Sherlock now gazed at the menu on the table and smiled quietly. He didn't dare speak a word about that last declaration, seeing as John was uneasy about Sarah's involvement in any of their cases. John was queasy when he thought of Sarah Sawyer getting mired in this one. But Sherlock's green gaze slid to the left, and Sarah's aqua blues to the right, and, between them, sealed a contract.
She was in before the basket of chips arrived. When it did, the serving was huge with three types of hand-made deli dipping sauce. The smell was delicious enough that it made John shiver.
Sarah swallowed hard. "What? No pork scratchings?" She rubbed her red and tear-stained face.
Sherlock pushed the menu her way, "I'll bring you whatever you like. Just…"
"I'm sorry," she told him. "I won't cry again. Where are we in the investigation?"
"City Police involved me yesterday at 6:30 PM. It took some time to realize this was Sofia's place. Sarah, I warn you, there is a lot of blood. I'm still figuring out what it means and I may have a job for you to that end, it depends on how the day goes."
"Okay," she said with a nod. It was all she could manage.
Sherlock continued. "She left me a very interesting note," he flashed the pink paper at her and Sarah sat up with a blink, "with the clues '2009', 'fire', and 'Ark-Co' written inside. In fact, I may have a job for you to-"
"Stop," John rubbed his face. "Just, can we not sink Sarah deeper and deeper in this mess?"
"John," she turned his direction. "I swear, you are the kindest, sweetest man I've met, but if you don't stop doing that, I'm going to box your ears for you. Sherlock, carry on."
Holmes seemed rather daunted by her now. "Well. I was… going to add that Sofia appears to be a 24 year old ex- employee of Ark-Co. Whatever happened to her, she felt the need to change her entire identity. Sofia Rothingham isn't her real name. Given the situation she adopted it."
"She," Sarah shook her head and frowned, "How do we know she hasn't just done the same thing all over again? Things were going wrong, so she just vanished out of one identity and jumped into another."
John spread his hands, "Well, she was pretty committed to this new life she'd built. You should see her paintings – amazing stuff. She had a strong friendship with you. And she really wanted to see Sherlock again."
"Mawkish, John. There are reasons why. For one, even leaving your old life, there are things you take with you, preparations you would need to make. Secondly, there were men seen in her apartment, and-" Sherlock sat slowly upright. He seemed to be considering something.
"And why did you say she's still alive?" John opened his hand on the table. "We know the dining room rug is missing. We know that it was dropped off the balcony. Why do you say she's alive because of that?" He glanced apologetically at Sarah, "Logically speaking, her body still could have been inside."
Sherlock's lips suddenly tugged into a half smile. "Ah…" he said breathily and closed his eyes. Sherlock put his head down, smiled, and murmured, "Ah, dazzling."
John and Sarah looked at one another, askance. Sherlock seemed to be in the throes of some kind of private passion.
John tapped the table top. "Uh, in public, Sherlock."
"Who cares?" Holmes sat up quickly enough that it made them both jump. "If you, and three uni mates, say, killed a woman and tucked her in a rug to hide her, would you chuck it off the fourth floor of the building and leg it outside to collect it? Or would you, for example, worry that the rug might come undone on the way down and spill out the body? Or that the loud sound that would result would cause it to be noticed? And if the body had slid free, you know… how does that look to you?"
John sat back and thought about it. "I wouldn't do that, I mean, to begin with, of course, but even hypothetically." He started in on the chips. "It looks insane."
"What if Sherlock was in the alley," Sarah dipped her fingertip gingerly in a white sauce and tasted it. Her brows went up a moment, indicating it was good. "You know, ready to ferry it away." She stabbed chips with her fork and pulled the white dip her way.
"Which someone was," Sherlock noted with great certainty.
"Bit of a better picture, I admit," John nodded. "I mean, I could drop the rug, and just leg it out of there and take the tubes if I wanted. Well, presuming I wasn't covered in lots of blood."
"Oh no problem," Sherlock grinned at him. "You're so good, you walk on air, John, and so you don't track a single drop outside of the dining room area." Sherlock's gaze rolled over the chips for a moment and muscles flickered in his cheek. John wondered if he ever got hungry.
Then he frowned and told Holmes, "Yeah only that would take an angel, or a devil. I'm neither of those. And it's not how bloody scenes work. I've been in – or… just know that I know." John rubbed his eyes to try to dismiss the gore-soaked memories of Afghanistan's surgeries.
"Yes. I know you do," Sherlock agreed with him and sat back. "Even if you had watched the building for weeks, as these men must've, and you knew it was pitch dark in that alleyway late at night, there is the question Why? If I wanted her dead, I could go into the flat, break her neck, and throw her off the balcony. Such damage could be explained as a consequence of the fall – the lofts have 14 foot ceilings; Sofia is four storeys up, that's quite high enough to result in a broken neck. Now, what did they do?" He opened his hands before him and dropped them to the table. The action might have been Sherlock setting down a box containing his deductions.
His rapt audience didn't answer. Or move.
"Think now. They go in. They have a little chat, or a little threat, that ends in damage to Sofia. Then they control the bleeding, get it stopped. They are able to remove her from the front room without tracking blood."
John was shaking his head.
"I know," Sherlock held up a hand to his flatmate. "Bear with me. They clean Sofia and take her out of the building. My money, and the fact Ark-Co is involved, says that she's drugged. However, she leaves, more or less under her own steam. She's out of the building before the remaining man rolls up the rug and pitches it off the balcony. Why take the rug? Because this will make it seem as though she's been murdered and the body has been relocated inside of it. But the rug is incidental – it might have been a suitcase, the tarps, or even her bed's duvet, just something that could hide a body. Out in the alley, a car was sitting waiting – I noticed the tire tracks because they were so unusually close to the wall. I thought it strange, as you wouldn't be able to open the driver side door. But it's not a problem when the driver has no intention of getting out. It would have put the car deep in shadow in the earlier hours of the night, say midnight to 1 AM? It was invisible until it coasted out of the alley. So, the rug goes in the boot; and Sofia goes in the back."
"Not in the boot." John sighed softly. "So…."
"So they need her for something." Sherlock nodded. "The man who tossed the rug was the last out of the building. You can bet he was moving. He'd choose the lift over the creaky stairs. Possibly, he took a second car, but there's no evidence of that outside of the logistics of kidnapping a woman when you already have four people in a car, also, the redundancy of a second car if the first experiences trouble is highly logical. It is an engineer's move. Similarly, one individual took the riskiest action, that's tossing a rug that would have been very challenging to move. It was expedient, and it was the last thing done. The rug did wake some of the building next door, but it wouldn't have fit in the lift, and, frankly, would have been dangerous on that staircase."
"But isn't getting three men into her apartment at that hour of the night riskier, if she had no reason to trust them?" Sarah opened her hands. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but… if Ark-Co is involved-"
"-and if she knew they were from Ark-Co, or not, a woman doesn't let in three men at that hour, Sherlock. She had no reason to trust them."
"You're thinking about it backwards. They knew her schedule. They'd been watching her for weeks, Sarah: they'd caught her, so there was no need to rush. Getting copies of her keys, letting themselves in, it's all very simple, and you can even hire someone to do it for you. They were already in her home when she arrived. That negates much of the risk." He picked up his phone.
Sarah uncovered her lips and told him. "Some Fridays she volunteered at a blood bank, you know, getting people in and out, helping them through the process, cleaning the place up. She would have been there late, around 11 o'clock."
"Sherlock suspects she was a nurse." John added.
It struck Sarah as odd, but only for a moment. "It would explain quite a few things she's known." She wiped off her lower lid. "She was fascinated whenever we talked about the clinic."
Holmes stopped tapping on his phone and leaned back in his seat. "And the argument in Sofia's didn't really stir her neighbours. Means… it had to be much quieter than the scene suggests. But if they got in, controlled her, and subdued her quickly. And they took her and the rug out as expediently as they could…. Adequate planning, but poor execution with the blood; there was so much of it, none of it tracked around. Well, apart from police." He shook his head.
John noted. "With that much blood, she's still in serious danger."
"Certainly, if it's all hers," Sherlock's lips compressed a moment. "They were doing something with the blinds. What was on the blinds?"
John noted, "Looked like arterial splatter."
"No smearing. No signs of clean-up. If you aren't cleaning them up, what are you doing, John? Looking out at the next building? Possible, but risky. Or you could be squirting the blood on there to begin with."
Sarah's eyes widened. "What if it's not all hers? Could someone else have been bleeding?"
"God, woman. Think. I bet they brought some to the party, freshly squeezed." Sherlock told her.
John turned toward Sarah Sawyer's now optimistic face. "So the job you want Sarah to do wouldn't be collecting blood samples, would it? Lots of samples?" He glanced to Holmes.
"But you can do that! I don't have a badge. I can't even get in there." She exclaimed. However, there was no masking the determination stamped all over her features.
"Of course you can. I'll take you in," Sherlock said quickly. "And you'll need to deliver the samples to St. Bart's for me. Molly Hooper is the person. Tell her Sherlock Holmes sent you. And… expect her to be overly interested in who you are." He flapped a hand in air.
Sarah didn't know exactly how to interpret this so she shook it off and continued. "I still don't see why you wouldn't do it?"
"Oh, we're supposed to be dead right now. Seen the news? That Thai restaurant that burned not far from the Central Library?" Sherlock told her.
"Ohmigod," she breathed. "You two were there?"
Unlike John, Sherlock eased back to dodge the hand Sarah reached for him, it almost looked like an accidental confluence. "Yes. A truck ploughed through the front wall in a respectable attempt to crush us, ergo, the furthest, darkest corner of this frankly too-beige deli. Far too beige. Speaking of which, have John show you his side when you have a chance: lovely shade of puce."
"Sherlock." John said warningly. He hadn't been with Sarah yet, in fact. He really didn't want her first glimpse of him half-dressed to be with that clinical stare she could don, or worse, to be full of pity.
Sarah doggedly refused to let the magnitude of their news so distress her that it would throw her off course. It was a decision so conscious John could fairly see the effort of it crossing her mind, on her face. No doubt Sherlock could read it easily. "Then I'm… I'm getting us a cab then," she said stoutly and wiped her hands in the paper napkins on the edge of the table. "John, we need to get you painkillers."
"I have some."
"Is Sherlock all right?" and, knowing Sherlock was loath to take pills of any kind, she fixed Holmes with a glare. "Are you listening to John?" She watched Sherlock wither down in his chair, and his expression go sour.
"He's good," John smoothed the ruffled waters between the pair of them. "He's on top of it." He hoped that was true. Sherlock would, after all, have to agree to another pill not long from now. On an empty stomach the codeine was nauseating.
"If that's the case," Sarah raised her head and inhaled, "we're going to Sofia's so that I can get started with the collection as soon as possible. We need to find her. I'll fetch a cab. Stay here, boys." She nodded and walked out of the deli.
John sat in silence a moment, sun checkering the remains of the empty chip basket in front of him, which still smelled ridiculously good. He let his mind rest, just let it sit empty.
"What is?" John looked up to find Sherlock's gaze preoccupied with the menu on the table. He idly flipped a page.
After a heartbeat or so, Sherlock said. "Sarah."
John felt himself still. "Really?"
Sherlock only nodded.
"How… do you mean, not bad?" John asked quietly.
He'd stewed about Sherlock's feelings, or lack thereof, for months. It seemed Holmes could take, or leave, his flatmate on any given day. So how did Sherlock feel about him living in the flat? Also, did the abuse he faced from police ever penetrate? Was he just an associate of John Watson's, or was something deeper, maybe even not platonic, going on with him? And now this? 'How does Sherlock feel about Sarah' had scarcely darkened John's door, compared to his oft confused suspicion she was somehow seeing two men at once: John, by choice; Sherlock – oh, John didn't know – hopefully parasitically? Only Sarah didn't seem averse to it. Just look at the man: bloody exceptional; irritatingly tall; exhilarating as all hell, plus the looks. John shut his eyes and willed himself not to start that foolishness.
Sherlock closed the menu and rose from the table. John followed his quick motions as they flowed together in spite of the physical pain he still had to be in. It was when Holmes joined Sarah outside and slipped through the door of the cab she stood beside, that John realized he'd already missed his window.
Lestrade was among the bustle of police on the crime scene. More precisely, he was standing at the top of an alley talking to Sally Donovan, whose expression was tight and stressed. John figured she really had no business being here, this region being outside of Met jurisdiction, the scene being SIO Warren's, but it wasn't going to be Sherlock's problem for once. They were on the wrong side of the building for it, so neither of them saw Sherlock heading inside. John found this rather humorous considering the choke-chain the DI could make of his presence. Apparently, he was too occupied in dealing with Donovan.
"That's Sally there," John noted of the woman. "Remember Sally?"
The corners of Sarah's lips drew down. "The one who calls him Freak? I'd rather not, thanks." Her tone held the kind of cold that John found only a woman's could.
John couldn't quite conceal his approval.
Before them, Sherlock glided up the stairs, his coat riding pillows of air in the great open shaft of the staircase. Sarah, however, had never seen the stairway of doom, and balked at the bottom. The rickety affair with its chunky handmade railings had not nearly enough plank balusters, and no inner railing either. She clung to the brick wall on her ascent, and marvelled that Sherlock could scoot along with such pluck, each time the shadow of his coat swept over her.
For all that speed, he waited for them at the top. When he reached the door that he'd so recently locked, he caught hold of Sarah's elbow and leaned to her ear to murmur, "Calm and confident. Yes?"
She nodded once and smoothed the powder on her recently teary cheeks.
"If challenged, defer to me." He straightened, assured himself of John's position, and tugged his gloves before stepping inside the room. He went about five steps before stopping and pointing upward. "There you are, John. The paintings I suspect you were too exhausted to notice, and let's slow down a minute for Sarah. She's never been."
Indeed, Sarah's eyes were drinking the dichotomy in. Her head turned in an arc from shoulder to shoulder – so much to see, and so much of it was dumbfounding. "I knew she was an artist," Sarah murmured to Sherlock and John, "but this is just… incredible."
Sherlock's brows went up. He nodded in agreement, which for Holmes was high praise. As Sarah walked deeper into the room, John stayed close behind her. Oddly, so did Sherlock. She walked to the painting of the three of them at Pensaci Bene! together, Sarah clapped a hand over her mouth. John knew it was hitting her that this was really Sofia's home and she was really gone. He couldn't imagine what Sherlock thought about the moment. Or if he thought anything about it at all. His expression was its standard.
"Where is it?" Sarah asked dryly.
John glanced across at her, "Where's what?"
Sherlock's low voice rumbled, "Crime scene." John turned his head in the direction of the sunken dining room and Sarah started forward at once. She'd properly read his cue. As soon as she set off, Holmes stepped behind. When the time came, he caught her on her slender upper arms.
Sarah lost her footing. She was a doctor, certainly, and a very good one. But she wasn't a wartime surgeon, and this was her friend's blood. When she pulled herself to rights, Sherlock turned her toward him and inspected her dampened face. "All right," he decided, "I'll see to it you have what you need to collect samples."
Sarah nodded and looked in John's direction for support.
"Sarah," he told her evenly. "You can leave. I can do this."
But she staunchly shook her head and walked down to study the patterns in the blood. It beggared her mind just trying to imagine what kind of disturbance could have caused this. And relatively quietly. John wished he could say the same. He'd seen people die in far too many ways.
She turned and narrowly avoided a City Policeman as he cut through from the bedroom. He gave her an odd look, but passed her by when he saw she was with John. He'd assumed she was another Met police Sergeant. Who else would have the nerve to traipse onto a crime scene?
Sherlock returned with an evidence kit – who knew where from – which he set on the floor beside Sarah. "Know what you're doing?"
Sometimes one could almost hate Sherlock Holmes for his shameless self-assurance. He swept away from her into Sofia's bedroom, and straight out onto the balcony.
"We'll meet up at St. Bart's," John told Sarah. "If there's any trouble, call me. Okay?"
"Be careful," she told him gently, and stooped to open the kit.
John walked out to join Holmes on the balcony.
"What are you doing?"
Sherlock said nothing for a moment, but simply loomed, silently.
John cleared his throat a little. When that didn't work, he just asked. "What are we doing?"
Clearly in a state of distraction, Holmes stood carefully in the shade of the building, quite close to a large, weathered easel. "We're getting out of here past Donovan and Lestrade."
"Why are we sneaking around?" John corrected course before he could be chastised. "I mean, I know why we're sneaking around. It's because we were targeted by Sofia's kidnappers, maybe her killers, last night. So they know what we look like. But why are we sneaking around Lestrade?"
Sherlock glanced over John. "What I look like, at least. And look at them, John."
"Okay." John stared at the Sergeant and DI far below. There didn't appear to be anything out of the ordinary taking place, down there, in fact.
Sherlock started in as soon as John's attention fixed. "Sally touched her pocket. Now she'll motion at the building. Now back to her pocket." John watched this take place almost in time with Sherlock's commentary. "See how she swings the whole arm from the elbow as she points at this building, John?"
Stabbing gesture with hand.
Cannot control anger.
"I… I do. What's going on I wonder. Lestrade is looking a bit strained there… frazzled." John wasn't really all that eager to get on the bad side of that, come to think of it, thus the wisdom of sneaking out. Sherlock could read it in his face and acted according to his plan.
Holmes led them back inside where, momentarily, he bridled at the presence of a City officer in Sofia's bedroom. It was a baring of his teeth at the imposition and John couldn't miss it. But was it about Sofia? Probably just that the officer has surprised Sherlock. Besides, Holmes had likely slept in here just hours before. No way to know. In fact, John didn't know if Sherlock had slept at all. With his taxed reserves, injuries, and, most importantly, since he'd somehow avoided concussion, John hoped he had rested.
"Nothing about this building, this murder, or Sofia can cause Donovan that much anger." Sherlock led them by Sarah without a word. She glanced at them, her expression set and determined, but also worried for them. "Except me. What's small enough to fit in her pocket, and clearly related to me."
"The note. They've figured out what you did with the note."
"Hardly," Sherlock said softly. "They just know I tricked them. They'd take ages figuring out how, if I helped them, they wouldn't be done by now."
They stepped around the corner and almost into SIO Charlotte Warren. She looked the pair of them over wordlessly, her face a careful blank that could neither be careful, nor blank enough to safeguard her from Sherlock.
One button done on coat.
In and out of air conditioning.
Breast cancer pin. Smell of cigarettes. Not hers.
Lestrade's brand. Lestrade has been smoking.
Gait stiff. Hands tense and flexing. Nervous.
Why is she nervous?
She nodded at him and went in the pocket of her coat to take out a perfume bottle. "So we found what went on the envelope, Sherlock," she said lowly. "Where's what went in the envelope?"
"Morning," Sherlock took the Coco bottle from her, fiddled with the cap, and gave the pump a snuffle before handing it over again. He stood back and tucked his hands in his pockets. To John it had looked like the SIO had handed him a bloody rag and thought he might be able to find Sofia with it.
How poorly did they understand this guy?
The SIO's lips squeezed down on a smile that was pure entertainment. "Don't even try. Signs of disturbance all over the room," she said softly. "You spent the night in there, going through things."
Sherlock peered into the flat with seeming innocence. "Of course. I'm on the case. I have a badge. Somewhere. Would you like to see it? John?"
Charlotte glanced over her shoulder and suggested. "I believe you, Sherlock Holmes. Let's go up a level, gentlemen." She started toward the next landing, "DI Lestrade's on his way in, and you'll want to avoid him and that half-pint bull-dog Sergeant of his. They've got a word or two they'd like to say to you, Holmes, not that I think you'll want to hear any of it." She stopped on the steps and told the City Sergeant behind her, "Delay the DI. Politely. Call me when they're clear of the lift."
Sherlock's second look at her was more appraising.
She slowed as they reached the fifth floor, but they still climbed to get out of earshot. "So, Sherlock, the letter's a big bone for that little bull-dog to chew. Sofia Rothingham," she looked his way enquiringly, "your bird?"
"No," he said shortly and then winced and admitted. "Wanted to be." It seemed to cost him in dignity, having to admit that. Much of his poise and self-respect was assembled whole cloth – John knew well – from his assertion that he didn't need people. This girl had badly wanted to be needed by him, which flew in the face of Sherlock's worldview.
"Perfume on a letter," she told him. "Not an innocent letter." She snuffled her open hand. "Not even an innocent perfume, in fact. She must have said something compromising. You took the letter. I'm told that you did it in one of those crazy glass offices, under full view, with the letter on the table in front of you. Lestrade says that sort of thing is quite possible for you."
"It's my letter," Sherlock told her haughtily. "I needn't have brought it to police attention to begin with."
"You didn't," she replied. "I somehow doubt you would have. Doctor Watson did."
John winced, "Yeah. That's true, that is." He snuck a glance through filtering sunlight at Sherlock only to find the man unperturbed… which made sense. Sherlock knew exactly how the police had found out about the note to begin with. He'd been there.
Finally, they stopped on the sixth floor. She led the way down to the lift. "Okay, so I'm cutting you loose. Sergeant Donovan has been all over DI Lestrade about bending Section 60 so that she can Stop and Search you, Sherlock. Be aware."
Sherlock's arms came up and swung out in air. "It's a letter. Last time I read it, Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act really didn't apply to letters, or would you care to explain, precisely, how a piece of paper is a dangerous object or offensive weapon?"
"Wicked bad paper-cuts," John said soberly. "It happens."