The first requirement will be proof of Arthur Drake's involvement in unlawful lethal action. This will only be available to someone with trusted access to CIA's most closely-held covert action programs. The best possible scenario is to make them a trusted partner in the investigation: trust begets trust. Once trusted access is obtained, most barriers will fall, but New Camelot will keep its own people close to this information, the better to control it. An intelligence official not connected to New Camelot is the best source for obtaining this information without compromising the investigation. New Camelot will have these individuals under scrutiny, so it may be necessary to distract them in order to recover this information surreptitiously…
Morning penetrated my consciousness with an audible point. The sharp note of a text alert on the last of the phones that I'd bought the day before slid into my ear and jabbed insistently at my cortex. I groaned.
Everything was sore. I'd slept in my car amidst the scattered contents of the file that Holmes had left me, and my body was making its objections clear. Back, neck, an odd ache in my left leg... I hoped this wouldn't become a habit.
I hadn't dared go home. Not only were the memories there too fresh, but since Moriarty could strike with impunity there, the idea that I would be baring my throat to her as I slept had seemed... unsound. I'd found a quasirandom number generator online, got myself some local latitude and longitude coordinates after a few tries, and counted on the pit bull in the front seat to do any necessary talking to would-be molesters.
It had been an unlovely strip of street, but a big dog needs no explanations. No one disturbed my slumber but ghosts.
Until now. There was that damned alert again! I fumbled for it, sleep still wrestling for control of my nervous system. My fingers finally closed around the phone, and I brought it to my bleary eyes.
"Help," read the text.
"Immediate evac," came the second.
"WHERE ARE YOU?" roared the third.
Vivian. Vivian! In the craziness last night, I'd forgotten all about her. Last I had seen, she was with Achilles when they were attacked. I hadn't seen what had happened to her in the fray.
She'd sent her location, and as I pulled it up, I saw that she was at the George Washington University Hospital. My phone told me it would be forty minutes with traffic, but I didn't have any better options.
"OMW," I keyed, and maneuvered into the driver's seat.
She blew up my phone the whole way there. From what I pieced together, Doyle was there, wasn't letting her leave, and was driving her nuts. He was lucky her stilettoes were missing, etc., etc.
An hour and fifteen minutes later, I did my best to explain my way past the front desk.
"Sister. We're adopted," I explained to the glaring clerk. "Yes, we kept our birth names. Look, I can find the way by myself, thanks..."
Hospital corridors all look the same, and I wasn't quite feeling myself. Whoever that was. It took me three tries and an exasperated orderly to get to the right room, but I eventually made it.
Vivian and Doyle were there. She was hooked to an intravenous drip and a heart rate monitor pinged next to the bed. She didn't have any obvious injuries, but still had half a layer of makeup on from our outing the previous evening. Doyle was wearing the same clothes I'd seen him in yesterday, looking tired.
"You look like shit," she hailed as I came through the door to room 314. "What happened?"
I wasn't ready to have this discussion, and Doyle was sitting right next to her... which meant Watson. I had my concerns about his so-called "digital assistant." I dodged.
"Someone interrupted my beauty sleep," I grumped. "Coffee's on you. What are we waiting for?"
Doyle jumped up out of the chair next to her bed, where he'd apparently spent as fitful a night as I had. "She has a concussion," he shook his head. "She can't go anywhere."
I looked at Vivian's eyes. Sherlock would have read in them: You see what I'm dealing with, here? It didn't take Holmes to see her frustration.
"Doyle, she's a big girl. If they'd let her play pro football on it, I think she can walk out of here."
He crossed his arms. "Paramedics found her at the scene of a vehicular explosion, lying near a pile of corpses, including a woman who'd been killed by a lightning strike. One that missed the nearby trees in order to hit her. Do you suppose that is a coincidence? It’s not safe.”
“A lightning strike?” I hadn’t seen what had happened to Kay, only that there had been a voice, and then a flash of light. I’d assumed it was Vivian, but if it hadn’t been her… who else were we dealing with, here?
What kind of Persona had the power to pull down lightning on a clear night in the middle of downtown D.C.? Even if there weren’t any witnesses, you didn’t get power like that too often in literature. It was a short list.
Merlin was right near the top.
“So… that wasn’t you?” I eyed him keenly. I was lacking Holmes’ lie detection capabilities, but I wasn’t completely helpless. His surprised response seemed genuine enough, though.
“Wha- no! Lightning? That’s not… I’m not…” He glanced sideways at Vivian, then shrugged.
“I’m not that sort of Merlin, apparently.”
“Okay,” I nodded, “we have an unknown player. Just great. But, look: whoever it is fried Moriarty and left Vivian untouched. That doesn’t sound like our enemy.”
“Arthur would say that any unknown should be presumed to be hostile until we can evaluate its intentions,” Doyle objected.
“Arthur’s not here,” I snapped, a little too harshly. Doyle and Vivian both blinked.
Vivian recovered first. ”He's not my dad,” she rolled her eyes. "He is not the boss of me. Well... okay. He is the boss of me, so if he tells me not to come to work, I'll stay home. Where I'm not staying is the hospital." Her eyes flashed. "I've got a score to settle."
"Get in line," I growled, and at the venom in my voice, Vivian and Doyle exchanged a look. "You can have what's left after they pull her out of the wood chipper."
"All right!" Vivian punched the air. "That's my girl! Let's go to Home Depot! I know the guy at the rental counter. What?" she asked at Doyle's quizzical expression. "I'm a homeowner. You should see some of the shit they got away with, building cheap homes for vets in the fifties. I've got the store card."
He sighed. "The doctor said-"
"Fuck the doctor!" she exclaimed. "Which I may do, because I did not get laid last night and I am cranky about it. I would at least go down on him if he'd sign some papers hint hint hint!” The last was practically shouted at the door.
"You... you know you can just leave, right?" I asked.
Vivian looked at me with open surprise. Doyle just looked cross.
"Just... leave?" I nodded. “You know I have a concussion, right? And no wallet. Terrible idea. I’m not going to make it very far on my own."
"Which is where she comes in, yes, yes, no.” Doyle actually put his foot down as he said it. "Do not take the clothes you brought for her out of that bag. This is a terrible idea. The last time you didn't listen to Arthur, look-"
“Don’t,” I warned. “I had a really bad night and I can make your death look like an accident."
“Oh, threats. Perfect!” he sneered. “Maybe I was wrong to keep your identity a secret, Sherlock. That mistake can be easily rectified.”
At the name, I flinched. I couldn’t help it. Tears brimmed in my eyes.
“Jesus, Doyle, lay off her,” Vivian chimed in. “In fact, why don’t both of you calm the fuck down? It sounds like there’s some serious shit going on and we should maybe not be fighting each other right now.”
Doyle and I glared at each other for another moment, but I broke eye contact first. I sighed heavily.
“You’re right. I’m sorry, Doyle, honestly. After… after we all got split up last night, something bad happened.” My throat threatened to close up and I swallowed hard. “She killed my dad. Moriarty killed my…”
A wet pop. A creak of rope.
At first I couldn’t control my jaw as it shuddered. I tried to finish the sentence, say the word. My chin just wouldn’t cooperate. Then I couldn’t see. Then my knees went.
Doyle grabbed me as I collapsed to the floor, but I was only dimly aware of him. Why were the horrible memories the only ones that were left?
As I regained my senses, the only sounds in the room were my choking sobs and the incessant beep of Vivian’s heart monitor. I was on the floor, curled up, with my head in Doyle’s lap. He had a hand uneasily on my shoulder, seeming not quite to know what to do with the outburst of emotion.
I trembled all over, and pulled myself together. I propped myself up on a hand, and wiped my eyes. I looked up at the others. Doyle: awkward, confused, not quite able to look at me, jaw set in a grim line. Vivian: beautiful, held back by the machines binding her to the bed, eyes flowing as freely as mine had, wanting to go to me. I felt immensely grateful to her.
“Gwen, oh, honey,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry. Your dad… fuck, your dad?” She put a hand to her mouth at the taste of the words, as if she wanted to wipe them off her tongue.
"Yeah," I confirmed. "And she's in my mom. Used her damn machine to put her mind in both of them, and tried to make them kill each other. I could... only save one of them."
Doyle cocked his head. "But doesn't that mean that Moriarty is still in your mother?"
I nodded. "And I'm going to get her out." I swallowed hard, not sure if I should tell anyone about the really insane part of my plan. Better to keep that to myself, for now.
"I need Moriarty's machine. By tomorrow."
Doyle nodded thoughtfully. "We should be able to figure it out by then. I'll talk to Arthur. I trust your mother is somewhere safe?"
"No!" I blurted. "Arthur can't... have... you going between us right now," I finished lamely. "I'll talk to him."
Doyle shrugged, but Vivian eyed me keenly. Her eyes flickered to Doyle, then met mine again. Pointedly.
I inclined my head slightly. No way to keep her out of this, now. And I could frankly use her in my corner. Doyle was too close to Arthur, too inclined to seek his approval for anything. Vivian, on the other hand, had expressed some reservations about the whole affair. And she was just crazy enough to think that working with Vic Frankenstein might not be the worst idea in the whole universe. She would help me.
Probably. The mask was up, or else I just sucked at reading people now. I couldn't tell was behind that look.
"Doyle, I'm going to need Vivian's help on a few things. Before you go getting all huffy, I will keep an eye on her and I swear if she even wobbles a little I will put a pillow under her and scream for a medic. But if someone is after us - and other than Moriarty I'm not convinced that's the case, even if we don't know who the mystery electrician is - then she's a sitting duck here just as surely as she's vulnerable out there. May as well get her to Arthur and company where there are a bunch of people with stabby lightning rods to keep her a little safer."
He didn't like it, but he nodded in concession.
"For now, Vivian, anybody who tries to stop you, just repeat after me: 'Against Medical Advice'. They might make you sign something, which you can do if you're feeling polite. They've got your name for insurance purposes." I tossed the gym bag at her that I'd found in the trunk - one that I didn't remember packing, which was full of clothes and toiletries. Holmes had been busy while getting us out of the house last night.
"Get out of that gown and let's roll."
She grinned and tore off the electrodes that were connecting her to the heart monitor. A nurse arrived with impressive speed, and Vivian informed her that she could choose which person in the room would pull the IV out within the next ten seconds. She jerked her head at me.
"I think she was a Girl Scout or something."
The nurse looked desperately at Doyle, who rolled his eyes.
"Don't look at me. I'm a billionaire. We all have phobias and bizarre sexual fetishes. Take your best guess which one this is?"
It probably wasn't the gentlest IV removal in history, but the nurse was grimly efficient. Bandage in place, Vivian hopped off of the bed while the nurse mumbled something about going to get a doctor.
Doyle continued his habit of not quite missing a woman lose her clothing, but Vivian seemed to enjoy taunting him. She shimmied out of the gown before even opening the bag, and rifled through it completely in the nude, bent over at the waist, bare ass thrust in his direction. The writhing of the dragon tattoos across her back and shoulders made even this sterile medical setting into something that could definitely turn pornographic given half a chance. It was my turn to roll my eyes.
With some small finagling and signing of papers, we made it down to the Audi. Cavill wagged his tail furiously as he saw Vivian, and gave Doyle a bark of greeting.
"Let me guess," he arched his eyebrow, "this time I'm sharing the back seat?"
"No," I said levelly. "You have errands to run. You're a billionaire, and I have a shopping list. We're heading to CIA Headquarters, so just stick this stuff in my trunk when you've got it all together."
I handed him a slip of paper that I'd pulled out of the folder that Holmes had left me. The handwriting was all mine, but some of it was inked more recently. Some of it, I'd planned a long time ago.
"A roll of quarters...?" Doyle asked. "Why don't I just get you a laundry machine? A laxative? What on earth is all this for?"
I tapped the side of my head. "Plans. I've got an arch nemesis to foil. And I don't plan on going over a waterfall. Can you get it all?"
He gave me a look. "It will be waiting for us when we get there. Watson's already scanned it and placed the appropriate orders."
I nodded. "I suspected as much. There's writing on the back. Turn Watson off. Get that stuff, too, and take it to the location marked. Don't turn him back on until you're back at Headquarters. This bit has to happen off the grid."
He cocked his head. "I use Watson for everything. He's secure, and he's never let me down. There's no reason not to let him-"
"Off the grid," I interrupted. "It'll be good to stretch your legs. You think now that Moriarty has a taste of what Watson can do, that she won't be searching for him? And there's our unknown party out there - we have no idea what they can do. Don't just humor me, here. Promise."
He squinted in annoyance, then shrugged. "Have it your way. I'll see you in a few hours." He and Vivian shared a look, and he headed off toward the elevator.
I turned to her "All right. Saddle up. We've got other business."
"Oh?" she raised her own eyebrow. "You going to tell me what's really going on here?"
"Yeah," I grinned. "But first we have that shower scene we talked about last night."
An hour later, we stood outside the locker room of the gym in CIA Headquarters' basement. It was filled with old fitness equipment that wore the accumulated sweat of decades of spies. At nearly ten o'clock in the morning, there were only a handful of people whose schedules permitted them to contribute their own.
"I don't think this is what Doyle had in mind," Vivian frowned. "It definitely wasn't what I had been picturing."
"I didn't want to come off as too desperate. You haven't even bought me dinner yet," I deadpanned. "Now come on and let's get naked."
"I'm just sayin', I was an hour ago offering to go down on a guy in order to get me out of the hospital. You better watch yourself in there."
"It sounds as if I should be watching you."
"I hope you will be."
"Can you think of anything less sexy than a locker room shower?" I asked.
"You ever been to - never mind, I think I may need a shower more than sex. You're a genius."
"I was trying to be polite, but now that you mention it..."
The banter took us into the communal shower area, where thanks to the sparse workout crowd, we were alone together. It was a no-frills affair, fashionable for the mid-1970s, with shower heads spaced out evenly around the perimeter of the room. The walls and floor were mostly gray tile, with occasional pink ones in case anybody got confused about which locker room they'd wandered into. There were little dividers sticking out from the wall at chest level that offered a modicum of privacy, but apparently the government didn't go for luxuries like shower curtains.
I needed a shower almost as badly as Vivian, and for a few moments, I relished the hot spray running over my body, feeling the weight of my hair increase as it soaked the water in. I glanced over at my partner in crime, who was similarly ecstatic. Her tattoos wriggled and swam in the water running in rivulets over her. Without turning, she asked, "So why are we really here?"
"Doyle," I answered. "I needed someplace I could be sure he and his electronics couldn't follow. You've scrubbed? I don't have any idea what kind of stuff he might have stuck on you."
"I'm clean," she nodded.
"We should be safe to talk in here, then," I asked. "Any listening devices he might've slipped onto your clothing will catch the sound of the showers, and I doubt even Watson could pick much out of the static."
"Yes, yes, I get all that. You think you're the first woman I've showered with in the name of national security?" She grinned at me. "I meant, what's the story? What aren't you telling Arthur? You're planning to steal Moriarty's machine, right?"
"You look pleased with yourself. You ought to be a detective or something." She snorted. "You've heard of Doctor Frankenstein?"
"Duh," she said. "King of e-stim."
"He's going to bring my dad back," I said flatly.
She started at me. She opened her mouth. She closed it.
"Why?" she managed.
"Because he's the only one who can. Because Moriarty doesn't get to win. Because..." I hung my head. It hurt even to say it. Somehow it was harder even than losing my parents. Losing Holmes had been like losing my whole self. Without him, I didn't know who I was.
"I'm out of concordance," I explained. "When Moriarty killed my dad... that never happened in the stories. I'm not Sherlock Holmes anymore. He's gone. I need him back. If I undo it... if I un-kill my father... maybe..."
She was quiet for a while. Finally, she shook her head.
"You had one hell of a night, girl. And I get that you're pissed. But this plan... you're talking about stealing from King Arthur to give a psychotic genie in a bottle to Dr. Frankenstein. So that he can turn your dad into a flesh golem and yes I dated a guy for a while who was really into D&D so I know what that is and it's gross. Do you really trust him to do it? Or to get Moriarty out of your mom's head? What about Doyle?"
"Doyle might be able to figure things out with my mom. Exorcising demons... that might be up his alley. Bringing back the dead? Not in his skill set."
She shook her head again, more firmly. "Gwen, no. This is crazy. This is wrong. It's going to go all to hell and you know it. I can see that you do. You're desperate, and I get that, more than you can possibly realize, but it's not going to work."
"It will work," I insisted. "I've got... a file. A plan. One that I made a few years ago, because when you're Sherlock Holmes you think about a lot of really crazy stuff, including what might happen if you're ever not yourself anymore. If you're ever not Sherlock Holmes."
I was teetering away from the truth here, but she was right: I was desperate. Holmes had said I could do this, but in the light of day I couldn't tell what was crazier: trying to bring my dad back from the dead, or trying to bring down Camelot without him.
"I made a plan. Sherlock Holmes made a plan. And I'm executing it."
She blew out a breath. "Why? Why not just walk away? I mean, I get it about your parents, and that's a good reason. But this? The Persona thing? It's not like it's all rainbows and unicorns and super powers. It's a lot of tough shit to deal with, bullshit drama and angst and messy deaths. You die and then come back - you really want to go over a waterfall? Or do half the other shit that Sherlock Holmes gets up to? Big fan of cocaine yet? You will be."
She stared me down, hard. "Maybe you're better off without him."
Memories of fire. Flames billowing, heat so intense you could die. No more laughter.
In the spray, my eyes teared up again. I took a deep breath. "You know that I'm from Yemen. Do you know where exactly I was born? As-Sa'id."
Vivian flinched. She knew as-Sa'id from satellite pictures and intelligence reports.
"It's okay," I promised. "I'm not here to blow anybody up as some sort of terrorist sleeper. My mother was my father's second wife, but she grew up in Aden. She wasn't all about the militant stuff. She took me away to Sana'a as soon as she could manage it; she was basically the whole English Lit department at Sana’a University. She kept me mostly away from my birth father."
I shook my head. "I didn't ever spend much time with him, and I don't remember much anymore. You wouldn't have gotten along, though. You'd have called him a terrorist."
The word echoed slightly amidst the hissing of the showers. I was laying my soul as bare as my body, and it wasn't all going to be to her liking.
"You're using the past tense," Vivian said, voice neutral. The mask was up.
"We got word in Sana'a one day, from one of his cousins. There had been an explosion. Not a plane: he'd been building a bomb, and I guess he crossed the wires wrong."
"It happens," she said. "Lots of bad people come to bad ends that way."
"He was my father. I didn't shed many tears, but... he used to throw me up so high. I'd squeal, and tell him to go higher. I thought that maybe, just maybe, he'd get it right and I would fly.” I swallowed. "The message was that we had to come south right away. My mother didn't want to: she was afraid we'd be trapped down there. But the cousin swore that the amir wouldn't try to marry her to another mujahadin, like they usually do with the wives of fighters. This was a family matter."
"We got there in the heat of the summer. It had been a long ride, and we got to the village after stopping at my father's grave. Our escort swore that he could smell the musk of the righteous even through the soil, but I couldn't smell anything except the qat he was chewing. There was no musk; Allah apparently didn't think my father was so holy. My mom didn't say anything, and she had to stay veiled, so I couldn't see anything but her eyes. But I could see that they were dry."
"When we got to the village, the amir came out to greet us. He didn't say much; all I remember was how he wasn't an old man like I had expected. He might've been younger than my mother. Then the women took us in to see the baby."
I gritted my teeth. "He was... he was beautiful. He had these clear, hazel eyes, I remember that so well. And he laughed, all the time. He hardly ever cried. I was in love with him immediately. He was my baby. I was eight."
"My father's first wife had been an American. He had met her while abroad during his college days, before he got religious, and they had parted ways before my mother came into the picture. The baby was hers. The women didn't want to tell us that it wasn't my father's, but it didn't take a detective to figure it out. There was no trace of him in that baby."
"His mother had left him in the village two months before, and had never returned. She'd made my father swear to protect him, and nobody could say against what. When he died... we were the only family that anyone could find."
"We stayed in the village for almost a year, and I spent every day with him. Playing. Laughing. He laughed so much..." I took a minute, caught up not in memory, but in its absence. Remembering him had been a part of who I was, too.
"His name was Qadir. It means 'fate', more or less. He was badly-named."
"The plane came out of nowhere, like they always did. We practically didn't hear them anymore, because they were everywhere, but we almost never heard them get loud. We were just outside of the village, playing in the shade of a tree while some of the men skinned some goats. They had rifles, but everybody did; it was Yemen, after all. One of the tribes might decide your people had wronged them forty years ago and it was time to get payback, or the military might decide they needed to make an example... everybody carried guns."
"By the time anyone realized how loud the plane was, it was too late. I had wandered away to pee, just for a minute. I remember screaming. Qadir was playing by the truck with one of the young guys who had a son about his age, and they were both laughing..."
I swallowed, blinked, wiped my eyes. "It was fast. He was just... gone. We left the village a few days later."
Vivian had her mouth covered with her hand. Tears sparkled in her eyes. "Gwen, I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I... I don't..."
"You don't have to," I managed. "It wasn't you. It took me a year to work out who it was. I was nine, mind you, but this is still Sherlock Holmes we're talking about. It had been a plane, but it was so unlike any strike I could find anything out about. It was just... wanton. None of the men who had been with us had anything to do with anything even remotely connected to militants, terrorists... they were farmers. Most everyone believed that America just bombed whoever they felt like, and, let's face it, that was true... but there were patterns to who America felt like killing. Sherlock Holmes couldn't miss that, either. This didn't fit the pattern. It didn't make sense."
"Until I found out my father's first wife's name: Morgan. Then it all started coming together. Then there was a story to follow."
"Morgan La Fey, Morganna... whatever the legends call her, she is King Arthur's half-sister by his father, Uther. Though Uther's second child, Arthur winds up with the kingdom. Seeking revenge, sometimes at the bidding of prophecy, Morgan gets Arthur drunk and sleeps with him. Their baby's name was Mordred."
"You don't hear about it much, but there's a dark part to the Arthurian tales. Arthur finds out about Mordred's existence. He's a young man, and is sickened by what he's done. In some of the legends, Merlin tells Arthur that Mordred is fated to kill him. Whatever his reasons, Arthur orders all children born on May Day, Mordred's birthday, to be brought to the palace. He then puts them all onto a ship, and sends it out to sea. The ship sunk, but in the legends, Mordred survived."
I sucked in a breath. "In today's version of the story, he didn't."
Vivian's face is ashen. "You're saying... you're saying that Arthur Drake called in a drone strike on a baby?” She shook her head. "How can you be sure?"
"I can't, not yet. I know that he doesn't trust Merlin, sent him out of Camelot. Maybe he feels bad," I spat. "I had insisted when we arrived in the village and met Qadir that we figure out when his birthday was, and that was the weird thing: the women all knew. Morgan had talked about it. The women said that she worried about his birthday. We had fresh fruit and cake the next May Day, to celebrate. It was a few months before..."
I paused. "I've gone back and read the papers. The plane that killed Qadir came just a few months after the Agency got signature strike authority in Yemen. Arthur didn't need a named target. He just needed a plausible pattern."
"My first day here, I met a cleaning lady named Pat. She knows everything about everyone here. She talked about Arthur. He served in Yemen at the right time. Then he came back and worked in that room on the second floor. The one nobody gets to go into without special clearance."
"ORG," Vivian nodded. "The Operational Resources Group. The Predator guys. Arthur helped get that department off the ground. Now it's his pet project." She put a hand to her temple. "You're telling me he's using it to kill people? I mean... other than terrorists?"
"I think the definition of 'terrorist' can be a little broad," I said flatly. "But no, I don't think he's done it since. Arthur is basically a good man. But I think he killed my baby brother."
"What... what are you going to do?"
"I thought for a long time that I wanted to see Arthur dead. I planned for it. I know how I'd do it. But what does that solve? My brother is still dead. This isn't Yemen, with its tribes and its feuds. I have nothing to prove to anyone. It's not enough to know that Arthur did it: I've got to know why. What possesses a man to kill a baby? Answer that, and I have my answer for what to do with Arthur."
"You make it sound simple," she said, relaxing slightly.
"It would have been simple," I agreed, "if I were still Sherlock Holmes. But I'm not anybody anymore. I'm just Gwen. That's why I need him back so badly. It's about my parents... but it's also about my brother. It's about justice."
"Girl, if you've lived the life that you've lived, 'just Gwen' could kick more than enough ass to finish this. You don't need Holmes riding sidecar to get the job done."
I smiled. "Sherlock thought the same. I hope you're both right, but I don't want to take chances, not with this. If things go sideways with Vic, I've still got a chance with Arthur."
She looked thoughtful. "So... Frankenstein. He can really bring back the dead?"
I nodded. "He can. And with Moriarty's device, he can rebuild a mind in that body. His earlier trials were... less encouraging."
"So what's the play?"
"Arthur's going to give the device to Doyle. He doesn't have anybody else who can make heads or tails of it. He gives it to Doyle, Doyle gives it to you."
"You'll make it simple. You have a certain way with the boys."
She looked thoughtful. "He's kinda cute, in a brainy sort of way. If only he could learn not to talk, we'd be getting somewhere!"
"Keep his mouth busy?"
She grinned. "I must be rubbing off on you. All right; I'm in. You got any more devious plans before I totally prune up over here?"
"A backup plan I hope we don't need. And one more thing. You can get us into that room on the second floor?"
"ORG? My badge doesn't give me access, but I have enough meetings up there with Lance and his peeps that they'll buzz me in if I ask nicely. I've got a spare suit in my cube. You coming?"
We toweled off in relative silence. Abruptly, Vivian blurted, "Gwen, you know... you know I've helped ORG with... what they do. You know that, right?"
She was drying her leg with determination, not looking at me. I answered slowly. "Yeah. I know. A lot of those guys they go after are real shit heads. They're out to make Yemen into the next caliphate, whether the people want it or not. They're convinced they know better than anyone else how things should be. They're fighting for what they see as their way of life. And they'll kill for it."
"You're saying that we're not so different," she said, toneless. "We're fighting for our way of life, too."
"You're right. You're not so different. If they had the drones, you can bet that you'd be on the run."
She looked up at me, a glint in her eye. "But we're trying, though. We're trying to make things better in Yemen. We're trying to make the world a better place."
"So are they," I said sadly. "For the record, I think they're doing it wrong. I don't think that shari’a and the caliphate are what the world needs. But they see themselves as doing exactly the same thing that you see yourself as doing. You just have bigger guns."
"Well, fuck them," she spat. "They are wrong. Maybe we don't get it perfect, but we're right-er than they are."
"Just keep that in mind next time you've got your finger on the 'kill' button. 'Right-er.' Is that worth killing over?" I shrugged. "Maybe it is. I've done nothing but study investigation ever since I cracked a book open. I've got no idea about war, if that's what this really is. Diplomacy, politics... I don't know. I don't even know if it's really 'us or them', or which 'us' I even belong to."
My eye flashed. "But I do know murder. Cold, premeditated murder. There's too damn much of it in the world, no matter who's doing it, or why. And I've got one to solve."
We were able to piece together enough clothes from the gym bag to put me into a work-appropriate outfit and get Vivian decent enough to get upstairs and swap into her spare suit. I spent a little extra time at the mirror, but one of the perks of being of the female persuasion was that it was pretty easy to make myself look like I was in my mid-twenties, instead of my late teens. I still looked young, but nobody should question why some kid was hanging around the super-secret spy office.
After a short wait, the speaker outside the ORG vault responded to Vivian's jabbing finger.
"We're here to see Lance," she said. "We're read in."
The door buzzed, and Vivian pulled it open. "After you," she waved. I stepped inside a long, dim hallway. The ORG logo stood at the end, a globe crosshatched with latitude and longitude lines, with a curve meant to be a speeding drone arcing over it.
"That easy, huh?" I whispered.
"Pretty much," she said. "There's not really a system for verifying stuff like this quickly. You know the right names and code words, and people just take you at face value. You've got a badge, you look like you belong..." she shrugged. "Somebody'll catch you eventually, but with somebody trusted to vouch for you...? Today will be a cake walk."
The hallway came to a T, and Vivian steered us to a door just to the left. She stepped through, and I followed into the heart of ORG's Yemen operations floor.
It was... familiar. As Holmes, I'd worked out how the operation was likely to run, and I'd come pretty close. There were islands of computer terminals scattered all througout the room. Probably fifty or sixty people were sitting at them, looking at screens with realtime video feeds of the Yemeni countryside. Maps were everywhere, and there were huge monitors strung all along the walls that showed whatever feed was of greatest interest at the moment. I could see people on the screens moving around near unfinished buildings, and part of me drifted back to what it was like to be in their shoes, to hear the planes aloft, to know they were there, but never to see them...
Vivian greeted a few people, steering us through the press to a young-looking guy sitting at a terminal close to the main bank of screens. No one questioned me as we approached, and I did my best not to rubberneck. We passed a glass conference room that overlooked the floor - I'd been right; they'd want to constantly see what was going on, so it had to be glass! - and I saw a small meeting going on inside. Lance was there, but his back was to us, and I hid my face in my hair just in case. Vivian would be hard to miss, she was just that kind of woman, but she at least had a history here.
I definitely should not be here. Holmes' file had prepared me for that, but it would be a lot easier if Lance never saw me.
The young guy looked up as we arrived. He had sandy blond hair parted to one side, and deep blue eyes. For want of a better word, he was scrawny. His face was drawn tight, and his limbs were all smaller around than mine. I saw a pair of forearm crutches by his desk.
He greeted us with a friendly smile. "Hey Viv," he nodded, and turned to me.
He... he didn’t look strangely familiar. I had no idea who he was. I wasn't Holmes anymore, but I was so used to that feeling of familiarity that it had come to be normal. I didn't have that now. He was just...
"Roger Stevens, meet Gwen DeGrace," Vivian introduced us. "She just got her read-in and is going to be backing me up on some of my accounts."
"Pleasure," he extended his hand to me. I shook it, and was surprised at the firmness of his grip. He might be weak, but he didn't know it. I got a tingle. It had been a while since I'd met someone who could surprise me.
Someone who wasn't trying to kill me, anyway.
He gestured with his other hand to the crutches. "Pardon if I don't get up. I would, but Vivian said she'd hit me with them the next time I tried to be 'stupidly too gentlemanly for my own fucking good'."
She shrugged at me. "Someone has to look out for this idiot."
I gave Roger a smile. "Don't listen to a word she says. Gentlemanly is cute, as long as you don't overdo it."
He laughed. "I promise I'll let you hold the door open for me. What can I do for you?"
"We've been digging on some historic information that looks like it might have some new significance," I said. "I'm looking for details about a strike about nine years ago." I gave Roger the date and location.
He turned to the terminal and started typing. “Just about… nine years ago… Back in the day, eh? What are you looking for?"
Vivian jumped in. "It looks like on of Sa'id al-Shihri's boys might have bought it in the strike. If we're right, he's got a cousin who's been mouthing off about some 'sweet girls' he wants to 'marry'. Typical martyrdom doublespeak, marriage to seventy-two virgins, you know the drill. Homeslice has been on the radar, but if he is who we think he is, he's going to be hearing from me." She lied with such ease it was amazing to behold. Even as Holmes, I'd never have been able to tell.
Roger pursed his lips. "Here we go... got it. TADS strike, so we didn't have a named target... huh... weird..."
I leaned in, too fast. Roger froze at my sudden closeness. I remembered Vivian mentioning how secretive these guys were. I backed up.
"Sorry... it's been a pet project. What's weird?"
"No, don't worry about it," he brushed it off. "It's just that there are usually more notes on these things. This one's pretty sparse. Huh ... it was D/CTC running the show, making the call. Before he was D/CTC, that is. He was really just Chief of ORG at the time. Except that I don't think it was called ORG back then. I am now talking too much because I feel like I should have something better to tell you but I don't. Though I bet I know who could tell us more about it - hey, Lance! Got an odd one."
I stiffened as I felt someone come up behind me. His lips would taste of cinnamon…
"Vivian?" Lance sounded surprised. "I heard you were in the-"
"Come on, you think a little bump on the noggin' is going to slow me down? You know better than that." Vivian didn't miss a beat. "Lance, you remember Gwen? You met yesterday at that briefing in the Library."
I turned to face him. His expression was unreadable, and I again cursed Holmes' absence. I extended my hand. "Hey," I said. "Good to see you again."
He took it, and gave it a gentle shake. His hand slid over mine so that his fingertips caressed my palm as he withdrew, and a tingle went down my spine.
"Yes," he murmured. "Good to see you, too. Roger, what was it that you were asking about?"
Oh, shit. He wasn't supposed to see this.
Vivian came to my rescue. "Actually, since you're out of your meeting, can we chat offline? We were here to see you, anyway. Thanks for your help, Roger. I'll hit you up later."
The three of us wound our way back to the glass conference room. Lance closed the door with a loud click. The buzz of the ops floor was silenced in here.
He faced us with an inscrutable smile. "So... fancy meeting you here. At least one of you is definitely not cleared to be in here. What's going on? Does Arthur know you're here?"
Vivian started to answer, but I got there first. "Arthur has other things on his mind today. It's Gw- The funeral is today."
Lance nodded slowly. "Yeah. I had to say my goodbyes earlier. Too dangerous to have us gathering in public, and... she was his wife." He gritted his teeth, clearly frustrated. "All right, so he doesn’t know you're here. Why are you here?"
I gave a coy smile. "Well... Vivian actually has work to do here. I asked her to show me the place, because apparently I’m a queen and rank has its privileges and who wouldn’t want to see this place? But mostly I was hoping you and I would get a chance to talk."
Vivian and Lance both raised eyebrows. "Oh really?" he sounded surprised. "About what?"
I looked down shyly. "Madam Elegant's."
Lance took a breath. I'd found a few things on Gwen Drake's phone, and Madam Elegant's had been one of them. It was a small, high-class hotel in Arlington, just outside of DC. Gwen Drake had taken some pains to hide it, which was odd: cell phones were personal affairs. You didn't usually worry about somebody else seeing what was on yours. Only someone else close to you would be likely to be messing with your phone... someone like your husband. Gwen had a secret that Arthur was not meant to find.
Doyle had been overly optimistic about getting Camelot right this time. I knew it from the way Lance had looked at me the first time we met: like he had every right to my body. Guinevere and Lancelot were lovers.
It was time to play the part.
"Ah," he breathed. Too brightly, he turned to Vivian. "Well, glad you're feeling all right. I won't keep you if you and Roger have stuff to work on." He moved to one side to let her to the door.
Her eyes narrowed and she shot me a look. I didn't have Sherlock Holmes' subtext-reading skills anymore, but any woman recognizes Are you sure you want to go home with this guy? when her friend is thinking it.
I gave her a gleeful little wave and said, "I'll find you later!"
Then, Lance and I were alone in a glass room, while the ops floor pretended not to watch us.
"So," he began, "you know about... things?" His eyes searched my face.
I dipped my head and turned, letting a smile curl my lips just before my hair covered them. I moved my waist so my hip slid out as I stood, half facing away from him, profile outlined against the glow of the monitors behind me.
I didn't have a damn clue if this was how real women did it, but I'd played the femme fatale in Antony and Cleopatra in high school, and she did not care about the mores of lesser women. I remembered it having a pronounced effect on high school boys. My mother had laughed and told me it had made my father uncomfortable...
"I was a morsel for a monarch," breathed Cleopatra through my lips, "but I remember you feasting on me."
Somewhere deep down, I felt a wet smile on my lips. Cleopatra approved.
I heard him gasp, and I slid a hand up my leg, murmuring, "Come stand closer to me, pretend to show me what's on these screens. I want to smell you again, like she did."
Wordlessly, he stepped closer - closer than he should have, if this were just business. Good. I needed to wipe any thought of Roger out of his brain. Keep it coming, Cleo...
"You shouldn't..." he breathed. "You shouldn't remember..."
He was trying to be skeptical, poor dear, but the Queen of the Nile was having none of it. I craned my neck around toward him and inhaled deeply. My shirt was unbuttoned enough that as I arched my back, Lance got just a glimpse inside... I purred deep in my throat, and pushed the hand I'd slid up my leg down into my pants. I felt his breath catch, and I gave a little gasp as I worked my fingers down there, pulling tugging... then slowly drew my hand back, with something black and lacy dangling from two fingers.
I pivoted in closer to him, then dipped my eyes with a sultry smile and pulled my hair back over my ear with my empty hand. I stepped back and offered my other hand to him as a handshake. To anyone watching, his body would have blocked the most incriminating bits. It would look like he'd come a little too close and we'd pulled apart: an accidental overstep, nothing more. He could save face in front of his people.
It also had the nice effect of keeping him completely off-balance. He blinked a bit, not quite comprehending my outstretched hand.
"I can't... I always used to know what you were thinking." He looked extremely confused. Inside me, Cleopatra's deep-down smile revealed teeth.
"It was very nice to see you again," I said, in a normal voice. He reached up to shake the hand that had just come out of my pants - the one holding the spare pair of panties that I'd pocketed on Vivian's advice. I went husky again. "I'd like to see much more of you tonight, at ten."
I drew my hand back and left him with a little something to think about. He started breathing again, and tucked his hand into his pocket.
"Good to see you, too." He swallowed. "I'll check my calendar."
"No you won't," I grinned, and walked out past him. I turned back as I got to the door. "You'll clear it."
I sauntered out with a swing in my hips that I hadn't noticed before. From somewhere, Cleopatra gave me an approving nod. Inside, Just Gwen did a little dance. That had been fun.
Vivian and Roger were busy looking like they hadn't been watching. She excused herself and walked fast over to me.
"Ready to go?" she asked, voice perfectly even. I could see a sparkle in her eyes, but her manner betrayed none of her anticipation.
I nodded, waved to Roger, and let Vivian lead the way back out to the hallway. Once the door clicked shut behind us, she grabbed me by the shoulders.
"I want you to tell me honestly," she looked deep into my eyes. "Black, or red?"
I giggled. "Black. Red's not my color."
"Leave enough of it on the floor, and it's anybody's color. You saucy little minx!" She let me go with a laugh, and we ambled down the hall. "I cannot believe you just did that!"
The fire of seduction I'd been channeling went out with a huff. I looked sheepish. "Was it that obvious?"
She shook her head. "Not unless you were staring as hard as I was. Did you see where the glass was melted? That was me. It helped that I'd just happened to mention that little trick yesterday. You're a quick study! Also, Roger totally has the hots for you."
I skidded to a stop. "Wha-? Really? How do you know?"
She laughed. "Come on, you pull a stunt like that and then don't see when the only real boy in the room is digging on you? How he got all gooey when you shoved your boobs in his face? Yes, you shoved your boobs in his face. Quick study or not, you've got lots to learn, like where your boobs are. Here, and here."
She reached up as if to squeeze them, and I swatted her hand away with a laugh. She stopped in the hallway, turning on me with a serious expression.
"He's good people, so be nice or I'll have to kill you."
"Lance? He's rancid!"
"Roger. He's not. He's a really good guy and I have always liked him too much to sleep with him because that really never goes well for me. Don't make me destroy you."
"Has anyone ever told you that you have violent tendencies?"
"Has anyone ever told you that you're blushing?"
"I am not!" I started walking again. "I'm sure Roger's very nice. He seemed nice. I've got a little bit on my plate at the moment, though."
"You sure seemed ready to serve that plate up to Lance. Roger noticed that too, just as an idle point of conversation."
"He did? I... totally do not care about that." I pouted. He did seem nice. Lance did not seem nice. It wasn't like there was some kind of contest, but... Argh!
Get it together, Gwen. Not two minutes ago you did not care what Mr. Nice Guy thought about you, and you can just go right back to that. What Would Sherlock Do?
"You probably don't need to worry about Roger," said Vivian. "He's really sweet, but I doubt he'd think to try to go toe-to-toe with Lance over anything, most especially a pretty girl. What, ah... what did you two talk about, anyway?"
"Having sex," I sighed. "Tonight, at ten o'clock. Give or take the time it takes to get naked. Well, possibly. I'm not sure about whether nakedness is required before we get started."
For once, Vivian didn't have anything promiscuous to say. She considered it. "Is... that what you want?"
"What, with Lance? God, no."
"Then... you're not going to be there, right?" She waited for an answer. “Right?”
"Hmm?" I'd been only half-listening. Sherlock's file folder had been a little fuzzy on exactly how to proceed, but I had a pretty good idea... "Oh, Lance is going to get laid tonight, like he's never imagined. He's going to get exactly what he expects."
"You are plotting something. Gwen, honey, tell me that you are plotting something."
"Just need a different Shakespeare, is all. Doyle owes me a purple pansy in the cafeteria right about now."
She sighed. "I'm going to take that as a 'yes' to 'plotting'."