"Stupid. Fucking… Shit!"
Smoke was pouring out of the hood of Greg's car. Thick, nasty, grey smoke. He swore some more and kicked a tyre in agitation. The car did not retaliate, but the smoke continued to furl around him, and that was rebuttal enough. Another string of unbecoming words left his lips, and he trudged to the driver's side door to try the key again, for lack of other options.
Nothing. The car did not even sputter. There was no life left in it whatsoever.
The dry, chill November wind cut viciously through the open car door, skating over Lestrade's skin. He glanced around. It must have been after two in the morning, and there wasn't a soul to be seen on the road. To make matters worse, the only money in his pockets at the moment were a couple of one-pound coins. Certainly not enough to pay for a cab.
With little choice but to walk, Lestrade abandoned the car on the side of the road. He didn't bother to lock it up. I hope someone steals it, he thought bitterly. Would give me a passable excuse to buy a new one, and not have to bother with the sodding thing anymore!
In an effort to make the walk as short as possible, he cut through Battersea Park. The scenery lightened his mood slightly, and Greg found himself thinking the park might be lovely this time of night, if not for the cold.
He was just beginning to feel less agitated when he spotted the long, black lump on the bench about halfway through the deserted park.
"Hey," he said to the lump as he drew closer. "Hey, you can't sleep here." He frowned, wondering why a homeless person would choose this place, with its lack of shelter and its proximity to the water, when there were surely warmer choices. "Come on," he urged the lump. "You'll freeze to death."
To his surprise, when the lump put itself together, it took the shape of a young man. A very young man.
Lestrade watched as he silently collected himself, pulling his body upright on the bench. He stared back at Greg with a critical, calculating eye. Greg suddenly felt exposed.
"You can't stay here," he repeated, sighing. He fished for his badge and held it up. The light of a nearby park lamp bounced off its metallic surface, putting a tiny spotlight the size of a pinhead on the young man's cheek.
For a few moments, the man didn't speak. His dull grey eyes glided over the badge, then over Greg's form, from the tips of his boots to the roots of his hair.
"There's a shelter five blocks that way," Greg said helpfully, pointing. "You'll freeze to death or worse out here. Go on. I'd give you a ride, but… I can't."
The man shook his head slowly. "I'm not homeless; I'm…"
"Nevermind." Abruptly, he stood, turning quickly away to go in the direction Lestrade had pointed, but even so, the flash of red was unmistakable.
"Wait." Without any forethought for the possible consequences, Greg reached out and grabbed the youth's arm before he could fully escape. Tension immediately tightened the flesh beneath Greg's fingers, and he felt it through the boy's woolen sweater. He released his hold on him, and his palm came back red. "You're bleeding."
The young stranger glanced down at himself, then at Lestrade's hand, before his gaze traveled back up to meet his. "Astute observation," he stated flatly, turning to go again.
"Is it bad?"
The stranger stopped a few steps away, apparently pondering this question. His back was turned to the DI, but Greg could see the young man hanging his head, possibly to inspect his wound. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and after a long pause, he shrugged. "I don't know." There was an edge to his voice that hadn't been there before - annoyance? Pain? Hesitation? It wasn't clear.
Sighing, Lestrade glanced over his shoulder, down the path home. It wasn't far now. Ten minutes. He made a snap decision. "Come with me."
Turning round just enough to face him, the young man cocked his head to one side, sizing Greg up once again. He said nothing, but his dark brows furrowed and his gaze turned wary.
"There's no one at the nightshelter at this hour. Come on. I'm not far from here… and you can go once we've seen to that."
The boy didn't move.
Greg shrugged. "Okay. Offer stands. No strings attached. I'm going that way."
When the young man still didn't move, Greg turned and left him there. Suppose that's what I get for trying to help, he thought bitterly. He shoved his hands into his coat pockets and watched his feet in the dim, sallow light from the lamps. Leaves crunched underfoot, and his well-worn shoes trudged on for maybe twenty steps before another pair fell in beside them. He raised his eyes to the dark-clothed figure at his shoulder. Neither of them said a word.
Lestrade's flat was cold, dark, and empty when they got there; the product of three days on the job without a break. A big case had kept Greg away, sleeping on a foldaway at the Yard in shifts with other detectives. Three days' worth of mail was piled just inside the door. Greg shoved it out of the way with the side of his shoe and held the door open for his new companion. "Sorry," he mumbled, reaching across the youth to flick a switch. Light flooded the small space, illuminating a sparsely decorated but very clean sitting area just inside the door. A woman's blue sweater was flung carelessly over the back of the solitary sofa, and its color was bright and striking against the soft beiges and browns of the neutral living room.
"Uh, this way." Greg tugged at the stranger's sleeve when he noticed him inspecting the place from the door. He put a gentle hand into the boy's back to guide him to the kitchen table, and left him there to fetch a first-aid kit from the hall closet. He dumped his coat and bag in the bedroom while he was back there, peeking in quickly to see if she was there. She wasn't, but he shouldn't have been surprised. What did surprise him was the sigh of relief that escaped his lips when he noticed her absence.
He returned with the kit and found his charge obediently standing beside the kitchen table. His arms were folded guardedly over his chest, but his eyes were wandering. They were dull and sluggish from drugs or drink, Lestrade wasn't sure which, though they still seemed sharp somehow. Critical. Cold. "Here we go," Greg said, smiling politely as he opened the kit on the table. "Where's it at?"
The boy gingerly pulled up his sweater, exposing a nasty slice that curled around his side, just above his trousers waist. He looked down at it himself, as if he hadn't seen it before, his face carefully composed as they both inspected the wound. It wasn't old, but it wasn't fresh either. It had been bleeding for some time. Greg guessed he'd gotten it that morning, maybe last night. He pursed his lips and bent to take a closer look, pushing gently at the pink, puckered skin around the edge of the wound. "Well, it's not too deep," he observed, glancing up at the young man's face. "But it might be infected or something. Not sure." He took a roll of gauze out of the field kit and pushed it into the boy's palm. "Hold this," he ordered, scooping up an antibiotic cream.
"Where is she?" the young man asked distractedly. After his initial inspection of the wound, his attention had quickly moved on to other things. His face didn't change as the detective smeared gel over his side.
"Who?" Lestrade asked distractedly.
"Huh? Oh." Greg coloured fiercely and immediately, but forced an embarrassed chuckle out. "She's not quite the 'Mrs' yet."
"Mm, I see."
"Wait - how do you know my name?" Lestrade didn't remember introducing himself, and his name wasn't on the door. He glanced up at the boy's face as he took the roll of gauze from him.
"Your mail," the young man said flatly, giving a nod toward the door they'd come in through. He winced briefly as the DI pressed gauze over his wound. "It's got your name on it."
"Stop moving." He ripped the medical tape with his teeth and pressed it around the edges of the gauze. "She's out," he said after a pause. "I had to work, so she… She's probably at home."
The stranger's mouth twitched.
"There." Greg pressed down the end of the last strip of tape and stepped back to admire his handiwork. "You should get it properly seen to in the morning, but it'll do for now…"
"Had worse," the young man said, glancing down at the fresh bandage. He was trembling faintly, Lestrade noticed, but probably not from cold.
Greg closed up the med kit. "Tea?"
No response. The boy's grey stare was wary again, almost suspicious. But he didn't turn to leave, either, so Greg took that as a yes and stepped into the kitchen, tapping on the light switch. Fluorescent white light flickered to life, and Greg turned on the kettle and plugged in the toaster. "So… what are you then?" he called over his shoulder.
Through the threshold of the kitchen, he could just make out the young stranger bending gingerly over the desk, inspecting whatever documents Lestrade had left lying around. "Mm," he hummed absently.
"What are you?" he repeated. "You said you weren't homeless. What are you?"
"Oh. Nothing." One slender hand waved dismissively.
"Nothing. A homeless kid with a knife wound - that sort of nothing?"
"Not homeless, Lestrade," he reminded him.
Lestrade made tea and toast, both of which disappeared rather quickly once they were on the table. The two of them ate in amicable silence and then, when the young man seemed ready to leave, Greg went against his better judgment and offered him his couch.
The stranger adopted that strange, wary look again - head cocked, eyes roaming his face as though reading something that was printed there just for him.
"It's three in the morning and freezing out," Greg pointed out with a friendly smile. He shrugged and stood up from the table. "Look. I'm gonna make up the couch. You can stay or you can go. No strings, just like before. Okay?"
As the stranger nibbled on the last of the toast, Greg threw a duvet and a couple pillows down on the sofa. He picked up the blue sweater and tossed it over his shoulder. "I never did catch your name," he said, hovering by the mouth of the hallway.
The boy's eyes met his and stayed unwaveringly locked for several seconds. "Holmes," he said. "Sherlock Holmes."
Greg smiled wearily. "Goodnight, Sherlock."
The alarm clock's shrill bleat woke Lestrade just a few hours later. He reached out and slapped it until he found the off button, fighting drowsiness and wondering why he was so damn tired. When he remembered about the car, he groaned. He'd have to call Sally for a ride to work this morning, or it'd be the train. He shuddered.
Reluctantly, Greg slipped out of his warm bed and pulled on the trousers he'd abandoned on the floor just four hours previous and padded to the washroom to brush his teeth and run his fingers through his hair.
Uncertain about his guest's state of undress, he announced himself when he came out into the sitting room. "Sherlock?" he called, but to no avail. The boy was gone. The duvet was piled in a rumpled mess end of the sofa, and the pillows were on the floor. On the coffee table was spread a file with documents and photographs, and there was a piece of paper tented on top of the mess. Frowning, Greg meandered over to it and picked up the note. Mary Parker is the murderer, it read in green ink. But judging by the state of her hydrangeas in photo B, likely settled in Paris by now. Left message with police chief there. -SH
Confused, Lestrade looked down at the file spread across his table. It was a case he'd been working for a few months. It was considered cold, with all leads having died about six months ago, but he'd had a hunch, and asked the Records clerk to pull it out. Sure enough, photo B depicted dead hydrangeas in front of a modern flat. In the background of the photo was a woman, her back to the camera, long brown hair flowing down her back. Her image was very faint, but it was circled with the same green ink that had penned the note.
As if on cue, Lestrade's phone rang.
"Monsieur Lestrade, this is Captain Daniau with the Paris Police Prefecture returning your call. You were right, Mary Parker was found at the Hotel Palym with a fake passport under the name of… Sophie Martel. She has been wanted for credit card fraud here in Paris. But... how did you know?"