Word count for Chapter Three: 3,500+
Word count so far: 10,400+
In general, a person places a great deal of trust in another who has once saved their life. They feel, rightly or wrongly, that a debt is owed to the savior of their future. It was to be expected then that if someone has occasion to bump into the holder of that debt the implicitness of that trust would be clear.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said, the initial shock on her young face quickly passing to a warm relief. Lowering her voice she said, “I never thought I’d see you again.”
He nodded just slightly, tucking the hat onto his head and turning away from her. She would of course follow. It would only be natural . . .
Molly was halfway through her chicken korma by the time the last of the remaining customers exited the restaurant. Mr. Bhatnagar, the proprietor, smiled at them and signaled that it was no hurry. He’d often seen her during her lunch hours and a few times at dinner with her gentleman companion. He often wondered about them, what their story was. They didn’t seem to be the same species much less of the same family so his suspicions ran in a different direction. The presence of the new rings on her finger and the solitary gold band on his confirmed those suspicions. He’d congratulated them and the entire restaurant clapped which gave way to a general embarrassment between them but they took it in stride.
Mr. Bhatnagar couldn’t say whether her choice had been a wise one or not but she always seemed cheerful when with him so perhaps what she saw in him and conversely, what he seemed to reveal to her, was reserved for those who knew him. How she’d managed to break through in the first place, he had no idea, but he philosophically concluded that even the moon and the sun were partners.
“Take the naan,” she insisted, pushing the plate of flatbread towards him.
“I’ve already had two. You didn’t have a bite.” He frowned. “Why is that?”
“I ordered the extra for you. It’s the only thing you’ll eat.”
He looked to his untouched salad that hadn’t been followed by an entrée. He glanced to the bread. “That’s like having a meal of rolls.”
She nodded with a little chuckle. “I know.” He was the pickiest eater she’d ever met. For every restaurant they went to, she automatically knew the scant handful of items he’d even attempt to eat much less actually like. “But is there anything else you want?” She asked, already knowing the answer.
He let out a small huff of air as he took the plate of bread and said, “No.”
He was an odd creature, she knew that. She’d suspected as much from before their forced domestication but it was only now that she could fully appreciate how his mind worked. He didn’t have a filter which was radical for her because she was nothing but filters. He hadn’t respected that in her and so he played and pushed, sorting out for himself if she had any spine at all. She knew that’s why he’d liked John. John’s filter was generally reserved for others but never for Sherlock. He could as equally call his friend a genius and a jerk in the same breath. She knew that’s how true friendship should be and she knew John was the first person Sherlock had met who could do that for him.
It was harder for her. Her prism was a little different than John’s had been. She forgave too quickly his lapses in civility and in that he pushed further. Sherlock Holmes could only be friends with people he respected and he respected very few people.
He trusted her. They were still working on respect.
She watched his hands as he picked at his food. The gold band he’d gotten for himself was perched on his finger. It seemed so odd there, so out of place on him. Like . . . like an anchor chained to a wild bird. Of course, he saw the logic in wearing it, in knowing that for them to pass along in this lie together, the lie had to be complete but Molly began to see it, as the minutes passed, as an impossible attachment.
“How long do you think this can go on?” She asked. She stared down to her food and didn’t feel so very hungry anymore.
He looked up to her, not quite understanding. “You want to go back? To London?”
“I know we can’t, that’s not—that’s not what I meant—” Her gaze remained on her meal. “It’s just . . .” She finally brought herself to catch his eyes. “It’s already been months. Next it’ll be a year and months. None of it’s real. How long can we live not-real lives?”
He observed her and saw the unconscious way she touched the rings on her finger and silently cursed himself. He’d made a decision based on the situation but, as he’d often found himself prone to do, he dismissed any consideration of emotional consequence.
“Molly, listen,” he reached over and took her hand, gesturing to the rings. “This was probably a bad idea. You’re right, we don’t know how long this will go on for and I don’t want you to feel somehow . . . trapped—” She pulled back her hand and looked away. He wasn’t sure how to respond to that. “I’ve said something wrong . . .” Her eyes began to water. Oh god. “You know I can’t decipher tears. Yellow card, red card. I need some assistance.”
“I want you to be happy,” she breathed. He frowned. He didn’t understa—“because I’m happy,” she finished.
Happy tears. A conundrum he still didn’t quite get. Happiness or tears, not both.
“Alright?” He said in a confused agreement.
She laughed. She laughed and wiped her eyes. He could only assume this was some kind of hormonal reaction. That was the only logical explanation but it ran in direct contradiction to what he knew of her cycle. They had been living in the same space for a third of a year.
“You’re hopeless,” she said with a renewed lightness to her voice.
He gratefully took that to mean the storm had passed. “I thought we had agreed that was a forgone conclusion?” They both laughed at that, his deep rumbles a contrast to her giggles.
She didn’t mind living the lie. In fact, she preferred it. She remembered what living in the truth had been like.
Screams, bone-chilling screams cut through their laughter. He was up and from the table before she knew he’d been in motion. Mr. Bhatnagar was just behind him. The screams were coming from the street and people there began to anxiously search for the source. Molly was right behind the men as they stepped outside of the restaurant.
Sherlock located the direction of the shouts through the echoing between the buildings and his eyes locked on a particular crevice between shop fronts not too far from them. He moved, almost to start running towards it when a young woman, a girl perhaps, darted out of the crevice. She was bleeding and frantic. Her attention was more towards what could be behind her than the fact that she was about to plunge headlong into traffic.
Bystanders began to gasp at the sight of her. It was the slow kind of reaction people had when confronted with an unexpected scene. Molly only felt the passing breeze against her side as Sherlock took off for her. Only he could have seen the distraction occupying that particular cab driver as he made his way down the road and only he could have gauged the woman’s darting trajectory as to finally bringing her perfectly in line with the taxi.
It happened in a flash: the blood-soaked girl, looking to the fear behind her, the cabbie arguing on his mobile as he adjusted his radio and the intersection that would lead to a certain death. Molly only saw the flare of the black coat sweep over a parked car and hands clutching the woman as they both barreled towards the opposite side of the street, crashing into a parked car. The cab driver slammed on his breaks and the crowd screamed.
Molly, for her part, was already halfway to them when she finally absorbed what had happened. Her mouth had almost called out his name but she caught herself and just ran.
He’d landed hard. It was unavoidable as it was as well as he could have done. Circling his body around the girl to guard her small frame from the shock of impact took the breath from him. She was crying and shaking in his arms.
“It’s alright. You’ll be alright,” he said.
She clung for him, as if for her life when she turned to him and her eyes widened in complete horror.
“No . . .” she whispered, pulling away from him. “No,” she pushed him. “No, no, no!” She screamed, rolling off of him, her wails filling the night.
The last five minutes were almost enough to convince him that all women were mad but there was too much familiarity in how this girl reacted towards him for him to be as casually flippant as he’d wanted to be in that moment. She was afraid of him, of him in particular and they’d never met. He sat against the car in something like shock when he felt Molly pulling him up.
“We have to go,” she said to him as the crowd began to circle. The girl was still screaming. It was like what she’d been running from, what she’d been sure had been on her heels, had appeared from thin air to haunt her. Yes, she looked as if she’d seen a ghost.
He quickly and painfully got to standing and he and Molly made it through the scene before the police officers now racing down the street managed to close off the area.
“She’s seen my face before,” he said. His fingers went to his hair and came away slick with blood. He’d hit his head and shoulders against the car door.
“When?” Molly asked, leading him towards their car.
Sherlock shifted his eyes back towards the chaotic scene and simply said, “When she was being attacked.”
It was chaos when we arrived at the station. The officers in Nev’s department were setting up in motion for something.
“I was just about to call you, sir,” a young sergeant said, moving up quickly towards us. “Beth Lippon’s been assaulted.”
“What?” Nev asked in pure bewilderment. “Again?”
“It was him. He did it. She said the Ghost was the one who attacked her tonight,” the Sgt. said just before someone directed his attention elsewhere.
“Wait. The Ghost’s attacked someone?” I asked. That made absolutely no sense.
Greg gestured to the file folders in his hands and a look as if something he just recalled passed over his eyes. “Elizabeth Lippon. The first case.”
I searched my memory, I’d just read it but my focus had been so much on the perpetrator that every other consideration had gone to the back of my mind. Elizabeth Lippon. Nineteen years old. Jumped by a street gang two months ago and miraculously saved by the Ghost. She’d refused to give a physical description of the man who’d rescued her.
“He saves her and then waits a couple of months to attack her?” Greg asked, but Nev had been called away from us and we were standing in the foreign department like two statues that had always been there: walked around and ignored.
I shook my head, my doubts confirmed. “It’s not him. There’s no way.”
“Agreed,” Greg said.
Nev came up towards us in a hurry and spoke to Greg. “They’re bringing her to a hospital. Will you come?”
“She’s ready to make an ID. Says she saw him, clear as day. We can get a BOLO out on this son of a bitch before the night is over.”
Greg looked to me and I knew this was possibly the only chance to sort this situation out for good. All possible physical similarities a copycat could pull off in shadow was nothing like photographic identification.
We followed Nev back out into the September night . . . only to bump straight into Sgt. Sally Donovan.
He held the ice-filled dish towel to the back of his head as Molly searched for either of their suture kits amongst the remaining boxes.
“I told you to let me pack,” he said. He was seated around their little tile-topped breakfast table which had also served them quite well as a dinner table.
“You over-bubble wrap,” she absently said. She frantically tore at box after box. Her panic seemed disproportionate to the situation at hand: it was just a gash. She knew as well as anyone that scalp wounds only bled like the dickens.
“You use an excess of bubble wrap and packing nuts. You over-protect.”
He noted the unhidden agitation in her voice and arched a brow before looking away. “That’s something I’ve never been accused of.”
“It’s why we’re here, isn’t it?” She asked in something of an accusatory tone. She threw a box to the floor and just snapped her attention towards him. He stared at her, wide-eyed. “Tell me what you need. That’s what I said to you and you said you needed me. You needed me to lie. You needed me to help you convince the world you were dead. In helping you, I had to give everything up. I had to leave my life behind because if any one of how many evil people found out you were still alive, you knew I’d be the first one that they went after. I signed off on you being dead so of course! Of course . . . You said the safest place for me was with you. With you. He told us we could go anywhere, close your eyes, spin the globe and he could make it happen but you chose Manchester!”
He was on his feet in a moment and holding her shoulders as she began to shake.
“Molly, the safest place for you is with me.”
“You knew! All this time you knew he was here.”
She pushed away from him. “The man! The man with your face. When you think I can’t hear you I hear you and you told Mycroft about the man who had your face. He kidnapped those kids, made them think he was you. He’s the key to clearing your name and he was here the entire time.” She took a halting breath before she said, “I wondered how you were doing it. How you were surviving.”
“Without a case.”
Everything was quiet for a very long moment.
He looked down to the ground and silently said, “You’re angry—”
“No,” she sighed. “I’m disappointed.”
He glanced up to her. “Disappointed?”
She reached over and took his left hand in hers. She removed the ring that was there and placed it in the upturned palm. “You and me. You feel like you have to protect me. Like you’re the only one who can. Alright. I believe that. But, you also say you trust me.” She removed the rings from her own finger and placed them alongside the other in his hand. “You want to clear your name then trust me to help you and just stop with all of the bubble wrap.” She gave him a small, strained smile and then pushed him back over towards the table.
He deposited the rings to the tabletop and sat, watching Molly resume her search for her needle and thread. Reaching over he took the cloth of melting ice up and placed it back to his throbbing head. He wasn’t sure what had just happened but he felt a foot tall.
“Well?” Molly said, finally pulling out a kit.
“Are you commanding me to speak, Ms. Hooper?” He asked.
“That’s Mrs. Hooper or ma’am, if you please,” she said with a short laugh. She stood behind him, cleaned the wound and began stitching him up.
He gestured to the rings, “Wasn’t that our divorce?”
“And Mrs. Hudson is still Mrs. Hudson, isn’t she?”
“Touché,” he smiled. “Moriarty’s phone.”
“Those first three days I was staying at your flat I was working on his phone. I’d had some practice with secure mobile devices and the small bit of pertinent data I could glean led me here. I didn’t know it would be him: the man with my face, as you so eloquently put it—” he hissed as she pulled a little too hard on a suture. “Sorry.” He sighed as she let up on the tension. “I just knew this would be the next man on the ladder.”
“Moriarty. It isn’t a name, not his anyway. It’s a code name. A different kind of family name. Call it a syndicate. James, dear Jim, he was a part of the web, yes, but it was my mistake in thinking he was the spider. He was just one of the many threads. A support thread, no doubt, like a steel beam but still . . . we haven’t encountered the architect yet. Not by a long shot.”
“How do you know that?”
As if it were obvious, Sherlock frowned and said, “He was insane.”
“He was insane . . .” she repeated. “You knew he was insane from before.”
“Insanity has many levels, many different levels of functionality and from what Jim revealed to me in his last moments I knew he wasn’t capable of being the puppeteer in all of this. At any point in his game, in allowing himself to be held by Mycroft, in allowing the entire situation at the pool, even in letting me alone with him on the roof of a building as he tried to take everything away from me I knew the mastermind of all of this wouldn’t take that kind of a risk in exposure. Not to simply prove he was better than me. Not out of boredom. Not to ruin one man. Jim wasn’t a player in this game, he was a pawn.” Something twitched in his mind just at that moment and he muttered, “The game is bigger than this, bigger than I am and we’re not halfway through.”
“But you’re dead. They think you’re dead. Everyone thinks you’re dead. How can the game not be over if you’re dead?”
A question from one that sparks genius in another.
A game has players. Every game needs players. A game played alone only challenged fate, only tempted chance, it didn’t confirm ones own superiority. To reinforce a sense of self, at least one other player was needed. One other player to best, to destroy. He’d assumed that player had been him and he had also assumed the second player would be content with the knowledge that he’d been destroyed but if he stood back from it all, understood that the game continued beyond his death, realized that to feel superiority in destroying your opponent then your opponent had to be someone as good or better than you believed yourself to be, he suddenly realized—
“I was a pawn too.”
“You followed us?” Greg asked her but it was definitely more of a statement of disbelief. Sally Donovan had a backpack slung over her shoulder and she wore what she’d been wearing earlier back in London.
“It’s a big train, of course I followed you,” Sally said to him while wholesale ignoring me. “You didn’t think I would notice?”
“You’re forgetting your place, Sergeant,” Lestrade said, pulling rank.
“No sir, you are. This is outside of our jurisdiction and here you are ready to get yourself suspended for what?” It was then that she glanced to me and the look only lasted half of a second but she lay whatever madness she had imagined in this excursion squarely at my feet.
“And who’s this?” Nev asked as an SUV was driven up from the garage.
Before Lestrade could say, ‘None of your concern,’ because I was certain it was just that kind of look he was giving her, she turned to DI Hammond. “Donovan, sir. His Sergeant.” She gestured to Lestrade.
“Ahh, right. Donovan. Greg told me about you, I see he was right. Tenacious,” Nev said before introducing himself. “Anyone who knew him is welcome to come along. These two refuse to tell me what I’m up against.”
Nev took the files from Greg and tossed them to her as he climbed into the car. “Read up on the way. See if you can’t give me a little insight into our Ghost problem.”
Good Lord. Don’t say it. Please, don’t say it.
“The Ghost of Sherlock Holmes.”