"Your experience is varied." The man nodded at John. "In some cases, working with us would require a security clearance. I assume you'd be able to acquire one."
"I've done in the past," John glanced around the room, at the groaning bookcases, the large picture of the queen on the far wall, and the green rolling hills of Derbyshire in photos opposite – Neolithic ruins in the centre. What would Sherlock make of all this? Then his eyes lit on something unexpected. He couldn't believe he hadn't noticed it before. "That's beautiful, that painting is."
"Oh?" Ivan swiveled his chair a little. "Oh yes, that it is. I do enjoy that one. It's an abstract, not usually my thing, only the mood of it, you know, with all the green. It seems to fit well. I rather like the outdoors."
"I should say so," John countered, "you've enough photos of the henge at Arbor Low I'd say you're either an amateur photographer, or would've fancied being an archeologist." at which point the man launched into an exposition on the Bull Ring.
John, however, was busy focusing on the painting behind him.
His ear said. "I need graphics of that painting. Snap it with your phone. Do it."
But there was no way John could whip out his mobile and photograph that without it looking suspicious. It would also destroy the polite fiction that he was interested in Mam Tor, barrows, and all those dusty elements of Neolithic Britain, which, while important, simply didn't appeal to John.
"No. Listen. Admin Assistant will come to the door. Take the photo."
Almost before Sherlock finished explaining, the secretary did tap at the door. Whatever she wanted required immediate attention. Who knew how Sherlock had pulled off something so distracting. When Lieber exited, John quickly took out his phone zoomed the painting, and photographed it, many times. Sherlock – spoiled little brat – should be happy with that. Still finding he had time to spare, he quickly put the mobile phone away again, sat forward and plugged the thumb drive into the back of the laptop before him.
"Sorry about that." Ivan Lieber smoothed his tie and settled back down again.
"My car alarm in the parking lot, it's usually not touchy. Had to hand over my keys, you know, turn the damn thing off again. If you focus… you can hear it.
"Ah," John laughed. They were on the fifth floor of the building. "I plugged in my drive. Very eager for you to have my CV, and also dying to know how an abstract, green or not, plays into your larger picture of Neolithic England? Fascinating stuff."
"Oh," the man laughed. "That's a gift from one of the staffers here at Ark-Co – a talented artist, really."
"I'll say, and I do appreciate abstracts," John lied, now relying on Sherlock to fill in any blanks if the man should start asking intelligent questions about that – though it seemed unlikely given there was only the one in this office, and none of the books he could see on the shelves were about art. "What happened to him? It's not half bad."
"Her…. She's a staffer." He pulled a grim face. John noticed that his fingers suddenly folded on the desk, into fists. "Talented girl. When I look at it, the shape almost seems to be an earthen ring, like the earth and limestone structures, sort of like in-"
John had already tuned it out. So the painting wasn't one of Sofia's then. He'd wasted Sherlock's time, and felt foolish about it now. How puerile the idea was – that they'd hang the painting of a girl they'd abducted, out in the open. John looked at his hands a moment, disappointed, and up again.
He was no Sherlock Holmes.
John's phone pinged and he held up a hand. "I'm very sorry, Doctor Lieber. If you'll allow, I need to check this."
"Of course," the man said, and then smiled convulsively. "Not an offer, is it?"
John glanced up at the man with what approached a genuine smile. Not bad if he could get a looking at here. Of course, his resume was utterly bogus, and there appeared to be no technical questions involved in this phase of interviewing. He checked the text message, which said:
'Send me the photos.'
Oh my God. Really? He couldn't hold his pee for another five minutes? Metaphorical pee. But this interview as almost over, just the same. John knew the signs. Still, he hurriedly sent the photos to Sherlock in an e-mail. It would be the only way to shut the man up. Well… unless he could lean out the window and hit Holmes with a blow-dart full of neuroleptics. That put a smile on his face.
The phone pinged almost immediately. Because Sherlock was nigh unto psychic. Again, Doctor Leiber granted Watson – Goldsack – leave to check his phone. This time the message said.
'At St. Bart's with Dr. Hooper. Been 30 mins. Tea and waiting. Be careful. Good luck! –S'
She found it amusing to sign off her texts like that, '–S' as Sherlock sometimes did. He smiled and tucked the phone in his pocket. John couldn't look at his watch, he realized with a chuckle. It was his scratched, dinged, 30£ Afghanistan timepiece, with which he had counted off so many heartbeats he couldn't begin to number them.
"Something good, then?"
"I'm sorry. It's my girl, wishing me good luck over here."
"Ah," Lieber sat back, joined his hands, and nodded at John. "I think we should set up a secondary appointment for you, Doctor Goldsack. This will be with some of the other staff. I have no doubt you'll soar through anything we throw at you. I suspect you have nerves of steel."
I suspected the same… then I met my flatmate… he'd give a lama ulcers, John thought.
Sherlock spoke in his ear. "Take the second interview. The number he needs is on the CV."
"Excellent news," John rubbed his hands together and was genuinely displeased and trying not to show it for all that he was worth. Sherlock would see through John's facade, but this man wouldn't. "Oh, that's first-rate. When might that be?"
"Later this week – I'll phone you up with details and we can arrange it. I don't suppose you play golf, do you?"
"Sorry," John smiled. "But I'm game for the shooting range if you're ever headed there. The number you'll need is on my CV." And he could always shoot himself to get out of the gut-crunching torment that would be an interview with geneticists and the like. What had Holmes gotten him into?
Lieber double-clicked something on the desktop and repeated a number back to John, who nodded. This was pure trust. He hadn't learned the thing off, or even noticed it. But Sherlock didn't crop up in his ear, so John had faith it was good.
"I'm in." Sherlock told him seconds after. "Take the drive back. Get out."
As Doctor Leiber turned his chair and picked up one of his business cards from the bookcase behind him, John eased out and quietly pulled the thumb drive free. He tucked it into his pocket and reached up to take the card he was offered. "Thanks."
The grinning head of Clinical Pharmacology shook John's hand. "I think you'd fit well here, Goldsack. You seem to have an air of maturity, and the experience on this CV is second to none! HR just got off the phone with one of your references, by the way. He had splendid things to say about your work in CF Research, you know, before your tour." They started out of the office.
"Oh," John had no idea what Leiber was talking about and felt himself flush a little. "Well, that's good. Better than if he picked up and went 'I have no idea what you're talking about'." He laughed, a sure warning the tension was getting to him. He had 'references' answering phones for him now. "Real comedians, some of the people I've worked with."
"Oh, there are some like that here too. With hope, you'll get to meet them."
Doctor Lieber walked John all the way to the lobby, still eager to talk about the war, as it turned out. John was grateful for this – for the fact he didn't have to listen to Sherlock and begin to fabricate answers to questions he, as a gifted battlefield surgeon, couldn't necessarily understand. But, engaged in such a conversation, John found that he watched people's hands closely as a matter of habit, and that his war-practised gaze leapt up along the lines of coats for weapons. He checked faces last. Sherlock, in reverse… mostly.
He took his leave of Doctor Lieber with a final handshake in the lobby.
Once John was outside he felt sort of weak-kneed. He'd never done anything like that before. He'd just participated in a con, and he'd worried the whole time, that he'd be caught. John sighed as he walked in the direction Sherlock instructed for him. "You should have told me the glasses let you see and not just hear," he sighed.
"Well, they don't let me photograph." Sherlock said back into his ear. "And you never asked." But he sounded like he'd found his trickery entertaining.
John stopped on a corner and looked around. "Where are you?"
"Taxi at the red light. Get cracking."
Well. John found the cab among the several others sitting at the red because Sherlock popped the door open. He hurried over and scooted inside. The cabby found this odd, but didn't make a complaint about it. As John was shutting the door, the taxi took off again.
When he turned to Holmes, he found the man had a chic hat on his short clipped hair. It was trendy, stylishly industrial, and looked Armani. The thing made Sherlock's brows and eyes a mystery, and shadowed his high cheekbones and the bridge of his straight nose. It was very sharp with the coat. John nodded, "You have to quit doing that."
"Doing what?" Sherlock sipped an iced coffee.
Morphing into another person between glimpses. "Not telling me everything the equipment does."
"But…. I've never done it before," Sherlock noted. "First time."
"And, already, you have to quit. Poor you." John took the glasses off and folded them closed. "While we're at it, you need to stop telling me half the story." He blew out air in a stressed sigh.
It was now impossible to try to read Holmes' expressive brows, or his pale jade eyes, but the bow lips gave Holmes away. Sherlock's lips compressed together a moment, then gave a faint pop as they opened again. John had seen that before, usually accompanied by a tired expression as Sherlock seemed to realize, for all his cleverness, there were things he couldn't get out of. He returned to his iced coffee. John turned to look at traffic and missed Sherlock's sudden grin.
There was no need for Sherlock to respond, really. John had said his piece. "You won't like this."
"Won't I?" Sherlock said inquisitively.
"Sarah will have been at St. Bart's with Molly for about an hour by the time we reach."
He didn't need to see Sherlock's eyes about this either. The sudden bunching of his lips was followed by a groan.
This time John looked out the window to hide his smile. God, he hoped Holmes walked in there in the hat. Right now, he looked like a free-range model, long, slim, indecently posh, and sprawled in the cab. Clearly, he awaited the arrival of a random photographer. The well-groomed elegance of his current appearance was just plain unreasoning. Molly Hooper would be struck dumb.
The trip to St. Bart's, took 15 minutes. Not great, but not bad. John paid up and they slunk inside. Well, Sherlock slunk. He was already in a mood.
"Nothing." Holmes' tone was surly.
"That's a lie." John noted.
"It's a white lie, and white lies," Sherlock looked at John as they stepped in the elevator, "are good." He reached around an intern and pressed the button for the mortuary. Then he stood back, looked at the ceiling, and closed his eyes. He might have been praying, if he hadn't been half devil.
White lies… are good. Save that one for the blog. He boggled the mind.
John could hear the two women laugh, companionably, before he even entered Molly Hooper's cold demesne. She was a bit of a Persephone, Molly. Her long hair was up in a pair of tails high on the crown of her adroit head, sort of like the horns of a goat. After a rap of the doorframe, John stepped in the door without giving it much thought. The women seated at the long, dark lab table, close to one another, froze sipping tea.
"Doctor… Watson?" Molly cocked her head at him. "Well, hello."
Sarah's eyes widened. She sat up straight. Her mouth fell open a little. This was all very startling for John. To top it off, she delivered a breathless, "John?"
"Still," he nodded at her… and wondered if this was something akin to how Sherlock felt when he pulled his chameleon trick: like it was John who was acting strangely, not him. He smoothed his suit.
"Love… the suit, it's…" Sarah got up, her hands flipped in air, demurely, but she didn't cross to him. He had no idea why she should get to her feet like that. Somewhere off behind John, Sherlock came into the room and chuckled.
"You did this?" Sarah addressed tall, grinning Sherlock, but motioned at John.
Sherlock said. "Sergio Armani did this, really. The credit card was simply an abettor." He spread his hands and looked joyfully down at his creation.
"God," John rubbed his forehead. "Been a beast of a day. Thankfully, you're fine, Sarah."
"Uhm. Yes. Well… just talking to Molly. Which has been… enlightening." Sarah's eyes followed Sherlock, off behind John's back. So John turned. Sherlock had doffed the coat, dropped the hat on top, and pushed his hands through his short hair. No. That wasn't going to help matters. Holmes frowned a little at the pain in his sutures. His fingers came away bloody.
John only just beat Sarah to the admonition: "Be careful."
Molly Hooper, however, stopped staring and started to move again. She clattered up to her feet, very nearly tipping over the stool on which she sat, and squeaked, "Sherlock, why are you bleeding?"
"Because I have a gash in my head," Holmes said moodily. "John? See to this."
"I'll do it," Molly said quickly.
John met her gaze for a moment, and then… conceded. Sherlock, in the meantime, shot him a look that was one part acid, one part snarling animals. But he waited. Molly Hooper circled the table to where Sherlock now pawed in the volumes of coat to find the pocket. Frustrated, he bundled the whole thing up and tossed it to John. "Could you possibly find the gear?"
"Pain relievers. Pain. Relievers." Gear being slang for street drugs, though neither of the women present seemed to realize this.
Sherlock glared at him, "Could you possibly hurry?"
"Sit." Molly told him gently.
He glanced her way, "No, thanks." His fingers caught a dribble of blood as it reached his eyebrow, and Sherlock bent to keep blood clear of his precious, precious clothes. And shoes. John realized. He didn't like making a mess of those if he didn't have to.
"Sit down, Sherlock." Molly's voice was suddenly firm. "You're bleeding."
John split his time between watching Sarah observe all this, glancing to make sure Sherlock was all right, and searching for the pills. When he had a baggy, he backed away from the long table to take out the pills. Sarah might not know the slang, but she'd know an unmarked bag of recycled prescription drugs on sight. It would make for an uncomfortable conversation. He needed to take a pill as well, by now.
He laid Sherlock's coat on the lab bench and turned to watch Molly. She was, of course, a medical doctor. She'd simply had a couple of years more training in order to take over autopsies down here. Her movements were quick, deft, but gentle.
"What happened?" Molly cleared her throat a little and asked him. She caught up gauze from the small kit she'd laid out beside him and smoothed the blood away from his brow with such tenderness that John felt rude for watching it. Molly's glance made out bruises on the back of Sherlock's hand, and abraded skin there too. "Did you… get in a fight?"
"John?" Sherlock said leadenly. Though he didn't bother to open his eyes, or look up, John knew this was his way of saying 'intervene'. Except John couldn't really do much to help. This was a tricky relationship, one full of pricks and thorns. He couldn't easily reach in without coming out bloody.
But something in his nature told him he had to try.
"Well… the day's been a walking disaster, you see. We're on a case and it's become really… physical." John decided to deflect and set his hands on his hips. "Sutures holding up, Molly? He's been through a lot the last two days."
Sherlock fired back a low growl of warning, "John, don't help." Implying he was helping the wrong one of the pair of them.
But Molly simply tipped her head to one side. Her fingers opened to gingerly move dark curls aside. God she was gentle when she touched him. John was speechless.
"The technique… is a bit wanting, I'm sorry, Doctor Watson." She looked his direction curiously.
"Yeah well he was squirming," John took off his overcoat and added it to Sherlock's. "Really, that was because there was no anaesthetic. You know how it is."
She really, really didn't. Molly gawped at him. In her world there were no battlefields. She laid a protective hand across Sherlock as if shielding him from his flatmate. He looked at it with the same vexation as if bird droppings had just struck his coat. His favourite coat. Really, it was appalling. Molly, friendly, pretty, and bright enough to run this place at her age, had always helped Sherlock by giving him access to St. Bart's labs, even though she really shouldn't have. She broke rules for him. Her career could easily hang in the balance. At the very least, she deserved not to be treated as if contagious.
John suddenly found himself a bit put out for the tall, pretty brunette.
"Okay," Molly said too lightly. She gathered herself and turned to Holmes, then bent slightly to look into his green eyes, "I… Sherlock… I could give you a shot of something. For the pain." Her tone was a bit grave. She searched his face as if committing it to memory.
"I'd much rather," he paused. Then his brows went up a little at the bridge of his nose, "I'd much rather if you'd look at the blood Doctor Sawyer brought in than spend time doing this. Both John and Sarah can deal with this cut. But the blood…. I need to know if it's all from the same woman."
"From your girlfriend," Molly said. At that moment, at least to John, she was utterly unreadable. To Sherlock, it was another story. He leaned back from her quite slowly. Pain and longing could drive a person mad and – her eyes had gone hard as lumps of glass. He'd never seen them do that. It was off-putting. Her tone became brittle as she straightened and looked down on him. "Yes… well… Sherlock, you see, this lab, and all of its solvents and equipment-"
He could work with hard. "She's missing." Sherlock said levelly. He leaned in, looked up, put himself in her direct line of vision. "She's in serious danger."
Molly's hand dropped, but went nowhere near him. She stepped back and averted her gaze as she carried on, "Which… which doesn't change the fact-"
"She's not dead yet, Molly. You can still help me save her." He half rose to get her attention.
Something flashed across her expression that truly startled Holmes, and he was left staring at her with a distinct sense that, if she'd been another person, she would have struck him in the face. He sank back onto the stool and calculated the probability at about 55 percent that her next words were-
"You… need to get out of my lab, Sherlock Holmes." Molly stepped back and hugged herself.
John's jaw dropped. Major problem.
"Please," Sarah's voice wobbled. "This is my friend. She's an artist, and clever. Full of life and-"
John caught hold of her.
But it was too late. Molly's tone was acid, "I don't want to hear about her. Sherlock, it's time. I've… I've had enough. Get out." She stepped aside as if he'd climb out of a chair in a lab he very much considered his own, really. That had been presumptuous.
Sarah took a breath that sounded like a broken sob. "Wait, please, Doctor Hooper."
"Sarah," John whispered and collected the woman. "I'll explain. Come outside. Just come on." He gathered her up and pulled her out the door, but he stayed within earshot, just around the frame.
Inside the room, Sherlock's eyes lingered on the doorway. John had better not be on his way to a coffee pot for two, right now. He could expect to pay for being the kind of bastarding flatmate that left his fellow to fend for himself without even a pain pill. Traitor.
But Molly. He had to placate her and-
"You should have said," she looked away at the wall.
"Said?" Said what? What the hell was she on about? "Look at me."
"Why would I do that?"
Sherlock couldn't answer that. He had to see her face, for one; it wasn't possible to influence her properly unless she was attending to him, for another. Well, control her, really. But that reminded him of Mycroft, and he had to close his eyes and curse for a moment.
Okay. She wouldn't. So he would move.
"You should have said there was a girl." Molly bit her top lip and rolled it out from her teeth.
"There is no girl," Sherlock blinked and touched his aching head. "Well, there is a girl, and she's in terrible danger. I'm working that case for the City-"
"You went out with her," Molly challenged him. "Doctor Sawyer told me so. All this time asking and she just shows up. It's like I don't even-" Molly had to stop.
It was hard to look at her since Sherlock could read humiliation; woe. He started to get confused, which he patently disliked. He had to push. How much could he push? No idea. Damn woman.
"She was foisted on me," Sherlock said evenly, like soothing an injured horse. "Flatmate. Sarah. They thought it would be… fun somehow. I don't find such things any fun." His fingers looped in air, softly, like waving off smoke. When he opened his eyes again, Molly was much closer, though he hadn't heard her move. Quiet girl.
She looked up. "Why her?"
Her voice was strange: steely, but shaking. Sherlock cocked his head. Was she asking why Sofia was missing? Why John and Sarah had chosen her? Or –? "Explain."
She bared her small, white teeth a moment, and then made a second attempt. "Why go out with her, Sherlock?" Her look stated, categorically, he'd better get with explaining.
"I didn't." It was such a needless and uncomfortable conversation. He resented her for it.
"Yes, you did."
"Molly, this is irrelevant! God, my head is aching." He pushed his palm against his forehead. His hand was shaking.
She straightened. "Take off your jacket."
"No," he snapped. "I'd honestly rather bleed."
For a moment, she did nothing. Then she retreated and brought syringes from the table across from her. Sherlock was already unbuttoning, always up for needles.
She explained, "Sarah said you were both injured, so I…. I didn't realize it was… my gosh, that big gash in the head you have. For you, that's pretty serious, thinking as you do and all." She inspected the first of the syringes.
Ah. And there was his self-effacing Molly. She'd reappeared as soon as he'd taken off his jacket and chucked it on the stool beside him. He unbuttoned his left sleeve and rolled it up. Her eyes followed the action as if it was fascinating, snagging on every bruise, and raw scrape. He would never understand this woman. Sherlock glanced down at the dark bruises along his forearm and the bend of his elbow. They were alarming, he supposed, though he'd had worse.
She stammered, "Dem-Demerol. Can you take Demerol?" She turned his arm a little, the violent bruising up along the back made even Sherlock blink in surprise, and, upon seeing it, of course, it hurt.
"I can take Demerol. Just hurry." He stared up at her differently, now she had something he wanted, and Molly looked from the needle in her hand across to him, not sure what was happening.
Sherlock watched her straighten his arm as if a bystander. The needle hovered. She tapped his vein carefully, gently. The vein swelled. He watched the quicksilver tip sink in, which should have hurt, but flushed his skin instead – mortifyingly confused with memories of heat, high, and pleasure. She depressed the plunger and his breath caught. Humiliating. He hated it, but couldn't stop it.
When she injected him, his brain expected the molten flash of cocaine. She was a woman and that'd been how he'd… managed such things, which he hadn't tried since he'd quit, but that his body chemistry seemed to recall.
Molly puzzled at his pupils dilating to black dimes.
"Finish," he said tightly.
"Sorry," she told him. "I mean, I'm used to dead people, mostly. I don't want it to burn, or hurt."
"If it hurts, let it hurt," he told her. "That's good enough, it's…" the pain drew back. Sherlock sucked an unsteady breath. "I'm not seeing this girl, Molly. But because John arranged for that one encounter, I believe half the Met thinks I killed her. I need to find her. Alive. For my own sake. Will you analyse the blood?"
She slid the needle out. He watched her place a little wad of cotton over a red bead of his blood. Reflexively, he folded his arm up. His pain had evaporated. Sherlock watched her closely and determined she was Molly again; she was going to comply. He couldn't see the molten line that ran between her hands, her needle, his arm, and his brain. That one wasn't a conscious connection.
Molly blinked rapidly and rolled his sleeve down. She buttoned it and glanced up as if astonished. Sherlock simply watched her.