|The Adventure of the Lost Body
Author: Argonaut57 PM
In the vaults of Cox & Co., Solicitors, of Charing Cross rests a battered tin dispatch box with the name 'John H Watson MD' stenciled on the lid. But what interest could its contents have for the Unsolved Crimes and Open Cases Unit?Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Chapters: 3 - Words: 9,447 - Reviews: 6 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 6 - Updated: 01-21-12 - Published: 11-27-11 - id: 7588365
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The Adventure of the Lost Body
Part 1: Two Corpses Too Many
The Abbey Church of St Jude was one of those buildings that can only be found in old, European cities. A tiny, dark, medieval church nestling under the shadows of a concrete 1960's office block on one side and a 1990's glass and steel Business Centre on the other.
Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman and her colleague Jack Halford had had to park some distance away as a result of building work, but the weather was warm and dry, so for once neither of them minded the walk. Jack, however, was shaking his head.
"Bodies in churches are never good news." He opined. "Church-centred communities tend to be close-knit. Lots of old alliances and older feuds, and nobody wants to talk."
"This doesn't look like the sort of church many people go to." Sandra pointed out. "If this is an old unsolved case, the chances are that half the people involved have moved away.
"Hullo, what's this?"
Her attention had been drawn to two figures approaching the church from the opposite direction. One of them, a tall, well-built, bearded man stepped forward, smiling broadly and putting out a hand.
"Sandra! Long time no see! How are things at UCOS?"
She returned his handshake and smile. "Hi, Peter. We keep busy. This is my colleague, Jack Halford. Jack, this Detective Superintendent Boyd, from the Cold Case Unit."
"The Jack Halford?" Asked Boyd. "I read your Hendon lectures on practical policing, excellent stuff! This is Dr Grace Foley, the unit's profiler."
Dr. Foley was a shrewd-looking middle-aged woman who nodded pleasantly, but Sandra had the feeling right away that she was being assessed.
"So," she asked, "Why are we all here?"
Boyd shrugged, "Apparently there are two bodies. One of them may relate to a case we're working on. The other? Well, you may have a new case on your hands, Sandra.
"My pathologist is already inside, shall we?"
The church was small and dark inside, what had once been glorious stained-glass windows were now vague masses of colour under decades of dirt. Scaffolding had been erected near the largest, and several overalled figures were hard at work with assorted cleaning tools.
"This may be a crime scene," Boyd growled, "what are they still doing here?"
"Sir?" A young man came forward. "DS Boyd? I'm DI Sloane. The bodies are down in the crypt, so I didn't see any reason to stop the work up here. There's no access to it from in here, anyway. If you'll come with me?"
Sloane led them out through a small side-door into a narrow alley between the church and the office block. At the back of the church a short flight of stairs led down to a heavy old door which was propped open.
"There was some restoration and repair work going on," Sloane told them as they went. "The crypt is structurally sound, but the monk's tombs were in a bit of a state. They opened them up to brace the insides - stop them collapsing – and found themselves with two extra bodies!"
The crypt was actually brighter than the outside, and Sandra had to blink hard against the sudden glare of arc-lights. For some reason, the ancient stone-work here was more impressive than that of the little church above, and the walls were lined with tombs, most of which were open. All but two had the insides draped with black cloth. The other two lay open, and both held crumbling, skeletal remains. To the police officers, however, the real objects of interest lay in front of them on stretchers.
A woman in white overalls who'd been crouching over one of the stretchers looked up and called, "Boyd? Over here!"
Boyd went over, and Sandra followed, curious. "Sandra, this is Dr Eve Lockhart. Eve, this is Superintendent Pullman. What do you have?"
"This one follows the pattern," Dr Lockhart said, indicating the polythene-wrapped body in front of her. "IC1 female, blonde, naked and wrapped in this sheeting. The body is about five years old, I think, but the wrapping has preserved it. Can't get a clear cause of death until I get it back to the lab, but I don't see any wounds, so she might have been suffocated like the others.
"So this one's ours. The other is over here, Superintendent Pullman. As you can see, the body is fully skeletonised, but apart from that, it's much more recent than the one it was laid on top of, and it's female."
"So it definitely doesn't belong here." Sandra concluded.
"Indeed," Jack remarked. "Post-mortem is a trifle late to break a vow of chastity!"
"Right," said Sandra, "We'll get this one packed up and over to the lab, so we can see what we've got. Peter, good to see you again, we'll have to catch up some time."
"We will," Boyd replied. "Good luck with your bones, Sandra. Keep me posted, OK?"
The UCOS office was its usual hive of inactivity. Brian Lane was riveted to his computer, while Gerry Standing lounged at his desk reading a magazine, it would either be about gourmet cooking or classic cars, Sandra knew.
At one time, the lack of activity had used to drive her mad, now she found the peace and quiet soothing, a respite from her often tempestuous personal life.
"Right!" she said, "We have female skeleton of indeterminate age, dumped who knows how long ago in a monk's tomb. Any ideas?"
"Nun at the moment." Supplied Gerry, raising a universal groan.
"OK," said Sandra, "Anything useful? Brian?"
Brian looked up from his computer. "I've been doing a bit of research on the Abbey Church of St Jude. It was the abbey church of a small Benedictine house founded sometime in the 10th Century. It was a community of scholars, dedicated to the study, copying and translation of important manuscripts. Sort of a NameoftheRose kind of place.
"During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII's bailiffs seized the place and most of the monks fled. The living quarters, library, scriptorium and so forth became the property of the City of London and were sold off, but the church itself became a small parish one in the Church of England. Later on, when Catholicism was made legal again, it changed back.
"The interesting thing is that the monks who fled took with them, at great personal risk, a number of important manuscripts which are now in the Vatican archives. As a result, there was a Papal Bull issued that states that the church and the tombs of the brothers must be maintained in perpetuity.
"There's almost no congregation, or wouldn't be if it wasn't that there's an Opus Dei house nearby, and the people staying there use St Jude's."
"Aren't that Opus Dei lot a bit dodgy?" asked Gerry.
Jack sighed. "This isn't the DaVinciCode, Gerry! Opus Dei is just a society of people who believe that you can bring spirituality and sanctity into everyday life."
"You're not fond of Catholics, are you, Gerry?" Sandra asked.
"I've got nothing against most of 'em." Gerry told her, "But when I was working with the Paedophile Unit we got too many cases involving Catholic priests. The church always seemed to manage to hide them away where we couldn't get at them!"
This was a sore point with a lot of police officers, so Sandra let it lie. "Well," she said, "We can't do much until the lab gets back with some information about the body. Have we got anything else?"
It was towards the end of the day that Sandra's phone rang. The conversation was short, and at the end of it, she came back into the main office and announced, "That was the lab. It seems our corpse dates from the 1880's – 1890's. A bit beyond our reach, I'm afraid!"
So they went out for a curry, instead.
The following morning, Sandra had the team looking through files to see if anything had turned up that merited a second look. They'd just about given up when Sandra got a call from Reception to say that someone wanted to see them. Jack went down to escort the visitor up and returned shortly with a smart-looking woman in her forties, carrying a briefcase.
"Everyone, this is Ms Natalie Cox, from Cox & Company. Ms Cox, this is Superintendent Pullman, Brian Lane and Gerry Standing."
Ms Cox accepted a seat and a cup of tea, then began to speak in a low-pitched, well-modulated voice.
"Before we get into precisely why I'm here, I think I need to tell you a little history. Cox and Company is a very old firm, founded back in the 19th Century. Nowadays, we specialise in corporate and property work, but back then we dealt mostly with the professional people of the time. We looked after the affairs of bankers, other lawyers, clergymen and doctors. One of our medical clients is perhaps better known for a sideline of his..."
"Of course!" Brian interrupted. "Cox & Co, Solicitors, of Charing Cross! Holders of the famous battered tin dispatch box!"
"Precisely so, Mr Lane." Ms Cox smiled. "I have seen that dispatch box on many occasions, and it does indeed have the name 'John H Watson, MD,' stencilled on the lid!
"Now, Dr Watson was a very precise man. Rather than leave the box and its contents to his heirs, he committed it to the care of the company. He also left some very exact instructions as to what was to be done with the contents. Some were to be released at or after specific dates, others at the request of certain families. There are others which are never to be released at all, except under some very specific conditions."
She put her briefcase on the desk and pulled out a large foolscap envelope. "These documents belong in that category. Dr Watson left instructions that if a female body were ever to be found in or around St Jude's, they were to be passed to the investigating officer. Now, obviously, bodies have been found near there since, but none that so clearly dated from Dr Watson's time as the skeleton that was found there two days ago.
"Father Simons, the priest at St Jude's, honoured a promise made by a 19th Century predecessor by informing us that the skeleton had been found. He also told us that the case had been passed to UCOS, so here I am, following a client's instructions. What you do with the documents is, of course, up to you."
She handed the envelope to Sandra and got to her feet. "Thank you for the tea. Do let me know if anything interesting comes of this."
As Jack showed their visitor out, Sandra examined the envelope. It had been labelled in a bold, copperplate hand "Papers regarding Queen Umale". Inside was a thick wad of foolscap paper, covered in the same handwriting, and a smaller envelope addressed to "The Detective Officer in charge of the case."
Sandra held the letter for a moment. Dr Watson had been the biographer of Sherlock Holmes – one of the first men to apply scientific methods to detection. As such, he was something of an icon to many detectives. She wondered for a moment if, in his wildest dreams, Watson had ever thought that his letter would end up in the hands of a senior police officer who was also a woman!
Probablynot, she thought,butthat'snothisfault.Hewasamanofhistimes,justlikeI'mawomanofmine.
Sandra broke the seal and unfolded the letter:
To Whom It May Concern,
If this letter has come to hand, it means that a body has been found in or around the environs of the Abbey Church of St Jude. I assume that my instructions have been carried out, and that you are the Detective Officer in charge of the case.
The documents enclosed with this letter detail a case in which I was involved with my great friend Mr Sherlock Holmes. It was not one of his noted successes, but the issues involved were of considerable importance at the time, and for all I know may still be so.
Whatever the circumstances, these documents may at least allow you to give a name to the unfortunate woman whose body you have discovered. Whether they result in a wider remedy for what I fear was a great injustice is another matter.
There are certain other matters connected to this case which may be of importance. They consist of an item of jewellery and a written affidavit. These I have requested my solicitors to deposit with a bank for safety. Should your investigations require it, I hereby authorise any agents of Cox and Co to release the items into the custody of the bearer.
In closing, I can only assume I am addressing someone from what may be many years in the future. I am now a man of full years and have lived a life which has few, if any regrets. I have been afforded the friendship of one of the greatest men of his age, and the love of two of the finest women of any age. The only thing I regret is that, as a man of science and an observer of human nature, I shall not live to see the wonders you almost certainly accept as commonplaces of everyday life.
John H Watson MD
Sandra was of the opinion that the 'wonders' Dr Watson wrote so wistfully of were largely outweighed by the stubborn refusal of human beings to behave any better now than they had then. But then, she was a copper, so didn't see much of people's best side.
"Well?" Gerry interrupted her train of thought.
"Well," Sandra told them all, "it seems that we might have stumbled on a case that Sherlock Holmes couldn't crack. There's probably some historical interest in it, but no police work." She paused, suddenly aware of Brian's eyes on her. Sandra realised that Brian might well sell his soul to get his hands on an original case file from the pen of Dr Watson. She had no doubt the thing would end up in the British Library in due course, but right now, there was no harm in it.
"On the other hand," she went on, "it is evidence in a UCOS case, so it will need to be looked at before we file it all away. Brian, would you do that? I'll need a report as soon as you've finished, but don't rush it."
Brian's hands were shaking slightly as he took the precious manuscript and began to read.