Title: Adventure in Cold Blood
Summary: Sherlock Holmes solves crimes. This murder is the same but singularly different. It is the most important case he has ever embarked to bring to light. The most notable difference, Watson is not present. Not missing or on holiday, he is gone and Holmes grieves in the only way he can.
Disclaimer: Sherlock Holmes is technically a part of public domain now, but I would not presume upon owning such a timeless classic. In fact, I don't think ACD ever did either. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, for all intents and purposes, were living, breathing people.
A/N: My first serious Sherlock Holmes adventure/mystery/drama. I wrote 'On Your Other Side' to gauge the relative merits of my writing of Sherlock Holmes and it was accepted fairly well, so I continued on. This is less slash-a-delicious, only real strong friendship here. I tried to capture the voice and essence of ACD's classic mythos and hope that the result does our favorite duo justice.
"Holmes, why must I always play the part of the victim?" Watson groused as he turned to face Lestrade and the small crowd of Yarders gathered as per the detective's instructions.
Holmes shifted to stand behind him, answering cheerily, "Because my good fellow, our victim was a woman and you are shorter than me."
"And the time before that?"
"Well, I simply make a better villain than you. Now Inspector, if you will please observe," Holmes announced as he took position one step behind Watson just over his left side, a cane swinging lightly from his right hand, "the attacker snuck up behind Miss Darby and attempted to strangle her with his walking stick." Holmes proceeded to act out his narration and caught the end of the cane with his left hand and brought it neck level to Watson, going as far as to press the rather solid length of wood hard underneath the doctor's chin.
"Blast it Holmes. Don't you think this a little," Watson grunted as the cane came close to crushing his larynx, "excessive?"
"Not at all, my dear fellow. How else am I to educate those who claim to share my profession? You can hardly expect them to be able to follow my deductions through vocalization alone. Besides, my flare for the dramatic will not be stifled." Holmes went on to continue his account of the night in question, "At this point, the attacker began inching backward into the cover of the hedges." Holmes, still in character, began dragging Watson back towards the garden's outermost hedges. "Fortunately, the lady was able to get one hand underneath the cane in order to stave off strangulation."
Watson shoved one hand between the cane and his neck, exerting enough pressure to keep it a good six inches from him.
"Watson, Miss Darby would not have been able to muster up the strength for that kind of resistance," Holmes chastised.
Watson sighed and eased his grip to allow the cane to rest lightly upon his neck.
"It was then that Mrs. Darby screamed for help."
Watson remained adamantly silent.
"Stifling, Watson, stifling!" Holmes hissed at the uncooperative doctor's ear.
Watson turned his eyes skyward as if praying for patience before turning his head towards the house and yelled in a very noncommittal fashion, "Help, I am being attacked. It is exceedingly uncomfortable. Help."
"Never think to trade your pen for theatre, my good man," Holmes whispered and then raising his voice once again, he said, "Realizing that he was at risk to being caught, the perpetrator then shoved the lady," Holmes, a little too enthusiastically in Watson's opinion, released Watson from his choke hold and pushed him on the shoulders and propelling him with great force to the garden floor, "to the ground in order to hastily check her pockets for the moonstone. What he had not realized was that Miss Darby had been holding the gemstone in her hand, which is incidentally why she did not stave off the attack with two hands instead of one. Thus, when she fell to the floor she had most likely lost her grip on it." Stepping over Watson's indulgently prostrate body, he lead off a little ways into the nearby rose bushes and leafy fronds. "Taking into account the force of which her hand had struck the ground, the estimated weight of the gemstone, wind, and buoyancy of the earth due to the recent rains, I deduced that the trajectory of the moonstone would have brought it to rest right," he plucked his hand dramatically from one of the bushes, "here."
And like a magician, the shining gemstone appeared in his hand. The collected men gasped as surely as they would for any master performer. A few even clapped.
Lestrade shook his head both in wonderment and exasperation. "And the perpetrator, Mr. Holmes? I am sure you have that mystery solved as well?"
"Yes indeed. Although Miss Darby's young beau seems to be the likely suspect, a small inquiry into the new groom the Darby's hired would be most beneficial," Holmes said, hesitating only a moment before handing the stone over to Lestrade.
The inspector tipped his hat to him in thanks and went on his way to presumably find a nervous groom. Meanwhile, Watson was helped to his feet by Lestrade's sergeant, casually brushing off his trousers and checking his elbows for grass stains. He exchanged some words with the enthusiastic young man. Holmes observed that Watson's arms, though initially crossed about his chest, had gradually fallen loosely to his sides, but had not ventured towards encasing themselves in his trouser pockets. Well versed with his friend's mannerisms and as he himself was expert on the subject of body language, normally employed by his interrogation of potential criminals, Holmes could conclude with a fair amount of confidence that Watson had agreed on some proposal made by the sergeant. He could only hope it had nothing to do with an encore performance at a children's function.
Watson soon turned away from the sergeant, obviously in good spirits and made his way over to Holmes, the two of them walking side by side as they traversed the length of the estate.
"Did you intend to add that gem to your ever growing museum or were you contemplating the price of seats at St. James' concert hall?" Watson queried cheerfully.
"Oh no, this case wasn't even half as interesting as the one about the Blue Carbuncle seeing as the height of my abilities was used to predict how far a stone could bounce into a bush," Holmes lamented as they made their way back to the front of the house where their cab was waiting. "What is this about St. James?"
"A string quartet is performing this Sunday from Vienna, or so I have heard. I was merely jesting, implying that perhaps you would have sold the gem to go and see them. The violinist has been praised as exceptionally talented in his musicality and I do know how much you delight in upending false rumors," Watson replied.
By this time they had already entered the cab and were on their way towards Baker's Street.
Holmes snorted at this description of himself, but tilted his head ever so slightly in consideration at the mention of the performance. "I suppose we will have to go and see it then."
Watson blushed a little. "I have not the funds at the moment and I don't suppose Scotland Yard has taken to paying you for your consultations on their cases, have they?
Holmes shrugged. "In some capacity that could be considered true. Do you remember that body they called me in to examine earlier this week?"
"Yes," Watson said, a little suspiciously.
"The man—or more accurately, the corpse had quite a few banknotes in its wallet."
"Holmes!" Watson exclaimed reproachfully.
"He is dead. He is no longer in need of it and he was certainly rich enough for his family not to miss the amount in his pockets. It is better served as funds for our concert seats. You will join me this Sunday, then?"
"Very well, if only to honor the fellow's…charity," Watson finished, trying and failing to keep from smiling.
Holmes returned the smile, although it had a much more waspish look to it. "I do believe I am slowly corrupting you, Watson."
Watson rolled his eyes as the stepped out of the carriage and towards their familiar apartments of 221B. "Well, as you said my dear Holmes, you do make the better villain."
Holmes laughed and they went to retire in the sitting room. Watson went immediately to his desk to work on some of his writings while Holmes took up his pipe and tobacco slipper by the fire, not in little part to sulk over the case's unsatisfactory end. They fell into a habitual companionable silence, each to their own thoughts as the afternoon dragged on lazily, the sounds of London drifting through the sitting room window. It was not too long before Watson simply could not go on with his writings, unable to ignore the clamorous attentions demanded by his wounded shoulder. He let out a breath of frustration at the incessant ache it caused.
Holmes noticed it at once, inquisitive and piercing eyes locked on Watson's person as he abandoned his desk and sank into his chair by the fire.
"I hope my handling of you today did not aggravate your injury," he commented, easily able to ascertain the reason to Watson's problems.
"No, not at all. In fact you were quite mindful of me in reducing the pressure dealt to my shoulder on the fall. I thank you for that consideration. At any rate, it was a worthwhile pursuit in order to see all of those men gasp in surprise like schoolboys at the conclusion of your reenactment."
"Yes," Holmes said a little sourly, "one would think that my powers of science and deduction were mere parlor tricks."
Watson smiled. Some days there was no pleasing that man. "Speaking of which Holmes, some of those men invited us to the Highgate Gentlemen's Club in order to celebrate today's successful partnership between the great Sherlock Holmes and Scotland Yard."
"Gods, why they would think I would enjoy such a frivolous activity, I have no idea."
"It's a sign of goodwill Holmes. They do allow you a generous amount of clearance in many of their cases."
"Bah, social gatherings are little more than infantile attempts at achieving civilized forms of what savages do when they gather round in the jungle and dance. They could at least make it interesting and be rid of the inane chatter. I abhor the social niceties that have made people dull in their conversations."
Watson chuckled fondly at his friend's usual griping. "I suppose I will have to go for the both of us then."
"Not to say I am not grateful, but how can you stand it, man?"
Watson smiled wanly. "I am very well adjusted to suffering through abnormally difficult circumstances."
"Catching murderers is much more gratifying than boorish after dinner conversations. You won't be joining me for dinner then?"
"No. Hopefully they will serve a meal there. I am not sure if by celebrations they meant a nice evening or trying to clean me out playing cards all night."
"Would you like to borrow some money? You said your funds are low."
"Certainly not," Watson stated indignantly, "Besides, if I do not spend perhaps they will let me retire early."
"If your shoulder is bothering you that should outrank keeping up relations with our fellow crime investigators," Holmes stated emphatically. Watson was ever the gentleman and far too humbled about his own person to deny the calls of gentility that he was often requested to perform. It rather irked Holmes that Watson viewed himself in this manner, knowing that in part, he was responsible for Watson's dismissal of himself and from time to time tried to wean him of it. Watson's pride on the other hand and stubbornness, he could do little about.
Watson waved off his statement. "I am well enough for this. I shall send a wire if I do decide to stay the night."
They talked on other things, Watson tactfully not returning to the subject of the outing or insisting Holmes accompany him. He, unlike s many others before him, seemed to understand that Holmes did not protest simply to be difficult or because of some misguided distaste for social gatherings, but because Holmes was truly a man of solitude, whose own machinations and self-enlightenment were more important than the interpersonal relationships formed by the average man. Yet for all his protest, Holmes made only one notable exception and that was in the case of Watson himself. Holmes found that the routines he otherwise found undesirable came easily enough in the case of Watson. In fact, one could observe that the two of them lived a life of perfect domesticity. Although to be fair, they certainly didn't lead the domestic life of convention. For them it was more than ordinary to spend their mornings with perfect strangers to eagerly solve their problems, to skip their lunches perusing dead bodies, and passing their evenings hunting down villains in the belly of London. What was normal for them was extraordinary for anyone else. It was a life they shared.
Incidentally they took a cab together with Watson being dropped off at the club and Holmes proceeding to St. James to acquire their tickets for the Sunday performance and to make his rounds amongst his various contacts within the area. He certainly could not live off of grave robbing alone, after all. They had said their goodbyes to each other with perfunctorily statements and gestures, performed with the minimal affection needed to convey to someone they would be seeing in a relatively short time anyway.
It was all very ordinary and well within even society's standards to suggest that anything was beyond the norm.
Holmes returned to Baker's Street well into the night. Watson had not returned and it was still too early to expect a note, thus Holmes attended to his wash and returned into his room, feeling that the sitting room was no longer a place for solitary rumination. It spoke too much of warmth and company, but here, surrounded by the faces of many a foul criminal he could properly turn his mind inward to the many conundrums of London's festering crime. He fell asleep slumped against the headboard pondering whether a monograph on the science of soliciting information from severely pissed bar patrons would be embraced by the scientific community.
He woke up early the next morning, stretching long nimble limbs and attempted to work the stiffness out of his neck. Upon entering the sitting room he quickly deduced that Watson neither returned late last night nor yet that morning. If he had returned last night his purse would have been left on the side table to the left of his armchair. If he had returned that morning his medical bag would have been moved in order to make his preparations for his surgery at St. Bart's. It was a simple enough deduction when one has lived with another for the better part of seven years. All these things Holmes noticed with little more effort than one takes to determine it was day.
Sure enough, along with breakfast Mrs. Hudson also arrived bearing two identical crisp white envelopes stamped with Highgate's personal crest. He opened the first to reveal the missive inside scrawled with Watson's fastidiously neat hand.
Decided to stay the night. One man has taken ill and was obliged to help. Will return tomorrow morning.
Having deduced as much, he read the note with little interest. He had been about to debate whether or not to open the second missive when Mrs. Hudson addressed him politely about going out to the market to replenish their various produce and needs.
"I may take more time than usual," she continued warningly, "There's been some ghastly accident early this morning and you know people's susceptibility to abandon their businesses in order to get in on a bit of gossip."
"Yes, quite so. I will not begrudge you your time when it is being equally wasted by other people's nonsense. I am not expecting anyone to come and call this afternoon, but I am willing to take care of it if you purchase some leeks to go with tonight's dinner."
Mrs. Hudson smiled and left the sitting room, later to be mirrored by her exit out of the house as indicative of the sound of the front door being opened and then shut again. Holmes, for his part, took his breakfast, little more than indulging on some toast and margarine. Any other day he would have been inclined to simply lounge about in his dressing gown, but without Watson or anything to occupy his mind, he found little point and simply dressed himself for the day, deciding to perhaps consult his indexes on the gang activity that his various contacts had hinted to the night before.
It had crept towards ten o'clock that morn when his research was interrupted by knocking at the front door.
Already entrenched in a mess of his now disarranged papers, Holmes yelled, "Come in!"
It was a visitor obviously, but the unhesitant steps upon the stairs pointed towards an acquaintance. The sounds of the step against the replaced plank of the seventh stair indicated a man of smaller stature wearing a specifically tailored shoe that was durable yet had a formal air, the type usually worn by a police officer. By the familiar cadence of the gait and the soft mutterings, Holmes accumulated all the necessary data in order to infer the identity of the caller, who had paused just outside the half open sitting room door.
"Inspector Lestrade," Holmes announced, no doubt a moment before the person in question had a chance to knock. "Please, enter."
Just as he predicted, it was inspector Lestrade who entered, standing just within the doorway of the sitting room, a plain, nondescript brown box tucked beneath his arm and his hat drooping limply in his hand. He seemed uncharacteristically hesitant, prompting Holmes to turn his full attention to the shorter man, attempting to gauge the reason for the sudden reticence.
"A pleasure to see you as always, Inspector. I trust your morning has been productive?"
Lestrade grunted, shifting the box to where his hand could touch the bottom. Holmes noticed this at once and could not stop himself from commenting on it.
"Inspector, doubtlessly you have found something worthy enough to be brought to my attention. May I inquire as to what a box containing a pocket watch, a leather bound journal, a broken fountain pen, one or perhaps two handkerchiefs, four crowns, and a sovereign have to do with my help to you?"
The Inspector was visibly startled by this simple estimation, but was interrupted in his predictable inquiry into how Holmes had known such a thing when a young man appeared at his shoulder, shuffling past him, somewhat rudely, into the sitting room.
"Mr. Holmes, I have your tickets. I would like to extend you thanks on the behalf of St. James for your purchase as well as from the Vienna String Quartet for your patronage. We all hope that you will enjoy the performance." The young man bowed and presented the tickets from his breast pocket.
Holmes jumped to his feet in order to receive them. "Ah, excellent! You see Inspector, the Doctor and I intended to celebrate our success in your thievery case, which was dreadfully dull and Watson suggested this alternative as a cosolation. I do hope that your box holds a better opportunity for mystery—"
"Mr. Holmes," Lestrade attempted to cut in, but Holmes' good humor, combined with his preoccupation with sending the boy off with a shilling and flitting about the room to place the tickets on the mantle place did not allow for the Inspector to get a word in edgewise.
"You, of course are wondering how I made such an assessment. Most of it was an inference based on the sound each individual item made as they struck against each other when you moved the box. The broken fountain pen I deduced from the blackened stain in the left-hand corner, indicating the ink had leaked from the pen in order to soak through the cardboard—"
"Mr. Holmes," Lestrade attempted once more, this time with a hint of frustration, but was once again overridden.
"Put together, these items amount to the basic possessions generally found on a man's person. It would be fair to assume—"
"Holmes!" Lestrade interjected, his shout explosive enough to be heard practically on the street below.
Holmes fell silent immediately, a peeved frown adorning his features as to what had caused such a dramatic interruption.
Lestrade looked weary and when he next spoke, his voice was infinitely softer, almost pleading, "Holmes, if you would just listen to me for a moment, I will explain everything to you."
Holmes nodded curtly and indicated for him to take a seat, while he himself sat in his armchair. "I apologize, Inspector. Please, do continue."
Lestrade sat gingerly upon the settee, bringing the box automatically to sit in his lap. He briefly looked down into its contents before speaking, seeming to choose his words with care. "You are, perhaps aware that an accident occurred late last night?"
Holmes nodded again. "Yes, I am aware. My landlady said as much earlier this morning."
"There was a fire." For a moment, Lestrade's eyes stared forcefully into his own. "It was Highgate."
Holmes' entire body froze. For the span of a single heartbeat, Holmes became a perfect statue, etched against the background of a living sitting room, a still life.
"I—" Lestrade began, but Holmes cut him off violently with a downward stroke of his hand.
"Pray don't continue Lestrade. It takes no genius to reason out what happened," Holmes said, bitingly, "You say there was a fire yet you bare no traces of it. There is no ash or soot upon your clothes or skin, meaning that you had absolutely nothing to do with it and yet here you are. The only reason you, having no bearing on the incident, would be called to announce its occurrence would be that as the function of a friend," here Holmes' voice cracked, but he went doggedly on, his angry tone slowly decimating into the sounds of a wounded animal, "After all, there are very little reasons why someone would be delivering what amounts to the personal possessions a man carries in his pockets. A dullard could figure it out."
"Don't speak!" Holmes spat, launching himself from the armchair and bracing his arms against the mantelpiece, staring hard into the unlit hearth.
Lestrade sighed, but went on determinably. "Holmes, I daresay however much you do not want to hear it, you must. Last night, sometime around two and three o'clock in the morning, the Highgate Gentleman's Club caught fire, burning nearly all of the building. There were at least fourteen people in the building last night, including Dr. Watson. We found his body in one of the main rooms. He could have been trapped by the fire or passed out from the smoke. Knowing the Doctor as I do, I bet he had been caught trying to save someone else," Lestrade said wryly.
"I assume his body was burned beyond recognition," Holmes said quietly.
Lestrade dropped his gaze. "Yes, it was little more than bones and cinders. The room he was staying in had been one of those that had been spared. These items were discovered in the bedside drawer. I'm sorry, old fellow."
With some effort, Holmes detached himself from the mantle and spun around to face the seated man. Lestrade gently held the box in silent offering. Slowly, timidly, Holmes took the box and balanced it on his knees as he sunk into the armchair. His hand automatically drifted towards the familiar pocket watch, skirting furtively over the leather cover of the journal containing dozens of case notes and story drafts. His fingertips brushed the closed lid, but he could not bring himself to take it. Holmes stared intensely into the box as if he could find his friend inside it.
Watson was dead. It was impossible.
Lestrade cleared his throat, unable to bear the suffocating silence. "I have alerted Watson's lawyer. He will be here to see you later to enact his will. I would like to offer my sincere—Mr. Holmes!"
Holmes had bounded up from his seat once more and snatched the unopened missive and tore frantically at the envelope. When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be truth. It was impossible for Watson to be killed by something as pedestrian as an accidental fire, therefore…
Something fell out of the folded note and into Holmes' hand. It was a single, previously lit match.
The Gents at Night Side
When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be truth. Watson could not have been killed by a mere fire. He was murdered, but Holmes, the note shaking in his hand while the other closed into a fist around the blackened match, realized it didn't make a damn difference. The note hadn't changed anything.
His only friend was dead.
The crushing grief that threatened to overwhelm him was circumvented by one thought and one thought alone.
Watson had been taken from him.
There was a crime to be solved and like so many times before, Holmes the man was replaced by a machine, a machine hell bent on bringing to justice to the men who committed this murder.
"Inspector Lestrade, could you please tell me the exact details of the events of yesterday evening at the Highgate Gentlemen's Club?" Holmes asked, his voice the consistency of cold steel and something deep and instinctual in Lestrade balked at the sound of it.
The game was afoot.
A/N: Don't worry, strained emotionality, angst, and general soppiness will eventually occur, all in true Sherlockian fashion, I assure you. "Night Side", although I inexplicably made it into a Victorian gang is a reference to The Night Side of London by J. Ewing in 1858, which was a critique on crime in the supposedly upright Victorian society. The Highgate Gentlemen's Club is either an unlisted club in modern London or a figment of fiction created for the episode 'Yanks in the UK' of Bones (Fox). I researched, but nothing really struck my fancy for use, so I used the only GC I knew.
The muse has been kind, obviously feeding off my vacation time here in Florida with my balcony overlooking the ocean, pretty sunrises, and AC currently blasting at 60 degrees, so hopefully there will be another chapter by next Friday. Life's a rummy thing and all that.