of the matter. Anyhow, we’re here now.” Sherlock spotted the plate of cookies on the table. “Gingernuts! Yes!”

      “Well, you said you might be coming by.” Cheryl seemed very pleased as Sherlock grabbed a handful of cookies.

       “You’re his partner, huh?” Roger asked John.

      “Blogger, flatmate, yeah.”

      “You never bring your sweeties by, Sherlock,” Dolores crooned. “This is a real treat.”

      “No, we’re just mates,” John corrected. “Good mates.”

       “Never underestimate the importance of a good mate,” Hamish divulged. “I wouldn’t have made it out of Dunkirk if it weren’t for my mate Ben.”

       “You were at Dunkirk?”

       “It was a terrible and triumphant time.” Hamish looked John over. “You’ve seen your share of action.”

      “Yes, sir, Afghanistan.”

      Hamish saluted John, who straightened up and returned the salute.

      “Hamish is our resident senior, 101 years young,” Cheryl informed.

       “Not dead yet,” Hamish assured.

      “Not dead yet!” they all repeated, even Sherlock.

      “John’s middle name is Hamish,” Sherlock mentioned. “He hates it.”

       Why did he do things like that? “I don’t hate it,” John struggled to explain.

      Hamish waved his hands. “No, you do, it’s fine. We can’t all have boring names like John or Roger.”

      “Hey!” Roger poked Hamish with his cane.

     “He also produces endearing offspring. Show them the pictures of Rosie, John. Old people love that sort of thing.”

     “It’s true, we do.” Cheryl looked at John expectantly. “Hand them over.” John fished out his wallet with a smile.

      “Sherlock, we’re so excited you’ll be dancing on the telly,” Dolores beamed.

      “We’ll be sure to vote for you, even if you’re rubbish,” Cheryl assured as she passed the wallet to Roger and Hamish.

       John laughed. This wasn’t such a bad day off after all.

      Sherlock cleaned the cookie gunk from his back teeth. “Thank you, Cheryl. One of us will do fine, the other, eh. Now, onto the matter at hand. I need your assistance in tracking someone down.”

      “Who, dear?” Dolores pulled out her pad of paper, ready to write.

      “Alden Lyons.”

      The hours turned into a flurry of activity, full of the whir of the microfiche machines, and the stirring up of dust as large volumes of books were stacked, read, and re-shelved. At one point, John pulled out his phone, but Hamish slapped his hand. “Not allowed,” he chastised.

      “Really, John, do read the signs.” Sherlock pointed to a faded sign with a crossed out cellphone. John smirked and cracked open another book.

      A little bit later, the group was gathered around Roger and Sherlock who sat in front of the best working microfiche machines. “You’re out of practice, Sherlock. I’ll take it easy on you.”

      “Don’t patronize me, Roger.”

      “Ready, set, go!” Cheryl cheered.

      Sherlock and Roger turned their full attention to their machines, reading a page as quickly as they could before scrolling to the next. Dolores kept time on her wristwatch.

      “What’s this?” John asked Hamish.

      “See who can get through a year of the paper the quickest. They’ve always done this, ever since Sherlock was a boy.” John chuckled softly and contemplated the scene before him. There was always something to learn about the consulting detective.

      The minutes stretched on, but in reality it was no time at all before Roger pulled back and shouted, “Done!” A second later, Sherlock pulled back with his own cry, but he was too late. He accepted defeat graciously and shook Roger’s hand.

      Then it was back to the work with more books. Books upon books upon books, until there was a stack of notes and a story. They all stared down at the table, moving the pieces around as needed. “Alden immigrated to America soon after Lord Rosenthall’s imprisonment,” Hamish noted.

      “He was involved in the New York social scene for a while, mostly causing scandal,” Cheryl added.

      “Seems like he kept the gambling up.” Sherlock moved round the table to get a better look at a source. “He had an affair with an actress, which resulted in a child, but Alden abandoned them.”

      “Left her at the altar.” Dolores clucked her tongue. “Terrible manners.”

      “Then he goes west.” Sherlock ran his hand across the pages. “Where he disappears for fifteen odd years before resurfacing in California in 1894, near penniless.”

     “How did Lord Rosenthall know where to find him?” John asked.

      “Private investigator.” Roger pointed to an ad for an investigator in the paper of the small town where Alden had settled.

       “Alden was going home,” Sherlock continued. “Lord Rosenthall wired him the money, money he used to book trains back to New York. He even secured passage on a ship, but he never set foot in England again.”

      “Did he lose his nerve?”

      Cheryl shook her head and handed John a newspaper clipping. “He lost his life.”
      “Tuberculosis,” John spoke sadly. “Died before he set foot on the boat.”

     “Buried in an unmarked grave in New York,” Roger added. “His effects were shipped back to Lord Rosenthall, but he insisted his body remain where it was.”

       “Trail’s end,” Sherlock murmured. He unconsciously gripped his side as a hint of pain ghosted through.

       “Isn’t this interesting?” Dolores held up a page she’d been working on. “Alden’s son was a ward of the state, after his mother was admitted to an institution. Seems she never got over Alden’s betrayal. Their son, Alden Lyons II, married in 1899 and had a son of his own, not named Alden. That name ended, but the Lyons surname lived on. It’s a string of boys until 1951, when Lydia Lyons is born. She has a son out of wedlock in 1983, and his last name would have been Lyons, but she changed it.” Dolores paused, obviously surprised by what she’d found.

        “To what?” John asked what everything was thinking.

       “Seems she was into her family’s history, and parts of the story didn’t sit too well with her, specifically Alden’s role. Her inquiries put her in touch with distant, shared relatives in California. They must have hit it off, because she moved out to be with them, even took on their last name, Schuemer. Her son is Lloyd Schuemer.” Dolores was beyond pleased with herself.

      “Show off,” Cheryl huffed.

     Sherlock took the genealogy chart from her. “Mycroft is wrong. Lloyd isn’t related to the Rosenthalls at all, he’s a Lyons.” A thought occurred to him and he sucked in a sudden breath. “Find Alden, save him.”

      “What?” John leaned in, hoping to catch what his partner was saying.

      Sherlock ignored him and folded the page over. “As usual, you all have been invaluable. Thank you for your time.”

      “Come back again, Sherlock.” Cheryl squeezed his hand. “And tell that brother of yours we said hello. Is he still - ?”

     “Running the British government, yes.”

     After a round of goodbyes, John and Sherlock were heading back up the stairs. “Sherlock, Lloyd said he learned about his past from his grandmother, not his mother.”

      “Yes, but not his biological grandmother. Lydia moves out to California all alone, save for her young son. In his mind, the Schuemers are his family. It was a better narrative, so his mother never corrected it. But here’s the danger. . .” Sherlock whirled around and looked at John. “Lloyd has never understood his place within his own history. He’s not Lord Beckett Rosenthall. He’s Alden, and he’s making all the same mistakes.

     The song reached its conclusion and Mycroft stepped back. “That will do, I suppose.”

     Sherlock took a breath. “Not bad, and within the realm of John’s possibilities.” He was far sweatier than he cared to be. Physical assertion didn’t used to wear him out like this. He was starting to look and feel like Mycroft. Ugh, anything but that.

      “I still won’t be voting for you,” Mycroft assured.

      “I know, you’re allergic to democracy, gives you hives.”

     “Want to run it again, dear brother?”

      “You should take a break first.”
      Mycroft pursed his lips, but didn’t argue. “Yes, a respite would do us both good. Not as young as we used to be.” He smirked as Sherlock squirmed at those words.

      “You were wrong, by the way.” Sherlock tossed him the folded up paper from the library. “Lloyd Schuemer is not of the Rosenthall line.”

      “Well, I stand corrected.” Mycroft neatly refolded the paper after skimming it, but didn’t hand it back.

      “Oh, it’s no fun if you cop to it.”

     Mycroft flashed him a smile and Sherlock made a face. He turned around to retrieve his water bottle. “It’s the last session, time to share your news, brother mine.”

      Sherlock took a drink and another moment before speaking. “Do you remember Nanny?”

     “Of course I remember Nanny. Why would you ask me that?”

     “I’m sharing my news, let me do it my own way.” Sherlock took a breath and began again. “Nanny was the most like us, clever, observant. I suppose we’re the most like her.”

      “Yes.”

      “I understood my place in the family because she was there. And those summers in Sussex were . . .”

      “Exquisite,” Mycroft supplied for him. Fondness was difficult for them both.

      “You remember her neighbor, the bee keeper?”
      “You were fascinated with his bees, all summer long you’d want to go over and check on the hive. And Nanny would let you.”
      “Nanny understood me, and I her, until she got sick. I’ve often wondered what was worse, the cancer or the chemo? She couldn’t remember anything in the end, her beautiful mind gone. And that last time . . .”

      “Sherlock . . .”

      “She begged for mother and father to kill her. Didn’t even recognize us.”

      “We weren’t supposed to see that,” Mycroft attempted to comfort.

       “They both ate away at her, but which was worse?”

      “Why are you bringing this . . .” Mycroft’s voice died in his throat as realization struck hard.

      Sherlock looked at him. His message had been received. “Stomach cancer. Yes, it’s malignant. Yes, it’s metastasized. Stage three, maybe worse. Yes, I saw a doctor, well, Mike Stamford. No, I haven’t seen a specialist, and yes I know you could get me access to all the best doctors in the world. No thank you, Mycroft.”

      Mycroft swallowed, unaware his throat had gotten so dry. “Well, you have it all figured out, don’t you?”

     “That’s not fair.”

      “What’s not?”

     “Judging me for making the same decision you would.”

     “I hardly know what my decision would be.”

     “Can it be treated without chemo?” Sherlock asked a pointed question and received a pointed silence in return. “Then I know your decision.”

     Mycroft looked away in resignation. Sherlock was right. There was no arguing with that. “How long?”

      “Seven or eight months. I’ll tell Mummy and Father, and John, in due time.”

      Mycroft couldn’t bring himself to look at Sherlock yet. “What do you need, brother mine?”

       “I’ll need some help with my will, estate, that sort of thing. I want to make sure John and Rosie are well off, Mrs. Hudson, Molly, Lestrade. Something for Mummy and Father. You can have what you like, within reason. Oh, my violin, perhaps? Someone will need to go and play with Eurus, now that. . . .” Sherlock’s words caught in his throat, unable to finish that thought. He could hear Moriarty’s annoying tune in the back of his head, but he swallowed it down. “Our sister is a very accomplished violinist, I suggest you take some lessons before you embarrass yourself.”

      “Whatever you need.” Sherlock flinched. That sounded like “For you, always.” Sentiment, caring, it wouldn’t make this any easier. Mycroft stepped forward, his hands curling and clenching into fists. He raised his arms, and Sherlock was terrified for a moment they were going to hug. They didn’t hug. This wasn’t them, but he’d never seen that expression on Mycroft’s face before, even when he was sending him off on certain death missions.

      “There is no rescuing you from this, and he knows it,” Sherlock’s mind supplied. “But please, please don’t hug me, brother,” he pleaded with his entire being. “If you hug me, I will fall apart. I will crack. I will break. And I can’t – I can’t. . .”

     Mycroft could feel the battle raging within Sherlock. His younger brother looked like a caged animal. Mycroft slowly lowered his arms and held out one, solitary hand. Sherlock accepted it after a brief hesitation and the two of them shook. It was firm and to the point and over much too quickly for eithers liking.

     Sherlock had to break the silence before they drowned in it. “Seeing as I’m on my way out, the least you could do is vote for me.”

    “The least I could do is nothing.”

     “What sort of older brother doesn’t vote for his sick, younger broth . . .?”

     “All right.” Mycroft had had enough of that.

     “And perhaps your entire department could vote for us, too?”

     “You can show yourself out.”

 

 

Schuemer Center – June 3, 2023

     “I can’t believe no one could watch Rosie.” John escorted Rosie into the practice room, followed by Sherlock. They had the room booked for several hours, but John had been unable to secure a babysitter. “Since when did the people we know develop lives?”

     “It is an alarming trend, yes.”

     John got Rosie situated off to the side with her bag of time passers as Sherlock worked on setting up the music. “Now, don’t laugh at Daddy, all right?”

     “Uncle Sherlock said I could laugh on the inside, but not on the outside where you might hear it.”

     “Right.” John kissed her head and moved off to stretch. Best to work the tension out so he didn’t automatically deck Sherlock when he walked over.

     “Ready?” the consulting detective inquired as he approached.

     “Let’s get it over with.”

     Sherlock started the music and they stumbled through the routine, quite literally. Rosie was doing her best to follow Sherlock’s advice, and failing spectacularly. The song was on a loop and they stumbled through it a second time, which was somehow even worse than the first go round. Before the third attempt, Sherlock paused the music and checked his watch.

     “We’ve got this place for hours yet,” John pointed out, irritation obvious in his voice.

     “I’m expecting someone.”

     Dread grabbed hold of John. “Sherlock, no, we don’t need any witnesses.” He knew it was going to be Mycroft. He should just pack it up and leave now.

     A familiar “yoo hoo” came down the hall, and then Mrs. Hudson entered the room. “Mrs. Hudson!” Rosie cheered.

    “Hudders, glad you could make it.”

     John was terribly befuddled. “You said you were going out?”

     “Yes, but apparently I was coming here. Sherlock sent a car, said I was going someplace nice.” She looked around the room. “This place is very nice.”

     John’s eyes narrowed on Sherlock. “What are you up to?”

     Sherlock ignored him as their next guests entered the room. It was Molly and Blake.

     “Molly, this place is amazing,” Blake expressed as his eyes took in every inch of the space.

     Molly halted as she saw Sherlock. “Oh, of course. You arranged this.” She seemed a little disappointed. “Blake, I’m afraid this is our special outing.”

     “Are you joshing? This is an amazing outing. Your life is fascinating, Molly Hooper.” He pulled her close and kissed her emphatically on the head. She blushed profusely, but her smile was the brightest John had seen it in a long time.

     “Welcome, Molly and significant other.” Sherlock greeted them before turning to their next arrival. “And here’s the Detective Inspector himself.”

    “What’s this about, Sherlock? I get one day off a month.”

     “Time will reveal all.” Sherlock ushered him into the room.

     “Oi, what’s my evidence doing on this wall?”

     John hurried over to smooth things out with Lestrade as Anderson arrived. “Anderson, you’re here.”

     “You said we’d be going inside Rosenthall Manor,” Anderson argued.

     “Slight change of plans. Manor is off limits, but you can enjoy a splendid view of it from the foyer. I’m sure you can stand there and pick up on any vibrations, or what have you.” He pushed Anderson unceremoniously into the room as their last guest arrived. “Donovan!”

     “I’m here, freak, although I’m not sure why.” Sally’s eyes met Anderson’s, and they both looked away.

     “Is anyone working at Scotland Yard today?” John asked.

     “What are we doing here, Sherlock?” Lestrade demanded to know.

     “Consider it a social.” Sherlock strolled casually into the center of the room, obviously making it up as he went along. “A social gathering of friends, acquaintances, possibly some minor enemies, coming together for a cause, a good cause.”

     “What’s that?” Sally asked.
     “Helping John Watson overcome his fear of dance.”
     “I don’t have a fear of dance,” John spoke in a terse voice. “You’re wasting our friends’ valuable time.”
     “You have an acute fear of taking the correct steps while dancing.”

     “I like this social,” Mrs. Hudson spoke up.

     “Thank you, Mrs. Hudson. You were always my favorite.” She beamed and Lestrade looked strangely hurt. “Now, I will be teaching you all various dance styles. We will practice them and hopefully, at the end of our time today, John will be a better dancer. Surely one of you is worse than he is, and it will help boost his confidence. And, if you’re really good, we’ll take a trip down to the aquarium room.”

     “An aquarium?” Blake gasped. “This date gets better and better.”

     “And,” Sherlock kept going, “maybe even some ice cream.”

     “Yes!” Rosie cheered. She ran over to join the others. “What do I need to do?”
     Sherlock paired them off, Molly and Blake, Lestrade with Mrs. Hudson, and Sally and Anderson. “I feel like you two have loads to talk about,” he told them, giving Anderson a clap on the back. Sherlock would work with John, and Rosie would supervise.

     “You’ve been planning this for days, haven’t you?” John asked Sherlock.

     “Yes, constantly, behind your back.”

     “And how’d you get Lloyd and Jeanine onboard?”

     “I have a big in with the British government, so I’m pretty sure I can do whatever I want.”

      “Very generous of Mycroft. What do you have on him?”

      Sherlock looked to the crowd. “We’ll start with the box step.”

      Hours later, John found that even he was enjoying himself. It helped that he didn’t have to dance with Sherlock the entire time. Sometimes Mrs. Hudson was his partner, sometimes Molly. It seemed to help his confidence, too, being around his friends, dancing just for the fun of it. Molly and Blake were having a wonderful time, and John had truly never seen her so happy. Blake treated her like she was precious beyond words, which was no less than she deserved.

      Blake also seemed to be a very good sport, which came in handy when Sherlock unceremoniously cut in, pushing Molly in John’s direction. “Blaine . . .” Sherlock began.

     “Blake.”

     “That’s what I said.” Before Blake could correct him, the consulting detective pressed on. “What is it that you do, exactly?”

     “Construction work, mostly. Building a new bank right now.”

     “Charming. So you’ve never fancied yourself an amateur detective, or sleuth, or anything like that?”

     “Naw, don’t think I’d be smart enough for that. Molly, though, she’s the smartest person I know. I’m always in awe of her.”

     Sherlock’s face softened. “She is awe worthy, yes.”

     In the next moment, Sherlock gave Blake an unexpected twirl reconnecting him with his date.

     The consulting detective continued to move around the room, correcting people, which John knew he enjoyed. Sherlock hovered around Sally and Anderson the most. He enjoyed criticizing them above and beyond all others. His constant checking in assured they stayed together, though, and didn’t kill one another.

     “I never heard from you, even after your divorce,” Sally brought up.

     “It was a tough time. I thought I had driven Sherlock to suicide.”

     “Don’t flatter yourself, Anderson. You never even crossed my mind during my fake suicide. Shoulders up.” Sherlock corrected them again and moved on.

      “He’s been back nine years now, and you still don’t call. You’ve been reinstated to the force and everything,” Sally pushed on.

      “Yes, but. . .”

      “I waited for you to get your shit together.” Sally sounded desperate. “I waited.”

      “I know, but it’s different now.” Anderson sounded just as desperate.

     “How?”

     “You may not like who I am now.” Anderson’s voice was suddenly very small.

      “Don’t I get to make that decision?”

      “You probably won’t like ghost hunts and spirit walks, weekly séances.”

      Sally squared her shoulders. “Ask me on a proper date and we’ll see.”

     Anderson puffed himself up to his full height. “Sally Donovan, will you join me on a spirit walk?”
     “Can we do dinner first?”

     “Sally Donovan, will you join me for dinner?”

     “Yes!” She grasped his hands and then they were kissing.

     Sherlock covered Rosie’s eyes. “Avert your eyes, young Watson.”

     Sometime later, Sherlock leaned back against the mirror and just watched. The formal dancing had dissolved, but the fun was still being had. John twirled Rosie round and round. Everyone looked so happy. Suddenly, Mary Watson was beside him. It’d been a while since she’d come round.

      “Haven’t seen you in a bit.”

     “I do have an afterlife, you know. It’s not all about you, Sherlock Holmes.” Mary leaned against his side.

      “To what do I owe the pleasure, Mrs. Watson?”
      “Thought you might be getting tired of your other visitor. He’s a tosser.”

      “I have him on permanent mute for the time being.”

      Mary nodded and watched the room with Sherlock. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking they can’t live without you, Sherlock, because they can.”

      “I know that.”

       “The world goes on turning. It’s a mercy.”

      “For who?”

     “Them, and you.” Mary smiled as she focused on John with Rosie. “I gave you a case, remember? Don’t tell me you’re closing it so soon.”

      “Save John Watson.” Sherlock’s smile matched Mary’s as he watched the doctor and his daughter. “I believe Rosie has done a far better job at that than I ever could.”

      “Maybe so, but he still needs you. They need you.”

      “You just told me they could live without me.”
     “And they can, but that doesn’t mean they won’t still need you once you’re gone. I’m sad you may not be around to vet the next Mrs. Watson. Course, you weren’t around to vet me, either, and I was amazing.”

     “Maybe I should un-muzzle Moriarty.”
     Mary pulled on Sherlock’s arm playfully. “None of that, now.” She turned his face towards hers with the light touch of her hand. “I gave you a gift, Sherlock. I gave you this life, don’t go down without a fight.”

     Sherlock took her hand and kissed it. “See you round, Mary.”

     “Earth to Sherlock,” Lestrade spoke. Sherlock opened his eyes. Mary was gone. “You looked like you were deep in thought, up in your palace. Ever get lost up there?”
     “Sometimes.”

     Lestrade leaned back against the mirror with him and a companionable silence passed between them. “How are you doing, Greg?”

     Lestrade was caught off guard. “I’m sorry. Was that question directed at me?”

    “Yes. Your name is Greg, correct?”

     “Yeah, no, you’ve finally got it.” Lestrade gave a laugh. “I’m fine, yeah, great. Never thought you’d ask. Been thinking about retirement, actually. And yeah, I know I’m years off, but dreams are nice.”

     “You should get a cottage in Sussex and keep bees,” Sherlock offered.

     “Bee keeping, really? Is that what you’d do with retirement?” Sherlock didn’t even need to answer. “Yeah, like you’d ever retire. Cottage in Sussex might be nice, though.” Lestrade’s phone chimed, and he pulled it out of his pocket.

     “Duty calls?”

     “No, it’s this dating app. Met some nice girls. No one permanent yet, but that’s all right. Just having a lark.”

     “Girls John might be interested in?”

     Molly approached them and pulled Sherlock’s attention away. “Thank you, Sherlock, for the date. It was very thoughtful.” She kissed him gently on the cheek before heading back to Blake, who gave Sherlock two thumbs up. Sherlock awkwardly returned them.

     “Nice to see you and Molly patching things over.”

     “Yes,” Sherlock agreed.

     The playlist came to an end, and the dancing stopped. “Who wants to see some Xiphias gladius?” the consulting detective asked the room and Rosie squealed.

     A few minutes later, they were all downstairs, entering the aquarium. John hovered outside. Sherlock knew why he was vacillating. “John, I’m sorry, I . . .”

     John held up his hand to stop the apology. “It’s all right. Go, have fun.”
     “Come on! Come on!” Rosie pulled Sherlock’s hand and led him into the aquarium.

     John took a deep breath and looked away. When he looked back, Sherlock was lifting Rosie closer to the glass. John caught the tremor in his hand and squeezed it shut. He clenched it so tightly his muscles began to ache. “I don’t want to be afraid anymore,” he whispered to no one in particular.

     “Well then, John Watson, get the hell on with it,” Mary’s voice spoke in his head, loud and clear as day.

     John laughed and shook his hand out. He took another breath and then walked into the room. Rosie was ready to greet him.

 

Schuemer Center – June 7, 2023

     It was practice time. It was always practice time anymore. Even when John was at work, he found his feet unconsciously running through their dance steps. He dreamed in dance. He somehow even managed to chew to a beat. It would have been nice if all this had resulted in their routine getting any better, but Sherlock was quick to assure him that that was not happening.

     So, here John stood, back in the practice room with everyone else. At least he wasn’t alone in his misery. Save Sherlock, and possibly Kimberly everyone else seemed to be struggling, too. Mme De Beaux was far from satisfied, her diatribe about how they were the most embarrassing students she’d ever taught had made that perfectly clear. She was not going to have her name attached to them dancing like this, especially not on national television. More group practices were the only answer.

     “No! No! No!” Mme De Beaux stamped her cane against the floor. Everyone halted. Sherlock gave one last twirl and stopped. John was acutely aware that Sherlock was enjoying these additional sessions. Dancing seemed to thrill the consulting detective as much as a really big case did, and at the moment John was pretty sure it was eclipsing their actual casework.

     Mme De Beaux sighed openly and brokenly. “Again, start again.” She signaled for the music to restart, when Jeanine entered the room.

     “Sorry to interrupt, Mme De Beaux, but we need to talk about special effects.”

      “It can wait.” Mme De Beaux was far from pleased. Her grip on her cane tightened, and John wondered if she was actually going to hit someone with it, namely Jeanine.

      “It’ll only take a moment.” Jeanine assumed the center of the room, and Mme De Beaux gave a very violent gesture to kill the music.

     “Listen up, each of your numbers is allowed one special effect, confetti cannon, fire, water effect, etc. You’ll be receiving an email, please look it over and make your decisions by the end . . .”

     Jeanine was cut off as the television screen in the room turned on. Most rooms in the Center had them. First there was static, then there was a message. “Where is it? Where is it?” The same message flashed over and over in bold letters.

     “Sherlock . . .”

     Just then, all the fire alarms in the building went off, blaring loudly. Sylvia screamed and jumped back quickly, knocking Sherlock into the mirror wall. The practice barre struck him on his lower side, sending a wave of pain coursing through his body.

     “Someone’s taking a page from my play book,” Moriarty admired as Sherlock doubled over.

     “Sherlock, you all right?” John was at his side, but Sherlock looked past him, trying to blink through the pain and catch the message flashing on the screen. Moriarty started mimicking the fire alarms. It was all going to drive Sherlock crazy.

      “Shut up!” he screamed and then there was silence. The alarms shut off, and the television turned off.

     “That was the coolest thing we’ve ever been through,” Jeremy whispered to Tad.

     Jeanine looked at Sherlock and John, terror obvious on her face. “You two, Lloyd’s office, now!”

 

     “I feel like we’ve been called to the headmaster’s office.” John leaned back against the hallway wall and looked at Sherlock. “You sure you’re all right?”

     “I’m fine, John. A wooden barre digging into one’s side often results in pain.” On the walk to Lloyd’s office, Sherlock had used every step to swallow the pain and the nausea, force Moriarty back, and regain his composure. He silently hoped he had another nausea pill tucked into his stuff that he could take after the meeting.

     “What about that message? Little bit different from a puzzle box.”

     “Not the same person.”
     “What?”
     “Not our puzzler. This is someone new.”
     “Great, a third thing to solve, just what we needed.”
     “I’ll solve it.”

     John considered Sherlock for a moment. “Sometimes I wonder if we’re in a dancing competition, or if we’re solving a case?”

     “Yes,” was Sherlock’s incredulous reply.

     “Yeah, but shouldn’t it be the other way around?” Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Are you worried they’ll kick us out of the competition if we solve the case before July 1? Is that why you’re dragging things out?”

     “What are you implying, John?” Sherlock’s voice was cool, almost frozen. John knew he needed to tread lightly, but there were things that had to be said.

     “You have all this information, but what have you done with it? Lloyd is related to Alden, but you haven’t shared that with him, even though you indicated him not knowing was dangerous.”
     “A man learning who he truly is, is a delicate thing. It’s not a band aid to be ripped off.”
     “Whatever that means. It’s also very obvious something sketchy is going on here, with Lloyd and Jeanine. They’re lying. They’ve been lying.”
     “I know.”

     “Then confront them!” John wanted to shout, but he caught himself and turned it into a tense whisper. “That’s what you do!” Sherlock opened his mouth to speak, but John pressed on. “And the boxes have stopped. Why did they stop? Why did the puzzler break the pattern? Who is the puzzler? And what the hell was that message?”

     Sherlock let John breathe for a moment. “Are you finished?”

     “For now.”

     “Did you get the info from Craig?”

     “About this place, yeah. It’s hanging on the case wall, back at the flat. It’s been there for days. You’d know this, if you were actually looking at that wall as opposed to worrying about the competition.”
     Sherlock pressed on, choosing to ignore John’s attitude. “Did it reveal any great truths?”

     John slouched a little. “Not really. Schuemer spent a fortune on this place, more than he seemed to have in the bank, so he took out a loan. Very exciting stuff.”
     Sherlock’s eyes lit up. “A loan?”

    “Yeah, Bank of England. Pretty big one, but he’s got the collateral.”
     “What division? How was the loan coded?”

    “I don’t know.”

     Sherlock was a ball of energy as he pulled out his phone and began to text Craig. “That is vital information.”

     “How was I supposed to know?”

    “It’s all right, you’re an idiot. I forgive you.”

     John really was going to deck him this time. Jeanine opened the door to the office and looked down the hall to where they were waiting. “He’ll see you now.”
     As soon as they entered Lloyd’s office, John knew something was amiss. There were fewer items hanging on the walls. He tried to communicate this to Sherlock with his eyes, but Sherlock was still looking at his phone. The consulting detective took his time sending the text and pocketing his phone before turning his attention to a very angry Lloyd Schuemer. He instantly realized that Lloyd was wearing only two different designers. Someone was paring down.

     “You gents enjoying your time here?” Lloyd asked. He started to scratch at a bloody sore on the side of his head, and Jeanine cleared her throat. Lloyd realized what he was doing and clasped his hands together.

     “We’re having an excellent time,” Sherlock replied. “I have been meaning to talk to someone about the quality of the water, though.”

     Lloyd chuckled. It wasn’t pleasant to watch. “You’re funny. You know, no one told me how hilarious you are.” He swallowed with the intensity of a man possessed. “That was sarcasm.”

     “Yes.”

     “I told you that I didn’t want any more messages,” Lloyd began, and it seemed as if the words were actually hurting him as he spoke them.

     John anticipated what Sherlock was going to say. “Don’t,” he started, but it was too late.

     “Technically you said no more puzzle boxes, and this message wasn’t in a box.”

     Lloyd banged his hand on the desk and Jeanine screeched. “They hacked our system! Now I have to pay to have my security redone!”

     “Beta testing always reveals the kinks in the works,” Sherlock added and John put his face in his hands.

     “You are the kinks in my system, the two of you. I’m done playing your games. I’m done letting you walk all over me with your ‘connections’ in the British government. I should kick you out.”

     “No!” Sherlock shouted and John looked up. Sherlock was really upset about that possibility.

     “Too many followers, too popular,” Jeanine advised, showing Lloyd something on her tablet.

     Sherlock leaned in closer to the desk and looked Lloyd directly in the eyes. “Puzzle boxes work best when all the pieces fit into place, when all the gears and mechanisms behave as intended. They don’t work if the screw fancies itself a spring.”

     “What does that mean?”

     “An investigation works best when all parties tell the truth, Alden, I mean Lloyd.” The silence in the room was so tense John was certain it’d strangle them all.

     “Mr. Schuemer. Get out.”

     Lloyd pointed at the door. Sherlock nodded and stood. John followed suit. They were about to exit the office when Tad and Jeremy came bursting in. “Sorry to interrupt, but Tad and I have an awesome idea!”

     “Ghost hunt! We want to do a ghost hunt in Rosenthall Manor!” Tad blurted out. “It’s obvious the spirits are angry and things are escalating!”

     “Come on,” John scoffed. “It wasn’t ghosts who did that to the telly.”

     “Negative energies work in all kinds of ways, disrupt anything, from tellies to toasters,” Jeremy argued.

     “You have to let us do this, Mr. Schuemer, please! Your safety might depend on it!” Tad implored.

     “I think it’s a brilliant idea,” Sherlock chimed in and John was floored.

    “Excuse me, what?”
     Jeanine looked to Lloyd. “It would be good for ratings.”

     Lloyd sighed. “Fine, draw up the legal waivers. Have your little ghost hunt, but stay on the first floor. And if you take anything from that house, I will sue you.”

     Jeremy and Tad left among a flurry of “Thank you, Mr. Schumer.” John followed them out, still stunned. Sherlock lingered. “You may want to double check your family tree,” he mentioned casually.

     “OUT!” Lloyd thundered and Sherlock obeyed. Jeanine closed the door and the last John saw of Lloyd, he was scratching furiously at his temple.

     Jeremy quickly approached Sherlock. “You’ll be in our show?”

     “We’ll be in your show, yes.”

     “This will get the most hits ever!” Tad proclaimed.

     “I bet we can get Francis and Shasta, too.” Jeremy turned and hurried back towards the practice room.

     “I knew you’d come around to our side, Sherlock Holmes.” Tad seemed almost verklempt as he walked away.

     John turned on Sherlock as soon as he was sure Tad was out of hearing range. “So we’re ghost hunters, too?”

     “Sometimes one has to wear a disguise.” Sherlock’s phone dinged and he fished it out. He seemed very pleased with what he saw. “You were right, John, Lloyd does have the collateral. Trouble is, he doesn’t know where it’s located.” Sherlock passed his phone to his partner.

     “What’s this, then?”

     “Lloyd did take out a loan through the Bank of England, but they’re the middlemen. It’s his creditors he needs to worry about, the loan sharks.”

     “And this code tells you who those sharks are?”

     “As far as sharks go, they’re among the nastier variety. They’re after the necklace, John, the emerald necklace. That is Lloyd’s collateral.”

     “The second one, then?”

     “The first one disappears after Claudia’s death, meaning Alden likely sold it.”

     “But Alden never knew about the second one, so it’s still over there.” John had an ah-ha moment, which amused Sherlock to no end. “That’s what they’ve got Gordy looking for day and night.”

     “Yes, and we’re going to find it.”
     “How? Poor Gordy’s been searching for weeks.”

     “At the ghost hunt.”

     John laughed. “Oh, so the ghost of Lord Rosenthall is going to tell us exactly where to look?”
     “Yes.”

 

Rosenthall Manor – June 18, 2023

       Sherlock and John waited outside Rosenthall Manor. John really wished they were anywhere else, or at least waiting here for a completely different reason. Participating in a “professional” ghost hunt had never been high on his list. In fact, it had never been on his list at all. But, such was life with Sherlock Holmes, always full of surprises.

     John checked his phone again. “Well, Rosie is safely settled at her sleepover.”

     Sherlock watched the color of the sky as it continued to change from day to night. “I never understood sleepovers. Seems counterproductive to cultivating friendship. Visit and then go home and sleep. What is the point of sleeping there?”

     “Acquiring friends is the first step, Sherlock.”

     “Overrated.” Pause. “But I’m very happy for Rosie. I hope she has an adequate time.”

     John smirked and took a moment to admire the stillness. At least it was a nice evening. “You sure about that special effect we picked?”

     “Of course. I wouldn’t have picked it if I weren’t.”

     “I’m just surprised you didn’t pick something with fire. I’m grateful, but surprised.”
     “Made that mistake once at the prep school talent show, never again.”
     John wanted to know that story. He was about to ask when Jeremy, Tad, and their entourage approached. Tad and Jeremy were already decked out in all their gear.

     “So we are actually doing this?” John sighed.

     “The answers to two of our problems are inside, the necklace and the key to Lady Rosenthall’s death. We’re going to find both tonight.”

     “Glad you’re so certain.”
     “We find them and then we can concentrate on the competition,” the consulting detective whispered harshly. “Tad, Jeremy, what a splendid evening!” Sherlock stepped out to greet them.

     “The spirits are here, ready to talk. Can you all feel it?” Tad asked, deathly serious.

     “Sure,” Sherlock replied.

     “What up, crime boys, ghost boys?” Francis called as she and Shasta joined them.

     “This is going to be amazing! Everyone lean in for a selfie!” Shasta held her phone out and they all leaned in, save John, who was pulled in by Sherlock.

     “All right, our guys will get you set up with all your equipment,” Jeremy explained.

     John decided to accept the inevitable as he had a front facing camera, an EMF meter and some sort of heat seeking device strapped around him. This process even included a heart monitor. “Is all this really necessary?”

     “If you want good readings,” Tad assured.

      “Yes, John, if you want good readings.” Sherlock gave him that smile, that smarmy mischievous smile that let John know he was having way too much fun.

     Shasta kept taking pictures. “All pictures and videos have to be hashtagged with #bumpinthenight #weaintafraidofnoghost,” Jeremy reminded them.

     “We’re going to start recording now. How do you all feel?” Tad looked at them expectantly.

     “Awesome!” Francis exclaimed.

     “Let’s rock it out!” Shasta added. “Find some ghosts.”

     “I’m here,” was John’s response.

     “I believe the truth we all seek lies just beyond those doors.” Sherlock spoke the words like they were the most profound words he’d ever spoken. John rolled his eyes.

     “I think we’re ready, guys,” Jeremy instructed their crew. “Don’t come in, unless we have another demonic possession situation.”

     “A what?” John was slightly concerned.

     “June 17, a night at Rosenthall Manor.” Tad’s voice was lower now, more intense.
“What secrets await us beyond these doors, what truths? The night will tell. Tonight’s investigation includes some special guests, Francis and Shasta with Disaster Gals, and John Watson and the Sherlock Holmes. Can the world’s only consulting detective break the curse of Rosenthall Manor? Let’s find out.”

     Tad and Jeremy assumed the lead. They pulled the doors open together and let out a shocked gasp for effect. Sherlock played along and echoed them. “We are entering the Manor.” All the lights inside were off, and John had to admit it looked significantly creepier in the dark. “It looks just like it did one hundred and fifty years ago.”

      “More or less,” John muttered.

      “Holy creepfest, Batman,” Francis commented.

      “I can feel the vibrations, the spirits lurking just below the surface,” Jeremy whispered. He pointed his heat monitor toward the study. “Do you see that, Tad?”

     “Oh, yeah.”

     “Highest energy levels are in the study.”

      Jeremy ran the meter slowly up the stairs and held it above him. “And upstairs.”

     “Which is off limits, so we’ll focus on the study. First, we need to establish a baseline.” Tad turned to the group. “Miss Hatcher’s apartment is on the left, but there are several other rooms down here that need our exploration. We’re going to split up. Jeremy and I will cover the last two rooms on the right. Shasta and Francis, you take the middle rooms. Sherlock and John, you take the last two rooms on the left. Use your equipment, share your experiences. We’ll meet back in the study in forty-five minutes.”

      The rest of the group slunk down the hall, expecting something to pop out at any moment. John yawned and followed behind, surprised Sherlock was still playing along. When they broke apart, John discovered they were responsible for investigating the electronic storage room. “Care for a toaster this time?” John smiled at Sherlock. “I mean, a haunted toaster?”

     “We’re here, John, we may as well give it a try.”

     Sherlock had a point, damnit. John picked up his EMF meter. “I guess we should humor them. They did send us fifteen tutorial videos.” He sighed. “Is there anyone here with us?” Pause. “Are we alone?” Pause. “If you are here, will you make your presence known?” John turned to look back. “You want to ask one of these?” Sherlock was gone. John really should have seen that coming. “Great, if this were a horror movie, I’d be the first slurp. Thank you, Sherlock.”

     Sherlock quickly made his way back to the study. With swift motions, he ditched his equipment, but held on to the camera. He used the light on the camera to look around the room, examining the piles of paper. Gordy had made considerable progress on the boxes, but they still loomed against the wall, dark and foreboding. The answer was in here somewhere, he knew it.

     “Sherlock? Sherlock?” John whispered as he moved down the hall, trying not to alert the rest of the group. The door to the study was slightly ajar, of course. John slowly slipped into the dark room. “Sherlock?”
     “Quiet, John.” Sherlock was suddenly beside him and John had to stifle a shout. “Are you actually frightened?”

     “When you sneak up like that, yeah.”

     “Not sneaking, sleuthing.” Sherlock returned to his examinations, quickly moving from pile to pile. “The answer is in this room somewhere.”
     “So we’re done hunting ghosts?”

     “Don’t ask idiotic questions, John, just keep watch. I need as much time as possible before the others return.”

     “Thanks for pretending long enough to make us look like bleeding fools.”

     “I need five minutes, five uninterrupted minutes. Lloyd has kept a tight watch on this place since our last visit, and it’s impossible to think with Gordy bumbling around. But Gordy always has supper with Miss Hatcher, so now is the perfect time, now. So yes, I lied to everyone John, I lied.” A piece of paper caught Sherlock’s attention and then he was off, scattering pages everywhere, reading as quickly as he could.

     John felt every gram of weight of the equipment strapped to his person. “Perfect, just perfect.” He turned to watch the door, seething inside. “Chase down dangerous criminals, John. Enter a dance competition. Go on a ghost hunt. Never mind what you want to do. A movie and a mug of tea on a Saturday night isn’t too much to ask!”

     “Shh!”
     John fought hard against a really foul gesture, but there was no point to it if Sherlock wouldn’t look up to see it. “How does this stupid thing turn off?” John started to fiddle with the camera. “Try not to incriminate ourselves any further.”

     “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Sherlock was on to something. The answer was right there, he was so close.

     John was still fiddling with the camera when a sound caught his attention. It was a definite bumping sound but it wasn’t coming from the hall, it was coming from below. The cellar? That didn’t make any sense. “Sherlock?” The bumping noise was followed by a very obvious thud, a moment’s silence, then the sound of a metal door opening and a strange dragging sound. “Sherlock?”
     “What?”

     In the stillness that followed, Sherlock heard it, too. Then the noise was above them. It sounded like feet, followed by the closing of a door. The rest of the group was out in the hall, looking all around. “It’s a ghost!” Shasta screamed.

     “It’s the spirit of Lady Rosenthall! She’s upstairs!” Jeremy took off for the staircase. “Screw Jeanine, I’m going up there!”
     “Not a ghost, a Gordy.” Sherlock hurried past John and was right on Jeremy’s s heels as they bounded up the stairs.

     Suddenly the reason why upstairs was such a bad idea came flooding back to the forefront of John’s mind. “No! The floor isn’t stable!” he cried up at them.

     His words found Sherlock just as they hit the landing, and the wood cracked. It was more like glass than wood, splintering into several pieces as it finally gave way. Jeremy pitched forward, but Sherlock managed to grab him. He spun them around and shoved Jeremy back. Jeremy hit the wall and slid down the stairs. Sherlock tried to grab the bannister, anything, but all he found was air. There was nothing to prevent him from falling straight back through the floor. There was a sickening smack followed by darkness.

 

     Sherlock blinked his eyes and the world came back into focus. He was in the study again. How did he get back here? The room was different, lighter. The floor was clean, save for a pile of wood shavings near the desk. The boxes still surrounded the walls, and there was their maker, sitting at his desk.

     Sherlock sat up and slowly got to his feet. With soft steps, he approached the desk. Lord Rosenthall did not look up. He kept working on the box sitting before him, the chisel pushing through the wood in a fluid motion. Sherlock stood there for several minutes admiring the work, the craftsmanship.

     “He won’t speak to you.”

     Sherlock looked up and there stood Lady Rosenthall. She moved over behind the chair and rested her hands on the back, looking down at her husband with such fondness. “He’s pleased you’re here, though.”

     “Are you pleased?”

    Lady Rosenthall gave a small smile. “Yes and no.”

    A noise out in the hall caught Sherlock’s attention. He looked up to see a younger man staring back at them. The man made a sour face and hurried on. “Don’t mind, Alden. He wanders these halls, searching for something he can’t understand.” She took a shaky breath. “Sometimes I fear I’ve damned us all. Wasn’t my intention. I only wanted to dance.”

    Lady Rosenthall moved away from the chair and closer to Sherlock. “Have you figured it out? Do you know who killed me?”

     Sherlock narrowed his eyes on her, every piece and scrap of paper he’d examined flitting through his mind. In a moment’s time, the answer was painfully clear. “You.” Lady Rosenthall nodded sadly. “You had scarlet fever as a child. You lived, but your heart and lungs were weakened. The fever left you with scars, scars you needed makeup to cover. You refused to be seen as ill, so you attended every social function you could, but there was really only one that mattered to you. The year before the ball, you had a relapse, while Lord Rosenthall was on his second trip to Russia to purchase a second emerald.     Your housekeeper kept you supplied with laudanum, and the two of you deceived higher society into thinking you were overseas with your husband. Your brother was too busy working up a considerable gambling debt to notice how sick you truly were.”

     “1872 was not our best year, but I had hopes once Beckett returned that life would be better.”

     “The moment you felt any sort of strength return, you pushed yourself,” Sherlock continued on. “Lord Rosenthall could not refuse you anything, and you knew this, so you entered the Danse Ball despite your doctor’s wishes. You won the plate, but you wore your body down. Your heart couldn’t keep up.”

     “It sounds so foolish when you say it like that, childish.” Lady Rosenthall looked away, when she turned back, her blue eyes were shining with a clarity that struck Sherlock to his core. “I knew I was dying. I could feel it every day. I wanted to go out on my own terms. You understand that.”

     “Yes.” The word was heavy on his tongue.

     Lady Rosenthall returned to the chair, resting her cheek atop her husband’s head as he continued to whittle away. “I never meant for Beckett to take the blame. I never dreamed Alden would do what he did. He was only trying to protect me, no matter how misguided.” She looked at the doorway, hoping to catch another glimpse of her wayward brother. “I truly believed Alden would come to know what I’d known all along.”

     “What was that?”

     Lady Rosenthall’s smile was bright. “Lord Rosenthall never loves in halves. He loves in wholes.”

     “For you, always,” Sherlock whispered. Lord Rosenthall’s motions halted for a moment but then slowly resumed. “He never defended himself, why?”

     “He blamed himself for my death.” Lady Rosenthall moved around the desk and knelt down until she was in Lord Rosenthall’s line of sight. He stopped working and looked up at her. The love between them was unmistakable. “He couldn’t stop me from dancing, so he accepted the punishment for a crime that was never his.” She took his hand between hers. “My dear Beckett, you love me so much, more than anyone ever deserves.”

     He kissed her hand and mouthed something to her. Lady Rosenthall looked to Sherlock. “Save Alden.”

     “What?”
     “Save Alden. Don’t think in halves, think in wholes.”

     “I don’t . . .” Sherlock’s mind was starting to get fuzzy.

     Lady Rosenthall stood up quickly, her whole demeanor changing. “You must go.”

     “Go where?”
     “You cannot keep living with a foot in both worlds. You have to decide.” Sherlock was terribly confused, his head was spinning. “Watch out for him.”

     Sherlock started to ask who, but then Moriarty took him harshly by the shoulders and spun him around. The room appeared to be melting. “Did you miss me?” Sherlock struggled to speak. He felt like he was sinking into the floor. “You know, I’m starting to feel rather neglected. Can’t help but think that you’re ignoring me, which, uh, really pisses me off!” Moriarty thrust his hand through Sherlock’s shirt, past his skin, and right into his stomach. Sherlock couldn’t even contemplate how that wasn’t possible, because everything was pain. He tried to scream, but he couldn’t. Breathing was also impossible and soon his lungs started to burn, but he still couldn’t take a breath.

     Moriarty lowered him to the floor, never removing his hand. “There you go, Sherlock, nice and easy. Nice and easy. Isn’t this fun?” With a sickening grin, he twisted his hand, digging deeper, and the pain shocked Sherlock’s lungs into working. He gasped and clawed out at Moriarty.

      “Calm down, Sherlock. Calm down.” Moriarty’s menacing voice began to morph, and suddenly he was melting too, just like the room. Was Sherlock melting? He looked at his hands, and they were still flailing, striking out futilely at the air. Then someone grabbed his wrists and he could hear that same voice telling him to calm down, only it didn’t belong to Moriarty. It belonged to John.

     “Calm down. You have to calm down. It’s all right.” Sherlock’s senses came back online one by one. He was on the floor, but he couldn’t move his neck. It was night outside, but there were several lights all around him, shining down on him. His side was throbbing and he desperately needed to vomit. And there was John, trying to hide his fear behind his serious doctor face. Sherlock felt movement behind him and he lashed out with his hands again. “Just hold off, he’s panicking,” John instructed. Sherlock realized there were people behind him, paramedics. He couldn’t move his neck because of a neck brace.

     John took him by the wrists again, and pulled Sherlock’s attention to his face. It was then that Sherlock realized his hands were covered in lots of tiny nicks and cuts, but he couldn’t feel them. All the pain was in his side. “You’re all right, Sherlock. It’s all right.”

     “No it’s not, John,” Sherlock thought, but he felt his body go still.

     “Do you know where you are?”

     “Rosenthall Manor.”

     “Do you remember what happened?”

     Sherlock looked up at the gaping hole above him. John followed his gaze. “Yeah, you fell through the floor. You lost consciousness, so we need to take you to hospital . . .”

     Hospital? Images of needles and IVs and tests, so many tests and chemo ran through Sherlock’s mind. They’d find him out. He couldn’t go to hospital, he wouldn’t. The paramedics started to roll him onto the backboard, and Sherlock was having none of it. “No! No! No hospital!” Sherlock sat up. Protesting hands tried to push him back down, but he sat up again. “John, no hospital. Molly, have Molly look me over!”
     “Sherlock . . .”

     Sherlock pulled himself to his feet. He was a little unsteady, and John hurried to hold on to him. “Sherlock, you need to go to hospital.”
     “No, no, I won’t go. Please take me to Molly, please?” John had never heard that tone in Sherlock’s voice before, or seen that level of desperation in his eyes. “I’ll keep the damned collar on, just, please.”

     “All right.” John nodded. “We’ll go see Molly.”

 

St. Bart’s Hospital Lab – Later that Same Night

      Molly pressed lightly against Sherlock’s cheeks and forehead before moving to the back of his head. “Anything hurt?”

     Sherlock shook his head and continued on his explanation. He’d been talking since John had put him in the cab, which the doctor was taking as a good sign. They weren’t exactly in the emergency room, but at least they were in the actual building in case anything went sideways. Sherlock hadn’t even stopped to take a breath, which wasn’t making Molly’s job easy, but she’d always had a world of patience when it came to Sherlock, even when she was really irritated with him. “Lady Rosenthall’s body was weakened by scarlet fever as a child, and after her relapse the year prior, the dance was too much. She was her own demise, and Lord Rosenthall blamed himself for not taking proper care of her, so he accepted the prison sentence.”

     “That’s so sad. I hope someone loves me like that one day – without the tragic death or imprisonment part.” Molly shone a light in Sherlock’s eyes. “Look at the light and follow my finger. How long did he lose consciousness for?”

     “At least twenty minutes,” John replied and Sherlock scowled.

     “I wasn’t unconscious, my mind was just somewhere else.”

     “Same difference.”

     Satisfied that his pupils were equal and responsive and his range of motion was in-tact, Molly carefully removed the neck brace. Sherlock breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Molly.”

     “He all right then?”

     “He might have a minor concussion. I would follow protocol, just to be sure,” Molly advised.

     “Splendid, I get to wake your ass up every two hours. The jollies don’t stop.”

     “I don’t like his color, either,” Molly pointed out.

     John sighed. “Me neither.”

     Sherlock made an incredulous face. “This is my natural color palate.”

     “Pale, yes. Grey, no.”

     “Does it hurt anywhere else, Sherlock?” Molly asked.

     His side throbbed beyond belief, but he wasn’t about to tell them that. “The tiny cuts all over my hands are far from pleasant, and I do believe there’s a lovely bruise forming on my back. Other than that, I’m peachy.”

     “I’ll take a quick look at your back.” Molly moved behind him and carefully lifted up his shirt. “Did you, uh, break the curse of Rosenthall Manor?” she asked, trying to smooth over the awkwardness.

     “There was no ‘curse,’ Molly, only people who managed to curse themselves.” Sherlock let his head droop. He was suddenly feeling very tired. “I still don’t know where the emerald is.”

     “There’s always tomorrow,” John assured.

     “I can’t imagine Jeanine letting us back in there,” Sherlock chortled.

     “Realistically, you started their renovations for them, that’s all.”

     “We’ll still need to sneak in. Gordy probably knows the best way.”
     “Of course.”

     Sherlock looked back at his hands. “That place really is a death trap, no wonder Gordy is always banged up.”

     “I was starting to suspect Jeanine and Lloyd beat him.”

     The world seemed to wobble around the edges again and Sherlock clinched his fists and closed his eyes. “Sherlock, you all right?”

     “Is this sore?” Molly pressed against his lower back.

     Sherlock took a breath and opened his eyes. “Save Alden. Why is everyone so insistent on me saving someone who’s been dead for a century? Some people don’t want to be saved.”

     “I would argue those are the people who want it the most.” John eyed the consulting detective skeptically. “Keep tossing out non-sequiturs like that, and you’re getting a cat scan.”

     “I’m fine, John, just frustrated. This case is a damned puzzle box, a giant one, and I’d like to set it on fire.”

      John was about to say something more when his mobile rang. “Oh, this is Sara’s mum. Rosie is at her house.”

    “Go, take it. I’ve got this child, you check on the other one,” Molly joked.

     John nodded a thanks and stepped out. Sherlock watched him leave. “You’ve got some bruises, but you’ll be fine.” Molly paused. Sherlock wasn’t listening to her. “You’re making that face again.”

      “Sorry, what?” Sherlock turned to look at her.

     “That face, the face you never want him to see. The face you make when you’re concerned. Same face you made before you faked your death.”

     Sherlock gave a rueful smile. “I promise you, Molly, I won’t be needing you to help me fake my death anytime soon. Besides, you’ve got your clinicals to focus on.”

       Molly ducked her head sheepishly. She always did that when she doubted herself. “We’ll see. I’m not sure I’ll be leaving the mortuary anytime soon.”

     “Course you will. You’re a wonderful doctor.”

     “Thank you, but my specialty is children.”

     “As you and John have pointed out numerous times, I am a giant child, and you take excellent care of me.”

     Molly smiled. “You’re not a child, Sher . . .”

     A massive wave of nausea surged up through Sherlock and his eyes went wide. “Bin, I need the bin!”
     Molly hurried to hand him the nearest trash bin, and then he was vomiting. A moment later, Sherlock leaned back and wiped his mouth. “Sherlock, is that blood? You could be bleeding internally, we need to do an ultrasound . . .”

      Sherlock grabbed Molly’s wrist and stopped her. “This is not related to my fall.” His voice was calm and even. Molly started to protest, but her voice was gone. The pieces came together in her mind and suddenly she was as grey as Sherlock.

      “You’re sick?”

      “Molly . . .”

     “It’s bad?”
     “I very much like Blake. He treats you how you deserve.”

     “Don’t you dare . . .” Molly began, her voice breaking.

     Sherlock chose his words with great deliberation. “I know that I hurt you in the past, and I apologize. That was never my intention. You have always been a good friend to me, far better than I have been to you.” He took a breath. “I am sorry I caused the awkwardness between us, and I am glad, was glad, to find that we were finally working past it. I hope this particular moment won’t impact our forward motion, but I will understand if it does.”

     Molly didn’t speak, she just stared at him, a million emotions flickering in her watery eyes. When she did speak, her voice was bowstring tight. “It’s cancer, isn’t it?” Sherlock didn’t reply. “I know what cancer sounds like, looks like when it’s trying to put on a brave face. Have you told John?” Another silence. “Course not.” Molly turned away, trying desperately to hide her tears.

     Sherlock wanted to comfort her, but he was overcome by another round of nausea. Molly slowly turned back when the dry heaves finished. “Do you have any medicine?” Sherlock indicated his jacket, and Molly fished in the pockets. She handed him the nausea meds, which he took with a shaky hand.

     “I’m afraid I need the morphine, too. I’ve been trying not to.”

     Molly didn’t say anything. She got him a drink of water and watched as he took the second dose of medicine and finished off the cup. Sherlock looked up at her. He was at a loss for words, a predicament he was not at all used to. Molly filled the silence. In a swift movement, she wrapped her arms around him with a tender force. She tucked her head against his shoulder and just held him. Sherlock tensed at first, but then he felt every part of his body melt. Emotion welled up in the back of his throat, and he entertained the idea of letting it slip over the edge, but John could walk back through those doors at any moment.

     “Your father was a doctor, Molly. He knew the odds. Why did he choose his treatment?”

      Molly took in a shuddery breath, and Sherlock was convinced for a moment she wouldn’t reply. It was a terribly personal question. “He didn’t do it for him. He did it for us, me and my mum.”

      “A truly selfless act. Not my specialty.”
      John’s footsteps could be heard and Molly pulled away. She hid the waste bin behind the next table and turned her back, finding something to busy herself with. “Everything all right?” Sherlock asked as John entered the room.

     “Rosie had a nightmare at the sleepover. I tried to talk her into staying, but she wants to come home. He all good, Molly?”

     Molly nodded. “Yeah, peachy.”

     “Thanks again for coming out tonight, you are a gem.” John gave her a hug.

     “I’m always here when you need me.” Sherlock knew that was directed mostly at him.

     “Thank you, Molly.”

     “We’ll pick Rosie up on the way home. Looks like we’re all having a sleepover tonight.” John gave Sherlock a pointed look as the lab doors swung close behind them.

 

221B Baker Street – Much Later that Same Night

      John snored softly in the chairs he’d pulled together in Sherlock’s room. Rosie was asleep on the floor beside him, snuggled up in her sleeping bag. She’d insisted that since this was still a sleepover, she should sleep in her sleeping bag. Sherlock picked up his mobile. He wasn’t sure why. There wasn’t anything new to check, but he went back and reread his last exchange with Molly. “You have to tell John.” “I know.”
      Sherlock set the phone down and looked over at the slumbering figure in the chairs. It was still an hour out from the next two hour mark, and Sherlock was glad one of them was able to get some sleep. He didn’t have a concussion, but he knew John wasn’t going to risk it. They’d been here before. Seems one of them was always whacking their head on something, or having someone else whack it for them. Hazard of the job.

      “They’re so cute when they’re sleeping, aren’t they?” Moriarty cooed.

      “Go away,” Sherlock whispered.

      Moriarty leaned his arms on the bed and rested his chin in his hands. “Are you really going to waste away in front of them?” Sherlock rolled over to face him, silently seething. “You’re more heartless than I gave you credit for.” He smiled and then shook his head. “Naw, you’ll take the easy way out, run off and die in some corner somewhere, leave a note. They always leave a note, so dull. But, there’s still time to kill yourself on the job. Maybe you’ll get lucky and your ticker will give out just like the Rosenthall bitch?” Moriarty smiled again, and Sherlock wanted to squeeze his head until it popped. “Wanna know the best part of all this, for me anyway?” Moriarty leaned in closer and licked his lips. “Waste away, flee, or die another way, their hearts break all the same. You lose, and they lose. I’m the only one who wins, which is AMAZING.” Moriarty was practically bursting with glee. “I could kiss you for this.” He surged forward and kissed Sherlock on the head. Sherlock grabbed the pillow beside him and flung it at Moriarty. It passed through air and struck the wall.

      Sherlock took in a shaky breath. Moriarty was gone, but his words were buried deep inside. Silent tears finally made their way over his eyelashes and down his face. Suddenly the bed was shifting and he jerked his head to the side. Rosie was crawling up towards him, Sir Portly clutched in her hands. “Did you have a nightmare, too?”
      “Yes,” Sherlock whispered.  

      “Mine had a monster in it. It had a trunk, wings, and forks for hands. What did yours look like?”

     “A very bad man.”
      Rosie crawled up next to his chest and set Sir Portly aside. She took her small hands and placed them firmly over his eyes. She slowly counted to ten. Sherlock reveled in the gesture. A moment later, Rosie removed her hands. “Better?”

     “Yes, thank you.”

     “Daddy says I should try that next time I have a nightmare, says it will make the monsters go away.”

      “Your father is the smartest person I know.”

      Rosie nodded and laid down. She put Sir Portly between them and curled up close to Sherlock’s side. “We take care of each other.” Truer words had never been spoken and Sherlock tried to focus on the soft sounds of the slumbering Watsons as he waited for the next alarm to ring.

 

221B Baker Street to the Schuemer Center to Rosenthall Manor – June 19, 2023

     Sherlock sat in his chair, staring at the wall. It was now covered in all sorts of papers and photographs. There were rehearsal schedules, dance steps, copies of all the documents they’d found, still images from the video hack, motivational pictures Sherlock hoped would inspire John to be a better dancer, and much more. John entered the room and watched Sherlock for a moment. “Find any answers yet?”

     Sherlock startled and looked around. He hadn’t really been focusing on the wall, more like staring past it. “You feeling all right?” John asked.

     “I’m fine.” Sherlock turned and looked back at the chaotic collage.

     “If you’re sore, we can take the day off.” John knew that was a pointless offer.

     “The competition is less than two weeks away, a break would be ill advised.”

     John moved until he was in Sherlock’s direct line of sight. “You know we’re not going to win this, right? And I know that’s my fault.” John smiled. “But maybe I’ll get us some pity votes?” Sherlock was not in a joking mood. He didn’t even make eye contact. John sighed. “I’ve gotten pretty good at unraveling your train of thought . . .”

     “No you haven’t.”

     “Sometimes, not always. I usually get it in the end, all right? My point is, I have no idea where you’re going with any of this. One day, you’re gathering our friends to dance…”

     “To help you practice.”
     “You even took the time to sort things between Anderson and Donovan, and you don’t like them.”

     “They’re in our circle, even if they are the weakest links.”

     “The next thing we’re ghost hunting - I just, I don’t know.” But there was something more, and John couldn’t begin to describe it. “And I feel, I feel like there’s someone else in on this, and I don’t know who. And I don’t know how to explain it.” John stared at Sherlock, suddenly lost for words. The consulting detective finally met his gaze and returned it with one of his own.

     Moriarty leaned over the arm of the chair and whispered in Sherlock’s ear. “Your boyfriend’s getting jealous.”

     “I told you, if anything is ever troubling you, you can talk to me. You know that, right?” John was terribly serious.

     “I know, John.” It was an answer, but not an affirmation.

      Suddenly in the silence there was an all too familiar text message tone, a woman moaning in the throes of pleasure. “That woman has impeccable timing.” John started to laugh. He couldn’t help himself. “I know it’s not your birthday, so what is it? You inviting Irene Adler to the Danse Ball?”

     “Don’t be ridiculous. I sent her the streaming link, so she can vote for us. I’m sure she can watch it from whatever island she’s currently inhabiting.”

     “Tell her I said hello.”
     “I never do.”

      “Right.” John turned to leave. “I’m off to a surgery meeting. Rosie is with Mrs. Hudson. Dance practice at 2:30, yes? If Jeanine lets us back in the building.”

     “If not we’ll go to Mycroft’s,” Sherlock assured.

     John paled at the suggestion. “I will break down the bloody doors of the Schuemer Center first,” he thought to himself.

     “Will you be inviting Harry to the Danse Ball?” Sherlock’s question about his estranged sibling stopped John at the threshold. He turned back, a curious look on his face. “I know you’ve been talking to your sister again, John.”

     John cleared his throat. “Talking, yeah, but I’m not sure we’re to the I invite her to events stage yet.”
     “I’m sure we can get another ticket, if you change your mind.” Sherlock diverted his attention back to the wall.

     “Where is your head at?” John thought as he watched his friend. He needed to leave, he was going to be late. “And you’re sure you’re all right?”

     Sherlock sighed in exasperation. “Yes, John. I am fine now. I will be fine later. I will even be fine tomorrow.”

     “See you at 2:30.” With that, John was out the door.

     “He is so on to you.” Moriarty watched as John left. “He can probably smell it on you, that sickly dying smell. You’ll need to invest in a stronger cologne.”

     Sherlock quickly left the chair and moved closer to the wall. Moriarty followed him, standing just behind him. “If you’re going to hang around, at least make yourself useful.”

     “Touchy. You should have gotten more sleep last night.” Moriarty chuckled but turned his attention to the wall.

     “The puzzler wanted me to know the true circumstances behind Lady Rosenthall’s death. They were telling me things,” Sherlock rattled on as he surveyed the evidence. “The investors, as they are, want the emerald. They are asking questions.”

     “They’re also telling you something,” Moriarty spoke up. “Pretty predictable with this group, but they do have standards and practices to uphold. You can’t claim they don’t warn you.”

    Sherlock moved over and tore the video stills off the wall. “It’s all there in the fine print. This dying thing has really thrown you for a loop. You’re starting to slip, Sherlock,” Moriarty sang.

    Sherlock ignored him, his eyes growing wide as he ciphered the coded message hidden in the background static. He returned to the wall, pushing papers aside as he sought for the current rehearsal schedule. Edward and Sylvia had the practice room booked from now until 2:00. Sherlock cursed and threw the papers down. He was out the door in a flash, hoping with all his might he could get to the Schuemer Center before it was too late.

 

     “I don’t think we should open it, Sylvia,” Edward advised. His eyes were glued to the wooden box in front of them. They’d discovered it tucked behind the sound system. This one hadn’t even been wrapped. “We should call someone, Jeanine, Mr. Schuemer, Sherlock Holmes, somebody.”

     “No, this is our discovery, Ed. We’re behind in the polls, this will help us catch up. Just record it and post it after the fact. I don’t want to give it away.”

     “Why isn’t it wrapped? There hasn’t been one in weeks.”

     “Shut it!” Sylvia silenced him with a stern look. “I’m opening this box.”

     Ed swallowed the lump in his throat and pulled out his mobile. He nodded to her as soon as he was recording. Sylvia pushed the final piece on top into place, and the box clicked. It had been a very simple puzzle. With shaky hands, she opened the lid. Suddenly the door flew open and a deep voice called out, “Don’t!” Gas instantly began to pour out of the box and fill the room.

     Before she could react, a long arm firmly encircled Sylvia’s waist.  A hand clamped down over her mouth and nose. The same person pulled her back and out of the room in the blink of an eye. Sherlock used the force of his body to push a stunned Edward out the door and then they were all in the hall, coughing. Sherlock made sure the door was secured tightly before checking on the Smiths.

     “Are you all right?”

     “You saved us!” Sylvia threw her arms around Sherlock and hugged him tightly.

     “Thank you! Thank you!” Edward enveloped him from the other side. It was a Smith sandwich and Sherlock wasn’t too keen on being in the middle.

     Fortunately, the two of them soon let go. Unfortunately, they turned their attention to one another. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I should have listened to you! Our girls, who would have cared for our girls? I’m so sorry!” Sylvia cried as Edward comforted her and there was lots of kissing and touching.

     Sherlock shot them a disgusted look as he fished out his mobile. “You know, they make the loo for this sort of thing.” He walked away from them as his call rang through. It was time to bring in Detective Inspector Lestrade.  

 

     “Why are we meeting outside?” Lloyd asked. He was sporting a rather large band aid on the temple he’d apparently picked a hole in. That hadn’t seemed to discourage him, though, and he was now starting in on the other side.

     “Your office is no doubt bugged, as is your entire center, and not just by the British government.” Sherlock shot Mycroft a knowing look. He hadn’t called his older brother, but Sherlock was not in the least bit surprised he’d shown up.

     Lestrade examined the mechanism in the evidence bag. It’d been pulled from the box in the practice room. “Right . . .”

      “This is all my fault!” Lloyd cried in desperation, and then it was a torrent of confessions. Sherlock was thankful he kept it to the last ten years. When it was over, he looked utterly depleted.

      “Right,” Lestrade repeated. “This . . .”

     “Is not your division,” Mycroft spoke up.

      Lestrade looked like he was about to deck the older Holmes, and Sherlock would have paid good money to see that. “The safety of London isn’t my division? I rather think it is. I let the hacking slide, despite my better judgement, but I can’t let this go. You have to cancel the dance.”

     “No!” Sherlock and Mycroft spoke at the same time and then looked at one another.

     “Are you serious?” Lestrade was dumbfounded. “You just got gassed.”

     “It was only…” Sherlock and Mycroft started at the same time again.

     “Are you running point on this?” Sherlock inquired, more than slightly annoyed.

     “I always run point,” Mycroft assured. “Detective Inspector, it was only knockout gas.”

     “And that’s supposed to make it better?”
     “Yes, there are far worse gasses.” Sherlock sounded offended he even had to explain that.

     “It appears,” Mycroft continued, “Mr. Schuemer has entered into a very strict borrowing contract, one he has failed to fulfill the terms of.”

     Sherlock couldn’t help himself. He stepped forward and spoke quickly, forcing Mycroft to hold his tongue. “One that, judging by the number of personal items of value he’s been purging recently, he has exceeded all his extensions on.”

     “And now the goonies are gassing people,” Lestrade stated as if it were clear as a bell. “Dance over.”

     “You have to let the Danse Ball continue, Greg.” Sherlock knew it was a manipulative move, using Lestrade’s first name. It instantly made him feel like Sherlock had his best interests at heart, when it was usually the other way around. “The tickets are free, but Lloyd stands to earn a pretty pound off of advertising, not to mention concessions and merchandising. That’s money he could potentially use as a bargaining chip. You cancel the event, he has none of that and he’s . . .”

     “Dead,” Lloyd’s voice was flat, almost as if he’d been put down already.

     “Yes,” Mycroft concurred. “They’ll drain all your assets first, make it look like a suicide, but they will kill you. You knew the risks you were taking when you signed that contract, though.”

     Lestrade looked as if his head was about to explode. “And you’re not going to do anything to stop them?”

     Mycroft’s return glare was beyond incredulous. “As far as organizations go, they are low on our list and protected by multiple domestic and foreign interests. They don’t leave a mess, so the event will be safe. By all means, Lestrade, add as many men as you see fit, but it will all go according to plan. They only ever kill who they need to, and they’re very efficient about it.”

     “Please let’s protect the terrorists!”

     Mycroft waited until Lestrade was finished with his outburst. “Detective Inspector, this is the free market at work, and the powers that be are not interested in tackling this particular Goliath for Lloyd Schuemer.”

    “Harsh, Mycroft.” Sherlock shook his head in mock disapproval.

     “No, it’s fair. I’m a cock up, always have been.”

      “In addition, this particular group has a well-trained force that comes in handy when the actual terrorists are involved. The enemy of my enemy, Detective Inspector,” Mycroft commented, casually twirling his ever-present umbrella.

      Lloyd suddenly started to laugh. It quickly morphed from a chortle to borderline psychotic. “I really am Alden Lyons. It makes perfect sense. It’s the Rosenthall Curse!”

     “You’re not a Rosenthall,” Sherlock pointed out, “so it’s really just a terrible lack in judgement.” Lloyd laughed even harder, until he started to cry. Mycroft turned away in disgust.

      Sherlock felt a sudden pang of sympathy for the man standing before him, and he dared a step closer. “Lloyd, if it makes you feel any better, my older sister created such chaos when I was a child, that after she was institutionalized, my brain erased her from my memory as a coping mechanism. And my family completely played along, which was all well and good until she returned a few years ago and tried to murder my best friend.” Lloyd looked at him as if he had sprouted horns. Maybe this was too much information.    

      “The point is, your family drama does not define you.” Sherlock took another step closer. “Look at all you’ve done, what you’ve achieved.” He gestured back to the Schuemer Center. “And you did it without any title or family estate.” Lloyd turned to look at the Center, and a semblance of his old confidence began to reappear. “Would it have been nice if you’d avoided getting in bed with loan sharks, yes, but here we are.”

     Lestrade shook his head. “You were doing so well for a moment.”

     Sherlock fumbled to recover the thread of his original motivational speech. “And my sister and I we’re fine now. We have a relationship. Is it good? I don’t know, but she hasn’t tried to kill anyone in a while. So, happy endings, they do happen. Of course there are other endings, which are statistically more probable, but . . .” Sherlock took a breath. “Who the hell let me give a pep talk?”

     “It’s all right. I got the gist of it,” Lloyd assured with a weak smile.

     “So what now?” Lestrade looked pointedly at the Holmes brothers. “Please remember, my ass is on the line.”

     “I suggest Mr. Schuemer gives them what they want, and they’ll go away.” Mycroft was very direct.

     Sherlock was clearly formulating a plan. “Lestrade, beef up the security. It’s a large event, extra precautions are always wise and not suspicious in this instance.”

     “What are you going to do?”

     Sherlock smiled, and Mycroft knew that look all too well. “I’m going to call their bluff.”

     “I remind you they’re professionals, Sherlock.”

     “Yes, but they’re chomping at the bit, the video message, the gas.”

     “They always give fair warning, granted this time was a little more obvious than usual,” Mycroft conceded.

     “The raven is an intelligent bird, but even it is easily distracted by something shiny. If we can draw their operative out, they’ll back off a bit, not wanting to risk exposure. This may provide Lloyd with the time he needs to find his treasure.”

     “This is what we’re going with then?” Lestrade asked.

     Mycroft mulled it over. “Best of luck, Detective Inspector.”

     “You’re leaving?”

     “Yes, I already have my best man in the field.” Mycroft’s look of sincerity was genuine.

     “Oi, you two are going to give me an ulcer one day.” Lestrade didn’t seem pleased, but he left to deliver instructions to his team.

     “What should I do?” Lloyd seemed genuinely lost.

     “Run your company, Lloyd. I’ll find you when I need you,” Sherlock instructed.

     “Okay.” Lloyd turned to leave, still completely dazed. Jeanine hurried to catch him, running across the field in surprising speed for the size of her heels.

     “Lloyd, what’s going on? Is everything all right?” Lloyd didn’t answer her, but he did reach up to scratch the other side of his head. Jeanine knocked his hand away. “I swear I’m going to put mittens on your hands.”

     “Jeanine!” Lloyd shouted, and she pulled back. He was instantly sorry, but he swallowed it down and pressed on. “Worry about the show, not me. And we – we can conduct business through email, you don’t always have to check up on me. Understand?”

     “Yes, Mr. Schuemer.” Jeanine pushed down the tears and controlled her face. She quickly turned and walked away.

     “Ghastly display,” Mycroft muttered. “Accompany me to my car, dear brother?”

     Sherlock indicated he needed a moment, and he swiftly approached Lloyd. “I know what you’re doing. You’re afraid you’re poison. You think alone protects you. But you need a friend, Lloyd, and trust me when I say that was something I learned the hard way.”

     Lloyd nodded and Sherlock fell back to rejoin his brother. The two of them walked in silence as they circled around the building to the carpark. “Tipping your hand a bit, showing up here,” Sherlock finally spoke.

     “I can always play it off as me stopping to wish my brother good luck on his competition. Good luck.”
     “Thank you.” Another moment of silence passed. “Me potentially being gassed had nothing to do with it?”

     “What is your point, Sherlock?”

     “Did you mean what you said, about me being your best man?” Sherlock almost didn’t want to hear the answer as much as he knew he needed to.

     “Yes.” Mycroft was even more sincere this time, and Sherlock flinched.

     “I’m not changing my mind.”

     “I didn’t think you were.”

     Sherlock looked away, searching for anything that might distract him. “Do you think Nanny did chemo for us?”

     “What?”
     “It helped at first. She was strong enough to come to my talent show.”

      “The one where you set your bow on fire and singed your eyebrows.”

      “She made it to your Lady Bracknell performance. Maybe that’s all she wanted?”

     Mycroft’s hard exterior momentarily softened. “I’m not foolish enough to think you’ll keep living for me, dear brother.”

     Sherlock met his brother’s gaze. “I sent Mummy and Father three tickets.”

    Mycroft knew what this was, and he refused to fall for it. “Lovely, they can bring a friend.”

    “I reserved those tickets for the people who mean the most to me in this entire world.”

     There was a very long pause as Mycroft warred internally. “Fine, but I refuse to enjoy it!” He scoffed. “I’ll have to watch that doctor of yours massacre my lovely choreography.”

     Sherlock saved his victory smirk until Mycroft was safe behind the tinted windows of his car. As his brother’s vehicle pulled away, a taxi delivering John Watson pulled up. “Sherlock, was that Mycroft’s car?”

     “Just a friendly, brotherly chat.”
     John turned on Sherlock and the consulting detective could tell his friend was already loaded for bear. “You have a lot of explaining to do, you know this, right? I’ve got a million texts from Lestrade. And hold on, you were gassed?”

      “Nearly gassed. Why is everyone so dramatic?”

     “Falling through the floor wasn’t enough for you?”

     Sherlock gripped John by his shoulders. “I will explain it all to you, John, including my brilliant plan. But first, did you pick up the package?”

     “Yes, freshly discharged with a spring in her step and all.” John turned back and helped Miss Hatcher out of the cab.

     “Miss Hatcher, lovely to have you back.”

    Miss Hatcher took one of John’s hands and then one of Sherlock’s. “Oh, here we all are together again for the reunion special.”

     “We’re soap opera stars, apparently,” John explained.

     Miss Hatcher took in a deep breath. “And I’m not dead yet. Today is going to be a lovely day indeed.”

 

      “Hello, house!” Miss Hatcher greeted as she opened the door and stepped over the threshold. She looked up and noticed the giant hole in the hallway ceiling. “Oh.”

      “Yes, sorry about that. I had to rescue a ghost hunter, and have a chat with Lady Rosenthall,” Sherlock explained.

      “That’s all right. I always wanted a skylight.” Miss Hatcher patted his hand. “But you’ll need to go higher next time, dear.” She turned and sauntered off into her apartment. “How was Lady Rosenthall?”

     “Not as direct as I’d hoped she’d be.”

     Miss Hatcher turned and pinned Sherlock with a serious and lucid look. “You know the truth, then?”

      “Yes.”

       Miss Hatcher scrutinized his face. “You know half of it. We still have to do something about Alden.”

      Sherlock sighed. “Perhaps Alden is finally old enough to take care of himself?”

      “Lord Rosenthall wanted to take care of people, that’s all he ever wanted to do. He loved so much, felt so deeply, it nearly tore him apart. That’s why he made the boxes, a distraction from all the feelings, like you and your mystery solving.” Sherlock looked stricken, but quickly played it off. John’s knowing look was still highly annoying.

     “But Alden,” Miss Hatcher continued, “he refused to be cared for. I don’t know which one broke Lord Rosenthall’s heart more, losing Claudia, or losing Alden.”

     Sherlock was about to respond, when a miniscule sound caught his ear. “Miss Hatcher, I do believe there’s someone sleeping in your bed.” Sherlock took off to the back of the apartment, followed by John. When he got to the room, he yanked the heavy cover back and there was Gordy. He was curled in on himself, various puzzle boxes scattered around him.

      “Good afternoon, Gordy,” the consulting detective greeted. Gordy jerked awake and screamed.

      “How did you know I was here?”

      “We’ve been tracking you for weeks,” John imparted.

      “I – I can explain. Summer housing is rather expensive, and I don’t really have any family, and . . . “

     Sherlock held up his hand. “Spare us your sad, intern tale.”

      “Did you remember to feed my pet while I was away?” Miss Hatcher asked.

     “Yes, we dropped off food and slipped him money,” John assured.

      “That was you all?” Gordy slumped a little. “I thought it was Jeanine, thought maybe she finally liked me.”

      “Nope,” Sherlock quipped.

      “Marlin, Chester, Beauregard, you’re not supposed to be on the bed!” Miss Hatcher admonished the boxes.

      Gordy seemed to finally realize what time it was. “Oh, gosh, I need to get back to the study! I worked through the night, and then I couldn’t keep my eyes open and. . . .” This was all followed by another realization. “Miss Hatcher, you’re back!”

      “Yes, dear.” She pulled him into a hug that would put a woman half her age to shame. “And I feel 70 years again.”

      “I’m so sorry about your bed. I was sleeping upstairs in Lady Rosenthall’s room.”

      “Bit creepy, that,” John mentioned.

      “But with the floor, I thought it safer to sleep down here,” Gordy explained. He looked at Sherlock. “Are you all right? That was some fall. I didn’t mean to scare everyone. I didn’t even know you all were here.”

      “Pretty clever, accessing the house through the cellar and using the dumbwaiter,” Sherlock surmised.

      “Hold on, you got through that cellar, that death trap of a cellar?” John was stunned.

      “Yeah.” Gordy shrugged.

      “Of course he did, John. He weighs nothing, can squeeze through tight spaces, and besides . . .” Gordy attempted to stand but got caught in the blankets. He tumbled to the ground. “Where do you think all the bruises came from?”

      “You all right, Gordy?” John asked.

      “Yes,” came the weak reply from the floor.

      Sherlock took Miss Hatcher by her arm and led her back out into the sitting room. “Miss Hatcher, did you leave everything you wanted to in those boxes?”

      Now John was extremely stunned. “She left the boxes?”

     “Of course. Granted, she played it off very well with her age, her senility, and her recipes.”

      “Her what?”

      “Really, John, if this is what Mrs. Hudson is going to be like in her nineties, you’re going to have a lot of fun.”

      Miss Hatcher took Sherlock by the hand and led him to the sofa. “I’m still old, and crazy.”

      “Yes.”

     “But I’m also stubborn as hell, and if Lord Rosenthall wasn’t going to absolve himself, then damnit I was going to!”

      “The shoes, was that you, too?” John was trying to put the pieces together.

      “Yes. I have a small fortune, you know, and a credit card.”

      “You’re SexyMama1928.” John laughed. “Wait, so you did the Twitter thing, and the phone call?”

     “Pay off the right teenager at the local library, and you can do anything you want on the web.”

      “Brilliant,” Sherlock concluded, and he meant it. “Miss Hatcher, did you leave me every piece of the puzzle?”

      She shook her head sadly. “No, there was another letter. I never saw it, but others spoke of it. Mr. Lyons sent it to Lord Rosenthall shortly before his death.”

     “And you don’t know where the emerald is?” John asked.

      “No, and none of the other boxes will tell me, they’re very rude.”

      Gordy entered the room. “Gordy!” Sherlock snapped and the intern practically jumped out of his skin for the second time. “You haven’t found an emerald yet.”

      “No. I was solving all the puzzles at first, but that was taking too long. Jeanine got me this fancy detecting equipment, but then that was taking too long, so now I just shake the boxes real hard.” He looked a little sick.

      “That’s thorough work,” John scoffed.

      “Doesn’t matter, the emerald isn’t in any of those boxes. Your work is done, Gordy, at least on that project.”

     “How do you reckon that, Sherlock?”

      Sherlock turned to face his partner. “Lord Rosenthall buried his love inside, deep within.”

     John caught on and snapped his fingers. “The emerald is hidden deep.”

    “Do I start digging now?” Gordy was thoroughly confused.

     “No, Gordy, I need you to stack boxes.”

     “The same boxes I unstacked?”

     Sherlock took Gordy by the shoulders and led him into the study. “Yes, but we need to stack them just so.”

     “Is Jeanine all right with this?”

     Sherlock looked indignant. “I’m in charge now.”

     “Oh.” Gordy seemed slightly pleased with this.

     “But you’re still not getting paid.” Gordy sighed in acceptance. “We need to rebuild this wall and design it to collapse in a very specific way.”

      “Why?”

      “We’re setting a trap, Gordy.”
     Now it was John’s turn to sigh. “This is going to end with us having guns pointed at us, isn’t it?”

      Sherlock mulled it over. “Highly likely, yes.”

      “People are going to point guns at us?” Gordy paled at the thought.

      “Not you. We’ll make sure you’re safe elsewhere.”

      “I can be brave,” Gordy’s voice was small.

      “I thought we were avoiding those kind of situations, for Rosie’s sake,” John reminded.

     “No, you said that if you were going to move back into Baker Street, that we had to avoid any cases that might result in the flat being blown up again, and we have.”

     “Pretty sure I brought up both.”

     “Agree to disagree.” Sherlock turned his attention back to Gordy. “Now, what do you know about structural engineering?”
    The sounds of 1940s big band music wafted in from Miss Hatcher’s apartment. John removed his jacket and set it aside. Might as well settle in for the day. “What do you want me to do, Sherlock?”

      The consulting detective fixed John with his piercing eyes. “You have the most important job of all, John.”

     “Really, what’s that?”

     “I need you to start a rumor.”

 

The Schuemer Center and Rosenthall Manor – July 1, 2023

      It was the day of the Danse Ball. It had finally arrived. John looked himself over in the dressing room mirror. The costume was quite nice. Sherlock came up beside him and joined the reflection. They really did look like a team. “It’ll do,” Sherlock sighed. John laughed. He knew that was high praise.

     “I don’t know what I’m more nervous about, the dancing or the bust we’ve got planned? Probably the dancing.”

     “At least your priorities are in the right order.” Sherlock gave him a small smile.

     Since Sherlock had taken over the entrapment, it was like a switch had been flipped, and suddenly the old detective that John knew and understood was back. They still went to every practice, of course, but there was a renewed energy in Sherlock’s step and it had nothing to do with the competition. And now that the big night was finally here, John had made his peace with it. Was he going to go out there and make a fool of himself in front of millions of people? Yes, but he had survived far worse. He could survive the Danse Ball.

      “Are we good?” Sherlock asked, and John knew he wasn’t talking about their dance. He was talking about what came after.

      “Yep.”

     John had started a rumor about a discovery they’d made in the Manor, a discovery they were going to share with Lloyd Schuemer after their number. This reveal would naturally take place inside Rosenthall Manor. Once the operative arrived to claim the payment, no doubt at gunpoint, Sherlock would spring the trap and Lestrade and his men would move in.

      “Right.” John nodded and headed for the door. He suddenly turned back, cutting his partner off. “There is one other thing. . .”

     John directed Sherlock into the practice room where the rest of their competitors were waiting. “Surprise!” a chorus of voices shouted. John blocked the doorway so that the consulting detective had nowhere to go but in.

     Kimberly approached him. “We just wanted to say thank you.”

     “We know you’ve been working really hard to keep us safe,” Shasta added.

     “You saved me and Ed from the gas,” Sylvia pointed out.

      “You kept me from falling through the floor.” Jeremy shuttered at the thought. “I have fragile bones, they are straight up glass. I would have broken everything.”

      “Except your mouth,” Tad joked. He kissed the mock hurt off Jeremy’s face.

      “We appreciate it, all of it,” Francis concluded. “And we wanted to give you something.” She handed Sherlock a brightly wrapped box.

      “We promise it’s not a puzzle box,” Ed assured.

     “That’s what I’m afraid of,” Sherlock muttered. John nudged him and he accepted the gift. He slowly opened it and inside there was a hat, an ear flapper hat, a Sherlock Holmes hat. Even better it had sparkles.

     “You can wear it in your dance number,” Katie beamed.

     Sherlock’s face flitted between many different emotions, disgust being high on the list. The fact that John was trying hard not to laugh was not helping. “You’re Sherlock Holmes, you wear the hat,” John reminded after he managed to control his voice. Sherlock swallowed his dignity and placed the hat on his head. The room cheered.

 

     Sherlock stared at his new reflection in the practice room mirror. John had stepped out to make sure Rosie, Mrs. Hudson, and all their friends got settled in their seats. The consulting detective took a few steps, keeping his eyes on the mirror. God, that hat.

      “That hat is fabulous. May I borrow it?” Moriarty asked.

      The pain in Sherlock’s side increased, and he tried to swallow it down. He refused to take any more morphine. He had to have a clear mind tonight.

     “It’s the big night. You nervous? I feel like you’re nervous. Would it help if I held your hand?” Moriarty reached out and Sherlock turned away. He would not be distracted, he would not . . .

      “Once the dance is over, who’s going to take you home, Sherlock Holmes? What will you have left?”

      Sherlock pulled the hat off and hurled it at Moriarty. He really wished it was a Frisbee of death. The hat struck the mirror and hit the floor, a cloud of sparkles coming up in a puff. Moriarty was gone. Sherlock contemplated the hat for a moment. It was probably best to leave it where it was. Thoughtful gift his arse that was sabotage.

     With a breath, Sherlock attempted the same dance steps again, this time progressing through half their routine. The sound of applause came from the door and he looked up to see Mme De Beaux. “You are a true talent, Mr. Holmes.”

      “You flatter me, Mme De Beaux.”

      The dance instructor moved into the room with a heavy sigh. “The moment of silence before the big dance. Do you know what I used to do before every show?”

     “Thank whatever heathen god you prayed to for your immaculate form?”

     She smirked. “Smoke a cigarette. Care to join me?”
     Sherlock’s eyes went wide. “God, yes.”

    A few minutes later, they were behind the Center, enjoying the evening breeze and a nice smoke. The chaos was all out front where the audience was arriving. “You are a masterful dancer,” Mme De Beaux spoke after a moment. “Instructing you has been the only bright spot in this hell of a gig. Thank you for that.”

     “Anytime.”

     Mme De Beaux tossed her cigarette on the grass and stomped it out. “Almost makes me feel sorry for this next bit.”

     Sherlock felt the gun pointed at his middle before he saw it. He hated being blindsided, and his mind raced back through every calculation, trying to discern where he’d gone wrong. “Mycroft . . .”

     “Your brother? He knew I was an operative, yes. He also knew I had retired. He was even at my party. Last he heard, I was off in Wales, leading tours.”

     “How was that?”

     “Daft. When I was offered this job, I leapt at the chance to dance again, even if it was for a wretched reality show full of no-talent hacks, no offense.”
     Sherlock shrugged. “None taken.”

     “My former employer had an offer for me, too, and now I’m here to collect.” The gun pressed even firmer into Sherlock’s front.

     Sherlock looked down at her legs. The distinctive cane was still clutched in her free hand. “That bus in Russia hit you on purpose.”

     Mme De Beaux flinched a little. “We all must pay our debts. At least they covered the cost of the surgery.”

     “Like a man who beats a dog to make it mean, confusing fear with loyalty. So generous.”

     “I am not as generous, Mr. Holmes.” Mme De Beaux tossed her cane aside and retrieved her phone. She showed Sherlock a picture of Lloyd Schuemer and Miss Hatcher being held at gunpoint inside Rosenthall Manor. “Oh, dear, what a tragic turn of events.” She looked back towards the Center where the sounds of the crowd had increased. They could be heard but not seen. “Seems your coppers are a little preoccupied at the moment up front. Now, I know you had this lovely little scheme planned, but I’m afraid I can’t wait, and neither can your friends. So, let’s go call my bluff.” Sherlock’s eyes flashed with anger and Mme De Beaux smiled. “Or am I calling your bluff?”

 

      Mme De Beaux escorted Sherlock to the doors of Rosenthall Manor. Every light in the house seemed to be blazing. Three men, who Sherlock deemed to be Lloyd’s bodyguards, were passed out just beside the entrance. “Don’t worry, we relieved them of their weapons.” Mme De Beaux pushed the gun into Sherlock’s back as he opened the heavy door and they stepped inside.

     “Sherlock,” Lloyd spoke with hope as the consulting detective entered the study, but his face soon fell as Mme De Beaux appeared, gun in hand. “You? You’re the operative? I pay your salary!”

     “The other people pay me better, Lloyd.”

      “Oh, dear,” Miss Hatcher sighed. “Well, I had a good run.”

      “Take out your mobile, Sherlock Holmes. Text that partner of yours, get him over here,” Mme De Beaux instructed. “But if he alerts the authorities, you’re all dead.”

     Sherlock did as told, never once taking his eyes off the dance instructor. “Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come anyway. Could be dangerous.” Once the message was sent, he handed the phone over to an expectant Mme De Beaux.

      “It’s sweet how the two of you have your own language.”

 

      John walked down the hallway, trying to locate his missing partner. Really, where could he have gotten to? Jeanine passed him by, looking sufficiently flustered.

      “Have you seen Sherlock?”

      She stopped with a huff, anxiety at full tilt. “Oh, he’s missing, too? Lloyd went to the Manor to collect Miss Hatcher, but they’re not back yet, and no one is answering their bloody phones! And where the hell is Gordy? I’ve got a clogged toilet in the men’s loo.” Someone called for Jeanine on her headset, and she was off again.

      Alarm bells were ringing, and John had already retrieved his gun from his locker when the text came through.

 

      Sherlock looked around the room. He knew he needed to buy some time. He quickly accessed the two men holding Lloyd and Miss Hatcher at gunpoint. In addition to a gun, one of them had some type of incendiary device slung across his shoulder. “You’re going to burn the house down.”

      “What?” Lloyd tried to stand, but he was quickly and forcefully shoved back down.

      “Oh.” Miss Hatcher sounded despondent, and Sherlock felt a quick pang in his heart.

      “We don’t like to leave messes, always best to make it look like an accident. And, correction, the house is already on fire, it’s just a slow burn in the walls.” Mme De Beaux indicated one of her henchmen. “Z makes quick work of the wires, the fuse box. This just speeds up the process, and it’s completely undetectable after combustion. Lovely thing about these old manor houses, they’re already tinder boxes.”

      “How many bodies will the search team discover?” Sherlock asked.

      “That depends on your level of cooperation.”

      “Five alarm fire, a battalion of emergency responders across the field, seems pretty risky, especially for someone who claims to abhor messes.”

      Mme De Beaux pointed her gun firmly at the consulting detective’s head. “I won’t go back to leading tours, and the only dancing job I can get anymore is coaching third rate celebrities on a competition show. I don’t care what happens to me. I have nothing to lose. All I have to do is hand the emerald over to our contact, and then I can die, or live, it doesn’t really matter. Besting Sherlock Holmes, that’s just the epitaph on the cake.”

      There was a quick commotion outside and then John Watson was lead in by gunpoint. One of the bodies outside had been a plant. “Sorry, Sherlock,” John apologized as he was forced to his knees. His face registered shock as he realized exactly who was pulling the strings.

      “We’re dead,” Lloyd determined with bleak finality.

      “I usually throw better parties than this,” Miss Hatcher assured John.

      “Goodie, we’re all here,” Mme De Beaux surmised. “Now get me my emerald, Sherlock Holmes.”

      “I don’t know where it is.”

     Mme De Beaux smiled. “I was told you required the proper motivation.” She signaled to one of the henchmen, and he pressed his gun against Miss Hatcher’s temple. “Shoot the old bat.”

      “No!” Sherlock cried out. “I know where it is.” And in that moment, he did. Sherlock turned to face the western wall. “Lord Rosenthall loved deeply, but he couldn’t show it, not in the normal, acceptable ways of physical affection and compliments.”

     “You can spare us the monologue. We just want the emerald.”

     Sherlock fixed Mme De Beaux with a pointed look. “You’re going to shoot us and leave us to burn. You can let me have this.” Mme De Beaux shrugged in acquiescence. Sherlock turned back to the wall. “He had to show his love in different ways, an emerald, a pair of dancing shoes, an acceptance of gambling debts. His love was complete. He not only loved Claudia, he loved her family; her father and his bad investments, Alden and his many mistakes. They were a part of who she was, and he loved them. That’s why it was almost impossible for me to wrap my head around this case. Love this pure, this real is terrifying. It’s an acceptance of someone for who they truly are, illness, quirks, crazy family, awful siblings. Alden didn’t understand that kind of love, few people ever do. To accept it means there’s something here worth losing, worth missing. Alden detached for survival, but he was a part of Claudia, and Lord Rosenthall refused to give up on him, because that is what true love does.” Sherlock took a breath and realized there were tears on his cheeks. When had that happened?

      He looked up to see Miss Hatcher. She was smiling back at him. “Yes,” she whispered.

      “This story is terribly sad. What the hell?” Sherlock shook his head to clear it and then quickly dropped to his knees. He crawled along the floor, stopping right at the wall of boxes. His fingers quickly pulled up the worn carpet to reveal the worn boards. One creaked different than the others, and he pried it up. There, under a pile of dust and grime was a very distinct puzzle box. Sherlock smiled. “Hello, Alden.”

     The consulting detective pulled the box out. He had the emerald now, and John was in the room. The plan hadn’t gone quite as expected, especially when it came to Lloyd and Miss Hatcher, but now the pieces were lining up. All he had to do was say the magic words and send the boxes tumbling.

      Once the light hit the puzzle box, he stalled. The box clearly opened when it was attached to another one, a twin. It was also badly banged up like someone had tried to open it with force. They’d done everything short of burn it, really. On the top, the words “forgive me” had been crudely carved. Sherlock knew that handwriting, it was Alden’s. He also knew that emotion, it was heartache with a healthy dose of self-loathing. No, this wasn’t Alden’s box at all, this was -

     “Claudia!” Miss Hatcher declared, and she was instantly sorry.

     Mme De Beaux’s eyes lit up. “The first emerald wasn’t lost. What a pleasant surprise. I might be having a happy retirement after all.” She pointed her gun back at Sherlock. “I’ll be needing the second one, Mr. Holmes.”

     “You’re not worried your cohorts will rat you out?”

     Mme De Beaux looked at her henchmen. “Them? They’re more machine than human, highly trained to respond to a certain series of gestures, which you’ll never figure out in time. They’re expendable.”

     “No office romance then?” John quipped.

     “The second emerald, Mr. Holmes,” Mme De Beaux stressed.

     Sherlock hesitated and a shot rang out. It didn’t strike him, though. It hit Lloyd Schuemer directly in his leg, right in the femoral artery. Lloyd screamed and blood instantly began to flow.

      “Jesus Christ!” John shouted.

     “No!” Miss Hatcher cried.

      “How long till he bleeds out? I know that artery well.”

      “You have to let me help him!” John pleaded.

     “No, it’s okay, I deserve this,” Lloyd spoke, his voice trembling terribly.

     Mme De Beaux signaled to her henchmen, and they backed off some. John quickly removed his belt and tied it tight around Lloyd’s leg. He elevated the leg and Lloyd leaned back, his head resting in Miss Hatcher’s lap. “I need you to stay awake, Lloyd, all right? I need you to stay with us. No one’s dying today.”

     Sherlock’s mind reeled, completely thrown for a loop. “John Watson saves the life. I solve the case. John Watson saves the life. I solve the case,” he murmured over and over.

     “Are you paying attention, Mr. Holmes? I will shoot your doctor next, same artery. We can’t all keep each other from bleeding out.”

     Sherlock regarded Mme De Beaux with disdain, and then he sprang into action. He hit the floor and crawled over to the eastern wall. Desperate hands clawed up the carpet and pried up the other loose board. There was another box. “Alden!” Sherlock retrieved the box and fit it against the first one. Both boxes opened with a click. There were the two emeralds, identical in every way. And there was a note carefully folded and tucked into Claudia’s box.

     “Give them to me!” Mme De Beaux demanded.

     Suddenly, the floor above them was filled with noise. The henchmen looked up and began to shoot through the floor. After a moment, there was a thud followed by silence. In that second, Sherlock made eye contact with John. It was now or never.

     “Vatican cameos!” Sherlock cried as he pushed the wall of boxes over. As they fell, burying the first henchman, Sherlock whirled around and knocked Mme De Beaux to the ground. John kicked the legs out from the henchman behind him, and Miss Hatcher used surprising strength to smash a nearby bust over the head of the third. She then collected the gun from the one she’d beaned and used it to cold clock the guy John had kicked.

    “Get their guns!” John instructed and Miss Hatcher hurried to collect the weaponry. “Oh, and get the gun out of that one’s back pocket. It’s my favorite, not leaving here without it.”

     Sherlock assured Mme De Beaux was out cold before collecting the boxes with the emeralds and joining John. Despite the doctor’s best efforts, there was a large pool of blood under Lloyd Schumer. The millionaire was fighting to stay conscious. “We’ve got to get him out of here.” Sherlock nodded and offered the boxes to Miss Hatcher.

    She held out her gun filled arms. “Add them on top.”

      Miss Hatcher hurried out with her load. Sherlock lifted Lloyd’s head, and the two of them slowly transported him out of the house. “I found the emeralds, Lloyd. I found Alden. You can’t die now. Lord Rosenthall would be very put out if you did.” Lloyd smiled weakly.

     The sounds of sirens could be heard. Help would be there any minute. “How did you . . .” Sherlock began to ask.

     “I estimated how long it would take you. Not far off, really,” John boasted. “Course, I didn’t think I’d be keeping a man from bleeding out. How you doing there, Lloyd? We’re going to get you some more blood, don’t you worry.”

    Sherlock looked up to see Mme De Beaux stumbling out of the house. She tried to run off, but he grabbed her. Mme De Beaux struggled against him. The incendiary device was in her hand and she held it high, poised to throw it back into the Manor.

      “Your men are in that house!” Sherlock reminded.

      “They’re already dead, as am I!” Mme De Beaux jabbed one of her sharp elbows with force into his stomach. Sherlock cried out in pain and his hold loosened. In that moment, Mme De Beaux pushed away. She hurled the incendiary device back into the house, through the study window. It burst into flames upon impact. Before Sherlock could recover, Mme De Beaux was gone, disappearing into the night.

     “Leave her!” John shouted “She’s not long for this world, not after a mistake like that.”
      A new discovery clicked into place and Sherlock gasped. “Gordy!”

     “My pet!” Miss Hatcher looked back at the house in horror.

     “What?” John asked.

      “He made those noises, he’s still in the house. He could’ve been shot.”

     “The rescue team is right there, Sherlock! They’ll save him!” John pleaded. And they were, they were right there, but it was still too far, and Lloyd was priority one.

     “I’ll get to him first!” With that, Sherlock was bounding into the burning building.

     “Sherlock!”

     The consulting detective hurried up the stairs. Thank goodness there was plywood over the gap for the moment. In the first room on the right, he found an unconscious Gordy. A quick assessment told him that Gordy was fine. A bullet had grazed his arm. Unfortunately, he’d hit his head against an end table on his way to the ground.

     “Gordy! Gordy wake up!” Sherlock shook the slim figure.

    “Wh – what?”

     “We have to go, the house is burning down.” Sherlock heaved Gordy to his feet and the two stumbled out of the room. He turned to the stairs, but the flames were too high now. The stairs were a lost cause. Sherlock practically dragged Gordy across the plywood to the dumbwaiter. “Gordy, we won’t fit at the same time,” he explained as he tucked the still addled intern into the compartment. “I need you to get to the cellar and get out. I have to pull it back up for me, all right?” Gordy nodded, and Sherlock closed the door. He sent the dumbwaiter down as quickly as he could.

     The smoke was really starting to get to him, and he tucked his head as low as he could. “This is perfect, you can die on the case!” Moriarty declared. Sherlock attempted to ignore him as he tried to concentrate on the ropes. The dumbwaiter was at the bottom now. The tautness in the ropes would tell him when Gordy had disembarked.

      “Throw yourself into the flames, Sherlock, and it’s all over,” Moriarty continued. “Isn’t this what you wanted? There’s a literal blaze, now leap to glory!”

     Gordy was out. Sherlock pulled the dumbwaiter back up. He started to climb in, but hesitated. “If you leave, you have to face it, really face it,” Moriarty was gravely serious.

     “I know.” Sherlock clambered into the dumbwaiter and lowered himself down. At the bottom, a suddenly very alert Gordy took him by the hand and led him with confidence through the darkened cellar. They didn’t even hit anything. Once they reached the cellar door, Gordy pushed it, but it didn’t budge. “It sticks sometimes, and you have to . . .” Gordy snatched a nearby broom and began to bang on the door. “Bang on it until Miss Hatcher hears you.”

      “Flawless plan.” Sherlock rolled his eyes but started banging and screaming along with Gordy. Shouts could be heard outside and then the doors swung open. The fire fighters helped them out and the paramedics descended upon them.

     Sherlock had an oxygen mask placed on his face, despite his protests. He tried to remove it, but a familiar hand pushed it back down. “You twat!” John exclaimed. “You’re keeping the damn oxygen on, and you’re getting shock blankets, all the shock blankets, because I know they piss you off!”  

 

     Sometime later, John and Sherlock found themselves once again sitting in Lloyd Schuemer’s office. Lloyd was at the hospital, of course, but early prognosis was good. Sherlock looked over at John. His partner was still seething, unwilling to discuss it or make eye contact. The night had not quite gone as planned, that was true. Neither of them had expected to be sitting there in their current state of disarray. John was sporting an impressive blood stain, and Sherlock was covered in smoke. Personally, he thought it added something to their attire. They’d never really looked more themselves.

      “Do you . . .” Sherlock tentatively began.

     “No.”

     Silence reigned until Mycroft entered the room, looking quite smug. “Well, don’t you two make a lovely picture?”

      “Thanks for once again almost getting us killed, Mycroft,” John lit in. “Might have mentioned Mme De Beaux was a secret agent.”

      “I promise you, I thought she had retired. In any case, her career is over now,” Mycroft assured. “I give her two weeks, maybe less.”

      “Waste of talent,” Sherlock sighed.

      “Yes,” Mycroft agreed, but John wasn’t convinced they were talking about the same thing. “She made quick work of dispatching of her associates, even before she lit the place ablaze. Maybe she’ll outsmart the rest.” Mycroft held up one of the emerald necklaces that had been bagged as evidence. “I do believe I’ll hand deliver this to our ‘friends,’ settle Lloyd Schuemer’s debt, and issue a stern warning.”

     “No pudding for a week at least,” Sherlock mock admonished.

    Mycroft shot him a look as he tucked the emerald into his briefcase. “Seeing as you didn’t perish in the flames, dear brother, will you two be dancing?”

      John let out a loud, cynical laugh. “You’re joking, right?”

      “Oh, no,” Mycroft assured. “The show must go on, and it did. Everyone else has already danced. I monitored things on this front, made sure the masses were safe and placated. It’s surprising how much sound this building blocks out. Good to know, for future reference.”

     Sherlock looked at John expectantly, but the doctor turned his head and crossed his arms. The consulting detective opened his mouth to speak, but he was cut off by the opening door. A person he didn’t recognize stepped into the room. “Are they going on?” the person asked Mycroft.

      “Who is this?” Sherlock demanded to know.

      “I’m Toby, we’ve met like five times, Sherlock.”

      “That’s Toby. He works with Jeanine,” John spoke, his voice still short.

      “Where’s Jeanine?” Sherlock was so confused.

      “At the hospital with Mr. Schuemer,” Mycroft knowingly informed.

      “Now that makes sense.” Sherlock leaned back in his chair, satisfied.

      “I really need an answer.” Toby looked back at Mycroft.

      Mycroft sighed. “John, I know you want to kill him, but please do this. If you don’t, I’ll have to perform the routine with him in our parent’s sitting room.”

      “I don’t do favors for you.”

     “Maybe you’ll do it for them, then?” Toby backed up and held the door all the way open. A steady, thrumming sound echoed down from above. It was a chant.

      “Holmes and Watson! Holmes and Watson! Holmes and Watson!”

     “Word spreads fast in this digital age,” Mycroft surmised. “By now the whole world knows about the Baker Street Boys, breakers of the     Rosenthall Curse. Slayer of dragons, righter of wrongs, general do gooders.”

      “This is killing you, isn’t it?” Sherlock smiled.

      “It’s a personal hell, yes.”

      Sherlock looked back to John. The doctor huffed dramatically and quickly stood. “Fine!”

      “We have movement,” Toby assured the people on the other end of his headset. “Holmes and Watson are a go.”

 

       John still wasn’t speaking to him, but Sherlock could work with that. An angry John was a better dancer. They might win this after all. As they crossed through the lobby, Sherlock caught sight of Miss Hatcher staring out at the husk of her still slightly burning home. Gordy stood beside her, his non-bandaged arm wrapped around her shoulders.

      “Hold up a moment, Todd.”

      “Toby,” the man sighed.

      Sherlock hurried over to the duo. John saw what he was doing and joined him, although he made sure the others were between them. “Sorry about Rosenthall Manor, Miss Hatcher” the doctor spoke first.

      “Yes, that was an unintended consequence,” Sherlock added. “Most regrettable.”

      “It’s all right. I have the most important things, what I need to prove Lord Rosenthall’s innocence. And Gordy scanned the family photos.” Miss Hatcher leaned into Gordy’s side as she continued to watch the fading embers. “It’s time to let her go.”

      Gordy looked absolutely heartsick, or at least more so than usual. “This is all my fault. I was upstairs the whole time. I wanted to do something, but it’s like I was frozen, and I broke my mobile last week. If I’d moved sooner the house might still be . . .”

      “Gordy,” Sherlock cut him off. “You distracted them. Because of you, we were able to save Lloyd. We got out of their alive because of you. It was very brave. You were very brave.”

      The intern’s face beamed the brightest John had ever seen it. He puffed out what he could of his chest. “Yes I was.”

      John looked down at the boxes still clutched in Miss Hatcher’s hands. Claudia’s box was on top. “Alden didn’t sell it off.”

      “No.” She ran her thumb across the lid fondly. “In the end, he couldn’t bring himself to betray his sister like that.” She pushed the two boxes back together and there was the familiar clicking sound. There was no emerald, but the folded letter was still inside.

      “What does the letter say?”

      Miss Hatcher considered the consulting detective. “You’ll know, when the time is right.”

     Sherlock looked surprised for a moment, but quickly decided he could live with that. Miss Hatcher adjusted the boxes, opening Alden’s lid all the way. There was definitely still an emerald in that box. John’s eyes went wide. “Woo, what you going to do with that?”

      “It’s always been Alden’s. I’m going to give it to Lloyd, a little get well soon pick me up.”

      “That would do it,” John concurred.

      Miss Hatcher closed the boxes. She hugged them both tightly to her chest and took a deep breath. “You boys did it. You broke the curse. Lord Rosenthall is absolved of his guilt. Alden and Claudia have been reunited and you, you saved Alden.” She took in another breath, this one significantly shakier than the first. “I can pass on now.”

      Before they could react, Miss Hatcher closed her eyes and leaned her head back. John had his arms ready, half expecting to catch her. A moment later, she opened her eyes and laughed, loud and light. “You daft sods, I’m not going anywhere. Oh, the look on your faces.”

     “Oh, please live forever, Miss Hatcher,” Sherlock begged. He was laughing now, too.

      “At least for a while longer. I just bought a new house, picked up one of Lloyd’s properties he was letting go of. Lovely flat, not too far from here. Best of all, they allow pets.” She looked at Gordy expectantly.

      “Oh, you should get a cat.” There was silence and then realization hit Gordy like a ton of bricks. “You mean - you want me to come and live with you?”

      Miss Hatcher leaned back into Gordy’s side. “Of course I do. We take care of each other.”

     Gordy’s face broke with emotion, like no one had ever said those words to him before.

      “You better get up there,” Miss Hatcher told Sherlock, “before the crowd turns on you.”

      “Or me,” Toby reminded them of his presence.

      Sherlock and John bid their adieus. They were almost to the stairs when Sherlock broke off again. “Sherlock!”

      “Just a moment!”

      Sherlock ducked into the practice room and retrieved the discarded hat. He quickly rejoined John. “I’m Sherlock Holmes, I wear the damn hat,” he insisted as he secured the chapeau tightly on his head.

 

     As soon as Sherlock and John entered the ball room, the roof nearly burst off the building. It was all very disorienting, but they found their way to the center. As their intro video played, Sherlock quickly examined John. Yep, still mad. Perfect. Well, no, he could do better.

      “I don’t understand why you’re mad at me,” Sherlock casually broached as the video ended.

      As their music began, Sherlock wasn’t entirely convinced John wasn’t going to tackle him. Fortunately, he had calculated correctly and John didn’t knock him flat. He took Sherlock’s hand and then they were dancing, moving through the routine like they’d been doing it forever. The best part was, John wasn’t even aware they were doing so well. He was too busy laying into the consulting detective.

      “You don’t understand why I’m mad at you? You ran into a burning building!”
      “To save Gordy.”

       “The firefighters were right behind you! They would have saved Gordy!”

       “I got there faster. By the time I found him, the stairs were engulfed.”

       “To your untrained eye, yes. To the firefighters, no. One of them bloody looked straight at you before you threw yourself in that dumbwaiter.”

       Sherlock accidentally missed a step, but he quickly recovered. He had thought it was Moriarty at the top of the stairs. There was a pang in his side, but he ignored it.

       “The deed is done now, John.”

       “You can’t keep risking your life like that, Sherlock. Your luck will run out.”
       “It’s my life, I can risk what I want.”

      Molly leaned over to Lestrade in the audience. “Are they dancing or fighting?”

      Lestrade hesitated before answering. “Both, I think.”

       “Yeah, it’s your life, but it’s also Mycroft’s, and your parents’, and Mrs. Hudson’s, and Rosie’s. It’s Rosie’s life too, Sherlock. And it’s my life.” John took a breath. “How can you be so dense?”

       Sherlock felt his partner’s energy starting to ebb. Time to stoke the fire again. They were only halfway through, and they still had the special effect to go. “I sent Harry a ticket.”

      “What?”

       “Your sister, Harry, I sent her a ticket.”

       “I expressly asked you not to.”

       “I only regard half the things you say.”
       “Is she here?”

       “How would I know?”

       “Great. I don’t know which will be worse, having her here or not having her. Thanks, Sherlock.”
       “Anytime.”

       “Anything else you want to tell me?”

       They’d reached the point in their routine where they danced separately. It was still the same steps, but there was distance between them. John’s last question reverberated in Sherlock’s mind. He looked up and out. The crowd was largely a blur, but there was Moriarty, plain as day. He made a sad face and clutched his side. A terrible pain shot up Sherlock’s side, and he fought to stay on his feet and keep dancing. He didn’t want to look up again, but he did. Moriarty shook his head and wagged his finger. He pointed to his watch, indicating the terribly late hour.

      Sherlock gritted through the pain, and then his attention was diverted by a very different person. “Yay, Daddy! Yay, Uncle Sherlock!” He knew that voice, it was Rosie’s voice. Sherlock found the source, there in the front row, leaning eagerly against the railing as Molly held her up. “I love you, Daddy! I love you, Uncle Sherlock!” Those words were usually reserved for John, but now Rosie was giving them to him. It wasn’t the first time she’d told the consulting detective she loved him, but it was usually happened just before bed, after she’d already told John, Mrs. Hudson, and a host of stuffed animals. Sherlock considered those other instances more habit than anything else, but this was different, this was her sharing the feeling, proclaiming it before the world. Sherlock’s chest felt tight, and in that moment he knew he wanted to live. He had to live.

      When the song got to the bridge and John took his hands back, Sherlock stopped dancing. John awkwardly halted at his side. “Sherlock, what . . .”

       Sherlock looked him directly in the eyes. “John, I have stage three stomach cancer, maybe worse. Prognosis is not good. It will require surgery, radiation, chemo. I was prepared to die, but I would very much like to know the person she is going to become.” He pointed to Rosie. “I want that privilege, so I’m going to fight it. I’ll be needing your help, though. I cannot do this alone.”

      John didn’t say anything, and Sherlock could not decipher the look on his face. Without a word, John placed his hands on Sherlock’s heart and pushed him back into the dance. The consulting detective gave him a questioning look. “For you, always,” John assured him and pressed his hands closer to Sherlock’s heart.

      The weight of the words threatened to capsize Sherlock, but he knew John wouldn’t let him drown. “I’ll be the worst patient, a miserable arsehole.”

     “I know.” John smiled.

     Sherlock returned the smile and then the two of them launched into the last part of the dance. The special effect exploded, a shower of blue streamers coating the ball room. It was like waves, a symbol of all the swells they’d overcome. They’d survived the Reichenbach Fall, Moriarty, Magnussen, Culverton Smith, Mary’s death, Sherlock’s sister. They’d survived all that, they could survive this.

      The music finished and they struck a triumphant pose in the center. The applause was instant and deafening. John ran over to where Rosie was and took her into his arms. He brought her over and she wrapped her arms around Sherlock’s neck. The consulting detective knew what came next would be hard, but there was no doubt in his mind this was the best decision he’d ever made, apart from inviting John to accompany him on that first case those many years ago.

 

July 24, 2023 – St. Bart’s Hospital

      John hurried down the hall, two packages tucked under his arm. Everyone was already at the hospital, but he had to stop by the flat on his way. The doctor turned a corner and almost ran into Jeanine of all people.

      “Jeanine, fancy meeting you here.”

      “Yeah, Lloyd has physical therapy today.”

      “How’s he doing?”

      “Great, he’ll make a full recovery.”

      “Excellent.” John realized that Jeanine wasn’t constantly looking at her tablet. She wasn’t even carrying it. “You’re not at work.”

     “No, I’m taking the day off. Besides, it’s good to give Gordy some responsibility.”

     “Gordy?”

     “Yes, he’s transitioning into a larger role, with compensation.”

     “Good for him, and good for you.”

      “Well, I realized there’s more to life.”
      John gave a knowing smile. “Yes there is.”

      By the time John bid Jeanine farewell and made it to Sherlock’s room, he had to squeeze into the back. The room was full of people, no doubt overfull by hospital standards. At least Mycroft had been able to set his brother up with the largest suite. That certainly came in handy right now.

      “You’re going to be just fine, darling.” Mrs. Holmes patted her son’s hand.

     “Yes, thank you, Mummy. You’ve said that a thousand times.”

      “Let’s give his friends the chance to say goodbye, darling.” Mr. Holmes placed his hand on his wife’s arm. She gave him an appalled look. “Goodbye for now, before the surgery. They can say hello again after.” Mr. Holmes mouthed his apologies to Sherlock before leading Mrs. Holmes back towards the door.

     Others shifted up closer to the bed. “Don’t worry about the flat, Sherlock. I’ll keep an eye on your experiment in the crisper.”

      “There’s no experiment in the crisper.”

      Mrs. Hudson gave him a knowing look. “And I’ll read to Billie, make sure he doesn’t get too lonely. He likes my romance novels.”

      “You don’t have to do any of that,” Sherlock assured. “You’re not my housekeeper.”

     “No, but I am your friend.” Mrs. Hudson kissed him on the head before stepping back.

     “Right, I’ll try not to muck things up too much at the Yard while you’re away.” Lestrade squeezed his shoulder.

      “Anesthesia should wear off in three hours. You can text me later.”

     Lestrade laughed. “Let’s just take it a day at a time, yeah?” He squeezed Sherlock’s shoulder again before stepping away.

      Molly took Sherlock’s face between her hands. “No dying.”

     “I’ll sincerely try,” he assured, and she smiled. “Congratulations, by the way.” The engagement ring on her hand was hard to miss.

      “I expect you and John to walk me down the aisle, all right?”

     John had finally made his way to the bed. Rosie had found him and taken his hand. “Molly, that’s quite an honor.”

     “I know.” She turned back to Sherlock and kissed his forehead. “The wedding is next spring, so no dying.”

     “Duly noted.”

     Molly nodded and pulled away. Rosie ran up to the bed, and John lifted her up. “Sir Portly told me he wants to stay with you, Uncle Sherlock.” She passed the stuffed hippo to the consulting detective.

     “I’ll be very glad for his company.” Sherlock tucked the hippo by his side.

      “Do you get to keep the part they cut out of you?” Rosie asked.

      “They’ll have no choice but to let me.”

      “Good,” Rosie decided. John rolled his eyes. Maybe a slight break from Sherlock wouldn’t be the worst thing for her. Rosie reached out and wrapped her arms around Sherlock’s neck. “I love you, Uncle Sherlock.”

      “I love you, young Watson.”

     She kissed his cheek and then pulled back. John kissed her head before setting her down. Dr. Tessa Savoy entered the room and pointedly cleared her throat. There were too many people in there.

     The crowd dispersed among another flurry of well wishes, leaving only John and Mycroft behind. Dr. Savoy stepped up to the bed. “You have a lot of friends, Mr. Holmes.”

      “I do, despite my best efforts.”

      “We’ll be taking you for surgery soon. We’ll remove the tumor, any mets we can, and we’ll go ahead and place your chemo port. Good news is that the cancer hasn’t spread to any nearby organs, but there are several mets we need to worry about. Any questions?”

      “Can I keep the tumor?”

     She smiled. “It’s considered medical waste.”

     “Anyway its label can be swapped?” Sherlock was absolutely serious.

     “I’ll see what we can do.” Dr. Savoy looked at John and Mycroft. “Any questions from the two of you?”

     “No, our three hour interrogation satisfied all my concerns,” Mycroft assured her.

     “I take no comfort in the fact that you tortured this poor doctor for hours yesterday, dear brother, and now she’ll be cutting me open.”

      “No worries, Mr. Holmes. I have experience with difficult family members.” Sherlock was right pleased with that answer.

     “I’d like hourly updates, while he’s in surgery.” Now John was absolutely serious.

     Dr. Savoy regarded him. “Ah, yes, Dr. Watson.”

     “Yeah, Dr. Watson, his best friend, and his power of attorney.” John handed a large envelope to Mycroft. “It’s all there, all signed.”

     “Thank you, Dr. Watson.” Mycroft quickly perused the contents to make sure it was all in order.

    Dr. Savoy continued to watch John. “I’ll send a student out every hour to update you.”

    “Thank you.”

     “I look forward to working with you, Dr. Watson.” Dr. Savoy gave an honest smile, and John returned it with an honest one of his own. Sherlock looked from one to the other. “See you in the operating theatre, Mr. Holmes.” Dr. Savoy turned and left.

     “You should ask her out,” Sherlock told John once the door had closed.

     “What, your doctor? I think I’ll be plenty busy for the next little bit, thank you very much.”

     “Trust me, John, you’ll need a distraction so you don’t strangle me.”

     “He’s right,” Mycroft agreed. “Good luck, brother mine. I’ll see you when you wake.”

     “It’s not nice to threaten me when I’m down, Mycroft.”

     Mycroft rolled his eyes and said nothing more as he left the room, papers in hand.

     “Thank you for signing the papers, John. I know it’s a lot to put on you.”

     John rubbed the back of his neck. That was an understatement. “Just don’t make me have to use it.”

     “I can’t promise that.”

     “I know.”

    In an attempt to change the subject, Sherlock picked up Sir Portly. He looked over at his bedside table, it was covered in flowers. “This place is already a jungle, it’s ridiculous.”

     “People wish you well.”

      “I don’t care about the flowers, they’re already dead. I care about Sir Portly and the trophies.” Sherlock looked around the table. “John, the flowers ate my trophies.”

     John laughed. “Calm down, our trophies are right here.” He moved the two brightly colored trophies to the front of the table. They may not have taken home the silver plate. That went to Shasta and Francis. (Never underestimate the attraction of women who blow things up.) But they had taken home Most Impassioned Dancers and Best Costumes. In Sherlock’s mind, they were just as good as a silver plate. Sherlock passed Sir Portly to John and he set the hippo beside the trophies.

     Sherlock’s phone moaned a familiar text tone, and he retrieved it from under the covers, avoiding John’s eyes. “Good to know Irene is up to date. How does she feel about you receiving treatment?”

     Sherlock felt a slight twinge of guilt. “I have a confession, John. The woman knew before you did. I wasn’t sure then, didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought about running away. Thought death might be easier in her island hut on the other side of the world.”

     John didn’t say anything for a moment. “Can we still use her hut someday, Airbnb situation?”

    “She never stays in one place too long.”

     “Yes, well, hit her up next time she’s somewhere nice.” He smiled, assuring Sherlock it was all fine. “Oh, I almost forgot.” John retrieved the larger package from where he’d leaned it against the wall. “This arrived at the flat today.”

     Sherlock tore into the brown, postal wrapping. “If it’s a puzzle box, I’m jumping out the window,” John half joked.

     Inside the package was a frame, and inside the frame there was a copy of the last letter, the one from Claudia’s box. It was from her father Rutherford Lyons, and it had been written just before his death. Sherlock took a breath before reading aloud. “Lord Rosenthall, I know you like puzzles, and I am afraid I am leaving you with a rather difficult one. I know how much you love Claudia, and that you would do anything for her. You ensure she wants for nothing. I am now asking you to do the same for Alden. As you have already realized, they are two parts of the same whole. No matter how much they taunt each other, or tear one another down, they need the other to survive. I have sheltered them, that is true, but they were all I had left after their mother died. When Claudia had scarlet fever, I could not keep Alden out of her bed, and I nearly lost them both. They always find their way back to one another, even when the distance seems insurmountable.

      I have never once questioned your character. You are a good man, Lord Rosenthall. You take care of others, without question. I’m not sure the world deserves you. There are many types of love in this life, romantic, family, comrade. You know how to possess them all. You will need those skills for this puzzle. I leave you with my two jewels. Help them find their way back to one another. Love them, that’s all I ask. Your dear friend, Rutherford Lyons.” At the bottom of the letter, in Lord Rosenthall’s hand, were the words, “For you, always.”

     Sherlock sat the frame down and closed his eyes. His stomach tightened with emotion. A pang shot up his side and he gasped.

     “This feeling shit is for the birds,” Moriarty scoffed.

     “Pain?” John asked and Sherlock shook his head. “Moriarty?” Sherlock nodded again. He’d since told his friend about the most unpleasant visits he’d been receiving from their old nemesis.

     “Right about here?” John indicated the immediate area beside the bed. Sherlock hummed in approval. “Right.” John socked Moriarty squarely in the stomach and then chopped him on the back of the neck, sending him to the floor. “Better?”
     Sherlock took a relieved breath. “Much. Thank you.”

     “Anytime.”

     The consulting detective looked back down at the frame in his lap and the emotion came flooding right back. “One more confession, John, I was watching you and Mary dance.”

     “What?”

      “At your wedding, your first dance, I was watching. But I didn’t see your missed steps. All I saw was love.”

      John quickly turned his head and wiped at a tear.

      Sherlock’s tongue felt heavy in his mouth, and it made swallowing difficult. “Emotion has never been my strong suit, and if I never said . . . “

      “It’s all right, Sherlock,” John assured.

      The consulting detective shook his head. This needed to be said because time was short, all too short. “You’re my best friend, John Watson.” Sherlock looked up at him, his eyes the most honest they’d ever been. “I care for you a great deal.”

      John cleared his throat, but he didn’t break eye contact. “I love you, too.”

     Sherlock laughed lightly and gripped the frame a little tighter. “You’ll remember this moment later, when I’m being awful, right?”
     John smiled. “I’ll try.”

 

March 4, 2024 – St. Bart’s Hospital

      Sherlock flopped back dramatically on the chair as Mycroft droned on through his tablet. “Now that the chemo’s done . . .”

     “Not done, I’m about to be injected,” Sherlock rather pointedly reminded him.

     “After your last session today,” Mycroft amended, “I’ve set you up meetings with a nutrionist and a personal trainer. Don’t be rude. You need to follow their exact regimen if you’re to regain your strength, dear brother.”

     Mycroft started in on something else, and Sherlock groaned. “I can’t hear you, Mycroft. It’s a bad connection.” He hit the tablet repeatedly on the arm of the chair. It was actually a duplicate of his chair from Baker Street. Mycroft had seen to that. In fact, he had really seen to everything. That didn’t excuse him from being boring, though. “I’m losing you!” Sherlock shouted.

     “No you’re not,” Mycroft got out right before Sherlock hung up on him.

     John entered the room, his arms full of their usual provisions. He saw the look on Sherlock’s face. “What?”

     “Mycroft.”

     “Ta,” John agreed. Nothing more needed to be said. The tablet lit up again. Fortunately, it was Lestrade. Sherlock answered and John busied himself setting up the table. He was careful not to disturb the trophies or Sir Portly.

     “Sherlock!” Lestrade screamed through the screen. Molly, Mrs. Hudson, Anderson, and even Donovan crowded into the frame. “Last day of chemo!” They all cheered and took a drink.

      “Are you all at a pub, having drinks, when I haven’t been able to have one in months?”

     Lestrade paused, but it may have been just to burp. “Yeah.”

     “Drink more,” Sherlock instructed.

     “Sherlock, I’m getting married next month.” Molly took over the screen. “Did you get fitted for your suit?”

     “I don’t know.”

     “Yes,” John spoke up.

     “Last day of chemo!” Molly hollered and the others screamed again.

     “See you soon, Sherly.” Lestrade raised his glass and the call ended.

     “Did he just call me Sherly?” Sherlock tightened the traditional deer stalker hat on his head. He’d taken to wearing it most days since his hair had fallen out. John had shaved his head in solidarity, but had taken to wearing a newsboy cap during the winter.

     “Where’s Rosie?” The consulting detective looked around the room.

     “Getting suited up.”
     Sherlock nodded and leaned back in his chair. He closed his eyes and appreciated the silence for a moment. John watched him. The last few months had been hard, indescribably hard. There were fights and tears and close calls, and more vomit than John had ever imagined. There were days when Sherlock pushed himself too hard, and then days where the consulting detective seemed to lose hope and never moved from the couch.

      John felt ill every time he thought back to October when Sherlock’s bronchitis had quickly turned into pneumonia. Chemo was halted as Sherlock’s body fought to hang on. The consulting detective’s heart had stopped for ten minutes. His paperwork had been very clear that they were not to try and revive him after eight minutes (the length of time his heart had stopped after he’d been shot), but John couldn’t do it. He made the doctors keep going, and he was glad he had. It was worth it all the moment Sherlock opened his eyes and apologized for getting turned around in his mind palace.       

      John’s blog had taken on a distinctly different feel the past six months, but Sherlock had insisted he was a writer and needed to get it all out. They had more followers than ever now, and John was more than ready to begin blogging about cases again, but he knew they weren’t out of the woods yet.

     They had certainly needed the support of their friends and family through all this. John had even reconnected with his sister. She had come to the Danse Ball, and had reached out to him soon after. John wasn’t sure where things would be a year from now, but he was eternally grateful for this moment.

    John’s mobile chimed, breaking the stillness. Sherlock opened one eye. “Tell Harry I said hello.”

    A moment later, Sherlock’s phone moaned. John smiled. “Tell Irene I said hello.” Sherlock didn’t say anything, just picked up his phone.

    Dr. Savoy entered the room, leading Rosie by the hand. The young Watson was all decked out in a surgical cap, gloves, and a gown. She had been Sherlock’s number two doctor for some time now. “Is the patient ready?” Rosie asked.

      “Ready as always, young Dr. Watson.”

     “Last day of chemo, Sherlock.” Dr. Savoy’s smile was bright and genuine. “How are you feeling?”

     “Fair,” Sherlock replied, “and eager.”

     “I can work with that,” Dr. Savoy assessed. “We’ll do another scan a few weeks from now, and see where we stand. I feel like we’re in a good place, though, and hopefully, you won’t have to see my lovely face as much going forward, at least not in a hospital setting.”

     “That would be delightful, no offense.”

    “None taken.” Dr. Savoy looked at John. “Dinner tomorrow, yes?”

     “7:00 sharp,” John replied.

      “Who’s minding me?” Sherlock asked.

     “Mrs. Hudson,” they spoke in unison.

     “And Rosie,” John added.

     “Acceptable,” Sherlock conceded.

      “See you tomorrow,” Dr. Savoy told John. “And I’ll see you next week.” She gave Sherlock’s arm a squeeze and winked at John before leaving.

      Sherlock was ready to get down to business. “They’ll be here to hook me up soon. What’s on the docket today?”

    John looked at the table. “Lestrade sent over more cold cases, and Rosie wrote another story in school.”

     Rosie held out her story for Sherlock to see. “We had to write about a hero.”

    “Storytime it is!” Like there was ever a doubt about that. Sherlock patted the chair and Rosie climbed up next to him. “What wonderful things did you write about your father?”

     Sherlock’s breath caught in his throat as he opened the front cover and saw the title page. “I didn’t write about Daddy.”

     “My hero is my Uncle Sherlock Holmes, the high functioning sociopath,” Sherlock read the words with a shaky voice. “Oh, Rosie.” He kissed her head, tears spilling over his eyes and hitting her hair softly.

     John smiled. “I got a call from school, but it was worth it.”

     “We’re framing this. We’re framing it and hanging it right next to the letter, and the bullet holes in the wall.” Sherlock squeezed her tightly.

     “Can we read it first?” Rosie asked.

     “Yes, of course.” Sherlock settled back in the chair as Rosie began to read. John sat in his own chair near the table and listened intently as the technician came in to hook Sherlock up to his last dose.

      “This is the story of my Uncle Sherlock, the world’s only consulting detective, my Daddy’s best friend, and my hero.”

 

The End