Small Minds, Great Arrogance.
Note: This is either in late 1881 or early 1882. I want some slack on this for now.
"I want that menace to society apprehended at once!"
Lestrade didn't bother to look up. It was all a part of the job to hear ordinarily simple sentences delivered with an irrational level of emotion. As far as he was concerned, it was barely important enough to note. One heard "that menace to society" every day in Scotland Yard. To be truthful, more than once a day. Quite frequently, in fact. It was always the variation of the same theme, in variations of strident tones and indignation.
He sighed and pulled a fresh form off the top of the stack on his desk. He had plenty to do without dividing his attention with lunatics. A series of robberies by Billingsgate had left the fish-market reeling with both financial and commercial losses. Billingsgate was also reeling from the verbal skills of the wronged fisherfolk. If the East End was the place where corpses were shanghaied to the Mary Celeste, then Billingsgate was where the Queen's English was tortured to death by screaming women who had learned the most numbing obscenities on their sainted mother's knees.
Someday, we'll find out why someone is so blooming-determined to steal cartloads of undersized fish, he thought. But that was a lame promise to himself; he didn't want to go to Billingsgate any more than the next policeman.
"Are you listening to me?" The man was screaming now, at the top of shrill lungs that suggested a high and narrow shape. Despite himself, the detective could hear syllabic marks that suggested high education. "The man is a menace!" Lestrade winced slightly, thinking of the screaming in Billingsgate.
"I am speaking to you, sir!!"
Lestrade's first instinct was to look at his wall calendar. Hypothesis confirmed: the lunar phase was waxing. If this was any indication, there was some unfortunate aspect of heavenly body in trine or whatever it was the astrologers and mediums studied, because the Full Moon crowd was on schedule and well under way. He made a note to tell Bradstreet to partner up tonight if he was still working the East End.
"Are you listening to me, man!! I am standing here, talking to you in a perfectly civil manner, completely pervious to understanding—"
Lestrade sighed and stood up. He poked his head out the doorway of his office at the same time Gregson did. Damn it. One more second and I could have left him with this.
Lestrade labored very hard to prevent certain common, yet fatal errors of investigation in his line of work. Judging by appearances was the most common and most fatal of them all. He also tried very hard to keep his street-English on the street, and his policeman's lingua professa in his office1.
But if any man on the planet deserved to be called a "toff"2 it had to be this newcomer to chaos and injustice that was looming over a quaking Constable Forbes.
"You! You, there!"
By bad luck, the man—taller than Lestrade by half a bloody Scottish ell3 had lit eyes upon him, and had seemingly ascertained a plainclothes detective was of higher note than the poor uniformed (yet fully-sized) Constable in his clenched fists.
Abandoning a grateful Forbes, he cleared the room in three long strides (Lestrade had time and the unusual prescience of mind to count), desperate in his hour of need, and grabbed the startled inspector by the collar.
No one past the age of beginning-level public education could possibly enjoy the sensation of being lifted off terra firma.
Dead-white skin barely covered the sickly network of blue veins running underneath, and handfuls of thorny chaff stuck out in finely woven brown wool clothing and even finer woolly red hair, giving him the impression of a man who has trod a sheep-skin carpet before a massive discharge of static—or a strange sort of vegetable hedgehog. Pupils squeezed to pin-points inside pale blue disks gave the appalled Inspector the impression he was being accosted by a glass-eyed corpse, reanimated from some dire murder in a ditch for unknown but no doubt sordid reasons. "Inspector! I insist you do something about this miscarriage of justice!"
"Gkk!." Lestrade clutched at his no-longer stiff collar, noting grimly that while he was being strangled by an overly affectionate client, Gregson would inherit the mantle of Scotland Yard's best and a good caseload simply for doing nothing but stand there and gape like a bloody idiot gibbon.
"If you would—(gasp)--unhand me first, sir, we can see to the nature of your—(inhale) complaint!"
The tall, hedge-row man stared at him with his awful eyes for a moment before abruptly releasing his grip. Lestrade was never so glad to feel boards under his feet—and he'd been thrown out of a hayloft by sadistic older brothers in his 'halcyon' youth.
"I beg your pardon." The newcomer said stiffly. "There are times when I don't know my strength." He was obviously condescending to an inferior. There was an unmistakable implication that a true example of manhood would die before complaining; that was the English Ideal.
Wonderful. They were dealing with the gentry. No other race was capable of that combination of stupidity and privilege.
Lestrade struggled to return his collar to its previous state, and due to sheer force of will, managed not to make a cutting or sarcastic comment. "You are, sir?"
"I am the Honourable James Norton, Squire of Norton!" The living corpse announced. "And I have been most wrongly treated by one of your lackeys!"
"Lackeys?" Lestrade repeated in horror as Gregson took a hasty step forward. Lestrade wasn't often grateful for Gregson, but this might be such an occasion—this entire situation had mayhem writ all over it, and Gregson was not known for his losses in fisticuffs.
As it was, Gregson's large hands were flexing as though he were mentally reviewing the procedure for slapping manacles on someone who thoroughly deserved it. Or locking them around an officious stiff neck. "Perhaps if you start at the beginning, sir?"
"Certainly I will!" Squire Norton expostulated. "To begin with, I—Stop that man! There he is!"
The Squire lowered a finger as long as a ship's boom across the room to a startled Dr. Watson who was just entering the offices with Sherlock Holmes' promised file on the Arlington Case.
Lestrade mused that surely his day could only improve past this point. Statistically…
"You, there! Sir!"
Squire Norton waded back through the bewildered crowd of detectives and even more confused uniforms (constables hadn't yet learned the art of pretense, more's pity). "I have you, you scoundrel!"
"What the devil?" Dr. Watson exclaimed. It was exactly what half the Force was thinking at that moment.
"You struck my horse, you black-faced barbarian!1" The Squire latched two massive hands on the doctor like twin grappling hooks and hoisted him in the air, slamming his back into the wall by the door. A framed lithograph of the Prime Minister fell to the floor and spilled broken glass all over Holmes' folder.
Behind Lestrade, Gregson groaned softly. "Please, God, don't let him touch Watson's bad shoulder!"
"Squire Norton!" Lestrade bellowed with a strength rooted in a very real danger. "You are within Scotland Yard, sir! I suggest you lower the doctor at once!"
"I assure you, squire!" Watson was snarling back, using the title like the world's worst insult, as if someone had forgotten to inform him he was in the grip of a man who was twice his mass, half his intelligence, a fraction of his composure, and who was suspending him in the air to boot. "I had no choice!"
"Oh, hell." Bradstreet groaned. "Soldiers and their unimpeachable sense of honor."
No one was even pretending to stay ignorant now. Lestrade was comforted that there were about twenty able-bodied men on their lunch time in the halls.
"At least he's not Irish." MacDonald pointed out the obvious as he joined Bradstreet in circling the tableau.
"No, he's a Berkshire." Bradstreet pointed out. "What the hell else have they got to lose?"
"Squire Norton!" Lestrade bellowed at the top of his lungs. It actually paused speech and movement in the Yard.
Norton stared over his shoulder at Lestrade, then slow realization crept over his face for a second time, and then he gradually lowered Watson to the ground—but did not let go of him. Nor did Watson let go of his grip on his walking stick. Lestrade breathed half a sigh of relief—the other half was for when he actually let go of the doctor.
"You can release the doctor, Squire Norton." Lestrade said thinly. "No one can go in and out of Scotland Yard without our say."
"I'll not release him until I see him behind bars." Norton snarled.
Country squires with delusions of monarchy. Lestrade felt Gregson's inward moan as clear as his own. For all the travails of working the slums and dreck of humanity in London, it was far preferable to dealing with the pampered low-grade nobility that thought they were their own law and insisted on being saluted with the forelock. The last time a country squire had been arrested for a crime, the idiot had tried to sue them for "treating him like anyone else." Gregson had cracked a murder five years ago where a country baronet had thought himself perfectly justified in conducting personal executions—Gregson hadn't been the same man since.
Gregson leaned to Lestrade and spoke from the side of his mouth. "Is this a hostage situation?"
"It will be if he doesn't let go!" Lestrade exclaimed.
"I'll say my say first!" Squire Norton roared.
Gregson made as if to step into the blooming fray but Lestrade's sense of duty bade him stop the other man. "Tobias, it's very, very clear this man does not know his own strength." He hissed. "Look at his eyes! Whatever he's taking, I believe he's gone past the realm of discretion."
Gregson swallowed hard. "Right. Anybody got a life-preserver handy?" He eyed the large man dubiously. "Several dozen shillelaghs2? A Gatlin gun?"
Lestrade cleared his throat. "Very well, then, Squire Norton. We are prepared to hear you…'say your say'" He pulled out his notebook and pencil. When in doubt, bluff like hell. "Now if you please?"
A calm voice and demeanor, not to mention a refusal to acknowledge when someone is being a 24-karat lunatic is the usual way to creating peace.
Naturally there would be an exception to the rule on a Monday morning.
"I was conducting my rounds on the edge of my estate when that—when this scoundrel-" Before anyone could breathe, Watson was airborne again—whud--a paperweight joined the Prime Minister on the floor. "Struck my horse in the face! He nearly blinded my good Arabian!"
"Which I was forced to do when it was clear you would not swerve to avoid that child on the road!" Watson roared back. He did have a good voice for roaring, Lestrade had to admit. "For the love of god! It was a small boy!"
"If a trespasser is old enough to make honest wages on the street, they're old enough to bear the consequences of their actions!4"
"He'd run off the border of your property to the road! A road is right of way!" Watson displayed a hitherto-fore unsuspected knack for judicial facts—he probably had to, as Holmes conveniently forgot legal boundaries as often as he did basic manners.
"You'll never be able to prove a thing!" Squire Norton's neck-tendons began to thrust out from under his skin. He began shaking Watson—but due to Watson's fully recovered weight as an athlete, the shaking was in slow motion. Youghal began pulling the rest of the frames off the wall. "But I can prove you struck my horse!"
"PUT DR. WATSON DOWN OR SO HELP ME I'LL HAVE YOU UP ON CHARGES FOR NOT PAYING RESPECT TO THE CROWN!"
Lestrade knew his throat would be raw for a day; the windows were ringing, but it got the job done. That strange look came to Norton's face again as he realized where he was, and Watson's feet met the floor for the second time.
"Dr. Watson, one thing at a time. It could be a serious charge of assault." Gregson pointed out shakily. "A man's blackthorn stick against a horse's head—"
"Inspector, please!" Watson stared at him. "I did not hit his horse with my stick!" Spots of colour stained his face. The doctor was displaying a temper. "See for yourself!"
Lestrade silently took the stick in question, and had to admit there were no signs of mayhem on the sides. He passed it on to Gregson—some instinct suggested he should be keeping his hands free. "Well, if you didn't hit him with your stick, how did—" Lestrade strangled as Watson lifted his good arm. His knuckles were bruised. "Dr. Watson, are we to believe you struck a horse in the head with your fist?"
Watson looked at him the way Holmes did when someone said something inexplicably strange. "I couldn't reach the reins." He pointed out. "And I didn't have time to get the boy out of the way. I ran into the horse, struck him in the head below his eye, and it ran straight into a gorse bush where he dropped Squire Norton."
"Bah! I'll see you up on charges for this!" Norton finger-stabbed Watson's shoulder.
Watson's bad shoulder.
Watson turned white. "Get." He said softly. "Your hands off me and do not touch me again, sir."
I'd listen to him if I were you, sir. Lestrade thought.
"Hah!" Norton gloated. "You'd threaten me in front of the authorities?" (Lestrade wondered why now, of all times, Norton would admit the Yard was the authority). "I challenge you, sir." He poked the shocked doctor's shoulder again. "D'you hear me? I challenge you."
Thirty second and a loud collision later:
"Well, that didn't take long." Gregson commented as Bradstreet knelt to take Norton's pulse.
"Never does, does it." Lestrade patted down his pockets for his matchbox. He truly needed a smoke. Youghal, poor little sod, was helping a still-smouldering Watson to a seat with a bowl of ice for his knuckles. They had to step around Briggs, who was finally attending to Holmes' battered casefile.
"I'll never understand why people attempt to molest rugby players." Lestrade exhaled a ring of smoke. "It's not like they're going to run home crying when they get hurt. I've always felt that's how they say hello on the field." His eyes widened as Bradstreet pointed to the sleeve he had just pulled up. The exposed forearm was tracked with not-very-small needle marks.3
"They say hello by shin-kicking?"
"Well, no. I believe the official term is 'fittygomash.' Lestrade pulled smoke into his lungs with a sigh of relief, then caught Gregson's stare. "Bradstreet! What's the official word for kicking someone in the shins in combat?"
"So now what?" Gregson wondered. "When he wakes up, he'll be in a fell mood for certain."
Lestrade grumbled about being saddled with a case on top of his usual workload but Gregson ignored him. He was paging through a booklet on procedures for subduing drug-inspired malcontents. "Well, here's the thing." Lestrade said finally. "He challenged the doctor in a room full of witnesses."
"This is true." Gregson folded his arms to his chest. "Then there's the fact that our good Squire is obviously under some kind of drug. If he hadn't picked his attention to Watson, he would have been on you—that's how it was until Watson showed up."
Lestrade shuddered. "There's one deduction of yours I won't argue with, Tobias. I don't know. If you ask me it looked like Dr. Watson circumvented a hostage situation exacerbated by the perpetrator's confusion of his senses due to a foreign substance in his system…which may or may not have been willingly induced. We'll have the P.S. look him over and see what it is—what are you doing?"
Gregson had stepped to his office. He re-emerged with the lottery hat in his hands. "I'm going to pass this around again." He announced. "We need a few more pounds to cover the potential cost of a charge of assault. Hanged if I'm going to let Watson pull that out of his own pocket."
"You think he'll let us soak the fee?" Lestrade said doubtfully.
"What, are you going to tell him?" Gregson shook the badly-shapen bowl. "And if there's no charges, we can use this for the Christmas party. Just think of all the geese we could get."
Lestrade scowled and fished in his pockets. "You're not going to tell anyone we're working together again, are you?"
"Mebbe." Gregson scratched his ear. "If you wouldn't mind answering a question for me, seein' as you were the one in charge of the hostage situation."
"Oh?" Lestrade cocked an eyebrow like a gun.
"You know, you could have warned the Squire about touching Watson at his war wound... t would have been the civil thing to do."
Lestrade finally let a smirk crawl over his face. "Yes, it would have been the civil thing to do, wouldn't it?"
"There you are, doctor." Youghal shook his head as he produced a roll of gauze. "Are you ready for the next step?"
"As much as I'll ever be." Watson grumbled. Despite all efforts, his temper had not seemed to improve since his return to the country of his birth since Maiwand.
Dash it all…
He shook his hand dry with a grimace and held his fingers straight. A sound caused them to look deeper into the room. Gregson and Lestrade were holding a battered hat between them and laughing into each other's faces. "Now there's something I don't see every day." He commented. In all honesty, he didn't know what else he could say.
"You and the rest of Scotland Yard, doctor." Youghal said uneasily. "Don't ask me to explain it. When they laugh together, someone's usually in trouble."
1 Professional English. Lestrade is being ironic.
2 My personal definition is someone who it too rich and powerful to be called a sissy.
3 Ell. 45 inches, originally the length of the arm, but the Scottish ell was 37.2 inches.
4 Which was as young as five.
1 Be really careful with this. 'black-faced' could very easily be used to denigrate someone who was forced to gain their livelihood from hours outdoors, like in farming or similar work.
2 Blackthorn stick, used as a club in self-defense. Blackthorn is as hard and dense as the most stubborn person's head in combat…
3 Let me state this very clearly for the record. While many drugs were legal back then, the behavior that could be inspired from said drugs was not. An interesting reversal on some people who use the pharmaceutical version of, "the devil made me do it.