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The Ghost of Manchester: Chapter Four

Back to The Ghost of Manchester Chapter One | Two | Three |
Word count for Chapter Three: 3,700+
Word count so far: 14,200+

Chapter Four

His new home was a cell. He felt caged beyond all sense of comfort. It agitated his senses to be so still and unmoving. The bed sheet they’d draped over the windows in lieu of curtains (they couldn’t find them) was pushed just slightly to the side with one long finger. They’d found two bugs in each phone connection; the usual places. The space was now barren of listening ears and of much else. Somewhere out there, in the city night, a man wearing his flesh was on a mission.

The last time Sherlock had been a hunted man he had escaped to the cold comfort of Bart’s. That place had nearly a decade of memories within it. It was his home after university and before Baker Street. Hours would be spent there escaping the dry noise of humanity. Where he was now only provided a slightly warmer kind of cold but absolutely no comfort.

His challenge, as he saw it, was to decide whether he could risk capture for a chance at freedom.

It wasn’t as clear as all that now was it? If it had been so starkly black and white then he’d already be out there searching. The man running around Manchester was simply another rung. Even though, to Sherlock, he represented getting his life back, proving Jim Moriarty was real, forcing the world to see the truth once and for all, what did it matter when the larger game was so obscured? How could he be sure they still believed him dead? What was the statistical possibility of that girl emerging not a few yards away from where he sat for dinner?

Moriarty. More than a man. Wasn’t that what he’d been told at the outset?

As he looked back on everything that happened since the cab driver down to the pool and finally putting a face to Moriarty, he realized how deeply he’d fallen for the lie. He now understood that he hadn’t foiled any direct plans of Moriarty’s at all. The cabby was on a suicide mission that could have led to his own death at any point in the line by a simple twist of chance. No self-respecting mastermind would hang much expectation on that sort of design. And then the operatives of the Black Lotus were expendable henchmen. Money, Sherlock knew, meant nothing to Moriarty. The bombings hadn’t even been for the Bruce Partington plans as he’d suspected. Jim hadn’t wanted them and in reality, he could have easily got them himself.

What had he wanted?

Face time?


Though Jim had said he had become a fly in his ointment it hadn’t been exactly true, had it? The only machinations Sherlock had foiled of his were petty side-excursions compared to the very real issue of the flight of the dead, and in the end, Moriarty had won that one. Adler had simply been his tool; once he got what he wanted she was just as easily disposable. That had been the only case where Jim had any actual play and, as Mycroft had said, it had been a textbook manipulation and he’d fallen for it.

A fly in the ointment.

That’s what Sherlock realized he was but not in the grander literary sense of something that was a true hindrance to some existential sense of wellbeing but literally a creature so misguided as to leap into a situation that was to be his certain death. Perhaps a moth to a flame would be more accurate. It didn’t carry the implication of importuning some third party.

More than a man . . .

Sherlock realized he’d been completely manipulated into thinking Jim was the center of the web that when he told him he had a code that could do anything he’d believed him without reservation. But that too was just another move in the game, the final move in the manipulation. For Sherlock’s part, the game was to end with his death but to what purpose?

There was no respect from Moriarty for Sherlock Holmes, the man. His death would be wholly equivalent to sprinkling salt on a slug just to watch it shrivel and die. It was a sadist’s toy but despite dear Jim, Moriarty, the more behind the man, wouldn’t go through all of this for the sake of a slug.

Truly winning a game meant beating a superior opponent and nothing of what he’d done, from what Sherlock could see, had been superior.

The true opponent would be greater than what he was and Moriarty, again, was more than a man. Something in his death, Sherlock realized, would lead to the satisfaction in Moriarty that he’d toppled something so much more than a man . . .

Sherlock released the curtain and stepped away. His fists were clenched. Molly was sitting cross-legged on her tie-dyed bean bag. She was nursing a cooling mug of coffee. She’d been watching him think. It was a curious pastime for her, when they spent their evenings together. It was like watching videos of the autobahn.

“I’m this close to working out why they needed me to die but I can’t see it,” he said. Nearly every muscle in his body was wound. If they wanted a fall his death was unnecessary. A public trial, a conviction, prison, that was a circus waiting to happen. That was a fall but to die? To die in disgrace? What did that give to Moriarty? How would that be a triumph? Swatting a fly would have more satisfaction.

“What can’t you see about it?” She asked.

“Why me?”

“What do you mean?”

“I was nothing to them. I posed absolutely no danger to their organization. In the end, the only person I could even identify with ‘Moriarty’ was a madman.” He read the confusion in her face and explained, “What I mean is, in the grand scheme of things I was spitting at an inferno.”

“Is that how you see yourself?”

He shrugged her off. “It’s not meant to sound like modesty. At no point in time was I ever an actual threat to them.”

She frowned. “But you’re the only person who actually could threaten them . . . potentially, I mean.”

“My point exactly regarding the absurdity of it all.”

“Are you sure you’re not wallowing? This sounds like wallowing.” He ignored her. She sighed. “Fine. Alright. Moriarty’s a huge criminal empire, very shady, very powerful. Not even the government could come close to breaking one of their nuttier members.”

He glanced to her and with a look of agreement he said, “You’re beginning to understand.”

Molly blinked. “But . . . you’re missing the point.”

“There was a point?”

She was going to throw the mug at him. She was this close. “You broke him. You did that.” Quiet passed between them as that idea settled. “You’ve never cared what people thought so you didn’t see it but . . . but people were cheering for you. For you. They trusted you. They believed in you.”

At that he waved her off. “For doing what I’ve been doing for years. As I’ve said, people aren’t observant.”

She allowed that with a tiny huff. “True. But what does that matter? Just because it got louder at the end?”

His racing brain stopped and he froze as if touched by arctic air. The cheering got louder at the end . . . the question was: what had caused that loudness?

Words whispered through his mind and quietly stumbled from his lips. “You’re boring. You’re on the side of the angels. Every fairytale needs a good old-fashioned villain. You need me, or you’re nothing.”

She recognized those words. He’d told her them before when he’d described what had passed between he and Jim at the end but she couldn’t see what he was connecting. “What?”

It came to him as a subtle shock but it eased over him like warm water. “Everyone thinks Sherlock Holmes created Moriarty. The truth is, Moriarty created Sherlock Holmes.”

“What are you saying?”

He’d positioned himself as the first and only consulting detective and Moriarty, his ‘fan,’ had become the opposite, the consulting criminal. The more mischief Jim caused, the more cases to solve. With that came the consequent attention. His star would grow. The bigger his star, the bigger the hero of the tale he would be.

Moriarty wasn’t trying to keep him out of his plans. It had never been about that at all. No, in fact, he’d pulled him deeper into them. Hadn’t he told the cabby he’d been a fan of Sherlock Holmes? Hadn’t he put the cabby on the lookout for him? He’d encouraged his involvement in what John would later deem A Study in Pink. He was enveloped into the action, not pushed out of it.

General Shan had been told of him and had even kidnapped John when she thought he’d been Sherlock Holmes. She too had drawn him in.

Then Carl Powers, his first case. Oh yes, this game had been a long one. The bombing of the building across the street containing a package addressed just to him further folding him into the fabric of the tale. At the pool Jim had said that he wanted Sherlock to stay out of his affairs but the evidence proved the contrary: Moriarty had actively brought him into all those cases.

He was being cultivated and he hadn’t seen it.

“They were creating a hero,” he finally said. Molly thought she saw his face pale, just a little. He looked to her as if he couldn’t trust the thoughts in his own mind. “Jim positioned himself as the villain. I took it for granted that I was left in the role as the hero but only as just a role. Me, a hero? I’d never heard anything so absurd. But brought into the larger context, they built the majority of my reputation. They enticed me with cases I couldn’t resist and why?” The following thought left a greasy film inside of him. He had to get it out before he became sick. “A paint-by-the-numbers hero.”

“You’re not—”

“Again, Molly, not modesty,” he said, cutting her off. Gesturing to her he asked, “What is Moriarty?”

“A crime syndicate, you said.”

“Larger than even our government. Place my brother as a symbol of that government and it works. Their opponent in this game had to be something greater than a government.”

Molly worried her lower lip and it took her a moment before she posited, “The people?”

He was almost proud of her. “Exactly. Not me but the people. They were the second player in the game. The people versus Moriarty, the trial repeated on a macro scale. Jim and I were simply the representations of either side.”

She repeated what he’d said before, “The side of the angels.”

“The question in all of this is how does my death enable a win against the people? My reputation up to my death was destroyed. I was no longer their ‘champion.’”

“But you were a hero—”

He dismissed that. “Watch the coffins come back from any war. Heroes die everyday.”

Digging a little deeper she said, “Okay, well, they turned you into the villain. The hero fell—”

“Trite. Boring. That’s not a triumph over the people. That’s perhaps the most told story in all of creation. You only need to flip to the Bible, page one.”

Molly blew out her cheeks. She always felt a mile behind. “The fallen hero dies—”

“And millions of people reaffirm their prejudices. It’s a reinforcement. ‘No one can be that clever.’ ‘Aren’t I clever that I didn’t fall for his tricks?’ ‘I always took those stories with a grain of salt.’ It’s equivalent to denying you ever played a pop song on repeat once it fell out of favor. It’s herd mentality and people are cattle.”

Molly stretched out her legs before her. If a hero dying wouldn’t do it and a fallen hero dying wouldn’t do it, what would? What would it take for a people to be so affected that it would be at a magnitude to satisfy Moriarty?

“. . . The man with your face? He’s going around and people will think you’re some kind of zombie criminal mastermind—”

He blinked at her.

“Or . . . not.”

“Assuming all of this is to lead the police to our doorstep, I’d simply be the villain again. It serves no purpose.”

She didn’t understand. “Why would they lead the police here? They think you’re dead,” she said and it felt like the millionth time. “There’s no here . . . here.”

Sherlock was about to share his suspicion that Moriarty may be aware that he was still alive when he realized something that was the essential piece: this entire plan was contingent on his death. The attack on the girl that night was clear proof. He couldn’t believe he’d overlooked such a glaring fact. Had he been arrested right then outside of the restaurant it would have been over. There was nothing to gain there. The assault itself hadn’t even been necessary. A tip to any call center with his address would have been enough for an arrest and surely a conviction.

What if it had been a coincidence? What if the news of his death, though greatly exaggerated, had managed to hold true? What if the entity known as Moriarty still believed Sherlock Holmes was decaying in his grave? What if all of this was the culmination of the plan and for it to work he had to have died in disgrace? Months later, enter a man with his face who was brutally assaulting young women, what would that do? What if, just like dear Jim, that man submitted himself to capture and confessed? What if that confession absolved Sherlock Holmes? The innocent man, the hero who had been persecuted to his death? A man torn asunder by the police and the press and by small minds convinced with the whispers that became shouts of ‘no one could be that clever.’

The summary effect would be the destruction of a man said to be on the side of the angels and every trusted institution, the police and the press, would have been complicit and aggressive players in his suicide. Not even the courts could have held the true villain, James Moriarty. He had been released, given absolution. In his stead, Sherlock Holmes had been destroyed.

“Give us Barabbas,” he whispered.

It only took Molly a moment to understand him.

It was a heavy-handed allegory and he chafed against it but the similarity couldn’t be denied. “That’s the triumph. The solution to the problem, the final problem. They fabricate a hero, destroy his reputation and then kill him. All so they can, in the end, redeem him.”

“But, how does that—”

“Imagine the scar that would leave on the conscience of the general populace. Imagine the damage that would do to the trust people place in their institutions: the police, the press, the courts. It would be the birth of an idea. An idea so sour and foul that the only thing it would be capable of doing would be to metastasize.” He was walking in a tight circuit about the room. “An idea, as easily planted in the minds of those who knew me that grew into suspicion, Moriarty is planting the seeds of distrust in the minds of the people. You can’t kill an idea, not once it takes hold and as I’ve said, people are cattle. They’ll fall exactly the way he designed, don’t you see?”

“A bit?”

“For God’s sake, Molly—”

“Wait. Hold on. Okay. The man with your face is trying to get caught? He tells everyone the truth, that you’re innocent. People realize you weren’t the bad guy and somehow . . . you’re saying . . . that’s bad? No. I don’t see.”

He sighed. “You’re looking at this from your perspective, knowing that I’m alive. As you’ve said, so many times now, they think I’m dead. They have no plans on introducing a resurrection into this story.”

He was right. Molly could only reflect that he was always right before she took in the implication of what he was laying out. With the people’s complicity in the death of a hero a chasm would open. A rift. It would be an idea, just a small idea but it was enough. How much outrage would result? How much respect would be lost? To allow how many of those people who’d felt so satisfied in their negative opinion of him to be faced with the truth and the queasy impression that by having that opinion that somehow they too were partly responsible.

At his height, Sherlock Holmes was a water cooler name. Yes, he’d been a man, but his reputation had become so large that he treaded on being more than just a man. He was capable of doing what Scotland Yard couldn’t. He was a symbol of something so much more. People had believed in Sherlock Holmes.

His rise, fall, death and redemption would be a bitter thing for who would be left to be on the side of the angels? Who would want to be after what happened to him?

“But you are alive,” Molly said. “Once it’s all out there, once people know the truth, you’ll be able to show them.”

He pictured that girl, staring at him with wide, terrified eyes. Had she been released or had she only had the good luck to escape? Were there others out there, right now, walking down some dark stretch of road only to see his face as the last thing they ever saw?

He had two options: hunker down in this house he and Molly shared and wait for it to pass, come what may. People might die as a result but the man would be caught, revealed and Moriarty would finally have a moment of satisfaction in the public outcry before Sherlock uprooted his headstone. His second option was to catch the man himself and risk the possibility of exposure to Moriarty. If it was known he was alive then he’d never get the proof he needed to clear himself. He would either have to forever live in hiding or be arrested and submit himself to becoming the villain once more.

Could he be what people thought he was by allowing others to die or could he be who he knew he was and risk it all to save them?

His coat was in his hands before he’d even decided to pick it up.

“Wait,” she said, grabbing her coat and the car keys. “Where are we going?”

He turned and took the keys from her. “No, Molly we’re not going anywhere. You’re going to wait a few minutes for me to leave and then you’re going to call Mycroft and tell him what’s going on. He’ll get you out of here safely.”

“Without you?”

“I promised I’d keep you safe and this is the only way I can—”

She ran around him and plastered herself against the front door, blocking his way.

“. . . Molly . . .?”

“An excess of bubble wrap,” she reminded him. Before he could protest she shook her head. “They’re not looking for me, forget?” She extended her palm. “I’ll drive and you’ll fold yourself up in the back seat.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“You have a very distinct look. The police would have you before you hit downtown. Lucky for you, no one ever notices me.” She didn’t say it with regret or remorse but with some pride. Molly Hooper, the woman Jim Moriarty had discounted as even qualifying as a friend to Sherlock Holmes was someone Sherlock Holmes was now trying to safeguard.

With a final tug of resistance, he dropped the keys into her palm. “I hate the backseat,” he grumbled. She beamed and tossed on her coat and opened the door.

“The trip out of London wasn’t so bad.”

“How would you know? You were driving. However, I was back there imitating a pretzel.”

Just as Molly was about to open the door a black sedan with tinted windows rolled down the street and blocked the way out of their drive. Sherlock shifted before Molly and stood between her and the car. A woman emerged from the backdoor. In her hands was a Blackberry that she was furiously typing on. “I’m to take you to a safe house,” she said, barely looking up to them. The woman who had introduced herself to John as ‘Anthea’ stood just outside the circle of light thrown by a streetlamp.

Sherlock groaned and exhaled, “And a goodnight to you as well, Naomi.”

Molly looked to the woman and also exhaled. Naomi Kinkade, their handler and one of Mycroft’s most trusted underlings. She was a machine-mind. The Blackberry was a direct link to all CCTV connections. Her solitary occupation was to scan, edit, and eliminate whatever, whenever she wanted. She’d been entrusted with the task of following Sherlock and Molly’s travels around Manchester and erasing all footsteps. Small chat with her was like talking to a stone. Molly had gone through most of her life invisibly but Naomi could make a person feel flat-out non-existent.

“Do I have a choice in the matter?” Sherlock asked, knowing the answer.

Naomi glanced up to him with a frown as if wondering why they weren’t both already in the car. She’d been preoccupied with eliminating all evidence of her arrival at their new house. “No.”

There was no point in even putting on a show of resistance: Ms. Kinkade was already looking back to her screen. Sherlock and Molly marched to the car and got in. A mobile was waiting for them on the leather seat and he took it up.

“Honestly, Mycroft—”

“You hadn’t connected your home telephone and your mobiles were unreachable,” Mycroft Holmes explained as a ‘hello.’ “Are you aware there’s a BOLO out on you?”

“Of course I’m aware.”

“For assault.”

“Worried I did it?”

“No. I’m worried that you didn’t tell me the real reason you decided to go into hiding in Manchester!” Mycroft hissed into the receiver. Silence passed between them. Mycroft calmed himself and continued. “Where is he, then?”

“My doppelganger? I’ve no idea.”

“This isn’t a game—”

“No, Mycroft, that’s where you’re wrong. It’s always been a game and we’ve both been played.”

Chapter Five


Jan. 23rd, 2012 10:21 pm (UTC)

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