The Ninth Muse - Baker Street Series Book 1

Chapter 9

Every day is my birthday when I'm in the Yard, John thought. He looked at Holmes, bleeding and pale, and knew this had to end soon, or they risked his death.

Sherlock realized this too. He made a gun shape with his right hand and flicked his wrist upward. John read that to mean, 'Shoot him'. Holmes was all about expediency now that his mind was clouding with fever and blood loss. He'd solved the thing. He wanted it done.

"Come out, Holmes. It's you I want. No one else is going to get hurt if you come out. Not that pretty girl of yours, I saw you with. No one."

Sarah, he meant. John glanced at her frightened face. She was entirely focused on keeping a steady pressure on Sherlock's arm.

"No." Lestrade shook his head at Sherlock. There was no way he was going to allow it. "Donovan, I think we're going to have to-"

Sherlock stood up. John was half dragged with him. He released Holmes and snapped the gun out straight with a tremendous shout of, "Drop your weapon, or I will shoot you!" His voice boomed through the room.

Lestrade shot up around the side of the desk on one side, while Donovan skittered out, low, on the other. Sherlock pointed at the man who held a gun on him. "You're his right hand. You're his trigger man."

His voice was thick with emotion. "I didn't shoot you, if that's what you're asking. That's Vincent. I wouldn't have missed."

Sherlock lowered his arm, "Did you kill Jerry, then, while Alec Fisher watched for foot traffic? Possible. But you wouldn't have taken the pains Alec did with the cleaning staff."

"I didn't kill anybody." Reid snickered down the muzzle of his gun. "And with you shooting Alec, that's not something you can refute."

"Bad luck for your rap sheet if you kill me now." Sherlock told him. "So stop this."

"He's right. Put your gun down, Bobby." Lestrade commanded.

"Can't do that, sir." The cop shouted back. "That monster there, he…. It's Alec, sir, and he's probably about to die. The Freak has to pay for that. I'm honestly relieved to see you bleed like the rest of us. I guess I'm going to see more soon enough."

"Ah, he's very good, Alec Fisher. Do you see, John?" Sherlock nodded knowingly. "He's good at rounding up orphans and fabricating a sense of family for them-"

"It's not a fabrication!"

But Sherlock carried on, "-and Melody was fatherless too. She felt the same for a time. What made her turn on him?"

"Oh, she wanted to get out. She felt guilty all of a sudden, like we'd lost our way. But Alec wanted another year so he didn't let her. He told me Mel was simply irreplaceable. Maybe so. She had our problem children wrapped round her fingers, and Alec believed Mel was the only way to control some of them. Like Carter – there's a ticket. I know you have Carter in a cage downstairs, that gormless idiot. But she's a prodigy when it comes to petty crime, did you know? She can get in locked doors, nick anything, she's excellent at getting passwords, and she lies like a bird flies, Holmes. Effortless. Alec said without Mel we couldn't hold Lloyd, Bennett, and Carter. And Martin, really. Those are useful, but difficult people, he said, you know. But then he'd give anybody a chance, he would. Now get the hell out here a little in the light for me. I'm dying to see your face, so I can shoot you in it."

"Alec and this man shot Melody dead," John muttered to Sherlock. "He still sees it as a family?"

"He's been indoctrinated for years," Sherlock shrugged. "I'm putting my faith in you now, John. When I step forward, shoot him."

"What?" John snapped. But Sherlock had already taken his first step, and – in a fraction of a second – John saw their gunman go still and steady to get a bead on Sherlock's head.

Almost without thinking, John squeezed the trigger. A deafening roar bounced off the glassy room. It appeared to John that the shot struck just shy of the man's shoulder; he'd flung himself aside. As a result Reid's own shot went wide, it clipped a curl from Sherlock's hair right above his ear, and smacked into the tempered glass wall behind him with a tremendous crack. Sherlock gasped, he blinked rapidly, shocked at what had happened.

Sarah screamed somewhere behind John's back.

Reid scurried and started to come to his feet with the gun rearing up.

John coldly took aim just below the nest of his throat.

The lights came on. Lestrade leaped past John in the direction of the gunman. He crossed John's line. And Reid's. Both of whom quickly pulled their guns up. Donovan ran straight down the row of desks with her gun low. She'd made a good prediction, because Robert Reid broke and ran before Lestrade reached him.

John backed up and reached a hand out to press around the injury in Sherlock's arm. When he glanced, he saw that Sherlock's hollow gaze follow the progression through the glass offices. In fact, when the gunman paused to crack off a shot, Sherlock caught John and they took a few swift steps to the right. This put so much tempered glass between them that the notion of a slug reaching him was hopeless. It made a webby impact with one of the offices on this floor. Doubtless, Sherlock even knew whose it was.

John kept the gun on Bobby Reid until he was taken down under the combined force of Lestrade, Donovan, and a flood of hurtling Late Turn officers gushing into the room. There had to be 12 or 14 of them. Lestrade had been sending them texts.

"Time, time. Ah, what odds. I knew before the hour was out." Sherlock noticed blood soaking into his watch strap. "John, I'm.…"

John planted a hand on Sherlock's chest and pushed him to sit on the desk behind. "Stay." Then he headed back the way they'd come from.

"John!" Sarah shouted from under a desk ahead. Maybe she'd been doing that for a while. John had been so focused on the gunman and Holmes it hadn't registered. Under fire, his internal mental triage had taken over.

"You can – you can come out." He told her shakily. John clicked the safety on Melody's gun. He laid it on the nearest desk and turned toward Sarah in time for her to collide with him, her arms around him so tightly they made him skip a breath. But she was off just as quickly her hand pulling him. Sherlock had started to buckle.

Sarah wasn't a particularly powerfully built girl, but she did her best to keep him upright. John hurried to help her ease him to the floor. "Was he hit again?" She asked breathlessly.

"No," Sherlock said.

"I wasn't talking to you," she told him, already sliding her hands around to look for more injuries on his person.

"Oh. Well, it's difficult to – John, stop her manhandling me." Sherlock rolled up a little. He was so trim and slender that, without the voluminous coat, he looked long and rather delicate.

He was losing a lot of blood, now. "Sarah, call an ambulance."

"I don't want to be in an ambulance," Sherlock told him. "Have Lestrade get a car – one without lights on the top and an orange stripe down the side."

"I'll get him up. You pressure the arm." John suggested. "Elevators."


Halfway across the office, Sherlock's cell phone began to ring. Before they set in, John ran to retrieve it, shocked by how fast he could travel now that his blood was coursing full of adrenaline. Sherlock's phone was a dangerous thing to leave lying about. He'd missed the call, but not the text. "Mycroft's coming."

Sarah had taken off her thin little belt and tied off a tourniquet. "Whatever was holding it, he's got a good nick in the vein now. Could be a tear." But as John circled the desk he saw she wasn't talking to him. She was on with 911.

Lestrade hurried back toward them. His eyes widened when he saw Sherlock in a state of collapse, his blood making a red stain in the rug. "Donovan, get a car. We need a hospital!"

She glanced in his direction, irritation transformed to fear, and she bolted for the stairs.

Sherlock focussed on breathing, slowing his pulse. He opened his eyes when John turned him by his good shoulder and started to pivot him up. "Can you walk?"

"You are… nonsensical." Sherlock said wanly. He gathered himself. John wasn't sure where he found the resources, though he was sure it was, in some part, mind over matter, but Holmes made it to the elevator and into the car under his own power.

John got into the back right beside Sherlock. He was honestly surprised when Lestrade, with everything going on, chose to come along in the front passenger seat. Sarah, naturally, hurried in on Sherlock's other side. Almost as soon as they set off, as if to spare him the humiliation of riding in a detested blaring police car, Sherlock slumped against John, utterly senseless. He stayed so, all the way to the hospital, in spite of John clapping his cheeks and trying to rouse him, and needed to be lifted out of the back and placed on a rolling stretcher to get inside the doors.

After they rushed him out of sight, John stood in the hallway shaking. He looked at his bloody hands and realized, physiologically, he was in intense distress. His heart raced. A sudden and irresistible replay of the first few minutes after the bullet had torn through his shoulder and lodged itself in his scapula burned through his mind. It left him gasping.

"John what's happening?"

Sarah sounded far away.

He could scarcely hear her above his labouring heart, the smell of his blood, and the whir of tracer fire raking the air above him. Oh my God. He thought it very possible he was going to have a heart attack.

"John," Sarah pushed through some of the smoke and began to take on a more solid shape as she caught his shoulders. "John?"

"I need to get this off." He said breathlessly. "I need to get the blood off."

"All right," she said and made an appeal to Lestrade.

Moments later, John couldn't stop his hands shaking as he scrubbed away Sherlock's blood, and lathered his hands over and over.

"Does this… does this mean you don't think he'll make it?" Lestrade paced along the stalls. He ran his hand through his short steely hair.

John slowed down at last, and rinsed off again, shutting off the taps. He turned and dripped on the floor waiting for the so-called automatic towel dispenser to realize there was someone there. Then he looked at Lestrade's tormented face. "So…. It would matter to you if he didn't make it."

"I've worked with him for five years. Yeah, it would bother me." Lestrade capitulated. "How bad is his situation?"

"Bad enough to kill him," John admitted to himself. He had to bow his head to conceal the storm of guilt and regret that played on his face. "He was stable until that last attack."

"Yeah, Donovan's beside herself."

"I find that hard to believe."

"She didn't mean to hurt him. She's not a person for hurting people, just because they don't get along, John. Do you believe that?"

Finally, John looked up at the man. "I… yes, I do. Accidents happen. When one is already weakened, one mishap can be one too far."

"So you think he'll make it?" Lestrade asked.

Now John huffed out air and smiled tiredly. "Yes. I do, actually. Sherlock's a fighter…. What an odd thing to hear myself say. He's so cerebral, you know? Shouldn't cerebral people be weaklings, physically? Isn't that the meme?"

"I suppose he missed that on TV." Lestrade ran the tap to get the last of the soap out of the sink and sighed. "Got to get to work. Have a double shift."

John checked the time and realized he would be due at the clinic, as would be Sarah, in under two hours. As they both stood in silent commiseration, Sherlock's phone, still in John's pocket, pinged. He took it out.

'Sherlock, you are a nightmare. I will give you one opportunity to volunteer this information to me, and then, it's by my methods. Where are you? -M'

Lestrade blinked. "Hard to believe he has a brother. Who could keep up with him?"

"Mycroft's just as bad, in his own way." John put away the phone, uncertain what to do about the message. "They both notice everything. Mycroft is just better at impulse control… or something. He'll be waiting for you about this."

"Leave him to me, then." Lestrade nodded. "Go get some rest."

Sarah paced the hall outside of the Men's room. She too, smelled of hospital soap. Her eyes were red and watery. John wondered if that was from crying. She's been under a lot of stress tonight. Maybe it would be better, for her, anyway, if she stopped being around him. She took his hand as soon as he came out and gave it a squeeze. "Do you want to stay, John? I'll work your shift."

"You're exhausted too," he told her. "I'll just be underfoot here."

Lestrade excused himself from this and strode down the hallway. Donovan stood just inside the doors and was visibly exhausted. Her face was stiff from repressing her feelings. After all, she hadn't gotten as lucky as John. Her friend had never even made it to the hospital.

"We'll cab it," John said. "You can sleep on the way." He held her hand on the way out the sliding doors to the lot beyond.

It took twenty four hours to get the bleeding under control, and forty eight for the infection.

Forty eight hours of undiluted hell for the doctors treating Sherlock.

He was bored. Horribly, ruthlessly bored. On day 3, John arrived at the room to find him strapped to the bed. Apparently, he'd been wandering the hospital 'collecting samples'. They'd found him in the mortuary. He'd almost been arrested, or so Lestrade had told John by phone.

John glanced over Sherlock's sour expression in the idyllic room – white sheets, sun gleaming through large windows, television at the ready. He had a private room, bound to be Mycroft's doing.

"I suppose I should free you."

Sherlock cast him a withering look and John hid his smile as he went to work freeing the man. Well, his hands anyway. What did sober him was noticing there were no flowers, no cards, and no mementos of any kind in the room. Sherlock bent and freed his legs on his own. John watched this curiously. Through the imperfectly tied back of his medical gown, Sherlock's flesh was flushed pinker than he'd ever seen the man's skin before.

"Has anyone been by?"

"I don't know," Sherlock said moodily. "I wasn't awake until 4AM; tranquillisers."

"Yes, I spoke to the doctor about your excitability. I was worried it might interfere with your healing." John checked his watch. It was 10 AM. "No one yet today then?"

"What excitability would that be, exactly? Or are you making the argument I'm not a passive clod like practically everyone else you speak to every day, and there's something wrong with that?" He glanced up. "Because, I assure you, there is not. This is the Twilight Zone, and yes they do have pig snouts. I have no intention of running with swine. What did you bring me?"

Sherlock rustled through the collection of magazines that John had brought until he found the Economist, the Guardian, and New Scientist. "Ooh, superbugs. Good hospital reading." Sherlock said and opened the New Scientist. He read the entire article as John got tea and brought out the breakfast he'd carried from the house – sandwiches and a tureen of soup made by Mrs. Hudson. She had actually cried when she found out Sherlock had been hurt.

John laid out bowls for them both on the rolling table that spanned the bed in which Sherlock sat. Sherlock put down the magazine and looked him over. "You have to stop sleeping on her sofa."

It made John grin. "You have no idea how hard I'm working on that exact thing, Sherlock."

This made his genius friend fall silent and peer around the room. He picked up his cell phone from the charger and started checking his text messages. He threw the phone down, peevishly.

"She's all right, you know. Sarah." John said as he poured the soup.

"I didn't ask." And then, "I think it would be a good idea if I checked myself out. I hate it here. They… they take all my samples."

Hysterical. "They aren't yours to sample to begin with," John set out the sandwiches. "Case closed. Eat your soup."

"I don't want soup."

John got up to check the IV and then walked to look through Sherlock's charts. He glanced back at where Sherlock was fiddling with his soup spoon. "Sherlock, you want it. Don't be difficult."

"It smells good."

"Yes, it does. Tomato and basil with rice, actually. Mrs. Hudson made it especially for you. She says you like it," though John didn't know about that. In his experience, Sherlock would eat anything after a case: pickles and peas; cheese and Cheerios; any- and everything. After a case, he was famished.

Sure enough, Sherlock set in on his bowl of soup and sandwiches in a childlike frenzy, still reading his way through New Scientist. "Need one of those."

John didn't even recognize the gadget that Sherlock was looking at.

"I'll have Molly requisition one for her lab." He decided.

"You're horrible." John chortled.

Sherlock looked up, boggled. "How is that not helpful?"

He fell into silence, inhaling his soup, and John went back to his charts again. Really, it wouldn't be a bad idea to get him on vitamin supplements during cases. His initial two blood-work results were not encouraging. "Your cholesterol is low."

"Good thing."

"Low as if you're fasting."

"Bad thing."

John didn't need anything more than that to understand he'd have to grind the vitamins up and put them in the man's tea to get him to take them. That, or get him injections. Sherlock, unlike anyone else he'd ever met, seemed to have a natural attraction to needles.

"Lestrade hasn't been by," Sherlock said around his sandwich.

"Double shift. I imagine he's busy dealing with Commander Snow about now, not to mention unearthing everything about this cover-up." John sat on the edge of the bed and shoved his bowl of soup toward Sherlock. He couldn't eat it seeing how ravenous Holmes was.

Sherlock glanced up before sticking his spoon in. "You're sure?"

John nodded at him. "Have at it."

John opened the curtains to a brilliant surge of sunlight. There you are, Sherlock: Vitamin D. "So they're set to have Melody Doyle's funeral this weekend. You've been invited. I don't know if you'll be feeling strong enough to call."

"How dreary." Sherlock threw his magazine down and went at the soup bowl with both spoons.

"Oh my God. And yet no mess. Shows practice, yes?"

Sherlock was too involved to respond, so John eased around the bed and lifted the sleeve of the hospital gown Sherlock wore. Sherlock was busy eating and didn't care much about this. He paused to flick on the news and suck on his cardboard cup of tea happily. John knew that there had been some talk of surgery on this injury at first, because he'd kept calling the hospital. The doctors who had cut the bullet wound to investigate and to clean it properly and determined that no surgery would be needed. Sherlock couldn't feel a thing in the wound now. It was deeply anesthetised, though John had warned against it. As soon as he's feeling no pain from it, he'll become… a handful.

They were regretting their Hippocratic Oaths right now.

Holmes dropped the channel changer and turned his head, his hair more a tousled mess of curls than ever before, due to his lying on it all day. His pale green eyes were mild in the sun, like chips of sea-glass Wedgwood. "How does it look?"

"Doing very well," John settled into the chair beside the bed.

Sherlock glanced out the sunny window. "I want to leave. Can you arrange that?"

John thought about it for a moment. "Sherlock… I honestly don't think you're well enough."

He looked down at the bedding. "Can you bring my violin?"

"Don't torment them, Sherlock. This hospital is trying to help you."

His lips quirked into a smile, "I can play, you know."

"I've only ever seen you use that violin to drive off Mycroft. Oh – you're sure he hasn't been?" John asked. Surely his brother had been by to see him?

"No. Thankfully." Sherlock licked a fingertip and turned back to the soup. With one spoon, clearly out of courtesy to present company.

John hid his dismay in setting out the pie that Sarah had sent over with him: pumpkin with whipped cream. Sherlock would make short work of that. Three times, now, he'd seen Sherlock eat something with pumpkin in it – a muffin; bread; and a slice of pie. It was a pattern. Already, Holmes had sped up his consumption of sandwiches and soup. John went out to bring back a larger tea for Sherlock. He'd already blown through the first John had bought. Poor beggar.

Holmes had tucked in to the pie. It had a substantial hole, dead centre. All the cream there was also M.I.A. He extended an arm for his tea.

"What was it about though?" he asked as he handed over the extra-large orange pekoe black with two sugars. "The murders?"

"Bad luck, if you happened to be the Janitor," Sherlock opened plastic lid and sipped tea. "But if you were Jerry Ballard, this was about justice. Speaking of which, did you bring the mail like I asked?" He stabbed the pie and started in on another forkful.

"Oh yes, almost forgot." John went in his pocket and laid out the letters on the bed. He held up a black one. "Here's the invite from the Doyle's family for-"

"Blue-silver gel pen on black paper," Sherlock smiled a little. "Oh she'd like that."

John laid it down before him. "Consider it. They might like to hear some of what you have to say about Melody, Sherlock." He watched Sherlock sorting mail – he had a system – and then said. "Why is it you only meet suitable women after they're goners?"

"What?" he paused what he was doing, which was chopping up the remaining pie and cream.

"Jennifer Wilson from A Study in Pink, who you described as really clever; Melody Doyle, who you said was bright and idiosyncratic. Do you know who else is clever, bright, and idiosyncratic?"

"Have you written the case up yet?" He asked.

"Yes," John said. "But I haven't published it. Waiting until after the funeral, and when the news dies down about this a bit. And… I haven't got a title yet."

"Then Snow is banging about calling it the Shower Slaying." Sherlock chuckled. "Get on that."

Sherlock finished his last crumb of pie and started reading through mail, quietly. Then a notion lit his face. "Did you want pie? I suppose I should have asked."

"Sarah made two." John assured him. "The other one is in the fridge at home. I've had some."

"Excellent. Bring me the rest. And get her proper measuring cups and spoons. A household teaspoon or -cup is not sufficient to the job of measuring ingredients and baking proper-" Sherlock straightened suddenly, his brows going up for an instant. "I was right."


Sherlock opened the letter and took the folded contents out. They were impeccably hand written: two pages in tiny and exact script. "Jerry Ballard sent a letter."

John got out of his chair and crossed to the bed. He snapped up the envelope and checked the return address. "No…. Really?"

"Open a window John." Sherlock yanked the envelope back. "The brain needs oxygen."

John didn't mind, he cranked the window open. They were on a higher floor, and the sheer curtain immediately buckled and rippled in, reminding John of Sherlock's coat. It was being dry-cleaned now. Blood had gotten into the lining. The breath of wind cleared away the antiseptic smell as hale London air, if that wasn't an oxymoron, spilled into the room.

"I remember the outside," Holmes sighed.

"Oh, stop. Now will you read it?" John was too tickled to contain his beaming grin.

"We'll see how close I am," Sherlock handed John the letter, "when I say the entire problem came to light when we exited the abandoned house in Brixton to find reporters on the scene." He propped pillows behind him and curled up with his back against them. Sherlock drew his knees up under the wool blanket. The window was open, and John found the breeze and sun falling across Holmes' curled form almost poetic. He'd shut his eyes: no less than a green-eyed cat, sunbathing.

With eight lives left.

John unfolded the letter. His glance was distracted by the slide of a shadow along the sunny hallway. Lestrade. John had called the man to ask if he'd had time to check on Sherlock's condition the night before, explaining that he'd had to fill-in at the clinic these past days. But their jobs had kept them both away. Now he'd come. John was speechless. He hated to admit it, but he'd expected that no one would call, at all. The Detective Inspector stopped in the doorway as if not sure what to do. Sherlock doubtless noticed the arrival, but he didn't open his eyes. Lestrade's gaze lingered on the red line suspended in air, sloping from the bag to Sherlock's forearm.

"It's bad luck to loiter in doorways, Lestrade." Sherlock said lazily. "And don't all police have superstitious minds?" He half smiled.

"How'd you…" Lestrade gave his head a little shake and stepped inside. "How are you?"

Sherlock's eyes popped open, his lips tightened, "John? If I'm distracted by one more triviality, I'm pulling this needle out and leaving."

"Not bloody likely," John told him sternly. "You won't like life much if you leave here before you've had a chance for that arm to heal. The painkillers-"

Sherlock made an inarticulate groan. "Just stop. It's like nails on a chalkboard. Don't chime in with it. Don't you have something slightly more interesting on hand?" He picked up a pair of hospital copies of Reader's Digest and flung them out the window. Then he reloaded. "I've handed you over the letter-"

Lestrade nodded, "This is about what I expected." He stepped up and wrenched the Digests right out of Sherlock's hands. "Look, you, behave. You're no use to me now, and God knows when another murder could happen."

Sherlock froze for a moment and then settled back to the pillows. "John, read it to me."

"Sorry. The letter has him agitated." John glanced up at Lestrade and explained. "And the painkillers. They're messing with his natural tendency to-"

Sherlock's hands leapt up in air. "Listen, John, Jerry Ballard is dead. His last testimony in this world is in your hands. Painkillers, prognosis, none of it matters!"

"Jerry Ballard's what?" Lestrade did a double-take. "Where did you get that?"

John looked down at the letter. A man had died to draft this. Maybe Sherlock, whose green eyes were lamp-bright with insistence now, had the right of it. John sat back on the chair and glanced up at Lestrade. "Sherlock found small cuts on Jerry Ballard's hands. Paper cuts."

"He was a writer," Sherlock hugged himself, "As in correspondence on paper in longhand."

"The conjecture was he'd written up the case and-"

"Has he?" Sherlock opened his eyes again. They looked nearly colourless in the light.

"-and sent it to Sherlock." John finished.

Lestrade looked at the genius, agape. "You couldn't tell me this?"

Sherlock made a small gesture with his hand. "Lestrade, your faith in me begins to permeate the entire branch. Isn't that happy. Read the letter, John. I'm not timing you, but it's been four minutes, twenty seconds."

"You'd best read it," Lestrade told the doctor. He pulled a second chair from the wall to the end of the bed and settled in it, setting his elbows on the tatty, narrow arms and joining his hands before him like a net.

Sherlock closed his eyes.

John began:

Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I'm mindful you have no idea who I am; however, I'm well aware of who you are because I follow your blog. It's why I've drafted this letter to you. I should apologize up front. It's likely that I'm writing this rashly. However, the allegations are potentially disastrous for the branch, and that has my nerves acting on my wits. I'm sure such a thing would never happen to you. Lucidity is the blood in your veins – as your friend, John Watson wrote. If I waste your time with this, then accept my apology. However, some part of me can see there's danger in the things I've learned.

My office is in Scotland Yard. I've had an alarming allegation from an officer here – a trusted Detective, in fact, a skillful and intelligent one – Melody Doyle. She tells me that, approximately three years ago, Martin White, with whom she has had failed affairs, brought her into a cabal of some kind. She deeply trusted him at the time. But that trust paled beside respect she held for the man in charge of this. She found her purpose as a ninth inside this band of eight-

Sherlock sat up straight, which attracted John's attention and caused him to pause. Slowly, Holmes settled back and exhaled a soft breath. "I missed one."

She found her purpose as a ninth inside this band of eight crooked police. All of them had been wronged in some way by the Met. Melody has talked to me on several occasions about the loss of her father. It's a wound that has never healed for her. Likewise her family has never quite recovered. The circumstances of his death have been kept hush-hush. Monetary settlements were reached in exchange for the Doyle's silence on the matter. Therefore the cabal was uniquely appealing to her. On the surface of things, her actions seemed justified.

Sherlock sighed and started rooting around under his pillow. "No, not justified – pure," he muttered. "She felt pure… for a while."

In fact, she thought herself a kind of champion for truth and full disclosure. Several media outlets competed for tips and information only the nine could provide. She claims their work made very powerful newspapers and TV News programmes millions of quid. They paid not insubstantial sums for specifics: snuck files; valuable criminal details; advanced access to crime scenes and evidence. There was no limit to her ingenuity in securing these sorts of things. Melody saw this as a way to avenge her father, the truth of whose death, she felt, would be 'locked away' from her 'in some cabinet', forever.

Most assuredly, John paused. Now she was dead.

She's come to me, because she wants it to stop. The man whose idea this was has recently agreed to arrange for recorders to capture victim interviews. Funnily, this has a tie-in with the A Study in Pink (as Dr. Watson called that bit of brilliance). The estranged wife and children of the serial killer were among those who were to fall under surveillance. Melody says her world began to crumble around her. She could see no honour in the press tormenting half-grown children. But, in trying to stop this, she was threatened by the very man she'd come to see as a second father.

She now sees what she's been doing, but she swears to me she's too far in to get out intact. Melody believes she will die ending this. But there's a steely core of determination in her, she won't back out. I've agreed to take her to Lestrade in the morning. I feel there are people Melody would still like to protect: Kelly Carter, the Officer who she manipulated into working for her, and Wendy Harris, whom Melody says she has scrupulously insulated from detection, because Wendy is a very junior officer, and was nothing more than their messenger bird to take packages to the press.

"Hello." Sherlock actually laughed in admiration. "She was well insulated, indeed. Good girl."

John, however, found his gaze settling on Lestrade's downcast face as he continued.

But if I take her to Lestrade, she will confess. Her respect for him has eclipsed that of the man who played upon her feelings of loss, and badly duped her. Melody is leaving to visit her mother and sister before morning, but I have a feeling she's also debated warning the people she considers the victims of her revenge. I have told her not to do this, as it would put her at greater risk of discovery.

John stopped before reading the list of names. "Sherlock… how on earth? These are exactly the people you…." He stopped himself and glanced up at Holmes. He was rooting about in the drawer beside his bed, looking for something.

Well and good. Sherlock might have fished out eyeballs and John would have had to continue.

Please do what you can to safeguard her life. She is afraid she is being watched by her fellows, lately. They've noticed that she's changing. Right now, she even has raw nerves for me because I know about this. I also ask you don't discount this letter because of the source. I'm no Lestrade (but he might go by tomorrow to see you on this matter). It is sad you have no reason to trust the rest of us. There is a lot of talk around the office – I'm sure you've heard it. People mock you and ape your methods to make light of your intellect. They fear what they don't understand. Thus, many of them swear you're one kind of monster or another. Only there's no evidence of this in your works. You've saved many lives by now. I know a troubled mind can yield untainted genius. Let this be enough to convince you of my genuineness, because I deeply fear for Melody Doyle from here.

Please respond.

Jerry Ballard

John looked up at Lestrade. The Detective Inspector's face was grim. "Good man, Jerry Ballard."

Holmes' green gaze was aimed out at the blowing clouds. He sighed, tucked a cigarette in his lips and flicked a lighter under it. He inhaled the flame into the tube. John gawped.

"Where the devil did you get that?"

"This is a hospital, John." Sherlock told him as if that should explain it.

Lestrade got to his feet and stretched. "I'm sure they won't like you smoking in here. There are oxygen tanks and the like. Oxygen is highly flammable, you know."

Sherlock just stared at the man. "Okay, to confirm… oxygen is highly flammable?"

"Well… yeah."

"Go away, I can't help you." Sherlock ruffled his dark hair and breathed out smoke.

"I'm going for coffee," Lestrade noted with some enjoyment. It seemed irritating flammable Sherlock was highly entertaining for him. "I'll bring some back."

"Black, two sugars." Sherlock mumbled and picked up The Economist.

"Nothing for me," John finished.

"And if you meet any school children along the way, ask them the difference between an oxidizer and a fuel." Sherlock shouted after him. He took another draw on the cigarette, settled back in the pillows, and exhaled a soft plume of smoke. "Could you bring some nicotine patches?"

"You're on sedatives and painkillers and you think I'm bringing you your patches?" John got up, reached out, and snatched the cigarette away.

"What a futile gesture. I have more." Sherlock crossed his arms on his ribs and pursed his lips.

John put out the current cigarette in the aluminium pumpkin pie plate. "Give them."

"Uh, no." Sherlock gloated.

"I really don't want to have the nurse come in here and strip the bedding." John added. "And you."

Sherlock sat up a little. His green eyes narrowed. It took him no time to determine that John was not joking. He pulled the packet out from under his pillows and gave it up. But he wasn't happy about it.

Lestrade came back down the hall without the coffees.

"Why are you here?" Sherlock said, accordingly.

"Almost forgot about this. Thought you'd like it back," Lestrade took a small plastic bottle out of his pocket and set it on the table between the pie plate and demolished soup.

It was the bullet. John touched his left shoulder protectively. As often as he dreamt about it, he didn't have the one that had struck him.

"Anderson gave it back to me this morning." Lestrade said on his way to the door. "A large black coffee, two sugars, I assume?"

"Yes." Sherlock picked up the bottle and peered into it almost affectionately. "Lestrade."


"Thank you."

~ End. (Thanks very much for reading.)

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