include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Sherlock Returns by , available in its entirety at Smashwords







The Adventures of Watts and Sherlock

Book Three



Sherlock Returns



By Katie Magnusson








Copyright 2017


Cover Art by Travis Perkins




Chapters


The Murder of Adrian Rolands

The Almandine Drive Affair

The Story with the Snake

Corporation vs Colony

Sebastian

Kitty’s Back

The Mayor’s Letters

Rescue from a Brothel

Lights Out





The Murder of Adrian Rolands



Sixteen months ago, my best friend tackled Miriam Sangrave through a top story window. Everything he owned was left to me. I wanted it to be a hoax, for him to have faked his death somehow, but I couldn’t make myself believe it. I wanted to hope he would come back, but the sight of him going through the window was burned into my mind.

I did what I’ve always done, and kept myself busy. Ghost still lived above me, in the attic. I wasn’t going to kick her out, and to be honest I liked knowing there was someone else around, even if I hardly ever saw her. I visited the Irregulars from time to time, checking in to make sure they were doing ok and occasionally patching them up or supplying basic medicines as autumn and winter set in.

Winter is a busy season for rogue medics. Frostbite is just as unpleasant now as ever, there’s a new flu virus every month, and we still don’t have a cure for the common cold. Half the time I end up prescribing holistic ‘home remedies’ rather than meds.

As spring came around, my workload lightened, and I started trying to get back into some semblance of a social life. It didn’t work very well. Most of my free time was spent reading medical journals and trying to get Ghost to eat something. She’s worse than Sherlock, which is frightening.

One day, I opened the door to Sherlock’s bedroom for the first time since he’d died. I knew I’d been putting it off for far too long. There was a layer of dust on everything. What had started as an attempt to clean out memories turned into an exploration of the man I knew so well, but knew so little about. The small tobacco patch set up by his window had died, though I discovered a small room accessible through his closet that had bunches of tobacco leaves hanging in it. The closet itself held clothes of a wide variety of styles, along with his collection of suits, most black, a few greys, navy, and one white. The collection of vests was more colorful, with reds, oranges, greens, and even a purple.

All his other clothes were kept in the dresser, and the chest at the foot of his narrow bed held his disguise kits and props. An empty teacup sat in its saucer on the small table by the bedside, left there forgotten in the thrill of a case. The top of the dresser held his cuff links, pocket-watch, comb and brush, an inkwell and two fountain pens, and a small case holding a straight razor.

I was marveling at how anyone could shave with an oddly shaped knife when I noticed his violin tucked safely away in the corner of the room. Strains of strange music flew through my memory as I opened the case. I lightly ran my fingers along the varnished wood, and shivered.

Slowly, I closed the case and left the room, closing the door behind me. I went out that night, got utterly wasted, and woke up with a splitting headache in a hotel room I didn’t remember checking into.

Nights out were approached with much more caution after that. I went out regularly, back into my old routine of ‘work hard, play hard.’ If I kept myself busy, I didn’t have to think about the dull ache I felt whenever I was home. If I could stay away, I wouldn’t have to clean out that damn bedroom. I could keep putting it off to when I had some time at home, and then just keep never being home.

It was ridiculous, of course. I knew it was, I knew it was irrational and harmful, that I was just causing myself more grief by not facing it. But then, I’ve never been very good at dealing with grief. He once joked he’d let me know within a year if he faked his death. I’d been hoping, somewhere deep in me, that he’d been serious, that maybe… well. As the weather turned cold again, I finally stopped hoping, and started packing.

It took a while. One day, Ghost came down and started to help me as I packed his things into boxes. I was thankful for the help, though a bit embarrassed. The boxes remained in his room, to Ghost’s unspoken disapproval. It wasn’t as if I was using the room, so there was no point in renting storage. She liked her set up in the attic, I wasn’t going to ruin it with a bunch of boxes, and I wasn’t ready to sell anything. I got it put away. That was good enough for now.

Work picked back up with the winter season. I had plenty of patients to occupy my time, and I was finally getting on with life, or so I thought. Ghost informed me I was wrong.

“You should get out more.”

I glanced up at her as I hung up my coat and hat. She’d just come down from the attic as I’d come home from making my rounds. “That’s funny coming from you.”

“I go out. I just don’t leave my room.”

“Exactly.”

She crossed her arms, sweatshirt baggy on her thin frame, “Doc, I’ve been to clubs that you would swear up, down and backwards are just as real as anything ‘real.’ You work, drink, and maybe sleep with the person drinking next to you. At least my social life involves learning names.”

I glared at her. “Names like Ghost?”

She rolled her eyes, “It’s been over a year, Watts. You’ve got a room full of boxed up memories you won’t ever get rid of until you make a damn friend.”

“Please, tell me how I need to just move on,” I fumed, “it’s not like I heard that every single time someone in my family died. ‘Give it time,’ ‘you’ll adjust,’ and every other sentimental line people who don’t know what to say rattle off just to save themselves the discomfort of saying nothing. I’m aware of what I’m supposed to do. I don’t give a damn.”

Ghost looked at me a long moment, and swore. She sat down where she stood. “Dammit, Doc. I’m trying to help.”

“I know,” I sighed. “I know. I thought he’d come back, or at least let me know he was alive…” I cleared my throat, banishing its tightness with practiced ease, “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll go out tonight if you come with me and eat something.”

“What does me eating have to do with anything?”

“You’re slowly killing yourself, that’s what. Virtual clubs don’t serve food, and you hardly ever eat what I cook. You survive on nutrient-packs and the minimum amount of water required to live.”

“Don’t worry about me.”

“It’s my job.”

She frowned, but shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”

We found a quiet place on the edge of the Corporate Sector. It was done up in retro ‘diner’ feel, with a small dance floor added. After the first couple drinks I managed to stop glancing at my silent phone, and after the first several bites Ghost seemed to be enjoying her food.

“How long had you lived together?” she asked out of the blue.

I blinked. “A while.” How long had it been? “Maybe a year and a half, I guess.” I shook my head. “Seems like longer.”

She shrugged. “You haven’t talked about him. Just curious.”

I grinned, just a little. “And what about you? How long have you been running?”

“A while,” she smirked.

I chuckled. “Alright.”

We didn’t talk much, but we didn’t need to. Then the evening turned from pleasant to interesting.

The flash of police lights caught my attention as we exited the diner. I heard Ghost sigh a little as I made my way down the street toward them, but she followed along without saying anything. The police cars were parked by a housing building, cops gathered outside the main door with the bored attentiveness that said they were waiting for the crime scene unit to show up. I gently pushed my way through the small crowd of curious onlookers that had gathered.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Got a call. Can’t say more than that,” the cop nearest me replied.

I nodded, knowing better than to argue. The best way to keep details of any police matters from the press was to say as little as possible for as long as possible. I stuck around in the hopes of gleaning a little more, my curiosity piqued. Ghost sighed again.

“You don’t have to stay.”

“Neither do you,” she countered with a small grin, “and I’d rather stick around than walk home alone.”

“You could drive,” I suggested, but she shook her head.

“It’s shiny, Doc.”

I gave it no more thought, though I appreciated her staying. I honestly don’t know why I stayed. I hadn’t actively sought out crime scenes since losing Sherlock. For some reason, after a night of relaxation, I found myself walking directly toward police lights, as if I were simply following him again.

It was this feeling that made me blink in surprise when Red walked out of the building. She was surprised to see me too, understandably. We hadn’t spoken much in the past year, our jobs no longer in line with each other.

She gestured that the policemen on guard should let me in. I cast an apologetic look at Ghost, who shrugged as if to say it didn’t matter. She was still grinning. I smiled in thanks and quickly followed Red inside the building and up the stairs.

“How’ve you been?” Red asked.

“Keeping busy. You?”

“The same. Thought you might care to take a look, seeing as how you’re here anyway. It’s something in his line.” It was obvious who she was talking about.

“Is it murder, then?”

She nodded. “Name’s Adrian Rolands. Neighbors describe him as quiet, kept to himself a lot, but always polite. No criminal record whatsoever, not even a parking fine.”

We stopped at a room on the third story. Red opened the door to reveal the sparsely furnished sitting room of a small apartment, containing a couch in front of a tv and a table behind that. Across the table sprawled the form of a dead man, a bullet through his head. He had been shot from behind as he sat at the table, falling forward. Underneath him was his computer. He’d been dead for a few days.

“So, he was working on something when he was shot from behind,” I said. “Either he was forced to do something on the computer, or he knew his murderer and simply had his back to them.”

Red filled in the blanks, “No one in the building reported seeing or hearing anything suspicious. The only reason we were called in tonight’s because the landlord wanted to collect an overdue rent and noticed the smell as he pounded on the door. The door would have automatically locked when the killer left.”

“Isn’t there a security camera in the building?”

“Yep, but that’s what makes things a little more complicated.”

She pointed to the window. In it was a bullet hole. I stared at Red. “You aren’t seriously suggesting he was shot through the window? The shooter would have had to be firing from the building across the street!”

“That building’s recently abandoned, so it’s possible. There’s glass bits on the floor by the window, so something came through. The lab boys are going to see if the angle matches. You’re welcome to stick around if you want.”

I hesitated. “As much as I’d like to, I can’t. Will you keep me informed?”

“Absolutely.”

I hurried back down the stairs, found Ghost, and led her away from the crowd. “You can’t drive, can you?”

She responded by sticking her tongue out at me.

I grinned. “Sorry. I should have realized the only reason why you were sticking around is that you didn’t want to walk home, alone or not.”

“You aren’t quite as quick as your friend, but you catch on.”

“Thanks,” I drawled sarcastically as I found a public car.

“I would have stayed anyway. Even if I could drive, I mean.”

“Really?”

She nodded. “Your first time back at a crime scene. Wanted to make sure you were ok.”

I considered her for a long moment before starting the car. “Thanks.”

“For what?”

“Worrying.”

She shrugged. “Just returning the favor.”

I started driving. “He would have found that interesting. The crime scene, I mean.” I described it to her and the two of us spent the ride home speculating wildly about possible scenarios. Sherlock would have been disappointed and amused by our lack of objectivity as the ideas became more cinematic and less logical, but it was fun.

Red was as good as her word, calling me the next day. They’d narrowed down the time of death to early evening three days ago. The weapon was likely a higher caliber handgun, and the hole in the window corresponded with the location of the wound. The victim had been going over betting figures, and seemed to be in some debt. Whoever the killer was, they were a crack shot to be able to hit him in the head through a window from a building across the street.

“Why didn’t anyone report a gunshot?” I asked.

“Must have used a silencer,” Red replied. “Nobody reported it at the time, but residents recalled hearing a loud sound a few days ago, though none were willing to describe it as a gunshot. We’re still searching for a motive - his gambling debt seems the best lead right now.”

“Let me know when you find something.”

“Sure thing.”

“And Red, thanks. It’s... good, to try and help like this again.”

“From what I hear, you’ve been doing more than a fair share of help to people away from crime scenes, but I know what you mean. And don’t mention it.”

I hung up, my sigh stifled by an idea hitting me. “Ghost!” I called up the attic stairs.

“I’m already looking for stuff on Adrian Rolands!”

I smiled. “Thank you!”

“Did you know he’s married?”

I ran up the steps to find her lying on the loveseat, feet dangling over the side, her equipment on a small table in front of her. She was jacked in, eyes open but seeing something other than the attic room she’d made her home.

“What do you mean he’s married?”

“Few years ago, he got married. Must not have gone well, because shortly afterward the joint bank accounts separate, and his name is off the lease of their place. But he never got a divorce. They separated, but they’re still legally married.”

“What’s her name?”

“Sabia Monahan.”

“Red should know about this -”

“If the police background check doesn’t turn this up, then they need more help than we can give,” Ghost muttered.

I chuckled. “Good point. I guess we’re pretty useless right now.”

“Pff, speak for yourself. I’m always useful. That usefulness just isn’t always taken advantage of.”

“I stand corrected. I shall leave you to your independent investigations and return to my useful practice of healing the sick.”

The police did indeed know about Sabia Monahan, and not just because she was married to the victim. She was on the security footage, entering and leaving the building the night of the murder. Red invited me to come along to the large apartment in the Corporate Sector for the interview.

Sabia Monahan was a slender, all around average looking woman. She was mildly shaken but not terribly upset over the death of her estranged husband. When asked why they hadn’t divorced, she said Adrian hadn’t wanted it, and as she hadn’t had any desire to remarry she didn’t push the issue. Apparently, the police could add either “hopeless romantic” or “egotistical bastard” to the list of things they knew about the victim, depending on how you interpreted his desire to stay married.

“Ms. Monahan, our records show that you own a handgun of the same caliber as the bullet that killed Mr. Rolands,” Red said.

She blinked in surprise. “Am I a suspect?”

“Could you tell us what you were doing in the evening, three days ago?” Red asked in her most genteel voice.

“Three days ago? I went to see Adrian after work, and then went to the shooting range. I’m something of a regular, you can ask around.”

“Do you own a silencer?”

“No. But you already knew that, unless you were expecting me to tell you I obtained one illegally.”

“Never hurts to ask. All the same, we’d like to test your gun, if you don’t mind.”

Her brow rose, but she shrugged as she retrieved it. “Sure.”

Red took the gun, “Why were you visiting Mr. Rolands?”

“He asked me to come, but wouldn’t say why. Turned out he wanted to ask for money to help with his gambling debt. I said no, we argued briefly, I left.”

“I see. Thank you for your cooperation, Ms. Monahan.”

“Sabia, please,” she showed us out.

“Well, that would have been too easy,” I muttered.

Red chuckled. “Yeah, she might be lying, but she gave over her gun.”

“It probably won’t match. She could have borrowed one, especially if she’s a regular at a shooting range.”

“True. The other possibility is that someone came to collect on Rolands’s debts and decided to eliminate any possibility of a next-time.”

“But then why shoot him from across the street? If they came to collect, then shouldn’t his credit cards be missing? At least there should be a posthumous withdrawal from a bank account.”

Red sighed, “If Monahan shot her ex, then I don’t know how we’ll prove it. There weren’t any distinct footprints in the building across the street where the killer would have stood. I hate to say it, Doctor, but we can’t solve them all.”

To say that I was unsatisfied would be an understatement. That night I couldn’t get any sleep; my mind refused to just shut up and be still. That no motive had been found kept gnawing at me, and the more I thought about it the more I was convinced that something had been missed. How the hell did Sherlock do this? He would have gone to every place every possibility took him, without question. I had no desire to come home as beat up as Sherlock often did, but doing nothing and going nowhere was driving me crazy.

Then again. There was one place I could investigate without fear of getting myself killed, even though I was certain it would lead to a dead end. Still, it was better than doing nothing.

I went into the shooting range the next day, wondering what the hell I was doing. I was so distracted, I ran into a brightly dressed man who was coming out. After mumbled apologies, I registered at the front desk, borrowed some goggles and earmuffs, and found a free stand. I figured it was the easiest way to get people to warm up to me, and it was refreshing to aim my pistol at a non-living target. I was a bit out of practice, and started enjoying myself. I was also attracting attention.

“You’re very good,” a man with an instructor’s badge around his neck said from behind me as I came out from the shooting stand. “I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.”

“First time here,” I said, “A lady I know recommended it. Sabia?”

“Yes, I know Sabia. She’s a regular. Friend of yours?”

I shrugged, “More acquaintances. Friends of friends. I’ve never seen her shoot, but I heard she was good.”

“Yes, she’s quite excellent, actually. I taught her.”

I tried not to look as happily surprised as I felt. “Oh! When does she usually come by?”

“Every other day, if not every day, in the evening after she gets off work.”

Lucky I was there in the early afternoon. “I’ll have to keep that in mind.”

The instructor nodded with a quick smile, “Be seeing you around then.” He walked off to speak to another customer.

I went to the front desk to return the gear. “Thanks so much - um, I don’t suppose you rent out silencers, do you?”

The man behind the desk looked at me curiously. “We have a couple available for members who wish to try them, but of course they remain on the premises.”

“Of course. I was just curious. Ah, does Sabia Monahan come here?”

“Sorry?”

“Sabia Monahan. She’s a friend of mine. Do you know her?”

“Yes, I remember that name.”

“I don’t suppose her husband ever drops by here?”

“Her husband?” he was surprised.

“Isn’t she married?”

“She doesn’t wear a ring and...”

“...and?”

He was flustered. “It’s none of my business. Have a good day.”

I didn’t want to push my luck, so I left, wondering why Sabia Monahan being married would be shocking.

I went back to her apartment building to ask around. As is often the case in the Corporate Sector, very few people knew anything about her. Neighbors tend to mind their own business, engaging in only the minimum social interaction necessary to be cordial. Of course, in Non-C people keep a covert eye on their neighbors out of a general concern for personal safety. Cordiality gets set aside for a healthy dose of practical wariness.

I’d given up and was headed out the building when an older woman was coming in.

“I don’t recognize you,” she said with some sugar-coated suspicion.

“Friend of Sabia Monahan’s,” I said, “the lady in room 435. Average height, brunette? Gets home late, carries a gun?”

The gun did it. “Oh! Her. Yes. I don’t know people’s room numbers, but I keep track of everyone that comes in and out of the building. I live next to the front door, you see.”

“Do you really?” Thank god for busybodies. “It’s kind of surprising that she would carry a weapon openly.”

“Oh, she doesn’t,” she leaned forward conspiratorially, “I know about it because she was here the other night with a gentleman and they were talking about shooting as they waited for the elevator. He comes home with her often, sometimes they talk about guns, sometimes it’s more… personal.”

“A gentleman.”

Nodding with a grin, she amended, “I suppose that’s what you’d call him. He was well-behaved at least. I think one time I saw him with a badge of some sort around his neck.” I described Sabia’s instructor from the shooting range. The busybody nodded, “That sounds like him.”

Interesting. “He comes by often?”

“Oh yes.” She eyed me up and down, appraisingly. “You’re not another one, are you?”

I laughed. “Ah, no.”

“Well, you’re better than the brightly dressed fellow, that’s for certain. Though I suppose I’m jumping to conclusions thinking –”

“Brightly dressed fellow?” My mind instantly turned to the man I’d run into at the shooting range.

“Short black beard, bright purple jacket. Came around asking for her last night. I told him what I’ve just told you.”

“Huh. Thanks.” That Sabia was seeing her instructor was pretty clear, but that was far from proof of her murdering her husband. This brightly dressed man, though. Who was he? Someone trying to collect on Adrian Rolands’s debt?

I thought a return to the crime scene might spark an idea. Naturally, I wouldn’t be able to go back into the apartment without a police escort, but that wasn’t my goal anyway. The apartment had been thoroughly searched, and I was sure any chance I might have had at noticing something had already passed. Instead, I wanted to see the place where the murderer must have stood when they did the deed. Feeling a trifle foolish, I attempted to emulate Sherlock’s care in observing everything around me as I climbed the steps of the abandoned building. It had been left unguarded and access was easy. As I walked up the stairs, I noticed a homeless man taking shelter from the chill winds and for a brief moment I felt a little guilty about being here instead of going around to patients, even if I didn’t have any appointments that day.

I found a room with a view of Adrian Rolands’s apartment. The room’s window had been smashed out long ago, probably in a fit of bored vandalism. Drawing my own pistol, I tried to line up the shot. I found an approximate area for where the shooter would have stood. Now that I could see for myself where the killer had been standing, I had no idea how, or even if, the information was helpful.

With a heavy sigh, I glanced around the room, turning up the zoom level of my cyberoptic in the vain hope that I would stumble across some trace of someone being here. To my great surprise, I did find something useful, though not at all what I had been looking for. I called Red.

“Hey Red, I’m in the building across the street from Adrian Rolands. Could you bring your lab boys back over here?”

“Why?”

I smiled. “Because I’m looking at a bullet in the wall behind where the killer would have stood.”

Red arrived quickly, a very young and very indignant crime scene investigator in tow. When he realized what he’d missed, he looked at me with mild suspicion. I smiled back at him.

“You assumed the shot came through the window, so you only looked to see where the killer would have stood and didn’t give the back wall as much attention as it deserved.”

“And you saw the bullet in the dark with a passing glance,” he grumbled as he removed the bullet from the wall.

I shrugged. “Cyberoptics help.” He scoffed, but I could tell the use of technology had softened the blow to his pride. He was several years younger than me, and clearly from closer to Corporate sector, if not in Corporate sector. He had a lot to learn.

“Well, Dr. Watts,” Red said with a small grin, “You have succeeded in making this case even stranger than before. Thanks.”

I shook my finger at her, “Now, Detective, that’s not true. It is the most mundane case that is most difficult to solve. The more extraordinary the case, the easier to unravel... or something like that.”

“A little rusty in your reading?”

“Didn’t have much reason to pick up the stories again. Frankly, didn’t want to.”

Red nodded sagely. “Well, you’ve done him proud. If that bullet matches up with the one we retrieved from Rolands, then the murderer was in the room with the victim, and fired a shot out the window to make it seem like he was killed from across the street.”

“So, you’re looking for a shot with a steady hand and impeccable aim with a particular dislike of Adrian Rolands, who was in the room with him that night.”

“Ms. Sabia Monahan fits, except that her gun isn’t the murder weapon.”

I grinned. “She got it from a friend.”

There was no way to prove my theory of course, but that didn’t stop me from returning to the shooting range later that evening. I timed it perfectly; Sabia was getting a few very intimate pointers on her stance from her instructor. I waited until the instructor left before casually approaching, giving her plenty of time to see me coming.

“Are you looking for me?” she asked, meeting me halfway.

“Yes. I wanted to know why you did it.”

“Did what?”

“You must have used a silencer, which means you went there intending to shoot him, so it couldn’t have been a crime of passion.”

“I don’t have to listen to this.”

I gently grabbed her arm as she turned away, “Hold on, I’m not the police.”

“But you were with the cop who talked to me.”

“I know her, I tag along, but I’m not an officer. I’m a doctor. I couldn’t arrest you even if I could prove it, and I’m honestly curious to know why.”

“I’m not saying anything else to you unless you eject that optic.”

I blinked. “Eject it?”

“You could be recording me for all I know. I don’t have any reason to trust you.”

She had a point, and I had no argument for it. I turned my cyberoptic off and ejected the eye, holding it carefully in a handkerchief. To my immense satisfaction, she recoiled a little at the sight of a metal-plated hole in my skull, but finally told me what I wanted to know.

“I wanted a divorce. He didn’t, even though he was getting no benefit from being legally married, just keeping me from marrying someone else.”

“So, when he called you wanting money, you mentioned divorce, and he said something that pushed you over the edge?”

“I went knowing he would ask for money. This was an old routine by now, Doctor. I went, with the forms notifying him I had filed for divorce. He was insulting enough, and I was tired enough that when he blew me off, I shot him.”

“But you went there with your boyfriend’s gun. You knew you were going to shoot him.”

“I grabbed his gun by accident.”

“And the silencer?” She didn’t say anything. “Ah. You knew he could, and would, draw the process out for as long as possible and didn’t want to wait. So you took your boyfriend’s gun and silencer, deciding to kill your husband if he refused to simply agree to the terms. You shot him in the back of the head, then in a moment of inspiration shot through the window to make it seem like he’d been shot from across the street. You’re an excellent marksman, you could line up the shot with the wound in the back of his skull.”

More silence.

“Does the boyfriend know?”

“He probably suspected something, but he didn’t say anything.”

“How’d you get the glass debris all over the floor?”

“Crushed one of his drinking glasses, scattered the dust, carried the remains out with me in my purse.”

“Can I put my eye back now?”

“If we’re done talking.”

I smirked as I replaced it, giving her a small bow. “Thank you for your time, Ms. Monahan.”

As I turned away, I caught a flash of color going through the door. I hurried after it, leaving the shooting range and finding Red outside talking to a brightly dressed man casually leaning against the wall.

His short coat was pastel violet, while his pants were black with a silver stripe. A gold scarf was tied around his neck, and his black hair was shaggy and wild, unlike his perfectly groomed beard. To complete this insane picture were a pair of black gloves and shoes.

“A pleasure to see you again, Detective,” he was saying, “now excuse me, but I have some pressing business.”

“Not so fast,” Red stepped in front of him, hands on her hips, “what are you doing hanging about here?”

“Here? A customer wondered what happened to Adrian Rolands. He was a rather familiar face in a certain gambling house, suddenly gone. There was some concern about him skipping out on his growing debts.”

“Uh huh. So why are you spying on him?” Red gestured with a nod towards me.

The strange man shook his head, “I was spying on the lady. Reporting her husband’s death is all well and good, but for the sake of completeness I wanted to know if she killed him. Now I know,” he inclined his head towards me, “thank you very much.”

“Who is this guy?” I asked.

“Calls himself Sebastian. He sells information on anything to anyone willing to pay, though the first time I heard of him was last Christmas when he came in to claim a bounty on an arsonist wanted in five cities.”

Sebastian shrugged. “Business was slow.”

“You gift-wrapped him.”

“‘Twas the season. And he looked so pretty in a bow.”

I chuckled. “You must be insane.”

Sebastian grinned, a touch maniacally. “I’m not as mad as all that. Now, if you don’t mind, I really must be going. Ta.” And he was gone.

“Well, then,” I muttered, “that was strange.”

“Yeah. So, did you get what you needed?”

“Sabia Monahan killed Adrian Rolands because he wouldn’t give her a divorce.”

“Can you prove it?”

I pulled out a small, old fashioned tape recorder from my pocket. “Yep.”

Red laughed. “I seem to remember seeing that little gadget from somewhere.”

I smiled. “Worked for Sherlock then, figured it might work for me now.”

“Well done, Doctor,” Red shook my hand as I handed over the tape, “It was nice working with you.”

“Thanks, Red.”

I headed up to the attic as soon as I got home. I wanted to ask Ghost what she knew about brightly dressed crazy information dealers, but she was deep in cyberspace and unresponsive. I sighed and left her to it, making myself a drink before lying down on the sofa. What a strange day.

It had been great looking into a case like that, but so weird without Sherlock. I still missed him, but I thought I might be able to start moving on now. Oddly enough, helping Red had enabled me to come to terms with the loss of my friend. More to terms with it than I was before, at least. Emotionally exhausted, I drifted off to visions of skyscrapers and waterfalls.

I woke to the sound of someone knocking. With a yawn and a muttered curse, I tried to clear my head as I checked the security camera. Sebastian stood outside my door.

I opened it just enough to look out at him. “Yes?”

“Sorry to disturb you, but I’m… on business. May I come in?”

“Why are you here? Specifically?”

He shrugged, holding up his left arm. Blood soaked the cuff of his glove. “Rumor has it you’re one of the best medics in the City, Doc.”

“No one actually says that.”

“Really? I wonder how I heard it, then.”

I rubbed between my eyes to fend off the headache I knew would be coming. “How was it injured?”

“Old. Keeps opening,” he removed his coat. A trail of blood ran down the sleeve of his shirt. I pushed the sleeve up to reveal a large cut, only recently healed, more recently re-opened, and very infected. “Been cleaning it out, but -”

“You apparently aren’t doing an adequate job.” I rolled my eyes, cursing my conscience. “Come inside. Sit at the kitchen table and don’t touch anything.”

He smirked and nodded. I grabbed my things, cleaned out the wound out and bandaged it properly. It would scar, but he had a number of those already.

“You get into a lot of knife fights?” I asked as I worked.

“Something like that. I do try to stay away from violence when I can. Healthier that way.”

“Ha, sure, and near impossible, I bet.”

“True,” he looked around as we spoke. “Nice place. Just you?”

“And the ghost in the attic.”

He chuckled. “Never took up with anyone else, eh? After the detective fellow died, I mean. This is where he lived, right?”

“Yes he did, and no I didn’t,” I said with a scowl. “Why haven’t you had a medic look at this before now?”

“Haven’t found a competent one I can trust.”

“Butchers with sewing needles,” I muttered, smiling a little at the memory.

He blinked. “You took the words right out of my mouth.”

I glanced at him, something not sitting right. “You’re all fixed up.”

“Thank you.” My strange patient rolled his bloody sleeve back down, standing as he glanced around the room once more. “You haven’t changed a thing in the past year.”

“How the hell would you know…” I trailed off as his eyes met mine. They were grey, and so very sorry. I leaped out of my chair, stumbling backwards, my heart pounding as he removed his other glove. The light shone off his brass hand, and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. “Sherlock.”

He nodded once. “Hello, Watts.”

I rushed to him, took his face in my hands and kissed him full on the lips. Then my fist collided with the side of his face.

“What the hell!? You’re supposed to be dead!” He didn’t say anything as he slowly got up off the floor. “I can’t believe you did this. The goddamn Great Hiatus! Really?!”

“Sixteen months is hardly three years—”

“That’s not the point! I thought you were dead!”

“I know, and I am sorry—”

“Will! That’s how you did it, that’s how you faked the body. Jackals would be able to find a dead body no problem, and scavenge together a brass hand to go with it. Destroy the face so that it can’t be recognized, trust that I’ll be too distraught to test the damn thing, and perfect!”

“I thought it would be prudent to see what the City’s reaction to Sangrave’s death would be, before announcing my own survival. I hadn’t planned on so long an absence, but the opportunity was… too good to pass up.”

“Too good to pass up.” I swore. “Would you have walked away if I hadn’t brought you inside?”

“I would have returned.”

“When, in another sixteen months? Maybe stretch it to the full three years?”

He winced. “Watts, please—”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“If you believed I was dead, so would the rest of the City. I couldn’t risk tempting you to some indiscretion which would betray my secret.”

“You could have told me later! You could have faked your death for a week and then let me know what you were doing! Do you have any idea what sort of Hell you put me through? What this past year’s been like?”

“I had no idea that you would be so affected—”

“Stop quoting the damn books at me!” I shouted, slamming the table.

He blinked, stunned. “I didn’t realize I was.” He took a breath and tried to start over. “James—”

“It’s Watts.”

He took a step forward, a world of hurt on his face for a moment, but then it was gone. He stayed where he was, his voice matter-of-fact. “Watts. I know that there is nothing I can say that will excuse my action and I will not try to, but you must let me speak.”

“Why?”

“It would be impossible for me to beg for forgiveness while silent.”

I scoffed, “You think that’s an option?”

“No.” He was serious. After a moment, he continued, “Nonetheless, I must try.”

I leaned against the kitchen counter, arms folded. “Ok.”

“It had of course occurred to me that my death would be the perfect opportunity to lie low for a time. I fully intended to tell you I was alive after a little while. What hadn’t occurred to me was how tantalizing the very possibility of infiltrating so many aspects of the underworld would be. My new life consumed me. To be brutally honest, I lost track of time. I lost track of myself.

“I swear to you, my friend, I did not realize what I had done,” he met my skeptical gaze with earnestness. “I didn’t know you would suffer so much, I refused to accept the possibility. I was not myself this past year, and I am ashamed to say I very easily could have stayed buried behind a mask for another year longer. Seeing you made me realize just how much my foolish ambition had cost, the damage I had done…” he trailed off, looking down. I’d patched him up so many times, been by his side as he lay in bed unable to move, but I’d never seen him so vulnerable as in that moment.

“Forgive me.” His voice was quiet as he ventured a cautious glance up at me, “Please. I don’t deserve it, but if you ever…” he looked away again, struggling to find a word. Then he sighed, standing straight and tall with his hands behind his back, some of that familiar detachment returning as his eyes met mine again. “If you permit it, I would like to come home. Even if you hate me.”

I considered him for a long moment. “You forgot about me.”

I may as well have slapped him. “No! I could never forget you, but I could have nothing to do with you. I was someone else, I couldn’t let myself think of you, no matter how much I wanted to, no matter how — clearly, I am an idiot, but I couldn’t let Sebastian meet you until it was forced upon me in the form of a frustratingly determined red-headed police detective.” He smiled, just a bit, at my involuntary laugh. “Seeing you again… I had to come tonight, not just for the injury, but to see you. It was blatantly clear to me from the moment I came inside that I wouldn’t be able to walk back out that door.”

“What if I say no?”

He paled, but steeled himself. I flinched to see all his emotional walls go up. “Then I will leave.”

“Where?”

“Does it matter?”

I couldn’t answer right away. If I didn’t want anything to do with him, then it didn’t matter where he went. But it did matter. I was far from forgiving him, but he was alive. He was alive, and he was home, and damn it I didn’t want him to leave.

He tensed as I approached, and gasped in uncomfortable surprise as I hugged him. “If you ever do anything like this again, I’ll really kill you.”

He held me tight with a relieved sigh, “That is perfectly fair.”

We stood in silence for a moment. A shocked “Holy hell!” echoed from the attic stairs.

Sherlock half-grinned, looking up as we let go of each other. “Good evening, Miss Ghost.”

Ghost smiled, in spite of herself. “You survived.”

“Yes.”

“Shiny. Watts forgive you?”

“I would not say that, yet.”

“Maybe one day,” I said. “Your things are packed up in boxes, but still here. Hadn’t got around to getting rid of them yet.”

“He means it took him a year to pack them in the first place, and couldn’t bring himself to get them out,” Ghost corrected, ignoring my glare.

Sherlock glanced at me with surprise, and acknowledged her words with a pained nod. “I see. Thank you.”

I shrugged, and gestured to his door. “Welcome back.”

With a miniscule smile, he made his way to his room. He hesitated a moment, his hand on the doorknob, before entering the home he hadn’t seen in over a year.

I turned to Ghost. “Drink?”

“Just this once. And that’s just to make sure you don’t down the whole bottle.”

“I wouldn’t do that.”

“After seeing Sherlock return from the dead? Like hell you wouldn’t.”

An hour, and only two glasses, later, I slowly opened the door to Sherlock’s room. He’d completely transformed back to his old self, at least externally. Now he held his violin reverently, gently tuning the unique extension of himself and his emotions he’d been so long without. He didn’t even notice me. I gently closed the door and left him to it. As the first hesitant strains came from behind the door, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling.


The Almandine Drive Affair



I’d been content to leave things be that night, but morning found me wondering if my relief at having him back alive overrode my desire to beat the hell out of him. He was also acutely aware that I hadn’t forgiven him, and was on his best behavior. The result was a morning of awkward tension, as if we were new housemates all over again.

So, I made coffee, asked what he wanted for breakfast (nothing at the moment, thank you,) and watched from the kitchen table as he built a roaring fire, sat in his chair, and smoked a pipe. Judging by the look on his face, it was a spiritual experience.

“I take it criminal information dealers don’t smoke?”

“Not like this.”

I cleaned up and got dressed for work. He was at his desk when I came out, preparing his index of scrapbooks.

He answered my questioning glance, “I don’t want to risk forgetting a single piece of information I gained as Sebastian.”

“Makes sense. Be back tonight.”

Work helped. Still, I didn’t really have that many appointments, and the ones I had were mostly follow-ups and simple complaints, so it was only late afternoon by the time I finished. I briefly debated staying away longer, then told myself to stop being an idiot and just go home.

I came in as Sherlock was getting ready to leave. “Watts. I didn’t expect you until later.”

I shrugged. “Didn’t take as long as I thought. Where are you going?”

“I was going to take a walk to the police station. I imagine Red will want to know I survived, and I thought a personal visit would be better than a phone call.”

“Sherlock. It’s below freezing.”

“Not by much,” he said as he donned his gloves and top hat. “It’s not as though I’ve never walked through the cold before.”

I looked him over, the top hat catching my attention. He was in full Victorian garb, a winter overcoat covering his suit. He looked like a character from A Christmas Carol. I smiled. “You’re going like that.”

“How else would I go?” The question was deadpan, but a familiar half-grin flashed with the humor in his eyes.

I chuckled as I went to my room. “Wait right there, let me put my gear away, and then I’ll drive you.”

“You don’t have to—”

“I’m not letting you walk there. Besides,” I added as we left, “you think I’m going to pass up the chance to see Red’s face?”

“You’re looking forward to the dressing down she’s going to give me, aren’t you?”

“Oh, absolutely.”

It was worth going just for the looks on all the cops’ faces as we walked in. Brief periods of silence followed in Sherlock’s wake, quickly covered by whispered mutterings, “I thought he was dead?”

Red was at her desk, filling out paperwork. She glanced up at the approaching figure, and did a double take. She slowly stood up as he stopped before her desk, nonchalantly leaning on his walking stick, and removed his hat.

“Good evening, Red.”

A broad smile spread across her face, “You son of a bitch.”

If he hadn’t been sure how to take her greeting, doubt was extinguished by her sudden bear hug, followed by a quick, firm shake of his shoulders. “You are an absolute idiot, do you know that?! Do you have any idea the sort of trouble you caused? Of all the impulsive, irresponsible, slapdash, idiotically cinematic, and unnecessarily dramatic stunts to pull! I should have you arrested for sheer chicanery!”

He managed to summon some coherent thought, “I don’t believe that’s a formal charge.”

“Then I’ll make one up! God knows there’s plenty to choose from where you’re concerned! Well don’t just stand there, sit down!” She glared at the assembled crowd, “Don’t you people have jobs?” Everyone scattered. Sherlock and I sat. “What the hell have you been up to?”

“Sebastian.”

“You were…” her jaw dropped as she sank into her chair. “That was you?! Bounty hunting and information selling and…” He simply nodded. Her face fell into her hand. “I feel like such an idiot.”

“You, and everyone else apparently, thought I was dead. You had no cause to be suspicious.”

“Gracious of you,” she scoffed, folding her arms as she leaned back. “Watts chew you out yet?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I presume you had a hell of a lawyer ensure you weren’t breaking many laws with your fake death?”

“Naturally.”

“So how’d you do it?”

“Clever use of contacts and great physical exertion.”

She rolled her eyes and chuckled. “Fine, then. Have I told you you’re an idiot yet?”

“Along with irresponsible, impulsive, and unnecessarily dramatic.”

She smiled. “Good. Gotta hand it to you, though, you sure know how to make an entrance.” He inclined his head with a small smile. “I suppose I’ll have to see about getting the liaison thing reinstated.”

“I never quite liked the idea of the police keeping track of me.”

Red shrugged, “I don’t like my superiors breathing down my neck every time you do something stupid, but it means I’m the one who gets to deal with you, so it’s usually worth it.”

Sherlock was confused. “Working with me is worth the excessive inconvenience?”

Red shook her head, a fond expression on her face. “It’s good to see you, Sherlock. I’d chat more, but if I don’t get this report written up by the time I leave today, it’ll be my hide.”

He smiled, modestly. “I’m sure we’ll be in touch.”

As we stood, she said, “Come to Christmas dinner.”

Sherlock froze and stared at her, a small look of panic on his face. “I beg your pardon?”

“You. Are invited. To Christmas dinner. With my family.”

He blinked. “Dear god, it’s December.”

“We’d love to,” I answered for him. He shot me a quick glare, but it didn’t have any heart in it. He sighed, and nodded.

“Good,” Red grinned, “I’ll see you before then, I’m sure. Have a good night, gents, and Watts? Don’t be too hard on him, he’s only human. An ass, no mistake, but still only human.”

I couldn’t help but smile. Sherlock was carefully neutral as he placed his hat back on his head. “I’ll try to keep that in mind,” I said.

We returned home in silence, but the air was a little lighter than before. Sherlock went back to his index, working through the night. We didn’t say much.

In the morning, I found him in the middle of the living room, sword in hand. His original had been destroyed by a cyborg. I’d bought him a replacement, almost an exact replica of the first, but he hadn’t had much opportunity to use it before ‘dying.’ Now, he examined every inch with great care, brow furrowed.

“Something wrong?” I asked.

When he finally answered, his voice was unusually quiet. “My first sword was given to me by my instructor, my second by my friend. It’s an odd comparison. They are nearly identical blades, yet the simple knowledge of who they are from and why they were given make them entirely different.”

“Have you told the Irregulars?” I asked.

He blinked, startled. “What?”

“Do the Irregulars know you’re alive yet?”

“I hadn’t told them.” He was a bit ashamed by this.

I shrugged, “We’ll go see them right now.”

“Are they…?”

“They’re all still there, all alive and well, and they’ll be happy to see you.”


We arrived at the Hideout, as the Irregulars call it, in the afternoon. Music played softly from within, and we could hear muffled voices. Wendy answered my knock, opening the door wide to let me in. “Doc! This is a surprise…” she trailed off as Sherlock entered behind me. I stood to the side to give the half dozen Irregulars present a good look at their employer returned from the dead. Sherlock met each bewildered gaze, a small smile on his face.

With a cry of alarmed excitement, each and every one of them leaped to their feet and nearly tackled him in a massive group hug. Sherlock staggered, stunned.

“You’re alive!” they all shouted, blended with chimes of “I knew it” and relieved cheers.

Laughing in spite of himself, Sherlock gently pried them off, “My goodness, such a greeting. Let me look at you all.” This had been the last thing he’d expected. With a quick cough to clear the emotion from his voice, Sherlock once again the general before his troops. As he performed his inspection, he tried in vain to hide his smile. “You all seem physically fit at least,” he glanced at me for confirmation.

I nodded, “Yeah, though they’d be better if they’d come to me for follow ups every time one of them breaks something.”

They rolled their eyes. I had long ago given up any hope of the Irregulars coming for regular check-ups, but, damn it, the least they could do was follow doctor’s orders.

Sherlock grinned. “Ah. And is all well here?” he asked them. They nodded vigorously.

“We’re fine. A little short on funds,” Wendy smiled, “but we’ve been getting by.”

“Good. I apologize for my sudden departure, but—”

“You fell through a window,” all six said in unison.

Sherlock blinked. “Well. Yes.”

“I knew Will was up to something,” Michael said, smugly. “I didn’t believe you were dead for a minute.”

“Yes, you did,” everyone around him scolded.

He shrugged, unabashed. “You were gone a long time.”

Sherlock nodded, “I was. Now,” he sat down on the floor where he stood, gesturing for the Irregulars to do the same, “tell me everything I’ve missed.”

We spent the rest of the day with the Irregulars, catching up on their lives and the gossip on the street that Sherlock hadn’t heard about – the stuff not directly related to the criminal world. The other half of the Irregulars slowly trickled in as the day went on, and each one had a similar reaction as before. And, like before, the sudden emotional display was quickly followed by customary professionalism… as professional as any of the Irregulars ever gets, at least.

It was evening by the time we left. Sherlock was still reeling from the experience as I drove us home. “Thank you for keeping an eye on them,” he said.

“Of course. You ok?”

“This homecoming has been much more emotional than I expected.”

I smirked. “I bet.” It started to snow. “Probably be a white Christmas.”

Sherlock sighed.

“What do you have against Christmas?”

“Nothing at all, it’s the social requirement I find ridiculous.”

“Last time you got away with a simple season’s greetings, but this year I intend to really get into the season.”

“Enjoy.”

“Oh, no,” I grinned as I pulled up to 122 Break Street, “I’m taking full advantage of your guilt and hauling you along with me tomorrow.”

The look on his face might have been terror.


His streak of penitentiary behavior came to a screeching halt the next morning over coffee.

“No.”

“Oh, come on. You’ve seen worse war zones than the Corporate Sector in December.”

“That is debatable. If you desire to force your way through seas of unhappy shoppers seeking ridiculously expensive gifts for loved ones and acquaintances that will only be used once and promptly forgotten about, be my guest.”

“Coward,” I challenged.

Sherlock raised an impassive eyebrow. “If that is the best baiting you can do, Watts, I am sorely disappointed in you.”

I shrugged, “Fine. Stay at home. I shall brave the storm of consumerism by myself, and enjoy it.” I donned my winter coat and hat, calling upstairs, “Ghost! Want to come shopping?”

“You’re kidding!”

“Just thought I’d ask!” I laughed.

“I’d rather get fried in cyberspace than stampeded in a mall!” she called back, making Sherlock chuckle.

“You know,” I said to him, “it’ll be worse the closer to Christmas it gets.”

“Precisely why I intend to stay in this house until New Year’s Day.”

I shook my head, “You’ll go crazy without a case. The few news sites that have reported rumors of your return have still just been rumors. The cops know you’re back, sure, but the rest of the City still thinks you’re little more than an urban legend. What better way to definitively announce your return to life than by walking through the Corporate Sector?”

Rubbing between his eyes, Sherlock sighed. “Damn it, Watts, I hate this time of year.”

“I know. Come on, I’m an old pro at this. It’ll be fun.”

He stood, shaking his head, “You have a disturbing definition of ‘fun.’”

I had fun, at least. The Corporate Sector was in a full array of kitsch, streetlights and rooftops covered in white and blue lights, a decorated tree in every hotel and square, and holiday music playing from every storefront. Everyone bustled around carrying bags of brightly wrapped packages. I smoothly led my fortunately dexterous friend through the throngs of people as I window shopped, trying to get ideas for a small gift for Red and Ghost this year. I like the spectacle of the season. Either you throw yourself into it and go with the flow, or you just get stressed out by it all.

I also enjoyed the reactions Sherlock’s presence caused. He was in full Victorian dress, top hat included, his brass hand shining, and everywhere we went someone would stop and stare for a moment. He even stopped a brawl from happening, simply by getting in the middle and scolding them, an event a media-man was quick to record. He enjoyed the attention, but hated the setting.

Still, he was a decent sport about the whole thing, suffering in silence… for a while. I did my best not to roll my eyes or laugh as I listened to him rant on the way home, unable to contain his disgust and frustration any longer.

“Why is that song even played? It has nothing to do with Christmas whatsoever.”

“It’s not supposed to be about Christmas, it’s a traditional—”

“No, it is from a musical written in 1959 about an Austrian family just before World War II,” Sherlock’s rapid-fire retort made me blink in surprise, “It has nothing to do with any holiday, be it Christmas or Hanukkah or Solstice or…” he floundered, “Pancha Ganapati.”

“Or what?”

“Hindu celebration of Ganesh.”

“Who?”

“Never mind.”

“Why do you even know that?”

“My point is,” he continued, “the song is completely unrelated to the season, and simply adds to the annoying sentimentality of every shopping center in the City.”

Cautiously, I ventured, “But the wintertime imagery—”

“A single mention of snowflakes and mittens does not constitute wintertime imagery!”

Grinning wider, I followed the detective into our home. Sherlock went straight to his pipe, tossing his coat and hat to his chair.

“And I suppose the season somehow avoids all this in the Colonies,” I smirked.

“The lack of volume of superfluous goods diminishes the materialism somewhat, yes. Though I do concede that much of the season is sentimental drivel. The entire holiday is nothing but a materialistic, consumerist headache.”

“Point taken, Scrooge.”

He winced, “You have no idea how much it pains me that you only know that reference through media.”

“Actually, I read the book.”

“Really?”

“Ages ago,” I admitted, ignoring his amazement, “but I read it. And liked it.”

“Hm. Then you should recognize that Ebenezer Scrooge had no qualms about the materialism of Christmas – if anything he would have been happy to make a profit off it if he could. He hated the ‘goodwill toward men’ part, until his spiritual intervention. And it is the distinct lack of any sincere effort toward goodwill that disgusts me about modern Christmas.”


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-38 show above.)