A Study in Charlotte

Page 72

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He didn’t. He stood and watched his sister work.

It seemed safe enough for me to take the few minutes to gather my things from the dorm. Holmes had put me in charge of watching the GPS tracker on Bryony’s car, and other than two quick stops for coffee and for gas, she’d driven a straight course to the police station. There wasn’t really much else I could do, and honestly, I was looking forward to getting a clean set of my own clothes.

“I’ll be back,” I told her. She nodded and kept on directing traffic.

The day had turned out to be mild, so I left my father’s car parked on the street and walked the half mile up to campus. I was suffused with a sense of well-being, the kind I associated with waking up late on a lazy Sunday, no plans, no obligations. I had no doubts that Holmes would find the necessary evidence to implicate Bryony Downs for every terrible thing that had happened. It was over. Over. And Charlotte Holmes and I were still here.

I let myself daydream about spending Christmas break with her in London. Hopefully Holmes would be at her family’s flat there for the month, but if not, I’d jailbreak her from Sussex myself. We’d go get a proper curry, first thing, and then I’d take her to my favorite secondhand bookshop, the one where the owner had asked me to sign my great-great-great-grandfather’s books. Maybe she’d want to see a violin program at Royal Albert Hall. And after that, I’d ask her to show me her personal London, the one she’d memorized as a child. We’d see how it had changed and grown in our absence, the way cities do. We’d both have to get to know it again as our London.

As I crossed the quad to Michener Hall, I couldn’t help but notice how bare Sherringford was. The sciences building was in ruins, still smoking faintly, under the black tarp they’d thrown over the roof. That woman had wanted Holmes dead, I thought with a shiver. It hadn’t really hit me until then. Bryony Downs had wanted to end Holmes’s life. Thank God we were done with it.

I was a few minutes early, but Tom was already waiting on the steps of our dorm, shivering in his thin jacket. We both looked a little threadbare, I thought: me in my father’s coat, Tom in his raggedy sweater-vest. It was surprisingly good to see him, argyle and all.

“Hey,” he said brightly. “Where have you guys been? At your dad’s house? And Charlotte’s okay? I’ve been trying to call you but it kept going straight to voicemail.”

I told him about the cell phone I’d abandoned on my desk. He’d been evacuated straight from the library, he said, and put on a bus to that Days Inn without anyone telling them what had happened. “We’d heard the explosion,” he said. “People were crying. It was awful. But we got filled in eventually. For the first day it was like a church in there. And now it’s a total shit show, people climbing the walls. Lots of rumors. Like, what really happened in the science building? Do you have any insider info? No, tell me inside, I want—”

I said a silent thank you as the front doors opened, cutting him off. A bored-looking policeman consulted a clipboard. “Thomas Bradford? James Watson? Come with me. The building’s secure, but they’re having us stay with you as a precaution.”

In my haste the other night, I’d forgotten to lock our door or even fully close it. The policeman frowned at me when a slight push threw it open. When he saw what was inside it, his hand went for his gun.

It really did look like a crime scene. The slit mattress and the torn-up curtains and the hollowed-out books. The glint of broken glass over everything. “It’s fine, Officer,” I said. “I had an accident with the mirror right before we were evacuated.”

“Doesn’t look fine,” he grumbled, but stayed outside.

I turned to Tom to apologize, to explain. He’d be shocked, I thought. Maybe he’d want to make a statement to Detective Shepard; after all, he’d been recorded too.

All the blood had drained from his face except for two bright spots of color, one on each cheek. His eyes had gone all pupil. He blinked rapidly, staring at the floor.

“Tom?” I said, as gently as I could. I hadn’t meant to scare him this badly.

He jerked his head up to look at me. “When did this happen?”

The phrasing caught me off guard. Not what, but when. “The night we were evacuated,” I said cautiously.

“Was it Nurse Bryony?”

I startled, then remembered that I’d told him about my concussion and the infirmary. “I don’t know.” It seemed the safest answer.

He went a shade paler and nodded to himself, as senselessly fast as a bobblehead doll.

“Five minutes,” the policeman called.

“Hey,” I said to Tom, “I promise I’ll explain later, but can we—”

“Where are they?” he asked in a snarl, shoving me into the door of my closet. His cheerful, bright American face looked like an ugly mask. “Where the fuck are they, Jamie?”

It was like the floor fell open below us.

I shoved him off me and kept him there, an arm’s length away. Tears welled up in his eyes as he struggled against my grip.

“What the hell are you talking about?” But I knew exactly what he was talking about. I just wanted to hear him say it. Admit that he’d bugged our room. Confess that all this time, his friendly gossip mongering was a cover for collecting information for Bryony Downs.

“Oh my God, he’s going to kill me.” Tom stopped fighting me off. He fell back, gasping, throwing his hands up over his face, and I felt a flare of satisfaction.

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