Whumptober Prompt 15: Into the Unknown
Science Gone Wrong - Sherlock Holmes
Disclaimer: I've not really written mysteries before, so I'm drawing quite heavily from both the original works and a few things from BBC's Sherlock. Hopefully that makes it more enjoyable, rather than tedious! Also, it's a two-day story..
Warning: [legal] drug use referenced, examination of a dead body with wounds.
On looking through my casefiles, I find that I have never published this story. That was likely on my dear friend's account, as Sherlock Holmes has little taste for tales that read like dime-store novels. Yet all the of the account below is true, and might be of interest to the general public.
It started with a visit from Lestrade. I was out seeing a patient, but Sherlock Holmes recounted the whole to me, sitting with his feet drawn up in his arm-chair. "Watson!"
I set down my bag and climbed up the staircase, settling into my chair with a sigh. "How did you know I was home? I'd not even taken a step on the stairs!"
"By Mrs. Hudson's door."
"My dear Holmes!"
"I smell the distinct scent of molasses, which means Mrs. Hudson is in the kitchen. She would take note of all callers from the kitchen window, and as she opened and closed her door far too quickly to do more than call a greeting, it meant it was a member of the household. A simple case. Lestrade has brought me a far more interesting one."
"Yes, a murder in an empty house. Do you know the Harrington Estate?"
I thought back to the names I'd heard recently. This one was familiar. "The old mansion the newspaper said was the most haunted place in London?"
"Exactly. The superstitious mind, Watson, the superstitious mind! A large place, with empty rooms, moonlight and shadows, and a ghost story emerges!"
"But what's that got to do with Lestrade's case?" Sherlock smiled. "You don't mean to say it happened at the Harrington Estate?"
"Even better. The man murdered was its new owner, his parents having recently deceased. He was found in the middle of a large empty room, with all the doors locked on the inside. There appears to be no signs of a struggle, no immediately visible bruises on the body, and an unknown cause of death. The victim was found curled in a ball, his head buried in his knees, as if he wished to hide from something but was unable to escape the room he had locked himself into."
"It reads like a ghost story!"
"Yes, yes, of course it does! But it is likely man who set it so, not the spirits of the afterlife! Come, are you free to examine the body?" I stood up at once, only to have my friend glance at me. "Your war wound is aching again."
"Well, the weather is changing. But this will take my mind off of it."
Holmes did not bother to ask me if I was sure; he was far too keen for the chase, and trusted me to know my limits. We caught a cab to the morgue, and the overworked doctor gladly let me take over his examination, once he'd confirmed we had proper permission from the Yard. Lestrade had left a note.
So it was I pulled out the body of Matthew Harrington. He was young, in his early twenties, and I frowned as I noticed the lack of fat on the arms and the too-concaved stomach. With a saddened heart, I reached for his arm, and found the small pinpricks I'd almost expected to find. "Holmes, he was an addict." Holmes, who had been examining the man's belongings at another table, looked up.
"That would explain the few medical instruments here. Did he die of an overdose?" I checked Matthew's mouth, refraining from commenting on Holmes' own drug use. "There is no smell of vomit or spit about his mouth, and nothing dried on his lips." I checked his eyes. "Holmes!"
Holmes hurried over, and I silently held the eyelid open. Even my strong stomach turned, but Holmes bent over with his keen attention. "What caused that?"
"It looks like a blunt instrument penetrated both his eyes." A whisper of unease stirred in me, that perhaps the ghost had not liked being seen, but I shook it off.
"A most interesting reaction. Is there any drug you've encountered that could have such an effect?"
"Not that I've heard of, no."
"But it wasn't the cause of death?" Holmes had brought his magnifying glass to bear on the victim's nose, looking very closely at the inside of the nostrils.
"No, whatever punctured them didn't go deep at all."
"Hmm, most fascinating. Lestrade has promised me a look at the crime scene once he overrides the lawyers quibbling about who it belongs to now. Till then, old chap, do you feel like lunch?"
Lunch came and went, and we retired to the sitting room. Lestrade found us in the afternoon, puffing his way up the staircase.
"I swear by Queen and country, Mr. Holmes, if I have to deal with one more lawyer who tells me the property is in a grey area and therefore there isn't a proper owner to give consent to us searching the entirety of the grounds, I will retire and let Charleston take over the force. Any luck with the body?"
"A few things, noting I know to be of note yet. Is the house ready?"
"Yes, can you come now?" he asked as he handed a couple of papers to Holmes.
"We leave at once, Lestrade." Holmes was already heading towards the door, and I followed more slowly. The ache from the wound had grown in the cold morgue, and would grow even greater in the cold outside—but I wouldn't miss the case. I found Holmes waiting for me outside the door, having already hailed a cab, and one with a blanket at that. "No room for you, Lestrade, we'll meet you there!" he called, climbing in after me.
The ride to the Harrington Estate was quite long, and Holmes spent all of it with his fingers pressed together, his eyes shining. "Science against superstition, Watson. As soon as the papers discover the man died in an unknown way, in a locked room, the papers will be full of theories. But science may lay out the answers."
"Was Matthew the last of his family?"
"Let me check my book. I brought it with me." Holmes took out his index and turned it to "H," scanning it down till he came to the Harringtons. "No criminal propensities, apparently. Yes, he was an only child, born to Lord and Lady Harrington." He closed the book and pulled out the report Lestrade had handed him. "He was set to inherit the title, four properties, and almost no money. His parents died in a carriage accident when their horse spooked five months ago. I believe young Harrington wanted to sell all the properties but his childhood home, and make a living for himself that way."
"He would not have lived very long." Holmes raised an eyebrow at the frustration in my tone.
"Moderation in all things, old chap. Judging by the number of marks in his arm, I deduce Matthew didn't have any. Now his inheritance may go to an uncle on his mother's side, so not exactly a blood relation for the name, the Crown, or a distant cousin so far removed the blood may not be able to be proven. Apparently both uncle and cousin are fighting the Crown tooth and nail for the properties. Both of them, and a representative for the Crown, had to be at the estate to give permission to do more than rope off the room where the body was found. Well, well, Watson, it appears Lestrade beat us. Shall we go and congratulate him?"
Holmes descended but did not go forward, content to watch as Lestrade, with his usual bluster and authority, was telling off an old man who dressed like an absent-minded, wrinkled professor, a young man about Matthew's age who returned Lestrade's orders with a high voice and dramatic, indignant gestures, and a well-dressed, rather smarmy short man with a black moustache and eyeglasses.
"The uncle, the cousin, and the Crown," Holmes murmured. "I shall speak with them later. Shall we go?"
We went in, and a constable directed us up the staircase to a second-story room. It must have been a ballroom once, with an echoing floor, a stretch of wall curved outward for the musicians, windows from floor to ceiling on either side, two large fireplaces, and a high ceiling with several cobwebs. There were four doors, two leading to separate hallways on the far side, one by the musicians alcove, and a large, double door that Holmes and I entered in. "All of them were locked?" Holmes asked the constable, looking at the splintered wood on the double door.
"Every one of them, Mister Holmes. We got a call from the seller, when she found this room locked and Mr. Harrington missing. We broke it down and found him right there," the constable finished, pointing to the middle of the room. Holmes got out his magnifying glass, and I watched him. He examined the floor where the body was found first, and then walked to each corner of the room, rubbing his fingers on the floor and the wall at one point, and then, finally, calling for a ladder. At that point I walked to the wall and leaned against it, just behind where the door would open. I was more tired than I thought. Holmes ascended to examine the ceiling, brushing cobwebs out of his way, and then descended again, coughing a bit. He went from there to the fireplace, and I leaned harder against the wall, trying to distract myself by looking about.
"Are you finished up, Mr. Holmes?" Lestrade asked, walking into the rooms.
"Very nearly. I should like to speak to the possible owners; separately, if possible."
"You can do anything you like, if you help us sort this out. I can't make heads or tails of it. It ain't a natural death, Mr Holmes, and that means murder or ghosts, but I'll be blamed if I know how to find out which."
"That is what I am for, Lestrade. Now, if you please, the owners."
We stepped into a small room on the same floor, and the constable brought the representative for the Crown first. He spoke only of the Crown's right to the property in event of a lack of heir, and how it was quite clear there wasn't any. Holmes did not speak with him long, and I was grateful.
The uncle came next. "You are a man of science, I see," Holmes asked, smiling. The old, crumpled man looked at him in confusion, and Holmes smiled. "Your fingers still have powder from various substances, you stoop as if you're accustomed to bending over for hours at a time, and if you'll allow me the liberty," and he picked up the man's arm and turned his palm over, "these types of stains only come from dealing with chemicals. I have some myself."
"I sell medicines over on Palm Street," the man said in a quiet, deep voice, surprising in such a stooped man. "I knew Matthew well. He was going to let me use one of the properties as a laboratory, before he found out the funds were gone."
"Were you aware of his drug use?"
The uncle sighed deeply. "I do hate it when science goes wrong. He learned to love medicines and chemicals as a boy, working in my lab, and I'm afraid that led him to try things when he was older that he shouldn't have tried. It was such a shame, that. He was a bright boy, and would have done well."
"How long was he using?"
"He started soon after his parents died. They took care of him till then, for he had a bright mind but no common sense, you see. No practicality."
"Not a very good scientist then," Holmes pointed out, though in a kinder tone than I expected. The uncle shook his head.
"No, perhaps he wouldn't have been."
"And the properties?"
"By rights I should have them; he meant me to have them, before the money ran out. I'd be happy just with one."
"I'm sure, I'm sure. My condolences on your loss." And Holmes bowed him out.
The cousin came in next. He looked partly foreign, and acted it as well, speaking and moving with the quick passion of some of our neighbouring nations. "Have you found out what happened to Matthew?"
"I'm afraid that will take some time. We need to examine all the evidence, you know."
"But you must find out! They say he died from fear, terror, and if he had-"
"If he had?" Holmes asked, watching the man sharply.
"Then perhaps the legend of this place is true," the man whispered. "Perhaps it is haunted. Matthew hoped it was so. He said he wanted to see if the world held things science could not answer."
"He told you this?"
"But of course! We were brothers in spirit, orphans now, and seeking answers! I came at his mother's request, two years ago, but he was happy, and wanted nothing of me, till his parents died. But he knew I had been lonely. We became friends. He met my wife. The three of us were family. We saw him falling into that escapism, that foolishness, and we meant to bring him out!"
"Then you knew of his habits."
"A little. He knew I disapproved. He would not tell me, so long, how he got it. But we were working. My wife birthed our child, three months after he learned of being alone, and he became an uncle. For her, for my little girl, he was breaking away! Oh, you must find out what stopped him! You must find out what took my brother!"
"I shall endeavour to do so," Holmes responded firmly, and I gently guided the pacing man to sit on the couch. "But you must think for now. Do you know why Matthew was here?"
"No, no. He stays with us. That way we watch him, make sure he does not escape into the needle in the arm."
"Would he have been looking for the ghosts?"
"But no! We were meant to hunt together, the two of us, and he promised he would wait. I do not know why he was here. He did not like the house, old and dusty and ugly. He would not come alone."
"You are certain of that? That he did not come alone, and that he did not like it because it was old, dusty, and ugly?" Holmes asked sharply, and the man nodded eagerly.
"He did not like it," the cousin repeated.
"Thank you, you have been most helpful." Holmes again showed our guest to the door, and glanced at me. "Come, we will go home. I must research, and you should get warm."
"If you're sure, Holmes."
"I have seen all I needed to see here." We went back outside, saying farewell to Lestrade, and got into the hansom.
"What do you make of it, Holmes?"
"Well, parts of it are quite clear. But you know my methods, Watson. What did you observe?"
"I noticed that the ballroom was quite clean, though the rest of the house wasn't."
"Yes, one would say extremely clean. Well done. What do you make of it?"
"It wasn't done by a ghost." Holmes laughed.
"That's my practical Watson! You're quite right, a ghost would not care for such cleanliness, at least not by all accounts that circulate. I have the who, Watson, I am sure of it. And maybe the how. But I must get home in order to test it. Will a few scientific experiments bother you tonight?"
"Of course not, not if they'll help. I'm tired enough I could sleep through almost anything. But who do you think did it?"
Holmes smiled, saying nothing, and sank back against the chair. He refused to answer any other questions the rest of the ride home.
A/N: Any guesses on who did it and how?
Author's Accusation: trustingHim17, I kind of dislike you just a teeny bit today. This is over FOUR PAGES long, and it's all your fault, you requested it! If tomorrow is just as long, I shall be most unhappy. :P Though it has been very good practice, and I shall thank you for it later, but for right now—humph!