It's dark out by the time he arrives. And raining. Sherly went out in the afternoon, but the weather brought her back. We split the last of that chicken, the stuff I was keeping. I suppose I felt bad. Felt like I hadn't fought for her. Should have just put my foot down, and the phone too. But it's better this way. Better she has the choice for herself.
It wasn't a bribe. The chicken, I mean. It wasn't a bribe. It's not like that. This is all about Sherly's free will.
Still, I'm glad she's sleeping when he raps at the door.
He's shorter than I remember. That's nice, at least. And he comes in quietly, almost respectfully. Shaking the rain off his coat, but that's all. No wisecracks, no madcap, no, as far as I can see, ulterior motive. Matter of fact, he looks unwell. This has preyed on him.
And it's not much of a shock to turn, and see myself reflected in the window, and see the same expression on my face.
Over my shoulder, he spies Sherly, curled on my chair in front of the desk, tail hanging off under the arm.
Moriarty bites back a smile, a little noise in his throat that might be strangled laughter. "I suppose she's got her accustomed spot already, has she?"
"I used to sit there sometimes."
"She sleeps in my bath."
And he might be happy enough to giggle that, might be smiling and trying to tell me with every carefully calculated angle of his body language how much he's missed her, but I'm not thick, you know. Contrary to popular belief. I know what he's doing here and I'm not falling for it. She's moved out of the bath now, my friend. She's got a walnut effect frame office chair now, and she's loving it.
"-If… If we're going to go through this you should probably just call me Jim."
"Jim, I'm sorry about this. It's not that I… Well it is that I don't trust you, actually. Could you roll your sleeves up for me, please?"
"I just need to check for bacon."
"Oh. Understood. Absolutely." While he flashes his cufflinks, it happens again. That little smile, the one it looks like he doesn't want showing, it comes back. And it almost, if I didn't know better, looks genuine. "She worked fast on you, didn't she? I wasn't for giving her bacon at first. She had a do a lot of purring for that."
"Why, is it bad for her?" That is out and said before I can help it, before I can hide the panic on my voice. But to my surprise and his credit, Moriarty doesn't take the mick. He replies honestly and in earnest.
"Only inasmuch as it's bad for anybody. Best keep it as a treat." Fine. I'll remember that. Since she's staying, that's the kind of thing I should probably nip in the bud, right away. I don't say that out loud, but I think he can see it on my face. He tries to turn away, but only manages to look at her again. Stares for a long second. He doesn't quite turn back to me, because he doesn't take his eyes off her. "Listen, John… I can call you John, can't I?"
There are nights in your life, there are events, when even a C4 waistcoat can be forgiven. An understanding can pass between two men and be stronger even than vengeance, even than hate.
"Listen, please don't take her away from me. You can have people. You're the kind of person who can have people. I don't have that, not really. She's so much easier to talk to than Moran."
"Well, we decided. We'll let it be her choice." He swallows whatever false lump he managed to build up. Overplaying it, if you ask me. Finally tears his eyes from her. "She's been sleeping since Points Of View was on. Have a drink."
"Oh, that's… that's hospitable of you, thank you."
Hospitable, my eye. And if he thinks I've broken out the good whiskey because he was coming he can think again. I just want everything smelling alike. He's had warning. He's had all afternoon to prepare for this. He could have been bathing himself in Whiskas for all I know, and I do not put it past him. As well as that I need him to sit down. Check for any bulges in his pockets. That man could be loaded with catnip and think I wouldn't have a clue. He's got another thing coming, that's all I'll say.
I think he sees me looking though. He laughs, actually. Not in a nasty way, but he says, "Yeah, I suppose that would have been a good idea." Runs a hand through his hair, cuffs still hanging open. "I just didn't think. I didn't think of anything." Yeah, sure. That's so ridiculous I might almost fall for it. "I was stupid. I should've known you'd be mad about her. Everybody meets her goes mad about her. Sebastian's tried to lure her away from me four times now. And that's just the ones I know about."
"Oh, you're so full of it!" I tell him. Sharper, louder than I meant to, but I'm sorry, it's been building up. He's sitting there, drinking my whiskey, looking at my cat, and thinking he can get away with spinning a yarn like that. "If you actually loved her, if you had any respect for her at all, you wouldn't have sent her here. That fox could have killed her, for a start."
"No." It's a proud, definite 'no', defying me to cast any more doubt on how he feels about Sherly. "No, that would never have happened. I was there, I was ready to step in if…" He shudders, as though he can't even think about it. "You saw what I did to the fucker for even barking at her."
"Yeah, that was a bit much, wasn't it?"
He shrugs. If you squint and get him at a certain angle in the right light, there's maybe just a hint of sheepishness on the edges of his swagger. "Haven't had much on the last few weeks. You know what I mean. S'been a bit quiet."
I can take that. I can nod along with that one.
"So you called the police then?"
"Yeah. That was the plan, really. Get you barricaded in here on your own, wait for Sherly to get you to open up."
"It's behind her ear, isn't it? The listening device."
"No flies on Doctor Watson."
"That's the other thing, though." That's the thing I probably should have been worrying about all afternoon, while I was in fact worrying about who Sherly's going to choose. "On the phone, it sounded like you were waiting for me to tell you-"
"Oh, God, yeah. Alive and kicking somewhere. Only do me a favour when he does come back and act all surprised and heartbroken, because that's probably why he didn't tell you."
A moment's silence. Side by side, the clink of ice against glass.
"...One last thing; why does it say Baker Street on her collar?"
"Well, I couldn't put my address. Then everybody would know where i lived. And if anything had happened to her then... then I wanted her to go somewhere safe."
Yeah. Yeah, alright.
Eventually, Jim sighs. I mean, Moriarty sighs. "This is killing me. Do you mind if I open the window? She'll wake up just to make us close it again."
"Yeah. Yeah, alright, I suppose so."
He gets up. So do I. He has a bit of trouble with the latch and I help. And then we stand back. There's a sort of unspoken agreement that no toe should be farther forward than the edge of the rug, that we stand opposite sides of the coffee table. That neither of us makes a sound, and we let her wake by herself except for the draft.
About a minute of quiet and Moriarty breaks, "Listen, I know you think this is all a put-on but-"
"No." Not looking at Sherly, not knowing what she's like. No, I couldn't accuse him of lying tonight. "I don't."
Sherly comes round, slowly at first, then with a mew of disdain, asking why it's so bloody cold all of a sudden. Then her eyes light on Moriarty and she sits bolt upright. That's a 'what the hell are you doing here?' move. That's a good sign for me.
"So now we just have to wait and see who she goes to," I say aloud, just to make the rules entirely clear here.
He doesn't reply. His fist is balled up, fingernails biting into his palm, and he bites his lip, eyes shut. Willing her towards him. I know how he feels. In my own mind I can call and coax her and just hope, just pray somehow she hears. She'll be better off here. I never started out looking for a pet, but how can I send her back to live with that lunatic?
When Sherly finally moves again, it's not to hop down to the floor, not to come over and place her paw on the toe of my shoe or his. She hops up instead, to sit a moment on the desk. Surveying the both of us carefully. Sitting as high as she can as if asking to be treated as an equal, acknowledging our respect for her decision. The breeze from the night outside catches in the curtains and ruffles her fur along the spine, behind the ears.
Something regal about her scarred, ragged face. And it is in precisely the same moment that neither Moriarty nor I can hold back any longer, and in precisely the same moment that we both breathe out one last, desperate, 'Please'.
Sherly whips around, and in a curling flash of tail disappears out the window and into the night.
Before I know it, we're both hanging through the frame behind her, but she's gone. Moriarty grabs me by the shirt and pulls me back. "What did you do? Had all that arranged, did you? What kind of signal did the two of you work out?"
"Stop it!" I shout back, and I take none of the pleasure I ever would have expected in slapping him down from hysteria. "She chose, Jim. That's all that happened. Sherly chose."
Chose neither of us.
Chose the wild of the storm, the world that had hardened her so, left her so undone. A time of bacon and sleeping in bathtubs, that's fine. Everybody needs a bit of that when they can get it. But it's not enough to live on. She needs her own world, her independence, needs her dominion over nature. Red in tooth and claw. Some people just aren't pets, aren't made to be owned.
Animals. I mean to say 'animals', not 'people'.
In the loss, in the quiet, each of us knowing what we feel and not daring to speak it, the clink of ice again, and of glass against glass. Don't ever tell Sherlock I raised a toast with Moriarty. Don't ever.