Sherlock stood in front of a quaint country house, feeling the same breeze that sent the colorful flowers in front of him waving sweep his hair across his forehead. The wooden sign posted at the mouth of the driveway didn't say Morstan, but Sherlock didn't recheck the address; instead, he stalked up the short gravel driveway and rang the doorbell, hearing soft chimes echo inside.
"Just a moment!" a woman's voice called, and a short bout of bustling ensued before Sherlock heard footsteps approach the door. It swung open to reveal a slightly heavyset middle-aged woman with her chestnut hair tied up in a loose bun; she blocked the doorway, squinting at Sherlock and putting one hand on her waist. "I'm sorry, but we're not interested in buying anything—"
"Mrs. Bernard," Sherlock interjected. "My name is Sherlock Holmes. I'm looking for Mary Morstan. She wouldn't happen to be around?"
Mrs. Bernard rubbed her free hand over her chin. "No. Are you a friend of hers?"
"We graduated in the same class. I was a good friend of her boyfriend, John Watson."
"Oh, that poor boy," Mrs. Bernard sighed, closing her eyes and shaking her head. "Tragic, what happened to his parents. Have you kept in contact with him? How is he?"
"We've been trading emails. He wanted to know how Mary is doing."
Mrs. Bernard clicked her tongue. "That's strange."
Sherlock let confusion color his features, giving a slight cock of his head and furrowing his brow. "How so?"
"Well, just last week she left for London. Said she was going to visit John."
Sherlock acted surprised. "He never said anything about that. Has she returned?"
Mrs. Bernard shook her head. "She called us, saying she and John were going to spend the summer together in London." Worry colored her features. "Has something happened to her, do you think?"
"I don't know," Sherlock lied, mirroring Mrs. Bernard's expression.
"Oh, God," Mrs. Bernard muttered, fumbling in her pockets for a moment before withdrawing an old flip phone. "Excuse me, I have to call my husband." Then, as an afterthought: "It was nice meeting you, Sherlock."
"And you," Sherlock said, giving her a polite nod. However, as soon as the door closed, sealing the house off again, Sherlock's face fell flat and he spun on his heel, putting the house to his back and approaching his car. He started the ignition and pulled away from the driveway, heading back into town.
The receptionist at Haddington's town hall fixed Sherlock with a suspicious look when he asked for Mary Morstan and her parents' records. "Those records are sealed to the public."
Sherlock fished his police badge out of his coat pocket and flashed it at the receptionist. "Are they?"
The receptionist heaved a labored sigh. "Be out in a moment, sir." He turned and disappeared through a foggy glass door behind the counter, muttering under his breath about where cops could stick it.
Sherlock tucked the badge back into his coat and leaned against the counter, crossing his arms and studying the hall. Aside from him, only two other people occupied the lobby—two men dressed in crisp black suits, speaking to each other in hushed tones. Sherlock ignored them, running the details of the case over and over in his mind until the receptionist returned, a thin manila folder grasped in his hand. He pushed it at Sherlock lethargically. "Just, bring it back when you're done please?"
Sherlock flipped the file open, scanning its contents briefly; then, he snapped it closed and slid it across the counter. "That will be all."
He turned, the receptionist's shocked expression spinning out of view, and exited the town hall. Behind him, he heard a deep, husky voice with an American accent—one of the men in suits, most likely—say, "Hello. I'm Agent Plant and this is my partner, Agent Page. Mind if we ask you a few questions about the death of Mindy Reyes?" Then, the door swung closed, cutting off the receptionist's response.
It only took Sherlock ten minutes to drive to the address he'd seen in the record, less than a second to determine that the area was essentially useless to him. Where Mary's old house had once stood, tall grass shivered in the wind, accented by wildflowers and a few young deciduous trees; the only remnants of human life were twin white crosses, pushed deep into the ground and surrounded by unlit candles, picture frames, and flowers in various stages of life. Sherlock cut the car's engine and stepped out to examine the crosses closer, squatting down and running a curious finger over the names engraved vertically on each cross.
"I'd appreciate it if you didn't touch those," a quiet voice said from behind Sherlock.
Sherlock dropped his hand. "Mary Morstan, I presume," he said, straightening and turning to face the young woman leaning against his car. "I've been looking for you."
"Yes, I noticed." Her stormy grey eyes cut him apart. "You're not very subtle."
"How else was I going to quickly find you?" Sherlock met Mary's gaze with an equal amount of challenge. "You're very good at disappearing. Those security cameras in London, though—that was careless."
She shrugged, crossing her arms. "Maybe. So, what do you want?"
Sherlock took a step toward Mary, his tone hardening and his mouth flattening. "Don't play dumb—I really don't have the patience for idiots."
Mary's jaw twitched. "You didn't answer my question. What do you want?"
"I want the truth."
"About the killer, and your connection to him."
Mary fell silent, her eyes coming to rest on the crosses behind Sherlock. "Why ask me?" she said finally, eyes flicking up to meet Sherlock's. "We both know that you could figure all of this out yourself."
Sherlock paused. "The killer set a trap for John, and that bloody idiot walked right into it. We don't have long before he gets tired of waiting and kills John regardless of his prior intentions."
"What?" Mary gasped, her arms uncrossing and falling to her side. She pushed herself off of the car and in two steps stood face-to-face with Sherlock, her expression a mixture of fear and anger. "You let him get kidnapped?" She closed her eyes, as if composing herself, before taking a step backwards, putting some space between her and Sherlock. "I never should have left," she muttered, running a long-fingered hand through her blonde pixie cut. "I should have stayed, found that bastard, and put a bullet through his head."
Sherlock narrowed his eyes at Mary. "What are you? FBI? MI6?"
Mary let out a short, dry laugh, shaking her head. "Fine. I'll tell you what you want to know. But not here; not in front of my parents' shrines." She swung herself into the passenger seat of the car, and after a brief pause, Sherlock took the driver's seat and started back toward the motel.
Halfway back, Mary spoke again. "How is John? I mean… how was he, before…?"
Sherlock didn't take his eyes from the road. "He expressed continual symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, quite literally tearing himself apart over it." His voice rang flat and emotionless, even to his own ears, despite the small tinge of concern triggered by the diagnosis.
"Oh, God," Mary breathed, leaning back in her seat. "I begged him not to go to London—I could have helped him—"
"No, you couldn't have. Mental disorders with the severity of John's require more than the feeble support of friends and family."
Mary stared at Sherlock. "You're really exactly like they say, aren't you?" She paused. "But I see why John likes you."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah." Mary glanced out the car window, watching the countryside gradually transition into brick city buildings. "You're his counterpart. John's very emotional, but he uses that sensitivity to his advantage. You're extremely analytical, relying on raw facts and logic. The two of you together…" She shook her head, the corners of her mouth curling into a small, tired smile. "You're the ideal partnership."
Sherlock pulled into the parking space in front of his motel room, cutting the engine. "I don't need a partner." He opened the car door and got out, hearing a second door slam a moment after his and then footsteps follow him into his motel room.
"You don't need a partner?" Mary repeated as Sherlock moved to sit on the edge of his bed. "Then why even include John in this case? You know as well as I do that he's not ready for this, physically and emotionally."
"I hardly think that's relevant at this point in time." Sherlock rested his elbows on his knees, steepling his fingers underneath his chin. "Now. The truth."
Mary stood silently in front of Sherlock for a moment, her eyes locked with his; then, she sighed and strode over to the sagging couch in the far corner of the room, sinking down in the middle of it. "Where do you want me to start?"
"What is your connection to the killer?"
Mary let out a long, jagged breath, closing her eyes. "I first met him when I was 12 years old. My parents and I, we were at home; they were in the living room, watching television, and I was sitting in my room, grounded—for getting a D in English class, of all things. I don't know how he got in—maybe they forgot to lock the doors—but one minute it was quiet and the next I heard two gunshots, one right after the other." She ran a hand over her face. "I hid under my bed, underneath a pile of dirty laundry, hearing his footsteps pass by me again and again. I stayed there for hours, waiting, until a police officer coaxed me out and took me to the station. And do you know what they told me?"
Mary glanced up at the ceiling, her eyes glistening. "They told me that my parents committed suicide. No matter how many times I screamed at them that there was someone in my house, they just kept saying that. Suicide. Now, I know that someone was probably paying the police large quantities of money to keep that story concrete. But hey, that's criminals for you." She shook her head, keeping her eyes trained at the wall in front of her, not once glancing at Sherlock.
By now, Sherlock had a good idea of how Mary figured into the equation; however, he said nothing, waiting for Mary to confirm the theory he'd constructed.
"You've already met my aunt and uncle," Mary continued. "They took custody of me, but they weren't around much—my uncle travels a lot for his job and my aunt works the night shift at Tesco." She paused, rubbing the end of her shirtsleeve between her fingers. Then, she finally glanced at Sherlock, her eyes softer now and almost apologetic. "But, of course, you already knew most of that."
"Then I take it you know about my parents?"
Sherlock shrugged. "Their records are very vague. They moved to Scotland from Washington, D.C. six months before you were born, with no listed previous address or occupation. As their records were sealed to the public, I expected more on file; as it is, I've narrowed it down to Witness Protection, FBI, or CIA."
Mary nodded. "Not bad. You know, the CIA aren't nearly as secretive as Hollywood makes them out to be—my parents' friends knew what they did for a living, albeit without an abundance of details. I don't know exactly what branch of the agency they worked for, but I understand it was risky—risky enough that, when my mom discovered that she was pregnant with me, she and my dad both decided to retire, move to the Scottish countryside, and start new lives. Hell, I don't think our last name is even really Morstan."
Sherlock straightened, his hands falling to his sides. "You said you first met the killer when you were 12. You met again?"
Mary bit her lip. "I was getting to that." She paused. "Listen, you have to understand something; my parents' death tore me up pretty badly. I kept having these nightmares that whoever killed them found me and killed me too; I didn't really eat, I was afraid to sleep—but most of all, I was angry. I just kept thinking, 'What did I do to deserve this? How could someone have murdered my parents and gotten away with it?' I took up Tae Kwon Do and Karate, if nothing else as an outlet for my frustration, but…" Mary shook her head. "I guess I just needed something more.
"Near the end of my sophomore year, I won this nation-wide sparring tournament; it made the next day's national newspaper. About a week later, they contacted me—either they didn't know who I was, or they didn't care. Maybe both."
"And you said yes."
Mary glared at Sherlock. "Nothing that I can say can possibly explain to you why I did what I did. I know that, logically, it doesn't make any sense, but people can't be explained by logic, not always." Mary paused, studying Sherlock. "Of course, as someone who makes it their creed to read people, you would already know that."
"Naturally." Sherlock stood and took the chair across from the couch Mary sat on, resting his hands on the armrests and returning Mary's inquisitive glance with unwavering calm. "However, I also know that joining a notorious assassination organization isn't a decision made by a person fully in control of their mental state."
"Look," Mary sighed, regret making her face seem older, more lined and weary. "I wish I hadn't said yes, okay? Everything that's happening right now—it's all my fault, and you think I'm okay with that?" She paused, her clenched fists moving from the couch to rest atop her thighs. "But as a 16-year-old girl with pent-up anger and the promise of justice for my parents' deaths, it seemed like a better option than just doing nothing."
"And that's where you met the killer—formally met him, that is."
Mary shook her head, but not in disagreement—in disbelief. "I had no idea it was him. We didn't use our names, just aliases—mine was Agra—so I suppose he had no idea who I was, otherwise I would be dead right now. We got assigned on jobs together occasionally, and he…" Mary swallowed. "He was a psychopath. He scared me to the point that I asked my superiors not to pair me with him again—not that that did any good, of course." She studied her hands for a moment before meeting Sherlock's eyes. "And then I left. He must have found out who I was shortly after and came for me—the organization has a strict policy against loose ends and doesn't treat deserters very favorably."
Sherlock sat back in his chair, narrowing his eyes at Mary. She was good; whoever had trained her, they had trained her very, very well.
But he was better.
"At this point, I believe lying is out of the question," he said flatly, drumming his fingers on the armrest. "Considering that we are both privy to the truth."
Mary's face hardened, but before she could retaliate, a sharp bing echoed through the motel room, dissolving whatever protest she had been about to hurl at him. She glanced at her pocket, reaching down and withdrawing a black smartphone; frowning, she unlocked it and paused, staring at the message displayed on the screen. "Come over here," she said slowly, glancing at Sherlock; her eyes were wide and full of apprehension. "I think… I think it's from him."
In a flash, Sherlock moved from the armchair to the couch, looking over Mary's shoulder at the phone. "Open it."
"Yeah, yeah," Mary said, her finger hovering over the message. Then, quickly, she pressed the screen.
The screen darkened suddenly, and when Sherlock's eyes adjusted, he could pick out the features of a young man's face, his lips stretched in a tight smile. Sherlock didn't make it a habit to be surprised or caught off guard, but he couldn't help the jolt of shock that shot through him when he realized whom, exactly, he was seeing on the screen.
"Hello, Mary Morstan," the white king purred, and beside Sherlock, Mary stiffened. "Did you miss me? I sure missed you. In fact, I'm rather disappointed that you keep avoiding me. Why don't you come see me, and we can have a little chat? I'm sure you can figure out where I am. Oh, yes, I almost forgot."
The camera swiveled around, coming to rest on a figure bound into a rickety wooden chair, and Sherlock and Mary shared equal feelings of grim horror when they recognized John, his eyes squeezed tightly closed and his head turned away from the camera. "If you aren't here within 24 hours, I'll slit John Watson's throat."
The camera swiveled again, but not fast enough to avoid seeing John's eyes flick open in terror. The boy looked almost murderous now, like he'd decided the fun was over and only the grim business of extermination remained. "I'll see you soon, Mary." Then, the video clicked off, leaving Sherlock and Mary with a black screen that reflected their pale, blank faces.
Mary spoke first. "It takes seven hours to get to London, maybe more to get to where he's keeping John. If we leave now, we'll have enough time to figure out a way to get John without getting either of us killed." She glanced at Sherlock, her face tight and controlled despite the fear dancing below the surface. "I take it you know where they're keeping him now, too?"
"The old warehouses by Canary Wharf."
Mary nodded. "Good. Let's go."
Sherlock left payment for the room in an envelope under the welcome mat, locking the door and dropping the key in with the money. Then, he and Mary left the motel behind, navigating to the highway and merging into the thick line of cars.
Tension kept conversation at bay for the first hour; then, Sherlock's curiosity got the better of him. "You said you used aliases in the organization. Did the killer use one too?"
Mary nodded. "We knew him as Milverton, but once I realized that he had killed my parents, I pulled a few favors and figured out his real name."
Sherlock tried not to sound too eager when he asked, "What is it?"
Mary looked out at the road. "Charles Augustus Magnussen."