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The Past is a Foreign Country
The Past is a Foreign Country
by


Rated PG   50K

Completed September 13, 2010

Author's Notes:  This story takes place between The Blind Banker and The Great Game.  The timing is already screwy if you try to compare events in the two episodes with other sources, such as John's Blog, so this is going to make it even muddier. 


He's in London.

John stared at the email from his old sergeant and nurse, Bill Murray.  There was only one person Bill could be referring to and John didn't like that idea at all.  

Stephen Markham.  

After all this time?  Why now? he thought to himself.  He'd hoped all of that had been left in Afghanistan or at least left with the military when he was discharged.  Of all the people from his past to come popping up ...  One thing was certain, he'd have to find a way to deal with Markham without Sherlock finding out.  He was not going to make his new flat-mate a target for a madman.  

His day didn't improve much an hour later when Sarah called.  She'd been avoiding him for the last few days, even since Shan and the incident in the train tunnel.  John knew she had called Sherlock once or twice to see how he, John, was doing, but any time he called her the conversations were short and ... safe would be the best description.

"John, I need to sort things out for myself.  I need to think, can you understand that?" Sarah's voice over the phone sounded tired, John admitted to himself.

"John, are you still there?"

"Hmm, yes. Yes, I'm here.  Sarah ..." John stopped. Forcing his voice to sound cheerful, John continued, "Where are you going?"

"I have a friend with a cottage in the country.  It's peaceful, quiet. I like to go out there; get away from the hectic city life." Now Sarah's voice held a false note of its own.  How long will we continue to play this game, he wondered.  How long before she just stops answering my calls?

John closed his eyes.  "When will you be back?"

Silence.  

"Sarah, I only want to know ..."

"I'm sorry, John.  I know this is difficult for you, too."  Another long pause over the phone.  "I'll see you in a few weeks, a month at the most.  Goodbye, John"

John clicked off the call with a sigh. Both of them were physically recovering from what happened, but the emotional wounds were taking longer to heal.

One small blessing was Sherlock was out and hadn't heard the conversation with Sarah.  It seemed someone had made off with a very expensive cat and Sherlock had been asked by the distraught owner to try and find it; not exactly the kind of case John thought Sherlock would be interested in.  When he'd asked why, Sherlock had merely replied there were some interesting aspects that warranted his attention.   

John spent the rest of the morning trying to clean the flat, but gave it up as most of the clutter was Sherlock's and John was sure no matter what he did, his flat-mate would accuse him of disturbing some experiment or other.  Instead he left the flat and walked the two miles to the Gower Street Clinic. Dealing with the everyday injuries and illnesses of others would hopefully take his mind off his own problems.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Walking home in the evening dusk, John spotted a police car parked in front of 221 Baker Street.  As he got closer to the flat he could hear two voices arguing through the still open front door; two voices easily identifiable as Sherlock and Inspector Lestrade.

"Sherlock this is the third one this month.  We need to catch this guy before anyone is hurt," Lestrade was saying.

"You're right you do.  You, not me, I have better things to occupy my mind," Sherlock retorted.

John climbed the stairs to the sitting room and walking in, saw Sherlock sitting in the leather chair by the fireplace tapping away on his computer with Lestrade pacing back and forth in front of him.  

"Better things?  What? This missing cat? You can't be serious?" Lestrade said shaking his head.

"What's going on?" John interrupted innocently.

"Oh, good, Doctor Watson, you talk to him.  Explain why this medical theft case is more important than a missing cat." Lestrade's frustration was clear in his tone.

John looked from the pacing Lestrade to Sherlock sitting in his chair calmly typing. "Theft case?" he asked.

"Yes," Sherlock started before Lestrade could say anything.  "It seems Scotland Yard can't deal with a simple smash and grab these days."

"That's not fair and you know it," Lestrade said.  

"So what is going on, then," John asked trying to keep what remained of the peace in the room.

Lestrade stopped pacing and faced the doctor.  "In the last month we've had three medical clinics broken into.  The thief is stealing the usual stuff morphine, anaesthetics."

"OK, so what's the mystery, these sorts of thefts go on all the time," John asked puzzled.

"There, you see, even John thinks there's nothing of interest in this case," Sherlock said closing his computer with a snap and standing.

"The mystery," Lestrade continued patiently, "is how they are doing it and why.  The three clinics are in three separate areas of London.  None of the personnel is the same including delivery people. Another puzzle is none of the stuff is showing up on the black market. What's the point of stealing it if not to sell it?"

"OK, I'm still not seeing," John started to say.

"Oh, I didn't get to the best part, the notes." Lestrade pulled out his pocket notebook.

"Notes?" Sherlock asked suddenly more interested.  "None of the reports I've seen said anything about notes."

"Yes, well, we do try to keep some aspects of police investigations out of the papers so as to not tip off the criminals," Lestrade answered.  "Each of the crime scenes had a note; short, written in black ink. At first we thought it was just nonsensical taunting.  The first one was 'The good doctor runs.'  The second one was 'The good doctor hides.' The third note is more serious, though 'The good doctor ... dies.' We need to find this guy, before he succeeds in killing someone"

John worked very hard to keep his face neutral and not look at Lestrade or Sherlock.  He's here.  Damn.  Bill was right. Something of his worry and stress must have shown on his face as Sherlock gave him a hard look before turning back to the inspector.

"Where are the original notes?" Sherlock asked.  "I can't do anything with this."

"What do you mean where are they.  They're in evidence.  If you want to see them, come back with me to my office. Unless you're too busy looking for stray pets."

Sherlock just glared at the inspector and moved toward the door.  "The case wasn't about the cat; it was about the man who took the cat.  Very interesting individual.  Doesn't matter now the cat case is sorted"

John didn't move, he needed time to think and figure out what he was going to do about Markham.  

"Coming, John?" Sherlock asked from the bottom of the stairs.  Lestrade also looked back up at him a Sherlock spoke. 

"Yes, I'm coming," John said and followed Lestrade down the stairs. He noticed Sherlock studying him intently as John reached the front door, but he ignored it and hoped his friend would forget about his odd behavior once the thrill of the case captured his attention.

He should have known better.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sherlock watched John out the corner of his eye as the cabbie drove them to Scotland Yard.  Lestrade had offered to drive, but Sherlock refused. Arriving at a police station in the back of a police car might give people the wrong impression.  And greatly amuse others, Sherlock thought.  

John was sitting looking out the other window and very obviously not looking at Sherlock or asking any questions.  Which means of course he knows more than he's telling.  He'd seen John's reaction to the notes from Lestrade's crime scenes, he'd watched as John's face went from interested in the case to completely blank.  So there's something he doesn't want me or Lestrade to know. Well he can try to keep it a secret from the good inspector, but not me. Sherlock busied himself with his mobile and left John to gaze out the window.

Lestrade met them as the cab pulled up and led them up to his office.  He made a couple of phone calls and a few minutes later an officer arrived with three small evidence boxes.  Sherlock started pulling bagged items out of the boxes as Lestrade thanked the man and closed his office door.  The notes were near the top of each box and Sherlock was eagerly opening the bags when he felt John nudge at his arm and hand him a pair of gloves.

Sherlock carefully removed the notes from the bags and laid them out on Lestrade's desk under the strong desk lamp.  He studied each of the notes in minute detail, seeing everything from the type of pen used to the grain and quality of the paper.  He also noted the detail Lestrade had left out, each of the notes contained several groups of letters running along the bottom of each sheet.

Putting down the last note, he sat back with a look of satisfaction on his face.

"Well?"  Lestrade asked.  "The lab says the paper is good quality, but old."

"Yes, well I wouldn't expect them to get much," Sherlock replied.  "Your correspondent is late forties, early fifties, male, well educated and probably a retired doctor but not a well off one."  He glanced at John to gauge his reaction.  John stared back, saying nothing; his eyes though gave away Sherlock wasn't too far off the mark.  

"All right, break it down for me," Lestrade said resignedly.

"The notes are written as you say on good quality paper, but it's old, he hasn't bothered to buy more. Similarly, the pen he used has a curved tip and hasn't been manufactured for at least ten years. Both of these things show he was a man of means once, but not any more. The style of his penmanship says he's male and was either at grammar school thirty years ago or was taught by someone who was rather old fashioned.  I think more the former."  As the timing works better for John knowing who it is.

"And being a doctor?" Lestrade asked, jotting notes as Sherlock spoke.

"That one, Inspector, I have to say you probably wouldn't get as you don't have the same advantage I do."  As the inspector rolled his eyes, Sherlock continued, "John."

John started as his name was spoken.  We do have a secret my friend.  John turned away from Sherlock and walked over to the other side of the room.

Lestrade also glanced at the doctor and turned back to his desk with a confused look.  "Doctors have a rather distinct way of writing; very different from other professions," Sherlock said. "I see John's handwriting all the time; I can easily pick out the similarities."  

Sherlock picked up one of the notes and studied it again.  "The text of each note is very short in an effort to conceal these facts," he mumbled.  "The real question is what are these smaller letters supposed to be?" Sherlock noted that JHW and WRM were combinations appearing on all three notes.  He suspected he knew exactly what one of them meant.

"We don't know," Lestrade admitted.  "Some of them look like they could be initials, but they don't match any of the names of personnel working at the clinics.  We're running them against street names, maybe they form words.  I'll take any other suggestions you might want to offer."

Sherlock glanced around the office and noted John wasn't paying any attention to the conversation; he seemed to be studying a large map of central London taped to the window.  Sherlock noted the map was marked with colored arrows at three different locations around the city.  "The arrows mark the locations of the robberies?" John asked turning to face the inspector.  

"Yes.  You can see they aren't in the same neighborhoods; they don't even serve the same sorts of patients.  If it weren't for the messages, we'd chalk them up as random."

Sherlock wandered over the map and looked at it closely for a minute or so.  He traced several different lines to and from each of the crime scenes with his fingers and with an enigmatic smile said, "Oh no, Inspector, not random at all."  And walked out the office.

Sherlock was ready with a taxi when he saw John follow him outside a few minutes later.  The cab ride back to Baker Street was just a silent as the trip to Scotland Yard.  This was fine with Sherlock, he was sure getting John to talk was going to be hard enough without the cabbie for an audience.

Once back at the flat, Sherlock gave John just enough time to settle in his chair by the fireplace and open his laptop before casually saying, "So, did you notice anything interesting about Lestrade's map?"

Sitting at the small desk by the window, Sherlock had his back to his friend, but he heard the sigh and the soft click as the laptop was closed.  

"Interesting?" John asked.

Sherlock smiled down at the desk, Gotcha.  "It seems an amazing coincidence don't you think that if you look at the locations of those robberies, a path from all three intersects right along a certain block of Baker Street." Sherlock turned to see John sitting with his head sunk into the back of the chair and his hands over his eyes.

He moved from the desk to the chair opposite John's.  "Map coordinates that seem to lead to our front door, your initials on notes left at crime scenes and you trying to hide behind a thin veil of bland disinterest.  All this tells me you're involved somehow."

"Sherlock, I don't want ..." John began, glaring at his friend. He took a deep breath and started again, "Sorry," he mumbled with a small smile.  "I don't want you involved," he said firmly. John stood and paced around the room.

Sherlock gave him the physical space, but refused to drop the subject.  "I'm already involved," he pointed out.  "Lestrade is involved. The sooner you tell me what's really going on, the sooner we can all stop being involved."

John sat heavily on the sofa.  "Damn," Sherlock heard him whisper softly. "This was never supposed to be like this."

Sherlock waited a few minutes, but when it appeared John was happy to let the silence continue he said, "John, talk to me.  What is going on?  Who is this person obviously threatening you?"

When John started talking, he spoke so soft Sherlock barely caught the words.  "Have you ever heard of a place called Sangin?  No, of course you've haven't.  No one's heard of it ... and so many died ... "John's voice trailed off.

Sherlock stayed seated in his chair by the fireplace.  "What happened at Sangin, John," he asked softly.

For the first time since they got back to the flat, John really looked at his flat-mate.  As Sherlock watched him, John relaxed a little.

"That would be a very long story."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Before the war, Sangin was one of the centers for the opium trade in southern Afghanistan," John explained.  "It was an area the Taliban wanted to hold on to, to keep the trade going.  There was a small medical team lead by Major Stephan Markham attached to the larger troop movement sent into the area to take control of the town, both to push out the Taliban and to stop the opium trade in the area."

John stopped talking and stared, unseeing, at his hands resting on the table in front of him.   He could still see the run-down buildings; smell the dry, dusty air. The few trees in the town, straggling bushes really from the nearby hills, were soon cut down by strafing fire. The regional governor wanted the British Army to clean out the town for him. Some of the townsfolk wanted help, most though, either sympathized with the opium traders or were too afraid of them to offer information or assistance to the Army there to try and help.

Sherlock surprised him by staying near the fireplace and silently waiting for him to continue.  

"What was supposed to be a quick push and settlement of the area, turned into one of the bloodiest engagements of the war.  We were essentially pinned down in the town for months and Major Markham ..."

John stopped again. He took a deep breath, held it and then let it out in a sigh.  Major Markham, commander of the medical team and fifteen years John's senior.  He'd been a career military man from a career military family and he'd looked the part, too, with short-cropped, grey hair and an air of command; perfect for a recruitment poster. His winning smile and tenor voice could put anyone at ease and the Army liked using him on missions dealing with the local Afghan populations.

"The medical team consisted of two doctors: Major Markham and myself, one nurse, that was Bill Murray, you've met him, and a pair of orderlies.  We weren't supposed to be deployed in the town for more than a couple of weeks so the small number was supposed to be sufficient.  As the situation went on and we were getting more and more wounded in the encampment, we had to get more and more creative.  Bill and I were busy with patients most of the time or trying to scrounge supplies; Major Markham, however ..."

"Major Markham found a willing seller and started taking opium," Sherlock finished for him.

John nodded and stared out the window.  "We didn't figure it out for awhile, not until the Major started making mistakes during surgery.  It was a delicate situation as Markham was our commanding officer; we couldn't just make accusations, we had to have proof to back up our suspicions.  When we did report it and Markham was arrested, he was almost in an opium stupor.  He was court marshaled and dishonorably dismissed the service."

Sherlock went back to the desk and sat down.  "When was this?" he asked, keeping his voice low.

John focused on Sherlock again and replied, "Oh, several years ago now.  He was sentenced to some jail time, and treatment for the opium addiction."

"So he could be out on the street now," Sherlock said.  

John nodded once. "Bill has a brother who works at MOD. He warned me when Stephen was released eight months ago, but I didn't hear anything else from him or about him. I guess I'd hoped Markham had forgotten the messages he'd written after he was arrested and moved on."

"What did the messages say?"

"You saw an example of them tonight.  The ones he wrote back then were less lucid, but the meaning was still clear: JHW is the good doctor and the good doctor will suffer."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"I'm going out," John said passing the door to the sitting room on his way downstairs the next morning.  He could see Sherlock at the desk by the window doing something with his computer.  

"Hmm?" was the only response.  

John was on the landing putting on his coat, when Sherlock stuck his head out the sitting room door.  "Where are you going?" he asked.

"Just out." Sherlock made a face and John continued, "Out, for a walk.  Maybe to the clinic to see if they need help this morning."

"Take a cab," was Sherlock's advice.

Oh yes, and we've shown just how safe cabbie's can be
, John thought.  "Too expensive and I want the exercise."

Once outside, John started walking aimlessly.  He wasn't trying to be mysterious; he really didn't know where he was going.  All he knew was the flat was feeling confining and he needed to be outdoors.

Stopping at the clinic, John spoke to the receptionist who was outside helping a patient into a cab and found out the day's list of patients was light enough the regular staff could handle it.  He thanked her and left feeling at loose ends.  He didn't want to go back to the flat and just wait for Stephen to do something.  

The sidewalks were bustling with morning commuters and John thought of calling Mike Stamford to meet up for coffee. He patted down his jacket pockets and suddenly realized he'd left his mobile at the flat.   So much for that idea, he thought.  He started walking in the direction of St Bart's Hospital, but changed his mind.  He wasn't really in the mood for conversation.  

He stopped at a coffee shop and taking the cup with him, continued wandering.  Eventually he found himself outside Sarah's flat.  He stared up at her windows and considered his relationship with her.  Was it really a relationship?  One disastrous date and kidnapping was usually not the best foundation for long term success with a woman.  Maybe Sarah wasn't to only one who needed to do some thinking.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He'd tried ignoring the phone when it started ringing, but when it showed no sign of stopping, Sherlock picked it up and answered with a gruff, "I'm busy."

"Yeah, I know you're busy," Lestrade's voice said.  "I'm about to make you a lot more busy. There's been another clinic hit."

"Where?" Sherlock asked.

"Not too far away from you, Gower Street.  And, Sherlock, there's another note: 'bye-bye, good doctor'."

Sherlock suddenly remembered John wasn't in the flat.  When did he leave?  When was he coming back?  

"Sherlock!" Lestrade was saying.

"Yes, all right, I'm on my way."  Sherlock rang off. He picked up a few items and stuffed them in his coat pockets.  As he headed out, he noticed John's mobile sitting on the table by the door.  Plan B better be in place, he thought.

The Gower Street Clinic was a scene of controlled chaos when Sherlock arrived.  He ducked under the police tape outlining the perimeter and took stock of the drama in front of him.  Nurses were trying to calm the few patients sitting along one wall; police officers were doing their best to get statements from both.  No sign of John, was he working here today? He spotted Lestrade in the doorway and walked over.

"Broad daylight this time," Sherlock commented.

Lestrade nodded. "It looks like he wanted us to see him." The inspector led the way to a small office at the back of the clinic. "He's on two of the cameras inside the clinic; we're checking CCTV around the neighborhood to see where he went after leaving here." The inspector spoke to a police technician who brought up the footage of the robbery for Sherlock to see.  

The camera showed an older man with a drawn, haggard face smiling at the camera as he walked into the clinic.  He strode past the empty reception desk and was picked up by a second camera outside the dispensary.  A few seconds later, he left by the front door stopping to drop something on the receptionist's desk and waving to the camera as he passed under it.

"So that's the mysterious Major Markham," Sherlock mumbled to himself bending over to see the frozen image waving at the camera better.

"What was that," Lestrade asked now alert.  "You know who this is?"

"Not exactly," Sherlock mumbled distractedly.  He straightened and glanced around the room.

Lestrade turned to the tech. "Out."

The tech stood up and left, closing the door behind him.  Sherlock wasn't sure if he saw the man covering a grin or not.

"You will talk.  Now.  I want to know what's really going on here and you are going to tell me."  Lestrade stood with his back against the door and arms crossed, essentially trapping Sherlock in the room.

"Was John working this morning?" Sherlock asked.

"How should I know if he was working?" Lestrade asked angrily.  "Answers, Sherlock, now."

"I'm giving you answers, Inspector." Sherlock yelled back. "John Watson is your answer.  The man in your footage here, I suspect, is ex-Major Stephen Markham, military doctor late of Afghanistan and John's commanding officer. Oh, and he wants to kill John for ruining his career."

With that Sherlock pushed past the inspector and out the door.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Eventually John found himself at Regent's Park.  He smiled thinking it was only a couple of months ago he was walking along the same path when he met Mike and his life completely changed for the better.  No more cane, no more therapist.  Of course there was a lot more danger; some of his friends probably thought he ditched the therapist too soon since he considered this a better life.  

John sat on one of the benches in the park and just watched the people passing in front of him.  I wonder how many are being threatened right now by some psychopath, he thought to himself with a grim smile. He turned as he heard a step behind him and came face to face with Stephen Markham.  Markham looked closer to sixty than fifty. His hair was longer now, and his face was a maze of wrinkles and folds, but the military bearing was still there.

"Hello, good Doctor.  I see the reflexes are as sharp as ever," Markham said in his soft tenor.  

"Stephen," John replied keeping his tone even.  He watched as Stephen walked around to the front of the bench and sat down.

"Mind?" he asked "I've so wanted to have a nice long chat with you, John.  I've been waiting four years, you know."

"Stephen, why are you doing this, really?"

Markham ignored the question.  "You know, John, I've been following your career for a long time.  I still have a few friends in the service who pass along the latest camp gossip.  You got even more interesting when you came home. Would it surprise you to learn I was actually concerned for you when I heard you'd been shot?"

John didn't answer; instead he turned his attention back to the people around him.  A mother with the two young children was leading her charges away from a man pushing a cart.  The cart looked to have all his worldly possessions in it including a small dog.  There was a young couple picnicking under a tree and a group of teenager boys trying very hard to impress a similar group of teenage girls.

"It's true," Stephen said seemingly ignoring John fuming next to him. "I was worried you'd kick off on me before we could have this chat, you see. I know exactly what the bullet did to you; I suppose it was good old Sergeant Murray who pulled you through it all. He's next on my reunion list.  I hear he got married, I should go meet the new bride don't you think?"

John turned and glared at him.  "Stephen what happened to you was of your own doing."

"Wrong, good Doctor," Stephen answered sharply.  A passing business man glanced over at the raised voices then went back to his mobile conversation. "It was that place.  It was where we were and what we'd been told to do. It was you and that sergeant you had in your pocket turning me in."  Stephen gripped John's arm.  "The pipe was just a way to cope, it didn't hurt anyone.  But no, you had to play the good doctor and report it."

John jerked his arm free and stood.  "Stephen, you nearly killed a man in surgery because you were high. What was I supposed to do, wait until you'd actually succeeded in killing someone?"  John moved away from the bench and started walking.  The conversation was drawing additional looks from the people in the park. He noticed the man with the cart was now talking to a woman with a large carry all over one shoulder; every now and then the man would glance in John's direction and look away.  

Stephen followed as John walked along the path.  "I see you've stopped using the cane," Stephen commented.  To anyone passing it would almost sound friendly.  "Have anything to do with your new flat-mate?"

John swung around to face Stephen in the middle of the path. Gripping the front of Markham's shirt, John pulled Stephen under a nearby walking bridge.  "You have a problem with me, Stephen, fine.  I'll deal with it," John hissed angrily.  "You leave him out of it."

"Such touching concern," Markham purred.  He stepped back from John and continued, "I don't really care about your little friend.  Consulting detective?  Really?  No matter though.  He's off investigating my little diversion anyway."

"What do you mean diversion?"

"Oh, did I forget to tell you?  I broke into your clinic this morning.  Left a last happy message about your forthcoming demise.  I figure that will keep him busy for as long as I need."  With that Markham pulled out a syringe.  "Fitting don't you think?" he asked and grabbed John's arm.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sherlock was standing at the corner reading a scrap of paper when Lestrade caught up with him.

"How long have you known about this Major?" Lestrade asked stopping at Sherlock's side.  

"Not long," Sherlock said turning to the inspector.  "And we were going to tell you.  Things just got ahead of us."

"So you say now," Lestrade replied.  "You think Doctor Watson was working at the clinic and Markham kidnapped him?"

"No, not after seeing the camera footage," Sherlock said.  "I don't know where he went when he left this morning, but it wasn't to the clinic."

"Well, why not just call him and find out where he is now?" Lestrade asked.

Sherlock smiled.  "It would be nice if, for once, it really was that simple.  Unfortunately, John didn't take his mobile with him when he left." He suspected John had left the phone behind for exactly this reason.  He didn't want to be found. "No way to call him, no handy GPS to track him. So, I'll just have to find him another way."

"Another way? Do I want to know how legal this is?"

"Perfectly legal, Inspector, what do you take me for?" Sherlock started walking down the street until he spotted a taxi heading in the right direction and hailed it.

"I take you for a man who's known more about this case than the police!  You're also a man who knew his friend was in danger and just let him walk off without a question," Lestrade answered stepping around to the other side of the cab and opening the door. "In short, you're a man I'm not letting out of my sight."

Sherlock didn't like the accusation or the reprimand he heard in the inspector's voice. He would have been just as happy to leave Lestrade standing on the corner as the taxi left, but as the inspector climbed into the cab, Sherlock resigned himself to the company and gave the address of their destination to the driver.

The taxi dropped them at the entrance to Regent's Park.  As Lestrade stepped out, he shook his head. "The park? Why here?"

Sherlock held up the scrap of paper. "Because this is where John is. Did you really think, Inspector, I wouldn't take steps to find him regardless of whether he wanted to be found or not?" Sherlock didn't wait for an answer; he started walking along the park paths looking for his informant.  

Near a tree, Sherlock found who he was looking for, an old man pushing a cart with a small dog sitting on a pile of blankets at the front.  The dog wagged its tail as Sherlock walked up to the man.

"You've seen him?" Sherlock asked.

The man ignored the question and watched Lestrade warily.  

Sherlock tapped the man gently on the arm.  "Have you seen him?" he asked again.

The man nodded and pointed toward a walking bridge.  

"Was he alone?"

Glancing at the inspector, the man shook his head and started pushing the cart in the opposite direction from the bridge.  

"Damn," Sherlock said and started walking quickly toward the bridge.

"What?" Lestrade asked.  "What did he tell you?"

"John is somewhere around the bridge and Markham is with him."

"Damn," Lestrade said and they both started running.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

John jerked his arm out of Markham's reach and backed away.  The walking bridge over their heads thumped occasionally as someone passed over, the under section of the path was only used by the residents of the nearby flats and didn't see as much pedestrian traffic. John wasn't sure what Markham would do if some innocent passerby interrupted them so made sure to keep Stephen isolated under the bridge.

Now would be a good time to have a mobile, though, he thought to himself.  

"Really, John, this won't hurt much," Stephen was saying, moving to close the distance between them.  Seeing Stephan face-on, John noticed his eyes were constantly moving and his hands twitched.  And that mystery is solved.  Stephen has been making new drug cocktails with what he stole from the clinics.  Dealing with him was going to be twice as dangerous.

As Markham moved closer, John shifted again so his back was toward one of the exits from the bridge.  Every time Markham came closer, John moved away.  Keep him under the bridge and engaged, John thought. And think of a way to get the syringe away from him.

"Stephen, what's in the syringe?" John asked as calmly as he could.

"This and that.  The nice thing about being a doctor is you can design all sorts of new combinations," Stephen answered and lunged at John.  John moved out of range and the dance started again.

"You were supposed to get treatment for the addiction, what happened?"

"Nothing happened.  I went; I played their game for months."  Stephen stopped moving.  "I was in the stockade for three years," he said sadly, for just a moment the soldier John had respected was back.  "Major Markham with a long and respected career, stripped of rank, stripped of everything."  Stephen glared at John and shouted, "And it was all because of you!"

John watched as the emotion played across Stephen's face.  The soldier was gone, possibly forever now, and the drug-crazed madman was back.  He was focused on keeping Stephen occupied and didn't hear the sounds of someone coming until it was too late to stop whoever it was from running right into them.  As soon as Stephen turned to see what was coming toward them, John leapt forward and tackled Markham around the knees, sending them both to the ground.

The syringe went flying and Stephen went berserk.  A lucky kick to John's ribs and he was free for a moment as John was stunned by the sudden lack of air.  Stephen started to scramble away and stand, but John wasn't going to let him get far; he lunged forward and grabbed one of Stephen's ankles again bringing the ex-soldier down.  Stephen was screaming obscenities, kicking and hitting both John and the ground. John could hear new voices yelling, but all he was concerned about was keeping Stephen from hurting some innocent park-goer.  

Something blocked John's view of Markham and someone else was pulling him off Stephen. John realized the man in front of him was Inspector Lestrade.  Where did he come from, John wondered.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sherlock could see John and Markham under the bridge as he ran toward it.  Lestrade had slowed long enough to pull out his mobile and call for assistance, but Sherlock wasn't waiting. Markham must have heard him coming and as he turned in Sherlock's direction, John pulled him down by the knees.   

As he neared the entrance, Markham squirmed enough to get one leg free and kicked at John trying to hold his legs and must have landed the blow as John suddenly let go. Markham scrambled to his feet and spun around and Sherlock had a brief glimpse of wild eyes and bared teeth before John grabbed Stephen from behind again.  Markham was screaming and battering at the ground, with an occasional blow hitting John.

As Sherlock moved under the bridge Lestrade caught up. The inspector got between John and Markham enough to grab one of Markham's wrists and twist it behind his back and up. John still held on to Markham's legs as Lestrade pulled Stephen's other arm around behind his back and restrained his hands with a pair of plastic cuffs. Sherlock stepped behind John and helped him get far enough away from Markham to allow Lestrade to deftly wrap second pair of plastic bands around Stephen's ankles.

"Are you all right?" Sherlock asked letting John go.  John was panting and holding his side. Stephen was still snarling at John from the other side of the path and both Sherlock and Lestrade stayed between Markham and the doctor.

John nodded, bent over and tried to catch his breath.  "I'm fine," he said with a slight wheeze. "He just winded me is all." John took a deeper breath and looked around.  "Where did you two appear from anyway?" John watched as more police arrived at the bridge and took Stephen away.  It took two officers to carry him and a third to make sure he didn't squirm free to get him into a waiting ambulance.

"You mean how did I find you when you tried to make sure I couldn't?" Sherlock asked bluntly.

John looked away.  "I didn't really mean to, you know.  I didn't leave this morning thinking I'd try to take on a drug addict alone.  And thanks by the way, for finding us, however you did it."

"You're welcome," Sherlock replied smiling now as they walked past the police line and into the park.

"Hold it!  You two aren't going anywhere just yet," Lestrade said from behind them.

John grinned and mumbled, "And so close, too." as Sherlock spun around and walked back toward the waiting police inspector.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


It was late afternoon before Sherlock and John got back to the flat.  John was exhausted and Sherlock wasn't much better. Lestrade had kept them both for hours going over everything from what John could say about Afghanistan to the wrestling match under the bridge.  Sherlock was sure the inspector prolonged his interrogation as long as he did as revenge for not being told all the facts sooner.  

John sat on the sofa with a groan.  Even though he said he was fine, Sherlock suspected John's ribs had to be aching.  "If I asked if there was any food in, would I regret it?" John asked.  

"Probably."

John was half asleep when Sherlock sat down beside him.  "So where did you go this morning?"

"Hmm?" John replied opening his eyes.  "Nowhere really.  Just wandered around.  I checked at the clinic to see if they needed help.  I guess it's lucky for everyone there weren't many patients today. I don't want to think what Stephen would have done if he'd found me there instead of the park."

Both sat in amiable silence and Sherlock wondered if John had drifted off again when he heard John say quietly, "He's going to get out again someday, you know."

"Maybe. Lestrade has whole pages of things he wants to charge him with; attempted murder of a certain retired Army doctor heads the list."

"He was a good soldier once. And a good doctor," John said sadly.  

A few more minutes passed and Sherlock made a decision and stood.  "Come on, we need to find you something to eat.  Low blood sugar makes you a depressing person to be around, do you know that?"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Historical Note: Sangin, Afghanistan is a real place.  In July 2006 British troops were ordered to take the town from the Taliban control.  They were under siege by both Taliban and local opium growers for the next nine months.  You can read more about it here: Wikipedia


Last Updated ( Saturday, 18 September 2010 )
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