Inspector Lestrade found himself in somewhat of a snit as the cab rattled back to Scotland Yard. Sympathies with the criminals indeed! Well, he couldn't really blame Holmes. He himself was not as keen as he might be about finding the murderers. Of course, he wasn't a private investigator with the freedom to pick and choose among cases. Lestrade sighed. Such was the lot of an official.

He let his mind drift over the facts of the case. A known blackmailer dead. His papers burned. Two men. Footprints found. Descriptions of both, but more detailed on the shorter one. No sign of forced entry. That last part was odd. Undoubtedly Holmes would have made something of that, if he had taken the case.

Now, that was odd too. Even granting Milverton's reputation, the little inspector knew Holmes well enough to know that the more singular the case, the greater the challenge. And Holmes had always reveled in challenges.

Two men. One tall, thin, and overly active. The other shorter, more heavily built, strong enough to scale a wall and fight back when grabbed.

My sympathies are with the criminals rather than with the victim, and I will not handle this case

It's likely the criminals were men of good position

That's rather vague . . . It might be a description of Watson!


Oh no.

Oh surely not.

But then, hadn't the doctor seemed less than amused when Holmes made that observation about the description of the second man? It could be chalked up to any man's natural dislike of being compared to a murderer on principle and yet . . .

Hadn't Holmes been strangely adamant about not taking the case, and before he knew all the particulars? Surely there was more to it than Milverton's reputation.

It wasn't as if the pair of them were strangers to breaking the law when it suited their needs. Lestrade suddenly remembered that Cadogan West case with the stolen government plans. Holmes and Watson had burglarized Oberstein's home and had frankly admitted it to him. Lestrade's own words from that time came back to him now:

We can't do these things in the force, Mr. Holmes. No wonder you get results that are beyond us. But some of these days you'll go too far and you'll find yourself and your friend in trouble.

And wasn't there trouble now!

If he were to go back to Baker Street and peer into the fireplace, wouldn't he find the charred remains of two black masks? If he were to check all their footwear, wouldn't he find two pair of boots with the mud of Hampstead Heath clinging to them? Wouldn't those boots match the prints found all around Appledore Towers? Would Watson's ankle bear the faint bruises of an iron-fisted gardener?

No. Probably not.

Lestrade knew, better than most, what sort of mastermind Sherlock Holmes would have made, had he turned that great brain of his to crime. If the inspector were to go back to Baker Street, all he would find were a freshly swept fireplace and newly cleaned shoes. Hardly incriminating. Perhaps their boots would match the prints on the heath but then, what of that? Surely they were not the only men in London to have purchased those styles and brands of boots! And the doctor could just as easily have bruised his ankle from tripping over something in that death-trap they called a sitting room.

Lestrade groaned dismally. Perhaps there was time to shift the case to Gregson's workload.