Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Paper Journal — 2
By Kitanya Harrison, writing as Harrison Kitteridge
Were it not for Sherlock’s Personal Archive File, I would have assumed that, like me, he had no family to speak of. He never mentioned his childhood home or his people — it was almost as if he had taken an omerta against doing so. I assumed there must have been some horrible estrangement even though Mycroft and his parents checked up on him at fairly regular intervals and kept him afloat financially. The overtures never came from the other direction, though, and his eldest brother, Algernon, remained mysteriously absent. Sherlock’s self-imposed isolation seemed to be the product of some deeply-felt aversion to any sort of emotional connection. His File showed only one close relationship — a friendship he had struck up at university with a young man called Victor Trevor (or, more accurately, a friendship Victor Trevor had struck up with him). They met when Victor’s dog bit Sherlock on the ankle, and Victor was rather insistent about looking after Sherlock while he recuperated. I often wondered if getting close to Sherlock was just that simple — a matter of persistence, pushing past his boundaries as carelessly has he would yours. Their friendship had ended badly following the death of the boy’s father. It wasn’t clear what had precipitated the falling out, but it is not difficult to imagine that turning to Sherlock in a time of grief might have been a recipe for disaster.
It should have bothered me more, Sherlock’s nonchalant misanthropy, but the truth is that it enabled my own. I too craved alienation from the world and its demands to “be more sociable!” I appreciated being able to eschew many tedious social rituals when I was in his company. He abhorred “small talk” and would sometimes sit in absolute silence for days. At first, I found it strange, but then I gladly embraced those prolonged moments of quiet as peaceful respites for my febrile nerves. It also helped that my psychiatrist was so pleased I had found a friend I liked and esteemed that she encouraged my neglect of Harry and was optimistic that I could give up having a Virtual Sociability Companion far sooner than she had hoped. She was over the moon when I began to write up Sherlock’s cases (thus far, The Adventure of the Speckled Band, The Hounds of Baskerville, and The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez) in an Archive Journal I titled (somewhat grandly) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I never told her about the drugs, and she never took a close enough look at Sherlock’s File to find out. She noted that forming my friendship with Sherlock was the turning point in my treatment. The marked improvement in my mood and outlook on life were evidence of the truth of her assessment, but “friendship” seemed like the wrong word for whatever it was Sherlock and I shared — it hints at a kind of intimacy neither of us was truly capable of. While I was hesitant to classify my relationship with Sherlock, I could freely admit that we were strangely well-suited companions, and I was curious to meet a member of his family in person.
“What is your brother like?” It was the sort of question one asked without thinking — a way to fill dead air.
“You’ve been through his File, haven’t you?” Sherlock asked, one brow raised — a signal to remind me that he disliked redundant conversations.
“Of course,” I replied, colouring for a reason I couldn’t quite place. Examining the Personal Archive File of anyone you had met or could expect to meet was commonplace and expected. In fact, it is often considered rude not to do so soon after making a new acquaintance. If at your next meeting you couldn’t list all their high school sweethearts, you could find you had made an enemy instead of a friend. As usual, basic etiquette seemed not to apply to Sherlock, and, where he and his family were concerned, I felt as if I had been snooping.
“If you’ve been through his File, then you know what he’s like,” Sherlock said.
“I know who he presents himself to be,” I replied. I could tell I had surprised Sherlock, a vanishingly rare occurrence.
He regarded me closely for a moment then said in that cryptic way of his, “You are more than a mere conductor of light, aren’t you, John?”
“I don’t know what that means,” I replied in fond exasperation. “Is he anything like you?” I immediately regretted my question. Sherlock’s face darkened noticeably. Comparing him to his brother had obviously struck a nerve.
“He’s much cleverer than I am.” I could see what it cost him to make that admission. He loathed false modesty, so I knew that even though “cleverness” is a somewhat slippery concept, by Sherlock’s definition, Mycroft had the superior mind.
“Just because he did well in school, got better marks than you, doesn’t mean he’s cleverer.” Sherlock’s expression was absolutely scathing, but something made me press on. I desperately wanted his haughty insouciance to return. His defensiveness had to be quelled. “I’m sure he can’t hold a candle to you when it comes to making deductions.” I smiled confidently, knowing my statement to be true with my whole heart. Before that moment I don’t think I had realised just how highly I esteemed him. It had never occurred to me that he wasn’t unique.
Sherlock’s answering smile was a near grimace, his expression marooned between reflecting appreciation for my faith in him and dejection at the truth my mistakenness had revealed. “He’s better at it than I am.”
“What?” I said stupidly. I felt as if I had been struck.
“He’s better at it than I am.” Sherlock enunciated each word viciously. He hated repeating himself. Coupled with the air of self-flagellation in his tone, I was beginning to think going to meet Mycroft was a terrible idea, a reprieve from the taking of synthetic stimulants be damned. “He is quite well-known for it in certain circles.”
“Does he work with the police?” I was utterly confused. Mycroft’s File indicated that he met his Professional Skills Utilisation Requirements as the Chief Technical Officer at The Archive Liaison Office — an obscure branch of the Ministry of Information. All government record-keeping was done by Alexandria, the parent company of The Archive, and things ran so seamlessly there were virtually no complaints. The Archive Liaison Office seemed to do little more than virtual ribbon-cutting whenever a new government-related feature was launched or updated on The Archive.
“The police work for Mycroft,” Sherlock said.
“The police work for The Archive Liaison Office?” The conversation seemed to be happening in a foreign language — I could make neither head nor tail of it.
“No. The police work for Mycroft. Or at least they will soon.” I could do nothing but stare stupidly. “Do you know what scarlet is?”
Scarlet, the police, The Archive Liaison Office — my mind began to put it together (not quite fast enough for Sherlock, though, who sighed impatiently). “Scarlet — that’s the acronym for some new police database or something, isn’t it?” I asked. “Special Crime Avoidance Something…”
I was relieved to see Sherlock grace me with a barely perceptible smile. “It was originally called the Serious Crime Abatement Rubric, but the acronym S.C.A.R. evoked too many associations with violent knife crime. Since its instalment on all Law Enforcement Technology Units will be mandatory, someone thought to massage it into the Serious Crime Abatement Rubric for Law Enforcement Technology or S.C.A.R.L.E.T. It rolls off the tongue much more pleasantly, don’t you think?”
“It makes me think of blood,” I said, wrinkling my nose.
“I suppose it does.”
“So this database — ”
“It’s not a database,” Sherlock interrupted. “It is a highly advanced data analytics program that reviews unsolved crimes and queries The Archive for further clues. It is currently in the beta stage, but it has been a smashing success, and when it is rolled out in a few months’ time, its application will be the first step in criminal investigation not a stop-gap after the usual methods fail.”
“But that means…”
“It will be possible to solve very nearly any crime without ever having to leave your chair.” I heard the unspoken implication — detectives would go the way of the dinosaur.
“And your brother, he supervised all this?”
“The algorithms S.C.A.R.L.E.T. uses are based on his very particular method of deductive reasoning.”
It was like something out of a turn-of-the-millennium film: sentient computers taking over the world and destroying people’s lives. “So your brother’s mind has been copied into some sort of artificial intelligence that’s going to make every C.I.D. in the country irrelevant?” I very nearly said “make you irrelevant” but caught myself just in time.
“It’s not an A.I. — not strictly speaking. It can solve a specific subset of very complex problems faster than any human being could ever hope to, but it can’t learn or adapt; it can only take in more information and run it through its algorithms. It’s essentially still just a logic machine, but, yes, it will remove the necessity of employing human beings to investigate virtually all crimes.”
I felt as if I had been plunged into ice water. Once S.C.A.R.L.E.T. came online, the police officers who sometimes called Sherlock up to crib off of him would be made redundant, and his already meagre case load would shrink even more. In fact, S.C.A.R.L.E.T.’s beta testing was the likely cause of the drought Sherlock was currently experiencing. Things would get only worse. I willed myself not to grab the morocco case and hurl it out the window. Instead, I asked, “So, if Mycroft has S.C.A.R.L.E.T., what sort of case could he need solved?”
“There are always all sorts of intrigues in government agencies. He’s probably determined that someone somewhere is untrustworthy but doesn’t want to send up any flares by using S.C.A.R.L.E.T. in case the guilty party has access.”
It all sounded very cloak and dagger, and that gave me a thought. “The security services will probably want their own version of S.C.A.R.L.E.T., won’t they?”
“They’ve probably already seen the beta testing and put in a request. The spy masters will have to give Mycroft full access if they want similar results.” He hesitated a bit. “Once it’s fully deployed, S.C.A.R.L.E.T. will save billions of pounds. Mycroft always understood that whoever could balance the books was the most important person in the room. He’s made himself the most powerful man in England.”
Yes, I thought, going to meet Mycroft is the worst idea any person in the history of ideas had ever had. I had half a mind to knock Sherlock out and lock him in a cupboard. His brother was a dangerous man. I was certain of it. A man of his superior intellect and vast ambition could very well have become Prime Minister. He was made for it. He probably could have obtained any posting he wanted after university, but, in a move that must have earned him the derision of his peers, he left the most coveted positions to others and joined what was essentially a joke department because he was the only person to recognise where the true locus of power was hidden. Mycroft didn’t want the trappings of power; he wanted actual power. Vain men can be easily placated once you discover what flatters them. Mycroft, on the other hand, had ignored the demands of his ego for the better part of twenty years and was pleased to remain hidden in the shadows. I imagined him as a great spider, but the sort that was far too clever to do anything as unimaginative as build a web to trap its prey.
Sensing my worry, Sherlock said, “You’re right to be wary of him, but he’s of no danger to us.”
“Not to you, maybe — you’re his brother. What about me?” I was half-joking, but Sherlock’s face became hard, and his eyes were positively lethal.
“He wouldn’t dare.” That was all he said, but behind the simple phrase lay a very real threat, some terrible consequence to be paid for an injury to me. The flare of emotion burned white-hot — like magnesium that had been set alight, but it was extinguished almost immediately. Some greedy part of me wanted more, and I thought that it would be worth being hurt (not too badly, mind you) so I could catch further glimpses of the generous heart he hid so ably. His sudden surge of protectiveness seemed to bring him back to himself, and his usual air of maddeningly unruffled calm enveloped him. We were due to meet Mycroft at his office in Whitehall, and he burst out the door, throwing an imperious “Come along, John” behind him. As always, I followed.
The Archive Liaison Office was tucked away in the warren of Ministry of Information departments. It had been overlooked during the last round of renovations and was stuck in turn-of-the-millennium interior design. I found the almost aggressive minimalism and monochromatic paintings of nothing but lines and whorls deeply unsettling. That kind of deliberate attempt to create a space devoid of any context had always seemed prevaricating to me. Mycroft came out to greet us. He and Sherlock could not have been more opposite physically. Sherlock was very tall (about 190 cm) and whippet thin. His face was too severe to be considered truly handsome, but his strong, hawk-like features combined with his regal carriage gave him a potent physical charisma, which when joined with the force of his personality always threatened to overwhelm. Everything about Mycroft was… softer. His hair was fair and made up of fine, straight strands that were easy to groom. Sherlock sported a mane of raven curls that often resembled a nest constructed by a very angry, unworkmanlike bird. Mycroft was nearly the same height as Sherlock but much stouter, outweighing him by several stone. This difference in weight was clearest in their faces (the immaculate tailoring of Mycroft’s suit did much to camouflage his considerable girth). Sherlock was almost gaunt, his cheekbones like knives edges, while Mycroft’s plump visage was almost cherubic. They should have had the same eyes: light grey and shaped like almonds, but Sherlock’s seemed brighter. Perhaps it was the contrast of his dark lashes. The family resemblance was all in the sharpness of their expressions. They conveyed that they were incredibly intelligent men without having to speak a word.
“Sherlock,” Mycroft said warmly.
“Mycroft,” Sherlock replied, shaking his brother’s hand.
“And this must be your Dr Watson.” He turned to me, and I could feel him analysing me much the way Sherlock had at our first meeting.
“Mr Holmes,” I said, offering my hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Please call me Mycroft.” He shook my hand firmly.
“And you must call me John,” I responded. Sherlock sighed shortly, already impatient with the social ritual of making introductions. Mycroft smiled indulgently at him.
“Let’s step into my office and get down to brass tacks before Sherlock sets fire to something.”
Mycroft’s office was of a moderate size and was tastefully decorated — the dark wood and rich upholstery made it much warmer than all the cool glass, sharp edges and stainless steel in the reception area. We sat together at a small table where tea and cakes were already laid out. Mycroft set about serving us, pouring the tea with the skill of a Victorian maiden.
“Cake not biscuits, Mycroft,” Sherlock said, stirring a tooth-rotting amount of sugar into his tea. “It’s something serious, then — to do with your precious S.C.A.R.L.E.T.” Mycroft’s large hand grasped the preposterously small serving tongs with remarkable deftness, and he placed an assortment of delicate, lightly frosted cakes onto each of our small china plates. They were delicious and obviously expensive, as was the wonderfully fragrant tea.
“Beta testing hit a snag?” Sherlock needled through a mouthful of cake.
“Not a snag per se,” Mycroft responded, managing to devastate his serving of cake in short order while maintaining faultless table manners. “I know it is not the impression we give, but The Archive does not, cannot capture everything. Human beings are too inherently mendacious. The lies they tell themselves litter their Files. Nevertheless, between the psychological assessments in their Health & Well-being Sub-Files and the plethora of video and holograms we have of them to compare and analyse, S.C.A.R.L.E.T. can root out and even predict deception rather accurately. Nevertheless, there are certain… gaps we knew would prevent S.C.A.R.L.E.T. from closing 100% of the cases it analyses. The success rate is actually higher than our predic — ”
Sherlock interrupted. “You deliberately down-sold the efficacy to make yourself look like a genius when it surpassed expectations.” Mycroft’s mouth curved into a small smile of confirmation.
“We always knew the need for human input would remain, that there would sometimes be legwork.” He said the word “legwork” the way one might refer to a suppurating boil.
“So, it turns out you can’t solve every mystery from your armchair, not even when you have the power to access all the data in The Archive.” Sherlock was gleefully smug. Mycroft ignored him.
“When S.C.A.R.L.E.T. lacks the data to formulate a conclusion, it returns a message depending on the nature of the failure: ‘Analysis Inconclusive’ or ‘Anomaly Detected’, etc., all under the umbrella of ‘Needs Human Interpretation’. We have recruited human interpreters from every branch of law enforcement — only the best, of course.”
“Of course,” Sherlock said, his smugness now so thick it was very nearly corporeal. If things carried on the way they were, we would have to name it, hire it a nanny, and choose a primary school for it to attend.
“With the detailed reports S.C.A.R.L.E.T. generates in hand, our interpreters usually have no trouble. It is all generally quite straightforward — a matter of a few interviews. There are, however, a category of cases that remain impenetrable even with S.C.A.R.L.E.T.’s analysis and our best interpreters burning the midnight oil.”
“I suppose you’ve had a go at them too,” Sherlock said, practically writhing in gloating satisfaction.
“I have managed to close a few,” Mycroft said. “And I was able to suggest a few tweaks to the algorithms and the interpreters’ training that have narrowed the gap even further. However, my other duties preclude me from intervening on a regular basis. There remains a group of cases that the interpreters have taken to calling ‘greeks’.”
“Greeks?” Sherlock asked.
“Generating Rectal Engrossments of the Excruciating Kind. Colloquially, one would say enormous pains in the arse.” Mycroft sitting there in his bespoke dove-grey suit with his 19th century manners talking about rectal engrossments and arses was surrealistic. “Our Chief Interpreter, Gertrude Lestrade, keeps her finger on all the G.R.E.E.K. cases and keeps me apprised of the progress being made. There is a particularly sticky one that has them completely stymied. They have no idea where to even begin.” He paused a bit. “My suggestions on how to proceed have made no discernible impact.”
Mycroft did not seem to suffer the same acute sense of defeat Sherlock experienced when he failed to unravel a problem. It had happened only once that I had observed, and I had no desire to relive the aftermath. Thus far, I had found Mycroft pleasant and accommodating. He was the perfect host, and I appreciated the way he seemed to absorb Sherlock’s barbs without mustering any perfectly justifiable ill will. He put up no defences or hard edges of his own, and, while his desire to protect Sherlock (even from himself) was clear, he restrained the urge to interfere out of respect. In his demeanour was the admission that Sherlock was free to make his own choices. I quickly developed a grudging respect for Mycroft and his mature approach to sibling rivalry. I wasn’t sure I trusted him not to descend into the kind of knavery worthy of a Bond villain, but I trusted him to keep Sherlock’s best interest at heart. In spite of all this, I was worried that deputising Sherlock as some sort of “G.R.E.E.K. interpreter” was courting disaster. If S.C.A.R.L.E.T., Mycroft and his team of interpreters were at sixes and sevens over the case, it seemed likely that Sherlock would be stymied as well. As always, Sherlock could read my thoughts, and I caught a quickly disguised look of hurt disappointment flash across his face.
“I assure you, John,” Mycroft said, demonstrating his own clairvoyance. “I would not have sought my brother’s input were I not confident he would get as close to settling the matter as was possible. If he is unable to cut this Gordian knot, then we shall have to remain at a loss until further information is gathered. The Archive is always pulling new data, and S.C.A.R.L.E.T. re-assesses the G.R.E.E.K.s periodically, so a favourable resolution of the matter is possible.”
“But not probable.” Why was I speaking?
“Sherlock’s involvement shortens the odds considerably,” Mycroft said matter-of-factly.
“I know,” I said, looking over at Sherlock, hoping to convey that my concerns had nothing to do with lack of confidence in his abilities but the Matterhorn-sized problem itself.
There was a knock at the door.
“That will be Lestrade,” Mycroft said. “I’ll have her give you access to S.C.A.R.L.E.T. and take you through the case.”
“Off to Downing Street?” I asked in jest.
“Yes,” Mycroft answered, standing and buttoning his suit jacket.
Gertrude Lestrade, the Chief Interpreter, formerly of New Scotland Yard, was not pleased to have civilians poaching on her territory. That Sherlock’s relationship to Mycroft screamed nepotism put her in a state of slowly simmering rage. She kept mumbling about “protocol” and “proper security clearance” and “family connections”. As she logged into S.C.A.R.L.E.T. to grant Sherlock access as a Consulting Interpreter, “this is most irregular” was her near constant refrain. In a fudge of my medical credentials, I was listed as a Forensic Science Associate. Lestrade continued her litany of disapproval as she introduced us to the software and used a few active cases as examples to show us how to use the interface. To Sherlock’s credit, he ignored Lestrade (although I suppose that was down to his captivation with S.C.A.R.L.E.T.), and Lestrade soon changed her tune when Sherlock solved three of the “Needs Human Interpretation” cases after glancing over their S.C.A.R.L.E.T. reports. The G.R.E.E.K. cases were much murkier, but he did offer a few suggestions, of which Lestrade gladly made note. I saw (with some distaste) that, following each of Sherlock’s revelations, Lestrade entered her own name into the field for “Current Interpreting Agent” before updating the case files, essentially taking all the credit for Sherlock’s work. I disliked her intensely. Sherlock caught the stony glare I was directing at Lestrade and smiled. The dark and light in Sherlock expressed themselves so unpredictably: he was almost irretrievably arrogant, but he wasn’t proud.
Once Lestrade had taken us through the basics of using S.C.A.R.L.E.T., she sent us secure links to the User Manual, which bore the somewhat esoteric title: A Study in S.C.A.R.L.E.T. “Mycroft does so love to indulge his little eccentricities,” Sherlock remarked disdainfully. I laughed aloud at the notion that Sherlock Holmes of all people could have the temerity to deride anyone, much less Mycroft (who practically radiated steadfast reliability), as being too indulgent of their foibles. He at least had the good grace to look slightly chagrined when faced with the preposterousness of his position.
Our orientation complete, Lestrade pulled up the G.R.E.E.K. case on which Sherlock had been brought in to consult — the unsolved murder of a woman called Edwina Lucas. The facts of the case are as follows:
At 21:37 on the night in question, thirty-four year-old Edwina May Lucas posted to her File that she was making a night of it. Ninety-six hours later, after she failed to respond to a barrage of Sociability Reminders and a Request for Confirmation of Health & Well-being, Fire & Safety Officers entered her flat and found her lying dead from a stab wound to the heart. The wound had been expertly inflicted, the incredibly sharp knife having slid up between her ribs for the killing blow. The post-mortem revealed that she had died almost instantly and was killed not long after she had made her final Archive entry. The case had the clear markers of a professional hit.
“We can find no motive,” Lestrade said. “There is no reason we can ascertain for anyone to have wanted Edwina Lucas dead, none at all. By all accounts she was shy, retiring and hard-working. Her psychological profile shows that she was almost preternaturally afraid of conflict — a classic people-pleaser.”
“Maybe she saw something she shouldn’t have,” I suggested.
“Nothing in the geolocation data from her Life Management Device puts her near any suspicious activity. And S.C.A.R.L.E.T.’s examination of her Archive entries didn’t show any of the behavioural changes one would expect from the stress of an experience like that, having to hide it,” Lestrade countered.
“Maybe she didn’t know what she saw, didn’t understand that it was important,” I replied. Sherlock beamed at me the way one might at a child who had demonstrated the ability to tie his own shoes for the first time. “Is that what you think it might be, Sherlock?” I asked, hoping for his explicit agreement and approval.
“One should never theorise ahead of the data,” he replied. Some flicker of disappointment must have shown on my face because he went on to say, “But the notion that she somehow came to possess knowledge she didn’t realise was dangerous to her must be considered.” I couldn’t help a pleased smile.
“Was anything stolen?” I asked, buoyed by Sherlock’s acceptance of my contribution and overcome by the sudden urge to “detect”.
“That’s listed as one of the anomalies S.C.A.R.L.E.T. picked up,” Lestrade replied. “The only thing of any value that was missing was a book.”
“A book?” Sherlock asked sharply, his already piqued interest ratcheting up another notch. “A paper book?”
“Yes,” Lestrade replied. “A turn-of-the-millennium autographed hardcover copy of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. It’s not very valuable, though — only worth a couple of hundred quid or so — no reason for some Carlos the Jackal type to get involved. We’re not sure when the book went missing. The last archived photo of her flat was from three days before her death. The book was there then but not when she was found. She could have lent it to someone, although they probably would have posted about it. Or maybe it was damaged somehow, and she didn’t want to own up to it because it was a gift from a group of childhood friends. And even if someone wanted the book, why not just steal it? Why kill her? We’re still left without a proper motive, even if we assume the book is relevant, which it doesn’t seem to be.”
Lestrade was clearly frustrated by the strange case and its impenetrable clues. For Sherlock, though, it was like Christmas. He was scrolling and clicking through the S.C.A.R.L.E.T. report faster than Lestrade or I could follow and was soon typing an Archive query for “confetti” linked first to Edwina Lucas and then to the serial number of the book. S.C.A.R.L.E.T. generated a Report Update. Sherlock had identified another anomaly. Lestrade was thunderstruck to see new information uncovered so quickly and read the short update greedily. “I don’t understand,” she said.
“When Edwina read the book bits of confetti would sometimes get stuck to her fingers or forearms. She posted photos of it.” He navigated to one of the relevant posts (now linked to the S.C.A.R.L.E.T. report) so Lestrade and I could see the photos. What looked like perfectly circular black moles littered Edwina’s hands and forearms. “Sticky book confetti!” she had captioned one of the photos. Sherlock continued, “The trace evidence log catalogued a few bits as well. Confetti is quite rare these days — ”
“But it wasn’t at the turn of the millennium,” Lestrade argued. “It might have gotten into the book then.”
“The provenance of the book is quite clear,” Sherlock said impatiently. “It spent time at Coxon & Woodhouse’s before being bought by Edwina’s friends from Mawson & Williams.”
“The auction houses?” Lestrade asked, trying to put things together.
“Among the most reputable,” Sherlock replied. “All the items put up for auction are scrupulously examined and cleaned. They would have examined every page for damage, and they certainly wouldn’t have left oodles of confetti littering up one of their lots. One or two stray pieces may have survived, but certainly not the veritable colony Edwina found. The Archive shows nothing else in the book’s history or Edwina’s that can explain the presence of the confetti — it’s an anomaly. Her friends gave the book to Edwina the day after they bought it. It was still in the auction house packaging. She didn’t post about starting to read it or the confetti until a week later. Sometime in that week, the confetti was introduced. If she’d been to a party where they released confetti, she would have just said so. That means we’re missing something about her life — somewhere she went, someone she met perhaps. There is no indication of deception or concealment in her Archive entries, no discernible change in her behaviour, but that book and the unseen action involved in altering its pristine state will explain why it was taken and why she was killed. The book is at the heart of the matter; I’m certain of it.”
Lestrade looked as dubious as I felt. The addition of the new information to the problem seemed to make the solution only more opaque. A missing children’s book and some confetti — it was an inauspicious beginning. Edwina was killed months after receiving the gift and posting about the confetti. If whatever was at stake was important enough to warrant a killing for hire, shouldn’t the theft and murder have happened sooner? No; there were other events that had brought the matter to maturity, and they remained thoroughly hidden from us. Sensing our incertitude, Sherlock said, “I’m not saying the matter doesn’t remain shrouded in mystery — much like poor Edwina. The motives of people who fear confrontation and so readily supplant their will to that of others are so inscrutable. Their most trivial actions may speak volumes or their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon their choice of beverage that morning.”
Sherlock’s admission that we were all grasping around in the dark together had the ironic effect of boosting my and Lestrade’s morale. “So we’ve got to find out where the book came into contact with the confetti, then,” I ventured.
“Precisely,” Sherlock replied.
Sherlock and I spent the rest of the day reviewing the S.C.A.R.L.E.T. report and the evidence. We took a trip to the off-site S.C.A.R.L.E.T. Forensic Support Centre, which was located in a block of warehouses by the Thames. Everything was state-of-the-art, of course (Mycroft would have demanded nothing less for his pet project). The holographic projector was particularly impressive. A high-resolution 3-D scanner recorded a defined space and its contents in fine detail, accurate down to the nanometre. The holographic projector then reproduced the image to scale and projected it up from the floor into a giant room with unmarred white walls. The projected images were incredibly realistic, and, as we walked through the hologram of Edwina’s apartment, I found myself skirting the furniture to avoid knocking my shins. The projection of her dead body was disconcerting, though, and not because it was a perfect reproduction of the corpse of a young woman who had been horribly murdered and died in fear — Lord knows I had seen far, far worse. It wasn’t even the blood stains all down the front of the virginal, lace-trimmed white nightie she was wearing (although something about that did make me sad). It was something to do with knowing that the cadaver wasn’t real even though it appeared to be. Its falsity was putting me off. It was like being in a room with a ghost, or a ghost of a ghost, to be more precise. When you take a cold wrist into your hand and feel no pulse, when you listen and there is no breath in the lungs, there is no doubt that life has gone. There in the hologram theatre, however, Edwina seemed trapped, unable to pass through the veil to whatever was on the other side. The medical man in me wished to examine the body itself.
“Anything?” I asked Sherlock.
“Several things,” he replied making notes to himself on his L.M.D.
“Care to share?” Lestrade asked.
“In good time,” Sherlock responded — code for “I’m not sure what any of this means, but I’ll be damned if I let on”. He continued his minute examination of the crime scene then swept out of the room, leaving me to bid our goodbyes to Lestrade.
When we returned to Baker Street, Sherlock immediately flung himself onto the sofa. As he reclined, his eyes became unfocused as his brain went into high gear, turning over the information he had learned that day. I knew this process could last an hour or two or stretch on until the next morning or even the following night. I regretted not having thought to stop for something to eat on the way home. Sherlock became positively ascetic when he was on a difficult case — fasting to sharpen his mental faculties even further. There was something about the euphoria intense hunger can bring on that he could corral into keenness of thought. I tried not to mother-hen him, but medical training is not the sort of thing one can simply set aside at will, and watching him abuse his body was anathema to me. The few times I tried to intervene, he dismissed me, claiming he could not afford to divert any of his blood to something as trivial as digestion, not when his brain needed it so much more. I tried to argue that his brain also needed nutrients and hydration, but he would not budge an inch on the matter, going so far as to describe his body as vestigial. He saw himself as a brain in a jar. I worried that there was some sort of underlying psychological disorder at work, some condition marked by the need to demonstrate an iron will that manifested itself in extreme self-deprivation. Over time, I began to see it as more akin to a religious experience — mortification of the flesh to access higher realms. I dared not tell him so, though. His scornful attitude towards spiritualism was equalled only by his disdain for its practitioners, and he would have taken being labelled as such (even in a tangential manner) as the gravest insult. He deplored anything that undermined rationality and wished fervently that society would once and for all sweat out the fever of superstition and illogic.
“It halts the progress of humanity,” he would argue. “And isn’t the beauty of nature made more gratifying, the observation of the heavens made more inspiring of the numinous by your understanding of the processes underlying it all? Doesn’t knowing we can penetrate the mysteries of life fill you with hope? It is almost the 22nd century. Can we not cast off these shackles? Is it not time?” His eyes would shine and high colour would crest across his cheekbones. He always looked so well in those moments, so human, when he allowed his passionate nature to reveal itself, and he ceased being a cold reasoning machine. I would sometimes engage him in debating the issue, but my arguments were ill-formed and half-hearted. I knew virtually nothing of religious life, having been raised (as had he) in an entirely secular community. However, at the time of my devastating injury in Afghanistan, I had felt myself reaching across a great void and felt certain there was something on the other side, something much more powerful than I was, something that could help me, reaching back. When I told him so, his expression softened. “While I believe your experience was the result of all the neurochemicals surging through your brain as the blood loss sent your body into shock, I shan’t begrudge you your feelings on the matter, John. If it gave you the strength to survive, then I am glad for it.” This concession was monumental, and I felt he would have made it for no one else.
I watched Sherlock thinking on the couch for a few minutes then set about preparing a modest dinner of spaghetti bolognese with the help of our virtual housekeeper, which we had taken to calling Mrs Hudson for reasons (outside of the pleasant female voice interface) I can’t quite recall. I optimistically set some food aside for Sherlock and ate quietly, navigating through the G.R.E.E.K. case file on my L.M.D. When examining evidence, Sherlock tended to focus on things — like the bits of confetti. I, on the other hand, always took an interest in the people involved, and I spent most of my dinner scanning Edwina Lucas’s File. She had led a thoroughly conventional life, fulfilling her Professional Skills Utilisation Requirements as a receptionist at an old-fashioned law office whose partners found the virtual alternative vulgar. More curious about her personal life, I navigated to her Relationships Sub-File. She had a small group of old friends from secondary school, with whom she corresponded the most. They are the ones who had put together to buy her the Harry Potter book. One of them, a woman called Mary, had a sweet, pleasant face and showed a slightly ribald sense of humour in her postings. It’s exactly the sort of thing that would pique my interest but earn Sherlock’s disdain. I clicked into Mary’s File and saw that she was a Sociability Maintenance Engineer at the British Museum. I skimmed her Professional Skills Utilisation history and almost choked on my food when I saw the name of her previous employer: Charles Augustus Milverton.