Chapter One: New Residents
"Blunt head trauma, rope burns around the wrists and ankles, bruises on the torso..." Watson examined the body carefully, Holmes and Lestrad peering over his shoulder. "Fractured ribs...." he pulled himself back. "Obvious signs of torture."
"He's not the first," Clarky said, a few feet behind them. "We've found three more, all dumped at the outskirts of the Cleveland district."
Holmes and Watson exchanged glances. The doctor spoke, "Similar murders?"
"This is the first with rope burns," Lestrad said. "But, yes, very similar indeed."
"He wasn't a ruffian," Holmes muttered, looking the body over. "Expensive clothes, manicured nails, clean haircut..."
"Perhaps they were mugged?" The inspector shrugged. His eyes lit up, and he seemed to get excited, as if he were solving the case already. "And then the mugger murdered them and dumped the bodies?"
Watson and Holmes looked at each other again, their eyebrows furrowed slightly. It was the classic look one gave when they actually felt embarrassed for somebody else. In this case, Lestrad.
"A mugger would have killed him instantly," Holmes said briskly. "This was planned, well thought out, had to have taken time." He observed the poor body once more. "Were the victims related?"
"No, Sir," Clarky said. "They all lived in the same area, though."
"Cleveland Street?" Watson turned to him.
"Yes, Sir," Clarky nodded. "The other residents won't speak with us, though. They're a very private bunch."
"Did the other victims dress in the same manner?" Holmes asked.
"They were all fairly clean, yes," Lestrad replied. "Perhaps the killer is jealous of their handsome appearance?"
Watson rolled his eyes and Holmes looked away. They looked over the body one more time, and Holmes clapped his hands. "Very well! We'll take the case!"
"Holmes-" Watson began, but the detective held up a hand to silence him.
"Do we know anything about the Cleveland Street bunch?"
Lestrad and Clarky exchanged glances this time, tugging at their collars nervously. They cleared their throats and shuffled their feet. Lestrad said, "They're a very private group. We tend to leave them alone."
"They won't talk with you," Clarky added. "We've already tried. They have no intentions of giving information to outsiders."
"We'll be turned away," Watson said as they paraded down the street towards the Cleveland district. "They won't tell us anything, Holmes."
"Sixty percent of human communication is non-verbal," Holmes replied. "It's what they won't tell that will solve the case."
They arrived at Cleveland Street, one they'd never truly had to cross before, and noticed nothing out of the ordinary about it. The houses were well-maintained, the cafes busy and bright, and people walking up and down the sidewalk as if nothing was wrong. It didn't seem like the kind of place people would be abducted, tortured, and left for dead.
"Richard Winston resided here-" Watson pointed to a house, glancing briefly at the address Lestrad had scribbled down.
They walked up to the door and tapped on it. People were talking inside, and the rap at the door silenced them immediately. After a few moments of odd noises, somebody opened the door. A man with broad shoulders, a strong jaw, and a pointed nose. His dress shirt was stretched across his skin, as if his bulging biceps couldn't bear to be restricted against the fabric. He frowned at the pair at his door.
"Can I help you?" For such a solid fellow, his voice had an odd texture to it. Almost prissy. He looked from Holmes to Watson, studying them intensely.
"Good afternoon." Holmes smiled. "This is where Richard Winston lived, I presume?"
"Richard's dead," the man said, his voice clotting slightly. "Not like you care. None of you care. You never care."
"You don't even know who I am." Holmes continued to grin stupidly.
"I don't need to know who you are," the man scoffed. "I know what you are and what you think of us!" He opened the door a little wider, his arms flying to his hips. Behind him, three other gentlemen sat around a coffee table, sipping tea.
Holmes took note of the surroundings, especially the contents on the table. Lace doilies, fancy china, small cakes topped with cream and strawberries. The interior design mirrored the choice of food. Everything was decorated in an off-color, or pastel. China figurines decorated curvy-wood shelves, and a vase of flowers sat in a sunny patch near the far window.
"We're terribly sorry about the loss of your friend," Watson said, removing his hat. "That's why we're here. We're hoping we can catch the murderer before he can strike again."
One of the other men spoke up. "Are you from around here?" He said.
Holmes immediately jumped the trust wagon and gave Watson a hearty slap on the back. "Just moved here from Baker street," he chimed. "We're house-hunting, but when we heard of the..." he sighed heavily. "Dreadful events, we weren't sure if this was the right place for us after all."
Watson frowned at him, wondering how the lies rolled so easily off his tongue. He turned back to the gentlemen, and the one who'd opened the door, looked away, shaking his head. He smiled, and gestured for them to come in.
"You're among friends here," he said softly, motioning for them to sit down. "Jasper, fetch our friends some tea, won't you?"
Jasper, who was sitting on the couch, stood up, making a face. "Oh, so now that Richard's gone, I'm your little milkmaid now, is that it?" He stormed off, swishing in his steps.
"Don't mind Jasper," the third man said. "He thinks he's the queen of this dump of a cottage."
Holmes and Watson laughed good-naturedly, Watson's more hallow and nervous than Holmes. He kept a smile plastered to his face, but as he began to intake his surroundings, his palms began to sweat. He'd had two or three patients come to him with embarrassing problems, and they'd all seem to come from the same area. One he could never remember the name of.
"I know it's scary to think that such good people can be broken and beaten," the first man said. "But we're the only accepted community in all of London." He held out his hand. "I'm Ethan, by the way. Ethan James."
"Sherlock Holmes. "The detective shook his hand.
"Dr. John Watson." Watson shook his hand too.
Jasper returned with tea, and let his head roll back dramatically. "We're out of mint leaves...again." He turned to Ethan. "You said you'd go to the market today."
Ethan sighed. "I will go to the market today." He gestured at Holmes and Watson. "Can you not see that we have guests?"
"I know!" Jasper snorted. "You're already eager to replace Richard!" He frowned at the pair. "Just because-" he looked at Holmes. "he has gorgeous eyes and nice shoulders." His gaze moved to Watson. "And he has beautiful lips and an intriguing gaze."
Gorgeous eyes? Beautiful lips? Holmes frowned thoughtfully, but decided the compliments were nice enough of thought nothing of them.
"Why do you always have to be so bloody indignant?" The second man asked. "These poor souls are searching for a place where they can live together in peace, and you're ranting about mint leaves."
"Well, Edward," Jasper said in a snotty toe. "You're one to talk. The linens you bought are just dreadful. Everybody knows purple and yellow don't go together."
"Gentlemen," Ethan said sternly. He smiled at Holmes and Watson. "I apologize for my friends. We're all a bit shaken over Richard's demise."
"Completely understandable," Holmes nodded, sipping his tea. His eyes lit up. It was probably the best tea he'd ever tasted.
"We're very private, this community," Ethan continued. "Everyone leaves us alone, but they know."
"That's why they shrug off the murders," Edward sighed. "They think it's for our own good that our neighbors and friends are losing their lives." He chuckled sadly. "Just because men live together, and share clothes, and eat off of eachother's plates."
"What's wrong with that?" Holmes, Watson noticed, really didn't get what was going on. The doctor squirmed uncomfortably, knowing these were all things that he and Holmes did on a regular basis.
"Nothing!" Jasper threw his arms up. "Thank you, Mr. Holmes! Nothing is wrong with it! And why it bothers so many people is beyond me!" He huffed. "I mean, for God's sake, Alexander the bloody great slept with men!"
Holmes choked on his tea. When funny glances came his way, he coughed, "Swallowed too fast."
Jasper grinned at Edward and muttered, "That's what you said last night."
Watson choked this time, and on nothing. They quickly regained composure, reality finally dawning on Holmes and everyrthing coming together quickly. He looked at Watson, who frowned at him angrily, breathing heavily through his nose.
"So how long have you two been together?" Ethan smiled sweetly. "And let me say that you're a darling pair."
"Aren't they?" Edward sighed. "I just love the little details about you. It's the little details that are the most important, in my opinion."
Holmes scratched his head awkwardly, not eager to admit that he held the same opinion. Silence filled the room and Ethan gingerly placed his teacup back on its decorative saucer.
"I can't tell you how much we appreciate your help, gentlemen," he said. "And I just want you to know that Cleveland Street welcomes you with open arms."
"Very open arms," Jasper said, a bit flirtatiously. He looked at Holmes. "Doctor, if you ever decide you need a break from your usual medicine, give him to me and I'll take care of him."
Watson inhaled deeply through his nose, stiffening, and Holmes turned a million different shades of red before shrugging one shoulder and smiling awkwardly.
"Leave them alone, you tart!" Ethan scoffed playfully. His eyes lit up. "You know! Our second story floor is vacant. We were holding it for two new residents, but they're a very snobbish pair, muttering about the paint job and what not."
"Why don't you two take it?" Edward finished. "We won't even charge you since you're here on business, willing to track down those awful killers."
"Oh, well..." Holmes desperately faltered for an excuse. He mentally kicked himself for using the excuse of house hunting. "We wouldn't want to be a bother."
"He means that," Watson smiled helpfully. "My friend can be very noisy in the middle of the night."
"Ooohhh," Edward nodded, and gave him a wink. "You see, Doctor, I would have pegged you as the noisy one." He leaned forward, lowering his voice. "But just between this lot, us downstair residents really don't mind that kind of noise."
Watson turned red this time, and Holmes pretended to be looking for clues in his empty teacup. Ethan stood up, clapping his hands, his weight resting on one hip. "So it's settled, then! Our guests may reside upstairs."
"We have a dog," Watson tried one last time to talk their way out of it. "A bulldog."
"Oohhhh..." they placed hands over their hearts, their faces melting with love.
"So you have a baby!" Jasper cooed. "That is so precious."
"I'm going to murder you!" Watson hissed when they finally left.
"How was I supposed to know?" Holmes demanded. "It's not like there were any signs!"
Watson blew up. "DID YOU OPEN YOUR EYES, YOU DAFT IMBECILE? THERE WERE SIGNS EVERYWHERE YOU LOOKED!"
Ethan opened the door. "Everything alright, Gents?"
Watson and Holmes smiled.
"Grand," Holmes assured him.
Ethan nodded. "Hurry up and bring your things," he said. "Jasper's cooking a pork roast for dinner. It's the best."
"We could always just...never return," Holmes shrugged.
"They're counting on us to catch the killer of their friend," Watson sighed, closing his eyes. "We can't let them down, even if they are...different."
"By the way," Holmes wondered aloud. "Which one do you think Richard belonged to anyway?"
Watson shook his head and walked ahead of him. Holmes caught up. "So you're up for it, then?"
"Up for what?" Watson scoffed, "Pretending to be with you, living in a house full of lady-men, while working on a case when I could be brushing up on my medicine?" He stopped. "Yes, I'm up for it, but only because you put me in that situation."
"They did make good tea," Holmes muttered helpfully.
"Yes, they did," Watson nodded, also muttered. He found where he'd mislaid his anger. "Now let's just get to work on the damned case so we can be done with this crazy lot."
"Oh! He's gorgeous!" Edward cooed when Jasper waddled into the house. "And look at how shiny his coat is!"
"Flax seed," Holmes explained. "Does wonders to hair." He set some luggage down.
"Sounds like you need some," Edward told Jasper, who immediately fingered his hair defensively.
"The bed is a bit small," Ethan told them, leading them up the stairs. "But you should both be able to sleep comfortably in it."
"Bed..." Holmes repeated slowly, looking at Watson. "Right."
"So when and where was Richard abducted?" Watson asked.
"He left for a pub after dinner with some colleagues," Ethan said, setting their suitcases on the bed. "He didn't come home." A sad expression crossed his face and it was obvious who had been Richard's partner. "I found him the next morning, but I can't say I was surprised."
"And this happens often?" Holmes quizzed.
"The killings, no," the other man replied. "The kidnappings, yes. It's why we built our own cafes, stores...we don't want to have to set foot outside the neighborhood unless we have to. Too many dangerous people wanting to hurt us."
He looked around. "That'll do? For now, I mean."
"Thank you." Holmes looked at Watson, who stared back at him.
Ethan nodded slowly. "Right...well, dinner's in half an hour, and we're going to have a wine-gab after."
" 'Wine-gab'?" Watson repeated.
"We drink some of the finest wine we can find over the month and just...talk," Ethan explained.
Watson and Holmes both looked down. Another thing they did on a regular basis, in their oh-so-very-straight home. Ethan left them alone and Holmes immediately began searching the room for clues.
"This was a lousy idea," Watson said, staring up at the ceiling.
"I think undercover missions are rather intriguing," Holmes muttered, picking up a hair and observing it closely. "It has the excitement of police work, but the artistry of theatre."
"And so then, Giles walks right up to him, and tells him that his trousers are out of season!" A semi-drunk Jasper said, and the other men busted out laughing.
Holmes and Watson fake-laughed, wondering why that joke was even humorous. The pork roast dinner really had been good, and the wine was amazing.
"So," Jasper turned to the pair. "How long have you two been together?"
"Three years," Holmes said, considering it truthful enough.
"Jesus," Edward whispered, shaking his head. He chuckled. "You blokes are practically married then, aren't you?"
"Tell me, Doctor," Jasper said. "What's the sexiest thing about your Sherlock?"
Holmes looked at Watson, curiousity written all over his face. Ruse or not, this was bound to be interesting. The doctor shifted uncomfortably and swirled his wine around in his glass.
"His needy...ness..." Holmes then realized that Watson himself was bit tipsy. This was going to be very interesting. He looked at Holmes. "He's a brilliant man, really, but I have to take care of him, watch him constantly, scold him..." he blinked heavily, shaking his head a bit. " Love him." The words were so quiet, Holmes almost didn't hear him.
"Aww..." Jasper, Edward, and Ethan cooed.
"And you, Mr. Holmes?" Edward looked at the detective.
"His moustache." Holmes took a gulp of his wine, and the men laughed all over again.
The wine had just started to wear off by the time bedtime rolled around, and Holmes haned the doctor a tall glass of water. Watson downed it and stared at the bed. He looked at Holmes.
"I suppose you could sleep on the floor," the detective shrugged.
"We'll share it," Watson groaned, knowing all of the coded language of the mentally-disturbed sleuth.
Living in a gay boarding house, pretending to be one of them, how could they not be mentall disturbed?
To Be Continued...