John finally managed to make it through the doors of Pasties & Ale at about fifteen past eleven. He'd had to take a bit of a longer route to avoid the CCTV, just in case Mycroft was watching, but the privacy was well worth it. The early lunch crowd provided a mellow din that John hoped would be enough to prevent anyone from eavesdropping on his conversation with Moran. But, if worst came to worst, they could move to a back room to conduct business. There were perks, after all, to being the owner of a fairly large pub in London, even if John's name wasn't actually on the deed.
It didn't take long to find Moran, who was parked at the end of the bar farthest the front door but nearest the back entrance. Being six towering feet, four intimidating inches, and two-hundred and five pounds of solid muscle with four thick, jagged white lines of scar tissue on each of his upper arms—though currently hidden under the long-sleeves of a fitted black t-shirt—the ex-sniper was easily identifiable. Not to mention his dirty blond hair was still cropped in the same buzz cut it had been in Afghanistan and his hazel eyes reflected nearly feline gold in the dim lighting of the pub.
The rest of the bar was fairly crowded, but no one dared get within two feet of Moran, as he hunched over his pint and a basket of chips, lifting his head only long enough to glower around the pub. Which was sort of strange, since every other time John had seen Moran in a pub or bar, women had been practically throwing themselves at his feet for a chance with that chiselled face. Not that any of them lasted long if they did get the chance. Jim was a jealous lover and had a tendency to arrange accidents if Moran happened to stray a little while on business outside of the UK.
Thankfully, Moran tended to attract the psychos and crazies so the inevitable deaths were not much of a loss for society, and John needn't interfere just yet.
John meandered towards the bar, calmly ordering a shepherd's pie and a glass of water from the bartender before sliding easily into the seat to Moran's right. He ignored the sudden quiet of the surrounding area, and the stares from the patron. Moran lifted his head from what must've been a plate of truly fantastic chips by the way he'd been staring at them to scowl at the patrons until they turned back to their food, beer, and conversations.
The Colonel pushed the remains of his chips away, taking a long drink of his bitter before glancing at John. "Holmes, huh," he said bleakly.
"Two of 'em," John replied ruefully. "Bloody brilliant and bound to drive me up a wall."
"Not a bad way to go," the sniper pointed out, no doubt speaking from experience.
The ex-army doctor snort out a laugh, raising his glass of water to clink against Moran's pint. "Cheers, mate."
The taller man quirked up an eyebrow, but didn't comment on John's somewhat odd behaviour. "But honestly, what did Jim do this time?"
"So you know my flatmate?"
"Holmes the younger," Moran grumbled, "yes. I assume he's involved?"
"You know what happened to Hope?" the crime lord asked warily, staring into his glass.
The sniper paused, and carefully set down his pint on a coaster. "I do, as much as our sources told me anyway. Crack shot like that—it's a rare talent." Which meant, when coupled with the knowing tilt of Moran's head, that he knew exactly who had held the gun.
John lowered his voice. "Hope's last pick-up was Sherlock."
"Oh bloody hell," Moran groaned, scrubbing at his face with one hand. "Please tell me this isn't going where I think it is." He didn't wait for John to reply before waving down the bartender and ordering two shots of whiskey. The bartender's gaze was disapproving, seeing as Moran was probably on his second if not third pint, had just ordered hard liquor, and it wasn't even noon yet.
Moran got his shots though, downing the first immediately. "Might as well just tell me now and put me out of my misery."
"My theory," John started, trying to find a tactful but still emphatic way to describe Jim's latest bout of insanity, "is that Jim's gotten bored these last few months as things have heated up and we've had to make cut backs, lay off staff, that kind of thing."
The sniper's jaw clenched and he refused to look away from his pint, but didn't argue.
John took it as agreement. "So he decided that the best way not to be bored was to play a game, but you know Jim—he'll settle for nothing less than the best."
"So he picked Holmes." Moran downed the second shot, slamming the shot glass down on the bar hard enough to earn a glare from both John and the bartender. "Shit."
"Did I mention the part where I think he's actually picking a fight with the older one, and the younger one was supposed to be a pawn?" continued the doctor sardonically.
Moran just stared for several moments, uncomprehending before cursing like he'd been in the navy, rather than the army.
John replied with a falsely cheery, "Yup!" He sighed and tiredly rubbed at his brow. "I'm trusting you to keep him in check while I try to make sure Sherlock doesn't turn into a literal bloody martyr."
Moran eyed the crime lord's glass of water as the bartender deposited John's shepherd's pie in front of him. "You sure you don't want something a little stronger? I'm buying."
"That's a little too tempting right now," John admitted, digging into his food. The first bite was delicious, and he hummed in appreciation. "But comfort food is more than welcome, especially since I'm going to be almost as active as I was when I was in Afghanistan."
"In London?" Moran asked sceptically.
John shrugged. "My flatmate likes to run over rooftops and jump between building whiles racing after a taxi with a murderer in it. Which is apparently a normal Friday night for him. And I jog in the mornings now so I can check on the lieutenants without Big Brother listening in."
"I didn't realize you were becoming so involved with the Organization again," Moran broached carefully, eyes sharp and wary despite the fact that he'd probably drunken enough to have a lesser man past tipsy and halfway to smashed. "You usually try to distance yourself when we're under scrutiny."
"Yes, well, not like I have much of a choice this time, do I?"
The sniper frowned, uncomprehending, and made a gesture to go on.
John wiped at his mouth with a napkin, explaining, "Jim's part of the command structure, which means everyone in the Organization, except for us and the lieutenants, are supposed to fall in line and do as their told. That's what happened with Hope. By contacting the lieutenants and making sure that all the employees under their purview are under orders to run everything Jim says by their supervisors, whom clear it with you or me first, we can limit how much control he actually has. I'm hoping that if we take away all his pretty little pawns, he'll realize that he's not actually a king on this chessboard. Hell, I doubt he's even a bishop. Maybe a rook."
Moran made a face into his bitter. "A chess analogy, really, Boss?"
"That's all this is to him, Moran: an interesting game of chess. He just doesn't realize what sort of stakes he's playing with, or that he's game not confined to just him and whoever he's selected as an opponent."
Moran nodded reluctantly, reminding John, "He's got resources outside our network; shady ones."
John nearly snorted his water. "Then what the hell is our network made of? Sunshine and unicorns?"
"You know what I mean," the Colonel grumbled, exasperated as he waved the bartender over to order more shots.
And John did know what Moran meant. They worked with shady people and even shadier organizations, but there was longstanding loyalty and some trust between the Organization and the other criminals and organized crime syndicates they contracted. Some might've even said that the Organization had a tendency to incorporate other syndicates, which was a bloody nightmare in John's experience. Money did often exchange hands though, especially with contractors, but if someone didn't have the money up front (which was never, ever the Watson Underground), the other party didn't mind taking an IOU to be paid off at a later date—either in cash or favours. Jim's little side network, however, was strung together with black gossamer threads of blood money and violence. It was all self-serving mercenaries who were just as likely to take out a target as they were their employers; thugs who didn't care what the job was as long as they got paid. They were an unscrupulous lot at best, and utterly uncontrollable.
Not a bit unlike Jim, actually.
John sighed, and pushed away what was left of his lunch, no longer hungry. "Why don't you and Jim go somewhere for a while?" he suggested, quietly. "Just the two of you, in some far off city. Put it on the company card."
"Boss," Moran started, face torn between a worried frown and a furrowed mask of irritation to preserve his he-man persona.
The crime lord waved him off, not in the mood of any sort of argument. "Not buts about it. Hale, as a senior lieutenant, and I, as the actual head of the Organization, can hold down the fort while Jim...settles a little."
Moran winced at the mention of Hale as a senior lieutenant. There had been others before Hale, of course, an entire plethora of them, but Jim had...dispatched nearly all of them in varying states of boredom over the years when John and Moran had been otherwise occupied. Hale was the only one left completely unaffected because Jim was, despite all arguments, afraid of him. They couldn't be in the same room together without Jim turning into a twitchy, snappish mess.
John was probably a horrible person for being amused whenever J.J—the Organization's top hacker and one of John's most trusted and senior lieutenants—forwarded footage of those instances.
"We still haven't decided what to do about Fields and O'Patrick," Moran reminded the crime lord, fidgeting with his pint.
John ran a hand through his hair and blew out a tired sigh. Being the head of a crime syndicate was nowhere near as glamorous as the media made it out to be. "At this point, the best course of action is to leave our other contractors in place and limit contact for the interim. Fields and O'Patrick didn't have much reliable information on us, and what they did have was a few descriptions of mid-level employees and a handful of Swiss bank accounts. As their main contacts, Jacobs and Baker should be assessed for surveillance and then relocated as soon and as discreetly as possible. J.J. has probably scrubbed the bank accounts, and transferred the funds through a labyrinth of wire transfers and phony accounts by now."
"We're missing their last reports," John's idiot and potentially suicidal second-in-command mentioned rather causally.
The crime lord pinched the bridge of his nose and breathed deeply for a few moments so he wasn't tempted to leap off his stool and choke the living daylights out of Moran. It was so very tempting after all the utter shit that had happened recently. "Once this craziness and FUBAR-ness has passed, you and I are going to sit down and discuss when and how to share relevant information. Seriously, Moran. How the hell am I supposed to plan and strategize if I'm working with only half of the information?"
"FUBAR-ness isn't a word," said the sniper, and then winced. "I think Jim's rubbed off on me a bit."
"You know, when I allowed this insanity you call a stable relationship, I had hoped you would be a mature influence on him," John muttered darkly. "I must have underestimated his deviousness."
John valiantly ignored that can of worms (because Moran refusing to comment was a bigger hint than a flashing neon sign in Vegas that something fishy was going on), and refocused on the topic at hand. "Any idea what was in the reports?"
"Both their computers were wiped, but Fields had uploaded her report to a cloud server before," Moran made a vague motion with his hand that John interpreted as "she was killed by MI5."
Fields had always been a smart one. If she had managed to finish this mission alive and still wanted employment, John would've hired her in a heartbeat, even if it had been part-time or locum work only.
"How are her kids doing?"
"Oldest just graduated with a Psyche degree, and J.J.'s found him a quiet job out in the country. He's also arranged for the twins to get scholarships for a boarding school in Scotland, near their brother, but still out of London and the brewing governmental backlash."
John nodded approvingly. "Make sure they receive full death benefits." If Moran found it strange that a contractor was getting employee benefits, he made no mention so the doctor continued on with their previous discussion. "What was in her report?"
"The Bruce-Parting Project mainly. Nothing we'd want, since the only worth it has is selling on the black market, and we don't deal in terrorism." Moran's face was smooth as marble, but there was a slight downward twist to his mouth and his tone, dripping in disdain and odium, depicted well-enough what he thought of terrorists. Thankfully, professionalism took over before they descended down that particular rabbit hole. "She mentioned some facility up in Devon, though, by the name of Baskerville. We're not completely sure why it's relevant to our interests since Fields implied that O'Partrick's report would have more information. For now, we believe Baskerville is some sort of military research facility."
"Keep an ear out for anything of interest," John ordered, craning his neck to see the clock behind the bar. "No other action until further notice." He slid off his stool, stretching and wincing at the crack his spine made. The doctor should've known better than to hunch over on a barstool. "Text me or send a messenger my way if anything comes up, and I'll ring, or set up a meet. Now, I'm off to do the shopping."
Moran guffawed, retorting, "That's awful domestic of you, Watson." He inclined his head in acknowledgment of his orders, however, and waved as John trudged through the crowd towards the door.
John stomped his way up to 221B Baker Street, woefully empty handed and cursing the necessary evil of chip and PIN machines. They usually worked just fine for the crime lord, since J.J. had gotten into the habit of hacking and reprogramming any and all of the buggering little devils to be more user-friendly within a five mile radius of John's residence. It had been years since the last time John had had difficulties with a chip and PIN machine in London.
The crime lord had a feeling Mycroft was behind this.
It was actually kind of genius: annoy whoever was annoying you by reprogramming the chip and PIN machines to be as difficult as possible and then sit back and watch as they entered a rage that would likely result in a hefty bit of property damage and a brief stint in the Yard's holding cells or suicide so that they didn't have to deal with the bloody little bastards.
Mycroft was positively diabolical.
Sherlock, of course, wasn't much better with his bloody midnight concerts that were less music and more horrid screechings of a tormented cat. He didn't even appear to have moved from his armchair, and didn't look up as he commented, "You took your time."
"Yeah," John replied tightly, fingers flexing with the urge to do a little violence—perhaps to Mycroft, perhaps to Sherlock, quite likely to Jim. "I didn't get the shopping."
The detective finally dragged his attention from the book to stare at John. "What? Why not?"
"Because I had a row, in the shop, with a chip and PIN machine."
Sherlock lowered his book, asking, "You—you had a row with a machine?"
It actually wasn't that uncommon, despite the incredulous look on Sherlock's face. John had often shouted at medical equipment during his army days when it shorted, failed, or displayed readings he didn't like. J.J., especially, had rows with his computers either because something had gone wrong somewhere or because some half-pint in America had destroyed him in one of those online multiplayer games.
"Sort of. It sat there and I shouted abuse at it." John sighed, suddenly feeling drained. He was getting too old for this sort of nonsense, but he would never be able to tear himself away. "Have you got any cash?"
The curly-haired detective seemed inordinately amused by the crime lord's ire, but politely held back a smile. He nodded towards the kitchen. "Take my card."
"You could always get it yourself you know," John grumbled indignantly, heading towards the table. "You've been sitting in that chair all morning; haven't even moved since I left!" He reached the table and snatched up his flatmate's wallet, but not before noticing a new, deep gouge in the table that had most definitely not been there that morning when John had been having his tea and toast, or when he returned back from his biweekly jog.
It seemed Sherlock had actually moved from the chair, and had been horsing around with some kind of scimitar, judging by the depth, length, and shape of the gouge. Sometimes John wondered why Mycroft didn't just put out an edict that no one was supposed to sell Sherlock Holmes dangerous materials, exotic weaponry included. It would've certainly saved both the crime lord and his flatmate's brother quite a few headaches.
John made a mental note to suggest it to Mycroft at the first available opportunity without Sherlock around to throw an epic sulk. Not that he'd actually seen Sherlock throw a sulk just yet (John had a feeling it was just a matter of time), but he was similar enough to Jim that it wasn't hard to imagine.
He rifled through Sherlock's wallet, looking for a suitable card. "And what happened with that case you were offered—the Jaria Diamond, wasn't it?"
"Not interested," replied the detective dismissively, snapping his book closed with a loud crack. John glanced up just in time to see Sherlock slide a large scimitar farther under his chair to hide it from view. The detective continued firmly, "I sent them a message."
Well, it seemed that Sherlock hadn't been the one horsing around with a scimitar this time. He wasn't sure whether that was better or worse than the alternative. Perhaps John should send a missive out to all the nearby organizations and syndicates to let them know that 221 Baker Street was off-limits. He'd have to discuss it with J.J. during their next phone call, and then perhaps broach the idea with Moran, since he was likely to want the same with his flat next-door. Maybe John would expand the protection to this entire block, just to make things a little more difficult for anyone looking for why two buildings on the same street were off-limits to any sort of criminal activity.
John trooped up the stairs of his flat once again, this time weighed down by several bags of shopping, quite possibly for the sole reason of spending a copious amount of Sherlock's money. It was a little bit irking though, when he finally made it to the sitting room without assistance, even though the detective had most definitely been able to hear him clambering up the stairs and deduce that he'd bought more shopping than any one sane man could carry.
He just might beat out Jim for Most Arrogant, Self-centred Prat in the Universe. Like Miss Universe, only slightly more annoying, significantly more intelligent, and more prone to cataclysmic chaos.
"Don't worry about me," he called into the flat once he made it to the sitting room. "I can manage perfectly fine on my own."
Why had he thought that living with an eccentric genius was a good idea again? Because John couldn't think of a single reason as he hauled the shopping onto the kitchen table. Turning, he frowned at Sherlock. "Is that my computer?"
The large mop of curly-hair that passed for a head didn't lift from where it was bent over the keyboard. "Mine was in the bedroom."
"What, and you just couldn't be bothered to get up?" John added Boundaries to the growing flatmate obedience training list, right after the items Hazardous Materials: Usage and Disposal and Division of Household Responsibilities. He needed to track down this mysterious Mummy figure and ask her how the hell Mycroft managed to function in society while Sherlock couldn't seem to finesse the finer points of human interaction, but could discern motives and guilty consciences at fifty paces. Just, how? How could someone know human nature so intimately, and yet be nearly completely unaware of the emotional pressure plates?
Then again, Sherlock seemed to delight in pissing people off at times.
And now that John thought of it..."My computer's password protected!" And damn near unhackable thanks to J.J..
"In a manner of speaking," the detective replied absently as he typed. "Took me less than a minute to guess yours. Not exactly Fort Knox."
"Right," John muttered under his breath, batting the lid of his laptop closed and nearly catching Sherlock's fingers. The crime lord made another mental note to talk with J.J. about doing that thing where you made a ridiculously long and convoluted password that was then put on a USB stick, and then you just plugged the stick in instead of typing it all out. That would certainly thwart future hacking attempts. Until Sherlock managed to clone the flashdrive.
Deftly, John plucked the laptop from the table and transported the computer to its rightful place next to his arm chair, which was really only a temporary solution but it was the best he could do for the moment. He collapsed in his chair, grateful to be able to relax for a moment, and picked up the mail to sort through. His moment of reprieve was short-lived as he found it to be nearly entirely bills, one of which was marked as urgent. John scrubbed at his face, muttering under his breath, "Need to get a job."
"Dull," Sherlock announced from his position at the kitchen table. While the crime lord was inclined to agree, quite vehemently actually, he didn't have to luxury of family money the way Sherlock did. Harry, admittedly, had a very lovely nest egg that John had carefully engineered with a bit of stock market tampering (which J.J. had furtively kept up since), but he wasn't going to go beg his sister for money. Mostly because John was fairly sure that Harry wouldn't have given it to him, and even if she had, she would've expected timely repayment.
Which meant if the bills were going to get paid, it would be coming from Sherlock's (or more likely Mycroft's) chequebook. "Sherlock, seeing as I'm a bit tight on cash right now—being unemployed and all—I was wondering if you might be able to cover this month's expense, and I would then repay you when I finally get a job. Does that seem..." John trailed off when the detective didn't so much as glance away from the spot on the wall he'd been staring at for the last several moments. "Sherlock, are you listening?"
"I need to go to the bank," said the detective, standing abruptly and snagging his coat as he strode towards the stairs.
John just stared at the door for a moment, before heaving himself out of the armchair with a sigh and heading after the madman. Because honestly the chances of Sherlock simply going to a bank and doing something as mundane as withdrawing money were so miniscule, you probably needed a microscope to see them.