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Guilty

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Someone was kicking Sherlock’s leg: Sherlock could feel it, even though his leg was far away. “I’m busy,” he said. “Haven’t you someone else to disturb?” He tried to turn himself over, away, but the heavy floaty feeling was too much for him. Perhaps if he tried for just his head . . . There.

“Ah-ah-ah”: a tenor, speaking from closer to Sherlock than his own leg was. “I need your attention, Will.”

Hell. “Give me the wallet.”

“With not a moment’s hesitation! Too high to roll over, but you know how I found out your name. Shezza.” Something dropped onto Sherlock’s chest — his wallet; he flailed after it, slowly, got his fingers around it.

The voice continued: “Shezza, ugh. Time to lose that colorful sobriquet. No way did you pick it for yourself. It doesn’t sound like you. It doesn’t look like you. I guess if it had a smell it would smell like you, phew, but anyhow I’m going to call you Will. Oh, and Will? Isn’t there a question you should be asking right about now?”

“Oh, fuck off,” Sherlock said, keeping his eyes closed. “Talk talk talk talk talk. Why would I want to ask you any questions when I already know the answers?”

“Bored yet?” said the voice. It wasn’t directed at Sherlock this time. “Heave-ho, me hearties — ”

Two men, one for feet, the other for shoulders. How had he not noticed them? They must have been standing well back, he told himself, his perceptions were certainly not impaired even if his coordination wasn’t everything it could have been, and then the voice had abandoned piratical inflections in favor of a near-falsetto “Oopsy-daisy,” and then there was a car door opening, but why didn’t they leave him alone, and what about his gear? He twisted and, with some success, bucked — “Needs a top-up,” said the voice at his feet. A baritone like Sherlock’s own, so the rumble came right through the hands and into Sherlock’s ankles.

Camp again: “Oooh, so he does. Just a bit, Sebby, don’t take chances.” Feet shoved into the seat well, shoulders shoved against the seat back, safety belt click; a hand on his wrist, sleeve shoved up, needle; “Hey,” said the baritone, “can you believe this, Jim? He’s still got a vein.”

Sherlock thought, approximately, that under other circumstances he would be worried about being taken by people he didn’t know to a destination he hadn’t been apprised of, but the great gift of the poppy was the sure knowledge that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well, and wasn’t that glorious? Wasn’t that sure knowledge glorious?

*

Sherlock’s heroin dreams were always prosaic: There was someone talking in the hall, for example — only, no, there wasn’t, he would realize a moment later, somehow he had transposed a sound that came from his left, hearing it as though it came from his right, and when he moved the sound he also attached a shadow to it. There was no one in the hall, and the fact that he’d hallucinated someone was only a fact, neither troubling nor amusing though sometimes, if he had nothing better to do, he might ruminate on what neurological processes created these particular illusions and not others.

This time, it became apparent that the two men whose presence he had imagined were, in fact, present, flanking the door like telamones. Suits and ties; earpieces; hands at sides.

He was wearing clean clothes, not his; his feet were bare. He had not been bathed. Smell (air devoid of industrial cleanser), sound (quiet), and bedding (duvet; long-staple-cotton sheets). Not a hospital, then. No windows, therefore not a hotel. As he was neither in a hotel nor in hospital, and as in any case one nonviolent — “junkie,” said the voice in his head which had been using that word for some time now, though Sherlock preferred to ignore it — wouldn’t rate two officers in civilian dress, this was a private location for holding prisoners, and the men at the door were guards.

The fix he’d been given in the car had now receded somewhat. Sherlock saw that his deductions were banal, also that he was taking the long way round to what any idiot would already have known: to wit, he had been kidnapped. The question why anyone would want to kidnap him, as opposed to any other user in London, had also already been answered, by the conversation about his wallet. Someone knew that Sherlock could deduce things, therefore wanted Sherlock to perform that service on his behalf.

Why not just offer you fifty quid and the makings of a dozen speedballs?

This question was insistent, its answer obvious. Sherlock chose to ignore it.

One speedball would’ve sufficed.

This point, too, Sherlock chose to ignore.

*

When some hours had passed in silence, the skin over Sherlock’s breastbone began to itch. He was bored and restless, and he could smell himself. An armchair stood in the corner diagonally across from the bed. “Any difficulty with my sitting over there?” he asked, without rising. The guards ignored him, so he sat up. A pair of black leather slippers stood just where he would have put his feet on the floor. Sherlock frowned. He kicked the slippers aside and made his way to the chair. The itch had migrated to his left arm; when he scratched there, it returned to his chest. He jiggled his leg, seated himself more comfortably in the chair, drew his right knee to his chest, brought his left knee up to join it, rubbed the fingers of his left hand against his thumb, wiped the sweat off his upper lip. He was growing more and more bored. It wouldn’t do to ask the guards for a top-up, though; it was one thing for them to see him bored and restless, another for them to learn that they had any leverage over him. They had no leverage — he reminded himself of this; there was nothing he needed, or even especially wanted.

If only he weren’t so bored.

*

At some point new guards came in and the first two guards went away. The room being windowless, and himself preoccupied, Sherlock could not know what time of day or night it was or how many hours had passed. He had availed himself, with no objection from the guards, of the loo attached to the room where he was being held, and had run cold water over his arms to take the edge off the sense that mites were scurrying in their myriads along his skin. Why did he think of mites, when the name of the feeling was formication, and formication was to do, etymologically, with ants, whereas mites were not even insects, they were — they were . . .

The mites-or-ants sensation was really very annoying now; he had made a little hole in the skin just to the left of his sternum and blood was smeared on the T-shirt they had dressed him in. Perhaps the guards would have something to top up with, if he could get to their pockets, but it wasn’t easy to work out how to do that: they would surely regard any approach as a threat, there were two of them, probably armed, and what with the boredom and restlessness he wasn’t at his best. For the dozenth time, he wiped his nose on his sleeve, got up, paced the room. The guards continued to ignore him.

The new guards’ suits, identical to those of the previous pair — so whoever had had Sherlock kidnapped liked his henchmen in uniform — were reasonably good, if not bespoke, but a touch flashy: the blue a shade too light, the fabric a glimmer too shiny. Conclusion: someone showy, dramatic, and fussy about detail was in charge of a prospering but not (not yet?) top-line criminal organization; additional conclusion: the man who had supervised Sherlock’s removal from the flat where he’d shot up was said drama-loving leader of a criminal organization; additional conclusion: said drama-loving leader of a criminal organization not only wished to make use of Sherlock’s skills but also took a personal interest in him. This last was troubling.

He retched again, and as he straightened, wiping away the reflexive tears and the string of thin bile-tasting spittle that depended from his mouth, the door opened. The guards had been alert, before; now their eyes widened, their posture stiffened; the one to the left side of the door tightened his mouth and glanced sideways, toward the man who had just come in — who gave Sherlock a finger waggle and said, “Wide awake, I see!”

Sherlock was dirty and junk sick and his clothing and shoes were gone. He did not often think of himself as valuing what the world called dignity. He squared his shoulders and looked at the newcomer. The spit on the back of his right hand cooled as it dried.

The kidnapper/crime boss — this must be he — wore the Westwood suit that he could not (yet?) afford to keep his minions in — or, no; Sherlock revised the thought: he would always want to outshine his underlings. He sounded, as he had during the kidnapping, like an overenthusiastic florist, and his guards were terrified of him. Sherlock was, he had to acknowledge, somewhat alarmed by this fact, because what sort of a man was it who terrified hard men? — but also intrigued. He mustered his upbringing around himself and said, “To what do I owe our acquaintance?”

“You do know it’s just another kind of camp, don’t you? All that poker-stiff politeness?”

“I’ll concede it for the sake of coming back to the more important point,” Sherlock said, and retched again, briefly. “You made it clear, earlier, that you take an interest in my deductive skills. Therefore you’ve a purpose you want to put them to. That the purpose is criminal in nature is apparent. But what, specifically, is it?”

“Shouldn’t we introduce ourselves first? Well, of course, I already know you. Will. You can call me Jim, all my friends do.”

“Are we friends? I hadn’t noticed.”

At this Jim’s face sharpened, as if a veiling had fallen aside, and something with foul breath showed itself for an instant before being put away again. Sherlock could not help himself: he took a step backward. Jim smiled. “Not friends? Okay then! Will, meet your new boss” — and he touched two fingers to the center of his own chest, lightly. His right canine had caught in his lower lip but as his smile grew wider the flesh was freed.

“Interesting,” Sherlock said. “This may be the first time I have ever attracted a hiring director. Tell me, what is it you think you’re hiring me for?”

“Oh, come on, Will, you can figure that out All. By. Yourself.” This with jazz hands.

“Fine,” Sherlock said. Cold shuddered through him; the room tilted. He took two steady breaths, fending off nausea. “You learned of some incident or other in which I demonstrated my ability to see through an attempt to deceive or to conceal motive. You want me to function as a human lie detector — or, no, that’s not it; you can detect lies perfectly well yourself. . . . Yes. Someone as good at reading the evidence as I am can ipso facto tell people what they want to hear. I can, in effect, cold read. In addition my accent is that of the educated upper middle classes. I sound, shall we say, credentialed.

“You want me to run cons — specifically, you’re thinking that a psychic would usefully diversify your business.”

Jim touched the tip of his tongue to his forefinger and then touched the forefinger to his own leg with a hiss. “You’re on fire!”

“No.”

Jim sighed. “Are you sure? Really truly absolutely sure?”

“I don’t work for anyone.”

“Well. I won’t pretend I’m not disappointed, but so it goes. Here’s a little something for your time.”

A wad of notes bound with an elastic round flew into Sherlock’s hands. Twenties, ten of them. “My clothing and shoes.”

Jim nodded toward the guard on his left, who went out and came back a moment later with a bag, which he slid across the floor toward Sherlock.

“Catch you later,” Jim said, and he and the guards went out.

When Sherlock, somewhat doubtful, tried the door a few minutes later, it was unlocked, and at the end of the waxed shining corridor was a door leading to the street. His own shoes made the only sound; the place might have stood empty for a decade, so dead was the air.

*

He went straight to Wiggins’s place, because Wiggins never went out and Sherlock needed to fix without wasting any time tracking down a source who might inconveniently have decided to take in an art film or go to Casablanca for the waters. Wiggins had taken a degree in neurology before he realized how much easier it would be to get hold of drugs if he dealt them himself, and he liked to pretend to keep up with scientific pursuits, so he had a decent chem lab set up in his kitchen. He was developing designer drugs, he said, not that Sherlock had ever seen any sign of it, but he let Sherlock conduct experiments sometimes, when Sherlock didn’t owe him any money.

Wiggins was weighing out powder and tipping it into glassine bags, which he held open awkwardly between the pinky and thumb of his right hand because the forefinger and middle finger had been splinted. The air in his flat smelled of antiseptic from A&E. “Ah,” Wiggins said when Sherlock let himself in, “you fuck off out of here, man.” Both Wiggins’s parents taught at Cambridge, but he liked to affect working-class authenticity around Sherlock, to emphasize that Sherlock was slumming.

(Once, in an unguarded moment when he had just fixed, Sherlock had told Wiggins: “You do realize I’m not slumming anymore.”

“Yeah,” Wiggins said. “You and me both, mate.”)

“What?” Sherlock said now, slow on the uptake because his gut was cramping and he had retched bile half a dozen times on the pavement outside Wiggins’s door.

Wiggins held up his right hand and turned it side to side, showing the splints from all angles. “You see that, yeah? That was a warning, and I did not like the receiving of it. I sell to you, they come back and take these off altogether. Not meaning the splints. So, what I said: Fuck off out of here.”

“They won’t know.”

“Same as they didn’t know I sell to you in the first place? Go on, you’re not that dim.”

“Chills,” Sherlock said, because to say this was not explicitly to beg.

“So you better find someone to fix you up sooner not later, yeah? But it’s not going to be me. Out.

*

Sherlock’s luck was in, if you discounted the abdominal cramps and the sweating: he found Niall in a “Tibetan handicrafts” stall in Camden Market, eyeing up the girl who worked the till. Meaning the girl’s luck was in, too, because the only thing Niall liked more than pestering girls who weren’t in a position to give him the bird and kick him in the bollocks was doing junkies a bad deal on heroin. “Yeah,” Niall said, “Shezza. What’s hangin’?” and Sherlock was in a cold sweat all over so he didn’t roll his eyes. He bought three bags and a set of works at what was, for Niall, a not-terrible price and stumbled into the nearest Boots for rubbing alcohol which he poured over the works in the Camden High Street Gentlemen’s Public Convenience before he fixed. When the sheer bliss of relief had subsided enough that he could make himself stand up again, he bought some fish and chips and went home.

Wiggins’s broken fingers niggled at him, but he had two bags left, and plenty of Jim’s money. Tomorrow was another day.