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Bullpup Press
A Creative-Writing House


The Colour of Wine

by

Lynn Walker & Carole Manny


“Your cloak hides the sinner,
your cloak shields the lover,
colour of wine,
cyclamen,
red rhododendron. ”

— Hilda Doolittle



John pocketed his wallet, collected his plastic bags of groceries, and worked his way through the crowds of other shoppers to the pavement outside the Sainsbury’s. It was just past nine a.m., but as the automatic doors parted the hot air hit him like he’d walked into a wall. Compared to late July in Kandahar this was a cold snap, but the heat wave had prostrated most of England, Wales, and western Europe. Even the criminals seemed reluctant to bestir themselves in these temperatures.

He shifted all three bags into his right hand, stepped to the kerb, and waved for a taxi. It was not one of London’s ubiquitous black cabs that responded to his summons, though, but a sleek, liquid-black Jaguar. It glided up beside him and the dark window rolled down just far enough to reveal Anthea tapping serenely away on her mobile. The air conditioning was turned up so high that it tousled her hair.

John was not pleased to see her. “Now’s not a good time,” he said.

“Now’s the only time,” she replied, without looking up.

“But I’ve just got the shopping. Tell Mycroft I’ll call—”

“Now,” Anthea said firmly.

ooooo

Mycroft turned away from the window of his private Diogenes Club room when he heard the door open. “John,” he said, with his usual impeccable smoothness. “How good of you to come. Tea?”

John’s spirits sank even further. Whatever Mycroft wanted it could not be good. As a rule when he summoned John he could scarcely be bothered to look up from his paperwork. Now he was offering tea and eyeing John with one of those searching Holmes glances. Mycroft was much more subtle about these scans than his younger brother, but John knew him well enough by now to recognize the process. “What’s going on, Mycroft?” he asked. “I was in the middle of something.”

Mycroft glanced at the grocery bags. “So I see. Between cases, are you?” He gestured to the chair.

John shrugged. “Bit of a lull,” he admitted, sitting down. “Thought I’d get the shopping done before the next crisis.”

“So did Sherlock,” Mycroft said.

“What does that mean?”

“You don’t know?”

John gritted his teeth: He was in no mood to be kept guessing. “Know what?”

Mycroft didn’t answer at once. He moved away from the window, opened the laptop on his desk, and turned it so John could see the screen.

“Mycroft,” John began impatiently.

Mycroft held up his hand. “Watch,” he said.

The screen showed a slightly grainy black and white surveillance video. It was a nighttime image shot in infrared light, which accounted for the graininess, but John could see that the camera was focused on a section of alleyway. Two men stood on the far right side of the frame, one three-quarters on to the camera with a hoodie obscuring most of his face, shifting nervously from one foot to the other. John didn’t recognize him. The other man stood with his back to the camera, but his tall, slim outline was unmistakable. John watched in growing anger and disbelief as Sherlock handed over a pair of bank notes and received a tiny glassine packet in return.

Mycroft watched the color rise in John’s face and he read anger, hurt, and disappointment there, but not foreknowledge.

“When did this happen?” John demanded, his jaw tight.

“This morning,” Mycroft said. “Two thirty-seven a.m. You knew nothing about it?”

John glared at him. “If I’d known about it, don’t you think I’d have said something?”

“I don’t know,” Mycroft said simply. “You protect him.”

“Mycroft, when it comes to this we’re on the same side. You know that.” John got up and went to the window, where he looked out onto the inner courtyard. His hands were balled into fists. “You’ve made sure no one else will see this,” he said, and it was not a question.

“Of course.” Mycroft said.

“Who’s the dealer?”

“I don’t know.”

John turned angrily from the window. “Bullshit.”

“John,” Mycroft said reasonably. “There’s nothing to be served now by damaging him, and a moment’s reflection will tell you that he’s not the only drug dealer in London. There will always be a supplier willing to meet demand.”

John held up his hands in a reluctant gesture of concession.

Mycroft gestured to the chair and John sat down again. “When was the last time he had a case?” Mycroft asked.

John considered. “Last week? We finished the thing with the six Thatcher statues on…Thursday, was it? Yeah. Bit quiet since then. Clients don’t always come round on the weekends.”

“So he made it as far as Sunday night.”

John slumped in the chair. “I don’t believe this.”

“John. Is there anything else? Anything unusual going on?”

“No. Christ, no, there’s nothing. He’s the same as he’s always been. Yeah, he’s bored between cases, but…He’s been doing real well with the cigarettes. Bribed every shop in a two mile radius around the flat to not sell him any more. Nicotine patches…And we’ve been pretty busy with the work, too. He turns down most of it, you know. ‘Boring.’”

“Yes. I know. He’s never been able to tolerate boredom. Ever.”

“Is that all this is about? I mean, really all it’s about?”

Mycroft shrugged. “What else?”

“I don’t know. I just…You know that my sister’s an alcoholic.” Mycroft nodded; he knew that John knew he had his file. “She’s got one reason after another why she drinks. And…Well, I know her background. I know why she started, and what that was like for the rest of the family, for her partners. With Sherlock, I’ve no idea what he was like before I met him. I only see him as he is now, Mycroft, and looking at him now I cannot for the life of me understand why he’s drawn to the stuff.”

“I don’t think he is,” Mycroft said. “I think he’s driven to it.”

“But you’re not. I mean, to hear him tell it, you’re cleverer than he is—” Mycroft raised an eyebrow at that “—so if you can tolerate boredom, why can’t he?”

“John, if you were to describe me to someone who didn’t know me, would the word ‘impulsive’ form any part of your description?”

John gave short, bitter laugh. “No. No, there is that. Sherlock’s impulse control is a little random.”

“If you’re thinking that he sustained some sort of deep-seated psychological damage as a child that would explain his drug use, think again. He had as normal and happy a childhood as any boy can who is as clever and energetic as he was.”

“Wasn’t traumatized by a clown, then.”

Mycroft frowned. “A clown?”

“Forget it. Look: If that’s all this is—just him being bored out of his mind—then I don’t see how he’s ever going to get past it. Do you? I mean, has he gotten any better over the years?”

“He’s gotten better over the last two years,” Mycroft said, and now it was John’s turn to frown. “You’ve been good for him, John. I wasn’t sure at first, and to be perfectly honest I still have my doubts. The two of you together have the maturity level of first formers. But he’s been more…settled.”

“Settled? This is him being settled?”

“I’m afraid so.” Mycroft closed the laptop and returned to his chair behind the desk. “You know,” he said, “I’ve spent most of my life worrying about my brother. I’ve refined it to an art form.” He patted the laptop. “I don’t believe that Sherlock is desperate the way he was when he left university. He was ‘all to seek,’ as they say, for something to do with himself, for mental stimulation, for the ‘rush,’ as he so elegantly puts it, of really using his mind. The euphoria of intellectual stimulation. He was desperate then. I don’t believe that that’s the case now. Have you seen any evidence that he’s actually been taking anything?”

John’s answer was immediate and certain. “No. No, I’d have noticed.”

“Nevertheless, he made the purchase. You know as well as I do that cocaine can kill on the first use or the thousandth.”

“Cardiac arrest,” John said grimly.

“Exactly.”

“Well, I haven’t seen him yet today, but I don’t imagine he took it last night because he was asleep when I left this morning. So what do you want to do?”

“I was rather hoping that you’d tell me.”

“Me? Why?”

Mycroft smiled. “Perhaps you’ve noticed that my brother and I tend to antagonize each other somewhat.”

John sighed and rubbed at his eyes. “Yeah. Of course. I’ll…talk to him, I guess,” he said with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. “I don’t imagine he’ll listen, but I’ll do what I can.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet. Just…give me some time. I know,” he added, as Mycroft started to protest, “I don’t mean time to find the stuff. I mean time to figure out how to approach him. By the way, I don’t suppose you can arrange something for him to look into, get him out of the flat for a while?”

“I’m sure something will come to hand.”

“Thanks. That’ll help. The sooner the better, yeah?” John stood and collected the grocery bags. “I’ll keep you posted.”

“Do,” Mycroft said.

ooooo

The Jaguar, minus Anthea, deposited John in Baker Street forty-five minutes later. In the flat, every lingering trace of the night’s coolness had dissipated long ago, although a gentle, intermittent cross breeze from the open windows at least stirred the hot air.

Sherlock lay on the sofa in a T-shirt and pajama bottoms with one arm propped behind his head, the other hanging over the edge of the sofa and his hand trailing languidly on the floor. He had arranged the oscillating fan on the coffee table, where it pushed warm air over him, and he was clearly very busy being very bored. John glanced at him but didn’t trust himself to speak yet, so he went straight to the kitchen.

Sherlock had been asleep when John left the flat that morning and therefore didn’t know exactly what time he’d gone out, but a glance at him now showed the absence of condensation on the milk carton: John had been away far longer than it should have taken to buy three bags of groceries. If John had been delayed by a friend he wouldn’t look so exasperated, and few things annoyed him more than being shanghaied by Mycroft’s minions. Sherlock had just given Mycroft a very good reason to waylay John this morning. Therefore, John had made an unscheduled stop at The Diogenes Club.

Sherlock was perfectly aware that his brother had filled John in on his past drug use. He knew that they colluded to intervene whenever they thought he was at risk of resorting to the stuff, or even to cigarettes, for God’s sake. In fact he hadn’t used anything other than tobacco since…well, since he and John moved in to Baker Street. Hm. Interesting, now that he thought of it. Coincidence? Mycroft always maintained that the universe wasn’t lazy enough for coincidences, but Mycroft didn’t know everything. In any case, Sherlock had succumbed late last night. He hadn’t expended any effort to cover his tracks when he left to make the buy in the pre-dawn darkness, partly because if the city’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras captured the transaction it would cause trouble for Mycroft—Sherlock was, after all, painfully bored, and few things diverted him like his brother’s impotent anger—and partly out of sheer petulance. It was almost two a.m., John was being very dull by sleeping, and no one was paying any attention to Sherlock. In an excess of frustration and resentment he slipped out and found a dealer named Weasel (real name Frederick Benjamin Wilson, 26, responsible for two murders of rival dealers which Sherlock could easily prove if Weasel got any ideas about blackmailing him), who did a brisk trade near the Euston Square tube station.

Strangely, though he’d been so resolute when he left the flat, by the time he found Weasel he had fairly well worked himself out of his sulk. The mere act of tracking the man down had given him something to think about. Not something constructive, necessarily, but something, and when he was this desperate he didn’t scruple over whether what he seized upon was good for him or not. Then too, the actual buy, which at one time had formed an integral part of his enjoyment of the process, had been less than satisfying. He’d almost backed out of it, but that would have been stupid, so he completed the transaction, although that made him feel stupid as well. He felt obscurely that something had changed since the last time he bought cocaine. Still, he’d kept the packet, although by then he was sure that he wouldn’t take any that night. Had he ever been sure that he would take it? Well, he’d certainly been determined to buy it, and discarding it then would have been a sad waste of forty pounds.

He’d taken his time going home, returning to the flat via a circuitous route that took him past the British Museum, up Harley Road, through Regent’s Park, and finally to Baker Street, where, as the eastern sky lightened to a paler shade of indigo, he fell asleep. He’d woken an hour ago to a silent, empty, over-warm flat. The grocery list was missing from the refrigerator door, so it wasn’t hard to work out where John was. Besides, they were out of coffee. Now it was nearly eleven and John still hadn’t had his coffee, but Sherlock knew that the real reason for his evident bad temper was bloody Mycroft acting like an old woman, stuffing John up with lurid lies about addiction and drug dens. Sherlock told himself that he didn’t care: John couldn’t possibly conceive how agonizing it was to be a genius without problems to solve. In fact, he decided, it was just as well that John did know about the cocaine: Perhaps they’d have a nice row over it. That would stir things up a bit.

Just now, however, John didn’t appear in any hurry to start a quarrel. He put the groceries away, made himself a sandwich, and carried it into the living room, where he turned on the telly, muted the sound, and sat staring at the fireplace. If Sherlock needed any further proof that John was angry with him, the fact that John hadn’t tried to feed him was it.

While he refrained from passive-aggressive demonstrations like slamming drawers and heaving theatrical sighs—that was Sherlock’s territory—John was irate as hell about the cocaine. He resented always having to be the grown-up in this friendship, for a start. No, that wasn’t strictly accurate. He was fine with being a grown-up, but at times like this he wished that Sherlock would join him in adulthood. Grown-ups, to John’s way of thinking, didn’t use cocaine. Oh, he knew that people did, but sober, moral, responsible adults did not.

John’s feelings toward Sherlock weren’t complicated, but they were somewhat contradictory. He was four years older than his friend, and while that wasn’t significant at their age it was just enough to give him the sense of being…not in charge of Sherlock, exactly, but protective of him. Mycroft was right about that. Sherlock, in spite of his supreme competence in so many subjects, often behaved as though he shouldn’t be allowed out alone. Balancing that impulse to protect him was John’s admiration for him. He wasn’t ashamed to admit being awed by Sherlock’s brilliance. The word might be overused, but he couldn’t think of another way to describe a man who could distinguish thirty-three varieties of deodorant by scent alone, 243 types of tobacco ash by sight, and who could read one’s occupation, relationship status, preferred type of razor, and most recent meal in a one-second glance.

Sherlock had once told John, when John expressed disappointment in his behavior, that heroes didn’t exist and that if they did he wouldn’t be one of them. John did not believe this. He knew men who were heroes. He’d fought alongside them. He believed that Sherlock, for all his infuriating quirks and personality defects, was one of them. He admired Sherlock, and just now he was acutely disappointed that his clever, fascinating, vibrantly alive friend had proven susceptible to such an appalling weakness. While Sherlock was in no clinical sense that John could see an addict, his cocaine purchase stirred up the same negative emotions that John had always associated with his sister’s alcoholism—and he very definitely did not want to introduce that element of negativity into this friendship.

If he accepted Mycroft’s premise that it was his job to handle this—and he’d long ago done just that—then the question became how to do so effectively. Mycroft’s way had apparently never worked, but then Mycroft’s way was to bully Sherlock, and for someone who knew his own brother so well Mycroft could be strangely blinkered about how to get the best from him. Sherlock was a man with unyielding confidence in the judgement of his own mind. He could be mistaken and he could be fooled, but he was not biddable when it came to abdicating his responsibility to think. He passionately resisted every effort Mycroft or anyone else made to bully, coerce, force, or otherwise constrain him to act against his will or on their say-so. The harder Mycroft pushed the harder Sherlock fought, and as an opponent he was utterly tireless. He had to be asked, not told, but what was infinitely more important, he had to freely admit the rightness of what he was being asked to do.

John was amazed that Mycroft never tried another approach, until he considered his own struggles with his sister’s alcoholism: Their extended history of acrimony and conflict finally made an effective change of tactics impossible. Perhaps it was the same with the brothers. John thought that, lacking that history of conflict with Sherlock, his odds of success might be better. And yet while he knew what would not work on his friend, he had no idea what would. He did know that now, while his spirits were so ruffled, was not the time to say anything. So he stared unseeing at the fireplace and his uneaten sandwich wilted on the end table.

“Oo-oo,” Mrs. Hudson chirped, tapping on the door jamb. John turned in surprise. “Ooh, you were in a brown study,” she laughed. “I brought your post up.” She glanced at Sherlock, still stretched at full length on the sofa but now glowering irritably. “Somebody figured out how to beat the heat,” she observed.

“Yes,” Sherlock said crossly, “it took all morning racking my brain, but I finally hit on the brilliant solution of ‘fan.’”

John just scowled at him as he hurried over to take the mail. “Mrs. Hudson,” he scolded gently. “Thank you. But it’s too hot to be hiking up and down the stairs.”

“What, this?” she said. “When I was married and living in Florida it was thirty-two degrees all day long for months at a time and humid, as well.”

“Have you had lunch yet?” John asked. “Can I get you anything? A sandwich?”

“No, thank you, dear,” she said. “I’ve seen what you keep in the cold cut drawer.” John laughed. “Anyway,” she added, “I’m going back downstairs, where it’s cooler.”

“Hurry up, then,” Sherlock muttered.

“Oh, you’re watching Reider’s Cheaters,” Mrs. Hudson exclaimed, noticing the telly. “That’s such a fun programme. There’s the host,” she added, pointing, as the picture changed to show a tall, thick-set man in his fifties, with grey hair and an aggressive manner. “Carson Reider. Who’s he after today?”

John shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Mrs. Hudson forgot all about going back downstairs where it was cooler. She installed herself in Sherlock’s chair, aggravating him further. John could see him out of the corner of his eye, tapping his foot, but even if he hadn’t been mad as hell at him John wouldn’t have been rude to Mrs. Hudson just because Sherlock was feeling shirty. He switched up the volume.

Sherlock didn’t know how John could stand watching telly with Mrs. Hudson. She was by a very long chalk the worst viewing companion he’d ever encountered. She talked incessantly. He’d once muted a programme he’d been trying to watch and stared at her in disbelief while she nattered on obliviously for three minutes and forty-seven seconds before she finally paused to ask why he’d turned the volume down.

“Did you see the one they ran last week?” she was asking John now. “The one with the lorry driver who had three different lovers along his delivery route? His wife was so angry when Carson told her that she hit her husband in the head with a stapler, and then she pushed him right through the screen door into their garden. You know, I once caught my husband kissing…”

Sherlock glanced at John, who appeared perfectly at ease with her, nodding agreeably as she prattled on and rarely if ever trying to get a word in. It was only Sherlock he was annoyed with, and he was demonstrating a remarkable ability to compartmentalize.

“Ooh, look at that beautiful flower in his lapel,” Mrs. Hudson cried. “That’s a rhododendron. I’ve always loved those. ’Rhododendron’ means ‘rose tree,’ but they don’t really look much like roses, do they? When I lived in Florida my neighbor had a bush that bloomed with beautiful big white flowers. But that one looks more of a pink color. You know that suit he’s wearing cost over twelve hundred pounds. I read that the other day—I can’t remember where. He has each of them custom-tailored. Can you imagine? I don’t think I’d ever pay that much for an outfit even if I were that rich, would you? It’s just not right. And his shoes are hand made in Italy, apparently. You know, it’s sad how much money some people can make just because other people ruin their lives, isn’t it?”

“How do you mean?” John asked.

“Well, I mean just look at you and Sherlock. If people weren’t so awful to each other you wouldn’t have any cases, would you?”

Sherlock groaned: This was intolerable. “By that logic we should celebrate death as beneficial to morticians,” he growled. He stood up abruptly, walked unnecessarily over the coffee table, and stalked off to his room.

Mrs. Hudson blinked in surprise and looked at John.

“Hormones,” John whispered conspiratorially, and she laughed.

Five minutes later Sherlock’s phone chimed from the kitchen counter where he’d left it plugged in to charge. There was zero chance of him bothering to answer it, so John picked it up, noticing with satisfaction that it was Lestrade calling: Mycroft was as good as his word.

“Hi, Greg…Yeah…Yeah, hang on a second, he’s in the other room.”

It had long ago been established that Sherlock couldn’t be arsed to respond to a summons, so John carried the phone into the bedroom, where Sherlock lay with his bare feet resting on the wall over the headboard and his fingers in his ears. John tapped the jamb but Sherlock didn’t move.

“It’s Lestrade,” John said.

“I can’t hear you.”

“Lestrade,” John repeated loudly, and held out the phone. Sherlock unfolded one long arm but made no move to actually take the phone. John smacked it into his hand and left.

“Inspector,” Sherlock said. “Why? Sounds dull…What’s fascinating about it?” Big sigh. “Fine. Address? An hour, then.”

He dressed quickly and stopped in the hall to put his suit coat on. “Lestrade’s confused again,” he said to John. “Murder scene in Sutton. Wants me to have a look at it. Coming?”

Under normal circumstances, with Mrs. Hudson doggedly pursuing the topic of cheating by way of an anecdote about a girlfriend who had caught her fiancé red-handed but married him anyway, John would have been grateful for the chance to escape to a nice quiet murder scene, but Sherlock was not surprised when he declined the invitation now. He knew that John would be turning over the flat for the cocaine the instant he was in the cab.

“I’ve got a splitting headache,” John said. “You go on.”

“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Hudson chipped in sympathetically. “A headache? It’s probably from the heat. Would you believe it was already 31 degrees at nine this morning? I have aspirin…”

Downstairs the door slammed. John went to the window, watched Sherlock get into a cab, and turned to Mrs. Hudson. “I need your help,” he said.

ooooo

Sherlock’s cab turned down a quiet, shady rural lane on the northern outskirts of Sutton and stopped at a white clapboard ranch bungalow. Besides an obviously civilian lime green Ford Fiesta, just one marked police car and Lestrade’s official BMW stood parallel parked along the lane, which made him frown. There should have been a crowd of detectives, criminalists, photographers, and other SOCOs working the scene, destroying evidence and generally making his job more difficult. He told the driver to wait, stepped out of the cab, and scowled at the blast of hot air that hit him. He hated the summer. His overcoat—any coat—would be ridiculously out of place in the heat, and yet he felt ridiculously out of place without it. John liked to tease him about its dramatic profile and the way he turned up the collar, but the coat was a psychological barrier between him and other people, and without it he felt tense and exposed.

Aside from the idling cab engine everything lay still and quiet under the oppressive blanket of heat. Sweat trickled annoyingly down Sherlock’s temples and ribs and between his shoulder blades. With an effort he shuffled the physical discomfort to one side and focused on the scene. The house, while small, was evidently that of someone with the time, energy, money, or all three to maintain an elaborate and meticulously tended English garden. A conventional, not to say stereotypical, white picket fence edged the property, which overflowed with beds of carefully tended daisies, day lilies, asters, cone flowers, foxglove, delphiniums, and lavender, among many others. Four towering, ancient oaks cast dapples over the lush, close-cropped lawn.

He examined the brick pathway to the front door as he approached the house, as well as the grass on each side of it, but the police had thoroughly trampled both. Typical. Up two steps to the grey-painted porch spanning the front of the house, where he glanced at the door, which stood open, although it showed no signs of having been forced.

Inside, the traditional English bungalow theme continued: Whitewashed walls, ceiling, and floorboards, colorful fabrics, and white wood furniture. The large, bright, open main room was divided into the living area in front and a kitchen with sage green painted cabinetry in the back. A glass-paneled door in the kitchen led outside to the back garden, and behind a half-drawn curtain on the right side of the kitchen stood a stacked washer/dryer combo. Nothing that he could see in the main room hinted at violence, although the signs of the police investigation were everywhere, and every smooth surface showed traces of aluminium powder residue where they had dusted for fingerprints.

A grey and white parrot with a red tail stared warily at him from a white metal cage near the front window. Near the cage stood a small rolltop desk with the top open, and traces of aluminium powder residue on the desktop defined where a laptop computer had stood.

From a hallway on the right side of the main room muffled voices drifted, and he recognized them as belonging to Lestrade and Donovan. He ghosted down the hallway, glanced into the bathroom, and stopped in the doorway of the bedroom, where the two detectives stood conferring together near the picture window on the far side of the bed. Donovan was scribbling notes as Lestrade gave her orders.

The bedroom was a good-sized, comfortable room that easily accommodated the queen bed, single nightstand, and wardrobe without feeling crowded. The bed was made, but Sherlock could see where the corpse had lain on top of the duvet. He was not surprised to find that the body had already been removed, but he was annoyed. The gurney tracks in the carpet runner as well as the scuff on the jamb told him that the police, not the murderer, were responsible for its absence. Sherlock was not in the habit of visiting processed crime scenes, and he had a pretty good idea why he’d been called to this one. Before Mycroft had John to collude with, he had occasionally leaned for information on Detective Inspector Lestrade as being the one person with whom Sherlock had repeated contact. Clearly Mycroft and John had enlisted Lestrade in their effort to get Sherlock out of the flat long enough for John to search it.

“Why have I been called to a scene that’s already been processed?” he demanded.

Lestrade and Donovan turned in surprise, and he reflected contemptuously that the ever-vigilant police were fortunate that he wasn’t there to kill them. Donovan’s face immediately assumed a sneer, although Lestrade looked pleased to see him.

“Yeah, sorry you missed the body,” he said. “I stalled them as long as I could, but in this heat they wanted to put her on ice as soon as possible. And it’s kind of strange, but someone from ‘on high’ seems to have taken an interest in this case. Not sure why.”

Sherlock knew why, and he didn’t acknowledge the explanation. Instead he bent over the floral-patterned duvet cover at the foot of the bed and examined two tiny, dark red spots of color with his glass, then bent closer and smelt them. Relatively fresh: Just a few hours old. “Nail polish,” he said, straightening and pointing at the tiny specks.

Donovan had watched him contemptuously as he inspected the drops. “So?”

“What about the polish?” Lestrade asked. His tone suggested that he was willing to hear why Sherlock found that significant, but Sherlock was in no mood for instruction.

“Tell me about the victim,” he said. “And leave out the part where she’s a left-handed single woman in her early 30’s weighing nine stone, one hundred and seventy centimetres tall, fond of apples, with a slight overbite and natural ash blonde hair who favored romance novels and had no visible means of support.”

Lestrade blinked, then recovered himself and consulted his notes. “Victoria Mills,” he said. “Thirty-two. Found dead on the bed this morning by a repairman who was scheduled to fix the washer at nine a.m. He found the door open, knocked, and got no answer, so he came in and found the victim on the bed. Coroner says from three to five a.m. for time of death. The repairman’s 999 call indicated that he thought it was a suicide, but we don’t think so.”

“Yes,” Sherlock said, “obviously. There’s no note, there are no instructions to anyone for taking care of the bird, she didn’t cancel the repairman, and then of course there are the two very obvious wine glasses that were standing on the fireplace mantle.”

“We already bagged those for evidence. How did you know—”

“Dust, Inspector,” Sherlock said impatiently. “Traces of aluminium dust left on the mantle in a semi-circular pattern where it fell around the bases of the glasses. If you could at least try to remember that not everyone is as impenetrably thick as your co-workers.”

It seemed to Lestrade that Sherlock was even more aggressively bad-tempered than usual today, but the heat had everyone’s patience at a low ebb, including his own, so he didn’t pursue it, although something did prompt him to ask, “Where’s John?”

“Not here,” Sherlock snapped.

“Lovers’ quarrel,” Donovan whispered to Lestrade.

Lestrade cut her off. “That’s enough,” he said. “You’ve got work to do. Get going.”

She sniffed but started for the door.

Sherlock was still standing at the foot of the bed, blocking her path to the doorway, and when he didn’t step aside to let her pass she stopped with an exasperated sigh. “Yeah, you think you can get out of the way, freak?” she demanded.

Sherlock replied with an insolent lift of his eyebrow. She glared at him with mounting irritation until it became clear that he had no intention of moving, and then she shoved distastefully past him. “Freak,” she hissed.

If Lestrade noticed the trace of a smile that pulled at the corner of Sherlock’s mouth he gave no sign. “Great,” he said irritably. “Real adult, both of you.”

“Do you have a cause of death?” Sherlock asked.

“Nothing immediately obvious,” Lestrade said.

“Poison?”

“Could be,” Lestrade said. “They’re going to test the glasses and the contents, of course.”

“Anything on the laptop or phone?”

“Not that we’ve seen so far. There’s nothing in the call recents, but Donovan’s going to pull her call records with Orange. That will give us a picture of who she talked to in the last couple of days. There wasn’t anything recent in the email account on the laptop, but same thing there: We’ve got people going through it. Might find that she wrote to someone that will point in the right direction.”

“No hits on the fingerprints or you wouldn’t have called me,” Sherlock noted.

“Not so far. Prints all over the house, but none of them have been a match for anyone in the database on the first scan. We’ll be going over that in more detail and running them through the Eurodac records as well.”

“Blog? Anything that indicates who she was seeing? Diary? Day minder?”

“No blog. Nothing turned up in what we could see here, although like I said, we might get something when we dig in a little deeper. Donovan’s in charge of all that.”

Sherlock grunted dismissively at that news.

“No known problems with the neighbors,” Lestrade continued. “We’ve interviewed the ones who were at home this morning, and I’ll be coming back out tonight to catch the ones who were at work. The thing is, the street dead-ends and this is the first house on it, so if the killer parked here the rest of them wouldn’t have noticed because he’d never drive past them.”

“Most people wouldn’t notice a piranha if it latched onto their lip,” Sherlock said angrily. “Sleep-walking through their days with their heads up their—”

Anyway,” Lestrade said, riding over him. “The trees keep all the neighbors pretty isolated from each other, too. The killer could have been parked outside since late last night with almost no chance of anyone going past and seeing the car.”

“There aren’t any surveillance cameras in this neighborhood,” Sherlock said. “What about the ones on the main road?”

“Yeah, we’re already pulling that footage starting from eight hours prior to the coroner’s estimated time of death, but it will take time to go through it, and we don’t know what we’re looking for, do we? That’s where I was sort of hoping you could help.”

Sherlock stared at Lestrade while he weighed the advantages of starting a fight over the inspector’s willingness to run errands for Mycroft, but ultimately he decided that it would just prolong his exposure to this aggravating heat. Instead he turned and looked through the bathroom, inspecting the medicine cabinet, the cupboard under the sink, the drawers, and the linen closet. He found all the usual cosmetics, toiletries, and cleaning supplies, as well as a bottle of Vicodin with a valid prescription and, in one of the drawers of the vanity, the bottle of nail polish from which the drops on the duvet had come. This he left untouched because it hadn’t been dusted for fingerprints, although he leant over and sniffed the bottle.

“Bag this,” he ordered, pointing at the bottle. “It will have the killer’s prints on it, if he didn’t wipe it down.”

Lestrade opened his mouth to ask why Sherlock thought so, but Sherlock brushed past him and back out through the main room to the kitchen, where a plastic champagne cork, foil wrapper, and wire cage lay beside the sink.

Sherlock indicated the discards with a nod. “Champagne suggests a celebration,” he said. “The subsequent murder suggests deception. If it was an engagement he’d have no reason to kill her. Pregnancy? Either irresponsible or not very far along if she drank the alcohol. She calls her lover to tell him the news; he brings champagne to maintain the fiction that he’s as pleased as she is, then kills her. Bit of an overreaction, but it suggests that he was married or well-known or both.”

Next he glanced at the back door, but as with the front there were no signs of forced entry, nor did he expect to see any: The victim obviously knew her killer. He walked out into the garden along a brick path much like the one in the front. It ended at a gate at the rear of the property, beyond which lay a paved lane, disused now, but once part of an old road. Where the road extended past the victim’s property the asphalt was broken up and shot through with weeds, but it still formed a serviceable sort of back drive in the other direction, toward the main road of the development.

Sherlock unlatched the gate and stepped into the lane, looking carefully at the pavement while Lestrade watched him, mystified. He crouched down on his hands and knees and lowered his head until his cheek brushed the asphalt as he examined it. He repeated the inspection from several angles and in several different places before standing and brushing off his hands. “There’s been a car parked back here repeatedly,” he said. “It drips oil. Not much, but enough so that over time the drips overlapped. Here,” he said, pointing. “And here. Deposited days, sometimes weeks apart. You see?”

Lestrade crouched down and peered at the drips, which were small but clear enough, but he was ashamed to admit that he couldn’t distinguish that spots of different ages overlapped.

“Do you see?” Sherlock demanded again.

Lestrade hesitated.

“Never mind,” Sherlock snapped. “Just get the criminalist back here and get photographs and swabs of these. Of each of them individually,” he added, because cops who could overlook evidence as obvious as this could not be trusted to collect useful samples of it. “They’ll probably match a sample taken from the killer’s car.”

Lestrade stood up and pulled out his phone to order the criminalist back to the scene. Sherlock started back into the garden but suddenly stopped with his hand on the gate. On the hinge side of the gate grew a rhododendron bush with bright pink blooms. Where had he seen…? Of course: On telly, just that morning, in spite of his best efforts to prevent the information from entering his brain. On the programme host’s lapel. Coincidence and the lazy universe. He snapped one of the blossoms from a cluster, stuffed it into a little plastic evidence bag, and pocketed it.

Lestrade finished his call and hurried after Sherlock as he paced rapidly up the path to the house.

“What do you think?” Lestrade asked. “Got any theories?”

“How long after a television show tapes does it go on the air?” Sherlock asked.

“Sorry?”

“I need to see the surveillance footage of the BBC car park,” Sherlock announced.

ooooo

“What’s the name of that television host?” Sherlock asked as he threw himself into Lestrade’s office chair.

“Can you be a little more specific?”

“On that cheaters show. They secretly record cheaters, then play the footage for the spouse.”

Reider’s Cheaters? Uh…Carson Reider. Yeah.” Lestrade scowled. “I hate that show.”

Sherlock determined with a phone call to the studio’s general switchboard that the host segments of the Reider’s Cheaters programme were aired after a two-hour tape delay, and while he did that Lestrade searched the DVLA records for the make and model of Reider’s car. Soon they were focused on the surveillance footage beginning after eight-thirty a.m. and looking for Reider’s dark blue BMW 730dSE.

Lestrade tried twice to ask why Sherlock was focused on Reider, but finally abandoned the attempt as hopeless. Sherlock would tell him when he was good and ready.

It took nearly twenty minutes of scanning through the footage before they spotted Reider’s car rolling out of the lot, and Sherlock was pleased to see that he still wore the flower on his lapel. There had been every likelihood that the man had discarded the flower after the taping of his program, and he had not relished having to search for it in the bins of the studio complex.

Reider lived at a posh address three miles south of the victim, in Sutton. As they tracked him along the various major roadways his route home took him within a mile of the victim’s house. The surveillance cameras were restricted to the main roads, so once he left the highway for the local roads closer to home they lost track of him, but Sherlock felt confident that if he hadn’t discarded the flower by then he would not do so until he reached home. He leant back in Lestrade’s chair with a calculating smile and a distant look in his eyes.

“Sherlock,” Lestrade said, “you think you might want to fill me in, here? What makes you think this is the guy?”

Sherlock had no intention of answering, but in the event Donovan tapped on the office door just then. She glanced sourly at Sherlock but addressed Lestrade. “The victim made six calls beginning yesterday morning until the estimated time of death,” she said. “And you will never guess who the last one was to.”

“Carson Reider,” Lestrade said.

Donovan’s face fell. “How the hell do you know that?”

Lestrade shrugged and pointed at Sherlock, who didn’t look up from busily researching something on his phone.

“What about the laptop?” Lestrade asked as Donovan silently fumed. “Donovan. What about the laptop?”

“Oh. Right. Uh, her ‘sent’ folder went back twenty-seven days and showed her talking to three different girlfriends about what she called a ‘rich dude’ lover, but she never mentioned a name. These are hard copies of the relevant emails.” She handed a sheaf of printouts to Lestrade. “The interviews with the friends named in the emails are being transcribed now, but they all said that she never told them the names of the men she was involved with. I still have to call the six people she spoke to before the murder.”

“What about her?” Lestrade asked. “Did she have a job?”

“Unemployed,” Donovan said, “but not drawing any public support money.”

“So the blackmail theory’s looking more plausible,” Lestrade said thoughtfully. “Sherlock?”

Sherlock looked up from the phone. “The fact that she never named her lovers in the emails suggests a desire to maintain leverage over them,” he said. “She lived with no visible source of income in a nice place; you’ll probably find that she had irregular deposits made to her accounts by a variety of different men over the years, men who you will also find to have been married at the time of the deposits. She most likely had a series of affairs and claimed habitually that she was pregnant or that she’d reveal the affairs in order to extort money from her lovers.”

“Yeah, that’s starting to look pretty good,” Lestrade admitted. He looked at Donovan. “Thanks. Go ahead with the interviews of the calls she placed.”

“No,” Sherlock said. “Don’t talk to Reider yet.”

“And why not?” Donovan demanded.

“Because I’ve got questions of my own.”

“Yeah, well, lucky for us you’re not on the payroll here, so we’re the ones who decide when questions get asked.”

Lestrade sighed. “Questions like what?”

“Like whether the victim was wearing nail polish on her toes.”

Lestrade blinked. “Nail polish.”

“It’s a simple enough question. Was she wearing nail polish? Come on, Inspector, you stood over the body for how long this morning? What exactly were you gawking at that whole time?”

“Leave him alone, freak,” Donovan snapped.

“You don’t remember either, do you?” Sherlock said contemptuously, turning on her. No answer. “Of course not. So there we are: Two of Scotland Yard’s finest spent twenty minutes milling around a corpse not five hours ago and neither of you can recall whether she was wearing nail polish or not. Brilliant.” He headed for the door. “Never mind. I want to see the body anyway. I have to do everything else myself; might as well do that, too.”

ooooo

As he swept out of Scotland Yard, trailed by Lestrade, Sherlock pulled out his phone and texted.

How’s your headache? SH

Fine. J

Meet me at Barts morgue. Thirty minutes. SH

What for? J

Lestrade’s dull and I need your opinion. SH

Text me the question. J

Air conditioning. SH

Dammit. J

ooooo

When John pushed through the double stainless steel doors into the Barts autopsy room he was surprised to find Molly Hooper and two technicians at work, but no sign of Sherlock. Molly switched off the Stryker saw she’d been using and handed it to one of the technicians, then draped a surgical cloth over the face of the corpse on which she’d been working. As she turned away from the table she caught sight of John and broke into a delighted grin.

“John,” she said, sounding pleased. “What are you doing here? You must be very desperate for air conditioning.”

John laughed. “A little, yeah. Actually Sherlock asked me to meet him here. Have you seen him?”

“No. Not for days. What are you working on?”

“I’ve no idea.”

It was Molly’s turn to laugh. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. He was at a crime scene with Lestrade earlier this afternoon, but I skipped it.” He thought he’d spoken naturally enough, but her smile faded and she peered anxiously into his face.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said at once.

“Sherlock,” she concluded. She removed her disposable plastic face shield, tossed it and her gloves into a bin, then peeled off the surgical cap covering her braided hair. She added the cap to the items in the bin and reached behind her neck to untie her gown. “What’s he done?”

John shook his head. “Nothing. Really. It’s good.”

She glanced back at the technicians as they cleaned up the work area, then lowered her voice confidentially. “Well,” she said, “of course it’s none of my business, but if you’d like to talk about it…? When I’m seeing someone and we’ve had a row, sometimes it helps when my girlfriends and I talk it over.” She smiled, but suddenly her face fell and she said, “Oh, God. I didn’t mean that you’re like one of my girlfriends. Or…No, I didn’t mean that you and Sherlock are—that you’re seeing him—at least, not seeing seeing. I mean you see him every day because you live together—no, not live together. You flat share. I just meant—”

“Molly,” John said, trying not to laugh, “I know what you meant.”

“Oh, thank God.” She fanned herself with her hand. “Sorry.”

“Yeah, it’s nothing earth-shaking. It’s just…He…His brother. Mycroft. Asked me to discuss something with Sherlock. Something Sherlock did that…well, it pissed us both off royally, to be honest.”

She regarded him sympathetically, but Sherlock’s repertoire of things that pissed people off royally was so vast that she couldn’t begin to guess what he’d done to upset John and Mycroft.

“The thing is,” John went on, “Mycroft’s been trying to get through to him about this…‘something’ for years. Literally, for years. And it hasn’t done a bit of good. I can’t see how I’m going to make any progress where Mycroft hasn’t.”

“I can,” she said.

John blinked. “Really?”

“Yes. I’ve only known Sherlock a little bit longer than you have, and I don’t know his brother at all. But you give him something that his brother never could.”

“I’m afraid to ask.”

Molly looked surprised that he didn’t know. “Friendship,” she said simply. “They’re brothers and there will always be a bond between them, but brothers don’t choose each other. Friends do. You’re the first person I know of who’s given him real friendship. You might have noticed that he tends to alienate people just a bit,” she added archly.

John smiled. “Yeah. He does tend to do that.”

“If anyone knows Sherlock’s flaws it’s you. You live together. I mean—Well, you know what I mean. You’ve probably seen quirks the rest of us can only have nightmares about, but you’re still his friend. You value his good qualities more than you dislike his flaws. Do you have any idea how rare that is? It’s probably never happened to him before in his life. If you need him to listen to something you have to say and it’s something that he wouldn’t take from his brother, then you already have an advantage.”

John grinned. “Molly Hooper,” he said. “You hide your light under a bushel, you know that?”

“I prefer to think that I metre it out carefully for my friends,” she replied.

John laughed, and he was about to thank her when the sound of footsteps in the hall made them both look up. John recognized Sherlock’s quick, impatient step, and a moment later the detective banged through the double doors with Lestrade in his wake.

“John. Molly,” said Lestrade, just a bit out of breath. “Good to see you.”

“Greg,” she said, favoring him with a bright smile. “How are you?”

Today,” Sherlock snapped.

“We’d like to look at a murder victim that came in today,” Lestrade said. “Uh, Victoria Mills? Came up from Sutton about five hours ago.”

“Oh, right,” Molly said. “Somebody fast-tracked her. I mean really fast-tracked her. She’s already done. Dave was just finishing her up when I was coming on a little while ago. Sorry.”

Sherlock waved his hand impatiently. “All I need to see are her toes.”

“Toes?”

“Or fingers. But probably the toes.”

“Okay…” Molly knew better than to ask any more questions. Even if John hadn’t just hinted at discord between them she’d have realized that Sherlock was on edge. The sight of John had not cheered him like it usually did, and they hadn’t even greeted each other. “They’re not going to have anything but the preliminary tox results for a while,” she said, pulling open the refrigerator door and sliding the tray out, “but Dave said that was fast-tracked, too, so I’d think by first thing in the morning. His comments are already recorded, though. You know we have new software that automatically transcribes the ME’s remarks,” she added. “So much faster. I’ll get his report.”

Sherlock unzipped the bag and Lestrade gave a low whistle. “She is wearing nail polish,” he said, impressed. “How the hell did you know that?”

Sherlock was bent over the victim’s feet with his glass and examined each big toe in turn. “The nail polish drops on the bed,” he said. “Remember?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, look at her feet,” Sherlock said impatiently. “Does that look like the job of a woman who painted her own toenails?”

John and Lestrade peered more closely, but it was clear that they didn’t see what Sherlock had. “Look,” he said, holding the glass for John to take. “Look at it from the side. Can’t you see it?” He waited, radiating impatience.

Finally John ventured, “The polish is…a little thicker near the cuticle?”

“Exactly!” Sherlock cried. “No woman paints her toes with her feet pointed straight up. Well, she might prop her feet on a table while she paints them, but she wouldn’t hold them like that to dry because that’s exactly what will happen: The polish will pool more thickly near the cuticle instead of going on in an even coat. Anyway,” he added, “look at that crap job, Inspector. Do you think a woman who keeps her house and garden looking like she did would leave her nails looking like that?”

“Probably not,” Lestrade admitted.

“Definitely not,” Sherlock said.

“So,” John said, trying to understand, “she didn’t paint her own nails? Who did, then, the killer?”

“Yes!” Sherlock cried, delighted that he followed.

“The killer painted her nails?” Lestrade said. “Why would he do that?”

“Well, the polish is still on there, isn’t it?” Sherlock said. “The ME didn’t remove it. Don’t you think it’s possible that maybe he was trying to conceal something?”

“Okay,” Lestrade conceded. “But what? What could you hide under someone’s big toenail?”

“Insulin,” Sherlock said triumphantly.

“No,” John said at once.

Yes.”

“No,” John insisted. “That would be incredibly, insanely painful to give someone an injection under the nail, even with the kind of fine-gauge needle that diabetics use. Look at her: There are no signs of restraint, no bruising, no ligature marks. He didn’t tie her down, so how’d he restrain her long enough for that?”

“She was drugged, obviously.”

Lestrade frowned. “What, like with roofies? In the champagne?”

“Very probably.”

“There was Rohypnol detected by the preliminary tox screen,” Molly offered, paging through the ME’s notes.

But still John objected. “That would never work,” he insisted. “Rohypnol would never put someone down deep enough to keep them still for an injection under the nail. It’s far too painful. She’d have to be comatose.”

Sherlock turned away from the table and paced the width of the room with long, swift strides. “I’m right,” he muttered. “I know I’m right: He injected her with insulin…I’m missing something, but what? What?

“Why do you think he used insulin?” John asked.

“The suspect runs a big diabetes foundation,” Sherlock said. “I looked him up. It’s all over his web site. His wife has type one diabetes. An insulin overdose is the easiest way in the world to kill someone without leaving an obvious mark, and there must be insulin and syringes all over his house.”

“She did have extremely low blood sugar,” Molly agreed. “Fifteen, says here. She was negative for a pancreatic tumour so they checked her exogenous insulin levels. Off the chart high.” She considered. “Based on these numbers I’d say he probably gave her a whole mil. One hundred units,” she added, for Lestrade’s benefit. “An entire one mil syringe-full.”

“And that would kill her?” Lestrade said.

“Oh, yes. It would crash her blood sugar levels and cause brain death.”

“Did the ME find the injection site?” Sherlock asked.

“No,” Molly said, leafing through the file. “No, he never did.”

“Well, he’s got it now. If you take that nail off you’ll find damage from the needle.”

“He’ll have to look pretty closely,” John said. “The needles are very fine.”

“He was in a hurry,” Sherlock said. “He’s probably never killed anyone before. He’d be nervous. There will be something there for the ME to find.” He turned to Molly. “If you excise that tissue under her nail, would there still be traces of insulin there? Enough to prove that it was the injection site?”

“I should think so,” she said. “Most of it would be picked up by the capillaries, but with the amount he injected there will still be some left behind in the tissue. It would kill her before it was completely distributed.”

“So the cause of death is an insulin overdose?” Lestrade said.

Molly paged to the end of the report. “No,” she said, sounding surprised. “Cardiac arrest.”

Sherlock stopped mid-stride and they all turned to look at her. “What?

Now that they were all staring at her Molly blushed. “She had a dicky heart.”

Lestrade frowned. “Is that a medical term?”

“Oh—no, sorry. She had moderate but asymptomatic aortic valve regurgitation. A leaky valve.”

“Now that makes more sense,” John said.

“Not to me,” Lestrade said.

John explained. “The Rohypnol knocks her out, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“The initial insulin jab makes her thrash and the severe pain overstresses her heart,” John said. “She collapses. No more thrashing. The killer finishes the rest of the injection. The heart condition didn’t kill her instantly, though, because the insulin had time to be distributed throughout her system. As her brain shuts down from the insulin her hormone levels drop. That makes the energy stores of her major organs tank, including her heart. That’s why when you have someone who’s brain dead but whose organs are going to be harvested, doctors will replace the hormones. It stabilizes the organs. Without that intervention, and with a heart that’s already compromised…”

“Her heart stops,” Lestrade finished.

Sherlock had been watching John with a trace of a smile and a gleam of pride in his pale eyes. “The killer probably didn’t know that she was already dying when he finished the jab,” he said. “If she died shortly after he finished the injection then there would be minimal tissue damage from the needle. No circulation means no bruising. But the killer wouldn’t know that, so he paints her nails and calls it a day.”

“What was the motive?” Lestrade asked.

Sherlock opened his mouth to reply but Molly said, “She was pregnant, according to Dave’s notes. That’s always a good one.” She looked up from the report and blushed again. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean ‘good.’ I meant ‘common.’”

“Molly, stop helping now,” Sherlock said.

ooooo

Sherlock gave the cab driver an address in Sutton three streets away from Reider’s house, and they walked the rest of the way. John passed the ride in silence, as did Sherlock, who in general disliked discussing their cases in cabs, preferring to use the time to think. So John waited until Sherlock stopped in the alley behind an imposing, meticulously tended French colonial style home about halfway along a broad, tree-lined residential street before he asked, “Now that we’re here, you want to tell me where we are?”

“Carson Reider’s house.”

“Carson Reider. What, that cheater guy on telly? That’s the suspect?”

“Yep.”

“Why are we here?”

“I want to look in his bins.”

“Again: Why?”

“Remember that flower he was wearing in his lapel this morning?”

“No.”

Sherlock sighed. “You and Mrs. Hudson watched his show this morning. You must have seen the flower. She even pointed it out.” He pitched his voice up several octaves in a caricature of their landlady. “‘Oooh, look, a rhododendron; my neighbor in Florida had one with white flowers.’ Sound familiar?”

“You know, I did have something else on my mind this morning,” John said pointedly.

Sherlock didn’t acknowledge the dig. “There was a rhododendron bush in the victim’s garden,” he said. “Rhododendron ponticum. Exact same sort of flower that Reider was wearing. Lestrade and I reviewed the surveillance footage along the roadways: He was still wearing the flower when he left the studio and when the last camera picked him up before he reached the local roads, meaning he wore it home. If we can find it, a DNA test can match it to the plant in the victim’s garden and we can put him at the scene. If the police can use the rate of the flower’s decomp in these temperatures they might even be able to put him there within the window of her time of death.”

“And you think it might be in his bins.”

“It’s one possibility. It might also still be on the lapel of his suit or in the bins inside the house.”

“Or he might have flushed it.”

“In that case we won’t find it out here. Come on.” He shrugged out of his suit coat, draped it negligently over the fence, and rolled up his sleeves.

“I don’t suppose you brought any—” John began, as Sherlock produced two pairs of latex gloves.

“—gloves. Great. What if someone asks what we’re doing?”

“We’re looking for our lost kitten.”

Half an hour later they were running with sweat, filthy, and flowerless, but Sherlock seemed to take the failure in stride. “It was a bit of a long shot,” he admitted, as he peeled off the gloves and added them to the rubbish in the bin, “but it’s best to be sure. It would be stupid to look for it inside the house and then find that it had been out here all along.”

“I guess,” John said, brushing at his clothes. “How were you thinking of getting inside the house? Is Lestrade working on a warrant?”

Sherlock didn’t answer, but he reached back into one of the bins and withdrew a pizza-delivery box. John hurried to keep pace as he headed down the alley, up the street, and then around to the front of Reider’s house. The homes in the neighborhood, while imposing, were not gated, so Sherlock went straight up to the front door and rang the bell. John watched from the pavement as a woman answered the door and Sherlock presented her with the pizza box. When it had been firmly established that no one in the house had ordered a pizza, Sherlock rejoined John on the pavement.

“What did that prove?” John asked as they walked.

“I wanted to get a look at the security system panel.”

“And did you?”

“Yes.”

“And?”

“And now I know their alarm code.”

“You saw her put in the code?”

“The print is worn on the buttons for three, four, and eight. Their diabetes foundation’s phone number contains among other digits the sequence eight-eight-four-three. You tell me what their alarm code is.”

ooooo

On their way back to Baker Street Sherlock stopped the cab long enough to buy a disposable, pre-paid mobile phone from a street vendor, and with that in hand they arrived home a little after five p.m.

John went straight to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of ice water. “I don’t see why you have to break into the guy’s house for the flower,” he said. “Why can’t you just wait for him to put out the trash and then go through his bins again?”

“You mean aside from the risk that he might keep it as a trophy?” Sherlock said. “Some killers do that, you know. The police are champing at the bit to interview him. Once he knows that they’re on to him he’ll almost certainly destroy it, and it’s the only physical evidence that can put him there at the approximate time of the victim’s death. The oil drips, the fingerprints, the DNA match that they’ll get from the foetus: None of that makes him a killer. Just a cheater. And a dreadful hypocrite,” he added as an afterthought.

“So you’re going to steal a flower.”

“No. I’m going to get samples from the flower. If I remove it from the house it will immediately be worthless as evidence. Do try to think ahead, John.”

“Fine,” John said. “When do we start?”

“You’re not coming.”

“Then you’re not going,” John shot back.

“Don’t be absurd. You can’t—”

“Sherlock, I swear to God,” John cried, succumbing at last to the aggravation he’d been fighting all day, “if you do this without me I will call Lestrade right bloody now.”

Sherlock met his aggravation with resentful outrage. “Oh, so now you want to come with me. This morning you couldn’t be bothered, with your ‘headache,’ although of course we both know what that was really about,” he cried, working himself into a froth. “You and Mycroft conspiring. Could you be any more obvious? Have you found it then, the evidence of my appalling ‘crime’?”

John didn’t answer, but his expression was grim.

“Well? Go on, Doctor. Tell me how bad it is for me. That’s what you’re going to say, isn’t it? So predictable.”

“Nope,” John said quietly, although he was pale with anger. “That’s not what I was going to say.” He reached into his pocket, withdrew the little envelope, and held it up between his index and middle fingers. “I was going to say that you are a good man, Sherlock. And you are far, far too good—” he tossed the packet onto the table—“for this.”

John walked out of the flat and down the stairs, so he never saw how his shot went straight home. The front door slammed and still Sherlock stood in the kitchen, staring at the little glassine envelope. John Watson represented any number of milestones in Sherlock’s life: The first person who interested him, the first person who challenged him, the first one who surprised him. The first person he called a friend. Tonight John had just become the first person in Sherlock’s life who made him feel ashamed of himself.

ooooo

At nine o’clock Sherlock hailed a cab and rode—alone, because John hadn’t returned—to Sutton. Again he exited three streets away from Reider’s address and walked to the alley behind his house. With him he carried a brown paper bag. He turned down the alley and in the dark recess between a skip and the garage of a neighboring house he changed out of his suit coat and button-down shirt and into a black, long-sleeved T-shirt.

“B&E chic,” John’s voice came from the alley. “It’s a good look for you.”

“I brought you one, too,” Sherlock whispered, tossing the bag to him. “And keep your voice down.”

John reached into the bag and withdrew another shirt. He also found two pairs of black leather gloves and two black nylon balaclavas. “Great,” he said. “Hottest day of the year and you develop a black fetish. How’d you know I’d be here?” he asked when he’d changed.

“The same way you knew I’d be here,” Sherlock replied. He put his coat and shirt into the bag, along with his wallet, keys, and phone. “Yours, too,” he said, holding it out for John’s things, then jogged to the west end of the alley. He stowed the bag under a bush, trotted back to rejoin John, and they slipped on the masks and gloves.

“Wait a second,” John said, catching his arm as he was about to hop the fence. “How do you know they’re not at home?”

“They are home. But they’re about to leave in a hurry.”

“How do you know?”

“Because Doctor Donovan from St. James’ General just called to regretfully inform them of the car accident their daughter’s had, and said if they want to see her again they’d better be quick about it. St. James’ is a good thirty minutes from here. Considering the round trip plus the time it will take to sort out the confusion, on the outside we should have—”

“Wait,” John said. He could not bloody believe this. “Sorry. Did you just tell them that their daughter was injured in a car accident? You can’t do that!”

“That’s obviously untrue.”

“I mean in decency you can’t do that!”

“‘In decency’ one can’t cheat on one’s spouse and murder people, either, and you’re about to help me burgle a house. I really think you need to examine your premises, John. Come on.” He skipped over the back fence and set off at a run for the west side of the house, where the shadows were deepest. John gritted his teeth and followed.

They edged along the side of the house and waited, but not for long. Seconds after they arrived they heard voices raised inside the house, the front door opened, then slammed, and the center bay of the detached garage rolled up. Hurried footsteps across the asphalt driveway, two car doors slammed, and Reider’s BMW chirped its tyres and roared out of the driveway. Sherlock was in motion again before the car reached the street, crouching low along the front of the house and sprinting for the front door. He tried the latch and found without much surprise that the Reiders, in their panic, had neglected to lock it. He slipped inside with John right behind him.

“Didn’t set the alarm, either,” he noted. “And after I went to the trouble of bringing them a pizza.”

“Rude,” John agreed.

Sherlock led the way through the big house to the master bedroom in the back. Solid oak double doors led into a short hallway. To the right was the en suite bathroom and to the left the walk-in closet, bigger than Sherlock’s room in Baker Street. Beyond the hallway in the bedroom itself a set of french doors led out onto a broad patio and the back garden.

“The doors, John,” Sherlock whispered, and John crossed to the doors and unlatched them. He glanced out, scouting their retreat, while Sherlock disappeared into the big closet. When John joined him there a moment later Sherlock had already found, hanging on the back of a wardrobe door, the suit Reider had worn on the set that morning, with the now-wilted flower still in the buttonhole. Sherlock removed it, plucked two petals and a short section of stem, and dropped the pieces into an evidence envelope, which he then slipped into his trouser pocket.

He stood back and considered the suit, then carefully felt with his gloved hand along the outside of each jacket pocket, stopping when he reached the right breast pocket. He reached gingerly in and withdrew a small syringe with a pink cap. Holding it by the edge of the plunger, he turned and showed it to John. “The murder weapon,” he said triumphantly. “Considerate of him to put the cap back on it. With any luck the police will be able to get a few of the victim’s cells off of this for a DNA analysis. That’ll be the conviction in the bag.”

“Now,” he said thoughtfully, stepping to an open rack of mens shoes, “we need a place to store these. These are no good,” he decided, with a shake of his head.

“What are you doing?” John asked.

“These won’t do,” Sherlock said of the shoes. “I need something less recent.”

“Recent.”

Sherlock opened each wardrobe door in turn until he found a storage box of winter boots and shoes. He withdrew a boot, dropped first the syringe and then the flower into the toe, and carefully replaced the boot and box.

“What are you doing?” John asked again.

“Making sure even Scotland Yard can find them,” Sherlock said.

“You’re planting evidence?”

“How can I plant evidence that was already here? I’m securing it.”

“Sherlock—”

“John, you’re in the middle of a B&E. Now’s not the time to develop an acute case of morality poisoning. Let’s go.”

As he turned to leave the bedroom’s alarm panel chimed twice: The Reiders were home. Without a word they bolted for the french doors. They raced across the lawn, over the fence, and into the alley. There they slowed to a jog and turned left, toward the end of the alley where Sherlock had hidden their belongings. They were halfway there when a patrol car turned into the alley and caught them full in its headlights. Sherlock stopped so fast that his feet slipped on the gravel and he nearly sat down. “Right! Right!” he cried, scrambling up. At once John veered to their right and leapt for the ivy-covered brick wall of the neighboring yard. He grabbed the top of the wall, pulled himself up, and dropped into the yard. Sherlock landed lightly beside him an instant later.

They could hear the police car reversing fast out of the alley. It roared down the street and around the corner, intending to cut them off as they emerged into the front yard, but Sherlock had no intention of getting caught.

“This way,” he whispered, and led John through the three adjoining properties to the west of the one where they’d gone over the wall. At the corner lot they returned to the alley through a gate, collected the paper bag containing their clothes, and sprinted away to the south.

They ran hard for five blocks before Sherlock judged that they’d gone far enough and ducked into another alley, none too soon for John, who didn’t think he could go another block with the mask impeding his breathing as it did. He peeled it off and staggered against a skip.

“How were the cops…there so fast?” he gasped when he could speak again.

“Routine patrol.”

“You said…they’d be gone over an hour.”

“I said up to an hour. That estimate assumed…that the daughter in question…didn’t call them on their way… to the hospital,” Sherlock said, grimacing as the sweat ran into his eyes. “Should have anticipated it. College student. Probably calls six times a day…to ask them for money.”

ooooo

They changed back into their law-abiding clothes, discarded the paper bag of T-shirts, masks, and gloves in the skip, and made their way on foot to the center of town, where they hailed a cab home. Again Sherlock stopped the cab several streets away from their destination. He tossed the phone he’d used to call Reider into a bin behind a bakery, and they reached the flat just before midnight.

ooooo

Their first stop the next morning was Imperial College London’s agriculture department, where Sherlock called in a valuable favor to get his two flower samples tested, but in the end it was worth it: Their DNA was a match, as he had known it would be.

ooooo

Lestrade was conferring with Donovan when Sherlock, failing as he always did to knock, strode into his office, trailed by John.

“You can get that warrant for Reider now, Inspector,” he announced. “I’ve finished my investigation.”

This time Lestrade did not look pleased to see them. “Sergeant,” he said. “Give us a minute, yeah?”

Donovan favored Sherlock with an unloving look, and as John stepped aside to let her pass she puzzled him by murmuring, “Kissed and made up?”

“So you’ve finished, have you?” Lestrade said, leaning back in his chair. “That’s good.”

Sherlock eyed him warily: Lestrade’s assertion that the completion of his investigation was a good thing didn’t quite match the carefully composed expression of neutrality on his face, but Sherlock didn’t have time to work out the implications of what would probably just prove to be the result of having to work with an idiot like Donovan. He said, “Remember the rhododendron that Reider was wearing in his lapel on that surveillance footage?”

Lestrade obviously did not.

“Oh, for God’s sake—”

“Sherlock,” John said quietly.

Sherlock responded with an impatient jerk of his head, but he took a breath and tried again, this time in a tone and tempo more calculated to penetrate the permanent haze of London’s finest. “In the surveillance footage of Reider leaving the television studio and in the televised footage of his host segments he’s wearing a rhododendron flower in his lapel. Rhododendron ponticum. The exact same kind of flower grown by the victim in her garden. By the back gate?” he prompted, when Lestrade just stared at him. “You saw the flower in his lapel and you saw the plant in her garden.”

“If you say so,” Lestrade said.

Sherlock bit back an acerbic reply and just said, “Reider picked that flower at her house after he killed her.”

“How do you know that?”

Sherlock ignored the question. “If you get a warrant to search Reider’s house you will very probably find the flower. If you then test that flower against a sample from the bush in the victim’s garden you will very probably find that the DNA of the two samples is identical.”

“Sherlock,” Lestrade said. “How do you know that?”

“I know.”

“Yeah, but how?”

“Are you going to get a warrant or not?” Sherlock demanded.

“Not based on your visual of a pansy,” Lestrade said. “No judge in the city would give me a warrant based on that.” He eyed them suspiciously. “I’ll tell you which flower I do remember,” he said, “and that’s the one you picked in the victim’s garden. Want to tell me what happened to that?”

Sherlock reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and produced the flower, still in its little plastic evidence bag. He dropped it onto the desk. “There you are, Detective Inspector. Now, if you’re quite finished wasting my time? Good. If you DNA test the flower in Reider’s lapel and the plant in the victim’s garden, you will have a match. That will put him at the scene. If you test the oil drips behind her house against the oil from his car, you will have another match. His wife is a type one diabetic, so he has ready access to insulin. Has the ME tested the injection site for insulin yet?”

“Yeah. This morning.”

“And?”

“And it was positive for insulin.”

“You will fingerprint Reider when he’s arrested and his prints will match those in the house and on the wine glasses. His DNA will be a match for the woman’s foetus. Exactly how much more do you need for a warrant to search this man’s house?”

Lestrade looked from Sherlock to John and back again, and seemed to be weighing a decision. Finally he said, “If I were to get a warrant, where might I start looking for this flower?”

“Well, it’s just a thought, Inspector,” Sherlock said offhandedly, “but if it were me I’d start looking in the bedroom closet. It’s a common enough hiding place.”

“A common hiding place for flowers.”

“In my experience, yes.”

Lestrade regarded them thoughtfully a while longer, but they returned his gaze unflinchingly. Neither of them was easily intimidated, and both of them were certain of the rightness of their conduct, although Sherlock, for one, was getting bored.

“It’s up to you, Detective Inspector,” he said, “but you know my methods.”

“Yes,” Lestrade said wryly, “I do.”

ooooo

That night, just after 9:30, John stepped out of Mrs. Hudson’s flat. The ostensible purpose of his visit had been to borrow her egg timer, but in fact he’d looked in to assure himself that she wasn’t overstressed by the heat. He’d put one foot on the stairs when there was a knock at the outer door.

He was a little surprised to find Lestrade on their doorstep. “Greg,” he said. “Come in.”

“John. Sorry to come round so late. Sherlock in?”

“Yeah, he’s upstairs bogarting the fan.”

“I think that’s a felony in this heat,” Lestrade said. “Want me to run him in?”

John laughed and led the way upstairs.

“You were right,” Lestrade said, when he’d edged around the coffee table and positioned himself so Sherlock could see him from the sofa, where he’d draped himself. “We found the flower and a syringe in a boot. Reider took his time claiming that he had no idea where they came from, but when we told him that we were going to have the flower DNA tested against the plant in the victim’s garden, and that the needle would probably contain the DNA of whoever it was used on, he copped to everything.”

“The victim told him she was pregnant, he said he’d bring champagne to celebrate, and he killed her. Insulin, nail polish, everything, right down to the flower: You were right. Says he got the roofies from his pot dealer. Donovan’s interviews of the people on the victim’s recent phone list turned up that she had a long history of dating well-off men and then claiming pregnancy or threatening to go to their wives unless they paid her off.” Lestrade paused and looked from John to Sherlock. “Nice job, guys,” he said. “Kind of missed having you in on the arrest, though.”

Sherlock couldn’t be bothered to wave his hand dismissively. “Just what I need, Inspector: My name associated with such a boring, predictable crime.”

“Garden variety,” John said, and Sherlock grinned at him.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Lestrade drawled. “It seems to me that you two were able to make your own fun in this case.”

Sherlock scowled and John said, “What does that mean?”

“Reider’s house was burgled last night,” Lestrade said.

Blank stares all around. “And?” Sherlock said finally.

“And apparently someone claiming to be a Doctor Donovan called the Reiders and told them that their daughter had been in an accident. They were on their way to hospital when she called, perfectly fine. They turned the car around and when they got home they found the patio doors off the bedroom standing wide open.”

Sherlock shrugged. “Anything stolen?”

“Not that they could tell.”

“And did they see the thief?”

“No, they didn’t, but a patrol car on a routine circuit saw two men running from the direction of the Reiders’ house. The patrolman got a description of them,” he added.

“So?”

Now Lestrade shrugged. “Just thought you might like to hear it, is all.”

“Not especially.”

Lestrade told them anyway. “They were wearing masks, but one was a six footer, thin build, and the other medium height. Athletic.”

“Really, Inspector,” Sherlock said, quite bored now. “That’s so vague as to be utterly worthless. It could be a description of John and me, if it comes to that.”

Lestrade considered them. “Yeah, it could,” he said. “I’m sure it’s just sheer coincidence, because you and your accomplice here were home all night, of course.”

“Accomplice?” John said with a frown.

“I’m speaking metaphorically,” Lestrade replied.

Sherlock sighed. “What do you want from me, Lestrade? I haven’t got time to look into every petty crime that goes on in this city. I suppose I should count myself lucky that you haven’t asked me to investigate purse snatchings for you. Figure this one out on your own.”

Lestrade eyed them coolly. “Yeah, I might do that,” he said. “Good night.”

ooooo

Two days later the press was in full cry over the Reider story and the heat wave showed no sign of relenting. John filled an ice cube tray at the kitchen sink, turned toward the refrigerator, and found Sherlock blocking his way, holding the packet of cocaine on his upturned palm. John looked at the packet, then at Sherlock. “Yeah?”

“Take it,” Sherlock said.

“Sorry?”

“Take it.” Sherlock edged his hand closer. John put the tray down and took the packet from him. Sherlock clasped his hands behind his back, stood up straighter, and cleared his throat. “That’s not sugar or powder, if that’s what you’re thinking,” he said. “It’s what I bought. And there was just the one.”

“Good to know,” John said mildly. “And I’m holding it because…you’re sharing?”

“Why, did you want—? Oh, yes. Right. Very funny.” He hesitated. “I’m…you know. Sorry. You were right.”

John sighed. “Sherlock, don’t do this for my sake.”

“I’m not apologizing to Mycroft,” Sherlock snapped in a flash of defiance.

“I’m not talking about apologizing. I mean you should be doing this for yourself, not for someone else. Not for me and not for Mycroft.”

“That’s new,” Sherlock said. “First I’m a selfish bastard who never gives a thought to anyone else. Now you want me to think only of myself.” He looked away sulkily. “I wish you’d make up your mind.”

John didn’t say anything, but he couldn’t help smiling at that.

“I am doing it for myself,” Sherlock said, turning back. “Throw it out.”

John turned the water on, but he handed the packet to Sherlock and stepped to one side. Sherlock emptied the powder into the sink and sighed. “Forty pounds down the sewer,” he said ruefully.

“Sherlock.”

“I wasn’t going to take it, you know,” Sherlock said.

“Then why’d you buy it? College fund for the dealer?”

Because I was sulking, Sherlock thought. “Because I was bored,” he said. “I wanted to see if…If I could resist the temptation.”

“You were testing yourself.”

“Yes.”

John waited.

“No.”

“No?”

Sherlock sighed impatiently. This honest emotional crap was nearly impossible for him. He turned and paced the length of the kitchen. “You don’t understand,” he said, frustrated.

“No, I don’t,” John admitted. He leaned back against the counter with his arms crossed and waited. He didn’t understand, but he was willing to try, if Sherlock would try to explain.

“In university,” Sherlock said. “My studies: I had something to think about. Afterwards…I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t thought of this yet.” He gestured to take in the flat, ‘being a detective.’ “It was…My brain needs work, John. Problems. Puzzles. Something. There wasn’t anything. Ordinary people always talk about wanting ‘down time’ so they don’t have to think, but it’s agony not having enough to think about. The cocaine…it gives you a rush. It’s the same feeling when I solve a problem: The thrill of knowing something, or knowing that I will know, if I just work hard enough. Do you see?” He stopped pacing and turned to John, and there was something like appeal in his pale grey eyes.

John didn’t—couldn’t—understand Sherlock’s brain, but he knew that admitting that would just frustrate him, so he said, “But it’s not real. It’s just chemicals in your brain.”

“Of course,” Sherlock said. “That’s all the brain is: neurons, synapses, it’s all chemistry.”

“I mean the ‘rush’ isn’t real. Oh, you feel it, all right,” he added, when Sherlock opened his mouth to protest. “But it’s not you doing something with your brain, it’s something you’re doing to it. It’s a cheat. And you know what? You are a genius, Sherlock. You’re the smartest person I’ve ever met—and the most bloody-minded. Which is why you of all people should be able to figure out a way to get your rush without poisoning yourself.”

“I have.”

“Good.”

“Yes.”

“What is it?”

“I got an accomplice.”



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