A/N: The recent rash of EMPT fics in the fandom prompted me to start putting this plot bunny down that someone sent hopping my way a good many weeks back - hope someone likes it.
Let me see, what else do you need to know...Oh, I am drawing slightly off the Granada series, and changes in POV are marked with a horizontal line, for now at least. Enjoy.
"CHECK RECENT LONDON NEWS ADAIR MURDER MIGHT INTEREST YOU STOP OFFERS REMARKABLE PERSONAL OPPORTUNITIES STOP SUGGEST YOU RETURN WITH ALL SPEED STOP M"
I read the telegram for the third time in as many minutes as I stood on the verandah of my laboratory in southern France, wondering what my brother meant by the Adair murder and 'personal opportunities'.
I had to get hold of a recent London Times. Mycroft would not have risked contacting me unless it were urgent – I had given him strict orders to the contrary.
Perhaps – but I hardly dared speak the wild hope for fear I should curse my luck.
But – but perhaps this was the beginning of the end, the herald of a series of events that would allow for my return to England and home? Just perhaps? Dared I imagine such a foolish daydream?
"Monsieur Vernet?" I heard the voice of my fellow scientist behind me raised questioningly.
I sighed and rather unwillingly returned to our interrupted experiment with the coal-tar derivatives.
I had to get hold of the Times. Something was happening – I could feel it.
"Good morning, Dr. Watson."
"Good morning, Lestrade," I replied, reaching out to shake the proffered hand the man held out to me. "What is it this morning?"
"Murder, Doctor. Very nasty bit of work too, I must say," the ferret-faced Scotland Yarder replied, looking rather ill as he jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the murder room.
"Quite. I appreciate your coming on short notice, Doctor."
"I had no patients scheduled for this morning, at any rate; glad to get the extra work, too – thank you, Inspector," I replied quietly.
It was spring of 1894, three long years after the death of the dearest friend I had in the world. In those three years I had not even yet learnt to fully live normally with the knowledge of Holmes's death.
There were still nights when I would waken with terrified cries, thinking that we were back in some dangerous case together – or worse yet, thinking that I had made it back to the Falls only in time to see Moriarty pull him over the edge. The mind is a horrible thing when it plays tricks like that with one's sleeping hours.
But those dreams were no worse than the reality I was forced to wake up to when they were over.
And now, just last winter – a little over four months ago – my darling wife of six years had died as well, of pneumonia. Mary had been the one thing in those dreadful three years that anchored my heart and soul to this world and not the next where my dear friend had gone on before. Now that she was gone as well, I felt very little attraction indeed to this life. Very, very little indeed.
I had fallen upon some slight financial difficulties; nothing serious, but still a strain, after the expenses entailed in her passing, and so I was very glad when a chance meeting with Inspector Lestrade of the Yard one gloomy morning last February opened up an opportunity for me to become an emergency police surgeon.
My past experience with all things criminal, a passable working knowledge of medico-legal processes, and a bit of logical thinking gleaned from years of living with Sherlock Holmes made the job actually rather enjoyable, as well as putting some badly needed money into my rather tight pocket.
Lestrade was fond of calling me instead of the regular police-surgeons; partly because I had already twice given him a pointer or two that later proved to be a valuable clue in the case upon which he was working, but also because in the three years of Holmes's absence, his animosity toward my deceased friend had mellowed considerably, and he had become a very good friend to me in those dreadful months following my wife's death.
I had received his summons less than an hour ago on this drizzly spring morning and had come straight away to an extremely fashionable house in Park Lane. The Inspector met me upstairs outside the fated room, and now he was motioning me in.
A body lay on the floor covered in a very bloodstained sheet – I could tell already that the man had been shot through the head, since the blood was all on one end of the thin rectangle of fabric. Lestrade knelt beside the body and pulled back the sheet gingerly.
Even my war-hardened nerves twitched and recoiled at the sight.
"Oh, good Lord. Soft-nosed revolver bullet, Lestrade?" I asked, glad to turn my attention away from the gruesome sight to look at the Yarder's thin face.
The man looked surprised and started to fish in his pocket, pulling out an envelope.
"Quite, Doctor. How did you know?" he asked, dumping the contents into my hand.
I inspected the piece of lead, which had mushroomed out after passing through the fellow's head and making such a horrific mess.
"Only a soft-nosed bullet can do that kind of - damage, Lestrade," I said, my stomach turning a little at the mutilation.
I began to perform the necessary preliminaries on the body.
"Who was in here with him?" I asked, putting away my thermometer.
"No one, Doctor."
"The door was locked on the inside, and he didn't come out all evening nor did he have visitors," the man told me. I stared at him.
"It's a revolver bullet, Lestrade – they aren't anywhere near accurate enough to perform that kind of shot outside of more than twelve or fifteen feet. Someone had to be in here."
"Not possible, Doctor."
"The window, then."
"It was open only a crack, and Adair was sitting in the desk chair there in front of it, facing the window. It looks as if someone fired through the window, but…"
"But that's not possible with a revolver; it's a second story room," I said, glancing out of the glass, "besides, there is all that freshly-turned earth below. Has it been disturbed?"
"No, Doctor. No traces whatsoever. The murderer must have flown by the window, far as the signs tell us!"
I smiled at the Yarder's obvious bewilderment.
"All right, Lestrade, if you'll remove the body, I can make a post-mortem this afternoon," I said.
"Right. Secker, Cummings – have Adair removed to the morgue, if you please. Now, Doctor."
"What can you tell me about the case, Lestrade?" I asked, putting my gloves back on.
Lestrade detailed briefly to me about the night preceding the murder, how the door had been broken in and he was found, how there had been stacks of coins and lists of names there on the desk, and how there appeared to be no possible method and absolutely no motive. Adair had no enemies and several friends, was quiet, respectable, and honest.
It appeared to be an impossible crime.
"I do wish your friend were alive for this one, Doctor," Lestrade said softly, and I mutely agreed – Holmes would have loved the case; it presented those odd possibilities that he held so dear.
It all seemed like so long ago, so very long ago. I had sighed sadly without realizing it, and Lestrade laid an apologetic hand on my shoulder.
"I am sorry, Doctor, that was a thoughtless thing to say, especially this time of year," he said hastily, his sallow face flushing with embarrassment.
"Quite all right, Inspector," I replied, glad that my voice was not shaking as I thought it would be, "and you are quite correct – Holmes would have loved this one, eh?"
"Indeed. Well, Doctor, I shall see you this afternoon at the morgue?"
"Until then," I agreed, shaking hands with the man and exiting number 427 Park Lane.
I saw the sign for Oxford Street down the block, and without thinking about it my mind turned off of Oxford onto Baker Street. I knew just how many paces it was from the corner down to number 221…
But I shook myself violently and walked the other direction. I could not dwell on the past, for if I did, I would be overwhelmed by guilt and despair. And I dared not think about the future, for another forty or fifty years in this miserable existence was a thought that I could not stomach.
I could only live for the present, one day at a time. They seemed to get longer every 24-hour period that passed.
To be continued...reviews are very much welcomed!