|The fresh, juicy, sweetness couldn't fail|
to bring a smile to his face.
I handed Mycroft a snifter of cognac and he downed it without hesitation. "You could give me the whole bottle and it would make no difference," he said, anger rising in his voice, "if I have been betrayed by my only brother."
"You have every right to feel aggrieved," replied the detective. "Yet it may lessen my guilt somewhat if you come to understand two vital points."
"I'm listening," said Mycroft, waving the empty snifter in my direction. I took it from him, handed him the tray of fruit, and began to pour the tea.
"We must begin with the fact," said my friend to his brother, "that everything I have told you, concerning this case and otherwise, has been true. Think back -- think very clearly -- and describe the chain of events that led you and the Minister here last Tuesday evening. Please."
Mycroft paused. "Go ahead and eat some more," I interjected. "You need the food." He picked up a handful of strawberries and put one into his mouth. The fresh, juicy, sweetness couldn't fail to bring a smile to his face. But it was still easy to see that he was extremely angry.
"As I recall," said Mycroft, "you came to see me and you told me that you had been investigating the death of Gareth Williams and you were expecting to make an arrest very soon. You said the Minister might be interested in this news, and that I should feel free to share it when I saw him at the weekly meeting on Tuesday. You also said if he wished to consult you about the matter, I should try to put him off, but if he insisted, I could bring him 'round to Baker Street in the evening."
"All of which was true," replied Sherlock. "Doctor Watson and I have been working on the case. I did expect to make an arrest -- and in fact an arrest was made. The Minister was extremely interested, was he not? Clearly he was, as we saw when you brought him here. I won't deny that a tremendous deception has been attempted, but I have played no part in it -- except in trying to pull it apart."
"But you have just admitted," said Mycroft, "that you wanted me to believe something that wasn't true. And I did believe it! And it has cost me my career!"
"The false impression I wanted you to believe," replied the detective, "was created by someone else. It was the Minister who made you think you were doing him a favour, was it not? What could I have done about that?"
Mycroft ate another strawberry and seemed to relax a bit.
"As for your career," continued Sherlock, "you may have lost less than you think, and gained a good deal more than you realise."
"How can you say that?" asked Mycroft. "How could that even be possible?"
"Certainly it hurts to admit it," said the detective, "but you were on your way out anyway. Your workload was being reduced. You were being cut out of important discussions, and unaware of crucial decisions. You told me so yourself.
"Did you think you would last there forever? No, surely. Too much writing was already on the wall. What will you miss? Do you really need the money? We both have plenty of money, do we not? You will miss the challenge, the sense of responsibility, the knowledge that people depend on you and the pride that comes from doing your work well. All these things can be replaced.
"You will miss the buzz, the thrill that comes from rubbing shoulders with political figures of the highest order. And that cannot be replaced. But what is it really worth? And against this trifling loss, you have gained a chance to save your mortal soul!"
"What on Earth do you mean by that?" asked Mycroft.
"I have ample reason," replied his brother, "to believe that the Foreign Office has been neck-deep in evil for quite some time now. I have wished for years that you would see the light and bolt -- yes! run away from the service of your country! I admit I didn't foresee such changes resulting from your involvement in the Gareth Williams case, but I welcome them nonetheless. You're free, Mycroft! You're free at last!"
"You must forgive me if I don't share your elation," replied Mycroft, "but you've gone far too fast for my weakened state. What arrest has been made? Who has been arrested? Where? By whom? And why haven't we heard about it? How can you be so sure that my work, and the satisfaction it brings, can be replaced? And why must we pretend that the Minister was not here on Tuesday evening, when in fact he was?"
"It's a long story," said Sherlock.
"We've all day," replied Mycroft, reaching for more fruit.
"Take this, too," I said, handing him a cup of tea. "And eat as much fruit as you can."
"Thank you, Doctor," said Mycroft, still tense but less so. "The food is helping. Go ahead, Sherlock. Tell me the long story."
"Early Tuesday evening," said Sherlock, "we were joined for dinner by two of Scotland Yard's finest, Slate and Robinson by name. They were sitting in my bedroom, with recording equipment running, when you and the Minister arrived.
"After you departed, the Minister asked what I had learned about the Gareth Williams case. In the conversation which followed, he showed one sign of agitation after another, until I accused him directly, at which point he lost his composure completely, babbled about justice being served, virtually confessed to the murder, and threatened to kill me, too, if he could. I slapped a pair of cuffs on him, Slate and Robinson stepped forward and made the formal arrest, and they took him away."
"I never knew anything about any of this," said Mycroft.
"Nobody knows anything about it," replied his brother. "The next day, all the papers published stories saying Slate and Robinson had been escorting the Minister home from a banquet when they stopped to try to break up a gem store heist, and that they were both killed in the attempt.
"You see the problem, don't you? If the Minister was at a banquet, then he couldn't have been here, and vice versa. Therefore you and your story are highly inconvenient. In addition, of course, you would have been seen as pretending to do the Minister a favour, while actually leading him into a trap."
"Can you blame me for feeling used?" asked Mycroft.
"Not at all," said Sherlock. "And I do apologize. But please remember you were used in a righteous cause, against a target unworthy of your loyalty."
"I have never thought of it in such a way," admitted Mycroft.
"But now you must," replied his brother. "A week ago, this man was your boss. You would have done anything the Office asked you to do, without questioning."
"It's a matter of patriotism more than anything else," said Mycroft. "You don't need to love the Minister to love your country."
"Forgive me for saying so, Mycroft," said the detective, "but love of country has inspired, or served as a pretext for, many an evil deed."
"In places like Russia and China, --" said Mycroft.
"And close to home as well!" interrupted Sherlock. Mycroft sat speechless.
"Fill three snifters, Watson," he said in my direction. "I've been waiting a long time for this."
Then he turned to his brother and said, "Mycroft Holmes: You are no longer a pawn of the Foreign Office. You are now a free agent! Finally, completely and utterly free -- free at last!"