A Study in Charlotte

Page 75

Bryony came in through an invisible door and put her arm around Milo’s waist. They talked as if I wasn’t there.

“Lead him up to the mountain and put the dagger to his throat,” Milo said in his sonorous voice.

“I thought we were done with goats. I thought we only made offerings of sheep.” Still, Bryony smiled into his face. He kissed her like they were in a movie, dipping her back in his arms.

Stop, I yelled, stop, but she was at my bedside, with a pillow pressed down over my face to keep the words inside my mouth. And then she was gone, and Milo was, too, and I was alone.

I didn’t trust anything that was happening to me—Where was Holmes? For that matter, where was I?—but I was so overwhelmed by a wave of exhaustion that I let myself be carried away by it, all the way to sea.

When I woke—when I fully woke—night had fallen. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I noticed things I hadn’t before. There was a dim lamp by my bed, its mouth turned away to throw a white circle on the wall. Beside me, a machine counted out my pulse, reading it from a plastic clip attached to my index finger. My hands had been re-bandaged, expertly this time. I felt present in my body, in a way I hadn’t since I opened that closet door.

There was a bright blanket at the end of my bed, a door across from me. In the shadowed corner was a chair. Empty, I thought, and as I squinted to make sure, I saw the velvet fabric, the tufted buttons.

I was in Bryony Downs’s flat.

Frantically, I pulled myself up in bed, yanking the heart monitor off my finger and going to work on the medical tape over the needles on my arm. She’d taken me—she’d taken me somewhere. Had Holmes and her brother been hallucinations, too? The heart monitor screamed a warning, and the door across from me flew open.

By the time she came in, I was on my feet, panting, the desk lamp ripped out of the wall and brandished like a weapon before me.

“Watson,” Holmes cried from the doorway. “Watson. God, I thought you were dead.”

It took some doing, but I let her coax me back into bed. She called a name I didn’t recognize, and a man in scrubs came in and put my IV back in. He took my vitals while Holmes hovered behind him, biting her lip. She’d pulled her hair back roughly from her face; her nose was red, her face white. She looked ascetic and harsh. She looked, in fact, like she’d been crying. I started to reach out to touch her but then drew back my hand.

“Right now, we’re managing your symptoms,” the doctor murmured. “We’ve given you medication to control the pain, and to bring your fever down. Don’t try to get up. If you need to use the bathroom, let us know.”

I nodded. Now that the adrenaline rush was over, my legs were trembling from my attempt at self-defense.

“You shouldn’t be here, Charlotte,” the doctor said. “He could be contagious, and I don’t want you touching him—”

Stepping forward, she took my hand in hers.

“So be it,” the doctor said, and left.

“Holmes,” I asked her, “what did she give me? How did you know?”

She hoisted herself up on my bedside. I remembered the night I’d woken her this way, when she’d fallen asleep as Hailey and woken up, again, as my best friend. We’d had pancakes. She’d asked me to trust her.

“It’s a created virus,” she said hoarsely. “Brewed in a lab. That doctor—Dr. Warner—is a specialist on this particular strain.” She rattled off a series of Latin words I didn’t know. “That’s what it’s called.”

“Can you give me something easier to call it?” I asked, half-joking. “The Watson flu?”

She shrugged. “As you’d like. It was created, originally, as a bioweapon, for the rapidity with which it kills its victims. Dr. Warner works for the German government. Luckily for us, he was presenting at a conference in Washington. Milo more or less had him clubbed over the head and brought up here.”

“Oh,” I said. “So it can be cured?”

Holmes bit her lip again. I’d never seen her so ragged. “We think so,” she said carefully. “He has some theories. Right now, he’s in the other room, researching.”

“The other room. Here, in Bryony’s flat.”

“It was my idea,” she admitted. “God knows she won’t be returning here after pulling a stunt like this. And I didn’t want to bring you to your house, not contagious like this. So we took this place over, changed the locks; Milo called in some favors, as you can see. We’ll bring in a professional cleaning crew, of course, after this is all over. The next tenant doesn’t deserve to get the Watson flu in the bargain.”

After this is all over. One way or another, it would be over soon. She caught my gaze, and with that magician’s trick of hers, I watched her read my mind.

She shook her head quickly, hugging her arms around herself.

“You can’t do that,” I said quietly. “You can’t fall apart yet.”

She nodded, her face turned from me.

“Come here,” I said, moving over in the bed. “If you really don’t mind my being patient zero.”

She swallowed her tears. I pulled back the sheet, and she crawled in beside me, putting her head on my chest. I pressed my lips against the dark crown of her hair. It was like those hours under the porch, the stillness, the waiting; and it was nothing like it at all. My muscles ached. My limbs were heavy. My lungs were raw in my chest. I had to brace myself against the bed as another round of shivers ground their way through me.

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