Elementary: The Ghost Line by Adam Christopher finds Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson deep underground as they navigate NYC's cavernous tunnels in search of answers (available February 24, 2015).
This exclusive excerpt is reprinted by arrangement with Titan Books. All rights reserved.
Summons to a bullet-riddled body in a Hell’s Kitchen apartment marks the start of a new case for consulting detectives Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson. The victim is a subway train driver with a hidden stash of money and a strange Colombian connection, but why would someone kill him and leave a fortune behind?
The search for the truth will lead the sleuths deep into the hidden underground tunnels beneath New York City, where answers—and more bodies—may well await them…
Some Velvet Morning
The man turned into West 49th Street from 8th Avenue and paused at the corner to swap the heavy plastic grocery bag from one hand to the other. It was early—damn early, he thought—the sky still a deep, cool velvet blue, the dawn just bruising the eastern horizon through the narrow corridor of tall Manhattan buildings behind him. He was bundled up against the chill, his coat old and worn but comfortable, a long-favored scarf wrapped around the lower half of his face. Shaking the circulation back into the hand that had been carrying the groceries all the way from the Duane Reade on the corner of Broadway and West 57th, the man continued on his way toward his apartment in a less fashionable backwater of Hell’s Kitchen.
He was tired from a string of night shifts. He could have taken a cab. Hell, he could have taken the subway. No. Not the subway. He’d had enough of that place for a lifetime. It wasn’t the dirt and the rats and the rush—hey, New York was New York—and it wasn’t like he was claustrophobic either. Not an option, job like his. No, it was just the growing sense that he spent far too much time with the city over his head, rather than the sky. The last six months especially. They’d been a killer.
But it was nearly over. He savored the crisp air and the clear sky above. Only another block and he’d be home.
He walked for a minute or so, the thin plastic of his grocery bag crinkling with every step. Then he slowed, eventually coming to a halt. He looked over one shoulder, slowly, then turned and looked over the other. His eyes scanned the shadows, places where the dawn light had yet to reach.
Then he shook his head and resumed his journey, slightly faster now.
It was getting ridiculous.
Soon, it would be over. Soon he’d be able to stop worrying that he’d be found out—that they’dbe found out. Just a few more days and they could have all the open sky they wanted. He’d loved New York City since the day he arrived from Northern Ireland as a teenager with his parents and kid sister. But… maybe the Caribbean would be better. With change came opportunity. Once this whole thing was over, and he and his sister were out of harm’s way, they could get to know one another again. He hadn’t seen her for half her life but he had her back now, even if it was in bad circumstances. Six months of fear. Six months of looking over his shoulder.
The man frowned to himself as he mounted the steps leading to his building, a modest brownstone in a street that had yet to feel the steady creep of gentrification in Hell’s Kitchen. It suited him. He could hardly afford the rent as it was, and the less he had to do with hipsters and their artisanal marmalade, the better. But the apartment had been a real find. Just right for the job. Perfect, in fact.
Key in the lock, another pause, another check over the shoulder. He opened the door and stepped into his building, then selected another key and opened his own door, the first-floor apartment. He wondered what the houses were like down in the Caribbean, and whether there’d be a job for a guy like him.
He closed the door with a kick, the deadbolt engaging with a heavy clunk. He grabbed the chain hanging from the door frame and slid it into the door, before reaching down to push a sliding bolt home. The chain and bolt were new additions—he’d added the same to the back door as soon as he’d moved in. These last six months, he’d felt like he needed the extra security.
He left the lights off; there was enough dawn glow leaking in through the blinds on the front bay window to navigate as he shuffled into the open-plan kitchen/dining room. He dragged the grocery bag up onto the counter, and began unwinding his scarf.
There was a click like a light switch. The man turned around, confused for a moment, and then he saw he was not alone.
There was someone sitting in the armchair, under the window.
The man’s heart thundered in his chest, a colossal bass-drum thudthat made him stagger against the counter.
It was too late. They’d found out.
“What do you want?” His voice was a harsh whisper. The neighbors upstairs would still be asleep. He didn’t want any trouble, not when it was so close to being all over. Maybe there was a chance he could talk his way out of it, convince his visitor that the plan was still on track.
The intruder stood and walked forward, his bulky frame nothing but an empty shape backlit by the pale gray wash of dawn behind. He stopped and lifted his hand; the gun held in it caught the faintest glimmer of morning sun.
The man clutched his chest. It felt like his heart was going to explode, the sickening thump against his ribcage matched only by the pounding of panic in his head. He was going to die of a damn heart attack before the intruder had time to shoot him.
Because that’s what he was there for. The gun in his hand was no ordinary pistol. It was large, rectangular, all angles and edges, with a long magazine and barrel that seemed too small for the body of the piece. The man had seen guns like that plenty in the last six months.
He raised his hands, like he was apologizing, like he was trying to calm the situation. And then his hands came together like he was begging, like he was praying.
Which is exactly what he was doing.
He opened his mouth to speak, but it was too late.
The Uzi barked in the dark apartment, the muzzle flashes as shocking as the sound. The man shook as the bullets tore into his chest, and he careened backward, his wheeling left arm swiping the bag of groceries from the counter and bringing it down with him. White cardboard pill boxes spilled across the floor.
The man stared at the ceiling, blood bubbling from his mouth as his life drained away. The intruder stepped over to him, and in his dying moments the man blinked as he recognized his killer. Ah,he thought. So they got to you too?
Then he saw nothing but shining stars and big open sky, and he coughed up another mouthful of blood, and surrendered to the darkness.
An Experiment in Forensic Acoustics
Joan Watson breathed deeply and watched the patterns of morning light dapple the backs of her eyelids. The warm sun on her face felt glorious. It was going to be a beautiful day.
There was something about New York. Something indefinable, something magical, a spark to be forever chased but never captured. And New York, on a spring weekend? Her favorite time of year, in her favorite place on Earth. The city suddenly felt alive, electric, as it defrosted from its snow-bound winter slumber, the days longer and warmer.
And, more important, she had absolutely no plans. As she stretched out in bed, kicking at the hot water bottle at her feet, she considered what to do with two wonderfully free days. Some reading. Some shopping. Maybe she could even take a trip up to visit the Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park, in Upper Manhattan. It would be the perfect day for it—
With a soft whump, Watson’s head hit the mattress as the pillows beneath it were suddenly pulled away. Spitting out a mouthful of hair, she pushed herself up onto an elbow just in time to see the red and green plaid-covered back of her housemate disappearing through the door and down the stairs, her pillows tucked under one arm. A moment later there was a thud, heavy enough to rattle Watson’s bed, and the sound of something archaic and mechanical—something with chains—being wound up.
So much for sleeping in.
There was no response, just a short pause in the cranking before it began again.
Watson sighed, slipped from her bed—her warm, comfortable, lazy weekend bed—grabbed her robe from the back of the door, and ventured downstairs.
Watson padded toward the living room, then immediately pulled herself back, flat against the wall. The barrel of a gun was pointing right at the doorway.
The cranking sound had stopped, replaced now by the whirring of something much smaller. An electric motor, perhaps.
She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear and risked a peek around the door frame. Her eyes widened at the scene before her, and, keeping close to the wall—out of harm’s way—she slipped into the room.
Holmes had dragged the large red-topped table into the front room, and was bent over what Watson could only describe as a contraption. The object—the machine—comprised a wheel attached to a standing frame made of heavy, dark metal. At the compass points of the wheel were four revolvers, held in place by metal straps that stretched over the handles and screwed into the wheel. Watson risked a closer look, and saw that the handles of the revolvers had been partially dismantled, with a cradle of wires disappearing into each. The device was bizarre and looked exceedingly dangerous, the way the revolvers pointed in four directions at once—the gun pointing at the door was upside down, while its opposite number, right side up, was pointed at a target on the other side of the room.
Holmes was adjusting something on the machine with a screwdriver, but Watson’s attention was drawn to the target. She recognized the big black metal frame as a piece of bondage equipment Holmes usually kept out of sight in the hall cupboard. Hanging from the chained cuffs by its feet was the freshly butchered carcass of—
“Sus scrofa domesticus,” said Holmes, not looking up from his work.
Watson shook her head in disbelief.
“I know what a pig is, Sherlock. What I don’t know is why you have one hanging in our living room.”
She turned back to the table and waved at the gun machine.
“And what is this thing? Where did you get those guns? Have you been working all night again?”
Holmes stood back from the table, his arms straight by his sides as he rocked on his heels, a tight smile on his face. Watson knew that look. It meant trouble.
“Sleep is an inconvenience, Watson,” Holmes said. He gestured at the machine before him. “This is an experiment. I would hope your scientific curiosity is piqued, but perhaps it requires a little more effort on my part for my own natural enthusiasm to rub off on you.” Then he frowned, like a child told he couldn’t go out to play.
Watson rubbed her face. It was too early for this.
“Okay, fine, an experiment. And I’ll just assume that those guns are licensed and that you’re going to tell me why you want to shoot them at a pig.” She glanced at the clock on the wall. It was a little before seven. “But some of us actually enjoy a little sleep now and again. I’m going to make some tea.”
She turned toward the kitchen, then stopped when she saw a collection of cushions—and the pillows from her bed—lined up on the floor, next to what looked like a camera tripod with a large customized clamp screwed into the top.
Holmes darted around the table and reached down, picking up a worn cushion in green velvet. Watson recognized it from one of the armchairs.
“Consider this an experiment in forensic acoustics,” he said. He looked back at the table and waved his hand. “And yes, you may regard the guns to be licensed and perfectly legal if it were to put your mind at rest.”
Watson opened her mouth to speak, but Holmes continued.
“They are not, of course, but let us continue this fiction for the time being in order to proceed.”
Watson sighed. Holmes raised an eyebrow. “Well,” he said, his voice small. “You’re in a fine mood this morning.” He tossed the green cushion back on the floor.
Watson looked at Holmes, the contraption on the table, and the pig hanging from the frame. She tightened the tie of her robe around her waist, sighed, and walked into the kitchen.
Holmes followed her, standing in the doorway as she filled the tea kettle and lit the gas stove. As she took two mugs from the cupboard, she pointed one of them back in the direction of the “experiment.”
“So that was you, moving that pig around earlier?”
“Chekhov did take a little manhandling, yes.”
Watson watched the kettle, then turned back around.
Holmes grinned. “Well, he’s not quite hanging on the wall, I’ll grant you, and while I am loathe to anthropomorphize, it made it seem more…”—he waved his hand, his gaze darting around the kitchen momentarily—“authentic.” He clasped his hands behind his back and rocked on his heels again.
Authentic. Fine. Kettle boiled and tea brewing, Watson stepped back into the front room, Holmes on her heels. She knew she was going to regret the next question, but she also knew she really had no choice but to ask it anyway.
“So what’s the experiment?”
“Ah!” said Holmes, his eyes lighting up like a pinball machine. “I am investigating the sound-baffling properties of household soft furnishings.”
He ducked around Watson and began arranging the pillows and cushions on the floor into some kind of order. He lifted the green velvet cushion and squeezed it like a piece of fruit. Then he moved to the clamp on the camera tripod and positioned the cushion between its teeth, screwing the knob at the clamp’s base to secure it. He stood back and gave the cushion a satisfied pat before picking up the tripod and walking it back to the gun machine. With some adjustments to the height of the tripod, he aligned the cushion with the barrel of the first revolver, pushing it close so the soft fabric was squeezed against the weapon.
Realizing what Holmes planned to do, Watson crouched down and picked up one of her own pillows from the arrangement on the floor. She held it up to Holmes’s face. “Please don’t tell me you’re going to use my pillows as a silencer? These are real goose down.”
Holmes picked up a control from the table in one hand, his phone in the other. The control had a button on the top, with a cable leading out from the base to the gun machine. In his other hand, he began tapping something on his phone with his thumb. He glanced up for a second, then returned his attention to his phone.
“Very well,” he said. “I’ll spare them the first round and continue instead with some synthetics.”
He nodded to himself, then held up his phone. “Sound meter. Contrary to popular belief, the silencer on a gun doesn’t really silence it. More accurately, it is a suppressor, reducing both the volume of the report and the muzzle flash. But, unlike what is presented to us in the cinema or on the television, the resulting sound is hardly equivalent to a kitten jumping into a pile of fresh laundry.”
Watson nodded. “I know. A suppressed gun is still loud. Hasn’t this been studied already? Couldn’t you just read about it? You know, quietly? On your own? Without waking me or the neighbors?”
“Come now, Watson. What’s happened to your scientific curiosity? As you know, primary sources are the only ones to be trusted. And in this case, the primary source is me.”
Of course, thought Watson.
Holmes pointed theatrically to the cushion pressed against the muzzle of the revolver. “And in countless works of crime fiction,” he said, “guns are shown to be silenced by firing through a cushion or pillow. A bigger load of pig’s trotters I have hardly heard of.”
Watson shook her head. “Please don’t tell me you’re actually going to fire a gun in here. What did we say about conducting ballistics experiments in the brownstone? The whole street will call the police when they hear it.”
Sherlock rolled his lips and sniffed. “Not if this works they won’t,” he said with a wicked grin. He ducked down behind the machine—right in the path of the upside-down gun—and squinted, apparently making sure the machine, cushion, and pig were in perfect alignment. “Besides, I can hardly use the stereo to mask the report of the firearm this time, can I?”
Watson braced herself. She stepped back toward the kitchen and jammed her fingers in her ears. She wanted to tell Holmes to put on some hearing protection, and then wondered how to explain her eccentric roommate to the police who were bound to come bursting in shortly, but it was too late. She watched as Holmes stood as far back from the table as the cord on the firing control would allow, and held his phone up in the air.
Watson closed her eyes.
Three seconds passed.
She opened one eye, then the other. Then her hands dropped from the side of her head.
Sherlock stood facing her, the fire control dangling from his hand while he operated his phone with the other, clearly reading a message.
“What is it?” Watson asked.
Sherlock held the phone up. Watson moved closer and peered at the screen. It was a text, giving an address—Somewhere in Hell’s Kitchen, Watson thought—and below a message that could only have come from Captain Gregson.
YOU’RE GOING TO LOVE THIS ONE
Holmes put the firing control back on the table, and glanced ruefully at the pig carcass hanging from the bondage cuffs.
“Another time, me old porker.” He glanced at Watson. “You’d better put something less diaphanous on. It might be cold outside.”
Watson sighed, and headed for the stairs, the brewing tea in the kitchen abandoned.
So much for a quiet weekend.
Copyright © 2015 by Adam Christopher.
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Adam Christopher is a novelist and comic writer. His debut novel, Empire State, was SciFiNow’s Book of the Year and a Financial Times Book of the Year for 2012. In 2013, he was nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel award for Best New Talent, with Empire State shortlisted for Best Novel. Born in New Zealand, he has lived in Great Britain since 2006.