After Moriarty's trial, the troubled souls within the M25 continued to show up at Sherlock’s door. This one is going to be the real Trial of the Century, they would say before bringing out a photo of a lost dog or misplaced spouse.
John and Mrs Hudson, with the occasional help of Lestrade, were responsible for moving these prospective clients along, reminding them that if Stu was having it off with Joanna, then his current location really wasn’t a mystery and a private, rather than consulting, detective was a better choice if a camera in the shrubbery was needed.
The latest client showed more promise. He’d been in Afghanistan at the same time as John and knew some of the same people, always a sign of reliability. Sherlock was less impressed.
“Your colleague didn’t come in and you think he’s missing because…” Sherlock said, his voice trailing off in a fog of boredom.
“It’s not normal, my office is usually strict, know what I mean,” the client said.
“I’ve no idea because you haven’t really told me anything. A project manager, heading up a project you can’t remember anything about, hasn’t been seen in two days.”
The client gave an apologetic half-smile. “I have his keys, you could take a peek round his flat.”
“So could Scotland Yard. Despite their reputation, they’re perfectly capable of opening a door if they’ve been given a key.” Keys. An unpleasant reminder of that last conversation.
The client took out his mobile. “This is Freddie.”
Freddie grinned at the camera. He had the kind of messy hair that is best attempted by those with an expensive education and the amiable good health of a man who never remembers his dreams. In the background, turned slightly away, a familiar profile, the figure that had been haunting Sherlock for months.
“Who do you work for?” Sherlock asked, the coldness in his voice hiding his sudden interest.
“He wanted to stay out of it, anyway, he doesn’t know more than I do,” the client said, taking his mobile back. He hit speed dial.
“Hey, boss, it’s me. Sorry, Moran here, there’s a little problem, your consulting detective doesn’t feel like consulting. No, I didn’t threaten him with torture. Most people don’t do their best work that way, know what I mean. Hold on, I’m putting you on speaker.”
“Hi, Sherlock.” There was no mistaking that voice.
Jim Moriarty. It was as if the fate that bound them, usually worn lightly, it had snapped taut with a sharp pain.
“What do you want?”
“Didn’t Sebastian fill you in? One of my direct reports has gone missing and I’d like him back. Owing to the recent contretemps, I’ve been streamlining my organisation, so I don’t have the staff I need to deal with it myself. Sebastian is very good at shooting things, but that’s all he’s good at, and if Freddie is tied up in the wine cellar at the Diogenes Club, I’m afraid the retrieval would end with half of the current government lying in pools of their own blood. No offense, my dear.”
“None taken, boss.”
“Sherlock, if you do me this little favour, I promise you that when the time comes,” his voice dropped to a velvet purr, “I will kill you quickly and make certain that your body is left in a state where John won’t be too traumatised when he identifies it.”
“I’ll take the case,” Sherlock said. “Not because of your threat, although it was fairly good, but it—”
“It will annoy your brother,” Jim finished his sentence. “I should’ve started with that one, shouldn’t I? I’ve been in this business too long. In the old days, I would’ve started out threatening some broken fingers, kneecaps, now I go straight to murdering you and your gran.” He sighed deeply, and to Sherlock’s well-trained ears, it almost sounded sincere.
The business card: Fred Porlock, Dynamic Innovative Enterprises
Sherlock wondered if Moriarty’s employees were allowed to create their own company names, but he had a feeling these theatrical touches were all Jim Moriarty.
Jim apologised for the interruption and set his mobile to silent.
“Everything alright, Rich?” his director (and co-star) asked.
“Right as it can be.”
One thing Jim loved about theatre people was their complete self-involvement. No one ever noticed that he wasn’t Richard Brook all the time. He sometimes forgot to wear Richard Brook’s glasses and his cheerful anecdotes about drama school were often contradictory.
Jim cleared his throat and picked up where he’d been when Moran had called.
“Hallo! Why all these cups?” He stopped next to the table. “Why cucumber sandwiches? Why such extravagance in one so young?”
“ Reckless extravagance, and you don’t need to actually point at the sandwiches,” his director (and co-star) said.
“Right, thanks.” He replaced pointing at the sandwiches with tilting his head and looking thoughtful. “Why such reckless extravagance in one so young? Who is coming to tea?”
Sherlock decided to take his own advice and ask Scotland Yard if any bodies that could be a missing project manager had appeared recently. Unfortunately, Lestrade was out. He had inconsiderately taken charge of a case that sounded remarkably dull, and Donovan had not only refused to let him wait in Lestrade's office, she had made some rude noises in his direction when he suggested the dull cases could be left to a constable with a smartphone.
Mycroft tried to be elusive, more from habit than from a real desire to avoid his brother, but Sherlock threatened to send a flash mob into the Diogenes, a threat that worked despite Mycroft spending the past decade deliberately forgetting about trends like that.
“You have five minutes, and if you really need something, I’d advise you not to waste them trying to be clever.” Mycroft didn’t look at Sherlock, and he attempted to appear busy by moving a file from the left side of his desk to the right.
Sherlock set the mobile phone in front of him. “Missing persons case. The one in red trousers, possibly worked for you at some point, or at least he looks the type.” He watched his brother glance at the photo, and there it was, a small, barely perceptible movement of his throat that said his guess had hit the mark.
“The people who are looking for him say his name is Fred Porlock.”
“He said he was leaving to do some security work for a venture capital firm,” Mycroft finally said. “At the time, I was preoccupied with watching your little escapade with Jim Moriarty play out, so I was not as attentive to his movements as I should have been. Has something happened to him?”
The undercurrent of genuine concern surprised Sherlock. “It turns out that he’s part of that escapade. Moriarty is the one looking for him, said that they’ve been working together for years.”
“If that’s the case, then it’s very unlikely that anything he has ever said to me is true,” Mycroft said. He turned to his computer and brought up a file. “I’m going to pretend you can’t see my screen as I work.”
Fred Porlock’s employment records: good schools, but left university under a cloud, recommended to Mycroft by a professor who may have had ulterior motives, no notable projects, not a high security clearance, spent his days being cheerful and helpful, and spent the occasional night out.
“Sherlock, I feel as if I should ask why you’ve gone from trying to put Jim Moriarty in prison to helping him. If this is part of a larger strategy, be careful.”
Any warning to Sherlock was likely to be taken as incentive, but Mycroft had to try.
Fred lived in a new flat in Croydon. A new building in a cluster of new buildings, gentrification shaking off the seediness without a worry as to the damage done. Sherlock didn’t think he was likely to find anything at Fred’s, especially if Jim’s people (second best people) had turned it over; in a fit of complete honesty, he admitted to himself that he liked going through other people’s homes and seeing how normal people lived.
The flat was empty in a way that suggested two jobs had kept Fred too busy to truly enjoy any ill-gotten gains. Nothing appeared to be missing, which supported Jim’s belief that the absence was not voluntary. The only hint as to Fred’s unorthodox employment was a drawer with around six mobile phones and a handful of SIM cards.
Sherlock studied a splinter that had fallen next to the door.
“I’m Fred Porlock. I have a something in the door to tell me if someone has been inside. I slip off my shoes, pull out a weapon, probably a gun. I point my gun inside, nobody. I step in, nobody. I move toward the kitchen, nobody. I hear a noise, turn around…” Sherlock bent down and examined a faint discolouration, a spot that had been scrubbed until it was too clean. “One was in the flat, one was waiting below.” This wasn't Mycroft. His men wouldn’t have gone for subtlety. They liked to pounce on their prey as they exited a building and bundle them into a car.
Footprints, hair, good old-fashioned door-to-door. Did you see a car? No? A futile line of inquiry, but with a little tweaking, his questions succeeded. They hadn’t seen any cars or taxis, but they were eager to discuss the ambulance. They’d all watched the nice young man in the upstairs flat being carried out, and they hoped there was nothing seriously wrong.
An ambulance. Obvious and simple. Sherlock’s mind raced through the possibilities. Where do ambulances go? A&E, a private clinic, he liked the idea of a private mental hospital, but that seemed unlikely. Somewhere abandoned. NHS budget cuts, closures. He settled on three strong maybes.
Sherlock considered returning to Scotland Yard. By now Lestrade and his sidekicks should have nothing better to do than chase down leads for him, especially ones that could end in a media-friendly solve. However, this afternoon wasn't the first time Lestrade had been unhelpful. Last week, Sherlock had stopped by Lestrade’s office with a very simple and reasonable request, five minutes alone with a file, and Lestrade had had the nerve to say he was too busy. If he was too busy to share some paperwork, it was unlikely that he would send any constables Sherlock’s way.
Sherlock arranged his three maybes on his mental map. One was too far from London, one was too close, one was here in Croydon.
Jim took a deep breath and relaxed his shoulders. For heaven’s sake, don’t try to be cynical. It’s perfectly easy to be cynical. His Richard Brooks accent was slipping and his director (and co-star) had said not to point at things, but hadn’t actually said what he should do with his hands. What did people do with their hands? Let them dangle at his side? That seemed improbable.
There was a knock at the door, and before he could respond, it was pushed open and a large man came through, followed by one who was comically smaller.
“Richard Brook?” the large man asked. He was wearing a dark jacket that fit wrong, as if he'd had a sudden growth spurt on his way in from the car park.
Jim arranged his face so that he looked as actorly as possible. “If you don’t mind, I’m rehearsing.”
The smaller man waved Jim’s headshot at him. “D’ya know what this is?”
“Do you want me to sign it?”
“We found it in the office of the late James Moriarty. What’s he to you?” the smaller man continued as if Jim hadn’t spoken.
The late James Moriarty? This was unexpected. “I’ve never heard that name before.”
“Yeah, we’ve heard that one.”
“Lot of memory problems out there,” the bigger man said.
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way,” the smaller man said. “The easy way, you come with us, you tell us everything you know, and then you do for us what you used to do for him. Do you want to hear about the hard way?”
“You don’t want the hard way,” the bigger man said, helpfully.
Jim stared at the two men, faintly embarrassed by their clichéd dialogue and gangster film posturing. He’d always prided himself on promoting originality and style in his clients and contractors, and now it seemed that the person who was taking over his business simply didn’t have the same eye for detail.
He took off Richard Brook’s glasses and carefully placed them back in their case. “I must admit, I am terribly curious about the hard way,” he said.
Jim woke up, shoulders, knees, back all screaming at him for his curiosity. He examined his prison cell: cement walls, no window, a cot with a few springs broken. He closed his eyes. Someone would be along, the men who had taken him or ones who were so similar as to be indistinguishable. It didn’t matter. All those years he’d spent surrounded by security, hard men who were eager to shoot at the slightest twitch, and now he was going to be killed just as the game was ending, when he was not himself. Richard Brook, occasional doctor on the telly and posho on the stage, soon to be decomposing in a suburban skip. We know what we are now, but not what we may become, as they say.
A steady tapping caught his attention.
Was it a trap? A memory came to mind of a young boy in an endless Sunday afternoon, curled up with an adventure book of WWII, imagining himself sending secret messages through the wire. He forced his thoughts back to the present before they could turn down a darker path.
SOS SOS SOS
HI, Jim responded.
There was a pause.
WHO ARE YOU, Jim tapped.
Jim started to laugh. Had Sherlock failed or succeeded? Either way, they had ended in the same place.
SHERLOCK HOLMES WHO ARE YOU
OH SWEETIE YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE IT
Jim started tapping again. JUST WHEN I THOUGHT I WAS OUT THEY PULL ME BACK IN
Jim began to regret his honesty. He’d assumed Sherlock would find the whole situation as amusing as he did. Side by side again, like they had been during the trial, the invisible string of fate slowly pulling them together.
PORLOCK IS DEAD HUMAN CHESS FIGHT TO THE DEATH
The words made little sense. Fighting to the death, he’d organised such events before, and poor Freddie wasn’t very likely to survive a contest of that nature, but the rest confused him.
WHAT HUMAN CHESS, Jim tapped and waited for a response. There was a yell in the hallway, and then the door to his cell swung open. Sherlock was holding out part of the frame of the cot as a weapon. His hair was wildly disheveled and he was breathing heavily.
“Before you come out, I need to know if you set this up,” Sherlock growled.
“Fancy meeting you here.”
“No tricks, Moriarty. Is this your game?”
Jim shook his head. “I have been preparing another little game for you, but this isn’t me. I’m not even me right now.” He took out his glasses, miraculously unbroken. “Tell me about Freddie. What is this human chess nonsense?”
Sherlock lowered the rusty bar. “There’s an arena, a ring somewhere in this building. The players call out the moves, and the audience bets on each fight.”
“How is there anything to bet on if the outcome of a move is determined by the rules? If I’m a bishop and I move to a square that has a pawn, how is there any uncertainty?"
“In a real chess game, the bishop would take the pawn. In this one, the bishop fights the pawn and there's a possibility that the pawn will win. Can the pawn win in the end? No, so punters are not only placing bets on the outcome of each fight, but they are betting on how many ‘bishops’ will be sent out before the pawn goes down and the game can continue.”
“How do you know what happened to Freddie?”
“I was taken down to the ring last night as an alternate pawn. Fred Porlock was the bishop. White called out bishop takes bishop, the fighter representing the white bishop was sent out, and then another one. The third one brought him down.”
“Three? A round of applause for poor Freddie. He was great with a handgun, but not so good at the hand-to-hand.”
“I suppose you should know that he was loyal to you until the end. They asked him if he wanted to join up with their new organisation, and he told them to get stuffed.”
“What a gratuitous and extravagant display of power. Some pawn who has seen to many James Bond films, has decided to advance to Queen.” Jim sighed. “Little do they know, heavy lies the head and all that. When you were waiting, did you see who was calling White and Black.”
Sherlock shook his head.
“I have some thoughts about what we should do next. As my captors might ask, do you want to do this the easy way, or the hard way?”
Jim already knew what Sherlock’s answer would be. Sherlock could always be relied on to choose the way that was the most fun.
There was a brief disagreement about who was going to be the guard and who was going to be the unfortunate chess piece. Sherlock argued that he should be the guard because he was taller, and then he changed his mind and declared that he should be the chess piece because he was the better fighter. Both of these facts were true. Jim tended to rely on a reptilian intensity, rather than an imposing physicality when he needed to be threatening, and he wasn’t that great at fighting. The list of combat skills on Richard Brook’s CV was as aspirational as his claim to speak fluent Basque.
"We're going to find out who is calling the moves, we're not actually going to fight," Jim argued. He called on his recent theatrical training and assumed an aggressive stance, one that was fitting a major piece like a rook.
Their ploy got them as far as the stairwell on the floor below. Two guards drew their guns as soon as they saw Jim and Sherlock approach, but Sherlock wasn’t exaggerating his combat skills. He disarmed one of them, sending the gun skidding directly to Jim’s waiting hand.
“You, hand your gun over, good boy. Sherlock, why don’t we have these charming young men take us to their leader.”
The two guards started to protest.
“Black’s not here, he’s playing online,” one said.
“And is White here?” Sherlock asked. “Someone is running the show.”
Sherlock and Jim both saw the look the guards exchanged.
“Right, we only need one of you.” Jim pointed his gun at the first guard’s head. He started to sniffle. Wife, new baby, don’t kill me, I won’t tell nobody nothing. Under normal circumstances, Jim would have shot him on principle, this kind of snivelling was unacceptable in a professional, but Sherlock’s expression was tinged with pity.
“If you don’t want your friend’s brains all over the wall, I would suggest you tie him up, and tie him well—no sneaking around behind us,” Jim said.
As they moved through the corridors, they heard a new game begin. Knight—F—3, the command echoed through the tannoy.
Jim glanced at Sherlock. He recognised the voice, but it looked as if Sherlock hadn't.
The guard led Jim and Sherlock down another staircase and opened an unmarked door to a surgery observation deck. There was another guard directly inside, but he clearly lacked commitment to his chosen career. As soon as he saw the guns in Sherlock and Jim’s hands, he threw down his own weapon and scrambled past them.
“I hope that was one of White’s men, and not one of mine that he'd recruited. What a shocking lack of training,” Jim said.
He pushed the guard they’d taken hostage inside, waited for a gunshot or other sign of additional security, then stepped in himself, followed by Sherlock.
“Your turn is over,” Sherlock announced. He froze, staring at White.
Their escape from the hospital was a fever dream of endless corridors, running without moving, the way it happens in nightmares, finally breaking out into the cold October night, no money, no mobile, the way back far too long.
"Can I come with you," Jim asked.
He could see that Sherlock was angry, and it was fascinating. All through the trial, Jim had hoped that Sherlock was going to be different, was going to pull the hidden card from his sleeve, spring the trap, do something other than let justice take its predictable course. Now Sherlock was angry and he wanted to see how beautiful that anger could become.
He followed Sherlock into the flat and into the shower, letting the water wash away the confusion of their journey back. Their first real kiss came after, Jim reaching up, fingers tracing the faint lines beaten in by exhaustion, tenderly touching his lips and finding the wildness he'd been searching for.
It took them a while to sort it out, the unpredictability of desire, an urge for conquest that refused to be sated. Sherlock gasped his name into Jim’s skin, and again when their positions were reversed. It was nearly dawn when they returned to themselves and started to remember.
“I’m more than a little offended that a policeman who falls asleep while watching Strictly Come Dancing thinks he can take over my criminal consultancy,” Jim said. He felt Sherlock unfold himself, physical contact diminishing.
“It explains the dramatics and the poor showing by the guards,” Sherlock finally said. He sat up abruptly, and Jim realised he was still angry. “He said, who will believe you, the look on his face.”
“You do lose some credibility when the phrase ‘human chess’ is uttered.”
“Lestrade's made enemies over the years, when they hear about this—”
“Who will believe you? I, we can settle this ourselves."
“I want justice, not…”
“I would have thought your experience with my trial might have soured you a bit on the whole justice scene. Don’t worry, Sherlock, I'll give you justice wrapped up with a bow.”
Jim watched Sherlock wrap himself in a dressing gown before leaving the room. This interlude was almost enough to make him reconsider the little entertainment he’d been arranging for Sherlock. Perhaps this problem would turn out to be fiendishly complicated, one that could keep Sherlock by his side and keep himself going for a little while longer. He could endlessly postpone that Sunday afternoon feeling and the thoughts he had built a life around avoiding.
Told JM you were dead
Sherlock set his mobile back in its charger.
He had said stay and Jim had stayed, but Jim couldn't be trusted, not ever, and Sherlock knew that he had to be prepared. This knowledge carried with it a certain comfort as he anticipated the many lies that would be necessary for last night to repeat itself. He hesitated in the doorway as the room became light.