The sound of a door opening brought him out of a sleep as deep as death. How long he'd been out he couldn't say, but judging from his dry mouth, foggy head, and raging thirst, the time he'd spent asleep could well exceed twenty-four hours. He cracked open gummy eyes and winced as light pierced his brain. Somehow, he found the strength to groan. "John?"
"Afraid not, sir," someone said.
The cheery voice lanced through his head and made him consider murder. Any jury would find the homicide justifiable. "Who?"
"Call me Halmsley, sir," the man said, moving to where Sherlock could see him. "I'm the house steward and personal assistant to your host."
"My what?" He understood the words, but their context did not make sense. "I was...not here. I was...Baker Street! I was in Baker Street, walking toward my front door..." Then what happened? He couldn't remember. That wasn't like him. "How did I get here?"
"The master brought you in night before last," Halmsley said, taking hold of Sherlock's shoulders and helping him sit up. He placed another pillow behind his head and turned to the bedside table. Sherlock watched as he poured a cup of tea. The entire service on that silver tray screamed "Herend" and "money." Interesting. Milk and sugar were added and Sherlock took the cup and saucer held out to him. "To get your feet under you, sir."
Sherlock held the cup and looked at Halmsley. "I'm curious, Halmsley. Just who is...your master? Did he tell you why I've been brought here?"
"He did," Halmsley said, turning toward a door on the right. "I'll draw you a bath, sir. You'll feel much more the thing once you've washed up." Halmsley disappeared through the door and a moment later he could hear water running. Sherlock looked around the room, hoping to get some idea of just who his kidnapper was. The room was luxurious with cherry paneling, a Turkey carpet, fine brocade upholstery on the mahogany furniture, and the bed itself was a sybaritic pleasure with Egyptian cotton sheets and a down comforter and pillows.
Holmes set the tea aside and levered himself up, hating the feeling of moving through quicksand. By this point he'd had plenty of evidence to let him know that he'd been drugged, and whatever he'd been given was the absolute worst thing he could ever remember having. "Weak as a kitten" didn't begin to describe how he felt. Because of the fog he was in, it took about two or three steps for him to realize that he was in excruciating pain. The pain made his left leg buckle and he collapsed, knocking the bedside table and its tea service over with enough of a crash to wake the dead.
Halmsley rushed out of the bathroom, surprise and shock all over his face. "Oh, dear, sir," he said, helping Holmes back up onto the bed. "I wish you'd have let me know you were trying to get up. Are you all right?"
"My foot," Sherlock gasped, staring down at the foot that was wrapped with a bandage. Why hadn't he noticed before? "What the blazes happened?"
"Ah," Halmsley said. "That was done the night you were brought in. You tried to fight them off, you see, and the master feels that you might have cracked one or two bones in your foot. Maybe three, perhaps, and of course, there's a great deal of bruising. With some rest, you'll be right as rain in no time."
"Was I trying to fight off some friends of your master's?" Holmes demanded.
"Employees," Halmsley corrected, slipping back into the bathroom and shutting off the water. "The master doubted that you would accept an invitation of your own accord, so he sent some of his employees to pick you up. I have to admit that the master was impressed; you managed to give each one of them a black eye, one man lost a tooth, another man has a broken hand, and another man will not say just how he received his particular injury. Well done, sir."
"I must be slipping," Holmes said snarkily. He'd suspected kidnapping earlier, but now he had confirmation.
"Perhaps you were having an off day," Halmsley said, coming back to Sherlock's side. "Now, if you are ready, I'll help you to your bath and get you some clothes. A pair of pajama pants does not an outfit make."
"What if I don't want a bath?" Sherlock demanded, pushing away Halmsley's hands. "What if I want to call someone?"
"If you can find a telephone, sir, you're welcome to make that call," Halsmley answered calmly. "However, I have my orders, and they are absolute. The master has ordered you enjoy a hot bath before your breakfast, so that is what will happen. I hope you understand."
"And what will you do if I refuse?"
Halmsley's smile was chilly. "You don't want to refuse, sir. That I promise you."
Sherlock looked Halmsley up and down and something about the man's stance made him realize he was more than a butler. That, and the strength the man had used in helping him up and certain calluses on his hands that could be felt through the gloves he wore told Sherlock that this man was an accomplished martial artist. In his present state, there was no way he could match him. "Very well."
"I'm glad you saw reason, sir," Halmsley said, putting Sherlock's arm around his shoulder and putting his arm around Sherlock's waist. "I have most of your weight, sir. Just go slowly."
Sherlock made his way toward the bathroom, taking small steps and letting Halmsley help him. Even that small walk was making his foot throb, and by the time Sherlock had used the necessary (with Halmsley leaving so he could have privacy) and made it to the tub he was wishing that John was there to take a look at his foot. John was a general practitioner and not a specialist in podiatry, but he was still a doctor and Sherlock trusted him far more than he trusted any other medical person. Halmsley helped him sit down on a bench next to the tub, added bath salts to the steaming water, and fetched a pile of towels. While he was busy fetching body wash and shampoo, Sherlock examined the bathroom. White tile and plenty of plants in pots, which, along with the steam, made the room feel like a greenhouse. The tub itself was a large, square Grecian affair, covered in tile patterned with dark green ferns.
"There we are," Halmsley said, placing the body wash and other accoutrements for bathing on the rim of the tub. "Would you like some help into the tub?"
"I'm sure I can manage," Sherlock said quickly. "Thank you."
"Very well," Halmsley said, turning toward the door. "If you need anything, please call." So saying, he closed the door. A few seconds later Sherlock could hear him gathering the scattered china and placing it on the tray.
Sherlock pulled himself to his feet, undressed, and slipped into the water. The heat felt good on his stiff back and shoulders and he sank into the water up to his chin. He began washing his hair and had just rinsed it when Halmsley appeared by the tub, startling him. "Gaaah! Where did you come from?!"
Halmsley grinned. "Rumor has it that I came from London," he said impishly. He was holding a carafe of water and he poured some into a glass. "I thought you would be thirsty, and the heat in here would make it worse. Care for some?"
One sip and Sherlock knew that the water was something his body needed desperately. He sipped carefully, finishing off that glass and another over twenty minutes. After that, Halmsley insisted he finish washing and then assisted him from the tub and into a fluffy terrycloth robe. It was like being wrapped in a giant towel and made him feel so cozy that for a moment he toyed with the idea of crawling back into that fantastic bed and going back to sleep. "What drug did they give me?"
"I wasn't told, sir," Halmsley admitted. "The master did say that you would be foggy for a while."
"Hmmm. Did he?"
"Yes, sir," Halmsley said, pulling clothes out of the wardrobe and placing them on the bed. "Here we are. Will these do?"
Sherlock glanced over the clothes. "Harrods?"
"You have a good eye," Halmsley complimented, taking socks and shoes out of the wardrobe. "I'll leave you to dress. I'll be back in a few minutes to take care of your foot, and then I'll take you down to the breakfast room, where you'll meet the master and your host."
"Looking forward to it," Sherlock said, hoping and praying that John was all right. "Ah, just one question before you go. My flatmate..."
"Doctor Watson? He's all right. He's still in Baker Street and according to reports, he phoned the police as soon as he realized you were missing, but so far, the police have found nothing, even with the help of the surveillance cameras your brother had installed on Baker Street."
That information didn't surprise him one bit. Knowing Mycroft, they would most likely be disguised as perching pigeons.
Halmsley left the room only long enough for Sherlock to pull on the pants, trousers, and shirt of the outfit and then returned to help him on with the jacket. He re-wrapped Sherlock's foot in an elastic bandage and eased on a soft black leather slipper that almost matched the shoe that Halmsley handed him to put on. Once he was completely dressed, Halmsley helped him back to his feet and handed him an oak walking stick.
"I'll help you to the elevator, sir, and then it's only a little bit to the breakfast room. If you need to stop and rest, let me know."
The rest of the house was just as opulent as the bedroom, and Sherlock kept his eyes open for any clues as to where he might be. Down the hall, into the elevator, out of the elevator, down another hall, and into a bright room made warm by sunlight on the cream-colored wallpaper. A sideboard on the right wall was covered with silver serving dishes and the table held two place settings of white china and silver polished to a shine. Because his foot was beginning to hurt abominably he sank into a chair. Halmsley took up a post in the corner, either to watch him or to make sure that he wasn't about to faint from pain. Sherlock had to sit on his urge to start throwing things. Whoever his kidnapper was, the man had better put in an appearance soon, or he would become violent.
His stomach growled, reminding him just how long it had been since he'd last eaten. He hadn't eaten much in the past few days due to a case, but now that it was over, he felt like eating. The aroma of the food on the sideboard was practically a torment. Well, he would eat when he got home. He wasn't about to eat anything here. Once he talked this idiot around and got to a phone, it would be only a little while before he would be back in Baker Street and eating...something. He wasn't sure what was in the cupboards or the fridge. Perhaps he should go out to eat. If not, then all he had to do was look pathetic and Mrs. Hudson would fuss over him and make him a full meal. She loved to fuss, especially if something had happened to him that she thought should be upsetting or frightening. He had a strong feeling that roast chicken was in his future, along with a jacket potato with butter and...his stomach roared and it was actually starting to hurt. When he got home, he'd eat for a straight hour and go right to bed to sleep it all off. That was what he needed.
The door opened, revealing a man about twenty years older than he, well dressed and groomed to within an inch of his life. There were lines around his eyes and mouth, showing his age, as did the silver at his temples. Piercing green eyes looked him up and down and the man smiled. The suit this man was wearing was every bit as expensive as the clothes that Halmsley had provided for him when he dressed. His hands were manicured yet the musculature was developed, showing a man who most likely spent a lot of time typing and writing, however, given the house and articles within it and the fact that his hands did not have the thick finger pads of someone who spent his time typing for his living, it was most likely that his typing and writing was a hobby or pastime that he invested several hours a day in. The man had a touch of sun on his skin but did not look like someone who spent his time in tanning booths, so the tan was natural. Given the recent weather, the man couldn't have gotten the tan in England, it had been far too cloudy. The man's shoes were Italian and quite new, and taking into account the decor featuring the Italian coast he'd seen around the house and what he'd observed from this man, he drew his conclusions. "Hello, there. I presume you are my host. How was your trip to the Italian Riviera?"
The man chuckled and clapped his hands, giving a slow applause. "Well done, Mr. Holmes. I expected nothing less. It is an honor to meet you."
"Please forgive me if I don't return the sentiment," Holmes said flatly, oddly feeling like a pet who had just done a trick. "Who are you and why did you have me brought here?"
"My name is Rowlesden," the man said, taking the chair across the table from Holmes. "I and my friends are admirers of yours."
"Admirers?" Holmes echoed. Of all things he'd expected to hear, that had not been one of them.
"Quite, yes," Rowlesden assured him. "We form an...elite group, if you will, of men who think and feel alike. We've watched your career with interest for quite some time."
This man sounded an awful lot like Mycroft on one of his tangents. If this man was a crony of his brother's carrying out his orders, he was going to KILL Mycroft. He would go to jail for fratricide, but it would be worth it. "An elite group?"
"Yes. I doubt you would have heard of us. All the secret groups that you might have heard of don't even know about us, and I doubt that your brother will know. He won't come storming through the door to rescue you."
"Mycroft would most likely thank you, if you've brought me here for a terrible fate," Sherlock retorted. "He won't be coming to rescue me. He's probably planning on sending you card or something to thank you. So, this elite group...what do you call yourselves?"
Rowlesden chuckled and slowly wagged a finger. "That would be telling, Mr. Holmes."
Holmes narrowed his eyes. Dimly heard the sound of Halmsley fussing at the sideboard, but he ignored it and tried his best to remain focused on his host. "You and your friends. Why did you all bring me here?"
"How many cases have you had in the last year?" Rowlesden asked, but then he held up a hand. "No, don't bother answering, we know exactly how many. You worked several cases concurrently, and this last case required the effort and constant attention of almost a month. For months before this last case you shorted yourself on sleep and food and for this past month, you've done that more often than not. You are pale, dark circles are under your eyes, you've lost a stone and a half in weight, and you would probably never admit it, but you've been feeling less than your best for several days now. Is this how the most celebrated detective in the world takes care of himself?"
Holmes fought down the ridiculous impulse to apologize. "If you've observed me for that long, then you would know that that is how I work," he reminded Rowlesden. "I give my all to the case."
"Mr. Holmes, if you continue on this path, then you won't be able to give much of anything to any case in the future," Rowlesden answered as Halmsley placed a full plate in front of him and his guest. "Ah, wonderful. Please tuck in, Mr. Holmes. I flatter myself that I have the best cook in England."
Sherlock stared at the plate in front of him. There were scrambled eggs, sausage patties, toast, and fresh fruit salad. Halmsley poured a glass of orange juice and placed it next to his plate and then a minute later he added a cup of tea. "I don't think I'm hungry."
"Oh, come now, Mr. Holmes." Rowlesden looked vastly amused. "You were kept under by a drug for forty-eight hours. For three days previous, all the food you had was a biscuit, a few crackers, and a mug of soup from a vendor's cart, as well as plenty of tea with sugar. You are hungry, I promise."
His stomach clenched. They had to have been watching him very closely to know exactly what he'd had. He didn't like what that implied. "I would like to make a phone call."
Rowlesden, in the middle of a sip of tea, looked at him and put his cup down. "Impossible."
"The lack of food has slowed down your brain," Rowlesden quipped. "My friends and I did arrange to have you kidnapped. We are not eager to have the police descend upon us and march us off to prison."
Sherlock resisted the urge to toss his orange juice into this man's face. "That would suit me quite well, but they would probably bungle the whole thing. You haven't gotten around to telling me exactly why you kidnapped me."
"That's right, I haven't," Rowlesden said. "Why don't you and I make a bargain? You eat a sizeable portion of your breakfast, and I'll explain why you've been brought here. How does that sound?"
"It sounds mad," Sherlock fumed, getting to his feet and storming toward the door as best he could with a hobble and a cane.
"Where are you going?" Rowlesden asked, once again sounding amused.
"London, you insufferable git!"
One moment, he was heading toward the door and the next, Halmsley was in his way. He didn't even see what Halmsley did, but the next thing he knew, he was back in his chair at the table.
"Take this as a warning, Mr. Holmes," Rowlesden said calmly, but cold steel coated every word. "I'll indulge you only up to a point. Now, as for your question...we had you brought here because we didn't like what we saw. The world's foremost consulting detective, not eating, shorting himself on sleep, engaging in destructive behaviors...That could not continue. You, young man, are a living treasure for all of Britain, if not for all the world. You've been brought here, Mr. Holmes, to have a rest. Think of it as a vacation. No cares or worries to weigh you down, nothing but all the time you could wish to use as you please. I'm sure there are projects you've long thought of pursuing, of books you'd like to read and so forth. Just ask for what you need or want, and we shall provide it for you."
Sherlock fought down panic. "If you've read my flatmate's blog, then you would know that my mind rebels at stagnation. A vacation like that sounds like my own personal hell. I'll go mad within a week."
"Oh, not to worry," Rowlesden said chummily. "There will be plenty of things to engage that formidable mind of yours. The only demands made on you will be that you follow our rules."
"For the first few weeks, you'll eat what is given you and rest when you're told. One of my friends is a doctor, and I took the liberty of having him examine you when you arrived. He says that you are exhausted and very underweight. You need to eat and rest to get back your strength. Once he says you are fit, you'll be able to engage in more active pursuits. Do you understand?"
"If I refuse to do as I'm told?" Sherlock asked.
"Then we'll use restraints to keep you in bed and put a feeding tube down your throat," Rowlesden said pleasantly. "Either way, you will eat and rest."
Holmes felt his hands curl into fists. Who did this bastard think he was, kidnapping him and threatening him with a soft bed and good food and...? He stopped, his mind grappling with all this. Put that way, the whole thing sounded absolutely ridiculous. What would a jury convict him of besides kidnapping? Forced leisure? Imprisonment in luxurious surroundings? Torture by gourmet dishes? Hmm.
"For these first few weeks, you will be confined to the house and the east garden. Not too much walking. When you aren't resting or eating or amusing yourself, you'll be expected to have sessions with a masseuse to help your muscles stay in shape and to help you relax. I expect a visit with him once a day. Every week, you'll have a visit with the doctor to assess your physical condition and to make sure that your foot is healing as it should. If you ignore the doctor's orders, then you'll be confined to your room until you've learned better. Later, we'll have a personal trainer come for you to get you back in fighting trim." Rowlesden stopped and regarded him with a smile. "You know, Mr. Holmes, if you let your food sit for much longer, it will get cold. Do I have to have Halmsley spoon-feed you?"
Once again, the urge to be violent rose. Without a word, he picked up a piece of toast and took a bite. Chewed. Swallowed. He took a sip of tea and started on the eggs. Had some sausage. A spoonful of fruit salad. A mouthful of juice. Another bite of toast. More tea. "How's that?"
Rowlesden gave him a warm smile. "It's a start. Very good, Mr. Holmes, you're learning. Now, if you break a rule, I'll be very disappointed. If you try to escape or attempt to contact anyone, you will be punished, and you won't like what that punishment entails in the slightest. Just take my word for it."
All sorts of unpleasant scenarios rose in his mind. "If you hurt John or Mrs. Hudson or..."
"Oh, certainly not," Rowlesden ensured him. "We won't be doing that. Whatever punishment you incur, you'll be receiving yourself. Keep that in mind. If you've finished your breakfast, Halmsley will take you back to your room. He'll bring you a medication for the pain your foot must be causing you and he'll show you everything in your room that's been brought for you. You'll rest and amuse yourself, and then you'll have lunch, then a nap, and then the rest of the afternoon will be yours to use as you please until dinner. I will see you then. Have a pleasant day, Mr. Holmes."