John sprang to his feet. "I'll let them know where we are," he told Gary, who was now coughing up small amounts of blood.
The Scotsman nodded. "Please hurry."
Mycroft shouted again. This time Sherlock and Lestrade joined in.
"Someone's in the kitchen over there!"
A door crashed open under the force of a heavy boot. A woman screamed.
Kitchen help who must have been left behind, John realised. He sprinted into the hall and called, "Mycroft! I'm here!"
"John!" Sherlock yelled back.
John heard Mycroft order someone to take "those women" into custody before calling, "Stay where you are- we're coming!"
Footsteps pounded in John's direction, growing louder with each passing second. Then Mycroft appeared at the end of the hall, clutching an automatic in one gloved fist. Sherlock, Lestrade, and four bodyguards flanked him, the latter holding machine weaponry.
When John bolted toward them, Mycroft slid his gun into its holster and extended his arms.
"Thank God you're safe. Where's Alexei?"
"Not here," John whispered against Mycroft's chest. When he felt the other man tense, he added, "But he's all right, and I know where they've taken him."
"Is everyone gone?" Lestrade surveyed the hall. "We found three women in the kitchen downstairs, but they were locked in and they don't appear to even speak English. Sherlock says they're Russian."
"I think they're just kitchen help. Everyone else left by helicopter around an hour ago."
Granite face softened by relief, Sherlock scanned John from head to toe. "You've got blood on your clothes."
"There's a wounded man in that bedroom back there. One of Mayberry's heavies." John drew back and looked up at Mycroft. "He –the bloke who took us- said his name is John Mayberry. American. Late fifties. Around your height, but bloody thin- looks like a skeleton from one of my old anatomy classes."
After ordering one of his men to see to Gary, Mycroft stared at the floor. The lines around his eyes and mouth deepened, making him appear several years older.
"I don't ever recall meeting such a person," he said.
"You must have done something –directly or indirectly- to make him want to move against you like this," Sherlock said. His tone was normal but John saw his lips tighten, which was his trademark resentment signal. "Perhaps you've forgotten. Has your memory been … compromised recently?"
John's heart sank. Sherlock had obviously figured out why Mycroft had been at St. Thomas, and was now punishing his brother for… what exactly? Faltering when he was supposed to be invincible? It was appalling behaviour and normally John would have admonished him, but now was not the time for a public rebuke.
Mycroft wasn't so reticent. Releasing John, he approached his brother until they were literally nose to nose. When he spoke, his voice was glacier-cold.
"This individual has abducted two of the people I care about the most. Rest assured that if I ever encountered anyone with that much animosity toward me personally, I would remember them. Not that there are many such people left alive."
Sherlock stared back. "You're not at your best right now, Mycroft, and we both know it."
John glanced at Mycroft's men, but they were only half-listening: clearly they'd learned to tune out these barbed exchanges. Not wanting the conversation to become more dangerous, he said, "We need to go. Mayberry's already got a head start on us."
After a parting glare, Mycroft turned back to John. "Where has he taken Alexei?"
John repeated Gary had said about the Cove. As he spoke, the Scotsman's revelation about Alexei's intended fate twisted inside him like a poisonous worm. He knew he should include that horrifying detail, but couldn't. Mycroft had been through too much already and besides, the boy would be rescued soon. The elder Holmes would find out eventually and let the knowledge inspire appropriate retribution.
Mycroft raised his voice. "Morton!"
The guard tending to Gary poked his head into the hallway. "Yes, sir?"
"Call Base Twelve and have them send prisoner transport and a medical team here. We'll also need someone fluent in Russian to interrogate the women. Tell Cullen to remain with them until the team arrives. The rest of us are going to retrieve my son." He turned and surveyed everyone else. "Let's go."
With Mycroft in the lead, the group turned back the way it had come. As they navigated the dim passageways, John stared about.
"Where is this place anyway?" he asked. "No one ever told us."
"Former baronial estate in Surrey," Mycroft replied. "The owners are in America and rent out the property whenever possible. Anthea is reviewing their recent financial transactions and trying to contact them." A pause. "My helicopter is on the roof. When we're airborne, I need you to tell me everything that happened. I am most interested in additional details about Mr. Mayberry."
"Of course. Listen… Alexei is going to be all right. You'd have been proud of him tonight."
Mycroft's smile was faint but genuine. "I haven't the slightest doubt of that."
When they emerged through a rooftop doorway into the night air, the wind from the helicopter blades blew dust into John's eyes, forcing him to grab Mycroft's arm. When he felt a light trembling underneath the thick coat sleeve, he prayed again that Alexei would be retrieved unharmed, and not just for the boy's sake. Right now he questioned Mycroft's ability to survive the darker alternative.
It wasn't until the helicopter was ascending into the night sky that Sherlock broke his moody silence.
"Tell us everything, John," he urged, shouting to be heard above the noise. Although animated at the prospect of hearing and analysing the details, he was visibly anxious, which softened John's irritation somewhat.
He spent hours not knowing what happened to Alexei and I. And he's discovered what Mycroft has been keeping from him all these years. He's worried, confused, and angry.
After resolving to speak privately with Sherlock later, John recounted his ordeal, beginning with the moment he and Alexei regained consciousness in the bedroom. Mycroft's men were within hearing distance and he wasn't sure what they'd been told, so he omitted the abduction at the hospital. When he recounted how Alexei had stolen Gary's phone and sent a message, Sherlock actually smiled and declared, "Well done."
"It was bloody brilliant, actually." John hung his head. "But leaving him like that nearly killed me."
Mycroft, who'd been sending commands to various parties on his mobile, paused and touched his wrist. "Don't. He wanted you to do it."
"It's just as well that Alexei was able to text," Lestrade said. "Before that, all we had to go on was a girl who nearly kicked Sherlock's arse."
"Girl?" John echoed.
"A little rebel. Kids like that make me glad I'm no longer with the Met. What was her name, Sherlock? Astrid?"
"Yes. And don't exaggerate, Lestrade. She didn't kick my arse. Not even close."
John's heartbeat quickened. "Astrid? You're sure?"
Lestrade rolled his eyes at Sherlock's rebuke. "Yeah. Just a teenager, but what a bloody attitude! She told us she saw you and Alexei being smuggled out of that place. We were about to bring her in for questioning when Anthea showed up and told us that Alexei had sent a message."
"But she was only a teenager?"
"Looked about fourteen."
"Why, John?" Mycroft asked.
"I heard Mayberry talking on his mobile to someone by that name. Maybe it's a coincidence. Has to be. He couldn't have been talking to a-"
He stopped as Gary's words echoed in his head.
Mayberry's got someone- a girl- with cancer. Don't know what kind. But I do know that Alexei's a perfect match as a donor, and they're going to dig some gland out of his head and put it in hers. Then they're going to kill him.
"Oh, dear God," he breathed.
Lestrade leaned forward. "What is it?"
"How exactly did you encounter this girl?"
Lestrade's brow furrowed, but he obliged with details about the visit to Sherlock's homeless network and the battle of wills and words with Astrid. When he said that the girl had been present when Anthea announced Alexei's communication, John groaned.
"That's it then. That's how Mayberry found out. She told him that Alexei had texted."
"She was on her mobile when we left," Sherlock remembered. "Well, it appears that she's not as innocent as Lestrade presumed. It's a good thing that I obtained a sample of her DNA." The detective reached into his pocket and pulled out a carefully folded napkin. "Something about her was not on. So when she struggled with me, I obtained some hair samples from her jumper."
John stared at the paper square. "Brilliant," he breathed. "Well done."
Sherlock flushed with pleasure as he re-pocketed the evidence. "If she has any kind of record, we shall identify her."
"And possibly Mayberry, if the fucker does get away from us," Lestrade commented. "If he's connected like this to a girl that age, she's got to be a relative. An extended DNA cross-match could flush him out too."
John closed his eyes. Once again he recalled Gary's comment.
Mayberry's got someone- a girl- with cancer.
A daughter, maybe? Was John Mayberry a parent who would literally kill for his child?
He opened his eyes again and glanced at Mycroft. The elder Holmes was gazing out the small window, his jaw set. John knew what he was thinking: no DNA tests would be necessary because Mayberry would not escape. Mycroft intended to capture him, exact vengeance, and then consign him- DNA and all- to an unmarked grave. And John had no problem with that. At all.
But what about Astrid?
He knew that if she had indeed been the one who alerted Mayberry to Alexei's trick- and all signs currently pointed to that being the case- then she was complicit in the entire affair.
What would happen to her?
Surely Mycroft would not….
His thoughts were interrupted by the helicopter beginning its descent. Looking out the window, John could see dawn making an appearance in the east.
"We're landing at a private airfield outside Edinburgh," Mycroft informed everyone. "A car will take us to the airport, where we shall board a seven o'clock commercial flight to Stornoway." He turned to his bodyguards. "You will remain behind and take a second flight departing an hour later. Check your mobiles for instructions from my assistant."
Lestrade frowned. "Why are we switching to a commercial flight? It means a delay in getting there."
John was wondering the same thing, but Sherlock understood immediately.
"Someone with Mayberry's considerable resources will probably be watching for unusual air traffic to the island. This way we'll be hiding in plain sight."
"Just so." Mycroft nodded. "John, there will be a change of clothes for you in the car."
John gazed down at his jumper, which was mottled with dried patches of Gary's blood. "Appreciate it," he said. Then he shuddered.
"You all right?" Lestrade asked.
"Yeah, yeah, fine."
He wasn't. Not by a long shot. But for Mycroft's sake, he would pretend.