Word count for Chapter Three: 3,700+
Word count so far: 21,500+
Thanks to the great susako for the beta and Brit-Pick of this chapter!
Molly couldn’t imagine what his plan would have been if she hadn’t tagged along. If his theory was true (as all his theories were) then a basic fact couldn’t be ignored: the man with his face couldn’t be allowed to see Sherlock’s. He couldn’t come to know that he had lived. Whatever Sherlock had in mind when he’d left the car, she was sure, would have served dual purposes: save the girl and incapacitate the double. Why then did she go? That was a question that generally followed him. Why partner with anyone at all? For a man who could think through most things, why bother with a companion?
Actually living with Sherlock brought a practical reality to her idealizations of him and his corrosive disregard of her. In between (the daydream and the biting remarks), at the center of the two extremes—neither the real him—was the actual man. He was a person. Perhaps not exactly regular, or ordinary, but a real person with beauty and faults and, like her—like John—he had been a desperately lonely one. Without the knowledge that someone was both there for him and with him, he became reckless. Sherlock was often a danger to himself.
Molly didn’t imagine she could save him. The idea never crossed her mind. She never tried to change who he was. She knew he could be trusted to know himself enough to self-modify if he wanted to and, to her surprise, he had. Not in a character-changing way, he was still him, and she knew character-changing alterations rarely lasted but he was different. The past four months had been blissfully torturous, a mix of harsh words, cold silences, tempestuous fevers and then like a dawn horizon, sudden brilliant bursts of clarity and comprehension that cleared away all that had been bad. He used to deny it but he eventually acknowledged with silence that he needed people—ordinary regular people in his life to act as the needle on his compass.
Why did she follow him? He didn't need her for the plan, but Molly knew that in a completely separate way, he needed her. Ever the risk-taker, the adventure seeker, he needed someone to watch over and by doing so, he engaged his own distinct sense of self-preservation.
Of course, it didn’t always work. His desire to protect those closest to him brought him over to the other side of the spectrum and his self-destructive tendencies took on the mantle of guardian.
She knew she had to be careful. She had to allow him to temper himself but also prevent herself from becoming a liability. It was a balancing act.
In confronting the man who had a hand in ruining his life and shredding his reputation, could he trust himself not to beat the copy to an inch before death? Sherlock was rational only up to a certain point before passion set in. Anger, curiosity, rage—they all won over temperament when enough emotion was triggered. He wasn’t nearly as cold as he’d fought to present himself. He craved distance because even casual intimacy unnerved him, unbalanced him with the connection. As he would explain it, caring for others clouded his judgment but he still couldn’t see what Molly saw: he chose as his life’s work the task of helping people. He conveniently shrouded it as a desire to understand curiosities but the majority of his cases never came close to challenging him and he took them anyway. Clearly the only purpose in doing so was to assist. That’s what Molly Hooper had seen in Sherlock Holmes. That’s what very few people saw in him. She’d put up with a lot from him because of that. Truth was, if he really was what he wished he would be, he’d never have even left the car.
Since she did in fact follow him, his original plan had ultimately been scrapped for one that integrated her. It wasn’t exactly what she’d expected.
“Scream?” she asked, repeating his command. They were standing by a brick building leading to a darkened, almost barren stretch of road save for the man with Sherlock’s face and the girl. Neither of them could make out the details of the two figures but the girl’s frightened whimpers could be heard. Sherlock had hoisted a bin cover and instructed Molly to scream at the top of her lungs. She wasn’t sure she’d heard correctly.
“Not the time for debate,” he insisted in a low voice. He quickly tied his scarf around his face and gave the distinct impression of a pre-riotous football hooligan.
A blow followed by a cry from the girl brought the pressing reality to Molly. She could do as he said and scream or they could listen to the sounds of pain bleeding through the darkness.
It didn’t last very long; she’d been breathless from the run, nor was it poetically equivalent to an aria but it was a sound and a voice of power Molly had never used in all her life. When she was done she was surprised by it and looked expectantly to him. “Now what?” She whispered.
There was a scrambling in the shadows and rapid footsteps were fast approaching. “Run!” Sherlock ordered.
“Wha—” she began before fear overtook her and Molly spun around to run back up the street. Sherlock gripped the bin cover and listened to the footfalls on the pavement. Force, stride, his own approximate height and weight for the doppelgänger to have any success at his chosen profession: Sherlock knew what he had to do to get what he wanted to achieve.
The copy rounded the corner of the brick building and was met with a steel slap to the face. There was only enough force behind it to shock him, not to bloody him or to break bones. Sherlock needed him only stunned; it would defeat the purpose of proving his innocence to disfigure the man imitating him.
The copy fell to his knees and then doubled over. Bright lights popped before his vision. Before he had a chance to clear it he felt a forearm about his throat. Still stunned and disoriented, he couldn’t bring his thoughts together fast enough to fight back before everything before him began to dim. He couldn’t breathe and with that came panic but it was too late for anything. He was quickly unconscious and slouching into the arms of the man who’d knocked him out. He hadn’t even seen his face.
He released the copy and let him fall to the ground. His breath came heavily and he pulled the scarf down from around his face. He looked to the back of the man’s head and rolled his eyes. He was wearing that damned hat. Sherlock glanced to his watch. The patrol would be by in less than a minute. Sherlock crouched low and went through the man’s pockets as he lay on his stomach. There was nothing on him but a card. A card with four groups of three digit numbers, twelve in all.
“They’re coming up the street,” he heard Molly say from just a little to his side. He pocketed the card and frowned for just a moment before turning the man over onto his back. They were in a pool of light provided by a street lamp and though the nighttime shadows could deceive, there was nothing deceiving about what they both saw.
“Oh my God,” Molly breathed. “That’s not—”
They’d forgotten about the girl, even though she’d been their focus. Hiding in the darkness, waiting for some sort of signal that she would get help, she bolted at the first sight of a police car. She raced past the two that saved her and ran to the approaching patrol.
“Come on,” he said, taking Molly’s hand. They slipped into the murk and took off, running as fast and as far from the scene as they could before Molly started gripping a stitch at her side. They ducked behind what seemed to be an old warehouse and she fought to catch her breath.
“How was that—” she began, wheezing. “How was that possible?”
Sherlock leaned against the brick and closed his eyes, breathing deeply. He saw the man’s face, the copy’s face in his mind but he felt like his mind was betraying him. That wasn’t a copy, that wasn’t a doppelgänger.
“That’s not possible,” Molly said, her voice shaking. She flicked out her wrists and tried to steady her hands. She glanced up to Sherlock and it was like she was pondering the curves of his features, as if she hadn’t already memorized them, as if this were the first time she was seeing him. She’d been calling the copy the ‘man with his face’ but he wasn’t, was he?
“Don’t stare, Molly,” he said. She immediately looked away. He laughed, just a little, just enough to tell her she was being teased.
“It’s not funny,” she said, turning back to him.
“Don’t worry. I promise I wasn’t made in a laboratory,” he assured her with another laugh. “There aren’t copies of me running around the globe.”
“God help us,” she said and it just rolled off her tongue before her eyes widened and her color deepened. He looked to her, partially shocked, perhaps a little hurt but only in the place that would heal immediately after but mostly . . . proud of her. She moved to apologize when he said,
“Don’t edit.” With a nod she pinched her lips together. “Did you see the scars?”
She nodded. “Tiny . . . but still, surgery couldn’t have done all of it—”
“If they started young enough, perhaps.”
That idea alone seemed to completely jar her. “How young?”
He thought about Carl Powers, he thought of his life and how his decisions had shaped it. When had he been picked up on their radar? Why him? It all came back to the observation that there was absolutely nothing special about him. Nothing at all about him in particular . . .
“Stupid,” he said. He leaned his head back against the hard grit of the brick and hissed a little as his stitches were disturbed. “Stupid.”
She frowned, “You were, what? Thirteen? How—”
He shook his head, “That’s not what I mean. I thought, symbolically, it began with Carl Powers, 1989, my investigative start, Jim’s message to me but the clue wasn’t Carl’s death, it was the year. Only the year was significant. The wall. The fall of the wall.”
Now she was completely lost. “The Berlin Wall?”
Sherlock looked to her and simply exhaled. “Mycroft’s first major achievement. How else do you imagine a man at his age becoming the rather starched embodiment of the entire British government? You start young and chase success.”
She understood him as she completed his thought, “And make enemies along the way.”
He grinned as it finally made sense. “They didn’t choose me because I was solving the random murder or kidnapping. Why would they focus on me in the beginning? Because of my website?” He snorted. “John already informed me that no one reads my website. To choose me for what I’d been doing made no sense but . . . using me to get to my brother . . .” he pushed off the wall and said almost too low to be heard, “Now that is very neat.”
She wanted to call out to him but she dared not say his name.
“Two birds and I was the stone,” he said. “I’d already gift-wrapped one mission for them. Don’t know why they bothered killing me, I could have been good for a few more!”
Molly went to him and stood before him. He honestly wasn’t in the mood for words of comfort or advice or anything like that—
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” she said. He blinked twice and almost had to do a double-take to make sure he was looking at Molly Hooper. “Sorry, no, that came out wrong. I mean . . . no, yes, stop feeling sorry for yourself. You won. You’re alive and he’s,” she gestured to the general direction some ways back of the unconscious doppelgänger who was likely being collected into a police car. “Caught and let’s not forget who we actually buried in your coffin,” she reminded him.
He grinned slightly. Dear Jim.
“So, yes, whatever they wanted to do, they can’t anymore. You made sure of that.” She bowed her head a little and said, “With some help, of course.”
“The ever-present problem with working in a team,” he said but his mood wasn’t so dark as before.
She hummed and guessed, “You don’t get to keep all the credit?”
Their moment of lightness was overshadowed by the new theories that were starting to be pondered. Had Moriarty, the institution, truly focused its sights on the Holmes boys over two decades ago? At twenty three, Mycroft Holmes had been a strategic genius in all aspects of war theory and espionage. His rise had been fast and guided by an almost inhuman detachment to handle the issues presented to him. Very few people knew he went home every night to care for his ailing mother and his younger brother. By the dawn of the new decade, only his brother would be left. The Iceman had only one person that could possibly melt him and it was the boy he would subsequently raise.
Sherlock had only vague recollections of his father who had died when he was barely old enough to walk. His mother had been affected by early onset Alzheimer’s and he’d only known her in flashes of lucidity that were few and sporadic. The only parent Sherlock had ever really known had been Mycroft; Mycroft who was constantly pushing him to be better, do better, be smarter. Sherlock never felt he could ever be that, not compared to his brother. The source of their resentments lay squarely in Mycroft’s high expectations of him.
For Moriarty to believe Sherlock would be an effective pawn, they would have to know the truth at the core of his and Mycroft’s relationship. They would have to know that the animosity between them was based not on any sort of actual hurts or events (John had tried to guess at it once and the speculation nearly became scandalous) but really based on Sherlock’s resistance to being who Mycroft wanted him to be; his rejection of the world Mycroft had wanted to build for him.
He’d gone to the schools his brother had wanted him to go to, he’d gone to the university he’d wanted him to go to, and he’d even spent his gap year under Mycroft’s supervision when he’d instead received invitations to play in a few chamber and even a couple of symphony orchestras. Those were the years of quiet frustration where he’d finally lost himself. He’d found his independence then but it had come at a price. As most things of that nature ended, there was a fall and their falling out.
Looking from the outside in, no one would have thought he could leverage his brother’s emotions. There had been so many years since that Sherlock didn’t even know if he loved his brother much less liked him. How could Moriarty know things Sherlock hadn’t been sure of himself? Could they really make such elaborate plans hinging only on blood?
Their goal was to distract a government and unnerve a people. The steps were small but the mental impact was immeasurable.
“A very intricate game,” he whispered. He looked down to the card he pulled from his copy’s pocket.
“What is that?” Molly asked.
“It was on him,” he said, gesturing behind them. “An IP address?” he wondered aloud. It would have been his first guess. He held it up to her, “The only thing on him. Literally, his calling card.”
“Find out where it dials to?”
He shook his head, “Can’t just plug in from anywhere. We’ve no idea what it connects to. We need a secure—” they both sighed as the black Sedan drove once again into their night. Naomi Kinkade stepped out and said nothing. She had every expectation they would get in and so she thought no more of it the moment she emerged into the cool air. She was presently occupied in annihilating all trace of Sherlock and Molly from the assault on the assailant.
He was a half-second into declaring his resistance when he smiled and then felt it grow into a chuckle. He needed a secure internet connection and a shielded system and he was about to get cross with Naomi Kinkade? He must have hit his head harder than he thought.
“I need a laptop and a secure line,” he said to her. She glanced up to him, her face evenly placid. She didn’t reply but only shifted her gaze to the seats in the car. He sighed. “I expected you to be above all of this,” he said as he and Molly headed to the car.
“Don’t touch my phone and I will be,” she said.
He stopped before her and glanced down. She ignored him. “Don’t get a taste for revenge, Naomi; eventually, it becomes insatiable.”
“There are worse addictions,” she said, and it was all she had to say. His spine stiffened and he grinned down to her but it had no humor. The round belonged to her. He dipped into the car.
Molly stopped at the opened door and observantly studied Naomi for an extended moment.
“What?” Naomi asked, eyes on her screen.
“Nothing. Just picturing how you’d look on my table,” Molly said. Naomi frowned and then looked up.
“Autopsy table,” she said very lightly and very matter-of-factly before she too dipped down into the car. She left Naomi Kinkade unnerved and that was enough to give the round to Molly Hooper.
“Oh yes, Molly, nice girl,” the night supervisor of the Manchester Royal Infirmary’s morgue said to us. “Never met any of her London friends before.” Dr. Burns was a small woman, relaxed in nature I thought but with wild hair and inquisitive eyes. I was sure she was trying to sort us somehow. “Well, shouldn’t be too surprised there, she keeps herself to herself. Haven’t even met David yet truth be told.”
Me, Greg, and Sally played along. We had no idea who ‘David’ was but announcing that would shoot our credibility. “David,” I said. “Yes, her . . . husband.” I went out on a limb with a guess. Well, an inference sounds somewhat better. Who else could she have been talking about?
“Oh thank Heavens,” Dr. Burns said with a laugh. “For a moment I thought he was made up.”
“Made up?” Sally asked.
“Well, you all know Molly. Quiet girl. Too quiet, you know? And down here, working with the dead.” She didn’t say anymore, knowing we’d catch her drift. She’d been under the impression that Molly was a raving nutter. “I could tell, you know, she had secrets. I never pry but—” she shrugged.
“You know,” Greg began, “it’s silly of us but we came all the way up here with a printout of the directions and left them at a stop some miles back.”
Sally picked up on his cue. “It’s my fault. Chucked right in a bin, I’m sure. We knew she worked here and someone would be able to direct us.”
I didn’t mention the holes in their plan, calls being the first lapse but I supposed that could be explained away. I was quickly coming up with some kind of a bypass, expecting that question to be raised when Dr. Burns looked like she’d reached some kind of epiphany.
“Ohh, right. The move.”
We, each of us, nodded in tentative agreement. “Yes. The move,” Sally said.
Dr. Burns turned to the computer on her desk and pulled up what looked like a digital rolodex. “I don’t know why she has a mobile if she never uses it. That’s why I worried about her, you know? Why keep your phone in pieces? I imagined it was some sort of OCD or something.” We glanced to each other, noting what she’d just said as she scribbled something on a notepad. She handed it over to me. “Don’t lose it this time,” she said. We thanked her and left.
“In pieces?” I asked them.
Sally replied, “If you take the battery out, your GPS is disabled. Depending on your level of paranoia, your microphone receiver is also disabled.”
Greg looked to her as if he knew something she didn’t. “Not paranoia.”
“Seriously?” She asked him, apparently amazed.
“Depends entirely on the phone—”
They were about to get into cop shop talk and I had to bring them back around to the issue at hand. “So, she’s afraid of being tracked and, or, listened to? But she works here. People know how to find her.”
“Depends,” Greg said. “She might not be the target.”
“We know she’s not,” Sally added.
I sighed. Right. I looked down to the address in my hand. “David.”
We exited the hospital and went towards the SUV Nev had left for us to drive back to the station with. We’d eventually do that, I figured, with a minor detour.
A chill just crept up my spine and I spun around. I could swear—
“John?” Greg called out to me.
I peered to every moving face on the street but I didn’t recognize anyone and no one was looking in our direction. It was such a strange . . . familiar feeling. I could have sworn we were being watched. I turned back to them and gestured to the car. “Let’s go.”
She snapped a few more photos before she dipped into her rental. She pulled out a few cars behind them and followed. Whatever was going on in Manchester that night, the news wasn’t with the police but rather, with those three. She knew it. From her contacts at the local paper and from the tip she’d received earlier that evening that initially led her here, she knew this story, a Sherlock Holmes story, was possibly the news event of the year.
She had to be here, she had to be in the center of it. This was her turf, her story. She practically held the copyright on Sherlock Holmes.
Kitty Reilly would get to the bottom of what was going on and see if the whispers were true: was the fake of Baker Street still alive?