Word count for Chapter Three: 3,500+
Word count so far: 17,700+
I didn’t expect her to be quiet most of the way. The drive from the station to the hospital wasn’t a long one, perhaps seven or eight minutes, but it gave Sgt. Donovan enough time to skim through the file and have the idea that Sherlock was still alive laid out before her. I suppose I anticipated more emotion either as shock or disbelief, perhaps a combination of both. She reached the end of the file, closed it, and then turned to look out the window. I was seated between her and Greg in the backseat. Nev drove and the young sergeant from his office, Lewis, was to his left.
Only when prompted by DI Hammond did she even seem to recall why he’d brought her along. “So?” Nev began, glancing to her from the mirror. “What do you think, then?”
“I think . . . if he was alive, beating up on a teenaged girl half his size wouldn’t be on his list of priorities.”
Nev chuffed out a laugh at that. “And what would be, then?”
“World domination?” She posited. I had to smile.
“You think he’d go bigger?” He asked her.
“If alive, you’re talking about a man who facilitated a break in at the Tower of London, Pentonville Prison, the Bank of England, and then convinced the world he was dead. Yeah, I think he’d go bigger than knocking about Manchester’s back alleys.” She lifted the sketch, “And he hated this bloody hat.”
“You sound convinced it’s not him,” Nev said. We pulled into a parking spot. We’d reached the Manchester Royal Infirmary.
With her thumb hovering just over her lip, I saw something I never expected to see in Sgt. Sally Donovan. In all of our interactions she seemed a perfect mask of ‘I don’t give a shit’ irritation and self-confidence. Now I saw doubt. It was a raw and exposed kind of doubt that was only so apparent to me because I seemed to always be in the company of people who denied the very existence within themselves of any sort of frailty.
“I am convinced,” she muttered. The words were in direct contradiction to her tone. Was she harboring doubt? I knew we had vastly different opinions of him but they both led to the same conclusion: Sherlock wouldn’t do this. On my end, because I knew he never could, on her end I imagined she believed his ego wouldn’t support the degradation.
“This most definitely isn’t Sherlock Holmes,” she said as we filed out of the car. Her previous hesitation was gone. Her words carried absolutely no doubt.
“And what if she chooses his photo?” Nev offered. “What then?”
“Then you have to follow procedure, sir,” she said. To someone who didn’t know her, it was just simple truth but both I and Greg understood it was just a way for her to brush him off. Something, I could see, was eating through her thoughts.
Nev instructed us, the Londoner crew, to wait in the lobby as he and Lewis went up to see Beth Lippon.
Greg turned to Sally once they’d disappeared into the lift. “Donovan?”
She shook her head. I was right. I could see it. She was rattled. She was completely avoiding me. “And if she picks his picture? Seriously?” She asked, almost repeating it to herself.
“I thought you were sure?”
“I am,” she said, shrugging that off. “That’s not what I’m saying. This man, this Ghost, no chance in hell.”
She turned to a group of seats and we followed her. She put the folder on a low table and pulled out the sketch again. “What do we know? What will we know for certain if she picks his photo?” She finally looked to me, almost expectantly.
I shrugged, trying to grasp her thought process. “I—I don’t know? Can I jump on board the ‘evil twin’ theory?”
Sitting down on the arm of one of the upholstered chairs she had seemed to reach her conclusion but both Greg and I missed it. “My God, honestly? A man who looks just like him is committing violent crimes. He’s even wearing his calling card but he didn’t even know how much he hated it. He’s a copycat but a piss poor one at that.”
Greg nodded, “We’d grasped that.”
She rolled her eyes and then said very clearly, “Claudette and Max Bruhl.”
Ah. I understood her now. Of course, I hadn’t earlier because unlike her, I hadn’t thought Sherlock had actually kidnapped those kids.
It was as if a light had gone off in Greg’s head as well but that made less sense to me. I was positive he thought Sherlock was innocent of that as well. I turned to him and I was pretty sure my expression was one that demanded an explanation.
“When Max was released from the hospital, he described his kidnapper to us. Claudette, as you know—”
“Yeah, screaming, pointing, I was there,” I said to hurry him along.
“The kid was exactly as Sherlock said he’d be: bright, observant. He didn’t pick out a photo; he described him to a sketch artist. Said an array would color his memory. Came out to a fair description of him but insisted the sketch artist add a deerstalker to the image.”
I felt almost angry but I contained myself as best as I could. “You never said any of this—”
“I was in the middle of an internal investigation and our main suspect had just pretty much cemented everyone’s opinion of him by diving off the roof of St. Bart’s. I didn’t think I should have said much of anything.”
Sally turned to me, “It was . . . incongruent with what we knew—”
“Incongruent? Are you—are you fu—” I breathed and then lowered my voice. “Are you serious? And the fact that you’d believe he’d kidnap those kids in the first place but think it’s incongruent that he’d wear the hat as he’s kidnapping those kids is—” I needed to walk away from this but I knew it wouldn’t solve anything. I looked to her. “And now, even now you think it’s incongruent for him to chase girls in alleys because you think he’d be too preoccupied with nuclear codes or something. You know what; you’re a real piece of work—”
“Right,” she said with a smirk.
“Do you even listen to yourself? Do you? He’s dead, you admit doubt but you still hold on to this—I don’t know. You hate him. You always have. Is there a reason or are you really just that bitter?” She looked away from me and I could see something in Greg’s eyes that was watching her carefully. Something deeply unsaid was passing between them right then and I had no idea what it was. “What?”
“We don’t have time for this—”
“No, no, I think this is the perfect time. He’s not going to get deader so let’s get it all out there. We’ve got the prime suspect in the crime that you turned Sherlock into a hunted man for somewhere in this city right now. That clearly doesn’t change your opinion of him, that he might have been innocent, so please, enlighten me.”
She looked to Greg as if for help but he shook his head. With a sigh she allowed herself to fall into the seat below her. I sat opposite her while Greg remained standing just to the side of us. “It’s not a long story. It’s not even that involved. Seven years ago I went to him for help. Someone, a cousin of mine, Owen, he was in lock up for something I knew he hadn’t done. Sherlock confirmed from what I showed him that I was right and he agreed to take the case. I’d heard so much about him, I believed less than half of it but I was desperate. A few days later he tells me he was wrong, I was wrong, and to get over it.” She huffed and shook her head. “I know how you feel,” she said to me. I suddenly realized the source of her previous empathy towards me following Sherlock’s death. I understood why she’d respectfully stayed away.
“I knew Owen wasn’t capable of what he was accused of but here he was, the genius, the freak, telling me I was wrong. Telling me a lifetime of experience was worth shit. Telling me my cousin had in fact killed a man. That’s when I knew he was a fake. I couldn’t prove it but I knew it.” She looked to Greg and her words were an accusation. “Somehow that qualified him for consulting work. It was bullshit.”
I pointed to Lestrade, “That’s how you met him? Through this case?” He just nodded. I couldn’t even bring myself to offer that perhaps Sherlock was right about her cousin because I could still feel the sting of so many people telling me the very same about him.
As if reading that in me, she explained, “Owen had a heart problem. He was born with it. He wouldn’t have been strong enough to even get into a row much less win one. Much less kill the other person. We knew he wouldn’t live past twenty with his condition. He died in prison.” She swiped at a stray tear but her words didn’t waver. She added in a low voice and with a tone of irony, “Pentonville Prison.”
Her words from the day I met her came back to me: He’s just a lunatic and he’ll always let you down. How had I not recognized it before? To even say that implies he’d let her down before. And it had been said so personally. Sherlock had very few unsolved cases so to even say, ‘he’ll always let you down,’ implied a pattern of disappointment. Sally’s disappointment hadn’t been a pattern but rather, a single major one that followed her and forever colored her relationship with him.
There was something else, something Sally’s view of him wouldn’t have allowed her to see but I knew it and looking to Lestrade, I knew he knew it as well . . . but he hadn’t said anything. He’d known this story seven years longer than I had and he was keeping something from her. I frowned at him and he avoided me. There was more here. Something he knew but wasn’t saying. I could only be sure of one thing: Sherlock never speculated about a case unless he was absolutely certain of the truth and simply needed the facts to prove it to others. When he’d told Sally she’d been right, that Owen had been innocent, he knew it was true. Why then would he lie to her? Why would Greg lie to her? Why let a kid go to prison knowing it would be a death sentence?
I began to speak but Greg interrupted me, “Now that the air’s settled, let’s focus on what’s in front of us.” His eyes were furtive and I stopped myself. This was obviously a conversation for later. “We’re jumping to conclusions here. Let’s make sure we get a positive ID before we keep making assumptions.”
The lift doors opened a short while later and Nev and Lewis, followed by a few uniformed officers, came into the lobby. Nev looked strange. I hadn’t known him long at all but there was something about his expression that I knew was foreign to him. It was a disquiet. I’ll refrain here from making another Ghost reference.
“So, yeah,” he said to us as the officers and Lewis walked by him and headed outside, apparently to organize a makeshift manhunt. “We’ve just put out a BOLO on Sherlock Holmes.”
It was expected, from our speculation, but it still felt like a punch to the stomach for me. Even in death he couldn’t be free of those who wanted to tear him apart.
Greg, who’d known his friend much better, could read the same thing I read but I’m sure with more clarity. “But? Something’s wrong.”
Nev came closer and sat down. Greg followed and we huddled around the small table. He spoke with a low voice as if he was doing something he shouldn’t be doing but had to. “We’re getting witness statements,” he said, waving his phone. “The girl was screaming and running into the road. Probably thirty people saw her and more heard her.” He took an end page from the file and flipped it over. Taking out a pen he drew on it. He sketched out a street and buildings. One was labeled, ‘New Delhi.’ An X was labeled ‘Beth’ and a circle represented a taxi that was very close to the X. The alley Beth escaped from was also labeled.
“Beth gets out of her film at 12:50. She sends a text to her friend so that’s time stamped. She says she encountered the Ghost less than five minutes later. Five minutes after that, she’s running for her life.”
We nodded, absorbing the story up to that point.
“New Delhi restaurant closes at 12:45. The owner there, a Mr. Bhatnagar, he’s at the station now finishing his statement. Why’s that important? So, Beth comes racing out of the alley screaming like a banshee and is about to get herself killed under a cab when one of Mr. Bhatnagar’s patrons runs out of the restaurant and does a flying dive, saving her. Everyone we’ve talked to so far corroborates this.” He pointed to the alley, “That’s a dead end.”
“What’s that have to do—” Sally began.
“Bhatnagar identified his customer as this man,” Nev pulled out a photo of Sherlock and placed it on the table next to the sketch of the Ghost. “Cab driver also identified the man who saved her as this man. She herself identified the man who saved her as the man who attacked her.”
Greg pointed to the photo, “So, the question is how did he get from the dead end alley to the restaurant?”
Nev shook his head, “Nope. Couldn’t be the same guy.”
“What?” Sally asked. “How—”
“After Beth’s initial attack, apparently she black-marketed some Chemical Mace—” Greg whistled. “Got him full in the face with it; only way she managed to get away from him. She says she fought back but he was too strong for her. Says she was lucky she could get to her bag. Trust me; our guy wouldn’t be able to see for half an hour at least after that.” He frowned at the two images. “Some people from the street had been customers who’d just left the restaurant. They can confirm they saw this man,” he pointed to Sherlock’s photo, “in the restaurant before it closed.”
“You can’t be saying there are two of them,” Sally said, astonished. “Two men who look like Sherlock Holmes? That’s not possible.”
Nev shrugged. “Has to be two men. Beth scratched her attacker. We’ve got blood and skin. We’re running the DNA but we’ve already typed it to AB positive.”
“And you have a sample from the man who saved her?” I asked.
“Flying dive, remember? Smashed the back of his head on a parked car. We’re doing DNA on it as well but we’ve typed it to—”
“O negative?” I asked. I both didn’t want it to be true and desperately needed it to be true.
Nev simply nodded, “O negative.”
Greg and Sally turned to me. I just blinked and said, “He donated. Universal donor, he thought it was logical.”
“You’re not saying you think—” Greg began.
I pointed to the sketch, “This man just attacked a girl.” I pointed to the photo, “This one just saved her.” To the three of them I said, “Unless you believe in triplets parted at birth then yes, I think, as unbelievable as it is, this is more likely.”
Nev exhaled. “Well, let’s hope we find Mr. Hat first,” he said.
“Mr. Hat?” Greg asked.
“Well, he can’t possibly be the Ghost of Sherlock Holmes if,” he took up the photo, “this is the actual Ghost of Sherlock Holmes.” My stomach did a sort of churning twist. Nev stood and gathered the files. “We’re going to be doing some legwork around the neighborhood. You want to head back to the office?” He asked, dangling the keys to Greg.
Before Greg could reply, something struck me. “An Indian restaurant? He was eating at an Indian restaurant?”
I shrugged. “I took Sherlock to an Indian place once and he only managed to eat two plates of naan,” I said. “Doesn’t seem very like him to eat out anywhere that doesn’t serve dim sum.”
Nev referenced his phone again and apparently scrolled to Mr. Bhatnagar’s statement. “He only ate,” he grinned, “naan. His companion was the one who favorited the restaurant, he said. She ate lunch there at least three times a week. We’re going to comb through the receipts, see if we can’t get an address.”
“She?” Greg asked.
Nev peered at the screen. “Mary or Molly? Something like that, he said. Says she was the quiet type so he wasn’t sure.” I fought the urge to look over to Greg and Sally and they seemed to do the same as no one acknowledged what had just been said. “The only reason all the witnesses were so sure that was him in the restaurant was because Bhatnagar was congratulating them on their wedding.” Lewis called Nev away and tossing the car keys to Greg, turned and went out of the lobby into the street.
If I’d been drinking something it would have flown across the room. I probably would have taken out someone’s eye. Or drowned . . . yes, I probably would have drowned.
“Married?” Greg asked to no one in particular. He was almost as shocked as I was but the fact that he could even speak was a testament.
“To Sherlock Holmes?” Sally asked, spluttering. “Who in their right mind would marry Sherlock Holmes?”
I looked up to a pillar across from us that had the hospital directory on it. The morgue was labeled.
“Who in their right mind would marry Sherlock Holmes?” I repeated. Standing, I headed to the lifts and they followed me. “Let’s start with the woman who declared him dead.”
Three red dots had been placed on his screen. One more would make the picture complete. Dr. Watson, Detective Inspector Lestrade, and Sergeant Sally Donovan. The fourth was on her way to complete the circle and then the phoenix would rise from the ashes but, oh, he’d just be a burnt carcass. And oh, how the shame would flow.
The memory of the martyr would be sharp, acrid, and crisp.
He placed the damp cloth to his still burning eyes and smiled through the pain. Standing, he took his coat, a perfect replica of the other and prepared to do what he’d failed at completing. He had his directive. He knew what his purpose was. He placed the hat back atop his head and went out once more.
“Naomi will find him,” Mycroft said upon hearing Sherlock’s speculation on the motive of his doppelganger.
“Is that all you have to say?” Sherlock asked him before he sighed and cursed himself. “You’d already worked that out.”
“Quite some time ago. The assault tonight confirmed it.”
“He won’t stop until he’s caught.”
“And Naomi will ensure he’s quickly caught.” Dismissively, Mycroft added, “Hopefully this nightmare will be over tonight.”
Molly looked to Sherlock and felt glad he didn’t immediately agree with his brother. Yes, she wanted to go home, see her friends but she hadn’t defined their time together as a nightmare even if some elements hadn’t been exactly sunshine and happiness.
“I’ve found him,” Naomi said a moment later. “Corner of Harkness and Palfrey.”
Sherlock glanced out the window. “We’re a minute from there,” he observed.
“Don’t even consider it,” Mycroft told his brother. “We’ll alert the police.”
Naomi tilted her head to the side and said casually, “He’s dragging a girl by her hair.”
“Stop the car!” Sherlock ordered towards the driver. The car didn’t stop. “Mycroft, tell him to stop the car.”
Naomi scanned her screen, “A patrol will pass by in three minutes.”
Sherlock plucked the Blackberry from Naomi’s hand and observed the video feed. His doppelganger and his new victim had stopped walking. The man seemed set to start doing some damage. “She doesn’t have three minutes.” He tossed the phone back to Naomi who glared at him. Sherlock quickly buttoned his coat and secured his gloves on his hands. “Mycroft, either tell him to stop the car or I’ll go out with it still moving.”
There was only a moment of hesitation as Mycroft Holmes evaluated whether his brother was insane enough to jump out of a car in motion. “For God’s sake, let him out,” he said, quickly coming to his conclusion.
The brakes were sharply applied and Sherlock climbed out of the car. Molly jumped out behind him.
“No, you’re—” he began.
She took hold of his arm. “Yes, I am.”