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Magpie: Two For Joy

Chapter Text

 

Sherlock's eyes bore right through the mirrored plate glass window, as if it isn't there.

Sally Donovan takes her eyes off the suspect being interviewed long enough to register the fact that the Consulting Detective is not a happy witness to the interview going on. She might have had a two-year break from having him on her cases, but she has not lost the knack of interpreting the fidgets of the man whose impatience is almost tangible. He's told Lestrade that this interview is a waste of time; she disagrees.

The Farintosh Jewellery heist is a big one— over £1.25 million pounds worth of goods stolen, including the Rosenborg Opal tiara*— an heirloom piece worth almost half of that total on its own. It had been in the jewellery shop to be repaired. The robbery in Pimlico had been bad enough, but it had also cost the life of a witness- a homeless young man by the name of Terry Matthews who had presumably witnessed the burglar escaping with his loot.

For the past week, the combined forces of Lestrade's MIT and Len Barrow's Flying Squad unit from the Specialist, Organised and Economic Crime command have assembled the evidence. Eventually, facial recognition software had identified the suspect who is now being interviewed.

Lestrade's voice sounds amplified and slightly distorted on the speaker attached to the wall beside the window.

"So, let me get this straight. You went to the Tesco Metro at 6.14pm, bought some cold beer and then went home?"

The suspect shakes his head. "No, on Thursday, the day you are talking about, I was at home watching the football. I didn't leave the house all evening. I go to the shop every Wednesday; that's my curry night— have done for years, but never on a Thursday."

Sitting beside Lestrade, Len Barrow leans back in his chair, crosses his arms and sniggers. Watching the scene with Sherlock in the darkened observation room, Sally gives a low whistle. "Robert Penrose, you are one smooth liar. He really looks like he's telling the truth."

"In this case, Sergeant, that is because he is actually telling the truth." Sherlock says it quietly, not shifting his gaze from the suspect. He is rubbing the inside of his index finger against the thumb nail of his left hand, over and over, quite rapidly in almost flicking motion.

She throws a puzzled look at the Consulting Detective, who does not appear to notice her reaction. "That's impossible. We've got him on the in-store CCTV." Sally says sarcastically, "Or are you saying he's got an identical twin? A doppleganger?"

Sherlock is nodding, but she realises it isn't in response to her comment. "You're too quick to make assumptions, Sergeant."

Sally snorts. "And you're too quick to ignore the obvious evidence. I don't even know why you are here; the Guv didn't ask for your help— he's got enough on his plate, working with the Flying Squad. We don't need you getting in the way."

It is true that Lestrade had not asked Sherlock to get involved. It had been the Danish royal family who had contracted the services of the Consulting Detective. The tiara is an heirloom that they want back, and he is here on their behalf. Sally doesn't like that fact any more than she likes the idea of having him involved in a case that was "not the sort that usually interests you" as she put it. "A kid was bashed over the head by a beer bottle by a burglar; unfortunately, the concussion and hypothermia did him in, hours later. Manslaughter at best; no ghoulish details for you to obsess over."

Sally is struggling to find her way back to a working relationship with the man she once disparaged as the Freak. She hasn't called him that to his face since his return; guilt about her role in his downfall still restrains her a bit. But she is who she is, and while he might be quieter on a crime scene than he used to be, he is who he is. She'd really rather not have had him around on cases that she thinks of as "hers". Without John Watson to soften the Consulting Detective's abrasiveness, she finds it hard to avoid being irritated. Whatever Lestrade had said about the two men "sorting things out", the doctor isn't making many appearances these days. It makes her feel nostalgic for the two years when she'd not had to deal with being irked so much by Holmes.

Her sense of irritation gets the better of Sally, so she says what she feels in a loud enough voice that he cannot mistake her. "He's a convicted criminal. The evidence says he's lying, even if he says he isn't. That's what we have to go on. No use trying to make this more interesting than it is."

Across the interview table, Lestrade appears to be as unimpressed by the suspect's answer as Len Barrow is. He turns the laptop in front of him so the suspect could see the screen, and then taps the keyboard to play the video. "This is CCTV of that day and that time—check out the digital numbers— and that's you. We finally tracked you down by matching your face to your bank branch three streets away. They have you on their cash machine camera, withdrawing money the day before. Facial recognition software says there's a match, and we used it to get your name and address."

Sally doesn't need to see the footage being shown to the suspect; she’s the one who had retrieved it from the supermarket. In it Robert Penrose walked into the camera's range, carrying a wire basket with a six pack of cold beer cans and a ready-meal. She's even stopped the frame and examined it closely enough to know that it was a chicken curry, complete with rice.

Lestrade continues, "The CCTV camera in front of the Farintosh jewellery store two doors down the Warwick Way shows you walking out of the Tesco Metro, past the laundromat, then the jewellers, and turning left at the end of the parade of shops, down Tachbrook Street. Then, off camera, you must have walked down the alley to the back of the Jewellers where you picked the locks to get in through the back door. For the next hour or so, you cleaned the place out. You took the in-store camera footage of the burglary and destroyed them. We found the damaged kit, the smashed hard-drive, missing the crucial data files."

Lestrade leans forward, and taps the keyboard again, to fast-forward the footage. "But you forgot the front door camera, which was our lucky break. It's on a different system that you missed. And it catches you again, on your way back in front of the shop, and this time, you're not carrying the bag of groceries. That's because, on exiting the back door, you must have been seen by Terry Matthews— that's the name of homeless guy who'd bunked down for the night somewhere in that alley. So, you hit him with the beer bottle and crushed his skull. We also found something in the bin at the end of the alley—an unopened curry and the rest of your beers. Took us a while to find that, but it matches the ones you left Tesco carrying. The shoe prints in the shop? Yes, indeed, they match yours, too."

Penrose's face does not alter; he sits unmoved, his expression showing nothing but calm certainty. The lawyer appointed after his arrest leans over to whisper something in his ear, but he waves the man away. "You're wrong. I wasn't there. I didn't steal anything. I'm innocent."

Detective Len Barrow of the Flying Squad is a big man, imposing in his own way. And he uses it now, "But you have form, Mister Penrose—three years for burglary. Worse still, you have no way to corroborate your statement that you were at home, alone. No alibi."

"I don't need an alibi. I did my time sixteen years ago, but one thing prison taught me- apart from mending my ways and keeping my nose clean- it created a real need for routine. I never go out on a Thursday."

Burrows shakes his head, "That's not good enough. Not without a witness."

Beside Sally, Sherlock shifts his weight and mutters something too quietly for her to hear. "What was that, Holmes? Admitting you're wrong?"

Sherlock doesn't shift his gaze from the suspect, but snaps, "No, I said that he is innocent until proven guilty, and you have not done so." In a swirl of coat, he opens the door of the viewing room and stalks out, heading back upstairs to the MIT* incident room.

When the interview concludes some ten minutes later, Lestrade, Barrow and Sally eventually go back upstairs, but the sight that greets them is unusual, to say the least.

Sherlock is sitting cross-legged like a Buddha on one of the desks, facing the evidence board. The investigation has generated a lot of evidence, which has been taped up on not one, but two white boards—a total maze of photos and notes from the crime scene and then a great gallery of photos from the Tesco security cameras, about a third of which had been identified with a name on a yellow sticky note. Penrose’s photo is the seventh out of twenty.

There are several officers from the Flying Squad in the room, and they are watching Sherlock incredulously. Len stops alongside to join them.

As Sally and Greg come around the desk, she realises that the Consulting Detective's eyes are closed. He is gesturing rapidly; his left hand plucks something invisible from the air, and moves it around to a different position, while his right hand seems to be drawing lines to it. He does this repeatedly, in total silence.

One of the Flying Squad officers sniggers. "I thought this guy was supposed to be your team's secret weapon. I think he's gone off his trolley, Guv. Or is this hocus-pocus all part of the celebrity act?"

Lestrade shoots the man a withering look, before turning his attention back to the eccentricity.

"Sherlock, what's going on?"

There is no reply at first. Sally feels some sympathy with the Flying Squad guys, who are getting restless, and their muttering is on the edge of becoming louder and more abusive.

She whispers to Lestrade, "Do you think we should call Watson? I know they don't work together like they used to, but maybe he knows why the F…" she stops what she had been about to say and then continues "…Holmes is being quite so weird."

Suddenly Sherlock's arms stop in mid-air, and a pair of grey green eyes snap open. "This is all wrong." He gestures dismissively towards the boards. "Most of this so-called evidence is a total waste of time. Time is the crucial thing here; you need to think of this as a time line."

Lestrade looks back at the crammed white boards. "I'm not following you."

Sherlock lowers his arms and glared. "Clearly, as you've ended up interviewing the wrong person."

Burrows comes forward. "Penrose fits, and the evidence supports it. Anything else is just….pointless speculation. It isn't that complicated. You're just after more headlines."

"And you, Detective Inspector, are incapable of seeing anything beyond the obvious— that is, what you were meant to see. You lack the imagination to understand the criminal mind."

Before Burrows can snap a caustic reply, Lestrade holds up his hands between the two of them, like a referee stopping a boxing match. "That's enough from both of you. Sherlock, if you think we've got the wrong person, then you have to prove it, because the evidence may be circumstantial, but there's enough of it to build a prosecutor's case."

Sherlock sighs, and shakes his head slowly. "I need to interview Daphne Farintosh, the owner. And bring in her brother-in-law, His name is Bill Wright; he's in on it, too."

Sally starts laughing, "Now I've heard it all. You think an elderly widow is the criminal? And they're like, what— the Waters family? You're making this up. Mrs Farintosh is the person who stands to lose the most from the robbery."

Sherlock glowers. "The person who had that 'honour' is Terry Matthews, the young man who lost his life, Sergeant. His death wasn't planned, but then Mrs Farintosh and her brother-in-law hadn't calculated on the 23rd of January being such a cold night."

She rolls her eyes at the non sequiter. "What difference could the temperature on the night of the burglary make?"

He turns to her and said with real steel in his tone, "I'm not going to bother answering that question. Since you haven't a clue about this case, I prefer to let the real criminals confess to the crime. A confession trumps circumstantial evidence every time."

Ninety minutes later, the interview room is in use again. Only this time, Sherlock is on the other side of the observation mirror, seated alongside Lestrade. Barrow and Donovan have been relegated to the observation room. Across from Sherlock and the DI is Mrs Daphne Farintosh, a grey-haired woman in her early seventies, conservatively dressed in a rather dated dark grey tweed suit with an opal brooch setting off her ice-blue cashmere sweater.

When Sally had greeted her at the front desk to escort her to the interview room, Mrs Farintosh has greeted her with a grandmotherly smile. "There you are, Sergeant. I remember you from the day of the burglary. It was just so nice to see a woman amongst all those big police officers. I do hope you've got good news; the constable says an arrest has been made. I just want all this kerfuffle to get sorted out soon."

Now, sitting across from Lestrade and Sherlock, she seems bit bewildered. Next to her is a lawyer, Tom Grange, exuding an air of protectiveness.

He is the one who speaks first. "Look, I'm not a criminal lawyer, but I've been a friend of the family for years. I really must protest this, Detective Inspector. We came here in good faith, expecting to be updated on your arrest of the thief. We thought this was a meeting, not an interrogation. And on our way here, she's had a call from her brother-in-law to say that he's been brought in, too— to 'help with police inquiries', as they say." He eyes the recording machine suspiciously. "Daphne has given all the information she has about the theft at her business; you already have her statement."

Lestrade introduces Sherlock to the pair, and the reaction from the lawyer is astonishment. "What on earth? Why would you of all people be involved in this investigation?" Clearly, all the newspaper coverage of his cases since Sherlock's return has created an impact. The lawyer blurts out, "This isn't a …a bomb plot or a people-smuggling racket!"

Unfazed by the man's reaction, Sherlock answers the question. "Indeed not. I'm here on behalf of my clients, the Rosenborg family."

The woman's discomfort becomes even more pronounced. Quietly and with feeling she says, "Please convey my deepest regrets about this to the family. I'm just so sorry that their piece was stolen. My husband Harry would have been mortified, if he had been alive now." Her eyes tear up a bit. "He died in early November."

"This is all about bad timing, Mrs Farintosh, isn't it?" Sherlock makes it a statement, rather than a question.

She looks a bit shocked by the question. "Well, of course! Nobody ever plans on dying from a heart attack, do they? It was so heart-breaking; Harry and I have been together since before you were born, young man."

Lestrade intervenes to ask, "Can you explain to us why the tiara was at the shop? I hope you won't mind me asking this, but there are much bigger jewellers with international reputations. So, why your shop?"

She is a bit put out by the question. "Detective Inspector, just because my husband's business is small compared to someone like Mappin & Webb, it doesn't mean that we don't have a good reputation. My late husband was Australian, and one of the few jewellers in Europe who had the expertise in opals to have done the repair. Opals aren't easy like diamonds. They're soft unlike a lot of precious stones, and the crystal opals on that tiara were really delicate, needing someone with experience to clean and repair such a historic piece. A week before he died, the Rosenborgs agreed with Harry that they'd send the opal tiara to us after the Christmas season. It's just bad timing that the tiara was in the shop the night it was broken into."

She gives Sherlock a firm look. "If the police can't recover it from the thief, then at least they'll get the insurance. I'm trying to do the right thing, even if the burglars are to blame. Despite our insurance company's policy of having a ten percent excess on any one item and refusing to pay the full assessment value, we're making up the difference, so the Rosenborgs won't lose out." She now looks fondly at the man sitting beside her. "It isn't easy for a small business like ours; it will cost us a great deal, and if I didn't have Tom here to help me through all the legal stuff, I don't know what I would have done."

Sherlock sniffs, totally unmoved by the elderly woman's moral tone. "That's not what I meant about bad timing and you know it, so let me explain the facts for the benefit of the rest of the people in the room." He is not conceding a thing to her age or manner, but treating her as he would have if she'd been a hardened criminal with a long record.

Behind the glass, Barrow snorts. "Not exactly house-trained, is he? I feel a complaint to the IPCC coming on. That lawyer friend of hers won't accept her being badgered."

Sally rolls her eyes. "You have no idea. Holmes once yelled at a headmistress of a school who had two of her pupils kidnapped— made her hyperventilate and put her into a state of shock."

Unaware of their exchange, Sherlock unleashes his interview technique. "Let's start with the fact that at some point in early December, the landlord from whom you rent the premises for your business sent you and the other tenants a letter saying that the parade of shops was being put up for sale; any re-developer was likely to knock the whole lot down to build floors of posh flats above. He also told you that the rents of any new premises would be rising, and you and I both know that rise is to the point where you won't be able to afford them."

Beside her, Sally felt Barrow shifting his stance a little. "Bloody hell; we didn't know that."

"Yeah, he's just a mine of trivia, most of which is irrelevant." She just shakes her head in disgust. "He just can't resist showing off."

Unable to hear her snide remark, Sherlock continues, "Your husband had always managed the business and dealt with these sorts of things, I imagine. His death must have been a shock."

She nods, then sighs. "We'd been married for forty seven years; and then this theft…well, it's just all too much." Then Daphne lifts her chin. "Actually, I'm glad he wasn't alive to hear it; it would have broken his heart. He…"

Sherlock cuts her off. "Here's another piece of bad timing. That letter about the intended sale came just a week after your shop re-fit finished—the project that your husband had planned, but then he died just as it got started. You had thought it best to complete it, except you let the builders go and brought in your brother-in-law instead to save costs. But your brother-in-law hasn't got your planning skills, does he, Mrs Farintosh?"

She shakes her head sadly. As she draws breath to explain, Sherlock interrupts again, "The result was a project that overran both the budget and the timetable, damaging your Christmas sales— the key time of the year when you had hoped to get enough revenue in to pay off the construction debts."

This provokes another sigh from the elderly woman. "We had a terrible season as a result. All that money spent on a shop that might to have to close if and when they can find a buyer. It's just been one thing after another. We have no idea when the sale will go through; the landlord thinks it might be next autumn. All so distressing…" She looks like she was on the verge of tears again.

The lawyer pats her arm to comfort her and butts in, "I don't know how you got any of this information, but it's really none of your business, and it doesn't change the fact that her business was robbed."

Ignoring the lawyer, Sherlock tilts his head, looking at the woman with a keen eye that sees everything. "But, it does. It changes everything. Because the next letter arrived on the second of January telling you that the parade of shops had already been sold, and giving notice to quit the premises by the end of February. She didn't tell you that, did she, Mister Grange?"

Sherlock smirks as he glances at the lawyer. "I'll take your stunned silence as a 'yes'. Well, Mrs Farintosh, you decided to ignore that letter." He focuses again on the grey haired woman. "Were you too embarrassed to admit any of this to your new friend here? You are a procrastinator by nature, aren't you, Mrs Farintosh? I can tell, just by looking at the missing button on the sleeve of your otherwise immaculate jacket. You've got the button, but haven't got around to actually sewing it on."

Lestrade looks at the woman's sleeve, and it is clearly missing a button. Mrs Farintosh frowns and drops her hand below the table, instinctively hiding the sleeve from further scrutiny.

Watching the drama unfold, Sally can see Barrow frowning.

Sherlock continues, "So, a bit like a rabbit in front of car headlights, you were just shocked into inaction. You owed all this money, had no way of earning it before the shop had to close. You told no one that the shop had to close, because if you had, then the creditors would come after your house, your pension income. Time kept ticking on. Then on the 18th of January, the Rosenborg tiara came into the shop for repair. You'd forgotten about it in all the strain of the previous two months. Instead of returning it immediately, you accepted the delivery in the full knowledge that you couldn't actually repair it. The only logical reason to have done so was that you intended to have it stolen, and then to claim on the insurance."

Mrs Farintosh folds her hands together in front of her on the table, and lowers her eyes to look at them, rather than the Consulting Detective. Her lawyer jumps to her defence. "That's preposterous. You have the camera footage, the burglar is on it. Detective Inspector, your Sergeant told us that the man had been arrested."

Lestrade nods. "Yes, but he's denying any involvement."

Sherlock gives the lawyer and the woman one of his fake smiles. "It took me a little while to figure it out. At first, I wondered if you, Mister Grange, were in on the deal. Perhaps you or her brother-in-law Bill Wright hired Penrose to do the theft. But, then I realised that would have involved paying him—and Mrs Farintosh needs every penny she can get from the insurance and the re-sale of the jewellery on the black market. What's the easiest way to get away with an inside job? Blame it on someone else. Someone predictable, whose habits can be counted on, who can be observed carefully so that the circumstantial evidence trail can be laid that will end in his conviction. Mrs Farintosh, you decided that Penrose was just the person to take the blame. After all, he'd passed your door once a week for the past decade."

The lawyer starts shaking his head angrily. "Detective Inspector, what Holmes is suggesting is just ridiculous. First he says she can't plan anything, and then he says she's capable of doing just that. I ask you…does Mrs Farintosh look like a master criminal? She's a seventy-three year old housewife struggling to keep her late husband's business afloat."

Ignoring the man completely, Sherlock leans back in his chair. "In this case, Mrs Farintosh, you turned to family for help. Your brother-in-law is a building contractor who happens to have experience in fitting security systems— that's why you used him for the shop re-fit. He's the one who knew just how to alter the time-clock on the hard drive so that the data feed would show footage taken on Wednesday being dated as Thursday. So, you stopped the clock— literally—by changing the date, so you could implicate an innocent man. You told your brother in law to buy and wear the same size and make of shoe as his patsy— the man you chose to frame for the burglary. You even thought of the idea of buying the same beer and curry that Penrose routinely buys, and getting Wright to toss it in the bin behind your shop. Nice touch that."

Sherlock was no longer smiling. "You may be a procrastinator, but you are a planner. Your mistake was to rely on your brother-in-law."

He leaned forward again and pointed at the woman. "The trouble was, you didn't count on the cold snap on the 23rd of January— the night you chose for the burglary. That night the temperature dropped to minus seven degrees and a young homeless man decided that dossing down at the back of the laundromat was a good idea. The steam released by the washing machines and tumble driers is vented out back, keeping him warm. That meant he saw your brother-in-law putting the curry and beer into the bin at the back. And he was hungry."

The woman looks up again, with real pain in her eyes.

Sherlock drives the point home. "So, Matthews went into the bin and helped himself to the curry while your brother-in-law was doing the business in the shop and taking the tiara. Then Bill Wright comes out, he sees the boy, realises that he can be identified, panics and there's a fight. He didn't tell you about that until later, did he?"

Her eyes fill with tears.

"You didn't mean to kill him."

"Of course not."

"But it was your plan, Mrs Farintosh, that resulted in his death."

The woman does not reply, but keeps her eyes down on the table.

The silence drags on in the room, until finally Sherlock breaks it with a statement. "Your plan; your responsibility."

Miserable, she shakes her head. "It wasn't supposed to happen that way."

"Then your plan was to blame. And so were you."

"Yes." It comes out in a whisper and then she starts to cry.

Grange puts his hand on her arm, trying to comfort her. "Daphne? This can't be true?!"

"I'm so sorry, Tom. I was going to tell you. So many times this week, I nearly told you. But, I was afraid of what you would say, that you would leave me. Without Harry now, I …just wanted to tell you that I'd sold the business and that we would have enough to retire together to Spain."

Grange seems stunned by her revelation, but then the lawyer's training kicks in. "Don't say another word. You haven't been arrested, or charged, and you need to talk with a proper criminal lawyer before anything else is said."

She shakes her head. "No, I'm sorry. Harry would want me to tell the truth. It was his business, and I so wanted to do the right thing, but the more I tried to ignore the problems, the worse things got. And then the plans…well, the theft was supposed to be a victimless crime. The insurance would pay for the loss of the tiara. I never intended anyone to get hurt." Her breath hitches. "That poor boy."

She reaches into her sleeve and withdraws a dainty lace-edged handkerchief to clean up some of the mess her crying has made of her eye makeup. Then twisting it between her hands, she draws a deep breath. "It happened just as you said, Mister Holmes. I don't know how you could know but… once I realised that time had run out, I panicked and came up with this plan. I'm not an evil person. I never intended this to happen the way it did. Things just…snowballed, everything got more and more complicated."

Sherlock interrupts. "Where's the tiara now?"

"At home—under the floorboards. I was planning to break it up, and take the stones to Spain with me. There are five opals over 200 carats each; I could sell them anonymously through my husband's contacts. On the Algarve, the diamonds would be easy enough to sell on the black market. The Rosenborgs would get their insurance, and I'd get enough from the selling the opals and the diamonds from the tiara to clear all the debts and let me retire to Spain. The insurance and the sale of the other jewellery stolen from the shop would fund my Bill's kids' university tuition fees – that was his pay-off. The plan wasn't supposed to cost a life."

Sherlock does not hide his judgmental tone. "They say that opals are an unlucky jewel. For you, and for a homeless man, they were. Thank you, Mrs Farintosh for the confession. That will save a great deal of police time and public money, which has already been wasted enough in this case."

Pushing his chair back from the table, he stands up and looks back at the mirrored wall, aiming his next comment at Sally Donovan. "My work is done here; I will leave you to explain to Detective Inspector Barrow where to find the jewels, and Sergeant Donovan can get the details from Bill Wright of how the young man died."

As he gets to the door, Daphne Farintosh calls out to him. "Mister Holmes….wait. How did you know? I mean, I planned it so carefully. I tried to think everything through and leave no evidence. What gave me away?"

He stops at the door, but did not turn. "Human error. You believed your motives outweighed the possible damage to an innocent young man and a convicted criminal who had served his time. Your emotions led to procrastination, which created major opportunities for things to go wrong. In cases like these, planning is important, but timing is even more crucial. And getting a third party like your brother-in-law involved escalated the opportunity for things to go wrong. When you plan something, Mrs Farintosh, you become responsible for it. It's your fault."

She sniffs back her tears. "That's a harsh judgment, Mister Holmes. I did it for love. I know that's no excuse, but I loved my husband, and wanted his business to close with dignity." She turns and looks at the lawyer, "and I will admit, I did it too to have a chance to love again."

Sherlock reverses his position so he can face her again. "Then that was your mistake, Mrs Farintosh. Love clouded your judgment. When I figured out how I would have done the crime successfully, on my own, I could see where your emotions led you to make errors. In short, I have more of a criminal mind than you do."

Beside her, Barrow mutters to Sally. "Bloody hell; I'm glad he's on our side."

She shakes her head. "Don't you believe it, sir. Not for one minute. Sherlock Holmes is only ever on his own side."

oOo

"We've got to stop procrastinating."

John follows up his comment with a nudge of his foot into a soft thigh, and lowers the newspaper so he can peer over the top. He's just finished reading about Sherlock's latest case— the theft of an Opal Tiara. Its recovery had made all the weekend papers, in part because the Countess of Rosenborg had worn the newly recovered item to the Valentine's Day ball in London, organised by the charity, Save the Children. The front page photos of the Countess and a black tie wearing Sherlock are a welcome alternative to the usual 'hat man' photo, which makes John smile. At least this time he can't complain. Sherlock Holmes in black tie looked stunning. The photo included his friend handing a check to the charity organisers; apparently, Sherlock had donated his fees.

Sherlock seems to be well on the way to recovery, after Hartswood**. This case sounds like something for the blog, and John makes a mental note to get the full details when he next sees the Consulting Detective. John is sitting at one end of the sofa, feet up, working his way through the remnants of the Sunday papers. Mary is sitting at the other end, also with her feet up. She is reading a book: the latest chick lit bestseller. The author's name had made him feel uncomfortable-—Liane Moriarty, and the title wasn't much better, Big Little Lies***.

She'd grinned at him when he'd pointed it out last week. "Really, John. It's just a coincidence. The name Moriarty is as common for the Irish as Smith is for the English— not her fault. It's a bit of silliness about ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters and a bit of schoolyard scandal; nothing sinister. Pure escapism; think of it as the literary equivalent of your crap TV."

Every time he sees her reading it, John keeps thinking about Sherlock's big little lie about being dead. He's made his peace with his friend; the trials and tribulations of the return are behind them, and he's been able to work a couple of little cases with Sherlock, even if he’s paid for it the next day with exhaustion from spending a late night on a crime scene. Mary has been really good about not missing him on those occasions.

He and Mary have just enjoyed a quiet Sunday— slept in, had breakfast late. John had watched a six nations Rugby match on the box, enjoying the sight of England thrashing the French for once in Paris' rugby home ground, Stade France. Mary had done the washing and ironing, and a leg of lamb was roasting for their evening meal.

"So, what are we procrastinating about?" She doesn't look up from the book, when he nudges her with his foot again.

"You're the one who wants a proper wedding. It's just under four months away and we've not done a thing."

That makes her sigh, and put the paperback down in her lap. "I know….I know. It's just, when we're working, we get home whacked and can just manage enough energy to feed our faces and fall asleep- you in front of the telly, me with my nose in a book. And on our days off, it's a mad dash to get the shopping in, do the errands and keep this place looking like a clean home instead of a hovel. Today is the first day in weeks that we've had a chance to put our feet up. When are we supposed to find time to do the planning?" She made a face and then smirked. "I know what I want; I'm just not good at organising this sort of event. Want to take it over?" She asks the question with her usual mischievous expression.

He laughs. "As if I could. I became a surgeon so I didn't have to do anything but concentrate on what I wanted to do. The theatre team just pointed me in the direction of the bits that needed fixing. Not exactly transferrable skills when it comes to planning a wedding."

Mary smirks. "As your general practice nurse, I can testify to your need for support staff; I swear if I didn't come in to tell you who the patient was and what their reason for the appointment was, you'd never get to the end of a shift. I think I realised you were a high maintenance co-worker when in my first week on Mister Johnson came out waving a script for HRT and asking me what it was for."

"Not my fault; the computer screen had mixed up his prescription records with his wife's."

She fails to stifle a giggle. "You are supposed to be able to notice that a man doesn't get HRT."

He gives her a beady eye. "So, if you're so good at organising me, why not this wedding?"

She gives an exaggerated pout. "Out of my comfort zone. And don't tell me I should read all those stupid bridal magazines, or you'll end up with a horrid wedding that neither of us can afford. I'm just useless at this sort of thing."

"This from a nurse who organised the work rotas, the drug supplies and the medical procedures for camps with thousands of refugees in Africa and the Philippines. Tell me again how you can't organise?"

She laughs and throws up her hands in mock surrender. "Mea culpa; my guilty secret is out- but it's not what you think. I had staff to do what I told them to do. No one ever accused me of being a finisher; delegation was my secret weapon."

"So, delegate. Don't people do this stuff for a living?"

She rolls her eyes. "Wedding planners cost a fortune. And they plan weddings for several hundreds of people, costing many tens of thousands of pounds. Our budget, need I remind you, is under five thousand for slightly less than fifty people. That's the sort of money these people charge for the planning service alone. So, out of the question."

"What about Janine? Isn't helping with this sort of thing what a Maid of Honour is supposed to do?"

"Yeah, as if she had the time. It was hard enough to get her to agree to be a bridesmaid, let alone the Maid of Honour. That bastard of a boss keeps her working all hours of the night and day. She gets paid a whacking great big salary to organise him, and has no time or energy left for something like this. I still don't know for sure if she'll even be able to attend."

"Then let's elope. Get married by someone on a beach somewhere."

She wrinkles her nose in disgust. "I'm an orphan, John. Everyone else got birthday parties, big Christmases, graduation celebrations. I used to tell myself that I didn't mind missing any and all of those, because when I got married, I'd make up for it and do things right. Church bells, the dress, the reception, cutting the cake— it's important to me. The start of my new life as Mrs John Watson needs to be done in style. Even if I've just admitted that I am not the right person to organise it."

He sighs and picks up the Arts section of the newspaper. "Well, someone's got to do it."

"What about the Best Man?"

"Yeah. Why didn't I think of that? The man who said weddings were not really his thing."

"You talked him into being your Best Man."

He peers over the newspaper at her, to see if she is pulling his leg.

Mary is smiling, but she isn't teasing. "Seriously, I mean, think about it. If he could apply the same amazing degree of focus and attention to detail that he puts into solving a case towards planning our wedding, he'd tell us everything we needed to do, when and how much it would cost. He's organised. Just think of that wall behind the Baker Street sofa as a white board for wedding planning."

"You mean… ask him to treat our wedding the same way he would a crime scene? The mind boggles." He suppresses a giggle.

When she keeps the straight look on her face, he folds the newspaper and stares at her. "Oh, God; you're really serious? But…he doesn't know a thing about weddings. Not a clue. He's had to read up on what it means to be a best man, and quite frankly, some of his interpretations scare me."

"But that's the point I'm making. When he doesn't know something, he gets stuck in and does his research, becoming the overnight expert in a way that we can only dream about."

He struggles to think of Sherlock discussing things like reception menus and table cards. His mind cannot get the idea to take root.

Mary is nothing if not persistent. "Besides, it will give us a reason to see him regularly in Baker Street, on something that isn't a case. Maybe it will help get him used to the idea of being a friend, rather than you being just a crime scene fashion accessory. It could be the best way to convince him that the two of us getting married is not the end of us involving him in our lives."

He tries, without success, to moderate his look of scepticism.

She crosses her arms, looking a bit firm. "And another thing, John Watson. You get to play with him all the time, on the cases. I haven't had a legitimate reason to be around him, get him to relax around me and not see me as a threat. You know that is important; Diane Goodliffe said so. It's about confidence building measures. This would give me a chance to forge my own relationship with him, so it's not all about you."

"Well, I'm glad you think so, because there is no way I am going to ask him to do this. It was hard enough to get him to realise that I wanted him to be best man. It was one of the most awkward conversations I've ever had with him. He was seriously blind-sided, and it made me realise that he still hasn't got a clue how much I value our friendship."

She throws up her hands again. "Well, what harm would there be in my asking him?"

John looks away for a moment, so he could think it through.

"It's a big ask, Mary. I still don't know what he really thinks about us getting married. Would taking a role in planning it be….I don't know… a bit like rubbing his nose in it? If he isn't comfortable with the idea, you might be underestimating his reaction. When he gets confronted by stuff that makes him anxious, he can be quite rude."

She says quietly but firmly, "I'm a big girl, John. Leave him to me; I'll talk him round."