The "A"s Have It
As Greg tipped back the last of his pint, a familiar flash of red and white caught his eye. He focused on the flatscreen behind the bartender. It was a bit distant from their table and he'd had more than a little to drink, but it was definitely what he'd thought it was.
"I love this one!" he declared.
"This one what?" asked John. Sherlock didn't look up from whatever he was doing with his phone.
Greg gestured with his empty glass towards the telly. "This episode."
John turned to look over his shoulder and squinted at it. "What is it?"
"It's a Top Gear re-run. The one where they race to the North Pole."
"What's the point of that?" John tossed back the final swallow of his beer. "It's your round, Sherlock."
"I'm not done," replied Sherlock, still not looking up. Whether he meant just the pint -- obviously still half-full -- or also whatever he was doing on his mobile was anyone's guess
"Fine." John waved at the bartender, indicated three more with raised fingers, and pointed at Sherlock. They were something close to regulars at that particular pub and the bloke nodded understanding. John turned back to Greg who appeared engrossed by the arctic action on the telly. "Why are they racing to the North Pole?"
"Because no one had driven there yet." Seeing John's half-drunk bewilderment, Greg explained. "They wanted to see if you could drive to the magnetic pole, so Jeremy and James took a specially outfitted truck while Richard and a professional dogsled driver raced them there." That was clear enough, right?
"Huh. I rode on a dogsled once," said John.
That made Sherlock's head shoot upright and he peered intently at his flatmate.
"Seriously?" asked Greg.
Sherlock's eyes widened marginally in astonishment. "It's classified."
"Shit!" John exclaimed. "Forget I said anything." Their pints arrived then, providing brief distraction. The server set them down, cleared the empties, and disappeared.
John wasn't getting off the hook so easily.
Greg gave him a dubious look. He couldn't have understood right. "You rode a classified dogsled?"
"No. That sounds ridiculous even to me, and I'm nearly drunk."
"Indeed," agreed Sherlock, still looking puzzled. "The reason you were in a position to be on a dogsled is classified."
"How d'you know that?" demanded Greg.
Sherlock was silent, frustrated. John laughed and offered up the answer. "Because, for once, he can't just look at me and figure it out."
Greg took a wild stab at it. "So you've been to, where, Alaska? Yukon? The Arctic?"
"Antarctica!" announced Sherlock triumphantly.
John nearly choked on his beer. "How did you--? Never mind." He glared at his friend. "Yes. Now drop it, please. You said yourself it's classified."
Greg snorted. "As if that's ever stopped him prying."
There was a lull then in the conversation. Greg was no Sherlock Holmes, but he couldn't resist the chance to have a play at it, particularly when it was at the expense of a friend. He took a guess based on what facts he knew of John and what rumours he'd heard of John's reputation. "What was her name?"
"Amelia." Almost instantly, he realised the trick. "Shit, shit!"
Greg laughed and took a satisfied drink of his beer. Had he been more sober, he'd have recognised the gleam of mischief in Sherlock's eyes.
"That's not the classified part," said the detective.
"No," agreed John. Knowing Sherlock was worse than a dog with a bone, he made a decision. "All right. This was before Afghanistan. There was a medical emergency at the Antarctic research station. We happened to be near by, relatively speaking, so we were diverted. A dogsled met us and took me in. And that's all you're getting about that. If you really want to know, I suppose you could get it through Mycroft."
"And the non-classified part?"
John's shoulders tensed minutely. "I already said. Amelia."
Greg watched the interplay of body language between his companions. It was better than the TV at this point. After all, he already knew who had won the Top Gear race. He supposed, if he thought about it, he already knew who was going to win the friendly competition here at the table, too. Still, it was fun to watch.
"What are you doing on your phone?" John asked Sherlock in a doomed attempt to change the subject.
"Writing unsolvable logic problems for Mensa."
Greg couldn't decide if it was a joke or if he was serious.
"Unsolvable?" challenged John.
"For anyone not me," Sherlock clarified, and Greg still couldn't tell if he was kidding. His gaze never wavered. He was the cat. John was the mouse.
And Greg was the scientist observing as the experiment played out. He wanted to laugh, but held his tongue, waiting.
John shook his head. "I'm not telling you anything else." He took a long slow drink of his beer, as if by doing so he could extend the silence until Sherlock's attention was diverted by some new puzzle.
Watching Sherlock watch John, the question whose answer Sherlock awaited struck Greg with the surety of tomorrow's sunrise. Not wanting to get sprayed with a beery spit-take, he waited until John had to pause for breath before speaking.
"So, what was his name?"
"Antonio." A split-second pause and then, "Shit, shit, shit!"
Greg and Sherlock burst out laughing and eventually, inevitably, John did, too.