[Narration by Doctor John Watson, M.D.]
This case began just after Sherlock's regrettably memorable thirty-fourth birthday in late September of 'Eighty-Eight and there was little indication at the time that it would drag on for two months, nor that it would come close to taking from me my dear friend who was still reeling from the shocking revelations from the Dundas Separation Case (and, I would only later learn, also from our Gotham adventure prior to that). Ironically I remember once again hoping for a case of sufficient interest to take his mind off all his recent travails.
I really should have remembered that old adage about being careful what you wish for – because you may well get it!
“Doctor”, Sherlock called from his position by the window, “what do you make of this?”
It was one week after the 'solution' to the Lady Dundas Case during which I had grown increasingly worried over my friend's health, both physical and mental. He had become... I do not like to use the word 'clingy', but as I noted in our last case together he became uneasy if we were apart for any length of time (not of course that I minded that but I did not consider it a good thing as I could obviously not be with him all the time). Sometimes I would look up from my writings at the table to see him staring pensively at me almost as if he was on the point of saying something but had decided not to. Or worse, I would look up and see him staring morosely into the fire. And sometimes in the morning he would cling almost desperately to me even if I had to go into the surgery that day. I would re-assure him that I would be back in the evening but I still did not like leaving him. All I could do was 'chance to call in' at Baker Street if I had a client anywhere in the area, and some of those times I was intercepted by Mrs. Harvelle who warned me that Sherlock was resting again. It was all just horrible.
My friend and colleague Peter Greenwood, to whom I had confided some of my concerns had quite cleverly likened the situation to an engine that was not being worked correctly. He showed me a recent study into the human mind, in which it was said that those with more powerful brains (like of course Sherlock) needed a higher degree of maintenance, hence things which might cause lesser people a mild annoyance could 'gum up the works'. I did not like the analogy but I could see the logic behind it; Sherlock needed some case that would not tax him on an emotional level so he could get back to normal.
I little knew that morning just how abnormal our lives were about to become.
“A lady has walked up and down this road six times in the past fifteen minutes”, my friend observed, dragging me out of my musings. “On the last occasion she passed all the way to the jeweller’s on the corner, yet she came back.”
“Possibly a client?” I suggested.
“We shall soon know”, he said. “Mrs. Harvelle had spotted her dithering in front of 221B which means that whether she wills it or no, the lady will soon be in our humble presence.”
Sure enough some five minutes later Mrs. Harvelle announced ‘Mrs. Amara Etherege’. The lady in question was about forty years of age and small in stature, though the fact she was clearly hunched up with nerves did not help. She was such a mess that there was not even a simper at my friend, which was a rare thing indeed. I half-expected her to bolt for the door once Mrs. Harvelle was safely gone, that was until Sherlock spoke.
“You are here to request my services, madam?”
He guided her to the fireside chair opposite his own and poured her a small sherry. Her eyes widened.
“You clearly need this”, Sherlock said gently. “Courage, madam. If I can help you, I will.”
“I don’t know if you can!” she blurted out. “It’s Bill…. my husband. They’re going to hang him!”
“Why?” Sherlock asked.
“Because of the robbery”, she said, still clearly nervous. “I don’t even know what I’m doing here! I can never afford a private detective. I must….”
Sherlock shot out an arm and grasped her hand.
His voice was gentle but firm. I had often marvelled at how the female population seemed to want to either mother Sherlock or marry him, but this was another side to him. He was radiating re-assurance and it seemed to calm our visitor down (though the second sherry that I poured her probably helped too).
“Mrs. Etherege”, Sherlock said, “I wish for you to be honest with me. You are going to relax, marshal your thoughts and then tell me about the matter that has brought you here today. Once I have all the facts I will then tell you if I can be of assistance.”
She nodded, swallowed once or twice and seemed to relax just a little.
“Thank you”, she said. “The police are convinced Bill is guilty – most of them, anyway but that nice Inspector Henriksen said I should approach you because if anyone can find out the truth, you can.”
“I shall do my best”, Sherlock promised. “Please tell us both how this matter started. Do not worry about the doctor; his notes are invaluable – when I can read them!”
I snorted and would have huffed as well had it done any good. But I knew from the ever so slight smile that he had not really meant it.
“Bill worked for the Leviathan Bank, as a teller and clerk”, she began.
She looked at Sherlock in surprise and he shook an admonitory finger at her.
“If I am to help you Mrs. Etherege, I must have the whole truth”, he said. “Including the time prior to recent events that your husband spent in prison.”
“How did you know that?” she demanded.
She stared down in confusion.
“In addition to your wedding-ring you have a faint ring-band on your finger”, Sherlock said. “The braided markings indicate that you have been wearing the promise-ring of the Lazarus Society, which promotes the interests of reformed criminals. You took it off before coming here today but the marking is quite distinct.”
She reddened at having been caught out.
“Before I met him Bill did time for a gang robbery in Soho”, she admitted. “Two and a half years and he was only roped in at the last minute, poor sod. But he’s been straight ever since he met me.”
'Has he?' I wondered, but did not say. Sherlock shot me a look, which would normally have been annoying but was for once reassuring. At least that was still working.
“The manager at his branch in Holborn, Mr. Chetwynd, he has a brother who did time”, our guest said, “so he was open to taking Bill on ‘on trial’ so to speak. He’d been there over two years and they were pleased with his work, so they said. Until three weeks ago.”
“What happened then?” Sherlock asked.
“They were about to open up a new branch in St. Paul’s”, she said, “their third one along with Bill's place and one in Westminster. That meant a lot of money being moved from the two existing branches to the new one. Bill was one of the few people they told because his desk is right by the strong-room entrance.”
Sherlock quirked an eyebrow at that detail.
“He was told on Friday the eighteenth; I remember it as it was the day before my sister’s birthday. He went into work on Monday the twenty-first and I was surprised to receive a visitor at just before midday. It was Mr. Pullow, Bill’s boss and a rat - and I probably insult rats by saying that! Seems Bill had triggered the alarm on the strong-room door and he was now locked in. They were drilling extra air-holes for him – the place has tiny vents he said but not enough to keep anyone alive in there for any time - and they hoped to have broken through the wall by close of business. The door had a timer thingy Bill once told me, one of those you can't open until a set time after it's been locked. Security I suppose though I don't see the point myself. So I decided to go to the bank before closing-time to see if he was free.”
“Mr. Pullow was muttering that the man had been in there for five hours with their money. A rat, like I said. I was there a half an hour until they broke through – Mr. Chetwynd kindly let me stay – and when they finally did….”
She stopped. We stared at her expectantly.
“Nothing?” Sherlock asked. I was surprised too.
“No money, no Bill – nothing! Someone had dug a great big hole through from the basement next door.”
“Would it not take time to dig a tunnel?” I wondered. My friend shook his head.
“They must have weakened the wall from their side and then broken through when Mr. Etherege was sealed inside”, he said. “Which of course further implies insider knowledge; someone had to tell them to break through while the door in could not be opened because of the time-lock. Presumably the police believe that your husband signalled to them once he was locked in, Mrs. Etherege, and helped them take the money out. And the drilling of air-holes would doubtless have helped cover any noise from behind the very solid walls.”
“They're sure Bill was in on it”, our visitor said. “But I haven’t told you the oddest part of this whole story yet.”
“Go on”, Sherlock urged.
“They found Bill last week”, she said. “In Aberdeen of all places!”
We both stared at her dumbfounded.
“The Scottish Aberdeen?” I asked, wondering if there was some other place of that name that I had hitherto been unaware of.
“Yes”, she said. “He had no memory of the robbery or anything. In fact, when they finally let me see him once he was back here he thought we were still dating!”
“Perhaps you should be grateful that he remembered you at all”, Sherlock said. “Memory loss is unpredictable at the best of times, although having said that people only rarely regress once they have recovered their wits and they sometimes remember a lot more. The Leviathan Bank’s Holborn branch is in Southampton Place if I remember correctly?”
“And you and Mr. Etherege reside where, pray?”
“We have a place north of the Temple, eighty-four St. Audrey's Crescent. Luckily it's just close enough for Bill to walk to work. Or at least it was.”
“Did your husband happen to say who else at the bank knew about the transfer of money to the new branch”, Sherlock asked. “Apart from himself and the two managers, I mean?”
“Bill said that the managers had told everyone else that there was only a small amount of extra money in the safe”, she said. “The only other person who knew was Mr. Gray, the senior clerk.”
“Your tone suggests that you do not like him much”, Sherlock offered.
“He thinks once a crim, always a crim!” she said harshly. “He was against Bill getting a job there and I think he fears that because he has proved so reliable there's every chance he may be taken into management before him. Bill was sure he hated him.”
“It is indeed a thorny problem”, he said. “Let us assume that from what we know thus far the guilty man must have been one of the other three men in the case; Mr. Gray, Mr. Chetwynd or Mr. Pullow. Yet I am to assume that all three were in the bank while efforts were being made to free your husband, so they could not have been removing the money. Hence there must be at least one accomplice, more likely a number of them for such a large task as the conveyance of all that money away would have required considerable manpower. Is it certain that the money was there before your husband got locked in?”
“Mr. Chetwynd had just checked it”, she said. “The managers left for a meeting while Bill and Mr. Gray finished checking it was the exact amount, and he then claimed Bill said he had left his pen inside; that was when he got locked in.”
I could see why the police had suspected this lady's husband. That sounded rather weak from someone who had known about the money.
“Mrs. Etherege”, Sherlock said heavily, “I am not going to pretend that this will be easy. You have clearly had a hard life thus far and I would not delude you with false hopes. I think it is best if Inspector Henriksen gives me the full case notes to read through, and that I then proceed from there. We have your address and once when there are any developments in this case I promise that you will be informed.”
Over the next week Sherlock worked tirelesly in investigating the three possible suspects, but to no avail. He told me early on that he did consider either that they were working together or that maybe William Etherege was indeed guilty to some extent and possibly coerced, but finding proof of any particular theory proved impossible. All three men had left the bank at one time or another on the day in question but all had done so in the company of at least one other staff member, and witnesses were found who confirmed that they had been where they had said they had been. It was very frustrating.
“Can it be that Mrs. Etherege's faith in her husband is misplaced?” he wondered aloud on the last day of September. He had just returned from Scotland having visited the hotel in Aberdeen where the missing Mr. Etherege had been discovered. All he had found was a bell-boy at a hotel in the principality who remembered a large and gaudily-dressed lady arriving with a particularly heavy chest around that time, which the boy had only recalled because his colleague who had helped him hoist it up to her room had quipped that it was heavy enough to contain a body. She had stayed for a week under the name of 'Mrs. Smith'.
I gazed at him across the morning paper. He looked tired and careworn, his failure to solve this case clearly weighing him down. He was refusing to take on any new cases until it was over and I was beginning to fear for his health again.
“You will sort it all out in the end”, I said with a confidence that I did not really feel. Indeed I was beginning to have the distinct sense that this case might be Sherlock's first real failure. “I have faith in you.”
“What is in the 'Times' that is causing you to frown so?” he inquired.
“It is this brutal murder of two women in the East End”, I said. “The third and fourth in the area of late. The killer seems to have sliced open the bodies for some reason.”
“Killers rarely have 'reason' in the way normal people understand it”, Sherlock said sagely. “I have another lead up in Cheshire but I do not know whether it will amount to anything.”
October arrived and the continuing inclement weather seemed to reflect the moods of us both. Inspector Henriksen came round to ask for Sherlock's help as regards the murders in the East End. I fully expected him to refuse but to my surprise he said that he would look into the matter. That itself concerned me as I feared that he was once more overtaxing himself.
The Cheshire lead had turned out to be a dead end but at the end of the month Sherlock arranged to travel down to the Somersetshire resort of Weston-super-Mare, as a retired Leviathan employee there had some possible information. I had planned to go with him but the daughter of one of the surgery's most important supporters had most inconsiderately decided to go into labour while visiting her lawyer at the Inns of Court and I had to let him travel alone.
I little knew that the key to the solving the Etherege case was about to be handed to the most unlikely person. My good self.
Mrs. Caterham's delivery was mercifully a fairly quick one, indeed almost comedic in the way the presence of a lady giving birth and very soon a screaming baby so clearly disconcerted the bewigged lawyers who were having to work around her and kept staring incredulously at the new arrival (what had they expected her to push out, a watermelon?). As often with these things clearing up everything afterwards took just as long and it was mid-afternoon before I was finished. Since it was a Sunday I would normally have headed back to Baker Street but Dame Fortune caused me to remember that Mrs. Etherege had sent a note round just as Sherlock was leaving for Somersetshire. As I knew her house lay less than a mile away I decided to call in and speak to her in person.
Eighty-four St. Audrey's Crescent was a small lodging-house, although very well-kept; the garden was I thought particularly impressive, I thought. The landlady Mrs. Wall admitted me and I was shown up to Mrs. Etherege's room. She apologized for the mess (it was a lot tidier than 221B after one of Sherlock's looking for something, I thought wryly) and I explained how things were going, trying to put as positive a spin on things as I could. I was sure that she could see through my false optimism but she did not challenge me on it, for which I was grateful.
Sherlock and I had visited her husband but once in prison whence he had been transferred as the authorities decided if they had a case to mount against him. He had been a quivering wreck of a man and it was that visit that hung in my memory as I was leaving. I stared down at the combined coat- and shoe-rack in surprise, and when Mrs. Etherege asked if anything was wrong I lied and said that I was merely distracted. Which was true enough because I most definitely did not like what I was seeing.
I returned to Baker Street arriving only minutes before a Sherlock who looked a little more hopeful. Perhaps his Somersetshire trip had yielded results after all. I decided not to tell him of my discovery until we had eaten our regular evening meal together; at least he was eating well now which was one less worry. Once we were sat by the fire with our coffees, I decided that it was time to speak.
“You have been on edge all evening”, he said cutting into my thoughts. “The birthing went well?”
“A healthy baby boy, six pounds and six ounces; he and his mother are both doing well”, I said. “No, it was what happened after that has unsettled me. I went to see Mrs. Etherege.”
He looked at me curiously. “And?” he prompted.
I took a deep breath.
“I think that she may be seeing another man.”
His eyebrows shot up.
“Why?” he asked.
“Remember when we saw her husband in jail the other week?” I said.
“It was stupid but the one thing that stuck with me was that he had such big feet for such a small man”, I said, feeling a little embarrassed as I spoke. “Yet on the shoe-rack there was a pair of good-quality men's shoes that were at most a size six. I managed to slide my own boot next to them while she fetched me my bag so I was quite sure.”
He stared hard at me.
“I do not see why a visitor would leave their boots there”, I said plaintively. “I mean, that would suggest that they slept there. I asked the landlady Mrs. Wall if anyone had been bothering Mrs. Etherege as regards all the publicity but she said that no-one had come to the house, and her own room was right next to the door so she would have known.”
He was still staring at me. I stared back at him.
“Have I said something stupid?” I ventured eventually.
“We have to go and see Mr. William Etherege”, he said rising rapidly to his feet.
“Can it not wait until morning?” I asked. It was after seven o'clock on a Sunday evening and I doubted that the prison guards at Newgate would be happy at receiving a visitor this late of a day, even one as famous as Sherlock.
One look at his shining eyes and I had my answer.
“I will get my coat”, I said.
He wrote out a quick message and summoned a boy to dispatch it, then we were on our way.
I spent the entire cab journey wondering exactly how a pair of shoes or Mrs. Etherege's possible infidelity could have solved the case for Sherlock, but to no avail. I had been right about our reception although with a few sovereigns in the right pockets we were soon admitted to the reception area. A few moments later a bedraggled Mr. William Etherege was pushed into the room, handcuffed and clearly afraid.
“Please take a seat, Mr. Etherege”, Sherlock said. “Warden, I would be grateful if you would remove those bracelets. I hardly think that two grown men could be endangered by this fellow.”
The warden snorted his disapproval but did as he had been asked. William Etherege flexed his arms and looked at us hopefully. It was rather pitiful, I thought. Sherlock stared pointedly at the warden and with another grunt he left us alone.
“Sir, you have been most sorely used”, Sherlock said gently. “I have three things to tell you and I wish you to remain silent until you have heard all three. Nod if you understand.”
The man looked even more scared but nodded.
“First”, Sherlock said, “I know all about 'Malleus Maleficarum'. There have always been groups and individuals who fancy themselves as crime lords, no matter how suited or not they may be to such an aspiration. You had thought to leave that world behind yet you unwittingly walked straight into its embrace, did you not?”
The man looked ready to bolt back to the safety of his cell at this point but with a small whine he nodded again. Sherlock took a notebook out of his pocket and wrote something on it then passed it over to the man who read it. This time I feared he was indeed going to pass out on us.
“The head of 'Malleus Maleficarum'”, Sherlock said calmly. “I spoke to Mr. Thaddeus Belton, a clerk who worked at the bank until last year. They tried to recruit him but he was able to retire rather than do what they asked. He guessed correctly that they would target someone else in the bank and that with your past it might well be you. But they already had you, did they not?”
The man gulped and nodded.
“I'm a dead man walking!” he moaned.
“I can arrange for you to be sent to another country, with enough money to start again and a new name”, Sherlock said.
“There's no escape!”
“I have already dispatched a telegram to my brother”, Sherlock said. “In one hour or less you will be released into our custody. You will be on a ship tonight and in a new country tomorrow, with a new identity and enough money to set yourself up there.”
For the first time the wretched man looked hopeful. I wondered what on earth was going on.
We stayed at the jail until Mr. Bacchus Holmes had arrived – thirty minutes; the man moved fast – and made sure that he and Mr. Etherege had left before returning to Baker Street.
“But what about his wife?” I asked as we rattled along. “Surely she will want to be with him even if she is unfaithful.”
“I am sure that Mrs. Etherege has not been unfaithful to her husband”, he said with a knowing smile. “But in the interests of Mr. Etherege's well-being it is best that they not be together just now, especially the way gossip works in the world of crime and criminality. We shall summon her to Baker Street tomorrow morning and apprise her of developments.”
Mrs. Etherege was shown up to our rooms as ten o'clock precisely the following morning. She was clearly surprised to find Inspector Henriksen there although she immediately thanked him for recommending Sherlock to her all those months ago. From her demeanour she was clearly unaware of her husband's departure.
“I have some good news”, Sherlock said, as he sat at his desk. Mrs. Etherege and I sat the other side while Henriksen stood somewhat awkwardly by the door. I wondered at this unusual arrangement – Sherlock always preferred the fireside chairs for his discussions – but said nothing. “Your husband is free.”
Her eyes lit up.
“I can go and take him home?” she asked.
“Not exactly”, Sherlock admitted. “I am afraid that your husband fell foul of a new crime syndicate which has recently extended its foul tentacles into our city. It is called 'Malleus Maleficarum'.”
She stared at him in confusion.
“It is Latin for 'hammer of the witches'”, I put in. “From a treatise against various forms of witchcraft, many centuries back.”
“Oh”, she said. I supposed that medieval treastises on witchcraft were perhaps not really her thing.
“Indeed”, Sherlock said. “And I am pleased to say that your husband is now in a safe place where that organization can no longer reach him. We have also obtained the identity of the leader of that foul organization and they will soon be under arrest.”
“But I received a message from Bill only this morning”, she said opening her handbag
The events of the next few seconds seemed to happen in slow motion. Mrs. Etherege withdrew not a note but a pearl-handled revolver and aimed it straight at Sherlock. I yelled a warning and threw myself hard against her just as the gun went off. There was an agonized cry from my friend and the sound of two more shots, which I only later registered as Henriksen's gun. Then silence.
Mrs. Etherege lay slumped in her chair but I ignored her, too concerned for my friend. The bullet had clearly been meant for his heart but my frantic efforts had pushed its trajectory to the left, though he was still bleeding. Henriksen was taking the precaution to make sure that the dratted woman had died – he had aimed for the head and, I later discovered, hit both times – before he came round and helped me lift Sherlock before carrying him to the couch. There was far, far too much blood – I had the untimely thought that Mrs. Harvelle would not be pleased - as I fought to try to staunch the flow.
“John”, he gasped. “Did you....”
“She is dead”, I told him, while Henriksen whispered “ambulance” and ran from the room. “And I will kill you if you die without telling me how you knew!”
“May not have to”, he gasped. Then his head fell back and he was unconscious as I fought on to try to stop the blood from leaving his body. I spared a final glare of hatred to the dead woman slouched in the chair before turning my full attentions back to the man I loved.
I did not sleep that night even though the doctors at the hospital assured me early on that Sherlock would pull through. My desperate sideways surge had saved his life; had the bullet been a few inches to the other side he would have been dead. He would be recuperating for at least a month, they had told me, but he was out of danger.
The thought of a life without that blue-eyed genius in it was unthinkable. How dare he go and try to die on me!
It was only the following morning that I recovered enough wits to remember that Sherlock had a family and they would probably have quite liked to have been informed of what had happened. Fortunately I had the address of Sherlock's sister Mrs. Thompson on me so I diverted via her house on my way back to Baker Street to collect some things for him. She thanked me and promised to let the rest of the family know. I later received a letter of thanks from Sir Charles and Lady Rebecca as well as one from Sherlock's brother Lucius.
My friend spent a further week in the hospital before he was ready to be discharged. Although perhaps it would be truer to say that after a week, several of the doctors and nurses were threatening to shoot him themselves if he wasn't removed; Sherlock did not make the best patient as I well knew, even if he always took advice from me as his doctor.
Mr. Gaillard Holmes had suggested that his brother spend some time at his hotel away from any pressures of work but Sherlock insisted that he missed the familiarity of Baker Street and wanted to go back there (in private he told me he feared being in the hotel would only encourage his family to visit him even more which would most definitely not speed his recovery; he had already feigned being drugged to shorten a visit by his parents!). Two men carried him up to our rooms and laid him on the couch which I had moved as requested to the window for him. He looked deathly pale but he was alive, and that was all I cared about.
“I suppose you would like to know the details of the case”, he said, sounding almost guilty. “For your records.”
And that did it. I had endured a night of terror and a week of sheer hell with him in the hospital and me alone in our bed, but now he was back his first worry was that I might be affected by not knowing about the damn case? I almost snarled as I strode across the room and grabbed him harshly by the shoulders, remembering slightly too late that that was close to where he had been shot. Judging from the shocked look on his face my reaction had more than surprised him.
“You bastard!” I yelled, careless of what our fellow tenants might overhear. “You almost died on me! You think I care about a bloody case when I am about to lose the man I love?”
We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity before I belatedly realized I was probably hurting him by holding him too tightly, let alone the fact that I was gushing Feelings like a demented geyser. I relaxed my grip and fell back onto the nearby chair, still shaking. Mercifully he saved me from further embarrassment by explaining how he had got from a pair of shoes to a major crime syndicate.
“Your discovery set up a whole new line of thought for me”, he explained. “You assumed infidelity; I assumed that a man's shoes need not be worn by a man.”
I stared at him in surprise.
“Mr. William Etherege and his wife were of similar builds and she was the mastermind behind the whole scheme. I did not seriously consider her until I visited the old clerk in Somersetshire and he told me about the approach made to him. I had been aware of the existence of 'Malleus Maleficarum' for some time but had not yet encountered any of their nefarious deeds. And the choice of name – unusual in a male-dominated industry such as crime – seemed significant.”
“On the day of the robbery Mrs. Etherege drugs her husband's breakfast or morning drink and one of her confederates then hits him over the head – not too hard; she wants him alive to further confuse the police. He will be kept drugged until they want him to wake up. She then dresses in his clothes and goes to the bank where she probably feigns a headache to cover any differences in her actions. As usual there is a check on the extra money and she engineers a return to the strong-room where she locks herself in. As it is on a timer delay mechanism she knows that she has several hours before they will be able to drill through the reinforced wall. The air-holes were of course unnecessary; her confederates are able to smash through the wall between her and the next building's basement and it is that way that she and the money will shortly disappear.”
“The only weakness in the plan was that the bank might come round to the house to inform her of events before she can return to being Mrs. Etherege. Fortunately the exit hole takes only moments to open and she can leave her confederates to the removal of the money. When Mr. Pullow arrives at her house she is the poor, distraught wife receiving news of her trapped husband.”
“Yet she brought you in on the case”, I pointed out.
“She is a woman of no small self-confidence”, Sherlock said. “She felt that the evidence such as it was would lead nowhere, and had you not been so observant during your unannounced visit to her house it may well have done.”
“Meanwhile another confederate, a lady doubtless chosen for her difference in appearance to Mrs. Etherege, has undertaken a journey to the north-east of Scotland with a large chest which, no-one notices, has air-holes in it. She spends a week there at the end of which time Mr. William Etherege is deposited in a back-alley to be found by the Aberdeenshire Police. When he is returned to England he has no memory of anything.”
“And all that from a pair of shoes!” I said admiringly.
“I could not have done it without you”, he said firmly. “Though I doubt that you will want to publish this case in the foreseeable future, most of the credit is undeniably yours.
I smiled in gratitude and went to order some tea.
“John?” he said from behind me.
“Yes?” I said.
“I love you too.”
I managed to turn even redder.