Then Sherlock shook his head. Katrya’s long, lean frame leaned back to stare up at him. She crossed her arms and distinctly didn’t look the silhouette of a woman admitting defeat.
John drew back behind the dust covered furnishings between their areas and sat on his bed. He couldn’t keep from uttering a few chuckles as he strapped on the shoulder rig and pulled on his coat. He had hold of himself by the time he stepped into his boots. Sherlock settled on the bed across from him with a huff, and rubbed both his eyes as if they were itchy. “The Russians…”
“A fiery people,” John said. And then burst into giggles. He covered his mouth with one hand.
“Oh, of course,” Sherlock said fervently, his voice quiet and urgent, “of course you had to see that.” He gave his face an uncharacteristic rub. “But no matter how unfortunate Katrya’s taste in men, it shouldn’t cost her life. As we left London last night, Zyza’s men were also on the move. They successfully tracked her to St. Thomas’ Hospital.” Sherlock made a soft pop with his lips. “Slooow.”
“How do you know?” John’s eyebrows drew up. “How do you know they did that?”
“When you snatched my phone at the restaurant – this was before you looked at me like I needed to be skinned; funny, by the way – I was monitoring the cameras at St. Tomas’. Their system isn’t terribly hard to hack. Either they had a criminal convention, or Zyza’s men had a look around. Zyza must have considered that his wife would take their child to hospital, possibly for burns, certainly to have doctors check her pulmonary function. They will have seen the security tapes by now. I have a lot of enemies. It won’t take them long to find out who I am.”
John jolted. “Oh my God, Sarah!”
“Yes. I’ve already called to tell her. Likewise, I’ve arranged for Mrs. Hudson to head out of town. I paid her fare to visit with relatives, and, since the flat, Sarah, and even Molly is under police monitor by Lestrade right now, it’s under control.”
John sucked a heavy breath and pulled his phone out of his pocket. Sherlock snatched it away. “Don’t panic and call her. She’s not stupid. If you do that, she’ll be inclined to panic. Have faith in three things – Sarah knows; Lestrade is overzealous; and the Russians really don’t want to be noticed by the Met if at all possible.”
Slowly, John settled back into the duvet. “What do we do to stop all this?”
“Well, we need to move rugs and get off the property in the cleaning van under the noses of the police,” Sherlock pointed out. “Not so hard from there. We just need to get back into London and lure out Zyza with the one thing he wants most – Katrya.”
John shook his head. “But….”
“Of course it won’t be her,” Sherlock sighed. “I have someone else working on that assignment.” Sherlock got to his feet at the signal of Sir Ian’s staff at the door. “Besides, can you see Katrya Vahtin Zyza hiking rugs in and out of this house?”
John smiled on the way down the stairs in Sherlock’s wake.
He had a nagging desire to finish the conversation that Sherlock had cut short, but there was simply too much going on for that to be of any relevance anymore. Except for the fact that it persisted in John’s mind long after they’d joined the other teams toting rugs in and out, vanished into vans, and escaped the property headed for downtown London.
London was muggy. They got out of one of three trucks lugging rugs. Sherlock slid between men unloading, and walked through the open doors at the back of the shop into a thick mist. He pulled up the grey hoodie on the black coat he wore against light rain.
The look on his face, as John pulled even with him, was just short of ecstatic. He was about to match wits with Zyza and his men, and Sherlock couldn’t be happier about it. They hunched, together, against the drizzle. Sherlock hardly seemed himself his stalk down the road was so aggressive. John kept up, but was unable to match his chameleon friend for the brashness that was flashed in even his small movements. He was like a completely different man. On the way across a street, he plucked the cigarette from the fingers of a young smoker and winked at her.
But she only smiled and blushed. John was stupefied.
Cocky. Capable. Brilliant. Strange.
And yet, somehow, Sherlock fit into the crowd now. Now that he was faking it. He blew right by a parked police car, and two officers without a first look. John put his head down and followed. The man was mind-boggling.
They ducked into a line for chips. John happily bought a serving from the food truck. Sherlock stood aside and smoked in the clearing drizzle.
“What’s the plan?” John said as he bolted down fries.
Sherlock finished the cigarette and snuffed the butt on the edge of a nearby bin. He chucked the thing once he was sure it wasn’t burning. “We need to know where Zyza is?”
Sherlock was baffled. His dark brows drew up, “You think he’s sleeping in a park? My God, that would be stunning.”
John sucked the ends of his salty fingertips clean before he chucked the grease spotted newspaper into the rubbish. “So how do we find him?”
“He’s looking for me.” Holmes knit his fingers and stretched his arms in front of him. His joints popped soundly. Sherlock flicked back his hood and squinted at the sun breaking the clouds above him. “His people are watching the flat. They’re very probably watching my associates. But where is Zyza? He’s the one we want. If we find his men, there will be clues. We need one of them.”
John blinked as they set off through the streets again. “Uh… What?”
“We need one of Zyza’s men, and not just anyone. We need one who can get us his location. We don’t have the money it would take to bribe one of them, so I’m afraid we’re down to taking one and impelling cooperation.” Sherlock turned and looked down at John. “We’d need to buy some drugs to help loosen his lips.”
John’s brows dropped down. “Yeah, no.”
Sherlock blinked, “Not for me, John-”
“Not at all.” John told him. “Somewhere inside that 1000-odd-kilometers of neurons you’re carrying around up there, you’ve got something better than kidnapping a fellow and drugging him into telling us where Zyza is.”
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not sure I have something quicker given the limitations.” He added onto the end of that, “Or more entertaining.”
“Oh yes? Well, it’s the world’s biggest sugar powered lighting storm in there. Come up with something.” John told him. He fussed with the new coat – the third he’d had on in a handful of hours. He didn’t like this one at all, as it was too long. But it was a good disguise.
Sherlock, in a short coat with a hood, looked slimmer and taller than ever. It actually looked good on him.
Holmes shut his eyes in irritation. “Fine, we’ll do it the long way then.” Sherlock skirted a man exiting a cab, and ducked into the back in his wake. It was all one swift motion, so fast it was almost as if he’d dematerialized. In fact, John had to backtrack to find out where Sherlock had gone. Once he'd made the determination that he was inside of the cab, John tucked in beside the man, quickly shut the door and waited for direction.
Sherlock wasted no time in getting across town. The rain had mostly dried up with the sun shining brightly on the city, and there was nothing but puddles and a springlike freshness aloft to betray that the weather had been anything but perfect. Raindrops clung doggedly to traffic lights, mailboxes, and windows, but there was otherwise no hint. The cab first made its way into Lambeth, where it wove through traffic until it made the riverside neighbourhood bordering St. Thomas's Hospital.
They disembarked a good distance from St. Thomas’. Sherlock seemed content to continue on foot. He started with a very wide perimeter around the hospital, which seemed to form some kind of grid pattern inside of his mind. John was only dimly aware of the grid, and much more conscious of the delicacy and attention with which Sherlock examined the streets. His searching within the grid pattern was exhaustive, and mostly John's job in this, was to determine if the coast was clear without understanding how he did so. Holmes didn't seem inclined to give him details on exactly how this method worked. John decided he was satisfied as long as it was successful.
When finally it seemed safe enough that they could meet together, it was in a dim, out-of-the-way place, between hospital buildings. John rested against a brick wall – the outside of some building or other – to catch his breath. How irritating that Sherlock did not seem to be affected by the strenuous search, and instead, paced back and forth, often in the way of general foot traffic. However he had little worry they would be identified by police, or Zyza’s men, because they looked like a pair of roustabouts waiting impatiently for a mate to emerge, healed, from St. Thomas’. Sherlock produced another cigarette from his pocket and lit it up.
“Where’d you get that?”
“Left in the cab.” Sherlock tossed John the lighter and spoke at high speed. “Crest on the side with Scientia Imperii Decus et Tutamen, re. ‘Knowledge is the adornment and protection of the Empire’. From the upkeep, price, and quality of this lighter, the owner is a senior professor at the Imperial College of London – gold embellishments on the crest. He collects lighters, because this is a quality piece, and it would have taken considerable planning to secure one for him. It has a date, thus, it is memorabilia of some kind, presented to him by his faculty of Aeronautics -- the engraving on the top: ὰήρ. Greek for Air.”
“So we can return it.” John sighed and glanced at Sherlock smoking. “I don’t need to tell you that’s a bad idea, right?”
“It’s an excellent idea. As long as I can’t get to my nicotine patches.” Sherlock jerked his chin in the direction of the doors. “There. There’s our first man. Don’t stare.”
John glanced down that direction and then back to Holmes. Even as he turned back, Holmes took off at a rollicking walk. He’d slipped into yet another character. He took out his phone and thumped against the man by the doors. When he turned, he rattled off the most natural sounding Welsh dialect at the man, “Sorry there.” He turned and continued on.
“Idiot,” the man muttered in a heavy Russian accent. He gave his expensive jacket a rough tug.
John followed down the walk several yards back. He passed the attention of the bristling Russian as if he didn’t exist, and Sherlock certainly hadn’t waited around for him. John saw that as he rounded the building. Sherlock was not to be found. John hurried along, caught himself, and turned back.
He… really hadn’t seen Sherlock back there. Oh, but that wasn’t quite true either – he’d zipped by Sherlock Holmes, but flatly hadn’t recognized him. Holmes was in a throng of people. He was chatting, for God’s sake. In particular, he paid compliments to a trio of pretty, young nurses. In fact, one long hand supported a girl by the elbow, as she leaned to adjust her sling-back on a dainty foot. When she was done, Sherlock turned John’s way, clearly entertained by whatever expression his doctor friend wore. Sherlock waved himself out from their company, much to their dismay.
He had failed to spot the man. John shut his eyes a moment. His own flatmate.
Sherlock bent over him and said in his ear, “Are you happy?”
“What do you mean?” John opened his eyes and looked up at Sherlock’s self-satisfied expression. He was pleased as a cat over spilled milk.
“I didn’t grab him,” Sherlock clapped John on both shoulders. “And you didn’t have to shoot anyone. Aren’t you happy, John? I always am, when I get my own way.” He gave Watson’s good shoulder a final thump and walked back to where they might catch a cab.
“I mean, well, yes, that is good news, Sher-” John hurried after.
“Well you shouldn’t be happy. You were dreadful. You missed me completely back there. Honestly, your observational skills are backsliding.” Sherlock tut-tutted critically.
John fixed him with a cross expression. “Unfortunately for you, I’m still an excellent shot.”
The comment placed a broad smile on Sherlock’s face. He was unable to contain his delight at the little exchange, not until they reached the last two cabs waiting about. “Hurry now.” He checked his watch, with his lips compressing a little.
John spread his hands. “Wait, what… what did we just do?”
Twenty minutes later, they passed Baker Street. Sherlock used his cell to photograph the license plate of a man whose car idled by the curb. A young girl, on foot, jackknifed into traffic in an aborted attempt to cross the way, and tires squealed on the pavement at the nearby intersection. Sherlock breezed by the passenger door. John, close behind him, didn’t miss the fact the man’s fingers curled over the butt of a gun inside his jacket. It was certain Sherlock hadn’t missed that.
John itched to touch the Browning. He ignored the sensation.
A few streets over, Sherlock paid the girl who’d very nearly caused an accident. She gave a soft nod at the 20£. “Easiest money I made all day.” Her accent was so atrocious it made John grin as she took her leave of them.
“Ready?” Sherlock half-turned to ask.
“What are you doing?”
“Police up ahead, here, John. See the reflection of the stripe in the window there? They’re by the coffee shop,” Sherlock nodded in the direction of the car. “Drop behind me and slow down. We’ll go by. Don’t look at the car, or if you must, look no higher than the door. Don’t look at the officer. Don’t look at the car for longer than a count of three. So count in your head – each step is one.”
Chameleon lessons. “Anything else?”
“Think of Sarah.” Sherlock told him. “Changes your whole posture.”
Sherlock walked by like a young buck on the way to pick up his girl. John followed with a baffled expression and did exactly as he’d been told – unable to prevent himself from looking at the police car. It was impossible to think of Sarah when he was questioning how thinking of Sarah could do something as radical as ‘change his whole posture’. How did that make sense? It wasn’t as if she was there. But the quandary helped him ignore the voice that said ‘look into the car, see if you can put a name to the face of the officer’. That would’ve been a potential disaster.
It took hours of hunting the streets, incredibly physically draining stuff, before Sherlock dropped into the seat of an internet café. John left him there, and went next door for a sub sandwich which he ate in the lobby, as food and drinks weren’t allowed around the computers. He bolted down his cup of tea and his lunch before heading in to check Sherlock’s progress. He needn’t have rushed.
Holmes released a happy, gratified sigh and looked up at John. “Draining but rewarding.” He leaned back in his chair and stared at the terminal before him. Several screens were up, as if he was staring at more than one desktop, somehow. It made John cock his head as he grabbed a chair and sank gratefully down beside Holmes. His feet hurt. John watched Sherlock write a few more lines of code into his .bat file, lazily, just so glad to have stopped climbing fences, charging up and down stairs, hauling on fire escapes, running in back streets.
“I should have stayed back, I think.” He rubbed his leg, which gave a twinge of complaint.
Sherlock stopped what he was doing and looked down at John’s hand. “Stayed back?”
Now John smiled wanly and sighed. “I haven’t got those long legs, Sherlock, and mine – psychosomatic, or not, is acting up. I think I’m slowing you down.”
Holmes’ brow wrinkled. “John,” he said quietly, “if at any moment these people catch on to what I’m doing, they’ll grab me, beat me, drag me down an alleyway, and shoot me in the face. I’d go out like a light. Just gone.”
Not on my watch. The internal retort was reflex. What John actually said was, “I’m not feeling terribly useful to you.” He’d ventilate anyone out to do anything on that list. They’d look like paper dolls by the end.
Sherlock renamed a score of files with a few clicks, and muttered, “You are.”
John blinked and sat back in his chair. “Then you make it look easy.”
“Mm, you were there,” Sherlock returned to typing. “Was it easy?”
This made John stare at his friend. Holmes was, without a doubt, the single most intelligent person John knew – would ever know, he firmly believed – and, along with that, the man was massively physically gifted. He was quick, had remarkable stamina, his aim and balance were uncanny. Sherlock was tall and slender, but brutally strong. He could fast for days. He could go without sleep and stay sharp. Sherlock had so many gifts. And he’d just told John those gifts weren’t enough on their own. He needed the things that John brought to their interpersonal mix. John cocked his head. Today, if he hadn’t been with Sherlock, then Sherlock felt he wouldn’t have been safe.
“It’s not easy,” John looked at the computer screen.
“Well… at least it’s not difficult. There are over 10, 000 hours of struggle, trial, and error between me and this being difficult,” Holmes laid his phone down beside the computer, pressed a few buttons, and began to move contents to the desktop.
“Is that how long?” John’s brows quirked in curiosity.
“Well,” Sherlock blinked up at him, “that’s how long before I stopped second guessing myself.”
Sherlock had the gall to be a wonder with numbers, science, behaviour, and technology too. John smiled at the far wall. What a handful this one was. How irreplaceable a person!
But he was God-awful with people.
Doomed with women.
Except for the movie-star looks.
It was a toss-up whether that irony was more a cruelty to the women, or to Sherlock himself.
John sucked in a breath. “All right then. What are we doing?”
“We’re giving Lestrade a gift that keeps giving,” Sherlock half smiled over his curled hand and glanced at John, “to me.”
“To you, of course,” John said with a slight smirk. “But, I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“I need to talk to him… but I don’t need to see him. Not for this. Just hear.” But Sherlock eased back in the creaking chair and chuckled. He clicked a file. Things… happened on the open windows. His long fingers turned the volume dial on the speaker between them up.
Across town, inside the glass and steel cocooning the heart of New Scotland Yard, business marched on as usual. The din, the undercurrent of excitement, capped by a hard shell of the banality of crime in such a place, unfurled in an orderly advance, like the hands of a clock, or the sun across the cloud-studded blue. This was especially true for the Homicide and Serious Crime branch. There were few in the building as no-nonsense as these people. Every day, 8 to 12 hours a day, their minds bent to the most horrible elements of human nature. They unwound what was twisted, and collapsed in their beds, just to take up arms and try again the next day.
Above their heads, the big screen televisions in Homicide and Serious Crime went black. The sound of the static which appeared afterward spiked above all other noise in the room, drawing attention. It slowly died back.
It was unusual enough that people looked up at the screens above them. They went to black again and white letters faded in.
In some parts of the room, police stood. Some hung up calls and looked to one another.
The words stayed on the screen. Of all the Detective Inspectors on the floor, it was Lestrade who came out of his office first. His meeting with several Sergeants on the London firebug cases fanned out in the room behind him.
“Afternoon? After…? What the hell is this?” one of the cops sputtered and looked at Lestrade askance. The DI’s expression didn’t contain an iota of surprise. Rather, there was resignation.
Lestrade sucked in a breath and called out, “Sherlock…?” He took a few steps deeper into the desks which were now grinding to a halt, and looked around him.
“Freak?” Donovan was one of many who searched the floor for signs of him. When she found nothing she marched up to the televisions, grabbed hold of first one power cord, and then the other, and yanked them out of the wall.
For a moment, there was nothing.
“Donovan,” Lestrade sighed. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“We don’t have time for his self-promotion! We need to-!” She caught who she was talking to and ground to a halt. “Sir… I….”
“And it didn’t occur to you that he might be reaching out to us?” Lestrade crossed the intervening space steadily, patience wobbling. He was very used to relying on Sherlock’s intelligence when all other methods yielded nothing. Lestrade was practical. He liked to solve cases and protect the city. Cutting him off from a proven resource to that end, particularly when he recognized the Yard was stuck, would have been a career limiting move for a lesser officer than Sally Donovan. She was saved by the fact she’d proven herself to Lestrade many times over. “He may have come to his senses and decided to cut us into-”
“Freak?” Donovan couldn’t help her sudden laugh. “Freak will never come to his senses. He doesn’t have any.”
The computer monitors on the floor blacked out. A sudden hush filled the room. Chairs rolled, now most of the police rose. Faces turned to Lestrade. Other DIs on the floor exited their offices and asked about IT. The computer monitors blinked back on – black. White text flickered in size and position, as if unable to stay steady. It looked and acted angry.
DON’T WASTE MY TIME.
Sally Donovan looked around her, stupefied. “Oh my God…. We’re behind a bunch of firewalls. How is he doing this? How’s he… we need to call Security.”
“He’s doing this because we keep letting him in the building,” Anderson said crossly. “When we stop, then this sort of thing will stop too.”
Optimistic. They were optimistic about that. Lestrade raised his voice above this to shout, “No one touch anything. And be quiet! Stop moving about! Quiet!”
There was swearing, seeing as this department had a very poor opinion of interruptions, but their opinion of Lestrade was something else entirely; within seconds, a hush fell around him. Lestrade looked at the black monitors, walked up, and plugged in both big-screen televisions.
The text on all the screens faded in, nice and steady: Hello, Lestrade.
“Yeah, hello Sherlock…” Lestrade sighed anxiously and walked backward – so many black screens all around him, all of them saying hi. He looked at the big screens, sighed, and opened his arms. “So I’m here… so show me.”
What did Sherlock do today?
“Who cares?” Anderson crossed his arms and stared sourly at the screens in front of him. His phone pinged and he took it out and swore under his breath. Lestrade caught his hand and pivoted the screen in his direction. The text said:
‘Shut it, Anderson. As relates to your intelligence, there is nothing left to prove.’
“God, can he hear us too?” Donovan glanced up from the screen to look around her, paranoid.
The screens lit fitfully, and then faded into video.
On his side of this show, where it was simply a video rolling on a 15 inch screen, both of them straining at the low-quality speakers, and Sherlock typing, John recognized the man in the slowed-down video as the same from St. Tomas’ Hospital. This was him tugging his lapels into order. Sherlock had used video from his cell. The pinky ring the stranger wore sparked in the light as he raised his hands. Sherlock had zoomed in on it. The video froze and broke away to another picture of a highly similar gold ring – its large crest also had a hawk with an arrow in its breast.
Lestrade turned and glanced over wide-eyed faces, and black screens from every corner that said one thing:
Ring with Semenov crime family crest.
The video of the man righting his coat sputtered back to action on the screen and stopped so that an arrow could draw itself to a break in the lines of his hand tailored suit.
The next arrow went to the man’s curled lip.
Not happy to see you.
Two inch scar on upper lip.
Laid open in knife fight; Chelyabinsk; 20 years ago.
Grisha Tsitov, aka Ладья – the Rook.
The man’s rap sheet scrolled so quickly it was mostly a blur with highlights on bolded words like ‘kidnapping’, ‘extortion’, and ‘arson’. His arrest photos snapped over the scene, along with blurry video snippets from a prison fight in which he was shown throwing bloodied men over tables like crumpled papers.
The screen flicked up to a shot of St. Tomas’ Hospital.
Isn’t here for a check-up.
The movie faded to black.
The scene changed to Baker Street. It oriented on the sky for a blinding moment that made police wince, but also established the early morning hour.
Home is not where you live...
but where they understand you.
The camera jostled across the license plate of a rental car and then came up alongside the doors. It slowed as they made the front windows.
“That’s Baker Street,” Anderson threw his hands up. “We have people watching Baker Street!”
“Where Freak lives,” Donovan answered the DI from a few offices over, who had come to stand beside her, and stared at the screen, mystified.
The video slowed.
The man in the rental car’s sunny driver’s seat flipped his coat open and reached for the butt of a gun. The screen froze there.
A man who understands me.
Inside his coat, there was a small edge of some hauntingly familiar, waxen, blue material, the corrugated top of what looked like a hand-operated nut-cracker, and the unmistakable butt of a gun against the man’s ribs. Lines drew themselves, pointing into the open jacket’s inner pocket first.
That’s a butterfly knife to you, Anderson.
The type and brand of knife, with its distinctive handle, appeared in a window and rotated to show its action folding and unfolding. He showed the company address and date of purchase. When this vanished there were more arrows.
Illegal for carry in the UK.
Silver chain connected to butt-plate.
Chain leads to engraved casing.
The camera zoomed. Image sharpening took hold, and the pixilation became a rough image. Lestrade made it out and frowned. He’d seen it before. A copy of it was sitting on his desk right now, in fact. It had been faxed from Interpol at 10 AM.
Blue crest with white, winged lions.
The images faded to black. A series of maps of the city popped up. Gold Stars appeared across the face of them.
Look what I found?
Pictures of large, aggressive-looking men in the London Streets flickered across the screens in the room. A lot of them were on foot, talking to people, searching for something, it seemed.
It’s NEVER a boring day with organized crime!
One of G. Lestrade’s own badges appeared on the screen before them, his face its usual glaring self. Below it appeared a casual inquiry.
Would you like to arrest a Russian crime lord today, Lestrade?
One of these men
where to look.
Continued in Part 6.