Prepare yourselves, Sherlock fans! We have a sneak peek inside THE CASE FOR JAMIE, the third book in the Charlotte Holmes quartet by Brittany Cavallaro—and trust us when we say this series just keeps getting better and better!!
In THE CASE FOR JAMIE, it’s been a year since the shocking death of August Moriarty, and Jamie and Charlotte haven’t spoken. Jamie is going through the motions at Sherringford, trying to finish his senior year without incident, with a nice girlfriend he can’t seem to fall for. Charlotte is on the run, from Lucien Moriarty and from her own mistakes. No one has seen her since that fateful night on the lawn in Sussex—and Charlotte wants it that way. She knows she isn’t safe to be around. She knows her Watson can’t forgive her.
Holmes and Watson may not be looking to reconcile, but when strange things start happening, it’s clear that someone wants the team back together. Someone who has been quietly observing them both. Making plans. Biding their time. Someone who wants to see one of them suffer and the other one dead.
*Gasp* We know right?! Start reading the first 3 chapters of THE CASE FOR JAMIE now!
It was January in Connecticut, and the snow hadn’t stopped falling in what felt like forever. It gathered in the window wells, in the hollows between the bricks of the rebuilt sciences building. It hung from the boughs of trees, tucked itself up in the root systems below. I shook it from my wool cap before every class, ruffled it out of my hair, pulled it from my socks. Underneath, my feet were rubbed red. I found it everywhere, snow that never seemed to fully melt, that lingered on my backpack and my blazer and, on the worst days, my eyebrows, melting down my face in the warmth of first period like it was sweat, like I was guilty of something.
When I got back to my room, I took to laying out my parka like a body on the spare bed, so that the snow could drip somewhere other than into the carpet. I was tired of having wet feet. A wet spare mattress seemed less important. But as the winter stretched on, it was hard not to see a metaphor in that pathetic almost-man, especially on those nights that I couldn’t sleep.
But I was done finding metaphors everywhere.
Maybe I should start here: there aren’t a lot of benefits to being framed for murder. Once I would’ve told you that meeting Charlotte Holmes was the only good thing that came out of that mess. But that was my former self speaking, the one who mythologized that girl until I couldn’t see the person beneath the story I’d made up.
If I couldn’t see her for what she was, what she’d been all along, then I’d had trouble seeing myself clearly as well. It’s not an uncommon delusion, the one I had. The Great Big Destiny delusion. That your life is a story that twists and turns its way up to a narrative precipice, a climax, the moment where you’ll make the hard decision, defeat the villain, finally prove yourself worthy. Leave some kind of mark on the world.
Maybe it started when I read my great-great-great-grandfather’s story about Sherlock Holmes going over the Reichenbach Falls, after finally vanquishing the evil Professor Moriarty. A great sacrifice made by a great man—to defeat great evil, Holmes had to give himself. I studied “The Final Problem” like I’d studied all the others, using those tales to cobble together an instruction manual for adventure and duty and friendship, the way any kid looks for models, and then I’d clung to those ideas for years longer than I should have.
Because there aren’t any textbook villains out there. There aren’t any heroes. There was Sherlock Holmes, who faked his own death and reappeared three years later like nothing had happened, expecting to be welcomed with open arms. There were selfish people, and there were those of us who yoked ourselves to them out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.
I knew now that it was stupid, the way I’d obsessed so much over the past—not just my own ancestry, but over the recent past, the months I’d spent with my own Holmes. I’d lost too much time over it. Over her. I was done. I was changing. Butterflies, chrysalises—whatever. I was building one. I was going to emerge from it a more realistic Jamie Watson.
At first, it was hard to stick to the plan. When I’d gotten back to Sherringford from the Holmeses’ estate, I’d found myself more than once on the fourth floor of the sciences building without any real memory of taking myself there. In the end, it didn’t matter. I could have knocked on the door of 442 as long as I wanted. I wouldn’t have gotten an answer.
It didn’t take long for me to decide that moping wasn’t doing me any good. I had to take stock. On paper. Instead of making a story out of it, the way I’d done in the past, I’d be objective. What had happened to me since the day Lee Dobson turned up dead in his room? What were the facts?
The bad: dead friends; dead enemies; utter betrayal; widespread suspicion; heartbreak; concussions; kidnappings; my nose broken so many times that I was beginning to look like a two-bit boxer. (Or like a librarian who’d been violently mugged.)
My father and I were on speaking terms, now. I was beating him at cell phone Scrabble.
As for my mother—well, not a lot of good there, either. She’d called the other night to tell me she was dating someone new. It’s nothing serious, Jamie, she’d said, but the hesitancy in her voice suggested that, in fact, it was. That she was afraid I’d bite back with the same resentment I had for my father, way back when I was a child, when he’d met and married Abigail, my stepmother.
“Even if it is serious,” I’d said to my mom, “especially if it is. I’m happy for you.”
“Okay.” A pause, then: “He’s Welsh. Very kind. I told him you were a writer, and he said he’d like to read some of your stories. He doesn’t know how dark they are, but I imagine he’d like them anyway.”
Those stories that I wrote, the ones that were all about my own life. They weren’t stories at all, and my mother knew it. She just couldn’t bring herself to say it aloud.
Weirdly enough, that was the last straw—not the list of pros and cons, but the realization that the months I’d been friends with Charlotte Holmes were so depressing my mother was handing out content warnings.
Ten minutes in the headmistress’s office, pleading my case, and I was packing my things to move down a floor in Michener Hall. I’d used the whole wrongfully-accused-of-murder thing to wrangle myself a single room. That excuse was a year old, but it still held water. It got me what I wanted. No more roommate to stare at me while I cried. No more anyone at all. Just me, alone, so I could rebuild my life into one I actually wanted to be living.
So time passed, as time tends to do.
It was January again in Connecticut, and it wouldn’t stop snowing. I didn’t care. I had a literary magazine to edit, drills for the spring rugby season, hours of homework every night. I had friends, new ones, who didn’t demand all my time and patience and unearned trust.
It was my final semester at Sherringford. I hadn’t seen Charlotte Holmes in a year.
No one had.
“I saved your spot,” Elizabeth said, pulling her bag off the chair beside her. “Did you bring—”
“Here,” I said, pulling a can of Diet Coke out of my backpack. The dining hall had done away with soft drinks last year (and the all-day cereal bar, a loss we were all publicly mourning), but my girlfriend neatly sidestepped the rules by keeping a six-pack of soda in my room’s mini-fridge at all times.
“Thanks.” She popped the top and poured it into a waiting glass of ice.
“Where is everyone?” I asked, because our lunch table was empty.
“Lena is still microwaving her tofu. She’s trying this soy sauce–honey thing this time, it smelled awful. Tom’s therapist had to reschedule his session, so he’s there, but he should be almost done. Mariella’s still in line with her friend Anna, she might sit with us today, and I don’t know where your rugby bros are.”
I grimaced. “I saw them over by the bread. I think they’re carbo-loading.”
“Gettin’ huge,” Elizabeth said, in a credible imitation of Randall.
This was an old joke; I knew my line. “Huge.”
We snickered. It was part of the routine. She got back to her burger; I got back to my burger. Our friends showed up, one by one, and when Tom finally arrived, he patted me on the back and stole a fistful of my fries. I raised an eyebrow at him, the how was therapy eyebrow, and he shrugged back that it was fine.
“Are you okay?” Elizabeth asked. In my darker moments, I thought it was her favorite question.
She nodded, looking back down at her book. Then looked back up. “Are you sure? Because you sound a little—”
“No,” I said, too quickly, then forced a smile. “No. I’m fine.”
It was like a dance I knew all the steps to, one I could perform upside down, backward, on a sinking cruise ship that was also on fire. In the fall we ate on the quad; in the spring, the steps outside the cafeteria. It was winter, so we’d claimed our usual table inside by the hot bar, and I listened to the low hum of the lights keeping the food warm. Mariella and Tom went over their odds of getting into their choice of college early decision. They were supposed to hear this week (Tom, University of Michigan; Mariella, Yale), and they couldn’t talk about anything else. Lena was texting someone under the table, eating her tofu with her free hand, while Randall and Kittredge compared bruises from practice. Kittredge was sure someone was digging holes into the rugby field at night. Randall was sure that Kittredge was just a clumsy asshole. Elizabeth, as always, was reading a novel next to her tray, deaf to everyone else as she turned the pages in her own Elizabeth-world. I never knew what went on in there. I didn’t think there was enough time before graduation for me to find out.
More than anyone else I knew, Elizabeth was competent. Frighteningly competent. If her uniform pants came back from the tailor a half-inch too long, she’d learn how to hem them herself. If she wanted to take both Shakespeare and Dance II, and they were scheduled for the same time, she’d have an independent study in Romeo and Juliet Through Irish Step Dancing approved by the end of the day.
If the boy she’d had a crush on came back to school heartsick and bitter, she’d wait a semester for him to get over himself before she asked him out. Go with me to homecoming? the note slipped in my mailbox had said, this past fall. I promise not to choke on a diamond this time.
I’d accepted. I really wasn’t all that sure why, at the time—though I wasn’t still mourning my and Holmes’s not-relationship, I hadn’t been looking at girls. Mostly, I’d been studying. It was as boring as it sounded, but if I didn’t bring up my grades, there wasn’t any possibility of me getting into college anywhere, much less where I wanted to go.
Dobson’s murder won’t excuse your grades forever, you know, the guidance counselor had said. Though it’ll make for a really compelling college essay!
So I studied. I played rugby, both seasons, in hopes that if my grades still weren’t good enough, some dream college somewhere was looking for a wiry English halfback. I took Elizabeth to homecoming out of a sense of duty—that plastic diamond down her throat was more or less my fault, even if I hadn’t put it there myself—and to my surprise, I’d had a better time with her than I’d had with anyone in months.
It hadn’t surprised Elizabeth. “You have a type, you know,” she’d said, laughing under the dance floor lights. Her blond hair was in long, ribbonlike curls, and she had this bright necklace that swung as we danced, and when she laughed, she did it with her whole body, and I liked her. I really liked her.
I had the strange sense that I was taking an old chapter of my life and writing over it until the text beneath was gone.
“What’s that?” I asked. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to hear the answer. Already, with the music, the smoke machine—I had one foot in this year and one foot in the last.
But she’d grinned at me, wickedly. It was a different kind of wicked than what I was used to. Wicked without secrets. Wicked without danger. It was the smile of a smart girl who was coming into her own, who knew she was about to get the thing she wanted.
“You like girls who don’t take any of your shit,” she’d said, and kissed me.
She was right. I liked girls who pushed back; I liked girls with thoughtful eyes. Elizabeth had both, and even if sometimes I got the sense that I was an item on her checklist that she had successfully crossed off (Date boy you crushed on freshman year), well—
Well, it was more my own bullshit than anything I got from her. Because, as usual, I was staring out the bright-lit window, thinking about my essay for AP Euro, my problem set for calculus, about the million other balls I had up in the air—and more than that, convincing myself that I did need to think about them, that I needed to make myself care.
Then someone dropped a tray behind me with a sharp pop and a clatter, and I was back there again.
Me on a lawn in Sussex, August Moriarty at my feet, blood on all that snow. Police sirens edging closer. Charlotte Holmes’s white, chapped lips. Those last few seconds. That other life.
“I’ll be right back,” I said, but no one was listening, not even Elizabeth, lost in her book. At least I made it to the bathroom before I started to dry heave.
One of the lacrosse starters was in there washing his hands. “Brutal,” I heard him say over my retching. By the time I came out of the stall, I was alone.
I braced myself against the sink, staring at the drain, the fissured ceramic around it. The last time this had happened to me, it’d been a slammed car door, and that time the nausea had been followed hard by rage. Horrible, mind-bending rage, at Charlotte for making assumptions, at her brother, Milo, for gunning a man down and getting away with it, at August Moriarty, who’d told me, two weeks too late, to run—
My phone pinged. Elizabeth, I thought, as I fished it out. Checking on me. It wasn’t a bad thought.
But it wasn’t Elizabeth. It wasn’t any number I knew.
You’re not safe here.
That feeling, like someone hit Play on a movie I’d forgotten I was watching. A horror movie. About my life.
Who is this? I wrote back, and then, horrified, Is that you? Holmes?, and then I called the number once, twice, a third time, and by then they’d shut the phone off.
Leave a message, it said. I stood there, stunned, until I realized I’d let it record a few seconds of my breathing. Hurriedly, I ended the call.
I made it back to our lunch table somehow, my head crackling with dehydration and fear. Elizabeth was still reading. Randall was eating his third chicken sandwich. Mariella and Kittredge and that Anna girl were bitching again about the cereal bar, and there was a whole ecosystem here, a landscape that functioned fine without me.
Why would I put any of this on them? What did I want to do, go back to being some kind of victim? Even Elizabeth, the person I’d usually turn to, couldn’t help me here. She’d dealt with enough because of me.
No. I squared my shoulders. I finished my burger.
I kept one hand on my phone, just in case.
“Jamie,” Lena was saying.
I shook my head.
“Jamie,” Lena repeated, frowning a little, “your father’s here.” I was dully surprised to see him hovering over our table, his wool cap dusted with snow.
“Jamie,” he said. “A bit in your own head?”
Elizabeth smiled up at him. “He’s been like this all day,” she said. “Off in dream land.” I didn’t point out that she’d been ignoring all of us in favor of Jane Eyre.
I put on a smile as best I could. “Ha, yeah, you know. Lots of, uh, school things. Schoolwork.”
Across the table, Lena and Tom exchanged a significant glance.
“It’s true,” I said, and my voice wobbled a little. “Uh, Dad. What’s up?”
“Family emergency,” he said, sticking his hands in his pockets. “I’ve already signed you off campus. Go on, grab your bag.”
Oh God, I thought. This again. Plus, I wasn’t sure if my legs would hold me if I stood. “Can’t. French class. We have a quiz.”
Tom frowned. “But that was yester—”
I kicked him, weakly, under the table.
“Family emergency,” my father said again. “Up! Come along!”
I ticked it off on my fingers. “AP English. Physics. I have a presentation. Stop looking at me like that.”
“Jamie. Leander’s waiting in the car.”
A surge of relief. Leander Holmes was one of the only people I could be around when I was like this, all shaky and strange. I knew as well as my father did that he’d played his trump card, and that I’d lost this round. I packed up my things, ignoring Lena’s stage-wink across the table.
“See you tonight,” Elizabeth said, already back in her book. But then, she was used to this by now.
“I actually do have a presentation in physics tomorrow, you know,” I told my father as we left the cafeteria.
He clapped a hand on my shoulder. “Of course you do. But that’s hardly important, is it?”
When I was five years old, I convinced myself I was psychic.
It wasn’t a wild conjecture. My father had always said to build only on fact, and the facts were there. For a solid week, I’d been having dreams about going to London. These dreams were based on fact. My aunt Araminta had to go to settle some financial affairs, and she’d offered to take my brother and me along and after, to a national history museum to see an exhibit on dinosaurs. Milo was mad for the stegosaurus.
In the dream I’d been having, we stepped off the train into a smoky station. My aunt bought us both a pretzel. We had to wait a very long time in a marble lobby, and Milo pulled my hair, which was in curls. My hair was never in curls; it was impractical to take that much time on one’s grooming. At his teasing, I cried—this was an oddity, I did not ever cry—and we did not go to the museum.
When the day finally came, everything went off as I’d dreamt. My mother had wound my wet hair up into a bun before we’d left, and in our compartment, when I pulled the hair elastic out, my hair had dried into a mess of ringlets. We were bought pretzels at the stand in the station. At the bank, my aunt conducted her affairs in an office with frosted-glass windows, while we were made to wait in the marble lobby. For a very long time. I could not stop fidgeting, and since we were not allowed to fidget, Milo reached out and yanked one of my curls. It hurt, but I did not yell. We were not allowed to make noise. We were not allowed to do much of anything at all, except notice everything about where we were and remember it for later, and we had been four hours in that lobby, and I had to use the toilet very badly. I had a horror of wetting my pants. I could not imagine what would happen to me if I did.
At that thought, I started to cry. I had never done so in public before, not since I was old enough to remember, and Milo reached out to pull my hair again, a warning—Milo was twelve, old enough to want to keep me from experiencing the consequences of these things, but not old enough to express himself in a rational manner—just as Aunt Araminta came out of the office to find that tableau. Me weeping. Milo prodding me. “Children,” she said, in a voice like cold water, and at that, I couldn’t hold it anymore.
We didn’t go to the museum. We took the next train home.
Hours later, before bed, I rapped on my father’s study door. I intended to apologize briefly for my actions before telling him what I had deduced about my being psychic. He would be proud, I thought.
My father listened while I laid out my case. He did not smile. But then, he rarely did.
“Your logic is flawed,” he said, when I had finished. “Correlation isn’t causation, Lottie. Your mother bathes you in the morning at seven o’clock. Araminta was fetching you at half past. It makes absolute sense your mother wouldn’t have time to do your hair, and that she would put it up, as she always does on such occasions. You knew about the pretzel stand at the station, that Araminta could be persuaded to buy you a treat. As for the bank, you knew you would have to wait, perhaps long enough that you wouldn’t have time to make your special trip to the museum. You ensured that possibility with your behavior.”
“But the dreams—”
“—cannot predict the future, and you know that.” He frowned at me, hands folded. “The only thing that can is the reasoning of the waking human mind. As for the situation with the toilet, I trust that won’t happen again.”
I kept my hands behind my back so he couldn’t see me fidget. “Aunt asked me to wait.”
“Yes.” A muscle above his eye jumped. “You are only to follow rules that are reasonable. It is reasonable to stand up, inquire about the nearest bathroom, and use it before returning to your seat. It is not reasonable to create a mess for others to clean up.”
This made sense to me. “Yes, Father.”
“It’s time for bed,” he said, his frown loosening a bit. “Professor Demarchelier arrives at eight tomorrow to go over your equations. I can see from your fingernails that you haven’t finished your homework yet. Now, tell me how I knew.”
I stood up slightly straighter, and did.
Only follow rules that are reasonable.
The issue with this axiom is that very few rules are reasonable when examined closely.
Case in point: there are laws that forbid locking someone in a closet against their will. On the whole, this seems sound—violation of someone’s personal autonomy, potential damage to the closet itself—and yet I had at least seven reasonable reasons for keeping this particular bullyboy locked away until I acquired the information I was looking for.
Not that he was much of a bully or a boy. He was a passport office worker, and we were in his building after hours. There is nothing efficient about that description: passport office worker. It said nothing about his ruddy face, or his New Jersey accent, or how easily I’d been able to corner him here, on this Sunday night, to make my demands.
Sometimes language ultimately fails us. It would be most accurate to refer to him as my mark.
“I’ll tell the police,” he threatened. He was rather hoarse at this point from all the threatening.
“That’s an interesting decision,” I told him, because it was. I was sitting with my back to the closet door, examining an unfortunate scuff on the toe of my boot. To clean them, I would have to purchase mink oil again, and though minks are vicious, they are also small and fragile-seeming. (I realize I am a hypocrite here—my shoes are made of leather; leather comes from cows; cows should not be thusly punished for being less adorable, but regrettably, here we are. The world is cold and bitter, and I continue to wear my wing-tip boots.)
He was talking again. “Interesting?”
“Interesting because you’d have to explain to NSY all the falsified documents I found in your office.” From my pocket I pulled a photocopy example (EU passport, expiration 2018, name TRACEY POLNITZ) and slid it, folded, under the closet door.
A rustling as he opened it. “That’s not a fake, you stupid little girl—”
“The original didn’t have an RFID chip. It failed a UV test. The watermarks and microembossing didn’t hold up to basic flashlight analysis—”
“Who are you?” I couldn’t hear him run a hand over his sweaty face, but I knew he did it just the same.
Irrelevant question. “I want any documentation you’ve forged for Lucien Moriarty.”
“I don’t have anything by that name—”
“Of course it wouldn’t be under his name. I understand that you’re familiar with his aliases; when he flies to America, and he does so frequently, he always touches down at Dulles here in D.C., no matter the expense. I’ve tracked his flights for the last six months. Do you think that there’s a reason that he only arrives on Wednesday?”
“Let’s try this. How long has your mistress been working Wednesday nights? Convenient that she’s a customs officer, isn’t it. Convenient that her RFID reader always reads positive, even when the passport’s chip isn’t there.”
Silence, and then the sound of a fist striking the door.
At that point I’d finished examining my boot. That scuff was a simple fix, really, and once I was no longer dressed as this near-version of myself (black clothes, blond wig) and instead as someone so far afield from me as to be a kind of personal moon (Hailey, a confection made entirely for the male gaze), I would go have them shined. I was only mostly-myself tonight because the man in the closet had seen me in every other disguise I had at my disposal, and I wanted my appearance at his work this evening to be a stealthy one.
I digress. My shoes, as I said, would be fine, so I instead picked up my hammer.
“This is how the next five minutes will happen,” I said, lofting it. The dull metal looked black in the late-evening light. That was a detail that Watson would notice, and at that realization I heard my voice grow harder. “Either you give me every last one of Lucien Moriarty’s aliases and their corresponding passports, or I’ll return to your house and let myself into your son’s bedroom. I’ll make sure he’s sleeping. Then I’ll smash this directly into his throat.”
My father had taught me to always wait a second for emphasis, so I did. Then I drove the point home—in this case, I swung the hammer into the closet door at speed.
The man inside yelped.
“I can be there and gone in the time it takes you to crawl out of your miserable little hole. Or we can bypass that whole tedious process, and you can provide me with the information I’ve requested. Out of respect for your emotional turmoil, I’ll give you thirty seconds to consider my offer.”
“You’re Genna,” he said wonderingly. “You were Danny’s girlfriend. The one that he met at the dog park—”
It was out before I could stop myself, in Genna’s please-please-like-me voice. “Oh wow, Mr. B, your terrier is adorable. What’s her name? I always wanted one, but my parents never let me. She is so lucky to have a family that loves her this much! Look at her little tail!”
He didn’t respond for long enough that I had the fleeting fear that I may have given him a stroke. Then I recognized the scrap of sound coming underneath the door for what it was—he was crying.
I looked down at the hammer in my hands.
I had, lately, been coming to terms with the knowledge that I could be cruel.
Given the facts at hand about these past few years (thanks, again, to Watson), this might sound like a facetious revelation. I wasn’t a prize on the best of days, but I hadn’t ever parsed out why.
I simply was what I was—a girl who had forged herself into a statue. I’d believed it best to look for the cracks and flaws in others, to chart them, to exploit them, to smooth my own flaws over until I gleamed like marble. I needed to be impervious. I told myself I was until I believed it. Unfortunately, what followed was a series of explosions. It’s a fine thing to be a stately marble column in a city. It’s something else entirely to find yourself in pieces while that city burns.
It felt like that city had been burning for a very long time.
Every night before I slept, I shut my eyes and remembered what had happened the last time I’d properly lost my head. I thought about August. August, who believed in fighting your worst instincts, in hope and in the police and probably in puppies and Christmas, who had loved me like I had been his own impossible shadow. August, who had only been in Sussex because I’d wanted to watch him suffer.
It was too much for me to think of it as a story. I had to pull it apart into disparate facts, hold them up one by one in the light.
- Lucien, after his failure to string me up on false murder charges in Sherringford, had come up with a new plan.
- Blackmail, aimed at Alistair and Emma Holmes, my parents, and my favorite uncle, Leander.
- The terms: either they keep Leander out of the picture, and away from the forgery ring supporting his siblings, Hadrian and Phillipa, or
- Lucien would alert the government to the existence of my father’s only assets, a series of offshore bank accounts lined with Russian money.
- When they initially refused, Lucien ordered my mother’s home care nurse—a woman under his employ—to poison her.
- My parents told me none of this.
- Instead they ordered me away to my brother Milo’s offices in Germany, where August Moriarty was working in his employ. There, they imagined, I would be safe.
- In the meantime, my mother gained the upper hand on her home care nurse while our house’s security system was off, dressed the nurse as herself, then drugged her. Then staged the scene to appear as though their positions hadn’t been flipped.
- This involved wigs and costumes, and in that way (and only that way), it was after my own heart.
- Leander hid in their basement while my parents debated their next move.
- To reiterate: I knew none of this.
- For a long time I used that fact to absolve myself of guilt.
- Nota bene: Lucien Moriarty was orchestrating these schemes from abroad, untouchable, unreachable, and soon enough he disappeared from even my brother’s surveilling eye.
- In a sick sort of way I admired him for that.
- All I had figured, all I had learned, was that Lucien was poisoning my mother, that my family’s finances were in trouble, and that my parents were holding my uncle in their basement. I assumed they had been keeping him captive to demand he hand over his share of the inheritance, thus smoothing over their financial issues.
- You see, I’d been given few reasons over the years to believe that my parents could have good intentions.
- And still I felt the need to protect them from the consequences of my own mistakes. With the additional bonus of locking up Lucien Moriarty and throwing away the key.
- My plan was simple: I would take apart the Moriartys’ forgery ring, then bring back the perpetrators, Hadrian and Phillipa, to our family’s house in England. There, I would frame them for my uncle’s disappearance, freeing my parents from blame. This action would flush Lucien out of hiding, as he would never let his family take the fall for a Holmes’s actions.
- My mother’s plan was simple: my uncle Leander would agree to take a nonlethal dose of the same poison Lucien had given to her, then go to the hospital and claim that Hadrian and Phillipa Moriarty had poisoned him. Which would flush Lucien out of hiding. As he would never let his family take the fall for a Holmes’s actions.
- You would think, perhaps, from this information, that these two plans would dovetail beautifully.
- You would be wrong.
- With everything in motion, I dragged Watson back to England with me, and when we all gathered on the lawn outside my house, every two-bit player in this drama—Hadrian and Phillipa loose, having shaken their guard; my father furious at my interference, at my presumption of his and my mother’s guilt; Leander horrified and beaten-down and ill, so ill; and August. His hands up. Pleading for a cease-fire.
- When my brother, Milo, arrived rather later than he expected, mistook August Moriarty from a distance for his brother, and from a distance, with a sniper rifle, shot him dead.
- Those are the facts.
- As far as I understood them. If I understood anything at all.
You see, I had become so used to trusting no one. Being the only one with any kind of plan.
Where did that leave me? It left me left. Leander gone. Milo a murderer. August dead on the snowy lawn, and Watson there, knowing it was my fault, and that was as far as I could go with it, that was as much as I could take.
It was a forced remembering. A penance. It wasn’t meant to dull the ache, but instead to keep the ache alive. It had been so easy for me to isolate that part of myself that felt that I had begun to believe it was natural. I had been wrong. I was unlearning.
You need to feel the blood underneath all that reason, Detective Inspector Green had said. You need to feel it, and not apologize for feeling. Or else, every now and then, it’ll happen anyway, and you’ll be so overwhelmed that you’ll act only on that instinct, and you’ll continue to do very stupid things.
I had disliked the implication that I was stupid, but even if I hadn’t, I knew for myself that my methods had stopped working. Also I was nothing if not a good student. So I set myself to “feeling things” as often as I could. To let my control go, to let whatever small nasty thing that lived in the space behind my heart go free.
I imagine DI Green thought I would begin to make amends with my family, with Watson, with myself, that I would take “advantage” of this opportunity she had granted me. That I would perhaps break down in tears on her sofa picturesquely while she made me a picturesque cup of chamomile tea. How could one blame her for that?
I didn’t blame her. I didn’t cry. I took my fury with me, and fled. I had, as they say, bigger fish to fry.
Hence, this bit of casual cruelty on my side of the closet door. The petty kind, the girl you let into your house for two straight weeks was building a case against you for the government kind, unnecessary to the case I was solving, a string of words specifically engineered to pour salt into an open wound. And yet it was human to feel it, to know that this awful man had been aiding and abetting an even more awful man for money, and to want to make him understand the full weight of his stupidity.
He had looked at a girl, his teenage son’s girlfriend, and seen a Shirley Temple where he should have seen poison.
“My God,” he was saying. “You’re disgusting. How old are you? What have you been doing with my boy?”
“Ten seconds.” I slammed the hammer again into the closet door. The wood was beginning to divot. “Nine. Eight.”
I felt badly about his son in an abstract way that was, still, an improvement on not feeling at all. Danny had been an easy mark—lost-looking, sweaty even in the cold, a boy whose tiny dog made him look comically large. He had been too scared to try anything physical with me, which suited me just fine. Mostly we played with Button, his terrier, in the family’s backyard. Button was a runner, and when she escaped through the board in a fence (a board I had of course pried loose myself), I let Danny tear after her while I took myself to his father’s office to find the documentation I needed. The photos on the fireplace were nearly enough: Danny and his father on a catamaran; Danny and his father beneath the Sagrada Familia in Spain; Danny and his father on safari, the vague blur of Danny’s mother behind them in the Jeep. I knew then how Lucien Moriarty’s blood money was being spent. All I’d needed was the proof.
Button escaped every day for a week. Enterprising dog.
I had no actual plan to hurt Danny. His father didn’t need to know that. “Three,” I said, “two, one,” and on cue, the man in the closet drew in a shaky breath.
By the time the sun had finished setting, I had everything I needed.
“What do I tell my son?” he asked as I packed up my kit.
I didn’t answer. It wasn’t any of my business, after all.
It took me the usual forty-five minutes to walk the five blocks to my lodgings. Twice I thought I was being followed, and once, I knew I was—no one carries a copy of the local paper under their arm in such a manner, much less puts it up to hide their face when you pass the shop window they’re spying from. I doubled back, ducked into a Starbucks toilet to change my disguise (wig, yoga pants, trainers), then waited until a group of girls in athletic wear jogged by and, keeping a safe distance, joined them.
By the time I arrived, I was exhausted. Still, I had work to do—the removal and safekeeping of my wig, laid gently in silk and stored in the wooden box below the bed; a thorough cleaning of my face and the soles of my boots; blocking the door, three windows, and the too-large air vent whose existence had nearly kept me from renting these rooms in the first place. Sublet ads on Craigslist were rarely so detailed. One had to know the right questions to ask.
This process took time, but I have never found routine tedious so long as it directly contributed to keeping me alive. Once I was sure I was secure, I put on a Chopin etude at a level loud enough to drown out any noise I might make, and then I methodically took apart my room, looking for cameras, listening devices, or finely drilled holes. There were none.
This only brought me to nine o’clock. After some consideration, I decided I had the following options for the rest of my night:
- Take the remainder of the oxycodone in the lining of my coat.
- Find a television show to stream that did not mention murder and/or bodily harm, opiates, romantic relationships, the United Kingdom, or, oddly enough, Sherlock Holmes. I say oddly because my great-great-great-grandfather was referenced in the oddest places. I’d taken to watching select episodes of Star Trek, as it both fit my criteria and featured an android character I was fond of. Then came a spate of episodes where he dressed up in a deerstalker and solved crimes with some Star Trek Watson. I was now in need of a new show.
- Take the remainder of the oxy in the lining of my coat—a coat which my uncle Leander, in his infinite good taste, had given me for Christmas two years ago and which still fit because that was the year I’d decided to stop eating to starve the bad thing out of me, a coat whose pockets I had ripped the lining of for this exact purpose; after, perhaps, I could go out into the dark and let some Moriarty thug trace my steps down to that particular bridge over the Potomac where, over the past few days, I’d seen four if not five opportunities to score properly; I would have my stash, and then I could take the high of that feeling (not the high itself, but the high of knowing that I was steps away from a night into which I could finally, irrevocably escape) and use it—really, if it were going to be over, finally over, I’d take the knife out of my boot and drive its point through that Moriarty thug’s throat to know, once and for all, that one less man would be chasing Watson, that Watson would be that one small bit safer. Back in my room, waiting for the inevitable heavy fall (police interference or violent retribution), I’d write out my confession. Perhaps, as a finishing touch, I’d pull out the photograph from that Sunday in March when my mother gave me my first chemistry set. She had a hand on my shoulder. I was smiling, a child. I could put it now in my pockets to be found. Play the lost little girl card one last time. That wordless admission of guilt would certainly appeal to certain members of my family, though I imagine Watson would find it tasteless. (Every evening I acknowledged the possibility of engineering that ending, and every night I reminded myself what a waste it was, what a waste of myself, my skills, my strength, and I wasn’t a waste. I wasn’t. I wasn’t. I would not do it.)
- Photograph the remainder of my pills, text that photograph to DI Green as proof I hadn’t taken them (an honor system, obviously; I was, among other things, attempting to be honorable), put the pills back into my coat, and then clean out my goddamn makeup bag.
I took the photo and sent it. Then, gritting my teeth, I dumped my cosmetics out onto the floor. I wet a paper towel and started scrubbing.
My train left in eight hours. I would be in New York by noon.
My father played Madonna all the way to New York City.
Not the hits, the stuff you’d generally hear on the radio, but deep cuts. Weird stuff. My father was more of a Bob Dylan guy, so I’d already raised an eyebrow at his choices, but this was weirdness squared. Especially since he apparently knew all the words to “This Used To Be My Playground.”
I didn’t usually give much thought to my father’s weirdnesses (there weren’t enough hours in the day), but it was either wonder about that or why Leander had been so distant when I’d gotten into the car. He hadn’t said a real hello, just nodded, miles away from the front seat of my father’s Camry.
Leander never greeted me, or anyone, like that. He was my honorary uncle, Holmes’s actual one, and from what I’d seen, by far and away the most humane member of her extended family. He called his friends on Christmas, smiled at you when you came into a room, threw parties for my father’s birthday. You know. Human things.
But it was more than that. Last year, in the weeks after my father had fetched us home from Britain, when Leander was still wasted from sickness and I was so battered and heartbroken that no one, especially not my family, wanted me to be alone . . . well. After days hovering over us, my father had finally left to make a trip to the grocery store. My stepmother was at work, my half brothers at school.
Which left me in the guest room, staring up at the ceiling fan, as I had been whenever I wasn’t sleeping. I was sleeping most of the time—mornings, the hours before dinner or just after the sun went down. Anytime but at night, when I lay still and quiet, counting my breaths, watching the hours shed themselves until, finally, I got up to wander the halls, unable to shake the thought of August sprawled out in the snow.
We hadn’t been good friends, August and I, but he was decent, thoroughly decent, and he’d paid a price for that decency. Once I’d thought that I could live in this world of Holmes’s. That I could grab knives by their blades, punch my hands through glass, could survive the violence that followed her around like a shadow. But I knew now that I couldn’t, that there was nothing there for someone like me.
That day my father finally left us alone, I realized I hadn’t spoken in what felt like forever. My broken nose had healed, but it still hurt when I opened my mouth, and anyway I wasn’t sure what I could say. I’ve just realized that I’m a coward. I fold under pressure. I make house fires into conflagrations. It didn’t matter. I’d go back to sleep. There was still another week until classes began; I didn’t have to be a human just yet.
Leander had other plans. From downstairs, he called me down into the kitchen—to persuade me to eat, I imagined, though I’d forced down some broth that morning. I took the stairs slowly and stood there in front of him, light-headed from lying down so long.
He stared at me. For a long time. Then he leaned across the table, cleared his throat, and said, hoarsely, “Jamie, did you know your new haircut makes you look like Donkey Kong?”
I’d laughed. I’d laughed until I couldn’t breathe, until I had to sit down, until I was crying, Leander’s hand on my shoulder, until I finally, stammeringly, began to talk about what had happened.
All of that was to say that Leander didn’t usually indulge in the same black moods his family did. But now he seemed like he was going through something, and though my instinct was to try to help, I reminded myself that was the old Jamie’s tactics. The one who fought other people’s battles for them, who made things worse. I was trying to be normal, now. Normal meant letting adults deal with their own problems. (Besides, I was too busy checking my phone. So far, no more texts from Weird Threatening Number.)
My father, the adult, was dealing with his adult best friend’s melancholy by singing “Material Girl” at the top of his lungs. He had, at least, switched to the singles.
“Dad,” I said. “Dad.” We were still forty minutes from Manhattan.
He had one hand on the steering wheel and the other in the cup holder, rooting around for change. “We’re liv-ing in a material world, and I am a material—”
“Please stop.” I watched as a muscle in Leander’s jaw began to jump. “Dad.”
“I need quart-ers for the very next toll—”
“James,” Leander said, without turning to look. “Do you mind turning that down?”
“We used to play this back in Edinburgh,” my father said. “When we threw our summer solstice parties. Don’t you remember?”
“Yes. Please turn it down.”
My father didn’t touch the radio. “We don’t need to talk about this, you know.”
“You’ve taken your son out of school,” he said. The music played tinnily under his words. “We’re driving into the city. I imagine we have to talk about it.”
We approached the toll plaza. My father rolled down the window, and with a viciousness I didn’t expect, hurled the coins into the basket.
If I’d learned anything over the last few years with Charlotte, it was to let a scene like this play out without interruption. One wrong word, and your Holmes would change the subject, leave it behind you in the road.
Finally my father spoke again. “He’s graduating this spring. He’s doing well in his classes. He has that little girlfriend—”
“I don’t understand how any of that matters,” Leander said, soft but insistent. Sometimes I could hear it when he spoke, an echo of Charlotte in his inflection. She would have used fewer words. Irrelevant, she would have said, or Watson, stop, but the impatience would have been the same.
My father glanced up to the rearview mirror. “Jamie,” he said, meeting my eyes. “For the past year—well, you know that Leander has been keeping tabs on Charlotte. Her whereabouts. What she’s gotten into. That sort of thing. However wise that decision is—”
“It doesn’t matter,” Leander snapped. “I’m not there to approve, I’m there to keep tabs. Someone had to make sure she’s alive. Her brother certainly isn’t.”
Milo Holmes had taken a leave of absence from leading Greystone to deal with the small matter of his murder charge. I say “his” murder charge as he was the one who pulled the trigger, but as far as the world (and the court system) knew, he was innocent. One of Milo’s mercenaries had been set up to take the fall instead, I’m sure for a handsome payout after he was on the other side of a prison cell.
Still, a Holmes employee shooting a Moriarty? Milo had always had the kind of power that could scrub a media story clean, but this one was beyond his control to suppress. It was sensational. It was everywhere. I was doing everything I could to ignore it.
As far as we could tell, Milo had kept his promise: he’d washed his hands clean of his sister and her problems. He wasn’t the only one.
What had happened on that lawn in Sussex? I’d realized how little I’d known.
I had been watching Holmes so closely, trying to understand her behavior, that I hadn’t taken the two steps back I’d needed to see the whole picture. She had decided from the beginning that her father was keeping Leander captive. That he had been blackmailed to do so by Lucien Moriarty, that it had something to do with her family’s finances. And instead of confronting any of this head on, instead of accepting that the parents who treated her so terribly could in fact be terrible people, she had dragged me along on some wish-fulfillment mission to pin the blame on someone else.
It didn’t end well. To put it mildly.
In the wake of Leander’s kidnapping and the murder on their front lawn, Emma and Alistair Holmes separated. Who knows how much romance had been left between them, anyway. None that I could see. As far as the press knew, Emma had taken their daughter to a retreat in Switzerland to ride out the media storm circling her son. Alistair stayed, stoic and alone, in their Sussex house by the sea. It was up for sale. He couldn’t afford it anymore.
That was the official story,
Last July, while I was staying with my mother over summer break, Leander took me out to lunch. He was in London to “settle some affairs,” he’d said, and then it became clear those affairs had to do with his niece. I know you don’t like talking about this, Jamie, but—
Charlotte Holmes wasn’t in Switzerland. She wasn’t in Sussex, either. She had turned seventeen, and petitioned early access to the trust fund she was meant to receive when she was twenty-one. She’d been denied. That was the last official record of her.
That’s what Leander had discovered in Lucerne, when he’d gone to check in with Charlotte’s mother, and when he couldn’t find his niece—when Emma had refused to tell him where she was (For her own safety, Leander, don’t you know that Lucien Moriarty is still in the wind)—he had spent weeks tracing her through France, to Paris, to the Eurostar train to London. There, the trail ended. He was hoping to pick it up through his contacts at Heathrow Airport.
Leander took me out for burgers, waited until I had my mouth full, then dumped this out on the table like an upended salt shaker.
I don’t want to know, I’d told him, furiously chewing. I’m done, Milo’s done—we’re all finished with this. I thought you were too.
I’m not bailing her out of her mess, he’d said.
I’d swallowed. So why are you telling me this? Actually why? Before he’d been able to answer, I’d said, Don’t, and that was that.
But here we were again. New York City’s skyline was bearing down on us like a bullet train. “Dad. I thought you were just dragging me to another weird lunch with the Sherlock Holmes club. What is this about Charlotte—”
“Wait.” Leander roused himself slightly. “You took him to Sherlock’s birthday weekend celebration? The one in January? I’ve been refusing to go to that for years.”
“Oh, come now. Buffet lunch, limericks about the year in Holmesiana—”
“You might feel differently,” Leander said, “if the subject in question was Watsoniana, and all anyone wanted to do was put you in a top hat and have you say things like ‘Brilliant, Holmes!’”
“I have to say it often enough in my normal life,” my father muttered.
“You never do. I’ve never once heard you say it.”
“I can hear the moments where you want me to say it. It’s unnecessary. You’re supplying it yourself.”
“Just once I’d like to hear you—”
“The Sherlockians were very nice to us,” my father said, clearing his throat. “The food is very good. Yorkshire pudding. And every year, I win at trivia—they call me the Sherlockian Shark. Anyway, Abbie won’t go with me to these things, ever, she says I behave like a Civil War reenactor, so can you blame me for bringing my son—”
The sound from the front seat was like a car starting up after a long cold winter in the garage. It was Leander, laughing. Without taking his eyes off the road, my father reached out and gripped his shoulder.
I don’t know why watching the two of them made me so incredibly sad.
“Neither of you,” I pointed out, “have actually told me what we’re doing here. So this isn’t Sherlock club, or whatever. This isn’t you springing me from last period to go see Les Miserables, or to go get bacon donuts, or listen to your police scanner in the Walmart parking lot. What was the rest of that? A rehearsal? Tell me what’s going on.”
“I thought you didn’t care,” my father said to me, mildly. “That when it came to Charlotte, you didn’t want to know.”
We might have had years now to work on our relationship, weekend lunches and dinners at home and the occasional bizarre trip to Broadway on a Wednesday night, but one word from my father in that smug, self-satisfied voice, and everything inside of me rebelled. I was this close to saying, Fine, I’ll just wait in the car. Maybe I’ll call Mom to talk about her new boyfriend just to see the look on his face.
Thankfully, I wasn’t a child anymore.
“You’re right,” I settled for saying, as carelessly as I could. “I don’t.”
“Wait in the car, then,” Leander snapped, and though I wasn’t a child, I felt like one then.
So I waited in the car.
We were in SoHo, I thought. I liked New York, the bits I’d seen of it, but it was hard for me to tell where exactly I was. I knew that the stately avenues of Upper Manhattan turned into the winding, almost-lovely streets of the Lower East Side, but from what I’d heard, I couldn’t afford to live in this borough at all. I’d decided against applying to college in Manhattan, though I’d looked at Brooklyn College. Reading through the application, I kept picturing artisanal rice pudding, hipster bowling alleys, people who wore hats with brims and actually pulled them off. I doubted I’d fit in there, and so I’d scratched it off my list.
Of course, I’d never been to Brooklyn, so any sense of it I had was artificial.
That was one of the things that I’d realized, running around with Charlotte Holmes—all my ideas about the greater world weren’t actually my ideas. It’s difficult to solve a series of copycat crimes without taking a long, hard look at the source material, and Holmes and I had been childish enough to play at being Sherlock and his doctor. (My father and Leander never seemed to have grown out of it at all.) Behaving like you were someone you only knew from literature was one thing, but my tendency to romanticize didn’t stop there. When I looked around my boarding school, the place itself warred with what I remembered from films like Dead Poets Society, books like A Separate Peace. Fiction layered over reality. I was somebody who only wanted to see the world through paintings, never a photograph.
It seeped into everything, my tendency to assume, imagine, judge. Last fall, Elizabeth had told me off-handedly that she liked that I wasn’t a “romantic” boyfriend. It makes me uncomfortable, romance. Flowers and stuff, I hate that, she’d said, but with a wistfulness that made me think that she wanted me to disagree. I’d never been a bad boyfriend before, not really, anyway, and so I decided to clean up my act. I took her on a picnic in the woods. Pretend it isn’t romantic, if you have to, I’d told her, and she’d laughed, and we drank the wine we’d stolen from one of Lena’s sister’s booze packages, and it all would have been terribly romantic had I not realized halfway through that I’d jacked the idea wholesale from an L.A.D. music video.
And now I was realizing that how I felt about New York came from movies that weren’t even set there. Today, while the snow fell halfheartedly around my father’s car, I kept thinking of a film I’d seen late at night, years ago, where a boy and girl wandered a city all night long, talking and falling a little bit in love. They’d been in Europe. They’d agreed to meet again the next year if they still felt the same about each other. People came to cities for things like that, I thought—possibility, chance. A girl putting her face into the cloth of your coat, breathing you in like you were something that mattered.
That was the other ghost that was drifting through SoHo today. I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge it. These girls, dozens of them, in black coats with the collars turned up, in smart black boots with their hats pulled down over their ears. Girls with determined walks and straight dark hair. Charlotte Holmeses, all of them.
Wait here, my father had said, and before the door swung shut, I’d heard Leander say something about “Morgan’s son.” Morganson? They’d gone into the flat above the patisserie. 191 Spring Street, Apartment 5. If nothing else, I’d learned how to pay attention. While he and Leander did something interesting upstairs, something that probably didn’t even have to do with my ex-best friend, I was watching her walk by the car over and over again.
I kept waiting for one of them to pause. Cock her head. Slowly turn to peer into the window, eyes shrouded by the steamed-up glass like some horror movie villain made especially for me. Maybe they were just dark-haired girls on their way to work or school, dressed for the weather. It didn’t matter. I was falling back into my old habits, dreaming myself up a different world, seeing things that weren’t there.
I wasn’t pining for Holmes. I wasn’t looking for her. I wasn’t hoping she’d come back to deduce my stalker from my phone, to solve my small mystery, to ruin me all over again.
I’m not, I told myself, and got out of the car. Locked it. Went up to ring the buzzer.
Ah!! Catch us waiting for our preorder to arrive the second the clock strikes midnight on March 6th. Are you as excited as we are?! Let us know below!