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Magpie: Two For Joy

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He’s standing under the clock tower of St Mary’s church, waiting for his ride.  When the disco music and, well…everything… had become more than he could bear, he’d left the hotel and walked here. Mrs Hudson’s comment about how sad it was to leave a wedding early loops endlessly in his head.

Am I sad?

He’s just solved one attempted murder and prevented another, rescuing from a grisly death someone who apparently mattered more to John than he did. He’s also delivered a wedding to remember to the two people he cares most about in the world.  Watching the two of them dance to his waltz had made him briefly content because they looked happy. The shock and then delight on John’s face when he was told that he was to be a father had been amazing, too. 

All that said, Sherlock can’t shake the melancholy that has dogged his footsteps on this second visit to the Church. For a moment, he feels like he’s returning to the scene of a crime. In front of the porch, the rose petal confetti still lies scattered, making him wonder who will sweep it up.

An hour later, he’s had four cigarettes and spent the time thinking about what lies ahead. Ignoring the chilly wind, he’s used the nicotine hit to bury himself deep in his Mind Palace.

When the timetable that is indelibly etched in his brain after so many months of planning reminds him of the now, he comes out of contemplative mode to glance at his watch. He can just see the luminous green dot on the hands, confirming what his instinct has told him—it is six minutes past midnight. He already knows that the church clock bells in the tower behind him are silenced from eleven pm until eight am, in deference to the wishes of the villagers of Sheering, who want to sleep undisturbed.  It’s an odd bit of trivia he’d picked up when investigating the church as a venue for the wedding. Tonight, however, there should have been something else to wake them up.

He’s wondering what might have delayed the timetable, but then is relieved as he hears the first boom echoing across the fields between the church and the Arnsworth Castle Hotel.  A sparkling rocket ascends into the dark sky over the grounds of the hotel, and he watches it explode into a blossom of gold and silver sparkles.

He doesn’t need to hear the delighted oohs and ahs of the wedding guests to know that the display is appreciated. Mary had wanted fireworks, and Sherlock had called in a favour with a connection of his in Chinatown, so the festivities could end with a suitable bang. After more glasses of champagne—well, at least for John—watching the twenty-minute show, the wedding couple will retire to the honeymoon suite.  Some guests would be leaving at half past twelve to catch the last train from Sawbridgeworth to Liverpool Street, departing at five minutes past one. Others would be ferried by taxi to the cheaper hotels surrounding Stansted airport.

He knows what is dragging him down is, in part, a post-case crash, but not all of how he feels can be chalked up to that. Ten hours ago, John Watson and Mary Morstan had become man and wife. Tomorrow morning, after a champagne breakfast, the married couple will be taken to Stansted in a limousine to catch their flight to Malta. 'Sun, sand and sex' is what Mary had wanted, and John will be delivering exactly that with one week on the main island and another on Gozo.  He’d taken extra locum work on during the last three weeks before the wedding to pay for it and insisted on making all the arrangements himself. Sherlock had encouraged him to do it; his work commitments and the honeymoon planning kept him out of the line of fire. He had used the interlude to handle a couple of demanding cases that were designed to delude Mycroft into thinking that he was keeping his nose out of his brother’s business.

If he’s lucky, Sherlock will have more than the honeymoon to deal with the real problems that have been rattling around his brain for the past five months. The impending collision between Mycroft’s Georgian problem and the who’s-trying-to-kill-John problem has become urgent. His brother seems to be keeping his distance at the moment, which should give him the room he needs to run at these issues without interference. He knows that two weeks, even with chemical assistance, may not be enough to solve the cases. He will have to keep John at a distance when the couple return from honeymoon. Perhaps Mary’s morning sickness will keep him tied to home; Sherlock hopes so. It’s the start of the escape velocity plan, as Sherlock has come to call it. There must be a public distancing between him and John now, preferably something that throws the newly-weds right out of his orbit, and in a way that gets widely known in public. The blog going silent is one way, but there are other ways to make sure they keep their distance, ways that he will keep in reserve for now.

Whatever fears Sherlock had about putting John in danger, that concern has escalated dramatically after tonight’s deduction. He has no doubt that Mary’s pregnancy is a game-changer.  When, or rather if, John tries to resume contact after the honeymoon, Sherlock will point out that his pregnant wife needs him; there can be no more adrenaline kicks to be gotten from working dangerous cases.  As a father-to-be, the man must naturally prioritise Mary and their child. When the coming crisis arrives, John’s priories should shift to protecting his nearest and dearest.

End of an era.

Marriage and a family will change John, but it will also change Sherlock. He is aware that tonight, something seismic has shifted in the equation of his own life. Set free from the responsibility of keeping John happy, he is now able to pursue The Work without fear, without scruple. The ghost of Lars Sigurson still lurks in the back of his mind, and occasionally reminds him of its existence.

In the distance, the fireworks are continuing, but his ears also detect the rumble of an oncoming motorbike. His mind-map traces the journey it will have made up the Harlow Road, under the M11 whose distant dull roar of traffic can be heard even at this hour.  Deducing the speed from the oncoming sound, Sherlock times it so that he’s ground the stub of his cigarette out just as the BMW comes into the gravel drive.

When the visor of the black helmet is lifted, there is a flash of white teeth in the darkness.  “Hello, Sherlock. Sorry I’m a few minutes late. Too many bloody roundabouts in Harlow; had to keep my speed under the limit to avoid tripping the cameras.”

“No problem.” Sherlock is already at the rear of the bike, rummaging through the pannier box for another biker’s jacket and helmet. Once there is space, he folds up his Belstaff and puts it in. “Where’s the rest of it?”

“Inside pockets of the jacket. On the left are the pharmaceuticals; the right has the syringes.” There is a giggle. “First time I’ve ever been a Deliveroo bike; personal service with a smile.”

Latief Kohistani’s accent is pure South London, but he’s a first generation child of two refugees who escaped the conflict in the northernmost province of Swat thirty years ago.  He’s been working in Barts hospital pharmacy while studying for his MPharm degree at UCL. The only way he can pay his tuition fees without bankrupting his parents is by running a small business on the side, selling medical grade drugs to a very special list of clients. He is very careful, incredibly discreet, and can be trusted because he has too much to lose if he is caught. Luckily, his position gives him the chance to over-order and under-stock just enough to keep his client list happy.  If it hadn’t been for Molly Hooper’s powers of observation, Sherlock would not have had to pay for out-of-office delivery, which does not come cheap. Nor does the limousine service.

Once he’s shouldered the leather jacket on, a quick pat of the pockets confirms Latief’s advice, and Sherlock lifts his right leg over the back of the bike. “Take the back roads. No need for us to show up on a traffic camera before junction 6.”

“Once we’re in London, where to?”

Sherlock has given this some considerable thought. “South. Head for London Bridge; I’ll direct you from there.” 

The work he is about to start requires some special consideration. He can’t possibly do it from Baker Street, where his every move is monitored by his brother’s minions. He has to maintain the fiction of being there while disappearing on occasion to do the real work.

He’s sourced a new bolt hole, one that his brother will not have found, and which would never occur to John. It’s in the New Hunt’s House at Kings College’s Guy’s Campus. Open twenty-four hours, the building has a regular flow of all-hours pedestrian traffic and an underground carpark from which the stacks can be accessed. Hiding in plain sight is simple when a bolthole is as easy to access as this one is. There is unused storage space down in the basement levels, being held in reserve to house the new materials that will eventually be moved there from the old Barts hospital pathology building. It’s just one of the interesting opportunities created by NHS Trust mergers.  It has electrical power, and coded locked doors which had been easy to hack. To anyone accessing the entry data logs, a security guard is making a regular sweep of the lower levels. That Sherlock is that security guard would not occur to those managing the building’s security.

It was one of the special skills he’d developed while breaking up Moriarty’s network. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?* Security systems made by humans can be hacked by humans, and are rarely scrutinised by non-experts. Even those who should know better have a habit of thinking themselves invulnerable.

With power and heating on tap, the New Hunt’s House bolthole is private and comfortable enough for him to work in when high on stimulants. Only after a session will he need to find a more conventional place to use opiates to manage his come-down. He’s spotted a nearby drug squat, complete with a doorkeeper and minder who stays sober enough to make sure that the users are still breathing. That’s important. No crash and burn for him; this double case needs a careful plan of long-term micro-dose chemical management to get him to the place where he can crack it wide open.

“Hold on.” Latief guns the engine and they take off heading south to Newman’s End and then Matching Tye. They’ll go through seven villages on their way south. The name of the last one, Fiddler’s Hamlet, had made him smile when he’d seen it on Google Maps. His own violin is safe in his room at the Arnsworth Castle Hotel, along with the morning dress and his other kit. Tomorrow morning, Mrs Hudson will be returning to Baker Street in a car he’d arranged, and the hotel has instructions to load his luggage in with hers.  

Tonight, everyone assumes he will be staying at the hotel, which gives him a head start. 

So, a new era begins.

oOoOoOoOoOo

Thirty-three point eight miles to the south, a meeting is underway. It had started late because the House of Lords had been sitting late tonight, debating on the final stages of the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill. To her eyes, the participants seem tired, but adrenaline is keeping them awake. The Parliamentary Oversight Committee meets in Portcullis House, because it has a dead room—a place so secure from any kind of surveillance that it can host discussions that must never be recorded or mentioned. 

Even the minutes being taken by her as Lady Elizabeth Smallwood’s private secretary will be circulated and then immediately destroyed by the recipient; no copies are ever made. The paper is specially treated to white-out at even the hint of a camera flash or a photo copier. She makes sure that each one of the five copies is typed on an old-fashioned typewriter, to avoid any computer system being hacked. Even the ribbons are burned. 

Vivian Norbury is sitting at the back of the room, as is customary. No place at the table for her; she is all but invisible. Luckily for her, her hearing has always been acute, and her shorthand is uniquely hers. No one else can read her verbatim record or make sense of it—well, with one exception who no one but she knows about. When she’d first started the job, she’d worked for Sir Andrew Middleton, who had set up the S&ILS. It had been the advice of the Deputy Director, Fitzroy S. Ford, to switch into a unique code, and she’s always thought it was typical of the man’s thoroughness. She’d hoped he would get the top job; she would have loved working for him. Always so cool and calm in a crisis, even to the end.

Unlike the current Director, she notes.  Mycroft Holmes looks tense; his body language is conveying his dismay at the news he has just given to the assembled members.  Lady Smallwood is so shocked that for a moment she just stares across the table in disbelief.

“At least FOUR years? How is that even possible? How on earth could you have been so negligent?”

Vivian has trained her face to remain utterly disinterested. She knows that it is in fact over five years; just another sign of Lord Holmes’ incompetence that he thinks it’s only four. 

He takes Lady Smallwood’s criticism on the chin, and snaps, “My initial investigation shows that once the proof of life routine had been subverted, the rest of the charade was fairly straight forward. The DNA record against which the monthly blood sample is checked must have been altered without us knowing, so to all intents and purposes, we all believed Fitzroy Ford was still incarcerated.”

“The Georgians must have known.” Sir Edwin snipes from his end of the table. He must sense the weakness in Holmes’s admission and is quick to pounce.  Vivian enjoys the thought of him getting some revenge for all the times that Holmes has put him in his place over the years.

“The upheaval in the security service there did allow a certain…complacency to develop.” Mycroft Holmes is trying to sound confident, as he continues, “But, our vetting didn’t spot any connection between the prisoner and the Head of the Sakartvelos Dazvervis Samsakhuri who was in place four years ago.  Yet, somehow he was subverted.” 

Wrong. She’s even written the word in her unique shorthand, unable to resist. The only person capable of decoding it apart from her would be sent a copy and probably smile at this point.  Fitzroy Ford’s chosen man in the Georgian Security Service had been slowly but surely promoted up the food chain in Tbilisi since the day they had first met at a conference seventeen years ago. Even before he had become Director, he was putting into place the escape plan for his mentor.

“What are the consequences?”

Mycroft grimaces. “Unknown, for now. We are looking into several… recent incidents to see if there is a connection to Ford.”

“Such as?” Lady Smallwood’s shock is turning to anger.

“The Guy Fawkes Night bomb, almost certainly. It is just the sort of revenge plot I would expect from Ford. Almost everyone of any significance in the British security system was there in Westminster that night for the initial debate on the bill. Unfortunately, as Lord Moran is no longer alive, we cannot interrogate him about a possible connection to Ford.”

Mycroft shifts in his chair and draws breath before resuming. “Then there is the recent spate of deaths relating to our Georgian connections; that also bears all the hallmarks of Ford. He’s been clearing up loose ends is my best guess.”

 “Guess? I hope we can do better than that!” Lady Smallwood turns to Elisabeth ffoukes.  “What else can we lay on his head? Is there more?”

“I am afraid so, Lady Smallwood. Once we have investigated further, it may be proven that James Moriarty’s intervention here in the UK was, in part, prompted by Fitzroy Ford.”

The peer’s eyebrows rise up her forehead. “What is the evidence?”

It’s the DG of the Security Services who answers, “With the benefit of hindsight, Moriarty’s campaign here in the UK seems out of character.  It didn’t fit in with his world-wide criminal consulting business. Targeting the Royal Family, for example, through that Adler woman. And then the stage-managed crimes and the trial to show how he could manipulate the justice system here. Those were far too public to fit his usual MO. More specifically, the attempt to destroy the reputation of Holmes’ brother was atypical. It all betrays the hallmarks of a personal vendetta, but nothing, I repeat, nothing in our investigation ever turned up a reason why he would do such a thing.”

Lady Smallwood sits up straighter, her normally impeccable posture now revealing a bit of anxiety.

“Well, Moriarty’s dead, thank God, so it is somewhat academic. Mycroft, what are you going to do about the current situation?”

“I am going to find Ford.”

She raises a sceptical eyebrow. “I thought your field days were long over.”

Mycroft sits up straighter in the chair. “There is no one else with the requisite knowledge of the target. It all has to be done under the radar, with the bare minimum of manpower, which is why none of the regular services can be involved.  There can be no paper-trail, especially given that the bloodwork switch implies that Ford has an inside collaborator. No one outside this room can know what I am doing.”

Slowly, she nods. “Whatever happens, there has to be complete deniability. There is no one apart from those here who know about Ford’s treason and incarceration. We need to find out where he is, how he got out, what resources he may have accumulated.  It may take you some time, most of which will be spent out of the country. I am assuming he won’t be in the UK?”

“Unlikely. He would only take the risk if he thought there was something he had to do himself. His style is to use others to do the dirty work, often without even knowing they are being manipulated to do his bidding. Only at the final blow will he bother to turn up, most likely to gloat.”

“How dangerous is he?”

Mycroft blinks twice. “More than we can possibly imagine.” 

She taps the wooden table. “Then you should enlist the support of your brother. He’s done credible work as an irregular in the past, and could be useful to you now, especially if the only solution is extermination. He seemed to have fewer scruples about that when he was on his private mission against Moriarty.”

Vivian looks up; she needs to capture the moment because Ford will want to know Holmes’ reaction to this suggestion.

“No. Absolutely NOT.” A rare show of anger—she notes this in the margin, followed by He’s seriously rattled. 

Holmes leans forward, his face set sternly. “First, Ford has to be captured alive. His contingency plans are far too lethal for any of us to consider. If he dies, information will be released that will take decades for this country’s intelligence services to recover from—it would be worse than the Philby affair.  Second, need I remind you that the condition made at the time of Ford’s exile still applies?” He looks around at each of the others in the room, excepting her, of course. She is as invisible to them as the chairs they are sitting on. 

“Only those in this room know of Ford’s treason and how we dealt with him.  Sherlock is not relevant to this investigation, and the condition I set back in 2001—that he never finds out that Ford is his half-brother—that is still in force. In any case…” he hesitates and Vivian Norbury looks up from her pad. “I have reason to suspect that my younger brother may be succumbing to old habits. Drugs, I am afraid. Not trustworthy in these circumstances where utter discretion is needed.”

Vivian makes a note on the pad, adding the symbol which substitutes for an exclamation mark. 

“Who will be a Number Two in your absence? S&ILS needs to function without you for a while.” 

Always practical, Lady Smallwood; it’s something that Vivian has always liked about her.

Mycroft nods. “Charles Standish, current Deputy of Strategy & Policy. He doesn’t know anything about Ford. Good man. I will be taking my PA with me; she’s fluent in Georgian, Russian and knows the whole backstory. She’s Avtandil Ioseliani’s daughter.”

OH! Vivian hadn’t known that, so maybe Ford didn’t either. She scribbles furiously. He is going to be so pleased with her work. She’s had so little to offer him over the past two years, but this is pure gold dust.

She’d had started work for Lady Smallwood soon after Lord Holmes had become Director of S&ILS.  He didn’t suit her style, tended to treat her as some sort of glorified recording device. Sir Anthony had been kinder. Holmes’ aristocratic airs and his assumption that his intellect was superior to anyone else’s got right up her nose. That PA of his had showed up one day, too, and complicated matters, making it hard for her to feel good about the job, given how side-lined she’d become.

The person who should have succeeded Sir Anthony had known how to get the best out of her. “Vee”, Ford had called her. “Vee for Victory,” and he would give her Churchill’s two-fingered salute, calling her his secret weapon.

Shameless—she knows it—how much she had thrived on his praise, and missed him when he was gone. She’d been in the room when they’d sentenced Ford and secretly cheered when he’d been defiant.

When the contact had come six years ago, she’d been happy to oblige, secretly delighted to be Ford’s insider. “Be my eyes and ears,” he’d said. She had missed the man’s tenor voice; they’d robbed him of that. His mechanical voder makes him sound horrible.

“It’s only temporary, Vee. Don’t fret. They can do miracles nowadays. A full laryngeal transplant, and I will sound like myself. Or, at least like the closest possible approximation.”

The money that had appeared in her bank account in exchange for information was a Godsend; just enough for her to put aside for the deposit and then the asking price for the cottage in Cornwall. She wasn’t greedy. Ever since her husband had died in 1983, she’d been worried about how she’d ever be able to retire.  Her tiny place on Wigmore Street might have a great address, but the one bedroom flat is on the sixth floor of a building with no lift. The entrance is right beside a hairdresser’s shop. Worse still, her part of the top floor has a sloping roof and dormer windows that look north, in the perpetual shadow of taller buildings one street over. She’d not been able to afford anything more when George’s death left her without his pension. Silly fool; he’d not put anything aside, thinking he would live forever.

No one is immune to death, not even Lord Holmes. The thought of him going head-to-head with Ford makes her smile.

No one notices.