As the pale sun rose in the flat midsummer sky, an unidentified woman fought for her life on the second floor of Unified Hospital.
"BP is 90 over 60 and dropping," Dr. Michelle Dreiser reported hurriedly as Dr. Geoffrey Schaeffer carefully removed the fresh dressing covering the patient's incision and examined her belly.
"Her abdomen is getting rigid," he said.
Michelle swore. "She's still bleeding internally."
"We've got to open her up again." Schaeffer turned to his head nurse. "Any luck finding out who she is or her next of kin?"
"Nothing so far," Adile Bahar replied.
The patient hadn't regained consciousness since a local teen had found her discarded on Beckham Road and rushed her to the small ER the evening before. Without ID or even shoes on her, the woman with the long chestnut-brown hair was listed as "Jane Doe." Having decided she wasn't well enough to transport to a larger facility, Schaeffer and his team had immediately performed emergency surgery. The new morning brought with it signs that injuries remained.
"Well, there's nothing for it then. Adile, notify the fourth floor we're on our way up. And page Freddie."
"He's catching a few in the on-call room," Michelle said as she rushed out. "I'll get him."
As he finished scrubbing, Schaeffer fought the trademark anger he always felt when he had to mend and heal the result of inhuman cruelty. He had chosen to spend the few years remaining before retirement at Unified because it was in a quiet corner of the world where the worst he might see was a broken bone or appendicitis. He hadn't expected to ever treat injuries inflicted with a crowbar and steel-toed boots. Not again. Not here.
"You know crimes against women always make me angry," he said in response to Adile's questioning eyes. She nodded and helped him on with his sterile gloves.
"Dr. Schaeffer?" Tired but resolute, Michelle waited for her mentor at the door to the operating theater. Freddie Holcomb, on the other hand, was already prepped and inside, having awoken like a jack-in-the-box.
Determined not to lose another young woman to senseless violence, Schaeffer pressed his lips into a thin line. "Let's go."
"I know Scotland Yard is relatively incompetent, but shouldn't you at least try to solve the crime before calling me?"
Sally Donovan snapped her notebook shut and stared balefully at the approaching detective. Sherlock Holmes and his ever-present companion John Watson ducked under the crime scene tape that cordoned off the steps leading to Legacy Office Complex, an auspicious-sounding name for a nondescript building in a part of London no one loved.
"If I had my way, we would never call you," she said sharply.
"If you never called me, how would any of this city's murders ever get solved?" Sherlock smirked as he breezed by.
"Must you be such an arse?" John said.
"Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Two maybe three more uninterrupted hours and I could have wrapped up that tedious murder investigation—it was the sister who did it, by the way—and turned my attention to the Blackwell analysis. But the police need to be babysat."
"Why did you take a security case anyway?"
"Security analysis, John, security analysis. I will learn firsthand about the most advanced radio frequency identification systems in the world today."
"Whatever," John muttered, wiping the sleep from his eyes.
The corner of Sherlock's mouth twitched. "Just because Susan left you doesn't mean you have to be so disagreeable."
John practically shouted. "For the last time, my girlfriend's name is not Susan or Shannon or Sheryl. It's Sarah—Sarah Louise Mary Morsten. And she didn't leave me. We agreed she should take the fellowship, and we're still very much together."
"She's in Auckland for a year. I may be new to relationships, but I know being that far away isn't going to work out well."
At the third door on the left, Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade waited impatiently. "If you two are done squabbling for the morning, we're in here."
Dull sunshine streaming through the vertical blinds threw a strange pattern across the large mahogany desk. Seated behind it was a balding, middle-aged black man wearing thick glasses and discount-store clothing. There was nothing remarkable about him except for a crimson stain flowering across his chest.
Sherlock dove in. "The victim was unmarried, a heavy smoker, and a gambler. He was killed at the most two hours ago. Because there is a charging cord on the floor but no laptop, we can conclude the murderer must have taken it. Is the victim's camera gone as well?"
"We did find an empty digital camera case on the floor," Lestrade said. "How did you know?"
"The building directory lists August Investigations in this office. A P.I. normally has a camera. Whatever he was working on, someone didn't want there to be any trace of it remaining. From the looks of it, the paper file will be missing, too." Sherlock crouched to survey the contents spilling from the overturned filing cabinet.
"Probably a straying husband who didn't want his wife to have snaps of his girlfriend presented at their divorce," John speculated.
Sherlock stood abruptly to face the Detective Inspector. "Your text said I have a personal connection to this murder, yet I don't know this man."
"Maybe not, but you've heard of him. He opened this lovely office four months ago after he was forced to close his last agency because we're investigating it. It was Milverton and Associates."
Sherlock expression morphed into one of triumphant gloating. "This is Charles Augustus Milverton? I am surprised it took someone this long to kill him."
"Do you see the bleeder?" Michelle asked.
"Not yet." Schaeffer's voice was tense. "Suction."
"There it is!" Freddie exclaimed.
"Good work. And here is a second one," Schaeffer said as a monitor alarm sounded.
"BP is dropping. Wrap it up," said the anesthesiologist.
Schaeffer remained calm. "Dreiser, tie that one off. I'll take this one. Make quick work of it, OK?"
"Charles Augustus Milverton was a predator," Sherlock told John. "He operated under the auspices of being a private detective, but he nosed out every unsavory detail on whomever he was investigating as well as his client. If he dug something up on either one of them, he would use it to his advantage."
"Quite so," Sherlock replied, staring at the entry wound. "A small-caliber weapon."
Rubbing his forehead, John wished they had stopped for a coffee on the way over. "Why didn't his victims report Milverton to the police?"
"Because most of Charlie's clientele are, as they say, on the wrong side of the law," Lestrade said. "Sure, he occasionally came by an honest customer, but Lord help them if they had skeletons in their closets. He had a long list of enemies, didn't he?"
"So whoever took his laptop and camera could have been a client Milverton was blackmailing or could have been someone he was investigating," John mused.
"Lestrade, why am I here?" Sherlock huffed. "Surely telling me this lowlife was dead, while good news, didn't require me personally visiting the crime scene."
Lestrade hesitated for a moment. "I had a few dealings with Charlie over the years. He was a smart one. I knew he wouldn't keep just digital or even paper files. He would have more insurance than that. So we searched for it." The cop walked over to a uniformed officer who held a stack of manila envelopes. "We found these in a compartment under the desk."
The envelope he handed Sherlock was marked with a large "H" in thick ink. It was of ordinary quality and could have been purchased at any stationery store. On the lip was a series of numbers and letters, obviously a code Milverton had devised for his own purposes. Slowly Sherlock pulled out a grainy 8 x 10 picture. It was out of focus and taken from a distance, but it clearly was of him.
The detective raised his eyebrows. "I appear to be hailing a cab outside St. Bart's."
"It's hard to tell when it was taken," Lestrade said. "Of course, if you ever wore anything besides that coat . . ."
Sherlock ignored John's poorly suppressed snort of laughter and handed the photograph back. "I'm not worried about this."
"That's not why I called you," Lestrade said gravely. "It concerns a mutual friend of ours."
The policeman presented Sherlock with a second envelope, identical to the first, right down to the black "H." Sherlock held it for a moment, noting it was heavier and the code was different. Sliding out several pictures, the blood drained from his already pale face as he stared at one, then another, then another.
Sherlock dropped the photos on the desk and quickly pulled out his mobile.
"What is it?" Leaning to see the pictures better, the doctor gasped when he recognized the lovely doe-eyed woman staring up at him.
Molly arriving at the hospital. Molly leaving 221 B Baker Street. Molly grocery shopping. Molly closing the curtains in her bedroom. Sherlock and Molly walking side-by-side down the street. Sherlock and Molly standing close to one another outside Angelo's. But what struck John about the last picture was the way Sherlock tentatively cradled one of her fingers in his. It was the most public statement the consulting detective had made about his relationship with Molly, yet it spoke volumes.
"Answer!" Sherlock growled into his mobile as the Regulator clock on the wall ticked away the seconds.
"I don't understand," Lestrade said to John. "Molly's just his friend, isn't she?"
Finally, a wave of relief washed over Sherlock that everyone in the room also felt. "Molly!" he cried.
The smile that had softened his features disappeared as quickly as it came. Sherlock let his mobile slide out of his grasp and ran from the room.
"What is it?" Lestrade shouted, chasing after him.
John snatched up the phone to hear Mike Stamford sputtering, "Sherlock? Are you there?"
"Mike?" John ran down the hall. "It's John Watson. Why do you have Molly's mobile?"
"I was out yesterday. First thing this morning I have a message from Kramer saying Molly didn't come in yesterday. But I came down here and her purse and phone are in her desk." Mike paused. "John, what's going on? Where's Molly?"