The Sword of Solomon
By Book of Changes
Warnings/Notes: The usual episode 3 of season 2 spoilers. It was written and plotted while the author was in a Thinking mood (yes, this is a warning). The plot is unrelated to ASIM, though some characters are reused. The author also borrowed characters from Monster, by Naoki Urasawa, without permission.
Disclaimers: This is a work of fanfiction. No profit is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.
It had been years since John updated his blog. There was a reason for that. Like many things in his life, it had to do with a case—a case he doesn't want to write up.
The first thing John remembers about the case is the weather. All day winds shrieked and torrential rains came down like an air strike, heavy droplets beating the windows like bullets. It forced people indoors, reminding the mass of humanity in London that beyond their humdrum routines and delusions of mastery, there were great elemental forces out there that remained untamed. As the evening drew in, the storm grew stronger and louder. John sat at one side of the fireplace, reading old newspapers and their cringe-inducing headlines ("World-class surgeon suspected of murdering ex-girlfriend!" produced the biggest cringe; besides the horrible fate that befell a surgeon talented enough to separate conjoined twins and their parasitic sibling at the same time, the photo showed the poor sod with a bruise that discolored half of his face). Sherlock sat moodily at the other side, his legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles. His long tirade over the lack of interesting crimes since Moriarty's demise was briefly interrupted when John's phone went off.
"It's your fault, you know," John said as he hunted for his phone, its ring a piercing cry of relief from the muffled sobbing and moaning of winds, "You're the one who wiped him out."
"Maybe I shouldn't have, if I knew I'd be so frightfully bored," Sherlock grumbled.
John didn't comment on the statement that would've generated a cry of outrage from others. He knew Sherlock was just being petulant, not serious. He found his phone between the leather seats of their old battered sofa and managed to receive the call before it ended.
"This is John."
"John, are you available?" Lestrade said without greeting. He sounded a both harried and agitated.
"Depends on what you need me for," John replied.
"I need you for identification," said Lestrade, "Listen, you have a sister, right?"
John felt ice slipping down his esophagus.
"Yeah. What happened?" John asked as he went for his jacket, old memories of a sloshed Harry sprawled on a pavement like a broken doll flashing in his mind.
"We found an assault victim at King's Cross Station," said Lestrade. "She was taken to the A&E, conscious, but having trouble remembering her name. No ID on her. But she looks just like you."
John paused in the middle of stuffing an arm into his jacket and frowned. "Harry doesn't look like me."
She didn't: Harry took after their Father and John their Mother, and his parents looked nothing like each other.
"Really?" Lestrade said. "The guys are swearing blind the victim has to be a relative of yours."
"Could be a cousin," said John as he resumed donning his jacket. He glanced at Sherlock, whose eyes were alert. "What's the address?"
Lestrade rattled off the hospital's name. John promised to be there and ended the call. Then he turned to Sherlock.
"Want to go?" he asked.
"Thought you'd never ask," said Sherlock with a feral grin.
They met Lestrade outside the A&E, soaked to the gills after a two minute exposure to the rain. Lestrade introduced John as the victim's (potential) family member to hospital staff. The nurse on duty took one look at John's face and nodded. They were swiftly taken through the doors and were led to a curtained hospital bed stationed deep inside the ER. The nurse drew the curtains.
"Hello, luv," said the nurse. "Your brother's here."
John peered inside and went shock still.
Sitting on the bed, knees to her chest, arms wrapped around her legs, mirroring the look of shock no doubt on his face, was his mother.
Unable to help himself, John shut his eyes. When he opened them again his mother was still there, looking exactly like she did when his age was still in the single digits. The same round face, blond hair cropped into a pixie-cut, and the same dainty fingers. Even the toes are the same, John thought half-hysterically as he stared at the way she wriggled her tiny toes.
"John?" he heard Lestrade's voice, sounding concerned. John flinched when Lestrade's hand touch his shoulder.
"She looks just my mum," John said thickly.
Sherlock's eyes flared at that, "Cousin?"
"Could be. I wouldn't know. My mum died when I was eleven. I don't know much about her side of the family."
Lestrade scribbled that down on his notebook.
"Do you remember your name?" he asked, facing the victim/patient.
She shook her head. John studied her more carefully: She was wearing a green, long-sleeved cotton shirt that had a riot of flower patterns in a darker shade of green—exactly the sort of ugly but comfortable shirt one might wear to bed. Grey and thinning track pants covered her slender legs. A bruise marred one cheek, and blood was on her fingernails. Besides looking as if she'd emerged victorious from a bar fight, she was completely dry.
"Okay," Lestrade looked at Sherlock, "Gimme."
Sherlock raked his eyes over the young woman. Unlike others subjected to his scrutiny, she just blinked owlishly.
"Definitely a close female family member of John's, no less than a first cousin, judging from the shape of her ears," said Sherlock, "Married for five years. Mother. A&E doctor. Do you mind?"
Before she could say anything, Sherlock snatched her left hand.
"Left-handed, but plays the guitar regularly right-handed," Sherlock rattled off as he studied her fingers, "Frequently uses a laptop for prolonged typing sessions; hobby artist, runner and flower gardener; formerly of the military."
Lestrade jotted that down. "And you know that how?"
Sherlock ignored him. "John," he said, prompting.
"…Okay," said John. After years of living and working with Sherlock, John could (sort of) follow his thoughts after him. How this translated to him providing the explanations Sherlock normally relished in pontificating, John didn't know, but it happened more frequently of late.
"Calluses on the left middle-finger say she's left handed. The sheer size of the callus says she uses writing utensils a lot. So either she does a lot of writing or a lot of drawing. No one around our age will manually write when you can use a computer, so a lot of drawing."
"Good," said Sherlock with something akin to approval.
"Her finger tips have calluses too," John continued. "If she played the violin, then she'd have calluses on her neck, but she doesn't have that. Her right hand doesn't look like she uses a bow, so she plays a guitar."
"And her fingernails," Sherlock said, "they have the wear pattern of someone who strums without a pick."
"Right," said John. "Married bit is obvious: she has a ring, and the tan line probably tells you how long she's been married. I'm not going to explain why you know she had kids," he added the last bit with a blush.
"Her breasts," Sherlock said, as tactful as usual.
"Um, yeah, that," said John. He turned to the woman. "Sorry about him. Uh, I can tell you're an A&E doctor because you're very familiar with your surroundings, like an insider would. You could be a nurse, but…"
"She has the marks of someone who yields a scalpel," Sherlock interjected.
"What he said," John said, "You have pollen on your clothes, so you grow flowers. I bet Sherlock figured out your writing habits from the wear pattern on your sleeves and that you're a runner from your feet. And you had to have had a stint with the military. If you're related to my Mum in any way, then there's no way you couldn't have."
"She's trained to use a handgun. Clearly you can see that—"
John didn't listen. He was too busy staring at the patient/victim. She stared back, blinking the same way as his mother did when she was trying to figure out what to say. John felt lump rise to his throat as he unearthed an old memory he hadn't visited for a long time.
"…And I had a twin sister once," he said through the lump in his throat. "Her name was Hailey."
The human silence that met that pronouncement was complete.
When John was very young, his mum used to lay out lilies on an unmarked grave. He somehow—he didn't remember how—learned that he had had a twin sister. As he and Harry were at the height of their fighting days, John only felt relieved when he learned about it.
Now, as he dazedly recounted this to Sherlock and Lestrade whilst staring at the woman wearing his mother's face, he started wonder…
"This isn't a mere assault, this is a kidnapping. She was taken from her home in London," Sherlock said.
"Figured that out myself, thanks," Lestrade said. "No one walks around in their pyjamas in this kind of weather, and she wasn't shivering at the cusp of hypothermia when the boys picked her up."
"It couldn't have happened that long ago," Sherlock went on. "Transported by a vehicle, no sedative or bindings were used, yet here she is."
Eventually John collected himself enough to take a fortifying breath, square his shoulders and face the woman.
"Hi," John said. "I'm John."
The woman gave him a small smile.
"Hello," she said with a faint accent John couldn't identify. "You can call me Hailey."
They shared a shaky grin. Sherlock chose that moment to round back to Hailey.
"What do you remember?" he asked.
Hailey twitched—close to a flinch, but not really— at the sound of Sherlock's voice.
"There were three attackers," Hailey eventually answered. "I fought back. Smashed a nose, and scratched another," She studied her fingernails, dark red at the tips, "Broke a knee."
"Who got the better of you?" asked Lestrade.
"I don't know," said Hailey. "I remember rearing back to clock someone and then…"
Sherlock studied Hailey's head injury as she trailed off.
"The weapon was hand-held mirror, possibly an antique," said Sherlock. "Do you remember the attackers' faces?"
She did. She sketched out their faces, full bodies and injuries once she was given a pencil and sheets of paper. As John suspected, she was a skilled artist (but not formally trained, Sherlock noted). Lestrade phoned his team to tell them to comb the area's clinic/hospitals for anyone fitting the description.
"You have good fighting instincts," Sherlock said as he studied the sketches. "Your attacks suit the opponent—nose shot for the shorter and stockier one, and a crippling blow to the knee followed by a kidney shot for the tall one. I'm inclined to think you were unaware of the third attacker."
"I need to be good at fighting," Hailey said quietly. "But I don't know why."
Hailey buried her face in her knees. John glowered at Sherlock for yet again distressing the witness/victim before turning to Lestrade.
"Listen," said John. "I don't know how procedure works here, but I'd like to take her to the flat. I can look after her. The sooner Sherlock figures out who she is, the faster we can make you and the NHS happy."
"As long as I know where to find her it's fine," said Lestrade. "The question is: is she going to be okay with that?"
It was a fair point, John conceded.
"Either way, she shouldn't be alone." John hesitated for a moment, his hand hovering over Hailey's shoulder, and eventually thought better of it, "Hailey."
Hailey looked up. "Mmm?"
"Once we're done here, you can, uh, crash at our place," John said. "We're not up to anything. I really think you're my sister." He gestured vaguely at his face. "You know…"
Hailey's eyes were enormous, and looked so much like his mother's it hurt. Still John stubbornly met them.
"…Okay," she said.
"Right," John said with a lopsided smile. "Good."
A bit later they excused themselves and congregated at a quite corner.
"This case might get press coverage," said Lestrade.
John shuddered at the thought. He had more than enough exposure to media to last a lifetime and then some.
"It does have all the sensationalist aspects of a good Tabloid story," Sherlock sneered. "Long lost sibling thought dead returned through mysterious circumstances, but with convenient amnesia. The only misfortune is that it's actually true—she honestly doesn't remember."
Lestrade let out a rusty sigh.
"I'll tell the hospital staff that we need to keep this quiet since the attackers are still at large and might want to try again. You two take her to the flat as soon as you can."
'Soon' didn't materialize for another hour, as the hospital didn't want to release their patient until they had some proper ID. John ended up providing Harry's information to get Hailey out. John phoned Harry in the cab to tell her the news. She reacted as expected before abruptly ending the call, probably to get a stiff drink. John couldn't bring himself to care as he ushered Hailey into their dimly lit sitting room. Sherlock hollered for Mrs. Hudson, who fussed over Hailey as soon as they explained the situation.
"Oh, you poor thing," she cooed. "Let me get you a towel. Then I'll get you a blanket and some nice warm socks."
"Thank you," Hailey murmured as she shivered under John's coat. If she was dry before she wasn't now. The rain persisted and Hailey didn't have shoes, so that they had to make do with John's coat and a pair of flip-flops one of the nurses donated. Her feet were now a rather alarming shade of purple.
After drying up and providing the promised items, Mrs. Hudson offered to go purchase necessities once the storm was over. Hailey protested the cost, but Mrs. Hudson waved it aside.
"Don't worry, John makes quite a bit from his blog," Mrs. Hudson said cheerfully, "And nothing I own is fit for a young lady like you."
"'m not much of a lady," Hailey muttered as Mrs. Hudson bustled out. She yawned. "I don't have a concussion, so it's okay for me to sleep, right?"
"Sure. You can take a shower too, if you like," John said.
"A shower," said Hailey absently. "I'm actually too tired to think about showers. What does that say about me?"
"That you're exhausted," said John. He smiled fondly as Hailey snuggled into the sofa, knees to her chest, pulling the flannel blanket tightly around her, "Go on, I'll wake you in two hours."
Hailey was out like a light.
"My mum used to sleep like that too," said John as he watched her sleep. "All curled up like a kitten."
"You're smitten," said Sherlock.
"Maybe," John said. "I miss my Mum. She was kindest woman in the world, though Dad told me she was never quite the same since I was born."
"Haunted by memories of her lost child, I suppose."
"Something like that," John had long since calibrated his expectations to fit Sherlock's capacity when it came to empathy, and this time Sherlock didn't sound that dismissive. "I'll stay here for a bit. You do your job."
In a week, Lestrade called John to give an update: the three attackers had been arrested. All three were hired thugs and didn't know who commissioned the attack. They were paid in cash, so the hirer couldn't be traced through the money route. Hailey's prints didn't show up on any of the databases, not that they expected them to.
"Any updates on your end?" asked Lestrade.
"Sherlock's dragging Hailey all over London trying to find her workplace," said John. "So far, her memories of the workplaces themselves are too accurate to be faulty, but none of the employees recognize her. I'm still waiting for the results of the parental testing. Luckily my parents were hopeless romantics who kept a lock of each other's hair in a pendant, so we're not lacking in materials. I'm digging up records of my twin sister's grave site in the meantime, though I honestly want to avoid an exhumation if I can help it. Sherlock says no plastic surgery was involved (as if I couldn't tell that myself) and she was most likely raised in Northern Germany."
John could hear Lestrade's scribbling.
"How did your twin sister end up 'dead', if you don't mind me asking?" Lestrade asked.
"I don't mind. There's not much to tell," John sighed. "It was a premature breech birth. I was head down, but Hailey was feet down. Mum decided not to go through C-section. I came out okay, but Hailey…"
"It happens," said John. "Now that I think about it, I don't think there was a funeral. My parents were too upset, Harry was too young, and I was just born. So no one did anything."
"So something could've happened," said Lestrade, sounding very alert.
"Yeah. Though why anyone would want to do something, I can't even imagine," said John.
"What about Herself? Remember anything new?"
"Nothing since she recalled the free clinic in South East Peckham," said John. "You know, I'm starting to think she doesn't want to remember."
"Any time we mention her husband, she shuts down," John explained. "She has no signs of physical abuse as far as Sherlock can tell, thank God, but the other kind … it's not off the table."
Lestrade swore. "I hate cases like that."
"Yeah," said John. "Anyway, I don't want to push it. I haven't mentioned therapists yet, but I will eventually."
"I'll leave that to you," said Lestrade. "Is Sherlock giving her trouble?"
John peered through the window. A familiar tall lanky man and a petite blond woman were striding towards the flat, walking side-by-side. John smiled at the odd pair.
"No," said John. "I can't tell if Sherlock is trying to be nice, because honestly he's not doing a good job at it, but Hailey isn't fazed at all. What does that say about her, I wonder?"
"That you two are definitely related."
John laughed. "I don't think Sherlock-tolerance is inherited."
He heard a clatter of footsteps and voices—a rumbling baritone tinged with amusement and a mezzo-soprano he was quickly getting fond of.
"You'll let me know if you learn more, yeah?" said Lestrade.
"Of course," said John.
Sherlock and Hailey showed up at the landing right after John ended the call. Both were flushed from exertion of the athletic kind, and beads of sweat still clung to Sherlock's forehead.
Sherlock planted both hands on Hailey's shoulders. John inexplicably had a mental image of Sherlock brandishing a fluffy orange kitten.
"Her stand-up grappling is excellent," said Sherlock. "No one less than a third-level black belt Judoist can prevail against her."
John beamed, "Anything else?"
"She's trained in kickboxing," said Sherlock. "The left middle kick she used to knock me out could be nothing else."
"You knocked him out?!" John exclaimed.
"I kicked him too hard," Hailey muttered. "Sorry."
"I said it was fine," said Sherlock dismissively. "She can handle opponents far above her weight class, which is quite remarkable considering she's a few pounds shy of eight stone." He nodded in approval. "You strike to kill; very few people would win against you in a fight."
"You say that as if it's a good thing," said Hailey.
"It is a good thing. I can't abide a sniveling woman unless the sniveling is a stratagem."
"…Oh," Hailey clearly didn't know how to take that. She sighed. "I'm hungry. Is there anything to eat?"
"I can't remember the last time we did the shopping, sorry," said John apologetically.
Hailey grimaced. "No sign of my purse?"
"I don't want to keep imposing on you two."
"Don't. You're family," said John firmly.
"You can't say that for sure," said Hailey.
"I know for sure," said Sherlock. "Your ears are distinctive and telling. So are your features."
"Should I call for Chinese?" asked John, picking up a menu.
"No, I don't feel like it," said Hailey as she padded over to the kitchen, "Tea anyone?"
"Even your tea drinking habits are the same," Sherlock muttered as he sank into his habitual chair, "And the constant haranguing of the state of the flat. She's more tyrannical than you."
John smirked at the last bit. The last few days the flat had been at its cleanest since their first shared tenancy. Hailey had been cleaned up their mess with the concentrated stubbornness of a true Watson woman, completely disregarding Sherlock's gripping for touching his things and messing up his structured chaos.
"Do you have a particular place in mind?" John asked. "I'm a bit peckish myself."
"I know a place," said Hailey absently. She was often that—listless, faraway, preoccupied. If it weren't for the cleaning binges and whirlwind of activity Sherlock was putting her through, John had no problem imagining her just sitting down staring at walls for hours. The mental image left John's stomach hurting.
"Let's go then," said John.
They left the flat, just the two of them. Sherlock deign not to join. John let Hailey walk ahead and Hailey had no issue leading. As they walked, John noted the lightness in her steps. The abstract air vanished like an unfolding cloud as she soaked in the early spring sunlight. Her almost girlish enjoyment drew eyes from passerby. She was certainly pleasant to look at: the fitted jeans accentuated the rich curve of her hips, the cream-colored knit top and black jacket brought out her golden complexion beautifully, and her dark blue eyes seem to sparkle with barely contained joy. John wondered with a sudden pang if Sherlock's presence was what made her withdraw into herself.
"What are you looking at?" Hailey asked as she looked back.
"Strangers," John replied. "I'm going to punch them if they look at you the wrong way."
"Why would anyone want to look at me?" Hailey asked, looking frankly bewildered.
"You're a sight for sore eyes."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
They shared another easy grin and continued walking. The place Hailey had in mind turned out to be a small food court inside an Oriental mart. She ordered a noodle dish John didn't know existed and didn't look all that very appetizing—egg noodles swimming in thick black bean sauce. He went for the more friendly looking marinated beef and rice platter.
"I remembered someone," said Hailey as she dug into her noodles, "A fellow doctor in the hospital I worked at. He was brilliant. His focus was surgery and diagnostics, but there was practically nothing known about the human body he didn't know. It was ridiculous. He ate like a pregnant woman and this noodle dish was the only normal thing he liked. I had the biggest crush on him. I think we even dated a bit. But then he gave me the heave-ho."
"Oooh, someone needs to get beaten up," John said, only half-joking.
Hailey's lips quirked, "I have the impression he did the right thing to break it off. And whatever happened to me later wasn't his fault it was just me being stupid."
"That's it," Hailey sighed. "Why can't I remember anything useful or accurate?"
"You're doing fine," said John. "And your memory is accurate. Your sketches of the St. Thomas' A&E were uncanny. And we would've never found the free clinic if you didn't put down the directions."
"But no one remembers me," said Hailey quietly. John intuited the strong undercurrent of fear behind those words. It made him want to stab someone. He slackened his grip around his fork before he actually started attacking innocent bystanders.
"Don't worry about it," John assured her. "Sherlock's figuring that out. No doubt he will."
They ate their food in silence. Then they did a bit of shopping. Neither of them knew a thing about vegetables more exotic than lettuce, onions, carrots and potatoes, and the sea of esoteric foreign spices and sauces left them lost. But they had fun daring each other to pick something weird. Hailey picked up a tiny pot of sesame plant and lingered at the tea aisle, holding a tin of jasmine tea for several seconds before putting it back on the shelf. She stared when John put the tin into the basket.
"Does your blog really make that much?" asked Hailey.
"Enough to cover the rent and have some left over," said John.
"Must be nice," said Hailey wistfully.
"It's a godsend," John said. "I do miss being a surgeon. I can't, you know. I don't have the necessary mobility for it." He tapped his shoulder, "Got shot."
Hailey's eyes went wide and clutched her own shoulder on the same side. John wondered about it. Her reaction suggested she was touching an old wound. Yet the most he'd observed from her shoulder was an old burn scar.
"I think you had enough for today," John said, noting the tension running through Hailey's entire frame. "I'll go pay for this, and we can take a cab back."
The checkout process gave them no problems. The counters were manned by human beings for one thing. John was looking forward to returning to Baker Street and relaying the freshly recovered memories to Sherlock. Instead he got an anonymous text message that said 'Into the car please John' as soon as he and Hailey stepped out of the shop. A sleek black car parked in front of them rather pointedly.
"Damnit," John hissed as the driver opened the passenger door. Hailey looked at him curiously.
"When did you call for a cab? And isn't this expensive?" she asked, gesturing at the car.
"This isn't a cab," John growled. "This is from Sherlock's older brother. And he doesn't take no for an answer."
The car took them to the Diogenes Club. Hailey blinked at the overtly traditional and opulent surroundings, but (wisely) refrained from commenting. They found Mycroft Holmes at the Stranger's Room.
"Ah, John," greeted Mycroft in his usual brand of plastic affability, "and Ms. Hailey. Do take a seat."
"This is getting really old," John griped. "Can't you make appointments like everyone else?"
Mycroft just smiled in his reptilian way. "Now where is the fun in that?"
John threw himself into an overstuffed couch. Hailey sat next to him, back straight and alert.
"I took the liberty of expediting your request for parental testing," said Mycroft as he poured himself a crystal tumbler of amber-colored spirits from a decanter. "The results were unsurprising. You and Ms. Hailey share the same mother, and Ms. Hailey and your sister Harriet share the same father. In short, you two are indeed siblings."
"Great. Nice of you. Is that it?" John sniped.
"Not at all," said Mycroft. "I have identified the coroner's office that processed your twin sister's supposed remains. There is clear documentation indicating a body was received from the hospital and interred in a pauper's grave—a grave, I should add, at this moment contains the remains of a newborn infant girl who is not your sister."
John couldn't bring himself to be outraged. Extra-legal exhumation was entirely in the Mycroft Holmes's repertoire.
"Baby switching then," said John. "It's rare, but it does happen."
"Indeed," Mycroft agreed. "The history should be easy enough to trace, now that we have an idea what might have happened. Yet this is not so."
"What are you trying say?" John demanded.
"You underestimate the enigma Ms. Hailey presents, John," said Mycroft seriously. His expression was like carved steel mask. "Her history is easy enough to read from her person. She wears it as openly as you do yours. But thence the enigma: that history can only be read on her and no where else."
John blinked. It took a several beats to process what Mycroft was saying.
"Are you telling me," he said quietly, "that you can find nothing corresponding on the records?"
"Precisely," said Mycroft. He turned to Hailey. "For all accounts you don't exist, Ms. Hailey, and yet here you are, bearing all the signs of an average British subject who lives in greater London just like your brother, with years of medical and military training writ large on your face and hands."
John felt a chill seep down to his very core. It was quickly replaced by rage when he saw Hailey shrink into her seat, trembling with genuine fear.
"If you're evening thinking of locking her up, Mycroft," John shouted, "so help me I will—!"
Mycroft raised a hand to his outburst.
"I am thinking no such thing," he said. "It would be pointless, considering the two viable explanations. One: Ms. Hailey did not exist until the day you met her at the A&E. I think this is very unlikely given that she is genetically your sister and her memories correspond to reality but not quite, which suggests honesty and the usual unreliability of recall. Two: someone has gone through the trouble of erasing Ms. Hailey's existence over a period of time, during which she was entirely removed from society. Again, the sheer difficulty of achieving this feat makes this explanation unlikely, but not impossible."
John breathed in audible clumps as he tried to calm down. He didn't bother to entertain the possibility of number one. It wasn't just unthinkable—it was madness. But number two brought terrible images to his mind, of Hailey kept in captivity like a caged animal for years, and no one the wiser.
"I think it's the latter," said John in a flat tone.
"It is more plausible," Mycroft said. "The 'whys' and 'how' remain unanswered, but the implications are clear. You can imagine how difficult it is to erase all traces of a living person without the correct security access."
"You suspect a mole."
"Among other things," said Mycroft. "It is entirely possible the attack upon Ms Hailey's person was the final act of complete erasure. Commissioning thugs to carry out the assault may look like a mistake at first glance, but if you consider the frequency of violent deaths in the less savory areas of London, the true culprit may have been counting on the police to treat the attack as a mundane case. Should this be true, then the culprit was playing a rather fine game indeed, and it is only luck that your sister got away."
John sighed. The way the Holmes brothers spoke sometimes made him want to sit down and have serious words with their parents. He was probably being too hard on them—no parent could possibly cope with two geniuses of Sherlock and Mycroft's flare.
"In short," said John, "Some Moriarty-level criminal tried remove all traces of Hailey's existence, but screwed up the last act. Is that you think?"
"It's good to know you comprehend," said Mycroft in mock approval.
"Why are you telling me this?" asked John.
"Don't act as if you're actually this obtuse, John," Mycroft admonished.
John sighed again. "You want me to warn Sherlock."
"If you don't mind," said Mycroft. "I trust I need not advise you to guard your sister's back."
"You don't," said John, glaring. "Are we done?"
"Just one more thing," said Mycroft, showing his teeth. "Should existing identification of Ms. Hailey fail to surface, then I'm willing to supply necessary documentation plus a meaningful sum of money in exchange for-"
John took Hailey by the hand and got out of the building before Mycroft could say another word. He was still fuming when they got back into the conspicuously unobtrusive black car that drove them back to Baker Street.
"He was warning me too," said Hailey after a bout of silence.
"Mycroft doesn't need defending," John snarled. "Machiavellian control freak in love of power play…"
He stopped when Hailey reached out and squeezed his arm.
"I'm so glad you're my brother," she said, smiling softly.
A fierce protectiveness and pride filled John's chest, replacing the anger from before.
"Me too," he said. "God, where were you all my life?"
Sherlock took the news of Mycroft's interference badly, but that was expected. Then he showed uncharacteristic solicitousness to Hailey, asking if she was alright.
"I'm not as creep-ed out as I should be," Hailey said as she sorted the shopping. "I have this notion that I had an ex-boyfriend even creepier than him."
John stared. "Baring psychopathic criminal masterminds, how can your ex-boyfriend be creepier than Mycroft?"
Hailey told them.
"Good grief!" John shouted.
Sherlock started to show worrying amount of interest of the kind that usually left someone thoroughly suckered.
"I confirmed the Peckham free clinic experienced a high turnover the last three months. Not just the medical personnel, but the janitorial staff as well," he said.
Making janitorial staff redundant definitely sounded suspicious.
"So it's possible her memory is just out of date?" asked John.
"Yes," said Sherlock. "Also, in light of Hailey's less than savory ex-boyfriend, perhaps it was her husband who instigated the complete erasure, if he hasn't been murdered already."
John stared at Sherlock with his mouth hanging open in horror. The tomato Hailey was holding slipped out of her hands, bounced off the table and rolled into a corner. Her face was sheet-white.
"Of course. You're right. It makes perfect sense…" she said hollowly.
"SHERLOCK!" John roared. "That was uncalled for!"
"No it's not," Sherlock retorted. "Think! No one reported her missing and it's been over a week. Why? Her husband does not know, does not care, or cannot care."
"One word, Sherlock," John snarled. "Baskerville."
Sherlock's mouth thinned. "Your desperation to make everything right for your dear sister is blinding you of all the possibilities, John," he snapped.
John opened his mouth to let out the string of blistering invective, but then he felt Hailey place a hand on his arm.
"No," she said. "It's alright. I thought about it."
"I may not remember who I married, but I do remember my feelings about the marriage," said Hailey quietly. "I just haven't mentioned them."
John closed his mouth. He was almost too afraid to ask. But he had to.
"What kind of feelings?"
"Unhappy," said Hailey. "So unhappy I want to die."
Silence reigned in the flat for a long spell. Hailey looked down at the counter, picking at a smudge. John watched her with a grief that he couldn't put into words. Sherlock was right of course. He'd known his twin sister barely a week, and he was already attached. But he didn't care much about the root of his attachment. All he knew was this attachment made him ache whenever he thought of the radiant joy and listless dissociation Hailey exhibited in turns. The contrast was stark as it was heartbreaking. He wanted to pluck out the poison that was bleeding the life out of Hailey, but he didn't know how.
"Maybe we should take up Mycroft's offer," John said finally. "I just can't imagine what he wants."
"A housekeeper?" said Hailey, shrugging her shoulders. "I can't think what else I can do. I doubt my supposed medical credentials would be included in the offer. Mind you, I'd be a lousy one."
"Um, hello," said John, waving his hand at the immaculate flat.
Hailey stared at him. "I'm getting tired of cleaning now. Do the maintenance yourself."
At that moment, the doorbell rang. Single ring, maximum pressure for a full second: a client. Sherlock actually looked resentful.
"Why now?" he complained. "Where was that client when I needed a case?"
"Could be boring," said John, just before the client noiselessly entered the flat.
John's first impression was whoa. The client was a woman of Oriental descent, tall, slim, and regal. She had gleaming honey-colored hair that reached down to her waist and soft pale skin that was lightly freckled on the nose and cheeks. Her large, tawny brown eyes were bright and brimming with keen intelligence. The thick manila folder she was holding certainly suggested she'd done her homework. John thought she might be a fresher in a university. She certainly dressed like one, clad in well-worn skinny jeans, a crimson long-sleeved cotton V-neck and black New Balances as she was. He was shocked when Sherlock said she had just entered her thirties.
"Don't let her youthful face fool you," said Sherlock as he took his customary leather chair whilst directing the client to the red armchair, and John and Hailey settled at the sitting room table. "She's been an IT professional for close to a decade. You can tell from her wrists, back, eyes, and the company mobile phone."
"Database Admin, eight years in the field," the client confirmed as she held out her hand. Again, John was surprised at the strength and command of her voice—he was expecting something softer. "Jaclyn Shin."
"Sherlock Holmes," said Sherlock, shaking it. He was peering at Jaclyn like an interesting specimen. "Don't you find using a bicycle as your primary mode of transportation intimidating, especially here in London?"
Jaclyn's expression didn't change, but there was a subtle flicker in her glance that betrayed her surprise. John looked down and noticed the scuff marks on her soles caused by pedals.
"I was told of what you can do, but I did not think you would be this accurate, this consistently," Jaclyn remarked. "To answer your question: No. As long as you are aware of your surroundings, you don't court death."
Sherlock smirked. "I suppose the outdoor running you on top of cycling has given you a healthy respect for cars."
"I certainly don't plan to get run over by one."
"Hmn," said Sherlock, his amused smirk lingering. "So what happened to you, Ms. Jaclyn? You don't seem the type to engage in foolishness the rest of humanity is so ready to fall into."
Jaclyn didn't react to the sardonic words and proceeded with great composure:
"My father suffered a stroke four months ago. He is lucid and has good mobility, but tires very easily. I left London and started telecommuting from Surrey to help my mother take care of my father. The strange thing that happened to me and need advice for happened about two months after I moved."
Sherlock nodded. John privately applauded her style: succinct and engaging, just what Sherlock liked.
"I teach piano on the side," said Jaclyn. "I don't advertise. I get all my students by word of mouth. A man named Jack Schwarz contacted me last … December, I think, saying he had a daughter interested in learning piano. I agreed to teach her three times a week for sixty pounds an hour."
"Who referred him to you?"
"A colleague of mine at my old London office; John Liebert is his name. He's our new Project Manager."
Sherlock frowned. "How does he know you teach piano?"
"It was his idea," Jaclyn looked Sherlock keenly. "Is this important?"
Sherlock shrugged. "Who knows? It might become important later. So what is the significance of Jack Schwarz?"
"Two things: First I had problems was his friend Bob Woodley," here Jaclyn wrinkled her nose as if she smelt something unpleasant. "He was always at Jack's house when I just started teaching Nina, the daughter. I didn't like him. Though I could respect his drive to become financially independent at his age and I have nothing against dumpster diving per se, I objected to him ridiculing my boring nine-to-five work as he calls it. I also found his repeated invitation to leave my parents and go travel the world with him plain obnoxious."
"That's not all," said Sherlock.
"No," said Jaclyn with a grimace. "I first thought he just had a strong personality and even stronger opinions. But then I joined Jack and him to see a local production of The Taming of the Shrew. At the 'Kiss me, Kate!' scene, he suddenly lunged at me and said he wouldn't let go unless I kissed him. Jack had to literally tear him off of me. Then he blew up on him. I haven't seen Bob since."
"How are these two friends?" asked John incredulously.
"I don't know," said Jaclyn. "I can't think of a reason. They're worlds apart. Bob is as I described to you, plus a penchant for bullying anyone less assertive. Jack is much older, reserved to the point of being shy, and soft-spoken. I don't know how they got to know each other, but I heard Bob say Jack once lived in Düsseldorf, Germany."
"Has the daughter mentioned anything?" asked Sherlock.
"She's familiar with Bob, and despises him. But she takes it for granted he'll always be around."
"An unusual household," John commented.
"Not as unusual as the situation I need consultation over," said Jaclyn, "It's like this: Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday I bicycle from Farnham station to go to Jack's place. It's a lonely route but a scenic one. It's rare to meet any cars until you reach the main road, and Jack's cottage house is about six miles away from it. In the middle of the route there is a narrow strip of downhill road, one side bordered with trees and the other side a large heath. Three Saturdays ago I happened to look over my shoulder at that place, and I saw a man on a mountain bike about seventy meters behind me. He wasn't dressed for serious cycling— he had a large olive-green parka, gray jogging bottoms, running shoes and ski gloves— but he was wearing a proper helmet, plus aviator glasses and a cloth mask. I looked back again when I reached Jack's house, but he was gone. I didn't think much about it until I saw the same man again on the same spot the following Tuesday. I was seriously disturbed when he kept showing up at the exact same location the next Thursday and Saturday too. I mean, the man keeps his distance and he doesn't try to approach, but it's so weird. I mentioned this to Jack last Saturday, and he promised to send a cab to pick me up."
"Why a cab?" asked John. "Doesn't he have a car?"
"No, he doesn't."
"And you can't drive?"
"I can, but I don't have a car," Jaclyn said. "There was no point owning one when I lived in London, and now I can't really afford to buy one. I'm saving up so my parents can retire early, you see."
"You really take good care of your parents," Hailey remarked.
Jaclyn blushed and looked down.
"It's only right," she muttered. "They sacrificed so much just to raise me and my siblings and—well, I'm the only one who can afford to right now."
"You have brothers and sisters? Who are they?" asked Hailey.
"I have a younger brother and an older sister. Daniel lives in the states. He's a musician, doing small gigs here and there. He makes just enough to get by. I haven't seen my sister Cecilia for the last fifteen years; just a few emails and Facebook messages here and there."
"A rebel?" Hailey guessed.
"Very," Jaclyn sighed. "She quit school at sixteen, got pregnant at thirteen, married someone at eighteen, divorced the guy six months later, and then vanished two weeks after leaving her wife. I think father disowned her eight times before she left for good."
John whistled—and he thought Harry was bad. From his perch, Sherlock made an aggrieved noise.
"All very interesting, but do stop the side-narratives," he snapped. "So what happened, Ms. Jaclyn?"
"The cab never came. I called the cab company, but they said they didn't have any reservations for me. I called Jack, but he didn't pick up. So I took my bicycle—yes, Mr. Holmes, I realize that was stupid—I looked back at the road, and sure enough, there was the man again. I was more annoyed than afraid of him at that point, so I decided to test him. I slowed down and so did he. I stopped and he stopped. I speeded down at the sharp turn of the road and waited for him at the bottom. But he didn't show up. I biked up the hill and I couldn't see him anywhere. The mile stretch of road was clear and there are no side roads he could've turned to."
"How much time elapsed between your turning the corner and you going back up the hill?" asked Sherlock.
"Ninety five seconds," said Jaclyn promptly. "I strapped a digital camera on my bike that day."
Sherlock wordlessly extended a hand. Jaclyn fished out a silver digital camera from her charcoal pea coat and placed it on his open palm. John and Hailey huddled behind his back to watch the recording. The footage was unstable and almost indecipherable for seventeen seconds when Jaclyn sped down the hill, but the man on the black mountain bike wearing an olive-green parka in the beginning was unmistakable.
"He couldn't have retreated back the road," muttered Sherlock. "And you say there are no side roads?"
"Then he must have gone to the either side."
"Not the heath or I would've seen him."
"He went to the woods then. Where is Jack Schwarz's house in relation to the wood?"
Jaclyn pulled out a printed map from her manila folder.
"This is the road where I see the man," she said, tracing the road with her finger. It was traced with a red marker. "The wooded area is here," she pointed it out. "And Jack's house is here." She pointed the large X, which was on the other side of the road, in a clearing.
"What else do you have in that folder?" asked Sherlock, looking at her keenly.
"A video still of the man, names and pictures of all my guy friends, their alibies for all the days the man showed up, photos of Jack and Nina, a photo of Bob, the case number and police contact I got after reporting the situation to the local authorities, and a timeline of what happened to me in Surrey," Jaclyn replied.
Sherlock's lips quirked, "You're a model client."
"I'm just really freaked out," Jaclyn demurred. "The police are treating it as stalking case, but that's stupid. The man never shows up at my home, all my guy friends have alibies, and I don't have any ex-boyfriends."
"You don't have any exes?" said John, eyebrows raised.
"I don't," Jaclyn said flatly. "I never dated my entire life, and blind dates don't count."
"Not even in uni? Comprehensive?"
"No," said Jaclyn, grimacing again. "My parents were dead-set against me dating when I was teen. They weren't always like that, but after Cecilia, they weren't going to take any chances. I didn't want to worry them, so I didn't even go to my friend's birthday parties if it was co-ed. And I just wasn't interested in dating back then—why bother when the chances of breaking up is 99%? At uni I was too busy studying, and after I started working, I decided not to date unless the guy is genuine husband material."
"You had people who were interested in you, surely?" John probed.
"If they exist, which I sincerely doubt, they've hidden themselves extremely well," said Jaclyn dryly.
"So there's really no one?" asked Hailey.
"Who is it?" Hailey urged.
"I'm probably wrong," said Jaclyn slowly. "I'm not exactly good at recognizing interest. But there are times I think Jack takes a great deal of interest in me. I mean, we are together a lot. I hang out at his place after I'm done teaching Nina, and the three of us go on day trips together. He never said anything and I'm never alone with him—he's really particular about that—but I can't help but wonder."
Sherlock was silent for a fraction.
"What does Jack do for a living?"
"He is a doctor taking a break. Bad burnout, he said."
"He definitely has enough to pay three months' worth of my overpriced lessons in advance."
"I wrote it down on the back of his photo."
"Thank you," said Sherlock. "There's not much else to work on, Ms. Jaclyn, you've done most of it yourself. And I'm already working on a case. But I'll find time to look into yours. You've included your contact info?"
Jaclyn opened the manila folder. Her business card was clipped on the inside with a paperclip.
"Excellent. That will be all. Good day, Ms. Jaclyn."
"Ah, Mr. Holmes, about your fees—"
Jaclyn took Sherlock's rude dismissal with more grace than he deserved. She left the folder on the armchair and quietly marched out. Sherlock took the folder and studied its contents for a long time. John read over his shoulder.
And he immediately realized Sherlock wasn't joking when he said Jaclyn did most of the work. She was thorough: The photos of her guy friends were neatly organized by name and a brief account of their activities for the last three months were printed underneath, including the people who could confirm those accounts. On the back of the photo of the stalker were neatly penned notes detailing the mountain bike's make and model, and the man's approximate height and stature based on the bicycle's measurements. She even noted it was peculiar the man wore ski gloves—why something so cumbersome? Did he have something to hide?
Furthermore, she noted, there is certain blatancy in his actions. A brazenness that is at odds when one thinks of 'stalker'. Stalker implies inability to directly interact, the objectification of the victim and a willingness to intrude upon personal boundaries. The man who follows me exhibits restraint and discipline by keeping a distance and limiting his surveillance to one spot. Though I have no first-hand experience with serious crime, let alone stalking, I'm starting to doubt stalking is the actual crime that's taking place…
"This probably is just a stalking case," Sherlock said at length, "Some secret admirer no doubt. What do you think, John? Is she the type to attract an ordinary man like you and make them go for a pull?"
John rolled his eyes, "Not my type, but yeah sure."
"Interesting, I thought you'd at least consider a pull from the way you were checking her out."
"I did NOT," John protested.
"Yes, you DID," Hailey chimed in. "Your eyes were on her face only 50% of the time. The rest of the time you were looking up and down."
"The point is," said Sherlock, interrupting the argument, "Even for a stalking case this one is highly unusual."
"Because he only shows up at that one point?" said John.
"Exactly," said Sherlock. "Also, what kind of ménage is willing to pay three times the average market value for private piano lessons three months in advance, but unwilling to spend money on a car when they're living in a remote cottage? What is the connection between Jack Schwarz and Bob Woodley? They're a completely different type and yet even the daughter doesn't think it's odd they're friends. Then there is the father-daughter relationship of Jack and Nina Schwarz—they're clearly not related by blood."
Sherlock raised two photo printouts. Hailey joined John and stood behind Sherlock to take a look. On Sherlock's left was a photo of a red-haired man, puffy-eyed and bristly beard, posing on a mountain top with an insolent grin on his face. The photo on his right looked like a family holiday photo at first glance—a family of three, with the London Eye in the background. But when John took a closer look, he noticed the solemn, tired and pallid looking Oriental man whose drooping shoulders seem to carry the weight of the world, the blond-haired blue-eyed girl probably no older than five years old beaming in the middle and Jaclyn standing on the other side.
"He looks familiar," said John, pointing out the Oriental man over Sherlock's shoulder.
Sherlock looked up. "Someone you know?"
"Not an acquaintance, but I've seen him before. I just can't remember…"
"Interesting," said Sherlock, staring at the photo. "That puts an even odder spin to the case."
The three of them went silent as they pondered this. It suddenly struck John how funny they must look: A pair of Watsons perched on Sherlock's shoulders, like the miniature demon and angel in cartoons. He wondered which of the two he was as he tried not to burst into inappropriate laughter.
"So what are we going to do about Jaclyn's situation? Go check out Surrey?" John asked.
"I won't be going," said Sherlock. "You will."
John raised an eyebrow. Sherlock smiled beatifically.
"I do have a case in London," he pointed out. "I need to get to the bottom of how and why the free clinic in Peckham went through such a suspiciously high turnover."
"…Okay," said John, slowly. "When should I go? What should I be looking for? Who should I talk to?"
"Isn't it obvious, John?" Sherlock sighed. "You noticed her attire didn't you? Thin cotton shirt, thread unraveling at the sleeves, color fading, and not even high street. Her coat, 40% polyester, cheap, nasty; and those New Balances are at least six years old. A good DBA makes ninety thousand pounds a year at least—and Jaclyn is a good one, she survived the current economy and her company went through the trouble of arranging her telecommute instead of letting her go when she decided to move—so where is all that money going to? Not on herself, obviously, and I doubt she has a secrete beau. The parents are an option, but one never knows."
John wrote that down. "Okay, so learn about her parents and where the money is going. What else? Sniff around, get more info on Jack Schwarz?"
"Confirm if he's actually a doctor or not," Sherlock said. "You should be able to tell, you're a doctor."
"I suppose," said John, "That all?"
"One more thing," said Sherlock. "Do try to remember how you recognize him."
"Sure," John turned his sister. "Hailey, do you want to—"
"Oh, no, no, no, your sister stays here," Sherlock interrupted.
John narrowed his eyes. If it was any other person, he would've thought the speaker was trying to get some alone time with his sister. But this was Sherlock. It probably didn't even occur to him, and even if it did, he probably disregarded it as irrelevant.
"Do you think you can pose as a friend and visit Jaclyn's London office?" Sherlock asked to Hailey, oblivious to John's speculation.
"Depends on what you want me to do," said Hailey. "If I have to talk shop with her colleagues, forget it. I can't do anything more complicated than Word and Internet."
"Why would I do that? Except for your typing skills, you're as technologically-challenged as your brother."
"Thanks," John and Hailey griped in unison.
Sherlock flashed a grin before he turned serious.
"Find out about John Liebert—photos, background, girlfriends, anything. I need data."
"Okay," said Hailey. "But why do you want to know more about the Project Manager?"
"Data!" Sherlock shouted, splaying his hands and waving them about. "I need data! I can't make bricks without clay! Now not another word until I have some solid stepping stones to use to come up with a solution!"
John went down to Surrey early Friday morning. He made a quick call to Jaclyn to tell her what he was up to, and Jaclyn invited him over. Jaclyn's home proved to be a modest three room suburban flat with a tiny veranda. It was sparsely furnished, had many potted plants and had an upright piano in the living room. Jaclyn introduced him to her parents—a picturesque elderly couple—as 'Dr. Watson from London'. John put on his best doctor face as he dutifully examined Mr. Shin.
Mr. Shin was definitely a recent stroke victim and the one Jaclyn took after. He had the same tawny eyes, sharp and intelligent, and their heads were the exact same shape. As Jaclyn said, he was lucid, but had episodes of aphasia. He could walk unaided, but only for short distances. He also had trouble finishing his physio exercises because he got too tired halfway. Mrs. Shin hovered close by, wringing her hands in worry. Both parents' English were accented, but Mr. Shin's range of vocabulary, pronunciation and medical knowledge betrayed his English education. Jaclyn confirmed he studied Medicine at King's and received his doctorate in Biochemistry there.
"That's my Alma Mater too," said John, "Got my medical degree at King's College. Why did you switch?"
"I can't deal with sick people directly," said Mr. Shin. "I can't detach. So I focused on research instead."
He warbled about his career as the director of R&D for a pharmaceutical company, and told John that he had three patents under his name. He then mentioned the royalties his former employer owed him for using one of his patents. He hadn't claimed them because the company had been doing badly at the time he left.
"How much?" asked John.
Mr. Shin named an outrageous figure. Mrs. Shin corrected the outrageous figure to an even more outrageous one after reminding her husband the company stock he had. John mentally shook his head at the two unrealized multi-millionaires before asking:
"Can you prove your claim?"
He could. His years of British living had taught Mr. Shin the importance of possessing good legal documentation. And it was a good thing he waited: he heard the company was doing well now, so they'd actually be able to pay him.
"You definitely don't want to wait much longer," said John. "England isn't exactly known as a good place for convalescence."
Mrs. Shin agreed. She rambled at length how they were planning to move close to their son Daniel, who lived in San Francisco. She was told the weather was very nice there. John nodded and smiled. Jaclyn's parents were adorable and not sinister at all, he decided.
His impression wavered the moment he followed Jaclyn to her local church for Friday evening service to listen to the gossip.
The very first person he asked about Mr. Shin, an old lady around Mrs. Shin's age, said he had brilliant mind, quick temper and dictatorial tendencies that bordered on OCD. The first and third traits served him well enough at work, but had a devastating effect on his children. It was her opinion Cecilia acted out mostly because Mr. Shin tried to control every aspect of her life, and Daniel left home as soon as he could because he couldn't take it anymore. Jaclyn avoided overt damage because she was as meticulous as he was—truly her father's daughter. The old lady's friend then jumped in and said Mrs. Shin was infamous for setting up Jaclyn to the most wretched blind-dates. A third gossip speculated that Jaclyn wasn't Mr. Shin's daughter at all, but a niece (daughter of a kinder twin). The forth gossip was the opinion Mr. and Mrs. Shin doted on their wastrel son, who was bumming out in Cali, and was robbing the daughter to spoil the son. Jaclyn intercepted John at that point and put the record straight on the last one (she didn't hear others).
"They do keep sending Daniel the money I give them for allowance," she said. "But they only do it because they're worried about him, and Daniel doesn't want them to. He sent every penny back to me until the transfer fees got ridiculous. Now we've set up an automatic transfer to a retirement account they think belongs to Dan, but it's actually theirs."
John was seriously wondering what to think when he sat down for service. He dreaded this part—it had been years since he set a foot in any kind of church service—and worried if he might fall asleep too obviously.
He didn't fall asleep. The vicar was rather articulate and seemed to speak to him directly:
"The general mood of the west is that truth is an elastic thing, that reality is something one can mold to suit one's purpose, and can be whatever one perceives it to be," he said. "But you and I know very well there are things that will not bend to our will no matter how much we wish, and certain truths are true regardless of one's belief or disbelief of it. We also feel violated when those around us speak things about us that are not true. But why? If truth is whatever you make of it, why does it matter if someone else is bending the truth about you to suit their purpose? Because truth in the absolute sense does matter very much, especially when you are a victim of a lie."
He waxed eloquent on the justice aspect of truth, how they couldn't be detached because justice was making things right—i.e. true. Then he moved on to talk about the public fascination towards CSI and the like (John flinched when vicar mentioned Sherlock Holmes the 'Net detective). The desire to know truth, said he, was a deeply embedded quality that resonates within the soul of many, hence the admiration towards those who appear to have the ability to unravel mysteries and discover the truth. Yet, truth is not merely facts and figures, as these programs seem to imply, and to reduce truth to only such categories was not only limiting, but dangerous.
"This is the Wisdom of Solomon: Half a baby plus half a baby do not make a baby, but a gruesome mockery of a living one. A family of two does not merely turn into a family of three when a baby is born, but life in enriched a thousand fold by the addition of the little one. No man who has ever fallen in love will say that one and one are only two, but when he looks at his beloved, he feels that one plus one would be a million. Conversely, no family of three that had a loved one snatched away will find comfort in the assurance that one from three leaves two—indeed that family will be forever marked with the loss of one. What does this tell us? That on the higher plane of human sentiment and experience, the laws of mathematics collapse completely. That in the great crises of life, one's faith in facts and figures breaks down hopelessly. What, then, are we to do?"
That led to a talk about the Person and Love aspect of truth, followed by the need for trustworthiness, which was another way of saying it consistently reflects the truth, and the need for restoration that goes beyond mathematics. John was thinking the vicar was doing extremely well until he reached the end:
"There is only one place where Justice, Love, Trustworthiness and Restoration converge together in Truth. You should not be surprised that it is not found in a Location or an Idea, but found embodied in a Person—the person and work of Jesus Christ. Look upon the man on the cross— ugly, bloody, and torn apart—and behold what man wants to do to God if they so had the power! And behold what God was willing to do for those very people so that they may be close to Him! How will you respond to a love so great? Can you not hear his voice? He speaks even now: Come to me all ye who are heavy laden and burdened, and I will give you rest. Come to me and be healed, I am willing."
…Oh well. The vicar wrap up his sermon by speaking passionately how Jesus demonstrated love by dying on the cross, in the stead of humanity that deserved death and eternal rejection for their rebellion against God, as Justice demanded, and showed he meant what he said and proved that he is God by resurrecting from the grave. John was honestly expecting else. But then again he was in a church; mentioning Jesus had to be part of the course.
John wandered over to the vicar after the benediction (Jaclyn's church was a lot less formal than the masses he attending as a child—no one seem to mind his meandering). The vicar welcomed him warmly and invited him over to his office. John thought he definitely developed the wisdom of a serpent: he immediately took control of the conversation by saying he was a friend of Jaclyn's and gushed over her many positive qualities. As he expected, the entire talk revolved around Jaclyn, and the vicar gave great defense for her parents when John casually slipped in all the gossip he heard so far: Mr. Shin was a strict, yes, but never unreasonably so. Even Cecilia at her worst conceded her father was often right about his discipline. Mrs. Shin had set up many blind dates for Jaclyn, too many of which were quite miserable, but they never happened against her will, and finding and filtering the candidates were a church effort. Apparently it was the dearest wish of many members to see Jaclyn happily married. John mentally patted himself on the back as he left. He hadn't lived with Sherlock Holmes for nothing.
John next agenda was locating Jack Schwarz. He lucked out: John wandered into the church cafeteria thinking he'd gather some more gossip and there he was, sitting at a table in a corner next to his 'daughter'. John was only able to recognize him at all because of the daughter, whose perfect cherub-like features could make her successful child model. Jack himself had forgettable features —small, narrow eyes stereotypical of his race, dark circles underneath, crow's feet on each corner, a deep frown line gouged deep in the middle of his thick, black eyebrows permanently stuck at an obtuse angle, a nose too big compared to the other parts of his face, and a mouth that had no positively distinguishing characteristics. He was taller than average, but not overtly so, and while fine boned, lean limbed and muscular, his sloppy dress made him look old and dumpy. In short, he was the kind of person that would perfectly blend into a crowd of heterogeneous people whether he wanted to or not. The only thing that stood out was his massive hands: they looked more than capable of wrestling convulsing patients and bend iron rods in his spare time.
John studied Jack as he pondered what to do. Oblivious to his scrutiny, Jack brooded over his plate of food as if he was trying to convince himself to eat. His daughter kept shooting him worried glances as she polished off her plate with concentrated diligence. Then John saw Jaclyn striding purposefully towards the Schwarz family whilst carrying a bowl of soup. Jack looked up with a start when she placed the bowl rather pointedly in front of him. She said a few words. Jack stared at her blankly before ducking his head. After some hesitation and a few mumbled words, Jack picked up his spoon and started sipping. Jaclyn watched him eat with her arms crossed and her face expressionless. Jack didn't look up and appeared as if he was trying not to tear up. John had to look away—there was a haunted air around Jack that reminded him of servicemen who were robbed of the ability to cope with war and peace.
So John turned his attention back to gossip. He spotted a younger group of people and approached them. The group of young persons confirmed that the man over there was Dr. J. Schwarz (Chinese adoptee with German parents, they said). The day he showed up in Surrey he correctly diagnosed Mrs. Agnes Hammersmith's joint stiffness wasn't arthritis, but a sign pending subarachnoid haemorrhage. He correctly diagnosed several people since then: Mr. Ralph Smith didn't contract tetanus from drinking contaminated goat's milk, but developed epilepsy after getting his head kicked in by one his (illegal) pet goats. Mrs. Edith Samuelson wasn't losing her sense of taste because of menopause or hypothyroidism or, heaven forbid, Multiple Sclerosis. Her sense of taste was fine considering her age (96)—it was her spices that had expired. John marveled even as he chuckled over the stories. Jack Schwarz might be burned out, but he was still a damn good doctor.
His next question of course was Jaclyn. The group of young persons confirmed, yes, the lovely woman talking to J. Schwarz was still single and, as far as they knew, the two of them weren't interested in dating—be it each other or anyone else. Which was a pity: they seem to get along extremely well. When John asked about Jaclyn's piano teaching availability, the group told him good luck on that, she had a long waiting list, as expected of a semi-famous YouTube artist. John expressed disbelief. The nurse who told John about Mrs. Hammersmith's subarachnoid haemorrhage shoved a video in his face. John was mesmerized to the end. Like Sherlock, the normally calm and reserved Jaclyn exploded with emotion when music was involved and it was gorgeous sight to behold.
John wrapped up his day asking Jaclyn out for dinner. She politely but firmly turned him down. John half-jokingly asked what he did wrong. Jaclyn twinkled and told John that he was very charming and she was sure he would be a very lovely boyfriend—to someone else. John wondered for umpteenth time what it is about him that made women say this to him all the time. As a totally not-serious last-ditched effort, John demanded a private piano concert so he could salvage his wounded pride and confirm she really was the pianist on those YouTube videos. Jaclyn obliged.
John was promptly blown away. Forget overpriced, Jack Schwarz got her cheap.
John returned to London thinking he'd done a good day's work. Sherlock disagreed vehemently.
"The only thing you did right was attempting to look for gossip," Sherlock snarled. "What on earth did you learn? Mr. Shin really did have a stroke. I never doubted that. Jaclyn is giving money to her parents. I never doubted that either. Mr. Shin has several millions due to him. So what? Jaclyn is a very good piano player. Of course she's a good one, didn't you see the spatulated state of her fingers? Jack Schwarz is a doctor most likely. What kind of answer is that? The place you went looking for gossip was wrong. Church is where everyone is at their best behavior. You need to go where people are at their normal behavior."
"But Jaclyn doesn't know anyone outside that Church," John protested. "She's new to the area, remember?"
"The members don't stay there all day long!" Sherlock snapped. "You could've followed them out to their favorite coffee shop or something! And the pubs! I can't believe you forgot about the pubs!"
"YOU do it, if you can do better!" John shouted.
"Oh I WILL!" Sherlock shouted back.
Sherlock went down to Surrey the next day. John stayed in the flat gripping about Sherlock to Hailey and asking how things went on her end.
"It was humiliating," Hailey grumbled. "I had no idea what to do. Sherlock didn't give me any pointers. He just dropped me off at the lobby and left me there. The best I could come up with was asking random people where I could find John Liebert. The first person I asked turned out to be John Liebert. I was so shocked I blacked out."
Sherlock you are a dead man, John thought.
"When I came to, Liebert was at my elbow asking if I was alright, do I need an ambulance, and why I wanted to see him," Hailey went on. "I told him I'm Jaclyn's friend, I was supposed to ask him about something, but I forgot what. Basically I was acting like a swooning half-wit."
"No, you weren't," John lied. "So happened? Did he call an ambulance?"
"No. He just kind of stared at me. Then he shook his head and went: 'Oh, Jaclyn, Jaclyn…' He invited me to lunch. So I go to lunch, he buys, and we talk. Turns out Mr. Liebert has a huge crush on Miss Jaclyn, but she's oblivious and he doesn't know what he can do to make it click. Everything he's done so far either just flew over her head or made her uneasy. So he asked me if I had any advice."
John sniggered. "What did you tell him?"
"Random useless stuff: Lack of response doesn't mean lack of interest; she doesn't know how to play the flirting game; she's only looking for husband material, yatta, yatta, yatta." Hailey pulled a face. "I don't know what that girl is looking for in a husband. Liebert didn't do anything wrong as far as I can tell, he was perfect gentleman to me at lunch, and good lord he's hot."
She showed John a photo. John stared. Liebert looked— there was no other word for it— beautiful. He had fine chiseled features that were both stunning to the eye and angelic in composition. His large blue-green eyes had an ethereal quality to it, and his thick platinum blond hair and flawless pale skin was out of this world.
"He didn't even have the decency to have a single hairy mole," Hailey complained. "I guess she might have got turned off by his way too perfect looks. I certainly was."
"How did you even get this photo?" John asked.
"It's candid," said Hailey. "I think I rambled something about Jaclyn needing a few solid hits with a clue-bat, and distributing his photo to all the girls might do the trick. He said no thank you, but I snapped the photo before he could finish. Then I ran."
My sister is braver than I am, John thought.
"So what did Sherlock say?"
"Basically what he said to you: the only thing you did right is taking his picture. Why didn't you ask him why he's so interested? How come you didn't ask him when he started working there? Blah, blah, blah…" Hailey sighed. "After all he put me through."
Again, John vowed to engineer Sherlock's imminent death.
"So what did he do, just sit around and watch?"
"More or less," said Hailey. "He bullied Lestrade after telling me off. Said he needed to find the cleaning staff who worked for the Peckham free clinic three months back. Lestrade told him to call the MPB, finding missing people is not his division, thanks, now go away, I'm busy." She giggled. "I think I'm in love."
The rest of John's day was very pleasant and relaxing. They had dark bread and salad, sausage and mustard for lunch, as they had for the past week (this diet, and Hailey calling mustard 'Senf', made Sherlock speculate she might have been raised in Germany). In the afternoon, they got fish and chips, and a few beers to go with the evening telly. Mrs. Hudson had pale ale, while John and Hailey had dark lagers. Hailey laughed at John's failed pull and confessed to flirting outrageously with Lestrade (when?). Unlike John, Hailey had a second date pending (when did the first one happen?).
They were swapping notes on how to flirt when Sherlock came back. He had a discolored lump on his forehead, a cut to his lip, and an air of someone who emerged victorious in a fight. John had no idea how he didn't get arrested.
"I found Bob Woodley's local," Sherlock said as John iced the lump on his head. "You can always count on a man like him to have a regular. Woodley already built himself a reputation as a hard drinker with a prickly temper. He doesn't look for women, though, which is odd. According to the barkeep, he came down to Surrey and rented the cottage under his name for three months."
"How did you end up like this?" asked Hailey as she looked around for some plaster.
"Woodley was there when I was talking to the barkeep," said Sherlock ruefully. "He was hiding behind an overgrown aspidistra. He surged up and demanded what I was up to. I didn't quite dodge his backhand, but I did return the favor. I left as you see me. Woodley had to be carried out. Thus endeth my trip to Surrey."
"You didn't learn much," John couldn't help but point out.
"I didn't learn as much as I hoped, but I did learn there is a time limit," said Sherlock. "Three months starting December. We're in the last dredges of March. I expect things to come to a head by the end of this week."
Jaclyn sent an email on Friday. Sherlock didn't say anything about it until Hailey was out on her date.
"Jack didn't request more lessons, so tomorrow is my last day," Jaclyn wrote. "I can't say I'm sorry. Nina is a dear and I'm going to miss Jack, but it has been the most uncomfortable three months. Speaking of Bob Woodley, he showed up last Saturday looking battered. He had a long talk with Jack while Jack patched him up. Jack looked incredibly serious afterwards. Bob didn't stay, but I saw him lurking about in the shrubbery. I have no idea why Jack keeps him around. Oh well. I won't see him again after this week. FYI: tell the friend I didn't know I had that I appreciate the clue-bat. I was able to tell John no, for a thousand times, no before things got out of hand."
"I guess that's the end of the case," said John.
"And you're wrong, as usual," said Sherlock. "The case has just started."
John looked at him. He couldn't think how the case could get more serious. Jaclyn's piano lessons at the Schwarz family were going to end soon. Afterwards she would have no reason to go to the spot where her stalker showed up. The stalker obviously didn't have the guts to do anything more sinister than follow Jaclyn at that one spot. Woodley was a bit worrying, but he had stayed away from her since the Taming of the Shrew. But John sensed an impending doom waiting to happen from the severity of Sherlock's manner and the twitchy way he checked his watch.
"Lestrade promised to keep your sister until ten. We have until then."
John stared at Sherlock in disbelief and outrage.
"You made Lestrade go on a date with Hailey just so she'll be out of the way."
"Yes, what's wrong with that?" said Sherlock irritably.
John started counting to ten. "Toying with someone's affections is bad," he said as if he was talking to a very small child.
"It didn't take much to convince him," said Sherlock defensively. "If it weren't for the fact you're likely to go older-brother on him, he wouldn't have needed my suggestion at all."
Trust Sherlock to miss the point. As he clenched and unclenched his hands, John reminded himself that he should really carry out his vow to murder Sherlock one of these days.
"Okay," said John with forced calm. "What do you need to do that you can't do in front of Hailey?"
Sherlock hesitated, and that banished whatever murderous intentions John had.
"I know I haven't really gone over the … details of the months I've been away," Sherlock said carefully.
John sat down. He swallowed dry-mouthed. They haven't really talked about what had happened between the time Sherlock faked his death and his return. John only knew that it was necessary, that Mycroft had been aware of his brother's activities but deigned not to tell John except to goad him into revamping his blog to restore Sherlock's reputation, and though the snipers Moriarty hired to assassinate Sherlock's friends (friends; plural; who would've thought?) had been apprehended and most of Moriarty's criminal ring had been destroyed, there was still some unfinished business. Not the kind of unfinished business they had with the Met, who imposed an indefinite ban against any and all consultants as of Sherlock's 'death', which didn't lift even after admitting they'd blundered, but the kind of unfinished business that meant there were still enemies at large.
"While I was sniffing around for Moriarty's continental connection, I came across a name," Sherlock said with his hands to his lips, fingertips touching. "It was nothing but a ghost of a whisper: Johan. The most I could get from the criminal underworld was that he was too beautiful and cruel to be true. Like Moriarty, he found pleasure in ruining people. Unlike Moriarty, his main reason for turning to crime was the sheer pleasure he derived from ruining people. I can't say for sure how many he has ruined, but his plans were almost breathtakingly clever. He picks his victims like a connoisseur of fine arts: Men of integrity, Woman of fine intellect, no one boring. Then he finds that one thing the person cannot live without and takes it away. Of course, he doesn't let anyone come too close. I'm sure he orchestrated the ruin of Valentine Le Brun of the Sûreté, Heinrich Runge of the BKA and Richard Braun of the Austrian police. I wonder if he gave Moriarty pointers in engineering my fall. It certainly had Johan's signature."
"Which is?" John asked, even though he deep down knew the answer.
"Suicide," said Sherlock flatly. "Every single victim I unearthed committed suicide. Johan drives his victims to the point they see no other option except suicide. There is one instance he actually engineered the massacre of an entire village just so he could ruin one victim. The victim was so driven to despair he didn't even try to fight back."
John felt bile rise from stomach. His mind churned with the words too beautiful and cruel to be true, massacre of an entire village and Suicide. Remembered images of Sherlock falling from St. Bart's kept rushing in. He was on the other side of the experience, but it didn't make the memory any less painful. He looked away, needing desperately to turn his mind away from the remembered nightmare, and his eyes fell on the photo of Jack Schwarz.
All of a sudden, the missing piece dropped into place.
"Sherlock," he said in rush, "I know how I know Jack Schwarz. The papers I was reading the day we met Hailey—that's where I saw him. Jack Schwarz is not his real name. His real name is B.J. Ma. He was a star surgeon in the medical field: successfully separated conjoined twins from China and removed their parasitic twin while he was at it. I don't know the full story, but in his press photo he had a huge bruise that covered half of his face. The media took his initials and the photo and nicknamed him Dr. Black Jack."
"Dr. Black Jack," Sherlock repeated, gripping the armrests. "Jack Black. Jack Schwarz. Obvious. What's his story?"
"He's wanted for questioning for the disappearance and possible murder of his ex-girlfriend. G-d, I think the lead investigator was Runge. He stuck out to me because he looked like your great-uncle Jeremy. That was nearly a year ago. B.J. went on the run before the police could take him."
Sherlock lunged for his laptop and started Googling. It was all there in the web: the fictional doctor B.J. Ma was nicknamed after, his successful operation on the conjoined twins, his invitation to University of Munich, his work at Eisler Memorial Hospital in Düsseldorf, and finally the suspicious disappearance of his ex-girlfriend Anna Liebert.
John and Sherlock stared at the photo of Anna. John wouldn't have recognized her if he saw it a week ago. But this past week he'd revisited all of his parents' old photos, and Anna looked exactly like his mother when she just got married—years before she had him and Hailey, before the sorrow of it all ravaged her looks and became the woman John would remember as Mum.
I may not remember who I married, but I do remember my feelings about the marriage. I just haven't mentioned them.
What kind of feelings?
Unhappy. So unhappy I want to die.
Oh Hailey, John thought amidst his rising horror and fear, what happened to you?
"Anna Liebert," Sherlock muttered furiously. "He didn't even bother to change his name. You realize what's going on, don't you?"
John just stared, dumbfounded and unable to think or speak.
"John Liebert," hissed Sherlock, "Or rather, Johan Liebert. Johan's latest target is B.J. Ma. Your sister was his key of ruining him. He probably married her just to twist the knife in deeper."
John started shaking his head, completely disgusted.
"And you sent her back to him just to figure that out."
This time, Sherlock looked visibly horrified.
"I didn't know," he said. "Believe me John, I didn't know. I was just checking all of Jaclyn's male acquaintances. 'I'm not exactly good at recognizing interest' remember? It's only after he turned around I had inkling of who we were dealing with. Even then I never thought Hailey had a connection with him. He didn't recognize her and she didn't recognize—stupid!" Sherlock suddenly roared. "She did recognize him! That extreme reaction at the lobby—she unconsciously recognized him for a split second before repressing her memory again! G-d, I'm an idiot!"
Sherlock went for his phone.
"Lestrade!" he said when the call went through. "Where is Hailey Watson?"
"Christ, did you hear about it already?" Lestrade said, and John's blood ran cold.
"What are you talking about? What happened?" Sherlock demanded.
"Met a client of yours at the Italian place you told me to go. Jaclyn, I believe? Her and her boyfriend. The kid they brought with them looked at Hailey and screamed: 'Mama!' Hailey took one look and keeled over."
"Is she still with you?" John asked urgently.
"Nah, I called the EMT. They took her."
"Damn it, Lestrade, I told you to stay close!" Sherlock shouted. "Where are they taking her? What about the boyfriend, is he still around?"
"I'm following the ambulance with the siren on. I couldn't ride with her because the boyfriend and girl got in first."
"Went home, I think. She didn't look happy."
Sherlock and John dashed out of Baker Street and hailed a cab. Of course, London decided that moment to rain buckets, overload the tubes, and everyone forgot how to drive. They finally gave up the cab as a lost cause and ran. It only took them twenty minutes at the cost of future pneumonia and rampant bronchitis.
Lestrade was waiting for them at the door. It was almost like déjà vu except Lestrade was dressed up.
"How is she?" John demanded.
"Coming around," said Lestrade. "The girl—Nina—is with her, clinging like a limpet. The boyfriend is over there."
He jerked his thumb at the man slumped on a chair with his face in his hands. Sherlock strode towards him.
"Dr. B.J. Ma?"
The man lifted his face from his hands. He looked like he'd been run over by several Lorries after someone took a mallet to his soul and trashed it.
"…Sherlock Holmes," said B.J. Ma—aka Black Jack—aka Jack Schwarz at length, "I should've known."
"So should I," returned Sherlock. "The case against you was strong, and Runge isn't known for making mistakes, but I suppose with an enemy like Johan, you would need more than just the usual evidence. In fact, I'm inclined to think your medical genius was precisely what worked against you."
"Runge definitely thought so," Jack muttered. "He showed the BKA how every single piece of evidence that could prove my non-involvement could be manufactured, especially by me. It's also hard to prove the murderer is someone who everyone thinks can do no wrong."
"There's that too," said Sherlock. "But you're lucky—you can't be a murderer when the victim is very much alive."
"If only it was that simple," Jack said in despair, "Johan doesn't just want to ruin. He wants to annihilate. Anna…" he swallowed hard. "…Anna signed her death warrant the moment she fled."
"You realize we don't know the entire story," said Lestrade loudly with his arms crossed, looking frankly annoyed.
Jack looked at Lestrade blankly for a several seconds before bowing his head.
"Forgive me. I lived in this nightmare for so long, I—" Jack paused. "I'm Bong Jae Ma. A doctor. I met Anna-"
"He's talking about Hailey," Sherlock interjected.
"Who?" said Jack, confused.
"Just—go on," said Sherlock between gritted teeth.
"…I met Anna at the Landstuhl Medical Center six years ago," Jack continued after a beat. "I was called in for several major surgeries and she was one the military surgeons who assisted me. I was very fond of her. Most people either find me bewildering or off-putting. She didn't. She said I was brilliant and funny, and 85% of the time I wasn't trying to be funny. But the fact still remained she genuinely enjoyed my company, when others would prefer to keep their interaction with me to bare minimum."
John expected Sherlock to explode into an impatient outburst. But he didn't. He was listening intently.
"I was happy to have her as a friend," Jack said quietly. "But then people … started to talk. Then I realized Anna really did think me that way. I couldn't … reciprocate. So I broke it off." His lips quivered. "It was one of the hardest I decisions I ever made. It's also the one I revisit the most often."
"Why couldn't you reciprocate?" John demanded.
Jack turned to John and stared.
"Are you Anna's brother?"
"Twin brother," John growled. "Go on. What's wrong with my sister, I'm all ears."
"There's nothing wrong with your sister," said Jack weakly. "It was the timing that was wrong."
John frowned. "Explain."
"The problem with humanity is not that they don't love, or don't love deeply enough," said Jack. "The problem with humanity is that they don't love well. I couldn't at the time say I could love Anna well, and she deserves to be well loved. I was just starting to realize human beings have intrinsic worth, and she had been practicing this truth for many years. I couldn't, for the life of me, express love in a way people could perceive it, and love hidden is no better than love not existent. I could marry her, yes, but I would've made her miserable."
"So you broke it off," said Sherlock, "Then in swoops Johan Liebert."
"I didn't like him," said Jack darkly. "Hailey was heads-over-heals, and so was everyone else, but I couldn't bring myself to like him. I probably came off as a jealous ex. I didn't care who she dated as long as he was a good man."
"And Johan wasn't a good man, despite public opinion," said Sherlock. "What tipped you off?"
"Small things," said Jack. "I like taking people's pulses. It tells me the state of their health and whether they have any impending sickness. Every time Johan went through a ward, the patients would deteriorate and my colleagues' heart rate would show signs of decay. It wasn't from a change in their eating habits or lifestyle, though that did happen later. Children would engage in destructive pastimes. They would speak nihilism and despair. Children don't naturally do that. But on the next blink I'd see him playing with kids and they're all having a great time."
"A complex mind and a skilled actor," said Sherlock. "Moriarty was a first-rate mimic too. He was incapable of any human emotion except boredom and amusement, but as long as it suited his purposes, he could imitate normal and none the wiser— except me. But Johan took it a step further. How did he react?"
"He didn't seem to mind that I wasn't charmed like everyone else. He was amused, in fact. I wasn't sure what to make of him until I took his pulse when they brought in a soldier who was nearly blown in half. A doctor can project and retain calm—it part of the job—but the human pulse spikes the moment it sees blood. It's a natural response to the color and there was a lot of it. Yet Johan's pulse a steady 63. He had nothing but amusement at raw human suffering. I knew then for sure there was something wrong with him."
"I assume Anna had already married Johan by then."
"She had," said Jack, looking gutted, "And pregnant with Nina. I didn't know what to do. I had a sense something big was brewing, but I couldn't tell what. Anna was still in the honeymoon stage and not ready to listen to me. Johan could imitate love better than I could express what little I was capable of. In the meantime, the pediatric ward was going wild. We had kids having 'duels' with each other on the roof, walking on the edge with their eyes closed to see who survives. The suicide rate of the elderly patient quadrupled. It was all I could do to convince the board to transfer Johan out of the hospital and pray that I'd find the evidence that would convince Anna."
"And you found it," said Sherlock, "The evidence that would convince her. Otherwise Anna wouldn't be alive still."
"No," Jack said quietly. "Johan had … this book. I'm telling you, Mr. Holmes, this man collects ruined people. He takes great pride in his collection, and to quote him, he doesn't collect just anyone. Sometimes he ruins people for fun, just like a kid who casually stomps on an ant for a moment's amusement and forgets about it. When he's feeling particularly … peckish for the lack of better term, he'd take a stroll down the Red Light district in Amsterdam and push the already wretched souls there into further ruin. The point is he had an entry of me in his book: Snapshots, details, my habits and plans—plans to ruin me, plans he'd already carried out, and plans he was going to carry out. I don't know how, but poor Anna found it. She came to me crying last New Year's Eve with Nina—and the book. It was a ghastly book. No human being could've put it together, but it was Johan's book all the same. There's no title, but it might as well be: 'Lives I've ruined.' Anna left Nina with me and fled. I suspect Johan didn't expect her to do that, but he responded quickly. Soon I found myself wanted for questioning for kidnapping and murdering Anna and Nina. I didn't think Johan was capable of weeping, but there he was, crying like some mourning angel. I knew if I let police take me Anna was as good as dead. So I ran. I've been on the run ever since."
A thunderous pall descended on the group. John was reeling. Whatever horror he'd been imaging, this didn't even come close.
"Do you have the book?" asked Sherlock, breaking the silence.
"No," said Jack. "Anna took it with her."
"We need to find this book," Sherlock said. "Anna forgot everything. The assault and blow to the head was the final straw. She deleted Johan from her mind. She didn't even recognize him—not consciously."
"I'm not surprised," muttered Jack. "When Johan removes someone, he removes everything. I mean it. Everyone you met, everyone you talked to, everyone you had the slightest bit of interaction, he kills. Everything you touched, everywhere you've been he destroys. I followed a long trail of burned clinics and dead bodies until I reached England. I can't imagine what Anna went through—everyone she talked to dying because they happened to know her. She would've isolated herself, and that would've killed her."
"Beast," growled Lestrade.
Jack wiped his eyes and took in a pained breath.
"Can you put her in protective custody? Please? I don't care what happens to me. You can hand me over to the BKA or whatever, just … don't let Johan get ahold of her."
"Leave that to me," said Lestrade grimly before turning around. "I'm calling your brother, Sherlock. This is way over our—Sherlock?"
The three of them stared at Sherlock. He was muttered to himself with his eyes closed, and was gesticulating wildly, like he always did when he got caught in the throes of epiphany.
"No, it doesn't make sense. Why didn't he—oh," Sherlock opened his eyes. John could almost see the insights exploding like so many new stars. "Oooh."
"What is it?" John urged.
Sherlock rounded on Jack.
"You're the one who understands Johan the best," he started. "So tell me: how would Johan react to if someone rejects his advances?"
"I don't know," said Jack hopelessly. "No one really knows."
"Nevertheless, think," urged Sherlock as he clutched at Jack's biceps. Jack stared at Sherlock for several seconds before saying:
"It depends on who they are in his book. If it's someone he's having fun with, he'll just take it as a challenge. If it's someone who is just a tool, he'll discard it like a faulty one."
"Thought as much," said Sherlock grimly. He turned to Lestrade. "I made a blunder. We shouldn't be here. We need be in Surrey."
"Surrey? What for?" asked Lestrade.
"Jaclyn," said Sherlock urgently. "Hailey Watson—Anna Liebert—is no longer Johan Liebert's main tool to ruin B.J. Ma. Johan is now using Jaclyn. He picked her out as someone Jack couldn't help but care: a beautiful, lonely naïve woman with a sickly father. He placed himself as the new PM and manipulated the events. As expected, Jack couldn't help but care—but not because of her sympathetic qualities, but because he knew Johan was her PM." He turned to Jack. "You were the one on the mountain bike, weren't you? The ski gloves were to hide your hands, which are very distinguishing. If you merely cared about her as a woman, you wouldn't go that far. No, you feared for her life. Ergo, you knew Johan had a hold on her. You had no idea what he was planning, so you kept close watch. The route you showed up was the one place you couldn't place remote surveillance, correct?"
"Yes," said Jack. "Not exactly rational, but I wasn't going to take any chances."
"But why is she in trouble now, I don't understand—" said Lestrade.
"Because she rejected him!" Sherlock practically shouted. "Jaclyn said in an email she told him: 'no, a thousand times, no.' Not just any rejection, strong rejection. Every step of the way Jaclyn didn't react the way Johan would've wanted. The rejection is the final blow: she's useless to him!"
It was difficult to say who was more appalled at this, or how long they all just stood there horrified beyond belief. On the next beat the four of them were racing out of the hospital and boarding Lestrade's car. Lestrade shouted into his phone while driving, swerving dangerously on the wet, rain-soaked roads, trying to get hold of the Surrey police. But he couldn't get hold of the Farnham station—all phones just rung off. Jack then told them Johan always targeted the police first. Lestrade let out a long string of foul oaths when Jack said this. When he was finished, everyone went silent. All they could hear was the muted thunder and rain and Jack's agonized prayer of please, please.
The storm followed them all the way to Surrey. Terrible lightning and thunder shook the town directly overhead. There were no lights on—apparently there was a black out. Lestrade parked his car in front of Jaclyn's flat. They dashed out in with their heart in their throats.
Nothing could've prepared them for the scene that was waiting for them. It was carnage. The stairs were strewn with unfamiliar dead bodies. Fresh blood was splattered all over walls. John inconsequently noted they were from a shotgun. Jack staggered and ran up the stairs.
"Not again!" he howled in despair. "Please, not again!"
The door to Jaclyn's flat was open. It was dark inside, but the intermittent lightning gave them a glimpse of the horror within. John's vision blurred when he saw the two bodies lying on the scrubbed floor, the larger one covering the smaller one, both drenched in something thick and dark. In the middle of the wreckage, Jack was face-down on the floor, screaming like a wounded animal.
"He's taken her," John despaired.
"But where?" Lestrade croaked.
Sherlock's face was an unreadable stone mask. His emotions were too close to the surface, so he'd blocked them all out before it could overtake him like a tidal wave. This John knew.
"Friday evening service," he said. "The only other link Jaclyn has to this place."
They peeled the inconsolable and practically unhinged Jack off the floor and drove to the church. The black outline of the steeple filled John with dread. Like the rest of the town, the building was dark and quiet. The lobby was empty and devoid of people. They saw light under the doors leading to the main sanctuary. They burst in.
The sanctuary appeared empty and yet not so. Dozens of candles were lit and burning in their holders. There was the smell of incense in the air.
And there, standing before the altar, hands clasped behind his back and studying the cross hanging on the wall, was John Liebert.
For moment everything seemed to stop. John could only hear the sound of his companions' hard breathing. Liebert continued to study the cross, completely ignoring their presence, his back turned against them. John looked around to see if anyone else was dead. He saw a small lump right behind the podium. Then he looked down was shocked to find four handguns arranged neatly on the floor, right inside nave.
Liebert only started to move when Jack picked up one of the guns and aimed squarely at his head.
John switched his eyes between Jack and Johan. The contrast couldn't be starker. On end there was Johan, who, despite everything John knew about him and everything he'd done, still looked flawless and beautiful, perfectly calm and unmoved, with a subtle smile playing on his full lips. On the other end there was Jack, covered in mud, rain and gore, ungainly, awkward, plain to the point of being ugly, eyes wild, completely driven to the edge of his sanity, baring his teeth in rage and pointing at gun with murderous intent.
Johan moved his right hand and they all collectively flinched. But the hand was empty.
Slowly, Johan raised the hand up to his face and pointed the middle of his forehead.
Do it, John thought desperately. Kill him. He doesn't deserve to live. We'll cover you somehow.
Jack stood like a lopsided statue. He was trembling all over. His eyes never left Johan's face.
He released the safety. His trembling doubled. But his stance was good.
He's been training, John realized, he's been training for this moment.
There was another dreadful silence.
Don't aim for the head! John kept thinking. Headshots only look easy! Go for the abdomen! You'll have a surer kill!
Jack's knuckles were white from gripping the gun. He was breathing like a man deprived of air. His rage was building, ready to explode at any moment. John hardened himself. It was only a matter of time.
He faltered when the small lump slumped against the podium rose and stood between the standoff.
"Jackie?" Jack screeched.
It was indeed Jaclyn. Behinds looking a wet, bedraggled tawny kitten, she looked completely unharmed. She took a brief look at the four of them, lingered a few seconds longer on Jack, before turning her attention to Johan. John couldn't see her face, but he imagined her glaring like a Lioness.
Johan lowered his finger.
"Must you be so difficult?" he chided.
"I don't live to please you," said Jaclyn in a hard voice.
"He would be doing the right thing," said Johan. "Don't you agree? Or are you extending your Christian charity?"
"And I say again, you don't decide what is right and what is wrong," Jaclyn growled. "'Vengeance is mine, I shall repay, says the Lord.' I refuse to give you satisfaction of destroying a good man."
Johan raised an eyebrow. His contempt was obvious. Jaclyn balled her fists.
"Even if you destroy everything in this world that I hold dear, even if you slaughter the rest of the world and you and I are the last ones standing, you will not convince me to take justice in my own hands and disavow my God!" thundered Jaclyn. "My life and my soul are not your play things!"
There was explosion. John covered his ears as he stared, horrified, as dark blood sprayed across the drapery and upon the altar. Explosion after explosion rang inside sanctuary until the tall-tale click of an empty magazine signaled the end.
Johan's body was on the ground, his face blown apart from the force of the bullets. At the side door no one noticed, Bob Woodley was standing with a smoking gun.
"Take that you sister-killing son of a bitch," he snarled.
The rest, as the cliché goes, was a blur.
Bob Woodley was arrested and charged for murder. The Crown was willing to be lenient considering the circumstances: his sister Kitty was among the unnumbered victims Johan destroyed in a fit of pique or a spot of boredom. She lived just long enough after the encounter to meet Cecilia Shin, who had completely turned her life around and was working as a missionary in Amsterdam, providing humanitarian aid to the undocumented sex-workers in the Red Light district. Cecilia had befriended Kitty and at some point showed Kitty the Facebook pictures of her estranged family. Kitty recognized the man who slipped heroin into her in a photo that featured Jaclyn and Johan at a company luncheon. Kitty told her brother what she found. Bob came over to her bedsit to confirm, only to find his sister dead of overdose—accidental or intentional, one could not say. Bob swore revenge. He eventually got in contact with Jack, who was working as an underground black-market doctor in Amsterdam, and they decided to work together. Armed with the knowledge Cecilia gave them, they headed to England. They used Nina's piano lessons as a ruse to make contact. Bob's 'flirting' was his way of showing his admiration to Jaclyn for (repeatedly) rejecting Johan and correctly deducing he was probably a demon from hell: as he put it, a girl like that deserved a few obvious admirers.
"How did you know Johan was a demon from hell?" Sherlock asked as soon as he got the opportunity.
"After so many blind dates, I gained sixth-sense where scoping out a man's character is concerned," said Jaclyn, "Johan was too perfect: the kind of perfect that makes one doubt he's human. Supposing he isn't, then, he's either an angel from heaven or a demon from hell. He can't be an angel since he's convinced right and wrong is a matter of self-determination. That's bad theology. Therefore he's a demon from hell."
"…Are you telling me that you determined Johan is a demon based on his bad theology?" Sherlock said incredulously.
"Yes," said Jaclyn, completely unrepentant and unashamed. "It's a Christian thing, Mr. Holmes. And don't worry: we actually do sound insane even when we get things right."
The BKA withdrew their warrant and issued a formal apology to Dr. B.J. Ma, aka Jack (John couldn't think of him by any other name). Jack was in no condition to appreciate his exoneration. He was practically catatonic after the ordeal he went through, and the only times he looked marginally alive was when Jaclyn played the piano. Even the news that none of the church members were harmed because the vicar had to cancel Friday evening service due to the blackout moved him. So Jaclyn took drastic measures. It was very effective: Jack went completely spare when Jaclyn's parents came and visited him. They were fine: the moment they heard the gunshots, they'd covered themselves with ketchup and chocolate syrup and played dead. They weren't moving when Jack came in because they, exhausted from too much fear, fell asleep.
The other occupants of the flat were not so lucky. Nor were Hailey's old Peckham clinic colleagues.
John stared at the newspaper photos that captured the police officials moving body bags on gurneys. The headlines were screaming something, but he couldn't make out the words. He'd read the article earlier, but he only remembered one thing: how inadequate the media moniker for Johan was, and yet how fitting:
"Mycroft found the book, by the way," said Sherlock.
John looked up. They were sitting across each other at the table, their breakfast cold and untouched, and clutching their mugs. Sunlight was playing on Sherlock's face. Perhaps it was John's imagination, but he looked older.
"So Hailey's memory was accurate after all," said John.
"It always was," said Sherlock. "Though she perhaps wished it wasn't."
John said nothing. When John came back from Surrey, worried out of his mind and desperately afraid, he found Hailey looking like his mum just before she died: sitting in bed, stroking Nina's hair, with the light in her eyes quenched. No, diminished, but not gone.
"Mycroft came over a while ago," she said softly, her eyes fixed on Nina. "I told him where he can find the book."
John nodded. He didn't know what to say.
"Jack looked happy," Hailey went on. "Jaclyn's a good woman."
Not as good as you, John said in head, but it was no time for empty words.
Hailey stopped stroking Nina's hair. She was tearing up and yet the set of her chin was stubborn.
"I'm not giving Johan the honour of ruining my life," she announced. "Nina's mine. Jack did the right thing, breaking it off. Whatever happened afterwards is my responsibility. And it's over. I can take it from here."
She looked at John. Tear after tear slid down her cheeks.
"I just …" whispered Hailey, her voice breaking, "…I just need to leave for a while."
John knew what she was asking. But I just got to know you, John protested in his head. I just got you back and it was one of the best things that happened to me. Please don't leave.
"…I'll come and visit," said John.
"Promise?" Hailey pleaded.
"Promise," said John.
Later John learned Sherlock had gifted his favorite great uncle's Sussex Cottage to Hailey and Nina. Mycroft arranged their finances and documentation (Hailey was technically a German citizen, but since she had British parents and was shanghaied as a baby, she was entitled to British citizenship. At least that was what Mycroft told him). They had new names: Hailey Joanna Watson and Nina Watson. John offered to travel to Sussex with them, but Hailey refused. It was all he could to do to convince her to let him bid farewell at King's Cross station.
John watched Hailey walk down the platform, holding Nina by the hand. She stopped just once, head turning a sliver of a fraction.
Then she faced forwards and kept on walking. She didn't look back.
"I suppose Johan was working on a few high-profile people if Mycroft wanted the book," said John.
"He was," said Sherlock. "I glanced through it, and I can't say I know what Johan's selection criteria were. There was Jack, of course, with Hailey as a footnote. Kitty Woodley wasn't even mentioned. There even was an entry for Moriarty."
"His and mine, side-by-side," said Sherlock. "Bound by loyalty and good will they were not. Johan of course predicted our meeting would precipitate our mutual destruction." He paused. "There's sufficient information in there to make it very clear how Moriarty manipulated the public. Given the current media climate and the clamour for more entries on your blog, even a hint of the book's existence and what it contains may vindicate us completely."
John noted the word 'us' and smiled faintly. Sometimes Sherlock really did surprise him.
"Do you want me to?" John asked.
"Let me rephrase the question then," said John. "Sherlock, do you want me to write up the case, talk about Johan, talk about the book, and put you back into media spot light?"
"Then I won't," John declared. "I have no obligation to give the public what they want. But I do have an obligation of taking care of you. Until you're okay with it, until it doesn't matter if the public knows about it or not, I'm not writing any of our new cases. That's final."
"You'll make a lot people unhappy," Sherlock remarked.
John shrugged. "Well, tough."
Silence fell between them again. It was much better than the bleak one from earlier, but no less heavy. As John contemplated Sherlock's profile, he wondered, for yet another time, how things could ever be made right. He promised Sherlock he wouldn't post new cases on his blog without his permission and he was going to keep that promise. But the temptation to post one more thing—just one more thing—that would make every right was strong. But he knew better. One more post wasn't going to wipe away the past and make everything better. He learned that the hard way. The best he could do was consolidating his losses, take the gains he could salvage, and move on. That was what he'd done. That was what Hailey had done. Wasn't it the right thing to do? And yet—and yet…
If it's the right thing, why does it hurt so much? And isn't it a good thing not everything was lost? Yet I can't help but dwell on those losses.
John stared out the window. On the still was a small potted plant. He idly wondered if he'd keep it alive for Hailey's sake or leave it to thrive as compost.
Unbidden, John remembered a vicar whose name he couldn't remember and whose sermon he couldn't forget:
This is the Wisdom of Solomon: Half a baby plus half a baby do not make a baby, but a gruesome mockery of a living one. A family of two does not merely turn into a family of three when a baby is born, but life in enriched a thousand fold by the addition of the little one. No man who has ever fallen in love will say that one and one are only two, but when he looks at his beloved, he feels that one plus one would be a million. Conversely, no family of three that had a loved one snatched away will find comfort in the assurance that one from three leaves two—indeed that family will be forever marked with the loss of one. What does this tell us? That on the higher plane of human sentiment and experience, the laws of mathematics collapse completely. That in the great crises of life, one's faith in facts and figures breaks down hopelessly. What, then, are we to do?
Final Notes: Kudos to anyone who can identify all the original Sherlock Holmes stories I mixed together for this fic.
The Sword of Solomon was originally plotted as a side-story to A Study in Magic. But then I realized it did better as a standalone. The only remaining elements are the antique hand mirror, King's Cross and the name Hailey. The original title was Languages of Love. You might see glimpses of why I went for that title from B.J.'s words. It stopped working as I wrapped everything up and remembered my first impression of watching The Reichenbach Falls: "How can this ever be made right?" While trying to make sense of the distraught feeling I had over the whole episode, I started to ponder why it was it so upsetting. It wasn't as if Sherlock didn't have it coming. If he weren't the protagonist, one might feel the satisfaction of seeing him get comeuppance. So why? Because it didn't make things right. The scale became even more lopsided after TRF: in fact the whole scale just tipped over and crashed. So I focused on that. Because I'm not that brilliant of a writer, I borrowed someone else's words to speak for me. The last paragraph is a paraphrase of an excerpt of F.W. Boreham's essay: The Sword of Solomon.