Word count for Chapter Two: 3,600+
Word count so far: 6,900+
It was a smallish house among a row of nearly identical smallish houses. The neighborhood was close enough to the downtown area, where they’d been previous renters, to be fashionable, but far enough away to be qualified as decent. Two floors, one and a half bath, two bedrooms and now, two occupants.
Molly jumped out of her car onto the driveway concrete and into the brisk, late September air. She dangled the new house keys. “It’s perfect!” She exclaimed. Her passenger, however, lingered inside for a moment before finally emerging. He looked the house up and down and then he glanced up and down the street. The wind blew back his dark, curly hair and caught the hem of his long black coat.
“As you’ve said,” he replied and then added, “several times.”
“You should have come see it before, when I signed the lease—”
“I detest realtors,” he said quite dispassionately. If anyone had walked by at that moment they would have seen a man exercising the muscles in his face that were rationed only for ‘fullest disdain.’
Molly giggled. The look on her companion’s face fell and he turned to her, a twitch of confusion marking his strong features. “What?”
“Only, well, you look terrified,” she said in a low voice with a confidential smile.
“That was not a terrified face,” he said a little defensively, his back straightening. “It was a contemptuous one.”
“I know all your faces and the contemptuous one is the bored one. That was your terrified face.” After months of sharing the same living space, Molly Hooper was a certified expert on his moods.
He sighed in a mild concession of defeat. She took his hand and said, “Come on, then.” He allowed himself to be pulled forward. “You big baby,” she added. “It’s so much better than the flat.”
“I hope by that you mean there are fewer cockroaches.”
A moving truck rolled up the street and into the parking space in front of the house. Molly waved to the men, signaling that they could start loading the things inside. She and her companion entered the small foyer. To the right was the family room, to the left was a small library and to the back were the kitchen and the half bath loo. Upstairs was the pair of bedrooms and—
“Tada!” She said, turning on the light in what had previously been a large storage space. Molly had converted it into a laboratory complete with a compact refrigerator. On a steel table at center was his microscope. “Moved it in this morning before you woke up.”
He looked around the very workable space and wasn’t exactly sure what he was feeling much less what he could actually say or if he was to say anything at all. Molly saw what qualified as his mute gratitude and beamed. She pointed to the freezer. “Now you have one for yourself. No more . . . pieces left in the big one . . . that I’ll accidentally cook.”
“Sorry about that, again.”
“Cooked, but not eaten. That’s the positive side of the story.” She nodded and said quietly, “Focus on the positive.” She sighed. “Of course, I would have immediately been able to tell the difference—”
“—if you hadn’t ground it.”
They both stood in the small lab in an awkward silence. They’d agreed they’d never be able to look at lasagna the same way again. He lied about that and she knew he had, but, focus on the positive.
“We’ll need a bit more furniture,” she said, changing the subject.
“Larger space; goes without saying.”
“Sir? Ma’am? Where do you want—?”A voice from below stairs called out.
Molly went out and leaned over the balustrade. “Don’t worry, we’ll sort it when you’re done.” The mover seemed glad at that and moved with a kitchen box towards the kitchen, secure in the freedom that he could put it anywhere. She turned back to her companion who leaned against the laboratory doorframe.
“Ma’am,” she said, curling up her nose. “When did that happen?”
“He assumes we’re together. Logical conclusion.”
After the time they’d spent together and managing to break down the wall that seemed to eternally be between them, Molly no longer blushed at the idea that they’d be mistaken as a couple. Not that she didn’t still care about him, she did, and perhaps more than she did before if that were possible but it was different now. Somehow it had mutated into something far more intimate and conversely, eternally more innocuous.
She laughed. “No one ever assumes you’re my brother.” She now understood what John had gone through with him.
He frowned. “Not just genetically impossible but the physicality negates the consideration. Surely you see that?”
“No,” she said, no longer afraid to be blunt about that. “You don’t look like Mycroft.”
He grinned, “And you’re female. That’s not the point. A phenotype here or there doesn’t make up for the speech pattern, mannerisms, gait, gestures, in short, things siblings mimic from one another. No one would ever believe you were my sister.”
Molly pursed her lips and looked down to the floor.
Now he was confused. Had he done it again? After their first three days of close quarters living and her falling to sleep in tears, he requested of her that she throw up some sort of a signal when he was heading too deeply into ‘asshat’ territory. Since then she’d always carried around two cards in her pockets: a yellow and a red. Looking at her now, he didn’t know if he’d blindly wandered into a thicket of yellow or red.
She hummed before popping the collar up on her beige coat and she sucked in her cheeks. She narrowed her eyes and arched a brow. Dropping the tenor of her voice she said, “Lookit. We’re twins.”
He let out an exasperated sigh as she giggled.
“Now I just need the hat.”
“I hated that hat,” he seethed with true resentment.
“I liked it,” she said, but she hadn’t really. Covered him up too much she thought.
“Never again, in my life.”
She leaned over and whispered, “Good thing you’re dead then.”
With a grin, he leaned in towards her, raising his own collar in turn and whispering back, “And here I remain: The Ghost of Sher—” she quickly put a hand to his mouth, a terrified look in her eyes. He hadn’t yet swept the house for bugs. Their mobile phones lay in pieces in their respective pockets, the batteries kept out of the casings only until they absolutely needed to call one another. Trigger words set off surveillance protocols and that name was one of the harder triggers.
He closed his eyes, silently berating himself. Molly moved her hand from his lips. He nodded. He’d never been paranoid by nature. Observant and suspicious, yes, but horrified of his surroundings? No. It was a steep learning curve for someone as confident as he was. He could still hear John’s voice in his memory saying, ‘he’s a bomber, remember,’ when his confidence could have gotten him killed.
“The Ghost of David Hooper,” he amended.
Her nose curled at that. “Still don’t think it works. You having my name. If not my brother then you’d have to be my husband and if you thought no one would believe we’re brother and sister what do you think they’ll say if I told people you were my husband?” She laughed at that but there was a lingering something in her voice.
“Hmm. I expect they’d say, ‘he is a very lucky man.’”
Her eyes widened and her mouth opened and closed one or two times before he frowned and seemed to consider something before adding, “I saw that in a film once.”
She shoved him, “Ass.” But she was smiling.
He gestured to her left hand, “All kidding aside. You’re right. I will have to get you a set if we’re to sell this properly.” With a nod he walked past her and to the staircase.
“A set?” She asked in confusion. “A set of what?”
“Rings. Engagement and wedding rings. Clearly,” he replied with a frown as if that had been obvious before he disappeared down the stairs.
“Clearly,” she repeated in a mumble.
Molly looked to her hand and blanched. Sherlock Holmes was going to buy her a wedding ring.
I packed an overnight bag and left a note for Harry on the freezer. The note said as much as it could which really wasn’t anything at all. We managed to get our train in time, it being the last non-stop out of Euston for the night. We didn’t attempt conversation; Greg simply passed over the files so I could more thoroughly go over them. The Ghost of Manchester. I could only imagine how much he would have hated that. He’d had an oversized ego but he detested presumption. There was a pomposity to the name I couldn’t really identify, even in the description of the acts that had been attributed to this ‘Ghost’ that made me feel I had less to fear in my latter concerns than I’d thought.
My friend had never presumed to be some kind of a hero. He had never been in the game for glory but rather for the puzzle. Additionally, I only realized later, after so much bad had been said about him and how much he had previously distanced himself from people, how easy it would have been for him to actually have been a Moriarty. It would have been a natural fit with his misanthropy. It was on realizing that that I knew he wasn’t a hero to anyone but me because it was just then, seeing the way they’d built him up and then tore him down and how he’d never cared because he never respected that aspect of people to begin with that I could really identify that thing in him, that true and honest moral thing in him that separated him from people and their general pettiness but also that thing in him that couldn’t tolerate those that harmed them.
Mycroft had said it before: that mind of his was that of a philosopher or a scientist. He chose to be a detective. Of everything, of every situation he could have placed himself in where he could surround himself in mysteries, dangerous and potentially murderous mysteries, he chose to help people instead.
The actions of this Ghost were of a man trying to be a hero. He was building a whispering profile, something that made others afraid to speak to the police about. That’s why there was a clear lack of witness statements. He’d artfully, perhaps too artfully, avoided all recognition but in such a way as to make him a growing street legend. If he managed to tie what he was doing so completely with the memory of my friend then Lestrade was right: the Pandora’s Box would be reopened.
I knew I was assuming too much on the memory of my friend. My angle of thought up to this point was in assuming he was innocent of what others had said about him and I was firmly of that mind and that clearly nullified the idea that this Ghost was him. That had been my first fear. A copycat. It was that second fear that preoccupied the ride to Manchester. If it were true, if it were all true, all of it, if he could have been the ringleader in everything that happened from the day I met him then everything happening in the city was exactly what a man who could fake his own death to me would be capable of doing and it was clear, this was only the beginning. Evil genius.
I fully rejected that idea and with that, denied the thought that he was possibly still alive. For one, it was impossible. I saw him fall. I was there to check his pulse; I saw the death in his eyes. That was real. That was all real. That left in me the confidence of my memory of him remaining in tact. Any alternative brought with it the idea that for my months of . . . we’ll call it mourning or grief or something stronger, what have you, he was alive. After that, there was no way I could even, ever consider him my friend anymore.
I wasn’t conflicted.
He was dead.
He had to be dead.
. . . I said it before: selfish.
I could now understand Greg’s previous hesitation. He’d come to the same conclusion as I had. If alive, everything would be confirmed. If dead, he remained an unsoiled memory. And yes, if alive, Greg’s wouldn’t have been the first fist to break that face.
Detective Inspector Hammond met us at the Piccadilly station at half past midnight. He was maybe a few years older than Greg with a lot more grey. There was a burliness about his appearance, like a bear but somehow, not lethal. More Father Christmas than jaded city cop.
“Nev, this is Dr. John Watson, John, this is DI Neville Hammond,” Greg introduced us.
“Call me, Nev, doc,” he said, shaking my hand.
“So,” Nev began once we were all packed away in his car and on our way to the station. “What do you think?”
“I think that whoever your Ghost is, you have to catch him and you have to catch him now but you already know that,” I said. “As for the rest of it, it doesn’t matter.”
“How do you think?” He asked.
“Copycat or not, this is all for attention,” Greg said. “Catch him first, worry about the incidentals later.”
“Incidentals?” Nev said with a laugh. “You can’t be serious. If it is who we think it is then we’re either really up against a bloody ghost or someone at the center of something bigger than, I’m sorry but honestly, bigger than we can handle. I read all the stories from down there. The break in at the Tower, the prison, the bank, not to mention the bombings and all the other stuff. Add to that, a pretty convincing fake swan dive that was caught on CCTV that would, at the end of it all, had to have been doctored. Incidentals?”
He was right. Our only two options was either a crazed fan that simply physically resembled my friend or everything he just mentioned. Again: evil genius.
I muttered, “It doesn’t matter.”
“What?” Nev asked.
I looked towards him from the back seat and caught his inquiring eyes through the rearview mirror. “If we’re dealing with someone who can do all of that then even if you catch him you probably couldn’t hold him anyway so either you decide now whether or not to even try.”
“What? Of course I’m going to try. What the hell are you on about?”
“Exactly. So what does any of what you said matter?”
“I’d like to know what I’m up against.”
I leaned back and looked out the window to the dark streets flashing past and simply said, “So would I.” Turning back to him I said louder, “But we don’t so assume the worst and work backwards.”
Harriet Jane Watson tried her key four times in the door before it opened. Shifting into her home, she dropped her red-soled shoes from her hands and carelessly onto the floor. Moving like the blind without a guide, she held onto the wall to lead her through the darkness of the space. She would have turned on the light but she was certain that would burn the retinas from her eyes.
Halfway to the refrigerator where her freezer held ice-cold salvation a side lamp was turned on. She blinked and hissed against it. She barely made out a figure in silhouette on her couch.
“Next time you hear me struggling with the lock, just be a gentleman and open it,” she smiled, shuffling back towards the freezer. “If you’re going to break in, and all.”
“I didn’t break in; I have a key. Harriet, where is your brother?”
“I called him an hour ago. He was on a train.” She peered at the freezer, “And look, a note. He said he’d left one. But you already know all of that so—?”
“Do you know why he might be on a train to Manchester?”
She pulled out a bottle of true Russian vodka and took two glass tumblers from the cupboard. “I know you’re a whisky man, but in the Watson household we take something a little stronger.”
She stood before him, her sheath of a black dress clinging to her figure like paint. She held out a glass to him. He hesitated only a moment before her smile transferred to him. He took the glass. Before she could pour, her hands trembling, he stood and took the bottle from her. He served.
“I knew you were a gentleman.” Harry curled up onto the couch and drank a little to settle her hands before peering at him over the rim. He placed the bottle before them on the center table and sat next to her. “You don’t care why Jack’s in Manchester,” she said. “If you did, you’d already have someone on it.” He gave her a half grin and a look. “Ahh. So you do.”
He held up his untouched glass and muttered, “Prosit.”
“Then why are you really here?” She asked before finishing off her drink. “You’re wrong to think he tells me much of anything.”
“I know the feeling,” he said.
“Is that why then? Why he went? My brother’s off chasing the ghost of yours?”
Mycroft Holmes leaned back and finished his glass in one swallow before nodding. “And this time, he just might find him.”
Harry frowned. “Is Jack in danger?”
“How dangerous is truth?”
She let out a dark laugh. “The worst.”
“Yes,” he said allowing a small laugh to escape him. “It is, isn’t it?”
“I have to sleep. Signing contracts on the embassy renovation tomorrow. Will you be there?”
“Don’t play that game, Mycroft Holmes,” she said. “And yes, the shipment came in this morning. These cameras are smaller than the last batch. Didn’t think that was possible.”
“Wider radius as well.”
She hummed, “Technology.”
“And the UAE deal?”
“Your attempts at small conversation are dismal when I know you know everything already.”
He casually shrugged. “By the time you break ground on that one, I’ll surprise you with something much more special.”
“It would only be fair,” she said through a yawn. “Jack won’t be back tonight. Are you staying?”
“Are you asking me?”
“You’re the one with the key,” she said before rolling up off the couch. “He won’t mind, will he?”
“Was it? Or Geoff? Something?”
“That was ages ago.”
“So, you will stay?”
“Are you feeling lonely?”
She touched his tie and then his chin. “Asks the man who had no reason to be here tonight.”
With an exhale, he nodded and stood. “Of course I’ll stay.”
She gave him a chaste peck on the cheek and brushed away the lipstick that it left behind. Twenty years later and still her only friend. Her best friend. The eternal fate of Holmes and Watson.
The Ghost of Manchester was the linchpin in a plan. It was a very definite, long-standing plan that was dependent on certain pieces falling into certain places.
He looked across to his screen and observed the map of the city. Two blood red dots were blinking on the map. Two other dots were waiting to be laid. Two pieces were already in play with two more following close behind. As thrilling as the set up had been, as great as this great game had lasted, when it all fell apart, that, oh yes, that would be delicious.
“My arms are falling off,” Molly said, collapsing onto her unmade bed.
“We don’t have to do it all tonight,” he said, leaning against her dresser.
She groaned, “I have work in the morning.”
He quirked his brow and said, “One has absolutely nothing to do with the other.” A squelchy rumbling came from her general direction. A blush of red colored her cheeks. “And how long had you been starving?” He asked.
“All day?” She confessed. He rolled his eyes. She curled up onto her elbows. “Some people have to eat. We don’t all survive on coffee and gums. Not everyone can be a . . . a pole.”
He frowned and then looked down to himself. “Am not.” He looked up to her and shoved his hands into his trouser pockets. “Yellow card.”
“Ha!” She laughed.
He shook his head and then said, “You should have told me when I went out, I would have gotten you something.”
“You need to learn to offer,” she said with some hauteur to her voice.
“You’ll surely starve if you wait for that,” he smiled before turning out of the room.
“Yellow card!” She called from behind him.
He tossed the coat that had been folded over the railing to her and slipped his over his shoulders.
“We’re going out?” She asked, putting on the coat.
“It’s after midnight.”
“Short drive to the heart of downtown and that Indian place you like so much closes,” he looked to his watch, “in a half hour.”
She shrugged. “Alright.”
He pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to her. It was a small robin’s egg blue bag with two like-colored velvet boxes within it.
She blinked up at him and then back to the contents of the bag.
“Well?” He asked. “The restaurant will close. Put them on.”
“A minute,” she said, shaking out her hands.
With a sigh and some distaste he muttered, “Sentiment,” before he started down the stairs.
Molly threw the red card at the back of his head.