“For the last time, mum, I wasn’t going to set up a meth lab!”
James’ voice cracked on the final word, something it hadn’t done for months; Jill and Emma were suddenly nowhere to be seen.
“Oh, really,” I responded, dripping sarcasm like eaves in a sudden thaw. “So the equipment, the chemicals, that was all for school work, was it?” James looked away.
I glared at him and narrowed my eyes. “Don’t try to bullshit me, James, I know you too well” I was just barely holding back the urge to shout.
James’ jaw worked. “You know what?” he said, his hands balling into fists, “I don’t have to listen to this – I’m going out!” He turned on his heel.
“You bloody aren’t!” I shot back without losing a beat. My authority was absolute; James jerked to a halt and half-turned back. Suddenly all the fight went out of him.
“Okay, okay,” he said wearily, “the parcel of chemicals was for an experiment; so was the equipment. Jesus mum, if I was going to make meth, don’t you think I’d know better than to do it in the home of a known drug addict?”
I moved into his space, right into his face. “Did it never occur to you that Toby and his pals might put two and two together and come up with a very much larger number?” I said. “James, people were arrested for making bombs two floors above us last year, for god’s sake! Anyone who sees a parcel of chemicals around here is not going to automatically think GCSE chemistry coursework, are they?”
“Well, obviously!” James rolled his eyes. “I tried to keep the deal secret, but I needed another postal address.” Otherwise you’d have asked exactly these questions, was the unspoken rider to that.
“And your carelessness got Toby Greaves killed!” The words were out before I could bite them back; James rocked on his heels.
I clapped a hand over my mouth. “James, I’m really sorry,” I said, my eyes stretched round as saucers.
James’ face closed up immediately into a blank mask. “Thanks for reminding me,” he replied icily. “I’m sure I would have forgotten all about Toby otherwise. I’m off; don’t expect me back until late.” He spun round and set off down the hall.
“James!” I yelled, but I had lost the moral high ground and my command fell on deaf ears. I heard him rip open the front door ready to take off into the unknown once again.
“Hey, hey! Just hang on a mo – where d’you think you’re going?”
A new voice joined the confusion. I rushed out of the kitchen to see James fighting to get out onto the deck against an assailant equally determined to keep him in. John Watson stood in the doorway, his hand firmly against my son’s forehead, holding him while he flailed and swore, trying with little success to escape. John shook his head and regarded James with serious eyes.
“The language!” he remarked to the world in general, “My mother would have washed my mouth out with soap if she’d heard half of that from me at your age, James. She’d do it to you today if she were still with us, rest her soul.”
“Piss off!” James snarled, swinging impotent fists, long legs managing to get in a couple of glancing blows to John’s ribs.
“Hey, now wait a minute!” John sounded a bit irritated. “I don’t want any more bruises than I usually get on Sherlock’s cases, thank you, so I think we might just continue this inside, if that’s alright by your mother?”
I shrugged. “Be my guest,” I replied, “but be warned – he’s sneaky.”
“So am I,” John replied with a brief grin. He took his hand away from my son’s head, dropped his shoulder and rammed it into James’ abdomen. The sudden whoosh of breath from his lungs effectively quieted James’ volley of invective and John followed through smoothly with a fireman’s lift. Silenced but otherwise still a going concern, James continued to struggle ineffectively.
John gestured with his head. “Lock the front door, would you?” he said to me, “Preferably on the deadbolt.” Only once this was done did John loosen his hold on James, allowing him to slide gently to his feet.
James straightened his rumpled teeshirt and put a hand through his hair, all the while glaring at John speechless with fury; John raised his eyebrows and said nothing.
“What are you doing here?” James demanded a few moments later.
“I am here,” John began, “because Inspector Lestrade wanted to let you know that he won’t be pressing charges on any potential drugs offences, despite his own private misgivings.”
“Thank god for small mercies,” I muttered. I was lying; this was a very big mercy to me.
“Also,” John continued, “to warn you that he will be sending an officer later on this evening to take both your statements. The Inspector was at Baker Street on business this morning: he thought you might prefer to hear the good news from one or other of us.”
I snorted with scorn before I could suppress it. “And you drew the short straw, I suppose?” I said in answer to John’s mildly querying look.
“Sherlock’s on a case,” he replied shortly.
I shrugged. “Too busy, then,” I said.
“He’s in Bogota,” John told me without missing a beat, “He flew out last night.”
Clearly neither James nor I had put a dent in the attention span of the great Sherlock Holmes. Struck by something, I frowned.
“You let him out on his own?” I demanded before I could stop myself, “somewhere outside the UK? Does he have a minder?”
John turned his head to hide a grin. “No, that’s usually my purview,” he replied, his eyes twinkling, “but the local police have been warned.”
“I’m not sure that makes it any better,” I muttered. I gestured towards the kitchen, “Tea?” I offered, belatedly remembering my manners.
“Love some,” John responded, following me.
“You work with Sherlock Holmes, don’t you?” James said suddenly, following. John gave a quiet affirmative and pulled out a kitchen chair to sit down.
John didn’t answer immediately. He leaned his chin on his fist and frowned thoughtfully for a few moments. James stood and fidgeted, regarding John in that direct, no-nonsense manner that children have when they think they are asking you a perfectly straightforward question that doesn’t need any of this deep-thinking, calculating, working-out nonsense, thank you very much, so could you just get on with it because Hollyoaks is on in five minutes.
Finally James took an impatient breath. “I said…” he began. John held up a finger and, to my surprise, James fell silent.
“I work with him because he gives me what I need,” John replied. His tone was matter of fact, but there was more to his words than a mere explanation. My hands stilled on the mugs and I listened.
“Until a couple of years ago, I was in the RAMC,” John told him, “that’s army medic to you, James. I got shot – left shoulder,” he said shortly, “and I’m officially still in recovery. Trouble is,” he continued with a sigh, “it’s unlikely I’d pass the physical to get back into active service and the longer I leave it, the higher the odds stack up against me.”
James frowned. “Isn’t your work with Sherlock Holmes just as dangerous though?” he asked.
John smiled. “Yes,” he replied, “and that, James, is exactly why I do it.”
The kettle clicked as it turned itself off with a puff of steam. James stared at John with the concentration he usually reserved for the small, helpless creatures he examined under his microscope. I could almost see the circuits connecting – bad command or file name, path not found; internal stack failure.
I smiled as my hands renewed their automatic tasks. That explained a lot.
“What happened about your gun?” James had given that one up as a bad job and moved on. John’s mouth turned up at the corners in a polite smile and he raised his eyebrows.
“What gun would that be, then?” he asked easily.
James stared again. “The one you used to put a hole through that guy’s hand,” he replied clearly and slowly as though talking to an idiot. John’s smile widened and he shook his head.
“I’ve really no idea what you’re talking about,” he replied, reaching for the steaming mug I was carefully offering to him. “Oh, thanks Lesley – just the thing.”
“Now,” John said, taking a sip of his tea and putting it down on the table to cool; he picked up a couple of biscuits from the plate I slid under his hand and crammed one into his mouth. He turned and pointed at James as he swallowed.
“You may be off the hook as far as the police are concerned,” he began indistinctly through the crumbs, “but Sherlock and I have a different agenda here. James, what were you intending to do with those chemicals?”
James sighed and rolled his eyes. “Why is everyone mad keen to make me out to be some kind of drugs baron?” he asked plaintively.
John huffed out a laugh. “Pull the other one,” he responded, “a genuine drugs baron’d eat you alive without even spitting out the bones. No,” he continued, blithely unaware of James’ affronted glare, “I think you wanted that stuff for something completely different and seeing as you are… well, who and what you are,” he amended quickly, “it gives us cause for some concern.”
“What, you and that detective of yours?” James replied sulkily. “Why doesn’t he do his own dirty work, eh? Why isn’t he here asking his own stupid questions? Too posh for the likes of us, is that it?”
That was possibly both the truest and most ironic thing my son had ever said. I held my breath.
“I often ask myself the same question,” John sat back in his chair, deliberately relaxed, and smiled amiably at James. He narrowed his eyes and pointed an index finger. “Do you remember a case reported in the press about a hiker killed in the middle of nowhere by a blunt instrument that mysteriously disappeared?”
James gave no sign of having heard but I slid into a chair opposite John and nodded.
“Yes,” I replied, “It was in the newspapers a couple of months back. Police never solved it, did they?”
John shook his head. “No, they didn’t,” he replied, “Sherlock did, from the comfort of our Baker Street flat. I was the one out on the moors in wellies with a laptop hooked up to the police mobile wifi.” He laughed. “You can’t tell me anything about Sherlock’s laziness I haven’t already worked out for myself.”
“Sounds like a good life,” James replied with adult sourness. John blinked.
“It can be,” he replied, “but I note you’ve successfully got off the point. James, you have to come clean. This situation has made you a target for rival gangs on the estate. Your mother, Jill and Emma are also vulnerable by association. Now, if we’re going to help you, we’ve got to know what you were intending to do.”
James stuck his chin out belligerently. “I don’t need your help,” he said, dark eyes narrowing from behind his too-long fringe.
John laughed lightly and leaned forward. “You might want to rethink that,” he replied. “As a direct result of your connection with Toby Greaves and the gang he ran with, you are now a target for every undesirable on this estate and possibly for miles around: you, your family and everyone else close to you. While the ungodly believe you have something they want, you and yours are sitting ducks. Now, James, before I lose my temper, what are you up to?”
To give him credit, James didn’t flinch at the anger in John’s voice. Instead, he shook his head irritably. “It’s complicated,” he protested, “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me,” John responded flatly. James looked up at him.
“I’ll talk to Holmes,” he said.
A brief cacophony of panic rang in my ears. “He’s abroad,” I cut in too quickly, “He won’t be back for ages.”
“Actually,” John corrected with raised eyebrows, “he’s flying out of El Dorado tonight. He gets in to Heathrow at some god-awful time in the morning. He’ll most probably get a taxi back to the flat, charge it to Mycroft and wake me up to make him tea even through I’ve got an early shift at the surgery tomorrow.”
James ignored John and turned to scowl at me. “You just don’t want him here,” he said mutinously. “You don’t like him.” I opened my mouth but nothing came out.
John shot a brief frown at me and turned to James. “I’ll bring Sherlock to see you, I promise,” he said, “or you can come to Baker Street – if that’s okay with your mum?”
John raised a questioning glance to me.
I nodded; “Just so long as I’m with you.”
A faint frown flickered across my son’s face but he nodded readily enough, “When?” he asked.
John considered. “Later on in the week?” he suggested, “Once I’ve recovered from Sherlock’s jetlag. I’ll give your mother a call.”
We exchanged nods and John rose from his chair.
“Thanks for the tea, Lesley,” he said, rolling the tension out of his neck and shoulders with a grunt. “I’ll be in touch. In the meantime, take care on the Estate. The police might have caught Toby’s killers but the real crooks are still out there. They won’t give up easily if they think there’s something to be gained from you.”
He nodded at me. “Keep your door locked,” he told me as he left. I smiled without humour; like I ever left so much a window ajar on this estate.
John was woken out of a fitful sleep by several loud bangs. He rubbed feebly at salt-encrusted eyes and blinked at the clock.
“Three-thirty!” he muttered as the thuds gave way to a series of scraping noises. He groaned and rolled over on his back, throwing an arm across his eyes. He knew he would have to get up and sort out whatever madness Sherlock was perpetrating on their flat; Mrs Hudson had been unwell with a cold of late and he didn’t want her dragged out of bed at this hour.
John shrugged on a dressing gown, thrust his feet into his slippers and trudged down to the living room.
“Ah, John,” Sherlock said without looking up at his entrance, “Just the man – hold this for me while I saw, will you?”
Sherlock produced a length of plywood with a pencil mark approximately halfway along its length, put it into John’s paralysed hands and brought up a wicked-looking handsaw.
“No, no – wait!” John dropped the wood onto the floor as though it had scalded him and held up his palms defensively. “Sherlock, that thing’s lethal! You need a clamp at the very least.”
“Your hands will work very well,” Sherlock argued bringing up the saw once again and gesturing to John to pick up the wood.
“Yes, they will,” John replied tartly making no move to obey, “until you sever a tendon, or even an artery; then they won’t work at all and neither will I. Sherlock, have some sense for once. Here, I’ll see what I can find.”
John tightened his dressing gown around him, shivering slightly from the cold, and trudged back up the stairs to his bedroom. At the back of his wardrobe was a toolbox left by his father too many years ago which John had picked up in a moment of sentimentality when he and Harry were clearing their mother’s house. It was dusty and well-worn but the contents might possibly yield something to save Sherlock’s violin-playing hands from injury, not to mention his own.
He was rooting gingerly through a lifetime’s worth of rusty washers, screws and rivets when the doorbell rang. John’s head jerked upright.
“Who on earth…?” he muttered, rising to his feet and automatically dusting his hands on his thighs. He heard Sherlock descending the stairs to the front door; that in itself was suspicious seeing as he always left it to John or Mrs Hudson to answer.
“Who would arrange to call on Sherlock at this time of night?” John muttered, frowning as he took the stairs two at a time and burst into the living room, senses alert and at the ready.
In the living room was an adolescent boy dressed in jeans and a hoodie and clutching a bulging school bag talking composedly to Sherlock who looked almost as though he was paying attention.
“Oi!” John exploded, “James! What the hell are you doing here at this time in the morning? Does your mother know you’re out?” He reached for his phone which was charging on the table.
“No, don’t!” James said holding up a hand, “She’s asleep; we can sort it out in the morning, can’t we? Please don’t wake her now; she’s not been sleeping well lately and it would be a shame to interrupt her first unbroken night in a fortnight. And she doesn’t really need to be here, does she?”
John stared at James with narrowed eyes. “What did you give her?” he asked quietly.
James at least had the grace to blush. “Just one of the pills the doctor prescribed – I counted them when she got them just in case she got confused or forgot,” he replied with wide eyes. “She hates taking meds so I knew she wasn’t using them. I just – ground one up in her Chilli con Carne this evening; thought the heat would mask the flavour.”
“Neat,” John nodded. “Have you any idea how dangerous it is to meddle with prescription drugs, James? Especially other people’s prescription drugs?”
“John, don’t be tedious,” Sherlock spoke for the first time. He was glancing rapidly over the pages of an exercise book which seemed to be covered with chemical formulae.
“Sherlock, this isn’t a minor matter,” John protested but Sherlock waved him away. He stabbed at the page with an index finger.
“James,” he demanded, “you’ve mis-copied a decimal point here – it’s put the product out by a factor of ten!”
“No, I haven’t,” James protested, standing on tiptoe to look over the book. He reached up to point at the line above. “There!” he said, “I adjusted the coefficient to take into account…”
“Yes, yes,” Sherlock said distractedly, “but that doesn’t make up for the…”
“Yes, it does!” argued James. “Look – give it here.”
James snatched the exercise book and, without a by your leave, took it into the kitchen and sat down at the table closely followed by Sherlock. He rummaged in his bag, pulled out a reporter’s notebook and a pencil and began to scribble rapidly. Sherlock stood squinting at the emerging calculations with narrowed eyes.
Right then, thought John yawning and rubbing a hand over the back of his neck: tea.
A nap in the bath until the water went cold, a shave and a cup of tea later, John wandered into the living room to find his phone. James and Sherlock were still at the kitchen table, too deeply immersed in James’ exercise book and the rapidly growing collection of chemical formulae to acknowledge his presence. John nodded and went to the window, leaning over to watch the traffic as he speed-dialled Lesley’s mobile. She answered on the fifth ring.
“What, yeah?” came her voice groggy with sleep and John spared a brief moment of thanks that she had clearly not woken in the night to find her errant son missing.
“Lesley, it’s John,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at the two in the kitchen. “I don’t want you to worry, but James is not at home – he’s here at Baker Street.”
The response was predictable; John held the phone away from his ear and winced at the volume. Ten minutes later, John had convinced her not to call the police by the simple expedient of undertaking to return James home on the way to the surgery that morning.
“I think he’s got something here, John,” Sherlock told him, surfacing briefly to grin at his flatmate. He was poring over several sheets of foolscap covered with calculations scribbled in his spidery handwriting. James was muttering under his breath and poking diffidently at a calculator.
“What’s all this about then?” John angled his head to one side but could make no sense of Sherlock’s scrawls.
Sherlock straightened up and pushed his hair back from his face. “A few months ago,” he began, “James decided to see if he could synthesise MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy. He realised very quickly that to purchase even the minimum of supplies and equipment necessary to achieve this would involve more money than could be easily obtained by an ordinary thirteen year-old boy. That was when he began his business of forging undergraduate essays for students at unwary universities.”
“What?” John choked, swallowed and stared.
Sherlock gave John a very old-fashioned look. “Oh, for goodness sake, it’s not new; Mycroft was plying that particular trade when he was ten. It’s not rocket science, John; except, of course, when it is.” Sherlock lips twitched at his own joke.
John wasn’t laughing. “But – why?” He shook his head in bewilderment.
“Why?” Sherlock cocked his head. “You mean why go into forgery or why synthesise MDMA?”
“Well, both, actually,” John replied, “but mainly the Ecstasy.”
Sherlock stared. “The money, John,” he replied enunciating carefully as though to a child. “Anyway,” he continued, “James very quickly realised the possibilities – MDMA has some very interesting effects on the human psyche, namely reduction in the fear response – the so-called Fight or Flight reflex. It has been theorized that it might prove useful in the treatment of PTSD, but James was understandably much more interested in the fact that the drug appears to tap into the deepest survival instincts in the mammalian brain – hunger, thirst, self-preservation, the sex drive and so on. It could have very far-reaching implications from a medical standpoint. Of course,” he continued, “James wasn’t the first person to have reached this conclusion, but in view of the illegality of the substance, research has largely gone underground.”
Sherlock brandished his notes. “I think we could solve this little puzzle in a matter of months,” he crowed, “between the two of us.”
John stared. “Sherlock, James is thirteen and still at school,” John protested, “at least, he should be.”
Sherlock brushed that away like an irritating insect. “He’s wasting his time at that sink comprehensive,” he complained.
“Mycroft wants to send him to Harrow,” John added.
Sherlock nodded. “I know,” he replied, “best place for him probably.”
“I don’t want to go to Harrow.” James spoke without looking up, still scribbling feverishly in his exercise book.
Sherlock scowled mightily. “Why not?” he demanded, “I went there.”
James made a couple of corrections then stared levelly at Sherlock just a fraction too long before rolling his eyes. “It’s a boarding school,” he replied as though that explained everything and returned to his work.
Sherlock had the nerve to look affronted and opened his mouth to pursue the issue. Before he could speak, however, the door burst open and Lesley hurtled through followed by a frantic Mrs Hudson.
“James, you can’t keep doing this,” Lesley said without preamble, biting her lip.
The teenager visibly clenched his teeth and opened his mouth but whatever he was about to say seemed to stick in his throat as he stared at his mother and visibly took in the fatigue, the worry and the downright fear naked on her face. He sighed and seemed to sag over Sherlock’s desk.
“Okay, mum,” he said, after a long pause and reluctantly began gathering up his papers.
John stepped forward, a frown gathering between his brows. “Wait a minute, Lesley,” he said, “there was really no need… I was going to bring him back on my way.”
Lesley stiffened her shoulders. “Well, now you can pay for the taxi back, can’t you?” she replied, lips thinning. She nodded at her son.
“Look sharp, James,” she said quietly, “they’re expecting you at school today. Apparently, you’ve got to sit a maths GCSE exam.”
“Oh, for god’s sake,” James muttered under his breath but finished shoving his stuff haphazardly into his bag and stood up.
Sherlock put out a restraining hand: “Just a moment.” His deep baritone was quiet, almost apologetic. He closed his eyes briefly, took a breath, straightened his spine and turned back.
“Lesley,” he said meeting her eyes with difficulty. She raised her head, surprise rapidly morphing into suspicion.
“What do you want?” she responded, chin jutting forward. Sherlock spread his hands and took an involuntary step backwards.
“Nothing you won’t be happy to give me,” he replied. John sighed inwardly as Lesley narrowed her eyes; trust Sherlock to find exactly the wrong syntax at a critical time. Sherlock shook his head.
“I think,” he began awkwardly, “that if you allow James to visit Baker Street on a regular basis for the next couple of months, between us we might manage to create something worthwhile. Call it a science project, if you like.”
Lesley was unlikely to recognise this offer as the olive branch it truly was. John held his breath; James stopped rustling papers and looked up in surprise.
For a few beats, Lesley was silent, and then she drew an audible breath. “Why?” she demanded, “Why now, and why at all?”
Sherlock shrugged. “He is – not as tedious as most children,” he replied diffidently, “and his understanding is not far below my own at his age.”
James made a rude noise into his papers. “What?” he said as the attention of the room swung round to him, “He’s just kidding himself, frankly. He’s really good at chem, I’ll give him that, but put him in front of a computer and he’s just an amateur.”
John hastily turned a snigger into a cough and practically choked. A gleam from Sherlock’s eye promised John some retribution for that at a later date but for now the Great Detective had other concerns.
“What?” Sherlock sniffed, “my grasp of IT is second to none!”
James grinned. “It’s certainly second to mine,” he replied gleefully.
Sherlock turned to Lesley. “On second thoughts,” he said gravely, “I withdraw my request; I suspect we would come to blows in a very short time. Best to leave things as they are.”
“Now, wait a minute!” John intercepted. He looked at Lesley. “You want these two to have some kind of contact?”
Lesley opened her mouth to respond but was beaten to it.
“Of course she doesn’t,” James cut in, “She’s been trying to hide me from my father all my life, quite successfully as it’s turned out.”
The silence was deafening. Lesley turned to James, her jaw flapping uselessly.
James gave her a wry smile. “I’m sorry, mum,” he said, “I know you told me not to deduce you, but I really didn’t have to, I promise.”
“What do you mean?” Sherlock demanded. James looked up at him, his head cocked on one side with a startlingly familiar expression on his face. It said for the sake of those present who are slower than me, and that’s all of you, I will spell this out. He shrugged.
“I took a look in the mirror,” James said to his father, “Then I hacked Cambridge University admissions records and discovered – surprise, surprise – that you were a transfer student; you arrived at Trinity in your second year. From thereon in, it was simple mathematics; nothing to it.”
“When – did you do this, James?” Lesley asked in a small voice.
“About eighteen months ago,” James replied airily.
Eighteen months ago – eighteen months! My god, he was only eleven! What kind of person coolly researches their parenthood at that age? John’s inner monologue yammered helplessly.
“Do you want to see your – your father, James?” Lesley asked quietly; she seemed to have regained her composure.
James nodded. “Yes,” he said, “I do. Despite the fact that he’s slower than me, his knowledge is much broader and he has the insight of someone older. We could work well together.”
Sherlock snorted in annoyance but said nothing further. John glanced at his watch and his eyebrows shot up as he realised how late it was.
“Okay, James, Lesley, we’d better get cracking,” he said, hand going automatically to his collar to note the lack of a tie. “I’ll just get myself together and call a taxi.”
John went out of the room at a run, but not before intercepting the beginnings of a genuine smile on Sherlock’s face as he looked at his son.
"Rik" is in fact Rik Ferguson of Trend Micro who is, arguably, the hottest property in the field of cyber-security today. Mycroft would certainly be aware of him. A big "thank you" to everyone who has kept reading despite my unreliable and sporadic updating. Life is a bit hectic at the moment and I'm really struggling, but I'll get there.
I would have liked to be able to bury the hatchet with Sherlock Holmes somewhere other than in the back of his neck.
I sighed; fourteen years – fourteen! – and now this had to happen. And James? He wasn’t fazed, not a bit; not even surprised. No angst, no recrimination; instead a constant level of interest that made me grind my teeth. They were together several times a week, Holmes and my son, correcting each other’s chemistry, setting up experiments, bickering over results. They manufactured such a range of poisonous and incendiary compounds that I banned James on pain of grounding in perpetuity from consuming, in any manner, shape or form, substances not prepared personally by Mrs Hudson. Both Mycroft Holmes and John Watson made themselves useful here, the latter promising to keep a weather eye on both children, the former providing transport and absolute discretion. I felt a mixture of resentment and relief towards the secrecy surrounding James’ visits: resentment because I felt very strongly that both Holmes brothers should be proud of James, should be fully prepared to acknowledge him publicly; relief because I wasn’t entirely sure in my own mind whether I wanted them to.
In between trying to create the Philosopher’s Stone with my son, Sherlock Holmes seemed to be busier than ever with high-profile cases coming out of the woodwork right, left and centre, according to John’s blog. Resources were stretched thin as they found themselves covering separate cases in different parts of the country, conferring by Skype or, if the signal was poor, by email overnight. Good for the bank balance, certainly, but John admitted to thinking wistfully of quieter days before his blog had propelled Sherlock so abruptly into the public eye.
As for me, well Mycroft Holmes had kept his promise; I had a steady income from journalistic-type writing for a number of periodicals, a couple of which expressed an interest in retaining me for somewhat more ambitious projects in the future.
“What about your book?” John asked me once over tea on one of his regular reciprocal visits when James was ensconced at Baker Street. I shrugged.
“I’ve lost faith in it,” I replied, only half-mockingly, “I’m letting it ferment for a while before I try again.”
“I’d like to read it,” John said. I went to make a flippant comment but my words died in my throat when I saw that his face was quite serious. Hesitantly I nodded.
“Okay,” I said. I reached for my laptop, called up Windows Live Mail and dug out the file as an attachment.
“There,” I said hitting Enter, “It’s winging its way to your email account even as we speak!”
John smiled at me and his eyes crinkled at the corners. “Bedtime reading,” he replied mildly.
Mycroft Holmes kept his promise in another direction too. Admitting to having a father had apparently doomed James to having an uncle too and Mycroft Holmes took early opportunity to canvas my son’s opinion on the subject of schools. Needless to say, James was ambivalent about the whole subject; he considered school an irrelevance, did not see what all the fuss was about seeing as he could educate himself perfectly well on his own whether he attended Harrow or Southgate Comprehensive. His major objection to Harrow was the control the school would exercise over his liberty.
“Think of the advantages, James,” Mycroft Holmes had intoned mistily over tea at Browns. “You would be a member of an exclusive club once you achieved adulthood. You would have connections ordinary people only dream about and those links would continue through to Oxford and beyond.”
Oxford? I bit my tongue and waited for James’ reply.
My son rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and sighed. He lifted a hand preparatory to counting off his fingers.
“First,” James said to Mycroft Holmes, “I was brought up on one of the worst Council Estates in East London and although I’m a decent enough actor, I couldn’t hide it 24 hours a day – the Hooray Henries would have a field day with me and my life would be hell for a long time.”
Mycroft Holmes pursed his lips but made no comment.
“Secondly,” James continued, “I’m interested in science, chemistry in particular, but what I really want to study is maths and IT.” He paused and his face lit up.
“I’ve been looking into cyber-crime recently,” James said, “and I’ve made a number of interesting friends through Twitter including a guy called Rik who’s really impressive.”
“I know him reasonably well,” Mycroft Holmes put in, a small smile curving the edges of his mouth. “I retained him on a matter of, shall we say, some international sensitivity. He’s quite good at what he does.”
I swallowed the last of my tea and watch James narrow his eyes at his uncle.
“If I’m stuck in a boarding school,” James continued deliberately, “none of this will be possible. My “education”, as you call it, will be limited to what those few people on that one site will let me do. Mr Holmes, you can’t possibly expect me to believe that I’ll have the kind of access to resources there that I have here living with mum, not to mention the fun I have working with dad.”
I enjoyed the peculiar expression that chased itself fleetingly across Mycroft Holmes’ normally impassive face. My oblivious son was applying himself diligently to his portion of chocolate fudge cake with every sign of complete enjoyment. The tiny sigh his uncle allowed himself was music to my ears.
“Do you actually call Sherlock Holmes “dad”?” I asked James later at home. He gave the question some thought.
“I have done,” he replied, rooting through the kitchen cupboards for crisps. “I’m not sure he heard me, to be honest. Mind you, I’ve also called him Sherlock, Sherly and “you sarcastic bastard” on more than one occasion and he’s reacted in precisely the same way to all of them.”
He tore into a family pack of salt and vinegar. “I must admit,” he said, words muffled by chewing, “I can’t altogether make it out.”
“Just let them alone,” John told me when I asked his opinion. He stirred his tea placidly.
“James ate all the biscuits,” I said apologetically.
John smiled. “I told you, not a problem,” he replied, taking a deep sip, “and neither is James. Stop seeing disasters around every corner – be thankful things seem to be settling down.”
I smiled wryly. “For us, you mean,” I said. “From what I can see, your caseload is anything other than quiet.”
John sighed. “You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d probably be with Sally Donovan – convinced that Sherlock has some kind of inside information,” he replied ruefully, “And there’s a peculiar thing going on between Sherlock and some journalist at the moment – Kitty something. She’s a freelancer and I know trouble when I see it. Honestly, Lesley, if I didn’t know he’s really not interested in women I’d wonder if there wasn’t something…” John stumbled, blinked then recovered.
“Anyway,” he said, replacing his cup on the table, “she’s certainly worried him over something and if it’s not herself, then it must be something, well, else.”
I nodded seriously, sipped my tea and slipped back into my life without further thought; without a single inkling that everything was just about to go to hell, with or without a handbasket.
Jill was late home again. I couldn’t help the clenching in my gut that only relaxed when I heard her characteristic slam of the front door; it’s not only the victim who suffers long-term from a mugging. Oddly, I was much less worried about James. I suppose I had become accustomed to the fact that the youngest member of my household was also the most street-smart.
As Jill came into the kitchen already talking at high volume, I flipped the switch on the kettle, prepared to tune her out if necessary.
“…threw himself off the top of the building, apparently,” she said, wide-eyed. “The press are saying it’s suicide because the police found out he wasn’t what he made himself out to be. They say he set up all those cases – the kidnappings, the robberies – just to make himself look clever. And get this; Moriarty never existed. He was an actor hired to play a part…”
White noise slammed into my head. “James!” I yelled throwing myself down the hall and into his bedroom.
Sherlock Holmes’ son was sitting quietly staring at the computer screen watching video footage of... “I know, mum,” he said without looking up, “I’ve seen the news; I know what they’re saying about him.”
I followed his line of sight; the coverage he was watching was live, at least that’s what it looked like, outside St. Bart’s Hospital. James seemed to come back to himself. He blinked and clicked the mouse, minimising the screen. It was only then I noticed that it wasn’t any kind of network coverage.
“Did I just see footage from a security camera there?” I asked. Damn you, Mycroft Holmes.
James nodded slowly. “I saw it as it happened, mum,” he told me, “all of it.”
Oh, God. I tried to gather my son into my arms but he was stiff and unresponsive.
“I’m so sorry, James,” I whispered. I felt him shrug.
“I hardly knew him,” he replied, “and it wasn’t particularly horrible – I couldn’t see much even though I had three cameras trained on the scene.”
I shook my head, trying to clear it. “How did you know?” I asked him. He ignored me.
“Don’t expect me to cry over this, will you?” James said looking up at me.
His tone was so cold I withdrew in horror. He stared back at me.
“I’ll tell you one thing, though,” he continued in the same flat tone. “He wasn’t a fraud.”
A wave of visible relief coursed through me, quickly arrested by an impatient shake of James’ head.
“I’m not being sentimental, mum,” he said, “It’s not that I can’t believe he’d deceive us; quite the opposite, actually. It’s simply that I saw him in action and I know he didn’t need to fake anything. He had the third best brain in the country, if not the world.”
The best and second-best being himself and Mycroft Holmes respectively, I imagined with a small, grim smile despite the circumstances.
James clicked his mouse and the hacked security programme closed itself. I swallowed and tried to wrap my brain around what I had just witnessed.
“James,” I said suddenly, “how did you – I mean, those cameras, your uncle controls them so that’s why…” I stopped and took a breath.
“Did you know he was going to do this?” I whispered.
James gave me a long look and shook his head. “I was tracking him,” he replied evenly. “I hadn’t seen him for a week. I – wondered, that’s all.” He looked up at me. “Watson was there, in the road.”
Oh, God, John! I closed my eyes in horror.
“Lesley!” Jill put her head round the door, her expression serious; Emma peered in from behind her mother, all round eyes.
“Are you okay?” Jill asked anxiously. I allowed myself one slow blink before answering.
“Yeah, I guess,” I replied. My voice sounded strange to me.
The press went postal. The television coverage alone was out of all proportion to the apparent suicide of a known eccentric, no matter how notorious. Journalists from all the major international news agencies flocked to London, photographers thronged around St Barts and Baker Street, slavering for a glimpse of John or Mrs Hudson – anyone or anything connected with Sherlock Holmes. They were all the more ravenous for the dearth of information outside official police statements; Mycroft Holmes exercising his authority, no doubt.
D I Lestrade was immediately suspended, as was his entire team, pending enquiries. Reading between the lines, it appeared that a completely new department was being set up to re-open every single police investigation that bore the fingerprints of the charlatan Sherlock Holmes; to take them apart piece by piece and examine them under powerful microscopes until they gave up their secrets.
The landline at Baker Street had been taken over by an automated system – more of Mycroft Holmes’ efficiency, I had no doubt – and John’s mobile number rang and rang without answer. His online blog filled with comments until finally the moderator disabled it but John still did not update. I was so worried I even made the journey to Baker Street and stood outside with the other gawpers for half an hour, hoping he would see me through the window. I trudged home in the rain none the wiser.
A dull Friday evening on the telly but I wasn’t in the mood to watch anything anyway. The news kept on and on with speculation about Holmes and Moriarty with no more to go on than they’d had two weeks before. My mind wandered, for once with no one to distract me. Jill and Emma were at her mother’s for the weekend and James was – god knows where. I had grown used to the gnawing insecurity surrounding James’ refusal to accept my authority.
If the volume of the television had been at normal level, I would never have heard it. To this day, I wonder if I was meant to, but it remains that at the first tiny scratch at my front door, I leaped to my feet, heart pounding.
I looked about the room quickly and settled on Emma’s tennis racket as a potential weapon; James never forgot his key but there was always a first time. I gripped the plastic covered fibreglass hard and went out into the hall. There was a figure slumped against the glass of the front door.
“Who is it?” I called. The figure stiffened and straightened then leaned down to open the letter box.
“Lesley…” The voice was muffled but I recognised it. Quickly, I dropped the tennis racket and fumbled for my keys, releasing the deadbolt to open the door wide. John Watson stood on the threshold blinking in the light; he looked terrible.
“Lesley,” he said again. His face was grey and his eyes looked as though he hadn’t slept for a week. He spread his hands in a helpless shrug.
“I didn’t know where else to go,” he muttered. “Baker Street’s… well, just impossible.”
I felt a brief pang over my complicity in that situation.
“They’ve even found my sister, Harry,” John continued in anguish. “I was staying with her but it’s not fair…”
I reached out and pulled him into the hall, closing and locking the door behind me.
“You’re shivering,” I remarked, feeling the tremors run down his arms, “and you’re wet through.” I gestured with my head.
“Get in the kitchen and sit down,” I told him. “I’ll get some heat on and a blanket, then I’ll make tea.”
Tea, I thought as I rushed around the flat overriding the central heating clock and rummaging in the airing cupboard, the universal panacea. There’s nothing going to cure what’s ailing John now.
He was sitting on one of the kitchen chairs, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, hands clasped. His face still held that terrible blank tiredness.
“Here,” I pushed a steaming mug under his nose and he took a gulp automatically, flinching at its heat. It seemed to revive him a little; he sat up and glanced at the kitchen clock, wincing as he read the time.
“It’s very late,” he said. “I’ll go in a bit, when I’ve got myself together. Look, I’m really…”
I held up my hand. “Don’t say it!” I told him. He looked at me blankly.
“John, you don’t have to apologise,” I explained. “You’re exhausted, damp and shivering under that blanket. Just stay where you are and get your breath back.”
John plucked at the blanket around his shoulders as though seeing it for the first time.
“I’m not in shock,” he said with a wry smile. He looked away suddenly.
“No,” I replied although I wasn’t entirely sure he was right on that count, doctor or no, “but you’re not entirely yourself either.”
John gave a brief huff of laughter. “I can’t remember a time when I was,” he admitted. “God, I’m so tired…”
“Right,” I said, getting to my feet. I tugged at his arm, pulling him out of the kitchen chair before he could close his eyes. He swayed as he brought his feet under him and I tightened my grip on him.
“The sofa’s yours,” I told him, leading him into the sitting room. The television still flickered, its commentary an inaudible monotone. “I’d give you James’ room, but I don’t know if he’s coming back tonight or not and I don’t like to invade Jill and Emma’s room without their permission.”
“Look,” John was shaking his head. “You don’t have to do this.”
“No, I know I don't,” I replied briskly, “I’m just after some good karma - God knows, I need it.”
I left him standing in the middle of the room while I went to the airing cupboard, this time for fresh bed linen. I stopped off in my own room, rummaging under my bed for the spare duvet n the semi-darkness when a shadow fell over me from the hallway and I looked up to see John on the threshold.
“It’s okay, I don’t need any help,” I told him, standing up with my arms full of bedding. “I’ll just find another pillow from somewhere…”
My words trailed away as John left the doorway and entered my room. His face was in shadow and he moved slowly and tiredly.
“Lesley,” he whispered and reached out for me. I shivered under his hands, clutching at the slipping piles of fabric. He trailed slack fingers over the sides of my neck, pushing one hand around the back of my head.
The first kiss was so light and clumsy I wasn’t sure he’d meant to do it at all. The second one was better, warm and with the scrape of his unshaven upper lip. I realised I was holding my breath; I was still holding the bedding. I let both go.
John’s jacket was heavy with rain; I hung it on the door hook and turned back to help his fumbling hands with buttons and zips. The rainwater had sunk down to his undershirt – god knows how long he had been out in it. I peeled it off him and replaced it with one of Jill’s old ones; she wasn’t large but she was bigger than me and it would at least help to keep him warm. I noticed a mass of scar tissue on one shoulder, well-healed but ugly. His boxers I left on; damp or no, I had nothing with which to replace them.
I pushed John until the edge of my mattress caught him at the knees and he sat down. His arms came up around my hips and he buried his face in my midriff.
“Oh, god,” he said. His voice sounded tense. He looked up, eyes almost black in the dimness of the room, and slowly began to unbutton my shirt, giving me plenty of time to stop him. I didn’t.
At first, I wondered if all he wanted was to be held and comforted. God knows, he can’t have had anyone to do that for him – I knew he didn’t have a regular girlfriend. As I slid under the quilt and reached for him, the coldness of his flesh made me shake. He burrowed his head into my shoulder and made small, stifled sounds more of pain than need. As his skin began to soak up my body heat, his trembling stilled and he gathered me closer, lips travelling blindly over my face and neck until he found my mouth.
He kept me up all night; all night. To this day, I’m really not sure how to describe those hours. He was like another person – or maybe I was. All I know is that it was 5.30am before exhaustion finally claimed him and he collapsed suddenly all at once, still curled around me, the bedclothes tangled about our legs.
I pushed my hair out of my eyes and took stock. I was sore – god, yes, it had been a long time, years – and my skin stung from John’s untended stubble. I shifted around until I had enough leverage to manoeuvre John carefully onto the other side of the bed. He snuffled gently in his sleep and turned on to his stomach, his breathing deep and regular. I sat up, swung my legs over the edge of the bed and stretched my aching shoulders before reaching for my dressing gown.
Some little time later found me in my nightwear and slippers foraging in the kitchen for teabags. As I half expected, a wait of around five minutes produced James also in his pyjamas but looking suspiciously bright-eyed.
“Can’t sleep?” I asked, gesturing towards the teapot with raised eyebrows. He nodded yes and I reached for a mug from the draining board, drying it with a teatowel.
“Not really,” he replied to my question with an accompanying yawn, “it’s just been a bit noisy tonight.”
I kept my eyes firmly on the stream of tea as I poured, mercifully without spilling although I could feel my ears turning red.
“What time did you get in?” I asked casually. James shrugged.
“Midnight-ish,” he replied. “Round about the time Doctor John Watson got in, I imagine.”
I threw the teatowel at him and he ducked with a grin. I shook my head and brought the mugs over to the kitchen table.
“You’re not supposed to say things like that to your mother,” I grumbled feeling my face flush. “Any normal teenage boy would rather slit his wrists than speculate about his family in that way.”
James raised a cynical eyebrow. “Yes, well, I’m not a normal teenage boy, am I?” he replied equably, sipping his tea and blowing on the steam, “And we’re definitely not a normal family.”
“I suppose not,” I replied thoughtfully.
James looked at me and jerked his head towards my bedroom. “So what’s the story?” he asked.
“Sorry?” I pretended not to understand.
“John Watson,” James persisted. “What’s he doing curled up under your duvet?”
"Sleeping, I imagine." I smiled sweetly. “James,” I said, “I love you more than anything else in the world but stay out of my bedroom – in all senses of the phrase.”
James cocked his head and the corners of his mouth turned up. “You don’t know do you?” he told me, his smile spreading into a full-blown grin. “That’s why you can’t sleep. You have no more idea than he does why he’s here.”
“And you do?” I was stung.
James pursed his lips and nodded faintly. “Probably,” he replied, drained off his tea and rose from the table. “I’m going to get some kip.”
He sauntered down the hallway back to his room leaving me to clear up more than just the tea things. Again.
John Watson stirred, sighed then groped his way to the surface through oblivion so complete that he could barely remember his own name. His spine unfolded itself with a series of clicks that told him he had likely not moved for some hours. He grunted softly and stretched, smiling with closed eyes at the liquid heaviness of his body, the smoothness of the bedlinen against his skin.
The ceiling was unfamiliar. John frowned as comprehension fell on him like a cold shower. He mashed his face into his pillow with a groan, knowing with the insight of a medical professional that it would be impossible to smother himself that way but still prepared to give it a jolly good try.
“If you sit up, you can drink this tea,” a calm female voice told him. “If you drink the tea, you’re likely to feel a tiny bit better. If you feel a tiny bit better, you might be able to manage some of the toast.”
John rolled over onto his back and blinked, focussing with difficulty.
“Lesley,” he said gruffly. She nodded.
“Still here,” she told him. She held out a steaming cup. “Small steps,” she said, “little increments. They add up eventually. I know about this, John.”
Her hands were steady and her face, although not smiling, was sympathetic. All in all, John had had worse mornings after; he reached for the tea.
Lesley sat on the bed and sipped from her own mug. John felt unaccountably shy at his state of undress which was of course ridiculous, the logical part of his mind commented dryly, considering how little surface area had escaped scrutiny throughout the previous night’s activities. And oh, please! Far too late to be acting the ravished virgin, John, since you were sweet sixteen at a family wedding and enticed into a broom cupboard by your second-cousin Becky, so kindly desist. John sighed inwardly; things had come to a pretty pass when even his conscience was channelling Sherlock. He sipped his tea feeling the tips of his ears burn. He could meet Lesley’s eyes; he knew he could, just – not yet.
Lesley made an impatient noise. “Oh, for goodness sake!” she said, uncrossing her legs and resting her mug on her knees. “Look, John, what happened, happened,” she told him. “There’s nothing to be gained from a post-mortem. It’s done, dusted; history. Everybody does things they’re not proud of when life becomes unbearable. Last night you were at the end of your rope. You came to me for help and I – gave it to you.”
At last she smiled. John propped himself up on one elbow and eyed her warily.
“Was that what it was then?” he asked, eyebrows raised, “Comfort in a time of trouble?”
Lesley shrugged. “In essence, yes, I guess so,” she replied. She leaned her head to one side and narrowed her eyes a little. “Why? Did you think it was something else?”
John shook his head. “I wouldn’t have a clue,” he admitted, “I don’t know which way is up at the moment.”
“Which would be why I’m having to explain a roll in the hay in words of one syllable to someone over the age of thirty, I suppose,” Lesley continued, her smile broadening.
John’s mouth felt stiff but he forced it to smile back anyway. Lesley reached out and took his hand.
“You’re going to have to be a bit less hard on yourself,” she told him. “You’ve got a long way to go with this grieving thing. I remember when mum died, it was – pretty rough.”
John took a breath as though about to speak then let it out with a sigh. Lesley raised her eyebrows.
“Go on,” she said encouragingly. John drew his legs up and rested his chin on his knees. The empty mug dangled from his fingers; Lesley took it away and offered a plate of toast.
“Have you ever seen that film The Wizard of Oz?” John asked apparently out of the blue. Lesley blinked. “You know – Judy Garland was Dorothy.”
“Well, yes,” she replied, “I think all kids of our generation must have seen it at some time or other. Why do you ask?”
“Do you remember the scene when she wakes up in Oz but she’s still in the house?” John persisted. “The whole film was in black and white up till then, but when Dorothy sees daylight coming in under the front door it’s not white, it’s gold. And when she opens the door you’re suddenly completely bowled over with colour overload, you remember? They called it Technicolor.”
Lesley nodded. “Yes,” she replied slowly.
“Well,” John said, “that’s what it was like for me meeting Sherlock.” He tightened his arms round his knees.
“I hadn’t realised how difficult it would be coming back to England,” he continued in a low voice. “Getting shot trying to save someone’s life during a firefight is an occupational hazard for an army doctor, but what they didn’t tell us was that the real challenge would be never having to run the risk again. You get used to the adrenaline rush and when it’s not there anymore, well…” He trailed off.
“And Sherlock brought back the colour in the world?” Lesley’s tone was clipped and ironic. John gave her a sharp look and she sighed.
“Sorry,” Lesley muttered. “Go on.”
John shrugged. “Nothing much more to tell,” he said. “When he jumped off that roof, most of me jumped with him.” For a moment he allowed the pain to show through. “Who wants to live in Kansas when they’ve been to Oz?”
“Dorothy did,” Lesley told him. “John, most of us spend all our lives in Kansas. It’s routine and unexciting, but there are compensations - really.”
John gave a watery smile. “I hope you’re right,” he replied, “because it’s all that’s left for me now.”
“Will you go to the funeral?” Lesley asked. John gave her a level stare which she returned in kind.
“I think you should,” she persisted. “You need some kind of closure, John.”
John shook his head heavily. “When all the media hype’s died down,” he said quietly, “when things start getting back to normal, I’ll go and visit him I promise.”
“I’ll come with you if it will help,” Lesley offered. John shook his head more firmly this time.
“No – thanks,” he replied. He reached out to stroke her hand gently in apology. “I might ask Mrs Hudson if she wants to pay her respects.”
Lesley nodded. Her fingers curled briefly around his. “That’s a good idea,” she said. She stood and picked up the two empty tea mugs.
“Eat your toast,” she commanded before sweeping out of the room. John grinned briefly feeling fully thirteen years old.
When the sleek, polished car drew up parallel to the kerb at John’s feet, he was sorely tempted to feign deafness and keep walking. On second thoughts, he doubted his or anyone’s ability to evade Mycroft Holmes’ pursuit and resigned himself to the inevitable.
“Ever considered email? Or even texting?”
Mycroft smiled genially, ignoring John’s sarcasm as he clambered awkwardly into the back.
“John, good to see you,” Mycroft greeted him smoothly. “I see you are using your cane once again.”
John treated the observation with the contempt it deserved and stared straight ahead.
“What do you want?” he demanded when the silence became too much for him to bear.
“I thought you’d never ask,” was the urbane reply. Smug git; John gritted his teeth.
“You never do anything without a reason, Mycroft,” John said tiredly, “so if you don’t mind can we please cut the pleasantries? The sooner you get to the point, the sooner I can go home.”
“Yes, home,” Mycroft replied, brushing an imaginary speck of lint from his bespoke tailored lapel. He consulted a small notebook. “I see you’ve moved away from Baker Street. You have a small flat in the London Borough of Hackney now, am I correct?”
“Since when are you ever anything else?” John muttered. Mycroft gave an easy laugh and slipped his notebook into an inside pocket where it made barely a wrinkle in his beautifully cut jacket.
“May I ask why?”
At the question, John turned to look at his companion. “You may ask,” he said. “I can scarcely stop you, but for all the good it’ll do, I won’t answer. I’m fairly certain that my life is no longer any business of yours, Mycroft. Your connection with me came to an end the day you gave your brother’s enemy the means to destroy him.”
John gripped the edge of the seat until his knuckles whitened. Mycroft did not even twitch; he merely gave a long-suffering sigh and shot his cuffs thoughtfully.
“Your current place of abode is within easy walking distance of the surgery at which you are currently employed as a locum, is that correct?” Mycroft continued. John gave a curt nod.
“And the partnership has offered you a permanent position, a proposal which you are giving serious consideration even though you doubt that a life of treating coughs and colds will satisfy you.”
John did not bother to reply. He wondered why he allowed Mycroft Holmes to get to him; the man was clearly unstoppable, it would be so much easier just to go with the flow.
“Your flat is also within walking distance of the Aschurch Estate,” Mycroft continued. “My information is that you make that journey regularly during the week and most often at weekends.”
John bit back a retort then shook his head and said it anyway. “Would you mind telling me where this is all leading?” he replied. “I’m actually on my way there now, if you didn’t already know that.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry if I were you,” Mycroft returned genially. “My driver will ensure that you are not late. Well, if we conclude our business in reasonably short order, that is.”
“What business might that be?” John replied, his anger simmering beneath the surface. “I am going to pay a visit, Mycroft. Just a friendly, sociable visit to a household of friendly, sociable people whose company I enjoy. I’m also keeping a weather eye on a young man who doesn’t have a father-figure in his life.”
“James has never had a father-figure and has never seemed to need one,” Mycroft returned crisply.
John shrugged. “Just because Sherlock preferred to ignore his existence doesn’t mean that everyone else has to,” he replied trying not to go on the defensive. “And James does apparently have an uncle, Mycroft; an uncle whose sole contribution to his general well-being is a periodic attempt to blackmail him into sectioning himself.”
“I have no idea what you think you mean, John,” Mycroft returned. John made a rude noise.
“Come off it!” he chortled. “Do you really imagine I haven’t worked it out? James is so like Sherlock he might just as well be him. You and your fellow movers and shakers are absolutely desperate to make sure that he stays not only on the side of the angels but also under wraps and under your control. The last thing you want is another Moriarty running around London creating havoc, particularly one so young and inspired. If James ever decided on a life of crime, you’d be defenceless against him without Sherlock. If he agrees to attend Harrow he’s yours, body and soul – and he knows it!”
John had the satisfaction of seeing a ripple of unease chase its way oh-so-quickly across Mycroft’s features before the bland, impersonal mask fell back down.
“I’ll leave you to your fantasies, John,” Mycroft said in measured tones. “As a matter of fact, it has been noted that your visits to the Ashchurch Estate have very little to do with James and rather more to do with his mother.”
John felt himself flush and clenched his jaw resentfully.
“Do you have anything to add?” Mycroft persisted.
John blinked. “Oh, I’m sorry, was that a question?” he replied. His voice sounded strange, even to him. Mycroft sighed.
“John,” he said wearily, “Can’t we just let bygones be bygones? I want to help you but I have to ensure that Sherlock’s son remains safe.”
John frowned. “But Moriarty’s dead,” he protested.
Mycroft made a dismissive gesture. “Did you think he worked alone?” he replied. “James Moriarty had a spider web of associates, most of whom were ignorant of each other’s’ existence. If you think they just melted away when their chief died then you’re far more naïve than I think you are.”
Mycroft sighed. “If James would only consent to attend Harrow, I could keep him safe,” he continued. “As it is, his naturally suspicious nature and his preternatural cleverness will take him some of the way, but he is in constant danger of discovery.”
Mycroft turned to John. “And your courtship of his mother is raising the profile of this little family,” he said urgently, “A profile that I and my colleagues have been working hard to keep low.”
“Courtship?” John said blinking in bewilderment.
Mycroft made an exasperated sound. “Call it what you will,” he replied, “You are seeing her regularly, therefore you are making her a target. If she is a target then her family comes under scrutiny. Once that happens, it’s only time before one of Moriarty’s people makes the connection. I’m sorry, John, I really am, but you have to keep your distance. You can’t keep seeing Lesley Mary Morstan.”
“He means well.” James strolled into the living room stuffing his mouth with half a packet of Jaffa cakes.
Lesley immediately snatched her hands out of John’s grasp.
“James!” she admonished him, “What have I told you about eavesdropping on other people’s conversations?”
James shrugged indifferently. “I was just saying,” he continued, flinging himself on the sofa and digging around for the remote, “Mycroft Holmes is a bit of an old woman, but he means well. He wants to wrap me in cotton wool and hide me in a box – that’s what it would be like at Harrow with him continually on my case.” He made a disgusted noise, aimed the remote at the television and started channel-hopping.
Lesley grabbed for the remote but not quickly enough.
“It would be better than here, surely,” John interjected. “I mean, you’d certainly be safer.”
James gave a half-laugh. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this,” he said. “You worked with my father for more than two years. Surely you’ve learned better than that!”
“You super-intelligent smart-arses don’t have a monopoly on strategy, you know,” John returned, annoyed. “You could learn plenty from me - and also from your uncle.”
“I’m sure I could,” James replied equably, “but he’s not exactly giving me the chance, is he? And now he’s trying to split you two up over it – honestly, you’d think he’d have more sense. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was playing a double game. I doubt it though – he doesn’t have all the facts.”
“Oh, and you do?” John’s anger was less as a result of James’ arrogance and more over the uncertain expression on Lesley’s face.
James shook his head and waved a dismissive hand. “See each other if you want to,” he said airily, “If I’d had any objection, I’d have made it the first time you turned up on our doorstep, John. But for god’s sake don’t imagine it’s going to make any difference to Sebastian Moran or any of Moriarty’s other little pals. They’ll still find me whether John leads them here or not.”
Who the hell is Sebastian Moran? wondered John as he shrugged into his jacket to brave the walk back to Hackney. He pecked Lesley on the cheek then responded in confusion when she kissed his mouth with sudden hunger.
“I thought you didn’t want…” he began, but she was already shaking her head. She gripped his arms; her mouth set in an unhappy line.
“Just – take care, John,” she said staring up at him, her eyes dark with worry.
“Oh, Rachel, hi!” My hands tightened reflexively on the handset. “How are you?”
“Andy and Ed?”
“Oh, the usual. Andy complains about his hours, Ed’s never in the house. Dunno what he gets up to between school and dinner. Lucky I haven’t had the police knocking on my door, I suppose. Yourself and James?”
“I’m well, thanks.” I bit my tongue. “Rachel, you wouldn’t happen to know where James is, would you?”
“I haven’t seen him today, love, no. Come to think of it, not for a few days. Gone missing, has he? Don’t worry; he’ll turn up like a bad penny. They always do.”
She gave a long-suffering laugh with which I joined in around the lump in my throat. After a couple more mindless comments, I hung up and dialled the next number on my list.
Thirty minutes, five negatives and two answerphone messages later, I was no further forward. I started to chew the side of my thumb. I dialled again.
“This is John Watson’s voicemail. Please leave your message after the long tone and I’ll try to get back to you but if it’s after midnight, don’t hold your breath.”
I breathed out a sigh through my nose. My finger hovered over the “9” key but instead I brought up Recent Calls and tried James’ mobile once again. It rang and rang until James’ light tenor instructed me to leave a message or piss off, it was all the same to him. I bit my lip; that was my thirty-fourth attempt today. I snapped the phone shut with an impatient click and pocketed it.
After another hour, I had bitten my right thumbnail down to the quick. I had made four cups of coffee and failed to drink any of them; the hall carpet bore a track down the middle from my pacing feet.
The first click of the front door lock had me sprinting into the hall.
“James!” I all but shrieked. I grabbed him by the sleeves and pushed him against the wall.
“Do you know how worried I’ve been?” I shouted into his face. “Where in god’s name do you think you’ve been these past two days? James, you’re thirteen – thirteen! You can’t just waltz in and out of here like you’re an adult. The school’s reported me to Social Services – they’ve been on the phone demanding to know where you are and why you’re not where you should be. One more episode like this and they’ll get their lawyers on to it. They’ll take you away, James. They’ll put you into care and I don’t – think I can take that…”
Abruptly, all the fight went out of me and the tears I had been holding back suddenly started leaking freely down my face. I released James’ arms and backed away, struggling to breathe.
“Mum?” His voice was anxious; I felt a light hand on my arm. “Mum, it’s okay. Come here.”
I felt myself pulled into a rough embrace, a strange experience as James was at least a foot shorter than me. I hunched down and wound my arms round his back while he patted me.
“It’s okay, mum,” he murmured. “I’m back now. I’m sorry, I really am. I didn’t mean to worry you so much.”
I shook my head against his shoulder. “Where have you been?” I demanded huskily, rifling through my pockets for a tissue. There was a long silence. I detached myself gently and looked my son in the face.
James’ eyes stared impassively from a face pale and shadowed from lack of sleep. Around his lips and chin were a few small hairs glinting in the artificial light and I found myself making a mental note to buy him some kind of shaver over the next couple of days.
James pursed his lips in a characteristic expression.
“You’re about to lie to me, aren’t you?” I murmured. His eyes widened slightly then he raised his eyebrows in a dismissive gesture.
“Probably no point,” he replied then bit his lip.
“Look, mum”, James began again awkwardly, “Suppose I was to tell you that it was – safer that you didn’t know where I’d been. How would you take that?”
I shook my head as if to clear it. “What are you talking about?” I asked him.
James put his hands on my upper arms. “I can’t tell you where I’ve been,” he repeated, “and I can’t guarantee I won’t disappear again.”
I nodded. “Right,” I said in an unnaturally calm voice, “So I can’t know where you are or when I’m going to see you, that it?”
“Pretty much,” James responded.
I shook my head. “Social Services, James,” I reminded him.
He gave the ghost of a smile and patted my arm. “I’m sure you’ll think of something,” he replied.
I frowned and opened and closed my mouth a couple of times. “Have I strayed into a parallel universe or something?” I demanded suddenly. “You can’t treat me like this – I’m your mother. I’m responsible for you, it’s the law!”
James nodded without changing his expression. “Yes,” he replied, “and you’re the only one I can trust. Please, mum, you’ve got to do this one thing for me or things will never be right for us. I’m so close now, so nearly there. I just need a few more days.”
I shook my head again frowning. “I don’t understand,” I said plaintively.
“You don’t have to,” James responded.
I shook my head irritably. “Don’t patronise me,” I muttered. I leaned my back against the wall and slid down it until I was sitting on the floor. James sat down beside me without comment and waited.
“I feel completely helpless,” I told him after a while. “It’s as though I don’t know who you are any more.”
James took my hand and stroked it absently without replying. His eyes moved rapidly around the room without settling on anything; I knew most of him was inside his own head, rapidly processing something.
“Is it drugs?” I asked quietly.
He blinked. “What? No!” he replied. His eyes sharpened and he made a dismissive gesture.
“That was just a lark,” he said “A bit of a ruse to get his attention. It’s got potential though, so I might pick it up again. After this is over, I mean.”
“After what is over?”
He shook his head, squeezed my fingers and released them. “I can’t tell you,” he said reluctantly, “Believe me, I would if I could.”
I blinked away the persistent tears prickling at the backs of my eyelids and the tension of the last few hours abruptly drained out of me leaving my body loose and boneless; I could barely hold myself upright.
“Have you been drugging me again,” I murmured. James smiled and shook his head. He unfolded himself and stood up, offering me his hand.
“It’s just reaction,” he replied, “Time for all good mummies to be tucked up in bed – without their doctors for once.”
He hauled me to my feet; I batted feebly at him. “I told you to stay out of my bedroom,” I said thickly.
“And so I do,” he replied, pushing me through the door. I sat down on the bed while he removed my shoes and nudged me under the duvet. He flicked the light switch and was just closing the door when I heard a murmur of voices. I frowned as I buried my head in the pillow; Jill had an early shift tomorrow and I hadn’t wanted to disturb her.
The following day I awoke with a blistering headache. I swallowed some migraine medication and some paracetamol tablets washed down with a glass of flat cola I found by the sink; I was extremely thirsty. Thirty minutes later, I felt alive enough to take on a minor council official and within the hour, I had obtained a reprieve for James which would keep him on the loose without interference for another week max. I spoke to the school and explained that James’ uncle was unexpectedly in the country and had taken him on a short holiday. As luck would have it, the secretary was a temp covering sick leave for the usual dragon so convincing her of my goodwill was not an issue. I gnawed my lip as I snapped my mobile shut; I hoped to god I was doing the right thing.
The rest of the day went by in a haze of worry. I had two articles approaching their deadlines, but I could not settle to write them. Instead I surfed the net idly, reading the news and trying to take my mind off the hook. There had been several arrests in Central London during a small-scale demonstration over the rise in student fees; the Prime Minister announced further cuts in public services to pay for the more expensive than expected fuel grant given to the elderly over the past winter; a businessman had been found drowned in the Serpentine – foul play was not suspected; an arms cache belonging to suspected terrorists had been uncovered in, of all places, Left Luggage at Paddington Station.
I made Emma her tea because Jill was working a late shift. Emma was late and tired but quietly pleased with herself; the tutor Mycroft Holmes had found for her was making a real difference. I dished out four meals and covered two with cling film to keep warm in the oven, even though it was more than likely that one would remain uneaten.
Some hours later, Jill had returned and was about to tuck into her meal when a sudden knock on the front door made me jump and my heart race. Emma ran to answer it and brought John Watson through into the kitchen.
I busied myself filling the kettle and hunting out a spare mug. I cleared the stray dishes and wondered if he had eaten, whether he was here for any particular purpose or just dropping by, whether he had seen my son. Jill forked up her lasagne at lightning speed and talked even faster; John nodded politely around his cup of tea and accepted James’ unwanted supper with only token resistance. His hand brushed mine lightly as I passed him the plate but I was too preoccupied to pay it much attention.
For once, Jill seemed to catch a clue and disappeared into the living room soon after she finished her supper. Emma went off to Skype her friends in the bedroom leaving John finishing his tea while I bustled around clearing up and trying not to meet his eye.
“You phoned me,” John said conversationally. I flicked a glance in his direction then looked back into the sink.
“Did I?” I replied, attacking the lasagne tin with a brush. I heard him get up from the table.
“You did,” he replied from behind me. “You didn’t leave a message, but your number was definitely on my list.”
“Must have done it by accident,” I said quietly. He laid his hands on my upper arms and I slowed my movements.
“Where’s James?” John said; his lips brushed my ear. His closeness was not the reason I tensed suddenly and he was shrewd enough to realise that.
“Out,” I replied shortly. I cast around for a distraction. “Using Sherlock Holmes’ methods, are you?”
I could feel the rumble of his laughter against my back. “If only,” he said far too easily. “I’d have to recruit your son for that, I think.”
I gave a genuine chuckle. “James learned more from Sherlock in a couple of weeks than he has in his entire school career,” I replied, reaching for a tea towel. John took it from my hands and started to dry the dishes.
“Is James named for your father?” he asked conversationally.
“What?” I replied, collecting John’s empty tea mug from the table and not really paying attention.
“Or did you just like the name? It’s a fairly usual one,” John continued. “I suppose you could scarcely call him Sherlock.”
I gave a tight smile. “Not living round here, no,” I replied, “although I suppose I could have named him for his father – if I’d wanted anything further to do with the bastard.”
John gave me an old fashioned look and I was civilised enough to acknowledge it by looking away. He frowned.
“What do you mean?” he asked me. I raised my eyes then widened them.
“You mean – you don’t know?” I grinned. “John, Sherlock wasn’t his given name – or rather it was, but not his first name. His first name was William; that’s the name he went by in Oxford.”
John stared at me; I shrugged.
“That’s why I lost track of him so completely,” I explained. “I didn’t know this – and the university were completely unhelpful – but he changed his name to Sherlock when he went to Cambridge. There were several Holmeses on the Cambridge University roster and Oxford wouldn’t even tell me which College he had transferred to. I don’t think they were terribly pleased to lose him. I guess that brother of his managed to pull some strings, although how William managed to convince him to do it without letting him know what had happened remains a mystery.”
“Perhaps he did know about you,” John suggested. “I mean, it seems unlikely that Mycroft of all people should take a flyer, even for his brother, without knowing all the facts.”
I shrugged and put the last plate back in the cupboard. “He might have,” I conceded, “but it’s strange, then, that he didn’t know about James’ existence until the last year or so.”
John grinned. “Even the Mycroft Holmeses of this world have to start somewhere,” he replied. “Although it’s also strange to think of Mycroft growing up; he always makes you think he just sprung from nowhere, fully-formed, bespoke suit and umbrella attached.”
I laughed at the sudden image. “He’s just a clueless as his brother though, isn’t he?” I said.
“Clueless?” John replied, eyebrows raised. I smiled.
“Yeah,” I continued. “I mean, he’s not married either, is he? Has there ever been a woman on the scene? Or even a man? I’d be willing to bet not, apart from that personal assistant of his, and she’s there for entirely functional reasons, that’s obvious.”
John nodded and spread his hands. “You could be right,” he replied. “I confess I’ve absolutely no idea about Mycroft’s sex life and I really, really want to keep it that way.”
I giggled. “I’m all for that,” I replied and shivered mock-dramatically, “Too creepy.” John slid a casual arm around my waist.
“It’s not too late for a quick beer down the Fox,” he said. I pursed my lips then reluctantly shook my head.
“Got to be at home for James,” I said without thinking.
“Yes,” John frowned slightly, “Out at a friend’s place, is he?”
“Something like that,” I replied, turning away. “Why did you ask me about his name?”
It wasn’t an adroit change of subject, but my verbal skills seemed to have deserted me.
“Oh, no reason,” John replied, “I just wondered if it was for family or something. Just – finding out more about you, I suppose.”
“Well, actually, you’re right,” I told him, leading the way into the living room where Jill was absorbed in her favourite BBC drama.
“Oh?” John planted himself on the sofa and turned towards me.
“Yes,” I responded, sitting next to him and relaxing into the crook of his arm “But not for my father – for my brother.”
“So James has an uncle – other than Mycroft, I mean?”
“Not any more, I’m afraid.”
John looked up at my regretful tone.
“He died?” he asked. I nodded and swallowed; the memory still had the power to upset me.
“My brother was two years older than me. He was backpacking in his gap year,” I said, “in Switzerland, of all places. Safest country in the world and Jimmy gets mown down by a lorry in broad daylight.” I sighed.
“He was nineteen and scarily bright; he had a scholarship to study PPE – Philosophy, Politics and Economics – at Oxford, deferred for a year,” I continued. “I guess the combination of Jimmy’s and Sherlock’s genes produced something quite amazing in my son, eh?”
“Looks like they did,” John agreed.
“Jimmy always said he was going to America,” I said wistfully. “Mother had a fit. It was really ironic: she said she wasn’t letting him go to a country where the crime rate was so bad he’d get killed within the first week. She said if he wanted any help with the finance, he’d have to stick to Europe. Jimmy tried to argue with her but he was wasting his time. He kept saying America was no less safe than Britain and it was the obvious and natural place for him to go – we have some family connections there, I think, although they’re not exactly recent.” I gave a soft chuckle. “Actually, the last time we had any contact must have been before the Potato Famine! I think Jimmy may have been reaching a bit if he thought he could get any mileage out of them.”
John raised his eyebrows, interested. “So you’re not British?” he said. “I thought that as far as English names go, Morstan was pretty ordinary.”
I shook my head smiling. “Yeah, I know. The family is British, but during the Troubles – oh, is it that late already?”
We both turned to look up as Jill turned off the television and got up from her chair.
“Oh, sorry,” she said apologetically, “I didn’t think you were watching it. Here – have the controller.” She chucked the remote into my lap. “I think I’ll turn in now. Emma’s had quite long enough in cyberspace – she needs her sleep.”
“Night,” I said, smiling at her as she left. John waved a friendly hand and snaked an arm around my waist, his chest warm against my back.
“Well,” he said, his breath tickling my ear, “are you going to turn in too?” He nuzzled the back of my neck.
“Turn into what?” I replied, tilting my smile up to his. He shrugged and gave me a quick, close-mouthed kiss.
“A sweet, biddable, submissive little creature, obedient to my every whim… Oof!” He held up his hands defensively as I grabbed a cushion and hit him hard in the midriff. I threw it aside and stood up, angling my head towards the hallway.
“Come on then, if you’re staying,” I said, “but this is reality, John – you’ve already taken the red pill.”
John rose from the sofa and reached out to pat my backside gently. “I’ll live with it,” he replied following me.
John Watson was a pragmatist by habit rather than inclination. As a young man, he was one of the world’s last romantics and didn’t care who knew it. He made friends effortlessly, fell in and out of love with the greatest of ease and always remained friendly with his exes. He believed the best of everyone because he cared about them as people, not just as bodies to use his well-honed skills repairing but as fellow-sufferers under the daily grind. When he reached the age of forty, still unattached with few prospects, no family and with a war-wound to boot, part of him necessarily become harder. “Stronger” he liked to think when rationalising his suspicions of plausible people and situations; “not cynical enough” had been his usual reaction to Sherlock’s manipulations.
You see, but you do not observe; channelling Sherlock again. John sighed and tried to marshal his thoughts back to a prescription for Amoxicillin and some cough linctus, but his mind still buzzed with the uncomfortable feeling that he had missed something crucial.
The patient, a young mother with two under-fives, dragged her grizzling offspring out of John’s office with distracted thanks and John pressed the buzzer for the next one. It was only after he had sat gazing into space for five minutes that he realised he was at the end of his shift. He reached for his mobile and speed-dialled, sighing in annoyance to find himself put straight through to voicemail.
“Just trying to touch base – again,” he told the recording device. “I know I’ve been busy these past couple of weeks, but it works both ways, you know. I’m wondering whether James is attending school again or whether you need any help on that. Look, just – get in touch, please.”
John’s flat felt clean, tidy and empty. It was comfortable and the décor was new and bright making it an attractive place, despite the depressing concrete exterior of the building. As he made his solitary dinner and sat down wearily to watch the moving wallpaper, he reflected that this was not how he had imagined himself spending the remainder of his days.
John pushed through the doors of the Fox and Grapes, threaded his way over to the bar and ordered a pint before he heard someone hailing him. Mark Davis gestured to a free seat at his table and John grinned, recognising Beatrice Mahdavi, the community nurse, and Lizzie the practice manager.
“How did you get a late pass?” he asked the latter, noting two empty glasses in front of her. Lizzie giggled, clearly well on her way to being very merry indeed.
“Gerry’s out with his mates, isn’t he?” she replied, shouting over the ambient noise. “I said you needn’t think I’m staying at home twiddling my thumbs while you’re out on the town, my man. Quite right too, he said, so after I shut up shop, I came down here.”
“And I’ve been able to keep her here ever since,” Mark finished genially. John nodded to Bea who mock toasted him over the rim of her glass. A large, comfortable black woman with braided hair and furiously artistic finger and toenails, Bea could sink pints with the best of them, as John had discovered to his cost.
“I’m surprised to see you here,” Mark said close to John’s ear, his eyes twinkling. “I thought you’d be seeing Lesley; Friday night and all that.”
John gave a rueful sigh. “That makes two of us, mate,” he replied, sinking half of his pint in one swallow. Mark frowned.
“You’re not seeing each other anymore?” he asked then held his hands up. “None of my business – sorry, man.”
John shook his head quickly. “No, that’s not a problem, Mark,” he protested. “I’ve got no secrets. It’s just, well, I can’t seem to get in touch with her, that’s all. It’s been a fortnight and all I’ve got is her voicemail. I guess I’m being given the old heave-ho.” He sighed. “Never mind – I’ve been there before.”
“That’s funny,” Mark stroked his chin thoughtfully. “She missed her regular asthma review. And James was supposed to come for a tetanus jab with Bea – he never showed.”
John frowned. “That’s odd,” he said, pausing with his glass halfway to his mouth. He put it down and leaned forward into Mark’s space.
“Would you say Lesley’s generally quite organised about that kind of thing, Mark?” he asked.
Mark nodded. “Yes,” he replied, “particularly where James is concerned. And that tetanus jab was important after the state he was in the other day. Unfortunately, Bea was on her rounds and didn’t have any vaccine in her bag.”
John blinked slowly and turned in his chair. “Say that again,” he told the other man. Mark’s eyes widened.
“You – didn’t know about that?” he said. “How come you didn’t know about that, John?”
John shook his head and grasped Mark’s arm to focus his attention. “Tell me,” he demanded. “Start at the beginning. When did this happen?”
Mark had been on duty when he took a call from Bea at around 6pm. She had just treated a young lad in his early teens, she said, for injuries consistent with a beating or a fall from somewhere higher than his own height. He had abrasions on his face and hands, bruising around the ribcage and upper body and some abdominal bruising also. She tried to persuade his mother to take him to Casualty; both mother and son refused point blank.
When John asked her, Bea confirmed Mark’s account.
“I was late finishing,” she explained. “I usually get away from Ashchurch by about five which gives me time to get home and get dinner before my youngest starts chewing the furniture. If I’d been on time, I would never have seen them. They were coming up the stairs; he was leaning on her with his arm around her neck and his face was grey.”
“Did his mother explain what had happened?” John asked urgently. Bea shook her head.
“That’s why I called Mark,” she replied. “I wasn’t satisfied with what the child told me and the mother was obviously very wound up about something. I wondered at first if she was responsible for the state he was in. I still don’t know what to think.”
John stood up abruptly with a scrape of his chair. “Excuse me,” he said hurriedly, shoving his arms into his jacket. Mark rose from the table too.
“Where you going?” he demanded, “To Lesley’s? I’m coming with you.”
John shook his head. “No, Mark,” he replied, “this is my business.”
“Mine too – I’m godfather to James, in case you hadn’t realised,” the other man replied.
John stared for a couple of beats. “I didn’t know…” he began, then nodded. “I suppose that gives you precedence,” he allowed.
The two men weaved their way through the crowded bar area and out into the night.
John waved his arm ineffectually at the passing traffic, swearing bluntly every now and again when an occupied taxi drove too close to the kerb and made him jump back.
“Leave it,” Mark told him. “No one stops here – they think they’re going to be robbed. It’s not far and we’ll be quicker on foot, believe me.”
John didn’t answer, saving his breath to increase his speed. Mark padded along silently behind him, making a very good speed for a man at least twenty years John’s senior.
“How did you and… Lesley meet?” John managed between breaths. Mark coughed out a laugh.
“Ante-natal care,” he wheezed.
John nodded. “You were her GP?” he asked.
Mark shook his head then, realising that John could not see him, lengthened his stride to draw level.
“Her mother’s,” he replied. “I delivered Lesley.”
John was silent for a moment, catching his breath. “So you’ve known her…?” he managed.
“All her life, yes,” Mark replied.
“Does her family still live locally?” John asked.
Mark seemed to pause before replying. “They never did live around here, John,” he replied.
“So – how did you know them?” John asked.
Mark grinned and took a deep breath against the fast pace. “I haven’t always worked in the East End, you know,” he said. “In fact, for a long time I had a practice in Bayswater.”
John’s eyebrows rose to the roots of his hair. “Bayswater?” he said, “God, how in hell did you end up… Sorry, none of my business; forget I said that.”
Mark gave a short bark of laughter which turned into a cough. “Ask away, I don’t mind,” he replied, “I’ll tell you anyway. I had a lucrative if boring career, a big house, a lovely wife and a grown family. I was looking forward to a quiet early retirement on a substantial pension when a gas explosion destroyed my house and killed my wife outright.”
Despite the urgency of the situation, John stopped dead and stared. “God, Mark, I’m so sorry!” he whispered.
Mark shrugged. “So am I,” he replied, “I still wake at night and think she’s beside me, even after all this time. Anyway, when I had got myself back together again, after about a year, I found I didn’t want to go into retirement without Julia. Instead, I looked around for locum work, just as you did, and found the practice here. I took an immediate liking to the area and the people – my age is an advantage, you know – and the rest is history.”
“You stayed,” John said.
Mark nodded. “Just as you are thinking of doing,” he replied. “When she realised she was pregnant, Lesley came to this neck of the woods because I was here.” He smiled. “And because the rent’s cheap,” he added.
John resumed his fast pace, wrinkling his forehead in concentration. “So – Lesley’s mother was one of your patients, yes?” Mark nodded. “And you became involved with her family socially?”
“Yes,” Mark shrugged. “Lesley’s mother and my wife became very friendly – our children were of similar ages.”
“Do they still live in London?” John asked.
“No,” Mark replied. “They moved to Ireland after Lesley went to Oxford. They kept in touch for a while after James was born but Lesley’s mum died not long after and her dad went into a home. He’s still there but he doesn’t know or recognise anyone, hasn’t for years.”
John shook his head. “Poor Lesley,” he said softly.
“Yes,” Mark responded, “and here’s where I give you the ‘hurt her and I hurt you’ speech, so can we please just take it as read?”
John laughed breathlessly. He nodded at the road ahead.
“It’s just around that corner, isn’t it?” he said.
The three tower blocks loomed above the skyline, glimmering with hundreds of lighted windows. The gloom of the walkways yawned ahead of them. With a burst of energy, they took the concrete at a run and plunged between the towers to the estate behind.
At the bottom of the stairwell leading up to Lesley’s floor, John and Mark finally stopped to lean on the hand rail and get their breath back.
“I haven’t done that since my army days in Afghanistan,” John gasped.
“You’re lucky,” Mark responded, coughing dryly, “I’ve been a couch potato since my time at university.”
John pushed himself upright and jerked his head towards the stairs.
“Come on,” he said and put his foot on the lowest one.
The landing was very quiet, the flats along it dark and deserted. John raised his hand to knock on Lesley’s front door when he frowned and pushed at it with a finger. The door opened silently inward to a dark hallway.
“Lesley?” John called, stepping cautiously over the threshold. Mark crowded behind him, craning his neck over John’s shoulder.
John’s eyes flickered quickly over the room, noting nothing out of the ordinary. He took another step and started to move carefully into the flat, calling Lesley and James’ names as he did so. He and Mark checked the bedrooms and the tiny shared bathroom then ventured into the living room. John snapped the switch flooding the room with light and drew a sharp breath between his teeth.
“It’s been trashed!” Mark hissed gesturing around. He left John’s side to look in the kitchen.
“Mark!” warned John too late, but Mark’s shouted response told John that there was no danger there anyway so he turned his attention to the living room.
How would Sherlock look at this? His subconscious began.
The room was certainly untidy but there was very little to indicate a burglary, John noted. No draws had been opened, no cupboards ransacked and there was very little property strewn around the place. The sofa had been overturned and so had the coffee table and there were scuff marks on the carpet and rugs.
“This isn’t burglary or vandalism,” John told Mark, “it’s abduction. Look at the floor; signs of a struggle and a quick exit but no indication that any property has been taken. Whoever they are, they wanted people not money.”
“But who’s responsible?” Mark asked, eyes wide, “and who did they take? Lesley, James? Emma and her mother? Or all of them? And why, John?” His expression hardened. “What do you know about this?”
John stood very still in the middle of Lesley’s living room and let his mind work. A number of little things had lodged in his brain during the last few days; he closed his eyes and concentrated on letting them coalesce together without forcing the issue. Don’t be an idiot, John, his inner Sherlock told him, this is something that has to happen in order. You can have a leap of intuition, but you’ve got to back it up with hard fact or it’s just fiction.
“Mark,” John began slowly, “how much do you know about Lesley’s family history?”
“I know about her brother, the one who died, if that’s what you mean,” Mark began. John shook his head.
“No, further back,” he said. “You said they were living in Bayswater when you met them. But they hadn’t always lived in London, had they?”
Mark shook his head. “No,” he replied, “although her mother's family went back generations.”
“So when did they her father come here?”
Mark considered. “Lesley’s grandparents on her father’s side came over in the Seventies,” he said. “That was when they changed their name.”
A roar of white noise filled John’s ears briefly.
“Think very carefully, Mark,” he said. “Do you know where they came from?”
Mark stared. “Sure,” he replied, “they came from the south of Ireland. Why?”
John ignored him. “And do you know what they changed their name from to become Morstan?” he continued urgently.
Mark stared for a moment then opened his mouth but no sound came out.
“The family name was Moriarty,” a different voice declared. Footsteps sounded in the hallway and then turned into the living room.
“They were a very wealthy, landowning family from County Kerry,” it continued, “The financial and social consequences of The Troubles proving too much for James Moriarty the Elder, he decided to wipe the slate clean and move his family over to the mainland. They settled in London, but the Seventies was not a good time to be Irish or have an Irish name, so when his eldest son, also named James, came of age, James Moriarty the Elder decided to change the family name to Morstan. They also moved to a fashionable part of Bayswater to assist the metamorphosis. Shortly after, James the Younger met and married Felicity Lytton-Smythe whose family was really not quite as top-drawer as they sound, but who was that rare thing in this day and age, a genuine heiress. Ten months later, she promptly produced an heir, traditionally named after his father, James Moriarty Junior, who never did quite manage to kick the Irish accent, despite having been educated in one of the better co-educational day schools in London. Two years later a daughter, Lesley Mary, followed. Well done, John, you were so nearly there. Pity you didn’t have your eureka moment a bit earlier – you might have got here somewhat sooner.”
The speaker moved into the light as he spoke and John’s hanging jaw flapped uselessly.
“ Sherlock…” he managed to breathe; the world seemed to ripple and sway beneath him.
“Indeed,” Sherlock responded gravely. He watched as John took a step into his space, oblivious of anything else in the room. He stood still as John extended a hand and gripped his arm hard enough to bruise, as though to reassure himself that this strange, unlooked-for apparition was real. John slid his other hand up Sherlock’s shoulder and cupped his jaw, fingers rasping against two-day stubble.
John’s face did not change but his left arm drew back, fist clenching, leaving the thumb free and with a sudden, violent swirl of movement, Sherlock was on the floor. John grimaced, shaking out his stinging hand, leaving Mark to scuttle forward quickly and help the prone man into a sitting position.
Sherlock gave a heartfelt groan and gingerly massaged his tender jaw. Mark eased the hand away and palpated Sherlock’s face delicately to check for broken bones. Finding none, he looked back up at John and sighed.
“I take it this is Sherlock Holmes, am I right?” Mark asked resignedly. “God, why is nothing ever simple with you?”
John had time to watch the walls suddenly stutter and flicker before the floor came up to meet him and things went very dark.
My deepest apologies for the confusion I caused and many thanks for your very restrained and charitable comments. This is exactly the sort of debacle a beta-reader would spot before it happened. You spend ages meticulously checking the formatting, the html, the spelling and the grammar, and then when it comes to posting - you put up a draft that was superseded days ago. This version is the correct one; any further errors are entirely due to my literary incompetence rather than the shortcomings of my techno skills!
“Wake up! Oh, God, you must wake up, I don’t know what to do – don’t leave us here alone. We need you to get us out of here. Lesley, just open your eyes, please!”
Jill was conducting a monologue again. I frowned and tried to interrupt, but my lips were made of marshmallow. I could taste their sweetness but I couldn’t make them move. I batted feebly at her with my hands, distant and helpless.
I cracked my eyes open and winced as pain lanced through my head. “Oh, God!” I groaned, trying to sit up. There was a vaguely sugary aftertaste in my mouth and a sudden wave of nausea made me grit my teeth. Someone pulled my shoulders against them, supporting me.
“Come on, Lesley,” Jill’s voice murmured in my ear, weak with relief, “Take it easy now; lean back on me. That’s it.”
My eyes adjusted and the world swam into focus. The first thing I saw was Emma’s solemn face peering anxiously down at me.
“Are you alright?” she asked in a small voice, her eyes wide. I nodded sending small spikes of pain through my temples.
“I will be, Emma,” I said hoarsely. I cleared my throat. “What in hell happened to me?”
“They held a cloth over your face,” Jill explained. “You collapsed. I suppose it was chloroform – I’ve never even seen the stuff before.”
Sensing that I was awake enough to support myself, Jill gradually drew away. I leaned forward and hugged my knees, looking around.
It was dark, the only light coming from an indeterminate source somewhere above us. We seemed to be at the bottom of a stairwell; it was damp and cold and smelled vaguely of refuse and rotting vegetation.
“Jill,” I managed, “what are we doing here?”
Jill shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. I looked at her white face. There was a bruise forming just under her jaw; I touched it gently and nodded my head at it.
“What happened?” I asked her, “Who did this?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know who they were,” she replied. “There were four of them, big blokes. They forced their way into the flat and they grabbed James. You went for them like a screaming banshee and that’s when they put you out. They started to carry the pair of you away – the guy who had James was huge; he put a hand over James’s mouth. I tried to stop them, to raise the alarm, and the other two grabbed me and Emma and took us too.”
I thought about that, slowly and with great difficulty. Come on, Lesley! What on earth did anyone want us for? We were just two single parents with a young teen apiece trying to make ends meet in a sink housing development in a deprived area of London. We were nothing, no one. Apart from James’ uncanny intelligence, there was nothing to single us out…
“Where’s James?” I said suddenly. “Jill, where’s my son?”
She looked contritely at me. “They pushed us in here,” she said. “You rolled all the way down the stairs, that’s partly why you’re feeling so rough. You’re going to have some nasty bruising in a couple of days; you really should get that Doctor friend of yours to check you over…”
“Jill, please,” I said, holding up a hand.
Jill bit her lip. “James wasn’t with us,” she explained. “I don’t know where he is. All I know is that when Emma and I picked ourselves up to try to see if we could help you, James wasn’t there.”
The wave of nausea reappeared suddenly and I lurched to one side in surprise, throwing up violently into a corner of the stairwell. Jill gave a startled cry and leaped to hold my head before I cracked it open on the concrete. All that could be heard for a while was my own harsh gasping echoing around the concrete walls; Jill patted my back blindly in the gloom while Emma looked on, eyes wide and frightened.
Presently I sat up and wiped my mouth on my sleeve; the whole place was so filthy and wet that it was pointless trying to maintain a sense of decorum.
Jill eyed me with alarm. “You might have a concussion,” she said, “We’ll have to keep a strict eye on you. Oh, and you mustn’t go to sleep – that’s what they said at the school First Aid Evening.”
I stared blankly at her then gave a feeble laugh. Leave it to Jill to lend things an air of normality. I closed my eyes momentarily and shook my head; I wasn’t concussed anyway.
“Okay,” I said, catching my breath, “Then we must get out of here, as quickly as possible.”
“There’s a door at the top of the stairs,” Emma put in quickly, “It’s locked and bolted from the outside – I heard the click when they left us. I tried the handle to make sure while mum was getting you to wake up. It’s still locked.”
“Is there any other way in or out?” I asked, “A window, maybe? Even it’s small, we might be able to make some use of it.”
The gloom was so complete that it took some little time to traverse the walls and floor of the small enclosure. There was indeed another door at the rear, after all a stairwell generally leads both ways, and we rattled uselessly at the aged and rusting lock. I felt hurriedly around the hinges, gaining nothing but a few splinters for my trouble.
I shook my head impatiently and started patting my pockets. “Does anyone have anything useful on them?” I demanded, searching my jeans and sweatshirt. Emma and Jill both set to, investigating the meagre equipment we could glean.
We ended up with two opened packs of tissues, a broken ball-point pen, two packs of chewing gum, a Yale door key (Emma’s), five assorted receipts (mine), a pot of lip balm, several low-value coins and a small pendant on a broken chain. I threw my hands up in despair and started to pace.
“This is useless!” I huffed, and to my horror felt tears begin to slide down my face. I dashed them away. I took a deep breath and took a couple of steps into the centre of the small room.
“It’s clear we can’t open either of the doors here,” I began, “not with the lack of implements, not to mention lighting.”
“There’s nothing we can do,” Jill intoned.
“Probably not at present, no,” I agreed, “but eventually they’re going to have to come back for us, aren’t they? I mean, if they wanted us permanently out of the way, they’d never have abducted us. They’d either have left us in the flat or killed us.”
“Lesley!” Jill clapped her hands over her wide-eyed daughter’s ears. I frowned in irritation.
“But they didn’t,” I continued impatiently, “so there must be some reason for the fact that we are still alive. That makes us valuable. That gives us an edge.”
“What edge?” Jill almost shouted. “We’re stuck in a damp, freezing, filthy dirty hole in the ground and none of the good guys, whoever they are, know we’re here. How in hell do we have an edge, tell me that?”
I turned on her and grabbed her upper arms. “These people either want us out of the way because we threaten their plans somehow – maybe we know too much, I don’t know – or because they think they can use us as a lever.”
“What, for ransom?” Jill replied disbelievingly. Amazingly, she laughed.
“Who’d want to ransom me, eh?” she asked bitterly, “A broken down soldier’s widow without a penny to my name.”
“I’d ransom you, mum,” Emma said loyally, but I turned away, my brain working furiously.
“Ransom,” I muttered, “Holding us to ransom. What for? Something to do with James, maybe? What do they want of a thirteen year-old boy that they’re prepared to threaten his family?”
Cold fear settled in the pit of my stomach; I bit down on my nausea and turned back to the others.
“We have to get out of here somehow,” I said desperately. “I have a very bad feeling about the reason we’ve been put down here, and I don’t think we’re going to like what happens next. We need a plan – some way of turning the tables when they come to get us, whoever they are.”
I didn’t want to think about what might happen if they never did.
Doctor John Watson came to fighting hard.
“John! John! Stop it and calm down! It’s okay, it’s okay – Jesus, what does it take to get through to you!”
John opened his eyes to find Mark’s red face inches from his own, panting with effort, eyes wide and scared. He was leaning his full weight on his hands, pinning John’s shoulders to the floor.
John realised he was struggling and shouting. “Sorry… sorry,” he said contritely. He gritted his teeth and forced his body to relax. As Mark released him, John passed a hand over his face, wiping away cold sweat.
Mark sat back on his haunches breathing heavily. “John, seriously - what was that about?” he demanded. He winced as he rolled his left shoulder. “A touch of PTSD there, I shouldn’t wonder?”
John threw an arm over his eyes and turned his head away. He cleared his throat. “Never ask that question of a veteran, Mark,” he said in gravelly tones, “You’re a GP – they taught you that in clinical, for god’s sake.”
“John, you nearly ripped my arm off!” Mark protested.
John suddenly sat up. “Where is he?” he demanded, looking around wildly.
Mark held up his hands. “Holmes has gone outside to make a call,” he said. “He’s worried – that’s why he’s come back.”
“James and Lesley?” John said quickly.
Mark shrugged. “We’re no further forward there,” he replied.
John frowned. “Surely someone should be here. What about Jill and Emma?”
Mark shrugged. “Holmes checked the calendar in the kitchen,” he replied. “They were due at a Parents Evening earlier, but they should have been back for hours.”
John started to get up. “How long was I out?” he asked.
Mark pushed him back down. “A matter of minutes,” he replied, “but I’d really rather you didn’t do it again, John, my shoulder won’t take the strain. Just take it slowly, won’t you?”
John was in a sitting position, hugging his knees to his chest and breathing deeply by the time Sherlock came back into the flat. He loomed over John, his expression unreadable, eyes very dark.
“There has been a power struggle,” Sherlock finally spoke. “Colonel Moran has finally made his move.”
John shook his head dazedly. “Power struggle?” he said mystified, “Where are we, Sherlock? In some sci-fi novel? A power struggle – between whom?”
“Associates of the late James Moriarty, among others,” Sherlock replied.
“I thought you always said Moriarty’s network was decentralised,” John protested.
“It was,” Sherlock intoned gravely, “but Colonel Moran does not have his late superior’s subtlety. He is not satisfied with merely administrating a self-perpetuating crime machine designed and perfected by someone deceased. He is not interested in maintaining a shrine to the late Napoleon of Crime.”
Sherlock breathed in sharply through his nose. “No,” he continued in a softer tone, “Colonel Sebastian Moran has spent almost a year breaking Moriarty’s codes.” He let out a sound of disgust. “He’s an amateur in comparison. He’s pulled together a large number of smaller criminal networks, most of whom didn’t know of each other’s existence while Moriarty was alive. He’s aiming to pull off a really big job, something to consolidate his position at the top of the food chain.” He allowed a small smirk to crease his face. “I think Seb was rather upset when Jim shot himself rather than allow me to win; whatever he had expected from his association with Moriarty, it wasn’t that.”
“Just a minute,” John screwed his face up into a deep frown. “What big job? What is it that Moran has in mind? Actually, who the hell is Colonel Sebastian Moran?”
Sherlock shook his head in irritation, as though ridding himself of an annoying mosquito. “Look him up in Mycroft’s records, John, I’ll give you the codes; I haven’t got time for this. Just accept that he is a very dangerous man, has a military background and he was Moriarty’s Number Two. That should be enough.”
“He’s a very dangerous – amateur?” John hazarded.
“The worst kind,” Sherlock growled, texting frantically.
“So who’s his challenger?” John demanded, rising to his feet. “Who else have you left on the loose?”
Sherlock stared expressionlessly at him. “Why, James, of course,” he replied in measured tones. “The nearest thing to a son and heir Moriarty had. Who better to take over the world?”
“What?!” John could only gape helplessly, peripherally aware of Mark’s startled gasp.
Sherlock returned the other man’s stare impassively. John opened his mouth and took a breath to speak, but Mark interrupted.
“Just a minute,” he said, stepping forward. “I’ve known James all his life – Lesley too, for that matter. He’s just thirteen; a pretty exceptional thirteen, I’ll grant you, but nevertheless he’s little more than a child. And you’re telling me he’s a master criminal! Mr Holmes, this is beyond a joke. I’m fast losing faith in anything you might have to say. To be honest, I’m thinking the press were probably right for once!”
Sherlock glared at Mark. “When I was twelve, Doctor Davis,” he began, “I had an alter ego. Standard behaviour, I’m told, for adolescents. Mine had a name; Edmund Turing. He worked for the CIA – again not uncommon for a young boy – as a code-breaker. He not only interpreted the intelligence, he also gathered it; he had several important contacts around the world, one a particularly valuable connection in Soviet Russia. The Berlin Wall was poised to fall and intelligence gathering all over the world was a growing market. Remember, Doctor Davis, internet communication was in its infancy at that time, but good old Ed Turing managed to make himself a workable connection. He wasn’t interested in such things, but he received a substantial salary for his work, much of which was deemed to be dangerous. This was paid into a numbered Swiss bank account and is, to my knowledge, still there gathering interest.”
Sherlock paused. “Children are capable of great things, Doctor Davis,” he said gravely. “Exceptional children can achieve exceptional things; it all depends on the influences.”
John shook his head, a frown creasing his face. “Just a minute,” he said, “you infiltrated the CIA? At twelve years of age?”
Sherlock made an impatient noise. “I didn’t infiltrate it, John; I got myself a holiday job.”
“Which involved contacts all over the world and offshore banking; god, Sherlock, only you!” John turned away, torn between twin desires to laugh and scream.
“What happened to Ed Turing?” Mark Davis asked curiously.
Sherlock shrugged. “My brother Mycroft, who was at Oxford at the time, started exercising his government connections in order to prepare the way for his ascension into office after he graduated,” he said. “Unfortunately, I was too young to know how to cover my tracks well enough to fool him, a shortcoming that has since been remedied. Edmund Turing died suddenly from a heart attack, rather uncommon in someone so young but the medical reports were unimpeachable. Gradually, all record of his ever having been employed by the CIA disappeared both from their system and from people’s memories. He was successfully expunged from history.”
There was a short silence; John squared his shoulders and took a breath.
“What about the Swiss bank account?” he asked.
Sherlock gave a sudden hiss. “Locked,” he spat. “Mycroft’s doing – I can’t touch it. He said it was ill-gotten gains.” His expression was mutinous; John fought a strong desire to laugh.
Mark David shifted his feet. “So basically you’re saying that if you can masquerade as a CIA spy at the age of twelve,” he said, “James can be a master criminal at thirteen. Mr Holmes, I just don’t buy that.”
Sherlock quirked his eyebrows. “You don’t know what Mycroft got up to when he was fifteen.” He gave a small sigh. “He always was a late beginner.”
Mark shook his head and frowned. “As I see it, your claims to any kind of legitimacy here are somewhat tarnished, Mr Holmes,” he said. “After all, according to the press James Moriarty turned out to be a fake and in your despair at being unmasked as a fraud, you jumped off the roof of St Barts. So far, I can’t see any change in that analysis, except that you are clearly alive. If you are who you say you are, of course, but John seems to believe it.”
Sherlock smirked. “The report of my death was an exaggeration,” he said smugly.
John snorted. “You’ve been waiting your whole life to say that, haven’t you?” he sniped nastily, some colour returning to his cheeks.
Sherlock only looked puzzled; he pressed Send on his phone and pocketed it. “We’re wasting time,” he said shortly. “Either you believe me or you don’t; I can’t give you proof, at least not here. A more pressing question relates to the whereabouts of Lesley and James.”
“Yes,” John began snidely, “Any thoughts about that then, Oh Great Detective? Surely you must have some idea. After all, you’ve come back from the dead to deduce everything else about them.”
John felt his control slipping. He clenched and unclenched his hands then turned his back on Sherlock and rubbed his left palm against the back of his neck in agitation.
Sherlock turned to look at him, one eyebrow raised in mild surprise at his tone. “I’m a genius, John, but even I can’t make bricks without clay,” he proclaimed loftily. “I need to consult with some of my sources before I can make an accurate assessment…”
“Why?” John demanded, turning back abruptly. He planted himself squarely in front of Sherlock, hands on hips, chin jutting forward.
Sherlock frowned, temporarily derailed. “I’m sorry?” he said.
“Why do you need to consult anyone?” John repeated, the pitch of his voice rising. “After all, you have been dead for a year, Sherlock. Surely you’ve had enough time to work this one out, eh? You must have been watching them – Lesley and James – for months to know all you say you know. So why can’t you just divine where they’ve been taken from the clues in this room, eh? What’s so difficult about that? Fluff from the carpet, scratches in the wallpaper, tiny shreds from a newspaper which tell you exactly which newsstand it was bought from – come on, you know the drill! Or has death made you lose your touch? I mean, you killed yourself, didn’t you? Now you’ve come back from the dead as though nothing’s happened, nothing at all, and you just expect people to go on as if you never died, as if we never buried you, as if we never…”
John’s voice cracked and he turned away again, breathing hard through his nose. He felt rather than heard Sherlock pause for a beat then walk over to him. John stayed very still, willing himself not to hit the other man again.
“John, I know we have a lot of lost ground to cover,” Sherlock murmured quietly. His voice sounded about six inches away from John’s ear, “And I may have miscalculated the full effects of my, ah, temporary absence…”
“Temporary absence?” John spat, unable to keep quiet. He whirled round to face Sherlock again. “Temporary absence? Is that what you call it?” His voice was raw and tight. “You were dead, Sherlock; I saw you. Your head was smashed, there was blood all over the pavement…”
“I know, and it was never meant to be for more than two or three months at the most,” Sherlock interrupted.
John stepped forward into Sherlock’s space, absolutely furious with his friend. He lifted a finger and poked him in the chest.
“We mourned you, Sherlock,” John said, more quietly but no less angrily. “Mrs Hudson, Greg Lestrade, Mike Stamford, all the guys from the labs at Barts, Dimmock, loads of your clients – hell, even Sally Donovan came to pay her respects. I grieved for you, fool that I am, and I suffered through the paparazzi at Baker Street, the media hype, the accusations – did you know we had eggs, tomatoes, mud and a lot of much less savoury stuff chucked at our windows? Mrs Hudson was going out of her mind; I had to hire a window cleaner to wash the place down daily…”
“I know,” interrupted Sherlock, “I sent him. He’s still protecting the place. Well, protecting Mrs Hudson actually.”
John stared, taking that lot in. “I had to leave Baker Street,” he continued finally. “I couldn’t live with the constant attention – the press, the bloody gawping sightseers outside in the street; the cameras in my face. Mrs Hudson was only suffering because of me, so I left. They tracked me down, of course, but they soon lost interest. At least they eventually left Mrs Hudson alone. She tried to get me to come back once the media attention had died down.” John shook his head. “I couldn’t do it.”
John once again felt rather than heard Sherlock sigh.
“John, I know you feel I owe you an explanation…” Sherlock began and suddenly all John’s anger boiled over once again.
“You know nothing, Sherlock!” he shouted. “You have no idea – no bloody idea what you put me through!” He grabbed Sherlock by the lapels of his stupid, stupid coat and shook him.
“I know!” Sherlock raised his voice suddenly and everything fell silent. “I know, John,” he continued more quietly. “What I did was cruel and inhuman and I felt the weight of it every – single – day of the past year. Is that what you want to hear? Well, it’s true, utterly true, and I’ll say it again and again, as often as you want to hear it just so long as you do this one thing for me now. Keep your mouth shut and your emotions zipped for the next few hours because I need you, John. I need you to help me do my job because if I don’t do it, innocent people are going to die needlessly and one of them is going to be your girlfriend!”
John stared at Sherlock with wide eyes and met that intense, pale gaze head on. He noticed Sherlock’s jaw beginning to swell up; it would be all colours of the rainbow in a day or so. John felt a jolt hearing Sherlock describe Lesley in those terms. He seemed to wake up, suddenly aware that he was half-strangling the other man. He released him, not meeting his eyes, wiped a hand across his mouth and nodded brusquely.
“Okay,” he said roughly, “but this isn’t over, Sherlock. Not by a long way.”
The other man nodded seriously. “I would expect nothing less,” he replied.
Again, apologies for the delay. Summer holidays are upon us...
Jill stared in horror at the dark shape, prone and unmoving at the bottom of the filthy stairs.
“What have we done?” she whispered then clapped her hands over her mouth. She looked up to meet Emma’s wide, scared eyes and visibly pulled herself together.
I sagged over the handrail, my nausea returning once again; I gritted my teeth.
“It’s a good job they sent only one man to get us,” I heard my own voice, rough but authoritative; I swallowed hard. “More than one and that ruse wouldn’t have worked.”
It nearly hadn’t.
We had nothing; no knowledge, no weapons, no visible means of escape. We were waiting in tense silence when Emma stiffened, her youthful hearing picking up the sound of footsteps. I signalled for silence and listened hard, holding up one finger when I was sure. I crawled over to Jill and put my lips to her ear.
“One man,” I murmured, “they’re over-confident. Follow my lead like we agreed and – just don’t be squeamish about this, okay?” I turned to Emma and she returned my nod with a look of close-mouthed determination.
The lock rattled as he turned the key. The door opened easily enough and the man’s footsteps echoed on the concrete. The light, although fairly dim, blinded me at first. I heaved in a deep breath and took a step into the light.
The man was youngish, certainly no more than thirty, dressed in sludge-coloured overalls with a hat covering inexpertly dyed blonde hair. He jerked his head to one side.
“Get up here,” he said curtly.
I didn’t move. “Why?” I asked quietly.
He stared for several beats; I could almost see the cogs going round in his brain. “Because I told you to,” he replied eventually. “What, you wanna stay here?”
I shrugged. “Depends on the company,” I replied, letting a little sultriness into the tone. He stiffened and narrowed his eyes, trying for a better look at me.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” he said in a quiet, amused tone.
“Do I?” I replied and took off my shirt.
I was well –aware of my physical state. Being drugged and thrown carelessly down a flight of stairs after a vigorous fist fight does very little for personal magnetism and I was all too mindful that I reeked of sweat, stomach acids and other nameless organic fluids. I really did not want to think too closely about any of that at this moment.
The man laughed. I felt my expression morph from sassy confidence to uncertainty with a little fear mixed in. I backed carefully away from the staircase.
The man continued to laugh. He descended the stairs, his eyes fixed on me, squinting for a better look. I cowered away and crossed my arms defensively over my chest; grinning, the man followed me into the shadows.
“D’you think I’m stupid?” he said, leering at me in an exaggerated fashion, “This ain’t a James Bond movie and we’re not all tossers. And let’s face it, darling; you’re no oil painting, are you? I’ve had better offers down my local abattoir.”
He broke off to laugh uproariously again then reached out a huge hand. His expression turned nasty. “Get up them stairs, bitch, and don’t waste my time,” he said viciously. “I’ve had just about enough of you for one day; you really ‘urt my mate before I put you out. If I ‘adn’t agreed to bring you back in one piece, I’d pay you out for that. Had to take ‘im down to the ‘ospital, we did.”
He made another grab for me; I recoiled instinctively and found my back against the wall. The man seized my shoulder, fingers digging painfully into the muscle, but suddenly stumbled as something hit him hard behind the knees. He let out a coarse expletive and released me, trying to regain his footing but found his legs suddenly swept out from under him. He landed heavily on the filthy floor, Jill and Emma on top of him holding on for dear life.
He bellowed like a bull and struggled to dislodge them, catching Jill in the face as he flailed. For a moment, I thought he was actually going to succeed in throwing them off. I launched myself away from the wall, landed hard with my knees in his chest and grabbed him by the hair, slamming the back of his head again and again into the floor until he was quiet.
I kept my hold on the man while Jill bound his wrists and ankles with strips torn earlier from Emma’s Warehouse jacket. Emma had tried not to show how upset she was about losing it, despite the fact that the stains left on it from our surroundings would likely never have come out. I made a mental note to buy her a new jacket at the first opportunity.
I checked our captive over as best I could while we restrained him. His pulse seemed regular and his pupils, when I pried his eyes open and examined them by the light from the open door, seemed of equal size. I breathed more easily when a brutal twist of skin around his neck/shoulder area established that he had reactions. We left him still tied up but in the recovery position; it was the best I could do.
I picked up my shirt and re-fastened it around me. I shivered in the cold, damp atmosphere.
“Oh god!” Jill said, still staring at the unconscious man with wide eyes, a hand over her mouth. Emma looked up at me as if to say okay, we did it, now what? Right then; I took a deep breath and started to climb the stairs. I opened my mouth to speak then swerved aside and retched uncontrollably over the handrail. Clearly Jill was right, I thought as I gasped my way through it again: chloroform really did not agree with me. Well, something didn't, at any rate.
I was still retching dryly when I heard the scrape of heavy footsteps outside the door. I met Jill’s frightened eyes and realised that however precarious our situation had been before, it was now suddenly that much worse.
“Moran has a suite of offices,” Sherlock informed John and Mark as he strode out of Lesley’s flat. “They’re in Canning Town industrial area, close to Docklands.”
“What’s he trading as?” John asked.
Sherlock gave him a look. “The building is apparently derelict,” he replied evenly. “Moran’s base of operations is mostly underground; that’s how he has remained undetected. He owns the development company that purchased the land five years ago. He keeps it secure with guard dogs and electric fences because English law is draconian with regard to owner liability for injury during trespass.”
“And no one questions a developer who sits on his assets in these risky times,” Mark murmured.
“Just so,” Sherlock responded. John remained silent.
“Do you have the Browning with you, John?” Sherlock asked after five minutes of silent walking.
“No,” John replied, “Funnily enough, when I left home this evening, what I had in mind was a quiet pint down the Fox. I thought I might be a tad overdressed with a handgun shoved down the back of my trousers. I see now that was an oversight – silly me!”
The sarcasm slid off Sherlock without a trace. “A pity,” he said, “but you probably wouldn’t have needed it, at least not immediately.”
They had reached a main road and John was absolutely disgusted to see a taxi pull up to the kerb almost as soon as Sherlock raised his hand.
Piling into the cab, Sherlock gave an address John recognised as Docklands. On arrival, the driver was clearly puzzled at the destination, but pulled away readily enough when John handed him a ten pound note as a tip. Sherlock was already off, striding over cracked, oil-stained tarmac, detouring around crumbling concrete outhouses as though he had been born here, it was his territory.
“Are we going to Moran’s place?” John asked, slightly out of breath from having caught up with Sherlock; Mark panted behind them.
“After a fashion, yes,” Sherlock replied, apparently running some kind of GPS programme on his phone. He squinted furiously at the display then threw his head up like a sniffer dog catching the scent.
“They’ve split them up,” he announced. “We’ll take the bigger group first.”
“Bigger group…?” John spluttered. “What are you talking about? Sherlock!”
The taller man had taken off again at a rapid pace, John and Mark trailing in his wake. They hugged the walls of a greasy-looking warehouse building, barely able to see in the cloudy moonlight. Sherlock produced a pencil torch from the depths of his voluminous coat and shone it quickly over the outside. He beckoned with his head.
“Over here,” he said shortly and ran a brisk hundred yards or so and disappeared into the gloom. Mark put on a final spurt of speed; John tried to follow suit and tripped on a shoelace, nearly face-planting the tarmac. While kneeling to retie it, cursing roundly under his breath as he did so, he noticed a rusty piece of ironwork buried in a clump of weeds growing abundantly through cracks in the road surface. He picked it up and hefted it warily, wondering if he was holding an offensive weapon used in a mugging. He decided he didn’t care; he may have left the Browning at home, but at least he was armed.
As John watched, Mark followed Sherlock down what looked like a small flight of steps. Swinging his piece of ironwork, John made as if to follow suit but a flicker of movement in his peripheral vision gave him pause. He flattened himself against the side of the building and froze as he saw a third figure approach from the opposite direction and descend the stairs with stealth. What made John narrow his eyes and take a firmer hold on his iron bar was the faint but unmistakeable click of the safety being taken off a handgun.
John felt his senses shift into a higher gear. He moved swiftly but silently, hugging the wall and trying to avoid stumbling on the uneven ground. Reaching the stairs, he peered cautiously around the corner.
Finding Sherlock Holmes being held at gunpoint because he had rushed in where angels fear to tread really should not have been a cause for satisfaction, but to John this was vindication of every principle he had ever tried to impress upon his friend. John did not hesitate; Sherlock and Mark had their hands in the air, trapped halfway down a much longer flight of stairs following on from those on the outside. The man with the gun was at the top, the open door at his side. John slid feather-footed down the half-dozen outside steps and swung his iron bar, fuelled by all the misery and frustration he had lived through during the past year.
“Fore!” he yelled as his adversary grunted and toppled down the concrete steps, already out cold. The handgun slipped from his nerveless hand and clattered on the concrete. Mark and Sherlock instinctively hugged the wall and bannister rail respectively, giving the unconscious man free passage as gravity took its toll. John noted some scuffling in the dimness at the bottom of the stairs, giving him the impression of other bodies rapidly making space.
“John?” a familiar female voice said. A figure moved into the light and turned a white strained face up to John.
“Lesley – oh, thank god!” John said. He dropped his makeshift weapon and leaped down the stairs, brushing past Mark and Sherlock as he went. He put his arms around the woman and a hand to the back of her head, pulling her against his chest.
“It’s okay, love, it’s alright,” John murmured into her hair. Lesley’s body remained rigid and unresponsive for a moment, possibly out of surprise, then all the tension bled out of her in one go and she sagged hard against him. This was probably why John did not catch a curiously irritated frown flitting swiftly across Sherlock’s face. Blink and you would miss it, and John certainly did. Mark Davis, however, did not.
“Woah, steady!” John said to Lesley, staggering slightly. “Are you okay?”
“She has concussion,” Jill said, coming into the light.
Lesley shook her head irritably. “No, I don’t,” she insisted.
Jill nodded emphatically, her eyes wide. “They drugged her,” she told John, “and she’s been vomiting on and off ever since.”
John frowned, tilting Lesley’s chin up to look into her face. He ran his hands through her hair and over her scalp, checking for contusions. Lesley twisted away.
“Stop it,” she told him, “I’m okay. You need to check Jill – one of them hit her in the face. I think Emma is okay, aren’t you, love?”
Lesley wriggled free of John’s grasp and turned to the young girl still sitting in the corner. She drew her to a standing position and held her hands.
Emma nodded. “Yes, I’m alright,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes.
“Oh, Sweetie!” Jill said contritely, shouldering through and taking her daughter in her arms as the girl began to sob with relief.
John looked around the stairwell then back to Lesley.
“Where’s James?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Lesley replied. “They took him somewhere else after they dumped us here. I don’t know where.”
John nodded. “Look,” he said, holding her by her shoulders, “Mark is here, he can take you all home – we’ll call a taxi by phone and get you picked up. You need medical attention, the three of you, and he can provide it. Sherlock and I will go after James. We already have a lead on where he is,” John added, thinking of the tracking programme Sherlock had on his phone.
“You mean I already have a lead,” Sherlock’s imperious baritone cut into their conversation. He descended the stairs already consulting his phone.
Lesley stared uncomprehendingly then suddenly, shockingly, began to laugh. "My god!" she said wildly. "Bad pennies have nothing on you. You couldn't even stay safely in the ground where they left you, could you?" She sat down suddenly on the floor, still laughing softly.
“Why don’t we call the police?” Mark suggested.
Sherlock made a disgusted noise. “Because by the time they arrive with their flashing lights and their ear-murdering sirens,” he replied, "this entire site will be deserted and will look as though it was never anything else. Moriarty always had surveillance at key places all over England, Scotland Yard included. There is no reason to assume that Moran does not have the same advantage; he’ll know the police are on their way before they get out of the staff canteen.”
“There must be something we can do to rescue James that doesn’t require the two of you to do your Batman and Robin impression, surely!” Lesley argued.
John looked slightly offended at the inference; Sherlock ignored it, probably out of ignorance. “I don’t really think that “rescue” is quite the word with regard to James, do you, Lesley?” he replied lightly.
Lesley stared. “What are you talking about?” she demanded.
Sherlock smiled coldly. “You know exactly what I’m talking about,” he replied, “and it’s something you’ve been deliberately blinding yourself to for months, haven’t you?”
Lesley shook her head, frowning. “I don’t know what you mean,” she replied stubbornly.
“James may not have taken you fully into his confidence, that I will allow,” Sherlock told her, “but you have certainly had your doubts for quite some time now about his activities, haven’t you?”
“That’s – none of your…”
“Everything to do with my son is my business!” Sherlock roared suddenly. “He has the IQ of a super-genius – very little is beyond him. And in choosing a life of crime, he could bring London to its knees! Moriarty was nothing in comparison.”
Sherlock strode up and down the tiny space, one hand clutching his hair.
Lesley flinched but stood her ground. “And you choose now to become involved in his life?” she shouted back. “You had thirteen years to get involved, William, thirteen years! You walked out on me after a one-night-stand, but I can cope with that; I can even understand it, to a degree. But to transfer universities, to make it well-nigh impossible for me ever to find you again, when you knew this outcome was a possibility... God, you didn’t even stick around long enough to find out, did you?”
“I had no idea this would happen!” Sherlock yelled back at her. “It’s hardly down to me if you’re too much of an idiot to take simple precautions…”
“I had never done it before!” Lesley returned; tears started to leak down her cheeks. “How can you blame me for not being prepared when you weren’t either?”
“Neither had I!” Sherlock replied with heat then seemed to lose his momentum all of a sudden. He stopped his furious pacing and sighed, sagging in apparent weariness. A short silence fell and John was on the verge of clearing his throat to say something – anything – just to break it.
Sherlock sighed again. “You were… quite lovely, you know,” he said quietly to Lesley, as though each word was a revelation to him. “I used to watch you from my window when you left on a Sunday evening to go to sing Evensong. I knew you sang with St Peter's College Choir – I used to sit at the back of the chapel sometimes, just to listen.”
John felt his jaw drop at the confession; he had never, ever heard Sherlock admit to admiring anyone, let alone anyone female. Not even Irene Adler, in so many words.
Lesley seemed to find this equally baffling. “So… why did you disappear?” she asked, her face screwed up in a frown, “If you liked me, why did you treat me like that?”
Sherlock frowned. “I didn’t like you,” he replied irritably. He opened his mouth to continue then shook his head.
“Reopening old wounds is hardly going to solve this,” Sherlock said, visibly putting the past few minutes firmly aside, “and we cannot afford to waste any more time. We have to work on the basis that James has chosen, for want of a better description, the Dark Side.”
John shook his head, his mind still reeling from the impact of what he had just heard. “You can’t possibly know that,” he said. “It’s far more likely that Moran has him working under duress. Remember, he didn’t only kidnap James, he took his family as well.”
Sherlock seemed to flinch slightly but recovered swiftly. “You may possibly be correct,” he allowed, “but from recent evidence, I can only deduce that James’ priorities have changed.” He stared at John long and hard. “You must take into account, John, that James is my son, yes, but he is also the nephew of James Moriarty.”
“Genetics isn’t everything,” John heard himself say. He turned to Lesley.
“You, Jill and Emma should go with Mark,” he told them firmly. “You must all have a medical check, especially you, Lesley – you’re clearly not right.”
“I’ve called a taxi,” Mark replied, replacing his mobile in an inner pocket. “It’ll be here in ten.”
Lesley shook her head. “I want to come with you,” she said stubbornly. “If James is in danger…”
“Then the worst thing you can do is put yourself at risk too,” Sherlock interrupted.
“Supposing he needs proof that I’m okay?” Lesley argued.
“We can tell him that, Lesley,” John reassured her. She shook her head firmly.
“And if he doesn’t believe you?” she replied. The two men looked at each other; Lesley’s expression hardened.
“If I were James, I wouldn’t trust either of you as far as I could throw you,” Lesley said succinctly, planting her hands firmly on her hips. Her furious glare encompassed both Sherlock and John.
John turned to face her. “I can’t allow you to do this,” he said more gently, putting his hands out to grasp her shoulders. She twisted away with an exclamation of annoyance and his hands fell on thin air. John took a deep breath.
“You would be a liability,” Sherlock interrupted without looking up from his phone. “If you truly want your son back, leave it to the professionals.”
“I beg your pardon?” Lesley replied, dangerously quiet.
Sherlock stopped texting and raised his head. “I said you would undermine the success of anything we try to do,” he told her. “Your presence would be a distraction and you could offer nothing in the way of advantage to us. John and I work together as a team; we don’t need anyone else.”
His words seemed to resonate in the small area. To John’s surprise, Lesley and Sherlock locked eyes briefly then she bowed her head and turned to ascend the stairs, Jill and Emma at her side. Mark nodded to John.
“I’ll look after them,” he said, “I’ll take them all to A&E; they’ll be checked over thoroughly there. Don’t worry – I’ll stay with them.
“Thanks, Mark,” John reached out to slap Mark companionably on the shoulder. “I owe you.”
“I’m adding up the score, man,” Mark responded, “It’s a fair total by now.”
Mark ascended the stairs, following Emma up to the surface leaving John and Sherlock alone with the two unconscious men. John stooped over them; the one Jill had tied up in the remains of Emma’s jacket was starting to stir fitfully. John ignored him and turned his attention to the other one who was still out cold.
At the click of metal, Sherlock looked up from his phone again; John had scooped up the abandoned handgun. He broke open the action to check the number of rounds, closed it again and raised the pistol to eye level, looking down the barrel. He grinned at Sherlock.
“I feel a bit more secure with this in my hand,” he said, his eyes glittering. He engaged the safety and secured the weapon at the small of his back. “Right; where to now?”
Sherlock pressed Send on his latest text and gave John a long, unsmiling look.
“Now,” he said, “we wait.”
If there was ever one single person I could truly say I hated with every fibre of my being, in that moment it was William Sherlock Holmes. In my worst and darkest times, I had drawn on the strength of my enmity merely to stay alive, but I had never fully recognised the dichotomy of my position until now. The truth was that William had arguably been the ruination of my life but he had given me James, and it was impossible now for me to imagine a world in which James had never existed.
And I had to face facts; my only realistic chance of getting James back lay with William Sherlock Bloody Holmes. I ground my teeth; how could they discount me, the two of them! How bloody dare they ignore me, brush me aside like so much litter! William (Sherlock! I ask you, the pretentious git!) – William, for all his vaunted cleverness, possessed the emotional intelligence of three-week-old milk with about half its charm. At Oxford, his people skills had been laughable and from what I had already seen, time hadn’t changed a thing. But John – now, John should have known better. Alright, I’ve been round the block enough times to know that the way to a man’s heart isn’t necessarily through his genitals, but I had thought we’d built up some kind of rapport over the past few months. Then he goes and pulls this macho crap on me. This is my son we’re talking about, you tosser! And I want to go after him – I have the right, John Watson. You’re just William’s pet Rottweiler; you know that, don’t you?
There was movement by my side and a hand touched my arm. “It’s okay,” Jill whispered. “They’ll get him back, you see if they don’t.”
Platitudes and so much soft soap; I made a decision. “Jill,” I replied in a murmur, “whatever happens, whatever you see me doing, don’t try to stop me, okay?”
Jill frowned then her eyes widened almost comically. “Oh, no, Lesley!” she begged, “You’re not going to try something stupid now, are you?”
“That depends on your point of view,” I pressed my lips in a line. “Just – keep quiet, okay?” The taxi swung into the kerb and pulled up.
Mark reached for the cab door, flinging it wide. It was one of the old-fashioned Hansom cabs with a long bench and two flip-down seats opposite. Jill tried to get in first, but I dived in ahead of her and sat hear the window, ostentatiously sulking; she followed flanked closely by Emma. Mark stepped in and closed the door, sinking down onto the seat opposite as the cab pulled away.
“Don’t worry,” he said soothingly. I recognised his bedside manner and rolled my eyes, deliberately giving him the back of my head. I rolled down the window and stared out into the traffic.
“We’re going straight to A&E,” Mark continued with a reassuring smile. “We’ll get you checked over and by the time we’re done, James will be home and dry – you just wait and see.”
I smiled pleasantly at him as the cab drew level with another stream of traffic and paused at a red light.
“So you say,” I replied, “but I’d really rather make sure of that myself.”
I threw off my unfastened seatbelt, leaned out of the window and grabbed for the door handle, slipping out past Mark’s outraged shout and dodging through the stationary cars. I whipped across the road just ahead of the oncoming traffic and dived into a little mews, skirting around dustbins and over cracked paving as I ran.
At the other end of the lane, I paused to get my bearings. We had traveled less than half a mile and I had tried to memorise the route, but darkness changed things. I realised that I had no idea of the time and patted my pockets, looking for my mobile. Idiot! They took our phones when they left us in that stinking stairwell. And anything else of use was still back at the flat, including any money or cards. I sighed and set off down the road at an easy lope in what I hoped was the right direction.
John looked up sharply as Sherlock pocketed his phone with brief sigh, but the man merely hunched down further into his coat and continued to keep silence. John huddled against the cold, trying to burrow deeper into his inadequate jacket; the step he was sitting on was gradually turning his backside numb.
“Will you take it?” Sherlock suddenly asked out of the blue.
John blinked. “Take what?” he replied.
“The job,” Sherlock replied without looking up, “The position at the surgery.”
John frowned. “How did you…?” he began then stopped, shaking his head. “Of course,” he began again, “Sherlock Holmes knows everything. Okay, then – why do you want to know?”
A flicker of one eyelid. “Because your answer may possibly have some bearing on my own plans once this is over,” was the reply.
John worked that one through and a rough laugh escaped him. Sherlock looked up, apparently surprised.
John allowed the laugh to continue and shook his head ruefully. “It’s always about you, isn’t it?” he asked rhetorically, “What, were you honestly expecting me to come back to live at Baker Street with you?” John was only half serious but Sherlock’s expression did not change and gradually the humour drained away from John’s face. “Of course you were,” he sighed.
“It’s not an unreasonable assumption, John,” Sherlock replied slightly huffily, “and if you continue to work at that particular surgery, the long hours and the additional journey time from Baker Street will impact considerably on my work. It would make much more sense if you were to apply for jobs nearer to home.” His phone chimed; he reached for it and frowned at the display.
John shifted into a slightly less uncomfortable position on the step and leaned his elbows on his knees. “Sherlock,” he began, “you were dead for several…”
“Yes, we’ve been through this!” Sherlock interrupted impatiently; his thumbs moved like quicksilver over the keys. “In point of fact, I was never dead – I was still working, still the same Sherlock Holmes…”
“But to me you were dead!” John said urgently, rising suddenly to his feet. “I grieved, I got through it – I had closure, Sherlock! I was starting to put my life back together. I mended the fences with Harry, I was managing to visit Mrs Hudson at 221 without crying, and I had my work at the surgery. My life had gone on and you weren’t part of it. I was even starting to get something of a family, you know, some kind of support group, I suppose you could call it…”
“With my son and his mother,” Sherlock put in sharply, eyes resolutely on his phone.
John stared, a frown gathering between his eyebrows. “Yes,” he conceded, “but there was also Jill and Emma… Just a moment, Sherlock; what are you saying? That I shouldn’t have gone to them – clung to them – when there was no one else to turn to?”
“I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to live your life, John,” Sherlock replied frostily.
John made a rude noise. “That’s bollocks and you know it,” he responded. “You’ve done nothing but interfere in my life since we first met. Now, I’ll ask you again; what do you have against my – my friendship with Lesley and James?”
Sherlock gave a deep sigh and reluctantly put his phone to one side. “My opinions on the issue are, for once, irrelevant to the subject in question,” he said with finality.
“But putting that aside,” John continued doggedly, “you don’t like it, that’s clear. Now,” he rubbed thumb and index finger over his jaw; his stubble made a rasping noise. John pursed his lips, thinking hard.
“Now,” he said again, “the question is, which part of it don’t you like – the part where I’m friends with your son, or the part where I’m sleeping with your ex?”
Sherlock’s head jerked up and his eyes blazed briefly. He looked away immediately, seemingly aware how much he had given away. John nodded, a slow and not very pleasant smile starting to spread across his face.
“I don’t care one way or the other about either of them,” Sherlock replied quickly. His phone chimed again and he fumbled for it. John reached out and stopped him, gripping his hand.
“So it’s Lesley more than James,” John said thoughtfully, “but why? You clearly had some kind of attraction to her, twisted though it undoubtedly was, when you were teenagers, but now she’s a woman it seems unlikely…” He trailed off.
Sherlock smirked. “Try not to put too much effort into thinking, John,” he said sarcastically, “it clearly saps your strength, and I might need you for some brute force and ignorance later.”
John opened his mouth to reply but Sherlock had risen to his feet. He switched his phone to silent and pocketed it.
“It’s time,” he said and walked over to the dilapidated and rusting door in the corner of the stairwell.
It was difficult, retracing my steps in the dark, the cold and persistent drizzle making the task unpleasant as well. Finally, after what seemed like an age, I happened upon the right warehouse along the right piece of cracked asphalt. I descended the steps cautiously, hearing nothing but an empty silence, and stood at the bottom, regarding the empty space with dismay.
Why I had expected William to still be here, I really could not say. I must have imagined that if I could just get back here, all would be well. Of course they had gone on to - wherever. I shook my head; I really had no idea. I sank down on the steps, rested my chin in my hands and stayed there motionless.
My eyes adjusted gradually to the lack of light. I found I could see a faint patch of grayness in the corner. I pushed to my feet and climbed down the rest of the stairs.
The rusty, dilapidated door was hanging ajar, the lock broken and the rather newer padlock showing signs of having been hastily picked; James’ researches over the past year or so into breaking and entering had given me a whole new lexicon.
The door resisted me and made a frightening amount of noise when I put my shoulder to it. I gritted my teeth – I didn’t have time for silence. A dark, featureless tunnel yawned ahead, the only light coming in from a couple of air bricks. A few steps later, another door loomed. With my heart thudding in my ears, I stepped forward and grasped the rusty latch.
John had absolutely no idea where he was. He had little choice but to follow Sherlock blindly and had he stopped to think about it, he would have been appalled at how easily he was sliding back into old habits.
To his knowledge, the passage they were walking through went under the warehouse, possibly a delivery route at some time in the past. It was reasonably wide, more of the size of a pedestrian underpass than an actual corridor, and could have accommodated a small forklift truck but very little else. Sherlock’s bespoke shoes made very little noise on the concrete and John’s rubber-soles were almost silent bar the occasional squeak which told him the floor was damp. They walked in silence until Sherlock reached out to grip John’s shoulder in warning. He moved into John’s space, keeping his hand on him, and leaned in until his lips were almost grazing John’s ear.
“There should be a flight of stairs coming up soon, probably on the right,” he whispered, “If my calculations are correct, Moran’s offices should be directly above. One thing I can’t be sure of is the layout, nor do I know if Moran has any muscle watching this entrance, so have a care as we go upstairs.” He grinned and some of the old Sherlock suddenly leaked out. “I’d have the gun I lifted earlier at the ready if I were you, John.”
John had almost forgotten about the pistol shoved negligently into the small of his back. He reached behind himself and drew it out, taking off the safety and testing the action; the sound was inordinately loud in the empty space.
“Okay,” he replied quietly. Sherlock nodded and started to walk on.
Presently, the promised staircase came into view. Catlike they ascended, Sherlock leading, his eyes darting about the stairwell restlessly. The door at the top was shut but not locked as they discovered by turning the handle carefully. As soon as it sprang open a crack, what had been a vague murmur resolved itself into actual conversation between two voices.
“…very little the World Bank can do against it. This was James Moriarty’s legacy, you know…”
“My uncle’s work, you mean.” The flat tone was unmistakably James.
The slightly patronising tone of the answering laugh had to be the notorious Colonel Moran, at least John assumed so.
“Your uncle, James,” the voice said “yes, just so. It looks like you really are a chip off the old block, hmm?”
“Maybe,” James’ higher pitched voice sounded thoughtful. “I prefer to think of myself as the next step up. My uncle had to kill himself to beat Sherlock Holmes; I am his successor, the only one capable of taking over his empire.”
“You are a child as yet,” Moran’s tone was soothing but there was an underlying edge of steel to it. “You still have much to learn.”
“Tosh!” James replied rudely. “You say you’ve been carrying out my uncle’s legacy, but all you’ve done so far is to centralise, something my uncle expressly avoided doing. To my mind, that’s a retrograde step.”
“You know nothing!” Moran’s tone was sharp. Don’t antagonise him, John found himself thinking urgently.
“I know enough to make this work,” James replied with admirable composure for someone so young. “Look, the figures for Asia have to be adjusted for the better than expected growth figures in Germany. The sudden downturn in the UK won’t offset it; you’ll have to…”
The conversation drifted off into, to John’s mind, incomprehensible jargon. Sherlock seemed to understand; he was nodding faintly and his lips were vibrating.
“What are they talking about?” John whispered very quietly.
Sherlock moved closer to answer. “They are talking about world markets and interest rates,” he replied. “It seems that before I appeared on the scene, our friendly neighbourhood consulting criminal had plans to scupper the world economy.”
John had to bite back a disbelieving laugh. He looked at Sherlock and the urged faded away fast.
“You’re serious?” he murmured. “Could he do such a thing?”
“He already has,” Sherlock replied, tilting his head towards the door as if listening carefully. “You don’t really think the reason Europe and the US can’t seem to crawl out of Recession is solely to do with a few banks putting too much distance between the risk and the profit, do you?”
Sherlock nodded at the door. “Moran’s been manipulating interest rates throughout the world economy,” he said flatly, “just as dear old Jim planned to do himself, before I came along and ruined it all for him. Trouble is, Moran’s really not up to his master’s standard. At least he was sensible enough to realise he needed help and canny enough to recognise the appearance of a teenager who could synthesise MDMA as something unusual.”
Sherlock paused and listened. “It’s possible he was given the heads-up by someone as to James’ genetic history,” he continued after a moment, “or maybe even Moriarty told him about the boy himself. Either way, since James joined the team, the state of the economy all over the world has suddenly got much worse; I congratulate him on a job well and efficiently done.”
Sherlock’s tone, although quiet, was sour and his body language was tired. John frowned, not entirely sure what was wrong. Eventually, Sherlock drew himself up and started to listen again. John leaned in too.
“That should work at least for a few hours,” James was heard to say. “Get your analysts on to it and get me the figures by tomorrow morning.”
“Just a minute,” Moran’s tone was clearly getting more and more outraged. “You don’t give me orders around here!”
“Oh, don’t I?” James replied carelessly. “Well, who else is going to make this work, then? Certainly not you, Colonel. With the best will in the world, you are a military man and not an intellectual. Your strategic planning is adequate on a small scale, but your brain is slow and your grasp of the numbers involved is fairly basic.”
“I have a Masters in Applied Mathematics,” Moran protested. “Look, you’re just a kid…”
“Who is clearly more intelligent and adept at running this enterprise than you!” James’ voice cut like a whip, despite its lack of gravitas. “Don’t you understand? This is a job for an expert; stick to what you know. Go – oh, I don’t know – patrol the perimeter or something.”
John actually winced at this last statement. Having never seen so much as a photograph of Colonel Moran, he could not actually put a face to him. Nevertheless he could see all too clearly the growing rage in the eyes, the rush of blood to the surface of the skin, the clenching fists. So when the voice finally spoke, John’s jolt of surprise was genuine.
“I’ll leave guard duty to the hired help, thank you,” Moran’s tone was stiffly polite. “In the meantime, I suggest I would be better occupied looking after our uninvited guests. You, behind the door – I suggest you come in before the man covering you from behind decides to shoot first and ask questions later.”
The snick of a safety catch was enough for John and Sherlock to lock eyes, turn and raise their hands.
On the home straight on this one! Sorry it's taken so long - hope it was worth the wait.
My eyesight didn’t seem to be adjusting terribly quickly to the light, or more accurately, the lack of it. I knew that I was in some kind of service tunnel – it was far too wide to be anything else – but beyond that, nothing; I had to rely on my ears.
In fact, there was little to report one way or another as I shuffled along as quickly as I could, trying to stay quiet. I knew this was probably madness; Sherlock and John would be too far ahead of me by now to make any difference, but I couldn’t just wait around twiddling my thumbs. I wasn’t going to be the little woman, waiting and worrying at home while the menfolk went out and got things done, damned if I was!
A slight noise ahead made me freeze and press close to the wall. I held my breath – there it was again. With a flood of relief, I drew breath to call out only to stop short with my heart in my mouth as it occurred to me, rather belatedly, that there could be other people down here besides the three of us. I strained against the darkness and either my eyes were adjusting or a faint light had indeed appeared in the distance; I made for it slowly and carefully.
There was a gap in the wall some yards ahead, I could see that. I could also see two figures slowly disappearing into it; I assumed it was a flight of steps merely because I imagined we would have to go back upwards at some stage, but I couldn’t be sure. What I could be sure of, however, was that they were not alone. As they turned, a figure detached itself from the shadows and followed them. As it reached the gap, I saw the silhouette of a gun.
What to do? Distract the man so William and John would know of their danger? If I did that, I could cause a bloodbath; John had a gun and would certainly use it, and a stairway was a narrow and difficult space for manoeuvre. Also, there was no knowing what or who was at the top of the staircase and without that knowledge, I would be putting my own life at risk for very little, if any, gain. I kept quiet, watched the three of them disappear into the shadows and after a little while, I cautiously tailed them.
One of the most overused phrases when describing a momentous event is “oh, it all happened so quickly.” I had always treated this saying with a certain amount of cynicism in the past, assuming that the speaker merely wanted an excuse not to have to think too hard about difficult events, or to cling to something that appeared to justify their lack of accurate recall. I know differently now.
My adrenaline level was so high I could barely school my muscles to stop jumping. My breath came in shallow, silent pants through a deliberately open throat and I could feel my eyes stretched wide, straining at the dim light as I padded as silently as possible up the steps, stalking the stalker.
There was a turn in the stairs; I paused just before it, trying to assess the situation further up. The footsteps had faded away some time ago and all was very, very quiet; ominously so. I crept around the turn and peered into the dimness; no sign of any of them. I continued to move, slowly and silently, up the steps until I came to a landing. Ahead, a partly open door was outlined by the light within. Two shadows were leaning against it, apparently waiting for something or maybe listening carefully. I saw no sign of the man with the gun until he emerged silently from the shadows and stood training his weapon on the other two. He slipped the safety off with a metallic click that made the two men visibly stiffen. The door to the room opened inward and a raised voice shattered the quiet: “…suggest you come in before the man covering you from behind decides to shoot first and ask questions later.”
All three entered the room, closing the door behind them and leaving me uncertain as to what, if anything, I could do.
I had to think. I leaned against the wall in the dark and forced my brain to work.
The sunshine in the quad is bright and the bench is warm beneath my legs. Sherlock – William – smiles with an unguarded, fascinated light in his eyes.
“You see but you do not observe,” he says, his smile taking the sting out of the words. “Look at me – tell me what you see.”
I take some time to think about that. “I see…,” I stare at him, trying to peel back the layers as he is challenging me to do. “I see – an Oxford undergraduate reading chemistry, an accomplished musician, a brother, a son, an old Harrovian, a…”
“So far, so obvious. Go on,” William interrupts tartly. I swallow, nod and begin again.
“Alright,” I say, “judging by what you wear, I see someone who can’t be arsed with fashion. You want your clothing to make a statement of sorts, but you don’t want the bother of putting together the pieces yourself. Your jeans are Hugo Boss – they don’t come cheap – and your jacket is part of a tailored suit, likely from Saville Row. Your shirt is linen and I’m certain you wouldn’t know which way up to hold an iron, so I’m inferring that you use a laundry service. Your shoes are Italian leather and to die for, but neither these nor any of your clothes are in any way showy or ostentatious. You are clearly used to owning and using expensive items but you don’t flaunt them. The implication of that is not only family money but old family money. However, I’ve never seen anyone visit you here and you don’t talk about your family at all. I’m guessing you’re a trust fund baby, but I don’t have enough data to work out why.”
“Better,” William declares with decision. “You’re improving.” He smiles at me; this is high praise indeed. “Continue,” he commands.
“I see a young man whose intelligence is so high that his patience with a slower world has worn very thin,” I say slowly, carefully.
“Correct but pedestrian,” William says grudgingly. “What else?”
“I see someone who is essentially alone,” I say. I feel suddenly very uncertain.
“Go on,” William says, but his voice has deadened and his face is shuttered.
“Alone and driven,” I continue, somehow unable to stop, “Someone for whom friendship is a difficult word. Someone for whom love is irrelevant.”
William’s breath hitches for a moment, then he draws himself up. “You are correct of course,” he tells me, “on all counts.” He rises and smooths down the knees of his jeans.
“I have an experiment running,” he mutters and walks away.
I found I had slid down the wall and was sitting on the cold tiles. It was as though a persistent thought had been nagging at me for years and when I finally manned up and unwrapped it, I discovered something I hadn’t realised I had forgotten.
“See but do not observe,” I murmured to myself. “Alright, William; let’s see how far I get.”
William and John had come straight to this place with little delay which meant that William knew much more than he was letting on. From all I had heard, finding James was high on his list but there were other concerns equally important – and his chief motives for rescuing my son did not necessarily correspond with mine.
What other reasons could there be for William to come here? For that, I reckoned I had to think about what little information James had let slip over the past weeks. He had certainly been working on something big and the implication had been that it was not only important but dangerous and possibly criminal too.
“Eliminate the impossible,” I muttered. Okay, so for me that meant that James was still my son, still essentially on the side of the angels. I had known him since birth and even taking motherly bias into consideration, I could not imagine a world where James would sell out. Taking that as read, the only other possibility had him playing the most dangerous game in the world; a double game.
I started to shake. This meant that James was on the other side of that door. Not only James but whoever or whatever he was playing in his crazy, treacherous scheme.
I stood up slowly and moved over to the door. Light still leaked from around its edges; it had dropped on its hinges at some stage and did not close easily. I thanked god for small mercies and leaned as close as I could.
An authoritative adult male voice was expounding on the precariousness of the world markets. Each time William interrupted with a question, he was slapped down hard with mocking invective. I heard the unknown male question John on the provenance of his Sig Sauer pistol. John’s reply was too quiet for me to hear, but the rustle of clothing and the metallic click of the safety catch told me that John was now unarmed. I bit my lip; he could not help me now.
William then raised his voice. “I believe we should get formal introductions out of the way before we go any further,” he said, “I am, of course, Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective, and nemesis of your late superior, Jim Moriarty. You are Colonel Sebastian Moran, I believe; or should I say former Colonel seeing as you were cashiered for behaviour unbecoming, etc. etc. Something about torturing prisoners, I understand, Mr Moran; a nasty business.”
“Indeed,” Moran, if that was his name, replied, “and if we are revisiting ancient history, what shall we say about your colleague here then, Mr Holmes? A war hero with an exemplary record who, after meeting you, suddenly becomes a murderer? And what will history say about you? Sherlock Holmes, bona fide genius, wild child, ex-addict, guilty of any number of serious legal infractions – don’t worry, Jim kept records of them all.”
Moran laughed. “I would quote an old proverb about glass houses and stones,” he said, “but I see by your expression I don’t need to.”
William made no answer, but it seemed Moran had already finished talking to him and his attention had shifted elsewhere. “James,” he said commandingly.
“What?” a high, cracked tenor voice replied irritably. The hair on the back of my neck prickled and my heart leaped into my mouth at the sound.
“James,” Moran’s voice said in a rather deeper, graver tone, “you shouldn’t keep your father waiting.”
“In a minute,” said my son’s voice irritably. I flinched. James, this is no time for attitude, I found myself thinking.
“You don’t seem very surprised,” Moran sounded displeased somehow.
“I’m not,” James responded in a bored voice, “I deduced it a long time ago – tedious. Now are you going to let me get this finished, or do you want the Far Eastern markets to show some recovery in the next few days?”
My mental antennae pinged wildly; James never explained, never enlightened. He was young enough to consider it a total waste of his time, so if he was favouring Moran with an explanation, there had to be an ulterior…
He knew I was here. That could be the only explanation – eliminate the impossible and what remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Thank you, William – grudgingly, but thank you.
I put my eye to the crack in the door. I could see very little and after some manoeuvring about, I realised that the flunky with the gun was standing directly in front of the door with his back to me. This was promising.
I listened a little longer, taking in James’ insolence and Moran’s growing temper, wondering when my cue would come. Then I heard it.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” James spat. “This is way out of your comfort zone, Moran; it’s complicated and difficult. If it was easy, I’d get my mum to do it!”
Without another thought, I stepped back from the door and brought my foot forward, the sole flat against its surface, with as much strength as I could muster.
The door burst inwards like a battering ram, catapulting the gunman over on to his face. In the open doorway, I watched as John made a lightning dive for his confiscated pistol and Sherlock grappled with the dazed gunman. I peered round the door and took in a medium-sized room furnished with cheap office furniture and equipped with banks of computers. I watched as a large man with a decided military bearing tackled John for possession of the Sig. As they strained together silently, I shook my head; I could not help there. My eyes swept the room and landed on James who was frantically typing on two computers and referring to a third as he did so. For a moment, his gaze locked with mine then he nodded, smiled and brought his index finger down on the Enter key.
“Put the gun down – put it down now!” Moran’s powerful bellow made William freeze in his struggles.
Moran pointed the Sig straight at John’s face then quickly reversed the weapon and brought it down on the unprotected back of John’s neck; he went down like a felled tree.
“John!” William exclaimed making an involuntary movement towards him.
“Stay where you are!” Moran shouted, swivelling to point the gun at William’s chest. He gestured.
“Lay the weapon down,” Moran commanded, “Do it, now!”
William slowly and carefully put the pistol flat on the floor by the side of the gunman he had just rendered completely unconscious.
“You,” Moran said, staring straight at me, “whoever you are, get inside this room now!”
Taking a leaf from William’s book, I moved very deliberately and slowly around the edge of the door, keeping my hands still and at my sides.
Moran stared at me puzzled, and then his face cleared. “Of course, the mother,” he said with a humourless smile, “Quite a family reunion.” He turned.
“James,” he said in a nasty tone, “I think you’d better… what are you doing? Why are you using my laptop?”
“I’m making sure the latest figures are running through the computer model,” James said, still furiously typing. His face was very white. “If you follow my instructions, there should be another sharp fall in the Shanghai Stock Exchange…”
Moran strode over and grabbed James by the back of the neck, hauling him away from the computers.
“What have you done? What have you done?” he was murmuring over and over again.
James stood back and looked at him and the disdain on his face made me shiver.
“I have done precisely what you fear I have done,” James said. “I’ve issued irrevocable instructions in your name killing the earlier interest rate adjustments. The markets should return to some kind of normality over the next few weeks, but in these volatile time, who knows what normality is?”
“You… what – why?” Moran stared at James. “Why have you done this?”
“Because he may be Jim Moriarty’s nephew,” came William’s voice, flat and calm, “but he is also my son.”
Moran scrabbled at the computers. “I can reverse this,” he said, eyes alight. “I can make it happen again.”
William shook his head. “No, Moran,” he said, “you can’t.”
Moran swiveled round and stared at William. “Why not?” he demanded, his face reflected fresh fears and suspicions.
“You can’t,” William continued, his face and voice implacable, “because that’s not the only thing James has done.”
A horrible calm seemed to settle over Moran. “Tell me,” he said in a dead voice.
William bowed slightly in acknowledgement. “In addition to implementing instructions to your operatives to kill the operation,” he said levelly, “James has forwarded their identities to my brother’s department. Mycroft has been waiting for this information for several hours now; you cannot imagine that he has wasted any time at all in acting on it.”
Moran stood; his mouth worked and his eyes bulged with inexpressible rage. He turned to James.
“You!” he snarled, “You betrayed me – you betrayed your uncle and all that he stood for!”
Staring at Moran, James seemed to shrink down from a mouthy, confident young man into a small, frightened boy. Moran caught hold of him by the neck and shook him hard.
“No!” I screamed, my hands at my mouth. I darted forward as James started to choke, but I was too late.
There was a loud bang from behind him and Moran went suddenly taut in agony, then limp as his grasp loosened. He crumpled to the floor and did not move.
“James!” I shouted and scooped him up, away from Moran’s suddenly nerveless hands. James was so shocked he simply clung to me, wide-eyed and terrified. I lifted him into my arms, a ridiculous manoeuvre as he was almost as tall as me, and held him tightly until his shaking started to subside.
William lowered the gun slowly and walked over to Moran’s prone body where he carefully checked for a pulse.
“Is he…?” I asked.
William looked up; his face was grey. “Yes,” he nodded. His eyes were wide and scared and he looked heartbreakingly like his son. We shared a long, long look.
“Thank you,” I whispered. Thank you for saving my son, for killing the man who would have murdered him, for taking the guilt of that death on yourself, for coming back for James and for me despite the bad blood between us, for still loving me enough after all these years to risk your life for me, and for being generous; more generous to me than I ever was to you. I felt the sting of tears.
The silence was broken by a soft moan. William’s eyes suddenly snapped over to where John was just starting to wake up, painfully and clearly unhappily. William’s face relaxed back into its usual mask, he rose to his feet and crossed over to John, helping him to sit up and checking him for damage.
“These heroics will have to cease, John,” he said with an easy affection that surprised me.
“Whrrr…” John managed groggily. William checked John’s pupils and his pulse then sat back on his haunches and fished out his phone.
“Mycroft? Ambulance, please, to this address. …No, nothing major; just a suspected concussion, maybe some nasty contusions from an attempted strangulation.”
William’s eyes glanced over the still form of the late Colonel Sebastian Moran. “Oh, and Mycroft? Send the cleanup crew with the ambulance, will you? There’s some completed business here that needs a burial duty.”
Over James’ shaking shoulder, I glanced at my watch out of habit and blinked; barely ten minutes had elapsed since I entered this room and suddenly the whole world was different.
The fallout was fairly insignificant considering all that had happened in the past twenty-four hours.
John shook his head gingerly. The wait in A&E was now down to two hours; a Friday night was a very bad time to need out of hours medical assistance. James and Lesley had, of course, been whisked away to see a specialist at Mycroft’s expense, leaving John to either set to on his own behalf or avail himself of the good old National Health.
To John’s surprise, Sherlock travelled with him in the ambulance and instead of depositing John in the queue and taking off, had sat down next to him, occasionally exchanging texts with his brother both on the progress of the cleanup and also the state of the world economy. Both seemed to be progressing apace, if Sherlock’s occasional pithy comments were anything to go by.
“You can leave if you like,” John said after fifteen minutes of silence.
“I can work just as well here as in a hotel,” Sherlock replied placidly.
“I can give you the keys to my place,” John offered. “You could at least get some sleep.”
“Don’t fuss, John,” Sherlock said but without any bite. Silence fell between them for a few minutes; a nurse came to ask John a few questions. His answers seemed to worry her; she promptly shifted him several places further up the queue.
“So Mycroft knew then.” It wasn’t a question and John did not intend to beat around the bush any longer.
“He knew.” Sherlock kept his head bent over his phone.
“Not in the beginning.”
“So why did you tell us he was working with Moran?”
“Because he was.”
Sherlock sighed, pressed Send and pocketed the device. Only then did he turn to look at John.
“James never believed in my death,” Sherlock began, “he always suspected some kind of foul play. It was only when Moran got hold of him and he realised he was in over his head that James started trying to track me down online. Once he found me and explained his problem, I quickly realised how the situation could be used to both our advantages. Latterly, he has been wearing a tracking device for safety; so has Lesley, although she was ignorant of that fact.”
“James found you?” John was very surprised.
“Oh, yes,” Sherlock replied. “What, you thought it was the other way round? John, I jumped off a building to keep you safe – did you think I would deliberately risk my thirteen year-old son?”
Until that moment, John would have replied in the affirmative without another thought. He opened his mouth to demur then closed it again as the full import of Sherlock’s words hit home. He stared.
Sherlock shrugged and shuffled his feet. “Jim Moriarty is dead, John,” he replied.
“I’d guessed that much thanks,” John replied caustically.
“He is buried in my coffin; it was suicide.”
“Oh, Lord,” John squeezed his eyes shut. He felt an insane urge to giggle.
“Legerdemain, John,” Sherlock said, “Misdirection. I’ll explain it properly someday, until then…”
“You had no pulse,” John interrupted, closing his eyes against the memory. “I felt your wrist – nothing.”
Sherlock gave him an old-fashioned look; John sighed. “Tourniquet?” he said between his teeth.
“That’s one of the ways, yes,” Sherlock agreed.
John rubbed his eyes tiredly. “Why didn’t Moriarty threaten James?” John asked suddenly.
“Who knows,” Sherlock sighed. “Perhaps he didn’t know about him, although I sincerely doubt that. I guess he simply assumed I wouldn’t care. After all, there was no sniper for Mycroft either.”
“So he was outwitted, even in death,” John said slowly. “My grief over you outwitted him. You know, I’m not quite sure how I feel about that, Sherlock.”
Sherlock frowned and cocked his head. “I don’t understand,” he said.
“No,” John said, scratching his ear thoughtfully. “No, I don’t suppose you do.”
Thirty minutes later, John was diagnosed with a mild concussion by an overworked junior doctor who discharged him with a strip of prescription painkillers and instructions to rest. The instructions went in one ear and out the other; the drugs went into his pocket and out of his memory.
Sherlock hailed a cab and bundled John, whose endurance was rapidly ebbing, into the back, propping him up in a corner. When John sagged alarmingly, leaning his full weight on Sherlock’s shoulder, Sherlock simply shifted an arm from where it was being painfully crushed to a more comfortable position around John’s shoulders and carried on texting one-handed.
John didn’t remember getting out of the taxi or climbing the stairs. He had no memory of opening his front door, entering the flat, undressing and getting into his bed. But he must have done all of those things, he found himself thinking fuzzily as he struggled out of a deep sleep to note that it was full daylight outside and he was warm and cosy under a heavy, duck-down duvet.
He stared blankly at the curtains then blinked and frowned. He turned his head then his whole body to stare uncomprehendingly at the mop of dark hair on the pillow next to him.
“Sherlock?” he whispered scratchily, then a little louder, “Sherlock!”
The dark head stirred and the body beneath it began to move languidly.
“Nnnn…” Sherlock rumbled sleepily.
“Sherlock,” John said, suddenly feeling a lot more awake. “Sherlock, why are you in my bed?”
“Mm not in your bed,” Sherlock responded without opening his eyes, “you’re in mine.”
John lay back against the soft pillow and looked around him; definitely not his bedroom in the flat. It looked like… well, like Baker Street but it wasn’t his bedroom there either.
John turned to poke Sherlock in the ribs.
“Ow!” the other man protested drowsily, burrowing into the covers.
“Sherlock,” John said, frowning in puzzlement, “Why and how are we in Baker Street?”
Sherlock groaned and mashed his face into the pillow.
John tried to marshal his thoughts. “Why am I in bed with you?” he asked. Saying the words felt surprisingly unworrying.
Sherlock turned his head and cracked an eye open. “Don’t you want to be?” he asked.
John thought about that. He was warm and comfortable; he was back in Baker Street; Sherlock was his… well, his flatmate would do as a descriptor for now; and Moriarty had finally been laid to rest.
“I’ll let you know,” he replied and closed his eyes.
Life was too short for labels.
It took a while for us to recover, James and me.
Physically, cuts and bruises were all either of us had, although James was going to have some spectacular contusions on his neck in the shape of Moran’s hands for some days yet. I realised that Social Services were going to have a field day with that if I didn’t think up something good very quickly.
Jill and Emma were waiting up for us at home with Mark when we arrived, courtesy of Mycroft Holmes’ shiny, smooth car and his shiny, smooth assistant. Jill flung her arms around me, sobbing in relief and to my amazement, I saw James give Emma an awkward one-armed embrace before shuffling his feet and refusing to meet anybody’s eyes.
Mark hauled me severely over the coals for running off as I did and putting everyone at risk. I endured it as best I could but most of me felt that it was pretty much a draw. Maybe things would still have turned out just as well if I hadn’t broken the rules, but when push came to shove, I had played my part and helped to rescue my son. That was my story and I was sticking to it.
I had also dug into my memory and exhumed a few things I had hoped would never again see the light of day; these required rather more from me in the way of closure.
James was signed off school for a fortnight, given a thorough physical once-over, interviewed by a police psychiatrist and offered trauma counselling. He welcomed the first, endured the second, played mind games with the third and refused the last with total disdain.
“Why would I want some half-trained do-gooder poking through my head, mum?” he demanded, flopping down next to me on the sofa and hiding his face in his hoodie.
“I don’t think it’s quite as bad as that,” I responded, my lips twitching with suppressed laughter. He eyed me suspiciously.
“Am I missing something here?” he asked, jerking his chin up to look me directly in the face.
I shook my head. “No, James,” I replied, still feeling amused, “you just remind me very much of your father when I knew him at Oxford.”
“Hmm,” James replied; he narrowed his eyes.
I braced myself. “Alright, number one son,” I said, “Ask away.”
“Okay,” he said slowly, still suspicious. “If all this hadn’t happened, were you ever going to tell me about him?”
I took a breath. “No,” I confirmed. “Until this year, James, I had decided that you were mine and mine alone. No one was going to come along and take the smallest bit of you away from me, let alone the man who virtually did a moonlight flit rather than face up to his responsibilities.”
“And now?” James’ face had not changed its expression.
I sighed. “Now,” I replied more slowly, “I realise that it always takes two. I can’t forgive him for leaving Oxford and making it impossible for me to find him, but I know he left because of me, not you. I’m sure of that, James, because no one knew about you at that point, not even me.”
“You’ve come to some conclusions recently,” James prompted, “About why he left you, am I right?” His eyes were far too knowing for a teenager.
“You’re deducing me again, aren’t you?” I protested then shook my head as he opened his mouth to remonstrate with me. “Never mind; I’ll try to answer as best I can.” I leaned my chin in my hands and tried to order my thoughts.
“It didn’t really go as I had always told myself it did,” I began. “I’m not trying to whitewash anybody, but I always been inwardly convinced that I hardly knew William before that fateful night. However, much as I really wanted to believe that version of events, it simply wasn’t true.”
“The night that produced me, you mean?” James put in. I nodded; I couldn’t meet his eyes.
“Don’t worry, mum,” James put a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Nothing you can tell me can be worse than the stories I told myself once I learned about my dual heritage.”
I went suddenly cold. “You knew about my brother?” I whispered, “About Jim? Jim Moriarty?”
James nodded. “Of course I did,” he replied. “Moran thought he was springing a surprise on me when he told me, but I’d already worked it out. All that was left for me was to decide which side I wanted to be on.”
“And was that an easy decision?” I asked with bated breath.
James shrugged. “Pretty much, yes,” he replied carelessly. He nodded at me. “Go on with what you were saying – about dad and you.”
I let out a cautious breath then gave myself a mental shake. “Alright,” I replied. I allowed my mind to drift back almost fifteen years and a whole lifetime.
“William liked to waylay me when I was coming back into College after singing Evensong at St Peter’s,” I said with a small smile. “He was so hopeless at making his interest clear that it he had to virtually hit me over the head before it even occurred to me that he might…”
I raked my hand through my hair, breathing hard. William had hurt me; he had been rough and unpracticed and I had been scared and dry, damnit. It had been quick and clumsy and I had cried – I had shouted and blamed him, accused him of forcing me, even though I hadn’t said no. I thought I would never forget the look in his eyes as he put his clothes on and left.
None of these memories had come back to bite me on the arse until now; until James.
I hadn’t realised I was crying until James handed me a crumpled up tissue. He looked thoughtful and rubbed his index finger over his lower lip in a shockingly familiar manner.
“Do you think, if you’d managed to find him in Cambridge,” he began slowly, “or if he hadn’t taken it so hard…” James trailed off, as uncertain as I had ever seen him.
I shook my head and smiled weakly. “Nice as it might be to imagine, James,” I replied, “I’m fairly sure that even then there was no room for a woman in William’s life: for a man, perhaps, but even that not until much later.” I reached out and ruffled James’ hair affectionately. “Unfortunately, you were never going to have a functional upbringing, love,” I told him ruefully.
James ducked his head and wormed his way under my arm, clasping his hands around my waist. “I think functional upbringings are overrated,” he told me. I smiled and kissed the top of his head.
“I’ve been thinking, mum,” he said into my jumper.
“Oh?” I replied, wondering what I was in for now.
“Yeah,” he raised his head. “Mum, I can’t carry on at Southgate Comprehensive, not after everything that’s happened lately with Toby and the gangs. I’ve become a target – life will be hell for all of us for a long time; it might never get better.”
I leaned back, putting a finger under his chin and raising his eyes to look at me. “You’ve changed your mind, haven’t you?” I asked.
He nodded. “Yeah,” he replied. “Look, mum, I know I’ll have a tough time there, but I’m going to have to go somewhere different now, so I might just as well be a privileged barrow boy as an underprivileged one.” He sighed. “I’ve decided to take up my Uncle Mycroft’s offer of a place at Harrow.” He skewered me with a very sharp glance. “However, I’m going to make damn sure I don’t lose out on the deal; Uncle Mycroft knows that although I’m only the second smartest person in London, I can make his life very difficult if he ties the leash too tight.”
I turned away to hide a twisted smile. If I was honest with myself, I had been expecting this for the past month or so. James had to face facts and, unfortunately, so did I. I wondered which of them- James or his uncle – would eventually gain the upper hand; I hoped it was Mycroft Holmes, for all our sakes.
“Uncle Mycroft says he’ll arrange for you and Jill and Emma to move out of Ashchurch,” he continued. “He’ll find you a place near the school, he says, but he’s not quite sure whether we all want to continue living together. He needs to know that before he can make the arrangements.”
I shook my head. “I think probably not, James,” I replied, my voice steady. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you. I have the offer of a job in Italy, partly journalistic, partly public relations. It’s for twelve months. I was on the point of turning it down, but if you have made your decision, I think perhaps I should grasp the nettle too.”
James gave me a very keen glance. “Twelve months?” he said.
I nodded. “Yes, I’m afraid so,” I replied carefully. “I’ll be able to return for flying visits within that time, of course, but never for very long, I’m afraid.” I shrugged and smiled. “You never know – I might like it out there; might decide to settle. I think you’d like the climate out there, James, and the holidays at Harrow are very long.”
“So you’re – not going to tell him, then?” James said.
I felt my heart rate suddenly rocket and the blood rush to my face. I looked away quickly and felt James lay a gentle hand on my shoulder.
“I keep telling you not to deduce me,” I said through my teeth; tears sprang unbidden to my eyes.
“Mum, I’ve known almost as long as you have,” he said gently, “You should be more careful what you leave about in the bathroom. But why haven’t you told him? He’s a decent, honest man and he likes you a lot. Is it because of what happened with Sherlock…?”
I shook my head firmly. “No, James, no,” I replied, “Really, that’s not it at all.” I held my hands up and breathed deeply; I felt sick. Again.
A few moments went by while I tried to pull myself back together. I was silent for a moment then I bent forward and leaned my chin in my hands.
“James, you’ve seen them together, haven’t you?” I said, “Your dad and John?” He nodded, his face a mass of questions. “How would you describe their relationship?”
He was quick, I’ll give him that. He shook his head. “I know,” he replied, “but John was with you, wasn’t he?”
I smiled rather sadly. “Second-best is all very well,” I replied, “until the best returns, in this case, from the dead.”
James was quiet, staring at his shoelaces. I took his hand and interlaced our fingers.
“John came to me because after the catastrophe at Bart’s, I was the closest he could get to Sherlock,” I told him quietly, “and I accepted John… for the self-same reason.”
I swallowed. “I really don’t want to mess things up,” I said, “for either of them. You’re right – John’s a good man, but he would want things I’m not willing to let him have.” I laughed quietly. “He would want to make an honest woman of me and that’s something I’ve never been.”
James looked thoughtful. “If he did make an honest woman of you,” he replied, “I could have a functional upbringing.”
Just for a moment, the wistful look on his face made me pause, then his eyes twinkled and I whacked him in the midriff with a cushion.
“You,” I said, pointing at him, “are a chiseller.”
James nodded. “Quite right,” he replied, “except that I wasn’t born in Dublin.” His face lost its grin and became pensive again.
“Seriously though, mum,” he said, “don’t you think he has a right to know he’s going to be a dad? I mean, for me it means I’m going to have a half-sibling and that’s quite scary. For dad and John, well, it… sort of links them somehow, doesn’t it?”
“What, you mean that both of them slept with the same woman?” I retorted, forgetting, as usual, that it was my son I was talking to. He seemed to take it in his stride.
“No,” he replied, rallying, “that they have a family between them.”
James had a habit of pulling me up short. I opened my mouth then closed it again.
“When you put it like that…” I began but couldn’t think how to continue.
James catapulted himself up from the sofa in a flail of limbs. “Think about it, mum,” he said out of his hood as he went into the kitchen, “please?”
Chapter 12: Epilogue
I did think about it. In fact, it was all I could think about for several weeks. Meanwhile my waistbands grew close, then tight and I still had not come to any kind of conclusion.
Mycroft Holmes was as good as his word. He found a nice three-bed semi in the Rayners Lane area for Jill, in the catchment area for several very suitable schools. Jill’s settlement was pushed through very quickly and the arrears on her much-enhanced widow’s pension enabled her to furnish the house to her and Emma’s satisfaction.
Mycroft Holmes also found me a flat rather than a house; to this day, I wonder how he knew to do this. It was part of a large Victorian house but had a completely separate front door, a tiny patio and its own parking space. However, the main delight was that it was almost within a stone’s throw of Harrow School. I found myself pacing the rooms restlessly, part of me planning the décor, another part thinking about the job in Italy and how I was still making excuses.
Oh yes; there really was a job in Italy. I had dismissed it out of hand when it first came up, but my publisher kept pushing, telling me that a new start would be everything I needed and James could attend the excellent International School which was only a few miles from the office. I had started to consider it seriously once I realised the shape my life would inevitably take. Now that James’s place at Harrow was common knowledge, my boss was pressing me even harder to take the job. He had bent over backwards to tie up the deal and now he was sending me daily emails urging me to follow through.
And it made perfect sense. I sat down in the middle of what could be my living room, on the bare floorboards; the sun from the large window warmed a patch of skin between my shoulder blades. The flat was perfect, the job was perfect and they were perfect together. So why was I hesitating?
James was quiet that evening, forking up his chilli con carne with a single-minded intensity that I found slightly worrying. Jill and Emma had already moved into their new home the previous weekend with much laughter, swearing and broken fingernails as we helped them unpack. The flat at Ashchurch seemed even more worn and shabby without Jill’s possessions to brighten it up. It had never really occurred to me until now how little I actually possessed.
I was clearly meant to move on. I had never intended to stay at Ashchurch, but circumstances had conspired to keep me there far longer than I had anticipated. Although I would miss him terribly, James would have the kind of independence at Harrow that I could never stand to grant him at home. The holidays were certainly long but even if I visited at every available opportunity during term time, I would only get to see him once every half term – I could manage that and live in Italy. I would simply have to ensure that word didn’t get out once I could no longer hide my condition.
“You’re thinking about leaving,” James said, placing his cutlery on his empty plate, “Aren’t you?”
I nodded reluctantly. “Yes,” I replied, “I believe I am.”
He said nothing, just stacked the plates and took them over to the sink, turning on the tap to run some washing-up water.
“I still think John should know,” James said throwing the cutlery into the soapy water.
I turned around and stared at the back of his neck in horror.
“James, you haven’t!” I whispered. His spine stiffened and he didn’t answer for a long, terrible moment.
“No, I haven’t,” he said uncertainly, “but I wanted to – still do.”
I felt the first stirrings of panic.
“They’re not together, you know,” James said, turning round. His hands were covered in soapsuds.
“What do you mean?” I was confused.
“Dad and John,” he replied, “At least, not that way. Well, not yet at any rate.”
“And you think,” I began slowly, “that telling them I’m pregnant with John’s baby is going to somehow bring them together? No, no – wait!” I put my hands to my head. “You think that if I tell them, they won’t get together? That John will come back to me? Jesus, James, you think I want to spend my life with someone for whom I’m always going to be second best when the one they really want is actually there all the…”
“No, mum, that’s not what I meant. Look, just calm down!” James had abandoned the washing up and was putting soapsuds all over my shoulders.
“John doesn’t really understand why you broke up with him,” James explained. “He’s in a sort of limbo, really. He keeps wondering if you’ll get over whatever it is that’s bugging you and the two of you will try again. He’s not pining or anything, but he’s a practical, pragmatic sort of guy and he wants a home and a family. Right now, he also wants Dad, but that’s not going to happen while he’s still holding out for you.”
“Still not getting it,” I retorted. “You’re putting forward a pretty good argument for me just hiking off to Italy and disappearing, you know. Anyway,” I frowned at him. “How do you know all this?”
James rolled his eyes. “I observe, mum,” he replied testily. “I mean, I’m round there most days. Some evenings I only come home because you get shirty if I’m not here for dinner.”
Something in that last throwaway comment lodged itself under my ribs and started to dig in.
“Keep on topic,” I complained. I was struck with a sudden thought. “James, you haven’t been reading up about polyamory, have you?”
James looked puzzled and as he opened his mouth to ask, I held up my hand. “Never mind,” I said, “carry on.”
“I just think that John needs closure, that’s all,” James said finally, “and knowing the real reason why you broke up with him just might give him that.”
James stacked the final plate on the drainer and dried his hands on the teatowel. He picked up his jacket from the back of his chair and put it on.
“Out tonight?” I asked with a pang of disappointment.
James nodded. “Yeah,” he said, “have you got any money for a taxi, mum?”
I gave a small smile. “Can’t you walk?” I teased.
He shook his head. “Not to Baker Street, I can’t,” he replied. My heart gave a flip.
“Actually,” James continued, pretending to be absorbed in getting his zip precisely lined up, “I have an invitation for you too.”
“What?” I frowned. “Why would either of those two want me round at Baker Street?”
“Because you’re my mum?” James said mock-patiently then he shrugged. “Who knows, who cares? How much time do you need to put your face on?”
Rather too much time for James’ impatience, it seemed. My hands were shaking as I applied the little make-up I used regularly. I looked at myself in the mirror, taking in the jeans, high street jersey and rather more expensive tee-shirt and decided not to change clothes. I threw on my old leather jacket, slung my favourite tote bag over my shoulder and followed James out of the flat.
We flagged down a taxi on Devons Road, much to our joint surprise, and the journey through to Baker Street was almost a completely clear run. Someone plainly wanted this to happen, I thought fearfully. As the cab pulled up outside 221, James slid over to the door and hopped out, turning to offer me his hand as though he thought I might run panicking into the night if he didn’t. I clambered out of the cab slowly and carefully, for the first time acutely aware of the burgeoning life inside me.
I rested my hands over my swollen belly and looked up at the brightly-lit windows of 221B.
A new beginning.