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When Anthea had introduced them in Mycroft's office and started to close the door behind her, Dr Watson began to get up from his chair to follow her out, but a steel-like grip on his left wrist made him look up at Sherlock's very focused, very intense and somewhat perplexed countenance.

"What's the matter?"

"My dear brother seems to have the same misgivings as myself concerning the mole in his organisation, so he has taken Mary's folder out. It's lying here, on the top of his file cabinet." But that file says..."

"Oh, that! Mycroft loves encryption codes, the first one he taught me was the Ancient Greek skytale one, but he is enamoured of the Caesar code: two great leaders of men, my brother and dear old Caius Julius. I shall photograph every document in there, but first, close the curtains and let's see if he has left an invisible layer of ultraviolet substance over it, to check up on its having been tampered with."

While Dr Watson went to darken the room, Sherlock used his mini set of CDS lighting  to scan the surface of the file: Of course Mycroft had taken that extra precaution!

Motioning Dr Watson to open the curtains again and turn on the lights, he removed a pair of unusually thin plastic gloves, much finer than the ones he usually wore at crime scenes, from his left breast pocket, together with a pair of tweezers. He put on the gloves, and then began to extract every page from the file, photograph it an lay it face-down on the desk. Once he had finished, he righted the little pile of documents, used the tweezers to lift one corner of the file, and slipped them inside. Hopefully, the minute change in the consistency of the dust would be put down to the air conditioning by his brother. However, he was fully aware that this may not be the only file, that there was more evidence in the vaults of what passed as MI5 nowadays! The firm had changed so many designations, two in his own lifetime, after all.

And so it came to happen that Anthea brought them their tea and biscuits, the last chocolate digestive half-way to Sherlock's mouth, when Mycroft finally made his appearance.

"What are you two doing here? I fully expected you'd be in preparation mode for your visit to the bank tomorrow!"

"Sorry to interfere with your tight schedule, brother dear, but I need you to make sure that your practically next-door neighbours won't let even a tiny fishing smack or speedboat leave from the entire East Anglia coast, up to Norfolk. The message about the Liverpool sighting is bogus"

"And you deduced that how, with your superior intellect?"

"Mycroft, please do as I ask, for the baby's sake, if for nobody else's."

That sentence sent a peculiar chill down Dr Watson's spine.

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"Mycroft, please, I can deal with your insults on my mental acquity or any other issue you may think of during my absence, but right now, you should alert the Customs and Excise to be on the lookout for a speedboat of any kind, not barring fast shrimping and fishing trawlers, from leaving the coast from Hastings up to Hull, because Mary, your trusted contract killer, has abducted her daughter and is running towards the remnants of dear Jim's associates: you do remember that I took out members of the Corsican Mafia associated with Moriarty, but, obviously, I couldn't stay to destroy a centuries' long-lasting institution, otherwise I would never have come back!"

"I grant you the latter, but I see no obvious connection between the head of the Corsicans in mainland France and the Eastern Europe connections Mary used to remove the baby from its sheltered haven."

"Are you becoming a goldfish in middle-age, by any chance, brother dear? Those two were simply guns for hire, Mary retrieved funds, which I shall find about tomorrow, during my visit to the bank in the company of the delightful DS Pierce, and paid them to do a job, which they accomplished to her satisfaction. If Janine and the Irish connection are not complete red herrings, then those two are already dead, disposed of by that charming psychopath my blindness let John marry. They are not of concern to us, except to the local police, when they find their bodies. If they call in for the Met's help, there's a very strong probability that DI Lestrade will be tasked with the investigation, in which case, I shall provide him with enough background information to get their deaths solved: it's called killing two birds with one stone: Mary will be forever more a fugitive killer as far as British justice is concerned, so if we manage to retrieve Sheralyn, Mary will find it pretty difficult to enter the country again, unless you actively help her, and then we shall know that you put other concerns before family once and for all, won't we, John?"

The increasingly bewildered Dr Watson had been trying to keep up with the machine-gun delivery of his best friend's tirade, so he nodded gravely, still digesting the nuggets of information it included.

Mycroft looked decidedly uncomfortable, which was a bonus, since it strengthened Sherlock's reasoning, but it also did not bode well for the immediate future: had Mary enlisted Janine's help in getting the baby out of the country, and if so, why head for mainland Europe?

The only thing Dr Watson knew about Sherlock's stint in France was taking apart the large drugs operation headed by Baron Maupertuis, which had its base somewhere in the Balkans, where Sherlock had finally been run to ground and brought in for some vigorous "interrogation" until Mycroft had bailed him out personally. Now, the baron was languishing in prison, his smuggling ring ostensibly destroyed. Had Sherlock kept any of "the good stuff" for himself? Suddenly, the doctor realised that not only his wife, but also his best friend were leading double lives and keeping secrets from him, apparently for his own good. If Sheralyn were not involved, he would gladly punch Sherlick in the face right there, in Mycroft's office, and damn the consequences! But he couldn't! He needed both eccentric geniuses to get his daughter back home to Baker Str , after that, he made a mental note to have a talk with Sherlock: they had promised not to tell each other any more lies, hadn't they?

"Sherlock, I shall accede to your demands, but you must keep your appointment at the bank tomorrow. It's of the utmost importance!"

"Rest assured, Mycroft, I know where my duty lies! Do you?"

And with that Parthian shot, Sherlock swept out of his brother's office, leaving Dr Watson to catch up as fast as his shorter legs would allow him, after a very perfunctory goodbye.

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Sherlock hailed a cab back to Baker Street.  Leaving John to pay for the cab again, he walked up to the door noticing something was off.  Scuff where a kick plate would go, nail varnish on the key hole, knocker turned the other way, obvious crowbar marks on the hinge side of the door, and the mail slot was taped shut.  "John, I do believe we have guests upstairs.  Do be prepared."

 

Sherlock quietly opened the door and surveyed the ground floor. White milky substance on the stairs, spit on the wall, cooing baby sounds from upstairs.  Sherlock motioned John to follow quietly taking each step the exact same way he did.  Sherlock carefully avoided the squeaky step as he went up the 17 steps.  He motioned John to go in through the kitchen door as he went in through the sitting room door.  "Hello Red Beard and Three Continents.  We picked Little Lamb up in Widnes & Runcon.  The 2 men and the lady with her were apprehended without incident.  Everything should be resolved now."

 

"No you didn't, try again.  Don’t try to trick me. You know who I am.  It won't work." Sherlock replied tetchily clicking the k.  "The nail varnish and duct tape among many other things give it away.  It was sloppy at best. So do hurry and I might even give you a head start before you're turned over Benedict Arnold."

 

"I was paid off by Scorpion a nearly 2 years after the rooftop incident.  Large sums of various amounts.  He didn't reveal himself until a few months before all of this happened.  He said that there was going to be a new job coming up involving the disappearance of AGRA.  He didn't tell me who or what AGRA was or anything about it at that point.  Then 5 weeks ago he got in contact stating that all plans were go for AGRA.  I still didn't know the specific details just that I needed to fake seeing 2 males, a female, & a very young child in Widnes.  I was then to return here with the said young child telling you what I said as you entered."

 

"How convenient of you to leave out the information that he wanted from you."

 

"I was just supposed to be a quiet mole in the office.  If he told me any plans, I was to tell him if there was any conflict with the plan.  Nothing more, nothing less.  And that was not even requested right away.  He said he wanted to provide a financial cushion before he requested any information and that more money would come even after information was requested."

 

"The pay must have been good to sell your allegiance to Queen and Country.  If you're lucky, MI-6 will torture you for a bit then let you go.  If not, well Goodnight Vienna.  I do suggest that you wait here.  Don't try anything especially since you're holding a baby that is obviously not Little Lamb.  The hair color is all wrong and so is her size.  It's obvious that the child your holding is nearly 12 months old.  It's clear that the child weighs well over a stone by nearly 7 pounds.  Did you really think we would be that stupid to accept that as Little Lamb." Sherlock scoffed.  "Queen Bee won't be happy at all.  I will be polite enough, I suppose.  Do have a seat.  John, fetch the rope from the last time we had a break in. And the duct tape as well."

 

A few minutes later that woman was bound to the chair Sherlock had offered and John was holding the young child.  "Assistance will be here shortly to take care of her. I need to prepare for tomorrow."

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The first thing Sherlock needed to do was get Mr Sorge, Mycroft's agent, to deal with the intruders, since DI Lestrade could in no way become involved in a clandestine operation. Then, he turned on John: "Are your thoughts made up of mental farts, just so I know? We cannot have Child Services getting officially involved, cancel that call any way your goldfish mind is capable of. Both the baby girl and her abductor need to be handled by the British Security Services, and I have already texted our friendly agent to take care of them. Once they are in their custody, we can concentrate on much more important matters at hand!"

With that haughty declaration, he took Dr Watson in the kitchen alcove: "I have already alerted our friendly young agent to take care of things here, you should focus on the contents of my iPhone, especially concerning my devious brother and your wife, but also anything connecting her with Eastern Europe. Also, tomorrow morning you need to escort DS Pierce to your house, so that she can pick one of Mary's outfits to wear tomorrow at the bank. She is a nice young lady, but if you try any of your Casanova advances on her, we shall have a very serious talk later about how much you value your daughter's security. You're half-a-dad, but you're Sheralyn's protector from the psychopathic Moriarty family! Are we clear on that?"

Dr Watson gulped visibly, and responded with a half-strangled "Yes."

"Good, I don't expect Acton to be as closely under surveillance as central London, but avoid any CCTV cameras you are aware of. I wouldn't put it past my devious brother to keep us under his scrutiny day and night. One other thing you must accomplish, is to find out whether the current head of the French Secret Services, DGSE, is at all connected to Lady Smallwood in any capacity, past or present."

"Anything else your Imperial Highness would like me to do in your absence?"

"Just because Grandmother Vernet was the daughter of Grand Duchess Ekaterina Romanova doesn't give you the right to belittle my antecedents. Simply do as I ask. And above all, cancel that call to Child Services now!"

"All right, all right, don't get your knickers in a twist!"

A shadow of a smile curled at the corners of Sherlock's mouth:" As I have reiterated in the past, since you are tasked with all the washing and drying, you must have noticed that I prefer cotton boxers, but be that as it may, we are going to the bank first thing tomorrow."

 

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In the meantime, waiting for young Mr Sorge to show up with a security contingent, Sherlock proceeded to circle their unwilling "guest", trying to deduce as much as possible about the man's recent activities so as to elicit as much useful information about him and the elusive Benedict Arnold in Mycroft's employ. At the moment, they seemed surrounded by traitors, double agents and schemers, chief among the last being his dear elder brother.

Sherlock could see from the man's coat that he had been in a downpour recently, as evidenced by the damp patches ans speckles on his clothes, as well as his lightly damp hair, which he touched briefly to ascertain this deduction. He had also been in a warehouse near Allinghamrather than Gravesend, on the Thames estuary, as evidenced by the peculiar loam still sticking to the soles of his loafers. This did not bode well if the man had been thrown to them as a bone to distract them from recovering the baby, since the estuary was part of his overall map from Kent to Norfolk that Mary could escape to the Continent with Sheralyn. And then he saw it again: one of the damning rhinestones from Mary's headband was caught in the collar of the man's jacket: had Mary leaned close to pay him off, or had she deliberately planted it? There was no telling, with that woman. He slowly came to realise that Mary, John's Mary, was a true psychopath; which explained why she might have worked for the other true psychopath in their little game from the start: Jim Moriarty!

But now the question arose, what she wanted with her daughter, born of her union with the psychopath's twin brother, Captain James Moriarty, currently safely under lock and key at Her Majesty's pleasure (or Mycroft's!).

Finally, young Mr Sorge appeared, with four companions who had clearly been weight-lifters in a previous existence, to take both the whimpering baby girl and the mysterious intruder into custody.

Freed of their admittedly oppressive presence, Dr Watson and Sherlock heaved an almost simultaneous sigh. Dr Watson went so far as to go to the kitchen and put the kettle on, but not for tea, this time, for a strong cup of Blue Mountain coffee for both of them: the contents of the file on Sherlock's iPhone would have to be examined before the good doctor headed out to Acton in the company of DS Pierce. Strangely enough, it didn't feel like home any more.

Sherlock was already deep in thought as John handed him his cup of fragrant steaming coffee: " I hope you did remember to put two sugars in it?"

"Once and for all, Sherlock, I may be your only friend in the world, and temporary flatmate once again, but I have made you enough cups of tea and coffee to know your preferences! Now, what can we deduce about my lying, adulterous, murderous wife, if it's not too much to ask?"

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Sherlock heaved another sigh! Between themselves, his brother and his best friend were apparently trying to drive him round the bend, or, which was far more likely, a fatal overdose of something or other, just to escape their continued harassment!

After having synced his iPhone with his laptop, he opened the fresh pages on Mary that had 'oh so conveniently' lain out of Mycroft's vault on the day of their visit: and he knew what his brother believed about coincidence: by this point in time, he didn't trust Mycroft not to be deeply involved in both Mary's appearance in John's life during his absence, as well as not to know a lot more than that  secretive so-and-so was prepared to let them know.

As the pages scrolled down, Sherlock using the 'client chair' and John in his customary chair at their desk, they both realised that Mary had had a very chequered past, and what the late unlamented Magnussen had referred to as freelance jobs had, indeed, included jobs for people working for the late unlamented Jim Moriarty. Still, nowhere could they find any trace of this latter-day Mrs Smith having been one of the snipers set up against John, DI Lestrade, Mrs Hudson and Mycroft.

"She is the perfect nurse and nearly perfect house-wife! How can she have killed so many people and sleep peacefully by my side every night, while I still woke up from nightmares of the battles and their wounded or you diving off that damnable rooftop! How?"

"I may designate myself as a sociopath to cover my lack of empathy, John. Your wife is a true psychopath. Now, more than ever, we need to rescue Sheralyn from her clutches."

"So, the plan goes ahead! I presume Mycroft has retrieved and copied her fingerprints, to be used tomorrow at the bank. Once DS Pierce arrives, I shall take her to the house, where she can use all of Mary's wardrobe, cosmetics, make-up and jewellery to fake her presence at the bank."

"And don't forget her perfume, John, olfaction is still one of the most underdeveloped senses, but a powerful one!"

"So powerful that it got you shot, you git!"

"I can always claim that Clair-de-la-lune is a perfume for younger women, like Mary, and not for Lady Smallwood! She still wears it because it's the first perfume her husband gave her as a gift, after their engagement. Sentiment, once again, John, it's really thoughtless on the part of the female half of the population to set such store by it."

After encrypting the dossier on Mary, Sherlock stood up, stretched, having been hunched over his laptop for quite a while, and threw over his shoulder at Dr Watson: "Fancy a nice bit of boeuf bourguignon, John?"

"You know me, I will try everything once. Where did you learn to make it, anyway?"

"Grand-mere Vernet insisted on our taking a complete cordon-bleu course, and some things are harder to erase than others. I have had the cote de boeuf marinating ever since yesterday. Now, we only need to cook it. Let me know what you think of it."

"Wait a minute, you said 'we': does that include Mycroft?"

"Obviously, John, but I'm usually too involved in a case to bother to eat, and Mycroft focused so much on the cake part of the course that it was wasted on him. Still, his home-made croissants are a feast fit for the gods, so flaky and golden and buttery! Now, will you help me? After all, I DID help you with the omelette although you did practically everything wrong and I didn't say a word about it."

"Fair's fair! I shall give you a hand, and if it turns out nice, and not like one of your less noxious chemical experiments, I shall wash up afterwards. There's a documentary on the latest Star Wars film, you know, "making of..." later, and we could watch it together."

While the food was stewing in its pot, Sherlock's phone vibrated: "Hello, brother dear, we are making boeuf bourguignon, care to join us? You still owe me a debriefing for the French part of this conundrum."

There goes the documentary! was Dr Watson's mental response

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(OK, OK, enough pussyfooting around it, I shall do the bank scene, although I wish it were Gringott's and not Coutt's!)

Suddenly, Sherlock removed his mobile from his ear, as a plainly irate Mycroft could be heard yelling on the other side without the aid of the speakerphone button:"Sherlock, if I joined you now, you would have much more to worry about than a debriefing! Who gave you permission to touch a highly secret file?"

"Really, Mycroft, you should watch these outbursts of yours, I'm sure they are not good for your blood pressure, and, after all, you are in the dangerous age for myocardial inarctus! Stop yelling at me, it's unseemly! The file was there, but it's not as if I read its contents, so all your sordid little secrets concerning your dealings with Mary will remain in your perfectly organised mind. Anyway, if you didn't want me to see it, you should have kept it locked in your safe. If you continue behaving in such an emotionally overwrought manner, I shall have to tell Mummy, and we both don't want to upset her, now, do we?"

This was such an inverted response to their usual repartee that it left Mycroft sputtering like a spent firework at the other end."I shall come by tomorrow evening to give you all particulars concerning your trip to the Continent along with Mr Sorge and my PA's assistant. You had better hope that I find out you have told me the absolute truth about the file, baby brother. Till tomorrow evening, then, seeing as you have a big project ahead of you tomorrow morning. Good night!"

When their conversation was over, Sherlock turned his attention to the food, but first, he placed both hands on the kitchen table and took a steadying breath. He was fairly certain that his little electronic scam with the monitors in Mycroft's office could not be easily discovered, putting them on an endless feedback loop of John and he waiting on the sofa.

In the end, John got to enjoy a really excellent dinner accompanied by a superb Pouilly-Montrachet Pinot noir Bourgogne wine.

It sent deep purple radiance through the crystal glass, with a hint of rubies in its depths, and when he had clinked glasses with Sherlock and made a feeble toast to success on the morrow, he took his first sip and was dazzled: this was sunshine caught in a bottle, those deep red crepuscular rays which farmers had always held to be a good omen for next day's weather!

"It's the gift of a grateful client, " Sherlock explained, "I was able to prove to the local gendarmerie that they should not arrest him for the murder of his unfaithful wife but her unmarried sister, instead. She had most to gain, as they were both left the sole inheritors to their childless uncle's adjoining vineyard, and by French law, which permits marriage under community of property, the married sister stood to benefit more when it came to the division of the lands. Barely a four, but the countryside is beautiful around there. Once I had convinced the French police idiots, they were quick in securing a confession, and the man sent me two dozen of this. Rather good, don't you think?"

Dr Watson thanked his lucky stars that his friend was such a lightweight in matters of alcohol, because he got to drink two-thirds of the bottle at least, finishing the deep red nectar just as the documentary's end credits started rolling.

Next morning, he had reason to thank his lucky stars for his military training, because once his alarm sounded he jerked immediately awake, rushed out of bed and started planning his activities. First things first, after a quick visit to the bathroom and a rapid shower, he went to prepare breakfast and then drag an unusually deeply-slumbering Sherlock out of bed: perhaps the wine had got to him, but they both needed to be prepared for the visit of DS Pierce: she was a policewoman, she would be punctual! He managed to push his friend in the direction of the bathroom, then got him to eat a piece of toast with jam with his tea, finished his own breakfast, and was just drying his hands after washing up the breakfast things, when the doorbell rang. He could hear Mrs Hudson's voice talking to a woman downstairs and directing her to their flat. At least Sherlock was freshly shaven and dressed in a cool wool charcoal suit with a white shirt underneath: there would be no sheet-wrapped apparitions this time!

After the introductions were performed on both sides, Dr Watson grabbed his coat , house and car keys: they would drive together with Amanda Pierce to Acton, where she would be transformed into Mary for the day.

Once there, as he was putting the key in the lock, he couldn't help but remember what plans he had made for a long and happy life in this place with Mary and their children. Now, through a truly freakish joke of nature, he shared his daughter with ex-Captain James Moriarty, Mary was a multiple assassin on the run, and his life lay in ruins around him. Straightening his shoulders, he showed the blonde young woman in, watched her as she collected framed pictures of Mary or Mary and himself, and took her to their bedroom, where she positioned the photographs on the glass-topped vanity table in front of the mirror and then started rummaging in Mary's wardrobe. Finally, she picked out a light beige pantsuit and a silk blue-green blouse with a little frill on an upright Chinese collar.

He went into the living room to let her dress in peace, only calling out not to forget the perfume, and was overwhelmed with memories.

When she emerged, he almost did a double-take: she was no longer Amanda Pierce, she was Mary's twin! It must be the contact lenses, he told himself, looking into startlingly familiar wide blue eyes. "Shall we?" she asked, and he noticed that she had picked one of Mary's semi-formal black leather bags, to go with her own black pumps, and that she was carrying a small packet under one arm: presumably her own clothes.

He escorted her out, locked the house, along with its memories, and drove her back to Baker Str. where Mycroft's minions had in the meantime delivered the small box containing the invisible-film set of Mary's fingerprints, although the bank would require only her right thumbprint for identification purposes, but better safe than sorry, especially since they only had a magistrate's approval for what was clearly an impersonation, punishable by law: Dr Watson felt an insane urge to laugh; as if his psychopathic murderess and kidnapper of a wife would ever be able to press charges!

Sherlock looked DS Pierce over with his usual all-enveloping glance, straightened one of her blonde bangs to tuck another behind her ear, clicked his tongue in approval, and then ushered her out of the flat, John bringing up the rear. Anyway, he wouldn't be going into the bank with them, he would be on the other side of Picadilly Str. as backup. He noticed that Sherlock had taken the judge's warrant with him, as it no longer lay next to his laptop, then closed the door behind them.

During their ride in the cab, DS Pierce smiled at Sherlock: "I do hope you have had something to eat, Mr Holmes...Sherlock, a fainting fit in Coutt's vault would be most inconvenient and expose our little adventure." "Thank you, Amanda, Dr Watson saw to that this morning, my glucose level right now would verge on diabetic levels," he smiled.

Fainting fit, what fainting fit? wondered Dr Watson, but had no time to ask his flatmate, as they had arrived at their destination.

"Once more into the breach, dear friends..." he found himself murmuring, as Sherlock helped DS Pierce out of the cab, offered her his arm, and together they went through the brass and glass revolving doors of the oldest banking establishment in London.

Sherlock measured his stride so that the much shorter Amanda could keep pace, as they headed for the section dealing with the safety deposit boxes. He was not surprised to see that Mycroft had pulled some more strings, as one of his agents was behind the glass partition. It would simplify matters enormously!

DS Pierce smiled at the nondescript blond young man: "Good morning, I should like my deposit box, please"

"Certainly, ma'am. Just sign this request form here, giving your deposit box number, and then follow me, please."

"I should like this gentleman to be present when I inspect its contents."

"Certainly, ma'am. Under our rules, we shall need some identification, unless he's your solicitor or has power of attorney."

Sherlock produced his driver's licence and a letter from his own solicitor firm, certifying his credentials.

"Most satisfactory! Sir, ma'am, please follow me."

They were taken to the basement by a lift which Sherlock couldn't help but observe, was operated by key, the key in the young man's possession. They were then shown into a comfortable room, while the box was being fetched. So far so good. The moment of truth was soon upon them: the polite young man asked Amanda to produce her key, he produced his own, they worked the locks together, then Amanda had to sign for delivery on an electronic device and confirm her identity by pressing her thumbprint in the appropriate slot. Sherlock hadn't even noticed he had been holding his breath until the light on the device turned green, granting them access: his exhalation was almost a sigh, which he quickly turned into a small cough.

The young man withdrew, leaving them alone with Mary's safe deposit box. Amanda pushed the lid open and they both stared into it avidly: two passports, one American, the other Australian, several thousand pounds, a soft chamois skin roll of burgling tools, almost as good as his own in quality, and a telltale indentation: another box, slightly longer than the average jeweller's box for a necklace, had lain in that receptacle, obvious by the very faint trace of dust particles delineating its shape. What had it held and where was it now?

Sherlock pulled out his magnifying glass, quickly making two more discoveries: other dust patterns showed that there had been another two passports in there, as well as a small vial and a rectangular shape, as of a small digital camera. Where were they now? In Mary's possession?

Satisfied by his search, unable to glean any more information, he photographed the two passports with his mobile, as well as the whole contents of the box, then nodded to Amanda to click it shut. She did so, then rang the bell summoning the polite young man, thanked him for his time, once more accepted Sherlock's arm, and they were whisked back upstairs, carefully measuring their steps until they were clear of the revolving doors.

"Frankly, Mr Holmes, don't ask me me to such a nerve-wracking thing again. Every minute down there felt like a decade! I don't care what o'clock it's in the morning, I need a large drink!"

"Well, then, seeing as you're not on duty, Amanda, the Savoy is practically next door, and its bar is rather well-stocked, I'm told."

Retrieving Dr Watson, the trio quickly disappeared round another set of revolving doors.

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Once comfortably ensconced in the overstuffed velveteen-covered armchairs around a discreet alcove table in the Savoy bar, DS Pierce showed no hesitation in ordering a double Courvoisier cognac, while Sherlock chose a fruit punch and Dr Watson, who had been left out of most of the action, went for an Irish coffee, smiling sourly, as the Irish connection in their lives had brought so much misery and pain!

"So, what are your preliminary conclusions, Mr Holmes... Sherlock?" asked Amanda, once their order had been served by a white-gloved waiter.

Sherlock took a moment to examine the ridiculous little paper umbrella stick holding the actual pieces of fruit together, before answering her:" What's is use, purely aside from the ornamental?" he mused, then turned his full attention to her. She deserved to know as much as he did, her help was of immense value in piecing together the conundrum that was Mary, as well as helping get Sheralyn back.

Having taken a tentative sip of the cool, refreshing drink, he turned his full attention to her:" You may work in the financial crime division, Amanda, but you surely saw the evidence: Mary has removed at least half of the money stored there, two passports of unknown provenance, a small vial, an oblong and a rectangular box. To what purpose, we may find when we get to the Continent, while you go back trying to catch crooked businessmen and their double dealings. Your help today was of inestimable value, I shall make sure that your superiors know of your help in this situation, you deserve all the credit! If at any time you decide to go freelance as a conwoman, I assure you, you have got the skill set."

"Praise from an expert is praise indeed, Sherlock, but I'd rather stick to crunching numbers for the foreseeable future. Gosh, this blouse is sticking to my body this moment through the cold sweat I felt running down my back while we were led through the process of opening the box. But it was worth it, if the poor child can be saved in time."

After this small interlude, they escorted DS Pierce back to Baker Str, where she went into the bathroom to refresh herself and change back into her things, leaving Mary's clothes in the hamper: they would be dry-cleaned and restored to Mary's wardrobe by Dr Watson, especially since he couldn't come to the Continent with the rest of them, due to that outstanding French warrant.

Dr Watson abandoned the hope of a proper lunch as soon as he saw his flatmate, back in baggy sportswear under his dun-coloured dressing gown lay stretched out on the sofa, deep in thought. He rummaged in the fridge for ingredients and cobbled together BLT sandwiches for both of them, using the left-over bacon from breakfast that Sherlock had simply ignored. He brewed two mugs of tea, brought the improvised snack to the office desk and set Sherlock's portion on the coffee table, within easy reach. He saw with relief that after a while his playmate took a few tentative nibbles and drank a bit of the lukewarm liquid. At least, Sherlock wasn't so deep in thought that he completely ignored the demands of his body!

That evening, precisely at six o'clock, Mycroft's arrival was heralded by Mrs Hudson's hushed voice downstairs: Mycroft had a key to the flats, had had one ever since Sherlock had rented it, and by now Dr Watson was aware of the reason: Mycroft's continued worry over his younger brother's drug habits resurfacing!

"Good evening, so how did your jaunt go, Sherlock?"

"I would wish you to the Devil, Mycroft, if I were sure he existed, but good evening to you, too." was the predictable response.

"I have come, at great personal inconvenience, what with the unstable financial situation in the rest of Europe and the US, to find out how things went, and if you are any nearer in getting Dr Watson's daughter back any time soon."

"We are clear on some points, still very much in the dark on others. Any news from Customs and Excise?"

""Nothing bigger than a fishing smack that couldn't even cross the Channel has been reported leaving its moorings. How about you?"

"I photographed the contents of the safe deposit box, see if you can come up with anything worthwhile." was Sherlock's response, tossing the iPhone to Mycroft before he realised something: after transferring the contents of Mary's  file onto the laptop in the encrypted folder, he had neglected to delete them! Now, he was in deep trouble!

 

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(I noticed a slight continuity error with our time line.  We had John going to Acton the night before the bank job to get some of mary's things with DS Pierce & DS Pierce meeting them at NSY at 8am day of the job.  What ended up happening was the morning of they met at Baker Str & went to Acton then the bank (possibly with Baker Str in between [need to read that again].  Any thoughts on how we should correct?  Also the uninvited guest was a female not a male so I am updating the text to show that.  Will add next bit in a few once I get to my next destination.)

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"You realize brother dear that I did not believe you for a second when you said that you had not looked at the file on my desk." Mycroft stated flatly as he looked at the thumbnail images in Sherlock's Camera Roll on his phone.  "Anthea was more crafty than you.  I do believe this belongs to you," Mycroft pulled tweezers out of his suit pocket and handed them to Sherlock.  "She found it on the floor as she was serving you tea and biscuits and discreetly pushed it under the chair somehow without your noticing. So unlike you Sherlock."

 

Sherlock huffed as he took the tool back into his possession.  He most certainly had not realized that it had landed on the floor instead of his suit pocket when he was putting it away as Anthea entered with the refreshments.  He was mentally chiding himself with a series of stupids.  He knew better but was equally grateful that Mycroft was not exploding like he had earlier.  

 

"Most interesting lack of contents.  Have you figured out all that is missing beyond the 2 passports or do you need me to fill in? I understand that you have 3 hours until your flight."  Sherlock didn't respond right away.  He was still in a tiff about leaving the tweezers behind at his brother's office.  He was so much better than that usually.

 

"Hurry up Mycroft as we need to cover the debrief in less than an hour before I need to head to the airport for my flight."

 

"The missing small rectangle was a high powered binoculars designed to look like an ordinary basic digital camera.  The long narrow case contains a necklace and bracelet set.  They were not your ordinary set either.  The necklace contained multiple strands with a the longest at 30 inches hence the length of the box.  Both pieces had several rhinestones inlaid as well as some cloak and dagger bits.  She is an assassin after all.  That should be enough to cover the missing details."

 

"Just about brother.  You seemed to have conveniently skipped over the vial.  Or was that used as part of the kidnapping from Major Sholto's place?" Sherlock asked tetchily.

 

"The people Ms. Ramage are connected to are powerful and conniving.  Moriarty and his network are only the tip of the iceberg for what she's in.  Magnussen was just another piece as well.  I can assure you that the vial was not anything to be used on your precious goddaughter.  We found 2 men of Eastern European connections along the Southwestern part of Thames Estuary about an hour ago.  The vial was found in the pocket of the shorter one.  The bodies are currently being processed as well as the vial tested.  I have also been assured that the Thames Estuary has been closed off to all outgoing nautical traffic since minutes after you requested the Eastern coast be watched.  Anthea made that call personally in my presence.  That should cover everything you need to know before the debrief.  Dr. Watson, a cup of tea would be pleasant about now if you would."  Mycroft stated kind of sternly before relaxing his tone slightly with the last statement.

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(Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Timeline fixed, all present and correct, ma'am!)

While Dr Watson could see the usual sniping between the brothers, he could also notice that as Mycroft first scrolled through the images on Sherlock's iPhone, he had progressively grown pink going on red in the face, in what he could remember from a Douglas Adams novel being called 'a suffusion of red', so when the request for tea came in the usual clipped tones, he almost jumped.

"Mycroft, kindly don't frighten John out of his wits, such as they are. It was my carelessness in not ensuring that the tweezers lay safely in my inside jacket pocket, my fault that I didn't delete the images the moment I had secure copies of them."

"And therein lies the nub of the problem, brother mine! You couldn't care less that you were illegally acquiring top secret information about a sensitive matter, all you care about is not upsetting your precious 'friend and colleague' any more than he has already been upset! No feelings of remorse over your misdeed, nothing! I have always maintained that your eccentricities hide a complete and total amoral character, but we shall discuss this little oversight of yours after you return from France. I shall expect you at my club, duly penitent, or there will be consequences, Sherlock. Now, let's get things straightened out: you, Mr Sorge and Ms Warburton will get debriefed by our French liaison officer later this evening. Your passport is ready, no need for aliases, this time!

An aide of Monsieur Bajollet will be awaiting your arrival at the port of Calais, and from then on I suggest you follow the DGSE guidelines to the letter, no flashes of insight, no haring off on your own, no trying to ditch your French assistants, because they have a vastly different legal system, and France is most definitely NOT Serbia! Have I made myself clear?"

During this tirade, Dr Watson could see his friend growing paler with each well-formulated sentence, somehow shrinking into his chair, appearing smaller and more vulnerable than he had ever seen him. He instinctively realised that Mycroft was controlling a very deep-seated anger, and when he served the requested tea, he made sure to use their good gold-leaf porcelain set with the UK motif on it, rather than their usual mugs.

"Yes, Mycroft." was the only reply Sherlock gave, before reaching for his own cup, which would certainly bring back flashes of Moriarty carving his infamous I.O.U into the apple left on the armrest of his own chair.

Unfortunately, due to his past indiscretions, Dr Watson could not be a part of this little jaunt to the Continent, and he was more than a bit upset that his best friend would be on his own, and if he did something reprehensible under French law, Big Brother would most certainly NOT bail him out!

Still, he had to keep his word to the charming, helpful DS Pierce who had proved of inestimable help in more ways than one:

"Mycroft, before you send me off to the Continent, could you have your pet goldfish deliver two cartons of your specially-made Latakeia filter-tipped cigarettes to DS Amanda Pierce, NSY, Financial Crime division? I would so hate to get into more trouble with you by being forced to break and enter into your Diogenes club private room just so I could pilfer them for her, when the straight and narrow seems the more sensible path for me at this moment!"

"Certainly, Sherlock, if that's your wish! A gentleman should always keep his word, even if he behaves like a low-life!"

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Mycroft finished his tea and left.  Sherlock gathered his pack and headed to the Baker Street Station.  He didn't have time to hail a cab and get to Gatwick Airport when he needed to.  As much as he hated public transport it was going to be at least 15 minutes faster than a taxi.  Sherlock stood near the door despite the many open seats.  He was going to do his best to not verbally deduce anyone and to get off the train as quickly as possible at Oxford Circus to make his connection to the Victoria Rail Station and on to Gatwick.  The 3 minute trip seemed to last 30.  He struggled to keep his deductions to himself when he heard a couple of uni students talking about him not realizing that he was right next to them.  "you do realize that the detective you are talking about could figure out where you two just came from by the crumbs left on your hoodies if he so chose.  I would suggest being careful who you talk about in public.  Oh and the better location is just north of Regent's Park."

 

Sherlock departed from the train moments later leaving the two students gaping.  They realized that was Sherlock that had just talked to them. The rest of the trip to Gatwick was uneventful thankfully.  Sherlock went through security and waited as patiently as possible at the gate.  He figured out who his seat mate was going to be and was thankful for his window seat.  He was hoping for someone who wouldn't be a talker but could tell that was highly unlikely.

 

3 hours later, Sherlock was disembarking having stared out the window most of the flight.  It had worked as a deterrent to talking with the older lady next to him on the flight.  She loved cats, had 3 currently, lived with her single daughter, lost her husband 4 months back, loved to talk to any one willing to chat, hated flying, but needed the flight over the high speed train for health reasons as she was not always stable on her feet, knitted hideous jumpers for all of her nieces and nephews when they went of to uni.  Mr. Sorge and Ms. Warburton met Sherlock in baggage claim before exiting the airport.  They jumped into the back of the SUV and made their way for the coast with a brief stop in Arras en route to pick up some supplies from what Sherlock was told.  He knew that wasn't the actual reason for the stop and didn't really care to say otherwise.  He knew he was in hot enough water with his brother the way it was.  But he did keep his guard up just in case anyone tried to pull something on him leading up to and during that stop.

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Timeline? What timeline? I fixed my oversight, but you made him take the plane while he should have gone either by boat or the Eurostar from Victoria Station to Calais. And they were supposed to be debriefed that evening, before leaving. And why Arras? It's in the middle of nowhere, unless you intend to send them to the North or Alsace-Lorraine. Now what?

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Going from Paris to Calais they drive by Arras if they take the shortest route time wise.  I looked it up.  I had Sherlock flying for awhile.  Who said anything about this story being practical.  We all now the actual show isn't always practical and we still watch it religiously.

 

Also would Dover's port be closed or not do to the injunction we imposed?

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(If I gave full vent to my feelings about the actual show and its plotholes, tricks and mind-games I would be thrown off this forum! That is beside the point! We missed their debriefing in Britain, it shall have to take place in France. Arras is close to no significant French aeroport, only Dunquerque, and since going by boat was jumped on very firmly (only suspects cannot cross, not legitimate passengers, otherwise Customs at Dover would not have been able to function, dealing with the backlog of angry lorry drivers!) we must get on as best we can! And in which universe do Customs close off ports but not aeroports? Never mind! )

After having made their stopover in an insignificant hamlet near Calais, the trio continued on their drive to meet with M. Bajolet's emissary, who would be the agent responsible for their debriefing, seeing as Sherlock's hast departure had put a very firm end to his being debriefed in Britain. It was almost as if he were running from Mycroft's all-seeing presence, but it was necessary if they meant to surprise Mary and get the baby back before she crossed the imaginary borders of the former Eastern Europe with her daughter. Anything to do with Poland, and, in particular the Russian-held old Prussian capital of Koenigsberg had the potential to trigger the scenario first developed as a hypothesis by Mrs Holmes, and then there would be no time left to worry about a solitary baby in the company of its natural mother, however many signs of a true psychopathic killer she exhibited.

An extraordinarily fair Frenchman by the name of Leblanc met them at the appointed service station just outside Calais, giving and receiving the proper coded answers.

Sherlock gave him his usual piercing once-over, but came out of it not very much the wiser: the man had a wife and two children, as evidenced by his well-worn but glinting wedding-ring, the infinitesimal amount of Nutella or some such sticky concoction daubing his tie and his left sleeve, and the very clear stain of chocolate milk on his right shirt cuff. He had obviously given the children their breakfast in a tearing hurry, as could be seen from his slightly skewed necktie, probably because Calais was not his home town, and he had had to hurry to meet them.

"Bonjour, Monsieur Lagarde, I hope that you can give us the latest information at your disposal concerning the person known as Mary Watson and her precious baggage."

"Why, indeed, Mr Holmes, mon chef m'a dit de ne rien vous cacher! I have been instructed to give you whatever information we have gathered, however slight or insignificant it might seem on the surface."

However, it turned out to be a debriefing of mostly negative facts: Mary had not been sighted anywhere on French soil, nor any of the contacts who the DGSE had on file as associated with her in her past life. Nor had there been any unusual activity on the part of said contacts, like unusual movements to reach the coast or even abandon their routines.

Sherlock huffed half in disappointment and half in hope: it was just possible that Mary hadn't had the means at her disposal to escape to the Continent. He much preferred having wasted his time on a wild-goose chase to tracking Mary the length and breadth of France.

But when all four of them were ensconced in the harbourmaster's office in Calais, the call came through which he dreaded: French Customs boats had intercepted a powerful speedboat in offshore waters outside Honfleur, and had challenged it to stop and be boarded for inspection. But before they could do so, there had been a terrible explosion on the vessel in question, which had apparently torn it apart and had caused its very rapid sinking. After they had approached the wreckage, the Customs boat had retrieved a life-jacket and a piece of the plexiglas frame bearing a name in a Cyrillic script: Lubov!

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Sherlock had his phone on silence during the trip.  He felt it vibrate in his pocket.  A few minutes later the group was stopping in Arras.  Sherlock took that opportunity to check his message.

 

British Secret Services

Project: Foxtrot Moonglow 105

Priority Crucial

RE: Operative Abbigail Grace Ramage Aarons (AKA Abbigail Grace Ramage, Abbigail Grace Renee Anderson, Amanda Gwen Renee Andersdatter, Mary Elizabeth Morstan, Mary Elizabeth Watson)

 

Red Beard,

 

Benedict Arnold talked.  Snow Board* is suspect as well.  Caution high.  Sponge* still vets out but no guarantees if you are in Arras.  Suggest getting out & to Calais quickly.  Eurostar halted through Channel citing minor issues with tunnel that needed to be checked out.  Church Secretary will be in Calais to collect you.  You know what to do for a response.

 

~Brolly.

 

Sherlock knew what to do indeed.  He scanned the area and saw that Ms. Warburton & Mr. Sorge were still inside.  No one was walking around and no one was in any of the windows or on the roof.  He also noted that there were no visible CCTV cameras.  He reached into the boot of the SUV quietly grabbing his suit case.  He lifted out a hypodermic needle carefully.  Sherlock proceeded to push the button for the partition to slide down between the driver and passenger compartments.  Before the driver knew what happened Sherlock quickly inserted the needle into a scab on the side of the neck he had noticed earlier at the airport.  The driver slumped over moments later.  Sherlock scanned the area again before grabbing his suitcase and leaving the SUV as the partition slid closed again.  He stuck a tracking device under the SUV then darted away from the buildings into the woods.  

 

After 30 minutes of heading north-northwest of where they had stopped, Sherlock found a car that he knew belonged to an idiot as the doors were locked, the windows up and the top down.  He quickly jumped in past the rear passenger window near the boot grabbing his suitcase as he went.  He climbed into the front seat and got the car going within 30 seconds.  Definitely an idiot of an owner he thought.  He quickly messaged Mycroft. "Idiots.  Need '35 Grand Cru Georges."~SH.  

 

Sherlock put the top up and started towards Calais on A26.  He knew his brother would know the arrival times and how to decode the wine name.  He pushed the speed limit going nearly 161 kilometers per hour.  He knew he could get away with it as the roads were dry and the car happened to belong to a foreign diplomat who had shown promise of some intelligence the one time they met.  Unfortunately Sherlock had determined that Anderson on a bad day was brighter than the diplomat.  Sherlock arrived in Calais about 35 minutes later meeting Anthea at the Rodin.  Mycroft had indeed decoded Sherlock's response correctly.

 

Staggeringly Mr. Sorge and Ms. Warburton managed to get to Calais and had found Sherlock and Anthea.  Sherlock had never expressed any interest in Calais let alone the Rodin.  Ms. Warburton had Mr. Sorge at gun point.  "Fancy seeing you here Anthea.  We expected Sherlock to head here.  Unfortunately Sherlock left Sorge a sitting duck.  The driver is still out like a light in the back of the SUV.  He won't be happy when he wakes.  I suppose you gave him Rohypnol or something similar that's easy to get on the streets."

 

"Not really.  I'm a graduate chemist as you undoubtedly know and as such, I know the benefits and uses of many plants that work just as well and rather quickly when micro-diluted properly.  I usually keep some on hand just in case.  Now what pleasure do we have with your acquaintance.  Undoubtedly Sorge is just a ruse for your little game.  I can tell by the way he's standing and the way you are holding the gun.  You are a trained agent.  You would never let your gun be at that angle if you were holding someone hostage.  It's taught on the first day.  I should know having done the training myself.  Also, you were careless in how you came up here seeing us near the Rodin.  I could have taken you out leaving Sorge unscathed.  You are a bit slow.  Now tell us why you are actually here as there is no way to collect on the package."

 

"You are the package Mr. Holmes and by association, now Anthea as well.  AGRA has already left the country.  She and her minions headed to Arnside and slipped out that way within the hour of taking her daughter back.  Seaplanes do have their benefits sometimes even if they are small.  By now they should be somewhere in Indonesia or the likes." Ms. Warburton stated as she let go of Sorge turning her gun towards Sherlock.

 

"So what do you want now then?"  Sherlock had been sending a message to Mycroft about the nice turn up in the situation.

 

"First take your hands out of your pockets handing me your phone as you do.  Anthea, your phone as well.  Toss them on the ground and kick them over."  Sherlock complied at least from what Warburton would see.  He had been smart enough to foresee such an incident as a possibility and had packed a second phone with, one that had Mycroft's contact in it and some fake messages.  His actual phone he was able to hide discretely on himself before he removed his hands from his pockets.  Anthea complied as well.  She did not have a second phone.  Her phone had been a fake on purpose.  Mycroft knew this would probably happen.  The Holmes brothers thought alike much of the time despite their many disagreements.  "Sorge, check them out.  Make sure they have no weapons on them.  Spread your arms and legs you two. Once we are satisfied, you will be coming with us.  The kidnapping of Little Lamb was to draw you to France Sherlock.  The plan worked like a charm.  Yes AGRA wanted her daughter back.  She was forced to leave without her.  If she had been home alone with the baby when she had to leave, you would have been searching for 2 missing people off the bat thinking something happened to them against their will instead of how it played out.  Sorry about that cabbie though.  He was a nice bloke.  Now all we need it Lizard and Scorpion and we will be all set with our plans.  Do come along."

 

Sorge had finished checking them for weapons finding nothing.  He had managed to miss Sherlock's phone as well.  He checked Sherlock over about as well as Neilson had a few years earlier.  If Warburton did not have a gun trained on him or Anthea, he would have taken Sorge out and proceeded to go after Warburton.  Instead he had to wait for the right time which would be hard for him.  Waiting was always hard for him.  

 

They made their way to the SUV with Sorge leading the way.  As they neared, Sherlock seized the opportunity.  He saw Warburton's reflection in the glass and managed to elbow her before grabbing the needle Sorge had failed to notice.  The same needle that Sherlock had used earlier on the driver.  He drove it into Warburton as Anthea struck Sorge on the back of the head.  Both agents went down.  Sherlock took precautions and injected Sorge with the last of the needle's contents.  Sherlock had worked it out that only a small dose was needed to be effective and that one hypodermic needle could be used on 3 or more people.  After taking care of both agents, Sherlock messaged his brother again.

 

 

 

*Ms. Warburton & Mr. Sorge respectively

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(Since TAB we cannot use Scorpion with any certainty. He was pronounced dead by three of the participants in the panel discussion as well)

Having assessed the present situation and alerted his brother to two of the moles, Sherlock recalled the way John had first arrived at Baker Str with Sheralyn. John had specifically said that he had returned from the park with Sheralyn in her pram only to find Mary gone without a trace. Now, Ms Warburton had clearly said that if Mary had been home alone when she had left, she would have taken the baby with her. The whole point being, who had been with her at the time of her hasty departure?

He so detested hypothesising without enough data, he could almost feel a migraine headache building up from sheer frustration!

It couldn't have been Jim, despite the rumours of his return from the grave. The lonely consulting criminal had given up even on their ongoing game and blown his brains out on the roof of St Bartholomew's; he should know as Molly and a team of Mycroft's men had carried out a thorough post-mortem.

It couldn't have been ex-Captain James Moriarty, the one who had led them a merry dance almost a month ago, breaking into the flat like that! The only thing which could be said about him was that he had played his role well, as Sheralyn's other father. If he had been with Mary, they would simply have picked the baby up in her carry-cot and disappeared to a secure location.

It couldn't have been ex-Colonel Sebastian Moran, for much the same reasons: if Mary had been one of Jim's hired snipers, the second-in-command of what was left of the former organisation would have actively helped her secure her daughter.

It couldn't have been Janine, since she had later proven to be an extraordinary red herring in drawing all their attention to the Irish Sea and its possibilities as a means of escape.

The only person who was completely out of the loop and also completely clueless was that neighbour of theirs, Kate, the one with the son who was a drug addict: a completely innocent visit as a neighbour, coming to pour her troubles in Mary's lap, and the psychopathic assassin had had to resume her role of suburban housewife, offer her tea, listen to her, while the clock was ticking and her window of opportunity in making a successful escape had been narrowing.

She had probably shooed Kate out when the time had come, and then grabbed her safety deposit box key, all the money lying around in the flat, and literally fled!

He would have to wait for their interrogation to be completed, but if the hydroplane story was true, and not the speedboat one, still Mary could only go East, the range of such a plane leaving her in mid-Atlantic, unless it had landed in the Azores.

One way or another, he had to wait for replies, and he couldn't stand inactivity!

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(FYI: John had taken Sheralyn for a walk without Mary to give her some free time w/o baby duties & returned to an empty house.  Not sure if that changes how you want to write the beginning part of your section Inge.  Also Warburton & Sorge should be unconscious & probably not awake until sometime after the DGSE arrives to collect them because of what Sherlock gave them unless the DGSE takes several hours to arrive [at which point I'm sure MI-6 would have been faster].  I also spent forever writing my bit yesterday that Inge & I kind of cross-posted [as I stated at the beginning was all fine and dandy].)

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Sherlock retrieved their mobiles from the inert forms of the two traitorous agents and handed Anthea hers while he pocketed his own. Mulling over their statements, he realised that the events hitherto did not constitute a logical sequence. And when he reviewed the statement about himself being the package to be delivered he gave vent to a rather strong expletive that had Anthea looking at him askance: "When and if we get back, please remind me to concede, publicly if need be, that my brother is, indeed, the smarter one. I have been a blind idiot, and shall need your help in reversing the previous course of action." "Certainly, Mr Holmes, in what way?"

"First things first, we need to secure these two and then leave the area before Monsieur Leblanc comes back with reinforcements. Then, I shall explain what you have to do, and I hope that your Security Services training will help you pull it off." V

So, they manhandled the two unconscious form on the back of the SUV, secured them to each other by a pair of handcuffs (Sally's this time, they had lain so enticingly in the top drawer of her desk the last time he had visited her before the bank charade), and then climbed back into the vehicle with Sherlock driving, since Anthea would have needed a GPS for the route he was planning.

After refueling at the outskirts of the large port, he turned right into D127 in the direction of a small town called Boursin, which had the enormous advantage of being surrounded by forests. Stopping on the outskirts near a copse of chestnut trees, he outlined his plan: he had been too hasty in rendering the two agents unconscious, since the probability was high that they would have led them to Mary, and thus to Sheralyn. She needed to convince them, once they came round, that she was on their side, a sleeper agent of their nebulous organization put in a place of trust right next to the office of the head of British security the better to monitor his contacts.

Anthea had the rare gift of being a very good listener, and her work for Mycroft had made her very laconic. She asked for ver little clarification and then set about helping him put his plan in effect.

Thus it was that Sorge and Warburton came out of their drug-induced stupor to find Anthea working on freeing them of their bonds and Sherlock handcuffed to the dashboard of the vehicle, ostensibly looking daggers at her. She gave them her version of the story, and Sherlock marveled how voluble the usually monosyllabic young woman could get if properly motivated! Her message to them was clear : Take me to your leader! A message which she underscored by training her semi-automatic Beretta on Sherlock with the safety off!

He would never, ever consider her a goldfish ever again: she was proving to be a valuable and strong ally.

Under the directions of Warburton, Anthea drove the SUV past Dunkirk on the A16 and then turned left at Cuygnes, driving for the coastal town of Bray-Dunes.

Sherlock had connected the dots and concluded that Warburton's assertion about Mary having taken off for parts unknown was just a misdirection on her part. Indeed, he firmly believed that a woman like Mary, who had proven her ability to hack into the most secure systems, had known about John's youthful indiscretion and had wanted to meet only him in a game of divide and conquer. Finally, they stopped in front of a traditional French restaurant, a place where the regulars probably still had their serviette rings kept in neat pigeonholes, appropriately called La Voile Bleue. Still in her role, Anthea unlocked his handcuffs and motioned him to precede her by hiding her gun under the folds of her jacket, which she had thrown over her lower arm. But in so doing, she slipped him her tiny Derringer, which he palmed and shoved into his trouser pocket, wishing one more time that his tailor would not cut his trousers so close-fitting. In doing so, he brushed against the key of 221B and had to remind himself that in their circumstances sentiment was not only a chemical defect but could prove fatal! Surrounded by the two women and preceding Sorge, he walked into the cool, dim interior of the wood-paneled restaurant with its cracked marble floor. Apparently, the meeting had been set up well in advance, because the rosy-cheeked waitress took them upstairs once Warburton had asked for the reservation of Madame Ramage.

Sure enough, there was Mary, hair dyed light brown, with a carry-cot at her feet. If he were a vain man, Sherlock would have figuratively patted himself on the back about the accuracy of his assessment of the situation, but was rendered speechless by a familiar figure emerging from the back room and saying in a familiar Irish lilt :"Did you miss me?"

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"Hello, Janine. What made you give up your retirement plans and the cottage in Sussex?"

Fortunately for him, his quick mind and quick reflexes prevented them from seeing how perturbed he was by this turn of events, although he had been aware of the possibility that Janine Hawkins was in cahoots with Mary ever since the bodies of the two East European men had been found close to the Thames estuary. Not his problem at the moment.

"Oh, you know me, Sherl, I stick by my family through thick and thin. Your brother Mike (Sherlock would have given anything to have Mycroft on a live feed at the moment, since the minor government official abhorred nicknames of any kind, if Mycroft could be said to possess any feelings beyond those he advocated for his family!) currently has my cousin in custody at an undisclosed location, and Mary offered her help in getting him out."

"Janine, before we continue down what may be a very dangerous path for all parties concerned, were you telling the truth that time in the hospital?" For an inexplicable reason, certainly not based in logic, he wanted her to affirm her absolvation of his trickery in the Magnussen affair. Not sentiment, not sentiment, he repeated to himself, and warily met her gaze: "Sherl, how can you ever ask? I am incapable of holding grudges if there's no profit, sentimental or material, to be had! Of course I forgive you your subterfuge, and Dr Watson did help me that night."

He should have realised it the moment she had used her nickname for him, but, unaccustomed to such nuances of feeling as he was, he needed concrete proof!

He looked at Anthea and smiled a little. Things were not all that bad, after all.

His next centre of focus was Mary: "Why did you need to go to such lengths to take back my goddaughter, since you had plenty of opportunities at other times when John was at work?"

"Because I didn't want a repeat of the Leinster Gardens debacle. What did I tell you in hospital? Not to tell John! What did you do, at great risk to your continuing recovery? The opposite! You HAD to tell John. Well, I couldn't have that scenario played out again, hence France, where my dear husband isn't welcome."

"Mary, we both know that you were perfectly willing to shoot me again, and not miss, despite the rather large trail of evidence I had left behind me that night. What did poor Mrs Whitney do to interfere with your plans and necessitate all this cloak and dagger stuff?"

He purposely didn't let on what her shooting of him had led to: IVC syndrome, renal problems and the tendency to double up in pain while investigating a crime scene. The silvery-hued scar would always be there, too. He had tried to make John go back to her for the sake of the baby, and he was damned if he and Anthea left the quaint little town without having recovered the sleeping infant in the carry-cot at Mary's feet.

"Her visit was most inopportune, since I had received instructions that morning to join my immediate superior, and my fool of a husband had decided to take my daughter out for a stroll in order to give me some well-earned respite from her constant distraction. I wasn't made for motherhood, Sherlock, and I was rapidly nearing the end of my tether."

"Yes, I did notice how you never nursed her but opted for formula from the maternity ward on, but if you have to go back to active duty, so to speak, why burden yourself with an infant you aren't particularly attached to?"

"You men, you overbearing brutes, you insensitive machine, in your case! She's mine! I carried her to term, whether I wanted to or not, thanks to your interference at the reception, because otherwise I would have visited my friendly neighbourhood gynaecologist and have had an abortion. Sheralyn is mine, and I shall use her as I see fit."

Sherlock could see that the baby was becoming increasingly restive, which meant that she was about to wake up and wail the whole place down, as she had done both at Baker Str and at the Yard. The question was, should he let her do so, or intervene before it happened?

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Sherlock realized he had an uphill battle with the 2 against 4 and a barely sleeping baby to keep safe.  He ran through various plans in his head quickly dismissing most of them.  He realized that Anthea still a small device that could quickly knock out Warburton and Sorge while she & Sherlock kept guns trained on Mary & Janine.  He blinked almost imperceptibly but Anthea picked it up.  She made another imperceptible motion and he realized her correction to the plan that was better.  She had kept her left hand in her pocket that had the knock out device.  She quickly flicked the button sending to tiny darts at Janine and Mary who went down as she and Sherlock stepped back and knocked out Warburton and Sorge by pistol whipping them.  They grabbed Sheralyn and ran down the stair out to the vehicle.

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Once in the vehicle, Sherlock secured Sheralyn's carry-cot to the back seat, since they weren't exactly prepared for a regular kidnapping and the requisite baby seat in this car, while Anthea strapped he self in the driver's seat. He made sure that the baby was still half-asleep (had Mary drugged her own daughter? ) and then joined Anthea in the front, He barely had the time to fasten his seat belt before Anthea had pulled out of their parking space with a loud screech of tyres. Why did all competent women drivers overcompensate as if they had missed out on becoming Formula One champions, he mused wearily.

Still, they may have got the baby back, but there were so many unanswered questions, that liaising with Monsier Leblanc was high on his list of priorities, as was tearing another one in Mycroft for landing them in this chaotic mess in the first place, what with insufficient data concerning the specific operation and still hiding (protecting? ) Mary's murky past and connections. Mycroft knew better than anyone that Sherlock could not be at his peak performance level either as a detective or as a government agent if he had to make things up as he got along!

Since, for once, Anthea's hands were wrapped around the steering wheel and not her ubiquitous Blackberry ( the woman should really switch to an iPhone or an android smartphone, didn't she realise her beloved gadget was becoming obsolete?), he fired off a series of texts to ensure that once they were back in civilisation, which meant Dunkquerque, as it was closest, they would need everything from nappies and baby formula to Sheralyn's asthma medication and an update on their current status.

They communicated in terse whispers, both acutely aware of Sheralyn's little snuffling noises and whimpers as she moved in the carry-cot.

"Mr Holmes, when I was sent to help you, I was apprised of the actual situation, but not of Dr Watson's daughter's actual condition. Now that we have her, what shall we do with her?"

"What does one do with an infant, Miss Moneypenny? One feeds and burps it, changes its nappies and sees to it that it has all the sleep it needs, both for itself and for one's peace and quiet."

"Mr Holmes, I may be your brother's assistant, but he's not M, at least not like in the James Bond films' sense."

"What a waste of a perfectly good initial in his given name, then! Very well, I have set up a meeting with our French liaison officer when we arrive at Dunkirk, as well as a shopping trip to a local supermarket to get basic supplies for the baby. The way we got her back was well-nigh a miracle, outnumbered as we were, but we cannot possibly get out of France without completing the mission. At the moment, we have a very irate quartet on our heels, not to mention their hired help we put out of commission. We definitely need Monsieur Leblanc to provide cover for us, while we execute the rest of our mission."

"But I was led to believe that our mission consisted of following the kidnappers and rescuing Sheralyn from them!"

"How very perceptive of you, dear lady, but it's not all we have to do. Why was it necessary to set this whole thing up in a country where Dr Watson cannot set foot in without facing charges? To get us, specifically me, here, without my trusted friend and loyal backup. Think!"

"Surely, Colonel Moran would not be as devious as his former chief?"

"The man seems to be out for revenge, and we have managed to foil Mary's plans concerning Sheralyn, for the moment. We need local help, and we need it fast. Ah, there we are, we have reached the outskirts of Dunkirk. Keep your eyes on the road, and I shall locate the nearest supermarket. Once there, you are not to leave the car or the baby for one second. I shall be as fast as I can."

Anthea nodded to show her compliance with his wishes, but then giggled: Sherlock looked at her as if she had suddenly sprouted another head on her shoulders; he had never heard her make such a natural sound. "What is it?"

"Oh, nothing, Mr Holmes, just the idea of you sweeping down the aisles in search of nappies, formula, steriliser material and baby bottles, that's all!"

"You forgot baby oil, talcum powder, some towels, a teething ring and a dummy." he replied and once they reached a giant Monoprix she pulled into the car park, switched off the engine and saw him get out, all long limbs for once coo-ordinated in absolute purpose.

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(If even a plot bunny from this thread or the original Baby thread started by sfmpco at my pleading shows up in S4, we shall all know that they have somehow infiltrated the forum!)

While Anthea tried not to pay too much attention to the baby girl, she found herself observing Sheralyn in the rearview mirror, and was quite surprised when Sherlock returned with his hands full of shopping bags, opened the back and unloaded all his purchases.

When he got into the front, he handed her a ferry ticket for the next boat from Dunkirk to Calais.

"I'm really sorry to be landing you alone with a most sought-after little girl to return to Britain and the relative safety my brother can provide, but I need to ascertain the exact reason why Moran or Mary, or any hellish creature, would want to separate me from John on a pointless mission apart from the retrieval of the baby. Are you sure that you can pass yourself off as a young mum gone on a weekend trip to France to calm down from all the exertions of new motherhood and now returning home in a better mood?"

"But, Mr Holmes, your brother specifically instructed me when he sent me over here, at your behest, may I remind you, that under no circumstances should I leave your side!"

"That's all very well and good, but I need to know the real reason for this mission, and have already arranged to meet Monsieur LeBlanc at about the same time your boat will be leaving port. Not, to prepare Sheralyn's formula!"

He went to the back of the car, took out the bottle and put it in the portable sterilizer, then mixed what appeared to be a perfectly innocuous measure of milk for the baby.

Coming back, he picked Sheralyn up from the carry-cot, adjusted a towel over his clothes, then settled her comfortably in his lap and began feeding the half-sleeping infant.

Anthea observed the scene without a comment, but Sherlock forestalled her:" Yes, both John and Sergeant Donovan have remarked on the fact, but it's only by necessity, I would never make a good father. Your boss, the bane of my existence, would have made a far better one, had he ever bothered. After all, I was dumped on him as a mewling new-born, and he all of eight years old, and he coped."

After burping Sheralyn, checking that she did not need a nappy change and rocking her a bit, he put her back in the makeshift car-seat and instructed Anthea to drive to the port, so as not to miss the boat.

Once in the docking area, he retrieved some things, which he quickly stuffed into a serviceable rucksack, also apparently bought at the supermarket, checked his passport with the assumed name, checked his wallet and mobile, quickly brushed his lips against the baby's forehead and jumped from the car.

"Quickly, now, you wouldn't want to miss your embarkation cue!" he smiled at Anthea.

She, in turn, turned to look at the baby's lolling head: "Mr Holmes, have you drugged Sheralyn?" she asked, her outrage evident by the way she was gripping the wheel.

"Oh, don't worry, it's a very light thing Wiggins came up with last Christmas, and since then I have perfected it. Have a safe trip home!" he replied airily, turned and mingled with the crowd, leaving her holding the goods, literally and figuratively!

Briefly, she entertained the thought of taking out her Service automatic and accomplishing what Jeff Hope, Moriarty, Magnusson and countless others had failed to do, but she thought of her boss, gritted her teeth and followed the instructions of the loading crew onto the ferry.

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(This writer is back finally.  And I might even be able to add things on a more timely basis than I have since April 1. Also is there an actual ferry between Dunkirk and Calais as the 2 ports are less than an hour apart by road and my research isn't finding any?  I was trying to get an idea for the type of ferry Anthea would have boarded.)

 

Anthea boarded the ferry without issues and made the trek upstairs with a very much asleep baby girl.  She found an out of the way corner where they were mostly hidden but she could see all of the exits from the area.  Anthea settled in for the short voyage.

 

Sherlock briskly walked through the crowd and worked his way towards the car rental lot.  He had connections still from his time of dismantling Moriarty's network and some early case work when he finally had gotten clean shortly before meeting John.  He went through the VIP line and was escorted to a Peugeot RCZ in black.  He took the keys from the clerk and took off for his meeting with Monsieur Leblanc.  A few minutes later he arrived at a small manor on the edge of town heading towards Calais.  He parked in the car park and headed to the front door.  Before he even had a chance to ring the door bell, the door was opened for him.  He was greeted by Monsieur Leblanc.

 

"Monsieur Holmes, what is the pleasure of your visit?  Your brother has been in very cryptic contact earlier saying that I should expect your arrival at some point."

 

"Monsieur Leblanc, I am on the case of a certain Moriarty who has a twin, a subordinate, and my best friend's wife all in cahoots.  Plus the innocent baby that is in secure care of the best female I know outside of a morgue.  What I need to know is why the wife would grab her own daughter and come here necessitating the baby's father, her husband, from being able to retrieve said baby and forcing me to come get that said baby."

 

"Ah, yes. Definitely the question of the day.  You wouldn't happen to be talking about a certain Abbigail Aarons who has more secret titles than the latest Bond movie?"

 

"The one and only of course.  I must remember to never trust women with blond hair before I get a full deduction of them first.  Especially if they jump to my side immediately.  She has been nothing but trouble since a few days after I met her.  Don't tell anyone I said this as I'll never live it down, but the baby is cute in her own way.  Still glad she's not mine as I would be a rubbish father on a good day and we won't discuss the bad days.  What can you tell me about Abbigail and/or this whole Moriarty fiasco?"

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(I took that ferry about a year ago, rather than go through Oostende, you pass Dunkirk on the A16, turn right at the Basin de l'Atlantique and reach the ferry docks, and Google maps still shows the route, no further information, sorry)

"Mr Holmes, our service is beholden to you for managing to remove the majority of top agents in Professor Moriarty's network across Europe and parts of Asia. I am at your disposal to help in Ms. Aarons' case: she carried out a few assignments for us in the past, so you would be better off talking to her erstwhile handler, Monsieur Ganimard, he will know exactly what went on. But the reason you are here without your partner is that our service needs you to solve a rather embarrassing problem involving the minister of Foreign Affairs and his, let's say mistress. The lady has mysteriously disappeared after a late-night tryst with the minister at a small pavilion in Malmaison, and our friends in the Quai des Orfevres have given it up as an almost unsolvable mystery. Dr Watson's absence was necessary, because everybody has been reading his blog in both the DGSE and the Quai, for light entertainment, of course, since your blog on the science of deduction is much more informative, and it was agreed at the top that he couldn't be allowed to participate in this investigation due to his garrulity."

Sherlock sighed and asked Monsieur Leblanc for a cigarette. They both lit up, and the unfiltered sharpness of true Gauloises seemed to help him get his ideas back online. So, John had been artfully excluded because he occasionally wrote about the cases in too much indiscreet detail. He had to admit that it was a very neat move on the part of the French security services, which had acted on the evidence of his past with the good doctor.

"Very well, Monsieur Leblanc, I shall do my best to investigate the poor lady's disappearance if you first bring me into contact with This Monsieur Ganimard, so I may learn something more about Mary dear and her very murky past. It has come to the point that I wish I had not pushed John to make up with her and thus avoid all the Magnussen fiasco! After all, there are so many couples who get divorced even with a child on the way or with children in the home!"

"Trust me, Mr Holmes, when I say that after what you learn about her missions she will in no way remain "Mary dear" in your mind. Shall we get going, then?"

They both got in the car, Sherlock preferring not to drive this time, since Monsieur Leblanc seemed to know the area and its highways and byways like the back of his hand. While driving, the French agent used the car's Bluetooth to make a brief call in what seemed a polite conversation about the weather, but was certainly code arranging their meeting with the other agent. Mary's 'handler' indeed! Sherlock doubted that anyone on the planet could handle the tremagant hiding behind the sweet mask of Mary's public facade. Even at this moment, she would be planning ways to get her daughter back, get her own back at him, possibly with the help of the joker in the pack: Janine Hawkins, alias Moriarty. He was not Hercules, he couldn't fight such a multi-headed Hydra!

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