A Dramatic Moment of Fate
Now is the dramatic moment of fate, Watson, when you hear a step upon the stair which is walking into your life, and you know not whether for good or ill."― Arthur Conan Doyle
Dr Mike Stamford stared at the open file on his desk and tried not to focus too hard on the way his eyes widened further with each sentence that he read. The soft sound of Harry Watson, his dear wife's frequently-on-and-off-the-wagon secretary, fidgeting in her seat across from him faded into the background under the sound of his own mind turning over and over like an engine failing to start. What he was looking at was the result of a culmination of years worth of scientific trial-and-error, intuitive leaps, accidental/unexpected successes, crushing failures, playing God, dumb luck, and a hint of madness.
"This," Stamford swallowed heavily, "this is fucking brilliant and terrifying."
Harry's face twisted into a combination grimace/snarl that was rather unattractive.
Mike scratched the side of his face, then rubbed his cheek with his palm for a moment before cradling his chin and leaning his elbow on the desk. "Look, I agreed to give your brother a check-up but I didn't," he cut himself off with a gusty sigh. He took another moment to collect his thoughts, then continued, "I'm not taking that back or anything. I'm just curious why you even bothered showing me all of, you know, this. Everything."
After a second of fidgeting with the cuffs of her shirt and chewing on her lower lip, Harry took a deep breath into her nose and let it out through her mouth while her shoulders slumped. She raised her red-rimmed eyes, underlined by dark purple bags hidden beneath a layer of powdered foundation to the ceiling. "I couldn't let you just go thinking he was going to be your normal, average patient. All the other doctors we've, well he's, gone to didn't know the extent of his physical condition."
"Harry, plaque psoriasis is a physical condition. Genetic engineers stripping the DNA of a fetus, then modifying it with coding from a dozen or so different animal species, manipulating it until a viable embryo is able to be implanted into a woman, and making sure it matures into a living, breathing, chimeric being is completely different."
"I know," Harry hissed, her thin-lipped mouth twisting. "I was trying to be delicate. Do you have any idea the trouble Johnny and I have run into bringing him even to a bloody hospital?" She raked a hand through her shoulder-length honey-gold curls. "The man has organs that shouldn't exist in a human body, for God's sake! Do you realize how hard that is to explain to the NH-bloody-S?"
Massaging one of his temples with two fingers to stave off the kind of headache one could only cultivate by absorbing proof that something which should have been 'science-fiction' was actually 'science-fact', Stamford let out a deep breath through his nose while pressing his lips together in a frown. "Just his damned organs? Try everything, Harry! His musculature and skeletal structures, circulatory system, every damned system in his entire body is different!"
"It all works the fucking same!" Harry shoved her seat backwards and lurched to her feet. She paced back and forth in the small space with rapid jerks of her arms and hands as she spoke. "He's still, at the core, a human being. He's not a science experiment, well he was, but he isn't anymore. Everything works the same, even if it's built a bit differently. But all that everyone seems to see when we bring him into an office is the novelty of it. They want to poke and prod him like a damned lab monkey!" Halting her frantic march, she planted her hands so firmly on the edge of the desk the pressure turned her skin white. "I just need somebody who will finally just give him a damn check-up once in a while to make sure he's healing all right and, maybe, recommend a therapist who understands that PTSD isn't just a bunch of fucking letters!"
The hand rubbing his temple in a circular pattern was re-purposed to wrap around his mouth as Stamford's eyebrows furrowed. After half-a-minute of silent but tense reflection in this position, he relaxed the pressure of his hand. "You came to me because you know I work with the Department of Defence." His voice was slightly muffled by his fingers, and there was no questioning inflection to the words. "I know my way around battle injuries and stressed soldiers. I'm flattered. Truly."
"But you don't treat genetically altered monsters? Navy sailors? Americans?"
"Harry, that's unfair." The corners of his lips drew down and he waited until her back bowed and her shoulders drooped in acquiescence. "I have an obligation to inform the Department about this. Frankly, it's unprecedented. If I take him on as a patient, and they find out I know about any of this and didn't bring it to the attention of Research and Development, I won't just lose my job, I'll most likely be eradicated."
A corner of Harry's mouth tilted upwards, "No need for dramatics."
"I really don't think I can be too dramatic about something like this," he flapped a hand at the paperwork in front of him. Holding up a hand in a bid for silence, he took another glance over the extraordinary reading material before him. Stamford removed his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes with both hands before replacing his lenses back on his nose. "Look, thanks to laws about doctor-patient confidentiality I can redact his name and a few other pertinent facts on the files. I still have to bring this sort of thing to the attention of the Department, though." He allowed a tired smile to grace his lips. "I'm not going to deny the fact that I would do this just to satisfy my curiosity alone. But, since you've been a good friend to my wife, I'm happy to at least meet him and see what he thinks about all this."
A litany of 'thank you's dripped from Harry's lips as she lurched up and around the desk to gather him in a desperate embrace. Mike sputtered a bit before patting her gently on the shoulders, his cheeks turning a blazing pink. It took a long moment for her to disentangle herself and sigh over and over in gratitude, as though a huge weight had been removed from her back, before she was calm enough to speak again.
"He's outside waiting for me in the gardens." Harry jerked a thumb over her shoulder towards the door. "If you want to meet him now?"
"Came prepared for all contingencies, did you?" Stamford grumbled, but still rose from his seat.
"No," her smirk was wicked and self-deprecating, "my license got suspended. He's driving me around today."
Mike gave her a parental, disappointed shake of the head, though his lips trembled as he tried not to smile. They stepped into the hall and traversed towards the gardens at a sedate pace; Harry's movements seemed a bit jerky, as if her mind was warning her legs not to give in to joviality and skip the whole way. When they reached the door and Mike grasped the handle to exit into the weak sunlight, Harry rested a hand on his elbow.
She was biting her lip again, and her eyes roamed his face for a second, as if she could see the answer to all her prayers there before her. "Thank you, Mike. I'll give you some time by yourselves. And try not to be too put off by his mood?"
With a shrug, Mike pushed through the door out into the soft, cool air. London's usually wet weather was tempered still from the previous day's rain, which filled the air with the thick, musty, dirty smell of damp concrete, and Mike drew it into his lungs like a smoker sucking in sweet nicotine. Some of the tension leaked out of his neck and back as he made his way into the middle of the tranquil oasis.
Many of the employees and patients sought out the quiet of the sprawling lawn and flower beds of the hidden courtyard. The sight of birds and bees and the occasional squirrel going about the business of survival amidst the riot of colourful blooms on bush, tree, and stalk seemed to fill every body that entered the garden with a serenity necessary to continue working in the chaos of a work-a-day hospital. Walking through the miniature meadow never failed to loosen tension-tight backs or roiling minds.
Seated on one of the benches made of recycled plastics that had been recently added to the garden beneath certain trees, was a hunched figure, hands clasped between bent knees, watching a squirrel chewing on something in its paws. Both man and rodent tilted their heads in short, barely noticeable twitches as they regarded each other. When the squirrel finished its morsel, it sat up higher on its hind legs, front paws against its thin, white-furred chest, and chittered softly.
An answering sound came from somewhere, and Mike's brows came together as he watched the squirrel make another noise, its tiny jaw trembling. Another sound, an exact echo, came from the same direction, though the animal's jaw made no motion. Tentatively, the squirrel weaved closer to the man, who slowly opened his hands and held out what seemed to be half of a pecan pinched between his left thumb and forefinger. Something, fear or anticipation, pulled the air taut for a long moment as man and animal sat waiting. It dissipated abruptly as the squirrel snatched the nut from the man's fingers and scampered off in that strange, gravity-defying bounce all squirrels use to move about.
A cool breeze ruffled Stamford's hair, and half a second later the man's head snapped up and towards the doctor like a hound on a scent. Mike approached him steadily, observing the way the man rubbed his palms along his thighs and slowly rose to his feet. It might have been nervousness, or perhaps embarrassment, but Stamford did not know enough about the man as a person to form a concrete conclusion. They stopped on the path about 3 feet apart, and cast an examining glance over one another.
Doctor John H Watson shared his sister's thin-lipped mouth and ears, and his eyes held a similar shape, but that was about where the resemblance stopped. With a square shaped face, strongly jawed, John was the rugged pit bull terrier to Harry's primped poodle. He might have been a few inches taller than Harry's 5'3" of height, but something in the way he carried himself made him seem taller than his average stature. Broad, sturdy shoulders set in military straightness were all that could be noted about his frame besides the fact that his torso was probably as square as his face.
A baggy, pale grey, hooded sweatshirt with a fouled anchor in deep navy blue embroidered over the chest hid the lines of his actual form, and oversized jeans continued the deception. Years of burning sunshine reflected off desert sand had bleached his hair to ash-blond flecked with steel-grey, and weathered his skin to the consistency and hue of bourbon-tinted lambskin.
He might have had a face as expressive as Harry's, but military training gave him the control she lacked. Only his eyes, quietly ferocious as a snow leopard, with the guarded flatness of a slate stone, gave any hint that there might still be fiery purpose buried somewhere inside his weary, wary stance.
"Doctor Mike Stamford," Mike extended his right hand firmly, "pleasure to meet you, Doctor Watson."
The muscle in John's jaw ticked a moment, and his eyebrows twitched towards each other as he looked at the hand extended towards him in friendship. He slipped his right hand out of the front pocket of his hoodie and grasped the hand stretched towards him in a firm, but not testing, grip. He did not speak, but his tongue did briefly wet his lower lip as he looked back up into Mike's eyes and nodded.
"I don't know if she told you, but Harry gave me your whole file." Stamford held up the manilla folder he'd just mentioned. There was a slight widening in John's eyes at the sight. Mike thought he heard the sound of a distant rumble of thunder as he continued speaking. "I work for the Department of Defence here, and I explained to her that if you did, in fact, consent to being my patient I would be required to hand over the basic scientific parts of your file to our R and D division. I can redact a lot of the personal information by citing doctor-patient confidentiality, but I cannot let the rest of this get swept into obscurity. Not if I want to keep my job. My employers would probably charge me with treason or something if I hid it and they found out about it." The grumbling, thunder-like sound seemed to be getting louder, and Mike noticed John's jaw clenching and unclenching. "Is that," he swallowed loudly, "are you growling?"
The sound cut off abruptly, and Stamford's eyes widened. John licked his lips and let out a gusty breath as he squeezed his eyes shut. After a taut silence, Watson chewed on his lower lip as his brows came sheepishly together. In a voice that rasped slightly he simply offered, "Sorry."
"It's fine I just," Mike rubbed the back of his head with the hand not holding the folder, "just wasn't sure I was actually hearing that or not."
John rubbed the line of his bottom lip with the edge of his left pointer finger, then ran his left hand through his wind-messed, short cropped hair. His eyes darted back and forth along the skyline visible above the building, "I don't always realize I'm doing it."
"Well, anyway," Mike gave the man a jovial grin; no harm done. "I told Harry that I'd only take you on as a patient and do all that if you consented to it. If you don't, then you can go ahead and take this back and go on your merry way."
Stamford held out the folder as he had held out his hand, and John let the other end of it sit in his palm for a moment before releasing it again. Mike gave him another smile, which he was pleased to find reservedly returned. "Shall we go ahead and set up an appointment for tomorrow, then?"
"If you don't mind." Cordial as a blue-blood, John's voice, when it seemed to be working properly, was smooth as glass and held the barest hint of an American accent. "Harry has me running errands with her all day today, so a break tomorrow would be most welcome." Each word was spoken with deliberate enunciation, whether that was by design to hide his accent or due to some lingering trauma from a brain injury, Mike was unsure.
"I'll bet. I'll see you in tomorrow around, say, eleven?"
They turned and slowly made their way back towards the hospital door, and Mike took silent note of an awkward limp that seemed to plague John when he walked. There was no sign of it while he stood at near-attention before the nurse's desk as they solidified his appointment. It appeared again when Harry popped out of the ladies room and dragged him behind her out the door.
Once safely ensconced back in his office, Mike flipped open his desk drawer and lifted out his datalet. He held the device in his hands, feeling the weight of it, before setting it aside. Rising again, he lifted John's file and made his way out to the copy machine, where he duplicated the files once and snatched up another manilla folder to hold them. Back in the confines of his office, he took a large marker and dutifully blacked out as much of the personal information he could. Using his datalet he scanned the redacted file and sent it via email to the R&D Division of the Department of Defence for the Afro-Europe Coalition.
He placed the unmarked file into his personal briefcase, and slid the redacted copy into his patient files. The datalet beside him flashed at the corner, indicating the arrival of a return email. Reading the words of combined pleasure and disbelief, Stamford chewed on his lower lip and wondered what the future could possibly bring.
If Stamford had known several months ago what the future would bring, he would have slapped himself on the shoulder and taken himself out for a celebratory drink. John Watson appeared reserved on the surface, but beneath the layer of time needed to reach an understanding of the man, Watson was a friendly, engaging individual with a sarcastic wit and a backlog of frankly ridiculous war stories which he often told in such a straightforward but descriptive manner held his audience captive. Stamford had never become such a close friend with someone in such a short time.
By two months into their acquaintance, John was a gracious fourth person in Mike's bi-weekly poker nights with the other two teaching doctors at the hospital. Watson was neither a sore loser, nor an ungenerous winner. He was also always willing to buy a round on any pub nights that randomly managed to happen when the stars aligned just right for 'the boys' to find themselves out early from work with a whole night ahead of them.
It was on just one of those pub nights that Mike got his first glimpse of the steel beneath John's almost bucolic amiability.
They were just arriving at a newly relaunched pub, trying to switch up their routine a bit. John had just pulled up in his perpetually clean car, a midnight blue Suzuki, and joined Mike and his two best teaching cohorts on the pavement when a gunshot rang out through the air. The world seemed to stop, every person in earshot of the sound stalling mid-movement and staring in the direction they thought it was coming from.
Everything snapped back into motion as another shot rang out, and a man dashed out of the nearby alley as if his feet were on fire. Two Provosts, already on the chase, followed in his frantic footsteps; hunting hounds on the trail of a fox. The criminal turned and fired again, and one of the Provosts lurched backwards and fell. Passers-by on the pavement, onlookers, and a few pub patrons shouted or screamed, speaking a mile a minute into their blue-tooth headsets as they tried to get through to the emergency lines. All of that Mike might have noticed, if he hadn't been staring in dumbfounded awe at John Watson.
The man Stamford watched sprint to the downed officer, and crouch beside him, was Doctor John Watson, Combat Medic. In a sharp, even voice laced with the very essence of higher-rank, John ordered the officer's still-mobile partner to continue the chase. There wasn't even a moment of hesitation in response to that order, and the uninjured officer snapped back into motion, darting away as he shouted into his radio for backup.
Mike stumbled quickly forward as John pressed his hand hard against the injured officer's wound. One of their drinking companions, Dr Stephen Marsh, also joined him beside the men on the ground. John glanced up at them in the middle of gently assuring the officer that he would be fine. The officer, who's last name was apparently Morales according to John, was practically choking but seemed alert enough.
"What is it?" Dr Marsh's voice wavered into the high-pitch territory of borderline panic. "Punctured lung? Severed artery?"
"Pneumothorax, just a sucking chest wound," Dr Watson stated in the same sort of tone one might have answered the question 'what are we having for dinner?'. "Mike, I need you to take the keys out of my pocket, open the hood of my car, and get me the tube for the wiper fluid. Stephen, you're going to go inside and get me a bottle of straight whiskey, the more alcoholic the better, and a bottle of water."
When they hesitated, Dr Watson glared up at them through navy-dark eyes and spat, "Now."
Stamford wasn't sure what was in that voice, but he immediately dropped to a knee and shoved his hand into John's front jacket pocket, and Stephen bolted into the pub as if hyenas were on his heels. It was a real trick, that voice, Mike smirked to himself as he opened the bonnet of John's car and extracted the requested tube. Even if he hadn't been used to taking orders from a superior doctor in his university days, he still would have obeyed the order without question.
They might have done it a thousand times; Stephen returned with both the whiskey and the water bottle, just as Mike arrived with the plastic tubing. The nod of acknowledgement John bestowed on them was encouraging, even if his face was still set in stony calm. "Mike, I want you to pour the whiskey over and through the tube, and Stephen I need you to pour out some of the water in that bottle until it's half full."
Both men obeyed, and Mike marvelled that John was able to keep his voice so even with all the adrenaline pumping through his veins, and even though his American accent had thickened, Watson still spoke uniformly enough to be understood. Morales was beginning to struggle even harder to breathe, and John bent closer to him, keeping the officer's eyes fixed in a powerful stare. Mike handed the tube over John's right shoulder, watching as it trembled in the air. Stephen held out the half-empty bottle, which shook like a leaf in a wind storm.
Mountain-solid, Watson reached for one end of the tube and jammed it into the hole in Morales's chest. The officer moaned in pain, and a soft hissing sound escaped from the hose. "Sorry about that," John offered the officer, then looked up at Mike. "Put the other end of the tube into the water in the bottle."
Bubbles flowed out of the tube as soon as it was plunged beneath the water's surface. Stephen stared at the bottle as if it were a magic trick, just as the flashing lights and siren of an ambulance shrieked around a corner. Morales took a semi-deep breath without coughing. Marsh's mouth opened as his eyes widened in awestruck surprise, "It's a God-damn water seal."
"Do what you can with what you've got," John seemed to be quoting something, though who or what Mike was unsure. He took the bottle out of Stephen's quaking hand and gestured to the pavement behind them with a wave of his hand. "You two might wanna get out of the way of the ambulance. I'm gonna ride along. Make sure you lock up my car, okay?"
A panda car slid to a stop a half second before the ambulance did, and a grey-haired Provost with the shoulder patches of a Marshal hopped out to land heavily on his knees beside John. The paramedics slid out of the back of their rig, equipment in hand, and joined them as well. John sat back to give them room to work, and his voice cut through the sirens and chaos like a hot saw through ice.
"Tension pneumothorax due to trauma from a bullet fired from a small-caliber weapon. Handgun, probably a Sig, didn't seem heavy enough to be a Desert Eagle. I have a makeshift water seal in place but I can already see blood draining into the bottle. Let's move, his BP is at least 160 over 90 and climbing."
Between the Marshal, John, and the two EMTs, they hoisted Provost Morales up on a back board, then jogged him to the ambulance and pushed him onto the stretcher inside. John hopped in with the ambulance crew and Mike watched him disappear behind the doors as they closed. The Marshal slammed a fist against the back of the rig, and it sped off with the siren echoing off the walls. With a glance down to the keys in his hand, Mike gave a shake of his head and bolted for John's car. There was no way he was going to miss the other end of this incident.
John's car was awkward to drive, with the wheel being on the left side like all American cars, but Mike managed not to crash following the ambulance. He even managed to park the car straight in a spot that might have opened through kismet it was so convenient. Stamford jumped out, barely remembered to lock the doors over his shoulder, and rushed into the accident and emergency room just in time to see John disappear behind the doors of an operating room. The way the hospital workers seemed to be tripping over themselves to help made a grim smile of appreciation appear on Mike's face.
Half-an-hour of waiting later, Mike was sipping a hot cup of coffee from the cafeteria and chatting with the ladies at the nurses' station when the grey-haired Provost Marshal came barrelling into the waiting room. He was flanked by Officer Morales' partner, holding a battered looking prisoner, who was shoved ungracefully into a chair. As the Marshal approached the station, a grim expression on his tired, aged face, Stamford readied himself to be as useful as possible to help keep things running smooth.
"There was an officer," the Marshal began, but the round-faced nurse manning the sign-in roster cut him off with a smile.
"He's still in surgery, Marshal, but I believe he should make a full recovery." Her voice was sugar-sweet, and her smile just as kind. "Luckily there was a doctor already on scene."
"Bugger luck," the Marshal grunted, leaning heavily on the counter, "it was a bloody miracle."
Mike moved closer to him and shook his head, "Nothing more than being in the right place at the right time, sir." He held out his hand to the Provost superior and beamed a smile. "I'm Doctor Mike Stamford, Marshal. The man who saved your officer is a patient and friend of mine, a Doctor John Watson."
"Provost Marshal Greg Lestrade, at your service, Doctor," the Marshal pumped their hands twice in a firm shake. "Is he still about, your friend?"
"He's in the OR with your man," the nurse piped up from her seat while pushing two packets of paperwork over the edge of the counter. "I assume you'd like us to take a look at your prisoner too, sir?"
"Yes, thank you," Lestrade nodded and dragged the folders into his hands. "I'll keep my officer posted with him, but if you could call up some security, that would be helpful as well."
"Already on their way, sir."
Greg gave her an exhausted smile of gratitude, and then beckoned for Mike to follow him over to where his officer was standing guard over their mulishly silent prisoner. Judging by the heavy chewing motion of the criminal's jaw, he was less than impressed with his situation, and if it weren't for his hands being cuffed behind his back he would probably have taken off ages ago.
"It's amazing to me," Greg mumbled as he dropped into a chair and propped open a file on his knee, "how we can have all this fantastic technology and I still have to fill out bloody paperwork."
Mike chuckled softly, "The hypocrisy of the medical field – spend more money updating your phone and intercom system than you do on reporting software. Even my patient files are on paper."
"Criminals are less likely these days to even consider paperwork, Doctor," The other officer's deep bass tones carried over the din of the waiting room as he glanced over his shoulder at Stamford. "Most are accomplished hackers and would find breaking into your computer much easier than breaking into your office. Your less-advanced filing system is actually more secure in this day an age than you think."
"Cheers for making me feel like my carpal tunnel might actually be worth it, Officer." Mike smirked and lifted his coffee cup in a mock toast.
The barest twitch of the man's lips was about as much a show of appreciation as Mike was going to get. He turned his dark eyes back to the prisoner, "Take Mr Palenczek here for an example. He's a nurse aide for a very accomplished podiatrist in Notting Hill. His employer has all of his files backed up in a virtual database - accessible to anyone with a password. Mister Palenczek is a computer enthusiast, and it only took him three tries to worm his way into the account. If Dr Svenson had physical files instead of just digitized ones, Mister Palenczek wouldn't have been able to access them remotely, and would have been caught by any of the cameras located in and around the building. His little scheme of murder and mayhem wouldn't have even started." The officer looked pleased with himself and said to Lestrade, "See? Holmes isn't the only one who can do it."
Palenczek, a rat-faced individual with watery, pale blue eyes and greasy looking blond hair moved as if to stand up, but the burly officer standing watch over him just glared down at him with his broad arms crossed over his wide chest. The glare on this officer's face was a mixture of threat and hatred, not surprising considering Palenczek had shot his partner. Besides, the Provost had at least half a foot of height on him; defiance was all well and good, but it would do nothing but hurt his chances in the end.
Lestrade groaned in exasperation at the display, but was cut off by the sound of someone nearby clearing their throat.
John Watson stood a bit to the side of their group, his white zip-up hoodie and light blue jeans spattered and painted with blood. In one hand he held a blue rubber glove with the wrist end tied off. "I'm looking for the officer in charge?"
Stamford stepped a bit forward and gave John the kind of breathless smile worthy of greeting a war-hero who'd just shown his skills were more than an idle embellishment to a CV. "John, this is Provost Marshal Lestrade, he's the man in charge. Marshal Lestrade this is Doctor John Watson."
Lestrade rose to his feet, taking John's offered hand in both of his own and shaking it gratefully, "Thank you for what you did for Morales. Carlos is a great officer."
"It was nothing. Just doing my duty as a physician." John did not seem flustered by the praise, but his cheeks did turn a slightly darker shade of his normal colouration. He held out the glove in his hand, "The bullet is in here. I didn't have anything else to put it in."
The Provost, the criminal, and Lestrade shared a surprised glance, and the Marshal gladly took custody of the bullet by sliding the glove into a plastic evidence bag he retrieved from his coat pocket. "Thank you, Doctor. You didn't have to do that, but it's definitely going to be helpful."
John slid his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and shrugged while tapping the toe of his bad leg behind him.
Lestrade blurted out, "That was some quick thinking you did out there, Doctor. Don't think I've ever seen anything like it."
Watson's head tilted a bit to the side, his slate eyes dancing between Lestrade's and Mike's faces. "Like I said, just doing my duty. You can be assured Provost Officer Morales will make a full recovery. The bullet missed hitting anything vital so he should be back on his feet in no time."
"Again, my thanks to you," Lestrade held out his hand again, and John gave it a firm shake.
A small chill rose up Mike's back. He turned as the doors of the A&E hissed loudly open as a voice he would recognize anywhere barked out, "Well he wouldn't have gotten sodding shot if you had done your triple-damned job and subdued the bloody idiot when I told you too!"
Every eye in the room turned to take in the sight of a very livid tall man, his slim back ramrod straight beneath a coat that had flared dramatically with his sharp turn towards the subject of his ire. Standing just barely outside the door was a belligerent looking, unnaturally tanned, largely muscled man dressed like a villain's bodyguard from a bad television serial. A large, meaty, brass-knuckled fist rose up to point a finger into the slightly taller, thinner man's face. Mike stared, slightly wide-eyed, at the unfolding situation and beside him Marshal Lestrade groaned like an unwilling child being told it was time to go to the dentist.
"You listen to me you pompous arse," the tanned man grumbled, "my job is to make sure your scrawny neck don't get snapped while you frolic 'round the bloody city. Chasin' down crim'nal's isn't part of that description!"
Lestrade hid his face behind one of the packets of paperwork in his hands. Mike took a slow step back to put the Marshal between himself and the argument. John - one pale eyebrow raised in what might have been either amusement or intrigue - cocked his head to one side like a curious bird.
"He pulled the gun on me first, you illiterate imbecile! I told you he had the damned weapon before he even showed it! You should have grabbed for the gun, not rugby tackled the breath out of me!"
As the bodyguard began to shout back a retort that was little more than a string of repetitive insults, John leaned a little closer to Lestrade and asked in a soft voice, "Are you going to do something about this?"
"Not really," was Lestrade's exasperated reply, which was nearly lost beneath the tall man's scathing riposte to his bodyguard's profanity. "It's nearly impossible to stop Holmes when he gets going like this."
The shouting match degraded into something more akin to school-yard name-calling, and Mike could hear beneath it the rustling of frightened witnesses trying to decided whether to flee, and nurses trying to unobtrusively summon security. John shifted forward, and Stamford could just barely make out the slow rumble of John growling under his breath. Lestrade set his jaw and glanced around the room, gauging how much damage he could do by shouting to defuse the situation.
The decision about what to do to stop the slowly escalating, unfriendly debate was made by John. Watson darted forward, snagged both arguing men by their elbows, and gave them just enough of a tug to get them to step out of each other's personal space. Placing his short, stocky body directly between the two, John held them both at arms length and snarled in clipped, crisp consonants, "That's enough out of both of you! This is a hospital for God's sake, not Parliament!"
Silence descended so quickly, Mike fancied he could hear both men's teeth click as their mouths snapped shut. The taller man looked down at John as if surprised to see him there, and the broad bodyguard stared down at the shorter doctor with a poisonous glare. Despite the size of the men he had forced apart, John looked as immovable as granite, and as disappointed as a school teacher.
"You," John's eyes darted to the bodyguard, "are going to go outside and take some deep breaths of fresh air to cool down." As the broad man opened his mouth to argue, John turned his eyes to the taller man and cut off any chance of disagreement by saying, "And you are going to go sit down in one of those chairs by the Provost Marshal. I assume you're here to speak with him, are you not?"
This time the tall man opened his mouth, but before he could utter a sound, John went from solid rock to 5'7" of pure Military Officer, turning back to the bodyguard with a sharp growl and authoritatively barking,"Why are you still here?"
Without further delay, the bodyguard backed up a few steps, eyes wary, and did as he was told, walking back out the sliding doors and onto the pavement. Watson turned back to the taller man sans snarl and simply indicated the direction of the Provost Marshal with a hand gesture. A long moment followed in which the tall man's pale eyes intensely studied the short man before him, then one of his dark brows rose as if intrigued.
"Afghanistan or Iraq?"
"Oh, bugger," Lestrade groaned, sounding completely exhausted and utterly finished with life in general.
"I'm sorry, what?" John's head cocked to the side curiously.
"It's a simple question, really, where did you serve – Afghanistan, or Iraq?"
Leaning his head back just slightly, in order to better give his tall interrogator a once-over, John responded, "Afghanistan. How did you know?"
"Well, everything about you fairly screams military – the haircut, the way you hold yourself, the way you bark an order and expect it to be followed." As he spoke, the tall man pivoted gracefully and strode over to where Lestrade seemed to be trying unsuccessfully to beat his own brains out with a handful of insurance paperwork. "Then there are your tan lines – no tan above the wrist or below the collar means you've been abroad but not sunbathing. Also, let's not forget the fact that your clothing is covered in blood but you seem more than able to completely ignore it. Your accent? American, though you're doing a wonderful job hiding it. So, American, military, recently returned from deployment. Where has there been any sign of military action? Afghanistan or Iraq."
The look John cast Mike's way was equal parts wary and bewildered. Stamford only managed to shrug before Lestrade grunted and grumbled, "Sherlock, do me a favour and shut up before I have to keep someone from bludgeoning you to death? Me, for example?"
Mr Holmes gave the Marshal a frown paired with a dismissive wave of one pale, large hand. "Don't be ridiculous, Lestrade. By the by, why do you have our victim's brother in custody?"
This statement was greeted with a number of exclamations, two of incredulity, one of surprise, an 'I bloody told you', and an odd inquisitive noise that made everyone give Dr Watson strange look. John licked his lips and looked mildly apologetic. Holmes narrowed his verdigris eyes at Watson but asked no questions.
"Mr Palenczek here is guilty of little more than a bit of hacking to create false prescriptions to feed his and his flatmate's opiate habits. Your killer, the same man who attacked Provost Morales, is Mr Palenczek's flatmate, who at this very moment is probably skipping town. If you managed to recover the bullet, which I doubt, it would have turned up in the system matching the ones used in the other murders in the area, and a home invasion incident wherein the gun that was used to wound an officer of the law was originally used to protect Mr Palenczek's flat from a burglar, and it is registered to his flatmate, ex-Army Private Thomas Holten."
Sherlock looked smug at the Provost and Marshal's confused glances at one another. "Mr Holten was returning to the flat and, when he saw you dragging out Mr Palenczek, bolted the same moment that our hacker here did. I stopped Mr Holten at the end of the alley. Mr Palenczek ran passed us in his escape, and Mr Holten opened fire on us just as Officers Morales and Masterson came down the alleyway. They took off after Holten, and Brutus and I took off after Palenczek after, I got that oaf off of me, of course."
"Wait, Brutus?" Lestrade asked.
Holmes didn't even pause to answer, "Both Mr Palenczek and Mr Holten have a friend in common, and they both headed to the apartment of a Mr Stephan Bridger, within whose flat Officer Morales caught up with Mr Palenczek, but not Mr Holten who fled through the flat and out the back into the depths of London. I would have gone after him myself, but neither Brutus nor Officer Masterson here would hear of it. I traced Mr Holten as far through the back alleys as I could until Brutus made a nuisance of himself by shouting and calling attention to me, thus allowing Mr Holten to escape. Again."
Lestrade tried asking again, "Seriously though, who's Brutus?"
"My bodyguard," Mr Holmes' expression implied he could not believe just how stupid Mr Lestrade was being in his inability to understand such a simple thing as a name.
The Marshal looked genuinely puzzled, as did Officer Masterson. Mike felt a look of confusion settle on his face as well, and dared to ask in a quiet, subdued voice, "I thought his name was Bob?"
Holmes looked momentarily unsettled, "Is it?"
"Actually it's Bart," a deep, gruff voice called attention to itself, and the little group turned their eyes to the bodyguard, who had apparently calmed enough to return inside the hospital. He pointed at Holmes again and said, "And by the way, I bloody quit. Find your own way back to your shit flat, you useless freak."
With those words, the large man turned and strutted indignantly out of the hospital again. Holmes shrugged, and turned to Lestrade with a strangely unsettling smile on his face. The Provost Marshal frowned.
"Not a bloody chance in hell, Sherlock." A half-second later, a superior smirk blossomed on the Marshal's face. "By the by, I just so happen to have that bullet, thanks to the good doctor, of course."When Lestrade indicated John with a nod of his head, Sherlock raised a very expressive eyebrow and locked his observant eyes on the smaller man. John answered his silent question with an equally silent raise of his own brow and of his chin. The stand-off might have continued, but Lestrade dangled the bag holding the gloved bullet in front of Holmes' face, distracting him from what might have been a litany of unnecessarily invasive deductions.
Sherlock held the bag up to the light, studying the dark blob within the confines of dual layers of plastic as if it might hold the secret to the universe. He handed it back to Lestrade with a sigh, and demanded, "Give me your datalet, Lestrade."
"No," the Marshal replied in an almost bored tone. Any further commands were nullified as a nurse came out to collect the prisoner and both officers and lead them into a secluded room.
Holmes turned to Mike with that same, unsettling smile. Doctor Stamford shook his head, holding up his hands in a sort of surrender, "Sorry, Sherlock, it's in my car, which is back at the pub."
Both Sherlock and Mike glanced over at Doctor Watson, who held out a battered looking datalet in Sherlock's direction. Out of the corner of his eye, Mike could see Holmes' face go blank. It looked surprised, in an abstract way, as if Sherlock had no idea how to react.
Holmes blinked twice, then took the offered device with a softly spoken, "Thank you."
John gave him a simple nod, and turned to give Mike one of the oddly expressive eyebrow raises the American was capable of – when he bothered showing expressions. Mike felt another chill creep up his spine as, in his peripheral vision, he noticed Sherlock gave the datalet in his hand a quick visual scan. Holmes returned the gadget to its rightful owner by shoving it back into John's hands and simply walking off in the same direction that Lestrade and the prisoner had been led.
No parting shot, no after-the-fact deductions, nothing but a silent walk off through the hospital corridor. The chill that had been running up Mike Stamford's spine was now bouncing from his head to his feet as he looked at John Watson staring after Sherlock Holmes, with a furrowed brow drawn down over confused eyes. "What did he do?"
John glanced back at him, frowning, "It's just a text to a number. It says 'Oaf quit. Stranded at Bart's. Send car. Dash SH'. There's no response. Who was that, by the way?"
"That was Sherlock Holmes," Mike felt a peculiar grin tug on his features as an idea coalesced in his mind. "John, I have a proposal for you, if you'll drive me back to the pub?"