Note: I own nothing here but my own ideas—everything else belongs to ACD and the BBC (with a nod to O. Henry for the title). Not beta'd or Brit-picked, so all errors are my own.
Sherlock adjusted his hat on his head and surveyed the stream. By his calculations, the fish should be resting in the deepest part, yet it seemed devoid of aquatic life altogether. Gently poking at the still pool with a stick, he considered. What might cause that? An imbalance of fungi preventing food from growing for the fish? Chemicals in the water making it an unhealthy environment?
He leaned forward, careful not to fall in. His nanny had been so upset with him the last time (well, three times) it had happened. He didn't exactly care about her or her rules, but she had finally learned that, while going without supper did not distress him, having his books taken away did. It would be best to avoid the scolding—if only because it was such a waste of time.
A snapping twig behind him startled him and he turned … too quickly, and, boots sliding on the wet moss, he fell backwards into the deepest part of the stream.
"My hat!" He lunged for it as it began to fill with water but was caught from behind before he could dive after it. He squirmed, trying to shrug off whoever was helping him from the stream. He didn't care about being wet, but that was his pirate hat. It had taken him months to get one—he'd even resorted to asking his parents politely. He wasn't letting it go without a fight.
There was only so much he could do, though. He was only seven years, six months, and one day old, after all. No matter how he might like to believe otherwise, he was no match for a full-grown adult, much less the two who were struggling to pull him from the stream.
Part of him wondered where they had come from. The woods had been empty just a moment ago, and his parents had a very strict no-trespassers policy for the estate, but that didn't matter at the moment. What mattered was rescuing his hat before it was ruined. And so, he let the tears well up in his eyes as he looked over his shoulder. "No, my hat! I have to have my hat! It … it was a birthday present! Mummy will kill me if I lose it, and it's my favorite. Just let me get my hat!"
Simple tears weren't working. How disappointing. The two men were still holding his arms, too, even though he was safely out of the stream now, which was odd, because there was no reason for that. Even with Father's no-trespassing policy, it wasn't unheard of for people to pass through, but they usually treated Sherlock with respect (usually by giving him a wide berth when they saw him).
Then he saw the canvas bag and the rope dropped beside the stream, and realized.
This was a kidnapping.
He was being kidnapped.
He knew he should be frightened, that that would be the correct response to the sudden uncertainty of a life-and-death situation, but honestly … he was thrilled. This was the most exciting thing that had happened to him all summer!
He pretended not to realize, though, because he really did want his hat back. Neither grip on his arms was particularly cruel—they held just tight enough to keep him from escaping, but not enough to intentionally hurt, which meant they had some kind of moral standards about not harming a child. Simple tears hadn't moved them, though, but … they wouldn't want damaged goods, would they?
And so he flew into a full-blown tantrum. "No! I have to have it! Let me go! I can get it myself! I've got my boots on and I've waded in the stream a million times, but the water's ruining it!"
He yelled as loudly as he could (knowing full well there was no-one within earshot, as any number of experiments in sound production had proven over the course of the summer). His kidnappers didn't know that, though, and abruptly, a large hand came down on his mouth, blocking off the words. Sherlock continued to struggle, letting tears stream down his face as he kept his gaze locked on his rapidly-sinking hat. (He really was quite unhappy about that. It wouldn't matter that it had been lost through no fault of his own, his parents would still expect him to maintain his personal belongings properly and he'd much prefer to avoid the lecture.)
Finally, as he was starting to find it a little difficult to maintain his tantrum without being able to breathe through his mouth, the kidnapper holding him said, "Christ, go get him his bloody hat. Maybe it'll help him calm him down."
Sherlock took advantage of the man's distraction to pull his head away enough to bite the hand in front of his face and then kicked hard with his booted foot so that he could lunge toward the stream. He was promptly tackled by the other man before he could get far, though, but he just screamed, "I need my hat!" and saw the man yielding with a flicker of his eye. He promptly changed tactics, "Please," he whimpered. "Mummy gave it to me for my birthday."
Aha! The man's shoulders slumped and he told the first man—who was still rubbing at his knee and shaking his bitten hand—"Go get it, then."
"What? Me? Why don't you get it?" The tone was all indignation, and Sherlock tried not to smile, keeping his earnest, hopeful look on his face.
"Because I've got the boy, that's why. Now hurry up."
The larger man heaved a sigh as Sherlock blinked up at him with large, teary eyes. "Fine," he said as he trudged into the stream, wincing at the cold water as he waded through, reaching for the hat … and then stumbling as his foot hit the deep part and he fell face first into the water.
Sherlock couldn't help stifle the giggle as the man surged upright, hat in his hand and dripping slimy green water from his hair to his toes. Really, you'd think the man had never been near a stream before. Didn't he know to watch for the deep parts?
He was complaining loudly, though, as he struggled to the bank to lumber out. "Jesus Christ, look at me!" He thrust the hat at Sherlock and then just stood there, dripping as he leaned on his knees, panting for breath.
The man holding Sherlock was trying not to laugh and for a moment, Sherlock almost felt sorry for the other man. He hated being bullied and laughed at, too. But then he was pulled to his feet and the soggy hat thrust on his head as the larger man picked up the rope. Sherlock let his eyes go wide. "What … what are you doing?" he asked, proud of the quaver he inserted.
"Just behave, kid, and there won't be any problems," the dripping man said irritably as he advanced with the rope. Sherlock watched him carefully, gauging the level of irritation.
"What kind of problems?" he asked, his lip quivering. "I don't think Mummy will be angry about you making me fall in the stream, especially since you were nice enough to get my hat for me, but she's expecting me for lunch and I don't want to be late."
The hands holding him tightened ever so slightly. "How about you come and have lunch with us instead? I'm sure Mummy won't mind."
Behind him, Sherlock felt the man's head nod up and down and he quickly went over his options. He could probably break free and run, but they were larger and probably faster than he and would no doubt be quite put out once they caught him. His best option would be to go along and wait for an opportunity to escape. And so he blinked up at the man, eyes wide, and said, "But I'm not supposed to talk to strangers."
This was entirely true. His parents had been quite adamant, but their rationale had been that it was because he annoyed the strangers rather than it being a safety issue. This still confused Sherlock. You'd think adults would be delighted to find children who could have intelligent conversations (certainly Sherlock would be he ever found any).
The man in front looked past him and frowned. "This is why he wasn't supposed to see our faces."
"What, like it's my fault that he fell into the stream? It's not like we could let him drown."
"Well, no, but now we're having a conversation with the kid and this wasn't supposed to happen."
Sherlock put on his clueless child face—not really one of his best, but adults were so used to conversations going over their children's heads, no-one ever noticed that he wasn't as ignorant as they thought. Entertaining though this conversation was, it wasn't helping anything move along and he had things to do this afternoon, so he piped up, "How would we have lunch together if I couldn't see your face?"
The man just blinked at him. "That's a good question." He seemed so surprised. It made Sherlock wince for the man's children—and rather hope the man chose not to reproduce. "Look, why don't you just come with us and we'll … we'll buy you some ice cream. How does that sound?"
How did that sound? It was all Sherlock could do not to wince. The man was aware that children were taught not to take food from strangers, wasn't he? How pathetic was it that he thought a simple bribe of ice cream would suffice to make Sherlock willingly go with him? Did he really think Sherlock was that stupid?
For that matter, did he really care what the kidnapper thought of him? He was proud of being intelligent, but was it more important to seem smart to this kidnapper or to actually be smart and get as much out of this experience as possible?
So he nodded shyly, purposely making the pirate hat tilt to the side because he knew it made him look extra 'cute' and then began to babble disarmingly. "But I need to tell Mummy. Can we call her? Do you have a phone? I'm not allowed to have one yet."
The hands on his shoulders eased their hold as the man behind him said, "Yeah, okay kid. I can promise we'll be calling your Mum. But meantime, how about you just come with us." He pointed east—toward the road.
Sherlock nodded happily and considered skipping along, but decided that would be too ridiculous even for him. Instead, he walked along, chattering about trees and leaves and nests in the same disingenuous fashion his schoolmates would, though he wasn't shy about throwing in large words because he'd found that adults tended to think a few multisyllabic words in a child were endearing. (Though too many became 'odd' or 'creepy,' apparently, and Sherlock was still trying to plot the exact location of the line.)
After a few minutes' walking, while the two kidnappers glanced around nervously and tried to hurry him along, Sherlock suddenly said, "Look! A nest! Erithacus rubecula!" and was halfway up a nearby spruce tree before the men could react. "These are really rare!"
He knew he wouldn't be able to stay in the tree for long, but he was curious what the mens' reaction would be. Would they be angry and try to force him down? How anxious were they to get to their car?
Really, this was the most fun he'd had all summer.
"Kid! Come down from there!"
"You've got to come down, Sher … er … did you ever tell us your name?"
He was being kidnapped by idiots, Sherlock thought, but he blithely shook his head. "No, but my name's Sherlock. What's yours?"
"I'm Joe and this is Davy," the smaller kidnapper said, smiling in what he probably thought was a friendly manner. "And if you stay up there, we'll be late for lunch, and I don't know about you, but I'm hungry."
That was actually a good tactic, Sherlock thought. Most adults tried giving orders before being reduced to logic. (This made no sense to him, because shouldn't logic be the first course of action? Always? For everything?) "But … the nest. If I come down right away, I won't be able to study it, and my teacher says one should always take an opportunity to learn new things."
Davy was clenching his hands into fist, but Joe just said, "How about you bring the nest down with you? Then you can study it on the way to lunch, but we won't be late?"
Sherlock looked down at him, just refraining from swinging his legs in glee. This was really quite entertaining. He supposed he should reward the man for actually thinking of a reasonable argument. He looked back at the nest. It was beaten about the edges with a few tufts of old down stuck to the sides so … not currently being used. Bringing it along would not be a hardship to the robin. He wouldn't want to cause the bird any harm, after all, even if they were common as dirt.
He nodded down at the man and carefully lifted the nest in his hands. They really were marvels of construction, he thought, considering they were made by creatures with no hands or intelligence other than base instinct.
He was concentrating so hard on lifting the nest without damaging it that he realized he had no way to get it down the tree safely. He looked down at the handy coil of rope and the bag that Davy was carrying and called down. "Can I borrow the bag? And the rope? Because otherwise I don't think I can get this down safely."
Davy looked outraged, as if using his things for something other than the kidnapping he had planned was somehow inappropriate. "No, kid. I'm not giving you my rope. Just get down here and leave the bloody nest if you have to."
"But, it's really rare!" Sherlock told him, making his voice as earnest as he could. It wasn't strictly true, of course, but if the kidnapper didn't recognize the latin name for the common robin, it was hardly Sherlock's fault.
"I don't care. It's … it's … unsanitary. You can't bring it to lunch so, you might as well just leave it there."
Sherlock shook his head. "No, but if you won't help, I'll just have to try carrying it." He considered putting the nest in his hat—it would just about fit—but why show his ingenuity when the stupid kidnapper was being so … stupid?
Instead, he put on a show of trying to balance in the tree with one hand holding the nest while he tried to feel his way down the branches. He feigned almost losing his grip (and then almost did lose it because, really, it was hard to climb a tree while carrying a nest), but he managed to get a little lower before stopping to cling to the trunk, looking beseechingly down at the nervous men below. "Are you sure you won't lend me your rope?"
The two men turned to each other and began whispering furiously. Sherlock could hear some words drifting up to his branch. "We've got to get him out of here!" "Well, how are we supposed to get him down the tree?" "Just lend him your bloody rope already before he falls and gets hurt. You know we're not supposed to hurt him—they won't pay anything if he's hurt!"
Sherlock allowed himself to look hopeful as they turned their faces up toward him again. "Okay, fine. Why don't you come down here to get it? Then you can go back for the nest?"
Sherlock shook his head. "No, you won't let me back up. I know that trick. Adults think children are so stupid." It always frustrated him, too. He was well aware that adults had greater experience and (theoretically) more accumulated knowledge than children. At seven (and a half) he knew there were things he didn't yet know and plenty of things he had not yet done, but that did not mean he was stupid.
Really, it was almost appalling how idiotic these kidnappers were. They were being outsmarted by a child—had they no shame? The fact that Sherlock was an exceptional child really should be no excuse.
Down on the ground, Davy heaved a frustrated sigh. "Fine, then. I'll toss the end of the rope up to you, right? Then you'll come down with your … nest." (Sherlock was amused at the way he obviously censored himself but found himself wishing he could have heard what the man was going to say. So few people he knew ever swore, he was curious about common usage.) "Once you're down here, we'll go straight to the car to get lunch."
"And ice cream," added Joe. "I don't know about you, but I'm really looking forward to the ice cream. It's so hot today."
Happy with the results of his experiment—and not really wanting to make the men angry enough to incite violence—Sherlock agreed and within ten minutes, he was on the ground, nest safely in the canvas bag, and his hands full of rope. "Can we play Pirate on the way to the car?" he asked.
"Play … pirate?"
He nodded. "I'll be the captain and you can be my first mate," he pointed at Davy, "And you can be my prisoner and walk the plank."
"What? Me? Why am I the prisoner?" protested Joe. "Make Davy walk the plank—he's already wet enough."
"Oi! Nobody's walking the plank," Davy said, something crafty in his eye. "And we're not playing pirate … not unless I get to be captain."
"You can't be captain," Sherlock told him. "You haven't got the hat. And before you say it, no, you can't borrow mine. It wouldn't fit."
"That's true, but if you play prisoner, that means you can try to escape. Everybody knows that's more fun, because then you get to try to win the ship from the captain, isn't that right, Joe?"
"Um, yeah." Sherlock almost winced at the slow speed with which the idea took hold as Joe nodded. "We could pretend you're our prisoner … like pirates … or spies."
The man's voice was almost strained as he tried to insert as much conviction into it as he could. Sherlock considered. It was true that he was having fun, but he could see this escalating out of his control very quickly if either of these two (large, strong) men got their hands on him again. He had no doubt he could outwit them, but no illusions about being able to outfight them.
Still, by conceding, by pretending he was convinced this was a game, he could still retain some leverage, as well as making his kidnappers think well of his conciliatory nature. Not to mention keeping them ignorant that he knew what they were up to.
"All right," he said. "I'll be the prisoner—as long as I can keep my hat."
Note: I haven't read O. Henry's "Ransom of Red Chief" since high school … so, you know, since the 80s … but I keep thinking back to it. Because, yes, he wrote a story in 1910 about a holy terror of a boy whose kidnappers end up paying his father to take him back. I don't remember the details (and had to look up the author, since I didn't recall that, either), but I remembered enough that I'm acknowledging it here. I don't remember if that kid was deliberately playing with the kidnappers or if he was just truly that awful, but naturally, this being Sherlock … very much deliberate. Somehow, I think that if you paired a young Sherlock Holmes against O. Henry's Red Chief … Sherlock would win. Of course, it's also possible he just made a terrible mistake.