Chapter 3 - Lift Up Mine Eyes To The Hills by A.J. Hall
TELL SHERLOCK PEERAGE UNAVOIDABLE WITHOUT MORE INGENUITY ON HIS PART. MYCROFT
John blinked at his mobile phone. He scrolled down to the next unread text.
ALSO TRULY NO INFORMATION RE FAMILY SKELETONS. WAS ONLY THREE AT TIME. MYCROFT
He looked across the breakfast table. Sherlock’s dead-eyed glare as his long fingers danced across the keypad of his phone – scroll-delete, scroll-delete – told its own story. Mycroft must be in a time-zone which made communicating during ordinary English daytime hours impossible and be compensating for jet-lag by tapping away at his mobile during the small hours like a compulsive woodpecker.
John swore, loudly, and then thanked his stars they were alone in the dining room, last of the breakfasters. The other guests had already vanished to climb mountains, mess about on lakes or wander lonely as possible in the circumstances through Grasmere, Rydal and Cockermouth.
It was Mycroft who had sent Sherlock off on the two-month-long, immensely hush-hush mission to the Continent which had precipitated his collapse in the first place. Admittedly, it was also Mycroft who had paid for first-class tickets on Eurostar and the TGV to allow John to retrieve Sherlock from Lyons.
Mycroft had managed to acquire Easter Week vacancies (last minute cancellations, something to do with an unexpected Premium Bond win) for a pair of rooms in a well regarded gastro-pub on the Furness shore of Morecambe Bay, less than the length of a cricket boundary from where John had spent childhood holidays. And he’d supplied a locum to cover for John at the surgery, though Sarah’s text – PURELY HYPOTHETICALLY, HOW WOULD SHERLOCK COMMIT THE PERFECT MURDER? – suggested that might not have been an unqualified success.
But having gone to some lengths to put John in a position where he could start trying to put Sherlock back together again, why the hell couldn’t Mycroft leave well enough alone now and let him do his job?
“He thinks I’m a tool,” Sherlock said abruptly, without looking up.
“Well, I think he’s a tool. And a tosser. And a pompous, interfering arsehole.”
That did manage to provoke a brief lift of Sherlock’s chin; his lips quirked in a wintry flicker of acknowledgement before he dropped his head again.
“I meant, he sees me as a means by which he can enhance the security and prestige of HM Government. And so, not in the least indirectly, his own.” He considered for a moment. “To be quite fair, he also sees it as a way of thriftily recycling waste material into something of marginal use.”
“Waste material?” Something hard and taut and angry had lodged itself in John’s chest. He took a gulp of rather too-hot coffee. It did nothing whatsoever to shift it.
“As I thought I said on the train, my family prefers to bury its failures. And does it rather effectively, on the whole.”
“Failures? You?” John was conscious of staring across the breakfast table, literally open-mouthed.
Sherlock shook his head impatiently. “Even in your own circle of family and friends the average number of higher educational qualifications – bachelors’ degrees, professional qualifications and higher degrees – runs at 1.2 per person in your generation. In my family it’s closer to 1.46. Either way, as an undergraduate dropout I’m a fairly conspicuous anomaly.”
There was so much wrong with that sentence that John could hardly imagine where to start. The hand holding his phone started to shake. He found himself almost spitting his words out.
“I cannot imagine anyone else on this planet who could bend my ear about being a failure at the very same time, apparently, as being pressured to accept a peerage.”
“Oh, that.” Sherlock’s voice betrayed not a trace of interest.
“What do you mean, that? Why a peerage, for Christ’s sake?”
“Ah – what?”
“It’s still there.”
John blinked and took a very, very cautious bite of sausage by way of buying time.
“It wasn’t supposed to be?”
Sherlock shrugged. “The financial model the conspirators were using was so flawed it’s hard to predict what would have happened had they succeeded in putting it in motion. About 60% probability of total bankruptcy of at least one G7 nation in the next six months was Mycroft’s analysts’ best guess. They refused to push their analysis out any further down the timeline.”
Probably because they didn’t fancy advising their Government masters that they should be preparing for all-out war. On the streets of Europe. The US. Japan.
He put down knife and fork, rose and went to the dining room window. Nothing could be a greater contrast between the soft outlines of the South Lakeland fells, garlanded with grey cloud, and the harsh, dry mass of the Afghan ranges, but he felt, truer than his own heartbeat, how narrow the gulf separating the them was.
Without the slender, heart-breakingly weary figure on the other side of the table the world he knew would have been changed forever. Economic collapse. Hoarding. Hyper-inflation. Break-down of the civil order. Rise of political extremists. Military coups. Warlordism.
He turned back and brought his fist down on the table with a thump which set the cups rattling in the saucers.
“So why are they piddling about with a peerage, for crying out loud? Why not the Nobel Peace prize?”
For an instant there was utter silence in the room.
“John, I –” Sherlock changed whatever he had been going to say. “I doubt the committee cares to remind the world that peace rests on such banal underpinnings as a country’s ability to pay its sewage workers. Anyway, irrelevant. So, what do we do today? I gather we’re supposed to climb mountains, or something.”
“Not in that, you don’t,” John said automatically.
“This?” Sherlock glanced down at his aquamarine silk shirt. “Mountains have dress codes?”
“Yes. Don’t wear anything that’ll make the mountain rescue services go, ‘What could the silly sod have been thinking?’ when they’re retrieving the body.”
“If it matters so much to you, you can take me to one of these ubiquitous outdoor clothing shops and stand over me while I acquire something which meets your exacting standards. Then you can select a token mountain and we can climb it. I frankly can’t see the point of exercise simply for the sake of it, but since it obviously forms part of some sort of important personal ritual – “
His phone rang. He glanced down at the display and his face lit up. He tapped the answer button.
“Hallo.” There followed something in rapid German, too quick for John to follow, ending with, “Wie geht es Ihnen?”
If John wasn’t able to translate the whole conversation, he could still decode a lot from his extensive experience of Sherlock. To begin with, he had approached his phone as if air-kissing it. His voice sounded rather as it did when he was trying to charm Molly into giving him access to one of her corpses, though John doubted - if modern English had made the distinction - Sherlock would have used the formal mode of address to Molly.
In short, whoever was at the other end of that phone had something Sherlock wanted, badly. Which in normal circumstances meant evidence. Which, logically, implied a case. A case with a European dimension.
He waited in increasing impatience for the phone call to end, the scattered phrases he understood only increasing his disquiet. (Had Sherlock really just volunteered to pass the other speaker’s warmest regards onto his brother and invited her to see whether she and her husband could manage dinner with both of them next time they happened to be in London? What dynamite was this woman sitting on?)
“So,” he said once Sherlock had finished his call in a flurry of effusive farewells, “you told me your case had finished.”
“Western economy. Lyons. Collapse.”
“Yes, that’s over. This is something different altogether. You could call it a cold case. A very cold case. It may be about to warm up again, though. But we’ve still time to climb that mountain before it does.” His eyes glittered in a way which John found both profoundly reassuring and profoundly disturbing.
Protests about holidays, about the need to rest and the lack of wisdom in getting involved so quickly in a new case – or an old case; no point pretending he couldn’t guess what had set this one off – died on John’s lips.
“If you’re serious,” he said instead, “I’ll see you outside in ten minutes.”