trillsabells: (Slash)
[personal profile] trillsabells
Title:The Prize
Author: [livejournal.com profile] trillsabells
Beta: [livejournal.com profile] jupiter_ash
Rating: This Chapter R, NC17 overall
Length: This Chapter 6000, overall nearly 100k
Summary: On 29 January 2010 an unknown Event wiped out 98% of the population. This is the story of the survivors, four months on. Based on this prompt here
Warnings (for entire fic): Starts with the death of over 6 billion people and goes downhill from there. Death, destruction, disease, violence, fire, plane crashes, slavery, graphic sex and serious consent issues
Author's Note: Hope to get the next part up Thursday.

Chapter 1 : Chapter 2 : Chapter 3 : Chapter 4





No, no, no, no, no! It didn’t make sense. Why didn’t it make sense? He couldn’t be mistaken; he was never mistaken. He had looked at the report only last night, had been in London only the day before, he couldn’t have missed so much.

The retrieval team had had explicit instructions with a route carefully mapped out to avoid the collector hotspots. It wasn’t as if there were many in that area after all. The whole of the region north east of London was pockmarked with so many fallen planes that it should have been more difficult to navigate craters than inhabitants. There was the group at South Weald, yes, but why would they go out of their way to risk an attack four miles south of their base? Especially on a group so obviously both heavily armed and merely passing through.

There was another group further south near Dartford – commonly referred to as the Bridge Trolls – but they had even less reason to attack the team. There were a mere eleven miles between these two groups already and every now and then he would hear a story of a conflict the two groups. There simply was not enough room for a third group in that area. Not enough space and not enough prey.

So who had attacked the team? The colonel who had brought the new arrivals in was worse than useless. He had failed to picked up on any of the thousands of clues that would have told Sherlock where the attackers had come from, where they were going to and whether they had just been passing through or whether they had been waiting for the team. Sherlock had wanted to interrogate all the witnesses immediately but after John’s outburst – which was completely Mycroft’s fault for getting in the way, so he didn’t see why he had to suffer for it – he was banned from the Infirmary and had to wait for each person to be discharged before he could pounce on them. It turned out to be wasted effort as each person was more oblivious than the last.

By early afternoon he managed to sneak into the Infirmary to see the soldiers. John had fallen asleep, stretched out on one of the beds. It was the same sort of exhausted doze he had witnessed the day before so he barely wasted more than a few minutes observing it.

The idiot surgeons Mycroft had only recruited because all the doctors who had been in government employ had insisted on large windows in their offices and therefore died in the Event, were busy and that only left Helen Webber who was too in awe of him to be any kind of obstacle. It took him a couple of hours to interview all the soldiers fully - he had to wake two of them up which was highly inconvenient – but eventually he managed to get every single detail they had to offer. It wasn’t enough. The ignoramuses had missed almost everything of significance. He would just have to go to the scene of the crime and see for himself.

Another couple of hours were wasted making all the arrangements while at the same time avoiding Mycroft. There was no way he could walk all the way to junction twenty-nine so he had to get hold of a vehicle which took a bit of negotiation. Eventually he was able to make his way back to the Infirmary and wake John up by dropping a package into his lap.

“Eat this,” he said as the doctor woke up with a jolt. “Then change into this,” he dropped the other, larger, bag he was holding onto the floor. “Then we need to go, hurry up.”

Despite blinking at him sluggishly John reacted quickly enough to grab the curtain that surrounded the bed as Sherlock tried to close it to give John some privacy.

“Wait, what?”

“We need to go to the crime scene,” Sherlock said. “There should be enough time to get there, look around, then get back while there’s still sunlight but only if you hurry up.”

John frowned in confusion. “What time is it?”

“Five PM.”

“Five o’clock?” John gazed wildly around the Infirmary in horror. “I told Helen to wake me at-“ His eyes finally settled on the bed next to his where Helen Webber was curled up, asleep. “Oh.”

Sherlock tugged at the curtain again. John held on firmly and turned back towards him.

“What crime scene, what are you talking about?”

Sherlock waved an arm to generally indicate the injured soldiers around them. “The ambush site. I want to find out where the people who attacked the team came from.”

The confusion on John’s face melted away as something like intrigue lit up in his eyes.

“You want me to come with you?”

“Of course,” said Sherlock, frowning. “You need to get changed.”

John didn’t react as Sherlock pulled the curtains closed but based on the sounds of fabric rustling and zips being pulled the doctor moved very quickly after that.

After a short while there was a brief pause where Sherlock almost pulled open the curtain to see what the holdup was but resisted because based on what he had heard John would not be fully dressed. Then he almost pulled the curtain open anyway out of curiosity but was interrupted by John saying in almost a dazed way,

“You found my boots.”

Sherlock frowned at that. Of course he had found John’s boots. The shoes he had discovered in John’s room had been completely unacceptable for crime scene investigation.

John pulled the curtain open again. Back in his army boots, hoodie and a dark jacket the doctor looked ready for action, exactly what Sherlock wanted from him. Except he was also wearing a regretful expression and not meeting Sherlock’s eyes.

“I can’t just leave, Sherlock. I have patients.”

Sherlock shook his head confidently. “They don’t need you like I do.”

John finally looked up at him and raised his eyebrows. “No?”

“They just need a doctor. I need you.”

John didn’t seem to be aware of the smile tugging at the corner of his mouth as he sighed exasperatingly and rolled his eyes.

“You should eat the sandwich,” Sherlock told him. “You’re suffering from malnutrition which would only have been exacerbated by you being sick this morning and barely eating anything all day. It would be inconvenient for you to pass out while we’re there.”

John tilted his head to one side. “What makes you think I’m coming with you?”

Sherlock shrugged as if it was no matter. “Because it could be dangerous and you don’t back away from danger. If you were that sort of person you would have fled to the countryside months ago. Either that or shot yourself; you had the means at your disposal. And yet here you are.”

He turned and marched towards the Infirmary door without a second’s doubt that he would soon be followed. He wasn’t wrong, barely five seconds passed before he heard a quiet, “Dammit,” and a set of footsteps following after him. Once John caught up he didn’t have to look at the other man to know that the doctor was eating the sandwich as well.

There was nothing Sherlock could do to suppress the smile that crept across his face.

John seemed slightly alarmed when they reached the doors to the loading bay and with a sudden movement and a quick flash of his penknife Sherlock cut the band off the doctor’s wrist. He replaced it with his hand and kept a loose grip as he waved his own, modified, wristband in front of the door sensors. The doors slid open and he led John through the loading bay, past the storage cabinets, the emergency equipment and a dozen different types of four-wheeled vehicles until they got to the street door which Sherlock had prearranged to be left unlocked. Their transport was waiting, ready and prepped, in front of it.

John stopped in his tracks. “That’s a… we’re going on a moped?”

Sherlock finally let go of his wrist and started picking up the equipment that had been piled on top of the vehicle. “Technically, since it’s one hundred and fifty ccs, it’s a scooter.”

“But why are we taking a mo- scooter?”

“Because we need something manoeuvrable to get through the streets and you can drive a scooter.” He turned and fixed John with an enquiring look in case the other man was about to deny it.

“Well yes I-“

“I knew it,” Sherlock turned back to the scooter and picked up one of the helmets, “from your left knee. Here, put these on.”

He handed over the helmet and a pair of leather gloves. John stared them, still looking perplexed.

“Wait, I’m driving-“

Sherlock sighed. “If digestion always slows you down this much I will have to start restricting your food.” John looked alarmed. “You’ll need this.”

He held out John’s gun. John carefully placed the helmet on the ground, his eyes flicking between the gun and Sherlock’s face. The doctor reached out and took the Sig Sauer P226 then methodically checked it over, removing the magazine and examining the de-cocking lever. Apparently satisfied he tucked the weapon into the back of his trousers and without a word started pulling on the helmet and gloves. Sherlock opened the shutter door then cut off his own wristband which he dropped by the side of the door as a calling card. He then followed suit and soon they were both sat on the scooter’s long seat, Sherlock behind John, holding on to his waist.

“Just follow my directions,” Sherlock said, more as a way to test the helmet microphones than anything else. He would expect that of John anyway. “Try to avoid any wreckage and feel free to ignore all road signs.”

“And if you want me to do an emergency stop you’ll bang your clipboard on the dashboard,” John said, deadpan.

Sherlock was cut off from responding by the ping of his mobile. Knowing who it was from he was tempted to ignore it. Reluctantly he removed one of his hands from John’s waist and took the phone out of his pocket.


Message Received

Don’t get into any confrontations and be back by nightfall.

Mycroft


Sherlock scowled and was about to put the phone away when it pinged again.


Message Received

Oh, and do try to bring the good doctor back in one piece.

Mycroft


“Problem?” John asked.

“None at all,” Sherlock replied, resisting the urge to throw his phone across the loading bay and instead slipped it into his pocket and returned his hands to their proper place, perhaps gripping a little tighter than before. “Let’s go.”


~


John leaned against the barrier in the middle of the road and watched Sherlock work. The quiet in London had been deathly; out here it was almost eerie. There was just something wrong to see the M25, Britain’s biggest traffic jam, so deserted. He had expected the traffic jam to still be there but, according to Sherlock, most of the junctions had been cleared of vehicles by first the army - to expedite manoeuvres straight after the Event - and then by collectors to ease their journeys in and out of the capital.

The ambush had happened on one of the junctions which meant it wasn’t so much ‘gunfight on the M25’ as ‘gunfight on, above, below and around the M25’. One glance at the scene and John could tell it must have been hell for the team. They would have been under attack from the motorway flyover as well as from nearby bridges while the fences and surrounding trees would have made it difficult to get the vehicles off the road. Just being there left him feeling exposed and vulnerable, constantly checking over his shoulder in case the enemy came back.

There were tyre marks on the banks where the van containing the civilians had managed to escape and cut across a nearby field, not far from the copse where John had parked the scooter. Judging by the marks he had seen when they had walked up to the road the van had been pursued by at least two other vehicles.

There was blood on the tarmac, spent bullets at the roadside and two bodies in the undergrowth. It should have reminded him of Afghanistan, but somehow with Sherlock crawling all over it all, examining skid marks with a tiny magnifying glass and pacing out projectile directions with those ridiculously long legs of his, it completely failed to. He couldn’t help be amazed by how much information Sherlock had gotten from the shoes of one of the dead men. He almost smiled at how excited Sherlock gotten about a tiny piece of exhaust the other man found on the hard shoulder. He found himself getting caught up in Sherlock’s whole process. So what else could he do? He followed wherever Sherlock led across all the sections of the junction, he gave his medical opinion of the dead bodies when it was requested – although John was left with the strangest feeling that Sherlock didn’t really need it although he couldn’t fathom why it would be asked for if that was the case – and he gripped his gun all the tighter so as to be ready when its use was called for as well.

A couple of hours went by and John was just about to suggest they start heading back if they wanted to get home before sunset when Sherlock suddenly stood up and declared that he needed to see the collectors base at South Weald.

“What?”

John had kept voice was low and dangerous but Sherlock just looked at him as if he was an idiot, a possibly deaf idiot, and continued walking back to where they had parked the scooter. John followed, trying all the while to think of something, anything, he could say that might possibly persuade the other man as to how insane this idea was. By the time they were both back on the scooter with helmets on and Sherlock’s hands around his waist he realised he had utterly failed. Even though all sense of self-preservation was begging him to turn back the way they had come he instead followed the words being spoken into his ear.

“Don’t worry,” Sherlock said as they came off the main road and cut down a little country lane. “I’ll make sure you don’t get collected.”

There was something almost reassuring about the tone which didn’t quite match up with the fingers gripping into his sides and the way his mind was being read.

They followed the lane north, going under the M25 at one point, until they reached the railway line. They hid the scooter in the undergrowth near the railway bridge then cut across two fields and the main road on foot before reaching some woods.

It was odd, the effects the Event seemed to have had on different types of plant life. In London it had almost seemed hit and miss which trees or flowers had been destroyed and which had survived. Of course the Event had happened in winter so all the plants underground at the time had come back once spring hit but there was still some greenery from before that had somehow survived when all the people and animals had been wiped out. The wood they entered was like that. On the very edge there were hundreds of saplings looking like they had been newly planted. As they ventured further in the trees looked older but like they had been in a terrible fire; only half alive. The deeper in they explored the more plant life they found living. At the densest part John nearly gasped with surprise as a squirrel crossed his path.

Whatever hope or liveliness that small miracle may have built in him was dashed as they started to come out of the trees. Running along the eastern edge of the woods was a road and on the other side of it was a barbed fence far too tall to be designed for livestock. At least not animal livestock. At the top end of the woods they got their first glimpse of what it was keeping in.

At the same place as the trees petered out the farm opposite had its main gate and driveway. There was a jeep, three quad bikes, half a dozen or so burly men holding shotguns and about ten or fifteen men and women connected in a long line by chains around their necks. The slaves were filthy, dressed in what seemed to be rags, and all slouched limply with their heads hanging low. They were covered in the scars of their servitude with one or two still bleeding from fresh beating and whip marks. All of them looked exhausted and worn down, their hands particularly ragged and torn. They were being forced to tend the fields with their bare hands, not trusted with tools which could be used as weapons.

John only realised he had taken a step towards them, his fingers tightening further around his Sig, when Sherlock’s hand clamped around his wrist. He looked back and saw the other man shake his head. He stepped back under cover, rage drumming in his ears.

The link at one end of the chain was being connected to the back of the jeep by two of the guards. The other men seemed distracted talking among themselves or busying themselves with their other vehicles. None of them seemed to be paying attention to the slaves, apparently confident that the people were utterly helpless and at their mercy. John obviously wasn’t the only one to notice the lack of attention.

A young Chinese looking girl at the very back of the line took the moment to snap what must have been a weak link in the chain connected to her collar. John’s heart leapt as she made a break for it towards the woods, then crashed as he saw the inevitable. She was thin as a rake, desperate, very quick and quite light on her feet but she got barely a moment’s head start before the men were shouting and chasing after her.

She kept ahead of them, successfully dodging the first bullet and heading straight towards where John and Sherlock were hiding.

He had to help. Six against one was bad odds but with the element of surprise he could do something, get her out of there, set her free. Queen and country and this was his country. He had to do something.

He raised the gun again but before he could aim for the approaching guards Sherlock grabbed his wrist with one hand, slapped the other over his mouth and pulled him into a tight embrace, his right arm pulled sharply across his torso so it pinned his left.

No!

He was held flush against Sherlock’s chest behind the tree so he couldn’t see the girl anymore. He struggled, jabbing Sherlock in the side with his elbow, desperately trying to break the hold. He had to do something; couldn’t Sherlock see he had to do something? Why wasn’t Sherlock doing something?

BANG!

At the high pitched cry he froze, breath caught in his chest. He could feel the rapid beat of Sherlock’s heart through his back. He could barely hear the approaching footsteps of the men over the drumming of his own heart.

There was a sob, a whimper, and a quiet plead for mercy.

He twisted and writhed in Sherlock’s grip, fighting his way forward. Gunshot wound to the back, he could deal with that. He had dealt with that before. He could still get her out of there.

Sherlock held firm, fingers digging into his wrists so hard there would be bruises.

“’Orace won’t be ‘appy,” one of the guards said, gruffly.

“Well she’s no good to us now, is she?” another replied.

There was another gunshot and the sobbing abruptly stopped.


~


As soon as the guards’ footsteps moved from the grass back onto the tarmac, Sherlock felt John give a shuddering breath and go limp in his arms. The other man slumped against his chest, head tilted to one side so it almost rested against his shoulder.

Satisfied that the doctor was no longer planning to make a monumentally stupid mistake he loosened his grip. He let go of John’s wrist gently and dropped his hand from John’s mouth. He didn’t let go completely though, simply lowered his arms so they were against John’s chest and shoulders instead. For a few moments he held his companion in place, listening to the guards disabuse their collection of any aspiration of escape, feeling every deep breath John took.

When the Jeep engine started he felt John straighten up, muscles tensing as the ex-soldier came almost to attention, shoulders rolling back and chin lifting up.

He leaned forward and whispered in John’s ear. “We need to follow.”

John seemed to have focused his gaze on a distant point far ahead of him but he nodded firmly and Sherlock finally released him. John took a step forward, adjusted his grip on the gun, then turned back towards the road, his expression blank. Sherlock didn’t need to look to know that John was staring at the body of the girl. Somehow John managed to straighten up even more and raised his gaze to the guards and their collection. Sherlock watched him for a moment, then when he was certain the doctor wasn’t about to make a move he leaned around the tree to watch as well. The slaves were led away, the jeep moving off slowly so they could keep up. Once the group were sufficiently ahead Sherlock made a break for it across the short gap between them and another grove ahead, satisfied when John followed in silence.

They kept under as much cover as the trees provided, following along beside the collectors until a house came in sight. It was an elegant large country house with a wall that was more decorative than secure before someone had decided to cover it with barbed wire. A tall wooden gate swung open as the work party approached, then slammed closed again once all the guards and the slaves had passed through it.

Sherlock crept towards the gate, signalling to John that he should keep low as well. There were cameras on the outside of the house but they were most likely hangovers from the previous occupants than an actual security measure. While it was possible the collectors had a generator it was unlikely they would be able to spare the power for close circuit television. However they still had to keep out of sight of any people on watch. Their best bet was to get in during the chaos of the returning collectors. The attempted escape could work to their advantage if it meant more of the men were distracted ensuring they didn’t lose any other members of their collection.

He placed his ear close to the gate, listening to the slaves being marched off into the distance and the men arguing as they trudged inside the main building.

The gate had been locked with a chain and was rickety enough that it would make far too much noise if he tried to go over the top. He had to find a way in which wouldn’t be noticed.

With a hand wave to tell John to follow he crept along the edge of the wall, staying close to it while he searched. Finally he spotted the perfect opportunity. What looked like two old barns had been built into the wall so there was a spot where the roofs sloped into each other which would be perfect to hide in. The walls were taller than the outside barrier but there wasn’t any barbed wire. The roof stuck out just enough for him to be able to grab hold of it and pull himself up once he was given a leg up which John seemed happy to provide. John then appeared to expect Sherlock to pull him up onto the roof as well but Sherlock ignored him, focusing on crawling along the roof unnoticed then slipping down the other side, leaving the indignant hisses of, “Sherlock!” behind him.

It was easy. He slipped unnoticed into the main courtyard. The quad bikes had been put away somewhere else but the jeep as well as two Land Rovers and a pickup truck were still stood around by the gate. There was shouting coming from the house, it seemed the returning men had barely made it in the door before getting told off by ‘Orace. Using the vehicles as a shield he was able to check the tyres, examine the bodywork and test the petrol. It took him less than twenty minutes before he was able to get back to John.

“It wasn’t them,” he said quietly as he landed. “No damage to the vehicles, tyres don’t match the marks and the mud is all wrong.”

“Couldn’t it be other members of the group who just aren’t back yet,” John said, expression still shuttered and emotionless.

“Exactly,” said Sherlock, glancing back towards the building to check for observers. “Which means we need to find them.”

The sun was very low in the sky by the time they got back to where they had hidden the scooter. Sherlock let John pull it out of the bushes while he got out his mobile phone and did a quick search for hotels in the area.

There were two in a nearby village but they were probably too close to the house to be likely suspects. Still, they were on the route back to junction twenty-nine so it wouldn’t do any harm to check them out.

They were both deserted, as he expected. He didn’t even get John to slow down the scooter.

He guided John through the country lanes, making a quick stop at a golf club along the way just in case there were rooms there where the ambushers could be staying – there weren’t – until they were back on the A127 to check out a Travelodge further down the road. It was the most likely destination, being large with plenty of rooms and parking. It was also in the strategic location where the ambushers could have set a watch on the main road for the team while the main force took the country roads to come from the south as the colonel had described. It was ideal.

It was a wreck. It looked as though a lorry had been pulling into the nearby service station then, with no one to stop it, had crashed into a wall, over turned and destroyed the restaurant. The lorry had then either caught fire by itself or been set on fire by the unattended cooking equipment and the whole place had gone up. Dull really. Sherlock turned to go.

John continued to stare at the ruins, his head tilted slightly to one side and a faraway look in his eyes. When Sherlock called his name the doctor briefly closed his eyes then turned away before opening them again. He didn’t say anything but instead just got back on the scooter. Sherlock gave the ruins one last glance, quickly running through likely reasons for their effect on John before tucking it all away in the back of his mind to review later. He slid on to the scooter behind John and gave the directions to an inn near the railway station just south of where they were.

It was another dead end in a dead village, long since raided and abandoned.

By the time they reached their next destination it was almost fully dark. The moon wasn’t up so the stars were shining brightly in the clear sky. If Sherlock could have been bothered to learn such pointless things as constellations he was sure he could have picked out every single one. As it was even he had to admit it was beautiful, all the more splendid without any other lights to distort them. Although that fact did make it more dangerous that their headlight, small as it was, would be spotted.

They missed their turning at first but John performed a swift U turn, circling a stalled car, then slowed down as they drew near their target.

It was a small country hotel barely a mile away from the junction although it’s position north of the junction made it an unlikely hideaway. Still it was worth a look before they moved on to the nearby town of Cranham. As they approached the small headlight illuminated an elegant house with a couple of chalets attached and three heavy duty Land Rovers parked in front.

Sherlock was almost impressed with how quickly John reacted, switching off the headlight, turning the scooter around and heading for the undergrowth. They plunged into a ditch and John switched off the engine just as the doors to the house flew open, spilling light out into the courtyard.

Sherlock threw himself to one side, pulled off his helmet and crawled to the edge of the ditch to peek over the top. He took in the scene in front of him, his mind whirring at the consequences of a group being there despite it defying his predictions.

Two figures walked out of open door just as John crawled up beside him, gun at the ready. Sherlock barely noticed him, mind focused on everything the two men who had just appeared could tell him without speaking. Their walk, their clothes, their gestures, their expressions.

One of them walked out into the courtyard, head twitching from side to side, looking or listening for something. The other hung back by the door, the very picture of irritation.

“I told you-“ the one by the door started.

“No, seriously,” the other said. “I saw something.”

“There’s nothing here,” the irritated man threw his hands in the air and spun on the spot. Sherlock caught a glimpse of a patch of blood on the back of his leg. “There’s no one around for miles.”

The second man took a step towards them. With the light coming from the house behind the two figures it was hard for Sherlock to see the man’s expression. He couldn’t tell whether the man was seeing the hundreds of clues that would be obvious to him even in poor light that practically shouted that a scooter had come off the road just in front of the house and two men were spying from the undergrowth. It wasn’t the first time his life had hung on the hope that someone else was dumber than him, with the general idiocy of the population it was practically a weekly occurrence. It also wouldn’t be the last as the man finally turned around and mumbled,

“I’m sure I saw a light.”

There was blood on his shoes as well. Approximately seven or eight hours old. Someone in that house had been bleeding and the men hadn’t noticed it had gotten on them.

“It was probably just a shooting star,” the man by the door said as both men went back up the steps and into the house. “Make a wish.”

The door shut behind them, extinguishing the light.

Sherlock was sure this was the place. But it didn’t make sense. He had to check the vehicles to be absolutely certain.

He pulled himself up and out of the ditch and crept towards the house, treading lightly on the pebbled driveway. John followed quickly behind him and for a moment he considered ordering the doctor to wait by the scooter out of sight and out of harm’s way. He quickly squashed the thought, after all what was the point of having an assistant if he was just going to send him away. Still, that the idea had crossed his mind puzzled him.

They crouched behind the Land Rover closest to the road and Sherlock pulled out his torch. He switched it on then paused a moment to check for movement from the house.

When there was no immediate reaction he left John to keep watch while he turned his attention to the vehicle. He examined the tyres – briefly holding the torch in his mouth while he took a sample if the mud from the tread – and tasted the petrol – Sherlock saw John screw up his face at that. Then he turned off the torch before moving round to the side of the car that faced the house. He quickly ran his hands over the bodywork, feeling the bumps and dents but, frustratingly, there was nothing conclusive.

Closer to the house he could just about see the thin edge of light peeking out from the curtains. The group must have brought quite powerful battery operated lamps with them. They were fully prepared for a long haul. The small glow wasn’t enough to see anything by but was just enough to ruin his night vision. He pulled up his mental image of the courtyard as he had seen when the door was open and headed for the next vehicle. John, who hadn’t followed him round to the other side of the car but had clearly deduced his movements, followed. But evidently the other man’s mental map was not as accurate as Sherlock’s – not that he would have expected it to be – and John’s foot caught on the tyre. The doctor caught himself almost immediately but scuffed the pebbles loudly as he did so. Already at the other car, Sherlock ducked down behind it, hoping John would have the good sense to dodge back behind the first Land Rover rather than attempt to make a dash for it across the courtyard. In the thin veil of light that crossed the courtyard as someone inside the house peeked through the curtains he saw that John had done exactly that. He let out a breath he hadn’t realised he had been holding.

Once the watchman was gone and John was by his side again he was able to turn his attention back to car. This one had definite bullet holes at the rear. Sherlock stood with his back to the house, using his coat to block the light of his torch as he confirmed to himself that they matched the sort of artillery the team had been carrying. Another mud sample and a taste of the petrol and the evidence stacked up. There was one more car left to test.

The third car was the trickiest. It was the closest to the building and the fuel cap was on that side of the vehicle. After checking the tyres on the far side of the car and taking the mud sample he turned off the torch and pressed a hand firmly to John’s shoulder to indicate he should stay still. He very carefully skirted around the edge of the car. He took off his gloves to run his hands along the bodywork so he could feel out the fuel door by touch. He pulled open the flap and dipped his finger in to catch some of the fuel that had been dripped around the fuel cap He brought it to his mouth and delicately tasted it with the light touch of his tongue.

It was exactly the same as the other two Land Rovers and nothing like fuel from the collector’s vehicles at South Weald. They were two different groups. It was all a set up.

“Sherlock!”

Sherlock dropped to the ground before John had even finished hissing out the first syllable and scrambled under the car before the shaft of light from the twitched curtains could hit him. He froze until the light had gone then crawled towards John. Strong hands helped him up the other side and he kept hold of one so he could tug it in the direction of the scooter as a silent indication that they should be going.

Then things got very noisy, very quickly.


Chapter 6



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