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Rebuilding Rome

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Rebuilding Rome

PART I

I

 

When the text comes, John closes his eyes and sighs.

His next thought is Kate Whitney. He opens his eyes and dials her number (speed dial five, which is a sad commentary on his life right there) and waits. When she answers, he speaks rapidly. “Yeah hi, Kate, it’s John Watson. Seems I’ve got a case and I was wondering if you could watch Rosie. I know it’s last minute…”

“No, that’s all right,” Kate Whitney’s voice says reassuringly. “I haven’t got anything on. You’ll bring her over?”

“Yes, in about five minutes,” John says, relief washing over him. “Thanks a ton.” He disconnects before she can object, then opens his texts, typing Ok, be there in about thirty. He presses send, then gets up and goes over to the playpen to scoop his daughter up, ignoring her protestations. “Enough of that. I’ve got a case,” he tells her, a bit shortly, not that she’s old enough to understand, at a year and three months. He refuses to call it ‘fifteen months’ like the mums at Rosie’s daycare, who insist on naming their children’s ages in months even well into the double digits. He pops her into her buggy, then looks around for the bag he always sends with her. Did he refill the goldfish crackers? No, it turns out. He unscrews the lid of the plastic container and hastily dumps a fresh supply of crackers inside, adds a few more nappies to the bag, then retrieves several cartons of formula and a squeeze pack of pureed vegetables from the fridge. Kate Whitney will have all that, but at least this way he’ll look a bit less like a deadbeat dad. That done, he pulls on his jacket, shoves his feet into his shoes, gets his Sig from the drawer of the phone table near the door, checks to make sure it’s loaded (it is), and stows it in the waistband of his jeans.

He tries not to seem impatient through the ritual exchange of his child for his freedom of movement, but it’s difficult to hide. “Look, I’ve really got to get going,” he cuts in, belatedly becoming aware (but not particularly caring) that he’s cut Kate off mid-stream. “You’ll be all right?”

She blinks once or twice. “Yes, of course,” she says mildly. “Off you go, then. Say bye-bye, Rosie!”

Rosie makes a sound resembling the word and John says it back, to both of them, already turning away to book it for the nearest street large enough to have taxis. God, he hates living out here in the sticks! At least this time the crime scene isn’t out in Uxbridge like their last one, as far as possible from Dagenham. This one’s just in Stoke Newington, which is still going to take awhile. Thirty minutes was an underestimate, just to keep Sherlock’s impatience at bay.

Easy for him. He’s still living at Baker Street, now that it’s been fixed up, with easy access to most of the city. Though Uxbridge was a long slog even from there.

John turns onto Hedgemans Road and gets a cab after only a minute or two. He gives the address of the crime scene, then leans back in his seat. Of course, all that was a few months ago now. Eurus, that is. The bombing of Baker Street. In the old days, it almost would have been fun, but he remembers recovering in the hospital with Sherlock in the next bed, plotting feverishly with him as to what to do about Sherlock’s mad sister as his sprained ankle and the stitches in his side throbbed. Two weeks later saw them boarding the craft that took them to Sherrinford, dread having replaced the old excitement. It’s over now, John reminds himself: they got Baker Street fixed up again. Sherlock stayed on the sofa at the flat, Mary’s flat, as John still thinks of it, during the days when Baker Street was fully uninhabitable. Once there were floors and ceilings and safe wiring again, they went over and painted, rehung the art, got it back into shape again. And then John went back to Dagenham to take up his cross of single parenthood and part-time locum work where he could fit it around Rosie’s daycare schedule and when a case crops up.

It’s not the life he would have chosen. Then again, he doesn’t know what he would have chosen, either. John watches London go by from the A12 and wonders how everything got to be so bloody colourless.

***

The atmosphere is tense and sober when John (finally) arrives at the crime scene, fifty minutes after having sent his text. He’s fully expecting Sherlock to say something about it, but he barely acknowledges John until he’s walked right up to where he’s standing with Lestrade, Donovan, and Parker, the new sergeant. Sherlock notices him and half-turns, his arms crossed, his expression unusually troubled. “John. Good. You’re here,” he says, managing to refrain from mentioning the fact that it’s taken him nearly an hour to get there.

John clears his throat, wonders if he should address it, but decides not to. What’s the point? He’s always late these days. “So, it’s a murder, you said,” he says, attempting to gloss over his awkwardly late arrival on the scene.

Sherlock glances at Lestrade. “Yes,” he says. “A double homicide, it seems. Would you like to see the bodies?”

He’s being solicitously polite, which John’s come to recognise as a mask for something or other, though what it might be this time is beyond his comprehension. “Sure, yeah,” he says, so Sherlock leads him into the house. Just inside the door, he offers a pair of plastic shoe covers. “It’s a messy one,” he explains briefly. He gives John a moment to slip them on, then nods toward the sitting room. “This way.”

John follows Sherlock into the house. He sees the blood spatter long before either of the corpses, speckling the white-painted walls, the carpeting, and the furniture, even spattered over photo frames and pieces of décor. The body is a male, a gunshot through his forehead doing much to explain the mess. There’s also dried blood trickling from his nose and bruising around the left eye. He’s lying on the beige carpet, face-up, eyes wide open and staring. “Who is he?” John asks.

Sherlock, naturally, has the answer already. “Harris Mills. A mid-level corporate management type, apparently. Worked at a company called Weston Arbour Incorporated. No idea what they do.”

John nods, absorbing this but not particularly caring. “Where’s the other victim?”

Sherlock gives him a slightly odd look, but nods upstairs. “Follow me.”

They go up the carpeted steps, Sherlock pointing out the blood tracks in that same, odd politeness that’s masking something else, and stops just outside a loo. “In there,” he says, and lets John pass him.

John takes two steps and stops. “Jesus,” he says. There’s blood everywhere; the tub is half full of water that’s stained red, and in it a woman is floating grotesquely. Her long, red hair is tangled over her face and wound around her throat. Her mouth and eyes are open, as though she died gasping for breath to shout out. It’s not pretty. “Were there any witnesses?” he asks, tearing his eyes from the grisly sight in the tub to look back at Sherlock.

Sherlock nods. “Some of the neighbours heard shouting.” He hesitates. “And there was a child.”

“A child!” For a second, John is shocked. “Whose child?”

“Theirs, we think,” Sherlock says. “I only just got here twenty minutes ago, myself. I was waiting for you before we start to question the neighbours. Lestrade wanted to know if you wanted to examine the woman before the coroners remove her from the bath. Her name is Elizabeth, also Mills.”

John shakes his head. “The water will only muddy the time of death. Besides, the body will need to be cleaned before any real examination can take place.” He looks back at the woman. “So who killed them, then, and why so far apart? He must have died first, right? Or else how did she track the blood upstairs?”

“Good questions,” Sherlock says. He pauses, then nods toward the body. “Look at her face, John. Bruising, do you think? Older ones, I mean. Not from today or yesterday. The yellowing around the right eye and above the left eyebrow.”

John frowns, seeing it. “Right. And it looks like he took a punch in the eye, too. Only much more recently.”

Sherlock nods, agreeing. “I don’t think this is going to be a simple one.” He starts for the stairs, saying something to the coroner waiting politely aside. John follows him downstairs and out into the fresh air, glad to be out of the oppressively heavy atmosphere of the house. “Lestrade has been rounding up the witnesses,” Sherlock says over his shoulder. “He and Donovan had just started the questioning, but of course we’ll do our own.”

“Of course,” John echoes, not hearing himself. “And you said there was a child?”

Sherlock looks back at him again, scanning his face almost diagnostically. “Yes,” he says briefly. “A girl. Eight or nine years old. Her name is Sarah. The neighbour who called the police found her in her bedroom, just down the corridor from the bathroom. She’s gone nonverbal and is in the care of said neighbour’s wife.”

“She must be in shock,” John says, squinting into the sun. Lestrade and Donovan have disappeared, only Parker quizzing two women in their sixties. “I’m assuming she saw some of it, or at least the bodies. She’s definitely their child?”

Sherlock gives him an odd look. “One assumes, unless the Mills were in the habit of keeping someone else’s child in their house. Though one shouldn’t assume, I suppose.” He scans the scattered group of people standing about in front of the house and indicates a balding man in his forties. “He’s the one who called it in.”

They make their way over and Sherlock starts in without preamble. “I’m Sherlock Holmes and this is John Watson. You’re the person who discovered the crime scene?”

The man nods nervously. “That’s right. Heard a bit of noise, then a gunshot, so I went over and knocked. Didn’t hear anything, but I knew there was a kid, thought I should check… the door was locked, though, so I rang the police. They came here when they found Sarah. She’s inside with my wife.”

John jots this down in his notebook. “What’s your name?” he asks.

“Bob. Bob Singh,” the man tells him.

“And how long after the shot did you call the police?” John asks.

“Must have been about twenty minutes,” Bob says, looking back and forth between them. “I wasn’t sure if I should interfere… but I was pretty sure it was a gunshot I’d heard, and not something else.”

Sherlock fixes the man with his gaze. “Did you know the Mills well? Can you speculate on the nature of the marriage?”

Bob sniffs and scrunches up his mouth. “It wasn’t good, I can tell you that. He was a bit of a creep. Very distant on the surface, polite enough, but cold, you know what I’m saying? But behind closed doors… we could hear him shouting sometimes. Seems like a different side of him came out then.”

John writes this down, but Sherlock isn’t satisfied. “Shouting at who, precisely?”

Bob looks confused. “At his wife. At Elizabeth. They fought a lot. We weren’t trying to eavesdrop, but these houses are close together and the sound carries, especially now that it’s spring and with the windows open… she didn’t usually shout back, though.”

John is curious. “Did you ever see them together, outside the house?” he asks.

Bob nods. “There was a neighbourhood barbeque last year and they came. He was civil, like I said. But he seemed pretty critical. He was fond of correcting her a lot. Straight up contradicting things she’d said. And I’ve got a feeling he was pretty strict with his kid, too. She was always very meek, very quiet. Seemed nervous, almost scared. She hasn’t said a word since they found her. My wife was trying to get her to eat something when I came back out to talk to the police, but it wasn’t working.”

Sherlock looks at John. “I’d like to see her,” he says firmly, with a look that warns John not to protest this, so John keeps his mouth closed.

Bob blinks. “Sure, all right. But go easy on her. She’s just witnessed both her parents getting killed.”

“About that,” John says. “Are you aware of any problems they were having with anyone else? Any enemies or conflicts that you knew of?”

Bob shakes his head. “I really didn’t know them well enough for that,” he says. He leads them up the walk to his house, but as they approach, the door opens and Lestrade and Donovan emerge.

“There you are,” Lestrade says, meaning him and Sherlock. “You’d better get in here.”

Sherlock frowns. “Why?”

Lestrade sticks both hands into the pockets of his trench coat. “It’s… well, you’ll see for yourself. The girl’s talking a bit now. Be gentle, yeah?”

“Of course,” Sherlock says, brushing this off. He goes past Lestrade and up the short flight of steps leading into the Singhs’ house, John right behind him. Lestrade and Donovan come back inside with them, John notices.

Sarah Mills is a small, pale child, seated at the kitchen table and drinking a cup of something hot and milky. An untouched ham sandwich is sitting on a plate in front of her. She shrinks back upon seeing the four of them, and the woman next to her gives them a worried look.

“My wife, Gita,” Bob says, indicating her.

Lestrade bends over, hands on his thighs. “Sarah, I’ve brought someone else to talk to you. Is that all right?”

The girl looks at him with wide eyes and doesn’t respond. She takes another sip of her tea, holding the cup with both hands as though cold.

Lestrade tries again. “This is Sherlock. He’s a very clever man and he’s going to help us figure out what happened with your parents. And this is Doctor Watson. He’s going to take care of you, okay? You can tell him. We’re going to wait outside so there’s not so many people. Okay? Just tell them what you told us.”

He waits expectantly, and Sarah finally gives a tiny nod. Lestrade seems satisfied, and says something under his breath to Donovan, and they go.

Sherlock glances at John, then pulls out one of the kitchen chairs. “Bob, if you wouldn’t mind…” he says, rather politely for him, and Bob gets the gist.

“Oh – sure,” he says, and follows Lestrade outside.

“Please stay,” Sherlock says to Gita, then transfers his gaze to the child. “Where are you hurt, Sarah?” he asks quietly.

John is slightly surprised by the question; he’d thought Sherlock might begin with questions about the parents.

Sarah hesitates for a long time. Then she pushes up the left sleeve of her shirt to show an ugly red burn mark.

Sherlock studies it. “When did that happen?”

Sarah’s mouth moves, but she doesn’t answer, looking mutely at Gita Singh instead. “Three days, she said,” Gita tells them.

Sherlock doesn’t ask where the burn came from. “Where else?” he asks Sarah.

Her lips press together, an inward thinking process taking place rapidly, then she musters speech at last, her voice small. “On my back.”

Sherlock nods as though this is not a surprise. “When?”

“Yesterday.” Sarah’s voice is very small.

“John.” Sherlock doesn’t look at him.

John turns to Gita. “Have you got any medical supplies?” he asks. “I’ve left my kit at home, left in a bit of a hurry…”

“Oh – of course,” Gita says. “I’ll just get it.” She gets up and pats the girl’s shoulder. “Try to eat,” she urges. “I’ll be right back.”

Sarah doesn’t move. Sherlock sits back a little, clearly trying his best to not be intimidating. “Are you hungry?” he asks. “I know you’ve had a big shock today. It’s a lot to take in. But if you’re hungry, you can eat. It’s all right.”

Sarah looks at him for a long moment, her eyes disarmingly direct. “Mummy says no white bread. White bread isn’t healthy.”

John looks at the sandwich. The bread is indeed white, but it looks to be a nicer sort of loaf, something French, perhaps. He wonders if he should say something, but it seems that Sherlock is getting through. Maybe he should sit this one out until there’s something specifically medical to do.

“This one time, it’s okay,” Sherlock tells her. Sarah doesn’t move, looking uncertain. “Are you hungry?”

She bites her lower lip, then nods.

“Then go on,” Sherlock says. He tactfully refrains from pointing out that Sarah’s mother is unlikely to share any negative opinions on the bread anytime soon.

Sarah’s eyes flick anxiously to the door that Lestrade and the rest departed through. Her indecision stretches out over another agonising moment or two, then she sets down the tea and picks up half the sandwich with both hands and eats it quickly, nearly choking on it in her haste. Strange, John thinks. Then again, it’s probably been since at least breakfast since she last ate.

“That’s it,” Sherlock says encouragingly. “Take your time. No one’s going to take it away.”

That connects: Sarah’s eyes go to his again, riveted there, and for a second or two, she stops chewing. Then she starts again, still quickly, her eyes stuck on Sherlock’s.

John doesn’t understand what’s happening. He wants to ask about the injuries, where they came from, only he doesn’t want to interrupt the sandwich, either.

Sherlock waits patiently until the last bite is gone. “Good,” he says approvingly. He leans forward again, smiling nicely at the kid. “Okay,” he says, as Gita returns with a first aid kit. “Now Doctor Watson is going to fix you up. Can you tell me about anything else that hurts?”

Sarah shakes her head, and Sherlock nods.

“Where do you go to school?” he asks instead.

“I don’t go to school,” Sarah says, her eyes flicking nervously to John as he crouches down on her other side and begins to dress the burn as gently as he can.

“Do you learn from your parents?” Sherlock asks.

Sarah nods, her eyes hidden as she watches John’s movements about her arm. “Mummy,” she says, and there are layers to her tone that John doesn’t understand.

Sherlock processes this for a moment. “What about your father?”

“Daddy goes to work.” This comes out calmly, but then Sarah adjusts her words. “Went to work…” She looks back at Sherlock. “He…”

Sherlock doesn’t push it. “Yes?” he asks, after a moment, but Sarah begins to shake her head, trembling violently.

“It’s okay,” John tells her gently. “You don’t have to talk about it. It’s a big shock. We know.” He quickly tapes down the gauze over her burn. “Could I see your back?” he asks, careful to keep his tone light.

But Sarah slips off her chair and rushes to Gita, who is sitting unobtrusively on a chair in the corner. She buries her face in Gita’s chest, arms around her shoulders, and Gita reacts with surprise, yet also immediate comfort. “It’s all right. It’s all right. You can cry. It’s okay,” she murmurs, holding the girl carefully. Over Sarah’s shoulder, she catches John’s eye. “You really do need to treat it, though,” she tells him. “I’m afraid it could infect.” She strokes a hand over Sarah’s hair. “I’ll just pull your shirt up a little so that he can see, all right? You don’t need to look. I’m right here.”

John hesitates, not wanting to treat the child if she’s unwilling, but he also doesn’t know what it is. He glances at Sherlock, who shrugs as though to say that it’s his decision. “Do you mind if I just have a look?” he asks, feeling awkward, the child’s back to him. Going by her breathing, she’s crying, yet she’s making almost no sound whatsoever.

Gita cranes her head a little to look down. “Let’s show him, okay? He can make it better.” Her fingers gently tug the girl’s shirt up just a few inches in the back, revealing a long, jagged cut as well as several smaller bruises scattered over pale skin.

John frowns. “How did this happen?”

“John.” Sherlock is sharp, unusually so.

John looks back at him, not comprehending, but Sherlock’s face is closed, his lower lip pressing into the upper, lines of tension framing his mouth. John doesn’t get the tension, but shrugs inwardly. All right, then; Sherlock’s not going to tell him whatever it is. Did someone attack the kid, too, before killing her parents? Has Sherlock somehow deduced that? But she said that the burn occurred three days earlier. Harris Mills was definitely shot today; the very wetness of the blood splattered all across the sitting room says that clearly enough. He spreads antibacterial cream over the long laceration and cuts out another long piece of gauze to tape over it, working as quickly as he can so as to get this part of the girl’s ordeal over with as soon as possible. She’s going to need years of therapy, he thinks, pulling the shirt back into place. Well, who doesn’t? “There we are,” he says briskly. “All set.”

Sarah doesn’t move or react. Gita pats her hair again. “I’ll take care of her for now,” she tells them. “I think she needs to be left alone now. But she can stay here. We haven’t got any children of our own. We’ll look after her.”

Sherlock nods. “Thank you,” he says. “I’m sure the police will be in touch. Arrangements will need to be made for the long term, but meanwhile, I think this would probably be for the best until her relatives can be contacted, et cetera. John.”

He nods toward the door and John gets up and follows him out. Without waiting to go over any of it with him, Sherlock strides over to where Lestrade and Donovan are talking to a couple in their forties. “Thanks very much,” Lestrade tells them, and they leave. He turns to Sherlock. “Well?”

Sherlock nods. “Yes. I do see. Quite.”

John still doesn’t get it. “What did we see, exactly?”

Donovan gives him one of those looks that says she considers him an absolute idiot. “The kid’s been abused. Habitually, I’d say.”

John boggles. “By who, exactly? How did you arrive at that?”

There’s a slight pause. Lestrade looks at Sherlock. “The two we just spoke with confirmed: the girl was home-schooled, rarely allowed out of the house unattended. And Elizabeth Mills was frequently seen wearing sunglasses, hoodies, scarves… anything to obscure the face.”

Sherlock nods. “So the only question is which parent; however, that seems relatively easy to deduce.”

Donovan is right there with him. “The mother, you think?”

Sherlock agrees. “The difference in tone of voice when mentioning either parent is suggestive of that.”

John feels like he’s missed three stairs going down a flight. “Wait, what? How are you all arriving at this? Maybe the kid was just – I don’t know, injured in literally any other way? How did you all get to child abuse?”

Lestrade glances at Sherlock, who angles his face toward the ground and won’t answer, avoiding John’s eyes. Donovan assumes control. “There are a lot of obvious symptoms,” she tells John, her tone condescending, as though it’s totally obvious. “Being afraid to eat. The other bruises on her back that had already faded – suggestive of multiple past injuries, inflicted at different times. The fact that her injuries were left in places not immediately visible to the public, like the face.” She turns back to Lestrade. “Whereas Elizabeth, on the other hand, also had multiple layers of bruising on the face, upper chest, arms, and back.”

“So she was getting it from Harris and passing it on to the kid,” Lestrade says. He looks at John, who still isn’t convinced. “Come on, mate. It’s all there. Did Bob Singh mention to you two that Harris was constantly putting Elizabeth down in public, too? One of the other sets of neighbours corroborated.”

John shrugs. “What of it? People argue. Married couples especially.” Sherlock clears his throat as quietly as possible, but John catches it. It occurs to him that Sherlock looks intensely uncomfortable. “What?” he asks, wondering privately why he feels so defensive all of a sudden.

Sherlock hesitates for a long moment, those tension lines around his mouth deepening again, then says, “Not all married couples. And there’s a difference between a joint argument and… when it’s only coming from one side.”

John is still looking at him, but Sherlock won’t meet his eyes. Donovan jumps in again. “It’s pretty obvious to the rest of us, John. All the signs say that both the wife and daughter were on the receiving end of abuse, and it looks highly likely that it was the mother who was beating the child. It’s common enough: the person who’s abused turns into an abuser, themselves. It’s a pretty standard pattern. Odd that you can’t see it, though.”

Now it definitely feels like an attack. John can feel his face heating and turning red.

“Donovan,” Lestrade says in rebuke, before he can say anything, and she subsides.

“Sorry,” she says, not sounding as though she means it at all. “But it’s pretty clear to me. We’ll see what the coroner says once the autopsies are done. The child will probably need psychological help, from the trauma alone.”

“We’ll get her some,” Lestrade promises. He turns as the coroner approaches. “What have you got for us, Carl?”

“Just a preliminary before we’ve got them back at the lab, but I thought you’d like to know,” Carl says, looking around at all of them. “Elizabeth Mills had multiple wounds to the upper chest and abdominal area, but when we pulled her out of the water the cause of death became pretty clear: she was shot in the abdomen. The gun was in the bathwater. Forensics says that it’ll be fairly impossible to get a print from it, but they’re thinking that it was the same type of bullet that killed Harris Mills.”

Sherlock looks at John now. “So either the killer shot Harris, then tracked blood upstairs to shoot Elizabeth in the bath, or else – ”

“Or else Elizabeth shot Harris, then tracked the blood upstairs herself, and shot herself in the bath,” John finishes grimly, and Sherlock doesn’t contradict him. He still feels hot under the collar about the apparent fact that the abuse didn’t jump out at him the way it seemingly should have, but at least there’s something else to focus on now. “How do we figure out which it is?” he asks.

“The autopsy will help,” Sherlock says. He looks at the coroner. “We’ll need times of death confirmed as soon as possible.”

“Working on it.” Carl turns and goes back into the Mills’ blood-spattered house.

“The second seems more likely, doesn’t it?” Lestrade speculates. “Abusive marriage, plus she can’t have been happy with herself for turning it on their kid. One day she snaps, kills him, then kills herself?”

“It’s a theory that fits the facts,” Sherlock says, rather soberly for him. “However: we’ll need to prove it. John and I will join the forensics team. Question Harris Mills’ colleagues. Let’s rule out any obvious enemies. And keep talking to the neighbours. I want to know if Sarah Mills had any friends, was ever seen by anyone else.”

“Yes, boss,” Lestrade says dryly, and Donovan smirks, but the humour dies quickly.

The group dissolves. Sherlock is avoiding meeting John’s eyes again. “Come on,” he says quietly. “Let’s see if we can get a match on the bullets.”

***

The case wraps two days later. They were right: Elizabeth Mills shot her husband in the face within minutes of the most recent black eye he gave her, then went upstairs around twenty minutes later, ran a bath, and shot herself in it. The child psychiatrist assigned to Sarah Mills has not yet been able to persuade the girl to talk about what may have occurred within those twenty minutes: all they know is that she was in her room the entire time.

The case was thoroughly depressing and Sherlock remained rather distant throughout. John has no idea if it’s that he’s somehow ashamed of him for having not spotted the abuse right away, or for some other reason. The abuse itself has been confirmed by both the hospital who examined the girl more thoroughly, as well as by the psychiatrist. Once it was all over, Sherlock went back to Baker Street and John brought himself back home. He’s holding his phone and debating – has been for over twenty minutes now – and finally makes himself dial. “Fuck it,” he mutters aloud, under his breath.

The phone rings twice and Ella’s receptionist picks up. “New Pathways, this is Shelley speaking,” she says pleasantly.

John clears his throat. “Yeah, hi Shelley, this is John Watson. I wondered if Ella might have an opening sometime soon?”

There’s a brief pause on the other end. “How soon are we talking about?” Shelley asks.

“Er – as soon as possible,” John says, wincing a little.

Shelley makes a thinking sound. “Actually, she’s had a cancellation for late this afternoon, if that’s not too soon. It’s for half-past five. Her last one of the day.”

“I’ll take it,” John says with relief. “Thanks a lot.”

“We’ll see you later then, Doctor Watson.” Shelley hangs up.

John checks the time. It’s only a little after two, just enough time to figure out something to do with Rosie. She’s at daycare at the moment, but he’ll have to get someone to pick her up and look after her for the evening, or at least until he’s back from his appointment. Molly. He hasn’t asked her for about a week. Luckily Kate Whitney was able to keep Rosie throughout this last case while he kipped upstairs in his old room at Baker Street. No point going all the way home in between. It’s what he usually does, anyway. He picks up his phone and dials Molly’s number, listed right after Kate’s. He tries the lab first and she answers on the fourth ring. He goes through the ritual of the awkward ask, the giving of the details, confirmation of the arrangements, then the relieved thanks. There: that’s one thing done. He checks the time again, then looks up the transit times for getting to Ella’s office. She’s still in the old church, a space that manages to feel dark and gloomy in spite of the stained glass window and the upper storey light coming in. Or maybe he brings the gloom with him; who can say?

***