Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Paper Journal — 4
By Kitanya Harrison, writing as Harrison Kitteridge
- The murder of Edwina May Lucas.
- The theft of a hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from Edwina May Lucas’s flat.
- The presence of unexplained confetti in the hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
- The gift of the hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to Edwina May Lucas from her childhood friends, one of whom was Mary Elisabeth Sutherland, former Sociability Maintenance Engineer of Charles Augustus Milverton.
- The shooting of Charles Augustus Milverton.
- The blackmail enterprise of Charles Augustus Milverton.
- The Sixth Man.
I made the preceding list immediately after learning of the connection of Edwina to Milverton through Mary. Sherlock always advised that it was a capital offence to theorise before one had data, and, while I knew the information I had uncovered wasn’t “data” per se, the addition of Milverton’s blackmail scheme to the mix raised the stakes enough to justify the employment of a skilled (and probably very expensive) assassin. The odds that there was any other explanation were infinitesimal. We still didn’t have a clear motive, but we were a large step closer. The waters into which we had been peering were still incredibly murky, but I could now make out some vague shape at the bottom.
Sherlock was still lying on the couch in his thinking trance with his chin thrust into his breast, and I considered rousing him to inform him of my findings, but I felt a measure of pride at having uncovered something he hadn’t, and I wanted to take things as far as I could by myself. I was no Sherlock Holmes, but diagnosis of disease is much like criminal investigation, and I knew I possessed a framework of thinking that could help me penetrate the mystery of Edwina Lucas’s murder.
According to Sherlock, the book and the confetti were the crucial symptoms to consider. However, even with the new information at hand, I could make no further sense of the importance of either, so I set them aside for the moment. What did I know? I knew that Charles Augustus Milverton’s blackmailing had got him shot in the face — twice, and lucky leprechaun that he was, he had survived. Last I heard, he was languishing in a coma at a private hospital in the country. I also knew that there had been six of us in Milverton’s study that night and one (whom Sherlock and I had taken to calling the Sixth Man) remained unidentified. Sherlock had agreed with my assessment that the Sixth Man was a capable sort of fellow, and his interest in Milverton made me wonder if his involvement went deeper. Could he be the assassin who had killed poor Edwina? I also knew that our murder victim was a close friend of Milverton’s Sociability Maintenance Engineer. Before being shot, Milverton had had spies everywhere. Had Mary been a conduit? Had Edwina’s position at the law firm where she had worked given her access to confidential information Milverton would find valuable? Had Mary and Edwina been his confederates?
I was breaking all of Sherlock’s rules — theorising and postulating without data, but considering the possibilities allowed me to see the evidence as part of a whole. While Sherlock would string minutiae together to form a chain, what I was doing was more akin to solving an old-fashioned picture puzzle — searching for the straight edges first then trying to fill in the middle. The outline had three corner pieces thus far: Milverton, Edwina and Mary. The connection between Milverton and Edwina was through Mary, so I began with her.
Mary had been deeply in love with Peter Escott — that much was clear from her File. It complicated matters so much. She needed to be interviewed, and I certainly wasn’t up to the task, but there was no way Sherlock could go anywhere near her (not even in one of his more elaborate disguises). The risk that she might recognise him as the man who had jilted her and taken an overseas posting to get away from her was too great. She was the only person who could shed light on what connected Edwina and Milverton. She was also directly connected to the book. She was the linchpin. I was sure of it, but Sherlock, who only ever looked at matters of the heart with a jibe and a sneer, had irretrievably alienated her. I saw with some relief that she was dating again — a man called, of all things, Hosmer Angel.
Mary met Hosmer when he stopped a man from snatching her purse. She had been pushed to the ground during the scuffle, and he had insisted on taking her to Accident & Emergency in case she had hit her head. They kept in touch. After what Sherlock had done to her, she was obviously quite wary, but Hosmer kept enough distance between them that it was Mary who made the first move. I watched some of the videos and holograms of them, and one in particular gave me pause. They were walking in the park when an errant football came flying at them. Hosmer agilely took it off his chest and played it back to the men on the pitch who invited him to join them. Taking the opportunity to show off for Mary, he played well and ended up showing up someone who took it quite badly. It nearly came to blows. Something about the set of Hosmer’s shoulders and the stance he took let me know that it would have gone very, very badly indeed for the other bloke if his friends hadn’t pulled him back. I admit that I was making connections carelessly, but I became convinced Hosmer Angel was the Sixth Man. He had the same build, the same athletic grace, and the same lethal demeanour (granted the last characteristic only showed when he was challenged, whereas the Sixth Man had positively radiated it that night in Milverton’s study). And there he was with Mary, who had worked closely with Milverton, Mary who maybe had information other parties would value, like hints about Milverton’s behaviour that might point to the hiding place of his blackmail files. Perhaps Hosmer Angel was the Sixth Man’s Peter Escott. While making such a connection would have given our investigation a boost, I prayed I was wrong. If Hosmer turned out to be another honey trap, it might drive Mary to insanity. I pinned my hope on the firm belief that no one setting themselves up as a suitor would choose a weapons-grade libido-suppressant for a false name. Hosmer? Really?
Having taken my examination of Mary as far as I could, I moved on to Milverton. In the weeks following Milverton’s shooting, Sherlock and I had kept abreast of the investigation of his attempted murder as discreetly as we could in order to make sure none of the evidence pointed to us. One of Sherlock’s police collaborators, Tobias Gregson, asked for a consultation from Sherlock, who refused on the grounds of finding the matter “vulgar yet stultifying”. Even when experiencing absolutely arid droughts, Sherlock often turned down cases he didn’t find interesting, and, thankfully, him avoiding the matter didn’t raise Gregson’s suspicions. I quickly checked Milverton’s Personal Archive File and news reports and received the shocking news that he had awoken from his coma.
In what was assumed to be a forensic countermeasure, the ammunition used in the attempt on Milverton’s life contained large quantities of a gold alloy. It made the bullets “soft”, and the slugs pulled from Milverton’s head were too warped to provide a basis for comparison against any firearm that could be tested. This curious point was one of the reasons Gregson had sought out Sherlock’s input. A further consequence was that the gold-alloy projectiles resulted in less damage than traditional bullets. The minister’s cleverness could very well be her undoing. According to his Health & Well-being Sub-File, Milverton was “communicative” (a vague term that was essentially meaningless) and (more troublesomely) “making steady improvement”. Much of his Health & Well-being Sub-File was written by neurologists and was outside my competence to assess fully, but, from what I gleaned, it was very possible that Milverton could (or very soon would) remember what had happened to him and be able to recount it. He was a malevolent man, and I had no doubt that he would see me and Sherlock punished for our involvement (tangential though it might be) in the circumstances surrounding his injury. Had the police been to see him? I was reluctant to call up Gregson and find out. I believed that even though Sherlock and I had reason to be checking up on Milverton because of the Edwina Lucas matter, it would do us well to steer clear of the official police enquiry. I was very nearly in a panic about how to proceed when I remembered that I had access to S.C.A.R.L.E.T.
I opened up the S.C.A.R.L.E.T. interface on my L.M.D. and looked up the New Scotland Yard file on the Milverton attempted murder investigation. The police were aware he was out of his coma but had been rebuffed by his doctors when they requested an interview. There was a notation saying that Milverton’s neurologist would grant them access if (how I clung to that word in hope) the patient improved enough to warrant being interviewed. I realised there was also the possibility that Milverton had no intention of co-operating with a police investigation and would bide his time until he was well enough to exact his revenge. Victor and the minister were now married, quite happily by all accounts, and that would gall Milverton to no end. If he had been dangerous before, the feeling of invincibility from surviving the shooting would make him even more monstrous. The minister and Victor must have been beside themselves with worry at the thought of being exposed.
In an effort to glean as much as possible about Milverton’s case, I tried to run it through S.C.A.R.L.E.T., but my Forensic Science Associate credentials were inadequate. I needed Interpreter-level access, so I commandeered Sherlock’s L.M.D. and ran a S.C.A.R.L.E.T. analysis of the case, limiting access to the results to Sherlock and Mycroft. The very thorough report the program generated agreed with the Yard’s theory of the case: the empty safe implied robbery. The most important element of both the Yard file and the S.C.A.R.L.E.T. report, however, was the glaring omission of Milverton’s blackmail activities. It seemed he was off the Yard’s radar, and, considering what a Luddite he was, The Archive certainly wasn’t going to find any digital footprints. As a result, the motive was not wrong per se (the perpetrators had been there to nick things from the safe), but it was definitely incomplete. As I spent more time going through the case file and the S.C.A.R.L.E.T. report, it became clearer just how powerful and limited the program was. In this case, the software (through no fault in its design or application) was missing nearly everything of any importance. It did, however, help to flag a clue the Yard had missed.
The evidence collected at Milverton’s had included a 3-D scan of every room in the house and an exhaustive inventory of the contents. S.C.A.R.L.E.T. found one anomaly: the inventory showed that chemicals that had been listed as “cleaning supplies” were stored in different areas of the house, one group being stored in a small attic room nowhere near the staging area for the cleaning staff. I instinctively knew that the chemicals were like the confetti — strange and unexpected enough for most people to notice, but also so innocuous-seeming that anyone who wasn’t Sherlock (or Mycroft, and by extension S.C.A.R.L.E.T.) would discount their importance. I searched The Archive for the chemicals listed (metol, hydroquinone, sodium hydroxide, sodium sulphite, acetic acid and ammonium thiosulphate) and found that they had various industrial uses, none of which seemed relevant to the case. On top of being Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective, Sherlock was an outstanding chemist, and I knew he would be able to make sense of what the chemicals meant, so I left that point aside to discuss with him later and moved on.
The book and the confetti. It kept coming back to those frustratingly incongruous bits of evidence that didn’t seem to fit anywhere but were meant to be holding everything together. On a whim, I searched the inventory of Milverton’s home for “Harry Potter” and found that he owned autographed paper copies of all the books, including The Deathly Hallows. I queried S.C.A.R.L.E.T. to retrieve all the information it could about Milverton’s copy of The Deathly Hallows. He was a rare book collector and had bought it at auction several years ago. Many people probably had copies of the book, but if Edwina’s copy was at the heart of matters, could it be purely coincidence that Milverton owned one too? I queried S.C.A.R.L.E.T. to compare Milverton’s book to Edwina’s and learned that they were the same edition — the first. But why would that matter? Most collectors preferred first editions, unless there had been some sort of special limited-edition printing for an anniversary, etc. I could feel I was a step closer, but it all still made no sense to me. My confusion was the result of deliberate obfuscation. Milverton’s methods, all that paper, was about avoiding The Archive and any programs that could probe its contents. I thought about Milverton’s agents out finding marks, about Sherlock honey trapping Mary, about us skulking through Milverton’s home and cracking his safe, about how the Sixth Man’s actions seemed to be mirroring Sherlock’s. What we were engaged in wasn’t detective work — it was espionage, and the matching pair of Harry Potter books were somehow tools of that trade.
“Why would two spies have copies of the same edition of a book?” I queried The Archive, which returned responses all linked to book codes.
My research showed that most book codes used triplets of numbers, each triplet representing a word that could be decoded by matching each number in the triplet to a page in the chosen book, a line on that page and finally a position in that line. It all seemed so clear now. Milverton was an exceedingly cautious man. It made sense that he might pass some of his more sensitive messages in code. The use of paper couriers didn’t preclude interception. A code that couldn’t be cracked without a first edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was a powerful tool. And even if the book code were discovered, implementing a shift (moving the final number in the triplet backward or forward a few predetermined slots) on top of it would keep the contents of the messages secret. Furthermore, even if the whole decoding method were uncovered, all you had to do was choose a new book. In fact, changing the book intermittently would prevent all of your messages from being exposed. It was beginning to look like Edwina and Mary had been in cahoots with Milverton and their confederacy had used the books to pass coded messages.
There was still the matter of the confetti. It remained impenetrable to me. Like the chemicals, I would leave sorting that out to Sherlock’s superior mind.
In preparation for rousing Sherlock and discussing my findings, I reconsidered my list and began to make additions, soon realising that it was becoming hard for even me to follow. Sherlock’s precise mind would have been scandalised by the mess. I needed to find some organising principle and decided on chronology, timelines being important in sorting out criminal motives and activities. My revised list follows:
- Charles Augustus Milverton establishes his blackmail enterprise.
- Milverton purchases a first edition copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at auction.
- Mary Elisabeth Sutherland begins work as Milverton’s Sociability Maintenance Engineer.
- “Peter Escott” romances Mary and infiltrates Milverton’s home.
- Mary and friends purchase a first edition copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a gift for Edwina May Lucas. (Was the book the basis of a book code used for communicating in secret with Milverton?)
- Edwina discovers confetti in the book. (REMAINS UNEXPLAINED)
- Milverton is shot and his safe robbed. An unknown “Sixth Man” was present. (Is it possible that he is the assassin who killed Edwina?) Milverton survives the attack but falls into a coma.
- The police investigation reveals a cache of chemicals in Milverton’s attic. (REMAINS UNEXPLAINED)
- Hosmer Angel (believed to be the Sixth Man) begins to romance Mary.
- Milverton comes out of his coma.
- Edwina is murdered in all the markings of a professional hit and her copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is stolen.
The juxtaposition of items 10 and 11 sent a chill through me. I sensed Milverton’s hand in Edwina’s death and knew without a doubt that he was recovered enough to destroy us all.
“Sherlock,” I called out. “Sherlock!” I walked over to him and shook his shoulder. He crashed back to reality full of righteous indignation at his thoughts having been interrupted. “It’s important,” I said, cutting him off before he could begin remonstrating. “It’s about Milverton.” Sherlock looked up at me sharply. “He’s involved in the G.R.E.E.K. case. I think he had Edwina killed.” Sherlock stared at me in disbelief, stunned into silence.
“He’s in a coma…” he said in confusion.
“Not anymore,” I replied. I walked Sherlock through my research, pleased that he sat still through most of it and didn’t mock me.
“This is very good work, John,” he said. “Better than most of the Yard could have done.” I flushed with pleasure at his praise. “Too bad you’ve missed everything of importance,” he continued. I sighed. At least he’d given me a full half-a-second of euphoria before cutting me off at the knees.
“The chemicals and the confetti,” I said, noting his pleased grin. “You know what they mean.”
“The chemicals explain the confetti.” He pulled out his L.M.D. and was soon shouting down the line. “You insufferable bastard!” he began. “You corpulent, pudding-stuffed bellend!” So, it was Mycroft then. Mycroft’s dulcet tones responded with something I couldn’t quite make out but that had Sherlock nearly apoplectic. I put a calming hand on his arm. He took a deep breath and responded. “We’ll need to examine the confetti to be certain. We’re heading over there now, and I expect you to make an appearance, you fat affliction.” He turned to me. “Let’s go,” he commanded, heading for the door, stopping to grab his coat along the way.
“Where are we going?” I asked in confusion.
“The S.C.A.R.L.E.T. forensics lab.”
“It’s one o’clock in the morning, Sherlock!”
“Good. We need to be discreet.” Sherlock did love to hold on to his unravelling of the mysteries we investigated until the very last moment, and I knew better than to prod him for an explanation. We managed to hail a cab, and Sherlock spent most of the ride buried in his L.M.D. We arrived at the S.C.A.R.L.E.T. Forensic Support Centre where a surprised night watchman confirmed our biometrics and let us in. Sherlock checked out the trace evidence that had been collected by hoovering and went through the dust and debris carefully. He was able to find several pieces of the confetti Edwina had described. He found a work station with a microscope, placed a piece of confetti on a slide and adjusted the magnification. He removed the slide, and used a pair of fine tweezers to flip the piece of confetti and change its orientation on the slide. He replaced it, and seemed satisfied when he observed his adjustments. “Would you like to have a look?” he asked me. I took his place at the microscope and was gobsmacked to find myself reading words. The “confetti” was a miniaturisation of a letter whose contents, if revealed, would make quite a lot of trouble for the Earl of Coventry.
“They’re microdots,” I said in wonder. “Like from those 20th century spy films.” I looked up at Sherlock. “How did you know?”
“The chemicals,” he replied. “They’re used for mainly industrial processes now, but during the 20th century they were commonly used to develop photographs. The closet in the attic was a darkroom. It’s in disuse now — Milverton probably has another photo lab somewhere — but for some reason he never got rid of the old chemicals.”
I began to put it together. “The book… The microdots were hidden in it. In the punctuation marks. The book is Milverton’s archive! So Edwina and Mary were working with him!”
“Perhaps,” Sherlock said carefully. I could tell he was vexed with himself for his mishandling of matters with Mary.
Just then, Mycroft arrived, looking surprisingly fresh and well-dressed for such an ungodly hour. “Sherlock. John,” he greeted us amiably. Sherlock looked ready to draw and quarter him.
“You knew,” I accused Mycroft in realisation. “You knew the book was the blackmail archive, and you didn’t say anything.”
“I suspected,” Mycroft said, the calm, placating tone he took grating my nerves.
“We both know that with you two, 99.999% of the time, suspecting is the same as knowing,” I retorted. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
“The case was already part of the S.C.A.R.L.E.T. beta testing. The interpreters, Lestrade — they were all involved before I became aware of the connection to Milverton. I couldn’t insert myself into the investigation; I couldn’t even risk coming down here to examine the confetti myself. My continued involvement outside of the usual brief counsel I sometimes provide would have drawn only more attention to things. I needed the matter resolved, and I couldn’t very well rely on a police officer to sort it out. The information Milverton has is dry gunpowder, and public exposure is the flame that will set it exploding all through Parliament and the boardrooms of three-quarters of the companies on the stock exchange. Relationships that must be maintained will be destroyed. The contents of that archive, its very existence, cannot be exposed publicly. I knew that given S.C.A.R.L.E.T.’s limitations it was quite possible that I had missed something and that Sherlock could put it all together. I didn’t want to influence his investigation with my biases. I also knew that with you and Victor in play he’d never turn to S.C.A.R.L.E.T. for assistance with anything involving Milverton and would keep matters compartmentalised. I did not, however, anticipate your initiative, John. Thank you for your discretion in closing the Milverton S.C.A.R.L.E.T. analysis to anyone besides myself and Sherlock. Luckily, you didn’t link it back to Edwina Lucas’s report, and S.C.A.R.L.E.T. didn’t make the connection, so we may yet keep this all in check. Even if we can’t, at least the analysis concurs with the Yard’s theory that Milverton surprised a burglar. And the importance of the chemicals should slip past everyone else.”
Perhaps my guilt made me imagine it, but under Mycroft’s even tone there seemed to be a rebuke for my having been so foolish as to connect us in any tangible way to Milverton. I had used Sherlock’s L.M.D. and his login credentials to run the S.C.A.R.L.E.T. analysis. At the height of his powers, Milverton had had eyes everywhere, including inside the police force. Even now, in his diminished state, he had probably set some of them back to work, toiling at his behest. That S.C.A.R.L.E.T. was still in testing and not fully networked was probably our saving grace. It greatly limited the number of people who could know Sherlock was investigating Milverton.
“So, Milverton has his archive back,” I said, hoping to shift the focus of the conversation.
“I believe so,” Mycroft said. “The timing of its retrieval when matched against the progress of his recovery strongly suggests that he set things in motion.”
“Why did Edwina have it in the first place, though?” I thought back to the night of the shooting, of how certain the minister had been that Milverton did not have a partner. I was inclined to agree. There is no way Milverton would have trusted anyone with his most valued possession. He would have kept it close at hand as well. The book was the perfect decoy — hidden in plain sight and valuable enough that no one would handle it carelessly, but not so valuable that anyone would steal it — not while there were so many other treasures in the house — fine art, jewellery, etc. There was still a further mystery to unravel. “And, if Milverton’s archive was at Edwina’s, then whose book was in his house when he was shot?” I asked.
“Edwina’s most likely,” Mycroft replied.
“Then Mary must have swapped them.” She was the only one who had ready access to both Milverton and Edwina’s homes. She could have been involved in Milverton’s blackmail scheme and maybe even was complicit in her friend’s death. It was the only plausible possibility. Sherlock and Mycroft exchanged a dark look. “What?” I asked. “What have I missed?”
“Mary Sutherland is a guarded woman, perhaps even a secretive one, but she has never exhibited any signs of an antisocial personality, she has received no counter-espionage training, and there are none of the tell-tale signs of serious duplicity in her File,” Mycroft said, pausing and seeming to consider his words before he continued. “My brother is a human lie-detector. He spent hours on end with her, while investigating this very matter and came away with no indication that she was concealing her knowledge of Milverton’s scheme.”
“What about Edwina, then? Maybe Milverton is connected to her but not through Mary. Maybe she used information she got from Mary to steal the archive.”
“The same pattern holds, John,” Mycroft said. “Edwina is less suspicious than even Mary. She was quite shy and retiring in person, but she was almost fanatical about updating her File with her every thought and deed. Her movements and activities are nearly all chronicled, along with geolocation information that is accurate so far as we can tell. Unless Mary and Edwina are some sort of super-secret sleeper cell and were planted as children, I can’t see either of them having the background needed to manage this sort of ongoing deception.”
“And it was so sloppy,” Sherlock added, the thought clearly bothering him. “Why make the gift of the book so public? And why on God’s earth would anyone who had known what they were draw attention to the microdots? That was probably what tipped Milverton off. Once he was recovered enough, he must have requested that someone bring him the book under the pretence of wanting to read it and realised it had been switched. He would have looked at his employees first in evaluating suspects. If Mary and Edwina truly understood the type of man Milverton was and had even the slightest inkling of how valuable the information was, why would they have blazed such a clear path to themselves? No; there is something we’re missing.”
“There do seem to be other forces at work,” Mycroft agreed soberly. Perhaps whatever forces were behind the Sixth Man, I thought. I almost mentioned him but wasn’t sure how far Mycroft’s apparent omniscience stretched, and I’d already been indiscreet enough in my use of S.C.A.R.L.E.T. I would discuss it with Sherlock later.
“Do you have any idea where the archive is now?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” Mycroft answered. “My hope is that it is at the hospital with Milverton, hidden in plain sight as it had been at his home. But the shooting and its theft will have made him even more paranoid. Not to mention that circumstances required him to reveal that the book was important enough to be stolen and brought directly to him. Whomever he charged with the task may not know what it is, but they know where to point others who come asking and are willing to pay well. And this person is a killer. It is possible the archive was never even turned over to Milverton. The killer may have kept it for themselves, hoping to discover its value to Milverton.” The satisfying sense of schadenfreude I felt at the thought of Milverton being extorted was tempered by the knowledge of how much more difficult it would be to recover the blackmail files if this unknown third party was holding on to them. “Milverton is in quite a precarious position,” Mycroft continued. “He is like a cornered animal. We must proceed with caution.” He paused and, while Mycroft couldn’t quite accomplish seeming perturbed, when he continued, it was with a careful tone. “We must also probe the matter of Mary Sutherland’s involvement. There is something of importance lurking there, which we have thus far been unable to uncover.”
Sherlock was practically vibrating with unexpressed emotion. He flushed in embarrassment. He had blundered quite badly in his handling of Mary, and his appalling treatment of her had foreclosed the possibility of rekindling their relationship even under the guise of the awkward friendships that sometimes form between people who had been lovers. My sympathetic feelings towards him had me blushing in mortification as well. The whole thing was an ungodly mess. “I’ve got some of my people watching her flat and the flat of the man she’s been seeing,” Sherlock said in the particularly haughty tone he took when trying to deflect attention from his shortcomings. Sherlock had a vast network of acquaintances whom many would consider unsavoury. Some of them were homeless; some were sex workers; others were buskers, pedlars, pickpockets or other forms of low-level street hustlers. They were the sort of people most of us look right through, and, as a result, they made incredibly effective spies. He must have messaged some of them on the cab ride over.
“Do you have anyone who could infiltrate the hospital quietly and get a look inside Milverton’s room?” Mycroft asked.
“Billy has the role of unobtrusive-but-friendly-cleaner down to a fine art,” Sherlock responded, his mood lifting now that he felt useful. I suspected that Mycroft had his own trusted crew of lackeys for such delicate operations, but he had quite wisely judged that Sherlock needed a morale boost. “I’ll get him on one of the morning trains with instructions.”
Mycroft and Sherlock shared one of their telepathic looks, their brains working well ahead of mine. At the time, I thought Sherlock spoke for my benefit, but, in hindsight, I could see he was asking Mycroft for help — wrestling with this sort of intrigue was a task he was ill-suited for. “We’ve got to find a way to tie all this up — the investigations into Edwina’s murder and Milverton’s shooting — in a way that explains the evidence but keeps a lid on things,” he said.
“Of course,” Mycroft agreed.
It should have bothered me more that we were conspiring to pervert the cause of justice. Victor and his wife had made themselves judge, jury and executioner. I should have been outraged by their actions but instead found myself deeply sympathetic to their predicament. Milverton had been untouchable. Had they chosen to expose themselves and report the blackmail, who knows who else’s strings he could have pulled to get himself off the hook. Their failure would have only further strengthened his power over his victims, who would have been well and truly left with no recourse. Where the law cannot act, do men not have the right to seek justice themselves? I only wished Victor and the minister had made cleaner work of things.
Mycroft left, and Sherlock and I combed through the remainder of the trace evidence looking for other microdots, eventually collecting fifteen pieces. When I thought of Edwina casually picking them off her skin and carelessly tossing them in the bin, I couldn’t help a wince. “What?” Sherlock asked.
“Can you imagine how many of these things Edwina threw away? Christ, they could have been worth millions…”
“At least we have the satisfaction of knowing Milverton saw her postings and had to suffer through wondering which of his precious files had been lost. I take some comfort in hoping they were among the most valuable,” Sherlock said, smiling. I was glad to see his mood so much improved.
“Too bad it didn’t make him choleric enough to have a rage stroke and die,” I said, smiling back.
“You surprise me, John. I wouldn’t have expected you to be so vengeful,” Sherlock said, hastily adding, “Not that I mean that as any sort of rebuke.”
“It surprises me too,” I admitted. “No, that’s the wrong word… I mean that it’s not how I thought about myself, how I saw myself. But I’ve seen enough to know that there are truly vile, fiendish people in the world. They’re not misunderstood, or in need of counselling, or more hugs, or any of that bullshit. They are evil cunts who need to not be in society anymore. Usually that means prison, but if the law can’t catch them and one of their enemies gets there and puts a few bullets in them first… Well, I’m not losing any sleep over it. Justice can take many forms.”
“How very philosophical of you, John,” Sherlock teased.
“You don’t seem too bothered by it either,” I noted.
“I’m not,” Sherlock replied. “As you say, justice takes many forms.”
When we returned to Baker Street, the sun was beginning to rise. I had Mrs Hudson put the kettle on and made tea while Sherlock set up his microscope to examine the microdots we had collected. They were all doozies, and even though some of the information was incomplete, they all implicated very powerful, very wealthy people in all manner of nefarious activities. There was one in particular that would have gone off like a nuclear detonation had its contents been released. Very important diplomatic relations would have been irreparably damaged. In another time, such information would have started a war. But, by far, the worst was one that proved a cabinet minister had been a child rapist. Neither Sherlock nor I are particularly squeamish, but we were both white-faced and trembling after viewing the images. The man had recently committed suicide, and, while I reviled Milverton’s methods, I took vicious pleasure in knowing that he had hounded that noncing, moralising hypocrite into sticking a gun in his mouth and blowing the back of his head onto the wallpaper. Sherlock called Mycroft and asked him to send a paper courier over — our summary of the information was far too delicate to send digitally, and Mycroft could store the microdots more securely than we could. Sherlock still had some of his kit from Latimer’s and used it to write up what we had found, sealing everything in an envelope. I never had much cause to handle paper and found the cream-coloured Latimer’s stationery exquisite, particularly the envelopes — there was something about the precision of the folds. It was all so old-fashioned, so romantic. Paper commanded a delicacy that electronic communication, for all its conveniences, just could not muster. I must have been staring because Sherlock asked, “Would you like some? The paper, I mean.” I could feel my face heating. Why?
“All right,” I responded, my self-conscious blush deepening for reasons I could not place. Sherlock gave me an entire packet of letter paper and envelopes. I had no idea how, or if, I would even use them, but there was something about possessing them that felt transgressive. “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome, John,” he replied. “You’ll need a pen as well,” he said, fishing one out of the box and handing it to me. I had expected it to feel like a stylus, but there was a solidness about a stylus that was absent. I could feel that the pen was made of parts, that there was a hollow space inside, that it was unbalanced by comparison. I was suddenly filled with excitement about what I might write. I understood then how so many of Milverton’s victims had been caught out. The secrecy of paper, the discretion it afforded was something I didn’t realise I had craved. No wonder my psychotherapy had gone so poorly. My psychiatrist had noted that I was “secretive” — a word associated with shame, with criminality, with the antisocial. “Don’t worry,” she had reassured me. “I don’t think you’re a Secret Keeper, John. You just prefer to carry your own burdens.” Holding the paper and pen in my hands I felt the urge to memorialise what mattered to me, not what made me feel ashamed. It was about privacy not secrecy. I didn’t like other people, not really. I could admit that to myself now. Anywhere I went I was always well-liked, but I also kept my distance, kept myself to myself. I was unsuited to live in the age of The Archive, as was Sherlock. Perhaps that’s why we got on so well. I felt none of the usual pressure to “join in” from him. My breath caught when I allowed myself to see that Sherlock was the only person around whom I had ever truly been myself. Sherlock was the only person who had ever really seen me. Granted, he would have anyway (because he could see everyone). Perhaps that was why I let him.
I was no longer used to being up all night working, and my stamina had been stretched to its limit. I was fading fast but managed to hold on long enough to see the paper courier come and pick up her delivery. When he was on a case, Sherlock was as scornful of the need for sleep as he was of the need to eat, and he hadn’t paused for a moment’s rest. I assumed he was co-ordinating the efforts of his network of spies and conferring with Mycroft. I managed to cajole him into having a few bites of toast before stumbling to my bedroom and, for all intents and purposes, passing out cold on the bed.