must continue to pay for with the meager income that Bell has started paying him – of university after that, of A.C. Doyle’s influence at such institutions and at Scotland Yard.

“I …”


If Sherlock agrees, it would mean that he would have to include Irene, put her in danger, and share the credit. She thinks she has him right where she wants him. But does she? Surely her father wouldn’t want her involved. In fact, he might very well thank the boy for keeping her out of it.

“Such a case … could be very dangerous.”

This time, when she turns, she keeps moving. She steams east toward central London.

Irene wouldn’t work with Malefactor, would she?

Still rubbing his head, trying to resist watching her walk away, Sherlock turns back toward Scotland Yard. He tells himself that her attractiveness has nothing to do with her golden hair, the sweet sound of her voice, or those beguiling smiles that disarm him…. It’s simply that she may have a tantalizing connection to the kidnap victim, which would indeed be helpful to anyone investigating this case. What does she really know? He turns back to watch her. She is far away now, nearing the ornate stone arch that connects The Mall to Trafalgar Square. I must get her to talk to me. He wants to run after her. But then several short figures and a tall one appear in the shadows near her. Irene pauses, looks back at Sherlock, and vanishes into the darkness under the arch.

He moves toward the Yard again, thinking about what he’s seen and heard this morning. He has a clue, a good one that he doubts the police have noticed. And if he doesn’t hesitate, looks into the case while he has this advantage, there is an opportunity before him that can change his life. Can he let this chance go?

At that instant, there is a commotion a few hundred feet in front of him.

Inspector Lestrade and his son are attempting to walk out from police headquarters onto wide White Hall Street, where a black four-wheeler awaits them, but the veteran plainclothesman is being hectored by a dozen newspapermen, among them Mr. Hobbs. They surround him like a swarm of bees buzzing with questions. He isn’t answering and looks angry.

This case has been a monstrous public failure for the senior inspector. Sherlock smiles and scoots over. He wants to hear this. It will do his heart good.

“How is it possible, Inspector, to have no clues for three months?”

“Do you think she is already dead?”

“Has anything like this ever happened before?”

“Is your job in jeopardy?”

Even that question cannot draw a comment from Lestrade, but the next one does. And not simply because of its content, though that is bad enough. It comes from Sherlock Holmes. With his lust for vengeance growing as he watches the inspector get what he deserves, the boy shouts at him from behind the mob.

“Are you not ashamed?”

There is silence. All the reporters turn to look at the audacious working-class boy who has just insulted the senior inspector at Scotland Yard.

“What was that you said, you young blackguard?” shouts Lestrade. “Step forward!”

The reporters part and Sherlock walks through them like Moses, unafraid, his big nose lifted high and proud. This is for his mother.

“I said … are you not ashamed?”

Lestrade reaches out with one hand for the boy, the other balled in a fist, but his son pulls him back.

“I ought to thrash you here in public!”

“Desperate men often resort to violence.”

The newsmen are speechless for an instant. Then The Times reporter recognizes the boy.

“Say, aren’t you the lad who –”

“Shut your gob, Mr. Hobbs!” hisses Lestrade. “This child is a loiterer and if he does not move along I shall call a constable.”

“But he isn’t –”

“SHUT UP, Hobbs!”

“I have a clue in the Rathbone case,” says Sherlock calmly.

Several reporters laugh.

“You what?” asks Lestrade Junior.

Aha, thinks Sherlock, they have none.

“And I am the Duke of Wellington come back to life,” smirks the inspector. He puts his hands on his lapels, as if to commence a speech. “This boy is a lunatic. A Jew who wanders the streets, does bit work for an impoverished quack, and several times has pretended to know things about certain well-known crimes. He consorts with young ruffians and has been in jail. We are well aware of him. His parents’ reckless marriage made him a half-breed.”

“Father, I don’t think it is kind to –”

“If you choose to work with me, sir, then you shall be silent.”

The older boy looks at his feet.

“As I was saying, he has delusions and deserves our pity more than anything else. Let me demonstrate. I ask you, Master Holmes, did you not solve both the Whitechapel and Crystal Palace crimes?”

“Yes, I did.”

The reporters roar with laughter.

“Father, we shouldn’t –”

“Silence, boy! I shan’t speak to you again.”

Lestrade is hitting his stride now. He sees Sherlock Holmes shrinking in front of his very eyes and smells blood. It feels so good to get the upper hand for once during this black time. At least he can put an end to this meddler.

“The truth is that his mother was murdered in cold blood by the Whitechapel villain, poisoned like a rat … and he, gentleman, was the cause!”

With that, Lestrade steps up into his carriage, pulling his astonished son with him.

The reporters walk off, mimicking the boy in the threadbare dress clothes. “I have a clue,” snorts one in a child-like voice. They all laugh again, except Hobbs, who gazes at the boy.

With eyes as red as blood, Sherlock Holmes stumbles into an alley off White Hall. He boots over a rotting rain barrel and lets the water in it drain. Then he picks it up and flings it against a wall. When it doesn’t smash, he kicks it, again and again and again … until it splinters into pieces.

“You insult me!” he shouts, “You insult my MOTHER!”

If he were a man, he would challenge Lestrade to fight him in a public place. He doesn’t really give a farthing for the life of that upper-class girl, nor does he know anything of that wretched child in the workhouse, but if he has ever been certain of anything in his life, it is this: he will find Victoria Rathbone! No matter what it takes. He will gain the keys to his future … and announce his solution for all to hear, right in front of that ferret from Scotland Yard. No one and nothing, not Malefactor, not even his own inexperience, will stop him.

“I challenge you, Lestrade! I cannot fight you with pistols at twenty paces, but this will be a duel. I will put a bullet in you!”

He leaves the alley and walks toward Denmark Street, at war with himself.

“Be calm,” he says out loud, grinding his teeth. “Be rational. That is the only way to proceed.”

His mind turns to Irene for an instant. Don’t think about her. You don’t need her. He can’t believe she would work with Malefactor. Pay attention to what you must do. You have a clue. Pursue it and pursue it now.

The watermark.

He is nearing the apothecary’s shop. Watermarks aren’t made by stationers, but by the papermakers themselves: he’s learned that in school. This was a faint one, very faint, apparently not even seen by the police, only visible when held at just the right position in the noon-hour sun.

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