It's a quarter to eight in the morning. I've been here half an hour already; I begin work at seven thirty on the dot every morning, usually six mornings a week and finish at nine or ten pm, assuming there are no pressing matters of national importance and that my little brother hasn't swiped something illegal or broken into a top secret military base using my ID. Again.
Samantha/Anthea accepted the job – not that I had any real doubts on that score – but she doesn't start until eight. A trifle unusual, perhaps, but I like some time alone in the office to get my head together before the day begins.
I pull a letter towards me and read it for the third time. Answering mundane correspondence is one task I'll be glad to pass onto my new PA.
At ten to eight, I hear the door of the outer office open. I give her five minutes to get her coat off and find a place to put her bag, then open my office door and walk out.
Anthea, as before, is dressed impeccably, which is good. At least she wasn't just making an effort for the interview.
"Good morning, sir." She's clearly nervous, but that's understandable. Plenty of people experience first-day jitters when starting a new job and so long as her efficiency remains unimpaired, I shan't comment on them.
"Good morning." There's another new addition to the office; a small toy dog about the length of my finger is sitting on Anthea's desk. I believe the breed is supposed to be a Bernese Mountain dog, although I'm not an expert. Since the nose is disproportionately much larger than the rest of the toy, it's a little hard to tell.
"Is he supposed to guard your workplace?" I can't resist asking.
Anthea blushes. "Oh, that's Zip. The kids bought him for me from a charity shop. Sort of a good luck charm."
Ah. Well, Zip is small and unobtrusive enough not to interfere with anything, and Anthea has at least placed him in a corner of her desk not overlooked by anyone coming in.
I give Anthea a list of instructions and a short lesson on How To Use The Phone (perhaps a little unnecessary, but each system is different) and then leave her to it. The first day is always rather awkward; she hasn't been here long enough to start making appointments for me and I rather doubt there'll be a great deal for her to do.
I sit down at my own desk and start sorting through my files, trying to work out which ones I can pass onto Anthea and which ones I should keep under my own control. Obviously she can't deal with any of the more sensitive ones, at least, not until I'm convinced she can be trusted, and some of them will never be passed onto her (my brother's is a case in point) but I suppose she can take over a little.
I've been working on this for about ten minutes when my telephone rings and I pick it up.
"There's a Carla Giacoppo on line one, sir. Shall I put her through?"
Ah, the delightful Carla. Attache to the Italian ambassador and very much put upon by her employer.
Actually, that's rather unfair of me. The ambassador is an excellent man, as are the rest of the people at the embassy. His wife is also a lovely lady. It's their seven year old daughter Gina who is something of a problem, and I only call her that because it would not be diplomatic to refer to an ambassador's daughter as a spoiled little brat.
Anyway, whatever dear Gina wants, dear Gina gets. Usually this isn't a problem; the family manages to buy whatever is needed. However, since this particular family is living in a government-provided British house – long story – things are slightly more complicated when it comes to things like redecorating, and Carla is always the one who has to act as liaison between the family and myself (dealing with foreign diplomats is a large part of my job).
"Yes, please do." I wait until I hear the familiar click, then say, "Good morning, Carla. What's the crisis this time?"
"Gina wants her room redecorating. Tell me we can go ahead, Mycroft, or I'll tell the little diva that it was you that said no."
So she's calling from her own apartment. Carla may be under no illusions regarding her ambassador's little darling, but she is still a diplomat and would never describe Gina as 'a little diva' if there were the slightest chance she could be overheard. Nor would she speak to me in such a familiar tone, although I don't object to her doing so in private. Carla is one of those very rare people to whom I enjoy speaking; her straight talking is wonderfully refreshing compared to the tedium of political correctness which surrounds me in this job.
"You realize it is a very serious offense to try and blackmail a government official, don't you?" I ask idly.
"It is also a very serious offense to strangle your ambassador's brat," Carla points out, "but this is what's going to happen if I have to spend another five minutes listening to her bitch about the color of the frigging wallpaper!"
"My, my, my. Such language for a diplomat. You didn't learn words like that in school, I know."
"No, I learned them during my first week in London. Come on, Mycroft; it's just a formality. A courtesy call. They don't want to change anything without making sure it's okay."
"Then tell them as far as I am concerned, they may paint the walls orange with blue spots. The same goes for replacing the carpets, the curtains and any pieces of furniture your ambassador's dear little angel may require."
"Dear little—" That's as much as I understand of Carla's Italian response. My Italian is excellent, though I say so myself, but I've never heard that word before. I don't suppose it's in many dictionaries either.
"Feel better?" I ask.
The line goes dead and I chuckle to myself. Serves her right for teasing me about the time I had to spend two hours in Gina's company.
The rest of the day passes mostly without incident. Since Sherlock has evidently decided not to cause any trouble until later in the week, Anthea is able to leave at five thirty (I also like the evenings to myself and she does have three children to take care of).
So far I'm certain that I made the right choice. Anthea has been efficient and professional. Not only that, she's punctual, which is good. I do abhor tardiness.
I'm three hours late this morning as I had to attend an emergency meeting concerning the latest news from North Korea. Quite why this meeting was called is a mystery to me. I suppose saying that we're meeting to discuss the current situation sounds a little better than saying we're doing absolutely nothing.
As soon as it's over (which takes rather a long time considering we're just rehashing things that can be found on Google; none of our people have any new intelligence to bring to the table) I walk straight to my office. God knows how much paperwork has accumulated during my absence.
Anthea is working at her desk when I arrive. There's already a marked change in the outer office; the rather haphazard arrangement of files has been changed for an alphabetized version. Since the outer office is the PA's domain, I don't comment on this. If she rearranged my files, it would be a different matter, but she's free to organize her own office and workspace however she pleases, and this way is certainly more efficient than my last PA's system. And it's good to know she has enough initiative to find work for herself.
There are six messages on my desk, five of which can be ignored. I make a mental note to give Anthea a list of people to put through to me, a list of people to take messages from and a list of people she is not to put through under any circumstances, and instructions to fob off the rest, something I should have done in the beginning.
The sixth message concerns someone I've been trying to track down for two months. There's no news; just a note saying that our latest lead was a dead end. Damn.
Anthea at least has enough sense to give me fifteen minutes to get sorted before knocking on my door. I hope she doesn't expect any small talk...although now that I think about it, I should have said good morning. Blast.
She pushes the door open and walks up to my desk.
"Well?" I say as politely as I can. I do try and treat my staff with as much courtesy as is feasible – being Anthea's employer doesn't give me the right to be rude to her – but I have a nasty suspicion that today is going to be one of those days.
"You have four messages from someone called Bella, sir. She says it's not working out."
Make that a certainty. Damn and blast.
"Did she say why?"
"No sir. She just told me to tell you that it's not working out, and that you would know what that meant. She wouldn't give me her last name either."
"Was that all the message?" I ask.
"More or less, sir. The messages did get a little closer together and more hysterical in nature. I tried to get her number, but she wouldn't give that to me either."
That's good. Bella's job depends on the utmost secrecy; giving out her phone number or last name could prove to be rather unpleasant. Hers is a rather informal job; I've sent her to spy on my brother and his little Homeless Network. I have no problems with Sherlock helping out the homeless – since he used to be one of them, I can even understand it – but I would like to know how many people he has at his beck and call. But if Sherlock found out anything about Bella, including the fact that she spies for me...well, sexism is not one of my brother's faults; he's just as happy to hospitalize a female spy as a male one.
"Alright. Thank you."
Anthea turns and walks back to her office. As soon as she's closed the door, I open up my laptop and tap into the security cameras around London, searching for Bella.
There. Next to an electronics shop and quite near a phone box. I get the number from one of my databases and dial the number.
Bella leaps to answer it and in doing so blows her cover as an innocent homeless person who just happens to be standing there.
"Is that you?" she asks and immediately wins the contest for Most Imbecilic Phone Response.
"Yes, it is. I assume this is urgent," I say, putting as much displeasure into my voice as I can manage.
"Sir, they're getting suspicious. I think they suspect something."
I close my eyes. "Well, that is the widely accepted definition of suspicious, yes. What makes you think that?"
"Just...to start with, I'm no further forward than I was when you sent me out here. I mean, I've spoken to a couple of people, but none of them are willing to help me."
"Then try someone else."
"I've tried! I've been talking to every homeless person I can find and most of them are nice enough, but the moment I mention any kind of network they all clam up!"
That's a little strange. I can't think they would 'clam up' unless they knew something about it.
"Then mention it to someone else. Is there anything else you need?"
"I could do with some money. Just a tenner."
I sigh. This isn't the first time she's made this demand. While I understand that she needs it – the only way to be a convincing homeless person is to be homeless, which is why Bella's been living on the streets ever since taking on this assignment – I can't afford to have my brother or one of his little spies seeing her getting money from one of my people.
"Goodbye, Bella," I say and put the phone down. She's just going to have to cope without for the time being, although if she's right and it's not going anywhere then I suppose I'll have to recall her at some point. What I can't understand is why it's not going anywhere. I know she wouldn't be able to fool Sherlock, but I would have thought she could winkle information out of a few homeless people easily enough.
I need a second opinion and so I pick up my phone and dial my PA's number. Might as well ask her as anyone.
"If you wanted to slip a spy into an organization, how would you go about it?"
She hesitates for a second or two, then answers, "I suppose I would try and put my spy into a social setting, maybe arrange for them to meet some members of that organization in a bar or something, then use that setting to try and gain their confidence."
I nod, although she can't see the gesture. That's exactly how I did it (with the exception of the bar, of course). So why hasn't it worked?
"Thank you," I say and put the phone down. I've clearly missed something regarding Sherlock's Homeless Network, but what?
Zip has been joined by two small photographs; one of Anthea's nephew and two nieces, the other – and I confess I'm guessing – of her sister and brother-in-law. I don't say anything; so long as she doesn't turn her desk into a photo gallery and repository for small stuffed animals (oh, it's happened) it's none of my business what she keeps there. I have a photograph of Mother in my office, although I keep it in a desk drawer unless I know she's coming to visit, which, thank goodness, is not a frequent occurrence. I can just about tolerate her gushing over me on my Sunday pilgrimages home, but having her come and do it at work is embarrassing.
I still haven't worked out what I've missed with that Homeless Network, and I'm beginning to feel the first stirrings of frustration. It would be the perfect way to keep an eye on my little brother, so why isn't it working out?
I don't have as much time to think on it as I would like, though, as there's a meeting about some of our less top secret field agents at ten. To avoid the meeting place being bugged (some paranoid policy or other) the locations for this little gathering change on a monthly basis. This month it happens to be in my office, which means that Anthea is going to be taking the minutes. I sympathize with her; it's possibly the dullest job in existence, but nevertheless a vital one.
The others all arrive in good time and there are a few moments of polite chitchat – tedious, but apparently necessary – before we sit down and start on the real business.
At least, I believe that's the plan. Unfortunately, Douglas Trent, who's an idiot even by normal people's standards, has apparently decided to stir things up.
"Before we begin – and I know this isn't on the agenda – I want to discuss agent four-two-one-A."
Why this can't wait until Any Other Business, I'm not sure, unless of course it's to do with his pitiful power complex that stems from a disastrous first date he had twenty years ago. There's a sudden rustling as everyone sifts through their papers to find out who Agent Four-Two-One-A is. Fortunately such a measure is unnecessary for me, as I have the entire list stored in my memory. The agent in question was recently invalided home with a shattered knee and ankle; it turned out that the enemy wasn't quite as stupid as he thought.
"I thought we might offer him a bonus," Douglas says.
I raise my eyebrows.
"For what?" I inquire. "Getting caught?"
"Mr. Holmes, this agent will require a personal mobility aid for the rest of his life."
"I beg your pardon?" I say as politely as I can. Anthea leans in my direction.
"I believe Mr. Trent is referring to a walking stick, sir."
Douglas actually winces.
"Personal mobility aid," he corrects painstakingly.
"Oh, for goodness' sake! It's bad enough we have to tell the public to talk like this; can't we at least dispense with all this politically correct nonsense among ourselves?"
This little outburst doesn't come from me – although a small part of me wishes it did – but from Henry.
"We ought to set an example," Jonathon points out. No surprises there; he's Douglas' main lackey. I think he has his eye on the older man's job, which he will only get over my dead body.
"To whom? We're the only ones here."
I don't say anything, although privately I agree with Henry. I can just about understand, for example, why a Caribbean person may take offense at being referred to as African (and vice versa, although that doesn't happen very often) but I don't see how the phrase walking stick can be deemed offensive.
Jonathon glances around and his gaze falls on Anthea. "Well...her, for a start."
"If you are referring to my PA, her name is Anthea and I suggest you use it," I tell him."
"Mr. Holmes, if you—"
"Gentlemen—" Henry's voice cuts across— "and ladies," he adds with a slight inclination of the head toward Anthea— "I believe we were discussing our field agent?"
"No; Douglas was discussing the field agent!" That's Oliver, who I know just by reputation; he's young and only recently come to work here. "The rest of us were trying to get on with this meeting. Can't you save it until the end? Look, first item on the agenda is this business with one of our diplomats in Seoul who came down with...food poisoning? What's that got to do with us?"
I sigh. "Probably nothing, but one of us should look into it. And by one of us, I'm not referring to myself, you understand." Dealing with this kind of incident can be extremely time consuming and very tedious.
"Nor me," Oliver says before the others can get a word in. "I'm new, I don't have the experience necessary to handle such a delicate matter."
Nor the subtlety, I add in the privacy of my own mind. Still, the boy's quick on the uptake and probably right about lacking the necessary experience, so I'm not going to call him on it.
Henry, who is just as quick on the uptake, speaks up. "And I have too much on. So, that leaves you, Douglas, and Jonathon. I'm sure you can sort it out between you. What's next?"
Next item turns out to be an even more tricky situation involving an incident in Afghanistan. This is really more a matter for the MoD, but they're rather good at ducking responsibility when it comes to things like this. I'll have to handle it myself.
The rest of the meeting proceeds smoothly enough, and a little subtle manipulation on my part and not-so-subtle irritation on Oliver's ensures that Douglas' concerns about the field agent are forgotten by the time we get to the end of the meeting.
When the others have left, Anthea vanishes into her office. Fifteen minutes later, a neatly typed copy of the minutes arrives via email for my approval.
Well, that's one tedious chore taken out of my hands. Maybe having a PA isn't going to be so bad after all.
There is now a cactus on Anthea's desk. Since it is a very small one, I let it go (the cactus my last PA brought in was eight inches tall with inch long spines and could quite possibly have been classified as a lethal weapon. I'm not sure what happened to it after its owner got fired. I think Stephen took it home with him).
Anthea's, however, is a tiny little bob of a thing about half as tall as my thumb. I suppose she can decorate her desk however she pleases, but I do hope she's not one of those adult women who is obsessed with being 'cute' and acting their shoe size as opposed to their age.
"Sir? There are another eight messages from Bella."
Oh dear God, what now?
"Alright. Thank you."
The messages all say more or less the same thing in varying degrees of hysteria: this isn't working, I can't do it anymore, I want to stop. Hardly new, hardly interesting.
Don't mistake me. I'm not suggesting for one moment that living on the streets is easy for Bella, but the thought has occurred that she's rather milking it (a pre-wrapped sandwich does not cost five pounds, unless of course one happens to be at Wimbledon).
I don't have a great deal of time to work out a suitably scathing reply though, as fifteen minutes after receiving that last message, my office door opens and Bella comes in.
It takes me a few minutes to recognize her, since her face is striped with blood. For a few minutes she just stares at me, eyes wide, then she breaks down and starts to sob.
I have to admit that Anthea's professionalism during all of this is nothing short of marvelous; she acts as though a disheveled and bleeding homeless woman bursting into the office and subsequently into tears is a regular occurrence. Before I can think to instruct her, she's fetched the first aid kit, a mug of water and a cloth, sat Bella down and begun sponging the blood off the other woman's face, allowing me to examine her injuries more closely.
It isn't a pretty sight. Someone has carved the word SPY into her forehead in beautiful copperplate...well, I don't think I can call it handwriting, but you know what I mean. The flawless calligraphy means there was more than one person involved; two, possibly three or four to hold her down, and another to cut the words into her skin. There are other cuts as well; three horizontal, parallel lines on each cheek. All of them are shallow enough not to be dangerous, but I'm fairly certain they'll scar.
"How did they find out?" I ask.
"I don't know." Bella's voice is hoarse and she's gulping in air, quivering all over. "They said they don't like people pretending to be homeless."
"But you are homeless," I point out. I've had people watching her just to make sure nothing really unpleasant happens (and those people are in for a serious dressing down over this incident) but other than that she's been on her own.
"Yes, but apparently I don't qualify for that stupid Network!"
I lean back in my chair, turning this new piece of information over and over in my mind while Anthea continues sponging Bella's face. I assumed Sherlock would take any homeless person he found into his Network. It never occurred to me that he would have some kind of screening process. Disturbing.
There's only one person who can clear this up. As a reward for her professionalism, I decide to spare Anthea the ordeal of calling my brother (Sherlock likes to play with my people's minds) and dial the number myself. It's picked up on the second ring.
"You've gone too far this time," I tell him.
"Oh hello, brother dear." Sherlock's voice is warm, friendly, and full of honeyed malice. Damn Bella for giving him an opportunity to gloat over me! "How's your little spy?"
"Get a cab, get over here now. I'm serious, Sherlock."
"You're always serious."
"Now!" One of the design flaws in a mobile is that you can no longer get a sense of satisfaction from slamming down the receiver, so I have to settle for pushing the button to end the call in as aggressive a manner as I can.
Anthea hesitates, clearly unsure whether or not she should still be here.
"As soon as he comes in, show him into my office and then make us some drinks. Coffee, black with two sugars and one cup of Earl Grey with cream and three sugars," I instruct her. "And do have one yourself if you want it," I add. Stinginess has never been a Holmes trait and I've learned that PAs appreciate these little gestures of thoughtfulness.
"Yes sir. Thank you, sir." Anthea turns and walks out noiselessly (I had the laminate floorboards in my office replaced with carpeting after the clicking of my first PA's high heels almost drove me to distraction).
I don't know how she does it – I don't know how any PA does it, for that matter – but somehow the drinks are ready about two seconds after Sherlock swaggers into my room. I wish I could think of a kinder word, but it is a swagger; he's inordinately pleased with himself and wants the whole world to know.
"Good morning. I see your would-be mole made it safely back." He smirks at Bella, who doesn't meet his eye, then waves away the coffee Anthea's offering him. "No thank you."
By Sherlock's standards, this is astonishingly polite, and I raise mental eyebrows.
"It's not poisoned, you know."
"I prefer not to take that risk, brother dear."
I hate it when he calls me that. It's not the words I mind so much as the fact that he only uses them when he wants something, which is extremely rare, or when he thinks he's got one over on me. I don't think he believes I would murder him, but I do know that he wouldn't put it past me to drug him.
"For goodness' sake! It's safe to drink."
Sherlock takes the mug from Anthea. For a moment I think he believes me, then he holds out the mug.
Any hesitation on my part will be taken as confirmation, even though I despise coffee. I take it and force myself to drink a little over half, then hand it back.
"About that, yes. Now let's talk about your insulting attempt to spy on me."
There's a strong feeling of barely contained fury about him. I'm not afraid as such, but Sherlock's a street fighter and that combined with the fact that his desire to hurt me is far stronger than my desire to hurt him means that I'm not entirely sure who'd win in a fight between us.
"Yes, alright," I say. "Indulge me, Sherlock; how did you know she was a spy?"
I don't know how a person can smirk with their eyebrows, but somehow my little brother manages it.
"Making her a drunk was your first mistake, brother dear," he tells me. "I don't use drunks, nor do I use people who are dependent on any other kind of substance. I also don't approach people who have been on the streets for less than a month, not unless a Networker recommends them to me. Nobody outside the Homeless Network besides you and me even knows it exists, so how would a perfect stranger have come to hear about it? Second mistake. And your third was in thinking that all homeless people are sweet hard-luck stories who just smile and thank you prettily when you remember to give them your pocket change. Poor Bella had to pay a very high price for your complacency."
I fume for a few seconds. He's right, of course, I did make those mistakes, but that doesn't mean I want to hear about it.
"Scarring her for life seems a little harsh."
"I wasn't the one who scarred her. And I wasn't the one who came up with it either. It just seems to have caught on. Anyway, very few of my Networkers do it."
I think he's telling the truth. My brother has his faults, but I can't imagine him coldbloodedly marking someone in such a fashion; his style is more throwing people down stairs or out of windows.
"Anyway," Sherlock continues, "spies who are captured in enemy territory are not entitled to fair treatment, Mycroft. You of all people should know that."
I do, of course, but I hardly think it applicable in this instance.
"And so you instructed your people to do this?" I indicate the weeping Bella as Exhibit A.
"Hardly. They don't need my influence to hate spies, and someone with a well-paid job and a nice flat pretending to be homeless really gets on their tits, as half of my Network would probably say. Well, you can hardly blame them, can you? To them, being homeless is a rather unpleasant reality. To this new person, it's more of a game."
"I want whoever did this out of your Network, Sherlock."
Sherlock chuckles. "Oh, don't be absurd. I wasn't there and I didn't order this, so I'm not sure who did it. They're so devoted to me, some of them."
I can believe that. To a certain extent I can also understand it; Sherlock takes homeless people and gives them work, lets them earn money as opposed to having to beg for it, gives them a sense of self-respect and in some cases even takes them off the street entirely and gives them their life back. I imagine I'd be devoted to someone who did something like that for me.
"You must be able to find out," I say.
"I probably could, but I'm not going to. Thank you for calling me here though; at least now I know for certain that whoever did this didn't slice up an innocent woman." Sherlock studies Bella closely. "The forehead may have been a little extreme, I admit, but she's still alive. Since the last of your pets ended up in the Thames, I would have thought she'd count herself lucky."
"Who did it, Sherlock?"
"Remember fifteen seconds ago when I told you I wasn't going to tell you? Nothing's changed since then, except you're starting to bore me."
I refuse to rise to this, since I know full well that's exactly what he wants.
"I was thinking Scart," I say. Scart is a nineteen year old whose devotion to Sherlock borders on zealotry. I have no doubt in my mind that the boy would eat a hornets' nest (complete with occupants) if my brother expressed the slightest wish in that direction.
Sherlock chuckles. "Then you weren't thinking at all, brother dear. Scart's nowhere near this subtle; if he'd been the one to find your little spy, he'd crush her fingers with a brick or slam her head in a car door. This degree of finesse—" he reaches out, then smiles when Bella jerks her head away from him and turns his attention back to me— "isn't his style, and it really isn't his handwriting. In fact, I'm not entirely certain he can write. Perhaps Carly, although like I said, I don't know for sure. I don't really use them as assassins."
That's certainly true. For all his faults, Sherlock has never used his Network for anything sinister.
"How many are there in your Network?" I ask.
"Enough. Too many for you to slip your dear little spies in, brother dear, especially since I changed the criteria for admission."
"Be more specific." I sip at my tea.
Sherlock's eyes glitter as he answers, "A little over eighteen hundred, and new members are coming in on an almost daily basis. I fully expect to have at least two thousand by the end of the year."
The air goes out of my lungs and I slump back, pale. Eighteen hundred? I had expected forty, maybe fifty.
"You can't—" I begin.
"Of course I can. I very much doubt that you would be able to interfere."
He's right, damn him. Interfering with a man who's helping the homeless is not going to look good.
Sherlock clinks his mug down on my desk. All trace of humor and mockery is gone now; he's looking at me as though I'm something he's trodden in. All at once, I can sense the cold intelligence behind those eyes and I know that I have, to use a common phrase which I personally abhor, 'blown it'. Somehow I have gone from being his elder brother to his most hated enemy. Or...no, let's not fool myself. I've been his most hated enemy for years. In fact, I can't recall a time in our childhood when Sherlock didn't hate me with every fiber of his being. My little brother was born hating me.
I just wish I knew exactly why.
"Now, here's what's going to happen, Mycroft. You will stop any further attempts to infiltrate my Network or I will have the next spies returned to you without their fingers. I needed you to get my half of the trust fund and now that I have it, you're of no further interest to me, so stay the hell out of my life. I will not warn you again."
He rises to his feet, turns with that animal grace of his that I have always secretly envied, and strides out, slamming the door behind him.
"Sir?" Anthea says after several minutes have gone by. "Do you want me to call this lady an ambulance?"
I stir a little. She's right; I can't sit and brood over my family dynamics, not with a near catatonic Bella bleeding on the carpet.
"No. No ambulances. Call my driver, tell him to take her to the hospital. Bella, you can go."
"Should I call someone to have the carpet cleaned, sir?" Anthea asks.
"No, don't bother; the cleaners will be round this evening. They'll take care of it."
"Yes sir." She turns and walks out, followed eventually by a shellshocked Bella.
Alone, I place my elbows on my desk and lean forward, resting my head in my hands. It seems my little brother has grown up. Well, hardly surprising – he is almost thirty, after all – but this is the first time I've been forced to see him as a man, not a little boy. Not only is a he a man; he's just proved himself to be a cold, dangerous man. I underestimated him. I underestimated him, and Bella paid the price. She'll have those scars forever. I don't know much about medicine, but surgery can only accomplish so much. It looks like I'll have to find another way to keep an eye on Sherlock.
"What is it, Anthea? I'm very busy."
My PA is standing just inside the door, but I don't think she dares come any further into my office at the moment. I will be the first to admit that my mood hasn't been all that good this morning, not after my meeting with Sherlock yesterday.
"You have a visitor, sir."
Two seconds race by while I rack my brains trying to think of any appointments which may have slipped my mind. There aren't any, of course – even if I were prone to forgetfulness, Anthea has maintained an extremely up-to-date schedule and any changes are emailed to me as soon as they're made.
"Did this visitor give you their name?" I ask. It's not as sarcastic a question as you may think; many of the people who come to see me aren't in the habit of giving names to strangers unless they're certain those strangers can be trusted.
"Yes sir, she says she's your—"
That's as far as she gets before my mystery guest shoves the door open and inadvertently knocks Anthea flying with it.
You know, I like to think of myself as a tolerant man. Not a nice man, but a tolerant one. However, there are one or two things that really, truly annoy me. One of those happens to be people who come into my office (or any room I happen to be working in) without knocking. I'm also not overly fond of people who hit my PA with my office door, although I appreciate that's a somewhat rarer aversion.
Right away, I realize that my initial thought was wrong. It's not Sherlock back for another gloat. Nor is it that Hudson woman who seems to have taken him under her wing (I suppose she means well, but I very much doubt she's capable of caring for someone like my brother. I did offer to pay her a substantial sum to leave my brother to me, and nearly got my skull caved in with a rolling pin). It's not even a professional assassin; it's someone even less welcome.
"Mother? What are you doing here?"
"I came to see you, darling. Why don't you have your secretary make me a cup of tea or something, it's been a very long trip."
Anthea doesn't move an inch. Instead she looks at me, waiting for my orders. Good.
"She is not my secretary, Mother, she's my PA. Don't bother with the tea, Anthea; Mrs Holmes won't be staying long and I need those notes from the latest Cabinet meeting typed up before you go to lunch."
This will take her a while, I know. Not because she's a slow typist, but because the notes happen to be a) seventeen pages long, b) extremely detailed and c) written by Henry, whose handwriting is so atrocious that even he struggles to read it sometimes. I don't really need them before lunch – although I could do with having them before the end of the day – but I want Anthea out of my office. Besides, ordering her to make tea for the same woman who just hit her with a door would quite literally be adding insult to injury, and the fewer witnesses to Mother's appalling behavior, the better.
Yes, I know. You might think that a man in his late thirties would be too old to be embarrassed by his mother. Unfortunately, I seem to be the exception which proves the rule.
Anthea, bless her, turns smartly on her heel and walks back to her office, closing the door behind her before Mother's indignation reaches apocalyptic levels.
"Well, Mother? What do you want? Do please make it quick, I have a lot to do today."
"You might have offered me a cup of tea, Mycroft."
Had it been anyone else, I would have done, but I know Mother. Give her a cup of tea and she'll plant herself in your chair for a minimum of ninety minutes.
"This isn't my house, it's my office and I am at work. I can give you—" I take my watch out of my waistcoat and examine it— "two and a half minutes. After that, Mother, I will call security and have you removed."
"I do wish you wouldn't call me that, darling. It sounds so formal."
"Tough." I seldom defy Mother so openly, but Sherlock, who hates her only a very little more than he hates me, pointed out rather cruelly that at my age it was about time I stopped referring to her as Mummy. While I don't often turn to my little brother for advice on family relationships, I had to admit he was right on that score, although I will never, ever give him the satisfaction of letting him know.
"Well?" I say after Mother's been sulking for two of the two and a half minutes. Unfortunately, she has raised sullenness to an art form. Her favorite way of punishing both Sherlock and me when we were children was to withdraw completely. On one memorable occasion when my brother was ten, I seem to remember Mother going into a second, more pronounced sulk because apparently Sherlock had failed to notice the first one. Complete withdrawal is not an effective means of punishing my little brother; he never wants to interact with people anyway.
Mother draws herself up. "Really, Mycroft dear, you might make a bit more of an effort. I came all this way—"
"You weren't invited and you didn't even have the common courtesy to call before turning up."
"I've given up calling you, darling; your secretary always refused to put me through."
In fairness to her, this is quite true. In a moment of madness, I gave Mother my work number and got pestered with telephone calls from her at least three times a day. After four days of this, I instructed my last PA to add her name to the amber list, which is reserved for people I may agree to speak to, but only if they tell my PA what they want first. (This is to ensure that Mother can get hold of me in a genuine emergency, as opposed to whenever's she's bored).
"Tell me what you want, Mother, and then please leave."
Mother draws herself up with stiff hauteur. "I came to see you."
"Clearly. I assume there was some reason for this? You are seeing me on Sunday, after all."
"Well, dear, I thought you and Sherlock and I might go out for lunch."
I should probably explain that Mother isn't as stupid as she sometimes sounds. She's not on a par with Sherlock or myself, of course, but then nobody is. However, she does have a tremendous blind spot where my little brother is concerned.
It isn't that she wants him back in the family, exactly; that I could understand. Mother worships the ground I walk on, and can't quite accept that Sherlock doesn't. I think she believes that if he's exposed to me enough, he'll begin lavishing the adoration upon me that Mother feels is my due. (I would like to point out that I do nothing to encourage this worship from her, besides existing).
"I don't think that would be a good idea. Sherlock wouldn't come, anyway."
"Darling, don't you think this silly feud has gone on long enough?"
This is Mother's other great delusion; she seems to think that I can end the feud with a snap of my fingers, and that I'm just a little jealous of my younger brother, and think that Mother loves him more than me. None of this is true.
Well, most of it isn't true. To be honest, I am slightly jealous of Sherlock; at least he's free to do as he pleases. When I was younger, I always thought he was stupid to run away at fifteen. Now I'm beginning to wonder if, instead, he was extremely intelligent. At least his boyhood dreams never had to be sacrificed to Mother's ideal, unless of course you count that ridiculous notion of being a pirate and I don't think Mother can be held responsible for his losing that dream. I think the real world crushed Sherlock's fantasy of ruling the high seas. Just as well; my little brother has a capacity for cruelty (thankfully seldom indulged) that would make Blackbeard look like Mother Teresa.
"What I think is that I'm too busy to go anywhere, Mother. Good morning. You can see yourself out."
"After I came all this way—"
"Without an invitation and without warning. If you'd thought to get in touch first, your pointless drive would have been avoided." I return to my work. "Why don't you make a day of it? Go and see a show on the West End or something. There must be a good play on somewhere."
"I don't have a—"
Before she's finished saying the word ticket, I've picked up the phone.
"Book a box in the name of Agatha Holmes for any matinee performance you can find and email me the details."
Five minutes later, she calls back.
"Sir? I was only able to find one—"
"Then do as I said and book it."
"The Rock of Ages, sir?"
The thought of Mother going to that show makes even me pause for a second. I've never seen it, of course, but the title does a very good job of summing up the show's nature. Of course, it could be a scientific effort detailing key geological features of the Earth throughout various periods in the planet's history, but somehow I doubt it.
"Is that really the only one?"
"It's the only one I can find with a Friday matinee, sir. Do you still want me to book it?"
"Yes, please do."
A few minutes later, an email arrives with details of the booking. I print it off and hand it to Mother.
"There you are. Shaftesbury Theater, any cab will be able to take you there. The show starts at five thirty, so there's plenty of time for you to get lunch." I get to my feet and propel Mother towards the door as courteously as I can, ignoring her protests, and shepherd her out the door, closing it very firmly behind her. After considering for a split second, I wedge a chair under the door handle and leave Anthea to deal with Mother.
It's a shame Sherlock isn't speaking to me. I have a feeling he'd rather enjoy hearing about this one.
Thanks to Anthea, I don't have a great deal to do today. My filing has been filed, my appointments and meetings have all been scheduled, my phone calls have been returned and – wonder of wonders – I have no meetings today. This last one has nothing to do with Anthea, of course, but it's still a very welcome change. I might even be able to get home by four o'clock.
Anthea herself isn't in. I made up my mind right from the start that I would only call her in on a Saturday for meetings or emergencies; she does have three children to look after and I really don't need her on the weekends, not to mention I can't help feeling I owe her a little compensation for Mother's treatment of her yesterday.
Thinking of that reminds me. I pick up the phone, call Mother and tell her I'm not going to be down for my weekly visit tomorrow. This prompts a burst of strident complaints which only end when I hang up on her. Not something I'm in the habit of doing, but Mother really can be infuriating and she never has anything interesting to say. Besides, I saw her yesterday, albeit under protest.
Mother, never one to take such a delicate hint as having the phone slammed down on her, keeps ringing back. At last I lift the phone up, put it back down and then take it off the hook. She doesn't know my mobile number.
I start sorting through the small pile of paperwork that has somehow appeared between my going home last night and coming in this morning. Quite where it all comes from is a mystery to me.
Organizing and dealing with it takes a couple of hours (when you're dealing at my level, simply stuffing paperwork in files or in the shredder is unfortunately not an option).
There's an email from Bella's irate family demanding I pay a) compensation and b) the cost of any reconstructive surgery she needs, and I send a polite response agreeing to the second but not the first. Bella was a field agent and field agents sometimes get hurt. I see no reason to compensate someone for just doing their job. No one's ever offered me compensation for the extreme boredom I suffer with some of my colleagues.
Habit wakes me at six thirty and Mother phones at five past nine, wanting to know why I'm not at the estate. Unfortunately I can't unplug the phone to stop her; as a vital member of the British government, I'm under constant surveillance for my own safety.
MI5 are very diligent when it comes to looking after me. They are also very good at putting two and two together and coming up with five. This means that if my phone is suddenly yanked out of the wall, MI5 assume I'm being stalked by a ruthless assassin or locked in a life-and-death struggle, and they tend to react accordingly. I'm tired of paying compensation to my neighbors because they've had their fruit trees decapitated by a governmental helicopter again (the Secret part of Secret Service seems to have passed them by).
I tell her I'm not coming down today, purely to stop her thinking that I've been killed or hideously mangled in a car accident, and put the phone down. Two seconds later, it rings again. I let the answering machine pick it up and turn the volume right down.
I'm at a bit of a loose end today. Normally Sundays are spent being driven to the estate in Wiltshire, sitting in the drawing room while Mother gushes over me (tedious, but it keeps her happy) and then being driven back in the evening. This is the first time in several years when I've had an entire day free and I don't quite know what to do with myself. Should I go for a walk? Stay in and read books? The Diogenes Club is closed for refurbishment and wouldn't have opened until four in any case. Henry, who's possibly the closest thing I have to a friend, is a family man and Sunday is Family Day, complete with the traditional roast. I have eaten with his family on occasion, but never alone and never without some form of invitation, so visiting him is out.
I sit down with The Times and a pen. Doing all the crosswords kills about half an hour. Now what?
Ten minutes later, when the boredom has reached critical levels, I open up the laptop. Part of Anthea's story intrigued me; namely the part where she found herself suddenly responsible for her sister's three children. Either she was lying about not knowing what happened to her sister, or it was too painful for her to talk about, or she honestly doesn't know.
For want of something better to do, I decide to run a search for Anthea's sister. In the normal run of things, this would be rather tricky, but fortunately I am not a normal man and I have access to search engines that are rather more specialized than Google.
Two and a half hours later, however, I am stymied. So far Anthea's account of what happened to her sister matches the facts: Alison Turner, nee Davis, moved with her husband to the States five years ago. Just over a year ago, her three children Oliver, Sandy and Brittany were discovered two miles away from their parents' house. When the police went to the house, every light in the place was on, the doors were locked from the inside and the house itself was deserted. A thorough search turned up nothing untoward.
Every single search I run comes back empty. The children came out of the house, the parents didn't. If they locked the children outside for some reason, why didn't the police find any trace of Alison and her husband inside? Curious.
I spend several more hours cross-referencing every link I have with no success. There were no bodies found, the investigations all showed that nobody besides the family members entered the house, no signs of a struggle, nothing. I suppose the children may have some idea what happened that night, but if Anthea's to be believed – and somehow I don't think she was lying – then they're not talking.
For a moment I think about tricking Sherlock into investigating, then common sense prevails. I don't want to encourage him to go traipsing all over the place. Far better for him to settle down and start doing something useful with his life, although I'm not certain what. Mother once suggested he come to work for me, and Sherlock's and my combined refusal was so vehement that even Mother backed down. It's probably the only time my brother and I have agreed on anything.
Well, at least Anthea seems to be working out as my new PA. It's been a rather hectic week. I hope she doesn't think an encounter with my brother and my mother is going to be typical of her workload, otherwise the poor girl will probably resign within a fortnight.
Still, on the whole, I'm rather pleased with her. Maybe having a new PA won't be so bad after all...
Well, that's the end of this little story, though I may do a couple more from Mycroft's POV; he's an interesting character to write XD Hope you liked it and if you read, please review :)