Story Notes: I the last chapter of Doctor John Watson, Police Surgeon: Scotland Yard 5: One Last War there was this following bit of dialogue.
A lady who had spoken very little up to that time asked, "Did Watson and Moran ever meet again?"
He checked his notes. "There was an incident around the trial, something about an abduction, but Watson made it and testified and that was the last they saw of one another for many years.
This story was written for Watson's Woes challenge 006 where it placed second. The challenge was based on this statement. "He's not after you, Holmes, he's after Watson!" or some variation.
This was originally supposed to be a longer fic, a re-imagining of Richard Cornell's Most Dangerous Game, but when this challenge came up, this was all I had. I was not sure it was possible to write a shorter single chapter version of it, but it turned out to be one of my favorite things I have written in this universe.
I've never posted it on Fanfiction until now, I wanted Doctor John 5 done first. For those who read it on Watson's Woes I have rewritten and added somethings just to tighten it up and beef up certain elements.
So for my constant readers who love my Watson.
Predator and Prey
Holmes waited, impatient, for his brother to allow him entrance.
The assistant came out, and nodded for him to come in. He nearly barrelled the man over, as he obliged.
"What is the meaning of this, Mycroft?" he demanded. "You entreated me to come here straight away, and then you leave me outside your door for nearly a half an hour?"
Mycroft looked around behind him. "Where is Doctor Watson?"
"We are not presently keeping company; we were supposed to meet before the trial. He chose to walk his rounds beforehand, besides as I have heard it, you have placed him in jeopardy entirely too much as it is..."
"Will you cease babbling?" Mycroft bellowed.
Holmes, taken aback by his tone, held his tongue.
"You must find John Watson, and get him somewhere safe immediately!" Mycroft informed, he handed Holmes a crumpled note. "This came to Moran this morning in his cell, it was intercepted."
Holmes straightened it out enough to read.
I am hoping that you feel better soon. Take courage. I believe your illness will pass, after you are free, we will go on that hunt, as promised.
Holmes read the message, and then his quick mind read the implications just as quickly.
"The illness in question...since the man is not ill...referencing Moran's upcoming trial...will soon pass...after you are free...something will be removed to improve Moran's chances at acquittal?"
Mycroft nodded his eyes grave.
Holmes thought all the implications through. "The Doctor and I were only two of the witnesses for the prosecution..."
Moran shook his head at his brother's obtuseness. "You were just icing on a cake Doctor Watson was going to bake. Without his testimony, the case against Moran loses cohesion. Z is the imprint on some of the correspondence we seized from the nameless Club, a man known only as "The Hunter" and everyone mentioned in letters to him or from him disappeared without a trace. Whoever this "Hunter" is, he is not after you Sherlock.
He is after Watson!"
Chief Inspector Lestrade was lazily perusing the stack of reports on his desk. He could not find the motivation to do more than scan them.
He felt like he was missing his right arm, a sensation that had become commonplace in the intervening weeks since his friend, and best Police Surgeon, Doctor Watson, had taken a leave of absence.
He understood that the man was experiencing duress of a type he could never fathom. How often do you mourn a person the duration of three years, in the intervening interval, lose a dear wife, and gain an unexpected career, just to have that overwhelming presence return to your doorstep alive and arrogant?
He sighed and slapped the latest missive from Pinckney down on the stack. He ran a tired hand over his eyes.
The truth came unbidden. Doctor Watson was not the only one reeling from the sudden resurrection. The entire Scotland Yard was at odds over the sudden reappearance of a polarizing figure.
Some were elated, and looked forward to a renewal of association, but those who worked closest with Holmes in the past were wary, and felt a lingering sense of betrayal.
The man who left for Switzerland was not the man who returned to England two months previous, this version of Holmes was more thoughtful about his tact, and listened to other opinions more readily before rejecting them. Lestrade could see a maturing process had taken place in the time away, which would make the man far easier to work with.
However, the outrage and anger mostly felt on behalf of their fellow Yarder, Watson, caused the officers to call on the man less often than in times past.
Watson still had not renewed his old association, and Holmes had showed a patience far beyond his usual kin when it came to giving his old flatmate space to make up his mind. Lestrade was still watchful as to the result.
He knew more of Watson's state of mind than anyone else, being the man's closest friend. Lestrade felt sure that Watson would eventually orbit around Sherlock Holmes again, the two men had a gravity whose pull was undeniable, but there remained a significant renegotiation pending. Until that was resolved, Lestrade was an ear for both men, a position he would not have chosen, but in a world where legends returned from the dead, any event could transpire. Including a happening where a man who had only ever shown disdain for Lestrade's methods and questioned his intelligence at every turn, showed up on his doorstep at a late hour wishing to partake of his counsel, not knowing that the object of his consternation had left just previous in a similar state of mind.
As if to leap out of his musings fully formed, like Athena did from the brow of her Pater, Holmes burst into his office, ringed by curious and hostile Yarders.
"Lestrade...I need your assistance...I well..."
"Hold on...did you Sherlock Holmes ask for our assis..."
"Try to focus, man! It's Doctor Watson."
Lestrade shot up in his seat. "Out with it, Holmes," he barked.
Holmes collapsed into one of the two chairs in the office. "He's missing, I fear foul play."
Lestrade was about to question the validity of that conclusion, but he stopped himself, and decided on a more productive tact.
"The Yard is at your disposal."
As Holmes studied the note once again at his desk, Lestrade paced trying not to disturb him. The Yard remained quiet, emptied of men, as they canvassed the streets along Watson's last known route.
He could not stop himself from blurting out, "Put that blasted letter away, Holmes, we do Doctor Watson no service by recovering our ground.
"We do him no better by thoughtless activity either; if you are so impatient, go wander the streets at random with the rest of your men," Holmes snapped.
Lestrade sat heavily into a chair. "If we don't find the doctor, Holmes, you will be visiting me in Newgate, I will kill Moran myself rather than let him go free."
"How did they subdue Watson, not an easy task to be sure," Holmes mused, "perhaps they took a hostage to coerce him?"
"They did," said a breathless voice from the doorway. PC Dexter was panting and had sweat through his uniform but he looked triumphant. "Her name is Maggie May, she's a corner girl down on the edge of the Rook, Watson was supposed to see to her feet this morning, she was approached by two gentlemen...one rather large, and both well dressed. The elder one offered her more money than she would make on her back for a month just to bring Watson to him for a "chat" she swore she did not know anything was amiss until they put a knife to her throat and used her as a hostage to force the doctor to come with them. All she knows is they were foreign sounding, she didn't know the accent."
"Well bring her here," Lestrade bellowed, "she might no more than she's saying!" His vehemence startled the young man.
Holmes held up a hand. "Don't bother, I know Maggie, she's as nearsighted as a myopic mole."
Lestrade sent the relieved constable to canvas another stretch of streets and rubbed his eyes with a weary sigh. "You were right, Holmes, that was not very productive, I hope there are some clues in that letter. What are they planning do you wager?"
Holmes met Lestrade's eyes. "Moran and this mysterious kidnapper will most likely meet up after the acquittal, I believe they intend on actually hunting the Doctor as one would do on safari."
"Hunt...Doctor Watson? Are you certain?" Lestrade inquired aghast.
Holmes set the note down wearily. "I have little doubt from the wording."
Lestrade burst out laughing.
Holmes glared at him. "Are you mad, Lestrade."
Lestrade attempted to gain control but could not seem to manage for several minutes. "I am sorry, Holmes, most inappropriate of me, but the thought that someone would actually hunt a man as dangerous as Watson when motivated, I honestly doubt they know whom they are dealing with."
Holmes shot up in his seat. Without another word, he stuffed the note in his pocket, and headed for the door. Lestrade barely collected his hat and coat in time to follow.
"Are you going to keep me in the dark?" Lestrade called as he tried to match the long legged stride.
"Whoever this man is he did not use ether in the kidnapping, to think that keeping Watson alert is of no consequence means he does not know the real Watson, which leads to the conclusion..."
"He only knows Watson from Strand magazine, but those are sold all over England," Lestrade remarked as they made the street.
Holmes nodded as he flagged a cab, "The new issues are, indeed, but a full collection of old issues with the Watson penned stories, those are not easy to find without advertising."
Lestrade caught on, "The Library?" he asked.
Holmes nodded. "The p's and o's in this letter are shaped differently from what is typically English. I think whoever wrote the letter was used to writing Cyrillic alphabetic letters, which means he is from Bulgaria or regions near or in Russia. I have my doubts the London Library receives very many inquiries from men from those shores."
He boarded with Lestrade behind. "St. James Square, extra pence if you make it soon!"
Lestrade held onto his hat. "I so hate it when someone does that," he lamented as the hansom made the corner in a precarious tilt.
"I cannot lose him before I've got him back, Lestrade," Holmes remarked in a voice so soft Lestrade was not even sure he heard it.
Even in the whirling dervish of the cab, Lestrade felt he needed to address this serious topic in his inimitably style. "I think you both are stubborn asses, myself, you are going to wind up back with each other, that is inevitable, anyone can see it. I'm getting weary of this charade, either you need to be mature about it, or I'll shoot you both, and put you out of my misery."
Holmes found the strength to smile at that pronouncement. "You are all heart, Lestrade."
"Yes, make sure you tell them that when they put me up for Sainthood," he grumbled.
They arrived at the largest library in London, one that Holmes knew very well, so Lestrade followed the detective through the stacks until he was not entirely sure he could find his way back out again.
One of the many librarians questioned remembered the man in question; he was accompanied by a gargantuan bearded gentleman who kept calling him the Russian word for General, fortunately she was the libraries linguistics expert and she placed the accent as being a dialect common to Cossacks.
Holmes and Lestrade went straight to Mycroft at Whitehall, and Mycroft sent a missive of sophisticated and veiled threats to the Russian Consulate for a list of any present or former military men they had in the country. He went so far as to threaten a boycott of all Russian interests, which was most likely posturing but it had the desired affect.
The list was not long.
"General Zaroff, has a ring of Cossack to it, he is Z, I am sure of it," Holmes declared.
Lestrade thought for a moment, "Zaroff would want to get Watson out of the country as soon as possible; Watson is not unknown, especially down in East End, so he would most likely choose a conveyance that offered anonymity and allowed him to maintain some diplomatic status."
He and Holmes exchanged a glance. "The docks," they said in unison.
Mycroft was watching them his own considerable intellect working on the difficulty. "I would propose that any vessel departing would need to file a destination with the harbour master before they depart. The vessel is most likely a private yacht of some stripe with a Russian name, I doubt that would go unnoticed, and Zaroff's name would be on the registry, destination the Black Sea if he has Cossack roots."
Holmes and Lestrade rushed to the door, but not before Lestrade sent a telegram to the Yard to focus on outgoing private yachts from the East End docks.
He arrived to find that a young PC had an uncle in the master's office and had acquired a list of the private vessels that had departed that day.
"Жар-птица!" Holmes exclaimed in Russian. "Firebird, registered to a V. Zaroff, that is it, she sailed less than an hour ago, I doubt she would have made it out of The Channel by now."
Lestrade flashed his badge around and the grim looking Yarders made quite a spectacle as he managed to commander a coal engine skiff with a pilot.
They were off with Holmes using a map and compass to triangulate the location the yacht would be headed to Russian waters. Lestrade was not much help; he was seasick before they passed Battersea.
Lestrade checked his watch. "We have three hours to get Doctor Watson to the Bailey!"
Holmes's gray eyes were determined. "He'll make it."
Holmes suddenly looked up from his chart, his face contorted in confusion. There was a vessel headed the other way, she was a graceful sloop, painted white at the waterline and a rich blue at her decks, the lettering on her bow was Cyrillic characters.
"That is the Firebird, but why is she headed back to England?"
They hailed the vessel, and pulled alongside, the sailors seemed cooperative enough, helping them to board with no protest.
None of them spoke English, so Holmes had to translate for the eldest sailor, who was obviously in charge. "He said that they are heading back on the orders of the new master of the vessel," Holmes explained. He spoke back to the man and was directed to the forecastle, Holmes waved Lestrade and the other Yarders forward with guns drawn.
They approached silently, giving each other hand signals, Holmes slipped up the stairs and glanced over the bulwark, then paused stunned.
He collapsed against the stairs leading up, covering his face, shoulders shaking.
Lestrade rushed to him in alarm. "Holmes, is it Watson?"
Holmes looked up but it was mirth and relief on his face. "In a manner of speaking."
Lestrade glanced over the bulwark and joined him in laughing.
There, seated at a table, eating to his heart's content was a lounging Doctor Watson; looking rumpled and mishandled, with ripped clothing and a bruised face, he had a revolver on the table by his right hand, a knife in his left, and a napkin down his front, toasting the landing party with a impaled game hen with cavalier ease. "Took you blokes long enough," he called.
Lestrade and Holmes exchanged a wry smile.
They made the forecastle and Holmes saw an alarming trail leading to the table. "Why is there blood on the deck, Watson, are you injured?" Holmes inquired pointing to spots of blood.
"Oh that. The former master of this ship and I had a small disagreement, he was under the impression that a mere doctor would not kill someone in cold blood, so I shot off the tip of his left ear to disabuse him of that notion," Watson remarked mid chew showing ghastly table manners.
He raised the table cloth enough to show a well dressed older gentleman upon who he was resting his feet, trussed up with table linen looking very put out, right ear bandaged.
"General Zaroff, I presume," Holmes remarked.
Watson shrugged. "I don't know the blaggart's name, but he and this other big bloke put a knife to Maggie's throat, then a bag over my head and grabbed me right off the street. Then they brought me here. The big one was taking me down to lock me in the hold when he somehow got my forehead against his nose. It broke in several places, poor man's going to need it set sometime soon, good thing I'm a doctor, it bled quite a lot. He's also is recovering from a concussion resulting from some boorish gentleman following up the broken nose by ramming his head against a brass instrument case and stealing his pistol. As it happens, this Zaroff chap believes in ruling his ship by fear, and has killed a mate or two for sport, so these sailors did not seem to mind the change in captaincy, they even offered to feed me. I did not want to be rude, and I was too tied up for a proper lunch"
He raised a wineglass. "I don't know the wine, but it's an excellent vintage, the caviar is Beluga, so pull up a deck chair, you chaps look all out for breath, like you skipped a meal rushing about for some reason. Is there an emergency I should be aware of?"
Holmes and Lestrade glared at the impertinent man. "Do you want to kill him, or shall I?" Lestrade asked in a terse tone of voice. "After the hearing," Holmes confirmed.
Moran sat at the defendant's table, he did not even bother to hide his smug confidence.
The trial had gone as he anticipated, with the testimonies leaving plenty of doubt as to his exact culpability.
Barrister Eoin Payne walked to the podium. "Your honour I would like to call my last witness, Doctor John H. Watson."
Payne turned in anticipation, as did the rest of the court as the Doctor was summoned by the caller, all except Moran, who did not bother.
Moran did turn around when he heard the tap of a cane against the wood floor.
He gaped as Watson, dressed nattily in a pearl gray suit which Moran recognized as Zaroff's preferred cut, made his way up the aisle.
Watson stopped at the table long enough to lean in to talk to Moran. "It is too bad we never got to have that hunt, I should have liked the opportunity."
He left something on the table as he walked to the stand.
It was a napkin with some writing on it.
There is a difference between predator and prey. You would do well to learn it.
Moran opened up the cloth and found the tip of a man's ear.
For those who feel this ending was a little barbaric...I apologize...but I wanted to show that while Doctor Watson is a medico and a gentleman, there is a part of him that is not very nice. After all, there is a difference between Predator and Prey.