Mycroft Holmes folded the lid of his pocket watch closed and tucked it back into his pocket. He raised his eyes to the large front window, outside of which two women were arguing. The taller one, wearing six-inch heels which she didn’t need in order to tower over the other, was losing. She’d been the first to shift from full-hand gestures to single fingers, and was about to switch from index finger with the occasional thumb to a different finger altogether. The shorter one was still using the flat of her hand and a very stern expression. Her wild mane of corkscrew curls floated around her as if an intentional contrast with the shaved head of her counterpart.
The crunch of vehicle impact had come as an afterthought to his ears, but had startled several of the other customers in the bistro. The man behind the counter had raised his head involuntarily, almost immediately shaking it with a sigh as he reached for the phone. A few of the customers had gone outside to gawk, which was what had provoked the argument.
Mycroft stirred his tea absently. Time to rethink. His contact would be caught in the snarl of backed-up London traffic. There was no way to reroute to avoid it, given where his car would have been at the time. The man would foolishly hope the road would clear if he waited patiently, and would only realize that he would have to get out and walk when it would make him a half-hour late to do so. In the meantime, the cascading effect on his own schedule would mean delaying a vote in the Lords, and an ambassador taking personal offense, which was of lesser concern. The woman was wise enough to know that personal offense should have no reflection on her country’s relationship with Great Britain.
He glanced aside at the man behind the counter, catching his eye and glancing at his teacup. The man nodded and raised a finger in acknowledgement. Mycroft turned back to the entertainment outside the window. The tall woman was no longer in view, and the shorter one was now leaning against the fender of a small Toyota on the opposite pavement, her back to the road. She might have been on the phone, but he doubted it. Buses and taxis creeped past, optimistically gaining speed they then had to dump in rocking stops with no visible cause.
A pot of hot water was set in front of him and he glanced up, tightening his lips in silent acknowledgement. He shifted the infuser to the fresh pot, and refilled his cup. Steam rose above it in a ribbon of dullness, greying and deadening the reflection of light off the pot behind it, flexing idly with the air currents. There were only two women left in the bistro, now, and they were so absorbed in their conversation that they hadn’t noticed the fly that had been cleaning its legs on the last piece of their pizza for the last three minutes.
A wash of blue light brought his eyes back to the street outside, and he watched as the vehicles grudgingly lifted up onto the curb when they could move at all, making way for a silver police vehicle to fight against the traffic, going the wrong way down the center of the road. It stopped with the front bumper just out of sight outside the window. A stern-looking man got out, glaring at the drivers who had the nerve to reproach him for the situation. He strode past them directly to the side of the woman leaning against the Toyota. He stood silently, hands in his coat pockets, frowning as she explained the situation. He looked away down the street when she pointed, and his frown deepened, but his lips didn’t part until a long moment after she’d finished. He looked down at his feet, and he nodded to himself, then told her to wait for him, looked both ways out of habit, and headed across the street to the bistro.
The bell rang as he entered, glancing around before hitching his chin in silent greeting at the man behind the counter. He went to the women’s table first. They were startled when he spoke to them, then craned their necks, staring around the restaurant and then at the scene outside, hands going to their mouths in shock. He nodded shortly, then turned to Mycroft.
Mycroft pushed a chair out silently as the man approached. “Excuse me,” the man began, glancing back toward the window. “DI Lestrade,” he said, flashing his warrant card. “There’s been an accident—did you happen to see anything?”
“Have a seat, Detective Inspector.”
“Thanks, no. I just need to know if you saw—”
Mycroft cleared his throat and looked pointedly at the chair. Lestrade took the hint and sat, rolling his eyes as he did. “The model reversed into your sergeant’s car. You’ll find a stash of pharmaceuticals if you search the pocket on the back of the passenger seat.”
Lestrade looked at him for a long moment, his lips parted. He glanced at the window and began to lean forward.
“She left her vehicle as soon as she saw your sergeant approaching. She was clearly eager to keep the scene of the encounter away from her own vehicle, in spite of the fact that it took the brunt of the damage. There are only so many places one can reach in a car of that size while driving, and of them, the back of the passenger seat is one of the least likely to draw attention, and the length of her arms and the way she has been holding her left suggest that her arm was extended during the moment of impact, and would be visibly bruised were it not for the darkness of her skin hiding it.”
The DI was simply staring at him now, his jaw hanging, looking vaguely angry at the amount of detail he’d just been given. “How—?”
“Reflections in the window of the shop opposite,” Mycroft said.
Lestrade was briefly mollified, then he looked out the window again. “But… how—?”
“She deferred to you naturally, wasn’t surprised by your arrival, and there’s no good reason for a Detective Inspector from Scotland Yard to visit the scene of a common traffic collision.”
“Your brother called you without bothering to leave his counter or check on the situation outside in person, and your sergeant made no move to contact you.”
“How do you know he’s my brother?” Lestrade finally managed without interruption.
“He didn’t dial 999 yet didn’t look up your number, and there’s a striking family resemblance. The odds of there being two such men unrelated in London are well beyond coincidence.”
Lestrade seethed in silence for a moment. “Who are you?”
“None of this is admissible in court. I’d be a terrible witness,” he said with a dry smile.
The grey-haired man nodded for a moment. “Okay…okay. I can see that.” He sat back on the chair and folded his arms, keeping his dark eyes on Mycroft.
Mycroft waited, and when the man made no further efforts to speak, he blinked, frowned slightly, and said, “Is there something else I can help you with, Inspector?”
“Oh, I’m sure.”
Mycroft waited again, and with a little sigh, said, “What is it?”
Lestrade blinked innocently as if surprised. “Me? No, I’m just waiting for you to tell me.”
“Tell you what?”
“What else you can help me with,” Lestrade said calmly.
Mycroft’s lips thinned. “I’m afraid I don’t—”
“No, no, no,” Lestrade said, freeing one hand and wagging his finger. “This is your game. You chose it. You know my sergeant and my brother? What, are you stalking me?”
Mycroft felt his own jaw lowering in surprise and shut it again, his eyebrows beyond his control. “I beg your pardon?”
“What are the odds that you’d be sitting right here, in my brother’s pub—”
“Bistro!” came a call from behind the counter.
“—when my sergeant has a traffic accident with a drug-carrying supermodel?”
Mycroft shook his head weakly. “I’ve just told you. It just happened.”
“Yeah, it did, and I wonder how long it took you to set that up.”
“Nothing was ‘set up’.”
“Is this Sarah? Did my wife set this up?”
“Your marital difficulties are nothing to do with—”
“Oh, splendid!” the man nearly shouted, launching to his feet, the chair bouncing off the backs of his knees as he did. “Chris, I swear to Christ—”
“Sit down, Gregory,” Mycroft commanded.
The man froze, half-turned away, and pivoted back slowly, his expression dark. “What?”
“Oh, blimy…” came from the man behind the counter.
“Sit.” Mycroft nodded at the chair, then locked his eyes on Lestrade’s.
Lestrade wrapped a fist around the top curve of the chair’s back, lifted it, slammed it down closer, and sat on it, keeping his angry glare on Mycroft the entire time.
“Observation is a particular skill of mine. Before today, I have never laid eyes on your sergeant or your brother. I have not been stalking you. The state of your personal life is obvious in the state of your clothes. You’re not used to ironing, and not used to wrinkled shirts. Before you ask, no, there is no reason to suppose your coworkers are aware of this—the Met is not a hotbed of observational deductions. This is not a disparagement of your department; it is the simple fact that what one does for a living is often avoided outside of paid work.”
“Okay,” Lestrade said slowly. “So by your own logic, you’d be nothing to do with Secret Service or MI6 or anything like that then, right?”
Mycroft managed to stop himself from gaping, but not smoothly enough that the urge passed unnoticed.
“Right,” Lestrade said slowly. “So now I know what you are. Name, rank, serial number?”
“I…am nothing to do with the military,” Mycroft managed.
“Then you’re being underpaid,” Lestrade snapped. “How’d you know my first name?”
“It was on your warrant card,” Mycroft said.
The man raised his eyebrows in brief surprise. “Just who are you?”
Mycroft shifted in his seat, turning his teacup so the handle ran parallel to the edge of his table. “Someone with an interest in clearing this road as swiftly as possible.”
Lestrade leaned back in his chair, his arms folded on his chest. “Okay…okay,” he said slowly, nodding. “She’ll have dumped the stash by now. That’s no help in clearing this up.”
Mycroft slipped his hand inside his jacket and pulled out his phone, tapping in a quick text. “Unless you have the CCTV footage of the street in the time since the accident, which will show any activity in her car since it has been sitting there.” He replaced his phone in his pocket and raised his eyes to the DI’s again with a brisk smile. “You could start with her car, but I’d suggest tea instead.” He caught the brother’s eye. “Another cup, please.”
Lestrade tipped his head, frowning, but making no move to get up. “Why would I have tea when I should be out there searching her car? Apparently,” he added, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“I saw the entire thing while having tea with a contact in the government,” Mycroft recited, glancing up and nodding as a cup was set firmly on the table, squarely in front of the DI. The brothers’ eyes met, and Mycroft read the unspoken exchange. The elder detective wanted to know what the bistro owner had got him into. The bistro owner, wholly innocent, did not want to get involved, did not want to be blamed, and wished his brother had an easier life so that he didn’t feel the need to spread his stress around, and this wish was immediately followed by guilt and resignation, and touching faith that his brother would always land on his feet.
This faith was in fact not simple hero worship, either, as the detective was quite determined and resilient. He had a certain amount of mental quickness, guile, and patience. It almost amounted to intelligence, Mycroft thought. Remarkable, given the man’s face. He wouldn’t have needed to work nearly as hard, if he’d wanted an easy life. So some degree of honour and integrity, as well.
Perhaps the tea hadn’t been an entire waste, after all.
“You chose your brother’s establishment so you could have a chat with him later,” Mycroft went on without pausing a beat. “Something family-like, visiting parents…” He gestured vaguely, unable to keep the distaste for the subject off his face. “While discussing the availability of certain evidence, matters unfolded as they more or less have.”
The detective helped himself to the tea, giving the spout a brief sniff before filling the cup his brother had brought. He leaned forward on the table, resting his elbows on it as he thought for a long moment, idly stirring nothing else into his cup.
“I’m not going to find out the name of my government contact, am I?” he asked after a moment, finally lifting the cup to his lips while he kept his attention out the window.
“Good,” Mycroft said, pleased by the man’s initiative.
“And I don’t have to do anything to clear the street, either, do I?” He nodded toward the window.
“I shall leave that up to you. Rather, you clearly don’t, but whether you take the credit for delegating to this contact of yours and saving the Met a bit of time is up to you.” He gave the man a sharp smile.
“How do I get in touch with this government contact of mine?”
“You don’t. He contacts—”
“No he bloody doesn’t, because that would mean I am stupid enough to let myself be used,” Lestrade said sharply. “I need your name and at least one phone number.”
Mycroft was stunned. There was simply no reason for this. The man wasn’t so insecure that he needed to get the upper hand and win. He wasn’t petty and vindictive, or he would have browbeaten both his brother and his sergeant far more. He had made it to DI while maintaining his integrity, so he wasn’t short of contacts. He hadn’t shown the slightest interest in the model, who was recognised internationally, therefore he wasn’t just looking to make a government contact for his own personal amusement and advancement.
“Why?” Mycroft finally asked.
The man didn’t notice the pause. For Mycroft, it had seemed enormous, but he was used to being at least five moves ahead in any given conversation.
“Because I am going to enter them into my phone, and I will be calling you if there is the slightest whiff that anything about this little situation is not resolved to my satisfaction. And because, frankly, you give me the willies.” He pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket.
“Mycroft Holmes,” Mycroft heard his own traitorous voice say. He watched in silence as the man typed it in without commenting on its strangeness.
“I beg your pardon?”
Lestrade rolled his eyes. “Spelling. Your last name.”
“Yes. Of course. Why?”
Lestrade shrugged. “Nothing really. Just that I’m not a big fan of coincidence, and it seems a little strange that I’d run into two odd first names, both with the last name of ‘Holmes,’ twice in one day.”
Mycroft closed his eyes. “Sherlock,” he breathed.
“Yyyyyup,” the DI said, looking up from his phone. “So what kind of string-pulling did you have in mind?”
“You’ve arrested him?”
“He’s being held for questioning,” Lestrade corrected him. “He’s been very helpful, as it happens, but I do have the option to hold him for a variety of drugs charges. I could go either way.”
Mycroft closed his eyes for a moment.
Sherlock was spiraling downwards. Barts had been helpful, but clearly wasn’t enough. If his brain could be stimulated enough, Mycroft was sure he could be distracted from drugs. The problem, then, was what kind of stimulation was enough. Chemistry wasn’t enough, despite the fact that Sherlock found its absolute precision comforting. He didn’t need comfort. He needed escape. He took drugs as an escape, as it gave his brain free rein.
But his brain needed something to work on. Simply numbing it would be an escape. What did it take to absorb Sherlock’s attention? He was still too raw to accept Mycroft’s help or suggestions. Government service could be fascinating, but he’d never accept it.
Then what about the military? Logistics, out-smarting an enemy, persuasion and manipulation, and all with the benefit of keeping his body occupied as well. Sherlock required physical action. Ironically, he was like a dog who needed to be taken on regular walks. He was far too restless for any kind of desk job, so nothing too far up the chain of command.
Which ruled out the military. Sherlock would never take orders or salute someone unless it were sarcasm. The first time a sergeant told him to be quiet, Sherlock would give the sergeant a detailed list of family failings, command failings, and personal failings. He would ruin the sergeant’s career as well as his own.
The police force was equally impossible, with another chain of command. What offered puzzles, but required no co-workers or management? Freelance. Freelance puzzle-solving. If the boy were truly gifted, of course, he would solve this puzzle himself and find his own employment rather than succumbing to drugs at every temptation.
Mycroft opened his eyes from his slow blink and looked up at the Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector. “I think, Detective Inspector, that you can do far better than a government contact today. In fact, your contact will be in your debt. My brother, troubled as he may be, is still a great man. If we work together on this, you may sacrifice one arrest today for an unlimited number of solved cases in the future. And then, of course, you would definitely need to have the private number for your government contact in your phone, although it would be best if Sherlock were kept unaware that we’ve met.”