Teen And Up Audiences
Sherlock HolmesJames Sholto (Sherlock)
Captain Morstan's Daughter
Something of an outtake/missing scene idea - what if Sherlock's suspicions of Mary didn't arise on their own?
I really like Major Sholto as he was reimagined for BBC Sherlock, but aside from the name and occupation, he had nothing to do with the original character from “The Sign of the Four” at all. So I’ve tried to address that a bit.
Captain Morstan's Daughter
“Thank you for meeting with me.”
“Not at all, it’s been stifling in London. A trip out to the countryside is just what I needed.”
He put his pint down on the implausibly crudely made table, and sat down on the deliberately distressed leather seat. He’d clocked the look the barman gave him when he came in - a condescending, appraising, knowing look that said he knew a townie when he saw one and knew what he would order; something familiar, something safe, out of a bottle, like a watery lager or a syrupy strawberry-infused cider - and had let him get his hand on the fridge door before ordering a pint of Clogger’s Smooth Badger Dodger for no other reason but that it was on the pump at the furthest end of the bar. Then for all that the exposed ceiling beams and random farm implements nailed to the walls tried to persuade the customer that they were far from the city in a timeless pastoral idyll, the price of the ale had been pure London. He doubted it would be worth the money.
“You call this the countryside?”
The man he had come to meet had already been there when he arrived, tucked away in a corner booth with a strategically partially-drunk pint of his own - which he had not touched once since Sherlock had walked into the lounge bar - trying to look inconspicuously like he wasn’t trying to look inconspicuous. He wasn’t doing a bad job, at that. The wellington boots might have been a step too far, but the wax jacket and the roll-neck jumper marked him as infinitely more rural than the carefully grimy horse bronzes on the wall above him. A flat corduroy cap and a pair of reading glasses were surprisingly effective at concealing the mottled skin grafts that made up one side of his face, and the shadow he had placed himself in did the rest. This was a man who knew camouflage.
“Well, the green belt.” Sherlock amended.
“It’s still rather densely populated for my comfort.”
“So it’s important. And you haven’t waited for John’s return from his sex holiday, which would have given you an opportunity to see him again, which tells me that it’s urgent. Though perhaps he could join us long-distance-” Sherlock was already reaching for his phone, ready to make a video call to Malta. Major Sholto cleared his throat.
“I would rather he didn’t, actually.” he said, sounding oddly stilted.
Sherlock thumbed the back button rapidly, and returned the phone to his pocket.
Sholto’s face was wooden, but Sherlock didn’t miss that his eyes - minutely enlarged by the weak prescription of the lenses in front of them - darted furtively to the side, as if to make sure that he wasn’t being watched. There were a few other people in the room, but they were all occupied with their pub lunches. No-one was paying unwelcome attention to them.
“It’s a delicate matter.” Sholto continued levelly, not making the attention-grabbing move of leaning forward conspiratorially or dropping his voice to an inaudible whisper so that Sherlock would have to. “I don’t want him to know that I spoke to you at all. If I am wrong about what I suspect - well. He might never forgive me for thinking it. I’m sure you know how protective he is of the people he loves.”
“What is it that you suspect?” Sherlock, curiosity well and truly piqued, asked - though he had at least half an idea. The list of people Sholto would assume he knew John loved was short. Short enough to narrow the subject of the answer down to one.
“It may be nothing.” Sholto’s face - already stony - became guarded.
“You don’t think so. Not if it’s brought you to a faux-rustic pub on the inside of the M25.”
Major Sholto took a deep breath, and looked out across the room. No-one who happened to glance his way would suppose that he had anything important to say.
“I knew Captain Morstan. He was my commanding officer on my first tour of duty.”
He’d run a dozen possible scenarios for how this meeting might go, and none of them had included that particular revelation.
“I didn’t know you had a connection to Mary.” he said, carefully blandly, then took a pull of his ale. He grimaced; should have gone for the fruity cider.
One side of Major Sholto’s mouth twitched.
“Apparently, neither did she.” he said leadenly. Sherlock sat a little straighter and listened a little more intently. “I spent six months dodging bullets and sabotaging tanks side by side with her father, and when we met on the day of her wedding, she never once mentioned him to me. Not even in passing. We spoke a few times, but only about John, or the flowers, or the weather. Don’t you find that strange?”
“Are you sure the Captain Morstan you knew was her father?” Sherlock’s pulse was accelerating. Morstan was not a very common name.
“No. That’s why I wanted to see you. I don’t want to make a fuss. I don’t want to make indiscreet accusations based on nothing but my gut instinct and some circumstantial evidence-”
“You don’t want John to know.” Sherlock concluded for him.
“Not unless he really, really has to.”
Sherlock gave the ale another try. Nope. Clogger had failed to dodge the badger.
“How do people drink this voluntarily?” Major Sholto wordlessly lifted his own pint and drank deeply. It was the same dark reddish brown as the slop in Sherlock’s glass, and showed traces of the same foam head up the sides. Sherlock tried to ignore that. “Tell me about Captain Morstan, please.”
“Captain Arthur Morstan. He was a good man, and brave, to a fault. One might even say reckless. Once, I had to break protocol to stop him from walking into an armed ambush. We were close after that, but he kept his civilian life separate from his army life, so even I knew very little about who or what he had waiting for him back home. The only time I ever heard him mention his daughter was when he was half delirious from malaria, and making very little sense.”
“What did he say?” Sherlock tried not to sound too eager. In the time he’d known her, Mary hadn’t said her late parents’ names at all - not that he would go around introducing his own mother to people as Violet, but still. That her father’s name was Arthur and that he had been in the military were facts she had entirely neglected to mention.
“I don’t remember exactly, it was more than twenty years ago. Something about how she was too perfect, too beautiful, and he was sorry. I was more concerned about him getting out of there alive than deciphering his ramblings, but that did stick out. Arthur didn’t talk about his family. Not that he was hiding it, I mean, he wore his wedding ring. I always got the impression that it was a rather painful subject for him. I didn’t even know his wife’s name until I met her, when she came to meet him at Brize. Then I understood.” Sholto sighed. It was an unexpected sound to come from a man who was the word “stoic” made flesh. “She had been a beautiful woman. Even though the cancer had taken her hair, and left her stick thin and wheelchair-bound, I could see what she was the remains of. Arthur wanted to rush her away, get her home so she could rest, but she insisted on being introduced to the man who had defied orders to keep him from getting himself killed. She knew my name already. She shook my hand - it was like holding a bundle of warm twigs - and thanked me for saving his life.”
A shadow began to cross his face, but then decided to settle there instead of passing on.
“I only wish it had stuck. We didn’t keep in contact, and the next time I heard of him, he had died in the battle of Norfolk. I saved his life, but it didn’t count. Perhaps that’s why.”
Major Sholto closed his eyes for a little longer than a blink, and turned to face Sherlock directly.
“Why Mary treated me like a stranger. She blames me for letting her father die the second time. Perhaps she’s right - it does seem to be my forté. Getting people killed.”
Sherlock was silent. He didn’t gurn with awkwardness or try to make sympathetic noises, which Sholto appreciated. In fact, he didn’t seem to have registered his outburst of self-pity at all.
“Was she with her mother?” he asked just as the silence was getting strained. Major Sholto looked momentarily nonplussed.
“At the airport? No. No, she wasn’t.” He tilted his head slightly, brow attempting to crease. “You’d think she would be, wouldn’t you? I suppose she was at school at the time, but you would expect they’d give her the day off to go with her sick mother to welcome her father home from the war, wouldn’t you?”
“Major, you still haven’t actually told me what it is that you suspect.”
Sherlock registered the tiny flinch in Sholto’s frame, and the instant it happened. Not at the word “suspect”, but at “Major”. Curious. And suggestive of which of those things he felt more sure of.
“I… I hope you won’t take offence. I know she is a close friend of yours, you obviously go back a long way.”
“I’ve known her less than a year.” Sherlock informed him dryly. It was a stupid assumption a lot of people seemed to make about him and Mary, and one she never seemed to want to correct.
“Really? You look like brother and sister.” Sholto sounded genuinely surprised, prompting Sherlock to reassess how stupid an assumption it really was. He didn’t have the Major down as a fool, or gullible.
“I don’t see the resemblance.”
“Not physically, the way you interact - although, that is another thing. Resemblance. She looks nothing like either of her parents. Again, I don't know the whole story; maybe it's just recessive genes, or they couldn't conceive naturally and went to a surrogate, or she's adopted. But the woman John is currently on honeymoon with is remarkably blonde and blue-eyed if she’s Bhavisha Morstan's biological daughter.” He took a deep breath, and stopped skirting around the edge of what he needed to say. He plunged. “I am not entirely convinced that she is Mary Morstan at all. I would be much obliged if you would look into it.”
Sherlock kept his face passive, but his mind whirled, thoughts ricocheting off the inside of his skull like bullets. He knew something was off, he knew, he knew. He knew she was too likeable, too instantly familial, too good to be true. He knew that she deflected questions about her background too skillfully and too consistently for someone who projected, too well, the impression that she wasn’t avoiding any questions at all. He knew she was a liar, but this was bigger than he’d expected. If Major Sholto was right.
“I may be wrong. I am well aware that I am not unbiased when it comes to Captain Watson.”
Adrenaline, having barely had time to recede, surged again. So Mary(if she was really called Mary) had been telling the truth when she casually dropped a hint the size of an elephant that Sholto was her predecessor in John’s love life. The only thing Sherlock had been sure she was sincere about at the time was her desire to tease him.
“Indeed?” he asked lightly. Sholto didn’t blush, or look away, or confirm. He looked him in the eye, with a wonderfully eloquent expression that said he had no intention of insulting Sherlock’s intelligence by spelling it out for him, and continued
“I appreciate that I might sound like a jealous, bitter ex, making up outrageous accusations against his successor; but please believe me, it's not like that at all. John and I - that's all over. We parted on good terms. I want nothing but the best for him.”
“I know.” Sherlock answered, bringing Sholto up short. For the split second it took him to process what Sherlock had said, Sholto looked ready to argue - then his expression morphed into something pitiably like surprise.
“You believe me?”
It wasn’t just the subject at hand. Sherlock was looking at a man who was far too much in the habit of not being believed.
“You knowingly risked your life to come to his wedding, and damn near lost it. A jealous ex would have made one last dramatic declaration of love when he thought he was about to die; a bitter one wouldn't have been there in the first place. Of course I believe you.”
Sholto’s face began to soften a little; then stiffened, falling into a guarded blank mask. Sherlock didn’t need to look around to see what he was guarding against - he could feel it through the floor, see the reflection in the Major’s lenses - someone was walking their way. Heading right towards them. That was exactly, one hundred percent, what he didn’t want and the reason they’d agreed to meet somewhere quiet and out of the way. So that neither of them would be bothered. Sholto had shown incredible bravery - recklessness, even - in coming out alone in public like this, gambling that no-one who meant him harm would recognise him, stacking the odds as much in his favour as he could that no-one would try anything but it hadn’t worked-
The barman deposited a bowl of chips on the table. They were hot, fresh out of the fryer. They smelled - really good, actually. He didn’t say a word, just returned to his bar.
“Did you order those?” Sholto demanded, not dropping an iota of defence. Sherlock didn’t get a chance to retort that of course he bloody didn’t, he wouldn’t be so mind-numbingly insensitive to Sholto’s need for privacy as to deliberately cause a stranger to interact with him, because a slightly too rehearsed voice piped up
“Sorry, I think those are mine - I must have given the barman the wrong table number by accident.”
A young man - early twenties, rugby jumper, Sloane Ranger accent with the corners carefully knocked off in an attempt to sound a bit more common, faint clinging whiff of marijuana - was the source of it. His three friends, all much the same, watched furtively from a table in the far corner. Sherlock replayed the time he’d spent in the room in his mind, from the moment he’d walked in, and zoomed in on their part of the background. Yes. There was something there - a whispered exchange of it is, it’s him - it’s not - it is, I’ll show you - was buried in the soundtrack. That coupled with the glances that had far too studiously avoided them meant that Sherlock could have recited the next thing he said with him, word for word.
“Oh my god, aren’t you Sherlock Holmes?” the - in his own mind - Machiavelli of duplicitous chip ordering asked, with an expression of surprise on his face so fake he could have got it from a discount party supplies retailer on clearance from Halloween.
Again Sholto closed his eyes silently for slightly longer than a blink, exhaling just audibly enough to convey relief and irritation.
“Yes.” Sherlock answered curtly. He refused to make eye contact.
“Oh my god, what are you doing here?” the oblivious young man gushed, then unforgivably leaned forwards and with barely suppressed relish in his voice, stage whispered “Has there been a horrendous murder?”
“Not yet.” Sherlock turned a winning smile on the interloper. What it was winning was the title “smile most likely to make a person lose control of their bladder”. Its target paled and backed away.
“Oh, right. Right.” he stammered on his retreat.
“Aren’t you going to take your chips?” Sherlock drawled, and watched the turmoil on the young man’s face as his munchies battled his agonising awareness that he’d have to step back into the danger zone in order to retrieve the volatile snack. Something like common sense, or primeval self-preservation, kicked in and made him say
“No, no. It’s fine. You have them. Please.”
There was a predictable flurry of that was sick and I think Sherlock Holmes just threatened to kill you and I’m so jealous, you don’t even know and I’m really hungry though from the other students at the table. Sherlock shut them out.
“Can’t go anywhere.” Sholto muttered darkly, ending his impression of a granite boulder.
“You, or me?” Sherlock asked. It occurred to him that the brash young intruder had barely looked at Sholto once - just a single flicker of a glance when he’d asked Sherlock what he was doing there, then he’d dismissed him as uninteresting. Sholto had completely disappeared into the shadows of the corner seat. That was a skill he’d take his hat off to, if he’d been wearing the stupid thing.
“Yes.” Sholto glowered.
Sherlock considered the steaming bowl in front of him. He picked up a particularly crispy-edged chip and popped it into his mouth, knowing it would be hot enough to hurt, then pushed the bowl towards the former Major.
Sholto deliberated for a moment, then declined.
“I think I’ve tempted fate enough for one day.” He shifted in his seat, his eyes darted around the room. Chip boy hadn’t meant him any harm, but there were plenty of people in the world who did, and nothing to stop them from walking right in here. Suddenly the cosy little corner felt like a trap.
“I’m almost completely certain they’re not poisoned.” Sherlock said, after swallowing and scalding his throat with superheated potato, but Sholto was not soothed. He kept looking at the door. Sherlock felt an unexpected warm flush under his sternum - he recognised a hunted man when he saw one, and knew exactly how he felt. It angered him to see that familiar exhausted wariness on a face that wasn’t in a mirror.
“Look, I’m sorry, but I need to get out of here.” Sholto said to his hands. Confessed to them, in a low, embarrassed voice, like it was a shameful secret. Sherlock clenched his jaw briefly, then said
“Good idea. You can give me a lift to the train station.”
“You’ve got chips.” Sholto pointed out. Which was absolutely true. Really nice chips, too. Crisp and golden on the outsides, some of them coming to crunchy points that would break skin if wielded improperly, fluffy and white on the insides. Just the right amount of salt to highlight the flavour and make further condiments unnecessary.
Sherlock stood up and dumped his pint into them.
“Come on. You walked in alone, you’re walking out as one of a pair. If anyone was watching you, that’ll throw them.”
They didn’t even have to walk across the car park; Major Sholto’s car was in the disabled space by the door. That made Sherlock double-take for a moment. He really wouldn’t have expected him to be such a knob. Then he connected the blue-marked parking space with the fact that Sholto did anything requiring fine motor control with his right hand, and reddened. He hadn’t parked like a disappointingly and shockingly inconsiderate prick; he had every right to use disabled parking.
Apparently, Sherlock was staring.
“What?” The former Major asked, just a tiny hint of defensiveness escaping past a protective wall of unbothered apathy in his voice. His face was still dark and wooden, his tone clipped - he was angry. But angry with whom? Sherlock? No, he wouldn’t be suppressing it, Sherlock was pretty sure he’d have said something direct. Especially now that they were outside. Chip boy? He’d barely spared him a glance, once it had been clear that Sherlock was his target. The nebulous and shadowy illwishers, then, who may or may not be watching him-
He was staring at one of the rear windows of his intensely ordinary Volvo. At his reflection. Not just staring - scowling.
Himself. He was angry with himself. With a formerly high ranking military man with a distinguished career behind him, who was reduced to running away from a pub in the sleepy semi-suburban banality of the outer edge of London. A man who was afraid, and hated that fear, hated the weakness he attributed it to, hated the physical weakness down one side of his body-
“I’d have thought you’d have a driver.” Sherlock deflected. Better to say something stupid than make Sholto say out loud why his unremarkable, mud spattered, dark green Swedish-made domestic tank was parked precisely there. He doubted very much that he’d concealed his motive; but Sholto went along with it, and since one weak joke deserved another, returned,
“How much do you think an army pension pays?”
“For a decorated Major?”
“A disgraced Major.” Sholto corrected him, and there was that heat under the breastbone again.
Sherlock started towards the passenger side of the car, then stopped. The former Major was going the same way, and for an odd second it seemed that he was going to open the door for him. Then he looked more closely at the car. The steering wheel was on the wrong side.
“Left-hand drive?” He asked lightly, and could have kicked himself. Major Sholto couldn’t use his left hand. Of course he drove a car that only needed his right. Left-hand drive and automatic, then the only concession it would need to his disability would be to move the instrument stalk from the left side of the wheel to the right.
Prior moronic brutality rescued him from looming disaster though, as Sholto explained,
“I’ve had paintballs shot at my windscreen before. It pays to not be on the expected side.” He cracked a hint of a grin as he gestured towards what looked like the driver side door. “Care to be my decoy?”
“What happened to your last one?” Sherlock asked, when he’d sat down and done up his seat belt.
“He’s in the glove compartment.” Major Sholto nodded towards it, turning the key in the ignition. Sherlock opened the hatch, and a neatly folded, disturbingly flesh-toned bundle of plastic started to expand towards him. He took it out, compressing it back down. “Meet Buddy.”
“Blow Up Dummy Decoy Inflatable.” Sherlock read from the label, and snorted. “Good to know it’s both blow up and inflatable.”
“Acronyms are hard.”
“You invented it?”
“I wouldn’t say invent. I adapted it. There’s already a thriving trade in car dummies for getting around carpool lane restrictions, but I wanted one that inflates automatically and packs down quickly. I couldn’t find one, so I made him.”
A smirk flickered across Sherlock’s lips.
“Does he have any other uses?”
“He doesn’t have any orifices, no.” Sholto answered the implied question with a gently scolding frown. “His only job is to sit there and look like he’s driving.”
“So with John,” Sherlock carried on with what was, for him, the same conversation, “was it something about the way he called you ‘sir’?”
It took Sholto a couple of seconds to get off his derailed train of thought, head across the platform of that particular station of thought, and get onto a connecting service of thought, to catch up with Sherlock on his.
“That attracted me to him? No, everyone called me ‘sir’.” he said without pride. “It was something about the way he called me ‘James’.”
There was a weight to the absence of further words from him that made Sherlock stare out of the window, pantomiming that he was not staring at him, not prying into any suddenly and unintentionally revealed vulnerability.
Maybe it wasn’t technically countryside rolling by outside, but it certainly looked the part. The word “verdant” sprang to mind to encapsulate it, followed by a slightly elaborated “green and pleasant”. He felt a sudden desire to stop at a pick-your-own-strawberries farm. Assuming it wasn’t too late in the season for strawberries.
Sholto cleared his throat.
“I don’t think I ever thanked you properly.”
“Mm?” Sherlock was pulled back into the regular space/time continuum. That was always disconcerting.
“For saving my life.” Sholto kept his eyes on the road.
“Oh. That. I didn’t save your life, I just solved the case.” Awkward silence hovered above them, but was chased away by Sherlock suddenly asking, “Did Captain Morstan’s obituary say anything about his family?”
This time Sholto was able to squeeze through the thought-train doors before they shut and it went off without him.
“I don’t know. I tried to check, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.”
“It might just be that I’m not very good with computers. It didn’t seem to be online at all, it’s like it never existed.”
“Or was deleted.” Sherlock suggested quietly. Mary was pretty good with computers, wasn’t she? According to John, she more or less ran the admin for the surgery, which she shouldn’t have been able to do, because it wasn’t actually her job. She shouldn’t have that clearance on the system. Not that that carried any weight, when it came to IT and the NHS. It was probably possible to access the medical records of everyone in the country by typing in “password123”.
They pulled into the station car park with ten minutes before the next train back into London and safe familiarity.
“Thank you for the lift, James. And the case.”
“I would be more than happy to be wrong about this.” he said carefully, and Sherlock believed him. Neither of them wanted John to be the victim of some sort of fraud, neither of them wanted to see him hurt. It was what Sholto said next that didn’t quite convince him. “She's quite a catch - funny, clever, assertive - she could be exactly what John needs.”
Sherlock released Buddy from his confinement. Up close, the dummy wouldn’t fool anybody - but even from the other side of the car, when he bent down to the window, he double-took a little at the figure in the seat he had just vacated.
“I’ll let you know what I find. I’ll come to you next time.” he decided. Sholto’s unburnt eyebrow lifted.
“Do you normally invite yourself into your clients’ homes like that?”
“No, I normally break in without telling them.” Sherlock’s voice was atonal, his face deadpan. Sholto couldn’t entirely suppress the urge to laugh.
“I’ll keep an eye on the security footage.” he said, an out of practice smile on his face. It didn’t stay for very long before his expression resumed its habitual gravity. “Thank you for humouring me on this. I’ll rest easier when I know the truth about Captain Morstan’s daughter.”