Sir Mortimus Ravensdale could not sleep. His advancement in years, and the portly, jovial disposition that had settled about him once he had passed his fiftieth year usually allowed for him to be snoozing contentedly in his armchair by about eight p.m. Tonight (the fifth of July, four a.m) preoccupations had carried him anxiously past his usual bedtime and found him now, with the first blue-grey wash of dawn in the sky, sitting at his oxblood chesterfield desk nursing his third whiskey. The drink was good, a rare, vintage Islay, but it did little to ease his mind, or the creeping portent that had unsettled him these past few days. The Ravensdale house had always been a creaky old thing, but of late Mortimus had found himself shaken by its subtle shiftings, clanging pipes, that loose board that even on still nights echoed something that sounded all too much like a footstep, that dripping tap that could never be found...
Mortimus shifted in his chair and passed a broad hand over his face. He took a healthy gulp of the whiskey, allowing its burning golden warmth run over his tongue and willed himself to calm down. He had grown up in this house, he thought. There is nothing here to be frightened of... A memory, long buried, surfaced in his mind suddenly, sharklike. He shook his head. It's nothing, he persuaded himself. Nothing at all.
A sudden creak made him start, slopping whiskey onto his trousers. He cursed, half laughing at himself for his clumsiness, and blotted at the stain with his hankerchief. Another creak made him look up, and the smile froze onto his face.
Mortimus spoke a single word-
And it was his last.
John Watson smiled as he swirled the whiskey in his glass. It wasn't a very good whiskey, but it was his whiskey, and he was going to drink it and enjoy it quietly, without disturbance, in front of the television...
John's smile disappeared, and he sighed. He remained silent, hoping against hope that his flatmate would get bored and move onto something else before demanding his presence.
He gave up.
"What is it?"
His flatmates voice came from his bedroom, becoming more strident by the minute.
"John! My phone is ringing!"
John took a swig of whiskey (Jameson, vile, but one makes do) and heaved himself out of his armchair.
"Do excuse me for a moment," he said to the television (a documentary about the history of London squats) "I have to show a thirty year old child how to use a telephone." He paused, then added ruefully, "Possibly by beating him around the head with it."
John Watson stuck his head around the door of his flatmates bedroom with his eyes closed.
"John, my phone has been ringing for – why are your eyes closed?"
"Because whenever I come in here," John explained, "I am always slightly concerned about what I might see."
He opened one eye.
"Ah," he said, "You see, this is why."
His flatmate was lying face down on the carpet, both hands securely tied behind his back. A battered blackberry lay beside his head, buzzing intermittently.
John pinched the bridge of his nose wearily.
"Dare I ask... How?"
Sherlock Holmes managed to turn his head enough to shoot his friend a murderous look.
"Just answer the phone, John," he said. "The damn thing's been driving me insane for nearly half an hour."
"So I imagine." John picked up the phone, and dropped it again immediately.
"It's wet! Why is your phone wet, Sherlock?"
"I tried to answer it with my mouth."
John grimaced, picked up the buzzing phone again and wiped it on his jeans before answering.
he covered the mouthpiece, and mouthed "Mycroft" to the bound detective. Sherlock shook his head emphatically.
"I'm afraid he's a little tied up at the moment, Mycroft." John grinned widely at his own joke. "Can you call back later?"
Sherlock rolled his eyes.
"Okay. Okay. I'm sure there's no need to- Okay. Goodbye." John hung up.
"A little tied up at the moment?" Sherlock sneered, struggling into a sitting position. "You couldn't resist, could you?"
"Comedy's in my blood," John shrugged. "Now please, please tell me how you got yourself into this situation?"
"The Pruitt case," Sherlock explained. "I was trying to surmise if the girl could have bound her own hands before the fire."
"I applied my comprehension of Nodeology to a rather too effective end."
"I see. Would you like me to untie you?"
Sherlock looked up at his flatmate from under a dishevelled lock of dark hair.
"No, I'd like you to leave me here for another hour or two until the circulation in my fingers has completely absconded."
John raised his eyebrows.
"Oh, sarcasm. Perfect for a man in your position, don't you think?"
Sherlock frowned and John relented, going into the kitchen to find a knife.
"Mycroft's coming over," he said when he returned, kneeling to saw at the myriad knots that constricted his flatmates thin wrists. Sherlock groaned.
"Mycroft on a Saturday evening, what joy, what honour."
The last thread gave under the knife and Sherlock began rubbing life back into his wrists.
Mycroft Holmes spotted the reddened chafe-marks on his brothers wrists the moment he entered the room and raised his eyebrows.
"Her?" he asked.
Sherlock tightened his lips.
"Call it what you like."
"What do you want, Mycroft?" Sherlock cut in impatiently. Mycroft nodded to Anthea, his assistant (whom John had been furtively eyeing up over the newspaper he always hid behind in a bid to remain impartial to the Holmes brothers discourse), and she stepped forward to hand Sherlock a file.
"Mortimus Ravensdale," Mycroft said as Sherlock opened the file, "A close personal friend of mine-"
"Friend!" Sherlock muttered incredulously.
"-Associate," Mycroft amended "Has been found dead at his estate in Somerset."
"Foul play suspected?" Sherlock said, leafing through the file. "I presume there's a will involved somehow?"
"Don't tell me that Ravensdale Estate doesn't trigger something, little brother."
"One of the top ten most haunted stately homes in Britain," John interjected, then cursed himself for getting involved as he found himself fixed by two pairs of piercing eyes. He cleared his throat. "I saw a documentary on it. On BBC two." he added awkwardly.
"John is correct," said Mycroft. "Ravensdale Hall has been the subject of various writings and paranormal investigation since as far back as the 1920's."
Sherlock looked pained.
"Mycroft, don't tell me you've fallen victim to believing this maudlin drivel in your old age."
"I don't," said Mycroft, "But the press do. And none of the local police force in Somerset will go near the place."
"I don't understand," Sherlock dropped the file onto the coffee table. It lay open on a greyscale picture of Ravensdale Hall. "Why are you bringing this to me? Aristocratic old drunks and ghost stories? Dull. I have real work to do."
"Yes," said John, "If you leave now he could tie himself to his own headboard twice before dinner."
Anthea shot him a half-smile and he blushed, retreating back behind his newspaper. Sherlock ignored John's jibe and continued glaring at his brother. Mycroft picked up the photograph of the house and pointed to the top east window.
"Mortimus Ravensdale was found in this room at nine thirty six a.m, after the maid roused his wife for breakfast and Mortimus was not in their bed. A search of the house found his study locked from the inside. The maid and Dorothy Ravensdale called the groundskeeper, who forced the door. Not only was the door locked, but the wood had swelled, as though it had been immersed in water. On entering the room, all three present recounted the same scene: Sir Ravensdale was seated at his desk, and he was found on further investigation to be dead. The windows were shut and bolted from the inside, just like the door. The chimney had been bricked up years earlier, and so could not have been a point of entry."
Sherlock opened his mouth to speak, and Mycroft cut him off.
"Mortimus Ravensdale had drowned. Everything in the room was saturated with water that tests showed had identical chemical components to the water of the lake on the grounds, half a mile from the house. Furthermore... Watermarks on the walls seem to show that at some point in the early hours of the morning, the room had been entirely filled with water. Everthing in it was saturated to the core, but had not moved a millimetre. No water had escaped the room. They even found pondweed festooning the chandelier."
Mycroft looked around the room. John was staring at him, open mouthed. Sherlock looked thoughtful. Anthea was texting.
"So, little brother. Any ideas?"
Sherlock glanced up at him.
John recognised a familiar spark in the detective's eye. Even if Sherlock had no interest in ghost stories, he was helpless to resist an aberrant case. Sherlock smiled.
"When do we leave?"
Molly Hooper woke with a start and squinted at the clock on her bedside locker. The digital numbers blinked six a.m, and her telephone was ringing in the hall. She dragged herself out of bed, dislodging her cat, Toby, who flopped over without waking and began to purr softly in his sleep. It's my bloody week off, Molly thought to herself as she stumbled blearily out of the bedroom. This had better not be Stamford calling me in for the day.
She lifted the phone off its cradle and brought it to her ear.
"Are you superstitious?"
The low, familiar voice of Sherlock Holmes both brought her immediately to her senses and disarmed her entirely.
"Um, what? Um, I had a tarot card reading once but, you know, they sort of say the same thing for everyone really don't they?" Molly fumbled with the phone and almost dropped it.
"I'll take that as a no. Molly, I need you to accompany John and I on a case. The reason I asked whether or not you are superstitious is because everyone in the town where we are going apparently is, and I presume that includes the local pathologist-if there even is one."
"I see." Molly rubbed her eyes with her free hand. "It's just, it's my week off and-"
"Oh, don't worry about that," Sherlock sounded exasperated. "This case is Mycroft's baby, and he will ensure you are paid quite ridiculously well for your time."
"Okay then. When do we leave?"
"One hour. Come here first, I'll send a taxi."
Sherlock hung up. Molly stood in her hallway and looked around her, disoriented. A moment later she picked up the phone again, and dialled a number.
"Hi, Lucy? It's Molly. Yes, I know, I'm sorry. I was just wondering, could you look after Toby for a while?"
She looked up at the ceiling and blinked.
"I'm not sure how long..."
John was loading his bags into what looked like a brand new landrover when Molly's taxi pulled up outside 221b Baker Street.
"Good morning, Molly!" he called as she got out, trailing her suitcase behind her. He looked as tired as she was, but seemed to be in fine spirits. She hugged him.
"You're in a good mood," she commented as he helped her lift her bag (lots of floral tea dresses, two sweaters, a raincoat just in case) into the back of the landrover. John grinned.
"Looking forward to getting out of the city for a few days. Breathe some actual air, you know."
Sherlock appeared at the doorway, carrying a leather overnight bag and wearing his long dark coat against the morning chill. Mrs Hudson fluttered around him like a concerned mother hen.
"Now drive carefully won't you? And make sure not to get too much sun, it's very warm this time of year and you do insist on wearing that big coat..."
"I'll be fine, Mrs Hudson," Sherlock reassured her. He gathered her up for a hug and she spotted Molly over his shoulder.
"Yoo hoo Molly! Look after my boys do you hear?"
"I will!" called Molly and waved. Sherlock kissed his housekeeper on the cheek and tossed his bag to John, who caught it deftly and packed it in with the others.
"Good morning, Molly," said Sherlock as he reached the car. "Backseat?"
"Oh, I don't mind," Molly said awkwardly. Sherlock opened the door for her. Despite his obvious lack of manners, it appeared that years of society training had left Sherlock with some basic social skills. Molly climbed in as gracefully as possible (not very), and Sherlock and John got in the front. Two doors slammed and Sherlock revved the car into gear. The last thing Molly saw before the car rounded the corner of Baker Street was Mrs Hudson standing on the steps, still waving goodbye.
She looked genuinely worried.
During the four hour drive to Somerset, Molly learned the following about Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson:
Sherlock will not permit John to play I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) more than once during the journey.
John Watson, despite being a brilliant doctor, is not at all adept at reading maps.
Sherlock Holmes' photographic memory does not apply to roadsigns seen more than ten metres previous.
John will try to play I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) more than once during the journey.
Sherlock will retaliate by skimming John's Proclaimers Greatest Hits CD out of the window.
Molly read Wuthering Heights in the back seat and giggled at the boys' bickering. With the gentle motion of car coupled with her early wakeup call, after half an hour she was asleep.