There was a proverb that Inspector Lestrade's tailor liked to employ on occasion (said occasion invariably when faced with the mixed blessing of another lucrative job because the Inspector had ruined another masterpiece in the line of work). The proverb was a mash of syllables from his Middle-Eastern origins, but it translated roughly to "one day it's honey, the next, onions."
When he and Dr. Watson fell out of the carriage and only just barely managed to regain their footing at the steps of Scotland Yard, Lestrade decided this was one of Mr. Root's"yawm 'asl wa yawm basl" moments. Nothing else would encapsulate the sweetness of a successfully solved case marred at—
"Watson?!" Sherlock Holmes, standing at the top of said steps—bad luck—behind a large man in a very expensive looking suit of clothes—oh, no, please don't let that be the Home Secretary's guest—worse luck--and Baynes—worser still—and Gregson—someone hand me my retirement pension right now, please, I'm ready to go.
On the other hand, it was possible Holmes didn't even notice he was there; he rarely did when Watson was around. Lestrade prayed for the status quo to remain just where it was.
"Good…good morning, Holmes." Slightly unsteady, Watson wavered just a bit as he waved and even managed a smile. Point to him. Lestrade gave himself up for dead and just allowed himself to collapse on the bottom step with his back against the newel-post. "Sorry I'm late; a few…a few things came up."
All things considered, it was not the worst thing he could have said, but certainly not the most imaginative.
"Are you all right, doctor?" Gregson openly stared.
"Oh, uh…I'm fine…we're both…fine…" Watson said a bit awkwardly. "Comparatively, that is…"
"You're covered in mud!" Gregson exclaimed. "Even you, Lestrade!" His horror was understandable; Lestrade had a reputation for being a dapper dresser; and he had worked hard to maintain that look. All for naught now…
"I beg your pardon, Baynes cleared his throat. "But that appears to be silt, not mud, Inspector." The smaller man pointed discreetly at the doctor's clothing. "Copious amounts of it, and I would venture to say it was off the Thames."
"Silt's a fine point," Gregson retorted. His face pinked slightly, as it did when he was pressed. "There's mud there too, and you can see it. And as for it being the Thames, there's not a thing wrong with my nose, Inspector."
"But the low tide just passed;" Baynes persisted and went straight to the point Lestrade had been praying against. "That's high-tide odour clinging to the gentlemen with such intimacy."
"Lestrade, did you fall into the Thames again?" Gregson smirked.
Lestrade shot him a look that was equal parts weariness and annoyance. He was actually rather pleased he had the strength for it. "For your information, no." He said with what gravity he could scrape up. "I did not 'fall in.'"
"He was pushed." Watson said helpfully. "The first time, anyway."
"So were you,' Lestrade pointed out unkindly. "And for your information, I did not fall into the Thames at any given time."
Up till this point, Holmes had adopted the slightly-superior air of a teacher observing two of his pet pupils in the classroom who were showing off to impress the master by discerning clues off the two bedraggled men at the bottom of the steps. He lost that demeanor rather quickly. "Watson, who pushed you into the Thames!"
"I have no idea," Watson said honestly. "But I'm not sure it really matters at this point, Holmes." The poor doctor leaned heavily on the newel-post, perilously close to Lestrade's sopping wet gloves, and took a deep breath. Lestrade thought about moving his hands, but at that moment, his reserves were plumbed.
There were few things that could filter through the overweening fog of the Thames. The wind changed, and with it, the reason for Watson's less than steady posture.
"Are you drunk, Watson?" Gregson asked in awe. "Lestrade, did you get him drunk?"
"No, I did not get him drunk," Lestrade answered wearily. "It was only a flask of brandy. Expensive brandy…"
"He was curing my sub-normal temperatures." Watson said blandly. "You may have noticed, the weather's a bit rancid t'day." He smiled suddenly, sweetly, as a thought struck him. "But it should clear up in a few hours, because my wounds aren't hurting…much."
"Marvelous, doctor. You owe me a fiver for my empty flask. That was the last of my Christmas stock."
Inevitably, Holmes took the reins. "I beg your pardon, Watson," he was walking down the steps, but stopped as his nose struck the brick wall of fumes coming off his friend. "Would you mind explaining yourself?"
Watson looked puzzled. "It's perfectly clear, Holmes," he said in a slightly patronizing (if ever so slightly slurred) tone of voice. "We had to climb out of the Thames, and we d….d well got rid of Lestrade's flask to keep warm, because we had to wait for the slaughterhouse to close to get a ride back."
"Why did you have to wait for the slaughterhouse to close?" Gregson demanded.
Watson looked at him as if he was insane. "My good man, look at us!" He raised his arms and let them drop to his sides, almost overbalancing in the process. "The cab-drivers save the slaughterhouse workers for the last, because they're washing down the cabs at the end of the night!" He paused. "We actually were a bit floral in comparison."
"That's because the man sitting across from us was up to his elbows in thymus gland," Lestrade grumbled.
"Literally." Watson agreed. "He was smuggling them home for supper in his sleeves."
Baynes, who was fairly immune to the low qualities of life, openly gagged.
"And, no, Tobias, I didn't have the heart to arrest him." Lestrade chimed in. "I would have had to confiscate all twelve thymus glands he was planning to fry up for supper."
Holmes had found his tobacco and was packing his pipe, eyes slightly wide and round. "My good man, you are telling the story backwards. How is it you wound up in the Thames in the first place? Who pushed you into the Thames, Watson?"
"The same man who pushed Lestrade, Holmes." Watson seemed to think that explained everything. Perhaps it was the alcohol talking, or the injuries that only Lestrade knew about.
Holmes did not quite clutch his skull, but Lestrade had that impression. "Watson," he said with remarkable calm, "Why is it you were pushed in the Thames at all?"
"Because of the…the…what were those things again, Lestrade?"
"Canal dogs." Watson said. "Something like an elkhound. Muscular little brutes, but very spry."
"Watson, why would canal dogs cause a man to push you into the Thames?"
"Well, I rather don't think he had a choice." Watson mused thoughtfully. "We'd exposed his dog-smuggling ring, and he was a little warm in his emotions at the thought of going to gaol and losing all that money."
"I think the money's what did it." Lestrade agreed.
"Watson…" Holmes' hand was actually starting to lift to his forehead before he stopped himself; Lestrade watched in fascination as a vein throbbed. "How is it you and Lestrade were caught up in a dog-smuggling business in the Thames?"
"More accident than anything else, Holmes." Watson sighed.
"'More accident?'" Lestrade yelped. "More like pure accident!" He began twisting cloudy water out of the fibres of his scarf. "Complete and unadulterated, uncalculated, random happenstance accident!!" A pool of filthy water collected at his feet and sluggishly ran to the gutter. "If you hadn't been giving that sodding jackanape at the warf the resuscitation, we'd be at the Malmsy Keg by now, with fried black oysters and a pint of ale!"
"Well I could hardly leave him to die, Lestrade!" Watson protested reasonably (he thought).
"Oh, really?" Lestrade had moved from scarf to hat; he began batting his bowler back into shape and then ruined it all by jamming it under his arm. Cold wind whistled through his wet hair. "That's the difference between the two of us! Call me a bit on the Old-Testament slant of things, but when someone tries to kill me, I step back and reflect a mo' when said person needs a bit of assistance!"
"I'm a doctor, Lestrade. Doctors do things like that."
"Do you have burial insurance?" Lestrade wanted to know. "Because if the answer is no, I'm passing the Christmas Hat at the Yard for you. Assuming you live long enough to cash in on the benefit when you die."
"Wait a minute, is this the bloke who threw you into the Thames?" Gregson wasn't as strong as Holmes. He was holding on to his head with both hands. Baynes was just staring, and the big man behind Holmes was simply watching things with an impartial air of interest.
"No," Watson and Lestrade snapped at the same time.
"How could it be?" Watson was using that patronizing tone of voice again; it wore rather well on him. "A man doesn't up and re-start his heart and then just rise up and start swinging!"
"I beg your pardon," Baynes spoke again. "But why were you having to resuscitate a person in the first place, Doctor Watson?"
"Because Inspector Lestrade lost his temper." Watson jerked his thumb at Lestrade without rancor at the detective. "He struck the man in the sternum with a flying kick and it was hard enough to stop his heart."
"Well if he'd finished what he'd started, your heart would have stopped first!" Lestrade retorted. "And I can control my kicks, thank you—it wasn't my bloody fault the idiot stepped in to the kick in the first place because he couldn't wait to fill you with holes!"
"I'm not saying you did the wrong thing, Lestrade." Watson said patiently. "But that is how it happened."
"And this person, who Watson saved, was trying to, uh, shoot him with multiple intents because?" Gregson picked up the inquiry.
"Offhand, because of his wife." Lestrade couldn't resist. He tried to be a good man, but he wasn't made of stone. "You know how some men get when they see their women in the company of other men…"
"Oh, stuff it, Lestrade," Watson barked as three detectives gaped. "The woman was a patient—a patient thanks to her brute of a husband!" He jerked his thumb again at Lestrade. "He beat her half to death, and I managed to persuade her to take a statement against him, and Lestrade was taking the statement."
"And then he staggered out of the fishing-shack to see you wrapping her up in that blanket, and he rushed you." Lestrade snipped. "I swear, I've never heard language like that, and I've patrolled East of Aldgate during the full moon at cat-eye shift!"
"Hold it," Gregson had both hands in the air. "The patient's husband thought the worst, and he ran at you, doctor, planning to fill you with holes, and Lestrade kicked him and inadvertently caused his heart to stop, and then you were re-starting his heart? Is that what happened?"
There was a brief pause.
"Mostly…" Lestrade said slowly. Watson nodded his agreement.
"That's all the important details." The doctor said.
"But…that still doesn't explain how you both wound up in the drink!" Gregson protested.
"At high tide." Baynes added. "And it's now low-tide."
"Because," Watson sighed for patience. "My patient's lover unfortunately chose that moment to show up."
The reaction really was almost worth being frozen in filthy water, Lestrade thought to himself. Almost. A cup of hot tea and brandy by the fireplace would help a great deal.
"It isn't as terrible as it sounds, gentlemen," Lestrade felt obligated to say. "He took a rush at the patient's husband, and, well, he sort of missed in his eagerness. Watson went into the drink, and he went for me, but he tripped over Watson's patient—I mean, his patient who was the patient's husband—and I went into the drink too."
"That was an excellent uppercut you gave him, by the way." Watson pointed out.
"So what happened to the patient—I mean, the patient's husband, and the patient's lover who was attacking you?"
"Wellll, they went into the drink tooooo." Lestrade said very slowly.
"Both of them? How did that happen?" Gregson was not ashamed for staring.
"Er, that's not important." Watson said in the most unconvincing of tones. "Is it, Inspector?"
"Certainly not." Lestrade said firmly. He shook his head, felt a disgusting sensation, and tilted his head to the side in order to bang water out of his ears the better. "Oh, good god," he muttered faintly. "I'm going to wind up in the hospital, I just know it."
Holmes had, in the meantime, found the absolute line between what his nose could tolerate and proximity to Watson. He was studying both men with a strange blend of expressions on his face. "Then what happened after both of you fell into the Thames, my good fellow?"
Watson needed to think about it for a moment. "Well, it got a bit muddled for a bit, Holmes," he began carefully. "I'm afraid I can't be completely pertinent with all the details."
"Just…do go on, Watson. Do go on." Holmes was puffing furiously on his pipe. Perhaps it masked the smell coming off Watson.
"Right…well…we thrashed about for a bit, and a cabin nearly ran us over a few times, which I thought was perfectly redundant as they were also trying to shoot us, but we managed to straighten all that out when Lestrade explained we had nothing to do with my patient's husband or her lover…"
"Explain nothing," Lestrade snapped. "You forgot to mention the captain of that bloody cabin was your patient's brother! Wouldn't that make a bit more sense in your recollection??"
"If you want to be wholly pertinent," Watson shot back, "you could mention my patient's father's role in all of this too."
"The (curse word) I will!" Lestrade exclaimed. "This is unbelievable enough!"
"It's still the truth," Watson riposted. A fresh wave of what had been triple-distilled French plum brandy emanated outward.
"Watson, do you have any idea what this is going to sound like in front of a jury?" Lestrade was dying to know. "All right, we'll discount your patient's father--for now. The bottom-fact is, we were trying to stay afloat without getting driven under the Thames by the cabin, and once the fool stopped trying to steer over us, we had managed to get to the bank when the (explicative deleted) suffragists started throwing their bloody cricket bats at us—" Lestrade gulped for air.
First, second, and third mistake: Never, ever stop for air, because it will give Sherlock Holmes an opening, by which he will inject himself into the conversation and wage a hostile takeover.
"Suffragists!" Holmes repeated. In another world, Lestrade would have been a bit flattered to have the Great Detective hanging off his every word. "Lestrade, you and Watson completely missed the part about the suffragists!"
"We didn't miss that part, Holmes, for heaven's sake!" Watson protested; his reporting abilities were under question. "They didn't show up until that moment! Give us a bit of credit!"
Holmes came as close to speechless as Lestrade had ever seen. What a pity he wasn't completely sober to fully canonize the memory. "Watson, accept my apologies." He said in a remarkably even voice. "Please continue. Suffragists were throwing cricket bats at you?"
"It was a full-frontal attack!" Lestrade exclaimed. "There were no less than thirty of them, with three bats each!"
"Well, I'm not certain we should count that as an attack, Inspector." Watson said thoughtfully. "After all, they thought we were my patient's husband and lover—it seems he's just as violent as the husband, and the ladies were banding together to rescue one of their own—"
"That's when I started to greatly worry about our survival, there, but did you have one bloody soot-tag worth of self-survival instinct? Good God, no, you were all determined to try to make peace with them!" Lestrade was shouting now, with what every Constable in A Division called "The Doom Finger" leveled on the tipsy doctor. "Make peace with violent suffragists! Are you bloody out of your sand-baked mind, Watson?! You can't take a large portion of London's population, which has been subjugated and abused for generations, allow them a bit of physical power, and not expect it to go to their heads! It takes years to iron out those tendencies! In the meantime, you stay far away!"
"Lestrade, honestly, if they'd only known we were there to help the woman…"
"Did you see them ever once stop to ask for our identification and purpose for being there?!" Lestrade roared. "Of course not! They were too busy trying to knock the eyeballs out of your sockets!" Lestrade chose that moment to yank the glove off his left hand and hold it up for inspection: The knuckles were burst and bleeding. "Does this look like an example of the gentler sex, Doctor?!"
Watson sighed, and turned back to the breathless audience. "That was when we opted for the better part of valour and jumped back into the Thames."
"It was much safer," Lestrade vouchsafed. "Floating bacterial mats and all…Because the son had been knocked unconscious by a flying cricket-bat, and his father was now at the helm, and I don't think he could see his own drunken hand in front of his face!"
Watson paused. "You noticed all that? I'm impressed."
"I don't exactly pause to write it all down when it's happening, thank you, but I do try to pay attention!"
"Well, at any rate, that was about the most exciting part about our day." Watson abruptly sank down as if someone had cut the strings out of his legs. "We had to let the current take us downstream out of the range of fire, and then it was a matter of keeping warm until the slaughterhouse closed." He paused to yawn. "Anything else?"
"For myself? I'm wondering how you're going to write all this up, Watson." Holmes spoke in a strange tone indeed.
"Dashed if I know. Lestrade lost his notebook when he threw it at the suffragist riding point." Watson yawned again.
"I wouldn't worry about it. No one's going to believe this mess anyway." Lestrade was being quite reasonable.
"Hold up, just a moment, if you please," The Surreyman had a singular thought. "You didn't explain a few salient points to this story." Baynes observed. "You said you didn't know the identity of the person who pushed you into the Thames, and you didn't explain the part about the dogs."
"Ahem." Watson cleared his throat. "You know," he began carefully, "I really don't feel like discussing that at this particular moment. Do you, Lestrade?"
"No." Lestrade had his head in his hands. "I'd much rather talk about my missing iron, my missing club, my missing bloody whistle, my missing badge. I'll even talk about your missing medical bag before I'm up to talking about sodding canal dogs and common-law husbands of a uniquely illiterate bend."
"Er, I see…" Gregson cleared his throat. "You know, though, I'm looking forward to the report tomorrow, Lestrade."
"I'll keep that in mind, Euclid." Lestrade deliberately used Gregson's nickname in the presence of the strange man. "Now if anyone has no objections, I'm going to go inside and file a few reports before incipient pneumonia sets in with a rampaging case of otis media." He rose to his feet, wavering slightly, and plodded his way up the steps, one foot placed before the other.
Holmes watched him go; small wonder, everyone else was watching too. Watson had his eyes closed and was dozing his exhaustion against the rails.
A large hand tapped his shoulder. "Sherlock," the big man said.
"I believe I've found my liaison."
Holmes was horrified. Temporarily. Mycroft had been wrong perhaps twice in his entire life, and one of those times had yet to be borne out. It was not his place to question the depths of genius. "Are you certain?" He hissed under his breath. "You met Gregson and Baynes; they're much smarter."
"Compared to whom?" Mycroft Holmes wanted to know without any false pride. "I need someone who has the emotional capacity to withstand adversity. Are you saying facing ninety flying cricket-bats by disgruntled suffragists doesn't qualify a man?"
Holmes sighed. "I'll leave it to you to speak with him," he said at last. He knew he was washing his hands of the affair, but honestly, if Mycroft needed a go-between for the sundry affairs between the Yard and the Home Office, he could manage it himself.