The hand-delivered envelope arrives on Monday afternoon while Sherlock is out investigating a lead. Whomever delivered it seemed to know when to expect the Great Detective, as Mrs Hudson yoo-hoos to him as he walks through the door.
“This just arrived for you, dear,” she says, proffering the cream-coloured envelope, undisguised curiosity writ large upon her face.
Sherlock mostly ignores her, his focus intent upon this unexpected piece of post.
There isn’t much to glean from the outside—the envelope is of a type and quality that can be found at any sort of stationery shop. The card is the same Sherlock discovers when he carefully extracts it. Looking it over, however, he is able to narrow it down to the Paperchase brand.
The card is printed in all capital letters, but the press of the pen tells Sherlock that the writer is a man, left-handed, and someone not used to writing in all capitals. Someone attempting to obscure their true handwriting, then. Not much to go on, but details that may become relevant at some point.
The words, of course, make such thoughts fly out of his head.
The card is an invitation, plain and elegant, and the writing itself is in a different hand—a right handed female, probably older than thirty, given her comfort with calligraphy—and states:
To Mr Sherlock Holmes,
You are cordially invited to an evening’s entertainment taking place tonight, Monday 30 April beginning at 6.30pm.
Tonight’s performance will feature internet celebrity Doctor John Watson and will take place at Millennium Mills, Royal Victoria Dock, E16.
Sherlock shivers, the hairs rising on the nape of his neck. He’s altogether certain, now, who is responsible and it means that he will of course be attending—whether or not the entire thing is a trap. He has no choice.
When he arrives at the derelict building, he is met at the front by a huge, burly mountain of a man. The man steps in his way, not speaking, but Sherlock holds his arms out to show that he is unarmed. The man—security, was once in the military but now works on the very fringes of the normal world—frisks him roughly before clamping a hand around his upper arm and guiding him firmly into the building. Sherlock doesn’t put up a fight, but he keeps his eyes open—as if stopping were an option—and has no difficulty remembering the path to exit if and when he’s able to leave.
After a few moments of wandering through the cavernous structure—taking care of the piles of debris and dust that time has worn away from the walls and ceiling—he is led to a huge room that is empty save for a single chair, a large lamp, and three large men surrounding a smaller, unconscious form.
Sherlock is manhandled into the chair and tied tightly to it by the security man assigned to bring him in.
He tests his bonds once the man turns away to face his colleagues and the small, prone figure lying on the floor. The ropes, however, hold him tightly and any attempt to escape will only result in rope burns.
“So glad you could make it, Mr Holmes,” a voice calls out from the shadows. “Shall we rouse our guest of honour and begin our show?”
Sherlock’s voice stops in his throat as one of the large men smacks at John’s face over and over until the doctor finally groans and opens his eyes slowly.
“Wha—” he mumbles in confusion, his blue eyes unfocused and only half-opened in the bright light that is glaring directly into his face.
Sherlock grips tightly at the arms of the chair he’s tied to, his voice and breath caught in his throat.
“Good evening, Doctor Watson,” the voice calls from the shadows. “We’re so glad you could be with us tonight.”
“What’s happening? Who are you?”
“Ah, I know you’ve done some public speaking, but we will not be requiring a reading or story-telling tonight,” the voice continues patronisingly. “Tonight’s performance is primarily of the physical variety. But please,” the voice goes on, “don’t hold back if you feel like speaking or, indeed, making noise of any kind at all. This is very avant garde performance art, of course, and it would be criminal to curtail your creativity and contribution to tonight’s artistic performance.”
Sherlock’s breathing faster, his fists clenched, but he still finds himself speechless.
“You may begin now, gentlemen.”
The four men gathered around John don’t say anything, but they each share a look and the one who slapped John steps back to allow one of the others to begin.
The first to step up for a turn, pulls John’s head up—despite the smaller man yelling and struggling—and delivers his first blow to the stomach, knocking the wind right out of John. John gapes and gasps for breath as the man, still silent, lands another punch to the solar plexus, a clean hit that Sherlock has an unparalleled view of from his seat.
Sherlock sweats, tiny pinpricks of discomfort on his scalp and the nape of his neck, his palms sweaty where they’re clenched against the arms of the chair. He’s biting his lip hard and he squirms once in his seat.
The large man drops John back to the ground, allowing the doctor to curl in on himself and protect his vulnerable underbelly from further abuse. He steps back and removes his jacket—Sherlock barely pays attention to the other men doing the same—before he steps back up to John and hauls him off the floor, his arms pulled back. John shouts—finding his voice where Sherlock is unable to—and does his best to struggle, but the early blows and his lingering sluggishness from the drugs mean he is overmatched when the second man steps up to him and delivers a jawbreaker. Sherlock can hear the crunch of bone under stress from his seat, can clearly see the way that John’s head snaps back and hear the peculiar quality of a scream cut short.
Sherlock squirms in his seat, panting, desperate to get free or to move—to do something rather than sit and watch, powerless to move.
And yet, he is unable to look away.
He watches as each man takes his turn, as they pound at John’s body—his legs, his shoulders, his arms and torso, even his face and feet. He watches them strip John bare, stares in utter helplessness as bruises bloom on John’s pale skin, as incidental blood wells up and out from some of the harder hits.
John groans and Sherlock groans in sympathy, grunts when the breath is knocked from John’s lungs, and writhes in his bonds. His wrists are red like John’s are red from being held up and stretched out.
After some time—Sherlock can’t concentrate enough to know how long—John mercifully goes unconscious and the beating stops. The men lay the doctor down on a part of the floor that is relatively free of debris and dust. Sherlock pants, his clothes are uncomfortable from the sweat, from how they’ve come askew in his struggles, and they feel as constricting and dirty as the rope tied around him.
“I hope you’ve enjoyed the performance, Mr Holmes,” the voice finally says, after having not spoken in some time.
Sherlock’s throat is now too dry to form words and the sound that does make its way out is animalistic—raw, painful, full of the base emotion that Sherlock always ignores and tries to divorce himself from.
“Sounds like a rousing success, gentlemen,” the voice continues and, absurdly, the men who have spent god knows how long each take a moment to acknowledge Sherlock before one draws near, holding out a pill and a glass of water. Sherlock holds his mouth shut and turns his head away—he has no desire to be knocked out and wants to go to John now.
But one of the other men simply holds his head steady and pinches his nose tight, forcing him to open his mouth for breath, whereupon the pill is thrust into his mouth, along with a bit of water. The man releases his nose and he is swallows the pill before he quite realises what he’s done.
“That’s good, Sherlock. You’ll only sleep for a little bit.”
It doesn’t take long before his heartbeat slows and his eyes start closing without his permission.
And then he knows nothing at all.
He wakes to find John wrapped in a blanket—still unconscious—and a fully stocked medkit near his body. He is no longer bound to the chair and every evidence of other people has been erased. Sherlock spends a moment’s thought to such a careful disappearance before he rushes to John’s side and begins to render him aid.
In a posh room somewhere in London, the only sounds are a ticking clock and an expensive pen moving fluidly over expensive paper.
There is a stillness to the air, a hush, until a well-oiled and heavy wooden door opens soundlessly and a young woman enters. In her hand is a small card, which she hands to the man who—until recently—had been writing at his desk.
The envelope has nothing written on the outside and is unsealed—obviously hand delivered. The man carefully withdraws the card and finds it to be blank. There is no writing on the outside, and the card itself appears to be handmade from card stock.
He gently opens it and finds a brief, hand written note:
Three cases, no questions asked.
The card is not signed, but it does not need to be. When Mycroft Holmes glances up, his assistant has already retreated from the room and closed the door as quietly as she’d come.
He allows himself a small smile for a job well done.