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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 4

by

Carole Manny & Lynn Walker



"S'arreter la," Sherlock said to his driver, and the cab swung to the kerb outside an undistinguished grey concrete two-story office building in a commercial district a kilometre west of the Brussels International Airport. "Attendre. Je ne serai pas longue."

He stepped to the door and rang the bell for admission. On the narrow sidelight was a small, easily-missed sign inscribed 'Century Executive Solutions.' It was a vague enough name that could mean almost anything, but in fact it represented the public face of an expensive private security firm providing drivers and bodyguards for executives and politicians. Sherlock knew that its true raison d'etre was to supply what were known in the trade as contract operators: Men, usually British and American former special forces troops, who served as bodyguards, drivers, and security teams for envoys, ambassadors, and spies in some of the world's roughest corners, notably North Africa and the Middle East. CES was also one link in a more obscure chain for those seeking mercenaries to conduct private wars in places like Angola, Bolivia, and Sierra Leone, but that function was less widely known.

The company's owner and the man Sherlock had an appointment to see was Colonel David Sutko, USMC (retired), a former Green Beret. Sherlock first made contact with Sutko in Bucharest, when he saved the lives of Sutko and a four-man team the colonel was leading there. Quite inadvertently, as it happened, but it hadn't cost Sherlock anything to forward the information he'd obtained about their client's identity as a double agent for the Zemun clan of the Serbian mafia, and Sutko had been Sherlock's grateful admirer ever since. And recruiter. He never passed up an opportunity to urge Sherlock to come to work for him.

As he welcomed Sherlock into his office his demeanor was friendly but somewhat formal: Sherlock's aloof, self-contained bearing would have made cordiality on Sutko's part jarringly inappropriate. Dealing with alpha males of Sherlock's temperament was Sutko's day job, though, and he adjusted himself without having to think about it. While he still looked as fit as the day he exited boot camp, his haircut and clothing-crisp button-down shirt, tie, and trousers-were unexceptional: He would not be taken for ex-military at a casual or even at a second glance, and no one would look twice at him on the streets of this or any other European city.

It would surprise John Watson, Sherlock thought, to see him forego an opportunity to show off, but Sutko was neither the police nor a client. He was an intelligent, dangerous man, the kind who used terms like 'kill zone' as easily as others said 'drinks night.' So Sherlock did not show off. He concealed himself, and he knew that Sutko, while genuinely grateful to him, did the same.

"Mr. Holmes," Sutko said, standing as Sherlock was shown in following a thorough pat-down by the well-armed secretary. "It's good to see you. Come in. Sit down."

Sherlock shook his hand but remained standing and Sutko said, "Getting in and out of a chair still hurts." It was a statement, not a question. "You'll have to live with that for a while."

"So my doctor tells me." Admitting it made him look less foolish than showing chagrin that Sutko perceived his weakness. Of course, perceiving weakness was how Sutko made his living.

The Marine reached into his desk drawer and withdrew a photo of Mary, put it down on the desk, and slid it across to Sherlock, who, he noticed with approval, was eying the framed photos behind the desk-not because he was interested in Sutko's Marine Corps buddies, but because he was establishing which one offered the best reflection through which to view the door at his back.

"Took a little digging," Sutko said, "but someone recognized your girlfriend."

"She's not my-"

"Figure of speech," Sutko said. "Lot of people looking for that one. You want payback for who hit you, I wouldn't recommend using her even if I knew where to find her. Not my line, anyway, but if you insist I can ask around."

"I don't want to hire her. I want to know who she is."

"Elizabeth Camden. Started out legit CIA but liked the job a little too much. Last anyone heard she was on loan to MI6 up in your neighborhood. Late 2006. Some kind of black bag assignment. Little fuzzy on the details. You should ask your brother," he finished with a smile.

Sherlock didn't respond with the slightest flicker. It was just Sutko's way of trying to figure out why he wanted the information. He took the photo, slipped it into his pocket. "And?"

A shrug. "And disappeared. Could be dead for all anyone knows."

"People disappear for other reasons."

"Irkutsk. 2007. You know about it?" Sherlock did not. "The regional branch of the bratva-you familiar?"

"Russian mafia."

"-wanted to hit a politician that was giving them fits. They hired the job out. The guy was notoriously hard to reach and he'd already beat several attempts, but this time they used a woman. She substituted herself for the politician's new au pair arriving from Sweden, and when she'd successfully integrated herself into his life she killed him. Mission accomplished, right? Thing was, she didn't wait until the guy was alone before she pulled the trigger. She took out the rest of the family along with him: wife, three kids, even the fucking dog. The kulaks went apeshit and even the Russian cops got off their asses for a while. The public outrage against the bratva made things pretty hot for them for a couple of months. Pissed off the pakhan so much that he held back the final installment of her fee. About a week after that his sovietnik-you know the word?"

"Second-in-command," Sherlock said.

"Yeah. His sovietnik and the guy's two byki were assassinated on the road to Angarsk. Shit happens, but what makes it interesting is how they were hit."

He obviously expected Sherlock to ask, but Sherlock just stared at him with his expressionless pale eyes and waited him out. Sutko smiled. "Single RA round through all three of them. Word is the closest usable sniper perch from that particular spot was about 800 metres from the highway. The closest one, and the police found no evidence that the killer even used that location."

"The police frequently find no evidence even when it exists."

"Yeah, I guess you'd know."

"The bratva's still looking for this woman."

"Has been ever since. She pinged your radar, huh? You got a line on her, that could make you rich."

"If I had a line on her I wouldn't be here. Where did she go after 2007?"

"Don't know. If I did I'd be sitting poolside in Palm Springs sipping mojitos, not cooling my heels in this commie garden spot." Sherlock didn't respond, and Sutko said, "I don't know what this broad's done to attract your attention, Mr. Holmes, but if I were you I'd steer clear. She'll get hers in the end. The bratva has a long memory and people like her can't keep their heads down forever. They think they can. That's why they'll pay a fortune for a new ID. It's money down the crapper because people who get into that much trouble almost always find it again. You don't want to be anywhere near her when that happens."

"Would she be employable after something like Irkutsk?"

"Not by me," Sutko said at once. "Not by anyone who likes his reputation. She crossed a line. Couple of them. Not what you like to see on a resume. Don't get me wrong: The men I work with have to be ready to kill to defend the clients. If they do this job long enough it's almost inevitable. Being mentally ready for it is different from enjoying it. Very different. Guys who hire people in Camden's line prefer their psychopaths a little more…stable."

"How much money would a job like that have been worth?"

"Done right? Pfff…" Sutko leant back and considered. "Lotta variables. Value of the target, the hitter's rep, her track record, how much time she's gonna invest on the project. Say somewhere between fifty and a hundred fifty American. You do the math."

"Vague."

"Lotta variables," Sutko said again. "If you're sniffing around for work I can tell you right now you'd fall on the high end of the range."

Sherlock gave a little smile without humor. "I have a job."

"My loss," Sutko shrugged. "Anything else?"

"Thank you for your time," Sherlock said.

Sutko stood, reached across the desk, and they shook again, Sherlock more or less successfully concealing how much the movement hurt. His hand was on the doorknob when Sutko stopped him.

"Holmes," he said, and Sherlock turned. "You're never going to take a gig here; I get it. But you know what I owe you for the lives of my men. So when I tell you this it's not because there's something in it for me: The bratva is big on symbolism. Repayment in kind. Tends to make people think twice about screwing them over, you know? If this woman's alive they will find her. Today. Next week. Ten years. They don't care. When they do they will destroy everyone standing next to her, like she destroyed that whole family, just to make their point. Don't be around when it happens."

ooooo

Sherlock stopped on the pavement outside CES and dialed England. "Mr. Melas. Sherlock Holmes. Have you ever considered the benefits of hacking the CIA?"

ooooo

John paced the flat with his phone in his hand and glanced again at his watch. Five more minutes, he thought, and he'd call Mycroft, tell him-the phone vibrated in his hand, making him jump, and he answered it before the ringtone activated.

"Sherlock!" he said, his voice tight with anger and anxiety. "Jesus Christ, where are you?"

"Stairs," Sherlock said, sounding out of breath.

"Stairs? What-?"

"Our stairs." He rang off.

"The hell," John muttered, and glanced over the railing. Sherlock was on the first landing, sagging against the wall. His face was grey and drawn and exhaustion was evident in every line of his body. "Dammit," John said, and went quickly to him. He ducked under his left arm and supported him up the stairs. "Are you out of your damned mind? Where the hell have you been? I've been calling you all day."

"Did you call Mycroft?" Sherlock asked through clenched teeth.

"In about five minutes."

"Don't bother. I'm back."

"Where the hell were you?"

"Brussels."

John realized he was serious. "And that couldn't wait until you weren't at risk of bleeding out."

"No."

"And of course you had to go alone."

"Yes."

"At least tell me you didn't fly there two weeks after a pneumothorax."

"Train."

Once they reached their landing John helped Sherlock out of his coat. "Go to bed, you mad berk," he said. "You're going to kill yourself."

Instead Sherlock turned toward the living room, where he sank into a chair at the table, and John threw up his hands. He'd pressed his case more than once before now, made every rational argument. Repeating himself wouldn't pay off today, either. Instead he went to the kitchen and returned with a glass of water and Sherlock's pain meds, which he clapped down on the living room table, then sat down opposite Sherlock, who ignored the drugs and sat recovering his breath, dead pale and sweating.

"You going to clue me in on what was so damned important in Brussels?" John asked.

Sherlock didn't answer immediately. The information he'd discovered today would hurt John badly and he was therefore tempted to withhold it, but he'd also come to the uncomfortable conclusion that he made a real mistake-possibly the biggest of his life-when he cut John out of his Reichenbach plans. That was at Mycroft's insistence, but Sherlock couldn't entirely blame his brother. Had he not agreed with Mycroft in essence-that both John and he would be safer if John remained convinced of the lie-then he would have found a way to make contact. Had he done so, would they be in this situation, with John heartsick over the state of his marriage, Sherlock badly injured, and both of them so uncertain of the future? Unlikely.

Just one word, Sherlock, John said. Just one word to tell him that his looked-for miracle existed. John would have waited for his return, he would not have drifted, emotionally shattered, for eighteen months until he met Mary, and he would not have been susceptible to her and whatever she intended for him. Because Mary targeted John; that was one thing Sherlock now knew. What he couldn't answer yet was why, and why, since she apparently meant to harm him, she hadn't already done so.

"Sherlock."

"In my coat," Sherlock said, making his decision. "There's an envelope."

John found the manila clasp envelope, brought it to the table, and set it before Sherlock, who stared at it but made no move to pick it up.

"Sherlock," John prompted again. Sherlock met his eyes and John was suddenly certain that whatever was in the envelope was going to be very hard for him to see. Could it get any worse? he wondered. Sherlock obviously thought it could. "Do not cut me out of this," John warned.

Sherlock considered him a bit longer, weighing John's desire for the truth against the pain it would cause, and both of those things against the need to protect John from himself. Too much of the wrong sort of information could get him killed. "The writing on that thumb drive," he said finally.

"AGRA," John said. "Mary's initials. At least she says they are," he added bitterly, "which probably means they aren't." Sherlock didn't answer, and John said, "Are they?"

"Initials, yes," Sherlock replied. "Her name, no."

"How do you know?"

"Because her real name is Elizabeth Camden."

Just like that. He let John absorb the news for a moment, and then John said again, "How do you know?"

"I asked."

"Who?"

"Someone familiar with her sort of work."

"Someone in Brussels."

"Yes."

"What's in the envelope?" John asked grimly.

Using his left hand Sherlock slid it across the table, although John didn't pick it up. "Elizabeth Camden worked for the CIA," Sherlock said. "In January 2007, while on loan to MI6, she free-lanced a job for the Russian mafia in Irkutsk. A hit on a politician. She gained access to him by posing as his family's new Swedish au pair. I suspect but can't prove that she intercepted the real au pair and killed her in order to take her place. Once she got access to the politician she fulfilled her contract and killed him. She also killed his wife and three children. That was not part of her contract."

John went white.

Sherlock continued, his voice harsh. "The resulting bad publicity and police attention angered the Russian mob boss and he refused to pay the balance of her fee. A week later his second-in-command and two bodyguards were assassinated. The CIA and MI6 couldn't-wouldn't-protect her from the consequences, even if she'd been willing to seek their help, which she would not have been, and the Russians are very persistent. Her only option was to leave Elizabeth Camden behind and start over. As Mary Morstan."

He'd been sitting with his forearms on the table but he couldn't do it any more, and as carefully as he could leant back in the chair, gritting his teeth. "The newspaper article covering the politician's death is in there," he said of the envelope, "but it's in the original Russian. Also her employment history with the CIA. In English. Financial records."

John frowned. "How did you get all this? If she changed her identity, wouldn't she erase who she used to be, too?"

Sherlock took a moment to reply; he was just about all-in. "The man I saw today knows people who identified her from a photo I provided. For the rest of it…The Internet is forever. Mr. Melas and anyone else with the right skills could uncover it. It took him the space of this afternoon, after I told him where to start looking."

John was quiet for a time, looking at the envelope, but still he didn't touch it. When he was reasonably sure that his voice wouldn't betray him he looked up. Sherlock was watching him, of course, but with none of his wonted verve, while the sympathy in his eyes was more distressing than reassuring.

"An entire family."

"Yes."

"This is Magnussen's leverage over her, the stuff she said would send her to prison for life."

"Yes." So much for his new policy of not causing John pain. "I'm sorry," he said.

John shook his head. "No," he said, his expression hard. "Don't. It's what I needed to know." He took a deep breath, exhaled. It had been a while, but he'd called on this part of himself before: the part that set the pain aside for later because someone else still needed him. Mary was beyond his reach now. The man across the table from him was not.

He stood. "Come on, mate," he said. "Before I have to carry you."

ooooo

John stood in the living room, staring at the envelope on the table. He already knew what he'd find there, but he was deeply reluctant to look at the contents because doing so would make it all real. The dissolution of his marriage. The evidence that the Mary Morstan he knew never existed, the confirmation that whatever affection he still felt for her was now insanity to entertain. As with the thumb drive, he wanted nothing more than to evade the reality of it, but he'd never been able to lie to himself like that. Besides, he knew all too well what it cost Sherlock to get this information for him. He took the envelope from the table and went to his fireside chair.

As usual, Sherlock had been thorough. It was all there: The proof of everything he said, not that John had doubted it. The photocopied Tass newspaper clipping, Mary's employment history with the CIA: dates, employee ID number, salary, pension account information, even a copy of her employee ID photo. Some fifteen years younger, he estimated, with her naturally light brown, shoulder-length hair gathered in a ponytail. John preferred it blond. A handful of other newspaper articles, some in English, reporting the unsolved murders of politicians, drug lords, spies, and apparently unexceptional civilians. Finally a short obituary notice from the New York Times dated February 7, 2007, indicating that Elizabeth Camden, 36, died in Lenox Hill Hospital following a brief, unspecified illness.

People changed, they grew apart, they outgrew each other. John was an adult and he knew that, but that wasn't what happened to him. His estrangement wasn't gradual, something that he could see coming and inure himself to or armour himself against. This was a brutal sucker-punch in the face, gratuitous and inexplicable.

It was incredibly difficult to switch off a deep emotion that developed over time. Sherlock could do it, John reflected. I can't. The documentation he was holding in his hand: It was his new reality. Mary was a fraud from the moment he met her, and now he held proof that she was an inveterate killer as well. He knew soldiers with high body counts who went home to love their wives and children, and he knew that while it required a great deal of introspection, fortitude, and moral clarity, it was nevertheless possible for that dual nature to exist in one man or woman.

But Mary wasn't a soldier in a hot zone. She was a hired assassin who tracked her victims over time and with cold deliberation, and she didn't limit her casualties to her immediate targets, either. Irkutsk. Jesus Christ. Based on the information in the envelope she'd killed sixteen people-or at least sixteen of her kills were reported in the press. God knew how many deaths she was really responsible for. Should she even be running around loose, if she was responsible for all those deaths? Should he be on the phone to the police? Why was he letting Sherlock direct whatever the hell was going on? Because he let Sherlock direct everything, he thought bitterly, and because evaluating the situation as 'whatever the hell was going on' proved he didn't have the tools for decision-making.

The thought that Mary was carrying his child was yet another source of torment. If he was determined that the marriage itself was over, what about the baby? What about divorce? What about suing her for custody? Was the pregnancy even real? What if that was a lie, as well? It was the first time this idea had struck him, but while it was distressing it was no longer unthinkable, either, in light of everything else he knew. He might be a doctor, but women deceived their husbands on that count every day. Sherlock spotted the signs of her pregnancy at the wedding, John remembered, but Sherlock wasn't infallible either and Mary'd proven herself capable of deceiving him, to a point. What if Sherlock, distracted as he was by the strain of spending ten consecutive hours not being an anti-social arse, made a mistake? It would explain why John missed all the signs if there weren't any signs to see.

Psychopaths manipulated people for a living. With the evidence he had on hand John was willing to ascribe that diagnosis to Mary, but not being a psychopath himself he couldn't imagine how any agenda of hers could be served by Sherlock thinking her pregnant.

If she were faking the pregnancy would she then fake a miscarriage? If Sherlock had died, would John ever have learned the truth about who shot him? Would she have remained in the marriage? He couldn't get his head around those questions, couldn't begin to imagine a reason why she'd worm her way into his life for the purpose of deceiving him like that, and the more he thought about it the fewer answers and the more questions he had. He was both too cynical and insufficiently vain to still believe that her attachment to him had anything to do with him for his own sake. She was a psychopath and he was her tool, somehow, for accomplishing something he couldn't imagine.

He made himself read through the documents again. All of them. Every word. Then put everything back in the envelope and dropped the envelope on the side table and stared into the fire's dying embers.

Despite all his questions there were a few absolutes with which he could work. Mary wasn't who she said she was. She'd lied about herself since the day he met her. It was not an accident that she was working at the clinic and that she attached herself to him. She was not in his life because she loved him. Whatever she was doing, whatever her motive was for passing herself off as a nurse and insinuating herself into his life, it wasn't benevolent. There was no benevolent way to commit that level of fraud. Everything she'd ever shown him, then, was a lie, and not lies made with his best interests at heart. Whatever her life was before she met him she'd not left it behind, because just four weeks ago she'd shot Sherlock.

There was a lot he didn't know and might never know, but that was enough for one definitive act. He slipped the wedding ring from his finger.


– End Chapter 4 –

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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