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A Creative-Writing House


Ch. 1    Ch. 2    Ch. 3    Ch. 4    Ch. 5    Ch. 6    Ch. 7    Ch. 8    Ch. 9    Ch. 10    Ch. 11    Ch. 12    Ch. 13    Ch. 14    Ch. 15    Ch. 16    Ch. 17    Ch. 18    Ch. 19    Ch. 20    Epilog


Event Horizon: Chapter 10

by

Carole Manny & Lynn Walker



"Wait here," Sherlock told the cab driver, and he and John walked up the steps to the front door of Lady Smallwood's home in Lowndes Street, where Lady Smallwood herself answered the door. She didn't seem especially pleased to see them, but then she was in mourning.

"Lady Smallwood," Sherlock said sombrely as he shook her hand. "Thank you for seeing us on such short notice. This is my friend and colleague, Dr. John Watson."

"I'm very sorry for your loss," John said.

"Thank you, Dr. Watson," she said. "Come in, gentlemen. Sit down. What can I do for you?"

As often as John wished that Sherlock would be more 'human,' by which he always meant 'less emotionally detached,' the evidence of the last two days was that he should have been more careful about what he wished for. An overwrought Sherlock was not a pleasant sight. Now, while Sherlock's formal tone and bearing projected unexceptional propriety to Smallwood, they were certain proof to John that he was nervous.

"Lady Smallwood," Sherlock began. "Generally I don't ask my clients for help, but this is a unique situation and that is in fact why we're here. Considering my failure with your husband's case I realize that you would be perfectly justified in refusing to help us in any way. However, as this involves our mutual problem of Charles Magnussen, I hope you will hear me out."

She inclined her head to indicate that she was listening. Sherlock continued. "I have attempted several carefully calculated approaches to defeating Magnussen and one that was…improvised. None of those attempts interrupted his activities for as much as an afternoon. What I have not tried, and what I need your help with, is a more subtle approach to the problem. A psychological approach." Although she didn't answer her expression was at least civilly attentive, so he went on. "Magnussen likes to identify what he calls people's pressure points."

"Yes," she said, unable to keep the disgust from her voice. "I've heard his philosophy on that."

"He enjoys what he's doing. Blackmailing people. Torturing them. Everyone he's targeted knows that. The question is, why?"

"I'm sure I don't care what his motive is, but since you ask I'd say he's a sadist."

"He is. But why? Why does he care so much about inflicting himself on people the way he does?"

She made a hopeless gesture. "Why?" she asked tiredly.

Sherlock looked at John: This was his hypothesis.

"Because," John said, "if people didn't live in constant fear of him exposing their secrets, they wouldn't think about him at all. He wouldn't be a blip on anyone's radar screen. For certain kinds of people that's unbearable. I think Magnussen is that sort of person."

"Interesting theory, Dr. Watson, but what difference does it make what his motive is?"

"It gives us a way to reach him," Sherlock said. "To damage him." He got up and started to pace. "Assume John's correct about his motive. If that's the case, then what's the worst possible thing that could happen to him?"

"I know the best thing is a bullet between his eyes. But I'm afraid I have no idea what the worst would be."

"Oblivion."

"Sorry?"

"Oblivion. Passing the rest of his life discredited and ignored. Dismissed as an impotent joke. Without leverage and without a shred of credibility. Forgotten."

"I'm afraid I don't follow."

"You know that Magnussen has a hold on dozens of politicians and other influential people."

"Yes, of course. He calls it 'ownership,'" she said with contempt.

"Did you know that all of the information he retains on those people is virtual?"

She stared at him. "Virtual."

"Yes. Since the day I began targeting Magnussen I assumed that the information he maintained was physical. Records, receipts, files, correspondence. The usual blackmailer's tool kit. It's not. He has nothing. No records, no files, digital or otherwise. Nothing except the information he retains in his head and the power of the press to smear his victims.

"You know more of Magnussen's victims than anyone but my brother. We need one person. Just one. Someone willing to accuse him publicly and loudly and who can withstand the pressure. Magnussen could sue for defamation, yes, but doing so would expose him formally and officially as having no proof of his claims. Either way, when it becomes common knowledge that he's got nothing, more victims will be willing to challenge him. More will be willing to step forward. Right now his leverage is perceived, but when people realize that it doesn't exist in fact, that he has no proof and can't produce any, all that's left is the court of public opinion. What was it he said to you, John?"

"'I don't have to prove it. I just have to print it.'"

"Yes. And as they say, two can play at that game."

"Interesting," Smallwood said. "But I perceive two flaws in your plan, Mr. Holmes."

"Oh?"

"First, many of the people Magnussen targets are in fact guilty of what he's threatening to expose. Virtually all of them, to take only the cases that I'm aware of, and that's a considerable number."

Sherlock waved this away. "But he can't prove it. In a court of law he'd be required to do so. 'Because I said so' isn't a valid legal defence, and common gossip-hearsay-is inadmissible. In any case he has an incentive to stay out of court: His victims would countersue and the truth about his leverage would come out."

"Second," she said, "not everything he threatens to reveal involves personal indiscretions. He has a great deal of information that would be damaging to the government and dangerous or fatal to many individuals-our allies and agents here and abroad-if he revealed it."

"Agreed. But the government lies all the time: to taxpayers, to its allies, to its enemies. You have the knowledge, the power, and the influence to create a veneer of credible deniability well before Magnussen could carry out his threats. You know what he knows-what that damaging information is. You can falsify records to protect the government's position, bribe or threaten politicians and functionaries to back up the stories, and generally make him look like a liar. The same techniques that governments around the world use to deceive each other every day are also used internally, and at least if you applied them in this case the end result would be freedom for his victims."

"Such cynicism, Mr. Holmes," she said with a frosty smile. "If you weren't correct I'd be offended."

For a while she sat quietly, turning over what he'd said, seeing a way to build that deniability. She knew it could be done because she'd done it before, many times and in many contexts. "I think," she said slowly, after several minutes had passed. "I think I know someone who might be willing to do what you ask. It will take more than just a phone call, though. Will you give me until tomorrow afternoon? Say by the end of the day, although I should think I'd have an answer for you before then."

"Until tomorrow," Sherlock said.


– End Chapter 10 –

Ch. 1    Ch. 2    Ch. 3    Ch. 4    Ch. 5    Ch. 6    Ch. 7    Ch. 8    Ch. 9    Ch. 10    Ch. 11    Ch. 12    Ch. 13    Ch. 14    Ch. 15    Ch. 16    Ch. 17    Ch. 18    Ch. 19    Ch. 20    Epilog



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