Medium Dark



by



Lynn Walker & Carole Manny




It takes two to make every great career:  the man who is great and the man--almost rarer--who is great enough to see greatness and say so.”   -- Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead




* * * * *




Tuesday




Sherlock groaned.  “Not that again.”



You said youd do anything I asked,” John said reproachfully.



Anything but that.



Thats not what you said an hour ago.  You said, and I quote, ‘Anything.’”



The exception was implied.”



John laughed.  “No, it wasnt.  Don’t be stroppy.”



Its so...dull,” Sherlock said.



Not if you do it right,” John said patiently.  “If youd stop messing about and do it like you mean it--put a little feeling into it--it’s quite moving.



Sherlock heaved an aggrieved sigh.  “Fine.  How do you want it?”



You know how.”



More resistance.  “Ugh.  Its so boring like that.  If I have to do this--”



You do.



--at least let me give it some animation.”



Its not supposed to be animated,” John said.  “Its supposed to be slow.”



Its not supposed to be a solo act, either.  It takes at least three other people.”  He ran a ball of rosin along the length of his bow.  “You do know the meaning of ‘canon,dont you?”



I should.  Youve gone on about it often enough.”



To no effect, obviously.  Pachelbels canon is a rondo.  Its also a--well, its hardly a musical cliche, but its a cliche all the same.”



How is it a cliche?”



Two words:  Ordinary.  People.”



What, that old movie?”



Mm.”



How do you even know that exists?”



My first violin teacher thought it was some sort of modern classic,” Sherlock said with a sour expression and a dismissive wave of his hand.  “‘The Gone With The Wind of the Eighties.”  



John laughed.  You cant distract me with all the backstory, you know.”



Philistine,” Sherlock muttered.



Elitist.



Boor.



Tufthunter.



Sherlock snorted a laugh.  “‘Tufthunter?”



“‘Dear Diary,’” John said, grinning, “‘Today I stumped Sherlock on vocabulary.’”



John.”



It means aspirant.  Pretender.”



I see.  Weve been helping Mrs. Hudson with the crossword again, have we?”



Actually I came across it in the OED a while back.  You know how things stick in your brain better when you have a real life example just at hand?”



Considering the agonizingly dull chore youre insisting upon, shouldnt you be a little less insulting and a little more ingratiating?”



“‘Agonizingly dull.’  Spare me.  Im not asking you to play the cello part, am I?”



I would have to stab you with the bow,” Sherlock replied haughtily.



Largo,” John said imperturbably, with a dismissive wave.  “Get busy.”  He picked up a magazine at random and leafed through it.



Sherlock sniffed discontentedly, tossed the rosin aside, and picked up the violin.  The truth was that hed been a bit of a trial to John for the last few hours, and he knew it.  Nothing interesting had crossed the 221B threshold since the Ricoletti case concluded more than a week ago, and considering the emotional upset to John that resulted from that investigation it hardly counted as ‘interestingin any event.



Besides being frustrating in the extreme for Sherlock, the lack of work had given John a nearly uninterrupted span of time in which to brood on thoughts of loss, life, death, and middle age.  He was neither naive nor habitually morose, and Sherlock was fairly confident that he was happy with their life and work together, but the brutal reality of how people could treat each other, which John saw far too often in their line of work--and which he had seen far too often in his life--tended to disconcert him at the best of times.  The Ricoletti murders had been especially senseless and graphic reminders of that human capacity for cruelty.  Not to mention that one of Johns favorite patients had been among the victims.  Conventional wisdom held that the Majors memorial service should have served as a coda to the experience, but whatever funerals were supposed to provide in the way of ‘closurefor people, this one had failed to provide for John.  He worked his shift at the clinic the day before the service, took his daily walks as usual, and to his friends appeared to be back to his old self.  Sherlock knew otherwise.  By a dozen subtle signs he understood that John was not quite recovered from the blow.  Was ‘recoveredthe right word?  Sherlock didnt know.  



Now it was Tuesday.  Two days since the service.  Sherlock was bored stupid and hed just spent the last two hours trying Johns patience by scraping intermittently and randomly at the violin.  This was nothing new; Sherlock often played while he was thinking, or to distract himself, or for no identifiable reason at all.  In general John took it all very much in stride, possibly because Sherlock usually finished these sessions of random noise production, which he knew wore somewhat on Johns nerves after the first hour, with a few of Johns favorite songs.  Compensation for the trial on his patience.  In fact today hed been extra annoying in the faint hope of starting a row that would perk John up a bit, but John had declined the invitation.  Another sign that life in Baker Street wasn’t quite back to normal.



Sherlock thoughtfully dragged the bow over each string in turn.  He increased the tension on the A strings peg slightly, tried it again, frowned, and gave it another minute adjustment.  Better.  He glanced at John--still leafing through the magazine with an air of patient unconcern but obviously determined to wait him out--and after heaving another theatrical sigh he began.



John laid the magazine aside when Sherlock started playing.  Now that hed satisfied his need to whinge, Sherlock addressed the music with a sincerity, sensitivity, and artistry that left John in awe.  Although John had requested a meditative largo rendition of his favorite classical tune, Sherlock rebelled to the extent of adding the gigue and soon had John tapping his foot and smiling.



John prized these occasions above his own salvation.  He didnt think of them as revealing the “real” Sherlock, because the great mind--the reason and logic and objectivity--that was the real Sherlock; but he did think of them as a window into the rest of Sherlock, the side of his aloof, self-contained friend that Sherlock shared with no one else.  His soul, if John were to stoop to what Sherlock himself would scorn as contemptible sentiment.  After all, Sherlock always insisted, music was simply mathematics.  Mathematics was reason.  Therefore music, too, was reason--and he would go on to speak breezily of successive twelfth roots of two, equal temperament tuning, and sinusoidal waves until John told him to stop his gob and just play something.  



Now he stood by the window, his eyes closed, wholly intent on his improvised variations and embellishments, and despite his earlier protestations about John’s selection very evidently feeling the music.  In spite of his insistence that a canon required more than one player he produced a creditable imitation of an ensemble, segueing seamlessly from melody to harmony and back, switching deftly from one voice to another, blending elements of each part into a unique yet familiar whole, and clearly entertaining himself as well as John.  



John wished at these times that more people appreciated his friend as something other than the famously cold, dispassionate thinker.  He did what he could by blogging about their cases, but there were some things, Sherlock had once told him, which should be kept safe from public pawing.  John knew that his friend’s capacity for depth of feeling was one of these.  So instead he watched and listened, and if the outside world dropped away for Sherlock as he played, so it dropped away for John as he took vicarious delight in his friend's virtuosity.



After nearly seven minutes Sherlock brought the song to a close with a singularly pure and clear final note.



That,” John said with utter sincerity.  “Was.  Amazing.”  Sherlock glanced at him, checking for candor, but John had rarely heard him play so well.



Philistine,” Sherlock replied, but a pleased smile pulled at the corner of his mouth--and then his expression shifted abruptly to annoyance.  John instantly inferred a visitor.  He turned in his chair to see a woman standing silently in the living room doorway:  They had a client.



Johns first impression was that she was either very tired or very ill or both.  She appeared to be in her early sixties but might have been up to ten years younger than that.  Her dyed blonde hair was cut in a bob that fell just at her jawline, giving some much-needed fullness to her gaunt face.  The application of makeup had successfully minimized neither her pallor nor the dark circles below her large brown eyes.  She was not above John’s height, although her abnormal thinness made her appear taller.



She fared no better under Sherlocks scrutiny.  He still stood behind his chair with the violin and bow in his left hand, but now his head was up and turned slightly to the side as he eyed her with the trenchant edginess he reserved for strangers--and with a little resentment:  The contrast between the ease he’d felt while playing and the sudden return of tension annoyed him, and while he wanted a case she didnt look very interesting.



She smiled a little hesitantly and obviously had the sense that she was intruding; in fact she’d hung about on the first landing for three minutes while Sherlock finished playing.  “I hope I’m not interrupting,” she began.  



John was on his feet, having remembered his manners.  “No, not at all,” he said, and Sherlock shot him a wry look.  “Can we help you?"



Yes, sorry,” she said, but had to pause then to cough.  “Im here to see Mr. Holmes,” she said when she’d recovered.



Sherlock pointed to John.  “Hes the one you want.”  



John glanced at him.  “What?”  



Youre Mr. Holmes?” she said to John.  



No,” John said.  “Hes Mr. Holmes.  Im John Watson.  Hello.”  He approached and offered his hand.



Doctor John Watson,” Sherlock said pointedly, setting the violin and bow aside and obviously intending to leave the room.



Why would she be here to see me?”



Sherlock shrugged:  Could it be any more obvious?   “Youre a doctor.  Shes terminal.  You see how that fits?”



Jesus, Sherlock.”  That was rude even for him.  John turned to the woman.  “Im so sorry--”



Hes right,” she said simply, and she seemed strangely unfazed by the fact.  She looked thoughtfully at Sherlock.  “How did you know?”



While her presence displeased him, the opportunity to show off did not.  “You’re a widow with three--no, two--adult children,” he said, ignoring John’s glare.  “You’ve just taken the Tube from Charing Cross station to Baker Street:  eight minutes and £4.80.  That’s on top of the train fare from Dover, where you began this morning, having taken the 9:43 train.  It’s a short walk from the Baker Street station but with your illness you’d have been justified in taking a cab:  So no money, then, although your inexpensive costume jewellery and clothing alone make that obvious.  You’re modestly dressed but made a real effort to tidy yourself and put on makeup to come into the city.  Out of breath from the stairs but pale rather than flushed and you’re thin, but that’s apparently due to your illness, because previously you would have been fairly well fed, judging from the way your clothes hang loosely now.  From their wear and the style verging on outdated you’ve owned that outfit for at least five years, and yet you haven’t replaced it even after your weight loss.  Very little point, if you’re terminal.  You had extensive orthodontia removed...about five weeks ago.”



While John was appalled by Sherlock’s unsparing evaluation, the woman was obviously at the point psychologically where she accepted her situation, and in fact she seemed more impressed by the accuracy of his inferences than bothered by his manner.  “That’s quite impressive,” she admitted, before pausing again to cough.  “Excuse me.  I beg your pardon.  You’re right about all of it,” she continued.  “Except that I really am here to see you, Mr. Holmes.  I need a detective.  Not a doctor.”



Sit down, please,” John said, placing the client chair for her.  He shot a passing glare at Sherlock and sat down at the living room table.  “Why do you need a detective?  Mrs....?”



Soranzo,” she said, sitting down and putting her handbag on her lap.  “Abigail Soranzo.”  



Sherlock reminded himself that he’d just been hoping for something to distract John and dropped resignedly into the Le Corbusier.  



Now that she had their full attention Abigail was a bit shy about getting straight to the point, so she said diffidently to Sherlock, with a nod toward the violin, “You play beautifully.  Im not just saying that,” she added hastily, because he scowled as though her noticing was an impertinence rather than a compliment.  “My husband was a violinist.”



Yes, very interesting,” Sherlock said impatiently.  “Please get to your point, Mrs. Soranzo.  Why are you here?”



Its because of the lights.”



The lights.”



The lights in the grove.  You see, Im a resident client at Wellspring, and--”



Wellspring?” John said.  



The Wellspring Institute.  In Dover.  About a month ago I went to my doctor because I’d started getting night sweats again.  I was tired all the time, short of breath...and it hurt just here.”  She pointed to a spot on her left side, just under her ribs.  “He started talking about lung cancer--I used to smoke years ago--and radiation and massive doses of all sorts of drugs, so I went straight to Wellspring and they’ve worked miracles.  I’ve been on their program for a month and I feel so much better now that I’m not overloading my system with artificial chemicals.”



Yes,” Sherlock said sarcastically, “‘natural’ is the Good per se, isn’t it?  But then, disease is natural, too, so it’s strange that people dont enjoy cancer more.”



Sherlock!”



Sherlock didn’t see why John was so exercised.  “Just pointing out the fallacy of intrinsicism,” he said.  



Well, save it,” John cried.  “Im so sorry,” he added to Abigail, but she remained remarkably unfazed.



Its okay, Dr. Watson,” she said with a smile.  “Believe me, my family has tried to change my mind, as well, but they cant argue with success.”



John tried to get Sherlock back on track.  “Have you heard of this Wellspring Institute?”



No,” Sherlock said, “but from the cloying name and Mrs. Soranzos aversion to reality Id say the doctors are certified by the University of Quackistan.  Am I right?”



Oh, no,” she said.  “But I can see why you think that.”  She gestured toward John.  “I mean, your friend is a doctor, so of course--”



Irrelevant,Sherlock snapped.  “My conclusions rely on reality, not relationships.”



I’ve made peace with my illness” she said, “but that doesnt mean that I wouldnt like to live as long as possible.  Dr. Kickham is a medical doctor, but he’s not limited by the usual binary treatment models.  Youre about the same age, I think,” she added, looking at John.  “Do you know him?  Dr. Brian Kickham?”



John shook his head.  “Im surprised,” Abigail said.  “Hes very prominent in his profession.”



So was Coco the Clown,” said Sherlock.



Dammit--” John began.



Mrs. Soranzo,” Sherlock interrupted, “do you know what they call the person who finishes last in his medical school class?”



No.”



'Doctor.'"



She looked faintly puzzled.  “Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know how much better I feel, and its all because of Wellspring.”  Then, in the tone of one reciting propaganda she said, “They take a holistic, individualized approach that treats the entire patient, not just the symptoms.  Dr. Kickhams methods use natural remedies that are non-invasive, non-toxic, non-addictive--”



Non-functional,” Sherlock said.



She smiled serenely:  Unflappable.  “And yet I feel so much better.”  She proved this by breaking off to cough again.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “There are so many toxins in the city air...I know what you’re thinking, Dr. Watson:  It sounds incredible, and frankly I was skeptical too, at first, but if the Wellspring Protocol doesn’t work, why have I felt so much better since I started it?  There are some things that science just cant explain.  If it wasnt for Wellsprings program of natural remedies and their tumour-shrinking nutrition plan I might be dead by now.”  



Sherlock reached into his breast pocket for his phone and clapped it to his ear.  “Hello, NHS?” he said, and John groaned.  “You know all those painstakingly controlled clinical trials youve been conducting for the last eighty years?  You can stop now.  Yes, I have a client here who can determine treatment efficacy via anecdote.  Youre welcome.”  He put the phone away.  “Skip the infomercial, Mrs. Soranzo, and tell us why youre here.  What about the lights?”



Well,” she said, “your website says that you take only strange and interesting cases, and something very strange happened Friday and Saturday night.  The Institute is located right on the cliffs, and they just installed a new meditation grove almost at the very edge; they just finished it on Friday, but it was supposed to be done a week earlier; they had a terrible time with the soil there, they said.  Its beautiful, and of course the setting is exquisite, with the view and the sea so near.  Very tranquil and calming.”



Ugh,” Sherlock groaned.



Friday night I didn't sleep well and woke up around one in the morning.  Sometimes even with the calcarea carbonica the night sweats wake me up.  Well, when I couldn't go back to sleep I got up and sat at the window to read.  Theres a big bay window with a window seat, and I just love to spend time there.  Its so peaceful.  Well, it's been warm, you know, with this lovely Indian summer weather, so I had the windows open as I read.  Eventually I started to get sleepy and then I must have dozed off, because when I woke up I was chilled, so I closed the window before I went back to bed."



What sort of window?” Sherlock asked.



Sorry?”



Sash?  Casement?”



Im not sure.  The kind that opens with a handle at the bottom and swings out.  On a hinge at the side?”



Casement,” Sherlock said.



Well, as I pulled the window closed I noticed two red lights reflected in the glass, so I stopped.  I adjusted the window so I could see them better, and I realized that they were coming from out by the new grove.  Normally you cant see it from that side of the manor house, but with the window open it was reflected in the glass.  It took me a bit to figure out that the lights were coming from there, but thats definitely where they were.”



Sherlock just stared at her.  This was neither strange nor interesting.  “And?”



And...well, they kept bobbing around out there.  Like they were floating.  Theyd blink on and off, sometimes.  Sometimes theyd be up high above the cliff edge and sometimes low.  Sometimes they wouldnt move at all.  There was no real pattern to it, and one time more than five minutes went by and I didnt see anything.  I thought theyd gone, but suddenly there they were again.  It went on like that for almost two hours, and then again the next night, too.”  She stopped as though she’d reached the end of her account.  



Sherlock was still staring.  “Thats it?”



Well...It’s strange, don’t you think?  And kind of interesting?  What do you think it was?”



Sherlock turned to John.  “John, call MI6 and tell them Mrs. Soranzo has discovered that the English Channel contains boats.”  John looked away.  Sherlock put his pale, cold eyes back on Abigail.  “The house overlooks the Dover Strait, the busiest shipping channel in the world.  You saw the navigation lights of ships and boats moving up-Channel.  Red lights on the port side; green to starboard.”



Why did they blink on and off, then?” John asked, trying to come to her defense.  “And she said they seemed to be floating.”



Yes, well.  Ships.  Floating.  Its a whole thing they do.  Wave action and fog explain the movement and intermittency, waves being common to the sea and fog to the coast.  Have a nice day, Mrs. Soranzo.”  And when she showed no sign of knowing she’d been dismissed he added, “Somewhere else.”



That might be true about the lights,” she said firmly, “but what about the ghost?”



The ghost?” John asked, as Sherlock looked away with an exasperated sigh.



The ghost in the grove,” she said.  “The ghost that appeared in the exact spot where I saw the red lights.  The very next night, too.  I was right there in the grove, twenty feet away from it, and it was no ship, Mr. Holmes.”



John glanced nervously at Sherlock:  He already had the douchebaggery level at eight, and mention of the supernatural was just the sort of thing to make him dial it all the way to eleven.



But Sherlock surprised him by suddenly focusing on Abigail quite intently and saying, “Tell me what happened and leave nothing out.  Except for the boring extraneous irrelevant bits.”



* * * * *



Abigail Soranzo, Marty Perkins, and Liz Baker, all resident clients at the Wellspring Institute, had made something of a tradition of their after-supper rambles around Wellsprings thirty acres.  Mild exercise was encouraged by the medical staff and when the weather cooperated many clients could be found strolling the smooth asphalt trails that laced the grounds, enjoying the fresh breezes off the Strait, the salt air, and the views of the famous chalk cliffs stretching away on either hand and, on clear days, the French coast, thirty-three kilometres distant.  



On this recent Sunday evening the three friends eventually settled at the newly-completed meditation grove near the cliff edge, where as the sun set in a blaze of orange and blue they counted the ships and watched as the lights of France sprinkled the growing darkness.  Conversation ranged from talk of life and death to the spiritual energy of the ocean and nature.  Abigail teared up a bit thinking that she wouldnt live to see the grove mature; she was going to miss so many things of such exquisite beauty.  Like Wellspring itself.  Such serene natural beauty, so many peaceful, shady copses--and she knew that the new grove would be just as beautiful, in time.  Liz and Marty, always so supportive, hugged her then, but she didn’t want to burden them with her mood so she switched the conversation to asking after Martys wife and Lizs kids.  



She didn’t mention the red lights to them, but that was not from trepidation.  While shed found them puzzling at the time they hadnt frightened her, and in fact shed nearly forgotten all about them.  As the sun sank and the path lighting came on around the walkways, Marty declared himself knackered and returned to the house.  Abigail and Liz remained, chatting away, until the western sky turned purple. By then the temperature had fallen enough to produce a distinct chill, and they decided to return to the manor house.  



Just as they stepped off the flagstone terrace that defined the grove, however, they were startled to hear a low groan from the seaward side of the grove, near the cliffs edge.  Liz called “Hello?”  No one answered, but as though in reply to her call a ghost rose up from below the cliff and hovered there.  Pale lavender with a silvery tinge to it, it appeared as a beautiful young woman in a full-length, shimmery dress that puddled at her feet.  The ghost stared straight at Abigail and Liz, utterly terrifying them, and then it raised one hand and pointed right at them.  



You,” it hissed in a low, malignant whisper.  “Go from this place.  Leave us in peace.”  



Is it real?” Liz gasped.  



Abigail had the presence of mind to notice that the ghost wavered each time the breeze blew, and that cemented it in her mind:  If it could be affected by the wind, it was real.  Before she could remark on this observation, however, the ghost spoke again.



Run,” it said, with a dismissive gesture, and then it pointed toward the manor house.  “Run.  Leave us in peace!”  



Liz and Abigail ran--although in her weakened state Abigail fell twice and had to be helped, gasping and coughing, by Liz, who bravely refused to abandon her.  The first time she fell Abigail noticed that the ghost had not pursued them, and as they reached the mansion, just before they turned the corner, she again glanced back at the grove.  The ghost had vanished.



Once they calmed each other down they parted and returned to their rooms.  Abigail resolved that first thing next morning she would take her concerns to Felicity Stokes, Wellsprings spiritual advisor and guide.  Felicity and her husband Terence Stokes owned Wellspring, along with Felicitys sister Amanda, the Institutes attorney, and Amandas husband, Dr. Brian Kickham.  Before she could put that plan into action the next morning, however, she met other patients who had seen the ghost; everyone was in an uproar about the spirit in the grove.  Terence and especially Felicity addressed everyone at breakfast in an attempt to reassure them, but that vivid, awful, menacing figure was not something that Abigail was likely to forget.




* * * * *




I love the people at Wellspring, Mr. Holmes,” she said, “and Felicity is so clever, so in tune with the spirit world.  She’s a true Empath, but Im afraid that she might be over her head here.  Shes used to contacting benevolent spirits, and this one was definitely not benevolent.  And to be honest I wonder whether all the seances that she conducts might not have set it loose on the grounds, or at least encouraged it to move in.  And, you know...well, of course youre a detective, you cant exorcise it or anything, but I guess...I just thought...Youre skeptical.  I can see that.  But its actually a good thing, because I know that someone who doesnt believe in ghosts will be objective about investigating one.  Besides, helping Felicity and Terence out by getting to the bottom of the ghost mystery would make me feel so much better about leaving Wellspring.”



John was a little hesitant about asking her to clarify that remark.  She looked so ill and he was afraid of causing her distress if her departure was due to a worsening prognosis.  “You’re leaving...?” he said carefully.



But she answered brightly.  “Oh, yes,” she said.  “Dr. Kickham is opening his own practice in South Kensington.  He wants to be able to spend more time with Amanda, his wife.  Wellspring’s in-house attorney.  He thinks that by starting a clinic of his own, with her to help, they’ll be able to rekindle their marriage.  And after all, you know, the Wellspring remedies are all his doing.  He won’t have any trouble starting over somewhere else.”  



She reached into her purse and withdrew a 60 ml brown vial with a dropper as a cap and passed it to John.    “This is one of the tinctures he prescribed for me.”  



John examined the bottle:  white label, green lettering, and a blue stylized ‘healing hands’ image with a fountain spouting from the palms.  In the lower right corner of the label was Kickham’s endorsement.  “‘This product meets the Wellspring Standard for purity and effectiveness,’” John read aloud.  “‘I guarantee it.  Dr. Brian Kickham, MD.’”  He looked up.  “‘Anemi-Cure’?”



I could feel it working the first time I tried it,” Abigail said.  “Dr. Kickham recommended it to promote the transport of oxygen.”



Sherlock snorted.  John cleared his throat.  “Won’t that be a bit of a hardship for Wellspring?” he asked.  “To have their doctor leave, I mean?  He’d be a competitor then.”



Well,” Abigail said, “I imagine it will be a bit of an inconvenience, for a while.  But there must be doctors breaking the door down to get hired by a place like Wellspring, don’t you think?”



Unfortunately, John thought, that was probably true.  “Maybe,” he said.



Abigail, having relayed all the information she had, waited with her hands resting on the purse in her lap.  



Sherlock steepled his hands under his nose, his eyes lost their focus to that thousand-yard stare that John knew so well, and he seemed to forget that she was in the room.



John himself was dreading the denouement of this consultation:  The poor doomed woman, still resolutely believing that she was being helped, had separated herself from her family while this Wellspring racket separated her from her money, and now to crown all she was seconds away from being savaged by the man she’d come to for advice.  He watched Sherlock with real trepidation.



While she seemed neither impatient nor cowed, after a minute or two Abigail said, with the first real hesitation shed shown, “When I moved in to Wellspring I...well, I wanted to make sure that my treatment wasn’t interrupted or delayed over finances, so...Their remedies and modalities are incredibly effective, but of course you get what you pay for and they aren’t free, and...I’m afraid...Well.  I’m...This is embarrassing, Mr. Holmes, but I was wondering...If you agree to take my case, would it be...I mean, I’d like to work out--if it’s okay--a payment plan.”  No answer.  “Mr. Holmes?” Abigail prompted finally.



Sherlock abruptly returned his focus to her.  “Tablet or book?” he demanded.



Sorry?”



Were you reading from an electronic device or a traditional book?”



Oh--from a tablet.”



Lights on or off in your room?”



Off.  Well, dim.  Theres a nightlight, but its just enough to see if I have to get up in the night.  They say that having the lights on makes it harder to get to sleep, though, so I keep the lamp near the bed off, usually.”



Thank you, Mrs. Soranzo,” he said icily.  “People like you are why shampoo bottles come with directions, but even a broken clock hits on the correct time now and again.  Who did you inform about your trip here today?”



No one.”



You’re sure.



Yes, definitely.”



When you see John and me at Wellspring you will give absolutely no sign that you know us.  You will not wave, smile, phone, text, or otherwise attempt to contact us--and you will speak of this matter to absolutely no one.  Doing so would fatally undermine our investigation.  Is that understood?”



Abigail blinked.  “But the money?” she asked timidly.  “Can we...work out a payment plan?”



Sherlock cocked his head. “You want to pay me on an installment plan.”



John knew that he was utterly indifferent to the question of payment; he was just objecting to the failure in logic, the pedantic prat.  But that’s not how it would have looked to Abigail.  He turned to her and said firmly, “There’s no payment plan.  There’s no fee.  We sometimes do pro bono work and this is one of those times.”  



She glanced from John to Sherlock and back.  “Youll help, then?  Youll try to find out about the ghost?”



The ghost?” Sherlock said vaguely, then remembered that the woman had mentioned a ghost a while back.  “Ah, the ghost.  We confine our investigations to the natural world at this agency, Mrs. Soranzo, but yes, I will definitely find out about your ghost.  Good day.”  He turned his head slightly away from her and  completely disengaged, like a machine reaching the end of its cycle.




* * * * *




Sherlock was widely vilified as a selfish bastard, but what people really meant when they accused him of that was that he wouldn’t compromise on what he knew to be true and right and real.  That integrity was one of the things that John admired most about him and he wouldn’t dream of asking Sherlock to breach it.  All the same, there were forms to be followed and there was civility to be preserved.  Integrity and manners didn’t have to be mutually exclusive.



Let me ask you something,” he said when he’d returned from seeing Abigail off in a cab.  Sherlock had shifted himself to the living room table and was tapping away at his laptop.  “Why is it so important that you share your opinions about them with people you dont care about?  If you dont care--”  



I care about the truth," Sherlock said, looking up.  “It matters.  Reality matters.  If I start misrepresenting whats real, where does that end?”  



It doesnt have to be either-or.  Havent you ever heard of a white lie?  Besides, you lie to people all the time.”



I lie to suspects, John, or to people who have information that can help me establish a suspect so I can solve a crime.  Would you rather I didnt?”



Id rather you were consistent.”



Arrogance.  “I am fully consistent.”  



John shook his head.  “If you dont care about what people think--”  



I don’t.”  



--then why waste your time by keeping them updated on your thoughts about them?  Besides, withholding your opinion isnt the same as lying, Captain Logic.”  



Sherlock sniffed.  “You want me to be nicer.”  



I want you to do yourself justice," John cried, a little frustrated, but he could see that Sherlock had no idea what he meant.  "Sherlock," he said in a more reasonable tone.  "The Work is what matters to you.  I understand that.  You know I do.  And I get that the clients aren’t your motive for doing it.  But like it or not they are a part of it.”  Sherlock grimaced and looked away sulkily.  “Not all of my patients are people Id like to spend Christmas with, you know, but being civil to them doesnt imply a single thing about my personal opinion of them.  It doesn't diminish me--or maybe you think it does?"



Sherlock didn’t think anything diminished John.  "Of course not," he said sullenly.  "But--"



"But I'm not a genius so I can tolerate people?  That's crap.  Sometimes your Work is boring research.  Sometimes it’s boring clients.  But it's all part of your Work."



Sherlock stared at him without expression and at that moment even John wasn’t sure what he was thinking.   He might have been considering the validity of John’s appeal or he might have been calculating pi to the twenty-third digit.  Finally he said, disdainfully, “Nicer."



John moved on to the next topic.  “Okay.  Theres no ghost in Dover, so why did you take the case?”



Now that they were on a subject that interested him, Sherlock perked up considerably.  “Remember what she said about how much trouble they had putting in that grove?  Ive been checking the satellite imagery of that estate, and look.”  He turned the computer so John could see.  “There are all sorts of far more eligible spots for a ‘meditation grove.’  It could have been built much more easily, cheaply, and in less time by using one of these mature copses and tossing in a stone bench or two.”



Maybe they wanted it to have a better view of the Channel?”



Its a big ocean.  Theres a view of the water from every point on that estate.  No.  According to Mrs. Soranzo her room doesnt provide a view of the grove and none of the other residentswindows in the house have a direct view of it, either.  She only saw it by chance, as a reflection when she opened her window.  Someone went to a lot of trouble to locate that grove in a corner of the estate where it wouldnt be visible to the patients in the house.  Why?  And why would someone bother to build something that’s allegedly for the patients and then go to even more trouble to scare them away from it?  



John shrugged.  “Okay.  Why?”



Roots.



* * * * *




John was familiar with the term ‘alternative therapies,’ but the concept had never really been on his radar in a significant way.  Occasionally he’d run across a nurse who claimed to be able to ‘drain negative energy’ from people by waving her hands over them, but he’d always declined the use of such services.  Then, too, the army of his day didn’t have the luxury of using auras to heal men whose limbs had been blown off by IEDs.  His research into the Wellspring Institute, therefore, represented his first detailed exploration of the idea.  He was not pleased by what he learned.



Sherlock had left the flat a little after Abigail Soranzo’s departure and didn’t return until shortly before supper.  By then John was thoroughly disgusted by what he’d read about Wellspring and very willing to be interrupted.  



Sherlock stuffed his scarf into his coat pocket and tossed the coat onto its hook.  “Making progress?” he asked.



John closed the laptop and slumped back in the chair.  “She was lying,” he said.



Who?”  



Abigail Soranzo.  The client,” he added, when Sherlock looked puzzled.



Lying about what?”  



About making peace with her diagnosis.”  



Oh, that.”  Sherlock immediately lost interest.  Perhaps there were biscuits in the kitchen.



Shes not at peace, shes frightened.”  



A shrug.  “She should have thought of that before she decided to cure cancer with primrose oil.”



Shes terminal, Sherlock,” John said irritably.  “Shed be afraid if she were seeing the best oncologist on the planet.”



Are you sure?”



Of course Im sure.  Why wouldnt she be?”



She cant be too attached to her life if shes willing to throw it away on crap remedies.”



After all this time John knew better than to reply to a statement like that with, ‘How can you say things like that?’  He knew how.  Sherlock was not incapable of empathy, but he didn’t apply it promiscuously.  He saved it for people he thought deserved it.  Instead John said, “She doesnt know that shes throwing it away!  Thats the whole point!  



No, the point is that shes not making any effort to know,” Sherlock replied.  “The truth is available to her just as it is to you and me and everyone else.  She declined it.”  He paused to consider John.  “Youre not angry because the clients afraid," he decided.  "And you already finished shouting at me for being rude to her.”  He paused.  “You are finished?”



John sighed.  “Yes.”



Then why are you cross?”



Its this,” John said with an angry wave at the computer.  “This Wellspring Institute is an even bigger scam than I thought.  Have you seen this stuff?  These 'remedies' theyre peddling are complete bollocks at best and unethical at worst.   Not to mention cruel, since theyre taking advantage of desperate people.  And you know what the worst part is?”  It was a rhetorical question; he didn’t wait for Sherlock to answer.  “The worst part is, I can almost see why people turn to this garbage.  Western medicine can be scary and intimidating and doctors havent done a very good job of trying to put people at ease and...I dont know.  Humanize it?”



Oh, please,” Sherlock sneered, dropping into his chair.  “Western medicine saves more lives in a day than all the Chinese herbs and wheatgrass smoothies combined have in the last three thousand years.  What sick people need is competence, not hand-holding.”  



Really,” John said skeptically, crossing his arms.  “Thats not what you thought when you came round after surgery.”  



The shot went straight home.  Both admiration and unease flitted across Sherlocks face.  Those were the kinds of statements that he prized in John, however:  that insistence on keeping him honest.  “That was personal,” he replied after the briefest hesitation.  “Not professional.  What use would you be if that were all you could offer?  In any case I wasnt ill, I was injured.”



John rubbed at his eyes.  He was not expressing himself adequately, and it frustrated him, as did Sherlock’s unrelenting contempt for the scam victims.  John didn’t find the pseudoscience any more compelling than Sherlock did, yet he understood its attraction to people who were in many cases desperate for answers--and he was angered by the predators who cashed in on that desperation.



He understood desperation and he understood fear, and he knew that Sherlock did, as well.  At one time he would have found that idea laughable, but after all they’d been through together he knew better now.  Yet for Sherlock, the more desperate the situation the more crucial his reasoning mind became.  John didn’t disagree, but he knew that many people lacked Sherlocks strength of purpose.  Many people, when confronted with questions to which they had no answers, gave up the responsibility of discovering those answers to the first authority figure who came along.  



Im not saying that I agree with people who believe these scams," he said finally.  “I don’t.  Im just saying that I can see their motive for turning to them.  Not that I find it tempting myself.”



The motive is stupidity.”



Its desperation.”



Sherlock shrugged.  “You say desperate.  I say stupid.”



And Ill tell you something else,” John went on, abandoning the stupid/desperate difference as unresolvable.   “Have you seen this crap that they’re peddling as ‘remedies’?  Do you know how this works?”  



Sherlock knew exactly how it worked.  “They dissolve trace amounts of some allegedly beneficial substance in water or alcohol, then dilute it to the vanishing point.  The claim is that the remedies are more effective as the dilution is increased.  Which is idiotic on the face of it, but the allegation is that a dilution that yields an effective concentration of zero molecules of the original ingredient is more potent than a 100% solution.”



John stared at him.  



Oh, sorry,” Sherlock said.  “Did you want the short answer?  Yes.  I know how it works.”



But that’s crap!” John cried.  “How can a company like Wellspring legally stay in business?  I don’t get it.”



Dont you?  Youve spent all afternoon researching them.  They tell people what they want to hear.  If that were a crime every politician and religious leader on the planet would be guilty.”



It might not be illegal, but ‘nourishing blood tonics’?  What does that even mean?  And look:  Look at this!”  He turned the computer for Sherlock to see, although Sherlock was obviously familiar with the scam.  “Everything ‘promotes’ this and ‘supports’ that--whatever they’re claiming to treat.  Penicillin doesn’t ‘promote’ the destruction of bacteria.  It just destroys bacteria.  Chemotherapy doesn’t ‘support’ the destruction of cancer cells.  It just destroys the damned cancer cells.  They’re not outright lying.  They’re not outright saying anything at all.  They put two pieces of information together on a page, add a paragraph about how their potion is prepared by their experts, then sit back and watch while people put two and two together and get three.”  



You sound surprised by all this,” Sherlock observed.  “Did they not mention it in medical school?”



Yeah, they mentioned it,” John said irritably.  “We probably spent as much time on it as you did on alchemy.  We weren’t studying to be witch doctors, for God’s sake.  We were dissecting cadavers, not dancing around wineskins.”  Sherlock laughed.  “This is snake oil, Sherlock, and the only way they can peddle it is by dressing it up with jargon they borrow from real medicine.”



“‘That a lie which is all a lie may be met and fought with outright, but a lie which is part of a truth is a harder matter to fight,’” Sherlock said portentously.



What the hell is that?” John asked.



Tennyson,” Sherlock said.  “John, you’re wondering how someone selling something so patently irrational, so self-evidently a mealy-mouthed scam, can stay in business more than five minutes?  It requires a willing partner in the deception.  Youve heard the expression that you cant cheat an honest man.”



Oh, come on.  All these millions of people can't all be dishonest.”



Intellectually dishonest,” Sherlock said.



Well, what the hell would you do if you found out that you were terminal?” John demanded, knowing even before he asked that it was pointless to do so.



Were all terminal, John.”



You know what I mean.”



I do.  And it changes nothing.  No one knows how long they have, formal prognosis or not.”



You dont think youd grasp at any straw, take any chance you thought might work if it would give you a reprieve?”



No,” Sherlock said with absolute conviction.  “I wouldnt grasp at any straw.  Only the rational ones.  And when science said that I was out of options, Id be out of options.”



John felt unaccountably disappointed.  Sherlock was inexorable.  It was one of the things that John counted on, one of the things that he admired most about his friend.  He always had, and his confidence in Sherlocks intransigence was absolute.  “Thats rubbish,” he said, without a hint of doubt in his tone.  “You never quit.  Ever.”  



Sherlock’s affectionate smile was tinged with sadness:  John was hero-worshipping again.  After all this time he should know better.  “I would quit,” he said deliberately, “if what I faced were the medical equivalent of trying to drive a car from here to the moon.  No, I wouldn't like it, and yes, I expect I'd be afraid.  But there's no shame in acknowledging that its not physically possible.  There’s no shame in facing reality.  Its the only thing that can free us.  These people you feel so sorry for, John:  Theyve built a prison, walked in of their own free will, locked the door, and flung away the key.  You want me to say that I understand why they do it, but I dont.  I can’t lie to myself like that.  I can’t live like that.  More to your point, I couldnt die like that.”



John couldn’t bear to dwell on this topic any longer.  Instead he pointed to the folder in Sherlocks hand.  “Whats that?” he asked.



You.”



Me?”



Well, your alter-ego for the case.  John Wilson."  Sherlock passed him the file.  "Youre a former associate producer with ITV who quit to make independent films for corporate training and motivational seminars.  You were especially keen on team-building exercises using stress reduction, barrier identification, and effective communication, although you’ve since sold the business for a mint of money.”



John stared.  “What the hell?”



Its all in the folder.  The point is that youre obviously pre-disposed to distributing and by implication swilling rubbish.”



Wait.  Sorry.  What are we doing here?  Im going to Wellspring...what, undercover?”



Don’t be over-dramatic.”



Great.”



Yes.  You’ve been admitted to Wellspring as a resident patient, and sadly youve been diagnosed with something.  Something expensive.  Exactly what I’ll leave to you.  You’re a doctor, after all, but Id recommend something subtle that will leave you relatively active in its early stages.  Preferably something fatal but not too fast-acting.  We want them to think that they can string you along for a good while.  And if you can get some diagnostic images labeled in your new name that would be very helpful."



Is that what youve been doing all day?  Faking records?”



Mm.”



John leafed through the pages in the folder.  “How did you arrange all this?”



Eight years ago.  The case of The Geek Interpreter, I believe you called it.”



Oh, right.  The computer boffins.”



Yes.  Mr. Melas was delighted to help.  As John Wilson you now have a complete and very thorough on-line history that will be utterly convincing to anyone who inquires.  Among other things, you have a long-standing MyLife page on which you updated your legions of friends with tedious posts about your illness until you were finally advised by one of them to check out the Wellspring Institute.  Then there are your significant financial holdings--congratulations on your new-found wealth, by the way, although Im sorry to say that it exists only in the ether.”



Thanks,” John said dryly.  “You really think all this is necessary?  All this detail?”



Theyre scammers, John, not stupid.  Im not sure how thoroughly Wellspring will research you, but I imagine theyll be very keen on finding out your financial status at a minimum.  'Successful television producer with his own production company' has money written all over it.”



John was still a bit at sea.  “What about you?  Arent you going?”



Of course Im going."  He passed a second folder to John.  "Scott Holmes.  Advertising executive.  Friend of John Wilson, along for moral support.  We met when the advertising agency where I worked was engaged by ITV to produce a series of public service messages on the critical problem of people over-using laundry soap.”



Scott?” John said, somewhat disappointingly.



Its my name.”



Yeah, but--”



“‘Sherlockis too unusual.  They might recognize it, and it is on the website, after all.  And your blog.  And in half the papers in London.”



I see.”



John Wilson and Scott Holmes formed Spotlight Productions but are now retired.  Retired and rich.  Also they have an appointment with Wellspring tomorrow morning at half ten.  That gives you--” glanced at his watch  “--a little over fourteen hours to get familiar with those profiles.  And I mean familiar, John.  These people are liars and con artists, but theyre not stupid.  We have to assume that theyll not only look into your background but that theyll test you, as well.”



Test me?”



Yes.  Probing questions, checking for consistency in your answers.  All that sort of thing.”



Seriously?”



Very.  They’re greedy and have a lot at stake.  Whether they really believe in this stuff or not they are adept at parting people from mints of money.  Theyve built a multi-million pound business and theyve been doing it for almost twenty years.  They may use confederates and certainly other means of gaining information from the clients, one of which is undoubtedly on-line research.  You must watch what you say and to whom you say it.  You must stay in character at all times unless you and I are alone, and even then we will need to be careful.  The place is no doubt wired for sound and video, so until I tell you that were in the clear, you need to stay in character.”



Okay,” John said slowly.  Sherlocks gravity on the point impressed him.  “How will you know whether were ‘in the clear,then?”



Sherlock reached into his pocket and produced a tiny electronic device, something like a thumb drive in appearance.  “With this.”  He held it out in the palm of his hand.



John took it and examined it.  “What is it?”



A TSCM.”



Who?”



A technical surveillance countermeasure.  A bug detector, in essence.  Detects active and passive bugs that transmit audio and video, infrared eavesdropping devices, and GPS trackers, among other things.  Very useful.”



John handed it back to him.  “Ill bet.  From Mycroft?”



From the Internet.”




* * * * *


 


Wednesday




Sherlock’s commitment to the virtue of neatness was variable.  The flat, for example, would look like a hoarder lived there if it weren’t for the endless war John waged to maintain a minimum number of uncluttered horizontal surfaces.  



With his person Sherlock was more fastidious, though predictable, favouring an apparently limitless supply of slim-cut dark jackets and trousers that complimented his narrow frame.  Someone--possibly his mother, possibly a random stranger--had evidently told him that the look suited him, and by adopting an unvarying style he obviated the need to devote mental energy to the tedious but necessary process of dressing himself.  His chosen style added the advantage of looking professional while exciting no notice in all but the most casual or formal situations.



In other respects, however, his fidelity to grooming conventions was less rigorous.  His hair, for example, got one chance each day to look reasonable, and then he considered that he had discharged his social obligation regarding its appearance.  What it did with itself for the remaining twenty-three hours of the day was not his concern.  In consequence he often appeared not to own a comb.



So on Wednesday morning, when he presented himself, as desired, in the living room at zero seven thirty local, John stopped and stared.  Sherlock sat at the living room table, tapping at his laptop, but he’d ditched the suit jacket and trousers in favor of medium-wash jeans and a white button-down shirt, and rather than his signature wool trench coat he’d draped a lightweight black parka over the back of his chair.  What really surprised John, though, was his flatmate's hair:  He’d swept it back off his forehead and slicked it down with a side part in a look that John had only ever seen on posh movie actors and pretentious financiers.  John thought it looked ridiculous.  



"Nice do," he said.  "How many litres of product did that take?"



Ah, John, good,” Sherlock said, rising.  “Here.  Put this on.”  He grabbed a jumper from the table and tossed it to John, who caught it deftly.



Why?”



Were ‘going undercover,’ as you put it,” Sherlock said patiently.  “Its part of your disguise.”



Whats wrong with this?” John indicated his plaid button-down shirt and knit vest.  His usual.  



Nothing, if youre going as a retired soldier with a provincial streak as wide as the Thames.  But youre an urban, hip, rich, retired telly producer.  Put that on.”



John held it up:  It was just a black World War II military-style pullover jumper with a roll collar, two buttons at the neck, and suede shoulder and elbow patches.  “Its military issue.  How does it not say ‘retired soldier?”



It says ‘ironic fashion statement by an urban, hip, rich, retired telly producer."



I'm not provincial.



I meant it in a good way.  Hurry up.”



John sighed, draped his vest over a chair, and slipped the new garment over his head.  Sherlock regarded him critically.  He stood, popped the back of the jumper collar up, then considered the effect.  John put it back down.  Sherlock reached out to restore it and John smacked his hand away.  “Get off.”



I told you.  These people arent fools.  Fix your collar.”  



John looked in the mirror.  “Whats wrong with it?”



This.”  Sherlock popped the collar back up.  



It looks stupid like that.”



And if you were going for drinks with your friends that would be relevant,” Sherlock said.  “Leave it.”



John gave up.  “You know with your hair tarted up like that you look twenty years older.”




* * * * *



Their 8:17 train to Dover departed on time, and as they settled into their private compartment Sherlock represented to John the importance of assuming that most of Wellspring’s private spaces and certainly all of its public spaces would be equipped with eavesdropping devices, including but not limited to bugs and cameras; reminded him to remain in character at all times unless Sherlock indicated that he'd thwarted the surveillance; advised him to avoid the client unless he wanted to be publicly addressed as "Doctor" and have their whole scheme ruined; and was preparing to go over the directions again when John informed him that he was quite clear on the ground rules and that one more tedious recitation of the same would guarantee John's departure from the train.  Between stations.



In the event John made it all the way to their destination before he disembarked.  As they stepped off the train at the Dover Priory Station more or less on time at 9:34, Sherlock paused on the platform to pick up a discarded ticket, which he slipped into his pocket.



What are you doing?” John asked.  



Setting the stage,” Sherlock said.  



Twenty minutes later they got underway in a hired car to make the ten minute drive to the Wellspring Institute.  A ten minute drive, that is, had Sherlock not ignored John's exhortation to turn right at the end of Folkestone Road and instead made the left that took them into town.  "Coffee," he replied, when John asked him where he thought he was going.  



They passed two perfectly eligible coffee shops ("There's one," John said each time, to thundering indifference) before Sherlock stopped across the street from a place called Black Cups of Dover, apparently having selected it for its quality of being in the most inconvenient possible location.  Reaching it required skirting two hundred feet of torn-up pavement where the city was repairing the gas lines, and even then the point where they finally reacquired the pavement was nearly as fouled with slick grey clay as the gas line trench itself.  



"We passed a coffee shop a block from the depot," John observed irritably.  “Not muddy enough for you?”



Exactly,” Sherlock said.


   


Whether Sherlock had ever been to Dover before there was no telling, but he drove unerringly all the same and John was not called upon to navigate.  With his good temper restored by the caffeine and his interest piqued by the area’s significant military history, he spent the short drive greedily taking in the views.  



These were rather more limited than he thought ideal.  Their route on Townwall Street wound past the ferry terminal, tracing the contour of the shoreline below the level of the famous chalk cliffs, whose steep terrain blocked his view of all but the crenellations of Dover Castle's Great Tower and made it quite impossible for him to see any of the vintage artillery which had protected that section of English coast during the great wars of the last century.  The prime view of the Casemates Balcony, which marked the southernmost end of the famous tunnels, however, very nearly made up for it.



From the docks the road turned inland and swept uphill, but before they reached the crest Sherlock made the right onto Upper Road, which carried them past high, rolling wheat fields (harvested and resown two months earlier), past the famous South Foreland Lighthouse, and into the village of St. Margaret's Bay.  



Not quite two miles southwest of the village on the seaward side of a quiet country lane stood the imposing stone uprights of the Wellspring Institute’s iron entrance gate.  Extending from the uprights on either side a two-metre high stone wall enclosed the estate on all but the cliff side; possibly it gave Wellspring’s customers a sense of security, but it put John in mind of prison walls.  This time of day, during business hours, the gates stood open, so Sherlock turned in and drove slowly down the gentle slope toward the manor house.  



Mature, brilliantly-coloured copper beeches lined either side of the winding asphalt driveway, and although the trees were at the height of their fall colour not a stray leaf could be seen:  The Wellspring Institute kept its thirty seaside acres flawlessly groomed.  The lush, rolling expanse of close-cropped, manicured lawn yielded here and there to copses of mature oaks and maples, and the entire property was laced with asphalt walking paths, themselves lined with day lilies, hostas, and perennial grasses.  Between the beeches they caught glimpses of the glittering silver and blue expanse of the Strait, although on this particular day the French coast remained shrouded in haze.  



The beeches ended where the driveway widened into a roundabout at the front of a massive three-story French Renaissance-style grey limestone manor house.  This manor house was a simple elongated rectangle, oriented from northeast to southwest to provide sea views from every room.  To the northwest of the main house, about one hundred metres away, stood the owners' residence.  This was a miniature version of the mansion, so although it was much newer and done in a duplex style it clashed neither with the original architecture nor the grounds.  Between the two buildings wound a broad asphalt walkway lined with path lights.  



In the center of the roundabout a towering bronze ‘healing hands’ sculpture rose from a circular, water-filled limestone basin; jets of water shot vertically from the palms of the hands before splashing noisily down into the basin.  John recognized it as the source of the stylized fountain image that appeared on all the Wellspring literature and product labels.  



Just before the drive made the initial sweep of the roundabout Sherlock turned left into the client car park and found a spot with fifteen minutes to spare before their appointment.



Inside the mansion everything on the ground floor was quite modern in style and completely at odds with the exterior, but with clean lines, sharp angles, and a soothing simplicity.  While the decor’s dominant colour was white, it felt neither sterile nor clinical.  The potted plants helped, as did the fabrics:  area rugs, seat cushions, and window coverings in sleek, modern prints and soothing tones of aqua, green, and cobalt.  Water and earth colours.


 


The reception desk, a white lacquer and frosted glass semi-circular affair of the sort found in upscale banks and law offices, was hard to miss, located as it was dead center in the middle of the lobby and facing the entrance.  Here John checked in as though he were registering at a hotel:  waved his phone at the scanner to pay and received his room key in exchange.  The receptionist gave him a clipboard full of forms to complete as well as  brochures and informational leaflets, all contained in a white three-ring binder screened with the fountain logo on the front cover.  The material included a schedule for his first day, and the receptionist explained that the first order of business would be having his things taken upstairs--the concierge whisked his bags away even as she said this--and meeting with Terence Stokes, one of Wellspring's four principals, at 10:30.  The meeting was expected to take about half an hour, after which Mr. Stokes would conduct them on an orientation tour of the mansion.   John would then have several hours at liberty before his afternoon appointments with Dr. Brian Kickham at one and Amanda Kickham, Wellspring’s in-house attorney, at 2:30.  



The receptionist offered them a choice of nine kinds of tea, seven varieties of water, and eleven juice blends--all declined--before they settled into the little waiting area off to one side of the reception desk, from which they launched one of Sherlock’s trial balloons.  



I still think we should have gone to a real doctor,” the detective began discontentedly.  “A proper clinic doesn’t serve drinks.”



It is a proper clinic,” John said tiredly, as though they’d had this discussion repeatedly.  “I did the research.  I told you.”



Internet research,” Sherlock replied contemptuously.  “Why must you believe everything you read on line?  Look at this:  Look at their magazine selection.”  He sorted irritably through the periodicals on the glass coffee table.  “Nature’s Way.  Natural Health & Healing.  Holistic Human.”



What did you expect?  Volcanology Weekly?  It’s a wellness centre.  Give it a rest.”



It’s rubbish.”  Sherlock crossed his arms and looked stubborn.



Scott--you know, could you be any less supportive?” John demanded.  “People who come here for help are desperate.  I’m desperate.  You know what the doctors said.  At this point I’d try to ride a unicycle across the Irish Sea if I thought it would make a difference, and this place has a great reputation.  You saw the testimonials.”



"Pfft," Sherlock said, looking away.



Anyway,” John added, “I told you:  That’s not the only thing I think they can help with.”



You mean...”  Sherlock lowered his voice. “...what happened five years ago?”



Yeah.  That.  Watching your best mate jump off a roof is one of those things that tends to stay in your memory.  If they can...you know, help me come to terms with that a little better, then that’s a good thing, don’t you think?”



Grudging concession.  “I guess.  Yes.  Of course it is.”



All right, then.”




* * * * *




At 10:33 the receptionist escorted them into the main-floor office of Terence Stokes, Wellspring’s director.  His southeast-facing office, like the lobby and reception area, was modern, sleek, and comfortable.  Sunlight streamed in through the windows and there was a fine view of the Strait.



Sherlock paused just inside the doorway, fished for his wallet, slipped his discarded ticket inside it, then stowed the wallet again.  In withdrawing his wallet he dislodged a biscotti wrapper from his pocket, and it fluttered unnoticed to the floor.



Stokes was a couple of inches taller and quite a bit broader than Sherlock, which became apparent when he stood to reach across his desk and shake their hands.  Sherlock flicked his gaze over him:  £350 charcoal-grey suit, £300 black Barker Wilson wingtip oxfords, sterling cuff links engraved with a Celtic knot pattern, an unostentatious steel Rolex watch...hair dyed black...oatmeal for breakfast...right-handed...used a rowing machine for exercise, but not often enough...affair.



The cuff links and watch made it obvious even to John, who had no idea what the suit and shoes cost, that Stokes intended to project an impression of success and professionalism in a tastefully subdued way.  In manner he was open and friendly, yet given what John knew about him he disliked the man on sight.



Well, Mr. Wilson.  Mr. Holmes," Stokes said conversationally, sitting down again and gesturing to the two chairs in front of his desk.  “Sit down, please.  How was your trip from Luton?”



Delightful,” Sherlock said before John could correct Stokes.   He shrugged out of his jacket and surprised John by rolling up his shirtsleeves as he sat down.



Wonderful,” Stokes said.  “And how are you enjoying our lovely weather?  Indian summer, I think they call it.”  



Yes,” Sherlock replied, "I know."  His manner was a little cool and aloof, although compared to what John knew him to be capable of he was verging on warmly accessible.  "The term originated in America to refer to a weather phenomenon that occurs from September to November," Sherlock added.  "It’s characterized by high pressure, light winds, haze, unseasonable warmth, and clear nights.”  He smiled at Stokes without humour.



Give it a rest,” John said wearily.  



Stokes brushed away the slight awkwardness.  “Not at all,” he said generously.  “I’m always pleased to learn something new.  Are you sure I can’t offer you something to drink?  Juice or coffee, possibly?  But then, as I understand it you’ve already stopped for coffee this morning.”  



John frowned.  “How do you know that?”  



Stokes looked down modestly.  “Well, I really should leave that sort of thing to my wife,” he said.  “Felicity.  She’s really the spiritual heart of Wellspring.  She’s a naturally gifted empath, but to hear her tell it, it can rub off on the people around her, and that’s certainly been my experience.  I can’t always say how I know such things, but know them I do, all the same.  You stopped at Black Cups of Dover on your way from the train, didn’t you?”  



John did what he could to act in character, but he was no good at that sort of thing.  “Are you saying that...spirits told you that?” he said incredulously.  



I can’t claim to be able to explain it," Stokes said, "but then reason can’t explain everything, can it?   Before Wellspring was created this house was famous for centuries as a focal point for benevolent auras and spirits.  With my wife here to serve as a conduit, it still is.  In fact, she was instrumental in our decision to purchase this property, because she realized that it sits at the confluence of a series of ley lines.  A bit of side benefit for people who are here long enough is that we tend to pick up on that psychic energy.  For instance, I know that you’re driving a Ford, that you came down from Luton by train just this morning, and that besides the coffee you enjoyed a biscotti on your way here, Mr. Holmes.”    



John hesitated, not sure where Sherlock wanted to take that information, but Sherlock, contriving to look like someone slowly being won over by the rubbish, said, “That’s absolutely amazing.”



And true?”



Yes.  All of it.”



Terence winked at John.  “Independent people like Mr. Holmes have to be won over by evidence,” he noted.  Then in a change of tone, like someone getting briskly down to business, he said, “Well, Mr. Wilson:  I understand you worked for ITV?  That you have your own film company?  That sounds very exciting.”  



Oh--not really, no,” John said modestly.   “Besides, I--we’re retired now.  We sold the company two years ago to a woman who moved to London from--Australia, wasn’t it?” he finished, looking at Sherlock.  



Perth,” Sherlock said.  



Fantastic,” Terence said.  “Forgive me for prying, but please tell me about working in television, Mr. Wilson.  It sounds very exciting:  rubbing elbows with famous actors, and so on.”  



Not really, no,” John said.  “My work was quite behind the scenes, usually.  The only sort of broadcast work I did was as an associate producer on the national news bulletins.  I ran daily operations, wrangled the copy writers, had the final say on what ended up on the prompter, things like that.  You know how they do storyboards for movies?  Well, we storyboarded the news, only of course it could be done on a cocktail napkin.  There were only two cameras, you know.  ‘Camera one on Bob for the story about the barn fire; then live to the scene; then camera one and Bob again to finish the segment; Janice on camera two to introduce the weather.’  Like that.  Not very exciting, I’m afraid, and pretty boilerplate, for the most part.”  



Stokes shook his head.  “You may say that, but it sounds quite fascinating to me.  And then you started your own company.  Just up and quit a secure job at ITV?”  



Not exactly just like that.”  John was going for modest.  “One day Im having lunch with a director and his friend at an advertising firm; Scott here was a partner in that same advertising company, and the next thing you know we were starting our own production company making corporate training videos.”  



Spotlight Productions,” Stokes said.  “That’s a very clever name.”  



Thank you,” John said.  “It was Scott’s idea.”  Sherlock beamed at him.  



Well,” Stokes said, “I think it’s admirable when a man is so thorough about his work.  You’re obviously a creative thinker who has succeeded in his chosen field despite having to overcome a few personal frailties--but you’ve compensated for those, haven’t you?”



John considered.  “I...guess so.  Yeah.”



I can tell you from personal experience that it takes quite a lot of discipline to get a business off the ground successfully,” Stokes added.  “Yet don’t you still feel worried, at times?”



Sometimes,” John admitted.  “Sure.”



You’re a decision-maker, and that role suits you, yet sometimes you wonder whether you’ve taken the right action and done the right thing, am I right?”



John couldn’t argue with that.  “I do, yes,” he said.  



All pioneers risk self-doubt and even the ridicule of their fellow men,” Stokes said philosophically.  “The trick of course is to keep an open mind.  Open-mindedness.  That’s the key to happiness, I believe.  And at Wellspring we believe it’s the key to physical well-being, too.”  



Stokes had John’s application in a folder on the desk, and now he opened it.  “Speaking of physical well-being, Mr. Wilson, according to your application you’re consulting Wellspring because you’ve been diagnosed with...MDS?  Is that correct?”  



Yeah,” John said, “about six months ago.  I always get this wrong, but it stands for...”  He concentrated very hard to remember the exact words and pronounced them as though he’d practiced reciting it.  “Myelodys...”



Dysplastic,” Sherlock said helpfully.  



Right.  Thanks.  Myelodysplastic syndrome.  They found it during a routine blood test; the doctor said I was ‘asymptomatic’ and I feel fine, actually.  Most of the time.”  



I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the condition,” Stokes said.  



Oh, sorry,” John said.  “It’s a blood disorder.  Something about the way the bone marrow produces blood cells goes all wonky.  To be honest I don’t really understand all the details.  They said that since I’m not showing any symptoms it’s possible I might never do, or I could develop leukemia next week.  They just don’t know.  But a friend of mine said that Wellspring would be just the place if I wanted to make sure it didn’t develop into something full-blown, and the more I looked into it the better it sounded, so here I am.”  



You should’ve gone to a real clinic,” Sherlock muttered discontentedly, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms defensively.  



Scott,” John warned.  “We’ve been over this and over this.  There’s nothing the doctors can do until I actually get sick, and I’d rather not actually get sick.  If we can stop this progressing...” He looked at Stokes.  “That’s why I’m here,” he said.  “To keep away from the hospitals as long as possible.”  



Absolutely right,” Stokes said.  “UK hospitals are responsible for over thirty thousand deaths from medical mistakes every year.  That’s according to the British Medical Journal itself.  Absolutely shocking, when you think about it.”  



How many people do they save?” Sherlock asked defiantly.  



It doesn’t matter,” John said.  



No, that’s quite all right,” Stokes said.  “It’s an important question.  Mr. Holmes is the sort of person who needs proof before he accepts something.  He doesn’t take the word of others just like that, do you, Mr. Holmes?”  



Certainly not,” Sherlock replied.  



Mr. Holmes can't be swayed by anything but the facts,” Stokes said.  



Sherlock simpered a bit.  “Well...yes,” he admitted modestly.  



I look forward to the challenge of winning you over, Mr. Holmes.  Why don’t I give you both a little primer on the Wellspring philosophy, and then you can make up your own mind?”



John looked at Sherlock.  “And try not being so close-minded for once,” he said.



Our foundation,” Stokes began, “is in natural remedies that support the harmony of organ systems, and that’s still our primary focus today.  The progenitor of what we call the Wellspring Protocol discovered over one hundred different substances that cured the same symptoms they produced.  In other words, he discovered the principle that ‘like cures like.’  He captured the energy--the vital force--of those substances and we’re carrying on his work today by producing a proprietary line of mother tinctures prepared from plant, mineral, and animal substances, diluting the tinctures, and thereby potentizing them for optimum efficacy.”  



Sherlock sneered.  “‘Potentizing’?”  



It’s a real thing, Scott,” John said impatiently.  “I told you.”  



It is, indeed, Mr. Holmes,” Stokes said.  “But I know you’re skeptical, so let me explain.  Drugs can’t cure disease any more than bullets can cure war.  Conformist doctors typically confine themselves to suppressing or controlling the symptoms of a disordered body and they don’t explore any further than that.  Once they’ve suppressed the symptoms they declare the patient ‘cured’ and send him home.”  Air quotes.  Patronizing tone.  “In fact we now know that this allopathic, conformist approach sort of ‘switches off’ the body’s own vital force and actually exacerbates and even creates underlying pathologies.  



The original imbalance of the organ systems is never addressed and the patient never heals, and of course that suits the people who make money off the patient just fine.  The doctors and the pharmacists have a vested interest in the status quo.”  



John smiled, because the alternative was reaching across the desk and punching Stokes.  “That’s what I keep telling him,” he said, meaning ‘Scott.’  “Cui bono, and all that.”  



That’s right,” Stokes agreed.  “Remember that doctors and drug companies naturally want to sell you more of what they’re making and prescribing.  Think about it:  If you don’t buy the medicine or if you aren’t sick, where are their profits?”  



Well, they do make billions of pounds every year,” Sherlock admitted, trying to look like someone who was being won over by a convincing argument.  It was giving him a headache.  



Now, I don’t blame the doctors,” Stokes went on.  “It’s just human nature, after all, and they’ve been brainwashed into a binary treatment model that limits them tremendously.  At Wellspring we offer an individualized approach that treats the whole patient and addresses the underlying metabolic imbalances, xenobodies, toxins, and blockages that produce disease.  And I know, Mr. Holmes:  You’re probably thinking that we seem to be doing pretty well for ourselves here, so what about our profits?”  



Sherlock looked down self-consciously.  "As a matter of fact..."



And of course this brings us back to the concept of potentizing,” Stokes said triumphantly.  “There’s your evidence.  That’s how you can be assured that we aren’t trying to take people for every last penny.  We’ve achieved the gold standard of care:  High potency substances that not only don’t add metabolic loads to the body, but actually cost less per unit as their strength increases.”  



John tried to explain that earlier,” Sherlock said, as though he were sincerely trying to understand a difficult concept.  “How can something be stronger when there’s less of it?”  



Ah, there’s that skepticism,” Stokes said approvingly.  “Succussing--shaking, in layman’s terms--energizes the tincture.  I’m sure you remember from basic physics that heat is energy, and succussing the tincture raises its temperature, adding energy and therefore potency to it.  The more the tincture is shaken--and each time we dilute it, it undergoes more shaking--the more energy is transferred to it and the more potent it becomes.  This is why additional dilutions and succussions increase the power of the treatment:  They increase the transfer of energy.”  



That’s what I told him,” John said.  



Not that convincingly,” Sherlock replied.



Stokes smiled:  Mission accomplished.  “Well, gentlemen.  If you don’t have any more questions, shall we start our tour?  After that you’ll have a bit of free time, Mr. Wilson, and then this afternoon your final two appointments with Dr. Kickham and our in-house attorney, Amanda Kickham.”  



His wife?” John asked.  



Going on eighteen years,” Stokes said.  “And my sister-in-law, by the way.  We’re a family here, Mr. Wilson, in every sense of the word.  Mr. Holmes?  You’ll be joining us on the tour, I hope?”



Oh, I wouldn’t miss it,” Sherlock said.



As Stokes closed the office door behind them he asked conversationally, “How long have you two been partners?”



Oh,” John said, considering, “we started the company back in the year twelve, so...eight years?”  



Sherlock smiled indulgently.  “I think Mr. Stokes means...you know:  partners.  Three years,” he said to Stokes before John could lodge a protest.  “It might be a stereotype, but the commitment was intimidating.  I don’t mind admitting that.  But John finally convinced me to take the plunge.”



Their first stop on the main level was the Activity Centre in the southwest wing.  This was a large, high-ceilinged, airy gym, complete with climbing wall, treadmills, ellipticals, free weights, and a salt water hot tub.  Fluffy white towels on gleaming chrome racks, water coolers, and the floor covered with interlocking cushioned tiles in a blue and green checker pattern.  The Activity Centre was available to clients twelve hours each day, from seven to seven, Stokes explained.



From the gym they continued down the main hall that ran the length of the building, dividing it into northwest- and southeast-facing rooms.  They passed the front reception area to the left, and to the right as they went by it were two great curving staircases branching off to the left and right as they ascended and ending at a common landing.  Between the reception area and the main corridor was the lift:  a modern necessity, Stokes explained.  



They passed various offices, store rooms, and a laundry on their way to the northeast end of the building and the Nutrition Centre.  Or, as John would have said, the canteen.  It was an inviting room, more like a bright, high-ceilinged internet cafe than an institutional dining hall:  sparkling clean like the rest of the Institute, with gleaming white terrazzo floors speckled with aqua and green glass chips, and floor-to-ceiling windows that let in a flood of light at this time of day.  Two sets of french doors, open now in the fine weather, led outside to a broad flagstone terrace with a spectacular view of the Strait.  Some dozen-odd residents were enjoying lunch al fresco.



They rode the lift to the first floor landing where the two curving stairways met.  The decor on the first floor came as a bit of a surprise to John, because unlike the ground floor it was done in the original style of the house, with oak flooring, walnut paneling, and an ornately coffered plaster ceiling.



Stokes took them through a set of double doors, propped open at the moment, to reach the first floor corridor from the landing, explaining that the first floor required keycard access between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and that only the four principals of Wellspring--Stokes himself, his wife Felicity, and the Kickhams--had access then.  It was a necessary precaution, he said, primarily because of the Wellness Centre, which contained Kickham’s materia medica, a stock of potent tinctures which could be dispensed only under his close supervision.  The Wellness Centre occupied the entire southeast wing of the first floor, but Stokes merely pointed it out; John would see it soon enough when he met with Kickham in about an hour.



Instead Stokes showed them the northeast wing, which consisted of two classrooms (‘Learning Centres’) and a library, and, on the northwest side of the hall, a big conference room.  Accessible only through the back of the conference room was the Reading Room, where Felicity Stokes conducted seances and made contact with the spirits of those who had passed Beyond.  



Completely optional,” Stokes said of the seances, “but we highly recommend that you attend at least one as part of your treatment here.  The most important part of the Wellspring Protocol is that we treat the totality of the individual.  Just as diseases are caused by environmental toxins, psychic toxins, as we call them, are the source of stress, tension, worry, and guilt.  It’s something we see far too often, I’m afraid.  When we cleanse the spirit as well as the body, and we help our clients address all facets of their health, we promote healing across the entire bodily system.  Each aspect reinforces the other.  Dr. Kickham says he can always tell when clients are balanced spiritually, because their physical condition improves so much more rapidly.  I do hope you’ll try to attend.”



Sounds promising,” John said, and glanced at Sherlock.  “Scott?”



Sherlock would push Mrs. Hudson down the stairs before he missed the seance, but he crossed his arms and looked obstinate.  “Maybe we should talk about it later.”



Stokes laughed.  “One of these days, Mr. Holmes, we’re going to make a believer out of you.  I just hope I’m around to see it.”



He wrapped up the tour by pointing out Amanda Kickham’s Legal Resource Centre, which John would be visiting after his appointment in the Wellness Centre, and which adjoined the conference and Reading rooms.  After escorting them to John’s room on the residence level, one floor up, he left them with the words, “Enjoy your stay, gentlemen, and welcome to Wellspring.”




* * * * *



As soon as the door closed behind them John turned to Sherlock to air his aggravation, but Sherlock held up his hand for silence.  He withdrew the TSCM--the bug detector--from his pocket and held it up for John to see, and then he methodically worked his way around the room while watching the device’s indicator light.



You know, John,” he said conversationally, “I’m starting to think you may be right about Wellspring.”



John scowled in reply and Sherlock gave him a ‘come on’ motion that made him roll his eyes.  “Really?” he said, trying to match Sherlock’s tone.  “What changed your mind?”



Oh, I don’t know,” Sherlock said airily as he reached the window and turned back to make another pass.  “Lots of things together, I guess.  I just sort of have a feeling.  Mr. Stokes was lovely, he seems to really understand people, and I just get the sense that they’re really genuinely caring people here.  I think you’ll be in good hands.”  



I’m glad you think so.  I thought it sounded like he really knew what he was talking about.”  



Beautiful grounds, too,” Sherlock went on.  “Lovely house, and the facilities are first-rate.”  



Yeah, I think so, too,” John said.  “I’m glad he was able to bring you around, not that he told you anything different than what I did.”  



He said it better.”  



Great.”  A pause.  “You know,” John said, “I think it might be a good idea to transfer another £75,000 into the account we set aside for this.”  



I think that’s an excellent idea,” Sherlock replied.  



Just as he said this the bug detector’s red LED blinked on and John heard the device buzz in vibrate mode as Sherlock approached the wall thermostat panel.  He glanced at John:  Told you.  



Well,” Sherlock said brightly, “I’ll be in the bog.”  Then he mouthed, “Knife,” and John unclipped the SOG from his front pocket and passed it over.   Sherlock dropped the detector back into his pocket and used the knife to pry the cover off the thermostat, revealing the interior electronic components--and a little listening device.



John didn’t recognize it as a bug, but Sherlock went straight to it and used the knife to gently remove it from the thermostat’s circuit board, to which it was attached with a simple adhesive backing.  It easily fit on the pad of his index finger and he held it out for John to see.  To John it looked like the thermostat’s circuit board in miniature.



Sherlock carried the tiny device to the desk, where he snapped the light on as he sat down.  John couldn’t tell a transistor from a transformer, but Sherlock worked confidently.   From his pocket he produced a little toolkit, selected a small pair of tweezers, and used them to remove one of the bug’s tiny ceramic components, far smaller than a rice grain.  He replaced the tiny component with another apparently identical one from a little zip-seal bag of parts.  “That’s got you,” he muttered to himself with satisfaction.  He waved the detector over the bug, received a green light this time, then reapplied the device to the thermostat circuit board.  He replaced the cover and turned to smile at John, quite pleased with himself.



Again John opened his mouth to speak, but again Sherlock held up his hand.  Only when he had satisfied himself that the bathroom, too, was clear of electronic eavesdropping devices did he break the silence.



We’re clear,” he said.  “Nice touch with the bank transfer.”  He lowered himself into one of the two armchairs by the big bay window.



John didn’t even acknowledge that he’d spoken and he was far too agitated to sit down.  He went straight to what had been ticking him off for the last three-quarters of an hour.  “‘Doctors have a vested interest in keeping people sick or they won’t make a profit’?” he said, outraged.  “I must’ve been a complete idiot busting my arse slogging through epidemiology.  I could have coasted through university and made a fortune just by coughing on people and making them ill.”  



Sherlock grinned.  “So Stokes was right,” he said.  



About what?”  



You do wish you’d done some things differently.”  



Oh, come on, Sherlock,” John said disgustedly.  “That doesn't prove anything.  There isn’t a human being on the planet he couldn’t say that about.”  



Sherlock just smiled.  



And you already knew that,” John said.  



It’s a common technique,” Sherlock explained didactically, “and it’s based on a famous psychological phenomenon.  So famous that it has a name.  Well, two, really.  It’s variously attributed to P.T. Barnum or Bertram Forer.  The reader makes sweeping generalizations, often complimentary, that apply to virtually everyone, and the ‘effect’ is the tendency of the mark to attribute the qualities to himself, overlooking the fact that the statements are so general that they could apply equally to virtually anyone.  The mark is the one who does all the mental heavy lifting by convincing himself of the reader’s far-sightedness.  It’s what makes the cold reading technique so effective.”  



Cold reading,” John repeated.  



Yes.  As opposed to ‘hot’ reading, which is what they’re doing with the surveillance:  using listening devices, video, or information passed from a confederate.  It’s quite common for ‘psychics’ to comb through the papers for marriage announcements, engagements, and obituaries.  Any sort of foreknowledge, however attained, is considered hot reading.  And finally you have warm reading, also called ‘the rainbow ruse.’”



Rainbow ruse.”



Very useful for creating an impression of mystical insight.  John, you’re a very kind and considerate person, but when somebody violates your trust it makes you very angry.”



John frowned:  Duh.  “Yeah?”  But Sherlock just waited, and finally John said, “That was a rainbow statement?”



Ruse.  You’re usually an optimistic sort of person, but there have been other times in your past when you’ve been quite upset.”



I get it.”



There’s no one in the world that those statements don’t apply to.  A skilled cold reader combines the techniques of cold reading, warm reading, and, if he can, hot reading, to produce the impression of mystical insight into the character of the mark, when in fact he’s just making vague, often contradictory generalizations that are true of everyone.”



John considered.  “So basically it’s just an elaborate fishing expedition.”



Essentially,” Sherlock replied, “but there’s nothing ‘just’ about it.  It takes practice and requires fairly close observation of the mark’s physical and emotional reactions.  It is a very effective way of convincing a complete stranger that you have a hotline to mystical insight.  Assuming that the complete stranger is also a complete idiot.”



Which is exactly what Stokes was trying to do.”



Mm.”



John sat down in the other lounge chair.  “Is he any good?”



A shrug.  “He did it well enough to meet the unfastidious standards of the people he’s likely to encounter here, but that’s not a very high bar.  Obviously he got a lot of that ‘mystical’ information from your fake social media profile.  The media and production company connections suggest that you have a certain level of creativity.  Resigning from an established career in television and starting a new company from scratch mid-life implies a need or at least a high tolerance for change and risk, as well as confidence and the ability to self-promote in social situations.  In contrast, seeing you in person would lead him to believe that you’re actually somewhat reserved; he had no way of knowing that he was looking at self-restraint for the purpose of not punching him.”



John smiled.  “What about the rest of it?  Success in spite of personality weaknesses?  Thorough in my work?  That another ‘no shit’ ruse?”



Rainbow ruse.  Slovenly work habits are unlikely to result in a successful, self-generated business worth millions of pounds,” Sherlock said.  “You’re an independent, creative thinker?  Again, almost a pre-requisite for a successful businessman working in the arts or media.   Your success in life occurred in spite of your weaknesses?  Who doesn’t have weaknesses that he compensates for?  Besides me.  But you see how all this works?”  



Yeah, I get it,” John said.  “He used a combination of what he researched and what he saw, plus stuff that applies universally to everyone--”



To create an impression of foreknowledge, or a supernatural source of knowledge.  The vanity of the mark--that would be you--is what he counts on for the rest.  It’s a carnival trick.”



If I didn’t know better I’d say that sounds a lot like what you do,” John said.  “Is that how you think of people you read?  As marks?”  He regretted the words at once.



Sherlock’s head went up in a gesture of annoyance. “You do know better,” he said.  “Don’t you?”  



John winced:  sorry he’d taken his bad mood out on Sherlock.  “Yeah.  I do.  Sorry.”  



Sherlock remained nettled.  “My method is to make specific observations of concretes from which I form logical inferences and inductions.  More to the point, the purpose of Terence Stokes' parlour tricks is to deceive.  The purpose of my work is to enlighten.”  



I’m sorry, mate,” John said again.  



And no,” Sherlock went on, “I don’t think of people as ‘marks.’  I think of them as idiots.”   As intended, this elicited a smile from John, and Sherlock studied him thoughtfully.  He neither shared nor understood the ease with which John granted his solicitude to strangers, nor did he much approve of it, but over time he had learned to make peace with it.  Right now, though, it was threatening to interfere with John’s ability to see this project through.  



Because there was no crisis, no immediate threat to life or limb, John was not concentrating like he would if he were in emergency mode.  Sherlock had seen him in that mode often enough and admired him extremely for his focus, determination, and effectiveness during emergencies, medical and otherwise.  It was what made John brilliant as a doctor and as a companion to the world’s only consulting detective.  Just now, however, without an immediate crisis to occupy him, John was allowing his personal opinion about Wellspring’s fraud to absorb his attention.  By taking the moral question personally--something he habitually did, Sherlock knew--John was permitting all sorts of irrelevant considerations to interfere with his focus, his effectiveness, and potentially his safety.  Sherlock couldn’t let that continue.



His voice was not unkind when he said, “I know you want to help these people, John, but you can't do that if you can't do the work.”



In spite of his tone the sentiment stung.  “I am doing the work,” John replied irritably.  



Are you?   I haven’t been rude to anyone since breakfast and yet you’re still cross.”



John sighed wearily.  “Not with you,” he said.  “It’s this place.  I know you think I shouldn’t care, but--”



No,” Sherlock said.  “Care all you like.  But you need to decide which is more important:  caring or helping."  



"Most people would say it’s the same thing."



No doubt.  I’d say that caring alone can’t help anyone.  Without your skill as a doctor you could care about a patient until you turned blue and not do any good.  This is no different.  Well, there’s less blood, usually.  Very often.  Sometimes.  You know what I mean.”



John was perfectly aware of what Sherlock was trying to tell him:  His emotions were threatening to shift his focus from the mechanics of what they needed to do.   “You’re right.”



Yes.”



I hate that.”



A smug smile.  "No, you don't."



John indicated the thermostat.  “What was that you took out of there?”



Oh.  Audio bug,” Sherlock said.  “Runs on a lithium battery for about 120 hours before it has to be replaced.  Economical.  Easily concealed.”  



What did you do to it?”  



Replaced a real component with a dummy.  They’ll assume it just stopped working.  They won’t be able to tell it’s been tampered with.”  



You get that stuff from the internet, too?”  



MI6,” Sherlock said.  “They owed me a favor.  Well, I say ‘a.’”



You knew Wellspring would be using stuff like that,” John said, half disbelieving that people--even these people--could stoop to that level of deception, and half admiring Sherlock for having anticipated it.  



It would be strange if they didn’t,” Sherlock said.  “There’s no such thing as telepathy or second sight or whatever people like to call it.  Yet these people manage to part customers from millions of pounds every year.  How?  Obviously they cheat.  It’s not miraculous or magic.  It’s just eavesdropping and duct tape.”  



John started to say something, then changed his mind and sat silently, looking thoughtful.   Sherlock eyed him suspiciously.  “What?”



Nothing,” John said.  



John.”



It’s just...I know these people are scamming the clients.  I know that.  I know they’re using techniques as old as time and I see how Stokes did the...the cold reading.”



But?”



But I’ve also seen people do things that...Okay, that make it seem like they have some kind of foresight, I suppose you’d call it.”



It’s very unlikely I’d call it that.  What are you talking about?”



Well...In the army.  There were times when some of the guys seemed to know when an attack was imminent or when the supply convoys were going to be late.”



Sherlock looked so disappointed that John was sorry he’d ever opened his mouth.  “John, do you know how unscientific that sounds?”



Yeah--”



“‘Seemed to know’?  Based on what?  Compared to what?  What was your control?  How many trials did you conduct?  I know you know what confirmation bias is--”



I know,” John said, exasperated.  “It just struck me as strange at the time, okay?”



Sherlock rode right over that.  “How many times have you heard idiots get a phone call from someone and say--” adopting a high-pitched idiot voice “--‘I was just thinking about you!  I was just picking up the phone to call you!’  People take that as some kind of psychic connection, but how many times a day, a week, a month, a year do they not pick up the phone at the same time?  Nobody keeps track of that and it happens far more often, but what do they remember?  The hits, not the misses.  Confirmation bias.  



Would you have remembered the supply incidents if the soldier had been wrong and the supplies arrived on time?  Of course not.  In those circumstances the brain records successes and forgets failures.  That produces an apparent but not actual pattern of foreknowledge--‘psychic’ ability, if you have to call it that.  If you thought your friends had some sort of supernatural ability to predict the future movements of supply vehicles, then I’m sure you went straight to your CO and brought it to his attention?  It would be an incredibly useful skill, if it weren’t complete fantasy.”



What about sensing imminent attacks?” John shot back.



Easy,” Sherlock said.  “You’ve seen me take one concrete observation after another, add them up in the time it takes to observe them, and reason out a conclusion that leaves you standing there with your mouth open until I explain the intervening steps.  I do it at will, through focus and practice, but frequently people make observations without being explicitly aware of them and through a similar--but unconscious and primitive--process come to a conclusion.  They don’t have the command of their own brains to realize that they perceived all those clues, so they describe the result as ‘a feeling’--” sneering “--or a ‘sixth sense,’ but you of all people, John, should understand the process by now.  The key is to have the awareness to make it a conscious skill that you can control and use, a skill that derives abstractions from the observed concretes, and that takes more focus than most people are willing to exert even if they believed it was possible.  Most people don’t believe it’s possible.  You know it is.”



John was embarrassed that they were even having this discussion, and by now he was very eager to change the subject.   “What did you think of the initial interview?” he asked.  “Get anything from that?”  



He’s actually quite skilled at observation,” Sherlock said, “compared to the average.  Not compared to me, obviously.  Strictly an amateur by that standard, but he picked up on nearly everything I gave him.  The make of the car, the coffee shop, the biscotti.”



Yeah, well, he thought we came down from Luton, so he doesn’t know everything.”



Doesn’t he?  You remember that I picked up a ticket on the platform?”



Yeah.”



Sherlock took the stub from his wallet and passed it to John.  “He saw it when I slipped it into my wallet,” he said.



“‘Luton,’” John read. “Well, how did he know the rest of that stuff?”



Quite skilled,” Sherlock repeated.  “Whereas you, John, are singularly unobservant.  Compared to the average.  He didn’t know it, he observed it.  If you remember I rolled my sleeves up as we sat down.  You wondered about it at the time, but I was testing him.  Taking off my coat drew attention to the coffee stain on my shirt cuff, rolling up my sleeves drew even more, and I ‘accidentally’ dropped the biscotti wrapper when I took out my wallet.  We passed three coffee shops between here and the train station, so how did he know where we stopped?”



Lucky guess?”



Or he observed this massive smear of white clay-based mud--” pointing to the outside of his right shoe, on which John could just make out a tiny light-colored streak on the side of the sole  “--which I could only have acquired outside the Black Cups store.  We had to skirt the construction zone just outside the shop where they’re putting in new gas lines; you whinged about it at the time.   Then there’s the make and model of the car:  The manufacturer’s logo is on the key fob, and I made sure to have it in my hand when the receptionist showed us in.  Simple.”  



Yeah, simple,” John agreed, and glanced at his watch.  “I have to be in the Wellness Centre in ten minutes.  Coming?”



Pass.”



What are you going to do?”



Think.”



Think,” John repeated.  “Great.  Don’t you want to check out that--whatever they call it.  Meditation grove?  The ghost?  The lights that Abigail saw?”



All in good time.  She didn’t see anything in broad daylight.”



John stood, then paused and turned back to Sherlock.  “Stokes thinks we’re a couple.  If he’s so observant, how did he ‘notice’ something that doesn’t exist?”



Doesn’t it?”



John snorted.  “Of course it--What the hell?  You know it doesn’t.”



"You're besotted with me, John," Sherlock said simply.  “Obviously I'm not saying there's a romantic component,” he added when John opened his mouth to protest, “but clearly on some level Stokes picked up on your infatuation, platonic though it may be."



John responded with gratifying outrage.  "I am not infat--look, could you get over yourself at all?  Ever?"



Don’t shoot the messenger, John,” Sherlock said serenely.  “I’m just telling you that the man didn’t produce that inference from thin air.”  And he stood up, languidly extended one long arm, and tweaked John's collar back up, the way he had done in the flat.



John glared at him, but there was an expectant quality to Sherlock’s self-satisfied expression and finally John realized what he’d done:  That thing Sherlock had him do with his collar before they left home was some kind of universally-recognized signal flagging him as gay.  “The damned jumper,” he growled, as Sherlock went pink with laughter.  “You prick.”




* * * * *




At the Wellness Centre John was greeted cheerily by the young receptionist (Caroline, according to her name tag), who almost immediately offered him something to drink.  If he needed any more proof that Wellspring wasn’t running an orthodox medical clinic, this was it:  Real doctors didn’t offer their patients drinks.  In fact, John realized now that he thought of it, everyone at the Institute steadfastly referred to the customers as ‘clients’ rather than as ‘patients.’  On the advice of their attorney, no doubt.



Thwarted on the drink front, Caroline provided him instead with a pen and a clipboard full of forms to fill out.  She was cute and forward and John was gearing up to flirt with her when he remembered that on this case he was not supposed to like girls.



Three other people--two middle-aged women and a young man--were already in the waiting area when he sat down.  The Wellness Centre was done in the same modern style as the lobby:  various shades of white, an impression of overall cleanliness--not hard to achieve since real medicine wasn’t happening anywhere near it--modern furnishings, comfortable steel and leather chairs in the waiting area, attractive grey ceramic tile made to look like bleached wood, and an overall impression of cutting-edge modernity.



Another young woman--labeled Tracy--showed him back into the clinic.  She carried a clipboard and wore scrubs so he knew she was official.  She weighed him (71 kg) and measured his height (173 cm), and then she showed him back to a little exam room, where he sat on the padded table as she took his blood pressure (110 over 70).  She asked a few basic questions about smoking, his overall health (good except for the blood issue), and spent a few minutes clacking at the laptop computer on the desk before telling him that Dr. Kickham would be in very shortly.  



Kickham followed the pattern of traditional doctors in having a loose definition of ‘very shortly,’ and John idled for, by his count, a good seventeen minutes, which gave him ample time to study the framed and matted inspirational posters on the wall, the rack of brochures touting the benefits of acai and warning of the danger of Lyme disease, and the chart pinned to the back of the door titled ‘Meridians & Acupoints.’  He’d not encountered the term ‘meridians’ in the context of his human anatomy studies, but no doubt QM covered it on that day in 1996 when he skipped class.



At last there was a tap on the door and Dr. Brian Kickham entered.  He was trim-looking guy in his mid-forties, a few centimetres taller than John, with dark hair, brown eyes, and a full but neatly groomed beard.  He wore saddle-brown wingtips, a button-down blue dress shirt with the top button undone, and a stylish navy tie with paisley dots, slightly loose at the knot.   A de rigueur white lab coat completed the rig.  



Kickham’s manner was friendly but not jovial, and he clearly took his job seriously, although John still couldn’t tell whether that was because it paid so well or because Kickham genuinely believed in what he was selling.  He wondered whether these people went home at night and laughed among themselves about the saps they’d just conned that day, or whether they deceived themselves, as well, and he decided as he listened to Kickham patter on that it didn’t matter:  They acted as though it was real, they convinced other people that it was real, and the deleterious effects of that were real.



I’m pleased you’ve come to Wellspring,” Kickham said when they’d got the pleasantries out of the way, “but I wish it were under better circumstances.  I understand that you’ve been diagnosed with MDS?”  



Right, yeah,” John said.  “They said I was asymptomatic, and to be honest I wouldn’t have even known about it except that it showed up on a routine blood test.  Then they started talking about leukemia and transfusions or even bone marrow transplants some day, and I said, you know:  Forget it.  I’d rather do something less invasive and more effective now than wait until it comes to that.”



Of course, of course,” Kickham said wholeheartedly.  “I absolutely agree.  Well, while a ‘cure’ for cancer remains elusive, we have a panoply of therapies available here at Wellspring designed to support your body’s ability to prevent your MDS from progressing into full-blown leukemia.  We’ll combine those therapies with a nutritional programme that will help switch off the cancer genes and promote your body’s ability to react better to stress.  



But before we get to the good stuff we’ll have you fill out a complete a bio-energy screening--a sort of overall health inventory.  Then I’ll be able to accurately tailor a treatment protocol for you.   The inventory is a series of questions to assess your temperament, personality, and the state of your psychological and physiological health.  Takes about half an hour.  I assume you’re at least somewhat familiar with our philosophy here or you wouldn’t have chosen us?”



Yeah, I think so.  I’ve heard a lot of good things about Wellspring in general and there were some people I used to work with who swear by your preparations, so I’m familiar to that point.  But I am interested to hear how you got involved with Wellspring.  You’re an MD, yeah?”



Yes, that’s right,” Kickham said.  “But the longer I studied conventional medicine the more convinced I became that as doctors we were doing people a disservice.  Allopathic medicine is primarily evidence-based, not results-based, and when we insist on a one-size-fits-all approach we just limit our ability to help people.  I eventually found it quite frustrating that so many people weren’t being successfully treated, all because traditional medicine isn’t willing to be more broad-minded.  Its practitioners deliberately restrict themselves to a binary method of care that results in less fluid thinking.”



How do you mean?” John asked.  He had no idea what Kickham was talking about.



Well,” Kickham said, “when I say ‘fluid thinking’ I mean that just because a medical trial proves that a treatment or a chemical compound is ‘effective’ in a sterile laboratory that doesn’t mean that it will help any given patient, and just because a given individual is helped by a certain remedy or treatment doesn’t mean that the effectiveness of that remedy can be replicated on a mass scale.  I really couldn’t see spending my entire career just pretending that half the population didn’t exist and being a shill for Big Pharma, collecting pens and paperweights and free doughnuts in exchange for pushing their chemicals on people.  That’s why I was so excited to be able to develop what we call the Wellspring Protocol.  It treats the individual client as an individual.  Let me give you an example of what I mean:  I treated a client recently who arrived here with polychronisia.”



Polychronisia,” John repeated slowly.  There was no such disease as ‘polychronisia.’



That’s right.  That client responded remarkably well to a 9C tincture of cervus elaphus antler.”  



Cervus elaphus?” John said.  



Red deer,” Kickham said.  “Anyone, Mr. Wilson, can make a supplement.  Anyone can take a supplement.  What Wellspring has done is to actually close the circle of life.”  He made a closing motion with his hands.  “That’s far more important and difficult to do.  The earth’s own energy sustains and nurtures every living thing:  plants, animals, and of course us.  When the deer eats the plants it becomes part of a process of energy transfer that is millions of years old.  The deer’s body uses the energy to grow its antlers.  If we then take a little of that antler and create what we call a mother tincture with it, we close the circle of life by using the energy that has originated within the earth, passed through the plants to the deer, and now to us.  



We select and apply all our ingredients very carefully because they’re so potent, and how we apply them and in what doses depends on the client, the disease he presents with, and his personality type.  The same thing that treated my client’s polychronisia may very well be the solution to your MDS.  Or it may not.  That’s where the bio-energy inventory comes in.  The point is that allopathic doctors use a blinkered, one-size-fits-all binary approach that’s disease-specific, not person-specific, and that’s the opposite of what we do here.”



Like trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole?” John suggested.



Very much like that,” Kickham agreed, pleased that John grasped the concept.  



So you’ll be prescribing...deer antlers?” John asked.



Possibly.  Possibly,” Kickham said.  “That depends on the results of your inventory.  The important thing to remember is that because Wellspring remedies are formulated on energetic principles instead of biochemical ones, and because they contain only tiny amounts of physical material, they work without adding a metabolic load to the body, and when you’re already in a state of organ congestion that’s a very critical difference.”



Organ congestion, John thought.  Christ.  But what he said was, “That makes sense.”



"You're...how old, Mr. Wilson?" Kickham asked.



Forty-eight.”



You’ve been immersed for forty-eight years in the idea that doctors and drug companies have been promoting:  the idea that more is better.  But you have to ask yourself:  In a situation like that, who benefits from that arrangement?  The more they sell and the more medicine you take and the higher the dose, the more they profit, correct?”



Of course,” John said.



If you don’t buy their medicine or if you aren’t sick, what happens to their profits?  Don’t you think that they have a pretty good motive for not wanting us to tell people that less is more?”



Oh, I know they have a good motive for that,” John said sincerely.



"If the cancer industry--to name just the area that concerns you now--allows a cure to be found, what happens to all their patients?  To all their profits?"



John hesitated:  unsure how he was expected to answer the apparently rhetorical question.



"They go away, of course," Kickham said.  "If you notice, the cancer industry spends all its money on treating cancer, not on diet and exercise guidelines that could help cure or prevent it.  Whereas with the Wellspring Protocol we offer cost-effective remedies that rely on energetic medicine that captures the essence of the original substance.”



Well,” John said, “as long as it’s effective I guess I don’t have to totally understand all the big medical terms.”  He was obviously expected to just accept the patter, not parse it.



Kickham smiled benignly at him.  A failure to question was just what he wanted.  “Shall we get started on your health inventory?”



Kickham left John with a pen and a ‘bio-energetic screening’ booklet containing statements to which he was asked to respond using a scale of zero to five, with five indicating strong agreement.  Statements like, ‘I schedule regular deep-tissue massages,’ ‘Nature makes me feel energized and empowered,’ and  ‘I’m very aware of my qi.’  While he had no idea what ‘qi’ was, awareness of it was apparently desirable, so he answered ‘5,’ and in general selected answers which he believed would stamp ‘patsy’ firmly on his forehead.



Other sections of the booklet alleged to assess both his physical health and his temperament, and finally he reached an essay question asking him to describe his ‘whole state.’  Uncertain what ‘whole state’ meant in that context he decided to answer the question literally, describing himself as happy to be retired, pleased to be rich, and thrilled to be married to Scott, as well as concerned by his MSD diagnosis but hopeful and optimistic about trusting his care to Wellspring.



As advertised, the inventory took him about half an hour, after which he recalled Kickham, who carried it off and five minutes later returned with the news that John’s MDS was very likely an acute expression of at least one underlying chronic condition resulting from autointoxication, which pointed to an immediate need to detoxify his body and balance the emunctory function of his organs.  



To that end he presented John with several 80 ml brown glass vials with black stoppers, all labeled with the Wellspring logo and Kickham’s ‘I guarantee it’ quote, and two pill bottles filled with red and white #4 gelcaps.  



We’re going to start you off pretty aggressively,” Kickham announced, “with the Wellspring Cancer Defence Protocol.  This is Quantum Carcinosin 30C,” he added, handing John a brown stoppered vial.  “The first line of defense in our arsenal.  The ‘quantum’ designation is reserved for our most potent line of products, at 30C and up.”



30C?”



Thirty one hundred-fold dilutions,” Kickham said.  “Remember that the more dilutions, the more potent the remedy.”



Oh, right.  Of course.”



I’ve had a lot of success with tumour regression using ruta 3C and calcarea phosphorica as well,” Kickham went on.  “Technically MDS isn’t a tumour, but it can be a precursor to leukemia, and then your inventory results suggest very strongly that with your temperament you’ll respond very well to the combination.”  He passed John a brown vial--the ruta--and a pill bottle:  the calcarea phosphorica.  



This,” he added, holding up another pill bottle, “is a potent anti-oxidant booster that promotes the repair and healing of oxidative damage to the cells; it’s a combination of calcarea sulphurica and silicea tera, as well as MSM.  I’m also prescribing our Inflamma-No, which promotes anti-oxidant action at a nano-colloidal cellular level, so it supports joint and heart health.  It’s a non-addictive, safe way to fight oxidative stress on the cells.  The active ingredient is Boswellia serrata extract.  Finally, this is a preparation of hydrastis, which supports emunctory drainage of toxins."  He handed John a stoppered bottle labeled ‘D-Tox.’



As John read the labels, frowning in spite of himself, Kickham misread his expression.  “Don’t be too concerned, Mr. Wilson,” he said reassuringly.  “All of our preparations are bioavailable, gluten- and lactose-free, and of course non-addictive.”



Okay...” John said vaguely.  He was a little distracted by reading the labels.  



I know it looks like a lot of different remedies,” Kickham said, “but we need to jump-start your metabolism so your body can eliminate the malignant tissue and restore itself to wellness.  As we progress in your treatment we’ll reassess you each week and fine-tune the process.  You’ll most likely be able to cut back or combine several remedies to streamline what you’re taking each day.  Also, I’d like you to come in Friday morning for a detoxification session.”



Friday?”  John considered:  If there was a god Sherlock’s investigation would be done by then.  “What will that involve?”



I’d like you to have a B12 injection--that’s the jump-start I talked about--and a hydrogen peroxide drip.  The peroxide drip flushes toxins naturally, and I think you’ll feel a big improvement immediately.”



John wasn’t sure he’d heard Kickham correctly.  “A hydrogen peroxide drip?” he said.  “You mean, like an IV drip?  Into the veins?”



Yes,” Kickham said airily.  “When hydrogen peroxide comes into contact with blood it undergoes an enzymatic reaction that releases large amounts of oxygen.  That oxygen is carried through the bloodstream and has tremendous benefits for areas of the body that are oxygen-deprived, and it also inhibits anaerobic organisms like cancer, because as you probably know, cancer cells can’t survive when oxygen is present.”



It occurred to John that Sherlock would probably not approve if he informed Kickham that tumours well-supplied with oxygenated blood often experienced more rapid growth, and that since human tissue required roughly 225 ml of oxygen per minute it was in any case impossible to dissolve enough additional oxygen in a normal adult’s blood to affect how much oxygen the cancer cells would receive.  So instead he said, “Isn’t hydrogen peroxide...you know...dangerous to inject directly into the veins?”



No, no, not at all.  A very safe procedure,” Kickham assured him, “and it has very wide-ranging benefits.  Everything from promoting optimal kidney and liver function to discouraging asthma, memory problems, urinary tract infections, cancer, headaches, brittle nails...”



I’ve never heard of it before,” John said.



That doesn’t surprise me,” Kickham said tolerantly.  “But it does sadden me.  Do you know why you won’t ever hear a ‘real’ doctor mention it?”



Because it's utter bollocks, John thought, but he shook his head “No.”



Because there’s no way for the cancer industry to patent hydrogen peroxide.  It exists everywhere naturally, even in our own bodies.  There’s no way for the medical industry to make a couple of quid off it, so they dismiss it and suppress the knowledge of its benefits.”  Kickham stopped and smiled self-consciously.  “I’m getting myself all worked up, I’m afraid,” he said, “but it’s a great pet peeve of mine.  Well.  Any more questions?  No?  Then I’ll see you Friday morning for your B12 and detox drip.  Make sure you stop and see Caroline at the desk on your way out and she’ll schedule you for a follow-up for next week, when we’ll re-evaluate.”




* * * * *




After escaping the Wellness Centre John endured his appointment at the Legal Resource Centre, then returned to his room and found Sherlock perched on the back of one of the two arm chairs with his stockinged feet on the seat, staring out the window at the Channel.  As far as John could tell he’d not moved in the last two hours.  



At that time of day with the sun above and slightly behind the window the visibility across the water was quite good.  Not quite good enough for France, but there was a deal of shipping in the Channel and Sherlock appeared to be watching it.  He offered no sign that he knew John was back, but as John approached him he said, without turning around, “Jardin du Nuit.  Nice.  £125 for ten mils.  The lawyer, I hope, unless there’s something you want to tell me.”



What?”  



Perfume,” Sherlock said.  “Chypre family.  Mossy, warm, with a note of neroli.”



Oh...uh,” John said, “yeah, I guess she was wearing something."  He plucked at his shirt and sniffed.  Smelled like flannel.  "You know that thing where you smell people is sort of--”



Remarkable?”



Disturbing.”



John lowered himself into the other chair and dropped the white plastic bag of remedies on the occasional table.  



Building maintenance was here,” Sherlock informed him.



That didn’t seem like something Sherlock would typically find noteworthy.  “Oh?”



Said they were getting a trouble signal from the rooms environmental controls.  They figured out that their bug died.”



And theyre obviously getting another trouble signal right now.”



Sherlock smiled.  Then he slid down into the chair properly, focused on John, and said, “Reminding myself that I’ll be sorry I asked, tell me everything you remember about the lawyer.”  



What do you mean, ‘sorry you asked’?”  



John, please.  Before everything dribbles away from you.”  



For God’s sake.”  John reflected on his appointment with the attorney.  “She was, I don’t know, late thirties?  Uh...sort of blondish hair; I don’t know what kind of style you call it, but it hit just about here--” holding his hand just below his ears “--and she didn’t have anything in it.  No clips or anything.  About my height, I guess, but she was wearing low heels, so maybe five-four”?  Thin, but it looked like she works out.  Nicely dressed in trousers--”  



What sort of material?”  



Seventy percent silk, thirty percent cotton blend, dry clean only.”  Sherlock stared at him.  “I don’t know what sort of material,” John cried irritably.  “Blue.  Blue trousers and a matching jacket.  I didn’t ask to see the damned label.  She had a white blouse with one of those frilly things down the front.  She was wearing a Rolex, I remember that.  Otherwise no jewellery except her wedding ring.  That was a pretty good-sized stone, though.”  



Excellent, John.”  



Really?”  



No.  Not in the slightest.  ‘Frilly things’?  ‘Blondish’?  Have you learned nothing in the last ten years?”  



What I’ve learned is that no matter what I ‘observe’ it’s never the right thing.  If you wanted a great steamy gawk at the damned lawyer you should have come along.  Or make your own appointment with her.”  



All in good time,” Sherlock said serenely.  “What did you talk about?”  



Nothing.  Legal stuff.  You know.  She said it was a good idea to put Wellspring in charge of all my money, I said ‘Yes, please,’ and I have carpal tunnel from signing all the forms.  Living will, living trust, power of attorney.  Those are the ones I remember.”



Excellent,” Sherlock said again, only this time he meant it.  His phone chimed with an incoming text.  “From Melas,” he observed, and turned the phone so John could see the screen.



John peered at it.  “‘The Force is with you,’” he read.  “What the hell?”



Sherlock rolled his eyes.  “I don’t know what it means, but he insisted on having some sort of ‘secret code’ to let us know if someone at Wellspring got into your financial records.”



That was fast.  I just left there.”



Mm.”



You were right about them doing their homework.”



Yes.”  The information didn’t surprise Sherlock so he returned to business.  “What about your colleague?  Anything stand out there?”  



John regarded him suspiciously:  He was tired of getting the sarcasm when he didn’t ‘observe’ exactly what Sherlock thought he should have.  “Other than he’s a perfect fraud?  He’s got a framed diploma from East Anglia’s medical school, I remember that.”



Please.  I could fake one of those in five minutes.”  



He knew what MDS is.”  



Are you sure he didn’t just look it up on Quest before your appointment?”  



No.”  



Well, as it happens he is an actual MD.  I checked.”  



He probably still had to look it up,” John said, “but he didn’t miss class the day they covered making the patient sit around for twenty minutes before you bother to show up.”



Sherlock smiled.  “Get anything from him?”



John thought back, made a vague, hopeless gesture and said, “Christ, I don’t know.  ‘Fluid thinking... Antlers...Meridians...Nothing legitimate medically, that’s for sure.”



Antlers?”  



Dont ask.  Something about venous drainage, too."



"Venous... Like with a knife?"



"I doubt it.  Oh, and I’m scheduled for an IV hydrogen peroxide drip on Friday, so if you don’t mind I’d like you to wrap this case up before then.”



A what?”



Hydrogen peroxide drip.



Sherlock stared at him.  “H2O2.”



Yep.”



Injected intravenously.”



Yep.”



More staring.  “Isnt that...”



Fatal?  Yeah, it can be, if they dont take the right precautions.  Im not doing it, if thats what youre thinking.  I dont care what the case requires.  Ill reschedule it indefinitely.”  John looked out the window at the sea.  “Christ, Sherlock.  Ive never heard so much crap in my life.   Yeah, I know I have an advantage because I went to school--”



You have an advantage because you arent a credulous idiot.”



--but forget medical school.  How can anyone hear a sales pitch like that and believe it?”  It was a rhetorical question.  Sherlock didn’t answer and John didn’t wait for him.  “All he did was invent and misrepresent stuff about real medicine without presenting a single shred of evidence that what hes selling instead is the slightest bit effective.  Well, unless you think the plural of ‘anecdote’ is ‘data.’”



John, if he were used to an audience that required evidence he wouldn’t be here.”  Sherlock reached for the white plastic bag.  “Those your miracle cures?” he asked.



Hm?  Oh, yeah.  Allegedly.  Probably talcum powder.”



Sherlock fished the vials and bottles out and examined the labels.  “Mmm,” he said sardonically.  “Quantum Cancer-B-Gon in a 30C dilution.  Potent.  Must be dead careful handling this.”  He dropped it negligently back into the bag and tossed the bag back onto the table.  



Yeah, there’s something else in there that’s 3C,” John said.  “Rutabaga, or something.  Kickham went over it, but I was afraid that if I didn’t just act like I was taking him on faith he’d get suspicious.  What the hell is that 30C stuff, do you know?”



It refers to the number of dilutions they make of the initial solution.  A 30C concentration means that the original compound has been diluted by a factor of ten to the sixtieth power.  That’s thirty-seven times more than Avogadro’s constant.  In the known universe there are something like ten to the eightieth atoms, if that gives you an idea of how extensively this stuff’s been diluted.  The smallest fraction of a non-elemental substance you can have is a single molecule of it, correct?”



Sure.”



To produce a 30C dilution starting with that single molecule you’d need a bucket of water thirty billion times the size of the earth.  The only thing in this vial is--” he unscrewed the cap and sniffed “--ethanol.  That’s it.  Even at a dilution of 12C there’s only one quadrillionth of the original substance left.  Less than a single molecule per litre, assuming that they started with a mole of the stuff.  The equivalent of a pinch of salt in the Atlantic Ocean.  At 30C it’s been diluted so many times that there’s nothing of the original left.  It contains more contaminants from the lab than it does active ingredients.”



Kickham swears that the dilution is what makes it so potent.”



If your sister were drinking it, possibly.  Not otherwise.  Otherwise it’s rubbish on the face of it.  Even the idea that there’s some sort of energy increase from all the shaking is complete rot.  Shaking will raise the temperature--very minutely, and very briefly.  By the time the stuff’s in the hands of the mark, what do you think its temperature is?”



Back to ambient,” John said.



Exactly.  There’s no energy transfer effect whatsoever, even if that meant something medically.”



Which it doesn’t,” John said.



Which it doesn’t,” Sherlock agreed.  “If it did, drinking hot water would cure disease."



John sighed.  “Well, what now?” he asked.  “We already knew that this place is one big con.  How does this get us any closer to figuring out what Abigail’s lights were?  What was the ghost she saw?”



I’ve already figured out what the lights were,” Sherlock said, slipping his shoes back on.



Not ships?”



Not ships.”  



What, then?” John said, although he could already tell he wasn’t going to get a straight answer.  Nor did he.  “And what about the ghost?”



Sherlock stood abruptly, scooped up the plastic bag, and headed for the door.  “Working on that one,” he said confidently.  “I’ll see you in the morning.”



Where are you going?”



London.  I want to analyze these--” holding up the bag “--and pick up some supplies.”  He paused in the open door and looked back.  “What time is that seance tomorrow?”



Ten, I think,” John said, fishing in his pocket for the schedule.  “Yeah.  Ten.”  He looked up.  “Why--?”  But Sherlock was already gone.  



John checked his watch.  Four thirty.  Early for supper.  Was he hungry?  Yeah, a bit.  And Stokes did say that the cafeteria was open twenty-four hours.  There was nothing else to do, he decided, and a wheatgrass-mango smoothie was as good a way to kill the time as any.




* * * * *




No wheatgrass smoothie could the Nutrition Centre provide, which was just as well, but John filled his tray with a reasonably conventional-looking salad and a bottle of orange juice, although he would not have said no to a burger and a pint.  The big room was only sparsely occupied at that early hour, but he spied Abigail out on the terrace with two other clients who he guessed were her friends Liz and Marty.  



While Sherlock had been explicit about not approaching her, John wrote some of that off to hyperbole and the rest to the detective’s evident dislike of her; he was confident that if he took the lead he could make contact while still maintaining his character as just another client, so he approached their table, introduced himself as a newcomer to Wellspring, and asked if he could join them.



Liz and Marty smiled and Abigail positively beamed up at him and said he was very welcome to sit with them.  She was quite good at pretending not to know who he was.  Mindful of the ubiquitous eavesdropping equipment, he confined himself to small talk and asking about their experiences at Wellspring, and steered most of their questions away from himself, although he did speak a bit about Spotlight Productions, just to maintain the pretense.



In due course Liz and Marty finished their meals and prepared to take their usual post-supper walk, but Abigail made it clear that she intended to remain chatting with her new friend Mr. Wilson, so they departed without her.  It was evident to John that with her friends out of the way Abigail was keen to question him about the case, and he couldn’t allow that to happen anywhere indoors, so he, too, proposed a walk, and steered her around to the front of the house, intending to amble up the gentle slope of the driveway, which he thought extremely unlikely to be surveilled.  



The slope may have been gentle, but he had to shuffle to match her pace and she paused several times to cough even before they reached the big fountain in front of the house:  It was apparent that she wasn’t up to a ramble.  Still, he thought, the fountain itself would preclude effective eavesdropping, so they settled on the flat rim of the basin.



What does Mr. Holmes think of the case so far?” she asked, trailing her hand in the limpid water.  



John had no idea what Sherlock thought so far because Sherlock wouldn’t tell him, so he hedged a bit.  “He likes to keep his theories to himself until he’s accounted for all the variables.”  



So he won’t tell you until he’s completely sure?”  



Until he’s completely sure he can be dramatic about it,” John replied dryly.  



Abigail smiled.  “He’s trying to impress you,” she said.  “And he does, doesn’t he?”



Sure," John said.  "He’s brilliant.  I met some pretty clever people in medical school, you know, but he makes them look like drooling idiots.  Definitely makes me look like a drooling idiot.  I know exactly how he does what he does, and at the same time I have no idea how he does it.  He makes these leaps of logic that make him sound mental until he explains everything in between, and then you sit there thinking how obvious it all is."  He paused, then added, "I’m sorry he was such a berk when you came by yesterday.  In some ways he understands human nature better than anyone I know.  On the other hand...I can't even say that he doesn't mean to be an arse, because a lot of times that's exactly what he means to do.  Other times he really has no idea why people get upset with him."



That’s how my husband was sometimes,” Abigail said.  “He was lead violinist with the LSO.  He was lovely and funny and kind to me, and he was a brilliant musician, but most people couldn't stand him.  After a while I decided that I didn’t care what other people thought about him.  It would be nice if geniuses could be clever and good at cocktail parties, too, but those things don’t always go together in the same person.  I know you feel badly because Mr. Holmes is rude and strange, Dr. Watson, but you don’t have to apologize for him.  It’s okay if what you love him for isn’t what he shares with other people, as long as he shares it with you.”



That veered a little too close to sentiment for John, so he grinned and said, "Sherlock at a cocktail do?  In under a minute he'd have the men in tears and the women trying to kill him."



Abigail laughed.



"He took your case because of the roots, you know," John added.



Roots?”



Yeah.  Not a clue what it means, but when we’re done I’ll feel like an idiot for not seeing it sooner.”



You think he’ll find out what the lights were, then?  And why the ghost appeared?”



John thought he already had.  “I know he will.”



They sat in silence for a moment, and then Abigail said, “When I heard Mr. Holmes play yesterday...well, he’s very talented.  Has he ever played professionally?”



John smiled at the thought.  “No.  Once years ago I had a few people over for Christmas and he played a carol for our landlady, but that probably doesn’t count as playing professionally.”  



Just that once?  Just one carol?”



Well...”  John hesitated, then admitted, “No.  He wrote a song for my wife and me and played it at our wedding.  For our first dance.  A waltz.  Of course, once he wrote it he had to teach me how to dance to it.”  The memory made him smile, but Abigail surprised him by apologizing.



I’m sorry,” she said, blushing.  “I shouldn't...I'm sorry."



He looked curiously at her.  "What's wrong?"



"It's just...For a moment you looked...You looked so sad."  She peered anxiously at him.  "I'm sorry if I overstepped.  I didn’t mean to.”



John shook his head.  "You didn't," he assured her.  Her words surprised him because he hadn’t been conscious of looking sad.  Hadn’t felt sad.  The memory of his friend teaching him to dance--Sherlock’s air of lofty tolerance mingled with exasperation at John’s awkwardness, Mrs. Hudson walking in on them and hurrying away flustered--always made him smile, as did the memory of his elation when he danced for real:  newly wed, newly a father.  



So much life ahead of them all that night, he thought--and suddenly he was conscious of the grief that still lay so near, ready to overwhelm him if he lowered his guard--but what really surprised him was the gust of indignation and rebellion that followed.  Where did that come from?  He was tired of it, he realized suddenly:  tired of enduring loss.  It had been a part of his life for so long--not just over the last five years--that he never really finished healing before the next blow to his heart came along.



He became aware that he was distressing Abigail and he sought to reestablish his composure by focusing on something that had been bothering him ever since he met her.  “Abigail,” he began, and she looked worriedly at him.  He started over.  “Listen,” he said.  “I’m not your doctor, so please:  Tell me to shove off if I’m out of line.  It won’t hurt my feelings.  Promise?”



She gave him a puzzled smile.  “I can’t imagine I’ll have to do that,” she said, “but I promise.”



"Tell me again:  You saw your doctor...a month ago?”



Yes.”



And you originally went because you started experiencing night sweats again, you said.”



Yes.  And feeling tired all the time, too.”



Abdominal pain.”



That’s right.”  She pointed to the spot in her side.  “Just here.”



Coughing?”



"Mm...No,” she said.



But you’re coughing now.  When did that start?”



She considered.  “Just a few days ago, I guess.  But I’m sure it’s due to allergies.  There’s so much pollen in the air in the country around harvest season.  It’s lucky Wellspring is so near the water; Dr. Kickham says it keeps the air cleaner, with fewer airborne toxins.”



John wasn’t interested in Kickham’s opinion on toxins.  "Can you tell me exactly what your doctor said?"



"Well, he wanted to do all sorts of tests to rule things in or out, but I was so upset that I applied to come here straight away.  I know you're a doctor and I'm sure you're different, but there's just so much money in medicine.  I'd already been taking Wellspring supplements for years, and it never crossed my mind to come anywhere else for treatment.  My children were the ones who insisted that I see an allopathic doctor about the symptoms, but I put my foot down about the treatment."  She paused, because he was frowning in concentration and it made him look formidable.  "I don't mean to be insulting," she added apologetically.



"No, it's..." His voice trailed off and he was silent for a time.  She waited and was about to prompt him when he looked up and said, "Sherlock said you had a dental procedure."




* * * * *
































Thursday




The scent of fresh coffee reached John before he opened his eyes.  Vaguely he recalled that the cafeteria lay below his room; the ducting in an old house like Wellspring must carry air currents in all sorts of directions.  Coffee would be charming, he thought, and wondered what time it was.  He rolled lazily over to check the bedside clock--then started up with a sharp cry of surprise, but even as he bolted upright he recognized the tall form standing silhouetted against the window.



Good morning, John,” Sherlock said blandly, not bothering to turn around.



John threw off the covers, groped for his slippers, and staggered off to the latrine.  “Goddamned ninja,” he growled, and slammed the door.



Sherlock waited impatiently, bouncing his knee, while John carried out his morning routine.  Few things were more counterproductive than trying to approach John before he’d showered and dressed, however, so waiting was really Sherlock’s only option.  He’d have thought that military life would have inured John to abrupt wake-up calls, but to judge from his testiness that was a virtue even the army couldn't beat into him.  



The Wellspring rooms contained no coffee machines--caffeine being discouraged according to the guidelines of the Protocol--but Sherlock had brought a large serving from Black Cups, and it was the source of the aroma that woke John.  It stood waiting for him on the occasional table and by the time he'd dressed it had nearly reached a drinkable temperature.



John carried his shoes to the window, sat down, and sipped the coffee gingerly, then muttered a grudging thank you:  It was important to praise Sherlock when he exhibited a desirable behavior, regardless of his motive for performing it.



After a few more sips he eyed his friend and said peevishly, “How long are you going to keep doing that to your hair?  You look like a smarmy toff.”



You’re out of product,” Sherlock replied.



When John’s disgruntlement at being startled awake and the amount of coffee in the cup both receded to a level Sherlock judged propitious, he reached into his pocket and withdrew a tri-folded sheet of paper.  “Your morning news,” he said, dropping it on the table with a flourish.



What is it?”  



Read it.”  



The paper was a summary of the results from Sherlock's GCMS analysis of the Wellspring remedies John bought yesterday.  “SiO2... CaSO4...,” John read, then looked up in disbelief.  “Is this right?”  



Morally or existentially?”  



I mean, is this accurate?  These results?"



Oh.  Then yes.  They are,” Sherlock said.  “The pills are filled mostly with rice flour, but you also paid £30 for plaster of Paris and quartz.  ‘Silicea tera’ and ‘calcarea sulphurica’ sound so much more sciency, though, don’t they?  And here, you see--” pointing to the readout “--you also bought green tea, turmeric root, and boswellia serrata extract.  Boswellia is the plant used to produce frankincense and it’s the only advertised ingredient that’s actually in any of those bottles.”



Sherlock had been thorough, as usual:  Besides the GCMS results for each remedy the printout contained a list of ingredients said to be in each vial and a notation indicating whether the promised ingredient actually made an appearance, as well as a list, broken down by vial, of what the bottles did contain.  Other than the boswellia, John couldn’t see anything else that suggested truth in labeling.  “What’s MSM?” he asked.  



Absent,” Sherlock said.  



I mean what is it?”  



Methylsulfonylmethane.  It’s used industrially as a solvent for inorganic and organic substances.  Essentially inert chemically, but since the bottle doesn’t contain it you don’t have to worry about taking it in any case.”  



What’s in the gelcap, then?”



Calcium carbonate.”  



Chalk.  Seriously.”  



Sherlock shrugged.  “It’s Dover.  They’ve got loads of it about.  One scrape with a teaspoon and you’ve got £25 worth of ‘remedy’ to sell.”  He pointed to another column.  “Bleached flour,” he said.  “You weren’t far off when you guessed talcum powder.”



Maybe that explains the lights that Abigail saw,” John said, sipping more coffee.  “Kickham out filling his medicine cabinet.”  



Sherlock looked at him curiously.  “Why do you say that?”



You don’t think the lights were from a ship, right?”



No.”



Not a ship, not supernatural.  So...torches with red lenses?”



Sherlock’s approval was gratifyingly sincere.  “Very good, John,” he said, and John preened.  “But it wasn’t Kickham.”  



Then who?  Stokes?”  



I’ll know more after the seance.”




* * * * *




The first floor conference room door stood open when they arrived for the seance, and the six other guests were already mingling amicably with each other.  To the left of the doorway a raised platform spanned the width of the room and acted as a sort of stage, and arrayed before it were two dozen folding chairs arranged in groups of twelve with an aisle space running between them.  To the right of the conference room doorway, all the way to the back of the room, was the entrance to the Reading Room, where the seance would actually take place.  They knew that this was the Reading Room because there was a tasteful brass plaque fixed to the door and engraved with ‘Reading Room’ in black cursive lettering.  This door was closed at the moment.  The entire wall opposite the entrance was lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves and crammed with both new and ancient volumes.  Dark brown, commercial-style carpet tiles covered the floor and both the walls and ornately coffered ceiling were paneled in dark walnut.



Sherlock stopped just inside the doorway, shoved his hands into his pockets, and gazed about the room.  John looked about as well, but there wasn’t much he could see other than the obvious.  Sherlock glanced up at the pot lights and said, “Beautiful paneling,” and John, following his gaze, realized that the light recesses contained little microphones and pinhole cameras.



The other sitters, as the seance attendees were called, stood about socializing to the right of the doorway, where a little buffet had been set up with a few trays of hors d’oeuvres and organic biscuits, a veggie plate with a dish of hummus dip in the center, and a metal ice bucket full of crushed ice and bottles of organic juice.  It was all very nicely done, but it was also food that John wouldn’t touch with a barge pole.  



He was not much in the mood for schmoozing, either, but today it was his job, so he approached the group with a smile.  He didn’t have to worry about his reception; with the exception of a husband and wife in their fifties the sitters were uniformly cheerful and buoyant.  They welcomed him warmly:  greetings exchanged; introductions made.  Sherlock drifted away before John could introduce him and wandered around the perimeter of the room, eventually returning to stand with his hands clasped behind his back, behind and a little to one side of John.  



The sitters consisted of two men and four women ranging in age from their early twenties to mid-sixties.  Walter, Jennifer, Roberta, and Karen were there solo; Richard and Rebecca Freeman, John learned, were a married couple there to try to make contact with their adult son, who died in an auto accident two months ago.  While the police claimed that his death was either a suicide or a case of careless driving, the parents felt both alternatives to be wildly out of character and firmly believed that their son died in a tragic accident.  Sherlock sided with the police:  “Suicide,” he said in an undertone to John.



Roberta and Karen had experienced Wellspring seances several times before, and when they realized that John had not they hurried to assure him that he would have a great time.  Felicity never disappointed, they said eagerly, and she was a talented, gifted Empath.  That was how they said it:  With a capital ‘E.’



Empath?” John repeated.  



Someone who can psychically reach--” Roberta began.



Tune in to,” Karen said.  



Yeah, tune in to the emotions that someone else is feeling, or that people experienced in a certain place.  Like, when there’s been a murder, an Empath can feel the rage and fear in the room where the murder occurred even years after it happened.”  



And Felicity can do that?” John asked.  



Oh, yeah.  She’s a very talented, very powerful Empath.”  



Sometimes I feel sorry for her,” Karen admitted.  “It’s such a gift, to be able to help people by reading them that way, but she feels the emotions of others so strongly that it can be very stressful if she senses too much negative energy.”



Or learns that someone has an illness that they don’t know about yet,” Roberta added.



John reached for something appropriate to say, because he was pretty sure “Bollocks” would be the wrong thing.  “So sort of a blessing and a curse,” he offered.  



Exactly,” Karen said.  “She’s so easy to talk to, so understanding...Before you know it you’re pouring out your heart and soul to her."



John didn’t have to refrain from saying that this was not remotely likely because Felicity Stokes arrived then.  She swept into the room calling, “Hello, everyone,” and breezed toward them.  “I’m Felicity Stokes.  So pleased to see you all.  Thank you so much for coming.”  She greeted them all individually, got their names, shook their hands.



She was the older of the sisters by two years, but to John’s eye the resemblance was quite strong.   She was the same height, with the same slim build and thin features.  Her dark brown hair was styled in a pageboy cut.  She wore white, billowy silk trousers, very wide at the ankles, a white silk poncho-style shirt screened with a modern, stylized swirl of paisley shapes in rainbow colors, open-toed silver metallic pumps with kitten heels, and a silver TAG Heuer watch that retailed for about £4200.  A multi-strand silver necklace studded with little pale purple crystals and a single, much larger purple crystal pendant topped off the ensemble.



John didn’t recognize the watch brand the way he would have with a Rolex, nor could he have guessed its value, but it was obviously expensive and he automatically disliked Felicity in consequence.  In cholerically eying the watch he also noticed that the underside of her wrist was discolored by three obvious fingertip bruises, as though someone had forcefully gripped her arm.  The out-of-context observation didn’t tell him anything, though, and he dismissed it with the vague thought that maybe she liked it rough.



Once the introductions were concluded Felicity addressed them as a group and said, “Well, shall we get down to business?  Let's start by getting to know one another a little bit better, and then we’ll get to the good part:  I know you’re all anxious to get into the Reading Room.  If you’d all please find a place we’ll begin.”  She gestured expansively to the chairs and everyone filed up toward the front of the room, but Sherlock checked John to let the others move past them.  Sherlock wanted to position himself at the back of the group for two reasons:  He could see everyone better from there, and he wanted to be the first into the Reading Room.



You saw her wrist,” John whispered as they paused.



Of course.”



Well?”



Sherlock shrugged.  “Maybe she likes it rough.”



John gave him a wry look.  “Nice," he said reprovingly.



Felicity didn’t make use of the stage except to sit on the edge of it, which put her more or less at eye level with her audience.  She leant forward, showing interest in them, making herself appear more accessible, and not coincidentally giving herself a better view of their reactions and facial expressions.



Thank you all for coming today,” she began.  “I’m Felicity Stokes--” and here she had to pause and smile because the regulars, followed by the newcomers, broke into spontaneous applause.  “Thank you,” she said sweetly.  “Thank you so much for being with me today.  I see some new faces here today, as well as several old friends.  New or old, you’re all so very welcome.  Before we all move into the Reading Room let’s talk just a bit about what each of you is here to accomplish today.  Shall we start with you, Roberta?” she asked, smiling at the twenty-something woman in the front row.  “That will give the new folks an idea of what to expect.  Would that be okay?”



Roberta nodded enthusiastically and sprang to her feet.  “Of course,” she said, and half turned to include the rest of the group, as well.  “Well, I’m here--again,” she said with a laugh, “because I come each month to talk to my gran, and--”



And you want to share your fantastic news with her?” Felicity asked.



Roberta looked shocked.  “You know?”  



Felicity smiled.



Did my sister call and tell you?” Roberta asked suspiciously.



Of course not, silly,” Felicity said.  “You’re wearing a new engagement ring.”  Everyone laughed.  “Your grandmother is so happy for you, dear,” Felicity said.  “She wants you to know that she approves and that you have her fondest blessing.”



Although Roberta was beaming as she sat down she had to dive into her purse to retrieve a handful of tissues.



Next came the nervous little woman sitting beside Roberta.  “My name’s Jennifer,” she announced tremulously as she stood.



Felicity beamed at her.  “Welcome, dear,” she said.  She took both of Jennifer’s hands in hers, gazed directly into her eyes, and said, “It’s so painful to lose a parent, isn’t it?”  At once the woman burst into tears and Felicity brushed at her own eyes, as well.



Sherlock leant over to John and muttered, “No more pro bono cases.”



You’re hoping to speak with your father today, aren’t you?” Felicity said to Jennifer, and Jennifer nodded, then blew her nose.  “Well, he’s hoping to speak with you, as well,” Felicity said.  “He’s standing right here with us now.”



Daddy?” Jennifer said in a small voice, looking vaguely over Felicity’s left shoulder.  “He’s really here?”



He is,” Felicity said.  “Standing right beside me.  Of course, he’s just a bit nervous about being here with all these other people around.”



Jennifer frowned.



Which just isn’t like him at all, is it?” Felicity added, and Jennifer’s face relaxed into a smile.  “He was a very confident person, wasn’t he?  Kind of pushy sometimes?  Never at a loss for words?”



Yes,” Jennifer agreed eagerly.  “Especially when I was a girl and would bring a boy home.”  



Everyone laughed.  Sherlock leant over again and muttered, “Nice save:  Shy and pushy.  Was he fat and thin, too?”  



Under normal circumstances this would have earned a grin from John, but he was far too annoyed to laugh now.  As far as he was concerned this fraud was ruining Jennifer’s memories of her father, putting words in the dead man’s mouth and manipulating the woman into emotions that weren’t grounded in reality.  With a real effort he tried to compose his features to appear amenable and receptive, but it occurred to him that if Felicity had one iota of Sherlock’s skill then he had no hope of successfully deceiving her.



Felicity wasn’t quite done with Jennifer.  “Your father passed from the effects of a long-term medical condition,” she was saying.



That’s right,” Jennifer agreed.



I’m getting something about problems with his chest?”



Jennifer hesitated.



No,” Felicity corrected herself.  “Now he’s telling me the problem was with...his abdomen?  Is that right?”



Yes,” Jennifer said, nodding.  “He had an aneurism, and it burst.”



After a few more exchanges of this sort Felicity assured Jennifer that her father loved her and missed her and that she’d no doubt see more of him in the seance.  Once Jennifer was seated again Felicity looked up, then closed her eyes briefly.  She frowned with concentration, then opened her eyes and said, “I’m hearing something about...I’m hearing ‘will.’  Will...Does that mean anything to anyone?  Will?”



From the middle of the group Walter raised his hand.  “Yes,” Felicity said.  “Walter, isn’t it?”


 


That’s right.”



Of course.  Does that resonate with you, Walter?  ‘Will’?”



Yes, about--”



Felicity held up her hand to stop him speaking.  “And I’m getting something about...It’s not your parents, is it?”    



Walter shook his head.



I thought not.  It’s your grandfather, isn’t it?”



Yes, my grandfather,” Walter said, obviously impressed.  



Of course, that’s right,” Felicity said.  “Your grandfather is telling me that the matter of his will caused some dissent in the family.”



That’s right.  My mum and my uncle fought like mad about it when granddad died, and they still won’t speak.”



The family’s not as close now as it was before, is it?” Felicity clucked sympathetically.  



No,” Walter said.



But he’s telling me how upsetting it is for him to know that his will is still causing trouble in the family, and that he never meant for that to happen.”



I know,” Walter said.  “I try to tell my mum that.  My granddad was such a lovely person.”



He was very good to you when you were a child, wasn’t he?  And he loved you very much, dear,” Felicity said.  “He wants you to know how pleased he is that you’re here today and that he’s been able to reach you.”



Walter cleared his throat and he, too, wiped at his eyes.



John shifted in his seat and had to sit on his hands to stop himself crossing his arms in annoyance:  He was supposed to be the one who was receptive to all this rubbish and his body language had to reflect that, but the blatant deception shocked him, as did the ready credulity of the clients.  He knew there were eavesdropping devices in the ceiling and he was trying to remember whether he’d heard Walter say anything about his grandfather as everyone mingled.  Of course, they were all there before he and Sherlock arrived, so it was entirely possible that Walter gave himself away earlier.



While he dwelt on that Sherlock gave him a nudge, leant over, and explained in an undertone, as though he knew what John had been thinking.   “It’s simple,” he said.  “Remember the Forer Effect.  Being vague is key.  ‘Some time ago’ could be five minutes or fifty years.  ‘Will’ could mean anything:  a man’s name, the legal document, or even ‘tenacity’ at a stretch.  He’s a middle-aged man, unattractive, dreadful posture, no wedding ring, and dresses like he rolled in paste and jumped into a bin behind a thrift shop, so obviously hasn’t lost his wife.  What’s left at his age?  Parents and grandparents.  Her question was, ‘It’s not your parents, is it?’  He said ‘no’ so her answer was ‘I didn’t think so,’ but if he’d said ‘yes’ she would have said, ‘Ah, I thought so.’  She wins either way.  ‘Grandfather’ was a lucky guess, but assuming the man's parents didn’t arise through parthenogenesis she had a fifty percent chance of getting that one right anyway.  If she’s really got a hotline to gramps, why didn’t he tell her his name?”



Felicity couldn’t hear Sherlock, but John looked aggravated and Sherlock was making his skepticism tolerably obvious through his body language, so she pounced on them like they were two delinquent boys whispering in the back of a classroom.  “You must open your heart to these messages,” she said serenely, looking straight at them.  “The spirits find it easier to help us if we're open to what they have to say.”



John elbowed Sherlock and Sherlock managed to look contrite.  “I’m sorry,” John said.  “Scott didn’t want to come here today.  It’s my fault for insisting.”



Felicity smiled benevolently at him as she approached.  “It’s quite all right...John, isn’t it?”



Yes,” said John, standing and offering his hand.  “John Wilson.  Hello.”



I don’t have to ask why you’re here, John,” she said sympathetically, taking his hand and holding on to it.  “I can see it in your eyes.  So much sadness.”



John had no idea what that meant.



You’ve suffered a very terrible loss, haven’t you?”



John frowned.  Major Peabody was the friend he’d lost most recently, but--



So much sadness,” Felicity repeated.  “About...”  She seemed to weigh what she was about to say.  “...five years ago?”



John swallowed and went quite pale.  Five years ago was when--



Your...spouse, wasn’t it?” Felicity said.



His first husband,” Sherlock put in, glancing at John.



I’m not seeing him clearly,” Felicity continued, but I think...Yes, I think...I’m getting...Oh, dear.  This is so dreadful.  So painful.  I’m so sorry.”  



He was aware that the others were staring at him, agog to hear his dreadful secret.  Felicity was eyeing him with apparent sympathy, but as tense as he was he still knew that she was assessing him.  “Thank you,” he said tersely.



I see glimpses of him, but I can’t see him clearly,” she went on.  “Ah--wait, he’s moving closer.  Speaking to me...He says he took his own life.  He’s saying...He’s saying that he’s sorry for that.  Very, very sorry to leave you so suddenly, without closure.  One minute he was there; the next he was gone, wasn’t he?”



Yeah,” Sherlock groused.  “Alive.  Dead.  Not a lot of grey area.”



Shut up, Scott,” John snapped.



You know who I mean, don’t you?”



Of course,” John said.  “My...His name was Reggie.  He...committed suicide.  Five years ago.”



Yes, dear,” Felicity said sadly.  “And he loved you very much.  He’s very anxious to speak more with you.”  



Thank you,” John said again.  She finally let go of his hand and he supposed he should be grateful that he’d got through his turn without having to submit to a hug.



Felicity turned to Sherlock.  “Scott,” she said.  “You are skeptical.  I understand that and it’s certainly your right.  But I have to ask you to please try to keep an open mind during the seance or else excuse yourself.  The negative energy you’re projecting will have a very bad effect on the spirits and potentially ruin the session for everyone else--the people who are here to reunite with their loved ones.”



Sherlock looked ashamed of himself.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “You’re right.  I’m really not sure about all this.  But John believes it will help him and I want to be supportive of that.  I’m sorry if I’ve given off the wrong...vibe.  Please.  I’d like to stay.  To be here for John.”  And with that he threw his arm around John's shoulder.  Supportive.



She regarded them thoughtfully.  “John?” she said finally, “are you comfortable with Scott being included in the reading?”



Yes,” John said promptly.  “Of course.  No more disruptions.  He won’t do it again.”



She turned away and moved back to the front of the room, but if she'd happened to glance back she'd have seen John dig his thumb into Sherlock's ribs, encouraging Sherlock to hastily remove his arm and step away with a strangled laugh.



* * * * *




After speaking with Karen and the bereaved parents in much the same fashion that she had with the other sitters, Felicity asked everyone to make their way into the Reading Room.  Sherlock and John, positioned as they were at the back of the group, were first inside.



Like the conference room, the Reading Room was windowless and paneled in dark walnut, but at about fourteen feet per side it was much smaller, and the floor was oak planking rather than carpet.  Modern pot lights in the ceiling were adjusted to their lowest setting by a rheostat near the door.  Aside from the doorway through which they just entered there was no other way in or out of the room that John could see.



In the center of the room stood a round, heavy oak table covered with a dark green felt cloth and capable of comfortably accommodating all eight sitters plus Felicity.  The seats were all standard dining-type chairs except for the one on the far side, opposite the door and facing it, which was a padded, high-backed chair, grander than the others and obviously meant for the reader:  Felicity.  



Behind this chair, between it and the wall opposite the door, stood the only other piece of furniture in the room:  a simple wood cabinet about four feet high and three wide, with short, thick legs and two front doors on side hinges.  On its top surface a hand bell stood under a glass dome.



Someone exclaimed about how dark the room was, but Felicity explained that strong light produced too much movement in the atmosphere and interfered with the spirits’ transition from the Other Side.  Makes it impossible to pull off the con, you mean, thought John, noticing that she offered no explanation for why the conference room lights didn't interfere with her readings there.  



His suspicion that Sherlock had a particular reason for wanting to be first into the room was confirmed when the detective went straight to the high-backed chair and sat down.



Oh, Scott,” Felicity called from the doorway.  “No, that’s--would you mind sliding over one spot?”  



Sorry?” Sherlock said, looking a bit confused, but not getting up, either.  



I’m afraid you’ve sat in my place,” she explained.  “It’s the focal point for the spiritual energy we’re going to try to summon, so...”



Oh,” Sherlock said, realizing, “I’m so sorry.  I do beg your pardon.  It looked the most comfortable.”  He moved one place to the left.  John was right behind him, so he took the chair to the right of Felicity’s.



Felicity closed the door and secured it with a standard security chain.  As everyone found their seats she picked up what looked like a television remote control with three buttons:  just a power button and two rockers.  With this she turned on a hidden stereo, filling the room with serene and not-unappealing new age music.  She adjusted the volume to slightly above background level and placed the remote on the table, then opened the cabinet and retrieved three clear crystals, each about the size of a standard stapler, and stacked them like campfire wood on top of the cabinet with their tips touching, explaining that they would promote grounding and shield the energy produced during the seance.  



Next she took from the cabinet a cigar-sized bundle of what looked like twigs wrapped with yarn.  Using a wood match she lit the end of the bundle and walked around the perimeter of the room, waving it gently about.  



What is that?” John asked.



We call it a smudge stick,” she said.  “It helps to dissipate negative energy in the room and prevent more from accumulating.  We use sweetgrass here; most of the spirits seem to prefer it over sage.”



After a single lap around the room with the stick she tamped it out in a small brass dish, closed up the cabinet, and took her place at the head of the table.  



Ladies and gentlemen,” she said, “I know that some of you are familiar with the requirements for summoning spirits, but for those of you who have never experienced a seance, and to remind everyone else, I’m going to ask that once I turn the lights down you all remain as still and silent as possible throughout the proceedings.  This will prevent disruptions in the energy fields used by our friends on the Other Side.  Sometimes the connection between this world and the next is tenuous; in those cases your silence as you concentrate on our goals here today can make all the difference in whether I can make and maintain the contact.



Second, I must ask you all to let go of any doubts and negative energy and focus on what we’re here to achieve, which is to contact our loved ones.  Maintaining that focus will increase the flow of positive energy and the chances of a successful session.  Disruptive thoughts about anything other than our goal will prevent you from achieving a relaxed and receptive state.  We can be certain of nothing when we’re trying to contact the Other Side, but there are things we can do to increase the chances of success.  Positive attitudes and focus are the key.



Finally,” she added in a more serious tone, “some of you may have heard about the spirit that appeared to several of our clients in the new meditation grove last weekend.  It didn’t try to harm anyone, but I have to caution you that when we open a portal to the Other Side we can never be quite sure who--or what--we’ll encounter.  If we do meet unfriendly energy on our journey today, it’s absolutely vital that we all stay very focused on our goal.  



Oh, I almost forgot:  It’s possible that we’ll be visited by spirits who will help me channel those who we’re hoping to see today.  Most mediums call these spirits 'controls,' but I call them good friends.  They visit very often, although not always at the same time.  Don’t be alarmed if one of my friends takes possession of me; we’re quite used to it and they make channelling possible."



She picked up the remote again and used it to turn the overhead lights off.  At first it seemed to John that the room had gone completely dark, but after a blink or two he noticed the tiny red LED light in the ceiling directly above the table.  Within just a few minutes his eyes adjusted enough to see everyone around the table, although the corners of the room remained in shadow.



Felicity made a big deal about gathering her thoughts.  Then she said, “Everyone please breathe in deeply...hold...and relax.  Release all your negative energy.  Release your doubt.  Welcome the spirits into your heart.  That’s it.  Excellent, everyone.”  She closed her eyes and appeared to concentrate very hard, and in the absence of any instructions for the sitters to close their eyes as well, John watched her closely, wondering whether he’d be able to perceive any of the tricks he was certain she’d employ.  



Spirits of the Afterlife,” she intoned, “we come to you today in friendship and love, seeking answers and guidance from those whom we have lost.  Is there anyone there who wishes to speak with us?  Ring the bell once if yes.”  



Nothing.  Not a sound.  She took a deep breath, screwed up her face with concentration, and went through it again, a bit louder.  “Spirits of the Afterlife.  We’re here today in friendship, humbly seeking to reconnect to those we loved in this world.  If you would cross the bridge to join us, ring the bell once.”  



Another pause.  Just when John thought they’d have to endure the spiel a third time he heard the sound of distant, whispered conversation and glanced around:  The voices weren’t coming from anyone at the table. Roberta, the woman to his right, put her hand over her mouth, and clearly everyone else heard it, too:  the very faint but unmistakable sound of whispering.  It never got any louder as he strained to hear, nor could he make sense of the words.  Just a lot of sibilance, as was usual when people whispered together.  This lasted for about ten seconds.  Abruptly the voices stopped and the bell on the cabinet gave a single muffled ting.  It was at his 7 o’clock so he couldn’t look without turning around, but Sherlock was better placed, and John watched his face.  Sherlock met his eyes and even in the low light John could see that he was amused.



Felicity apparently expected to hear the bell.  Still with her eyes closed she said, “Is our presence here today welcome to you?  Rap twice for yes.  Once for no.”



Rap.  Rap.  



These sounds were not very loud, and while Felicity referred to them as ‘raps’ they didn’t sound to John like someone tapping on the table or a solid surface--yet the sound was oddly familiar to him.  It wasn’t knocking or tapping.  It was more like...like knuckle-cracking, he realized suddenly.  Was Felicity cracking her knuckles?  He glanced at her hands, but no:  They were flat on the table, palms down.  Sherlock gave him a significant look, then lowered his eyes and ducked his chin fractionally as though pointing down, and John understood:  Felicity was cracking the knuckles of her toes, for God's sake.



I am trying to reach Liam Freeman,” she announced to the room at large.  Can you hear me, Liam?”



Rap.  Rap.



Liam.  Your mum and dad are here.  They miss you terribly, and they want to understand why you were taken from them so soon.  But first I would like to confirm that you are the Liam we’re seeking.  May we ask you about that?”



Rap.  Rap.



Liam Freeman was a tall, good-looking boy with dark brown hair and brown eyes, who loved football so much that he was voted team captain his last two years in school.  Is that the Liam we’re speaking to now?”



Rap.  Rap.



The Liam we’re looking for had a puppy when he was growing up.  The puppy’s name was Noddy.  Is that right?”



Rap.



The puppy’s name was Alice.”



Rap.  Rap.



Alice was a beautiful black Newfie, wasn’t she?”



Rap.  Rap.



You had a nickname for Alice, didn’t you, Liam?  You called her Allie Allie Oxenfree.”



Rap.  Rap.



By now tears were streaming down the parents’ faces:  How could she possibly know these things if she wasn’t really communing with their dead son?



Very good,” Felicity said.  “I believe we have the right Liam.  Now--”  Suddenly she stopped, raised her head and sat up perfectly straight, and with her eyes wide began to speak in a pretty creditable imitation of a little boy’s voice, complete with a thick Scottish accent.



"It's Dougal, mum. D' ye mind me?" she said.



Of course I remember you, Dougal,” she said in her real voice, but without changing her posture.  “But we were speaking with Liam Freeman.  Can we talk to Liam again?”



"Liam asked me t’ speak t’ ye fer him.  He canna seem t' get the knack of movin' 'tween the realms, and he asked me t' guide him jus' this ain time.  He hae a wee message for his mum and dad."



Thank you, Dougal.  May I introduce you to our guests?”



Aye, Mrs. Stokes,” Dougal said.



Everyone:  This is Dougal.  He was born on a farm outside of Glasgow in 1806.  In 1816 he was helping his father in the hay loft when he fell and crossed over to the Other Side.  We’ve been quite good friends for some time now, haven’t we, Dougal?”



Aye, tha's true, mum,” Dougal said.



Now, Dougal,” Felicity said, “what message do you want to bring us from Liam?”



"Liam wants his mum and dad t' knaw that he dinna kill himsel' like tha coppers said. Nor he wasna speedin’ like they said.  Someone in a...wha', a lorry?  I dinna ken lorry, but tha's th' word he says.  He thinks it were green, but it were shurr hard to make out, it bein' so dark.  It come round tha curve from t'other way, right at him in his lane, and he had to swerve to get oot o’ th' way. Th' left front wheel of his cart...oh, a car, is't?  Well, i' went over the verge, like, and though he tried t' use the brake it were too late and th' car rolled down th' brae.  Liam says i' felt like i’ were happenin' all slowed down-like, like he were watching a movin' pitcher in cinema, he says.  An' he says then suddenly he were floatin' high above th' road and he could see himsel' lyin' down the brae.  He wants his folks to know tha’ he dinna fault the other driver for th' accident and tha’ he dinna suffer before he crossed over."



Here Felicity had to pause as the dead boy’s parents clutched at each other and sobbed.  Felicity, too, was weeping--as was everyone, in fact, except Sherlock and John.  Finally Felicity collected herself and said, “Thank you, Dougal.  Thank you, Liam.”



Then Dougal said, “Liam says there's one more thing, Mrs. Stokes.”



Yes, Dougal?”



He remembers a bit o’ th' licence tag on th' lorry.  He wants his mum and dad t' tell th' driver tha’ he ken i’ were jus' an accident and he fergives him.”



What is the licence tag, Dougal?”



T861.”



Thank you, Dougal.”  Felicity turned to the Freemans.  “Is there anything you’d like to ask Liam?”



The parents glanced at each other; the father was incapable of speech but the mother blinked her streaming eyes and in a wavering voice said, “We...We love you, Liam, and we miss you so much, darling.  Julia misses you terribly.  Are...are you happy, dear?  In...in...the...where you are?”



In Dougal's voice Felicity replied, “Liam says, ‘Yes, mum, I’m very happy here, but I miss you all very much.  Tell Julia tha’ I love her.  I love you, mum.  I love you, dad.’”  Felicity paused, then still in Dougal's voice she said, “I have to rest now.”



I understand, dear,” she said in her own voice.  “It’s difficult work holding the connection.  Thank you for your help today.”



Mrs. Freeman chimed in, as well.  “Thank you, Dougal,” she sobbed.  Mr. Freeman still couldn’t speak, but sat there with tears running down his face.



Felicity had been sitting up straight throughout this, channeling Dougal, but now that the ‘connection’ was lost she slumped back in her chair, tipped her head back, and closed her eyes as though exhausted.  



John and Sherlock made eye contact across her.  John was outraged by the manipulation of the poor grieving parents and warring with himself over the value of stopping the damned charade, but Sherlock gave him a quick, encouraging wink:  telling him that he was doing well and that Sherlock was happy with how things were progressing, so John swallowed his anger.  



After a brief recovery Felicity resumed the seance and repeated the performance by making contact with two more people:  Walter’s grandfather and Roberta’s grandmother.  These ‘contacts’ followed the same pattern that Felicity established with the Freemans.  Each time she spoke for the sitters’ loved ones through another spirit:  once through Flavia, a Roman noblewoman said to have died during the Vesuvius eruption, and once through Branwen, the wife of a Celtic warrior.  



After recovering from the last contact she announced that she was now going to completely darken the room and that in order to draw on all the positive power they could muster, they’d need to join hands, creating a Circle of Energy.  



It’s very important,” she said, “that you remember that no matter what happens, no matter how alarming, once we’ve joined hands do not let go without my explicit instructions to do so.  I cannot emphasize that strongly enough.  Your first instinct if something frightening occurs will be to let go of each other, but you must remain in contact no matter what happens.  Do not break the circle.  That connection is not only our link to the Other Side, but it’s our first and last line of defense.  I’ve done thousands of these readings and I’m confident that as long as we remain in contact with each other I will be able to lead us through the steps we need to diffuse any negative energy that crosses over, but if anyone breaks the circle I cannot guarantee our safety.”  



She looked around to make sure that they were all suitably impressed, and they stared back at her as solemnly as owls.  



John was still doing his best to look agreeable, but he’d never been much in the deception line.  He could see Sherlock playing right along without a hint of derision or skepticism, though, and that helped his own attitude.  In fact Sherlock looked positively eager for whatever was coming next, and John suspected that he already knew.



Is there anyone who feels that they’d rather leave now?” Felicity asked.  “No?  Everyone’s ready?  Then please take the hand of your neighbor and remain completely silent and as still as you possibly can as I try to make contact.”  She used the remote to turn off the red overhead light.



Now the darkness in the room was complete.  Not the least hint of light anywhere.  John thought of Sherlock adjuring him to use all his senses, so he strained to hear anything unusual, but there was nothing.  Just the music still playing softly in the background.  He wondered what Sherlock was perceiving:  considerably more, no doubt.  He always did.  



Listening now as hard as he could, John heard Felicity set the remote back down on the table.  She reached for his hand but then she sniffled and he felt her shift a bit in the chair.  In a whispered aside to him she said, “John, I’d like to reach for a tissue.  Would you mind...?”



Oh--” John said, surprised, and released her hand.  She rummaged in a pocket, presumably found a tissue, blew her nose, then re-established the connection by putting her hand over his.  



All his senses:  John breathed deeply, sampling the air, but aside from the nearby sweetgrass stick that Felicity used to open the proceedings he could perceive nothing.  It just smelled like...a room.  A bit of mustiness, maybe:  It was an old house.  Felicity's perfume, or someone's, but--



A sudden waft of icy air hit him, and judging from the tension in the hand of the woman to his right she felt it too.  He heard the sharp intake of breath from several people farther along the table, so he knew he hadn’t imagined it.  To cement it someone at the far end said in a frightened whisper, “It’s cold.”



That’s spirit fog,” Felicity whispered excitedly.  “They're coming.  Concentrate now, please.  It’s more important than ever.  Invite the spirits in.  That’s it.”



With the trick of the cold air Felicity introduced a physical element to John's experience, one that changed the equation for him.  Physically and psychologically he had the habit of self-defense, and at this late date it was an internalized, instant response to threats, a response that had protected him admirably over the years.  He had no idea what to expect next, and with his hands held as they were by the women on each side of him he was suddenly conscious of being restrained in the face of the unknown:  conscious of being trapped.  Even as the thought occurred, so did the rational answer:  A sense of vulnerability was exactly the effect that the darkness and restraint were intended to produce.  His alarm subsided at once, replaced by annoyance at having been successfully manipulated, however briefly, and by emotions with which he was far more comfortable:  anger, determination, and readiness.



The sensation of cold stopped as quickly as it began.  John strained to hear something that would give him an idea of what was coming when something brushed against his face like cobwebs, and he started violently.  Next to him Roberta gave a little shriek and clamped down on his hand.  “A ghost touched me!” she cried.  “I felt it!”



Don’t be afraid!” Felicity urged them.  “This is wonderful.  This is a benevolent spirit; I can feel it.”  A murmur arose from farther down the table as the others felt the brush of the ‘ghost.’  The crystals on the cabinet behind Felicity begin to glow a pale green, and just as everyone’s attention was drawn to them, from the corner of the room to the left of the doorway a very faintly glowing human figure appeared.



It took a step or two toward them, then stopped.  The image wavered, faded, then reappeared, never very clear, like a distant object viewed through heat shimmers.  John had to turn most of the way around in his seat to see it, and then he stared in utter astonishment:  The image’s face, while distorted like the rest of it, was recognizably that of Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade.  



John,” Felicity said knowingly, and he jumped at the sound of his name.  He turned to face her and it took all his will to keep from making eye contact with Sherlock.  Did these people know who he and Sherlock were?  The bloody hell was going on?



He cleared his throat, tried to look natural--what the hell did ‘natural’ look like in this context?-- and said, "Yeah?"  In spite of himself he couldn’t keep the wariness out of his voice.



Don’t you recognize him?”



John hesitated and Sherlock, staring past him at the ‘ghost,’ said in an awed whisper, “It’s Reggie.  He's really here, John.”



John glanced at Sherlock then, but the ‘Reggie’ reference alone recovered him.  He turned again toward the ghost.  Despite the heat shimmer effect it looked solid, as though Lestrade were there in the room with them.  John knew he was supposed to say something, but all he managed was a weak, “Reggie?"  To his ear he sounded utterly unconvincing.



He’s so sorry he left you the way he did, John,” Felicity said.  “He wants you to know that he’s glad you’ve found happiness again.  With Scott.”



Thank you,” John said, wincing at how inadequate and unemotional that sounded.  “I...I don’t know what to say.”  That was sure as hell true.



Tell him you love him,” Sherlock urged.  “You’ve said so many times that you wished you could.  Don’t let this chance slip away.”



John closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and counted to five to stop himself climbing across the table and punching Sherlock.  He exhaled, looked at the wavering image of the policeman and said, with all the conviction he could summon, “I love you.”



That was good enough for government work, apparently, and the ghostly image raised its hand in a salute as it stepped back into the corner and faded away.



The rest of the group muttered excitedly and Roberta squeezed John’s hand.  “I’m so happy for you,” she whispered.



Almost immediately, though, another muffled ting came from the bell under the glass dome and the woman named Jennifer gave a great gasp as, from the same corner of the room, her dead father appeared.  The heat shimmer effect was considerably less this time and the image coalesced into something so solid- and real-looking that John didn’t doubt that he could shake its hand.  



The ghost of her father turned to Jennifer and waved, then spoke.  “Jennifer?” it said in a voice that sounded distorted and faint, as though transmitted over a very great distance.  



Daddy!” she whimpered.  



I love you, baby,” the ghost said.  “I hate to see you so unhappy.  Please remember that I’m not in any more pain, and that I love you.”



The ghost turned and walked away, taking two steps back into the corner of the room before fading out as though it had never been.  The green glow of the crystals on the cabinet faded too, plunging the room back into utter darkness.



Felicity let go of John’s left hand and used the remote control to switch the pot lights on.  Then she swooned back in her chair while Roberta and Karen crowded excitedly around her.  The others remained seated, too overcome with emotion to move.  



I’m okay,” Felicity assured them.  “Thank you.  Thank you, but I’m fine.  Please.  We have to finish properly.”  



When they were all back in their places she sat up with a great effort and again directed her voice to the Other Side.  “Thank you, my friends,” she said.  “Thank you so much for visiting with us today, for bringing with you light and hope and love.  We thank you for your presence and ask that at this time you return peacefully and safely back across the bridge to the Other Side, until we can meet again.  Amen.”  



Everyone echoed “Amen,” including, mechanically, John, to his immense disgust.  Sherlock, he was surprised to see, was beaming like an idiot.  He was further surprised to see that the cabinet which was originally only a couple of feet behind Felicity’s chair now stood right up against the wall--it had moved about three feet back from its original position.  The crystals and the bell remained in place on the top shelf, untouched.



Felicity rose from her chair with an effort--lying for a solid hour must be just exhausting, John thought sourly--and most of the sitters crowded around to help her toward the door.   She stationed herself there, just inside the Reading Room, graciously accepting their thanks and their tears of gratitude.  



When it was their turn Sherlock absolutely floored John by enthusiastically embracing her.  He even patted her on the back.  Sherlock couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen anything so remarkable.  "Thank you for a brilliant experience,” he said.  “Really.  I mean that quite sincerely.  Absolutely fascinating."  



"Well, thank you, Scott,” she said, beaming up at him.  “I’m so glad you were open to it.  You see what the power of positive energy can do, I hope.  Have we won you over, then?”



Without a doubt,” Sherlock said.




* * * * *




Fancy a walk?” Sherlock asked when they stepped out into the hall.  He was searching for something on his phone but apparently found it and slipped it back into his pocket.



John was tense and angry, but he said, “Sure.”  He had a million questions, he was pissed as hell, and he wanted some air.  They headed downstairs and out the front door, but rather than taking one of the walk paths Sherlock started straight up the shady, tree-lined driveway, toward the public road.  Once they’d passed the car park he took the bug detector from his pocket and held it in his hand as they walked.  Still, clients were expected to walk along the footpaths, not the driveway, so he didn’t expect the detector to react and in fact the green light never wavered.



Ten or even five years ago Sherlock would not have suspected the reason for John's evident bad temper.  Now he had at least a vague idea why the Wellspring con bothered his friend so profoundly.  John, he maintained, was excessively generous about ascribing to others the virtues he himself possessed.  He was extending to the scam victims the same good will that he did to everyone, friends and strangers alike:  the idea that people deserved the truth and that their reaction to a deception would be the same as his own.  In believing this Sherlock somewhat misinterpreted John’s motive.  John was not naive.  He was familiar with human failings, but he offered his benevolence on credit until or unless people showed him that he should withdraw it.  It was not quite the same thing as assuming that others shared his own virtues, as Sherlock thought he did.  Nor was it a conscious policy.  It was simply John’s bluff, straightforward way.



In his turn, John was beginning to understand why it was so important to Sherlock (who would lie without hesitation or remorse to advance the resolution of a case) that people face what was real and not merely what was comfortable.  John had enough experience with death and loss to have very strong opinions on the subject.  His memories of the people he’d loved were...well, they were sacred to him.  More to the point, they were sacred to him just as they were.  All his memories.  The painful ones and the pleasant ones.  The thought of someone depriving him of them through distortion and fraud infuriated him.



They paced along under the beeches in silence for a while before he said, his voice tight with anger, "You know, I thought the medical fraud was the lowest form of scam they were doing here.  Abigail and all these other people sitting around eating deer antlers and detoxing.  I really thought that was as low as Wellspring could go.  But that seance?  To exploit people like that?  To destroy their memories of people they loved?"  He looked up and off into the distance, and Sherlock knew he was thinking of people he'd lost.



John took a deep breath, let it out.  "Loss hurts, Sherlock," he said.  "Always.  It shouldn't be dishonest, too.  Felicity isn't passing that stuff off as a harmless diversion.  She's presenting it as legitimate.  She's destroying those peoples' memories, and memories are all they have left.  She didn't tell those parents that their son had free will, that he was the only one responsible for the decision to kill himself, that they can't blame themselves for his actions.  Psychologically they're more messed up now than they were when they walked into that room.  She's lying to them, and she's robbing them of a chance to heal so it means something."



"But they feel better," Sherlock said with conscious irony.



"No, they don't!" John cried, impassioned.  "They don't know what they feel because they don't have the facts!  Yeah, they feel something, but it isn't true or real.  How can they get to what’s real if they start with a lie?"



"They can't.  They won't.  When your foundation is a lie everything that follows is, as well.  Every thought, every action.  All lies."



"Yes!" John cried, stopping in his tracks.  



Sherlock stopped, too.  "John, you're angry, but it's misdirected.  People like the Stokes can live in that house and buy posh watches only because people like the Freemans want to be lied to.  You can't help them.  It's not blindness.  It's the refusal to see.  The distinction is important."



John glared at him and opened his mouth to say something else, but Sherlock, guessing his thoughts, added, "And no, they would not be grateful if you told them the truth.  They would not be angry with Felicity.  They would be angry with you."



John started walking again.  Sherlock's form of honesty was very often characterized as brutal, and while he was more aggressive on the point than John considered ideal he realized now that they were agreed in principle:  Truth could not be reached without embracing reality.



Sherlock, meanwhile, was wondering how best to turn John's thoughts from the moral question of the deception to the practical one of how it was carried out, but before he could formulate a segue John did it for him.



That stuff Felicity said about me in the seance," he said.  "What the hell was that?”



Can you narrow that down at all?”



That stuff about a ‘painful loss.’  How the hell did she know that?”



Forer effect.”



What?”



Forer effect.  I told you:  The impulse of a person presented with a very general statement that could apply to almost anyone to supply his own details and connect it to his own life.  You’re almost fifty years old.  It would be far more astonishing if you hadn’t experienced a painful loss in your life.  She was on a fishing expedition and you chomped on the bait like a bass.”



But she said ‘wife.’”



No.  She didn’t.  Her exact words were, ‘Your...spouse?’  Phrased as an interrogative.  You’re the one with the body language a blind man could read.  John, you are easily the most honest human being I’ve ever known, and while that’s generally considered a virtue, even by me, it makes you bizarrely susceptible to people with rudimentary observation skills who themselves lie well.  Besides, they overheard you say in the lobby yesterday that your best friend jumped off a roof."



Chagrin:  In his agitation John had forgotten about that.  In spite of Sherlock’s earlier advice about focusing and his own admission that he needed to do so, here he still was, forgetting that they’d deliberately planted that seed with the Wellspring eavesdroppers just twenty-four hours ago.  He really had to get himself under control.  Besides, Sherlock was going to rupture something if John didn’t ask him to explain how the seance had worked, and it wasn’t fair to take his pet out on his friend.  



He stopped again, closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out.  Sherlock paused as well and turned to look at him.   A cool southwestern breeze off the Channel carried with it the ocean’s salt aroma, and the clean Atlantic air made John feel a little better.  He opened his eyes and said, “You have an explanation for everything that happened in there.”



Obviously.”



Okay.  Let's start with Liam Freeman.  Did she...'observe' all that from watching the parents, the way you do?  The way you saw that he really was a suicide?"



"No," Sherlock said.  “She got it from his obituary and the MyLife pages of his family and friends."



"What about the bell?  It was under glass.  A second bell rung by an accomplice, I suppose?”



But the door never opened.”



No, but a house like that--hundreds of years old--with all that paneling?  It must have a false cupboard somewhere around where another person could hide, right?”



Very good, John.”



Thank you.”  John started walking again, heading for the road.



Sherlock kept pace.  “That is one explanation for the bell,” he agreed.  “That an accomplice rang a second one with its clapper muffled to make it sound as though the one under the glass had rung.  Alternate explanation:  Felicity used the remote control to activate a recording of a muffled bell, or the accomplice did so.  Next?”



The cold air?  The ‘spirit fog’?”



Mrs. Hudson got a kilo of spirit fog with the mail-order goose she set on fire at Christmas last year.”



Dry ice?”



Dry ice.  The accomplice waves it about and the fact that everyone’s been told to hold hands on pain of being eaten by the bogey man means that they’re not likely to reach out and discover the accomplice in the room.  An accomplice who also moved the cabinet back against the wall, by the way.”



What about the ghost that ‘touched’ everyone?   How’d they do that?”



How would you do it?”



They reached the massive stone and iron gate at the public road and paused there.  John puffed out his cheeks, exhaled.  “I don’t know...string or thread, maybe?  Taped to a stick and waved around?”  



Sherlock looked down at him with an affectionate smile.  “Anything else?”



The glowing crystals?”



Laser.  Installed in the ceiling and operated by the remote.  The source of a laser is difficult to pinpoint unless you’re looking directly at it, and by then everyone was turned to look at the ghost.  Classic misdirection.”



John shook his head.  “And you think Felicity did all those audio and video tricks with a remote control?  How?  It had two buttons.”



Sherlock shrugged and started back down the drive.  “So do any number of relatively complicated electronic devices.  Computers used for scuba diving often have just one.  But in this case she kept a much more elaborate remote in a slot under the table in front of her.”



That’s why you sat down in her chair.”



Well, it’s what I discovered when I sat there,” Sherlock said.  “But I had a pretty good idea that I’d find something of the sort.”



But how’d she operate the remote?  She didn’t have her hands free.”



Didn’t she?”



John scowled.  “What do you mean, ‘didn’t she’?  No, she didn’t.  I was holding her right hand the whole time the lights were out, and you had her left.  Didn't you?"



She freed her right hand immediately after she turned out the light,” Sherlock said simply.



John frowned, thinking.  “No, she--Oh.  What, the tissue?  When she asked to get a tissue?”



Mm.”



But she gave me her hand again right after that,” John objected.  “I spent the rest of the damned seance holding her hand.”



Sherlock smiled.  “No, you didn’t.”



Sherlock--”



Think, John.  Were you holding her hand, or did she have her hand on your wrist?”



That one took John some time.  It wasn’t something he’d paid attention to once Felicity got back from the tissue excursion, having been wholly focused on ‘using all his senses.’  Finally he realized:  “She was holding my wrist, dammit.”



With her left hand,” Sherlock said, “not her right.  And I was holding her left wrist with my right hand.  Both of us were in contact with her left hand, but her right was free from the time she asked you to let her get the tissue.  That’s all she needed.  She did most of the audio and video effects, and certainly the ghost illusion, with a remote control.”



Yeah, about that.  Where the bloody hell did Lestrade come from?”



I included a picture of him with your application.  Mrs. Hudson took that photo of him with you at your wedding.”



I know when it was taken.  Did the application ask for a picture of...you know:  deceased people?”



They always ask for a picture, or a keepsake or something of significance to the dead person.  You were supposed to be bereaved--”



Thanks for letting me in on that one, by the way.”



John, please don’t take this the wrong way, but you are far and away the worst liar I’ve ever met.  The best way to ensure that your reactions to her ‘observations’ appeared real was to make them, you know:  real.”



They were back where they’d started from now, at the roundabout in front of the house, and they paused there.



As for the illusion itself,” Sherlock continued, “they didn’t have much to go on with just a single photograph and very little time, so they blurred it up a lot.  You remember the ‘ghost’ of Jennifer’s father was far more elaborate and far more clear?"



Yeah, how did they do that?  It looked absolutely real and solid, like the guy was there in the room.”



Sherlock reached for his phone, woke it, and handed it to John.  “Jennifer’s MyLife page.  It’s basically a shrine to her father.  Recognize anything?”



The source of Felicity’s ghost image was immediately evident:  a gif of Jennifer’s father, prominently featured on her social media page.  As a gif it was of course just a few seconds in duration, whereas the “ghost” image lasted a good twenty seconds, waved, spoke--it was much more elaborate.



They used this to make a video of her dead father?” John asked.



Once her name was on the guest list they had all sorts of time to bodge something together,” Sherlock said.  “Of course Jennifer might have been a plant; that's quite usual in professionally-conducted seances like this, and then they wouldn't have needed her social media information.  As it happens, though, she's legitimate.  If they hadn’t been able to find anything usable, poor old dad would never have put in an appearance.  Oh, Felicity might still have 'channeled' him like she did for the suicide, but he wouldn't have appeared in ghost form."



Bastards.”



Yep.”



John returned the phone.  “So what was that?” he asked again.  “A hologram?”



Sherlock gave him a knowing look.  “I’ll show you.”





* * * * *




You know,” Sherlock said as they paced along the path toward the cliffside meditation grove, “wishful thinking has been making idiots of the unwary since men crawled out of the ooze.  The techniques they’re using here are fairly sophisticated, but even the most primitive tricks have made clever people look like complete idiots.  Have you heard of the West Yorkshire fairies?”



Leeds United?”



Sherlock frowned at him.  Sometimes John said the most impenetrable things.  



John sighed.  Another sport reference wasted.  



The West Yorkshire fairies," Sherlock went on, "were the work of two young girls--cousins--who in 1917 cut illustrations of fairies from a book, pasted them to cardboard, and photographed each other with the images in a garden.  Some quite prominent and otherwise competent people took the photos as proof that fairies really existed.  Some of them insisted on it even after the girls admitted to the fraud.”



"Embarrassing."



"Not if you're too gullible to know it is."



On reaching the grove Sherlock motioned for John to remain silent and they sat together on a park bench facing the Channel.  



There was very little grove-like about the place at the moment, but John supposed that the plantings would eventually mature enough to justify the name.  It was a terrace area about twenty feet square, paved with smooth limestone flagstones and surrounded by a variety of perennial grasses.  Nine newly-installed silver birch trees, each some twenty feet tall, ringed the terrace area on all but the ocean side, which was left open to the view.  Along the seaward edge of the flagstone surface ran a railing designed to convey the idea that visitors should restrict themselves to the flagstones or risk plunging over the cliff, and on the far side of the railing, acting as something of a natural moat, lay a plot of tall sea oats reaching almost to the cliff edge and concealing it from anyone in the grove or on the path.



Sherlock produced the signal jammer, activated it, and dropped it back into his pocket.  “We’re good,” he said.



 "What, they've got this place wired for eavesdropping, too?" John asked.



Oh, naturally,” Sherlock said.  “They’d be stupid not to wire these spots, where people think they’re being perfectly discreet.  Not that anyone around here is skeptical enough to consider the possibility of spies."



"You've been here before," John said.  "That was the jammer, not the bug detector."



"What do you think I was doing while you were schmoozing with your new friends yesterday?" Sherlock said.  "You don't think I was mooning out the window that whole time, I hope.  Unlike Wellspring’s customers I need data."



Sherlock had gone first to Abigail's room, where he examined the view from her window.  John could well imagine how that visit went:  The peremptory knock, Sherlock barging in as soon as the door opened, sweeping past the astonished Abigail, ignoring all her questions, and then breezing away as abruptly as he’d arrived.



The view from Abigail’s southwest corner room confirmed to Sherlock that the meditation grove could be seen from inside the mansion only by chance, when the windows were open, and then only from a corner room like hers.  From John’s end of the building it could not be seen at all, even with the windows open.  Having satisfied himself on that point, Sherlock examined the grove itself--in solitude, happily, the news of a malevolent ghost having succeeded in discouraging other visitors.



So where’s the ghost?” John asked.  



Up a tree,” Sherlock said with a grin.  “Come on."   He stood and moved off the right side of the terrace, stopping under the canopy of the tree nearest the cliff edge and facing the ocean as though admiring the view.  As John joined him he said, “Look up when I tell you, but don’t stare.  There’s a branch that juts out to our left, over the grasses.  About halfway along it there’s an item attached to it.  Look now.  Can you see it?”  



John glanced up, but the little object was black and it took a moment to pick it out among the leaves.  “Got it,” he said, hoping that didn’t count as staring.  “Is that a camera?”  



A projector,” Sherlock said.  “If you were to walk around to the far side of the tree trunk you’d see the power cord running up to it.”  



The projector...produces the image of the ghost?  How?  It’s got to project it onto something, doesn’t it?  



Of course,” Sherlock said.  



"Well, what, then?  How could they project an image without Abigail and her friends seeing the screen?  



I’ll show you,” Sherlock said.  “Come this way, but be careful--it’s very near the edge.”



John didn’t have to be warned twice.  Although the cliffs here just southwest of St. Margaret's were only about a third as tall as those of Beachy Head, where they soared to some 350 feet above sea level, they were just as susceptible to erosion.  A centimetre per year was the usual rate, but much larger chunks of cliff occasionally sheared off.



Stand just there,” Sherlock said, when John had edged to within fifteen feet of the cliff.  “Now.  You see where the grasses end:  Look forward of that, in the centre.  You see the trench.”



John had to look twice for it.  A fringe of sea oats screened the sides of the trench, but by standing on tiptoe he made it out:  a ditch some four feet deep and five long, and perhaps four across.  Inside it a white board, very like a piece of shelving, lay flat on the ground, and just forward of that stood a rectangular metal frame that extended the length of the trench.



What is that?” he asked.  “Construction debris?”



No,” Sherlock said.  “It’s for the projector.  That panel is the screen.  You see the metal frame?”



Yeah.”



 “Look closer.”  



What am I looking for?”  



Something invisible.”  



Sherlock--”  



Look,” Sherlock insisted.  



John had to take another step toward the trench before he saw it:  something diaphanous and almost wholly transparent stretched across the frame that swam in and out of view, appearing and disappearing even as he stared at it.  “The hell?  What is that?”  



He turned to look at Sherlock, who was grinning.  “Have you ever heard of Pepper’s Ghost?” Sherlock asked.




* * * * *




John Henry Pepper,” Sherlock said when they’d sat down on the bench again, “was a scientist.  Born in the early 1800’s.  Overall his career was a bit hit and miss; he made some important contributions to the idea of continental drift but he also tried to make it rain with a steel kite.  The actual illusion he popularized had been around in one form or another since the 1500’s, but his name is attached to it because he made it famous. Crudely speaking he used a hidden room and a sheet of glass, but the modern update they’re using here replaces the glass with invisible polymer foil.”



Invisible foil.”



Which you just saw.  Why do you sound skeptical?”



It sounds silly.”



Would you feel better if I said ‘transparent’?”



Yes.”



The transparent foil is stretched on a frame, but the frame has to be hidden from the intended audience.  Three-D projector overhead.  Pre-recorded image.  The image is projected onto a reflective surface arranged flat on the ground--that panel that you thought was debris--and then bounced onto a transparent foil angled at 45 degrees to whatever surface the image is going to appear on.  In very large applications like a concert arena it can be used to project the image of a person onto a stage.  In smaller ones it can project a person's image into a meeting room, for example.”



Or a Reading Room.”



Or a Reading Room,” Sherlock agreed.  “It can use a recording, a computer-generated image, or a live image to make a person appear to be somewhere he’s not.  The projector creates a life-sized, three-dimensional, full-colour moving image.  To make a fairly crude rotoscope image all they need is a still photograph of the person's face.  They trace over the photo and then use a body double to create a complete image and add movement, then make a composite of the two images and project it.  Because the foil is transparent, everything behind the image remains visible, so it seems to fit naturally into the environment.  



In the seance room the ‘ghosts’ appeared to be in the room with us.  Here it would appear to be floating above the cliff’s edge.  In a stage show application the image would be projected onto the stage, so it would appear to the audience that the other performers were interacting with the projected image--singing, dancing, whatever--although the actors themselves wouldn’t be able to see it.  You can get as fancy as you like with the initial image, too, and digitally create performances that people have never even done.  Bring dead people back to life.  You can put Winston Churchill on stage with...name a famous singer.”



John puffed his cheeks.  “Uh...Sting?”  



No, really.”  



John just looked at him.  



That’s a verb, not a name.”  



John shrugged.



Sting who?"  



"Just Sting.  One name.  Like Cher.  Or Batman."  



Sherlock frowned.  He’d never heard of any of those people.  "With...Sting, then.  Of course here it’s not necessary to make the image appear to be walking on a stage or otherwise grounded.  Since they’re creating a ‘ghost’ it’s better if it looks like it’s floating.  The fact that the wind would naturally shake the foil is even better, for their purposes:  makes the ghost look even more otherworldly."



But you just submitted the application to get in here on Tuesday.  How long does it take to create the images they’re projecting?”



Depends on how detailed the illusion needs to be to be convincing.  For a dead celebrity it might take weeks.  For a crude facsimile of someone’s relative here at Wellspring...a couple of days?  Much less, if all that’s necessary is to have a disembodied head speak.  Might even have used stock video to create the effects of the grove ghost.  Expectation bias, fear, credulity, and native stupidity take care of the rest.  Just like everything else they do around here.”



So they made this hologram--”



No.  Not a hologram.  A Pepper’s Ghost.  Holograms are a completely different technology.”



Okay, yeah, not a hologram, then.  They use CGI technology and videos of people’s dead relatives to create the ghost and the seance images?”



"Yes."  Sherlock paused:  John was frowning as though he didn’t quite believe it all.  “I know you still have your hands full making blog posts, John, but software designers have moved on, as have many end-users.  Technology that used to be restricted to specialized studios invariably finds its way into the amateur and home-user market.  And the basic idea’s been around for ages.  Disney parks use it on a massive scale in their haunted mansion attraction, but it can also be used in far more intimate settings like the seance.  You’ve seen politicians reading from Teleprompters, of course.”



That’s a Pepper’s Ghost illusion?”



A variation of it.”



John thought for a bit, then decided, “It’s rather...”



What?”



Disappointing.”



Sherlock gave him a wry look.  “If you were expecting real ectoplasm trails I’d agree.  If you were expecting gaffer’s tape and twine, however, it’s fairly impressive.”



John looked at his watch.  “We’ve been here for ten minutes.  Why isn’t it doing anything now?  Are they watching it?  Monitoring us?”



Motion sensor, most likely,” Sherlock said.  “And it’s probably on a timer, as well, so that tripping the sensor would only turn the projector on during certain hours, like after dark, when the effect is most...effective.  That’s probably why Abigail and her friend didn’t see anything until they got up to leave.”



And you knew that something like this had to be here."



A shrug.  “The nature of the location--”



Wait,” John cried, stopping him.  “The roots!”



Sherlock smiled.  “Go on.”



You took the case because of the roots.”  John spoke more slowly as he put the pieces together.  “You said, ‘Why go to all the trouble of putting a grove just here when they could have done it so much more easily somewhere else, just by putting a few stone benches near existing trees?’  Because they didn’t want to have to cut through existing tree roots to dig the trench where they hid the reflector and the foil.  Building the grove meant that the ground would be easier to work with once the landscapers finished, and they could install the Pepper’s Ghost equipment.”



Very good, John.  The nature of the location suggested the nature of the illusion.  The projector has to be between the viewer and wherever the image needs to appear.  To hide everything for an outdoor application like this the projector requires a tree with a large enough canopy to conceal it from anyone sitting in the grove, and they also had to conceal the trench with the reflective panel and the foil inside.  That really limits the options for placement.  You can’t have people wandering round the thing in all directions.  It would be discovered.  But no one fancies getting quite that close to the edge of a cliff.  It’s a natural deterrent.”



Amazing.”



Not really.  It’s fairly prosaic technology at this point and--”



No.  I mean it’s amazing that you know all this.  How the hell do you know all this?”



His unfeigned praise gratified Sherlock, as it always did, but he said carelessly, “Scams, fakes, forgeries, cheats...All tools in the criminal’s kit.  It would be more noteworthy if I didn’t know about it.  The illusion itself is centuries old and the updated version is much more common now.  It’s easily within reach of a wealthy company like Wellspring.  And I saw it in action at the Disney park in Florida."



John stared at him.  "You.  Went to Disney World."



"Mrs. Hudson could have put the case against her husband together.  Once I turned the evidence over to the prosecutor I had time to kill."



"By going to a theme park."



"The airboat rides were off."



"Disney didn't just let you look behind the curtain.  What did you do?"



"I slipped out of the carriage and pulled a fire alarm.  They stopped the ride and turned the lights on and evacuated the place.  I just sort of...fell behind the group."



"Okay.  I get how the ghost illusion was done.  Wellspring wants to have a ghost appear so they need a place to conceal the equipment and they have to stop people getting around the front side of it.  So, new meditation grove near the cliff, where there also aren't any tree roots to dig through.  Once it was buried they install the shrubbery and no one sitting here in the grove would ever know the difference.”



Exactly.  It took them two consecutive nights to get everything right.”



So the red lights that Abigail Soranzo saw two nights in a row was who?”



Well, let’s say at least two of the four Wellspring principals.  Using red filtered torches, just as you said before.”



Fine.  I understand why they built the grove where they did, but why haunt it afterward?"



Because they wanted to conceal a crime.”



What crime?”



Murder.”




* * * * *































































Friday




John,” Sherlock whispered in the pre-dawn darkness.  “It’s time to go.”



John startled awake at once.  Sherlock stood over him, fully dressed.  “What’s wrong?”



It’s time to go,” Sherlock repeated.



The hell?  Go where?”  He reached for the light.



No,” Sherlock said.  “No light.”



Where are we going?” John asked again.



We’re breaking into the Reading Room.”



As he dressed John wondered idly whether Sherlock had even been to sleep.  From his crisp appearance and bright expression, John doubted it.  He’d been sitting at the window when John climbed into bed six hours ago, his hands steepled under his chin, miles away from Dover.  Maybe deep in thoughts of the case.  Maybe sleeping.  It was always hard for John to tell.  



John was many years from the army now, but life with Sherlock meant that he still retained the ability--if nothing like the desire--to wake instantly and get out the door quickly.  All the same he was older now and the fog of sleep still clung to him, so he was lacing his shoes before he remembered that the Reading Room was on the first floor.  "The Reading Room's on the first floor," he said.  "It's locked this time of night."  



"That's why I got the key," Sherlock said, and held up Felicity's ID card.  



"That's what the public display of gratitude was about.  You stole her pass card."  



Wry look.  “You didn’t think I was really moved by that rot."



The keycard worked flawlessly and they slipped onto the first floor and then into the darkened conference room unopposed.  They left the lights off and used their torches.  Sherlock checked the eavesdropping equipment, but it was turned off at that time of night.



"What would you do if that stuff was hard-wired?" John asked, because until now Sherlock had been jamming the equipment electronically.  



"Pliers," Sherlock said simply.



Once inside the Reading Room Sherlock made another surveillance sweep, then took a cast around.  To John the room looked no different than it had during the seance.



Sherlock stopped at the cabinet with the bell, still backed against the wall behind the chair.  “John,” he said, and John joined him.  He pointed to the black felt pads on the cabinet’s feet.  “That’s how they slide the cabinet back without anyone hearing,” he explained.  “Look at the floor.  It’s more obvious at an angle.”



John took his meaning.  He lowered himself to his hands and knees and peered at the floor in front of the cabinet from an oblique angle while shining his torch across it.  It was anything but obvious, but he could just make out the wear on the floorboards from the repeated sliding of the cabinet back and forth between Felicity's chair and the wall.  Not scraped or scratched, just buffed very slightly smoother than the surrounding wood.  It would be very difficult to make out even with the overhead lights on, and there was virtually no risk of a sitter detecting the marks.



John closed his eyes and drew his fingers lightly over the worn part of the floor, then the surrounding wood, trying to distinguish between the two by feel.  Nothing.  He tried again, this time by putting one finger on the track and the other on the unworn part of the floor.  Maybe.  



Sherlock watched him with approval, then led the way to the wall from which the ghost illusions had seemed to emanate, the exterior wall to the left of the doorway.  "Same sort of marks here," he said, pointing to the floor.



Now the worn places were evident to John.  "From another cabinet?" he asked.  "Where is it?"



Sherlock indicated the wall with a nod.  "In there.  Look."  He pointed with the torch beam and John realized that the marks disappeared into the wall under the baseboard.  



Sherlock knelt and ran his long, sensitive fingers along the underside of the trim molding that defined the wall panels.  On a horizontal top piece of half round, about three feet up from the floor, he found what he was looking for.  He lifted the piece of molding, which pivoted up to reveal a piano hinge.  The molding itself had a channel carved along its length to accommodate the hinge.  He glanced significantly at John, let go of the molding, and dropped to his knees to examine the parallel section of half round nearer the floor.  He ran his fingers along the lower edge of it until he found the carve-out.



"Here," he said.  He hooked it with his fore and middle fingers and lifted, and the entire four-foot by three-foot section of panel swung up silently and smoothly until it was parallel to the floor, revealing--nothing.



John aimed his torch into the darkness and they peered into an alcove about four feet deep, five wide, and perhaps another five in height.  Standing in the center of it was a small black-painted wood box about the size of a nightstand.  Sherlock turned it toward them--it moved easily on its felt gliders--to reveal that it was a three-sided cabinet containing a small projector screen and a folding panel of the invisible foil, ready to be deployed.



"Unbelievable," John said.  "How'd you know this was here?"



Sherlock was full-on grinning with delight now.  "This is the northwest exterior wall, yes?"



"Yes."



"As is the bookshelf wall in the conference room.  But the dimensions of the rooms don't match up.  This wall--" patting the panelling "--is at least two feet deeper than the one out there.  The bookshelves help obscure the fact, but they don't completely conceal it."



"Brilliant."



"Self-evident,” Sherlock said, pleased all the same.  “It had to be here.  They haven't got all day to muck about during the seance.  Based on where the ghost appeared, this wall makes the most sense from a convenience standpoint.  Once the lights are full dark the accomplice pushes the cabinet out, places the screen, and stretches the foil.  Even if the room weren’t completely dark, everyone's focused on the ghost, so they never look down and see the cabinet.  Painting it black helps, too."



"But how do they access this space?" John asked.  "This is the end of the building.  The other side of this wall is just...outdoors.  This doesn't have any other way in or out, does it?  If the accomplice isn't coming in through the conference room door, how does he get in?  Does he wait here the whole time?”



"Let's find out," Sherlock said.  A thorough inspection of the projector compartment convinced him that it could only be accessed from the Reading Room.  "Didn't think so," he muttered.



"Why not?"



Sherlock pointed to the table.  "John, sit there.  Don't move.  Don't speak."



John did as he was directed--in resigned silence, because he’d learned long ago that Sherlock wouldn’t answer questions anyway until it suited him--and watched as Sherlock retrieved a smudge stick from the supply cabinet, lit it, and carried it to the far corner of the wall behind Felicity’s chair, where he stood perfectly motionless until the smoke rose vertically from the stick.  Then, starting in the far corner, he slowly--very slowly--worked his way along the wall, holding the stick near the horizontal molding pieces and pausing every few feet until the air currents created by his movement subsided.  Only when the smoke rose vertically from the stick did he move on.



John watched, bemused, as he covered the entire length of the wall in this fashion.  When he reached the far corner he turned away and dropped still-smoking stick into its brass dish, then circled the table and examined the section of wall that the Reading Room shared with the conference room.  Here he worked much more quickly, and within fifteen seconds he found and raised another panel, identical to the one behind which they’d found the projector.  Unlike that panel, however, this one concealed not a compartment, because the wall there was less than a foot thick, but a small passage through to the conference room.  The cabinet on which the sitters left their keys and phones blocked and helped to conceal the corresponding door on the conference room side.



So,” John said, "Felicity throws the chain on the door from the inside.  The accomplice enters the conference room, locks it, turns off the lights, moves the cabinet, and comes in through the access panel.  Leaves the same way afterward, puts the cabinet back, turns the conference room lights back on, and no one in here ever suspects.  Well, almost no one."



Sherlock wasn’t attending.  "John," he said, and made a beck with his head.   “Hold this up.”  



John joined him and held the panel so that it was more or less horizontal.  Sherlock returned to the smudge stick and repeated the process of moving it along the far wall.  The smoke rose vertically until just before the cabinet and Felicity's chair, where it eddied toward John.



"Hah," Sherlock said with satisfaction.  He tamped out the smudge stick and applied himself to finding a way into the wall.  



After a few minutes of watching him search unsuccessfully John said, “How much longer do I have to hold this panel?"



"Hm?"



"I said, 'How much longer do I have to hold this up?'"  No answer.  "Sherlock."



"Not now, John."  Suddenly he stopped and looked up as though he’d just remembered that John was in the room.  "What are you doing?"



"You told me to hold the panel up."



"That was ages ago.  Come on."



Sherlock stepped back and considered the wall, frowning with concentration, then took out his glass and examined not the horizontal half-round this time but the surface of the wood on either side of the vertical molding pieces.  Watching him close-to, John couldn’t make out what he was looking at, but Sherlock gave a grunt of satisfaction and dropped the glass back into his pocket, then hooked the fingers of both hands around the inside edge of the molding and pulled, applying steady pressure.  Nothing happened.  He reset his hands and pulled harder, and at last the entire vertical piece of molding slid an inch to the left, revealing what looked to John like a thin cord stuffed into a slot in the wall.



"The hell is that?" he asked.



"Riser cord," Sherlock said, still holding the molding piece out of the way.  "Give it a try."  



John found the free end of the cord and gave it a gentle experimental tug.  When he felt resistance he increased the pressure and the entire section of panel shifted upward from the baseboard, while the baseboard itself remained in place.  Once started the panel moved smoothly, and when he shone the torch into the little space revealed by its opening he saw the clever counterweight mechanism that not only did all the work of lifting it but held it open when he let go of the cord.



This compartment was more cramped than the first, with not quite four feet of headroom, although it was also longer at about six feet.  It was not quite three wide.  John had the impression that it was much older than the projector alcove and probably as old as the house itself.



"It's a priest hole," Sherlock explained, confirming his suspicion.  "De rigeur in homes of this era.  When the conference room panel is open it creates a cross draft through this space toward the conference room."



John played the torch over the far wall of the little compartment, revealing an obvious piano hinge and a worn wood knob.  "Does that connect to...?"  



"If you're going to say 'the lawyer's office,' yes.  It does."  



Sherlock ran his own torch over the compartment interior and they both saw the blood at the same time.



There wasn’t much.  Just a tiny pool about the size and shape of a £1 coin and a drag mark leading toward the office.



"The blood pooled here," Sherlock said, pointing.  "Started to dry--you see the outline of the original stain."  



John nodded:  It was quite clear to him.  



"Then whoever was in here was moved.  Dragged toward the office.  That's where the smear came from.  Partial shoe print.  Considerate of them."  



Sherlock handed his glass to John, who knelt over the little puddle.  "Well,” he said, “You know what the margin for error is here.  Not knowing the humidity level or the injury site, but considering the clotting, serum separation, and the rest, I'd say at least twenty-four hours old?  But less than two days.”  He looked up at Sherlock and handed back the glass.  "You think someone was murdered and stashed in here, don’t you?"



Sherlock's eyes were alight:  Dover wasn’t such a bad place after all.  "I think so, yes.”



"And when you said the grove was dug to conceal a murder, this is what you meant."



"Too early to say,” Sherlock replied.  “But I can tell you that we need to see what’s on the other side of that wall."



Taking care not to disturb the blood, Sherlock crouched beside the panel leading to the lawyer’s office.  It was meant to open in the direction of the office so he put his weight against it and pushed steadily.  Nothing.  He tried again, more forcefully, but the panel was obviously blocked by something heavy on the other side.  With a growl of frustration he backed out of the compartment.  “We need to see that office,” he said again.



"Yeah," John agreed, and glanced at his watch.  He was surprised to see that they'd been in the Reading Room almost an hour.  "It's after six.  If we get caught in there..."



"We won't.  We'll get them to let us in."



"How?"



"By appointment."



"Okay," John said in a low voice as they let themselves out of the conference room and headed for the stairs.  "That raised more questions than it answered, didn't it?  Whose blood is that?  If someone was killed...hell, anywhere on this floor twenty-four hours ago it would implicate one of the people with the restricted access cards, right?  The Stokes or the Kickhams.  So whose blood is it, and where's the body now?  In the meditation grove?  But we were just there."



"All excellent questions, John," Sherlock said.  "It will take DNA testing to confirm whose blood that is, of course."



"Yeah, duh," John said.  "But you have a theory, don't you?"



"Two," Sherlock agreed.




 * * * * *




It was clear to John that Sherlock had hit upon a new scent and he was as eager as his friend to pursue it, but there was little they could do until business hours, so they returned to John’s room, where John’s last coherent thought before he fell asleep in the armchair was that he was far too wired to go back to sleep.   He awoke when the TV remote slipped from his hand and clattered to the floor.



It was a quarter of eight.  John was starving, and with nothing better to do for the moment, Sherlock accompanied him to breakfast.



Fog hugged the Wellspring grounds and dew hung like silver sequins from the new-mown grass.  It was too cool and damp to eat outside on the terrace, where the dew dripped even from the furniture, creating table- and chair-shaped outlines on the flagstones, but inside the cafeteria was warm and bright.  John had made his way to the toast when Abigail Soranzo approached their table and joined them at his invitation.



Mr. Holmes,” she said, clutching her coffee cup in both hands, “I’m glad you’re here.  I wanted to tell you right away that--”



"You saw red lights in the grove again last night," Sherlock said, sounding bored.



"How did you know?" she asked, surprised.



Knowing that Sherlock didn’t much care for Abigail and that he had no intention of speaking freely in any case considering the level of surveillance in the place, John didn’t wait for the moment to get awkward before he answered for his friend.  "Just a theory," he told her.  "Things are starting to come together a bit."



Abruptly Sherlock got up and walked off, leaving Abigail staring after him.  "Dammit,” John said.  “I'm sorry.  I have to..."



"No, it's okay.”



"I can't let him wander unsupervised.  Sorry."  And he hurried off after Sherlock, catching up to him just outside the cafeteria doors.



"The hell are you going?" he asked.  "I thought you couldn't do anything until 'business hours.'"



Sherlock nodded toward the lift, where Terence Stokes stood talking to a slim, fair-haired woman.  "The boss is here.  Looks like business hours just started."



"That's the lawyer I met with Wednesday," John said of the woman.  "Amanda Kickham."



"Is it?" Sherlock said.  "How very convenient."



Stokes completed a text and hit the send button just as Sherlock and John stopped before him, then pocketed the phone.  "Ah, Mr. Holmes.  Mr. Wilson," he said cheerfully.  "How are you this morning?  You've met Mrs. Kickham, of course?"



John opened his mouth to say yes, but Sherlock got there ahead of him.  He seized Amanda’s hand and shook it vigorously.  "Yes," he said, "we met Wednesday afternoon.  So lovely to see you again, Mrs. Kickham."



"Uh--Yes, thank you," she said, a little overwhelmed by his enthusiasm.  "Mr. Holmes.  Mr. Wilson.  A pleasure to see you again, as well."



"I'm so happy we caught you," Sherlock went on, "because we'd be very grateful for an appointment this afternoon."



"I'm sorry," she said at once, "I've just got so much scheduled already that I--"



Sherlock rode straight over her, managing to infuse his tone with both ingratiation and insistence as he pattered on.  "John and I talked it over last night, and I know I was reluctant about the money thing when we met the other day, but between John and that amazing seance experience yesterday--have you seen Felicity's seance?  What am I saying, of course you have, she’s your sister--and John's already feeling better, too, even though he's only been on the Protocol for two days, and to make a long story short Wellspring has made a believer out of me and while we were discussing it last night I said I'd like to add my name to the documents John signed, so we're both contributing to his Wellspring account and I was thinking of starting with £75,000."  Finally paused for breath.



Amanda blinked, then glanced at Stokes before she said, "It's hard to resist your enthusiasm, Mr. Holmes.  I'll have Patricia make some time for you at two o'clock.  Would that suit?"



"Oh, admirably," Sherlock said, looking pleased.  "Thank you so much.  See you this afternoon."



The lift arrived, Amanda boarded it, and Stokes walked away toward his office.  John waited until the doors closed behind Amanda, then turned to Sherlock.  "What the hell was that about?" he asked.  "You didn't meet with her.  Why does she think you did?  Why did you say that?"



Sherlock waved his hand dismissively.  "Probably didn't want to seem rude."



"Yeah, people are weird that way."



"Did you happen to notice her perfume just now?"



John frowned.  "No.  Why?"



"Neither did I."




* * * * *




John was already eager to break his Wellness Centre appointment; their encounter with Stokes and Amanda Kickham made it perfectly obvious to him that Sherlock was rapidly closing in on a resolution to the case; and he met Sherlock’s subsequent proposal that they separate with considerable resistance.  Yet when Sherlock swore that he was still in the information-gathering phase of the case there was little John could do but take his word for it.  Their best strategy, Sherlock told him, was to carry on as planned, with John keeping the clinic appointment.



John settled for extracting a promise (on pain of an arse-kicking) that Sherlock would do nothing risky until John was available to help him.  Ten years ago such a promise would have been worthless, but while Sherlock remained every bit the loose cannon he'd always been, he was also deeply attached to John.  He’d caused his friend a great deal of pain over the years and he was reluctant to be the cause of more, so these days when he agreed not to hare off solo on a dangerous enterprise his intent was sincere, even if his follow-through didn’t always align with it.  Today, however, he was confident that he’d be able to meet John back at the clinic in two hours, as agreed.



Wellspring called the clinic’s procedure rooms ‘wellness modules,’ and the module to which John was led was about the size of the usual hospital exam room.  Unlike the usual hospital exam room, however, it contained not an exam table but a deeply padded leather massage chair.  It was also unlike the usual hospital exam room in that it included a micro-fridge stocked with organic juices and bottled water, a plate of organic biscuits under a clear glass cake cover, an array of magazines, a scattering of aromatherapy candles--John was offered a choice between sage, rainforest, English garden, and seacoast--and a little countertop fountain which produced a not-unpleasant musical note as the water pattered onto clear blue marbles in the basin.  The walls were painted a soothing aqua, and a lush Boston fern hung in a macrame sling in the back corner.  Indirect halogen lights controlled by a rheostat replaced the more usual harsh florescent fixtures, and even John conceded that the overall effect was restful.



Tracy, the PA he met on Wednesday, showed him how to operate the massage chair's incline function using the integral control panel in the armrest, but he utterly rejected the massage feature and kept the chair upright:  Reclining in the circumstances would make him more rather than less tense.   Tracy offered him a beverage, bringing the total offers of 'something to drink' to six, by four different people, since he stepped into the clinic.  



It came as a great relief to John, who had spent the morning rehearsing excuses for declining the hydrogen peroxide drop, when Tracy announced that the procedure had been rescheduled.  Instead he would be receiving an IV infusion of what she called ‘magnesium sulphuricum’ to treat the hypomagnesemia revealed by his wellness inventory.



"Hypomagnesemia," he repeated, a little skeptically:  He happened to know not only that he was not magnesium-deficient but that none of his answers on the inventory could be interpreted to suggest that he was.



"It sounds complicated," she admitted, "but the treatment is pretty simple.  It takes about the same amount of time as the peroxide, though, so it won't take up any more of your day."



"What about the peroxide?  Why aren't we doing that?"



"It looks like that's scheduled for Monday now," she said, checking the notes in his file, "when Dr. Kickham will be back in the office.  He has to supervise those."  



"Oh?  He's not in today?"  



She shook her head.  "He had to take some personal time this morning.  But I'm qualified to give you the magnesium sulphuricum infusion, so no worries."  



The process would take about two hours, she explained, at the slow drip rate required to be safest and most effective.  That at least was medically valid, John knew:  Her magnesium sulphuricum, more prosaically known as magnesium sulphate, and even more prosaically known as Epsom salts, had to be administered slowly to avoid the risk of kidney damage, not to mention hypotension, shock, and death.  As she suspended the bag of dextrose injection from the rack he eyed it carefully, but at the dilution indicated on the label an infusion at twice the rate she cited wouldn’t do him any harm, so although he remained unhappy about being in the Wellness Centre at all, and although the procedure was entirely pointless from a clinical standpoint, he did not judge it to be unsafe.



Tracy managed the IV needle insertion adequately, using a vein in the back of his left hand, then secured it with a scrap of paper tape, started the drip, and departed with the promise to check on him in half an hour.



When the door closed he pulled the wheeled IV rack from its spot behind the chair to just forward of the arm rest, easily within his field of view, and reclined the massage chair slightly, but he didn’t want to fall asleep here:  He was wary of the whole place and reluctant to get too comfortable.



Nothing she had offered from the magazine supply--alternative remedy 'journals,’ Woman's Weekly, New, Chat--appealed to him, and while he could no doubt find something on his phone, he determined to spend the time thinking about the case.  Not that he hadn’t been pondering it, mostly fruitlessly, since they arrived.  



Sherlock hadn't been very clear on too many points, although John had no doubt that his friend had everything sorted in his own mind.  The fact that he wouldn't share it was standard operating procedure.  John was fully acquainted with Sherlock's love of the dramatic, his unique talent for creating drama where none previously existed, and his simple delight in John's delight over his deductions.  An endearing quality, really, in a man to whom the terms 'endearing' and 'simple' did not otherwise apply.  



Did they even have a crime? John wondered.  The whole pretext for this excursion was to investigate Abigail Soranzo’s ‘ghost,’ and there was nothing self-evidently criminal about that.  On the other hand, there was nothing self-evidently interesting about it either, at least not to John, but Sherlock wouldn’t have taken the case otherwise.  This morning’s discovery of blood in the priest hole pointed to him being right--not that John ever doubted that.  How many times had he wished for direct insight into the workings of Sherlock's mind?  How many times each hour?  How many hours were there in ten years?



For his part he didn’t need a murder to know that something criminal was going on at Wellspring.  Maybe not as the courts would define it, but by his own standards, certainly.  He thought about Abigail and her friends, all apparently decent, pleasant people who probably didn't rob greengrocers or kick puppies in their spare time.  They raised their families, loved their kids, navigated most of life’s problems more or less successfully, and yet they were susceptible to the worst sort of fraud, fraud that preyed on their trust, gullibility, and wishful thinking.  



Sherlock insisted that honest men couldn’t be cheated, but John didn’t believe that Wellspring’s clients were liars themselves.  He wanted to give the benefit of the doubt to the scam victims, and Western medicine was complicated, intimidating, and sometimes painfully impersonal.  Much like John's best friend.  One thing Wellspring offered its customers was the assurance that someone cared.  What they cared about was separate question, but the clients didn’t doubt that the comfort, personalized attention, and solicitude were genuine.



Abruptly he realized that he should have taken at least one person up on the offer of something to drink:  His mouth had gone quite dry.   There was the micro-fridge in the corner behind him, but it was far too much trouble to get up now.  Besides, Tracy would be back in twenty minutes; she could hand him a drink then.



You can't cheat an honest man.  John returned to the idea.  He'd always taken the maxim to apply to people who were honest in their dealings with others, but maybe...maybe it referred to whether people were honest with themselves.  That would explain Sherlock's contempt for the victims.  He'd lie without a twinge of guilt to gain the confidence of a suspect or advance a case or even to circumvent the police if his extra-legal judgement required it, but Sherlock never--not ever--lied to himself.  He’d been mistaken and he'd been fooled, but he'd never been anything other than ruthlessly committed to seeing reality as it was, whatever the emotional cost to himself.  But then, he would reject the idea of truth coming with a cost.  People paid for self-deception, not the truth, he would say, and there was no place in his world for self-betrayal.



Sherlock was adamant about the importance of keeping an active mind, as opposed to a merely open one into which every passing charlatan and opportunist could tip bins of rubbish, as he put it.  Good advice, John thought.  Maybe he should take another look at just what Wellspring was doing.  Have an active mind about it.  They weren’t actually hurting anyone, were they?  Like, really harming them?  Where was the crime?  That little bit of blood in the priest hole?  Anyone could bleed a bit.  John had done some bleeding himself a few times over the years, and here he was:  perfectly fine.  Better than fine.  Incredible.  Hell, years ago doctors thought that bleeding their patients was a good thing.  That barista in the coffee shop who flirted with him Wednesday...that was a good thing.  Good to know that he wasn’t too old to appeal to a pretty girl.  Not like that woman on the train with the ridiculous green hair...Green was bad.  Very wrong.  Not like this velvety, floating warmth...Christ, this was pleasant.  Itchy, a bit, but that was nothing to this delightful weightless feeling.  If he'd known Epsom salts were so much fun he might have...might have...done something...might have tried them sooner.  Yeah.  This stuff was totally worth it.  Epsom salts...salts of Epsom...



Wait.  Hang on.  Think, John.  Sherlock’s voice in his head.  He always said that the same way, urgently, as though they were boys climbing a big rock and he was exhorting John to join him at the top so they could be king of the world together.  Hurry, John.  Think, John.  



Salts...Epsom...Harmless as hell...Couldn’t hurt him.  Couldn’t make him feel this good, either, and he was so relaxed.  Narcotic, he thought suddenly, and his smile vanished.  In sudden alarm he sat up.  Or tried to, but he couldn’t even raise his head.  Weird that he felt so weightless, too, because he was sinking into the chair like it was pudding.  Not good.  Wrong.  Jesus, this was wrong.  Epsom salts were not in that bag.  



He heard a voice repeating no, no, no, and realized it was his own.   Fought again to raise his head but his whole body was impossibly heavy and the attempt produced a sudden, violent wave of nausea.  Oh, brilliant:  Puke on this shirt, he thought, closing his eyes and swallowing.  When the danger passed he carefully opened his eyes and with an effort turned his head to stare at his left hand, at the IV needle, but now his eyes weren’t working properly, either.  



There was something he was supposed to be doing.  Magnesium...atomic number...He couldn’t remember.  Old Sherl would know.  Guy knew everything.  No, not magnesium...Focus, dammit.  He switched to staring at his right hand.  Do something, he thought, but it just sat there.  It was so damned far away from his left hand.  When did that happen?  With a supreme effort he raised it.  Swung it over.  Dropped it onto his left hand.  Picked ineffectually at the tape securing the needle.  



Come on, John.  Forget the tape.  His fingers closed around the IV line and it took all his remaining strength and concentration to pull the needle out.



Shallow breaths.  Shallow breaths...It didn’t help.  He was going to vomit, and the longer he stayed sitting upright the sicker he felt.  Freed from the IV drip he wasn’t getting any weaker, though, and he dragged first his left and then his right leg off the chair and fought hard to sit up.  Hard, but not successfully.  The bloody arm rest was in his way.  Groaning with the effort, his teeth bared, he tried again, and that time got himself more or less upright.  He pushed off but slid to his knees on the floor.  Screw it, he thought, and crawled to the waste bin in the corner.



When, twenty minutes later, Sherlock knocked confidently on the door and strode in without waiting for an invitation, John was sitting upright, his back against the wall and his legs straight out in front of him, in very little doubt about what was in that IV bag.



"John, I know what they're--" Sherlock announced, and then in an instant he was crouched before John.  “John, what the hell?” he began, but even as he spoke John's pink face, constricted pupils, and slightly dreamy expression gave him the answer.  "You're high," he said in disbelief.  



His candid astonishment made John laugh.  "Yeah," he said.  "Gotta say I kinda see the appeal."  



But Sherlock did not laugh.  The still-dripping IV bag and the speck of dried blood on the back of John’s hand left him in no doubt about what had happened.  His voice and eyes were cold when he said, “Just so I’m clear:  Did you get high before or after you decided to let these butchers near you with a needle?”



That stung.  John came in for his share of Sherlock’s constitutional impatience and pettishness, but the detective was not easily angered except by incompetence.  “It’s not--” John began.



Not what, as bad as it looks?  Because it looks like you put your life in the hands of--”



I didn’t,” John insisted.



--criminally incompetent--”



Dammit, Sherlock,” John cried.  “It was Epsom salts, if you’d let me explain for two seconds.  It’s legitimate for low magnesium.”



Sherlock scowled at him.  “You don’t have low magnesium.”



Yes, thank you, Doctor.  I know that.  The solution they’re using wouldn’t do anything if I were.  It’s diluted by at least half what it should be.  It’s benign.”



And yet here you are on the floor.  The only time that ever happened to me was when I put an active ingredient in my arm.”



Well, I didn’t know there was something else in there, did I?  With the data I had there was no reason not to go along with it.  I realized what happened and I fixed it.  I don’t know why you’re so worked up about it, anyway,” he added sulkily.



As a lie this was one of John’s more transparent efforts, but they understood each other perfectly and Sherlock let it go.  He was well-acquainted with the effects of narcotics, salubrious and otherwise, so he retrieved a bottle of water from the refrigerator and unscrewed the cap.  “Can you keep it down?” he asked, and when John nodded he passed the bottle to him.



The effects of the poison had eased somewhat, but John’s thirst had not.  When he’d drained half the bottle he peered at Sherlock.  “How do I look?”



Sherlock knew he didn’t mean cosmetically.  "Pupils constricted but not pinpoint.  You're a little flushed, but not badly."



John nodded.  "Didn't get a ton of it," he said.  "Knew it wasn't salts."  



"Obviously not.  Narcotic of some sort.  Any ideas?"  



"MSO4," John said at once.  



Sherlock frowned.  Nothing on the periodic table was denoted by the symbol M; ‘MSO4’ was chemical gibberish to him.



It's not a chemical formula,” John explained.  “Medical shorthand--slang, sort of--for morphine sulfate.  Epsom salts is MgSO4.  Morphine’s MSO4.  It's an easy mistake to make, which is why you’re not supposed to write morphine out that way, but people still do it and it still gets swapped."  



"Or it was deliberate."  



"Maybe," John said doubtfully.  "How would you prove it, though?  It's a common mistake even in a...a reputable setting."



Sherlock had been crouched before John but now he stood and shut off the IV line, which had been dripping the preparation onto the floor since John pulled out the needle.  He capped it and unhooked the bag from the rack.  



If you wanna take the leftovers home,” John said, “take the needle off and pitch it.”



John, if you can’t share a needle with your best friend, who can you share it with?  Besides, we have to retain it for the DNA evidence.”  He was coiling the line around the bag when Tracy appeared in the doorway and gasped at the sight of John on the floor.  



Sherlock covered the distance to her in a single stride.  "You," he snarled, and she scrambled away from him, hit the door jamb with a little squeal of terror, and raised her hands to fend him off.  He never touched her, but he held the bag up to her face and gave her the full sociopath treatment.  John did not interfere.  “You did this,” he said, his voice dark with menace.  “What did you put in this bag?”



When she hesitated, looking appalled, he shouted, "Tell me!" and she burst into tears.  



"Nothing!" she cried.  



"Liar," Sherlock hissed.  



"I don't prep the bags," she sobbed.  



"Who does?"  



"Dr. Kickham.”



"Who else?"  



"No one!"  He was so close to her and so fraught with latent violence that she could formulate no other goal than to appease his anger.  "Everything's kept locked up," she added quickly.  "Dr. Kickham’s the only one who can open the dispensary.  He has to use his keycard."  



Watching him, John saw that with her words another piece of the puzzle clicked into place, but it represented less than a second’s delay before Sherlock said to her, still in that menacing baritone, "You will show me where the drugs and supplies are kept and unless you fancy spending the next twenty years of your life in prison as an accessory to attempted murder you will keep your mouth shut about it.  Do you understand?"  



She nodded silently, then stood frozen against the jamb, her hand over her mouth and her eyes wide and red-rimmed, as Sherlock left her and returned to John.



Back on his feet, John dusted himself, and while the headache he’d developed stabbed his brain now that he was standing, on balance he felt better by far than he had just twenty minutes ago.  



"You should wait here," Sherlock said, peering into his face, but as he expected, John declined to apply his common sense.  



"No way,” he said, with a stubborn shake of his head.  “I'm good."  To prove it he let go of Sherlock's arm and stood up straighter; Sherlock decided he was well enough to walk, so he returned his attention to Tracy, who flinched from his minatory glare.  "Show me the dispensary," he snapped.



The dispensary was simply a locked cabinet kept in a small room--not much bigger than a supply closet--behind the main desk, off limits to clients.  John leant against the door frame for support and looked around, and he didn’t like what he saw.  A full-sized refrigerator took up most of the rest of the little room, but he didn’t have to look inside to know that it was as likely to contain staff lunches as medication.



"What do you think?" Sherlock asked him.



"No CCTV, no lock to speak of on the door,” John said with considerable disapprobation.  “The cabinet requires keycard access, but there’s no ADC--but then, they're not open after hours anyway, so I'll give them that one, and it’s not like they’re dispensing actual medications."



"They just dispensed one," Sherlock said pointedly.



John addressed Tracy.  "Show him your list of available substances," he said.



She stared at him.  "The...what?"



"No list of available substances," John said disgustedly.  "Perfect."



Don’t need it,” Sherlock said.  He produced Felicity's keycard and used it to access the dispensary.  "See anything you like?"



John pushed away from the door and peered into the cabinet.  “I don’t believe this,” he said.  “I take back what I said about dispensing actual meds.”



Why?”



Because half this stuff’s legitimate.  Look.”  He pointed to each glass vial and pill bottle in turn as he read off the names.  “Simvastatin...infliximab...furosemid...dexlansoprazole...isoproterenol...It’s what you’d expect to see in any medical office.  Of course, no one with half a brain would arrange things this way.  It’s just about guaranteed to create a swap at some point.  And yeah:  I knew it.  Look:  Magnesium sulphate right next to the morphine.”



"Those aren't in the right place," Tracy offered, and they turned to look at her.



"Explain," Sherlock said.  



"I don’t know what that one is,” she said, pointing to the morphine, "but the other one is supposed to be up there."  She indicated a spot higher up on the shelves.  "By the epigea repens.  It's really Epsom salts, so it should be by the stuff that starts with 'E'."  



John didn’t bother to tell her that magnesium sulphate and Epsom salts were the same damned thing.  "Then why is it stored next to the morphine?" he demanded.



"Morphine?" she said, puzzled.  "We don't have any morphine.  That's, like, illegal, or something."



"For God’s sake," John growled.



Besides,” she added, “Dr. Kickham doesn’t use allopathic preparations.  Only natural, non-toxic substances.”



John snorted.  “That’ll come as a surprise to the lab that manufactures the linezolid.  It’s a synthetic antibiotic.”  He turned to Sherlock.  “You know what he’s doing.”



Supplementing the supplements.”



Yeah.  With real drugs.  That’s the only reason he gets any positive results at all, besides sheer chance.”



Sherlock shrugged.  “Unsurprising,” he said, “but also not criminal.  What would they charge him with?  Failure to defraud?”



He’s administering this stuff without disclosing to the patients what it is,” John replied.  “That’s unethical as hell.  If the lawyers don’t care the BMA will.”



Tracy had been glancing back and forth between them as they spoke, and she’d followed enough to realize that they were disparaging her boss and, by extension, the clinic.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said defensively, “but you’re wrong.”



They stared at her.  “Thank you,” Sherlock said icily, “for that trenchant summation of the problem.”



Dr. Kickham wouldn’t cheat anyone,” she insisted.  “That’s why he quit doing for-profit medicine.  Because it’s so materialistic.”



If she believed that of the two men standing before her Sherlock was the more formidable, she merely joined a long line of others who had so blundered.  In another circumstance--if he weren’t high and if he hadn’t nearly died--John would very likely have maintained his social filter and his equanimity, but he was high and he had nearly died, so when he turned his anger on Tracy she took a step back as though he’d slapped her.



“‘For-profit’?” he ground out.  “Do you even know where you’re working?  Wellspring’s raking in millions by bootstrapping real medicine onto snake oil!”  He jabbed his finger at the dispensary.  “It’s the only reason anyone gets any measurable benefit at all.  If Kickham weren’t giving people real drugs on the sly his success rate would be no better than chance.  The same as leaving people untreated.  So why don’t you explain to me why everyone around here gets the vapours when a real doctor curing real illnesses makes 5p, but Kickham can make a mint feeding people antlers and you act like he’s a national hero.”



He’s not in it for the money,” she declared.



You’re an idiot,” he snapped, but Sherlock touched his arm--reminding him to focus on business--so he dropped it.  Instead he took a deep breath, calmed himself, and asked her, “Did Kickham reorganize this cabinet?”



She had no idea.  “I--I don’t know.  I mean, I guess so.  He’s the only one here with a keycard.”



Sherlock said, "A better question is, 'Why was it reorganized?'”



I can think of one reason,” John said.  “Do you think they know...?” and he left ‘who we are?’ unstated.



That’s one theory."  



"Well?"  



"Someone wanted to kill you and make it look like a medical mistake.  You did just sign over control of your entire estate to them on Wednesday."  



John didn’t like that one.  "And two days later I croak?  Isn’t that a little obvious?"  



"It’s a motive," Sherlock said.  "I didn’t say it was a subtle one.  We need to talk to Kickham."  He addressed Tracy again.  "Where's Kickham now?"



She was still sniffling, but now that he seemed less inclined to murder her she was feeling a bit better about things.  “I don't know.  He didn’t come in this morning,” she said, rubbing her nose.  “He cancelled this morning’s appointments.  The only clients we’ve had in are the ones I'm qualified to treat.”  



You’re not qualified to treat roadkill,” Sherlock snapped.  “What reason did he give?”  



For what?”  



For the cancellations.  Why did he cancel the appointments?”  



Tracy sniffled again.  “He said he had some personal issues to work out.  Some issues he had to meditate on.  He meditates a lot.  He’s a very spiritual person.”  And when Sherlock shifted impatiently she added, “That’s all he said.  I mean, I know he thinks Amanda’s cheating on him so maybe it was about that, but he wouldn’t say that in a memo, would he?"  



A memo?”  



An email.”  



So you didn’t actually hear from him first-hand.”  



No,” she said.  



"When did you personally see him last?"  



Yesterday afternoon, when we closed up after work."  



"And of course I know when that happened via ESP," Sherlock snapped.



She stared at him, and John said, "What time did you close up?"



"About 4:30."



"Show me the memo," Sherlock ordered.



She pulled it up on the computer.  Dated last night at 7:12 p.m.  



"How did you get in here this morning?" Sherlock asked.  



"Terence let us in."  



Call Kickham now.”  



It went straight to voicemail,” Tracy told him, when she’d tried it.



Sherlock locked the IV bag in the cabinet--the police would need it for evidence--and carefully considered John:  He’d been nearly killed, but that had happened a time or two before and the effect was to increase his focus.  Now his self-contained, determined expression told Sherlock that psychologically, at least, John was himself.  Physically... Narcotics were particular favorites of Sherlock’s, and he knew that in a healthy person the half-life of intravenous morphine sulphate was ninety minutes to two hours.  After some thirty minutes off the stuff John’s colour was better than it had been in the exam room and his pupils were more nearly normal, but--  



I’m fine,” John insisted, tired of being appraised, and to forestall a debate he turned and led the way out of the Wellness Centre.  



As they pushed through the double doors into the hall Sherlock clucked.  “Such a broad intolerant streak, John.  Wherever did you pick that up?



John let that one slide.  “How'd you get back into that treatment room, anyway?" he asked.



Sherlock frowned:  The answer was so obvious that it wasn’t possible for that to be John's real question, so he waited for clarification.  



"I mean why did they let you in?”  



Oh.”  A shrug.  “Well, it’s not as though it’s a real hospital, but even if it were, how would they keep me out?  I’m your next of kin."  



John sighed.  "I don't know how.  I don't know when.  But this is going to get back to Lestrade and the Met and there will never be an end to it.  We got married--”



You got high.”



That’s one thing I’m not worried about.”



Why?”



Because I allegedly married you.  Taking up drugs in that case is one thing they will understand.”




* * * * *




Sherlock led John out of the house and back to the meditation grove, where they again sat facing the ocean.  By now John was very willing to hear Sherlock’s thoughts on just what was going on at Wellspring, but before he could frame his first question Sherlock said, “Notice anything different about this place?”



Not in the mood, Sherlock,” John growled.  “Just tell me what the hell is going on here.”  



Take a look at that trench,” Sherlock said instead.  



With resignation John stood and made his way around the cliffside birch tree--and stopped in surprise:  The trench was gone.  Not just filled in, but gone as though it had never been.  The spot was filled in and covered with the same native dune grasses that surrounded the rest of the grove.  John glanced up into the tree:  The projector, too, had been removed.  He looked back at Sherlock, who was smiling.  He gave the bench a pat and John returned.  “Okay.  Explain.”  



Sherlock didn’t even try to temper his delight.  “You remember when I said that the whole point of the grove was to conceal a murder.”



Yeah.”



Sherlock waited expectantly.  



Oh, what--you--There's a body in there now?”



Yes.”



How do you know?”



When I said I was going to London for supplies Wednesday night I didn’t mean toothpaste.  I borrowed a GPR device.  A ground-penetrating radar.  Ideal for revealing buried things without disturbing the ground above.  At the time I wasn’t certain that it would be useful, but I suspected it.  It’s an easy fit in the boot of the car.  While you were bogarting the opiates this morning I ran it over that section of the grove.”



Just like that?  And no one noticed?”



A GPR looks very much like a push mower,” Sherlock said simply, “except for the monitor between the handles.  No one watching casually would notice the odds.”  



And is there a body in the trench?”



Sherlock was far too pedantic to phrase it quite like that.  “The signature of the returned image is consistent with that conclusion, yes.”  



John thought it through out loud.  “All right,” he said.  “Let me get this straight.  You said that the whole point of putting the grove here was to make it easy to dig a trench big enough to contain a body.  Then the whole point of the ghost was to keep people away from the grove long enough to get the body in there.  So if the projection equipment’s gone it means mission accomplished, right?  There’s no need to keep people out of here now if the murder’s been done and the body’s in the grave, and the radar backs that up.”



Exactly.”



John frowned.  “Great.  So whoever was in the priest hole is buried here, now?  But who is it?  We’ve only been here two days, but as far as I know Kickham’s the only one who's done anything outside his normal pattern.   Terence and Amanda--we just saw both of them this morning.  Felicity?  Haven’t seen her since the seance yesterday.”  



No, but...?” Sherlock said.  



John considered.  “But assuming the blood we found in the priest hole is from whoever’s in the trench, it can’t be her.  We’re agreed that the blood’s at least 24 hours old, yeah?”



Yes.  What else?”



What else?”  John repeated, thinking back.  Finally he said, “The red lights?  Abigail saw the red lights again last night.  That’s when the body was being buried?”



And the projector dismantled and the grove repaired.”



So...The blood evidence rules out Felicity.  We saw Terence and Amanda two hours ago.  The only person unaccounted for since--what was the time on that clinic memo?”



Twelve past seven.”



--since seven last night is Brian Kickham.  But Tracy said she saw him last night, and besides:  the age of the blood in the priest hole rules him out, too.  So who’s dead?  And who’s the murderer, and what’s the motive?”



You have a genius for asking all the right questions, John, although your priorities are sadly out of whack.”



What does that mean?”



Whoever’s in the trench is somewhat past helping, wouldn’t you say?”



What’s your suggestion, then?”



Kickham’s the golden goose around here and he’s planning to leave Wellspring.  When he goes, the product endorsement goes.  Ninety percent of Wellspring’s business is selling his vials of tap water.  Financially Felicity’s seances are neither here nor there.  If Kickham dies instead of leaving, he not only won’t siphon away clients, but his name can remain on the products.  There’s no financial downside for Wellspring.”



So...motive to Terence, Felicity, and Amanda,” John said a little doubtfully.  “Okay.  But if they kill him and bury him in the back garden they have to conceal his death, which means they’re no farther ahead when it comes to cashing in on his name.  That only works if he dies from something they can acknowledge.  Like an accident or natural causes.”



Or suicide,” Sherlock said with a smile.



You mean a faked suicide.”



I mean a faked suicide.”



So you’re saying he’s not the one buried here, but you still think his life’s in danger?  That the other three are planning to kill him to keep him from leaving?”



Interesting, isn’t it?”



That’s not the word I would have used.”



Well, it’s an interesting moral dilemma, wouldn’t you say?”



How?”



Conceding that it’s almost certainly an academic exercise by now, what if I told you that we could guarantee that Brian Kickham never sets up practice anywhere again?  Never scams another patient.  Never directly or indirectly ‘supports’ the death of another trusting idiot.”



By doing what?”



Absolutely nothing.  Just go back to Baker Street.  Now.”



Wait.  Hang on.  You think he’s at risk of being murdered and you want to go home?



Well, think of the lives it would save.  If he’s dead then the number of people who will be harmed by him in the future automatically becomes a very self-evident and unambiguous zero.  We tell the client that we found the source of her red lights, let Kent PD know that there’s a corpse in the grove, and we’ll be back in Baker Street by suppertime.  Working out where Kickham spends eternity becomes Kent's problem."



Perhaps it took John longer than usual because he was still coming down, but as he stared at his friend he finally recognized that Sherlock, with his chase in view, was winding him up:  He was in exceptionally high spirits and this was his idea of adding to his fun.



Watching him, Sherlock knew the instant John figured it out, and he grinned in spite of himself.  “Come on,” he said.  



He crossed the terrace to the right side edge where the flagstones transitioned to the asphalt walking path.  Between the point where the path ended at the grove and the former trench, the earth was of course still disturbed, with dirt--both loam and chalk--scattered liberally about, and the lawn thoroughly trampled.  The loam and chalk mixture easily held footprints and tyre tracks, and John, his attention drawn to the area now that Sherlock was focused on it, distinguished not only his own tracks from a moment ago but Sherlock’s prints from earlier in the day.  Sherlock, however, pointed to the tyre marks criss-crossing the space.



There’s a notch out of these treads,” he said.  “Did you see it?”



Not until just now,” John replied.



Recognize the tyres?”



No.”



Sherlock sighed.  “You’re wasted, so I’ll make an allowance,” he said.  “They’re from one of those electric utility carts.  I know you’ve seen them about.  They’re ubiquitous.  The groundskeeping staff all use them.”



Of course,” John said, with a scowl of self-recrimination.  “Saw one just Wednesday, when Abigail and I talked after dinner.  You think that’s what the killer used to transport the body here?”



Well, the tracks are certainly suggestive.  I imagine that when we find the cart that made these tracks it will provide forensic trace evidence not only from the victim but the murderer.”



So now we look for the cart?”



Now we look for the cart.”



We're the prince with the glass slipper,” John mused as they headed toward the house.



Sorry?”



Cinderella.  The fairy tale.”  Blank stupidity.  “Never mind.”




* * * * *




Just to be clear,” John said as they walked, “you do know that logically your standard of pre-emption would justify locking up everyone on earth to stop them so much as sneezing on another person?”



Sherlock sniffed.  “Obviously.”



And that would be wrong.”



Of course.”



Okay.”



A few more strides in silence, and then:  “When you say ‘wrong’ you mean ‘boring,’ right?”



As they approached the front steps of the house they spied Stokes hurrying toward them along the path, from the direction of the owners’ private residence.  He noticed them at about the same time, and while clearly in a hurry and somewhat elevated, he waved and greeted them cheerfully.



Mr. Wilson,” he called out as they drew near.  “Mr. Holmes.  Out for a morning constitutional, I see.  Very good.  Sorry, can’t talk.  Left my phone at home--age, I’m afraid; ha-ha--and I’m already late for an appointment.”  He hurried up the steps and disappeared into the house.



John stopped with a frown:  Stokes was texting someone when they saw him at the lift earlier.  Why would he claim to have left his phone at home?  “That’s weird,” he began.  “Sherlock?  Sher--”  Glancing around he just had time to see the detective jogging along the path toward the residence before he faded into the fog.  John swore and hurried after him.



When he resolved Sherlock’s form again he was still trotting along the path, watching the ground on either side, and suddenly he veered left, off the path and toward the west side of the residence.  John followed him to the back of the building, which faced, more or less, the maintenance buildings, although they were nearly 100 metres away and quite out of view, screened both by the fog and a berm planted with tall photinias.



The hell are you going?” John demanded.  Sherlock shushed him and John dropped his voice to a fierce whisper.  “Sherlock!”



Sherlock didn’t answer until he found what he was looking for, and that didn’t take him long:  At the back of the shared owners’ residence a common exit led down to a big flagstone terrace.  He skirted the terrace and stopped at the far edge of it.  “Knew it,” he said to himself with satisfaction, and then to John, “Look.”



Clearly visible in the dewy grass were two sets of footprints leading away from the terrace and a single set returning.  “Yeah?” John said.  



Stokes made those tracks just now.”



How--?”



Look at your feet,” Sherlock said impatiently, and John glanced down:  Besides the damp, his shoes were coated with a liberal scattering of grass clippings.  “Grass all over his shoes,” Sherlock continued.  “The fastest way between the manor house and his residence is the path.  He said he was running late.  He had no reason to be on the grass unless he was lying about what he was doing, which he was.  He wasn’t fetching his phone.”



Yeah, he was texting someone with it when we saw him by the lift earlier,” John agreed, glad to have his observation confirmed.  



Exactly.  The phone excuse was an obvious lie.  Then there’s his shirt.”



Grass.  Shirt.  John would be having a hard time keeping pace with this if he were stone sober.  “What about it?”



He changed it since we saw him at the lift.”



John had to think about that one.  “No, he--No.  He was wearing a white shirt just now.  It was white earlier, too, wasn’t it?”



Sherlock grinned.  “White, but with tortoiseshell buttons.  The shirt he’s wearing now has white plastic buttons.  It’s just after ten a.m., so he just dressed a few hours ago.  Why change his shirt?”



Maybe he got coffee on it.”



He got something on it,” Sherlock agreed, “but it wasn’t coffee.”  He pulled out his phone and took a snap of the grass.  



"What are you doing?"  



Sherlock pointed again at the ground.  “Look at the tracks.”



John stared.  “Two sets leading from the residence...one returning.  Adult males from the size of the prints...Stokes...” He glanced questioningly at Sherlock.



And Brian Kickham,” Sherlock said.



But they’re fresh.  This morning.  The dew proves that.”



I know,” Sherlock said with relish.  “We might not be too late after all.  Come on.”  He bolted for the maintenance buildings.




* * * * *




Their approach brought them to the back of the maintenance shed, which was a dark green metal pole barn affair and quite large, as befitted an extensive estate like Wellspring.  Some twenty metres deep and twice that long, it paralleled and backed up against the photinia berm.  A few personal vehicles belonging to the groundskeeping staff stood parked on the far side of the lot, near the gate to the main driveway.



Sherlock and John reached the asphalt pad on which the barn stood and edged around the side of the building to the nearby man door.  “What about the workers?” John asked.  The question was intended to cover a range of topics:  Weren’t they inside?  Were they in on the plan to kill Brian Kickham?  Why did Sherlock think Terence was able to kill Brian in a shed with workers around?  



But Sherlock dismissed the staff with a wave of his hand.  “Not here.  As I was putting the GPR back in the boot they all drove out in a flatbed lorry.  I imagine Stokes sent them on an extended errand.”  All the same, he paused long enough at the man door to peer through the window and confirm it.  “Besides,” he added, “if Stokes was back here murdering Kickham he’d hardly do it with an audience.”  



They slipped inside and paused in the gloom.  All four overhead doors were closed, so Sherlock flicked the lights on.  They’d entered on the far left side of the building, in the shop area where equipment repairs and maintenance functions were carried out.  The place smelt of petrol, cut grass, and lithium bearing grease.  Vehicle parts and supplies--drive belts, chains, mower blades, oil filters--were stacked on shelves over the two greasy workbenches.  Six cases of motor oil stood near the door through which they’d entered, and a riding mower lay half-disassembled in the middle of the floor.  To the right of this shop area, the next bay over contained three big orange riding mowers, a couple of push mowers, trimmers, and leaf blowers.  A fairly greasy, fingerprint-smudged refrigerator stood beside a bank of employee lockers at the back of the bay.  In the third bay were four electric utility carts, charging, and on the far right side of the building in the fourth bay, parked bumper to bumper, were two big flatbed F-650 lorries with high-sided wood board boxes.  There was no sign of Brian Kickham.



Sherlock drew his torch from his pocket--even with the overhead lights on the barn interior was not bright--and began methodically inspecting the floor, working his way from the maintenance shop section toward the lorries.  



John’s contribution to the inspection would be worthless, so he focused instead on the utility cart tyres, looking for a match with the track in the grove.  As it happened, he found it on the first cart he approached.  “This is the cart that was used at the grove,” he announced.  “Brake light switch disconnected at the brake pedal, too.”  He stood silently, thinking.  “Makes sense,” he decided.  “Otherwise Abigail would have seen brake lights along with the torches.”



Sherlock didn’t answer.  He straightened from his examination of the floor and looked about.  There was neither blood evidence nor fresh marks on the greasy floor to suggest a recent struggle of any kind.  He’d gone over the whole place and John had glanced into the lockers and the shop rag hamper.  No Brian Kickham.  



What’s that brilliant observation people always make, John?” he asked.



Uh...A little context?”



When they find something they’ve looked everywhere for.  ‘I found it in the last place I looked.’  Isn’t that it?”



He put one foot on the rear tyre of the lorry nearest the overhead door, hooked his fingers around the top edge of the box, and boosted himself up until he stood with both feet on the tyre, then shone the torch down into the box.  Almost at once he gave a delighted cry.  “Come have a look, John.”



John hurried over.  “What?”  He dropped the lift gate and clambered onto it.  Sherlock shone the light onto the scarred and rusty metal bed, empty except for a tow chain, some heavy duty ratchet tie-downs, and a big, battered diamond plate cargo box that spanned the width of the bed.  The box was pushed full forward, against the cab.  



Sherlock waved the torch beam over the spot he wanted John to inspect, but John saw no obvious blood or other evidence of a murder or assault.  “What am I looking at?” he asked.  



That box has been tipped forward:  here, onto its side,” Sherlock said.  “You can see the fresh scrapes on the metal bed, and look:  corresponding scrapes here.”  He directed the light onto the front edge of the box lid.



John admitted the scrapes on the bed, distinguishable by being shinier than the older, rusted marks, but he didn’t see the rest of it.  “If you say so.  What about it?”



Sherlock hopped down off the tyre and sprang into the bed via the lift gate.  “Ready for this?” he asked.  



For what?”  



Sherlock leant over the crate and swiftly picked the little padlock securing the latch, then flipped the lid up with a flourish and pointed.  “For that.”  



John glanced in:  He saw gardening tools lying on a tarp.  Rakes, shovels; the usual.  He shrugged.  “Yeah?”  



Sherlock’s face fell and he glanced into the box.  “Oh, obvious!” he cried.  He caught up the tools, flung them carelessly into the bed, then whipped the tarp aside, and they both peered down into the crate.  



Inside it, on his side, lay a bearded man with his hands bound behind his back.  Sherlock looked up at John.  “Brian Kickham?” he asked.  



Brian Kickham,” John said grimly.




* * * * *




Getting an early start to his lunch hour, Terence Stokes jogged down the steps of the Wellspring mansion and along the path toward the ownersresidence, where he circled around to the back of the building.  Having placed the residence between himself and the mansion he hurried across the grass toward the maintenance building.  There he dropped the lift gate of the first lorry in the far bay, saw to his satisfaction that the padlock on the cargo box was still intact--not that he expected any different--and closed the gate.  He climbed up into the cab and fired up the truck.  



His route took him out of St. Margarets Bay, through Dover, and up to the village of Whitfield, where he turned left on the A256, then continued on to Temple Ewell.  Just abeam Stonehall Road, on the southeast edge of Lydden, he made a left onto an unpaved, nameless lane that meandered southwest for almost a mile before making a nearly ninety-degree turn back north and then, and within thirty feet, abruptly turning again to the west.  At this V-shaped switchback, with a 200-acre tract of woods to the south and tree-lined farm fields in every other direction rendering him wholly invisible to anyone on the mile-distant paved roads, he eased the lorry off the path and into the trees, where he stopped between two massive oaks and killed the engine.



Ahead of him, thirty feet farther into the wood, was a disused well.  It was visible from the truck to someone who knew it was there, but not otherwise, being almost completely concealed by the thick undergrowth.  Stokes, however, did know that it was there.  He’d picked this very spot because of that knowledge.  He grew up in Dover and he was intimately familiar with the local geography.  Besides, in his high school days he’d once pursued a girl who lived on a nearby farm, and they discovered the well on one of their rambles.



He swung down from the cab but did not go at once to the cargo box.  Instead he stood listening for about five minutes, and only when he was certain that no vehicles or pedestrians were approaching did he drop the gate and climb up into the bed.  After removing the padlock from the cargo box and the landscaperstools from inside it, Stokes flung back the tarp--and started back with a shocked gasp when the man he knew as John Wilson sat up in the box.  



The contrast between the lightless crate and the relatively bright wood made Wilson blink, but he had no trouble focusing on Stokes.  “Please dont tell me youre surprised,” he said coolly.  “You being so keen on the afterlife.”



* * * * *



The police didnt use their sirens, but the sound of their car engines and the tyrescrunch on the gravel lane reached John long before he saw them.  Two marked police cars, led by Sherlock in the hired Ford, stopped in the lane.  A plainclothes officer emerged from the first vehicle and two uniformed patrol officers exited the second.  



John stood, relaxed but alert, about five feet away from Stokes, who sat on the ground with his back against one of the rear tyres of the lorry, the ground being where John had put him when Stokes attacked him with a knife.  John was currently in control of the utensil and, by implication, Stokes.



Sherlock waded through undergrowth crushed by the truck tyres and approached John with a pleased expression.  John grinned in reply and said, “You took your time.”  He reached into his pocket and withdrew a little GPS tracking device, which he underhanded to Sherlock.



Theres no rushing Mr. Plod,” Sherlock replied in a discontented tone, slipping the device into his pocket.  He indicated Stokes with a nod.  “I don’t suppose he confessed?”



John shook his head.  “No, but hes up to two counts of attempted murder.”  He held up the knife.



Sherlock eyed Stokes.  “Even without a confession the note will be conclusive.”



The note?”  



Where is it?” Sherlock asked Stokes.



Stokes glared coldly at him.  “I have no idea what youre talking about,” he snapped.  “Who the hell are you people?”



The plainclothes cop arrived, trailed by the two uniformed officers, and as they approached Stokes scrambled to his feet.



Ah, detective,” Sherlock said suavely.  “Good of you to join us.  John, this is...”  Vague gesture in the cop’s direction.  “...somebody from the Kent police.”



Lieutenant Ryerson,” the man snapped.  He was a thick, muscular guy with short black hair shot through with grey, dark brown eyes, and a grim, no-nonsense manner.  “What the hell is going on here?” he asked Sherlock.  “We were called about an attempted murder.  “Who are these people?  Who are you?



Never let it be said that the police cant ask the right questions, John,” Sherlock said coolly.  “Its the answers they wrestle with.”



Stokes waded in then.  “Arrest these men, Lieutenant,” he cried, pointing a trembling hand at John.  “This one assaulted me--he's got a knife--and tried to kill me.  Kidnapped me...brought me here--”



John laughed and Sherlock said, “Sorry, Stokes, it wont do.  It really wont.  Even the police wont overlook the note.”



What?” Ryerson’s confusion was growing and it was not a condition he handled well.  “What note?  About what?  Who are you?”



Sherlock Holmes,” Sherlock said, with an arrogant lift of his head, although he put out his hand.  



Ryerson stared.  “Holmes.  What, the private detective?  From London?”  



Consulting detective,” Sherlock replied, positively icy now that his civil overture had been spurned.  “And yes, from London.  That a problem?”  



It’s starting to be.  I’m not going to ask you again who these people are,” Ryerson growled, gesturing to John and Stokes.



My friend and colleague, Doctor John Watson,” Sherlock said.  “And your attempted murderer:  Terence Stokes.”  



Ryerson stared at John, who appeared perfectly fine to him, if disheveled.  “He tried to kill you?  Then why are you the one with the knife?”



John remembered the knife in his hand.  “Oh, right,” he said, and handed it over politely, hilt first, to the cop.



Well?” Ryerson said.



John shrugged.  “He sucks at knife fighting.”



Ryerson turned to Stokes.  “Terence Stokes?  Of the Institute?  Are you all right, sir?”



I certainly am not all right,” Stokes cried, putting as much offended dignity and outrage into it as he could manage.  “I have no idea what these men are talking about, but I want them both arrested for trespassing and this one,” he added, pointing at John, “carjacked me and forced me to drive here.”



After which we called the police and led them to the scene of the abduction?” Sherlock said.  “No, Lieutenant.  Prominent Dover citizen Stokes here has been scheming to murder his brother-in-law, the esteemed Dr. Brian Kickham, and make it look like a suicide.”



That’s outrageous,” Stokes snapped.



Last night he wrote a memo in Kickham’s name telling his staff that Kickham would be taking today off to ‘meditate’ on personal matters.  Some time between nine and ten a.m. this morning he sent the maintenance staff away on an errand, lured Kickham to the estate’s maintenance building, drugged him, and locked him in the crate in the back of this lorry.  His intention was to drive Kickham to this site, kill him, and stage it as a suicide.”



John added helpfully, “There’s a disused well just there.  It’s probably not a coincidence that he parked in this spot.”



Sherlock looked pleased.  “Yes, very suggestive,” he said.  “But before he could carry all that out, we discovered Kickham, John took his place in the crate, and that’s how John happened to arrive at the intended crime scene even before the police.”



Stokes laughed.  “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my--”



Mr. Stokes, sir,” Ryerson interrupted, holding up his hand.  “You’ll have your chance in a minute, but I suggest you think twice about speaking without your lawyer present.”  He looked at Sherlock.  “Prove it.”



Stokes will have written a suicide note that will appear to be from Kickham,” Sherlock said.  “If it’s not on him it will be in the cab of the lorry.”  When no one moved he glanced impatiently at the two uniformed cops.  “That’s your cue,” he said acerbically.  “Fetch it.”



Stay here,” Ryerson ordered them, and went to the cab himself.  He returned with a plastic zip-seal bag containing a white business envelope.  He held the bag up to the light and it was obvious that the envelope contained a sheet of paper.



I’ve never seen that before in my life,” Stokes cried, and pointed at John.  “How do you know he didn’t plant it?”



Good question,” Ryerson said, looking at John.



Stupid question,” Sherlock snapped.



Sherlock.”



Forensic examination of the ink will match it to a printer belonging to Stokes,” Sherlock said.  “If you’re quite lucky and if he was quite stupid the paper will have his fingerprints on it, and unless you found gloves in the cab just now the plastic bag will have them, too.  Then of course there’s the intended victim:  Kickham,” Sherlock added.  “I’m sure he’ll be delighted to testify that Stokes here texted him with some pretext to get him into the maintenance building and that John and I found him in the crate an hour later.”



Ryerson was still lost.  “But why?  What’s the motive?”  



The old standby,” Sherlock said simply.  “Money.  Kickham was planning to leave Wellspring next month.”  



That makes no sense,” Ryerson said.  “If Kickham died--”  



There’d be no need to change anything at all,” Sherlock finished.  “Kickham’s usefulness for product endorsement would remain intact if he died whether accidentally or by suicide, but not if he left the company.  They’d replace him with a new Dr. Fraudpants and it would be business as usual.”  



So where’s Kickham now?"



Buckland Hospital,” John said.  “Our client and a couple of her friends took him in.  Stokes drugged him, but he was starting to come round by the time we got him into the car.”  



Then why are you here?” Ryerson asked John.  



Because my friend’s a melodramatic wanker, John thought.  “Because we needed Stokes to think that he still had Kickham in the box,” he said.  “Otherwise he’d just deny everything--which he’s already doing, you notice--and we could never have proven his intent.  Best case, you’d have him on the assault of his brother-in-law.”



I see,” Ryerson said with considerable disapproval:  This was irregular in the extreme and he automatically disliked it.  He also automatically disliked Sherlock, whose reputation as a brilliant, abrasive prick preceded him, and who had done nothing yet to alter Ryerson’s preconception.  “You know I got friends who work at that place,” he said, meaning Wellspring.  



Ah,” Sherlock said contemptuously, “I see.  You only pursue crimes that don’t inconvenience casual acquaintances.  Well, I’m afraid I didn’t get that memo, Lieutenant.  Yet another advantage of not working for the police.”



Ryerson glared at him.  “Don’t get smart with me, Big City,” he snapped.  “You come poncing down here, stirring things up, making false police reports--”  



False?” John cried, startled out of all his diplomacy.  



You reported an attempted murder in progress,” Ryerson said.  “According to your story it happened over three hours ago, at nine a.m.  So either the ‘in progress’ part was a lie to get us out here just now or you sat on a very serious crime for hours before you bothered to call the police.”



And if we had called you earlier there would be no forged suicide note and no possible way to prove that Stokes intended to murder Kickham,” Sherlock replied hotly.  “At best you’d have him for aggravated assault.  As for the crime being ‘in progress,’ I suggest you pull the 999 tapes, Lieutenant.  I never used the words ‘in progress.’”  He paused, regarding Ryerson insolently.  “Off you go.  I’ll wait.”  Ryerson just glared at him, and when Sherlock was certain that he’d made his point he said, “No?  Then I suggest that instead of caviling about how I phoned in the report of an attempted murder, you actually arrest the man who committed it.  Terence Stokes is guilty of the attempted murder of Dr. Brian Kickham.”



John cleared his throat deliberately.



And the attempted murder of Dr. John Watson,” Sherlock added.  “Twice.”



Twice?” John said.



Stokes adulterated the IV bag,” Sherlock explained, “although I suspect that was just on general principles, not because he was targeting you specifically.  If a rich Wellspring patient dies now and again while Wellspring controls their money, so much the better.”



In spite of Ryerson’s advice Stokes couldn’t keep silent any longer.  “Lieutenant, I have a business to run and I’d very much like to be on my way.  Just exactly how much longer do you expect me to stand here and endure this slander?”



Technically it’s not slander if it’s true,” Sherlock said.  “But I’m done for now.  John and I have some unfinished business at Wellspring.”  He turned away.



The hell youre going to Wellspring,” Ryerson cried.  “No ones going anywhere except with us.  All three of you are going to the station and were going to get official statements--”



Ive just given you my statement,” Sherlock snapped.  “Pay attention.”



--and youre not going back to Wellspring alone any gate.  If everything you’re claiming is true then Wellspring is a crime scene as well and well need to secure it and start interviewing people.”



I can’t allow that.”  Sherlock was verging on outraged at the mere prospect of restraint.  “You’ll ruin everything if you go there now.”



You can’t allow it?” Ryerson cried.  “Bloody hell!  You presumptuous bastard.  Where do you get off--”



John stepped between them with his hands up in a conciliatory gesture.  “Lieutenant,” he said in a low voice.  “Can I speak with you alone?  Just for a second?  Please.”  He made an ‘over heremotion, and after a lengthy glare at Sherlock, who returned it unblinkingly, Ryerson followed John a discreet distance away.  



John didnt actually know what Sherlock intended back at the estate, although he assumed it involved wrapping up the question of the corpse in the grove.  Telling Ryerson about that, however, would guarantee an invasion by the police.  So he drew the lieutenant aside and said, with real sincerity, “Listen, Lieutenant.  I’m sorry about how Sherlock sprang this on you.  It’s unorthodox, I know.  He’s unorthodox--but he does get results.  I can imagine the things you’ve heard about him, but what you might not know is that he’s here working for the client, and that’s it.  Everything we have on these Wellspring people is yours.  You get all the credit.  No one will even know that we were here.  All he wants in exchange is a little more time.”  



Why?” Ryerson asked belligerently.



Well, to finish the case.  Finish his investigation.”  



But why?  What’s he going to do?”  



John hesitated.  “I don’t know.”  



I see,” the lieutenant said skeptically.  “So you two come barging into my jurisdiction, accuse a prominent citizen of a violent felony, then tell me that part of an active crime scene is off limits to me and my people, and you think that’s going to fly?  You think I’m just going to have faith in your friend?”  



No,” John said at once.  “Not faith.  I’m not asking you to do something I wouldn't do myself, Lieutenant, and I don't take him on faith.  I take him on evidence.  Now:  You've heard that he's a right bastard, and it's true.  But you've also heard that he’s brilliant, and that’s true, too.  All I'm asking is that you give him a little more time to put the rest of his case together.”



Ryerson glared at him stonily, unconvinced.  



In return--in return, Lieutenant,” John went on, “he will hand you an airtight case gift-wrapped and tied in a bow with your name on it, and then we will go back to London and no one will ever even know we were here.”  



Ryerson scowled, not liking Sherlock but liking the idea of a finished case that was bound to generate a lot of publicity for him personally.  He said, “And what am I supposed to do while your genius PI is running loose around Wellspring?”  



Well, Brian Kickham’s probably feeling pretty talkative right about now, and he was the intended victim here,” John said, and then he stopped talking.  This was where Sherlock would keep pressing his case, but John let the lieutenant work it out on his own time--although he could see Sherlock pacing in an agony of impatience over by the car.  



The lieutenant stared heavily at John for a moment, thinking.  “Four o’clock,” he said finally.  “I want to hear from you by four o’clock.  I want a progress report at a bare minimum, and if I don’t get it I swear to God I will write arrest warrants for the pair of you and take you both down personally."



As a threat this sounded more impressive than it really was.  John very much doubted that a judge would sign off on the warrants, for a start, and he was surprised that Ryerson resorted to such an unsophisticated tactic.  Still, he’d take what he could get.  "Four o'clock," he agreed.




* * * * *



Because two days earlier John took particular (but ultimately pointless) care to notice everything he could about Amanda Kickham's office, he was in a position, when her secretary showed them in, to comment on the new furniture arrangement:  The desk and massive bookcase had been switched around and there was a new area rug under the client chairs.  “Oh, wow," he said ingenuously, glancing about.  "You...you redecorated.”  



Yes,” Sherlock said.  “Obvious, from the marks on the carpet.”  



It’s to take better advantage of the morning sun,” Amanda explained with a smile, gesturing to the big plate-glass window behind her.  



"Well, Mrs. Kickham," Sherlock said briskly, getting straight down to business, "when John and I ran Spotlight Productions we kept him as far away from the financial end of things as possible.  What I'd like to do is direct my financial institution to distribute £75,000 into an account that will let Wellspring draw on the funds whenever it's necessary to pay for John's treatment, his stay here, and any incidentals that he might need, so that he doesn't have to be involved with it.  So I was thinking that if we both signed a guarantor's assignment of rights and a testator's declaration, that would be an ironclad way to make sure the money comes in without interruption.  Wouldn't you agree?"



Amanda did agree, wholeheartedly, but she regretted very much that she couldn’t find the forms among her desk drawers or in any of the heavy oak four-drawer file cabinets that lined the back wall of the office.  "My secretary re-organized the filing system last week," she explained apologetically.  "I still can't find anything.  Will you excuse me while I ask her where she hid the forms?"



Of course,” Sherlock said.  



As the door closed behind her Sherlock sprang from his chair and dragged it off the area rug, then threw himself to the floor on his hands and knees, flinging back each corner of the area rug in turn.  



The hell are you doing?” John asked.  



Hah,” Sherlock said triumphantly, and pointed, although it wasn’t necessary:  The turned-back corner of the area rug revealed a bloodstain the size of a moderate dinner plate.  



The hell?” John breathed.  



“‘Stylish area rug’ always makes the list of top five ways to make unsightly bloodstains disappear,” Sherlock noted.  As he spoke he closely examined the surrounding carpet with his glass and came up with something between his forefinger and thumb that John couldn’t quite make out.  He dropped it into a little evidence bag.  



What is that?” John asked.  



Sherlock showed him the bag.  Inside was a tiny sliver of pale blue glass.  John frowned.  "Part of the murder weapon, you think?"



"I imagine so, although it may have just broken during the struggle.  The ME will have the last word on that."  



He stood and crossed to the heavy bookcase standing against the wall behind their chairs--the wall shared by the Reading Room.  "Quickly, John," he said, and braced himself to push against it.  Even their combined efforts were barely adequate to slide the heavy case three feet to the right along the wall; it was no wonder Sherlock couldn't open the panel from the other side.



Sherlock replaced both the rug and the chair and they resumed their seats.  John, still a bit at sea, said, "Are you going to catch me up any time soon?"



Sherlock was on his phone, texting, his thumbs flying.  "Very soon."



The door opened just as he hit the ‘send’ button.  “I’m so sorry, Mr. Holmes,” Amanda said, sitting down at her desk.  “I’m afraid my secretary wasn’t able to locate the documents, either.  Perhaps we can reschedule for next week?”  



How very disappointing,” Sherlock said.  He dropped the phone into his pocket, stood, and strolled behind her desk, where he stood with his hands clasped behind his back, gazing out the window.  “Yes, very disappointing.  But unsurprising.  There’s no such thing as a ‘testator's declaration,' or a 'guarantor's assignment of rights,'" he added, turning to look at her.  “It’s legal gibberish.  Which you’d know if you were really a lawyer.”  



Her jaw dropped.  “What?  Well, of course I’m a lawyer, for Heaven’s sake.”  She made a vague gesture toward the framed diploma on the wall.  “I told you, my secretary--”  



Rearranged the files.  Yes.  More thoroughly than you rearranged this office, I hope.  But then, just sliding the desk across the room didn’t do anything to get your sister's blood out of the carpet, did it?”  



So saying, he shocked John, to say nothing of Amanda, by suddenly grabbing a fistful of her hair.  She screeched and frantically clapped both hands to her head, but it was far too late:  He’d plucked the wig from her head and flicked it to John in one casual motion.



John, you remember Felicity Stokes,” Sherlock said airily.  He gestured toward ‘Amanda’ and added disdainfully, “Psychic, eh?  Bet you wish you’d seen that coming.”  



John stared at him, gobsmacked.  “Sorry.  What?”  



Felicity Stokes.  Amanda Kickham’s sister.  And her killer.”  



Felicity went white with rage.  "I don't know who the hell you think you are, but I'm calling the police and having you both arrested," she cried, reaching for the phone on the desk.



"Don't bother," Sherlock said.  "I’ve just texted them.  As for who I am:  Sherlock Holmes.  My friend, Dr. John Watson."



Felicity glared at him.  "So you called the police," she said.  "I'm certain it's not a crime to cover for my sister while she's in Cornwall.  She asked me to step in while she made an emergency trip there yesterday:  Our mother fell and broke her arm.”



And Amanda’s vase fell and broke her head,” Sherlock replied.  “No.  Let me save you the embarrassment of trying to concoct a plausible lie, because frankly I don't have that kind of time.  You followed your husband to your sister's office, discovered them together, and fought with her.  You smashed her head in with the vase on her desk, then threatened Terence with the ruin of Wellspring if he refused to help conceal the murder, and the two of you stashed Amanda’s body in the priest hole until late last night, when you buried it in the meditation grove.”  



That's insane,” she cried, having recovered some of her composure as he spoke.  “It's rubbish, all of it, and I've never heard of any priest hole.  I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”  



Sherlock stepped to the wall behind the client chairs and easily lifted the panel to reveal the recess.  “Priest hole.”  



I’ve never seen that before in my life.”  



Sherlock rolled his eyes.  “The blood evidence on the rug, in the priest hole, and on the utility cart used to transport her body will establish Amanda’s presence in all three places.  Forensic fibre evidence on her body and in the utility cart will point to you and Terence.  Then there’s Terence’s partial footprint in blood in the priest hole, and, I expect, fingerprints and DNA evidence from both of you on shovels in the maintenance shed.  Juries love DNA, you know.  These days they expect you to trot it out for purse snatching cases.”



How did you know she wasn’t Amanda?” John asked.  He realized he was still holding the wig and dropped it.  



Oh, loads of things,” Sherlock said.  “For a start there was the perfume.”  



She’s not wearing perfume,” John said.  



I know.  But Amanda did.  Remember?  Jardin du Nuit.  I smelled it on you when you returned from your appointment with her.  I smelled it again during the seance, but not until Terence Stokes opened the conference room panel and created a cross draft.  Almost immediately after that I picked up Terence's deodorant, so I knew Amanda wasn't the one helping.  Terence was.  Then when we saw ‘Amanda’ in the lobby by the lift this morning:  No perfume."



Hang on.  Amanda was dead in the priest hole during the seance?”  



Yes.”  



Ugh.”  John considered.  “Then Terence Stokes was the accomplice yesterday.  While his dead lover was...?”  



Yep.”  



John turned to glare at Felicity, but Sherlock hadn’t quite reached the end of his list of the clever things he’d done.  “Then there was the watch,” he said.  “Felicity was wearing a TAG Heuer yesterday.  You said that Amanda wore a Rolex--so you see?  You shouldn’t be so self-critical, John:  You did observe something useful after all.”  



I'm not--”  



This morning at the lift ‘Amanda’ was wearing Felicity’s TAG Heuer.  And of course there were the bruises on her wrist.  She dabbed a bit of concealer on there this morning, but they’re still evident if you look closely.  Jury's still out on whether the bruising occurred during the fight between the sisters or whether Felicity really does just like it rough.  Either way, they're identical to the ones you observed on her wrist before the seance.  Because ‘Amanda’ was Felicity.  Because Felicity killed her sister."



It was an accident!” Felicity screamed, then clapped her hand over her mouth and stared at them in horror.



The police will be the judge of that, I imagine,” Sherlock replied.  “They’ll be arriving once a judge approves their warrants to search the maintenance building, the residence...well, the whole property, really.  Including the meditation grove where you and Terence buried Amanda.  Oh--and the company servers, which will contain records of all the keycard activity for the last few days.  They’ll show that after I stole your card on Thursday, Amanda’s was still quite active.  Bit strange for a dead woman, wouldn’t you say?”



Because she was using it,” John said, with a nod at Felicity.



Exactly.”



John said, “If she killed Amanda on...what, Wednesday night?”  



Mm...” Sherlock began doubtfully.



John corrected himself.  “No:  Twenty-four hours before we found the blood, so early yesterday morning, then, right?”  



Yes.  Amanda wouldn’t have been dead more than a few hours when the seance was conducted.”  



But if she killed Amanda Thursday morning, what about the meditation grove?  All that advance preparation wasn’t for a heat-of-passion moment.”  



No, that was for Brian,” Sherlock said.  “Amanda might even have been in on the plan to keep him from breaking out on his own.  In fact, I expect she was.”



But,” John said, “what’s the point of the masquerade?  Why go to so much trouble?  And how dense is Brian?  Could he seriously not tell his own wife from Felicity?”



Well,” Sherlock said, “draw you own conclusions about his specific gravity, but the sisters are remarkably alike physically, although not twins.  Amanda very likely used a wig herself on occasion, so Brian would have been used to that, and in any case I imagine Felicity gave some excuse about working late at the office to minimize her contact with him.  She only had to carry on the deception for about twenty-four hours, after all.  The Kickhams were known to have marital issues, Terence and Felicity were already committed to staging Brian’s suicide, and it would have been easy to concoct a story to account for Amanda's disappearance, too.  As for the point of it all...that’s just boring old greed.”



They both turned to look at Felicity, who had gone from white to red.  “So,” Sherlock said to her, “in summary we’re looking at the attempted murder of Brian Kickham, conspiracy to commit murder, and of course the murder of your sister--”



I told you,” Felicity cried, not conceding yet, “it was an accident.  Yes, we fought.  She fell and hit her head on the desk.  I tried to revive her, but...then I panicked.  It's not a crime to be afraid, is it?  Please.  You have to believe me.”



Of course I don’t have to,” Sherlock said contemptuously.  “But the ME will be able to determine from the angle of the blow and the damage to her skull whether she fell onto a stationary object or whether something was raised over her head and smashed down onto it.  It’s all very sciency, so you don’t have to worry your empathic little head about it, but I assure you the doctors are rarely as thick as the police when it comes to these things.”  



He reached into his pocket and held up the little packet containing the glass shard.  “Then there’s this,” he added.  “Part of the vase you used to bludgeon your sister to death.  I found it in the carpet just now.  What do you think the chances are of the ME finding a similar bit of glass embedded in your sister's skull?  Would you like to speculate on the damage that will do to your falling-on-a-table story?”



"Yes!” she shouted, quite red in the face now.  “I killed Amanda, that goddamned bitch.  I confronted her about the affair and she attacked me.  She went insane:  screaming and trying to kill me.  I grabbed the first thing I could reach to try to make her stop.  That makes it self-defense, doesn’t it?  It was self--Get out!”  This last in a screech to the secretary, who had stuck her head in the door to see what was going on.



Sherlock shrugged.  “You might talk a jury into believing that,” he agreed.  “How likely that is will depend on what the investigator testifies.  That would be me,” he added.



Felicity glared furiously at him, breathing hard.  “What do you want?” she asked, rigid with anger.  “Money?”



Sherlock glanced at John:  What did he want?  



Abigail Soranzo,” John said.



Who?”



The client.”  



Oh, right.”



Fix her financial records,” John said to Felicity.  “Sign her money back over to her.  Better yet, destroy everything related to her in your computer system and shred the paper copies.”



Sherlock liked the idea.  “You will sit in that chair,” he said to her, “and while we watch you will tap into your little computer system and you will reverse every financial transaction that drew money from Abigail Soranzo’s accounts.  You will replace every pound taken from her.  Then you will remove Wellspring from those accounts and return sole control of them to her.”



Felicity hesitated, but finally she said sullenly, “I can do that.”



That’s the spirit,” Sherlock said brightly.  “And when you’re done with that you will do the same for every Wellspring client still living.”



Total shock.  “But--”



I’m sorry,” Sherlock said.  “Did I not make myself clear?  If you want me to say a single word in your defense you will do as we say.  Otherwise, Mrs. Stokes, I will see to it that instead of getting out of prison with a few good years left, you will not leave until they find you cold in your cell.”




* * * * *




Sherlock and John headed for their hired car, threading their way around the fountain and past the Kent police cars, now numbering seven and crowding the turnabout in front of the manor house.  



That thing you did for the other clients,” John said as they walked, and Sherlock glanced at him.  “Making sure Felicity returned all their money.”  



Mm?”  



That was Good.”  



Sherlock crooked a smile:  John’s approval meant more to him now than ever, but he shrugged and said, “Draining Wellspring’s bank accounts will compromise their efforts to mount a successful defense."



Oh, I know why you did it,” John assured him.  “It’s still Good.”




* * * * *



Over the years John had, by necessity, become intimately acquainted with Sherlock’s limitations, just as Sherlock had learned John’s.  While conversant on a wide range of subjects and deeply knowledgeable about the few which really interested him, Sherlock was not one of those people who enjoyed conversation for its own sake.  That might have surprised the police, so familiar with his volubility when highlighting their shortcomings or snapping out his observations about a crime scene, but, as he warned John the very first time they met, he could contentedly go for days without speaking.  John himself could not be described as especially prolix, but occasions sometimes arose when he liked and needed, for his own peace of mind, to air his thoughts, even if what resulted was a monologue.  



So sometimes he would just talk, to say what he needed to say, whether Sherlock paid attention or not.  Sometimes Sherlock did listen; sometimes he answered and contributed his own observations; and sometimes he didn’t hear or retain a word John said.  But John spoke his piece all the same, and he said these things to his friend without hesitation because in many ways speaking to Sherlock was like speaking to himself:  He could do it without constraint, without self-editing, without doubt.



Now, as their train left Dover behind and gathered speed, he had something on his mind.  Sherlock sat in the aft-facing seat, staring out the window, and he gave no sign of even knowing that John was speaking.  Sometimes, John found, that made things easier.  The intimacy of their private train compartment, cut off as it was from the outside world, made it easier still.



You know,” he began, “the stuff going on in this place--Wellspring, I mean, not Dover--made me think of something that I haven’t had to think about for a while.”  He paused, but he wasn’t waiting for Sherlock to respond.  He was ordering his thoughts.  Sherlock was still gazing out the window, impassive, and, as was often the case, John couldn’t tell whether he was listening to him or not.  Nor was he overly worried about it.  There were things he wanted to say and Sherlock was adept at “filtering” what he didn’t care to hear, so John didn’t fear being a bore.



John continued.  “My parents tried with Harry and me to put us on the right path--C of E every weekend, Sunday school.  You know:  The usual.  It didn’t take, obviously.  Harry had no use for it from the start, and really I just felt sorry for my parents because she was such a screw-up.  I never had the heart to add to their troubles.  But at that age it was in one side and out the other anyway, you know.  Sport, beer, and girls:  That's what I worshipped at the time.  Not necessarily in that order.  They say your college years are when people really think the most about Important Ideas, but I guess I was a late bloomer on that count, because I never thought about life or death or the meaning of it all...at all.



Then in med school...well, you’d think they’d cover the death part, at least, but they don’t really have the time for it.  They’re pretty well focused on teaching you how to save lives.  To be honest I didn’t even notice; I was far more worried about not having enough information to help patients live than about not having enough compassion for them when they died.  I didn't think I needed a class in it.



For your first term they give you a cadaver, of course, but it was more like a mummy than recognizable as a human being.  It wasn’t hard to have emotional distance about it.  Most of us were interns the first time we saw a person die, and everyone handled that differently.  I was sorry for it, but I didn’t cry.  Maybe I should have.  Maybe then I wouldn’t have had dreams about it afterward.  



Then eventually you go from watching to causing.  The first time that happened I was a surgical resident.  We tried everything for this woman:  surgery--brilliant surgery, mechanically.  To this day one of the best I’ve ever seen.  Completely pointless, though:  She had maybe six months of misery and crap to look forward to even if she did recover from it, and in fact she never did.  It would have been a tough road for a strong, healthy man, an athlete, to recover from surgery like that, and a fortnight later her children told us to stop on her.  The ventilator was the only thing keeping her alive by then.  I dialed up her morphine so she wouldn’t feel any stress, took the breathing tube out, and listened to her heart stop.  



It made me realize a lot of things about how medicine fails people with end-of-life decisions, but the one thing it didn’t make me think about was my own mortality.  None of it did:  the church, medical school, the deaths I saw in hospital--none of it.  It’s stupid, isn’t it?  I don’t mean I avoided the subject.  I mean it just never really crossed my mind.  Back then, when medical intervention didn’t work it was like dropping a rock and watching it go up instead of down.  I just didn’t expect it.  Death was the opposing team and I was on the side that kicked its arse.”  



Sherlock wasn’t looking out the window any more.  He was watching John.  



John himself was looking down at his hands.  “You’d think knowing that the difference between life and death depends on your skill--or lack of it--would change your personal approach to life, wouldn’t you?  It didn’t.  The army did, though.  Surgery in the field's even more in-your-face than surgery in a trauma centre.  You get instant results, or damned close.  The satisfaction you get from being good at your job:  It’s right there, right away.  But so is dying, and you never know how it's going to happen, where it’s going to come from, or when, or who it’s going to get next.  That tends to focus your priorities quite a bit.  We were all like that--from the grunts to the generals.  IEDs don't care how many stars are on your coat.  



"Everyone dealt with losing mates in their own way, obviously, but...I used to wish...I envied the other guys.  The ones who could tell themselves that their friends were in a better place and that they'd see them again some day, and that when they prayed..."  John met Sherlock’s eyes for the first time since he started speaking.  “I know what you think about wishing," he said.  "You don’t have to go there.  But I wished that I believed the way they did.  Sometimes I still wish that, that I was sure I’d see people I loved again.  I’m not sure of it, but I understand why it makes people feel better.  I understand why they tell themselves that death’s not, you know:  death.  I can't do it, but I understand it.”



Sherlock was often a little shy about mentioning anything to do with the war, because while John regarded his stint in the army as one of the high points of his life, it also represented a fair amount of trauma:  the loss of friends, the premature end of his career.  But Sherlock had to say something, John had introduced the topic, and there was this half-formed desire to share with John an idea he’d had for a long time, so he said carefully, “You almost died.  In the war.”



This was so obviously not worth mentioning that John realized it was meant to be a prelude to something else, and he said, “Yeah.  Of course.”  



Well,” Sherlock said, and stopped.    



John wasn’t sure what he was getting at, but he wondered whether Sherlock was asking him a question, so he tested that theory.  “Did I have a 'come to the light' moment, you mean?”



Mm.”



No.  Not that I remember, anyway.  I do remember that once the shock and adrenaline wore off it hurt like a...well.  It hurt, and I wanted it all to stop.  All the noise from the battle.  The pain.  But it wasn’t like people say, where your grandfather is standing in the light at the end of a tunnel calling you toward him.  There was just noise and dust and blood--and then the next thing I knew people were trying to wake me up in post-op and if I’d been able to lift my arm I’d have punched the next person who came near me.  But there was no ‘light,’ none of the stuff people say they remember from near-death experiences.”  He looked at Sherlock and smiled.  “Maybe I wasn’t nearly dead enough.”  



Sherlock didn’t smile back.  He’d been looking at John and listening to him, but now he went out of focus again.  He didn’t respond to John’s little joke.  



John waited for a bit for a response, but Sherlock was obviously miles away.  John had said what he wanted to say, though, so he settled back into his seat and watched the autumn countryside race past the window.  



Sherlock was somewhere a very long way from the train compartment when suddenly a voice said, “I had to get out,” and when John glanced at him in surprise Sherlock realized with a shock that it was his own voice speaking.  



Out of...where?” John asked carefully when Sherlock said nothing else, and when it became clear that he wasn’t going to.



Sherlock looked down, brushed some invisible lint from the knee of his jeans.  “I don’t know," he admitted.  "I remember standing in the office with--” He stopped.  Didn’t pronounce the names.  “And then I woke up.”  



He said it with finality, like he was done with his part of the conversation, but somehow John knew better.  He didn’t say that it was usual for trauma victims to be unable to remember anything about their experience.  Instead he waited, not looking directly at Sherlock but past him, at the window frame behind his shoulder.  



As little as Sherlock cared for people and as contemptuous as he was of so many, he was still, at root, made uneasy by them.  He didn't know how to behave around them, how to gain a sense of them so that he said the correct things.  Had no real interest in saying the correct things.  With John it was different.  There was no strain, no defensiveness, no need to guard himself.  Sherlock protected himself just like anyone else and more so than most, but he wasn’t at risk with John and he knew it.  John was as safe as solitude.  So now when he hesitated it wasn’t because he was concerned about how John would react, it was because he lacked the emotional breadth to articulate what he wanted to say even to his own satisfaction.



Even if he’d possessed the emotional tools, the experience itself was so ephemeral that the only remaining trace of it was that memory of his frantic, desperate conviction that he had to get out.  From where, he didn’t know.  All he had then and all he retained now was that conviction that the most important thing in his world was at risk and that he had to defend it.  Although he couldn’t explain what made him so certain of that, it was real to him then and somehow was still real to him all these years later.  Casting it into a form that he could communicate to John, though, was nearly impossible--and he was surprised and dismayed by the intensity of his need to try.



It felt--” he began, and stopped again with a grimace of disgust.  He despised that word:   Felt.  He was Sherlock Holmes.  He thought, he knew, he acted.  He didn’t feel.  And yet he couldn’t be more definitive than that now, because he really didn’t know.  He didn’t know where he’d been or what happened except as a dying echo reflected in the intensity of his emotion upon waking.  



He started over.  “I don’t remember thinking, ‘I have to get out,’” he said.  “I don't remember anything, actually.  But when I woke up...I knew that I had been thinking it.  Not in words, but in...knowing it.  I felt as though I’d been fighting for the most important thing in the world, and that I’d won.”  



You fought for your life,” John said simply.  “What’s more important than that?”  



You are, Sherlock thought.  “Nothing,” he said.  Then he shrugged indifferently, back to himself.  “I shouldn't have brought it up.  It’s proof of nothing, of course, other than the working of my subconscious."



Well,” John said, matching his offhanded tone, “something helped you beat the odds, and it wasn’t medical intervention.  Subconscious bloody-mindedness is as good an explanation as any.  They called you on the OR table, you know.”  



Yes,” Sherlock said dryly.  “Mycroft mentioned it while he was upbraiding me afterward.  It was on his list of things I’d done to piss him off that day.  If I recall, the items in descending order of priority were defying his wishes, being the proximate cause of his presence in a hospital, proposing marriage, committing criminal trespass, and getting shot.  After that was Number Six:  Dying.”




* * * * *



















Epilogue




John watched as the world's only consulting detective was consulted by DI Lestrade of Scotland Yard, who had brought Sherlock a series of crime scene photographs to examine.  This happened on a semi-regular basis when the police felt that they were ‘missing something,’ although Lestrade had learned not to invite Sherlock's acerbity by phrasing it quite that way.  This particular case involved an apparent murder in which the victim, now missing, was nevertheless seen exiting her home the morning after the crime, perfectly healthy.  



Sherlock was taking this particular consultation lying down.  On the sofa.  He wasn’t dressed yet, it being just a little past noon, and had been stretched out there since he relocated from his bedroom an hour ago.  


As usual his examination of the photos appeared cursory and thoughtless.  John, watching from the living room table, and Lestrade, standing by the sofa, knew better.  



Sherlock paused in his inspection long enough to give one picture a quarter turn and peer more closely at it, but otherwise he glanced through the stack in only the sketchiest fashion.  Then he said, tossing the file folder onto the coffee table and losing all interest, "I suggest that you get the hairs on that brush tested, Inspector.  You might find that not all of them are human."



Lestrade picked up the folder.  "What brush?"



"The hairbrush."   Lestrade leafed through the pictures, looking unenlightened.  "John," Sherlock said, "toss me the red marker."  



John reached for the mug of pens and markers.  "What for?"  



"So I can draw a great big red arrow that even Lestrade can't miss."  



John dropped the marker back into the cup and Lestrade scowled.  "I see the brush.  What about it?"  



"God," Sherlock groaned.  "It's like trying to explain gas chromatography to a planarian.  If you have to barge in here before breakfast, Lestrade, could you at least try to focus?  The forensics team applied Luminol to the bedroom and found blood evidence everywhere, but mostly on the mattress.  Therefore the murder took place in the bedroom--specifically, on the bed.  None of the blood was visible to the naked eye.  Therefore the murderer cleaned up the crime scene.  A scene which is missing two important components:  a fitted sheet and a victim.  Yet after the crime took place the neighbor saw the missing woman leave her house dressed for work, perfectly fine, in exactly the same sort of skirt she invariably wore, yes?"  



"Yeah."  



"No.  She saw the killer leave the house.  He wrapped the victim's body in the fitted sheet and disposed of her somewhere, then returned to the house while it was still dark, cleaned the scene of visible blood, dressed up as the victim, right down to the hair, and walked out in broad daylight, to be seen by the neighbor."  



"He was wearing a wig?"  



"Yes, and if you ask me why he would brush a wig before using it to impersonate a freshly-groomed woman leaving her house for work I will have John throw you out that window.  If you test the brush you may just find that one or more of the fibres are synthetic.  Forensics might even be able to use the chemical composition of the dye used in the fibres to get you the manufacturer, seller, and the buyer of the wig."  



"Amazing," Lestrade said with a broad grin, scribbling all this into his casebook.  "Thanks, Sherlock.  I mean it."  



Sherlock barely worked up the energy for a dismissive grunt, but Lestrade was used to that.  Still beaming, he turned to John.  "That the Dover case you're writing up?"  



Immediately John's expression morphed from pleased and admiring to guarded and wary.  "Uh...No.  I'm not.  Writing it up, I mean.  Just replying to a few comments on other posts."  Puzzlement.  "How'd you hear about Dover?"



"Oh, you know what they say about good news."  John did not.  "It travels fast?" Lestrade prompted.  He was grinning like an idiot now.  "I hear congratulations are in order."  



John threw up his hands.  "Dammit, I knew this was going to happen!" he cried.  "You and your bloody jumper," he said to Sherlock.  "Greg, I swear:  If you say one word about this at the Met--It was for a case!--I will find a way to make you disappear that even he won't be able to unravel."



"Unlikely," Sherlock drawled.



"You stay out of it."



Lestrade regarded the threat with all the seriousness it deserved.  "Come on, don't be like that.  It's sweet.  Seriously:  It's about time you two made honest men of each other."



"Get bent."  



Lestrade laughed so hard he had to brace himself with his hands on his knees, but he managed to straighten up long enough to say, "Listen, since you eloped there really wasn't any way to get a gift, but I'll mark the date on the office calendar so we won't miss your first anniversary.  What's traditional for that?  Leather?"  



"Dammit, Greg."



"Paper, I think," said Sherlock from the sofa.  Helpful.



"Shut up, Sherlock," John growled.  "And you," he added to Lestrade.  



"Hey, how'd you work out the name thing?” Lestrade asked.  “Did you go with Watson-Holmes or Holmes-Watson?"  



"Holmes-Watson, obviously," Sherlock said.  



"Shut up!" John cried.



"Well, I'm off," Lestrade said, wiping his eyes.  "Afternoon, Mr. Holmes.  Dr. Holmes."  John shied a paperback at his head and the book hit the doorframe.  



The pinging of his phone with in incoming text made Lestrade pause and at least try to pull himself together.  He glanced at the screen:  Sherlock's number.  He looked up, puzzled.  Sherlock had just dropped his own phone back onto the coffee table.  "What are you doing?"



"Obvious," Sherlock said.



Lestrade frowned at the phone.  Sherlock had texted him a link.  "What is this?" he asked suspiciously.



"Also obvious."



Lestrade clicked on the link, which opened on a MyLife page.  Prominently depicted was an image taken by the photographer who chronicled John's wedding, shot directly following the church ceremony:  a photo of John and Lestrade standing together in the arched doorway of the church, John with his top hat tucked under one arm and Lestrade in his good suit, both of them smiling broadly.  The photo was labeled “Precious Moments.”



"The hell...?"  Lestrade looked up at Sherlock.  



"Your friends in Dover might not realize it," Sherlock said pleasantly, "but you got to John before I did."



Eh?” Lestrade said.



"Access to that page is currently set to 'private,' Sherlock continued, "but John can easily make it public.  Think of it as his nuclear option."



Lestrade cleared his throat.  "You.  Bastard."



John burst out laughing.



"Thank you for stopping by, Inspector," Sherlock said amiably.  "Now get out."




* * * * *




John set the last of the clean lunch plates in the rack to dry, wrapped up the remains of the gypsy tart Mrs. Hudson baked for them, and found a place for it in the fridge a safe distance from the plastic-covered bowl of spleens.



At the living room table Sherlock, dressed now, leafed through one of the last daily newspapers that still maintained a print edition, and nursed a cup of tea.



"Going for a walk," John told him.  "Need anything?"



"Mm," Sherlock said when John repeated the question a third time.



John interpreted that as a “no” and he was shrugging into his jacket when there was a knock at the door.  



The new interruption put Sherlock out at once.  "What is this, Waterloo Station?" he complained.



John opened the door to find Abigail Soranzo on the other side, holding what looked like a photo album in her hands.



"Abigail," he said with a pleased smile.



"Hello, Dr. Watson," she said, just as happy to see him, then noticed his coat.  "Oh--You're on your way out.  I'm sorry, I should have called first.  I'll go--"



"Yes, do," Sherlock said from behind the newspaper.



John gave him a wry look.  "No, come in.  Come in.  It's been a slow day and I was just going for a walk.  It can wait.  Would you like to sit down?  Can I get you something to drink?  You look great, by the way."



She smiled up at him, and in fact she did look vastly improved compared to her last visit to Baker Street.  Compared to the last time John saw her, in fact, which was at Wellspring.  Her colour was normal, she was neither coughing or wheezing, and while she was still too thin she appeared to have gained several pounds.  



"Thank you," she said, “but no.  This won't take long.  I just came by to thank you both in person."  She glanced in Sherlock's direction, but he’d put the paper up like a barrier wall.  "Poor Dr. Kickham is alive because of Mr. Holmes, and I'm alive because of you."



Fielding heartfelt compliments always made John feel awkward and this occasion was no exception, especially with Sherlock now eyeing him from across the top of the paper.  He demurred at once.  "No, I--"



"Oh, no.  No trying to deny it, now," she scolded good-naturedly.  "The doctors at Buckland explained everything, and Liz showed me the note you wrote to tell them what to check for.  I still can't remember what it's called except by the letters--SBE, right?--but they said if it weren't for you...well, they said it's fatal if it's not treated.  And I was so surprised:  They said I'd had a heart valve defect all these years.  I never even knew."



"That's actually pretty common," John told her, back on more comfortable ground.  "Valve defects and other sorts of heart damage predispose people to SBE, so I'm not surprised they found that."  He fixed her with his sternest Dr. Watson frown.  "You're taking the antibiotics like they prescribed?"



"Well, I can't say that I'm very happy about it, but yes, I have been.  My children are seeing to that.  My daughter stops by each morning and my son at night, to see that I do."  She sighed.  "Just four more weeks of that.  But it is good to see the kids more often."



John smiled.  "I'm sure."



Abigail remembered the album she was clutching to herself.  "Well, I said I wasn't going to keep you both, and look at me nattering on."  She glanced at Sherlock again.  "Mr. Holmes," she said to the classifieds, "I wanted to give you something you both could enjoy, so I’d like you to have this."



Sherlock braced himself, laid the paper down, and turned to face her.



"I should explain what it is, first," she said.  "It belonged to my husband.  He was born in Italy.  In Venice, where his family still lives.  They've had musicians in the family for generations, and this was passed down to him.  He had one other, but this was his favorite, and mine.  I want you to have it."



She held the album out to him and he stood to accept it like a man going to his death before a firing squad.  He could lie his way through a brick wall, but faking sentiment over gifts was beyond him and he utterly dreaded these occasions.  Not because it would hurt the giver's feelings, but because he hated doing things he wasn’t good at.  He knew that his voice would carry a note of falseness, but he screwed his face up into an equally unconvincing semblance of amiability--John had trained that much into him--and accepted the album.  John himself was well aware of Sherlock's discomfiture:  He'd seen it often enough, and he also had a pretty good idea of its source.  



Sherlock opened the book to glance at the contents, and John watched in utter astonishment as his expression changed abruptly from strained agreeability to candid wonder.  The formulaic, requisite "Thank you" died on his lips and he stared at the page in silence, looking as nearly slack-jawed as John had ever seen him.



John finally couldn’t stand it any more.  "What is it?" he asked.



Abigail had to reply; Sherlock was still mutely staring at the book in his hands.  "It's Vivaldi's original manuscript of La Cetra Number One in C major," she said.  "Opus Nine."  Now it was John's turn to look blank.  "It's a violin concerto.  The allegro," she added, clarifying nothing for him.



Sherlock found his voice.  Convincingly faking gratitude was the last thing on his mind now.  "Mrs. Soranzo," he said.  "This is--"



"Worth more to you than it is to me," she replied.  "It does have sentimental value because it was my husband's, I admit.  But if I keep it, it will just sit in a drawer.  I can never value it for its real worth.  Not the way a musician can.  It should be played, and shared."



John edged over to see, and Sherlock carefully, almost reverently, laid the book on the table.  The album was clearly purpose-made to preserve valuable documents from light, damp, and age, and the manuscript pages themselves were contained in acetate sleeves secured to a rigid backing to protect them from being bent, folded, touched, or breathed upon.  The centuries-old pages were parchment, and the musical score had been laid down by hand in an ink now faded to a light coffee colour.  It was still perfectly legible, though, and the dashing, elegant hand of the man who wrote the music reminded John of Sherlock's own.



The very evident age of the document impressed John first, but as Sherlock turned the pages gently over by the edges he soon noticed that on nearly every sheet the great musician had made corrections and even scribbled marginalia.  "What does this say?" he asked, pointing to a line in the lower corner of the last page.



Sherlock peered at it, then read with what sounded to John like an impeccable Italian accent.  "Se questo non piace non voglio più scrivere di musica."



"Do you know what it means?"  



"'It says--'" Abigail began, but Sherlock interrupted.



"'If this won't do I will write no more music,'" he said.



 John looked puzzled.  



"Writing for a diva?" Sherlock suggested.



"That's what Arturo told me," Abigail agreed.  



Sherlock cleared his throat, clasped his hands behind his back, and faced Abigail squarely.  "Mrs. Soranzo," he said firmly.  "You hired me to find the cause of two red lights and a ghost.  The cause was a pair of torches and a fancy projector.  I suspected as much before we left this flat and in any event I took your case pro bono.  You are now proposing that I accept something with a value out of all proportion to the worth of my initial deduction and even to the fun of solving an unexpected murder."



She smiled warmly at him.  "I'm not proposing it, Mr. Holmes.  I'm insisting on it.  I'm afraid my giving it to you is what they call a 'done deal.'"



"Just say 'thank you,'" John said.



Sherlock solemnly extended his hand to her.  "Thank you, Mrs. Soranzo," he said as they shook, and this time the sound of his voice didn't annoy him.



"You're very welcome.  Now," she added, turning to John, "this is just for you."  She fished in her handbag and produced a CD, which she passed to him.  "It's all twelve violin concerti of La Cetra," she said.  "So you don't have to wait until an orchestra puts on a live performance.  Besides, I imagine Mr. Holmes avoids concert halls."  She glanced at her watch.  "Ooh, I've got to be off.  I've got an appointment with Dr. Kickham in an hour on the other side of town.  If I don't leave now I'll be late."



John stared at her with a sinking feeling and the pleasure he’d been taking in her visit evaporated.  "Brian Kickham?"



"Oh, yes.  Sorry, didn't you know?  But then, I guess I just thought you would have heard:  He carried right on with his plans to open a new practice, even after everything that happened at Wellspring.  He still has to testify against Terence and Felicity and that big doctors’ group won’t let him practice allopathic medicine any more, but I just think it’s so courageous of him to put it all behind him the way he has.  This will be my first appointment with him since I was discharged from Buckland."  Big smile.  "I'll tell him you said 'hello,' shall I?"



"Abigail," John said, "you haven't mentioned anything to him about the SBE, have you?"



"Well, of course," she said brightly.  "How else would he know what to prescribe from the materia medica?  Don't worry, though, Dr. Watson.  I'll keep taking the antibiotics.  My son and daughter will see to that."  She gripped his unresisting hand and shook it.  "Thank you again.  Both of you."



She turned and trotted down the stairs.  The front door opened and closed and still John stood there, staring after her.  Sherlock finally broke the silence.  



"Have you noticed how often that woman would die if it weren't for other people?  It's no wonder her husband pre-deceased her.  It must have been an inexpressible relief to him."



John was too dispirited to object to the sentiment.  He went to his armchair and sat down, feeling defeated.  



Sherlock eyed him briefly, then strode into the kitchen and opened the drawer where the biscuits were kept, although he clearly recalled eating the last one yesterday and in fact could see the discarded wrapper in the bin.  “We’re out of ginger nuts,” he announced, looking down at the empty drawer.  No answer.



"John."



"What?"



 "I said we're out of biscuits."



So?” John said.  “Put it on the list.  I’m going to the market Thursday.”  



A good husband would go now,” Sherlock informed him.  



A better one would stop his pie hole.”  John carried on sulking at the fireplace.



Right, then:  Plan B.  Sherlock wandered back into the living room and admired the manuscript.  Turned few pages, then looked up.  "Well?"



John eyed him.  "Well, what?"



"You really didn't notice?  That I let her go without giving her the benefit of my opinion of her?  When did you get so self-centered?  I'd like a bit of credit, you know."



"You want me to to give you credit for not calling her an idiot after she gifted you with a priceless piece of music."



"That's what I was going for, yes."



John just sighed and rubbed his forehead.



"You know, John," Sherlock said sagely, "people almost never thank you for undeceiving them."



"Voice of experience?"



"Of course.  But it's also elementary human nature.  No one likes being wrong."



"That a rainbow ruse?"



"Why, do you think you were wrong about something?"



"I didn't tell her I suspected SBE because I had an agenda about real medicine, you know.  She was sick.  She would have died.  I couldn't stand there and let it happen without trying to do something about it."



"But?"



"But I thought, you know:  If she did change her mind about real medicine, then so much the better."



"Hm.  Yes, all very interesting, but I was talking about me."



John turned to look at him.  "What, then?"



Now that he had John’s attention, Sherlock was somewhat less self-assured than he’d been about trying to get it in the first place.  "I thought she was terminal, the first time she came to the flat," he admitted.



"You were wrong and you don't like that."



"Correct."



"Well, I'd say you were singularly unobservant, but if it makes you feel any better that was my first impression, too."



What’s SBE?”



Subacute bacterial endocarditis.  Inflammation of the endocardium--the inner lining of the heart.  It’s usually caused by a form of streptococci bacteria; they’re pretty much universally present in the mouth and throat.”



"How did you know?"



"From spending a bit more time with her, close-to.  At dinner.  And then when she and her friends came to the maintenance shed to help out.  I can see why she didn't get a diagnosis when she first presented--besides the fact that she left as soon as they said lung cancer was on the list of possibilities, I mean.  SBE has a lot of symptoms in common with a million other pathologies.  But while we were walking after dinner Wednesday I noticed her fingers, and I remembered that when you first saw her you said she'd had dental work done.  That's a really common way for the bacteria to get from the mouth to the bloodstream to the heart.  Then there was the cough, the night sweats, pain in her spleen, the weight loss...Add it all up and you’ve got a pretty good case for suspecting SBE.”



"What about her fingers?"



"Oh.  She had little red spots under the skin there.  Uh, Osler's nodes, they're called.  I imagine she developed them pretty recently, after she had that first appointment, or her doctor would have noticed."  



Sherlock considered him thoughtfully.  "Why didn't you say something?"



"Seriously?"



"What?"



"Why didn't I say something?  The guy who never says anything is asking me that?"



Busted.  "So she's not dying."



"Not any more."



Hm,” Sherlock said, signaling an end to his interest in the subject.  He plucked the violin from the music stand and held it like a ukelele.  “Do you know La Cetra?” he asked.  “That’s rhetorical, by the way.”



Why is it rhetorical?”



Do you know it?”



Not actually, no.”



You'll like it.”  



Can you play it from that manuscript?”



I could.  Don’t need it, though.”  He reached for the bow, held the violin properly, and rapidly played a scale starting with G3, the lowest note of which the instrument was capable, and vanishing at the high end of the range audible to bats.  Lowered the violin again.  “She mentioned an installment plan--”



"Shut up," John said, "and play."




* * * * *