email us
site front page
site search

Bullpup Press
A Creative-Writing House

The Trained Politician, The Cormorant, and The Lighthouse


Carole Manny & Lynn Walker

The Blog of Doctor John H. Watson.  June 11, 2032. Over the years that I’ve used this blog to record the cases of my friend, Sherlock Holmes, I find in looking back that many if not most of those cases have called on Sherlock’s incredible intelligence, observational skills, and reasoning ability. Sometimes, though, we’ve been confronted not with official cases, because there wasn’t a client or even much mystery involved, but plain old-fashioned adventures, not to sound too dramatic about it. These adventures don’t call so much on Sherlock’s cleverness as they do his flair for the dramatic and his tendency to generate drama everywhere he goes. The story of the lighthouse, the cormorant, and the trained politician falls into this category, but I couldn’t tell it until now, because while the events that occurred didn’t directly touch on sensitive political considerations, one of the participants was involved in some sub rosa government doings. I’m still not allowed to reveal—and in fact I don’t even know enough to reveal—any of those goings-on, but the gentleman passed away recently, so his part in the story, and therefore the story itself, can now be told.

When we left Somerset in early October of 2016, having dealt with The Highgrove Ritual, as I called it in my post at the time, Sherlock’s brother Mycroft promised, as a peace-offering of sorts, to send us on an expenses-paid holiday. That didn’t make us any less annoyed with him, but we took him up on his offer. I agreed because it meant a free holiday, and Sherlock agreed because…honestly, I’m not sure why. On the face of it, castle ruins, historical sites, and hikes on the moors weren’t his thing at all, but I think he just disliked being left out, so about two weeks after our return from Somerset we set off by hired car for the North of England.


“Bamburgh Castle,” John said, as they passed a sign for that attraction. “That’s on tomorrow’s list.”

“Why don’t we see it now?” Sherlock asked glumly. “Get it over with. No backtracking.”

“You know, I could be wrong,” John said, “but I have the sense that you’re not really getting the point of this venture. It’s not a scavenger hunt for time.”

Sherlock stifled the first reply that came to mind—that if it were a scavenger hunt for time there might at least be an element of interest involved—and focused on driving. He’d already aggravated John once today, for which he was in fact sorry. A bit. Not for mouthing off to the docent. No. He’d do the same again, given a chance. But John had very much been looking forward to this trip and took real interest in British history, and their last stab at seeing some of it, in Somerset, had ended rather badly. In spite of what he’d told Mycroft in the aftermath of that case, Sherlock blamed himself for not seeing the solution until it was far too late to save them from a very close brush with death indeed. John still bore the physical traces of their near miss: a bit of a bare spot where the ER staff had clipped his hair for the stitches, which came out just two days ago. No one had ever accused Sherlock of being squeamish until he’d stood by holding a mirror so John could remove his own stitches.

Sherlock was eminently capable of brooding his way through their entire week-long excursion, but he was much attached to John and unwilling to ruin his holiday, so to cheer himself up he reviewed his triumph over the docent. Alnwick Castle, which housed the Fusiliers Museum, lay almost exactly halfway between Newcastle upon Tyne, where they’d disembarked from the train late that morning and hired a car, and Berwick upon Tweed, where they expected to lodge for two nights while exploring the attractions of Northumberland. Northumberland’s attractions for Sherlock were negligible, but besides the Fusiliers Museum John had already listed Bamburgh Castle, Yeavering Bell, Etal Castle, Hadrian’s Wall, and the Lindisfarne Priory as must-sees, and that was just in the north. He had another list dealing with parts west and south. The Northumberland Fusiliers Museum, however, was the jewel in his holiday crown, and it had been their first stop.

Sherlock had opposed the idea of a guided tour from the start. The displays were all clearly labeled in legible English, John knew a great deal about his regiment’s history already, and Sherlock saw no reason to take the curator up on her offer of a docent to accompany them. It was immediately evident to him that she just wanted to get the docent out of her way, probably because she was carrying on a tolerably obvious affair with the woman’s husband. As they progressed through the museum he was confirmed in his opinion of the tour guide’s worthlessness by her repeated excursions from her script, excursions which were invariably completely unrelated to the items in the display cases, almost always involved personal information in which Sherlock had no interest, and which often strayed into parentheses from which the woman was unable to extricate herself. He knew that John had no interest in her ramblings, either, but John would endure the prating in exchange for being in the company of what Sherlock supposed was at least a marginally attractive woman, though besides being married she was much too young and obviously far too stupid for John. “Practice flirting,” John called these occasions, to Sherlock’s disgust.

Sherlock filtered out most of the nattering with considerations on the value of common superglue in forensic chemistry, but eventually the realization that John was uneasy about something drew him back to the present. He focused and reviewed the conversation. The docent had asked John where they’d be staying while they visited the area and then, inspired by his answer, launched an anecdote in which her brother and his husband visited Doncaster just last month and were offered separate rooms by the clerk at their hotel, when of course they meant to lodge together. Ah—and there was the line that had irritated John:

“You guys must get that a lot,” she’d said. “People just assuming that you’re not a couple.”

“We’re not,” John replied.

“Oh, don’t worry,” she laughed, patting his arm. “We’re a little rural up here but everyone’s so open-minded. Don’t give it a thought.”

“No,” John insisted, “we’re not—”

“Open-minded.” Sherlock spoke for the first time, and she blinked at him in surprise. “No doubt that’s why your conversation so strongly suggests that your brain has fallen out.”


What?” the docent gasped.

Sherlock turned to face her squarely and really looked at her for the first time.

John of course saw what he was about at once. “Don’t. Sherlock. Stop it. Leave her alone.”

Sherlock heard him perfectly well—a simple scan of this idiot woman didn’t require much of his attention—but he had the bit fairly between his teeth. “How open-minded are you about the fact that your husband’s been having an affair for six—” a closer glance at her left earring “—no, seven months-with the curator of this museum? You do know that she fobbed you off on us for the express purpose of phoning him in private, don’t you? If you hurry you might catch her at it.”

“Oh, my God,” John muttered, turning away.

“Well, run along,” Sherlock said, with a flick of his hand.

She stared at him like a cat at the jaws of an oncoming wolfhound, gears slowly turned—God, it was like watching paint dry—and the truth of what he’d said dawned on her. Tears pooled in her eyes and she made an inarticulate noise, something between a gasp and a sob, clapped her hand to her mouth, and fled.

“Not that much, it would seem,” Sherlock decided.

John glared at him. “What the hell do you call that?”

“‘Mission accomplished,’” Sherlock said, pleased with the effect.


“I wanted her to go away and she’s gone. What would you call it?”

“I still had questions for her!” John cried.

“She talked too much.”

“That’s her job!”

“Her job is to be informative. So far she hasn’t informed us of anything that we can’t read off the placards ourselves. Now we can do that without all the useless prattle.”

John threw up his hands.

“She was irritating you, too,” Sherlock said reasonably. “Why, by the way?”

“You know why.”

“Yes, because she thinks we’re a couple, but I don’t understand why that bothers you.”

John looked around: The few other people in the museum were all staring at them. “Can we talk about this another time?”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Ugh. Fine.”

In retrospect, Sherlock thought, downshifting into a curve, as much as he’d enjoyed it it might not have been quite the thing to revenge himself on the docent at the cost of aggravating John on his holiday. He resolved to consider not doing it so often. Meanwhile, he would try to hit upon something that would both perk John up and conciliate his forgiveness. Offering to carry his tote full of museum souvenirs had been an unqualified failure. Perhaps a more meaningful gesture would improve his mood.

“Did you know,” he began, “that Shilbottle is just a few minutes away from Alnwick?”


“Saw the signs for it on the way up here. You must have heard of Shilbottle.”

“Mmm…Nope. Why, what about it?”

“Shilbottle,” Sherlock said with satisfaction, “was the site of one of the most interesting murders of the year four. It involved a disused coal scuttle and seven antique ceramic cats. The remains of the victim, the twenty-eight-year-old son of the local vicar, were found riced and stuffed into the cats, and—”

“Wait a second. ‘Riced’?”

“Well, I say riced. Rendered into very small bits.”


“I know,” Sherlock said with a smile, missing the sarcasm. “But we’re already past it.”

John checked his chart. “There’s no time to see it today, but I’ll put it on the list for first thing tomorrow. If you’d like to see it?” he added.

“Really?” Sherlock glanced over at him, but nothing in John’s tone or expression suggested anything other than an honest request for confirmation.

“Of course. I told you, this isn’t a race. We can take all the time we want. Shilbottle first, then Yeavering Bell, then Bamburgh. That’ll be a full day,” he said with satisfaction, scribbling a note on the chart. He wished he’d thought of that sooner: Half English history tour, half crime history tour. That’d put Sherlock in a better mood. It might even be enough to stop him savaging everyone they met.


Berwick upon Tweed’s Lighthouse Lodge had been so named for its unobstructed view of the lighthouse at the mouth of the nearby River Tweed. The quiet street on which the inn stood, Dock Road, paralleled a broad section of the estuary, and the inn’s patio seating area, front room, and east-facing guest rooms afforded admirable views of the river, the estuary, and the North Sea. The Lodge was one of just three inns in the village and the smallest, with five guest rooms, the host’s apartments, the kitchen, and a snuggery.

When they arrived the dining room’s five tables were stacked with their upturned chairs, attesting to the slowness of the season. Ship’s compasses, binnacles, telescopes, Mark V diving helmets, and miniature lighthouses dominated the inn’s public spaces, and behind the front desk and the bar area netting had been strung on the wall and hung with shells and preserved starfish. It was all a bit much, John thought, but he knew that more people liked the atmosphere created by such tchotchkes than not, and in spite of the clutter the place gave the impression of an almost military obsession with cleanliness.

“You must be Mr. Watson,” the innkeeper said with a smile when John stopped at the desk. Sherlock had already broken off and was drifting slowly about the room, seeing everything, missing nothing, and leaving the onus of amiability in John’s much abler hands. “I’m Nigel Pycroft, the manager. Give me just a second,” he added apologetically, tapping on a laptop behind the counter. He was a young man, not yet thirty years old, John estimated, tall and fit-looking with short dark hair and a bluff, friendly demeanor. “I think you spoke with my wife when you called, and her filing methods are a little unorthodox. She’s in Cornwall this week,” he explained, “visiting her mum. Picked a good week for it, though. You’re the only guests booked until Friday.”

“That’s partly why we chose this week,” John said. “Off-season and all. Easier to get around. Easier to cope without the crowds.”

“That’s for sure,” Nigel said. “But if you’d been here two days ago you’d have had all the crowds you could ask for.”

“Oh, yes? What went on two days ago?”

“Drowning,” Nigel said. “Two cyclists. There were two couples on a tour, right? They stopped to take snaps of each other on the West Street bridge. One of the couples was sitting on the rail and fell off. There were crowds of rescuers: The Coast Guard came with boats and helicopters… journalists…they only packed up and left yesterday. Never did find the bodies, but then the river flows so fast here by the mouth—five miles an hour, someone told me—and when the tide’s on the way out the currents are just horrible. Poor people didn’t have a prayer, really.”

John shook his head sympathetically. “Ah,” Nigel said, having located the reservation at last, “here we are. She filed it under ‘J’ for ‘John.’” He hit a button and when the printer had spit out a sign-in sheet John checked the charges, scribbled his name on the line, and accepted the two keys.

“Supper’s usually at six,” Nigel said, “but we can afford to be flexible since it’s just the two of you.”

“No, six is good,” John said. “What’s on the menu?”

“We’ve got cold beef salad with a green salad on the side and a nice selection of reds,” Nigel said, “but we can be a bit flexible about that as well, if you’d rather have sandwiches?”

“No, that’s perfect,” John said. “Give us a bit to settle in and we’ll see you at six.”


“Lucky we got this room,” John noted as he unpacked.

Sherlock crossed to the window and looked down at the quiet street. “What’s lucky about it? We’re the only people here. Fortunately.”

“It’s the only twin room in the place. When I called the other day they’d just had a cancellation for it a few minutes earlier. Everything else is doubles.”

“So we’d have had two rooms,” Sherlock shrugged. “Mycroft’s paying for it. Or something.”

“Yeah. But this way I feel virtuous about saving the Crown money.”

Sherlock sniffed derisively. “The Crown doesn’t care about saving you any.” He watched with a raised eyebrow but made no comment as John arranged his pajamas on a hanger, and then he dropped his own suitcase onto the desk.

That got John’s attention. “What’s wrong with the rack?” he asked.



“Yes. I checked the beds while you were in the bog. They’re all clear. Still, you hate to take any chances. Bedbugs don’t typically infest desks. I always put my case on the desk in hotels.”

“Thanks for the tip,” John said, then glanced at his watch. “Nearly six,” he said. “Hungry?”

Sherlock remembered his resolution, checked the automatic “No” that was his default answer to that question, and said, “Yes.”


Nigel was sweeping around the dining tables, but when he saw them he hurried to arrange the chairs at the table nearest the fireplace. “Let me set a table for you,” he called. “It won’t take a second.”

“No, don’t,” John said. “Please. We can sit at the bar. Don’t let us get in your way. I’m up for a pint anyway.”

Nigel hurried off to the kitchen, and with Sherlock disinclined to make meaningless conversation John had time to look around. Behind the bar, almost overwhelmed by the nautical trinkets, hung two framed 8 x 10 photographs of Nigel in the British Army’s multi-terrain pattern combat uniform, both showing him smiling and surrounded by fellow soldiers. John leant forward on his elbows and peered more closely at the photos.

Sherlock followed his gaze. “What?”

“Those pictures of the innkeeper,” John said. “I was just trying to make out the TRF on his sleeve.”


“Tactical recognition flash. The colored patch. It identifies the regiment. It looks like MPGS, but—”

“John, you’re speaking in military argot again. It’s annoying.”

“You think so?” John said pointedly. “Military Provost Guard Service. They do security, perimeter patrols, entry access—stuff like that—at military bases. Among other things.”


Nigel carried in John’s pint and a glass of water for Sherlock.

“I was just looking at the snaps you have there,” John said. “Iraq?”

“Pakistan. Hyderabad,” Nigel said. “March of Fourteen to the summer of Fifteen.”

“Afghanistan,” John said. “Seven to Ten.”

“Really?” Nigel said with interest, pausing in the act of wiping down the countertop. “What outfit?”

“RAMC, attached to the Northumberland Fusiliers,” John said.

“Have you seen the museum, then? In Alnwick?”

“We were just there today, actually,” John said. “Really enjoyed it. For the most part,” he added, with a glance at Sherlock.

“You were a combat medic?”


Nigel stared at him as his conviction grew. “You’re Doctor John Watson.”


The Doctor John Watson?”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Sherlock growled.

“How do you mean?”

“The Doctor John Watson who blogs—Oh, I’m so thick!” Nigel cried.

“Agreed,” Sherlock said.


“And you’re Sherlock—I mean, you’re Mr. Holmes!” Nigel cried. “Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. I read your blog all the time. I wish I’d realized sooner, but my wife took the reservation, and she didn’t write down ‘Doctor,’ it just said ‘Mr. John Watson,’ so I didn’t make the connection. Oh, she’s never going to believe this when I tell her. Hey, you’re not here investigating that drowning, are you?”

“The—? No,” John said. “No, we’re just on a kind of history tour. Hadrian’s Wall, castles.”

“Oh,” Nigel sounded disappointed. “Well, I thought, you know, maybe Mr. Holmes suspected that it was a murder, and not just an accident.”

Sherlock scowled. “Yes, two idiots fell off a bridge so I instantly suspected foul play and caught the first train from London to solve The Great Spandex Caper, as John would no doubt title his silly blog post about it.”

John made a “don’t mind him” gesture to Nigel. “Do you post comments?” he asked. “On my silly blog?”

“Oh, no, never,” Nigel said at once. “I wouldn’t know what to say.”

“That doesn’t stop the rest of them,” Sherlock groused.

As ever John found that being recognized for the blog was both gratifying and discomfiting, and in this case he found that Nigel’s enthusiasm heightened his ambivalence. Time to change the subject. “What about you?” he asked. “How’d you get from Hyderabad to Berwick upon Tweed?”

“Oh,” Nigel said, “medical discharge. Only I didn’t do anything heroic like you, sir. Just walked into some small arms fire. My buddy and I were on sentry duty, on perimeter patrol. I took a couple of rounds and it wasn’t any fun, but my buddy didn’t make it. That was the worst part,” he added, looking down. “By far.”

“I’m sorry,” John said. He could well imagine that there was quite a bit more to it than what Nigel described in those bald terms. “I didn’t mean to…”

“Thanks,” Nigel said, “but it’s cool. Everybody says that the more you talk about stuff like that the faster you can put it behind you, right?”

Sherlock muttered something under his breath involving the words “prurient” and “curiosity.”

“It could have been a lot worse,” Nigel went on, his native cheerfulness reasserting itself. “I’ve got all the big pieces, so I can still run and cycle. I’ve got a fantastic wife. And when I got out of hospital my uncle offered to let us run this place, so I was a lot better off than if I’d had to find a real job.” He smiled. “If we can keep turning a profit for the next four years he’s going to sell it to us for a pound, and the day he does I think we’re going to celebrate by having a bonfire with miniature lighthouses for kindling.”

John sipped his beer. “Decor not your idea, then?”

“Not exactly.”

“Who’d you serve with in Pakistan?” John asked. “I know lots of guys who are still active, and some of them were in Pakistan in Fifteen. Did you ever run into…”

Sherlock sighed theatrically and dropped his chin in his hand but John ignored him, so he dwelt for a time on transcribing Corelli’s Pastorale ad libitum for lead violin into E-flat major, but when he came up for air and realized that John and Nigel were still nattering away at a great rate, with no sign of stopping, he reached into his pocket for his mobile.

“What are you doing?” John asked when he saw him raise the phone to his ear.



“I’m ordering a pizza.” And when John stared he added, with a wave of his hand, “Go on. Don’t let me interrupt.”

“Oh, God,” Nigel cried, realizing. “I’m so sorry. I’ve been so caught up in—I’m going right now. It won’t be two minutes.”

“Great,” John growled when he’d gone. “You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t spit in your food.”


The next morning John emerged from the bathroom, toweling his hair with one hand and carrying his shaving kit in the other. Sherlock stood at the window with his hands in his pockets, gazing out across the estuary, his hair still damp from showering but dressed and ready for their first full day of touring. He turned at the sound of the door and it was everything John could do not to stop and stare. Sherlock wore one of his usual button-down shirts, but had exchanged the suitcoat, trousers, and overcoat that he wore like a uniform for medium wash jeans, sensible black walking shoes, and a lightweight black parka.

“What?” Sherlock said.


Sherlock looked down at himself, plucked at the coat. “Not good?”

“No, it’s perfect.”

“Why did you look surprised?”

“I didn’t.”

Sherlock lifted his head and regarded John with narrowed eyes. “You think I don’t know how to dress,” he decided.

“I didn’t say that.”

“You were surprised.”

“It’s just that I’ve never seen you in anything other than a suit. Or pajamas.”

“So you think I don’t know how to dress,” Sherlock said again.

John sighed. “I had no data,” he said pointedly, “so I never theorized.”


Sherlock brought the car around while John accepted, in lieu of a full breakfast, two large coffees and a danish from Nigel, as well as two boxed lunches. The boxes joined the binoculars and torch in his backpack. In answer to the question of when they’d like supper, John was noncommittal. “Coloring outside the lines this week,” he explained, and suggested something cold that wouldn’t depend on their timely return. Nigel promised sandwiches, wished John happy hiking, and retired.

As agreed their first stop was the murder scene in Shilbottle, to which they gained admittance by telling the current superintendent of the block of flats where the murder occurred that they were from the gas board and needed to make a routine inspection for leaks. It was not a very believable story and was made less so by Sherlock’s minute examination not of any gas lines but of the wood stairs leading to the cellar, the coal chute, a meat tenderizer he found wedged under the far corner of a workbench, and the infamous coal scuttle, but the superintendent accepted it readily enough, and John figured that the guy was so lonely that he’d have let them in for two minutes of conversation and a biscuit. Outside again in the bright sunlight Sherlock paused on the pavement long enough to inform the local constabulary via text message that the murderer, the victim’s step-mother, had been assisted by a male accomplice with fallen arches and a missing ring finger on his right hand.

Half crime tour, half history tour: John checked Shilbottle off the list and their next stop was Yeavering Bell, a product of Devonian-era volcanism rising 1,182 feet above the level of the distant North Sea. Human beings had been drawn to the hills for millennia and the remains of their stone buildings still existed atop Yeavering Bell in the form of collapsed fort walls and toppled cairns. All this John informed Sherlock in the car before they parked at the base of the hill, and it was as well that he did, because ten minutes into their walk up the steep slope neither of them could spare the breath for a history lesson. At the halfway point they paused “to enjoy the view,” as Sherlock put it, and they both used the opportunity to shed their coats. John had already relegated his cap to his pocket.

The hill’s peak proved worth the exertion, however, even to Sherlock. He was unmoved by the remains of the prehistoric fort—just a line of jumbled rocks now—and only mildly interested in the burial cairn at the hill’s peak, but freely admitted to the splendor of the view. It was a clear, fresh day and they could easily make out the North Sea, a navy blue bar in the east. John took quantities of photographs with his mobile, mostly of the view but also of the fort and cairn.

The clean air and moderate exercise stimulated even Sherlock’s appetite, and as they sat sheltered from the breeze in the lee of the cairn he ate up the inn’s boxed lunch (rare roast beef, crusty French bread, crisps, an apple, and two shortbread biscuits) as eagerly as John had ever seen him do. He had progressed to his apple when John waved away a persistent fly.

“Probably don’t want that landing on your food,” Sherlock observed.

“That’s true in general,” John agreed. “Why in this particular case?”

“That’s a flesh fly,” Sherlock said. “Sarcophagidae family. They produce live young on corpses at all stages of decomposition.”

John held up his sandwich and pointed at it. “Eating. We talked about this.”

Sherlock was peering intently at the ground. “Not that useful for establishing time of death. This, however,” he said, plucking a long blade of grass on which a beetle clung and holding it up for John to see, “this is creophilus. A rove beetle. They love fresh corpses.”

John frowned. “Fresh? You don’t think…?”

“Doubtful,” Sherlock said. “They eat corpses but they aren’t confined to them, and they’re quite common.”

They’d taken the edge off their hunger and were picking at their crisps when a kestrel streaked down just fifty feet away and reduced the local rabbit population by one. It regarded them scornfully as it pinned the rabbit to the turf, and when the rabbit’s struggles ceased flew off with its prize.

“What kind of bird was that?” Sherlock asked.

John shrugged. “Kestrel of some kind, I think.” After a pause he said, “I once dated a girl who was mad for birding. She took me out with her a couple of times, but it didn’t last.”

“Which, the birding or the bird?”

Sherlock so rarely used popular slang that John hiked an eyebrow at him before answering: In Sherlock that constituted a display of high spirits. “Both,” he said. “But I did learn to identify a few kinds of birds anyway.” He paused again, then said, “You know how sometimes you can look at a car and not be able to see the make, but you know it’s a Jag of some kind, maybe, just by the general ‘look’ of it?”


“Well, when bird watchers see a bird and think it looks like, I don’t know, a gull, maybe, but they can’t make out exactly what it is, they have a name for that.”



Sherlock choked on his crisps. When he could speak again he said, “We talked about that, too.”

“Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”

“That’s patently untrue.” He coughed, took a swallow of water, and when it had safely gone down he asked, in the tone of a fellow conspirator, “How would one use that in a sentence?”

“Uh…‘It had the jizz of a woodpecker.’”

Sherlock’s face went pink, his shoulders shook, and he slumped helplessly against the rocks. John watched him with a broad grin, delighted by the effect of his anecdote.

At last Sherlock sat up, wiped at his watering eyes with the back of his hand and said, “It’s no wonder Mycroft thinks we act like twelve-year-olds.”

“Well, you laughed at it. How do you know that word, anyway? I was in the army. What’s your excuse?”

“The schools I went to allowed other children in,” Sherlock said, scowling at the memory. “I tried to have them banned, but no one would listen. When I complained to my parents they said being around other children would be good for me. Said it would ‘build character.’”

John could easily imagine a very young Sherlock getting his first taste of social interaction. “And did it?”

“No. It built resentment.”

“Yeah,” John agreed, “I know how that goes.”

Sherlock eyed him skeptically: He didn’t know anyone more socially adept than John. “You do.”

“Sure. Come on. You know how kids are. Anything two ticks outside the norm attracts their attention, and if they notice it they’re probably going to ridicule it.”

Sherlock’s puzzlement was obvious. “Well I’m not exactly in the heavyweight class, am I?” John said. “Nobody cares about that kind of thing at our age or even by university, but when you’re a kid you can come in for a hard time about it if you don’t assert yourself.”

The quality of John’s school days had never rated Sherlock’s consideration before, but if it had he would have said that John no doubt approached the social minefield of academe the same way he did that of adult life: with an enviable aplomb and almost invariable success. “That’s how you learned to fight?” he asked.

“No. That’s how I learned to stand up for myself. I learned to fight in the army.” John smiled at him and pulled out his mobile.

“Have I told you my theory that hell is other people?” Sherlock asked.

“Couple of times,” John said. He opened his email account and composed a message while Sherlock returned to his crisps and his own thoughts.

Dear Mrs. Hudson,” John wrote. “Our first full day in the north. We saw the Fusiliers museum yesterday. I really enjoyed it—until Sherlock took against the docent and told her that her husband’s having an affair with the curator. We had to finish the tour on our own. First stop this morning: a historic murder scene in Shilbottle. Here’s a picture of Sherlock using his glass to get a closer look at the coal scuttle that was used in the crime. He was actually able to tell from a twelve-year-old crime scene that the murderer had an accomplice. You know how he is. He texted the local police with the tip, so if you hear in the news that the cops broke the case wide open, you’ll know the truth: It was all Sherlock’s doing. This next picture is a photo of the view from the top of Yeavering Bell, where we’re having lunch as I type this. That row of rocks used to be the wall of a prehistoric fort. Amazing views: The dark blue line on the horizon is the North Sea. Bamburgh Castle this afternoon, Hadrian’s Wall tomorrow. More later. Love, J & S.”

“Her computer’s broken,” Sherlock noted, glancing at what John had written.

“Yeah. Mrs. Turner’s nephew’s supposed to look at it next weekend when he’s home from school. I gave her my laptop to use in the meantime.”

“She’ll still be trying to figure out how to open the case when we get back,” Sherlock said uncharitably.

“You know she posts comments on my blog all the time,” John said. “She’ll be fine.” He sent the message and pocketed the phone. “Maybe for Christmas this year we should get her a new laptop.”

“Tablet,” Sherlock said at once.


“The text can be enlarged with just a swipe, so she can read it more easily, and operating it would be easier on her hands than using a laptop. You must have noticed that her arthritis is getting worse.”

John nodded. “I wrote her a prescription for some new meds just last week,” he said. He was framing a remark to the effect that Sherlock, the big softy, could consider his secret safe with him, when Sherlock said abruptly, “Tell me why the docent annoyed you.”

John groaned. “Not now.”

“Don’t be tedious. That’s what you said yesterday. It doesn’t make sense. You obviously don’t have a problem with homosexuality,” he went on. “Your sister’s a homosexual. Three of your friends are homosexuals.”

John frowned. “Wait. Three? There’s Mark… Kevin…Who’s the third?”

“The one who shaves with the plastic disposable razors.”

John didn’t know what the hell his friends shaved with. “Name?”


“Whatever,” John said. “Look, it doesn’t bother me if people are gay, it bothers me when they think that you and I are. You know.”

“But we’re on holiday together. Without women. It’s a natural assumption. If that bothers you—”

“A better question is why it doesn’t bother you.”

“If that were in fact a better question I’d have asked it, but the answer is, ‘Because I don’t care what people think.’”

“You care when they’re wrong.”

“No, I care when the police are wrong about crimes. If I cared about everyone else being wrong about all the stupid things they’re always wrong about I’d never have time to correct the police, which is a full-time job.”

John sighed. He conceded that he should be used to the mistaken assumptions, and he conceded that they shouldn’t bother him, especially when they were made by people he didn’t know, who didn’t know him, and who he would never see again. Yet Sherlock was right: it did annoy him. How to explain himself was the problem. In many ways Sherlock’s unconventional, dispassionate approach to human relationships required John to speak far more candidly to him than he would have to a man with a fully functional social radar. Greg Lestrade and Mike Stamford, for example, would never need John’s discomfort explained, because placed in the same situation they would have shared it. On the other hand, John was constrained by his own unswerving Englishness: There were some sentiments that a man just didn’t make explicit to his best friend, sentiments that were shared by both but acknowledged by neither. Ever. Unless the best friend was Sherlock Holmes, whose need to understand would trump insipid considerations like mortal embarrassment even if those considerations entered his purview. Which they did not.

“Okay,” John said, bracing himself for the effort. “This.” He made a vague gesture intended to denote ‘us,’ or ‘our friendship.’ “This is important.”

“Yes,” Sherlock said.

It wasn’t clear to John whether he meant that he understood, agreed, and was satisfied with the answer, or whether he was just encouraging John to continue. Judging by the expectant look on his face it was the latter.

“Important,” John said again.

“Important things should be protected from public pawing,” Sherlock said definitively.

“So you’re good with people thinking—”

“No. I don’t care what they think. But if I did, I would be just as happy that they were deceived.”

John hadn’t given Sherlock a real answer yet, so he filled in his own blanks. “You assume that people thinking we’re a couple is a negative assessment of your masculinity.”

John snorted. “Why mine? Maybe it’s their assessment of yours.”

Sherlock gave him the raised eyebrows. “Me. You think people evaluate me as effeminate.”

John grinned. “Hey, thanks, mate: I feel a lot better about it now. Glad we had this little talk.”

“You haven’t answered my question. Nice try at deflecting it, though.”

“Thank you.”

Sherlock waited.

“Okay.” John finally gave up. “It bothers me because…” He glanced at Sherlock, who was staring at him in his direct, trenchant way, not helping, although he probably thought he was. John looked out over the green hills to the distant sea. “It’s important,” he said again. “This. I mean.” Another ‘us’ gesture. He took a deep breath and said in a rush, “When people think we’re something that we’re not they’re not giving us credit for something that we are.”

Sherlock considered that briefly. “Agreed,” he said, then appeared to forget the entire subject and got to his feet. “Ready?”


Bamburgh Castle lay a scenic forty-five minutes from Yeavering Bell on an even more scenic dolerite outcrop overlooking the North Sea. First mentioned in written records in 547, destroyed by Vikings in 993—its position on England’s east coast made it an easy target for sea-going marauders—and rebuilt by the Normans, it was notable as the first English castle to succumb to the cutting edge invention of artillery. Privately owned by the descendants of a Victorian industrialist, the castle now served as a backdrop for films, television programmes, corporate-sponsored events, and weddings. It was also the site of ongoing archaeological excavations, although John was disappointed to see that none were active during their visit.

To preclude any more public displays of Sherlock’s mordacity John this time opted for the self-guided tour, and trailed by Sherlock, whose interest flickered up at the array of armaments and at the news that the one-time chapel had once housed the arm of the long-dead, sainted King Oswald, he spent the next two and a half hours drinking in and photographing everything the castle had to offer. Sherlock was especially keen on the armoury inside the four-metre-thick walls of the keep. Muskets, knives, pikes, swords, halberds: all bore the marks of hard use, and all drew his close scrutiny. John was more impressed by the keep’s doorway—bottle-shaped so horsemen could ride in and out without dismounting—and with the 20th century weaponry and artillery in the Aviation Artifacts Museum, housed within the castle’s original laundry rooms.

In the gift shop John bought a postcard and keychain for Mrs. Hudson while Sherlock admired a display of replica weapons for sale. He was closely examining a long, slim dagger with an intricately carved wooden hilt when John left the register with his trinkets.

“What’s that?” John asked.

“Knife,” Sherlock said.

“Is it? I meant what kind.”

Sherlock answered that with a question of his own. “You see the way this hilt is carved?” he said. “The guard and the hilt are all one piece of wood.”


“These oval shapes that protrude to make up the guard? To protect the hand holding the knife? That’s where this kind of knife gets its name.”

“And that is?”

“Bollock dagger.”

John snickered. “Sherlock, for God’s sake.”

“They changed the name to kidney dagger in Victoria’s day,” Sherlock went on didactically, “so people didn’t have rude thoughts when they looked at it, although I can’t imagine anyone succumbing to such a transparent attempt at psychological manipulation. If anything the labored attempt to deflect attention from the shape would tend to have the opposite effect of highlighting—What?” John was staring at him. “I’m not making that up,” he protested.

“You would.”

Sherlock returned the knife to the shelf and picked up its neighbor, a somewhat longer blade that looked like a scaled-down broadsword. “I would, but it happens that in this case I’m not. This, on the other hand, is a quillon dagger. Because it has quillons,” he added.


“Quillons. The crossguard. To protect the hand of the man holding the knife.” He pointed to the two pieces of metal at right angles to the blade. “Very simple on this one, but they could be quite ornate. Technically the protrusions on the bollock dagger are quillons as well, but apparently no one had carnal thoughts when they looked at this sort, so ‘quillon’ it was.”

“Let me see,” John said, putting his backpack on the floor, and Sherlock passed the knife to him. “Nice blade,” he said, admiring the smooth steel. He shifted the knife to his left hand and pantomimed a fencing thrust with it. “On guard,” he said.

“Your accent is hopeless,” Sherlock said, “and that’s not en garde.” He put out his hand for the blade and John handed it to him hilt-first. Sherlock made a couple of passes in the air. “This is far too short for a fencing blade, for a start,” he said. “A sabre’s eighty-eight centimetres. Ninety for foil and épée. And this,” he added, “is en garde.” In one lithe, practiced motion he sprang into the ready position: left foot back and turned out ninety degrees, right foot forward, both knees flexed, left fist resting on his left hip, weight perfectly balanced over the balls of his feet, and the long knife gripped in his right hand so the blade paralleled the angle of his right shin. “En garde,” he cried. “Pret! Allez!” At the last cry he lunged toward John with incredible speed.

John was not entirely unprepared for him and while there wasn’t a lot of extra room in the shop he sprang back, bending forward from his hips to avoid the blade. As he jumped he crossed his wrists with his palms up and using the back of his hands struck Sherlock’s wrist, deflecting his thrust. Twice Sherlock advanced, and twice John blocked his strikes. On the third thrust John neatly disarmed him: He blocked, caught Sherlock’s knife hand, turned it palm up, and pressed his thumbs into the back of Sherlock’s hand, bending his wrist and forcing his fingers open. In a single smooth motion he stripped the knife out of his hand and pressed the flat of the blade along Sherlock’s throat. Start to finish: about half a second.

Sherlock grinned admiringly: John was very fast.

“That’s how we do it in the army,” John said as he lowered the knife.

“My turn,” Sherlock said, and they reversed roles. John expected him to block a couple of strikes before attempting the disarming maneuver, but Sherlock surprised him by copying his technique flawlessly with his first strike, and they laughed as John pushed the blade away from his neck.

“I said, ‘Excuse me, gentlemen.’”

They turned—John in surprise, Sherlock in annoyance—to find a beefy security guard scowling at them, his fists on his utility belt.

“Those are sale items, gentlemen, not toys,” the man said disapprovingly. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave now, if you’re finished shopping. For our customers’ safety.” He put out his hand and moved to take the knife.

“Don’t touch me. For your safety,” Sherlock said coldly, and something in his eye made the guard hesitate.

John took the knife from him and handed it hilt first to the guard. They were the only people in the store, he was tempted to point out, but it wasn’t worth arguing about and nothing would wind Sherlock up faster than an “I’m only doing my job” retort from the guard. Already he was giving the guy the once-over. “Sorry,” John said. “Leaving now.”

On their way down the drive to the car he was inspired to get a few snaps of the castle from the seaward side, so they made their way across the grassy dunes and out onto the broad beach, where sandpipers pittered in the foam and gulls, terns, and any number of seabirds John couldn’t identify wheeled and cried overhead. He found himself reluctant to return to the car, and a glance at Sherlock, who stood facing the sea with his head tipped back and his eyes half closed, evidently enjoying himself, told him that the suggestion of a walk probably wouldn’t go too far amiss.

They made their way south along the beach in genial silence. As they walked the sun sank behind the dunes and the land breeze gave way to a gentle sea breeze, and by the time they reached the rocky terminus of the beach at the north end of Seahouses thick fog was forming rapidly. Unwilling to miss the castle on the return trip, they crossed back over the dunes until they struck Links Road, which would take them directly to the castle and on which they made considerably better time than they had on the sand.

All the same it was full dark and the fog had reduced visibility to less than 50 metres when they reached the small, unnamed wood whose far edge marked the southern boundary of the castle’s car park. Here Sherlock suddenly stopped and stood listening.

“Hear that?” he said.



John had noticed the dog about a quarter mile earlier but relegated it to the status of the usual rural background noise. It had been yipping and fussing that whole time, he realized, now that he thought about it. “What about it?”

“It’s distressed,” Sherlock said.

“Oh, come on. You can tell that from its barking?”

“Of course. Haven’t you known any dogs?”

“No. My parents wouldn’t allow it and Harry was allergic. Or said she was. I think she was just afraid.”


“I thought so.”

“Dogs yip like that when they want something from you. That dog hasn’t moved since it first started barking. Come on.” He set off, down into the ditch, over the barbed wire fence on the far side, into the trees, and up the hill. John drew his pocket torch as they paused at the summit. It didn’t do much to penetrate the fog, which scattered the beam, but it kept them from crashing into any trees. They could hear the dog rustling in the leaves and whining now, however, so they followed the sound until they discovered a little grey sable Alsatian, its collar entangled in a low branch.

The dog was delighted to see them at last, having followed the sound of their progress up the road and over the wooded hill for the last five minutes. It slicked its ears back and whined, wagging vigorously and dancing from one front paw to the other and back again.

Sherlock strode unhesitatingly up to it. “Light,” he said, and John held the light so he could work. On the dog’s collar was clipped a small black plastic case of the kind used by boaters to keep keys, cigarettes, and other small items dry. It was this which had caught on the branch. Sherlock unclipped the case and handed it to John while the freed dog capered between them, expressing the concept of gratitude as eloquently as it was possible for a dog to do. It leant against Sherlock’s legs, beating him with its tail and curling around his hand as he patted its side.

“I didn’t know you liked dogs,” John said, a little surprised by its reception of Sherlock and his response to it. He was learning all kinds of things on this walking tour that weren’t to do with relics.

“What kind of person doesn’t like dogs?” Sherlock replied.

“Exactly,” John said. He knelt down and the dog bounded over to him and washed his face.

“Remind me not to kiss you there,” Sherlock said.

John laughed and pushed the dog away. “Call him off,” he said.


“Whatever. I’m drowning.”

Sherlock snapped his gloved fingers. “Come on, now,” he said in a conversational tone, as though he were speaking to a human being. She broke away from John and returned to Sherlock’s side, where she sat gazing happily into their faces.

“Did you ever have a dog?” John asked, watching her.

Sherlock pointed at his hand. “What’s in that case?”

“Oh, right.” John handed the torch to Sherlock and opened the case. Inside he found a folded piece of notepaper on which was handwritten, “55 37 9.2 N 1 38 43.03 W 1500 10 25”

“Lat-long coordinates,” John said. “Fifty-five degrees, thirty-seven minutes, nine point two seconds north; one degree thirty-eight minutes, forty-three point zero three seconds west. Fifteen hundred hours?”

“Probably. Ten twenty-five?” Sherlock’s tone suggested that he already knew the answer; he was asking John for his theory.

“A date?” John suggested. “Tomorrow’s October 25th.”

Sherlock switched off the torch. “Look up those coordinates,” he said, and while John did that he used his own mobile to snap a picture of the note.

John quickly found a website that could locate the fix as he entered it. “That can’t be right,” he said when he saw where the pin dropped.

“Where is it?” Sherlock asked, and John held the phone so he could see the screen.

“It’s in the middle of the Farne Islands.”

“That’s just offshore here.”

“Yeah. Right off the castle not what, a mile? Two miles? We saw them from the beach.”

Sherlock’s eyes gleamed in the light of the phone. “Why would anyone arrange a secret rendezvous in the middle of those islands?”

“Romantic tryst?”

“Try again.”

“Illegal tryst?”

“More likely.” They grinned at each other, then said in unison, “Game on.”

The dog suddenly pricked her ears, came swiftly to her feet and peered north into the darkness. An instant later Sherlock heard what she had. At once he grabbed her collar.

“Quickly,” he said to John, holding his hand out for the case.

“What is it?” John asked, but before the question was fairly out he had his answer: From the north came a whistle and a man shouted, calling for the dog. Sherlock stuffed the note back into the case, clipped it back on the dog’s collar, and released her.

“Come on,” he said, and John followed him to a stand of tall, thick grass behind which they stretched out prone on the ground. Peering through the grass they could see two torches bobbing toward them through the blackness, the beams scattered by the fog.

The dog was reluctant to leave them, but as the footsteps grew closer and the calls and whistles more insistent she gave them an apologetic glance and dashed off to greet the newcomers. She had delayed for so long that the men were quite close to their hiding place when she met them. Two men, their features made indistinct by the darkness and their caps, the brims of which hid their faces. Sherlock and John watched as the taller of the pair held the dog’s collar to keep her still while the other, more rotund and heavily built, removed the case. They read the note, tore off the top half of it, and scribbled something on the remainder. They returned the piece on which they’d written to the case and clipped it back on the collar. The man holding the dog gave a very particular whistle and released her. She turned at once and galloped swiftly off to the south, past Sherlock and John and into the darkness. Clearly she was familiar with the procedure.

The two men set off the way they’d come, toward the castle. Following them was not a difficult job. The series of paths through the woods and the grassy dunes muffled their footsteps and the fog and darkness hid them completely. Furthermore, their quarry had no notion of being followed, made no effort to conceal themselves, and laughed and talked away volubly.

When their targets reached the pavement of the southernmost car park, where the wood ended, Sherlock stopped. He wanted a look at the licence tag on the men’s car, but emerging from the wood right behind them would be like flashing a neon sign saying, “We followed you.” John knew why he’d stopped, so he wasn’t surprised when Sherlock turned toward the beach, instead. When they judged that they were out of sight from the car park they paralleled it for about fifty feet before turning toward it again so that they would step onto the asphalt from the seaward side.

Just as John thought he could make out the car park in the gloom Sherlock grabbed his hand. John jumped as though he’d been electrocuted but Sherlock just gripped harder. “What the hell?” John demanded in a fierce whisper.

“Be my date, John,” Sherlock whispered back, tugging him closer as they stepped out of the mist onto the pavement. He raised his voice for the benefit of the men, who were unlocking their car on the far side of the park. “This fog is so romantic,” he cried. He didn’t lisp, exactly, but he pitched his voice well above his natural baritone. When the men glanced over Sherlock feigned catching sight of them for the first time. Instantly he dropped John’s hand and stepped away from him, looking self-conscious. “Evening,” he called, and waved. “Lovely night for it, innit?”

The two men stared heavily at them, looking anything but open-minded. Sherlock shrugged and they headed for their own car, past the Mercedes sedan into which the men climbed. In the uncertain light of the single sodium vapor lamp the sedan’s color was difficult to make out—it could have been anything from dark grey to navy or black or even dark green—but a single glance gave him the licence number. He was still texting the number with a demand for information about it to Lestrade when the car rolled past them and out of the park.


“So,” John said later over supper at the inn. “What now?”

“We’re going to be at that rendezvous tomorrow.”

“Yeah, okay.” John already knew that part. “There’s no ferry to those islands this time of year. I know you don’t want to hire someone to take us there.”

“Definitely not.”

“I suppose we could hire a boat and make our own way to it.”

“We’ll have to,” Sherlock said. “Until we know what’s going on we can’t involve anyone else.” He pulled out his mobile and searched for boat rentals, in vain as it turned out, and ended the search at last with a frustrated growl.

“Off season,” John said sympathetically.

Sherlock was still busy with the phone, examining a satellite view of the coast. “Seahouses is the only realistic option,” he muttered. “The islands are much too far from here even with a powerboat.”

“How far from Seahouses?”

Sherlock considered. “Three miles.”

Nigel emerged from the kitchen with their salads. “Mr. Holmes,” he said in dismay. “You haven’t touched your food. ”Is it awful? Can I get you something else? Should I tell the cook to—“

”Nigel,“ John said, hurrying to reassure him. ”No. It’s fantastic. Seriously. It’s not the food. We’re…on a bit of a case, sort of. He’s just…distracted. Promise,“ he added, when Nigel looked a bit doubtful.

Nigel set John’s salad before him. ”Isn’t there anything I can get you, Mr. Holmes? Something to drink, if you’re not hungry? Anything?“

”Jumper,“ Sherlock said suddenly.

”What?“ John said.

”I need a jumper.“


John awoke refreshed from the most restorative and enjoyable sleep he’d experienced in years. Clean air and moderate exercise: Not quite a miracle cure, but damned close. Sherlock was already up and dressed and apparently had been for some time. It was an open question whether he’d ever been to sleep. John had known him to sleep for fourteen hours at a stretch between cases, and to go three days without when he was working. He was still standing at the window when John finished dressing, just as he had been when John awoke, his borrowed black fisherman’s sweater hanging loosely on his narrow frame, a good three sizes too big for him.

”We’re disguising ourselves as fishermen?“

”Just blending in. The art of disguise—“

”—is knowing how to hide in plain sight,“ John finished. ”Yeah. Well, put that on then.“ He tossed Sherlock a tweed donegal cap.

”All I need is another hat reputation,“ Sherlock said sourly, tossing it back to him, ”and how many of those do you have?“

”Just the two.“

On their way out of the inn Sherlock surprised John by accepting a boxed lunch from Nigel. Outside he passed it to John to stow in the backpack. ”Oh, right,“ John said, having given the puzzle some thought. ”In case we run into the dog again.“


Their transportation options in Seahouses turned out to be severely limited. In the tiny marina rocked five small trawlers and a pair of two-man sailboats, all moored head and stern to the bollards that lined the concrete pier. Neither of them knew how to sail and they rejected the trawlers as being too likely to attract attention, both at the islands and when stolen. Luck was with them, however, because moored along the side of the marina that fronted the street, between it and the boat ramp, lay a fifteen-foot clinker-built rowboat. At the current tide level the water was a good ten feet below that of the street: The boat was quite concealed from the sight of anyone walking or driving along the road.

”Our chariot,“ Sherlock said.

They strolled around the corner onto the jetty, down the ramp, and clambered into the boat. John cast off the bow and Sherlock the stern, and they both gave a push to clear the seawall. Mindful of his shoulder, John took up the port side oar, which would let his right arm take most of the strain. He peered over his right shoulder and gave an experimental pull on his oar just as Sherlock took a big bite of water with his own, and the boat yawed abruptly to starboard. John turned to stare at him as they drifted slowly landward and realized why they had gone in a circle: Sherlock had pulled the rowlock out of the gunwale and was sitting facing the bow.

”What the hell are you doing?“ John demanded.

Sherlock returned John’s glare indignantly. ”I’m trying to paddle to the island. A little help would be nice.“

”This is a boat.“

”Yes, thank you for that very keen observation, John.“

”I mean it’s not a canoe.“

”It’s also not a lorry or a parrot. Any other self-evident information you’d like to trot out, or can we get on with this?“

”Sherlock, it’s a boat. You don’t paddle boats, you row them. Canoes are paddled. Now put the thole back in the gunwale and turn around. Come on.“

”Semantic pedantry,“ Sherlock sniffed.

”Oh, that’s rich,“ John retorted. ”Just last week you corrected three different barristers and a judge for saying that accountant’s corpse was encased in cement. ‘It’s concrete, not cement. Cement is a component of concrete.’“

”It is a component of concrete.“

”Look, it’s not pedantic to row a boat. It’s proper technique.“

”Going backward through the water is stupid,“ Sherlock announced categorically. ”Constantly turning around to see where you’re going is stupid, inefficient, and physically wearing.“

”Sherlock, put the pin back in the boat and help me row.“

”What do you know about boats, anyway? You were in the army, not the navy.“

”You don’t have to be in the navy to know that boats are rowed, for God’s sake, but if it matters I rowed intramural crew for two years in school. What do you know about it? Have you ever been on a boat?

“Of course.”

“What sort?”

“A yacht.”

“A yacht.”

“Yes. It belonged to one of Mycroft’s friends. He thought one of the crew members was stealing from him and wanted Mycroft to look into it. Mycroft gets seasick when it rains, so he asked me to do it.”

You were on a yacht.”

“Why is that so hard to believe?”

“Because I thought people who say ‘serviette’ weren’t allowed on yachts.”

“You say ‘serviette’ as well.”

“Yeah, but I’m not claiming to be James Cook because I ate cucumber sandwiches on a boat twenty years ago.”

“I don’t know who that is. And it was nine years.”

“Whatever. Look: Rowing is faster than paddling.”

That stopped Sherlock in mid-career. “Is it?”


Sherlock couldn’t argue with speed. “Fine. But you’re in charge of steering, and if we end up on the Dogger Bank I will say I told you so.”

Having thus established how they would propel the boat they very quickly fell into an efficient rhythm. John already knew what he was doing and Sherlock’s innate athleticism made up for his want of experience. It was a three-mile pull, but the wind was light from the west, nearly a direct crosswind, and the current was negligible. John guided them to the southeast end of Knoxes Reef, which rose in a sheer cliff some fifty feet above their heads: altogether daunting and certainly no place for a landing. The little inlet they sought, however, lay on the east side of the island, so he steered them northeast and ran inside of the rock called Little Scarcar.

“Way ’nuff,” he said automatically as they entered a little bay, and when that had no effect he said, “Stop.”

A check of their lat/long position confirmed that they were in the right place. The little half-moon-shaped inlet was not much above a furlong wide from north to south, with a sandy beach on the west side. Black crags rose some twenty feet above the water at the south end of the bay and somewhat higher at the north. As far as John could tell nothing was amiss.

“What do you think?” he asked. “See anything?”

Sherlock shook his head. “Don’t know what we’re looking for, but whatever it is—or whoever it is—we’ve beaten it here.” He peered over the side of the boat. Through the clear, cold water he could easily see the bottom, a mix of sand patches and the same sort of rock that formed the islands, but nothing that seemed suspicious. He glanced up at the rocks lining the north side of the bay. “That’s the highest spot,” he said, pointing. “We could wait there, but we can’t leave the boat in the open. We should go around to the north side, see if there’s a place to tie this thing up where it won’t be seen.”

John took over the rowing duties and followed the shoreline until they found a single spit of sand among the rocks on the north side of the island, barely large enough to accommodate the boat, where they jumped out, ran it up at the cost of soaking themselves to the knees, and secured it inexpertly but effectively to a rock. They picked their way carefully across the wet, slippery black rocks to the prominence, if such a modest peak could be called a prominence, that overlooked the inlet. Here, by lying flat behind the rocks, they could watch without being seen, and they settled in as well as they could to wait. Their observation post had the virtue of being dry but no others. It was cold, rocky, and uncomfortable. It was not quite noon; the note named 3 p.m. as the appointed time for whatever was going to happen.

In the spring and summer the Farne Islands group was a busy place, visited not only by innumerable breeding pairs of seabirds of every description but by researchers and bird watchers who arrived by the score to gawk at them, and by scuba divers drawn to the wrecks of hundreds of unwary ships claimed by the islands. By this time of year, however, the breeding birds had departed, leaving only resident species, and it was too cold to draw any human visitors. Sherlock and John had the place entirely to themselves. Entirely, if one discounted the six thousand grey seals which came ashore between September and November to bear their pups, fight, mate, and generate a continuous din. Most of them had confined themselves to the outer islands, however, and the handful that had chosen Knoxes Reef lay scattered on the sand below.

“I’m starving,” John announced after three quarters of an hour had passed, and withdrew his boxed lunch from the backpack. “You?”

Sherlock shook his head. “I’ll take the glasses, though,” he said, and while John ate he methodically scanned the horizon. From the height of their vantage point he could see no more than about seven miles, but except for a container ship slowly paralleling the coast far out to sea, nothing moved on the water. Standing up would have given him an extra three miles of horizon, but he was as keen to remain unseen as he was to observe whoever approached the island.

John ate enough of his lunch to take the edge off his appetite and repacked the rest. He scanned the horizon for nearly an hour and occasionally took a turn with the binoculars, but when nothing happened and it appeared that nothing was about to happen he took a break, turning onto his back, making a lumpy and unsatisfactory pillow out of the backpack, and staring up into the clear, featureless sky. He pulled his jacket closed and folded his arms over his chest. This wasn’t what he’d expected when he planned their tour. Not what he planned at all, to be lying with wet shoes and freezing toes on an island in the North Sea, surrounded by birthing, fighting seals and spying from behind a rock like he was in a Boy’s Own adventure. Yet he was content, and more than content. He experienced the contentment as a state of relaxed alertness, a state which he recognized and valued because too often in his life he’d felt its absence. “Peace,” he would have called it, had he been required to put a name to it.

He knew that Sherlock, lying prone next to him with the glasses clapped to his eyes, tense with suppressed excitement as he kept watch on the horizon, felt it too. Sherlock was by far the most intensely alive human being John had ever known. Unless he was dead asleep he thrummed with the energy of a high tension wire, and even when he wasn’t actively being an arrogant, headstrong, petulant, supercilious arse, just being around him could be exhausting for ordinary mortals, a state most often conveyed to John with some variant of, “Why’s your friend so uptight?” Yet for one who took the time to look more closely it was possible to read another quality in Sherlock’s high-strung nature, and John saw it in times like this. Or rather, he saw its absence. Sherlock wasn’t twitching, tapping, fidgeting, or fussing. He was alert, radiating lively expectation and yes, tension, but patently enjoying himself.

It was easy enough for John to identify why they so enjoyed this unconventional life of theirs—a life which his friends all thought him utterly barking mad to lead. He loved having what he thought of as a mission: the successful resolution of their cases. He loved having something to fight for and someone to fight for it with. Sherlock never asked him for half-measures because his own nature didn’t permit them and because half-measures could get them killed. It wasn’t that all or even most of their cases involved risk, mortal or otherwise, nor that he and Sherlock loved danger for its own sake. What they loved, what elated them, and what bound them was the knowledge, enforced by experience, that together they could meet that danger and triumph. What exhilarated them was knowing that the knife-edge on which they balanced defined the boundary between life and death, and that their intelligence, skill, and courage were all that stood between them and disaster. It was not the certainty of winning that moved them, because no one could be guaranteed of that, but the delight of meeting challenges with what was best in themselves.

John smiled to himself: His fervor on the topic was probably a bit much considering the circumstances just then, surrounded as they were by seals and puffins and water and not much else. Still. A valid metaphor, that: Knife-edge. Bollock dagger, he suddenly thought, and grinned as he re-visited yesterday’s horseplay in the gift shop and Sherlock’s skill with the blade. He turned to him and asked, “When did you learn to fence?”

Sherlock lowered the binoculars and rubbed his eyes. “Primary school,” he said. He didn’t seem surprised by the question being posed suddenly after more than an hour of silence, nor unwilling to talk about it.

“Your idea?”

“My parents’. They were always keen on finding ways for me to ‘burn off energy.’”

John smiled. “Did it work?”

“For a time. Until I got really fit. Then I was worse than ever.”

“You won a championship.”

“I won all the championships.”

“So you liked it, then?”

“Loved it.”

“Why? I mean…Well, it seems a little…You know. Old-fashioned, maybe?”

Sherlock looked at him narrowly. “You mean ‘dated.’”

“If you like. It’s just…You’re Mr. Practical Application.”

“Now, yes. Less so when I was six. And at university I didn’t have any idea of being a detective. I admit,” Sherlock added, “it’s unlikely I’ll meet anyone in a London alley who wants to fight with a sabre. Although it could happen. But fencing’s brilliant for teaching all sorts of useful things: Balance, speed, agility, hand-to-eye coordination.”

“I believe that,” John said, remembering how Sherlock had flown at him in play the day before: God help anyone he really meant to assail. “And you fought with…a sabre, you said? I’ve heard of foil and épée, but I didn’t know modern fencing used sabres. What’s the difference?”

“The size of the blade, the areas on the body you can hit, the part of the weapon you can use,” Sherlock said. “In foil and épée you can’t use anything but the tip of the blade. In sabre you can use the tip and the edge. Also,” he added, warming to the topic, “sabre has a faster tempo overall—it’s faster and easier to attack than defend.”

John nodded: Given all that he could see why Sherlock would choose that weapon over the others.

“Ballet was derived from fencing,” Sherlock observed.

John laughed. “Are you serious?”

“Very. It was originally developed as a stylized interpretation of sword fighting,” Sherlock said. “Think about it. Learning the formal steps of fencing—advance, retreat—it’s very similar to learning dance steps, and ballet takes the same kind of strength, balance, and agility as fencing. You should never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.”


“Confucius.” Sherlock thought for a moment, then said, “When I was six I didn’t think about all that, of course. I wanted a sabre because that’s what pirates used.”

John knew that Sherlock loved to dance: He’d taught John how to waltz. He’d never said as much in words, but his devotion to the art had been evident to John, who knew him so well. John also knew, because Mycroft had told him, that when he was a very little boy Sherlock had wanted to be a pirate. He was reasonably certain that this was knowledge best left unmentioned, however.

Sherlock returned to his fruitless scan of the horizon. Thirty minutes later John ate a granola bar out of sheer boredom. A puffin landed awkwardly nearby, eyed them inimically, and flew off again.

“Redbeard,” Sherlock said suddenly.

“What?” John said, turning to look at him. He was used to his friend’s non sequiturs, but this one was especially opaque.

“He was an Irish setter.”

Did you ever have a dog? Yesterday’s unanswered question. Sherlock had the binoculars pressed to his eyes and his expression was unreadable, but the fact that he had taken so long to answer and that he didn’t elaborate now told John a great deal.


A little after two-thirty John’s scan of the eastern horizon finally revealed something other than shipping. “Incoming,” he said, handing the glasses to Sherlock. “Nine o’clock. Five miles, maybe?”

Sherlock watched as the craft, the type known as a “go-fast” boat, approached rapidly until it reached the outer islands. There it slowed and came on with much more circumspection, picking its way around the rocks and shoals carefully but with evident familiarity.

“This is getting better and better,” Sherlock gloated. “That’s a cigarette boat. A go-fast. Smugglers love them because they’re fast and seaworthy and the shape helps them avoid detection by radar.”

“So no chasing after him, then,” John said.

Three men were aboard the boat, which glided into the inlet with little more than steerage way. The two passengers wrestled a lobster pot, crammed tight with what looked like black plastic, onto the gunwale. When the driver had maneuvered the boat over the sandy-bottomed section of the bay the men pushed the pot overboard and it sank at once. The driver had the boat in motion again almost before the pot hit the water and slowly retraced the path he had taken to reach the inlet.

“Blink and you’ll miss it,” John said.

“He’s not gone yet,” Sherlock replied. When the boat didn’t emerge into the open sea and accelerate away he searched the outer islands and finally spotted it anchoring off the easternmost outcropping. “Why don’t they leave?” he wondered. He turned shoreward and had his answer: A small, four passenger pleasure boat had set off from Seahouses and was rapidly approaching the islands. It swung around Little Scarcar on the seaward side and anchored in the bay.

Two men occupied this boat, and while their features were largely hidden by hats and sunglasses Sherlock was morally certain that they were the same men who had met the dog in the wood the night before. It was impossible for him to make out their faces with any certainty, but one was tall and muscular while the other shorter and more burly by far, just as the men in the wood had been. The taller of the two tossed out an anchor. The other put his fingers to his lips and gave an odd whistle, and Sherlock and John watched in amazement as a cormorant separated itself from a group sunning on a nearby rock, flapped over to the boat, and landed on the gunwale, where it accepted a little silver fish from the man who had whistled. At a different whistle the bird turned and plunged into the water, diving in a stream of bubbles to the lobster pot. It popped to the surface seconds later holding a rope in its beak and paddled awkwardly about until the man leant out over the gunwale and took the rope. The cormorant spread its wings with an impatient squawk and the man tossed another fish to it, which it caught deftly. It bobbed there until it became apparent that no more fish would be forthcoming, then flew back to the rock to rejoin its companions.

The boatmen, meanwhile, were busily emptying the pot, and now it became clear that they were handling brick-shaped bundles about half the size of a bag of flour, tightly wrapped in black plastic. These they stuffed into two large duffel bags. Into the empty pot they placed a sealed plastic bag containing a thick envelope, then dropped the pot back into the water and motored away.

“Is that it?” John asked. Beside him Sherlock was rigid with barely suppressed excitement.

“No,” he said. “Not quite. Watch.”

The cigarette boat returned to the inlet before the other was halfway to Seahouses. Its crew repeated the process of summoning the cormorant, rewarding it, and sending it after the pot’s submerged rope. They hauled the pot out of the water, deposited it on the deck, and drove off. This time the boat continued eastward to the open sea and over the horizon.

Sherlock sat up, his face alight. “This is brilliant, John,” he cried. “Brilliant. A trained dog, a trained bird, a drug-smuggling operation…If I’d known going on holiday was this much fun I’d have gone ages ago.”

He fairly sprinted for the boat, skipping over the slick rocks, while John hurried after him at a somewhat saner pace. Sherlock had the stern afloat by the time John caught up, and in his eagerness to shove off nearly stranded them both. Convincing him to slow down at times like this was like trying to hold a racehorse with a hackamore: It didn’t work and the tighter the restraint the harder he fought it. John had long ago given up trying and just focused on keeping up. In the current case keeping up was made possible only by the fact that Sherlock’s half of the boat was connected to John’s.

When the boat yawed to starboard for the fourth time in less than a half mile John lost patience. “Even it out!” he cried irritably.

“You even it out,” Sherlock snapped. “Keep up.”

“What’s the rush?” John demanded. “We’re just going to the cops. They’ll still be there even if we don’t kill ourselves.”

Sherlock didn’t spare the breath for an answer. He just pulled harder.

It would have been a more unpleasant return trip for John by far if he hadn’t been inspired then to give Sherlock the other oar and instead cox the boat from the stern. Sherlock’s impatience to be back on shore cut their en route time to three-quarters of an hour, and by the time they returned the boat and reached the car it was a little before four p.m.

The wind fell as the sun sank behind the hills, tendrils of mist began to form over the ocean and creep inland, and when a half hour later they reached Berwick upon Tweed the fog had already cut the visibility to less than a mile.

The police station occupied a nondescript two-storey brown brick building in the center of town north of the river. Sherlock, by then pink rather than red from his exertions with the boat, parked behind the building and they entered through the front, where a fat, bored desk sergeant looked up from stringing paper clips together.

“Help you gentlemen?” the sergeant asked.

“Yes, hello,” John said. He paused, but a quick glance told him that Sherlock was content to leave the talking to him, so he said, “We’d like to report a crime in progress. Well, we think it was a crime in progress.”

“Oh, yes? What sort of crime?”

“Well, we’re not sure, but it looked like drugs.”


“Yeah. We think.” The sergeant stared rather heavily at John, who was only then realizing that what they’d seen was going to be hard to explain to a sane person.

“Why don’t you tell me what you think you saw then, sir?” the sergeant asked.

“Okay,” John said. “This is going to sound a bit strange, but here goes. Last night we saw two guys take a message off a dog’s collar. The message had instructions for a rendezvous out in the Farnes. We went there first and saw the same two guys—we think—take a lobster pot out of the water that we think had drugs in it. That’s it,” he added, when the sergeant didn’t say anything.

“Just a minute, sir,” the sergeant said, holding up his hand. “Let me make sure I understand you. You and your friend here saw a dog give some chaps a message about drugs.”

John shifted impatiently. “No,” he said, “the dog didn’t give them the message. Well—I mean, yeah, they got the message from the dog, but it was attached to the dog’s collar, and they took it off the collar.”

“How do you know what the message said?”

“Because we read it first. The dog got its collar stuck on a branch. We let it go and noticed that it had something on its collar. Look, that’s not important. What we’re trying to—”

“Maybe you wrote the message,” the sergeant said suspiciously.

“What? No!” John cried. “Why would we report a crime if we committed it?”

“People do.”

John looked at Sherlock, who rolled his eyes.

“We didn’t write the message,” John said impatiently. “We saw a go-fast boat come into the islands, drop a lobster pot in the water, and drive off. Then the guys we saw with the dog the night before showed up, took the pot out of the water, put whatever was in the pot into their boat, put payment in the pot, and dropped it back in the water. They left, the go-fast boat came back, took the pot, and left. Now what do you call that?”

The sergeant stared at John for a while, then said, “I see, sir. And how do we know that a crime was being committed?”

We don’t, not for certain,” John admitted. “We’re just saying it looked pretty suspicious, and you might want to check into it. If that pot was full of drugs it would be a major bust.”

“Well, I don’t know, sir,” the sergeant said slowly. “If you don’t know what was in the lobster pot, I don’t see why you’d jump to the conclusion that it was contraband. Maybe it was lobsters.”

“It wasn’t—”

“I know it’s not lobster season, sir, but taking them out of season’s not really a crime for the police, now, is it? That’s a Coast Guard matter.”

“If they weren’t doing something illegal,” John said slowly, “why would they go to the trouble of training a dog to carry secret messages and a bird to fetch the pot?”

“A bird.”

“Yeah, a bird,” John said angrily, because the sergeant was starting to chuckle. The back door of the station opened then and a tall officer with sandy-colored hair walked in.

“Moray,” the newcomer said with a nod, greeting the sergeant.

“Jamie,” the sergeant said, beckoning him over. “I think you’ll like to hear this. These gentlemen are making a report of a crime they witnessed.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Sounds quite serious, too. It seems we’ve got a criminal element among the animal population here. There’s a trained bird and a dog running drugs off the Farnes.”

“Dammit,” John began, but Sherlock spoke up for the first time.

“Forget it, John,” he said calmly. “I told you it was nothing. Let’s go.”


“We need to leave these officers alone. They’ve got real work to do,” Sherlock said, as John gaped at him. He looked apologetically at the sergeant. “I’m so sorry. I did try to tell him. This isn’t the first time he’s seen a ’crime.’” Air quotes. “Last month he told the police there was crystal meth residue on the produce scale at the Sainsbury’s and tried to have the grocer arrested for dealing.” He turned to John. “Apologize, John,” he said sternly, drawing himself up, “and maybe these gentlemen won’t cite us for interfering with the duties of a police officer.”

There was only one reason why Sherlock would be acting this way, John knew, but he had a hard time making the transition from genuine annoyance and was still standing with his mouth open. He shut it and did what he could to look contrite, although in the circumstances all he managed was aggravated. “Sorry,” he said tersely.

“Let’s go,” Sherlock said, taking his arm and drawing him along.

“Okay,” John said when they were safely back outside and around the corner of the building. “What the hell just happened? What did you see?”

“Sunglasses,” Sherlock said.

“Sunglasses? Nobody was wearing sunglasses.”

“Did you see the sunglasses that those boaters were wearing today?”

John considered. “I noticed that they were wearing them, I guess…”

“One of them was wearing a very particular kind. The kind with leather side cups. They were more popular in the 1980’s and you don’t see them as much any more, but some people who work outside or on the water where there’s a lot of glare still use them, to block UV rays from the sides.”


“Those kinds of glasses leave a very characteristic crescent-shaped indentation where the arms of the glasses press the leather cup against the temple,” Sherlock said. “Here.” He pointed at the side of John’s face.


“And that cop who walked in while we were there? ‘Jamie’? He had those marks on his temples. He also very closely matches the general physical type of the man we just saw on the boat and in the wood last night. What are the chances that two men in a town this size were both wearing those types of glasses recently enough to still show those marks?”

“I don’t believe this,” John said incredulously. “The police are smuggling drugs.”

“That one is, apparently. The desk sergeant was a match for the general physical type of the other man, as well.”

“And we just walked right in and blabbed that we know all about it.”

“To be strictly accurate, you did all the talking.”

“Great. So what do we do now?”

“Now we walk back to the car and notice that in one of the police employee parking slots is a dark-colored Mercedes sedan that wasn’t there when we arrived,” Sherlock replied, “the tags on which will match the ones on the car we saw at the castle.”

Years ago John would have been surprised that Sherlock’s prediction turned out to be correct. These days he would have been surprised if it had not. A two-year-old Mercedes sedan stood three slots away from their own car, its engine still ticking. As in the castle’s car park, the artificial light from the sodium vapor lamps behind the building made the color uncertain, but the tags were unquestionably a match.

“Listen,” John said, when they were underway. “They know that we know, now. Shouldn’t we…I don’t know…watch for a tail, or something? What if they follow us? Shouldn’t we try some diversionary tactics instead of going straight back to the inn?”

“You need to watch less telly,” Sherlock said. “I imagine they will try to figure out who we are, though.” He sounded anything but dismayed by the prospect.

“And we’re okay with that?”

“All it will do is solidify our case against them,” Sherlock said. “Especially if they try anything, which they might, depending on how much money they have at risk. From the amount of stuff they took out of that pot, I’d say it’s a lot.”

“So basically we’ve just given them a prime incentive to kill us.”

“Basically,” Sherlock said cheerfully.


Back at the inn they cleaned up and presented themselves in the snuggery, very willing to be fed, but Nigel was distressed to inform them that the cook had cried off for the night. He offered to reimburse them for anything they might like from a local restaurant, naming the nearby Ale House as having the second-best food in town after the Lodge. They declined his offer to pay for supper and give them a ride to the place—“We’re on a walking tour; we can walk,” John said-and set off on the half mile trip to the tavern.

It was full dark and the fog had settled in for the night, creeping over the town and estuary in a cold, dense blanket. Reaching the tavern required crossing over the West Street bridge, the more seaward of Berwick upon Tweed’s two river crossings, where John glanced down at the swift-flowing black water as it raced under the bridge and disappeared into the mist. Even after all these years he could still reflect with satisfaction that he was in England, not Kabul, and that he could cross bridges without considering their strategic drawbacks as natural choke points and ambush sites, as he’d done with every bridge he’d ever crossed as a soldier.

The West Street bridge was one-way for vehicles and they walked against the traffic, of which there was very little. A two-foot-wide walking lane flanked each side of the main roadway, providing ample space for pedestrians. The concrete piers on which the bridge stood were spaced about thirty feet apart, and their upper surfaces extended some five feet beyond the width of the bridge itself, creating bump-outs beyond the roadway on each side, little semi-circular balconies of sorts, along the length of the bridge. They easily identified the one from which the two bicyclists had fallen into the river days earlier: A temporary roadside memorial had been created under a cone of light cast by a street lamp on the bridge’s downstream side, complete with flowers, handmade signs expressing condolences, a scattering of votive candles, none lit, and even a framed photograph of the hapless couple, taken, apparently, immediately before their plunge. The man’s arm was around the woman’s shoulders and both were smiling.

“Sad,” John said, having stopped to look.

“Sentiment,” Sherlock replied.

John turned to go, but Sherlock made no move to follow. He had gone rigid, his head tipped to one side and eyes narrowed as he peered intently at the barrier.

John knew that look. “What?”

Sherlock reached into his pocket for his glass and torch, then tossed aside a couple of bouquets and crouched next to the barrier, his nose nearly touching the vertical span of concrete as he peered at it through the glass. At last he stood up and pointed to a spot a few feet away from where he’d been looking. “John.”


“Hop up onto that railing. Carefully,” he added. “It’s slippery.”

John sighed. He could ask why, which Sherlock wouldn’t answer anyway until he was good and ready, or he could just do as he’d been asked, so he hopped up onto the concrete rail and sat with his back to the river, his feet dangling. The rail was distinctly convex, not very comfortable, slimy with lichens and algae, and thoroughly damp from the fog and mist. Sherlock had watched John’s feet intently as he climbed up. Now he sat next to him on the rail, hitched himself close, and put his arm around John’s shoulder, alarming him greatly. “What are you doing?”

“Lean forward,” Sherlock said.

“What? Why?”

Sherlock suddenly tightened his grip on John’s shoulders and leant back as though determined to plunge over the rail, startling the hell out of John, who convulsively jerked himself forward with a panicked gasp.

“Because I’m going to do that,” Sherlock said.

“Sherlock, I swear to God—”

Sherlock ignored the implied threat, hopped down, and closely examined the barrier under the section of rail where he’d been sitting while John gave serious consideration to kicking him in the head. Sherlock stood up, lifted his right foot, and used the glass to peer at the heel of his shoe. “Mm,” he said approvingly, then strode off. “Coming?” he called back at John, who sat gripping the rail with both hands, his knuckles white, glaring at Sherlock’s back, still trying to recover his breath and his equanimity.


Over supper John said, “The go-fast boat.”


“Where do you think it came from?”

Sherlock considered. “Could have been from any of the countries with North Sea coastline. Germany, Belgium, Holland: They’re all within the operating range of one of those boats. And it depends on what sort of drugs they’re smuggling, but if I were to guess—”

“And you never guess.”

“—and I never guess, I’d say Holland.”

“Have you considered—” John began.


“—that what we saw was just an undercover drug sting the cops are running?”

Sherlock shook his head and reached for another of John’s chips. “No. The police showed up well after the smuggler dropped the drugs. They never saw him throw the stuff overboard. To make a case they’d need direct visual confirmation. How can you run a sting operation if you can’t prove what the criminals are doing?”

“Oh, right,” John said thoughtfully, and reflecting on what they’d seen in the little bay reminded him of something else. “I never saw any registration numbers on those boats,” he said. “Did you?”

“Good catch,” Sherlock said. “There weren’t any. But registering a personal boat isn’t required. I don’t know about Holland, if that’s where the go-fast boat came from, but you’re right: Neither of them had registration numbers. Not that it would help us if they had,” he added crossly. “Lestrade still hasn’t gotten back about the car’s registration.” He pulled out his mobile and irritably sent another text.

“Well, we know it belongs to a cop,” John said.

“No. We know that he drives it. We don’t know who the owner is. Still, balance of probability is that the owner’s name is Jamie.”

“Got any plans on where to go with this next? I mean, we’ve got two crooked cops at a minimum, but how far up does it go? We can’t go back to the cops here, can we? To the chief, maybe?”

“No. That’s why it would be so charming if Lestrade could be bothered to reply. We need to know who we can trust with the information. The whole department could be involved.” He reached for his phone again.

“Just how shirty are you being in those texts?” John asked.

“Scale of one to ten?”


“What I’d really like to know,” Sherlock said when he’d pressed the send button, “is who owns that dog.”


A burger, chips, and a pint, plus fresh air and a six mile North Sea row: John made a mental note to recommend it to the next patient who presented with insomnia.

They were about a third of the way across the bridge when Sherlock cocked his ear at the road behind them: A diesel lorry was approaching the bridge. He heard it slow and knew by the sound of the engine and the crunch of the wheels on the asphalt that it was turning broadside to the bridge entrance. The nearby shops and businesses were closed. There was no reason for it to stop where it had: There was nothing there. Ahead of them, entering the bridge from the wrong direction, crept a car. A smile pulled at the corner of his mouth, and he said, “Oh, it’s Christmas.”

“What?” John said. He, too, had heard the lorry, but they were in a village. Villages had traffic. As with the barking dog, his brain had classed the sound as benign background noise and attached no special meaning to it, so as was often the case Sherlock’s comment appeared inexplicable.

“What’s the rule about swimming after eating?” Sherlock asked. “An hour, isn’t it?”

“Uh—I don’t…Why?” John asked. He glanced at Sherlock, then followed his gaze to the car creeping toward them. He remembered that the bridge traffic was one-way. He looked back over his shoulder and could just make out the lorry standing broadside to the bridge entrance, and what had been instantly evident to Sherlock made itself plain to John. “Shit,” he said.

“Can you swim with that arm?” Sherlock asked.

“No worries,” John said grimly, but the prospect of ending up in that cold, churning water daunted him. “Are you sure that’s our only option?”

The car stopped. The driver’s side door opened—no dome light inside—and the driver emerged, standing backlit in the headlights, his right arm held down along his thigh.

“No,” Sherlock said. “The other option is we stay here and get shot. We both know what that’s like. I didn’t enjoy it. Did you?”

“Plan?” John said.

“Upstream side,” Sherlock whispered, moving to their right. “Get hold of the pier if you can. If we get separated we’ll meet at the castle.” The gunman raised his hand. “John, now. Quickly!”

John saw the movement, too, and he was in motion even before Sherlock finished speaking. In two quick strides he was at the railing and vaulting over, but the gunman fired anyway, striking the rail not a foot away from him. Shards of concrete stung the side of his face as his hands hit the rail. He swung his legs over and pushed off hard. He’d thought himself ready, but the fall took far longer than he’d expected—a truly alarming plunge—and the featureless black water made his landing, when it came, an unpleasant shock, but he at least hit the water feet-first. As the water closed over his head the cold made him gasp and he inhaled a great mouthful of water. With a stab of panic he kicked frantically for the surface, then hit the pier with a thump as the current swept him into it. It was slimy with algae and dotted with jagged barnacles, but he clutched gratefully at it, gasping and coughing, as the force of the water held him in place.

As he bolted for the rail on John’s heels Sherlock had time to consider with approval John’s ability to take things on the half-volley. The ambush had surprised him, yet he’d recovered at once and reacted instantly. Sherlock was confident, based on John’s takeoff point, that he’d been well-positioned to reach the pier. His own departure from the bridge was less successful: his foot slipped on the railing and his descent was more fall than jump.

Sherlock was well acquainted with the effects of very cold water on the human body: How so many people lost all chance because of the body’s involuntary gasp on sudden immersion; that cold water drained body heat thirty-two times faster than cold air; that swimming and treading water sped heat loss and could shorten survival time by half. He knew all that, but when the cold water closed over his head it took all the willpower he had to prevent himself inhaling. He knew, too, that he had fallen with no hope of catching the pier, so he instead kicked downward, deeper into the water. The tide and current swept him downstream.

John heard the second shot and saw Sherlock plunge into the water an instant later. When he didn’t surface John let go of the pier and pushed off into the fast-moving stream. He knew that the smart thing was to stay where he was, but his fear for Sherlock was greater than his fear of the police, and just then he could formulate no goal but to find him at once. Letting the current sweep him off at the same rate that it was carrying Sherlock at least ensured that the distance between them would not increase.

In spite of the dark and the fog it wasn’t hard for him to make out his immediate surroundings. The fog had the effect of scattering and reflecting the village lights, so while it cut forward visibility to less than a quarter mile and soon hid him from the men on the bridge, within about a thirty-foot radius he could actually see better than he could have on a clearer, darker night. “Sherlock!” he called, as loud as he dared. No answer. “Dammit, Sherlock, not like this. Come on,” he muttered, then raised his voice again. “Sherlock!”

Sherlock counted to thirty. At five miles per hour thirty seconds would have carried him two hundred and twenty feet from his entry point: far enough, he reckoned, for the fog to conceal him from anyone on the bridge. He surfaced and sucked in a great lungful of air. “John!” he gasped, peering hard upstream. “John!”

John heard him at once, and with somewhere specific to look spotted him almost as quickly. They were in fact no more than about twenty feet apart. He surged through the water as Sherlock kicked hard against the current and they closed the gap, catching each other’s coats as they came within reach.

“Christ, Sherlock,” John gasped. “Are you okay? Are you hit?”

“Not a scratch. You?”

“Yeah, good. Well: Cold.”

Sherlock grinned. “That could be a problem,” he admitted.

John had never before had occasion to learn whether Sherlock could swim, but Sherlock handled himself in the water the way he did everywhere else: with an unconscious athletic ease. John himself had enjoyed swimming until it became part of the physical therapy routine for his injury, and he was as strong a swimmer as Sherlock, if less aesthetic. Staying afloat rather than swimming, however, was all they had to do for now so they drifted, rationing their energy and body heat, keeping tight hold on each other’s coats to keep from being separated.

“Sandbar,” Sherlock said suddenly.


“Ahead. Can’t go north. Too cold.”

John caught his meaning: They were drifting nearly due east, and he recalled that near its mouth the river turned sharply north before running east again and emptying into the North Sea. Not a problem for two strong swimmers in warmer water, but if they were carried so far in these temperatures their chances of ever making it ashore again would decrease dramatically. Already they were shivering, and John’s hands at least were so cold that he was having trouble keeping his grip on Sherlock’s coat.

They’d been in the water not quite ten minutes when Sherlock said, “The bend. Sandbar.” Pointing was out of the question-his clothes weighed him down-but John could just make out the sandbar straight ahead of them, a broad expanse of beach at low tide but now just a sliver, pale in the light of the nearby car park. They were approaching the point where the river changed direction, and now they would have to defy the current to reach the sandbar.

“Arm?” Sherlock asked.

“Five by five,” John said.

They focused on the way the water roiled, on how it felt as it churned past their bodies, and they watched the slim line of pale sand ahead, judging their drift in relation to it. At the first indication that the water was changing course they struck out, struggling not directly against the current but across it, aiming well to the right of where they wanted to land. Now that they were fighting the current rather than floating with it, the weight of their clothes, the cold seeping into their arms and chests, and the pull of the water told quickly on them. They were running out of air and time, and Sherlock had come to the uncomfortable conclusion that at their existing rate of progress the sand was too far away and the current too strong, when his foot scraped the bottom. “Now, John,” he cried, and surged forward with desperate energy. A moment later John, too, made contact with the sand. Another lunge and Sherlock could stand. He pulled John by the coat and lurched forward, and when they could both get a purchase they staggered ashore and sloshed clear of the water.

Sherlock stumbled in the wet sand and John grabbed at his coat, but Sherlock sat down heavily, pulling John down as well, and they lay there panting and shivering but grinning at each other: utterly exhausted but strangely-stupidly, John thought—elated because they had won this fight together.

“‘We’re on a walking tour,’” Sherlock gasped sarcastically when he could speak again. “‘Why don’t we walk to supper?’”

“I don’t suppose you got a good look at that car,” John replied.

“No,” Sherlock said, letting his head drop back on the sand, “but it had the jizz of a Mercedes.”


Cold and wet they may have been, but nothing could have made Sherlock happier than the fact of the police trying to kill them. He pushed himself up onto his knees and staggered to his feet, then held out his hand to John.

“Come on,” he said. “Back to the inn.”

John balked at the idea of returning to the inn. He wanted nothing more just then than a hot shower and sleep, but the police had obviously traced them from the inn to the pub. “What about the cops?”

Sherlock set off, forcing him to follow. “They think we’re dead,” he said, and refused to say another word until they got to the inn.


The Lighthouse Lodge lay a cold and miserable three-quarters of a mile over the sand and up Dock Road.

Nigel was in the front room doing the accounts on his laptop when they walked in and stood dripping on the mat, shaking with cold, and bleeding superficially but spectacularly: John from cuts made by the concrete splinters and Sherlock from a gash on his left hand that he’d never even felt.

“Dr. Watson. Mr. Holmes,” Nigel said, pleased to see them. “The polic—My God, what happened?” he cried, his amiable expression changing abruptly to alarm as he realized the state they were in.

“Skydiving accident,” Sherlock said.

“Scenic route,” John said.

Nigel hurried forward. “Well, get out of those wet clothes,” he said. “Take your coats off.” He helped them peel off the wet garments. “You have to get warm. One of you use the shower in my flat. It’s in the back.”

“Go,” John said to Sherlock. “I’ll use our room.”

“Wait,” Sherlock said imperatively. “What about the police?”

“They were here,” Nigel said.


“Just after you left for dinner.”

“What did they want?”

“I don’t know. They never really said. They wanted to look at the guest register—”

Sherlock looked at John. “They couldn’t get your name from the car tags because it’s hired,” he said, “but they saw it parked here so they had to check the register. Probably looked for the car at every other hotel in town as well.”

“How do you know they didn’t follow us from the station?” John asked, and regretted it at once. Sherlock’s impatient scowl gave him the answer: Nobody followed Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock turned to Nigel. “Did you give them access to the register?”

Nigel hesitated. “I…”

“No warrant,” Sherlock said severely, “no register.”

Nigel looked distressed. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“It’s okay, Nigel,” John told him. “The register wouldn’t tell them anything,” he said to Sherlock. “It’s my name, not yours, and even if it rang a bell, it says ‘Mister,’ not ‘Doctor.’”

“Unless Nigel told them who we are and where we were,” Sherlock said, fixing the innkeeper with an icy stare. “Did you?” He stepped in toward Nigel, and although Nigel had seen war in some of the roughest corners of the world, and although he was taller than Sherlock and heavier by far, he took a quick, involuntary step back. Sherlock further unnerved him by peering intently into his face: a machine scanning, assessing, measuring.

“No,” Nigel insisted. “I didn’t tell them anything.”

“Sherlock,” John said, as the detective continued to glare. “Nigel, it’s fine. They probably just saw us when we left here. Did they say anything else?”

“No. They just looked at the register and left.”

It was clear to John that Sherlock had satisfied himself on the point of Nigel’s veracity, but it was also clear that he was now enjoying the process of intimidating him. “Sherlock,” he said firmly. “Shower. Now.”


“Hold still,” John chided. “Don’t be so candy.”

“You’ve got hands like a longshoreman,” Sherlock complained.

“How do you know what a longshoreman’s hands feel like?”

Sherlock scowled but made a concerted effort not to fidget as John disinfected and bandaged the cut on his hand.

“There,” John said at last, applying a last scrap of tape, “you great sissy. Keep it clean and wrapped and you might pull through.”

Nigel emerged from the kitchen and placed two steaming cups of coffee before them. “Can I get you anything else, sir?” he asked John.

“Nigel, you don’t have to call me sir,” John said kindly. “We’re retired, both of us.”

“Phone,” Sherlock said peremptorily.


“We need to borrow your mobile. Ours are ruined.”

“Oh, right. Of course,” Nigel said, reaching into his pocket and handing his mobile to Sherlock, who fell to texting at once. “If you let me have yours I can see if they won’t dry out overnight,” Nigel added. “Sometimes putting them in a tin of uncooked rice can draw the moisture out.”

“Here,” John said, handing his over when he had removed the sim card. “Sherlock’s is history, but this one might be recoverable once it’s dried.”

Sherlock sent the text, then got up and took an irritable turn around the room, lost patience, and dialed the land line phone behind the front desk.

“Who are you calling?” John asked.

“Lestrade,” Sherlock said. “He hasn’t answered a single—Where the hell have you been?”

“Jesus, Sherlock,” John said, hurrying over. “Give me that.” But Sherlock wouldn’t relinquish the phone, so John raised his voice. “Greg,” he called, “I’m sorry.”

Even from where he stood on the other side of the counter John could hear Lestrade’s voice raised in anger. “You ballsy bastard. It might surprise you to know that I’m not your personal police information officer. Yes, I got your texts—about five minutes ago. All thirty-seven of them. I’ve been undercover on a case, if that’s fine with you, your highness.”

“You sent him thirty-seven texts?” John said.

“Besides the registration information on that car we need the name of a relatively honest policeman in this part of the world,” Sherlock said. “I don’t suppose any spring immediately to mind, but we’ve waited this long, so if it takes you another day or so to think of—”

“Dammit, Sherlock,” John said, and this time grabbed successfully for the phone. “Greg, I’m sorry.”

Sherlock paced agitatedly in front of the desk as John waited for Lestrade to wear himself out venting. “I know…Yes…Absolutely…You are completely right…I agree…Yes, I know…”

Today, Inspector!” Sherlock said loudly, leaning over the desk so he’d be heard. John clapped his hand over the phone and gave him The Look. The Look that said he was done messing about and that if Sherlock didn’t shut himself the bloody hell up John would do it for him. Sherlock didn’t back down—he never did that—but he saved face with, “Tell him to hurry up.”

John was getting tired of both Lestrade, who after all these years should have known better than to take Sherlock’s frustration personally, and Sherlock, who, he was perfectly aware, felt even less compunction than usual about being an arse because John was smoothing things over for him. Shouting at him, however, would not make him more complaisant. “Sherlock,” he said in a low voice. “No matter what he comes up with we can’t see anyone tonight anyway. This isn’t London. It’s not 24/7 here.” He met Sherlock’s glare until Sherlock turned away with a theatrical flounce.

“Just get the information and be quick about it.”

“Yeah, Greg,” John said, returning to the call. “Sorry. No, we’re good. Yeah. Listen, the thing is, we ran across a bit of a crime—” Sherlock threw up his hands and stalked away “—and we think the local police are involved.”

“We know they are,” Sherlock called over his shoulder, pacing again.

“Yeah,” John said, “we’ve pretty much established that they are, and we don’t know how far up it goes. If you know anyone we can take this to, preferably not in this town…Right. Yeah. Yeah. Okay, that sounds good. Good idea.” John scribbled something on a notepad. “Thanks. Uh-huh. I’ll tell him.”

“Well?” Sherlock demanded.

“We’ve been over the whole flies and honey thing, right?”

Sherlock gestured impatiently. “What did he say?

“He knows a detective in Newcastle upon Tyne but he wants to talk to her first. He’ll get back to us in the morning with her name and number. He also said that we might consider contacting the local MP tomorrow and leaving it in his hands. They’re not in session and the guy might be at home.”

“That’s it?”

“No. He also said ‘sod off.’”

“What about the car?” Sherlock cried irritably.

John glanced at his notes. “It’s registered to a Jamie Crask. Patrolman. He’s—”

“He’s a wanker,” Nigel interrupted.

Both John and Sherlock looked at him in surprise. “You know him?” John asked.

“He’s one of the cops who came by tonight. Last year he ticketed me for riding my bicycle the wrong way down an alley,” Nigel said. “It was complete pants. I’d been out all day. Rode to Whittingham and back, and just cut through the alley because it’s a shortcut to the inn. Wanker.”

“Well, I think we’re all agreed on that, then,” John said.


Keith Lennox Featherstonehaugh, MP for Berwick upon Tweed, lived in a remote farmhouse north of Seahouses but kept an office in that village, where he made himself available to constituents on an occasional basis when Parliament was out of session. In his early sixties, with white hair and a grandfatherly appearance, he had the politician’s knack of seeming to be genuinely delighted to meet two complete strangers.

“Sherlock Holmes,” he said, extending his hand across his desk. “Not Mycroft Holmes’ brother? I’ve known Mycroft for ages. How is he? What a pleasure it is to meet you. What brings you to the middle of nowhere?”

“This is my friend, Dr. John Watson,” Sherlock said, skipping the pleasantries.

“Dr. Watson, so good to meet you,” Featherstonehaugh said, shaking John’s hand. “Please, sit down, gentlemen. Can I get you anything? Coffee? No? Well, then. How can I help you? On one of your cases, are you, Mr. Holmes?”

“We’re here to report a crime that we witnessed yesterday,” John said.

“Two crimes,” Sherlock said. “A smuggling operation and our attempted murder.”

“Good heavens. You’re not serious, are you? Your literal murder?”

“Very literal,” John said.

“Very serious,” Sherlock said.

Featherstonehaugh looked puzzled. “That’s dreadful,” he said, “but I don’t understand why you’d come here. Shouldn’t you go to the police immediately?”

“Delighted,” Sherlock said, “but sadly that’s who tried to kill us.”

“This is going to sound a little nuts,” John said, “but hear us out.”

“Well, gentlemen,” Featherstonehaugh said when John finished his summary. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you for having brought this to my attention, and of course I’ll see to it that this is dealt with immediately. I’m on excellent terms with law enforcement throughout Northumberland, but I think Tyne and Wear is the place to start. We don’t want Northumberland investigating their own people, I think. I’ll start making inquiries and get back to you within the hour, even if it’s only to tell you that I haven’t gotten an answer yet. We’ll keep on top of this until it gets resolved, and I’ll keep you in the loop as well.” He scribbled down Nigel’s phone number as John read it to him, then stood up to show them out.

“Let me see you to the door,” he said, stepping out from behind the desk to shake their hands again. “And thank you, again, for stopping by. Give my best regards to Mycroft, Mr. Holmes. Dr. Watson: it was a pleasure to meet you.”


“Ugh,” John said with a shudder. “Politicians.”

“He was lying,” Sherlock said.

“I know. His lips were moving.”

“I mean he was lying about taking the case to the police.”

“How do you know?”



“Dog hair, to be exact,” Sherlock said. “From a very particular dog. That little Alsatian belongs to him. Her hair was all over his trouser legs. I didn’t see it until he stepped out from behind his desk to show us out, but it was unmistakable.”

“Oh my God,” John said, as the implications dawned. “I don’t believe this. Is anyone in the north not a smuggler? How could—wait. You only saw the dog that once in the woods, in the dark. How did you recognize her fur just now?”

“She leant up against me when I patted her, remember? If we hadn’t been swimming yesterday my jeans would still have dog hair on them.”

There was no doubt in John’s mind that Sherlock was capable of recognizing a given dog’s hair from one day to the next. He’d seen him make far more subtle connections than that. Before he could dwell further on the topic, however, Nigel’s phone pinged.

“It’s Lestrade,” John said, reading the incoming text. “His friend’s name is Joan Hector-MacFarlane. Detective Inspector. Says she’ll meet us at the inn at eleven.” A second ping. “The only cop in the village named anything like Jamie is James Crask.”

Sherlock smiled with satisfaction. “This is just too perfect,” he said. “A trained bird, a trained dog, cops, and a politician, all smuggling drugs together.”

“I don’t get it,” John said. “Featherstonehaugh is rich. What’s he doing involved in drug smuggling?”

“No data,” Sherlock said. “But if I were to speculate, I’d say there’s probably blackmail involved, too.” He used a farmhouse’s driveway to make a k-turn and headed back toward Seahouses. “Call that detective,” he said. “Tell her to meet us at Featherstonehaugh’s office, and to be quick about it.”

“What are you doing? Are we going back there?”

“We are. I want to know how even a politician can stoop so low that he co-opts a dog into drug smuggling.”


They strode back into Featherstonehaugh’s office as he was dialing his mobile. “Mr. Holmes!” he cried. “I’m so glad to see you.”

“You shouldn’t be,” Sherlock replied.

“No, truly, I am. I was just about to call you.” He showed them the phone, with Nigel’s number half-entered. “I’m sorry, but I misled you when you were here before.”

“Misled?” Sherlock said coolly.

“I lied,” Featherstonehaugh admitted. “Will you let me explain why? Please, sit down.”

Sherlock stepped to the door in the back of the room and locked it. He and John turned their chairs at an angle so they could see both Featherstonehaugh and anyone approaching from the front of the building, and waited. Featherstonehaugh was clearly nervous and made several false starts before coming out with, “I want to ‘come clean,’ as they say.”

“I’d say that’s your only hope,” Sherlock agreed. “And you had better come very clean, Mr. Featherstonehaugh. We already have most of the details of your operation. For example, I know that the Alsatian we found in the woods Tuesday night is your dog. Yes,” he added, when the politician gaped at him. “So believe me when I tell you that I will know if you are lying.”

“You’re right, Mr. Holmes. Bertie’s my dog. I’ve been letting the police use her to carry the drop coordinates for the drug shipments.”

“Tell me how they came to blackmail you,” Sherlock said.

“I was meeting a Dutch contact out on the Farnes,” Featherstonehaugh said. “I’ve always done a lot of boating—fishing—so no one ever thought anything of it when I’d go out. One of the committees I serve on has to do with fisheries and treaties in international waters, things like that, and I’ve been passing information to a man in the Dutch government. I can give you his name. The Dutch were willing to pay for the information and it wasn’t anything that could damage England, so I never felt very guilty about it. But about a year and a half ago two Berwick upon Tweed policemen happened to be out among the islands, and they saw me make the exchange with my contact. They visited me in my offices three days later—I suppose it took them that long to come up with their scheme—and threatened to go to the press. Like I said, it wasn’t damaging information, but it would have been very damaging to me politically and socially if it had come out that I was passing it on. So I went along with them. I introduced them to my contact, he introduced them to someone else, and before long they had a pipeline that brought cocaine into the country on a pretty regular basis. The contact would text me the meeting coordinates and I used Bertie to pass them along to the police.”

“What happens in the summer?” John asked. “There are tourists all over those islands. What then?”

“Nothing,” Featherstonehaugh said simply. “They have to suspend it then. The bird isn’t nocturnal, so they have to operate in daylight hours, and they can’t do without the bird. It lets them avoid having direct contact with each other, of course, and if they left the rope on a float it would risk being noticed by other people, so they submerge it, and then they need the bird to fetch it. They can’t risk being seen by all the tourists, naturally, so they just carry on in the off-season. Sometimes they use the Isle of May, but then they still have to collect the bird from the Farnes, and the Farnes have more shallow water options. The drop can’t be deeper than what the bird can dive to.”

“The names of the policemen,” Sherlock said.

“Moray Sadler. Jamie Crask,” Featherstonehaugh said without hesitation.

“Sadler trained the bird, didn’t he?”

Featherstonehaugh nodded. “His people are fishermen. For generations. He knows how to do things like that.” He wrung his hands. “I called them right after you left,” he said. “I told them who you were, that it was all up. I can’t go on with this, Mr. Holmes. Passing information about treaties…a little drug smuggling…that’s all well and good, but murder? When they admitted trying to ‘get rid of you,’ as they said, I told them I was finished, and that if they had half a brain between them they’d turn themselves in. I said they had no idea who they were up against. I was phoning you to ask for your help, Mr. Holmes. They’ve already tried to murder you and they’ve got me on the list next, I’m sure of it. I’ll give you anything else you need to know to shut them down. Anything.” Featherstonehaugh slumped in his chair, rubbing his forehead anxiously but looking less strained by far than he had when they walked in.

They looked up at the sound of a car engine and wheels on gravel and watched as Lestrade’s detective friend parked beside their car.

“‘Anything,’” Sherlock said, “will have to include repeating to this detective everything you just told us.”

“Of course,” Featherstonehaugh said, almost eagerly. “Of course.” He hesitated then, and seemed to struggle with something before coming to a decision. He reached into his coat pocket and John was on his feet in an instant, but the politician withdrew a set of keys and held it out. “Mr. Holmes,” he said. “Dr. Watson. You have no reason to do anything to help me. Still. I’ve no one else to ask. It’s Bertie. Could you see to her, please? See that she—” His voice broke, and he stopped to collect himself, looking embarrassed. “That she gets a good home?”

John took the keys from him. “We will,” he said.


Featherstonehaugh repeated his story to DI Hector-MacFarlane, who was delighted to have a high-profile prize to carry home as well as a lead on a career-making drug bust, although she prolonged the interview with so many interruptions for what even John thought were irrelevant details that Sherlock finally stalked off and waited outside. When she had handcuffed Featherstonehaugh and installed him in the back seat of her car she turned to John and Sherlock.

“Well, that was worth the drive,” she observed cheerfully.

“Listen,” John said. “The guy technically wasn’t smuggling. I mean, not really. He loaned some guys his dog a few times a month. He copped to everything when he found out how serious they were getting. That’s got to count in his favor, doesn’t it?”

Hector-MacFarlane did not look as if she agreed. “That’s not for me to decide,” she said, “but if it was I’d say that helping to funnel dozens of kilos of coke into the county every month is a serious offence no matter how the assistance is rendered.”

“Mycroft,” Sherlock said in aside to John. The name meant nothing to the DI, but John understood it as an assurance that Sherlock would make sure his brother mitigated Featherstonehaugh’s penalty.

“Well, gentlemen,” Hector-MacFarlane said briskly, “I’ll be off.” She extended her hand to Sherlock and said, “Mr. Holmes.”

Sherlock looked down at her hand but kept his own hands clasped behind his back and said, “Boring.”

“What?” she asked, taken aback.

“The gratitude part. You can express that better by keeping our names out of it, Detective Inspector. When the police make a complete hash of the investigation and Sadler and Crask are smuggling again in a fortnight, no one will associate us with the debacle.”

“Sherlock,” John said in disbelief.

She regarded him coolly. “Greg said you were a great detective. And an even greater arsehole. Goodbye, Mr. Holmes. Dr. Watson.” She turned away and they watched her drive off.

John sighed. “Why did you do that?”

“Oh, please. You knew Lestrade would tell her that. How could I disappoint them both? Do try to think of others for once, John.”


It was just past lunchtime when they returned to the inn and packed up their things. John handled the check-out procedure with Nigel while Sherlock carried their cases out to the car. He returned with Bertie on a lead.

“What a beautiful dog,” Nigel cried when he saw her. He bent over and patted his knee in invitation.

Bertie glanced up at Sherlock. “Ugh. If you must,” he sighed, and she trotted over to Nigel to make his acquaintance.

Nigel patted her kindly. “Who’s your friend?” he asked.

“That’s John,” Sherlock said, as though he were speaking to an idiot. “I thought you were clear on that. Oh. You mean the dog.”

“This is Prinzessin Adelberta von Gruner,” John said grandly. “But she thinks that’s pretentious, so you can call her Bertie.”

“Where did you get her? She’s not yours, is she?”

“She was involved with the case,” John said. “She was part of a drug smuggling gang.”

Nigel frowned. He glanced at Sherlock, but Sherlock didn’t give him any more than he ever had, so he went back to John. “You’re kidding. A dog? Involved in a crime?”

“It would seem so,” said Sherlock superciliously. “Dogs lacking free will, however, they aren’t typically named in criminal complaints, so she was free to go.”

Nigel looked at John for clarification.

“It’s a long story,” John said, “but you’ll be able to read about it on the blog.”

“I very much doubt that,” Sherlock muttered.



“Nigel,” John said. “Bertie’s owner is going to prison. I know the inn keeps you busy, but we don’t know anyone else here, and we really can’t leave her with a shelter. Call us pushovers, but we just can’t. Do you know anyone who can look after her?”

Sherlock was watching Nigel closely. “Nigel will look after her,” he said. “Won’t you.”

“Yes,” Nigel said, eagerly and at once. “Absolutely. Of course I will. Of course.” Sherlock tossed the end of the lead to him.

John leant down and stroked Bertie’s silken head as she tried to lick his face. “Be a good dog,” he told her.

“All dogs are good,” Sherlock said like a pronouncement, his eyes on Bertie now. “They aren’t like people.”

“Mr. Holmes,” Nigel began, “thank you so—” but Sherlock cut him off by handing him an envelope.

“Open that when we’ve gone,” he said brusquely, turning on his heel. “Come on, John.”

Bertie trotted to the end of the lead and looked anxiously after him, and John gave her a reassuring pat. She’d have followed Sherlock if she could, but he knew that she would be happy with Nigel, too.

Nigel didn’t even register the envelope, so overwhelmed was he by the gift of Bertie. Thwarted in his attempt to thank Sherlock, he turned to John and grasped his hand in both of his. “Dr. Watson. Thank you. Thank you so much. She’s beautiful, look at her: Look at her eyes—so clever. Your blog…Mr. Holmes…It’s true, isn’t it, all those things you say about him, that he can see what other people can’t.”

John wasn’t following Nigel’s meaning at all, but he realized with dismay that he was on the verge of tears. “Uh…well—”

“It’s been such an honor to meet you, sir. The next time you stay it will be on the house.”

“The next time we stay you have to stop calling me ‘sir,’” John said, smiling. “My name is John.”

“I’ll try,” Nigel said. “But I know what you did and I know what Mr. Holmes is.” He looked down at Bertie, who gazed back and thumped her tail.

“Yeah, about Mr. Holmes,” John said. “I’m sorry about all that. He can be a little…tense. And intense.”

“No, sir, no: It was an honor to meet you both. Really. Besides, you know what they say: ‘Better a flawed diamond than a perfect pebble.’”


In the car John turned to Sherlock and said, “I knew you could make women cry, but not grown men. How did you know he’d be so happy to keep her?”

“I observed, John.”

A sigh. “Okay. Observed what?”

“In his flat. On the bookcase. A black nylon leash, quite worn, and a collar, same condition. No bowls or stray hairs that would indicate a dog currently in residence. Then of course there was the photograph of Nigel in uniform with his sentry dog. A malinois. Not hard to connect those dots.”

“His ‘buddy,’” John realized. “Of course.” He smiled, reached into his pocket and withdrew a little notebook, on which he pantomimed scribbling. “Well, what’s the score? The docent, the detective, and the criminals all hate you, but Nigel’s still a fan. And Bertie likes you, so you probably aren’t evil right through. That’s two in favor-”

“And of course dogs’ judgement is unerring,” Sherlock said dryly. “I really don’t know why they don’t seat them on juries more often.”

“Shedding and black robes not a good mix?” John suggested. “What was that you gave to Nigel?”

“A dog.”

“Not that, you tosser. The envelope.”

“Oh. That detective’s phone number and a clue.”

“A clue to what?”

“Those cyclists who fell into the river a couple days ago.”


“Not an accident. It was a murder-suicide.”

“What? Seriously? So that’s what all the ’sit on the rail’ stuff was about?”


“What made you think it was suspicious?”

“A scuff mark on the barrier. The same sort of mark I made when I pushed backward when we sat there. That mark was made by someone pushing off for the purpose of going over the rail. The concrete scraped the heel of my shoe as I braced myself: If the murderer’s body ever surfaces and if his shoe’s still intact, the police should be able to match the marks on the barrier with the ones on the shoe. Not likely, I admit, but even if they never find the body, chances are they’ll find some evidence of trouble in paradise if someone tells them to look. People almost always telegraph those things, you know.”

“And you want Nigel to give that information to the police?”

A shrug. “He was keen to help. It keeps our names out of it. And now he’ll get a cameo in your next blog post, I imagine. Which will have to be about the cyclists, by the way, not the politician.”

Dismay. “What? Why? That’s a great story. A trained bird, a trained dog-”

“A trained politician. I think Mycroft will have something official to say about that.”




Sherlock turned onto the main road to Carlisle and John gazed out of the window, and as his thoughts ran on to the events of the last two days he smiled to himself: He should have found it alarming to be riding in a car with a self-confessed sociopath, and yet somehow he wasn’t the least concerned. Sherlock waged an unceasing and largely successful campaign to convince people that he was unfit for human companionship. He wanted so desperately to be above it all, to be more than human, and yet everything about him was human to the last degree: his intelligence, his reason—and his emotions. The most human human being John had ever known. A great many people believed that Sherlock was a sociopath, but every now and then he ran into a Nigel or a Bertie or a John, who knew better.

John turned away from the window, still smiling. “You know what I think?” he said.

“Very often.”

“I think there’s nothing wrong with Bertie’s judgement.”


They were halfway to Carlisle when John’s phone rang. “Hey, it works,” he said, quite pleased. He was somewhat less pleased when he recognized the number. “It’s Mycroft.” He pressed the speaker button and set the phone on the dash. “Hello?”

“Why does everything you two do have to devolve into a Hardy Boys adventure?” Mycroft demanded. “Why can’t you holiday like normal people?”

“What would you know about normal people?” Sherlock asked.

“Hi, Mycroft,” John said cheerily.

“All you had to do was drive around and look at rubble,” Mycroft said irritably. “Can you not manage even that without tearing down and trampling on two years of my work?”

“How do you mean?” John asked, and they grinned at each other.

“I mean Keith Lennox Featherstonehaugh,” Mycroft snapped. “He was a valuable asset and a reliable vote. In exchange for that, yes, we allowed him to carry on passing small amounts of information to the Dutch. Information which we controlled. Information about fish,” he added, “if that isn’t too offensive to your finely tuned senses of justice.”

“Oh, please,” Sherlock sneered. “He was a perfectly common politician. Train yourself a new one tomorrow and stop whinging about it.”

“He was materially assisting a drug smuggling operation, Mycroft,” John said, a little more put out about it than Sherlock. “We stumbled onto that accidentally. We didn’t set out to snare the guy. I just wanted to look at castles.”

“And when you discovered the smugglers I’m sure you did everything in your power to dissuade my brother from pursuing them,” Mycroft replied coldly. “Both of you lit up like schoolboys with a frog in a jar.”

John and Sherlock tittered, angering Mycroft still more. “You two have no idea, do you, how much extra work you’ve caused me over this?”

“Nor care,” Sherlock replied.

“Why don’t you text us a list of all the criminals in northern England who you’d like us not to have arrested?” John suggested.

“But dial John’s phone,” Sherlock added. “Your asset’s friends ruined mine when they tried to murder us.”

John ended the call before Mycroft could get another word in and pocketed the phone.

Sherlock drove on, smiling to himself. Any day that ended in profound irritation for his brother was a good day. Then he frowned and turned to John. “Who are the Hardy Boys?”

You loaded this page on Friday, 22 March 2019, at 4:04 pm EDT;
it was last modified on Friday, 13 April 2018, at 6:32 pm EDT.

Search this site:

(the usual Google search rules apply)

Site Info

Comments? Criticisms? Questions?

Please, e-mail us by clicking here.

(Or, if you cannot email from your browser, send mail to

All content copyright © 2014 - 2019 Bullpup Press LLC

(excepting any quoted material, which is believed to be Fair Use).

This web page is strictly compliant with the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium)
Extensible HyperText Markup Language (XHTML) Protocol v1.0 (Transitional).
Click on the logo below to test us!

---=== end of page ===---