by Speranza

The man arrives in the midst of foul weather. Mrs. Hudson shows him up. "Mr. (elocution lessons) Holmes?" he asks, standing (good posture) in the doorway. Sherlock ostentatiously lifts his eyes from his Blackberry, but does not otherwise move. The man (blue eyes) is wearing expensive (Fendi; SW1X; Peter Jones, David Mellor, Royal Court; fashion design; hairdressers; advertising?) glasses and (cuffs altered at least twice) a second-hand (not advertising, then) designer suit. His shoes (very interesting) are very poorly made, and he has a messenger bag slung over his shoulder. He clears his throat (a shop assistant, perhaps, confined to the back of a counter), a trickle (Tube, no umbrella, raincoat taken from him downstairs by Mrs. Hudson) of rainwater running from his hairline (though not from the bag), obviously waiting to be invited into the flat. In the kitchen, John1 looks up from his newspaper and sets down his mug of tea. (SW1X + expensive glasses - cheap shoes + elocution lessons = Royal Court). Sherlock sighs, (anxious, willing to splurge on fees, discretion required) slides the Blackberry into his pocket and rolls up to his feet.

The man comes forward at once, extending a hand (no rings, no watch, careless with his fingernails, tsk) and wearing (not an actor, then) a relieved expression. "Thank you so much for seeing me."

Sherlock (I haven't seen much of you; not yet) smiles mechanically. "Not at all," he says 2. "My colleague," he says, raising his voice as he gestures carelessly toward John. "Dr. John Watson," and John stands up awkwardly3 and smiles. He comes into the sitting room, and the man turns (oh, very interesting) to shake his hand, messenger bag swinging forward.

"Cup of tea?" John asks with his usual, boring good manners. "Or perhaps," (John's eyes have sharpened) "something stronger?" (He's seen something; what has he--? Hair, glasses, earring hole, shirt, tie--oh, what a wealth of information; the knot alone!--shirt: label, buttons, cuffs-- ) But John is still talking. "Calm your nerves," he suggests with a quick, understanding smile.

Sherlock huffs out a breath and crosses his arms (yes, fine; constriction of the pupil, tension lines at the corner of the lip, slight knotting of the shoulders; child's play; a child could do it; emotionalism!) as John goes to the sideboard and pours some whiskey into a tumbler. "Please. Have a seat," Sherlock says, and sinks back into his armchair. The man sets down his bag and sits opposite, gratefully accepting the whiskey from John, who then perches, casually,4 on the desk.

"So: Mr. Markham," Sherlock says, with a flip of his hand. "Tell me about yourself. "Other than that you're twenty-eight and a playwright, originally from Sheffield but currently living somewhere in the vicinity of Regent's Park, spending a year writing in residence at the Royal Court, experimenting with veganism, and are going out with a woman called, hm, Rachel, I know hardly anything about you. Why should anyone steal your laptop?"

Pleasingly Mr. A. (Alan? Alex? Doesn't matter.) Markham's mouth falls open. Sherlock cuts a glance at John5, who meets his eyes and nods almost imperceptibly, mouth curving at one corner. Markham reaches down and yanks his bag into his lap without seeming to realize he's doing it. "I'm not experimenting," he says faintly. "Animal agriculture takes a devastating toll on the--"

Sherlock ignores this. "What's on your laptop?" he inquires.

Markham clutches his bag to his chest. "My new play."

Sherlock waves him on. "What else?"

"Nothing else!" Markham looks offended. "Moreover, someone's tried to kill me for it!"

"I find that highly unlikely," Sherlock replies.

"Twice," Markham insists, and murder, even attempted murder, is, of course, always interesting. He tilts his head to the side (scrapemarks on his shoes; grease stain on his right elbow), and considers. He decides that Markham's story, while implausible, is hardly impossible.

"All right, go on." Sherlock lets his head roll back and stares up at the faint cracks (297) in the ceiling. He steeples his fingers. "Tell me of this manuscript worth killing for."

"Well." Markham seems taken aback. "It's about a girl who works at a chippy in--"

"I retract the question." Sherlock sits up straight; John6 has slipped out of the room. He doesn't miss a beat. "Is it at all based in reality? Biography, a newsworthy story--?"


"--rehashing a local sex scandal, perhaps? Extortion, racketeering, a political mis-step?"

"No," Markham repeats, frustrated. "It's about the post-industrial decline of a warm, vibrant community, blighted by the systematic abuse and underinvestment of an alien and remote..." Here Sherlock stops listening. (If that stain is to be believed, the second attempt of Markham's life happened today, and the first no more than three days ago, judging from the weather and condition of those terrible shoes. He'd guess Saturday last, sometime after Markham and Rachel had dined out for their three-year anniversary. They'd spent too much on dinner, and Mr. Animal Agriculture had had fish, no doubt sustainably sourced. He'd bought her a gift from Tiffany's, she'd bought him a iPhone cover from Crumpler; he wanted to marry; she, sensibly, didn't. Still, there was nothing to indicate that Rachel actually wanted him dead, though she was a more likely suspect than--) " of the members of my writing group," Markham was insisting. "Warwick, for instance, would kill to have a play this good. He's been stuck on his verse drama about John Major for years."

The fool! "Would you please--" but wait, wait, wait, it's there, he has it. Though he doesn't know what it is yet, only that it just zipped past, tripping all his wires and making his nerves sing. Suddenly he must move (scrape; stain; Oxford knot; terrible shoes; sustainable fish) and he gets up to pace (anniversary; Tiffany's; iPhone; Crumpler; proposals) pressing his fingertips to his temples. (Warwick; verse drama; John Major--wait, go back. Go back.) He slows, stops, stares with unseeing eyes. (Tiffany's. A tiny, silver pull hanging from the zip of Markham's messenger bag: T&Co. Shiny despite the run of terrible weather; only days old; a token given with compliments to the purchaser of an expensive anniversary present.) And that's it--he's fumbling his Blackberry out of his pocket, (Tiffany's; jewels; missing) and it's all right there. A minor story, a single paragraph buried deep in the paper, because in this day and age, £30,000 hardly qualifies as a heist. In fact, the take was so small that the article's last line questioned whether the gems had actually been stolen; possibly they had been misplaced. That was what had caught Sherlock's attention--the idea that, by thinking small, a thief might do quite well. Sherlock had also been impressed by the shop assistant's outrage and bewilderment, which had come across quite clearly.

The satisfied rush nearly knocks him over. "You went to Tiffany's because it's just across the square from the Royal Court. You bought Rachel a ring--"

"Bracelet," Markham says sullenly.

"No one cares, least of all her. What's important is that you were carrying a large messenger bag with several outside pockets."

Markham's face is purpling unexpectedly. "I'll have you know--"

"It was Saturday, and the store was relatively full. Amongst the patrons was a thief who had managed to pilfer several rings from a temporarily unobserved velvet tray. However, he either suspects that he has attracted unwanted attention or otherwise gets cold feet, and so he manages to drop the jewelry into your bag, most likely into that gaping rear pocket. "

"I'll have that." The voice is a little muffled, due to the latex mask, but the gun's clearly visible. Markham swallows and clutches the bag to his chest.

"Ah, Maggie, you're looking surprisingly well," Sherlock says. "Still mugging the arts, eh?"

"Cut the comedy and give me the bag," the man wearing Margaret Thatcher's face says.

"No," Sherlock says, almost gently.

"No," John agrees, and there's an audible click7 as he chambers a round. He looks at Sherlock and says, "I assume you've got handcuffs around here somewhere?" in the same voice he uses to say, "Come on, now; where've you hidden the sugar?"

"Yes.8 Hang on, I'll fetch them," he says, and it only takes a moment's rummaging through drawers before he comes up with a serviceable pair of cuffs. He tosses them over.

John snatches them out of the air with one hand. "Ta very," he says, and goes to it, pushing Margaret Thatcher face first into the wall and cuffing his hands tightly.9

Markham is gaping between them. Sherlock strides over to him and says, "The bag, please?" After a moment's hesitation, Markham reluctantly hands it over. Sherlock fishes about in the pocket meant to house an eco-friendly, BPA-free, stainless steel water bottle and comes out with sparkle and fire. The six rings are exquisite; four feature diamonds in various avant-garde arrangements; the fifth is a starburst; the sixth, a single square-beveled emerald. He holds them in his palm and pokes at the discreet silver-backed price tags. £6,890, £11,340, £3,350. Hardly top of the line, but together, even more than £30,000. He wonders if Tiffany's routinely writes this sort of theft off as a minor expense.

He extends his palm to Markham, who blinks at the gems in surprise. "The good news is that it wasn't your play they were after," Sherlock tells him. "The bad news, I suppose, is that it wasn't your play they were after. Still," he says, stuffing them into his pocket, "I'm sure you'll make a success. Perhaps you'd be so kind as to send us two tickets when it opens."

The next hour or so is consumed with telephone calls and visits from the police. Lestrade comes over personally to take possession of the gems and, secondarily, Maggie, who turns out to be an enterprising young man from Battersea.

Once they're gone, John grins and stretches his arms behind his back. His nubbly grey jumper rises up, revealing the tails of his faint purple dress shirt.10 Well," John says, turning for the kitchen, "I call that a productive morning,"11 and Sherlock puts a hand on his arm. John looks at him inquisitively and Sherlock pushes John against the wall and thrusts a hand up his jumper. And then he waits for what will happen, his body tense as a bow.

But John only says, "Yes," and then, "All right," and when Sherlock finally meets his eyes, everything's there on the surface.


1 Nubbly grey jumper, faint purple shirt beneath; by what rubric does he dress himself? Reading the same article for the last 14 minutes, eyes flicking up and down the far right hand column of yesterday's Guardian ("Children Amongst The Victims as Bomb Kills Nine"), which he selected over today's paper--readily available, sitting ignored on the table--which has no news of the Afghan war on its front page ("Lib Dems Humiliated in Barnsley," "Oasis to play at Glastonbury in 2011"). Sherlock doesn't think there's much of a case here, but he's prepared to pursue the matter if it pulls John away from that damned newspaper. It does. (back)

2--and John is poised to get up, trying to decide whether to get up. Courtesy? Insecurity? He glances back at the paper--(back)

3 Bracing a hand on the table as he gets up; subliminal reaction to Afghanistan? (back)

4 Or perhaps not so casually. He's pretty sure John has slipped his revolver into his pocket when he went over to the sideboard. Still, he seems relaxed, though he's got one foot on the floor and he's holding himself in such a way that he could probably spring into action pretty quickly. (back)

5 It was almost a sickness. He couldn't remember ever being so pathetically desperate for approval, not since his mother died. She had appreciated his deductions as if they were a magic trick, designed to amuse her. But John took them as a challenge, a superior version of the cryptic crossword. (back)

6 John moves with a stealthiness that you wouldn't assume, that even he had not surmised. He had initially misread the clue of John's boring clothes: yes, they caused one to disregard him, but not because John was a shy, self-effacing personality cursed with the typical Englishman's utter lack of style. Rather, his sacklike garments gave him a tactical advantage: he could move about without being particularly noticed, and he could act fast, and with astonishing agility, if he needed to. Sherlock himself has taken the opposite tack, making himself as conspicuous as possible, the better to mislead; after all, someone looking for a tall, artistically dressed young man is hardly likely to register the stooped old geezer selling papers as the same person. It's simply not how the brain works.

But now he has noticed. He's seen the wiry strength in John's arms, in his thighs; he's seen John's cool decisiveness in action. And now that he's seen, he can't unsee it, and it seems impossible that no one else sees John for what he is. Yes, of course, human perception is notoriously faulty, and misdirection is easy if you know how, but it's as if he's got a loaded gun lying about, like he's wearing a hand grenade around his neck. An unconcealed weapon; that's what John is. It makes him shiver to think of it. (back)

7 The sound gives him an erection, but that's nothing to be ashamed of surely? (back)

8 Actually, he has several pairs of handcuffs, but he's always losing track of them, so he's glad to find some without difficulty. He's reasonably sure there's a pair in one of his shoeboxes, but he'd hated to have to have gone to the bedroom for them; it would send the wrong message (or possibly not?) (back)

9 He wonders if the direct approach would work. What would happen if he just went up to John, pushed him back against the wall, and thrust a hand up his jumper? John would deck him in all probability. But it was far from a certainty. There had been various indications... But his deductions regarding John had so far only been sixty-eight percent correct. And John had turned out to be an incalculably valuable flatmate. He needed to act with reasonable certainty that this particular deduction would not fall into that horrifically amateurish thirty-two percent. (back)

10 Striptease of the damned, and yet his heart beats fast. (back)

11 --and certainty is overrated, is it not? Sherlock's never cared much for poems himself, but he's fairly sure that all the best ones are always blathering on about risk, the virtues of venturing all for love and so on and so forth. Granted, these are alien feelings, but he has more than a passing familiarity with the joys of spontaneity and the perils of boredom. Moreover, he has always surmised that the anxiety famously associated with the early stages of romance - the feelings vulgarized as "butterflies in the stomach" and the like - are in fact actually indistinguishable from the pleasurable feelings of that same stage; anxiety being not a side effect of pleasure, but the very thing itself! He has further surmised that the underlying pleasure/pain is caused precisely a vertigo-inducing lack of certainty: in one's self, in one's partner; in the potential welcomeness of one's advances. He theorizes that a lack of certainty is synonymous with excitement. Sherlock finds himself very excited. (back)

The End

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