"I will be greatly relieved when this exhibit is over and we return to Cornwall."
"I agree, my Lady. I hope the visit by Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes didn't upset you."
"I'm fine, though you know how much I hate to deal with people. But I suppose we can never escape unpleasantness, in London or even in our little town."
"Anna left a message for you with the front desk and the clerk stupidly had it sent up to my attention. Anna meant well by calling, but I shouldn't be bothered with these details."
"Yes, Lady Eva. I'll speak to her. What was Anna's message?"
"Apparently a woman was found on the road leading from Jackson Cottage beaten senseless. Anna heard about it from gossipy neighbors at the market and felt that you as property manager needed to know right away. Stevan, are you all right? You look pale."
"I'm just surprised. That is upsetting news, Lady Eva. I feel I need to go back to the estate early and make sure Jackson Cottage wasn't somehow involved."
"Why would it have been involved?"
"It's been empty this month. Someone might have broken in."
"Do you really think it's necessary for you to personally check it? We could ask the police to drive by."
"My Lady, I won't be able to rest until I make sure everything is under control."
There were no calls to Mummy this time to arrange tea and an interview. Sherlock stormed into Lady Eva's suite like an avenging angel with John by his side.
"Where is he?" the detective demanded of the old woman sitting pristinely on the delicate sofa.
"Sherlock Holmes. You are as unpleasant as I remember," Lady Eva said angrily. "What right do you have to come into my rooms like this?"
"Where is your property manager?" he asked.
Squaring her shoulders, Lady Eva looked at the pair disdainfully. "That is none of your business. Now get out or I will be forced to call security."
Pulling at his friend's arm, John pointed to a black laptop on the end table.
"Is this his laptop?" Sherlock asked as he quickly opened it.
Lady Eva shrugged. "I suppose so. I have no use for such things. He only got it recently."
"Why does someone who lives cut off from society with no Internet need a laptop?" John whispered.
"Notice the initials that have been added below the space bar. CAM. Charles Augustus Milverton. We've got him, John." Sherlock quickly closed the computer and slid it under his arm.
"Lady Eva, I'm sorry we've burst in like this, but we have to know where Stevan is. A woman's life may be on the line." John's kind voice held a firm note.
The elderly woman clearly wasn't accustomed to being addressed in this way. "Dr. Watson, Stevan has nothing to do with anything unsavory."
"Is that so? I find rape very unsavory!" Sherlock shouted.
"Sherlock, wait," John cautioned him, noting Lady Eva's paleness and uneven respirations.
"Get out of my suite!" she said.
"Not only that, but he also kidnapped my pathologist. Tell me now where he is," Sherlock persisted.
"He wouldn't . . . he couldn't . . ." Lady Eva panted.
"Where is he?" Sherlock shouted.
"Cornwall!" she replied, clutching at her chest.
John was at her side in a moment. After taking the woman's pulse, he quickly called the front desk. "Lady Eva Blackwell needs medical attention in her suite. Now."
The doctor turned his attention to his patient. "Lady Eva, everything is going to be all right. I need you to calm down."
"Make . . . him . . . leave," she whispered.
"Sherlock, it might be best if you—" John scanned the room for his best friend but only saw the door standing open.
Sherlock hailed a cab outside the hotel.
"Take me to the airport," he barked as he sent his brother a text.
As they pulled out into traffic, he dialed Lestrade. "I need you to send everything you've learned about the Monster to my mobile."
How could she still be alive?
The thought repeated every few moments as he stared at the ominously dark clouds zooming by the window. He feverishly began to work on a plan. He would wait until the dead of night to slip into the hospital. Surely they would have a light staff at that time. He would find out what room she was in and finish what he had started.
Wrapped in a dark blue leather coat trimmed in fur, Anthea attracted appreciative stares from both men and women as she entered the gallery, but she focused only on finding her boss.
Flashing her ID to the agent guarding the main exhibit hall's entrance, she briskly walked through a display of the most amazing Impressionist paintings she had ever seen as well as a few she had never seen. Mycroft Holmes stood in the far corner surveying a Monet, his impassive face showing signs of worry.
"Is everything arranged for Sherlock and the airplane?" he asked as she approached.
"They've taking off right now. How has it been here?"
"The artwork is safe. Whatever this kidnapper is after, he won't get these paintings." Mycroft squinted at the intricate brush strokes. "I need you to get me everything we have on a Serbian war criminal called the Monster of Zelengora."
Anthea furrowed her brow. "I know that name. Zelengora. I read it recently."
"Oh?" Mycroft looked up sharply.
"It was a memo circulated about a phone tip. Someone had called the Home Office about the Monster of Zelengora, I'm sure of it." She quickly accessed the files. "Here it is."
Mycroft took her mobile and scanned the information quickly. "God bless your photographic memory, Anthea. We need to track down this Dr. Schaeffer immediately."
The aircraft was smaller than others he had seen Mycroft use, but as long as it got him to his destination, Sherlock didn't care if it was Wright brothers' plane.
"Welcome on board, sir," said a woman who ushered him in. "Be sure to fasten your seatbelt. We're heading into a storm."
Ignoring her, Sherlock began reading the information Lestrade had sent him and began memorizing everything ever written about the Monster.
Mycroft had arranged for a driver and car to be waiting when the plane landed. Sherlock was both grateful and annoyed by his brother's thoughtfulness.
"The Blackwell Estate main house," Sherlock said, turning his collar to the biting wind.
The car sped through sheets of rain fifteen minutes out of town. The imposing stone and iron gates gaped open and the manor house in the distance was dark.
Leaping from the car, Sherlock bypassed the front door and circled to the back terrace. He jiggled the handles of the French doors and was surprised when one opened. Standing in what surely was Lady Eva's library, Sherlock silently observed the airy décor that was illuminated by a flickering fire in the hearth.
"What are you doing here?"
A bearded man stood in the main doorway opposite him holding a cup of coffee.
Sherlock stared at him coldly. "A more appropriate question would be, 'Who are you?' But you know that answer already, don't you, Dom?"
The man entered the room and circled the detective warily. "You've made a mistake."
"No, I haven't. You are Dom Vijec."
"My name is Stevan Tojagic."
Sherlock stood in front of the fire all the while keeping a firm grasp on the revolver in his pocket. "You somehow escaped justice in Bosnia and weaseled your way into Lady Eva's life. You handle everything for her, including her correspondence. You read the letter from the insurance company notifying her that I'd been hired to perform a security analysis for her art show. You knew that when I ran a background check on you, I'd discover Stevan Tojagic didn't exist. You hired Charlie Milverton to find out who was close to me then you kidnapped Dr. Molly Hooper to throw me off course."
"You're wrong. My name is Stevan. I've never heard of this Dom Vijec."
"You are the Monster of Zelengora, the man who made rape a weapon of war in the modern era."
"I am a quiet man leading a quiet life—"
"Do you think I don't recognize a sociopath when I see one?" Sherlock said.
Walking toward the French doors, Vijec stopped by a large curio cabinet. "I don't care what you say. You have no proof."
"Proof is for the courts. I don't need proof," Sherlock said above the rumbling thunder. "However, your ring is all the evidence needed." Both man stared at the large signet ring Vijec wore. "From what I read, you fancy branding women with that ring. Too bad you never considered anyone would observe it."
Grabbing a large cut-crystal vase from the cabinet, Vijec hurled it at Sherlock. The detective ducked as it sailed over his head and shattered against the wall. Vijec threw open the French doors and ran down the lawn to the bordering forest with Sherlock only a moment behind.
Dark woods can play tricks on the mind, even on one as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes'. The rain-soaked ground oozed beneath his feet as he ran, his lungs burning with each hard-hitting breath. Exposed roots and dark rock outcroppings became threatening hazards. He weaved between silver-brown trees with branches that bent to the ground like tired soldiers guarding the carpet of leaves torn away by the storm. In the coming nightfall, the woods had an unearthly quality to it. The creeping shadows made the countryside look dim, as if it could disappear in a blink.
Sherlock rushed down a muddy slope that was deceptive in its gentle appearance. He lost his footing and tumbled to the bottom. He sprang up a moment later, but Dom had disappeared. Rushing to where the trees ended at a tall fence, Sherlock came to an abrupt stop and listened intently. Dripping branches creaked and blew a fine mist into his face, but over the whispering wind, he heard a distinct grunt. Catching a quick movement out of the corner of his eye, Sherlock turned to see Dom scrambling up an incline littered with rocks.
"Stop!" Sherlock shouted as he aimed his gun.
Dom took a step back. "If you shoot me, you'll never know where she is."
Hesitating for a split second, Sherlock eyed the distance between them. "Tell me where she is."
"Put your gun down first."
The detective shook his head as water dripped from his dark curls. "You will face the justice you so richly deserve for all of your crimes."
Dom suddenly sounded like a spoilt child. "Th-that happened a long time ago. The war made me . . . It wasn't my fault."
"And what is your excuse for kidnapping Molly Hooper? Who do you blame for that? Tell me where she is!" Sherlock's eyes never left Dom's.
The man's bravado wavered. "I was going to let her go. It got out of control, that's all."
Rivulets of water streamed down Sherlock's face. "You mistake me for a patient man."
"If she hadn't fought back, I never would have . . ."
Sherlock thrust his gun in Dom's face. "You never would have what?"
"She's fine, OK?" Don lied. "I'll text you her location after you give me an hour's head start."
Sherlock knew this verbal sparring could go on indefinitely, and it was time Molly didn't have. With a snarl, he pushed Dom back, aimed, and fired.
The well-placed shot slightly grazed Dom's shoulder, causing the man to howl in pain. Whatever self-restraint he had developed over his years in hiding finally snapped and the Monster emerged. "She was just like all those other whores. Couldn't do what she was told. Fought back. She made me do it."
"What did you do to her?" Sherlock pointed the gun again, this time at the man's head.
"I beat her," he said viciously. "You're too late. She's dead."
Wracked by a guttural cry, Sherlock shouldered Dom to the ground, pummeling him with punches to the face and torso. As the rain fell, the sounds of flesh meeting flesh mixed with primal grunts.
Exhausted and drained, Sherlock stood and wiped a trickle of blood from a cut on his cheek. If Molly was dead, there was no point in anything, no point at all. He picked up the gun and scrutinized Dom who coughed and rolled to one side, his face already starting to swell.
Sherlock stared at him with a burning rage. "I will kill you. But first you're going to take me to her."
"She got what she deserved." Dom pushed himself to his feet. "They all did."
What happened next occurred so quickly that when Sherlock later related it to John, he uncharacteristically was unsure of the exact sequence. But he did know that his mobile ringing set off the chain of events. Sherlock was distracted only for a split second, but that's all the time Dom needed to lunge for the gun. Sherlock fired, but Dom had grasped his wrist and the bullet flew harmlessly into the sky. The two men struggled for an agonizing minute. Then, with a blow to Sherlock's midsection, Dom had him off balance and wrestled away the gun.
His bloodied face distorted with anger, the Monster triumphantly took aim.
Sherlock instinctively braced himself for the sickening impact of bullet ripping skin, crushing bone, but his only conscious thought was of Molly and how much he loved her. As the shot rang out, he felt his chest for sticky, hot blood, but there was none. Instead, Dom fell lifelessly at his feet, a neatly centered bullet wound on his chest.
Filled with anguish and confusion, Sherlock whirled around to see a nondescript woman in a black rain slicker emerge from the trees. He had seen her once before. She was the woman on Mycroft's plane.
"Who are you?" he shouted above the rising wind.
"I work for your brother. His orders since Dr. Hooper went missing were to trail you and keep you safe." She glanced at the body on the ground and quickly sent a text.
The Monster was dead and Molly was lost to him. Staggering slightly, Sherlock was flooded with the desperation that drove people to believe in a higher power. He would gladly plead with God, Allah, or little green men to know where Molly was, dead or alive.
The words tore from his throat. "Leave me."
The agent toed the gun away from the despondent detective as her mobile sprang to life with an incoming text. Her monotone voice rose in excitement. "It's your brother's assistant. They've found her, Mr. Holmes! Molly Hooper is alive."
When the elevator deposited him on the second floor of Unified Hospital, Sherlock rushed to the nurses' station.
"Where is she?"
The nurse on duty dropped her stack of charts on the counter. "Are you all right?"
"I'm Sherlock Holmes and—"
She smiled kindly. "I spoke with your brother. You're here for our Jane."
If a sight could ever have moved Sherlock Holmes to tears, this was it. But not tears of sadness. In his heart bloomed a joy so pure that it almost erased every sorrow he had ever experienced.
Molly. Bruised and battered but alive, his Molly lay in the hospital bed in front of him. It was as if a lost dream was suddenly reborn in all its glory and hope. Rushing to her side, Sherlock gathered her hands in his.
"Sherlock?" she mumbled.
"I'm here." He drank in the sight of her. "You're going to be all right. John will be here soon and Mycroft. We'll get you the best of care, whatever you need."
"Your hands . . . cold. You OK?"
A laugh that sounded more like a sob escaped him and he leaned over to kiss her.
Sherlock gratefully accepted a change of clean scrubs and a warm towel from the nurse who had greeted him and quickly got out of his wet clothing. With every possible tenderness, he laid next to Molly, maneuvering around IV tubing and monitor leads. He carefully nestled her against his chest and listened to her quiet breathing.
He knew what it was like to live without her—and it was an existence he wanted no part of. She was so fragile lying next to him. Sherlock quickly took stock of her injuries and struggled against the growing lump in his throat. A single tear overflowed from the corner of his eye.
"Yes?" His voice shook.
"No," he said brokenly. "Close your eyes. I'll be here when you awake."