Round Robin

Part 27

by Maureen (mobrien at dnaco.net)
3/8, 9, 11, 12 - 3/25/02

This got a bit long, so I don't think I'll be able to type it all in tonight. And tomorrow I'm going to the annual Arthur Conan Doyle Symposium over at Wright State, so if I don't get the rest typed in tomorrow morning, you'll have to wait till tomorrow night.

Of course, if you don't think it's done enough then, somebody'll just have to write an epilogue.

When we left our heroes, Lestrade had just introduced the Dragon Lady to Holmes' fireplace and she was getting congratulated. But what were their strange allies up to?

Over by the door to the stairway, Moriarty listened as one of Holmes' assistants...what was his name? Byron? No, Tennyson... beeped something. Moriarty frowned with concentration for a moment before his face cleared. "Stationer speedtalk," he concluded.

Fenwick looked skeptical. "But Master, why would a keed from New London use a code from the independent space stations?"

"An interesting question, but there is no time to pursue it. The boy was reporting that the police are on their way."

"Alors! But how could he know? All transmissions are still being jammed."

"Another interesting question," Moriarty said patiently. "But while we wander in this garden of bright images, are we not neglecting matters of almost equal importance?"

"Master? What do you mean?"

"That it is time to go," Moriarty snarled, "and that I am surrounded by fools!"

Fenwick cringed and opened the door. Then his corpselike face took on a crafty expression. "No one is as clever as you, Master. But I, I am not such a fool that you do not need me!" Grinning, he scuttled out like a good little minion to take point.

Moriarty sighed to himself. "Quite true, unfortunately." He stroked his chin. "Too bad I can't send him to the crimnotiser again." He took a step toward the door.

"Leaving so soon?" Holmes inquired sweetly from over by the fireplace.

Moriarty turned back to him and bowed ironically. "I wouldn't want to take advantage of your hospitality."

Holmes bowed in return. "I am desolated."

"Ah, but think of the day when I can return your hospitality, without the pressure of any artificial truce!" Moriarty was pleased to see Holmes' composure slip for a moment. Ignoring the young people, he turned to the annoying but enchanting Inspector. "Congratulations on your victory, my dear, and thank you for removing a substantial obstacle from my path."

"Don't flatter yourself," she frowned. "A crime war would have been a real menace to New London. Even worse than you."

He would have bantered with the woman further, but he could hear the sound of ion engines from streets away. Instead, he bowed to her, one hand on his heart and the other extended in a flourish. "As long as I know you are thinking of me often." He strode out, laughing.

Lestrade growled. 'My dear'? Moriarty, you're gonna be my b.... She pounded down the stairs, determine to ionize the sucker as soon as he put one toe outside the truce area.

Holmes caught up to her a moment later. "If you fire, you'll alert the Dragon Lady's hirelings outside."

"More than Moriarty and Fenwick leaving?"

"You may have a point."

They heard the back door -- the one that led out to the little back garden with the plane tree -- open. So maybe the Dragon Lady's people won't notice, Lestrade thought.

But Holmes accelerated, calling out frantically, "Mind the hive! All the laserfire will have stirred them up! The frequencies...."

The back door closed. Holmes made it downstairs and the back door opened again. Then she heard the unmistakable hum of angry bees. It was followed by yelps from Moriarty and Fenwick, until the sound was cut off by Holmes hastily closing the door again. Lestrade grinned wolfishly. Served 'em right! She hurried the last few steps to the back door, hoping she hadn't missed all the fun.

She found Holmes frantically digging around in the closet under the stairs for his beekeeper's suit. He dragged it out at last, along with a cloud of dust. Holmes usually tended the hive out back in his shirtsleeves, giving him a chance to lecture on how calm, healthy bees were no danger to humans. Obviously bees with attitude were a different story. As he put on the coverall over his clothes, she stepped past him and peered out the window in the back door. "Moriarty and Fenwick just climbed over the garden wall," she reported with disappointment.

"Never mind them," Holmes snapped. "My bees! Where is that spray bottle of ApiCalm...ah!" He snatched it. "I must hurry. There'll be ionizer fire once the police arrive, and...." The hum of hovercraft engines grew louder. Holmes put on his veil and gloves and grimly sped out the back door.

Lestrade, shaking her head, went back upstairs. The Dragon Lady's bodyguards were right where she'd left them, standing by the still-unconscious crime boss as Watson attended her. They knew they'd be getting arrested as soon as the police got there, but the police could only sic the law on them. The consequences of abandoning the Dragon Lady could be much worse. She looked out the window hopefully as the sound of engines grew, and watched the police arrive in a triumphant swoop of rather battle-stained cruisers.

The cavalry didn't arrive until much later. An army hovercraft made an abrupt landing worthy of Lestrade. An irate colonel exited the driver's side, followed by a rather seasick-looking aide from the left-hand side. The colonel marched down to where the action was and demanded of the first person he saw (who happened to be a constable guarding 221B from rubberneckers), "Where is the hacker?"

"Sir," the colonel's aide whispered, "perhaps we should be a little more discreet, given the security breach."

"What hacker?" the constable asked. "All we've got are gangmembers."

"The hacker who...never mind! Where is your superior officer?"

Yes, I've been visiting a lot of beekeeping sites lately. Holmes' attitude about the proper way to do beekeeping is derived from the articles at midnitebee.com. The author has a marvelous disdain for the old way of keeping bees (smoke, suit, etc) , knows bee lifecycles intimately, and talks a great deal about the difference between beekeepers and beeHAVErs. Enjoy and learn!

More after I fix this little computer problem....

"The hacker who...never mind! Where is your superior officer?"

A stocky man with white hair emerged from within, beaming with unaccustomed geniality. "I'm Chief Inspector Charles Grayson of New Scotland Yard. How can I help you gentlemen?" He extended his hand.

The colonel looked down disdainfully at the rolls of fat around Grayson's waist that his police jacket failed to conceal. Only then did his eyes rise to Grayson's face, ignoring his hand entirely. "We've traced a hacker over to that building across the street," he announced importantly. "I'll need ten of your best." But even as the colonel waved his hand at Camden House, a line of evidence techs began to emerge from the building. "What?"

"We've just captured a large chunk of two rival gangs. The Dragon Lady was making a play to eliminate Moriarty at his HQ over there." Greyson nodded toward Camden House. "So someone under Moriarty's orders hacked into your systems, did they? I'll admit we had a problem with the fellow ourselves, a while back, but we upgraded our security after that. Why didn't your lot?"

The colonel's face turned red. "Never you mind. Where's that hacker?"

The constable laughed. "Wouldn't like to be the one in charge of that. Heads'll roll!"

"So you didn't catch this Moriarty?" the colonel asked nastily. "Civilians! Useless!"

The Chief Inspector obviously bit down on several answers in the interest of interagency goodwill. "At any rate, if you want to know who hacked your system, you'll have to ask Moriarty -- or wait until we've studied the evidence and made our report. Now, if you'll excuse me, this is a crime scene, and here you're the civilian, Colonel."

The colonel stomped off. His aide hurried to Grayson's side with an infocard. "Here's how to reach us," he said apologetically. "I know the Colonel can be difficult, but...."

"So I see." Grayson leaned over conspiratorily. "It wasn't so many years ago when I was a cybercop myself. So don't worry. We'll let you know how that hacker got in, so you can fix it."

The aide went off a somewhat happier man. Grayson watched smugly as the army hovercraft retreated in disorder.

"A very one-sided battle, Chief Inspector," Holmes said from behind him. "So you were once on the Computer Crimes beat? That would explain a great deal."

Grayson turned. Holmes was still dressed in that beekeeper getup, though he'd taken off the mask thing and the gloves. "Calmed down those bees in your bonnet, have you?" the Chief Inspector said, too pleased with himself to say anything really cutting. "Maybe if you'd been spending less time with bugs, you'd've noticed Moriarty was living just across the way. But I'm glad you could join us."

"Lestrade had matters well in hand," Holmes said, unruffled. "As a responsible animal owner, I was acting to protect public safety. Bee stings are not particularly appreciated, even if they are good for the joints; and unfortunately they are fatal to the bee. Of course you already knew the true identity of the hacker."

"I do." Grayson looked at Holmes suspiciously. "Of course, the compudroid's report made it quite clear that Inspector Lestrade was under the influence, and thus not responsible for her actions."

"That is not what I meant, and you know it." Holmes' tone hardened. "Just as you knew more about Lestrade's past than you chose to reveal. Her life was endangered, and you...."

Grayson looked back at Holmes coldly. "May I remind you, _Mister_ Holmes, that you first told me that you knew where Lestrade was? If you'd told me you needed a lead, I just might have told you something, mightn't I? But you didn't.

"I gave her my word I'd say nothing about it, and I don't go back on my word. Otherwise," he said under his breath, "I might not have a certain nosy parker on my hands."

Holmes inclined his head, conceding the point for now. "But the Robin Hood Hacker was one of your cases."

"Yes, of course. And I had a pretty good idea who our hacker was, from fairly early on, but there wasn't any proof of illegal entry. She had a motive, but if we could make arrests on motive we'd all be crypnotized. And frankly, we weren't any too keen to stop someone who was making herself useful," Grayson admitted. "Then she ran off. It looked suspicious, but still no evidence and no way to trace where she'd gone off to. The trail had gone cold. But then she turned up in my office one day...."

He could still see the skinny girl she'd been standing before him, ragged and wary, her eyes following his every move. "I can prove who I am," she said, not stopping for breath. "There's a mark at the bottom of every email I sent to the police. You never published it, but it looked like this." She held up a printout with an arrow drawing made from a mixture of letters and numbers, like something from back in the BBS days of the 1980's. They'd searched the centuries-old ASCII art galleries in vain. The Robin Hood Hacker might imitate, but wouldn't copy.

"You're a minor, _and_ you need a solicitor here," he'd interrupted. "Not to mention your grandparents...."

"But I don't care if I go to prison!" she'd interrupted in turn. "You can crypnotize me as much as you want, but first I need you to listen to me! The Dragon Lady's got this plan to...."

"The Dragon Lady?" He'd stared at her incredulously. "What do _you_ know of the Dragon Lady, girl?"

"More than you think." Her young eyes were dead serious. "I've been undercover in her gang...."

"You could've knocked me over with a feather," Grayson told Holmes. "We raided her HQ in the Underground that very day. Got some of her distributors aboveground, too. Hauled in nearly everyone but the lady herself. We handed Lestrade back over to her grandparents and sent them off to a safe house in the countryside till things cooled off. Any charges against her went away, of course. And I told her that if she could keep her grades up and her nose _out_ of other people's computers, there might be a place for her in the Yard." He chuckled. "My chief thought I was just humorin' the girl. But then, she didn't know how much Lestrade was like her dad."

"You knew her father?"

"'Course I did. He was a friend of mine." Grayson smiled complacently. "So there's another thing you didn't know."

Holmes looked ruefully at his gloves. "I have never claimed to be omniscient, Chief Inspector. Both in beekeeping and detection, one may spend a lifetime in practice and still be a student. So there are always surprises -- some more pleasant than others." He handed Grayson a box full of evidence vials. "I hope Tech Sergeant Cardones was not too stung too badly. Rest assured that any evidence that was in the garden has been collected now."

Lestrade spent most of the next few hours in the hospital, as Watson and a gaggle of human physicians alternated scanning and questioning her with low-voiced discussions about her case. They finally let her out again after stern warnings on the subject of head injuries, druggings, and what you shouldn't do after them.

So of course she went back to Baker Street to get questioned some more. At the moment, she was beginning to question her sanity.

"But why didn't you tell us you did all this stuff?" Deidre demanded, while Tennyson beeped agreement with impressed eyes.

Wiggins frowned at his younger friends. "It all sounds pretty absolute zero to us, but I bet it was bad news at the time."

"You said it," Lestrade admitted. Images of the past flitted through her memory. "And it wasn't anything to be proud of. I should have talked to my grandparents, and asked my dad's old Yard buddies to look into it for me. It would have saved everybody a lot of grief." Her attention returned to the present. She fixed the Irregulars with a stern eye. "So when I say that kids should stay out of investigation, I'm speaking from experience."

They shifted uneasily in their seats. But Holmes looked at Lestrade challengingly. "Ah, but so am I, Inspector, when I say that kids should stay in."

Lestrade mock-groaned. "I should've kept the amnesia."

"Nonsense," Watson said firmly. "You could no more forget to investigate your situation -- or worry about people -- than Holmes could abandon his poor bees. Speaking of which, how _is_ the hive, Holmes?"

Holmes either took the hint or charged off on his hobbyhorse. "We seem to have lost at least thirty workers."

Wiggins looked skeptical. "Thirty? But that would mean Moriarty and Fenwick got stung fifteen times each." He grinned. "Not a bad idea, but...."

Tennyson beeped.

"Yeah, that forensic copper too," Deidre agreed. "Still sounds like a lot."

Holmes accounted for each dead bee with agonizing detail. Then he segued into a lecture on the problems posed by a disturbed colony. "Here in town, there is very little danger of wild bees robbing the hive," Holmes concluded, "but the garden ants may well detect the scent of bees in disarray and try to steal food. I have spread certain chemicals on the ground around the hive stand to prevent this. So I would appreciate it if both that ground and the bees were left alone for the next few days."

"In other words, stay out of the back garden," Wiggins summarized. "Sure thing, Mr. Holmes." Everyone else nodded.

Holmes' worried face lightened. "Thank you. No doubt this seems like a lot of fuss about a few bugs, but I care about their welfare. And they have much to teach us. They are nothing but organic machines, and yet they will sacrifice their lives for their hive."

Tennyson keyed in a comment that he was glad humans had more sophisticated ways to take care of robbers.

"Ah, but what of offensive war? What is it but housebreaking on a grand scale?"

Watson's voice turned very dry. "I believe my predecessor was told that the purpose of war was not to die for your country, but to make the other fellow die for his."

Lestrade looked down sheepishly. She should have remembered _that_ entry during the early part of the fight.

The discussion raged on, till at last Holmes leaned forward in his chair. "Surely the ultimate defense of one's country or cause, would be to induce one's potential opponents to join the cause."

Deidre shrugged. "Yeah, and from what I hear that's how that Cold War thing ended."

"You're forgetting the economics of the situation," Lestrade objected.

"All right, mostly how. But anyway," Deidre continued, "I don't see how that would work with an opponent who's really _evil_. You know, like Moriarty. The only thing you could do is put him in prison or kill him."

Lestrade rubbed her aching head. "Uh, Deidre, I hate to break it to you, but aren't you forgetting that the Soviet Union starved, shot and otherwise killed several _million_ people?"

Wiggins nodded. "Makes Moriarty look pretty small on the evil scale."

"Nor do I think Moriarty will require prison or death to stop his crimes," Holmes murmured. "He has already tired of them."

Deidre stared at Holmes. "You 'ave got to be kidding me!"

"Not at all. Consider Moriarty's most recent actions. With all that he could have done with an amnesiac inspector in his power, he simply tried to integrate her into his illegal activities and his life. In other words, he thought of settling down." Holmes' steepled fingers covered his expression. "When one considers that his brothers -- the colonel and the stationmaster -- married at approximately the same age that our Moriarty considers himself to be, it is perhaps not surprising. And Deidre, I would appreciate it if you would stop making that gagging sound."

Deidre did so under protest.

Holmes continued, "Moriarty is far too sensible to dangle after the Inspector indefinitely. He'll find someone more willing. Deidre, it really is unnecessary to add these sound effects."

Tennyson chimed or rather keyed in, to the effect that even criminals sometimes try to settle down or go legit.

"Particularly for the love of a good woman," Watson said.

Deidre gagged again. Lestrade had to admit that she concurred. But she confined herself to remarking, "Tennyson, I think you've seen _The Godfather_ one too many times. As for you, Watson, I don't even want to _think_ what you've been watching. A criminal with the love of a good woman just exploits the woman to make him money or get him conjugal visits."

"But surely you could be a good influence...." Watson said, his tone of voice suspiciously innocent.

"We will not ask the Inspector to sacrifice herself," said Holmes, his tone unexpectedly sharp. "Marrying to 'change' someone is extraordinarily foolish, and marrying for some odd conception of duty has produced more murders than the combination of tequila and handguns."

Wiggins grinned. "Shouldn't've said that, Mr. Holmes. The Inspector might do it if she gets to do him in."

Tennyson commented that it wouldn't be police brutality, either -- just domestic violence.

Lestrade laughed. It was a raw bark of a laugh, but at least she could manage one. She was glad, suddenly, that the drug hadn't been permanent. She couldn't think of any place or people she'd rather be with. But it was funny that without it, she might never have had to remember so much about where she had come from and why she was who she was.

She looked over the kids' heads as they kept on talking and tried to catch Holmes' eye so she could tell him so. But she found that his gaze was fixed on her already, and the expression on his face was so open that she felt as if she'd seen the man naked. His ears colored slightly. She looked away, finding it difficult to breathe.

So she hadn't been imagining things earlier. And maybe Moriarty wasn't the only guy thinking of settling down. She looked back up. Holmes looked at her a little warily. She suppressed a wicked grin. "Well, I hate to cut this short," she announced at an appropriate break in the conversation, "but I'm an invalid without a cruiser. So I need to mooch a ride home."

"Then I will drive you," Holmes said, looking resigned. Lestrade suppressed another evil grin.

Deidre did not. She also opened her mouth to say something, probably teasing, but Watson interrupted, "It is getting late. You Irregulars had best start back. Remember, you have school tomorrow."

Somehow among all the moans and groans, last minute face-stuffing, and gathering up of Irregular belongings, Holmes and Lestrade were able to leave 221B without any Irregular commentary -- although Holmes did insist on ducking into the garden to check on the bees one last time. Beth decided that she was gonna have to apologize to Watson for the reading comment. That robot was a mastermind.

She strapped herself into the passenger seat on the left hand side of the hovercoach. Holmes gave her another wary glance. He knew better than to think she wasn't just going to ignore this and let him off the hook. She smiled at him demurely. No, she wasn't going to wait too long to deal with this. Just long enough to make him wonder.

Holmes glanced suspiciously at the woman beside him. Lestrade in a bad mood was like a stormwind, gusting steadily against all in her path. The crackle of ozone was exhilarating -- if one stayed under shelter. But Lestrade in a playful mood was something infinitely less predictable, like a tornado on a warm day. Having discovered the joys of biding her time against the Dragon Lady, she was now applying it against him. He couldn't decide whether to be amused or afraid.

"Traffic is lighter than usual tonight," she observed, apparently absorbed in the world outside her window. "Lets you see the sunset better, though."

"It's pretty enough," Holmes returned. "I had no idea you were such a nature lover."

She turned toward him and shrugged, her lips curving ever so slightly. "Oh, I have lots of interests. I just don't usually have the opportunity to...pursue them."

"Really? What sort of interests?" he returned weakly. Now he wasn't sure if he was amused or appalled.

"Well, you know I like collecting old books," she purred. "There's just something about the feel of leather and the smell of old paper. You run your fingers through the pages or run your fingers up and down the spine, and you're touching something hundreds of years old. Maybe never really enjoyed before -- I've bought books before where the pages were still uncut. I was the first one to love them the way they deserved -- from cover to cover." Her eyelids closed dreamily as her voice dropped. "Sometimes I read them in bed and sleep with one next to my pillow."

A horn blared. Holmes whipped his eyes back in front of him just in time to see the oncoming hoverlorry. He whipped over the steering wheel in a move worthy of the woman beside him and managed to evade it by inches.

Silence fell inside the hovercoach. "Sorry," Lestrade finally said contritely. "I didn't mean to distract you."

"You did mean to," Holmes said grimly. "And you succeeded. Perhaps we should wait to resume this conversation until we are on the ground." He drove in silence for a few moments, then glanced over at his companion. Her white face made him relent. "Not that I was reluctant to be distracted," he admitted.

She snorted, only half-unhappy. "So I noticed."

They reached Lestrade's building without further incident or flirting. Holmes got out and walked around to open Lestrade's door, but she had already climbed out by the time he got there. They walked to the lift and rode it in uneasy silence. There was something about a near-death experience that put a damper on an evening.

The lift door opened and Holmes walked Lestrade to the door of her flat. Her front door, down the little side hallway, not the kitchen door that fronted onto the main corridor, where Lestrade had hit her head just a few hours before. Then they stood looking at each other.

"Hey," Lestrade said finally, "I never thanked you for taking me out to eat."

"Probably because you skipped out before the bill came."

She grinned. "Well, I love Kochanski's. And it's not every day a guy recommends a restaurant based on my takeaway garbage."

He smiled reluctantly back at her. "Perhaps some other time we can actually finish a meal there."

"How about next Saturday?"

He stared at her.

"It's not like I sign your paystubs anymore, since Grayson took over supervising you," she said gruffly. "I can ask you out without it being harassment. If you're interested, that is."

"I think we can safely assume that," he admitted.

"Good." She nodded to herself nervously and smiled. "Great! Is seven a good time? I'll let you know if there's a case holding me up."

He nodded numbly.

"Oh, and I almost forgot," she said, her voice growing gruffer in an attempt to conceal her growing nervousness. "Thank you for taking me out. I had a great time until the Dragon Lady's compulsions kicked in." Moving a little stiffly where her bruises were beginning to tell, she tipped up her face and kissed him. Her lips were soft on his. After a few seconds he found that he had one arm around her waist and the other hand in her hair. With the better leverage, he kissed her in return.

After a few more seconds, they released each other as if by mutual agreement and stared at each other for a moment more. "I'd better be going, then," Holmes finally said.

"Yeah," she said. "I'll see you."

Holmes put his hand into his pocket. "Ah," he said cogently, and dug out its contents, a bit worse for wear. It was a little bouquet of flowers wrapped in a bit of paper. He held them out to her.

She took it, unwrapping it to see the blue flowers with tiny yellow centers that reposed within. "So this is what you were doing when you went and checked on the bees," she said.

"When I remembered they were in bloom, I couldn't resist," he explained.

"What are they?" she said, obviously sensing a joke she wasn't getting.

"Forget-me-nots."

She groaned and smiled and disappeared inside. With any luck, she would accept the obvious meaning. It would be just a little embarrassing if she looked up the old language of flowers, and discovered that forget-me-nots once meant 'true love'.

THE END

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