He showed the two men. Neither of them said anything, in fact, Tsitov refused to look at the page before him. However, Bogrov glanced at it. Sherlock watched a small knot form between the man’s brows. Holmes returned the notepad to his side of the table. Next he wrote.
I would kill my daughter.
This didn’t register with Bogrov at all. He had no children. He was familiar with none. It didn’t bother him. Tsitov still refused to look. John could see his resolve weakening. There was no way Sherlock couldn’t see the same. Now Sherlock had written.
Rurik hates his wife.
Both men glanced at the writing this time. To Sherlock’s eyes, both men demonstrated strong agreement for this statement.
“Good,” Sherlock turned the page and wrote 2.
The White Lion is missing.
Both men read it. Both shut down. But Sherlock had seen shock and dismay. They hadn’t found it. This put a grin on Sherlock’s face, which did nothing to improve Tsitov’s attitude. In fact, he snarled at Sherlock. “Do you think this is funny? Do you believe we are children in school?”
“You don’t like to be taken lightly, do you Tsitov?” Sherlock said conversationally. He turned the page and wrote 3.
Tsitov smacked the table and snapped. “Enough games.”
“There are never enough games.” Sherlock said and wrote.
The first letter of Zyza’s hotel is an A.
Suddenly, Tsitov moved. Bogrov, next to him, nearly threw himself out on the floor getting clear. Tsitov made a lunge for Sherlock. John was closest. His memory was simply that he stood up, caught the back of Tsitov’s head, and threw his weight down. The man’s face smashed into the table with a crunch and spurt of blood. He howled with pain. John put his other hand on the back of the man’s head and held him down until police stepped forward.
“Bollocks!” Lestrade surged to catch John and pull him back. Police caught rough holds on Tsitov and dragged him from the table, half on his knees. His nose was flattened to his face and streaming blood. He sputtered Russian curses and sprayed the table and floor.
John’s lip curled in disgust. He bared his teeth at Tsitov, and caused Lestrade to tighten his grip.
“Secret… weapon,” Sherlock said lowly.
Police dragged the Rook from the room.
The remaining two officers got Bogrov to his feet. The man was shaking. They put him back in his chair and he refused to be near Tsitov’s blood.
“I’ll get you tees,” Lestrade wiped a hand over his face and eyed the blood on the table with a hard exhalation. “They’ll say ‘We’re hard on Russian crime’.”
“Oh don’t do that,” Sherlock beamed cheekily. “That sounds really terrible.” It was all John could do not to laugh. The juvenile nit.
Sherlock’s chair had been pushed right back to the wall. When Tsitov had attacked, John had lost track of Holmes, but he did remember the screech of chairs across tile. As it turned out, Sherlock had expected an explosion. He’d simply straightened his legs and shot himself out of harm’s way. And John… had overreacted. He rubbed his short blond hair and sighed.
“Sorry about that, Lestrade.” John blew out a puff of air that lifted his shoulders and dropped them down again.
“Yeah. Got it.” Lestrade started away and then turned back again. “What the hell did they teach you in Afghanistan?”
But it was Sherlock who said, “They taught him how to pay attention.” He crossed his long legs and held up the notepad; the yellow page was now dotted with blood.
Rurik is in the Athenaeum, isn’t he, Vadim?
Vadim Bogrov’s jaw dropped.
Then Sherlock closed the notepad and tossed it in Tsitov’s blood. It made a squelch that was all too familiar to John. Sherlock got to his feet and checked his watch. “We’re done here.” He glanced across at John.
“Thank God for small favours.”
Sherlock had the cab wait.
John didn’t mind: the cab was warm; Sherlock was drawing a steady salary from the Yard; he was tired and sore: it was all good in terms of creature comforts, but it was baffling in terms of what they were set to do.
After seven minutes, a second cab pulled up behind them. The passenger got out and walked over to tap the passenger window. Sherlock touched the button to bring it down. The man outside in thick fog was dressed in an extremely fine black duster and a scarf that would have been the envy of any Sherlock owned. His face was craggy and extreme, apart from his dark brown eyes, which looked like simmering hot chocolate in his tan face. He reached a gloved hand into the car and handed something to Sherlock. With a nod, he turned up his collar against the fog, and vanished back to his cab.
Sherlock tucked the object in his pocket and put up the window. “All right. We can proceed.”
John’s eyes narrowed. “Who was that?”
“From De Beers,” Sherlock said quietly. “I proved he hadn’t nicked a tremendous necklace called ‘Swan Lake’ when it went missing last year. He says I saved his life. Chilling, the diamond industry.”
John was so grateful to arrive at Sarah’s apartment he could have fallen down and slept right beside the door. At least they hadn’t had to sneak by the Metro police stationed outside, this time. This incredible vision answered their knock – her hair curled; her lips ruddy; her lashes longer and thicker than ever John had seen them. He backed up a step and sucked in a breath. “Sarah.”
She smiled and had the good grace to turn red in the face before Sherlock pushed the door open and invited himself inside. “Sarah-Sarah-Sarah! There’s a diamond.”
She shut the door behind John. He passed very close to her as she did so, and smiled as their faces passed easily within a couple of inches. His brows bounced up in appreciation. “There’s a diamond. Has a name.”
“What?” she turned around as she was pulling on Katrya’s coat. “There’s a diamond involved? Is that what he’s really after? Not Katrya or Svetlana at all?”
“Oh, his family too, certainly, but – in essence – his wife stole his manhood and ran away with it. She stole his power and authority. You’d be stunned what a man would do for a diamond,” Sherlock opened his arms. “A bright, beautiful colourless – cold and clear, and huge.” He whipped what looked like a small television remote with a pen tip out of his pocket and smiled. “Let’s have a look, shall we?”
He strode up to Sarah and dropped to his knees in front of her. Sarah made to take a step back, but Sherlock caught her by Katrya’s coat and held her fast.
“John?” she chirruped tightly.
But he had no guidance for her. “Sherlock, what are you doing?”
He caught up the coat’s belt. “When I looked up this coat online, back at the yard, it didn’t have a belt like this. She had it modified.” He brought the pen-like box up. “This is a diamond thermal tester. Diamonds have very high thermal conductivity. So does moissanite, but I thought of that when I asked for a tester.” He touched the pen-like probe to the…
John blinked. The buckle of the belt had a large piece of glass in it. It was that glass he’d seen glint so brightly earlier, in the clinic. John’s mouth fell open.
“Katrya had this belt buckle created. The ornate patterns on the front would break up the lines of whatever she put in the setting. The latch on the back would allow her to put the diamond inside and screw it in securely. But she’s also sealed the back with beeswax from a candle, as you can see here,” he turned the belt over. “Now, the wax gives the stone a golden look from the front. It matches the coat well that way. How clever. In final effect, it doesn’t look like what it is. It looks like several shards of gold crystal placed in the belt. Of course, the thermal tester doesn’t lie.”
Sherlock got to his feet and showed them the read-out. “That gold stone is the White Lion, a full 49.5 carats, it’s said.”
John picked up the belt and stared at it. The diamond was a large cushion of dark gold. It was easily as big as a pigeon’s egg. He looked up at Sarah. Her eyes were wide. She kept her hands up and away from it.
“If we stopped here,” Sherlock’s voice dropped. His eyes met John’s and Sarah’s, one-by-one. “If we privately sold this to De Beers, each one of us would be set for life. The price for this stone would be unimaginable.”
No one spoke. Sarah slowly lifted her head from the belt in Sherlock’s direction. She stared at him as if he was some beautiful devil. Only a demon could appear out of the night with so innocent an enticement to do such a wicked thing.
Sherlock took something else from his pocket. “No one would ever guess this buckle is the White Lion. So we’ll leave it at that.” He held out another cushion, this one bright and clear. It glittered like a star in the recessed lighting of Sarah’s front hall. “This is moissanite. It’s not as hard as diamond… it is as conductive. This was made by a man who has obsessed on the White Lion for years. It was drawn from historical descriptions. It’s one of several dozen copies – not a bad match, it appears.”
“Most people aren’t that attentive.” John said softly. He still held the White Lion in his hand. It was heavy and cold. It was beautiful. If he kept it, God, then his destiny would be-
Sherlock’s hand laid out flat over the gemstone in John’s palm. John could feel the heat of Sherlock’s hand hovering over his, his palm on the diamond. Holmes’ tone was suddenly intimate, as if they were alone in the city. “John... if you really want it…. I’ll give it to you…. This, for me, is no more than 20 minutes’ work. By my method I will seal the fake back with the same wax. Vahtin has money enough stashed away. This diamond can go into some fusty museum, back into the hands of a mass murderer, or it can change your life. You and Sarah will never want for anything again, as long as you live, no matter your troubles, no matter your needs.” There was a very long pause, “Tell me what to do.”
John shut his eyes. Good. God. A version of his life – someone else’s life – flickered before him, and it was full of yachts, travel, and smiles. In the world, there was nothing he couldn’t afford. When it came to his friends, there was nothing he couldn’t and wouldn’t give. Just provided he first became, well, a thief. He felt his hand dropping out from under Sherlock’s, and felt Sherlock’s close. Then it was Sherlock Holmes who held the White Lion, and John could open his eyes again.
Sherlock cocked his head at John. Then he turned to Sarah. He took her hand, placed the moissanite into her palm, and wrapped her hand around it. “Don’t lose that.”
“No,” she said breathily, and then she reached out and touched Sherlock’s cheek. “What happened to you?”
John looked up. Bruising had begun on Sherlock’s high cheekbone, the bluish pattern almost striped, having been caused by slightly opened fingers. Sherlock pulled away from her touch. “This is it, John. We’re ready now. The last step is first-hand confirmation Zyza’s in the Athenaeum… if we can. All that will take is some currency in the right pocket and a photo of the man.” Sherlock held out his phone. On its screen was the sleek, sharp countenance of a handsome blond man with grey eyes and a scarred forehead. “I know someone on the inside. She’s our girl. But we’ll need 50 quid.” He shut his eyes, “And a lot of forbearance.”
“It’s on me,” Sarah swept away, “except for the forbearance.” The White Lion bounced off her thigh. She headed for her purse. Behind her, John watched the gemstone entranced. Then he looked up at Holmes, a man who had offered a priceless diamond to a friend, yet hadn’t tried to take it for himself. Sherlock fiddled with his phone.
“John,” Sherlock’s brows went up in confusion. “I have to draw a line when I’m doing nothing more awe-inspiring than texting on my cell.”
“You know what I mean.”
Sherlock ignored the phone for long enough to say. “It’s not too late.”
“Yes,” John’s lips pulled taut for a moment. “It is.”
So Sherlock went back to what he’d been doing. “Just got a ping back from Edith. She’s at work. Sent her the picture and transferred the money to her PayPal. Let’s see if she can confirm what Vadim Bogrov believes.”
“Not going to get half of a monster diamond,” Sherlock put his phone away. “I think that’s quite enough of a loss for one night.”
John nodded morosely. Right again, Holmes. There was no way, if it ever came down to that – if he ever got that lucky – that John Watson could afford a big, white diamond.
“Mm?” He looked up.
“There are better things in this world than diamonds.”
John watched Sherlock reading his incoming texts – possibly from ‘Edith’, and possibly from Mycroft, given the hour and circumstances – and wondered what Sherlock meant. Part of John, a large part, really, hoped he meant the value of John, as a person, would make up for something like the White Lion, or even that diamonds had driven people to do insane and mortal things in the past, and that this gemstone would likely be a more sure source of grief and destruction than of any good. It had already burnt holes in the tapestry of London, after all. But it was just as likely that Holmes meant rich, red rubies of a goodly size. They were a rarer thing than a diamond. Thus they were a better thing.
John looked at the floor of the flat and shut his eyes. His thoughts were railing at him. He simply shut it all down, thread by thread, until his mind went quiet. He thought of nothing, particularly, and in doing so, he found pity for Sherlock.
He could never do this.
Edith turned out to be a bottle-blonde in her mid-twenties with more death-defying curves than a Swiss mountain pass, tiny ankles, and a bee-like waist. She chewed her gum loudly and grinned like a death’s head when she saw Sherlock. She gave him a very obvious once over, “Hell-o luv.”
Whoa. John’s eyelids fluttered. Forbearance. Got it.
Edith handed him over a folded stack of papers and crossed her arms under her ponderous cleavage. Then she stared up at Sherlock’s face with undisguised interest in the shape of his lips.
“Bit of a strange look for you. Almost didn’t recognize you without the big curls and in this gear. You make a girl’s knees rubbery, luv. It’s quite nice. You look all clean and pretty with that cut. And naked. Ah – a nice picture. You’ll let me know if you find yourself in need of some maintenance, is the agreement?” She gave her hip a clap.
“No, thanks,” Sherlock’s tone was desiccated. He flipped stapled pages.
“It’s always no with him,” Edith rolled her eyes and scanned John in an overly friendly manner. She stopped dead upon seeing Sarah. “Oh… and I can see why. This your bird, Sherlock? She’s top shelf, this one. Look at her.”
Sarah blinked at the woman and her nerves kicked in, “Oh, hello. I’m-”
“Don’t say your name,” Sherlock told her. “Stop talking.”
“Ooh,” Edith’s brows waggled on her forehead as she grinned at Sarah, “That’s what’s so great about him, isn’t it? No gadabout, Sherlock, and very in charge. I can just imagine him in bed.”
“No,” Sherlock’s patience wore to a thread this time. “You cannot. John. Look at this.”
Which was when John realized he’d done nothing more, since he’d arrived, than stare at Edith. She was… naughty, with a burlesque body and loud hair. However, when he looked into them, her dark eyes were bright with fun. She winked at him. He quickly shifted his attention to the papers in Sherlock’s hands. “The camera angles are bad,” John muttered. “It’s like he’s aware of their placement, and how far they can see.”
“Which, if he is, makes him smarter than I’d been led to believe,” Sherlock plucked his bottom lip, much to the appreciation of Edith. She stopped clacking her gum to smile.
Sherlock took his cell out of his pocket and handed the papers to John. “I think it’s him. The men around him argue it’s him. But there’s always the danger of what happened up on the roof of the other hotel.”
“What do you mean?”
Sherlock sighed, “He keeps men of the same colouration, and with similar features around him, obviously. When that thug first came out the door, I almost mistook him for Zyza. Some of them have even been marked with the scar on Zyza’s forehead, right above his brow. However, there is a small patch of white on the back of his head. It’s hard to spot in the hair. I haven’t seen it duplicated yet. He’s had it since birth.”
Edith stepped up, reached a hand out around the side of Sherlock’s neck, and slid her fingers into his hair. “Right about here,” she twiddled her fingers gently. Her long French Tips surfaced like bubbles above dark water. “I seen it, big boy. He’s a good looking man, but a real cockbiter, that one.”
“Edith.” Sherlock said stiffly. “Hands.”
“Sorry,” she quailed, quite uncharacteristically, thought John, from their short association. She took her hand away and said, “Got a piccie for me, Sherlock? I seen him. I swear.”
Sherlock and Edith stood shoulder to shoulder in what had to be the weirdest tableau John had seen in weeks, scrutinizing pictures on his cell phone. John glanced, found Sarah some distance away, and drew back to join her.
Something about her felt cold.
“She looks like a stripper,” Sarah said over her crossed arms.
“That she does.” John blew out a puff of air. She certainly had the body and looks for it.
“You keep staring at her.”
Oh hell. Well, look at her. She can’t be real, and how did she ever meet Sherlock? But he couldn’t very well say that. “Well, she’s got a big personality. Rather hard to ignore.” John said tightly.
“That’s not the only thing about her that’s rather oversized,” Sarah’s voice was stiff. After a moment of uncomfortable silence she said, “Sherlock doesn’t look at her.”
John shut his eyes. “Sarah, Sherlock wouldn’t look at you either. He’s not like most men.”
Without hesitation she said, “Yes he would.”
“Sarah, dear one-”
She cut this off, brutally. “I know he would because he does.”
John stopped everything else he felt, or imagined, that he was doing, in favour of slowly making a turn in her direction. His voice went quiet. “What do you mean?”
“He does,” she blinked at him.
“You’re kidding me.” Which she should have read as ‘Please say you’re kidding me’. John crossed his arms on his ribs.
“Not at all,” she shook her head and her glorious spirals of curls bobbed. Her brows drew down as she looked at John. “He likes my legs. I think he likes legs. He was all about them when Reese was here. She couldn’t come in a room without him frowning at those big, stompy boots of hers. Well, see, they cover her legs up to the knee. He didn’t want that. And, he likes mine.”
“Oh good heavens,” John shut his eyes.
“Men are so inattentive,” she said archly.
“Hey, wait a second,” John straightened. “That can’t be right. Reese would have seen that and adjusted her footwear accordingly. She’s like Sherlock – I mean the CIA trained her to be like him – and that wouldn’t have gone past her.”
“Oh, please, John,” Sarah chuckled low in her throat. “Of course she knew. He’s kind of obvious. But it’s Reese, we’re talking about. If he really wants to see her legs, he knows what to do about it.”
“I’m pretty sure he doesn’t,” the poor, emotionally unavailable, unsophisticated bastard. Reese, in that sense, was over his head. Lately, John had serious doubts that Sherlock had ever had sex. He was so strange, so locked down, far too cautious. Meeting with Lockton Holmes’ casual violence went a long way in explaining Sherlock’s inability to relax and connect. It also explained his bizarre skill at reading even the tiniest nuance in a person’s countenance. Lockton’s expression had changed so little between walloping Sherlock in the face, and cradling his son’s head between his big hands. Sherlock’s reaction had been identical in both cases – caution.
But Sarah had no idea of any of this, and she turned his way. Her eyes brimmed with enjoyment. “I’m pretty sure he does.”
John remembered something. “Reese programmed her number into your phone before she left for Langley again…. Have you been talking to her?”
Sarah smiled broadly. “She’s absolutely amazing, John, and so sweet. I call her once a week.”
Without another word, John reached around and folded Sarah in his arms. No wonder she wanted to be part of the Zyza bust. Her life was slowly being sucked into that of the exceptional people of Think Tank and, well, into Sherlock’s sphere, just as his was. He could imagine Reese sitting in Langley, electrified by the story that Sarah had to tell.
“I’d kiss your cheek,” he muttered, “but I’m afraid to mess up your powder.” He drank up the scents of sleek Katrya Vahtin – her perfume; her shampoo; no stone unturned – and it did weird things to him. She was Sarah, but not Sarah, like some kind of spy movie.
So Sarah kissed his cheek. “Don’t worry,” she murmured. “It’s lip stain and a sealed gloss… it won’t come off on you. Anywhere.”
Good. God. Here they were, down in the Service Entryway of the Athenaeum, chasing the Russian mob, toting a fake diamond, obfuscating the real one in plain sight, standing under pitiful lighting, in mixed company, and John had an overwhelming sensation this was to be their first kiss.
They both moved at once and the incredible warm sweetness of her lip gloss exploded across John’s mouth like pop-rocks. God. He felt her yield all the way to his curling toes.
When they broke apart, John felt breathless, and her eyes were huge. They were motionless like that for several seconds, before Sarah looked down and smiled. She put a hand over her tasty lips.
John glanced around him and exhaled, his head caught in the weightlessness of a spin, and his heart afloat above him like a balloon on a string. Then the balloon popped. “Sherlock’s gone.”
Sarah gasped. “Oh my God.” They both clattered around the corner to find him pacing the hallway with his green eyes closed.
He replied on the sound of them coming, his eyes opening slowly, like a curtain to stage. “He’s here, John. Edith and three other girls have seen him. He invited Edith up to his room, in fact, but she finds him unpleasant and refused to go. He’s here. He’s right here.” Sherlock took an unsteady breath with a soft ‘hah’ at the end. He spread his hands, “I was right. It’s family business. So he has to see to it personally.”
“Did you call Lestrade?”
“Texted him already. He’s getting his people into position.” Sherlock walked up, caught Sarah by the shoulders and inspected her. His voice was low and robust – the throatiness he could get when about to spring a trap and win the day. “You’re ready.”
Her chin rose and the action transformed into a flick of her curls. Katrya did that almost constantly. John marvelled at her. “You should have been an actress.”
“She minored in Theatre Arts,” Sherlock tut-tutted. “Have you ever read her CV, John?”
Had he…? “Did you?”
“Of course,” Sherlock flashed a grin. “It’s online. Just like yours.” He turned and walked away from the pair of them. “Come on,” he said. “The Service halls in this place are a bit of a challenge. Stay close. Let’s go.”
“Where is this going to happen?” Sarah asked anxiously.
“He’s got the rooftop suite.” Sherlock said.
“I can’t go up there. This will be more than him thinking I dyed my hair. He’ll know it’s not his wife the moment he sees me up close.”
“But he won’t see you up close. It’s me he’ll see. You’ll be on camera, Sarah. The cameras here are a decent quality – I’ve just come back from seeing them – so keep your eyes level, do not look at them, and do your utmost to move like Katrya does. Ninth floor, the hotel took some water damage due to problems with a broken pumping station, so that floor has been closed for repairs. That’s where we’re doing this. That’s where Lestrade and his people are taking position. It’s a lucky break for us. I’d thought we’d have to go to underground parking.” He spread his fingers in air in front of him. “Also, once we leave this hall, you’ll be on-camera. From here, you have to be Katrya Vahtin, worried about her daughter, here to beg for her life and freedom in exchange for the White Lion. She’d be terrified of him, Sarah. He’s beaten and intimidated her for years. But she’s spirited, a fighter. Do you have all that? Do you think you can do that?”
She exhaled nervously. “I’ll do my best.”
John added, “One more thing. She habitually uses men. I mean, she snares them, emotionally. They’re tools for her, I think. For instance, she kissed Sherlock earlier today-”
Sarah’s eyes flicked up to Sherlock’s irritated stab of expression. He looked away and scoffed. “Her taste in men is wretched.” His chin rose.
His choice of words was disheartening, but John let it go and finished with, “I think it will be believable if you hide behind him, even cling to him, it if comes to that. Safety first, and all.”
“Okay,” she smoothed herself and her expression with a, “and I’m sorry to hear she did such a thing, Sherlock, it was very interfering of her.”
He blinked in genuine surprise and said a simple, “Yes.”
Sarah took a steady breath and squeezed John’s hand.
“Follow my direction,” Sherlock laid one hand on John’s arm, and the other on Sarah’s. His face was quite serious. “The cameras on the floor we’re headed to are currently looping old feed. Lestrade arranged for that so that his police could get into position. But remember the majority of the hotel is under surveillance.”
“Okay, let’s do this,” Sarah gave a nod.
Sherlock released them both and huffed one excited breath. He turned and struck out for the doors that would take them through the service hallways and into the main body of the hotel.
They went through narrow corridors that kept them out of sight of the main body of the hotel, and then took the stairs. It was only ten floors, and the adrenaline inside them at this early hour of the morning had them flying along. Sherlock stopped a floor below the one he and John would meet Zyza on and set his hand on the door latch.
“Here?” She asked and saw Holmes nod. “What if someone on my floor exits their room?”
“The police have been through,” Sherlock told Sarah and glanced back to see her throw her hair out of her face and purse her lips. Katrya constantly performed the same actions. He was pleased to see her imitating them. She wasn’t bad.
Sherlock tapped on his phone to update, and then laid his hand on a doorknob. “John and I will walk you to your section. I’ll mark the dimensions of it for you. Do not leave your section, Sarah. If you do, they’ll figure this out pretty quickly. Pay attention to your cell phone.”
Then Sherlock opened the door and brought her into the hotel proper. It was very late, now, and quiet. He walked her along to an area that, even to her eyes, hadn’t many distinguishing elements. Her corner of this plot was a small recessed hall by the fire stairs. “Mark,” Sherlock said quietly as he walked into the hall. “Don’t leave this section of hallway.”
“Am… am I going to be alone here?”
“Yes, you’re alone.” Sherlock assured her.
“What if someone comes up from the lobby?” She stepped forward and laid her hands on Sherlock’s chest and he very nearly flinched. She was a little too good at this, if you asked John.
“Police are in the stairwell above us. If anyone comes up these stairs, they’ll take care of it. The real risk is the elevator. I’ve sent Edith with a piece of code that will keep it from stopping on this floor.”
“Edith?” John questioned.
“Is a former hacker. Well, I say former. MI6 had a big roundup and I protected her from government charges back when she was 19.”
“Innocent then?” John was stunned by this news.
“Oh heavens no.” Sherlock shook his head, “just young and stupid. Not unlike I once was, John. However, if anyone tries coming up the stairs from the seventh floor, we’re down to the plain-clothes officers on the ninth floor landing to stop them. Assuming they do this properly, it won’t be a problem. However, if that goes badly, Sarah, you need to leave via the fire door and go up to the police at once.”
Continued in Part 9.