The following consultation with Lestrade and Aberdine went much better then I could have anticipated. The little detective had greeted me with a smile which, given his trends as of late, had made me suspicious. And yet, there was no trace of such a thing in his voice as he detailed all the new findings. Apparently there had been about 6 pounds worth of bank notes in his pocket, minute traces of an almondy scent upon his lips and three very small, very sharp cuts on his wrist. Each was of a different length and curved slightly, leaving an angry crescent over the pale skin. Obviously the result of dug nails, the amounting evidence of this being a woman's doing were becoming irrefutable.
But I, of course, had already known that. Holmes had confirmed as much.
Despite that, I did not detail the hour or so which I had been absent. Of course Lestrade questioned me while Aberdine merely nodded, but I was convincing enough when I told them how I had become overwhelmed and needed to retreat to my rooms in order to mull things over. Here is where dear Lestrade put aside his contempt and accepted my alibi without protest.
The Yard doctor had examined the body and concluded that he had indeed been dead for two days and not by means of violence.
"It's never their method," laughed Aberdine at the news, "for women to resort to violence. I've seen my fair share of everything during my career, and though it is possible, the chances of a woman over powering a man are unlikely." As there were no puncture marks, indicating a lack of weapon or physical violence, we had all accepted this readily. Patting the dead man's arms, he said, "They've the advantage of us, though. Perhaps we are fools for underestimating a woman's desire for revenge, action, what have you. I will swear upon my life that a vengeful girl may outwit even the cleverest and most suspicious of men."
"It is not difficult to accept that as truth here, then." said I.
Lestrade leaned against the table nearest us and flicked idly at his notebook. "But how do we explain the hanging? Unless there was an accomplice, there's no way she'd be able to get him there herself."
"Well now, it's not impossible Lestrade." Aberdine argued. "She could have slipped on the noose and hoisted him up. We're dealing with an resourceful criminal here, after all."
"Though this is by all means a far stretch, I wonder if that's not below her satisfaction?" I asked. They both regarded me with contemplative expressions and shrugged at the possibility.
"We need a more thorough explanation, Dr. Watson, before we can run with the idea."
I didn't quite know how to explain myself but gave it my best. "It seemed obvious to me that we are dealing with an intelligent woman with deliberate intentions. That there was a kiss on the back of Harkins' neck rather than on his face, I'm lead to believe, I admit vaguely, that it'd be difficult pegging this as a result of love gone awry. Something else, then, not to do with money nor the likes."
"But at the hand of an aristocrat? Someone with pride?"
"And elegance, clearly. She may look upon the idea of manually hauling the dead or drugged body as something too substandard to consider. Could you imagine it? I find that we are at least dealing with an experienced theatric."
Another doctor stepped in the room, followed by an officer I didn't recognize. They both looked at us briefly before turning towards another table set in the corner.
Aberdine pulled out his notebook and scribbled down some words.
"I like that thought, Doctor. Perhaps we can use it to our advantage."
"Have we finished with the flat, then?" asked Lestrade.
"Don't know what else we're expecting to find, honest. We'll get a photographer to photograph the scene, then from there we shall see." The officer fingered the brim of his helmet, giving one last glance at the body before covering it up and departing.
Lestrade had also finished jotting down notes. "You said you wanted to examine the body?" he asked.
"It will help to know firsthand what our murderer has accomplished, medically speaking."
He nodded and turned to leave, but not without having one last say. "Do you know, Dr. Watson, that I've been very suspicious of you since the moment I regained consciousness. I knew then that something was fishy about you and Holmes, and I won't lie when I say that murderous thoughts ran freely through my head for some time. However, it is without hesitancy that I stand here with you now. I believe all good men can change... I'm glad you did." He did not smile but I could sense the honesty with which he spoke. I grinned and relaxed my shoulders, turning to the table.
"Thank you, Lestrade." I said warmly and watched as he, too, glowered with something akin to satisfaction. I knew it was expecting too much to think he'd forgiven me, but I found I was on the right track at last.
I took the opportunity to search for incriminating details once I was alone. I did not know the crime records of this world, and so the possible patterns were yet invisible to me. Still, it would not have mattered much as my search turned up nothing to suggest a joint partnership in this particular case. I really knew not what to do with the body then, as I found no reason to argue with the official report. Not knowing how else to busy myself, I took a glance at the two other men sharing the room and watched as they lifted a stickly arm from a deceased woman. The doctor held it's hand gently within his own as the officer craned his neck to get a good look. I couldn't hear their words, but they appeared to be speculating some detail I could not see from my distance. The doctor noticed my silent inquiry and nodded his head in a friendly manner.
"Found this one in the sewer. She's a real beauty, isn't she?"
The officer laughed and shook his head humorously. I returned their smile and turned back towards my man.
He had been cleaned up and preserved in my absence and now lay loosely covered over the table top. His eyes were closed in an eerie slumber as the dark hair framing his face made a stark contrast to his white skin. It was disheartening to look at, as he was a very handsome man who seemed every bit the gentleman his rooms had suggested. I thought about the bird then, and how it would likely be forgotten now that its master had been stolen away from this world.
Noticing a small cut on his chin, I withdrew my notebook to mark it when I became aware of a presence coming towards me. I looked up to see my fellow doctor with an excited look upon his face and humor twinkling in his eyes.
"Mutually blessed this evening, aren't we? It's not often you receive the pleasure of so close an encounter with a body like this. It's a bit fun, I always thought." He never fully came to where I was positioned next to the table, but he grinned unashamedly at me as he folded his hands behind his back and disappeared through the doors.
I turned round once he was gone and asked: "So have you found anything out?"
The officer in the room removed his cover and ruffled a hand through his hair. Tucking the helmet beneath his arm, Sherlock Holmes casually stepped towards my end of the room and studied the body between us.
"I've failed to figure anything out, though I did undoubtedly confirm everything I had known."
Holmes had relaxed his nervous hands and drew a finger through the dead man's hair. I watched curiously as his thumb gently pressed over the nose before he retracted it and plunged his hand back into his pocket. It was hard not to notice that every point of his officials uniform was perfected down to the very last detail; his boots blackened with wax, the polished 'VR' over the helm which wedged proudly between his arm and his body, down to the regulation cut of his trousers. I wondered, briefly, where he had attained such an immaculate ensemble, though not without feeling a depressing ache in the back of my mind as I knew the answer. "So you really do control the Yard." I said with just a little remorse.
"No, not the whole Yard. Just that gentleman and a few others."
I sniffed distractedly and looked up at Holmes. "You're here now, anyway. What have you?"
"Her name is Claire Upperton and you will find her at this address. Read it, memorize it, burn it."
He handed me a slip of paper which I immediately shoved into my pocket. "And how do I go about getting her? I hardly have enough evidence to really point my accusations at anyone by this point."
"Which is exactly why she's going to confess."
I raised my eyebrow in surprise. "How do you know that? You can't expect me to confront the woman I've never had the chance to meet!"
"I gave you your means, Doctor, all you must is employ them."
"What have you given me other than confusion?"
He smiled, looking down at his shining boots before responding. "You tell me."
Proposed tests from Sherlock Holmes usually instilled a grand sense of endearment to me, but I found that in this instance I was just a little more objective. I figure that at that point, I still hadn't forgiven him.
"If you ever wish to accomplish anything," he said in lieu of my silence, "then you must be able to put your absolute trust in me."
"You can't ask me to do that, Holmes, you know I can't. Is this concept really so hard for you to understand?"
"Your mood swings intrigue me, Doctor." he scoffed offendedly. "One moment you look upon me with such a yearning for understanding, and the next, you have the devil in your eyes and contempt in your heart." He fixed me with a stern gaze then, his eyes hard and his lips firm as he coldly demanded: "Decide which is it and let us move on."
I met his stare but not without mounting apprehension, for his was the face I had been warned of; the face of a masterful criminal who could kill or ruin you if he should so choose, the face of a man I did not know but for those stinted moments which have been so cruelly etched into my mind. It was this initial image of fear which had caused my heart to skip a beat and to reluctantly give in to his perfected means of intimidation.
"I may not trust you," I started, distracting myself with the body once more. "But I trust your word."
"You trust the word of Sherlock Holmes, you do not so readily accept mine. But we shall make due. Now, if you'll please get on with it, your window of opportunity is quietly slipping."
I considered everything we'd said upon the matter, yet could come up with only two things. "You gave me her address, and you gave me an ordinary string. I suppose I could blackmail her."
There was a disgusted look upon the criminal's face as I said it. "Blackmail? Would you really stoop so low as to resort to that?"
"No, I was only j-"
"Thought I suppose you would, what with you being dead all this time, you haven't had much time to make dirt for yourself, have you? Not considering the six feet of over your body, that is. Never mind, I see that you are still disturbed. Just know, Dr. Watson, that in your pockets you hold the ruin of a most established woman in addition to enough, shall I say, encouragement, to have her bend to you every will. Whatever you want, she will do it... so long as you find it within yourself to ask."
I vaguely understood his implications, and so acted accordingly with an obvious question. "You will be joining me?" I asked, my determination dripping away with uncertainty.
He was distracted by the front entrance of the room when he answered me. "Absolutely not."
My jaw all but dropped at that. "But... Holmes!"
"We're about to lose our time together, Doctor, for those are the footsteps of someone out of my employ. But no, I will not be accompanying you for matters which I doubt you'll be happy to hear. I have my life to lead, after all. You are not at the center of it."
"I didn't suspect it," I ground out flatly. "But how on earth do you expect this to work? How do I know she won't just turn the tables on me, or... for God's sake, a thousand things could go wrong!"
"Or maybe I'm even setting you up myself. Have you never been without your detective, Watson? Must I hold your hand every step of the way?"
"I wish you would!"
He torn his gaze from the distanced hallway and fixed me with his keen eyes. Something flitted across his features, causing his lassitude to slacken and his face to pale considerably. "Dear me, Watson, you are truly frightened of this?"
I had to pause when I heard that. Perhaps I hadn't realized what emotion I wore on my face, nor with what desperation I spoke as I practically begged him not to leave me alone in this. I turned round and began collecting my bag, throwing my coat over my arm as I suddenly found myself holding back tears. It was most disheartening and completely unpredicted.
"Forgive me," I mumbled. "but my temper has always been a bit sensitive. I will go to her, and I will do whatever I can to win the night."
Holmes grabbed my sleeve as I pushed past, spinning me round till I was facing him in full. He was quiet, his expression unreadable as he studied my face. Finally his grip slackened to a friendly hand which he then used to comfort me. "Do you do this often?"
"No," I said through a thick voice. "No, Holmes, I do not. But if you could understand for just a moment how I feel,"
"Is it the case?"
The case. No, I can't say that it was because of what I was going up against that had caused this sudden bout of emotions, but I think it was, again, because of him. That Sherlock Holmes was no longer whom I've always known him to be, that I was set out to do this completely by myself without the assurance of his company, had left me feeling strangely hollow. I do not wish to tire the reader with my constant remonstrants of contrasting these two men together, but I cannot help it. I was about to charge head-first into a situation I knew nothing about, coming home to an empty hotel if I survived, going back to the Yard for a obligatory fulfillment that meant nothing to me while I was in a constant, and I will freely admit, miserable state of mind mostly due to me missing my friend so much. Knowing that I was to never again find him in the sitting room of Baker Street and all that image implied, had left me in a state shock which had allowed my emotions to build and to overflow with the smallest of triggers. Sure I have lamented and cursed, I had dealt with hopelessness and acceptance, but never before had I allowed all that to spill over. Sherlock Holmes now stood before me as a man with higher concerns, as he always did, but now it was with the air of intimidation and not condolence.
These and other thoughts raced rapidly through my mind as I looked into his grey eyes, it all being realized in full by seeing the fleeting confidence ebbing away in eyes which had, to me, always been as immovable as steel. I looked at my hat which had been set on the small tray beside me.
"I've lost everything." I muttered.
He stared at me for a few moments before nodding chastely, releasing my arm as he repositioned his helmet over his head. All traces of warmth which had momentarily crept into his disposition had immediately given way to the cold reserve I had come to expect. "Ah, well, Doctor, you know that I cannot understand and that there's no reason for me to try. Anyhow, I understand that you may be intimidated going up against a murderer, but have a little faith. I cannot accompany you tonight, nor ever again most likely, but I have given you your answer for this case at least. Use it, because you will not win otherwise." He paused for a moment before tilting his head quizzically at me. "Perhaps you ought to take the opportunities which are bared to you, Watson. You've lived your life as a purveyor of justice, proven your worth and your pride. But you must know that my hand remains held out to you in hopes that you will see the benefits of the new life I offer. Mourn your friend, Doctor, but do not be so afraid to accept this new one."
I had collected my composure enough to fool the passing police officers, but I could not help but to feel a second stab at Holmes' words.
"But how will you know things will work out?" I asked.
"Let us just assume, Dr. Watson, that I have my ways."
I shrugged, taking in a deep breath and walking along side him through the exit.
"I wish you would drop this charade, Holmes." I said as we passed Gregson in his office. "I am not so blinded by my plight that I cannot see through your veil."
"How do you mean?" was the skeptical response.
"I know you can't keep away. You were born for this and you know it."
I left him standing there, in the middle of Scotland Yard, with his eyes wide and his mouth agape. I hailed a cab and told the curious driver that I had a lady to meet.