A SECONDARY STAIN, PART I: THE SCENE OF THE CRIME
This is about the strangest thing I've ever written. Like many people, I really would like to call myself a Holmes Nut. But while I was doing an exhaustive research project, I ran head-first into a fanfic discussion in a most unlikely place. In this discussion, two people insisted that Lestrade had to know more about what was going on in The Adventure of the Second Stain than he let on. Me, I didn't argue with them, but I totally disagreed with them. The parties in question were big Lestrade fans and I try really hard to keep a healthy sense of criticism in Holmesworld. Heck, I even gave Lestrade a name I hated so I would always remember to be careful and not go over to the fangirly side of darkness!
Then I went back and re-read SECO. I also went back and read NAVA, which is the first Adventure in which Watson refers to SECO. I read up on other things. I found a few glaring technical errors in my older fic (ack). And I started writing.
It was a (fairly for London) quiet old Street. It was certainly old-fashioned and a bit inclusive too, but Westminster District could be like that. Almost as old as London itself, nearly purely residential, it was "a bedroom area" of London, where people went home to sleep but rose to work in other areas. The exception was in the government offices, and New Scotland Yard, but there were plenty of people who accused them of sleeping as a matter of profession.
It was a city within a city, the nerve centre for millions. The Thames sprawled on one side, dark and soft-voiced, while on the other, the Abbey situated nigh in the shadow of the Tower of London. The Houses of Parliament were almost the only source of noise, for it was the center of important activity and not a little speculation. But it was fairly low in crime. Government pride insisted on nothing less.
PC Barrett liked his beat. He believed without evidence that he may have been given the long stretch down Godolphin and the Tower and twice around Parliament because of his father. The Old Man had been a good trodder, but forced into early retirement when the Gurnsey Gang threw him into the Lyme's Fine Photography Shop; even a thick wool coat couldn't do much against sword-like shards of plate-window-glass. What with the government cogs grinding the way they did, there wasn't much in the way of retirement pence to live off; all of his four sisters and brothers worked. His sisters were in service; his brothers seeking either service or honest trades. He was the only one to follow his father and he rather preferred it that way.
For the most part, it was quiet. He liked that too; he could move almost soundlessly despite the sheer weight of his big boots. Sometimes he crept up on a knot of urchins, up to no good while trying to make a living at the same time. Barrett had less compunction about cracking down on them when the weather was cold; a lot of times a young-one could be dissuaded from his night's agenda just by the promise of something hot in the belly.
Not many were out now; this was a mild October and he was grateful for the fact. Even as close to midnight as it was, the wind off the river was merely chill and briny. He smiled to think that in a few hours he would be home. The Old Man would be up as well, his old instincts keeping him awake like the daybreak did day-larks. And because he was up, there'd be something hot by the fireplace waiting for his son. Every copper thought ahead to the days when he had to take care of himself after he parted ways with his badge. His father had thought even further ahead and purchased the rights to a soup-stall, and sold hot eels in liquor by the draught.
Barrett permitted himself the distraction of such pleasant thoughts—he was rarely put off his focus for long—while his ears listened carefully for anything his eyes would miss. His lantern swung gently from his gloved hand, casting the palest ribbons of light over the street.
It was the thin ribbon of light coming from the doorway that told him all might not be well at 16 Godolphin Street.
Many a night the address was abandoned by its owner. Barrett recalled Eduardo Lucas as a pleasant man, not too far above him in age. He always smiled and carried a slender walking-stick made of blackthorn and tipped with bison-horn. His voice was what made him a man of note, the joke went (as puns went, it wasn't the worst). Half the nights he was home, the constable would catch the man practicing a snatch of aria or something that would have suited the high stone walls of the Abbey rather than the open air of Godolphin. He took pride in his voice, he did, and Barrett couldn't blame him for making use of the talents God bestowed. The occasional snatch of song was part of what made his beat enjoyable.
Barrett stepped without a sound up the low stoop; the end of his heavy coat brushed a clump of holly growing by. He noted the door-bell almost absently; but people of his station knocked, and knock he did. There was no response. He could see the light was coming not from the foyer, but the living-room.
Mr. Lucas would be within his rights to raise Cain, but Barrett was determined to see his duty through, and this wasn't the way things usually went. He knocked again, this time against the slightly-open door to the living-room.
He knew what he would find even as he pushed the door open. Once the life went out of a house, a feeling left with it, like a man's soul could become part of the walls and draperies.
Barrett lifted his lantern, flipping the door open, and swallowed hard. The entire room looked like a storm had come off the Estuary and dumped inside; furniture knocked aside and against the wall, a framed portrait hanging diagonal—his lantern slashed the confusion against the wall—Oriental knives, swords, small daggers and giant slashing things—gaudily painted in gold and crusted with coloured glass or enamels.
At first he thought the jumble against the chair was another part of the furniture. Then he took in the looseness of the jumble, a man-sized marionette with its strings sliced. One hand was still clutching a leg of the chair it sprawled against.
It wasn't the sight of the gaudy, gold-plated dagger buried to its hilt in Lucas' chest, or the geyser of blood that had spilled from the death-wound and stained the carpet beneath. It was the dead eyes, and how they had already begun to sink inward and dull in death. Those pallid orbs reflected his lamp's light in an eldritch shock, as if Lucas knew he was dead and yet was unable to do anything about it.
Barrett held on to the last fragments of his meal with effort. There was no time to be sick. You've seen dead folk before, he told himself. You've seen dead people before. Keep yourself together, PC.
But the dead man's eyes were still shining.
Barrett ran outside. He hoped there were no clues in the holly bushes, because that was as far as he could run before his gorge took over.