The Case of TRACE
A Shirley Holmes Fan Fiction
by Andrea Russell
July 21, 2000 15,000 words
Author's note: I don't own any of the Shirley characters, or Carson and Blake (thanks again, Courtney and HA, for lending them to me). I also make references to Courtney's fanfics "The Case of the Kidnapper", "Halloween Terror", and "Redington Beauty". HA, T.R.A.C.E is not meant to be a second ENIGMA; I set up the plot for this quite a while ago, before I read your fanfics.
"Letter?" Bo Sawchuck asked.
"E-mail," Shirley Holmes replied, nose buried in the single page, eyes darting over the fine black print, "Gran printed it off for me this morning. It's from my cousin, Maya. She lives in England."
"I didn't know you had a cousin." Bo was surprised. He really shouldn't have been- there was a lot about his best friend he didn't know, and he knew that. He also knew there was a lot he would never find out, and he had long ago learned to accept that, but a cousin? Surely she could have told him about a cousin.
"Her mum is my Aunt Lucy- she's Dad's sister." Shirley elaborated, lowering the printout. "Maya's our age, and she's even smarter than me."
"You know, Shirley, there is such a thing as modesty," Bo said half-jokingly.
"Hmm?" Shirley looked up at him, blue eyes puzzled.
"Never mind," he shrugged. "So, what's- uh -Maya got to say?"
Shirley's eyes flew back down to the sheet.
"She said to expect her call tonight, around eleven-thirty our time."
"Is she a lot like you?" Bo wondered aloud. "Besides being smart, I mean."
"I'm not sure- I haven't seen her since we were eight years old, when we were having a good-bye party for Mum. But she e-mails me almost every day- we like a lot of the same things."
"Mysteries, danger, science projects, and making a perfectly ordinary thing into the crime of the century?" Bo ticked off on his fingers.
"Yeah, pretty much," Shirley decided, as the two friends reached her house. "Now, do you have time for a Coke, or did your parents want you to come straight home?"
"Yeah, we've got a lot of work to do," Bo said, scuffing the gravel with the toe of his sneaker.
Shirley smiled sympathetically at him, and said "Bye, then. I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Yeah," he nodded, and then turned away.
Shirley watched until he was out of sight before turning and heading into the house, Maya's e-mail in her hand.
* * *
Bo had just turned out the lights and was settling into bed when the phone shrilled in his ear. He almost fell out of bed, grabbing at the receiver and putting it to his ear.
"Bo! Bo, she's coming!" Shirley shrieked at him.
"Who's coming where?" And- and why do you sound so weird?"
"Weird?" Shirley faltered, puzzled.
"Sort of far away."
There was a pause, then;
"Bo," Shirley said slowly and carefully, "turn the receiver around."
Checking it, Bo found he had his ear to the mouthpiece. Glad she wasn't there to see him blush, he obeyed, and then repeated his question.
"Maya! My cousin Maya, from England! She just called, and said her mum's putting her on the first flight out from London! It's alright with Dad, Mum and Gran- she'll be getting here around eight o'clock tomorrow morning!"
"That's- that's great!" Bo said, feeling an inward qualm at the thought of two nosy, aggravatingly intelligent (if pretty) descendents of Sherlock Holmes poking around Redington, digging up every semi-criminal activity perpetrated in the past decade or so.
"This is going to- oh . . ." her voice grew fainter. "But Dad! I had to tell . . . Come on, just one . . . I- oh, fine." she came back on the line, and said hastily, "Sorry, Dad says I gotta go to bed. We'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
Shirley wasn't in school the next morning, and Bo wondered if there hadn't been a complication in picking up her cousin.
But at twelve o'clock he was rewarded. Looking up from his tuna sandwich, Alicia on his right, babbling about a new pair of shoes she had gotten, Stink on his left, making a mashed potato sculpture of Ms Stratman (and it was a pretty good likeness), he spotted Shirley. And Shirley.
Really, for a second he thought he was seeing double. Two girls with long brown hair, curious, searching expressions and the same pretty features and flashing eyes- he blinked once, twice, three times.
"Bo!" one called, leading the other over to him, "This is my cousin, Maya Norton. Maya, this is Bo Sawchuck."
"Hello, Bo," grinned the second girl. "Shirley's been telling me heaps of things about you. Don't worry- most of it was good."
Now that they were standing directly in front of him, he could see that Maya was a good two inches shorter than her cousin, with brown eyes instead of blue. She wore her thick brown hair long, like Shirley, but with a light fringe of bangs across her forehead. He also noticed, thanks to Shirley's careful schooling, a glasses case protruding from her pants pocket.
"Hi," he shook the hand she offered. "So, uh, you're from England?"
Pretty stupid thing to say, he realized seconds later. She had the same cool, precise accents as Shirley's father, Robert, and grandmother, Peggy. Also, her clothes were pressed and cleaned almost to a point of obsession.
But she only nodded, and smiled warmly at him. It was then that Bo decided he was going to like Maya Norton just fine.
Maya stayed at Sussex with Shirley for the afternoon, and Bo saw almost at once that Shirley was right- Maya was brilliant. Three times she bested Shirley, and each time, Shirley seemed thrilled by the experience.
Molly Hardy was eyeing Maya speculatively by the end of the day, and as Shirley, Maya and Bo approached the main door, coats on, Bo and Shirley with their backpacks slung over their backs, Molly stepped into their path.
"Maya Juliet Lucy Norton, hmm?" she addressed Maya, a slightly smug note to her voice. Maya nodded in confirmation of the fact, and then returned mildly:
"Mary Kathleen Hardy, I presume?"
"Mmm-hmm," Molly looked suitably impressed. "You do your homework, I see."
"I make it a principle to be . . . well-informed of my cousin's adversaries."
"Highly commendable," Molly decided. "Now, I presume, of course, that you are the Mycroft to your cousin's Sherlock?"
Bo was completely lost, but Shirley looked like the cat who had swallowed the canary, and Maya nodded briefly to Molly.
Later, Bo would learn that Mycroft Holmes had been Maya and Shirley's great-grandfather; Sherlock Holmes's (smarter) older brother.
Maya got rid of Molly in a couple more words, and the three of them all headed unanimously towards the Holmes house.
"I haven't seen Aunt Joanna and Uncle Robert in ages," Maya said, a bit nervously. "Grams hasn't changed a bit- but have they?"
Shirley didn't have time to answer. A green car came speeding up, and Bo barely had tome to register the fact that there was a gun barrel protruding from the open window when Shirley and Maya crashed into him from behind. They knocked him flat on his face as a rattling burst of gunfire erupted in the air above their heads.
The car sped away, leaving three trembling teenagers lying on the sidewalk.
"Is everybody alright?" Maya asked presently, voice quivering. Then, she burst into tears.
"Maya!" Shirley exclaimed, impulsively flinging her arms around her cousin, hugging her.
"They found me!" Maya sobbed hysterically. "They found me, Shirley! You said they wouldn't find me- you said!"
"Ssh, ssh," Shirley murmured a bit awkwardly, sitting half under, half on her weeping cousin, rocking her back and forth. "We'll fix it. I didn't know, Maya. But now we'll fix it, I promise you."
Gradually Maya calmed, leaving tearstains on her cheeks, and all-but visible question marks on Bo's face.
"Look, maybe I'm missing something here," he said, nervous, "but did someone just shoot at us?"
"Yes," Shirley confirmed, glancing in the direction the car had gone. "Now, we'd better get back inside. You never know- they might come back, just to make sure they got us all."
So they ran for the Holmes mansion, and, bursting through the door, were confronted by three smiling adults and a large cake.
""Aunt Joanna!" Maya exclaimed, displaying the acting skills that ran in her family as she ran to hug her aunt. "It's smashing to see you!" Then she turned to her uncle, embraced him too, and hugged her grandmother for the second time that day.
If Maya's eyes were a little red around the edges, the adults put it down to jet lag and the emotion of seeing then again.
"Great-looking cake, Gran," Shirley smiled at Peggy Holmes, who accepted the praise with the grace of a queen, and said:
"It's fish cake."
"F-fish?" Maya's smile faltered.
"Bo's parents are having a sale," Gran explained. "Naturally, I had to support them. We're having sole for dinner."
"Sounds great," Shirley said quickly. "Now, I told Maya I'd show her the room, so . . . Can the party wait?"
"Of course," Joanna Holmes was at once concerned. "We weren't thinking of you, Maya. You must be exhausted- Shirley, Bo, don't keep her up talking too long, do you hear?"
They said they heard, and began to shepherd Maya into the living room, showing her the bookcase that slid back, revealing the flight of stairs that led to Shirley's attic bedroom and laboratory.
The bookcase swung shut behind them, and they let Maya change into pajamas in the bedroom, while Shirley changed out of her uniform in the bathroom into jeans and a blue-and-white striped T-shirt.
Maya and Shirley emerged at the same time, and joined Bo in the lab. While they had been changing, he had noticed a pile of blankets and pillows on the arm of the foldout couch, and had made it up into a bed.
Maya sank into it gratefully, and said, "God bless the man who invented the bed."
Shirley, turning on her computer and logging on to the Net, grinned. "Don't fall asleep on us, Maya. We're going to need your help soon."
"Yeah," Bo frowned. "Like, when you explain to me who found you, why they were shooting at us, and just what, exactly, is this all about."
"Fair enough," Maya decided. "After all, you and Shirley are what, only best friends?" There was a note of humour in her voice, and she smiled slightly before starting to talk.
"They're members of a group of freedom fighters who call themselves T.R.A.C.E.; Those Righteously Against Criminal Exploitation. They're absolutely wacko.
"My father is with British Intelligence, and it was he who first discovered T.R.A.C.E.'s existence. Now, the head of T.R.A.C.E. (whoever he is) is rather revenge-minded."
"And they're trying to get to your father through you," Bo guessed. Maya nodded wearily, looking suddenly as if she hadn't slept in days.
"Daddy's hunting them down- so far, they've freed four hundred, seventy-two criminals from prisons all around the world. Most of them were re-captured, but there are still over a hundred fifty members out there. And one of them is the head of T.R.A.C.E."
"Maya came here because her parents were worried about her safety," Shirley explained. "They figured a city, whose population is one or two shy of turning it into a town, would be the last place T.R.A.C.E would look for her. But-" she frowned slightly, glancing over at Maya, who looked pale but determined, "I guess they were wrong."
"Shouldn't we call the cops?" Bo asked, using his old standby.
"And tell them what?" Maya exclaimed in a hoarse whisper. "That a criminal organization, whose existence is known only to its members and the most elite officials of my government, is trying to kill me? Oh, yes, I'm sure they would swallow that one quite- willingly!"
Bo had the grace to blush as Maya sagged back against the pillows, watching Shirley search through a special database Bart had set up for her.
"Redington area men/women, green car, gun permit," she typed, and sat back. A look of increasing horror appeared on her face as the results ran down -and down -and down the screen.
"A total of-" Shirley leaned forward to read the number, which caused her to quiver slightly, "1,024 matches found."
"Oh, no," Maya groaned.
"Is there anything else you can tell me about T.R.A.C.E. Maya?" Shirley asked hopefully.
"Daddy's rather secretive about his work- he's worried I'll pick up on something, and get kidnapped because of it." Maya explained. "All I do know is that the head of T.R.A.C.E. is thought to be an Englishman, and that rumor has it he's undertaken to do me in personally, so he's likely here in Redington- I'll bet he was even in the car that shot at us."
"Okay," Shirley murmured, her fingers flying across the keyboard as she revised her search, and sent it in.
The results were considerably less, numbering fourteen. And when she narrowed it down to recent arrivals in Canada, there were only three.
"Maya, any of these sound familiar?" Shirley asked, and then read off the names to her as she listened intently. In the end, however, she simply shook her head.
"No, I'm sorry, Shirley. But of course, those are the names on their passports and such, and our man wouldn't be using his real name, would he?"
Then Maya's lips curved upwards, into a smile.
"Although Uncle Paul did tell me about a criminal who went through life with his real name, and was only caught at the age of eighty-seven; sixty-four years after his so-called "career" began."
"Paul?" Shirley asked, clicking on one label to read the information. "Who's he? I thought your dad didn't have any siblings."
"He doesn't- Uncle Paul's Daddy's absolute best friend in the world. He's in the government service too, but he's just an ordinary agent- Daddy's the C.I.S.F.A."
"The what?" Bo stammered. Shirley answered as she read a page of personal data to herself.
"Chief Inspector of Suspicious Foreign Activities- here, what about this fellow? His name's Angelo Corelli, and he's the Italian ambassador. He arrived in Redington a week ago."
"Anybody else?" Bo asked.
"Uh, yeah. A diplomat named Michael Grey, from England, and a Polish immigrant named Karl Dussel with a wife and twelve kids."
"That's it for people in Redington- only these three. Oh, and I'm eliminating the Pole."
"With all of those children, he'd attract far too much attention to be the one we're looking for. Perhaps we should head over to the Embassy tomorrow? Or- is tomorrow a Friday? I'm all turned around."
"Tomorrow's Saturday," Shirley said, printing out the information regarding Angelo Corelli and Michael Grey. "We'll hitch a ride with Dad- wear something prissy-looking. It goes over better than jeans and tees."
"I'll keep it in mind," Maya sounded amused, if exhausted. "I think, however, that if you don't mind, I'd like to catch some sleep before we do."
Choosing not to tell her it was only four o'clock in the afternoon, Shirley and Bo collected the printouts, turned off the computer, and tiptoed away.
Bo stayed for supper, which was sole, as Gram had said, and haddock and flounder, which she hadn't.
Shirley went up to bed early, before ten, and lay under the covers with Watson on her lap, music playing in the background, and the information concerning Angelo Corelli and Michael Grey in her hand.
"What do you think, Watson?" she asked the basset. He gave a massive yawn, such as only bassets can give, and went to sleep.
"Some faithful friend you are," Shirley commented mildly, and returned to carefully studying the papers she held.
It was some time later that she put out her light- her clock read ten thirty-five -and turned on her side. She was just drifting off to sleep when she heard the scream.
It wasn't the sort of scream that sends shivers up your spine, or makes you jump violently. It was the sort of scream that splits the air like a dagger and rips at your head, echoing inside long after the scream itself has stopped, until you feel sure you will go mad from it all. It was a scream of pure terror, wholly undiluted - the kind that makes it seem as though the world were ending, and actually has you believing that it is.
It woke the entire household in one-and-a half seconds.
"Maya!" Joanna Holmes, incongruously dressed in white, two-piece silk pajamas, was pounding on the attic laboratory door. "Maya, what's wrong?! Are you hurt?!"
"Hurt?!" Gran exclaimed, mounting the steps, resplendent in blue velvet and white satin, "It sounds as if the entire Russian Mafia is subjecting her to the most sadistic torture ever conceived by man! For the love of all that's good and holy, break the bloody door in!"
"I think I'm inclined to agree," Robert Holmes, wearing green and white-striped pj's and a green bathrobe, admitted. "Shirley, unless you have a key . . ."
"I do, Dad." she reassured him, producing one from the ledge above the doorframe.
Standing in her green and gold nightshirt, she fiddled with the lock until it gave way beneath the old brass key, and the door swung open.
During this time, Maya had not stopped screaming. But now she did, and the entire Holmes household (including Watson) found her huddled in an armchair, brown eyes swollen with fright, uttering strange, pathetic little whimpers.
"Maya?" Shirley placed a tentative hand on her cousin's arm. Maya jumped violently before she realized who it was.
"Oh, Shirley; LOOK!"
She pointed at an object lying on the floor. It was hard, rough-textured, and a dirty brown in colour- a brick. It had come crashing through the window, sending glass everywhere, and causing Maya, whose nerves were already worn paper-thin, to simply lose it.
Gingerly, Joanna approached the brick, and picked it up.
"There's a note wrapped around it," she said, and proceeded to read it aloud, eyes widening and brow furrowing in puzzlement.
"Should the bird not sing then the mouse will grow wings, and serve in place of the daughter of the king." she stopped.
"Well, I must say he (whoever he is) is a regular Lewis Carroll. This makes no sense to me whatsoever."
Shirley, however, could see with one glance at Maya's face that it made perfect sense to her, and that it was scaring her half to death.
"Maybe Maya would like to sleep with Watson and I," she suggested. "It's probably just some joker, but it might make her feel safer."
Maya managed to nod, so Joanna took the girls to Shirley's room, Watson tagging along behind, while Robert went to call first the Embassy, to request extra Security, and then a window-making place, asking them to come at their earliest convenience.
Gran first swept up the glass and tacked a piece of plastic over the gaping frame, and then, behaving like a true Englishwoman in time of crisis, made a pot of tea.
So it came to pass that Maya and Shirley were propped up in the spacious antique bed, sipping tea, and examining the note.
"Written by a left handed person, possibly a man." Shirley decided.
"Definitely a man," Maya corrected. "Very well-educated- see those T's? Could definitely use a new pair of reading glasses, too. And, I can also tell you what it means."
"I thought you would be able to," Shirley said quietly.
"Well the first part- about the bird -refers to me. Daddy always calls me Little Bird. By my not singing, they mean me not telling Daddy to lay off T.R.A.C.E.- or, rather, dying to get the point across.
"The second part, about the mouse growing wings, and filling in for the king's daughter, means that-"
"-I'll be expected to fill your spot. They'll use me to get to you- or, rather, Uncle Geoff." Shirley finished. "I get it now- my dad calls me 'Mouse'."
Then she stopped, puzzled, and looked at her cousin.
"But who would know that, besides Dad, Mum, Gran and me?"
"You mentioned it to me once," Maya recalled. "You know, it's likely that he has somebody tapping our phone lines, and if he does, he could have a splicer on the computer, which would give him access to my mail. He could easily have found out that way."
Shirley shivered. Suddenly, she felt extremely vulnerable. It seemed as if T.R.A.C.E. could reach them anywhere- and would, in order to gain their objective.
"Maybe- maybe we should try and go to sleep." Maya suggested, seeing her cousin quivering.
Shirley gratefully accepted the idea, and the two girls snuggled down in bed. Yet, even with the many blankets Joanna had added, Watson, and the warmth of each other's body, they were still chilled.
* * *
The next morning, they woke up early to the sound of Robert and Peggy Holmes arguing vehemently with a strange man. They fussed about gardenias and Echinacea, and too-big feet and too-clumsy people who ought to be prohibited from occupying any office of the least amount of importance, as they were likely to ruin everything.
Shirley and Maya, still in their pajamas, wandered down to investigate with Watson trundling reluctantly along behind.
When they got to the door Maya was the first out, and she shivered a bit in her blue and grey Winnie-the Pooh nightshirt as the cool morning air hit her. Shirley, pushing her way out onto the front step, did too, before turning to see what all the fuss was about.
" . . . it took me a year to finally perfect that hybrid!" Robert was yelling, enraged, "Now look what you've done to it!"
"My Echinacea will never be the same," Gran mourned. Then, suddenly turning nasty, she snapped:
"And don't tell me you couldn't have avoided it! They are quite plainly visible in the floodlights- so what on earth were you doing in our garden?"
"I was just protecting you!" whined a man wearing a rumpled black suit, an earphone, and a healthy growth of stubble on his chin. "It's my job, isn't it?"
"Security agent," Shirley whispered to Maya. "From the Embassy."
"Are they usually English?" Maya inquired. Shirley, who had also noticed the broad, sharp, Manchester accent, shook her head.
"Maybe one in four," she hazarded, "but no more than that. The rest are usually Canadians- a few Americans, too, looking for a cushy job, but not finding it."
"So," Gran was saying angrily, "we're just supposed to let you run all through out gardens? I think not!"
"I'm afraid you'll have to pay for the damages," Robert said, gesturing with his coffee cup at the trampled plants, "and we would be obliged should you find yourself a replacement, and obtain another post."
"Yes, Sir." the man said sulkily, digging into his back pocket for a billfold. Robert extended his hand expectantly, and Gran looked up, spotting Shirley, Maya and Watson.
"Girls!" she admonished them, "it's chilly out here- get back inside, won't you, before you catch your death."
Shirley hesitated, and Maya leaned precariously out over the railing to inspect the crumpled mess that had been her grandmother and uncle's flowers.
"Shirley, you heard your grandmother," Robert addressed his daughter.
"But, just one-"
"NOW." Gran said firmly, so, reluctantly, the girls obeyed, a most baffled basset hound lumbering along behind.
"Mum, what happened out there with the plants?" Shirley asked Joanna, who was busy dicing away at Sawchuck tuna and green onions for a fish omelet.
"Oh, some fellow wasn't paying attention to where he put his feet," Joanna smiled. "The result was the -er- unfortunate demise of your father's prize gardenia hybrids."
"You never liked those hybrids, did you, Mum?" Shirley laughed, putting her arms around her mother's waist and hugging her.
"Well, no, now that you mention it!" Joanna smiled, returning her daughter's warm gaze. "But please don't tell him- he was only just perfecting them when I- left." She faltered over the last word, and a shadow flashed across Shirley's face. Maya noticed and quickly jumped in, purposely upbeat.
"What was that fellow doing in the garden, anyway?" she asked, trying to sound light- hearted, both for her cousin's sake and for her aunt's.
"Heaven only knows," Joanna shrugged, returning to her vigorous chopping. "He's not going to be coming around here again, I can promise you. Robert might be upset, but Peggy is absolutely furious."
"He trampled her Echinacea." now Joanna's smile was rueful. "She's positively livid- she really adored that plant. I liked it too, actually- strangely enough." Joanna Holmes did not like flowers or plants unless they served a purpose, as Echinacea did. Too much useless work, she claimed, when there was already so much else to worry about. But she never discouraged her husband or her mother-in-law, and Robert was not even aware of how she felt. Peggy, who knew, respected this, and kept her flowers away from her daughter-in-law's bedroom window.
"So, he's history, then?" Maya smiled. Joanna nodded, dumping the tuna and onion into a bowl, along with grated cheese and beaten egg.
"Most definitely. Now, why don't you two go upstairs and get washed and changed? It looks as if we're going to have six security men- minus one -to breakfast. Go on, now."
Shirley and Maya obeyed, unaware that Joanna was only half right. As it turned out, all of the security guards came- apparently Peggy and Robert had decided to extend an invitation to the plant-killer, even after what he had done.
So it came to pass that the Holmes family and six burly, unshaven, armed men were sitting around the massive, rarely-used dining room table, eating fish omelets and drinking orange juice.
Talk was of a very limited and interesting kind, to say the least.
"Did you see the look on the face of that guy we knocked down last week, outside of the ambassador's house?"
"I thought he was ready to take the nine of us on with his bare hands!"
"My, my- you young men must be very brave to deal with such dangerous people- and it must be so stressful! Are you, by any chance, familiar with the relaxation techniques of Adina Moreau . . ?"
"What a spectacular omelet you make, Mrs.Holmes! And so innovative, too, to use fish instead of ham. Perhaps you could give me the recipe?"
"Why, of course, Mr.Schroeder, I would be delighted."
"Does your wife cook, then, Mr.Schroeder?"
"Ah, no, Mr.Holmes, but I do."
Maya was flanked by the two Brits of the six men, one the plant-killer, the other, a very pleasant man with, as she put it, "piles of muscles."
"What part of England are you from, Miss Norton?"
"Good old London, Mr.Parker. And you are from Bristol area, aren't you?"
"Why, yes! Feels great to have someone tell where you're from just by your accent, aside from those stuff-shirts at the Embassy. Not, of course, meaning your uncle, Miss Norton."
"No, of course not . . ."
"And where did you get this one?"
"Er- it was given to me by the Security Chief, Miss Holmes, and I'm not so sure you should be handling it that way-"
"There, you are- the lid was on backwards, that's all."
"So, that's how it works! How'd you know that, anyway?"
"Oh, I have one just like it upstairs somewhere. Dad gave it to me for my birthday last year. Oh, hey, Mr.Hart, do you want to see a really neat feature that's built into those night-vision goggles? If you switch them to 'daylight', you can . . ."
And so it went, until about ten a.m. when Joanna forcibly evicted the few remaining stragglers in order to clear away the dishes, Shirley, Maya and Gran helping.
"Mum, can we go to the Embassy with Dad today? Maya's never been there, and besides, after what happened last night, we'd both feel a lot safer."
"I haven't got a problem with it," Joanna smiled, "but didn't I hear you making plans to take Bo, too? I'd hate to think you'd forget to warn him you were leaving soon. Why don't you call him, and tell him to get ready?"
"I love having a mother!" Shirley exclaimed, giving a startled, pleased Joanna a whopping-big hug, and tearing off to find a phone, "they think of everything!"
Maya, left behind, grinned ruefully after her cousin.
"You know, there wasn't an e-mail she sent me or a phone call she made to me that she didn't talk about you," she told her aunt. "But when you finally came home, after all those years of hoping, she got scared. She was scared you'd have changed; scared she'd lose you again . . . scared you were just one more dream. But most of all, she was scared because she didn't remember how to have a mother. That's how she put it- she didn't remember how."
"To tell you the truth, Maya," Joanna admitted quietly, "I wasn't sure I'd remember how to be one. Everything I'd learned about her, since the day I first felt her kick inside me, to when she threw herself at me, kicking and screaming, and begging me not to leave her- what if I forgot something? Seven years apart is a long time for anyone, but it's an eternity for a mother."
"You're doing just fine, Aunt Joanna," Maya reassured her. Joanna's smile was wan, at best, as Peggy watched sympathetically from a distance.
"Am I? Sometimes, I wake up in the night, and for a second I think I'm still there- in Rwanda. Then I have to get up, and sneak into her room, and tuck her in. Or sometimes, I just stand there for a while, looking at her. You know-" her lip quivered, "just to make sure she's really mine again.
"There were nights in Rwanda where I used to think I heard her calling to me. When I could almost feel her little arms around my neck- when I'd be ready to do just anything to fell them again; hold her again. Sometimes-"
She broke off abruptly. "But that's neither here nor there."
Now Peggy approached, laying a gentle hand on Joanna's arm.
"She missed you, too, Joanna." she said, and there was something akin to gentle reproach in her soft, bright blue eyes- Shirley's eyes.
"She missed you, too."
Then she gestured slightly to Maya, and, with armloads of dirty dishes, they left the dining room, leaving Joanna alone to ponder this thought.
"Mum?" Shirley asked hesitantly, poking her head around the doorframe, "can I come in?"
Joanna looked up, startled. How much time had passed?
"Of- of course, Mouse. Sit down. We'll talk."
Shirley obeyed, sitting almost awkwardly beside her mum, facing her.
"What d'you want to talk to me about?"
"Well, it's something your father said to me a while ago, and something Gran said just now reminded me of it."
Joanna took a deep breath.
" He said that - that you never stopped hoping I was alive. Not once. You never stopped hoping. And I need to know, Shirley, is that true?"
Shirley thought of the journal she had written in almost daily since her mother had left, seven years ago. The journal her mother would likely never read. She took a deep breath of her own.
"Sort of," she said. "It's sort of true. Not the hoping part, though. I never stopped believing you were alive, because somehow, I just knew you were."
"How, Shirley? How did you know that?"
Shirley shifted, uncomfortable. She hadn't really had a heart-to-heart with her mother since she came home, and in actual fact, she couldn't have picked a touchier, more sensitive subject had she tried.
"I dunno. I just- I just knew. Sometimes, at night, I would dream you were there, talking to me. I'd see your face in my mind so, so clearly, and I could hear your voice in my head. There were times, at school, when I'd think I saw you- or in a crowded place, like a mall. I'd run over, sometimes, before I'd realize it couldn't be you. But I never once believed you were dead. I'd know, I thought, if you were dead. I knew you weren't, even when Dad and Gran didn't. And- I was right. You weren't."
"No," Joanna said, after a long pause, "I wasn't. I'm not,. And now I'm here, home, with you. Just like I wanted for so long . . ."
"And just like I wanted, too," Shirley pointed out, with a down to earth kind of frankness that made Joanna give a quick, little laugh.
"Yes, sweetheart, just like you wanted, too. I love you, Mouse."
"I love you, too," Shirley said, leaning forward to give her mum a tight, fierce hug,
Then Joanna stood, her arm around Shirley's shoulders, and led her daughter - how big and beautiful she'd gotten! - into the kitchen.
"So, is Bo coming?"
"Yup," Shirley breathed an audible sigh of relief at the mediocre topic- she didn't think she could have stood another serious one.
"He was glad we reminded him- we usually find something to do at the Embassy when we go."
"Is he your boyfriend?"
"I'm just asking!" Joanna laughed. "I'm a mother, after all. Well? Is he?"
"No. He used to be, a little while ago. It actually started when-"
"When Mrs.Sawchuck and I set you up. I thought it might. But why isn't he now?"
"When Nicole died- well, it just got to be too much." Shirley shifted, a bit uncomfortable.
"But you're still friends?" Joanna asked, genuinely concerned. "I'd hate to think that I-"
"No! You didn't split us up. We're best friends, first and forever." Shirley reassured her with feeling.
"That's alright, then," Joanna looked relieved. "Now, you'd better get a move on- it's almost eleven o'clock, and that's when your dad leaves."
"I know. I'll see you, Mum."
"I certainly hope so! Be careful, Mouse- I love you."
"I love you too, Mum. Bye!"
Then she was gone, a blur of blue and white, and Joanna was left in the kitchen with a pile of dirty dishes, and an overwhelming sense of relief within her.
She had her daughter back.
* * *
The dark limousine that pulled up outside the British Embassy deposited not only a distinguished-looking diplomat and six, tough-looking Secret Service security agents, but three teenaged kids as well.
Well-dressed kids, for the most part, but still kids- not, overall, a common sight at the Embassy.
But of course, these kids were different. People knew Shirley and Bo, and greeted them. A few would recognize Maya from visits home, and say hi to her, too.
"So, you three are sure you can amuse yourselves, and keep out of trouble at the same time?" Robert asked, a tad nervous.
"Dad, we're not complete infants, you know," Shirley rolled her eyes.
"We'll be fine, Mr.Holmes," Bo promised. Robert still looked doubtful.
"Go on, Uncle Robert!" Maya laughed. "You'd think we were plotting to tap into the system, and destroy the work of decades the second your back was turned! We'll be perfectly all right, I promise. We'll probably just surf around on the Net until it's time to go. Now, go on."
He went, but very reluctantly.
The second he was out of sight, Shirley led Maya and Bo to one of many computers situated in a large, carpeted room. Sitting down in front of the screen, she gestured for them to pull up chairs on either side of her.
"This shouldn't take long- stats on diplomats and ambassadors are never hard to call up."
"You mean, you do this often?" Maya asked, raising her eyebrows.
Shirley didn't answer.
Maya didn't ask twice.
Selecting the program she wanted, she keyed in a few words and immediately a large, red, 'please wait' sign flashed onto the screen. Shirley, in return, flashed her friends a huge grin.
"We have contact!" she quipped softly, as the results appeared.
"Angelo Corelli," Bo read aloud. "Age, forty-eight. Nationality, Italian. Status, active ambassador, currently residing in Embassy housings in Redington."
He stopped reading, and, when the two girls shot him quizzical looks, he shrugged.
"I dunno- I just don't get what his point would be. I mean, why would a guy who has such a high status, both here and in his homeland, a great house, and a tax-free salary bother to fool around with an organization like T.R.A.C.E.?"
"Or with Daddy," Maya added. "I see his point, Shirley. I mean, what can we learn from this that you don't already know from what you printed off last night?
Shirley frowned slightly but said nothing. Instead, she stubbornly read down the whole screen before calling up the next results of her search, this time on Michael Grey.
Bo went through the same operations he had before, reading aloud softly, finally ending with a few dry comments made by Michael's co-workers back home in England about his superb integrity, and valuable contributions to the English government.
"Well, that was certainly a waste of time," Maya said in disgust, falling back in her chair. "Mr.Clean Record, if ever I saw him!"
"Maybe," Shirley said noncommittally. Her fingers flew over the keyboard, executing a series of commands. An Internet webpage appeared, and she typed a request for e-mail access.
An account box appeared, listing Shirley's name as Miranda Harris, and her e-mail address as one Bo didn't recognize.
"For more dangerous cases," she explained, in response to his puzzled look. "It's almost completely untraceable."
Then she set to work typing a brief greeting and a short, rather to-the-point message, at last forwarding the info about Corelli and Grey as attatchments.
She signed herself 'City Girl', so even had she not headed it 'Cowboy', Bo would have known who it was for.
"I didn't know you kept in touch with Matt," he said. Shirley nodded; but for the faint, pink tinge to her cheeks, her expression was completely unreadable.
"We set this up a while ago. So far, I've helped him on five different cases, and he's helped me on six. We find it helps to talk the details over with each other- sometimes one of us will pick up on something the other missed the first time."
"What," Maya teased, "the great Holmes? Wrong? Surely not!"
"It's happened to you too, Miss Norton," Shirley returned calmly. "I could list at least four times you've asked me for my opinion- once, I even forwarded your e-mail to Matt. He helped you solve it, although I never told you."
"The Johnson trial." Maya stated it, not asked. "I knew it wasn't all your solution. I thought, maybe Bo- but that's neither here nor there. What do you think Matt will be able to do?"
"He has a critical mind," Shirley murmured, "He also has a key-pal whose father works for the Italian government, and I think he knows a woman in MI6. He can usually work something out of them without much fuss, and then he sends it to me, and we talk it over."
She clicked on the 'Send' button, and then logged off, spinning around in her chair to face her cousin and her friend.
"So- anybody up for a game of 'Scavenger Hunt'?"
* * *
As he watched the Norton and Holmes girls and their friend make up lists for their hunt, his brow furrowed in mild consternation.
The Canadian girl was proving more of an obstacle than he had thought she would. He had not been informed much of her personality- heads would roll for that, and it meant he would have to do some last-minute digging into her background very soon.
He had naturally expected the great-granddaughter of Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's smarter brother, to have a very intelligent cousin. But a cousin almost as smart as she? It was inconceivable! It was, in fact, very much like the relationship Mycroft and Sherlock had shared a hundred years ago. It could, he knew, prove troublesome. He watched their faces intently- there were differences, naturally, but not as many as one would suppose.
The eyes, especially- they were identical. Oh, color was unimportant- so one pair was a velvety brown, the other, electric blue. It was the person behind the eyes who was the same- the same smart, loyal, serious, fiercely curious person behind each pair.
His hand clenched in involuntary anger. After what Geoffrey Norton had put him through, he deserved to suffer. And how better to make him suffer, than to take the life of his only child?
And if he couldn't manage to get straight to her? Well, he thought, as he studied the Holmes child's profile intently, wondering absently what kind of things he would find in her background history, there was more than one way to skin a cat.
* * *
"How was your day, you three?"
"Super, Grams!" Maya laughed. "Bo won the Scavenger Hunt, but I beat him in Trivial Pursuit, and Shirley won so bad in Twenty Questions, it wasn't even half funny! Mm- what's that smell?"
"Salmon cajetorie," Joanna Holmes appeared in the doorway, a smile on her face, wiping her hands on a dishcloth.
"And sardine enchiladas," Gran added.
"We collaborated on the menu," Joanna beamed. "Now, you three head upstairs, won't you, and keep quiet until supper? I hear your father has a terrible headache."
Robert, who followed the teens through the door, did look terrible. His suit was slightly rumpled, and there were purple smudges under his bloodshot eyes.
"Rough conference?" Peggy asked sympathetically.
"Murderous," he groaned. "The Slavs are cooperative enough, I suppose, but the Americans are being quite obstinate, and the Italians are well-night impossible- nothing seems to suit them!"
"Oh, my poor darling!" Joanna laughed gently. "I know what you need- how does a nice martini sound? With a peel of salmon skin?"
"Er- well . . ." Robert hesitated.
"Fine, then, no salmon skin," Joanna sighed. Her husband brightened.
"Cold and dry, please, Joanna."
So as Joanna was shaking up a martini, and Gran was puffing Robert's pillows under his head as he lay on the couch in the sunroom, the three kids were upstairs, talking like mad.
"I saw Angelo Corelli," Shirley reported, "when we were in the library section- he was totally absorbed in some documents, so I actually snuck up behind him. I got a glimpse of what he was reading- just some boring old state papers, mostly in Italian. They went on about his duty to his country, and how he wasn't 'adequately performing the tasks set' to him."
"So, he's a possibility," Bo said. "I mean, they could have been from T.R.A.C.E. saying he should've got Maya by now."
"They could also have been from his home country, saying he was doing a terrible job of being diplomatic," Maya pointed out. "You heard Uncle Robert- the Italians are being impossible."
"She has a point," Shirley agreed. "I mean, would any subordinate write a letter like that? And what about Michael Grey- did you find him?"
"Yeah. He was complaining to anybody who would listen about the tea- said it was lousy, and that when he's going to do some heavy research, the least he should be able to expect is a 'half-decent cup of tea'," Bo mimicked. "Didn't sound like much of anything to me- wimpy, plain, and boring. That's why I think it has to be Corelli. You know- anybody besides Grey."
"Well, provided Matt is still in New York, he should get my e-mail around suppertime," Shirley said, "so we might have something new to go on by then."
"But," Bo said, standing up, "you'll have to call me if it's urgent. I promised Mum I'd be home by five, and it's quarter to already."
"Alright," Shirley said. "We'll see you tomorrow, then."
"Bye, Bo," Maya smiled from her comfortable seat in the armchair.
"I'll see you," Bo said, and then he was gone.
Shirley, sitting in her swivel chair at her desk, spun around idly, watching the floorboards blend together in a pleasing, fuzzy brown blur.
Maya fiddled around with the leather cord she wore around her neck, from which hung a simply carved cross made out of a rich, reddish-brown wood. She twisted the cord tight, then let it unwind, her eyes following the blur of the cross's motion. She did this several times before, at last, she spoke.
"Miranda Harris." she rolled the word around thoughtfully. Shirley stuck out a foot, stopped spinning, and looked up, puzzled.
"Your e-mail ID. Your second name, and- This Matt. You used to e-mail me about him all the time. You said his last name was Harris, didn't you?"
Shirley smiled slightly, as if thinking of something pleasant- extremely so. It was some time before she actually answered.
"Yup. Matthew Jordan Harris, fifteen years old, five foot six, brown hair, brown eyes, freckles . . . cute . . ."
"Mm-HM!" Shirley's eyes lit up, making her look like a whole new person.
Maya couldn't help it- she started to laugh.
* * *
Supper was a unique experience, to say the least. If the sardine enchiladas were gross, then the salmon cajetorie was downright vile. Shirley and Maya left the table with their stomachs churning, and Shirley begged Maya to excuse her, but she just had to go lie down. Maya agreed, and headed up to the attic to retrieve her bottle of Pepto-Bismol, which, she claimed, she never traveled without.
No sooner had Shirley, with a slight moan, settled onto her bed, than did her computer light up with the icon 'Mail'.
Stomach forgotten, she catapulted off the covers, and flew to her terminal. Fingers flying, she opened up her 'Miranda Harris' account, and, with a beating heart and beaming smile she read what Matt had written.
Hey, City Girl! Sounds like you didn't waste much time in finding something interesting to do! Well, I can't complain- I've got my hands full down here with a crooked toy store owner, and I'm still working at the UN to help them set up a school for boys at the old K-On school (who knows? Maybe I'll wander down and help teach every now and then!).
When Shirley was done she sat back, breathing a little bit labored. Matt. What was he- her boyfriend? Her soul mate? Maybe both. Maybe neither.
But she knew one thing- although she had cared a lot for Bo when they had been dating, when you got right down to it, it wasn't any different from the way she had before, or after. They had always been friends- two friends, just putting on a little skit for the rest of the world for a while. But Matt- Matt was very, very different.
She hadn't even told him when she and Bo were dating- she hadn't known what to say.
She didn't want to say anything.
She hadn't wanted to admit to herself the reason, but now, she practically forced herself into doing it.
It wasn't that she was afraid he's be mad if she told him she loved Bo, and didn't want to see him (Matt) again;
It was that he might have believed her.
* * *
"Robert?" Joanna poked her head around the doorframe. "How are you feeling now, dear?"
"Like I've been run down by a steam-roller, I'm afraid," Robert said wearily, "but thank-you very much for asking, all the same."
"Actually, my motives were somewhat selfish," Joanna admitted. "Peggy and I hoped to surprise you- we bought tickets to the production of The Pirates of Penzance that is being put on downtown, at the theatre. They're only good for tonight, I'm afraid- do you feel up to coming with us?"
Robert hesitate only for a fraction of a second before smiling wanly, and saying, with an attempt at gusto,
"Of course, Love! I'll just nip up and change. Why don't you tell the girls?"
Joanna's face broke into a smile, and she gave her husband a fond kiss on his bald spot before heading up to do so.
* * *
'Mail' read the flashing icon on the screen. Maybe Matt? Shirley thought, and quickly called up her account. It wasn't Matt. It was something far more intriguing.
She read the glowing screen with an ever-pounding heart. It was an invitation of sorts- and a challenge.
If you want the bird to continue to sing, meet me tonight with the Pirate King.
Bird- that was easy. Maya. If, Shirley figured, she wanted Maya to stay alive, she'd have to- what? Meet him with the Pirate King? What did that mean?
"Shirley?" It was Joanna, at the door. "I've got something to ask you. Would you like to come with your dad, Gran, Maya and I to see The Pirates of Penzance? It's playing downtown, at the theatre I am told you turned out a very successful performance in a couple years ago."
Shirley's mind flew faster than she herself could ever have believed was possible. Pirates of Penzance- the Pirate King! That must be what the message meant- but how on earth could she meet its writer if she were with her family? She made up her mind.
"Oh, Mum, I still feel awful," she moaned, clutching her stomach. "I'm so sorry- I'd have loved to."
Joanna nodded, disappointed but sympathetic, and kissed her daughter on the forehead.
"Alright, then- don't spend too long on that machine, do you hear? Get some sleep. I'm really sorry about this whole fish thing, but there's really too much to freeze."
Shirley's stomach lurched for real now.
"How much did you actually-" she cut herself off. "You know what? I don't wanna know. I might still be awake when you get home, but in case I'm not, good-night."
"Night, Mouse. I love you. Joanna smiled, and left the room.
Shirley waited until she was positive her mother had gone before turning around, and clicking the 'reply' button.
Then she began to type away furiously. At last, message completed, she sat back, satisfied.
"Well, Mr.Mystery," she smiled, "you aren't the only bad poet in the world. Let's see if this flushes you out, shall we?" Her message read:
Alright, it's a date. I'll meet you at eight. Come alone, and don't be late.
After she had sent it, she called up a fresh page, and typed up a quick e-mail to Matt. She'd gotten almost the whole way through, when Maya poked her head into the room.
Her hair was curled and pinned up; she wore a red silk 'party' dress with a knee length, ruffling skirt, and she had a thin strand of milky-white pearls around her neck, and a matching pair of pearl studs in her ear lobes.
"Shirley," she smiled, "Not coming? I'm sorry."
"Oh, don't be." Shirley gave a strange little smile of her own. "Don't worry- I won't be missing out on any fun."
"Really?" Maya asked. "Is it such a bad play?" she glanced at the computer screen. "An e-mail?" she inquired, before Shirley could answer her first question. "To whom?"
"Ah, the infamous Matthew Harris." Maya grinned. "Do say hi to him for me, won't you, pet, and thank him, too?"
"Sure," Shirley smiled. Maya gave her a curious glance.
"I say, Shirley. Are you-" she paused. "Oh, forget it. See you later?"
Shirley watched Maya leave, and then hastily finished up her e-mail to Matt. She quickly proofread it, and was thoroughly satisfied.
Hey there, Cowboy- I miss you. Thanks for the information- it could definitely come in useful. Maya thanks you, too, and says to say 'hi'.
After sending the mail, Shirley checked the clock. It was half-past seven- more than ample time to get to the theatre.
She glanced outside, and saw that it had started to rain gently, so she grabbed her slicker from the hall cupboard and pulled it on. Watson whined apathetically, but she merely smiled pityingly down at him.
"Sorry Watson- no can do. This is strictly between the criminal and me. I'll tell you how it went when I get back, 'kay?"
Watson was unconvinced, and when she shut him up in the house, and trotted nimbly down the steps, his howls followed her into the night.
She decided against taking her bike- somebody might see it parked where it shouldn't be. The last thing she needed was to have somebody come bursting in on her conference with T.R.A.C.E.'s spokesman.
She found herself wondering who it would it be- Corelli, or Grey? Matt had a suspicious mind- naturally he would suspect Grey, too.
She smiled to herself- Matt. When would she get to see him again? The last time she'd seen him, he'd told her that if she wanted to see him again, she would. And what had he said in his last e-mail?
See you soon.
Had he meant it? Her heart began to beat a bit faster. Stupid heart, she thought absently. It would give her away every time. But what if he had meant it? Was he planning on coming back to Redington? Even for a little while? And if he was, maybe they could find something to poke their noses into. Almost as soon as she had the thought, she felt like laughing. Was that her idea of a date? Solving a mystery? But, come to think of it, it did have a certain charm to it. And one always seemed to be able to find the nicest times to kiss, too, when was on a case. As she headed towards the theatre, she hoped against hope that she'd be able to get this thing over with as soon as possible, get home, and see if she had any reply to her e-mail. Reaching the building, she found a side door open, and slipped inside. It was dark backstage, but she could clearly hear the music- it was about an hour into the show. She started to take a few steps around and look for her summoner, but a heavy weight slammed down on the back of her neck. Stars exploded inside her head, and as the floor came rushing up to meet her, everything went black. Back in her room, the 'mail' icon began flashing on and off, but there was nobody there to see it . . .
* * *
"Well, that was a lovely evening, Joanna; Mum;" Robert, looking much more relaxed, said. "I can't thank you enough for talking me into it, dear."
"You're quite welcome," Joanna smiled, kissing her husband. They made quite a pair, he in his tuxedo, she in a velvet, forest green dress.
Gran wore a sleek, Parisian-cut navy blue blazer and skirt, with elaborately designed gold earrings and matching necklace. Her snowy white hair framed her face as she watched her son and daughter-in-law, blue eyes twinkling. Maya, face more happy and carefree than it had been since her arrival, at once headed into the living room for the bookcase.
"I'm going to see if Shirley's still awake," she called back over her shoulder. "I hope she didn't wait up for us."
She reached Shirley's room in seconds, and looked in. Shirley wasn't there- probably in the bathroom, Maya thought. She turned to leave, but as she did, she noticed the patiently flashing monitor.
She didn't know why it caught her attention- the message could have come anytime that Shirley was in the bathroom. But it froze her in her tracks. Running over to the keyboard, she typed in the commands she had seen Shirley use earlier in the day.
'One new message' lit up the screen, and she clicked on 'Read'. The e-mail materialized, and she read it with a growing sense of dread.
City girl- are you nuts?! Follow up on a lead at this time of night?! (Okay, it's a lot later here, but even allowing for the time difference, that's pretty late for sleuthing) Look; wait a while. Get some reinforcements; and I don't just mean Bo (No offense, Bo). Just, don't go into this half-cocked, Shirley, please. He's really dangerous, whichever one 'he' is. If anything happened to you, before I saw you again, I'd go mad. I need to talk to you, and I want to you to live long enough to do that.
Be careful, City Girl- I love you.
It was all the confirmation Maya needed- Shirley was in trouble. Big trouble.
With shaking hands she shut off the computer, and stood still for just the barest of seconds. Then she was downstairs, running, running. Aunt Joanna and Uncle Robert were staring; Gran looked worried. She was shouting. Shouting:
The shock, the bewilderment- she saw it, even though they were behind her, all over their faces.
Then she shoved the door open, ran down the steps, out into the rain. They were calling to her now, but she didn't - couldn't - look back. It was her fault Shirley was missing, she was sure. T.R.A.C.E. had gotten a hold of her, somehow- a clue? A taunt? A threat? It didn't matter. All that mattered was that they had Shirley, and they were going to try and fulfill the promise they'd made in the note.
She needed help. But who would help?
Bo. Bo would help. She altered her course, and kept running.
* * *
Shirley's head felt like it was being split in two. Fuzzy edges of pain lapped persistently at her, but with an effort, she pushed them back. Matt had warned her- he'd told her to be careful. She hadn't listened. But he'd been right, and now, she'd probably never get a chance to tell him that. Or see him again.
"Matt . . ." she whispered.
"Matt?" asked a calm, disinterested voice. "As in, Matthew? The disciple, perhaps? No, not likely. So I must conclude that you are speaking of young Mr.Harris, that most intriguing, rather rootless fellow who keeps dropping in and out of your most interesting life. A most enterprising fellow; or so it would seem, from that large amount of last-minute research I was forced to do when I learned you were every bit as brilliant as your lovely cousin.
"I found a few things of interest, including the fact that there are quite a large number of convicted criminals who have you on their 'most wanted' list. You're rather unpopular with them, Miss Holmes."
Shirley, while the man had been talking, had struggled to her feet, and now stood facing this ordinary, brown-haired man, who was holding a gun on her.
"Yeah, well, that's life," she said rebelliously.
"Bravo, Miss Holmes!" he chuckled. "None the worse for wear from that tap I gave you a while ago, I see. You were out, by the way, for about two hours, which is the standard time for one who had been hit in that particular spot, so I can wager rather safely you haven't a thing to worry about."
Shirley could have argued, but instead, she changed topics.
"You're Michael Grey," she said firmly. "That's how you knew about Maya's nickname, Little Bird- from working with her father in England, and then tapping into her computer to read her e-mail."
The thin, plain-faced man smiled, but the effect was rather spoiled by his gun.
"Miss Holmes, Miss Holmes;" Grey sounded almost admiring. "You do your illustrious ancestor, Sherlock Holmes, credit indeed. Such a pity you chose to follow in his footsteps, though- it will certainly bring your life to an early close. And you such a lovely, tenacious young lady, too!"
Shirley said nothing, as from her point of view, there didn't seem to be anything to say. This seemed to irritate Grey, who gestured abruptly with his automatic towards the darkest corners of the backstage area. The whole area behind the curtain had seemed to her to be an entire town in miniature when she had first obtained a minor role in play, starring a key figure in what was now a long-past case.
"Get moving," Grey, a much more sinister figure than the last one she had dealt with there, ordered her. She obeyed, heart thudding in her chest. Now, more than ever, she wished she had left a note, telling them where she had planned to go.
But as it was, escape now seemed impossible.
* * *
"B-Bo?" It was Maya's voice.
"Bo leaped out of his chair in fright. He was sitting alone in his bedroom, listening to some music with the door locked. Yet, Maya was talking to him from what sounded like mere feet away!
It took him a moment to realize that she was at the window. When he did figure it out, he hastily pulled up the blind, and pushed up the window. Maya was there, clinging to a tree branch wearing low heels and a formal dress, drenched with rain, face pale, eyes wide and worried.
"Maya!" Bo exclaimed, reaching out to help her into his room, "what are you doing?!"
"I just g-got back from the p-play with Aunt Joanna, Uncle R-Robert and-d G-Grams. Shirley's m-missing."
"Missing?!" Bo was baffled. He noticed that Maya's red silk dress was dripping all over the carpet, and that her once-curled hair was now limp and bedraggled. She had her arms wrapped around her body, but she was still shivering uncontrollably. Her teeth were chattering, and her big, brown eyes looked especially dark against her pasty-white face.
"Did you walk all the way here?!" he exclaimed. "In the rain?!"
"Well, r-ran is more like it-t," Maya stammered through chattering teeth. "There's no s-sign of a strug-g-g-le, but judging by the m-mail, she left only a lit-t-tle bit after we d-did. The play was a bit-t longer than we thought it would b-be, so we were gone almost three hours. But she's still m-missing. Thank-y-you."
She said this last phrase as Bo rummaged through the mess in his floor to produce a clean-looking towel, which she used to rub vigorously all over her body, before wrapping it around her sodden hair. He also found a man's bathrobe - probably the one his dad had lost a month ago - and offered it to her.
She pulled it on, looking tiny and wet in it- a lot like a little dog that's just had a bath, and is now all skin and bones.
"Would you like something to drink?" he asked. "Tea? Hot chocolate? You can't go running off to find Shirley like that."
"You d-don't understand, B-Bo," Maya said, beginning to try and get a hold on her shaking and stuttering. "Shirley's gone. And if she's gone where I think she's g-gone, then she's in big t-trouble."
"But you can't help her when you're like this," Bo insisted. "Look- find a shirt and a pair of pants or something from that box over there. I've got a bunch of younger cousins who always leave their stuff behind- something in there has got to fit. I'll get you some tea, and then we'll go after Shirley."
Reluctantly, Maya agreed.
When Bo came back with a steaming cup of tea, his guest had managed to find a pair of cargo pants only and inch too long, and a green and white striped T-shirt that was a surprisingly good fit.
Hr hair she had shaken out, and although it was still damp, it was beginning to dry, and as it did, it curled slightly. Bo wondered vaguely if Shirley's hair did that too.
Strange, he thought- he didn't think he'd ever seen Shirley wet, aside form that one time she got sprayed by the skunk- and tomato juice, he decided, didn't really count.
But no, he decided, with all the trouble Shirley had managed to get both of them into, he didn't think he'd seen her wet.
Bo frowned. Shirley was missing, Maya had said. Shirley was missing.
Well, Maya had better get used to it. What a best friend Shirley made, always getting herself into one scrape of another. But she'd never go off on her own, deliberately heading for trouble, without at least leaving a note, now, would she. Or would she?
Suddenly, inexplicably, Bo was as worried as Maya. He abruptly handed the English girl her tea, and set about collecting a jumble of waterproof clothing from his messy closet, putting it all down on the bed as Maya gratefully drained the cup dry.
"I feel so much better, Bo," she said at length, setting down the empty cup. "Now, let's take a look at what you've got here, shall we?"
She rummaged through the oilskins, mismatched boots, and pink plastic capes, tossing aside the odd broken umbrella. At last, she shook out a serviceable, black rubber poncho lined with plaid flannel and sporting a large hood.
"This looks like a nice Mac," she observed, before selecting a pair of gray "galoshes" and a not-too-rusty black "brolly", with only two bent spines.
Bo found a yellow slicker with a matching hat, and a brown pair of rubber boots.
Pocketing a flashlight (torch, according to Maya), he led her down the stairs in sock feet, tiptoeing past the living room, where his parents were. Pausing at the door only to pull on their boots and put the umbrella up, they hurried out into the night, towards the theatre, with Maya leading the way.
* * *
"Well, Miss Holmes, any questions?" Grey wondered aloud, as he placed a hand on Shirley's shoulder, signaling her to stop. They were backstage of backstage, really, standing in a gloomy little nook with a cement floor, surrounded my thick black curtains.
"No, I think I'm fine with what I already know," Shirley said carelessly, peering about her.
She recognized their location- she had ducked back here several times with a flashlight, a mirror, and a tube of grease paint to do some touch-ups to her face during performance. One cast member had wanted a smoke, and had made the mistake of opening the back door, which let off a shrill alarm when opened from the inside.
The man had brought the police crashing down around their ears, all ready to arrest him for wanting to fill his lungs with black, tarry sludge.
Inspector Markey had been there at the time- that was before he had been called away to help investigate some kidnappings. He hadn't come back until she herself had been kidnapped a little while ago, and she hoped he was here to stay- he was a much better cop than his counterpart, Detective Tremain.
Come to think of it, Markey's only fault was that he forgot a face as soon as he saw it. Now, she wondered if it would be he who would be assigned to investigate her death. It would be terribly degrading if it were Tremain- maybe Grey would let her write out a request, to be pinned to her slicker?
Snap out of it, Holmes! She shouted silently at herself. You're getting hysterical! No think- what would Sherlock have done?
The answer came almost immediately- he would never have left home without Watson, that's what. Either that, or he would have brought along a riding crop- best form of defense, that; go for the face with a riding crop. Never failed.
But she, Shirley, had neither Watson nor riding crop. Instead, she had a killer standing behind her, his hand on her shoulder, his gun pressed into her back, and his threats - his real, deadly threats - hanging ominously in the air, waiting to be acted on.
She could have kicked herself. Couldn't she have been a little plainer to Maya than she had been? Bo was right, she thought gloomily, she was far too cryptic. But the last thing she (had) wanted was her cousin stopping her from doing as she had planned.
Now, she would have given anything to do it over again.
* * *
Maya stopped at a phone booth outside of the Redington Performing Arts Theatre and placed a phone call which lasted about two minutes, and ended in Maya's hasty "Just come, okay?" and hanging up on the party at the other end of the line.
Then, she and Bo made their way around to the back of the building, where, with Bo holding both the flashlight and the battered umbrella, she began to attack a most formidable lock installed on a massive back door.
"What makes you so sure she's here?" Bo asked nervously, watching as Maya's quick hands flew expertly over the lock with a grace even Shirley had not quite mastered. She manipulated the makeshift tools she held with an easy confidence as she replied patiently.
"I told you Bo, before she left she said-"
"I know- 'Don't worry, I won't be missing out on any fun.' But how do you know she didn't just mean the play?"
"But that's just it (pass me that cuticle compressor, will you? The small one, with the pink plastic handle)- she did mean the play. She meant she wouldn't be missing it because she would be there- she and whoever she might have arranged to meet with, for whatever purpose."
"And who might that have been?" Bo asked skeptically.
"Why, the head of T.R.A.C.E. of course." Maya said grimly, just as the lock gave a muted 'click', and she swung the door open an inch or so, whispered "Voila!", and slipped inside.
Bo followed immediately behind.
* * *
"No final requests? Last words? 'The will is in the top drawer'?"
"You're really enjoying this, aren't you?" Shirley asked bitterly.
Grey had placed her with her back to the big, soundproof back door, and she was standing about a foot away from them, her arms at her sides.
She looked exactly like a prisoner all set for execution, right down to the black strip of curtain Grey had tied mockingly over her eyes. As if she could have seen much, even without it!
It was as black as pitch backstage, with only a small pool of dim light for Grey to see clearly enough to shoot by. It was filtered through the thick glass above the door, coming from the streetlights and moon outside.
She couldn't even hear the odd car going by- it was as if she was swaddled in a thick, flannel blanket. She was even beginning to feel oddly cozy in the dark silence.
Was this, she wondered, how she was going to die? Cut off from everything of the world outside, alone with a man who had attempted to kill her cousin and best friend, and was now going to kill her? I might have known, she thought wearily.
Then, oddly enough, just as she was beginning to feel comfortable in the warm silence, she felt a rush of cool, rain-speckled air at her back. Before she had much time to wonder what it was, she heard a voice whisper something, and, as Grey cried out in confusion, something wet and cold, with sharp, ripping prongs, thudded into her back and sent her sprawling.
At least, she thought, with some confused hysteria, I'm not dying alone.
* * *
When Maya entered the theatre, she stumbled into something warm, firm and a bit slippery, and fell into and on top of it with a muffled oath. With a much sharper, less mild oath, Bo tripped over her ankles and tumbled down onto the heap, the umbrella whistling by Maya's face as the door swung shut with a distinct click, and the flashlight fell, going out as it did. For a moment there was silence. Then somebody spoke, from the bottom of the pile of warm, dry, wet, soft, sharp and cold teenage bodies. It was familiar. It said:
"Well, am I dead yet?"
"Shirley?!" Maya gasped, struggling to sit up, pushing her heavy, floppy black rubber hood away from her face.
"Maya?" Shirley sounded puzzled.
"Shirley?!" Bo exclaimed, as Maya impatiently pushed him off her legs.
"Bo?!" Now Shirley was baffled. "What are you doing here?!"
"An excellent question," came Michael Grey's icy voice from the darkness, "And as soon as I can find a bloody light or something, I am going to get an answer!"
No sooner had he said this than had Maya scrabbled for, and found, the flashlight (okay, Maya) torch Bo had dropped. Sitting up on Shirley, she quickly flicked the light on and then off, directing the beam at the man for the briefest of seconds. It was more than enough time.
"Uncle Paul?" she whispered in disbelief. Her father's trusted, childhood friend was a cold-blooded murder; the head of a criminal syndicate that had tried, on various occasions, to eliminate her- probably on his orders. It was certainly disillusioning, alright.
"My dear Maya," he said sarcastically. "It certainly took you long enough! I thought your very own, dear cousin would provide a more enticing bait. But it seems I was wrong- I was just about to kill her."
"You would have waited." Maya said wearily, sliding off of Shirley, who breathed a quick, soft sigh of relief,. "I know you, Uncle Paul."
"So you do, my dear, so you do." he sounded pleased. "Yes, I would have waited for you. But the longer I was forced to wait, the sooner I would have shot Miss Holmes, here, whilst you looked on."
Bo, lying on his back in the shadows where he had landed when Maya pushed him off her legs, was silent. He had the strangest feeling that he was watching a movie- a movie, simply because he played no part of it. Even Shirley had only a walk-on role- the central characters were Maya, and this strange, rather crazed-looking man. The dialogue was theirs, the plot was theirs; not his. Not Shirley's. Not this time.
It was an eerie feeling, the lack of control. Even when Shirley had been kidnapped by his old gang members when they had first met each other, and at that past Halloween- then, he had maintained a degree of control. But here, now, it wouldn't have felt right. They were spectators right now, not participants.
Did Shirley know?
One glance was all it took to find out- she was sitting at the edge of the gray pool of light, the blindfold (which had come loose when she fell) dangling from her fingers, watching with great intensity as the 'skit' unfolded.
She ant the two participants were in two separate worlds, and whatever happened, for at least a little while, she would simply watch as it did.
"I never thought I'd live to see the day," he muttered softly, so softly that even she didnŐt hear him.
She was only a foot away- he could have reached out and touched her. But the light-pool ended just a few inches beyond his toes, so while she was clearly visible, he was completely hidden.
He and Shirley were just as many worlds apart as were she and the two who stood, facing each other- Maya, and this ordinary-looking little man who might have been a million harmless professions . . . if only he didn't have the gun.
"Why, Uncle Paul?" May was asking, her voice sounding more tired than Bo or Shirley could ever have believed possible, "Why T.R.A.C.E.?"
"Ah, yeas, here she comes, the nosy, poking, meddling little brat I know," the man, Uncle Paul/Michael Grey, sneered. "Always sticking her nose where it doesn't belong; her mouth where it's least wanted. Always asking the questions that shouldn't be asked."
"For example . . ." Maya prompted him stiffly, the fatigue of the past little while - and, in a way, the past year - showing more plainly on her face with each second that passed.
"Oh, shall we say, 'Daddy, how come you are always the one that discovers the new leads on T.R.A.C.E.? I mean, they're practically dumped in your lap!' Or, perhaps, 'You know, it's funny how Uncle Paul is going away a lot more lately than he used to before. Do you know where he goes?'
"You meddling, nosy little brat!" He finally raged, face flushed with anger. Maya only swayed slightly, calm brown eyes opening ever so vaguely wider.
"Why?!" he ranted on, shaking his free hand at her in exasperated fury, "Why?! Why couldn't you just keep your mouth shut, girl? I had it all sorted out- I'd throw T.R.A.C.E. at your father, dangle it in front of him, maybe act out a revenge killing on you or your mum, and I'd finally be even with him! Finally!"
"What did he do to you?" Maya wanted to know, although it sounded like an effort just to speak the words. Shirley suddenly wondered if her cousin had actually slept since the existence of T.R.A.C.E. had become known to Geoff Norton.
"What did he do to me?! What did he do?! I'll bloody well tell you what he did, girl! He stole my bloody job! I was better than he ever was, but he had connections." he dragged out the last word with a sneer. "So, he became C.I.S.F.A., and I, I became just another agent."
"You were a lousy agent anyhow," Maya said, recklessly bitter. "Daddy's miles ahead of you, you know? He's simply super. He ran down a Jeep in Rwanda in his bare feet when we were looking for Aunt Joanna! He can take on any man with his bare hands. He's smarter than anybody I know. You- you're just something that crossed over to the other side for a bit of extra cash. You're nothing."
The man's eyes narrowed. Raising the gun, he aimed it at a spot a half-inch above her left shoulder, and fired. She didn't even flinch.
"Don't be so rash again, Maya, or I just might decide to spare you my explanations, and simply kill you."
Shirley, settled almost comfortably on the floor, smile grimly to herself.
"He's got it all planned out," she thought. "The only thing he didn't count on was that May wouldn't cooperate and die like a good little girl." It was then that she saw their way out. Bo, watching Shirley, saw the familiar, I have to know look appear on her face, and vanish minutes later, replaced by the equally familiar look of triumph.
And in that second, Bo knew that Shirley had gone from being a bystander to an active participant once more.
She just can't keep out of anything, he thought ruefully. We'll just have to tie her to her bed or something to keep her safe.
But as soon as he had the thought, he abandoned it.
Nah- she'd either get loose, or find something mysterious about her ceiling to investigate.
He sat against the stone wall, still swaddled in the comforting darkness, and waited to see what Shirley planned to do.
"Well, Maya, it's been fascinating, it really has," Grey was saying in a bored tone. "But it's high time to end this little comedy. If you would kindly stand very still, I'll try to be obliging and kill you quickly."
But as Maya raised her eyes to look at him, before she even had time to execute a slow, weary blink, Shirley acted.
She moved quickly and quietly, and had she been anywhere else, itŐs doubtful that Grey would have noticed her at all. As it was, she was directly behind Maya, and therefore couldn't escape observation.
Even so, Grey had only time for the hand that held the gun to falter, and drift in Shirley's direction, before she slammed all of her weight down onto the horizontal bar that opened the heavy fireproof/soundproof door, and shoved it open to the sound of shrill, earsplitting sirens.
She had been prepared for relative brightness of the night sky, and the rush of cold, wet air. She had even been partially prepared for the late night traffic on the nearby street. What she hadn't been prepared for were the ten or twelve policemen, armed to the teeth, who waited outside the door as Maya had requested when she called in. They were headed by Inspector Markey and his adversary, Detective Tremain.
The sight caused her to stumble backwards into Maya, jolting her awake, and into action.
With a gasp, the teenaged English girl ran straight into the welcoming throng of wet, startled police officers, one of whom she decided to drench even further by flinging her arms around his waist, and sobbing noisily down his front.
Shirley had been about to follow suit when a pair of arms seized her from behind, and a pair of fingers clamped about her windpipe. It was Grey- she didn't need to see him to know it- it was rather obvious, when you got right down to it. But that didn't matter.
All that mattered was the death grip he had on her throat, and the threats he was uttering to her life as the room began to swim, and purple and green spots appeared before her eyes.
Markey, she decided in a detached way, looked good in purple and green. Tremain looked awful.
"This is the police," Tremain began, "we have you surrounded."
"Release your hostage and come out with your hands above your head," Markey picked up on the line.
Grey, Shirley thought, said something. She missed what it was. She couldn't really hear all that well anymore, and the spots were turning from purple and green to blue and white. The only sounds she could hear through the ever-thickening haze of dots were her own rasping, choking attempts to breathe.
Then, something hit her in the center of her back with a dull thunk- Grey. But why?
As she fell to the ground, the world kindly slowed down for her. Somebody shouted her name. The spots changed to gray, began to melt together, turned black- as black as pitch.
That, she thought dimly, CAN'T be good. Then, Matt was right . . .
Then she slid into a cool, sweet oblivion, where she stayed for what seemed like decades, before even attempting to find her way back to where she belonged.
* * *
"Shirley?" the voice was faint at first, but grew louder. "Shirley!"
Bo. He was standing over her. She knew it, even though she couldn't feel or see him.
"Bo?" she tried to answer, but her mouth wouldn't work. And even if it had, her throat felt like it had been put through a wringer- every breath that she took was excruciatingly painful.
Where was she? It was warm, and dry.
Maya was there too, then. Shirley tried to say her name, and managed a grunt.
Oh, dear, she thought, dismayed, that hurt. It sounded awful, too.
"Shirley?" now it was her father. "Shirley, can you hear me?"
"Is she awake?" Gran.
"She made some kind of noise," Bo told her.
"What kind of noise?" Gran again.
"A kind of grunt." Now the voice was Joanna Holmes's, coming from Shirley's right. It was then that Shirley became aware of a pressure on her right hand. Mum was holding it.
"Mum?" she rasped. There was a flurry of activity.
"I'm here, Darling," Joanna said quickly, and a shadow moved closer toward Shirley.
"Where am I?"
"You're in the hospital," Joanna told her, gently squeezing her hand. "That horrible man is locked safely away, thanks to Bo."
"Yes," Gran spoke, "He jumped Fraser from behind. Apparently he had escaped his notice, by hiding in the shadows. Now, one thing I can't quite understand-"
"Mm, yes. Paul Fraser is apparently Michael Grey's real name." Robert informed his daughter, coming into focus beside Gran at the foot of the bed.
"You were saying, Peggy?" Joanna prompted Gran.
"Well, I can't understand why Fraser waited until we were almost home to kidnap Shirley! And why, Maya, dear, did you ever take off for Bo's house in the middle of the night?"
"I was worried about Shirley," Maya replied calmly, "and I thought Bo might know where she had gone."
"And he magically knew she had been taken to the theater?" now Robert was skeptical.
Shirley lay in her bed, wearing a blue cotton hospital gown that was very drafty in the back, tucked in ell with blue and white sheets, and listened silently as explanations were warily demanded, and just as warily given.
At last, all parties were appeased, and at Shirley's request the adults filed out and left the teens behind.
"So it really happened that way?" she asked softly, painfully. "Bo jumped Grey- Fraser?"
"Yes!" Maya exclaimed, leaning over the bed, her long, soft brown hair falling gently onto Shirley's chest. "He was simply splendid, Shirley, really he was!"
"Then that's another one I owe you," Shirley told Bo wearily. "How ,many is that, now?"
"I couldn't tell you," Bo chuckled.
"So I'm really over my head in life-debts," Shirley attempted to joke.
"That's okay," Bo reassured her. "You can take your time paying them back, if you want."
Her hand crept across the blanket, found his, and squeezed it gently. Then the other one did the same for Maya, who squeezed back.
"What else happened?" she wanted to know. "I mean, with Markey and Tremain and all of that. And- whatŐs wrong with my throat?"
"Tremain didn't recognize you in the dark," Bo told her, "and Markey was too busy trying to find out what I was doing there to even think about you. In the end, you were loaded into the ambulance and brought here without either of them even glancing at you."
"And as for your throat," Maya added, "Uncle Paul half-strangled you, and almost crushed your windpipe. So you really should be grateful you still have one at all."
Shirley winced at the description, sinking deeper into her fat, linen-covered hospital pillows with a contented little sigh.
"So, Fraser was the head of T.R.A.C.E.?" she wanted to know.
"It seems that way," Maya sighed. "I called Daddy and told him, and he wasn't all that surprised- sometimes, I don't think I give him the credit he deserves."
"I know the feeling." Shirley thought of numerous times her father, mother, and grandmother had bested her in something. Once her pride had recovered from the initial blow, she had realized that there were some things you couldn't learn from books- those were the ones experience taught you, and you simply had to live things through in order to learn.
Maybe this was one of them- for her and for Maya.
As she was thinking this, she found herself getting drowsier and drowsier. She tried to tell Bo and Maya, explain that she had to rest, but before she could, she fell asleep.
The next time she woke up she felt more relaxed, and her throat had dulled to a painful throb. Hesitantly, she opened her eyes.
"She's awake!" called someone, and the next the thing she knew, a mound of brightly-wrapped presents was deposited on her bed.
"How do you feel?" Parker demanded.
"Parker, she's in the hospital! How do you think she feels?" Alicia demanded in total exasperation, before turning to Shirley and shrieking with horror:
"Oh! Where did you get that robe?!"
"Are you any better?" Carson wanted to know.
"They said you almost died." Blake put in grimly.
"How's your throat feel?" Bart asked.
"Cool- it's like, green and brown and orange," Hype breathed. "Can I touch it?"
"They wanted to come with us," Bo grinned sheepishly at his friend, as Maya smacked away Hype's outstretched hand.
"Hey, what's this do?"
"STINK! DON'T TOUCH THAT!!" A chorus of voices rang out. The guilty party hastily withdrew his hand from a red lever, face blushed almost as bright.
"What are you all doing here?" Shirley croaked happily.
"We heard Maya and Bo were coming," said a thoroughly unexpected voice, "So- we thought we'd tag along."
Shirley stared in quite disbelief as Molly Hardy stepped forward, a small, gold-wrapped package in her hand.
"Here you are, Holmes. I can't say I was entirely sorry when I first heard the news, but- well, I realized I hadn't anything better to do, so I decided . . ."
Shirley knew it was as close to a 'Get Well Soon' as she would ever get from Molly, so she smiled calmly, and accepted the gift.
Although everybody had fallen silent during the exchange between the two enemies
"(even though not everybody there was aware that they were enemies), they now began to shout and laugh and holler as Shirley was ordered to open her gifts. They ranged from a package of fake cigarettes (Stink) to a blue sweater set (Alicia) to a small, electronic listening/recording device in a finger ring (Maya, of course).
When at last they all left, it was because the nurse had chased them out at nine p.m., leaving Shirley holding Molly's unwrapped gift in her hand.
Curious as ever, Shirley pulled back the ribbon and tapes, exposing a white cardboard jewelry box. Lifting the lid, she saw a tiny gold magnifying glass charm on a matching chain .It took only minutes to find the note in the secret compartment, which was in the teeny-tiny handle, and she read it aloud to herself with an almost absurd sense of relief.
"To the best of enemies- if anybody is going to have the pleasure of killing you, then it is going to be me. Someday, Holmes, I promise."
Shirley fastened the chain around her neck and settled back, enormously relieved to know that some things would likely never change.