Merriweather turned her computer in Holmes' direction. "Scarlett Walker. That's the name of this artist… although she seems to find Mars Red more fitting. If I'm right, then you'll be able to connect Scarlett Walker to North Yorkshire, correct?"
"Oh my God," Sherlock said coldly. In fact, he was tapping on the slate on his knee. "Don't have to." John realized, immediately, that Scarlett Walker was a name on the list of Top Ten Most Proficient that Sherlock had pulled earlier in the case.
Merriweather didn't, and couldn't, know this. "But why not?" The girl – Pamela – demonstrated the greatest degree of lively curiosity that John had seen from her thus far. She seemed quite normal now. "I mean, I would have thought of all the evidence I could hand you, her name, and her coming from the same place would meet-"
"John," Sherlock looked over his shoulder and held up the slate to John, who bent to consider it. It was an Ark-Co HR record for Scarlett Walker. Sherlock got to his feet his voice intense. "Scarlett Walker. RN. Records ending in 2009. She worked on clinical trials." He swept around the corner heading for the front door.
"Oh God." John said reflexively. Why get rid of someone on a clinical trial? He could think of one perfectly excellent reason. He just barely had begun to follow after.
Sarah hesitated and glanced at the woman, "Really… thank you for your-"
But Sherlock shot back down the hall and looked into the room. "Pamela."
"Oh Christ. What now?" she snickered.
"Get off the drugs," Sherlock said bluntly. "It's a waste of your clearly superior observational skills. There is no one sharper at spotting fakes… when you're not strung out. Do you understand?"
John could have been mistaken, but he didn't think he was. When she smiled, it was genuine and, at the very least, hopeful. "Yeah, fine. I'm doing it."
"Afternoon," he vanished around the corner again.
Pamela cast a final look at John, and it was very serious. "Keep him out of trouble."
"I'll do my best." John reached a hand to clasp Sarah's and they both hurried out the door. Sherlock already paced down the sidewalk without them, too excited to stand still for long enough to fetch a taxi.
"Who was that?" Sarah asked. It was hard to hear her over the noise.
Sherlock glanced down at her. "Pamela Merriweather." He returned to his phone.
"I know her name," she nodded patiently. "How did you meet her?"
"Oh," he said lightly. "Uni. Gifted programme all her life. Big deal at Hamilton Kerr."
My God – he was answering questions about his past to Sarah now? Sarah? "How'd she end up like that?" John jabbed a thumb behind him, patently ridiculous in terms of actual direction now that they were so far away, but he'd had this conversation with Sherlock before. He now got that it was almost always symbolic for 'Back there'.
"Well," Sherlock tapped the mobile's screen. "Family history. Drugs. Thought her artwork hinged on being high. Dunno. Didn't ask her. See her though? Amazing."
Sarah's eyes widened. "You're calling someone amazing?"
"Well, I can do what she does, but I don't have the foundation in art. House stuffed with books and scholarly journals, even cocaine can't turn off her gifts." Sherlock looked blankly at his phone and took out the slate. "Scarlett Walker, by the way, did come from Bedale. She is Sofia. Not only is she on Askham Bryan's list of Top Ten Most Proficient and one of the six names, I've just found a few newspaper clippings of her as a teen: Aspiring Girl Lands London Show. How about Local Artist Sweeps Local Arts and Letters, or Local Artist Wunderkind – God I hate that term, but a good photo. You'll recognize the curls." John watched Sherlock hand the mobile off, in what had to be an historic moment, to Sarah.
"Oh, she's so blonde!" Sarah exclaimed as she glanced down at the picture.
John glanced over the pixie-faced girl, with her smiling arched lips and large blue eyes. Certainly looked like a miniature version of the woman he remembered. Only more blonde.
"She's good," Sherlock fiddled a curl. He took his phone back and tucked it away. "She darkened her hair. Honey blonde. She didn't go over to brunette, or red, or anything radical. It's just enough to make her hair sufficiently different."
They stood in the press of the tube station. Sherlock was remarkably close to others, Sarah in particular. They were shoulder to shoulder in the corner they occupied so that Sherlock could watch the tidal ebb and flow of people passing by. He'd been thinking and detoured out of the crowd to consider his options. "You understand what I want, Sarah?"
She reached down and gave the belt of her coat a tug. Her nod was grave. "It's crystal. I hope you're right, Sherlock."
"If she gave blood, there is some small chance that people working for Ark-Co made off with it. Be sure, when you get to the blood bank, you try to come in through the back, and look for any other way inside." Sherlock reached up to rub his forehead, but John stopped his hand. The Demerol was bothering him in fits and starts, and he seemed to want to wring it out of his front brain with his long, strong fingers.
However, "I know you can't feel it, but the cut is still there, Sherlock. Try not to tug on it?" John felt in his pockets for an alcohol swab and came up empty.
Holmes accepted this. "Sarah, get on the tube. We need to find her. Text us. Considering they turned a Thai restaurant into a brick box of cinders, you're taking substantial risk on yourself. I texted Charlotte Warren's number to you, along with DI Lestrade's. Be judicious, but use them if you need them. Just remember to lie about seeing us."
"I understand," she nodded at them. "Be careful. Whatever you're about to do." She leaned in and kissed John on the cheek, then reached a hand to squeeze Sherlock's forearm gently. "I want my boys back in one piece."
Sherlock's brows went up a bit. He peeked across at John, who was steady and not put-out by this sentiment, in fact. He watched Sarah turn and stride away into the crowded station. She was on the train and on her way before John looked back to Sherlock Holmes.
"So we have a solid connection between Ark-Co, Sofia, and Scarlett, sure, but how do we find her, Sherlock?" John turned and fell in step with Holmes. They weren't for the tube, it appeared. Bit disheartening, seeing as how John's battered flesh was crying out for a seat, or better still, a bed.
Outside, the streets were clotted with job-goers on their way home. For some reason, with the police out to nick him, and Ark-Co set to either kill, or hire him (depending on John's identity at the time), John's heart lifted because he wasn't one of the 'salary men' caught in traffic. He scrutinised Holmes in the press of people, his gaze as oblique as he could manage. As if it mattered. Sherlock didn't even watch where he was going – well, not consciously – he was so busy tapping away on his slate. John saw this and marvelled at how habit-forming Consulting Detectives turned out to be. He knew of no more potent drug, and no substance more dangerous.
Sherlock led John, unerringly, into a taxi. He didn't even seem to look. "Ivan Lieber is either seriously misinformed, or he lied to us." Sherlock handed over the slate and relaxed in the cab's back seat. The driver awaited direction.
John glanced down at the slate and read for almost five minutes. Early in that interval, Sherlock handed a note to the cabbie and the cab pulled out into traffic. "This guy interviewed her. I mean... how can he act like he doesn't know how she left the company? According to these HR records, it's pretty standard for him to hold check-ins with the University hires as part of their quality measurements. Her scores were excellent – he notes it in her New Hire Review. As soon as she was eligible, she tapped Ark-Co's – looks like extensive – Tuition Assistance Programme and started on a degree in Pharmacy. He was monitoring her." John handed back the slate. "Not a bad place to work… if you put aside kidnapping."
"John…" Sherlock turned off the slate and tucked it away. "Okay. We need to talk to this man. I know you don't like this, but we're going to intercept him. We need to talk to him." He glanced at the cabbie quietly and down at John with pursed lips. Talk meaning they were going to hijack the man.
Brutal. John had no stomach for it.
So he thought about what Sherlock really needed for a moment. He remembered Lieber's big hands – knuckles swollen with digging for the history of the English countryside – as they folded into fists on the desk. "No, Sherlock. This guy is a talker. He loves history, you know? He's curious about the past. He… doesn't strike me as a bad man. I think… I've got just the thing. Stop up on this corner here."
Sherlock's lips tightened. "Why?"
"Farley's going to have him out for drinks, is why." John said. "Still got those glasses?"
Sherlock leaned back in his seat and broke into a smile.
John, by full dark, knew more than he'd ever cared to, and was now begrudgingly interested in the following archeological topics:
Anglo Saxon hordes of gold, particularly in Staffordshire
The Uffington White Horse
Excavations in the Vale of the White Horse, generally
Anything to do with bodies being dumped in bogs
It took Ivan quite a lot of stout to get on his way, really. John, a quarter less his height and much less his weight, had also had a few, though he'd spaced drinking around food. It still wasn't a good idea with the painkillers. He felt pretty good, and willing to curse Lieber's height, weight, and – in John's current condition – any hardy Germanic beer-imbibing genes that had come to London with his great grandparents.
"We should walk some of this off, old man," John blinked widely for effect. "I'm not quite your girth and all that."
Lieber gave a laugh. "Of course." The man said and glanced at the empties on the table.
They sorted out the bill and John got them both outside, talking, as he walked, about the odds a horde as large as the find in Staffordshire could ever surface again. "Thousands," John marvelled, "a guy finds thousands of gold pieces in his field one day, all of it worth seven figures."
"Metal detectors," Leiber raised a pointed finger upward as they crossed a darkened alleyway. "Why did we go to medical school?" He laughed and didn't detect Sherlock Holmes as the man fell into step behind him. Leiber gave himself a little shake. He was surprised at how bungling his steps were. Talking avidly about his favourite things in the world, he'd entirely lost track of his cups. "Wouldn't mind having that luck, though it would be hard not to keep at least a few pieces for home, yes? Just for display?"
"Not my thing, mate. I'd be afraid I'd be robbed, you know, by the Museum of London." Both John and Lieber laughed at the notion. Then John forged ahead, "I'm rather into paintings for display, anyway. I wanted to talk to you about the one in your office, really. Haven't been able to get it out of my head! See, I've been collecting the work of this local artist, and I have a feeling she's going to be big one day – Sofia Rothingham, she is. I should take you up to the Aureate Gallery. You'd be stunned," John slowed and turned, seeing as Leiber's fading steps pulled to a stop, "how truly similar the work in your office is to her abstracts… I mean… to the eye of an expert."
From his vantage, John could see Sherlock lean on the building only steps behind the man.
"I don't know that name." Leiber said quietly.
"Pity," John told him. "I think you'd like her. She's a very nice girl. Talented. Ethical. Funny thing is, if you go digging in recent art history deep enough, you bump into this little girl in North Yorkshire painting just like her – a Scarlett Walker. You might know the area. Ark-Co has a school over there they hire from."
"Askham Bryan," Leiber blinked at John blurrily. There was a long pause, which John waited out with the steadiness of a dog on point. At a villain. Finally, Leiber spoke, "I knew a Scarlett Walker from Bedale. She… was a painter, sure, but she was dead interested in Viking Age England. So, you know, we would talk about Anglo Saxon gold like this too. Such a nice girl, Scarlett." His fists tightened at his sides. Ivan Leiber looked out at traffic like he'd love to leave.
"What happened to her, Doctor Leiber?" John probed. His tone was subdued.
"Why do you ask?" The man strode choppily ahead, suddenly cross.
John hurried along and ducked in front of the man, which forced him to a halt. "I need to find her, actually."
"Well I don't know where she is!" Leiber told John stormily. "God knows where she is, poor child; she dropped off the face of the world after she-" he actually clapped a hand over his mouth.
"After she what?" John stuck his hands in his pockets in the advancing dark. It seemed he could see it creeping across the sky as Ivan debated all this in his muddied head.
"Who are you?" Leiber breathed. He pointed at John. "Who are you, really?"
John shook his head and suddenly saw a glimpse of the world as he imagined Sherlock saw it. "Who I am doesn't matter. Where is she? If you know… you have to tell me, Ivan. Her life is in danger."
"I don't know anything about this. Don't ask me about it." John watched the man throw up his hands and then smooth his hair nervously with one of them. He wasn't sure what to do, where to go. John took this as a good sign that he had doubts about what had become of Sofia.
"Then tell me what you do know." John suggested. "She's in serious trouble, I suspect, and I know you actually like Scarlett. You aren't a bad person. You can help her."
"There's nothing I can do about this! Leave me a-" he turned around and almost collided with Holmes, who now leaned against the bricks of a wall beside him.
"Hello there." Sherlock said with a slight smile. He glanced quickly over Leiber.
Unsteady. But not inebriated. In control of his faculties.
Never breaks eye contact. Does not hesitate when speaking.
Wants to leave rather than try to lie – a bad liar.
And look at his shoes….
Holmes nodded in agreement with his own assessment, "I suppose it remains to be seen how good, or bad, a person you really are, doesn't it? Here's a test. You can help me, or you can condemn another person to death – unless you figure those dark rumours making you sweat right now, for rubbish, and surmise they'll let her go, free as a lark, once done with her." Holmes got up from the wall and walked over with a tug of his excellent gloves. "Let's see…. You certainly did have something to do with the disappearance of Sofia Rothingham… look at your face. You're wracked with guilt, even though… it was a passive role. You suspected – or dreaded – but either way, remained silent about the affair. Silent like right now, in fact: how you haven't screamed bloody murder about being assaulted by strangers over here, and that's not simply because you want to do something about the situation. Look at those stalwart, old loafers: thick leather, hand-crafted, worn-in and weathered. It's history; tradition; status quo; and most of all, comfort. You do like to be comfortable."
Leiber suddenly looked afraid. "Who… who are you? How do you know that?"
Sherlock stepped aside to allow several giggling young women in tiny skirts to pass. He gave them a sweet look that had them squealing in delight a little further on. Good looks. Great distraction. "You need to tell me what Scarlet did to deserve all this."
"I can't," Leiber said and hurried away. He looked for a taxi in the roadway. Sherlock strode along almost directly beside the harrowed Doctor.
"What did Scarlett have to do with Ark-Co and fire?" Sherlock asked.
Leiber's hands almost clapped over his large ears in dismay. "Stop it! Listen to me, young man. Some alarming elements cropped up after Ark-Co got involved with Ignis Ray Pharma, very upsetting! You'd better leave it alone! Nothing of the sort is going on. Ark-Co follows the rule of law." He raised his chin and smoothed a non-existent tie before turning and crossing the street.
"Should we follow?" John asked.
"Why?" Sherlock laughed in amazement and spread his long arms. "I asked him to tell me about the link between Sofia – Scarlett – and fire and he warned me about Ignis Ray Pharma." Sherlock gave a happy little gesture goodbye as the harassed man botched his large frame into a taxi and looked fearfully their way. Then Holmes twirled, or so John would classify that jaunty little move, and set off in the opposite direction of the cab. He might have whistled.
"Ignis is Latin for fire," John sighed and followed Sherlock's wake. He caught up with Sherlock, "Looks like Merriweather was right."
"Yes the drugs haven't fluxed her cortex yet. Miraculous, considering if you think I could push a lot of cocaine, Merriweather could fairly have shot hers out of a garden hose." Sherlock smoothed his hair and took out the slate. But he was a bit shaky, John noticed. As if he was still thinking about the cocaine in Merriweather's kitchen. Then Sherlock settled in to the case again, "Need a place to sit down and look into this, John."
"And we should get off the street. We're too visible here." John held his distracted friend back from traffic with one extended hand, and then gave him a tug on the front of the coat when they were good to cross.
"Oh, he's a talker, all right – as evidenced by the relentlessly jejune torment I had to sit through while you were in that bar."
"Relentlessly," John stuck his hands in his pockets and muttered. "Relentlessly jejune."
As they reached the opposite sidewalk, Sherlock's arms opened, his hands cued the orchestra in his brain. "We have to find her tonight! That man will be gabbling like a budgerigar to anyone who will listen, by morning. Approximately an hour after he arrives at work, the fact you and I have survived will be well established. Child's play to extrapolate our identities after he starts in."
"You extrapolated his ethics from his loafers to work out why Leiber sat by and let this happen to Sofia." John felt himself grinning in incredulity. "If they know you at all, they'll know that was you. It was astonishing."
Sherlock looked back at the slate. His voice was subdued, "You think so?"
"Of course I bloody think so. It is so." John snorted. "Follow me. We're running critically low on red meat." He grinned at the oddly displaced thought, which was a little something he'd picked up from the Marines in Afghanistan.
Even with John's querulous appetite, he still got through steak and chips at a shop four streets over. Not at all aiding John's digestion was the fact Sherlock would only sit in the front of the house at a window. He would not be dissuaded. He unscrewed the bulb in their lamp and spent the better part of the meal letting his tea get cold in front of him while his fingers rattled against his phone and the slate in turns. Twenty minutes ago, John had prodded the genius into muttering, "Reading about Scarlett's – Sofia's – Ark-Co projects all night. Two years of records. Nothing stands out. No idea why she was fired… changed her identity. Records expunged."
Good thing John could keep himself company.
"Anything else?" the server asked. She smiled at them warmly. "Want some dessert?"
"I asked for hot tea," Sherlock said distractedly. He never looked up from the slate. "Take this away. It's cold."
"But, sir, I-"
John reached a hand. "It's okay. I understand. He's… focussing, and he can lose track of time."
"No he cannot." Sherlock enunciated. Then he tapped the table with a fingertip. "Hot tea."
She carried the cup away with a worried expression on her young face.
"Sherlock," John grumbled, "if you don't stop scaring the staff, I'm going to knock you on your-"
Holmes put his fingertips to his temples and then pushed his hands out in air beside him in a motion identical to sweeping items off a cluttered table. "Ignis Ray – IR Pharma – is a subsidiary of Ark-Co. They have an overwhelming controlling stake, Ark-Co, but haven't moved to purchase Ignis yet. It's been five years. Perfect arrangement if you want to lay your mistakes at someone else's feet. Ignis is heavily influenced – its board of Directors is appointed by Ark-Co – but it's still nominally independent. Meanwhile, Ignis has offices in a different location than its parent company, and, among other things, is involved in arranging the freight of Ark-Co pharmaceutical products. That gives them storage facilities, John. They ship by road, air, and sea. Of these, air freight is our least likely candidate. Airports are a little too excitable about security these days. But road or sea… lovely locations to keep a girl." He shoved the slate at John. "But which. I need a way to figure out which. And tea. Where is that girl with the tea?"
John chucked money on the table. "I'll buy you some at Starbucks. Belt up and lets go." John got out of his seat and made for the door. Sherlock didn't budge. "We don't have time for this."
Slowly, he got to his feet. Sherlock seemed distracted by his thoughts, thus his motions were slow as he put his things away. This might have been the Demerol, but smart money was on the delay being caused by a snag inside the crucible that was Sherlock's head. John waited it out patiently, his eyes never straying far from the road traffic outside. Although… it seemed that Holmes had chosen this place wisely. Closer inspection revealed that unlike with the Thai place, there was no intersection with a road perpendicular, which would allow for a determined assassin to T-bone a vehicle into the restaurant. There also appeared to be a–
Sherlock glanced his way, "We're set back at least five yards from the road and there's a plinth and a knee wall along the edge of the lot, John. I wish you'd relax."
"Quite all right." He glanced out the front as they moved along behind some older diners toward the main doors of the building, and then he stopped. "Police coming. Leiber didn't wait. The odds he'd do so were a little less than even, but we did threaten his stable environment, he called the Yard on us. Want to go out the back?"
"Absobloodylutely." John did an about-face and they headed for the back. About halfway there, Sherlock caught hold of his jacket and pivoted them both into a booth. He gave his hat a little tug. "Keep your eyes on me. I've got two coming in from the back."
"Why so many?" John marvelled. "We just spoke to him. Ivan Leiber isn't that important an individual, is he?"
"But he is with Ark-Co, and if that name got into the ears of someone at the Yard, it's possible that Lestrade's feelers picked it up. Charlotte has the letter now. The clues are in the open. Two men harass an Ark-Co official?"
"And what if he gave descriptions?" John sighed and looked from the police in the front of the house, scanning the room, to those in the back. "Where do we go?"
Sherlock smiled up at a passing waitress. "Miss, is it possible we could get something on the balcony?" he used his best Metro impression. "A little more private?"
The girl brightened and looked between them warming. "Well, I'll go have a look."
"Follow her," Sherlock said coldly. "Don't look in the direction of the police, even if they stare at you. I won't be far behind."
John got up from his seat and followed the waitress across the crowded restaurant. His spine prickled, but he refused to glance at police, which was ridiculous, as he had a badge on him – Sherlock's Consulting Detective badge, which Lestrade had gotten him when the CIA had come sniffing around.
He dropped into the seat of an empty table as soon as the server carried away the mugs that had been left behind by earlier patrons. Sherlock was two minutes behind by John's watch. He slunk through the balcony with his coat folded over one arm. The coat was very distinctive.
Moving as he did, with the unsociable coolness he did, it was hard to pin him as Sherlock Holmes. He looked like he should have been lounging in the select section of a blue-blooded nightclub. "John." he said softly.
John got up, and in the bustle of people going from the table near the back, Sherlock went over the low wall around the tables and was free in the alley. John quickly followed. Though they took curious looks, no one tried to detain, or delay them. From there, they walked down the alley. Sherlock ducked through a dark passage into the opposite building. They came out in bright, busy kitchens. "Sorry… got turned around. Which way to the front?"
Then he ignored the directions of the kitchen staffers and went out the back.
John could make comparisons between escaping those few city blocks and white-water-rafting, which he'd done with his mates back in school: there was more planning to it than anyone outside the hobby probably expected, and a lot of physical hardship. And so it was with this escape Sherlock fell into dead silence, such was his concentration. The need to run in fits and starts began to dwindle. They were surrounded. Getting clear of the first ten blocks took an hour, and like the feline he was, Sherlock dearly wanted to get up onto the rooftops. Doing so would make a racket they couldn't afford at the moment.
The pair of them huddled in a recessed doorway in an alley, just barely hidden from the floodlight a rolling Met police unit shone down the long black tube between brick walls. John held his breath. There was nothing for the nerves like hiding from oodles of circling police. All that he could think was that Sofia was alive. Sofia needed them. Meant they couldn't get caught. Sherlock's phone made a soft ping lost in the crackle of tires on unkempt asphalt. He checked who had texted only after the unit rolled by, but he didn't try to leave the shallow doorway.
"What's it say?" John whispered.
"Sarah," Sherlock replied quietly. "She contacted Charlotte Warren. We're persons of interest in the disappearance of Sofia Rothingham. Nothing on the news, but City and Met police are aware of it and hot to nick us both. Donovan's chuffed, I'm sure. The British Transport Police aren't under the Home Office… so there may be hope if we reach the London Underground." He put the phone away, reached out, and pulled John back into the scant doorway. The police unit had cleverly backed up to shine the light again. "Lestrade's told them who they're dealing with," Sherlock murmured. "They're being extra painful."
"Are we able to get out of here?" John asked. He desperately wanted to go home, in fact, and take a couple more painkillers as well. It had been hours now, and he was badly in need of pain relief. Sherlock also had to be suffering.
When the light passed, Sherlock picked the lock beside him and stepped into the back of a paint shop. The storage area was dark, smelly, and predictably full of paint tins. John could vaguely make out the small chest under a lone window. He went to huddle in it. His body throbbed so badly that he wished he could crack open a tin of terpenes to take pain meds with. Sherlock remained with his back against the locked door. He texted hurriedly. A shadow passed over John's head. Someone looking in the window above him? John froze, as did Holmes. Next, the doorknob rattled. They were trying the locked door. By now, John was holding his breath. When he studied Holmes he found his friend's expression padlocked, distant, and all business. They stood, and sat, in silence until the attention passed.
Sherlock texted. John's phone pinged.
'Sarah's in the car coming to get us. Bringing water. Parched. Hurting.'
John smiled at this and texted a reply.
'If I'm trapped, tired, and sore all over, at least the company is good.'
There was a pretty long pause before the reply.