I stared at the body before me. Part of me noted the shocked expressions the Constables wore. A very small part of me wondered what had really killed the man. The largest part of my brain was screaming that this would be considered murder, and that my chances of convincing someone that I hadn't actually killed the man when everything pointed in the opposite direction were nil.
Run! My mind was screaming. They have witnesses. They watched you approach a man who was alive and well. They saw you shove him, saw him stagger backwards, saw him fall. They can see that he's dead now.
I tried to figure out what to do. The Constables were on edge. They all knew that I had a history with the dead man, and that it had not been pleasant.
Bradstreet was pushing forward through the crowd. "Hopkins!" He called.
I turned to gauge his expression as he caught sight of the body. Where had that knife come from anyway?
Bradstreet paled as the body attracted his notice. He didn't ask any questions. "Go home." He said. "You're relieved. I'll take over here."
"We'll deal with that when it comes time." He assured me in a low voice. He knew I wasn't the type to run. I nodded, and turned and walked through the uneasy group of Constables.
"Stop by and tell Lestrade I won't be able to meet him for a drink, will you?" He called. Again, I nodded. I couldn't think of a thing to say.
I swore under my breath. There was no way the lad would have done something like this. Shoved the fellow, as the Constables claimed, yes. He had taken umbrage against the dead man, and for good reason, and even the best of us could get a little rough now and then.
But murder? It wasn't possible.
The problem was, precious few would believe that, with Hopkins' grudge and a room full of eyewitnesses. Lestrade probably would, and Gregson, but the rest of the Yard-
The lad was in serious trouble.
I watched as the Constables secured the crime scene, and thought about calling in Sherlock Holmes. Then I reconsidered. Lestrade or Gregson could have that dubious honor, whenever they decided to get involved.
And there was no doubt they would. Lestrade wouldn't be able to believe it, and Gregson wouldn't want to. They would do their best to prove the lad innocent.
But I wondered what chance they had, when everything I saw and heard insisted that my own belief in the lad's innocence had to be wrong.
I found the Inspector in a corner. He had seen me come in, and was waiting for me. I swallowed nervously and made my way over to him.
"Aren't you on duty tonight?" He asked. I thought I caught a note of weariness in his tone. He probably thought I was here to call him in on something.
"Inspector Bradstreet asked me to inform you he wouldn't be able to make it tonight." I informed him. Bradstreet was an odd choice in a drinking partner, I reflected, especially for someone like Lestrade, who preferred to drink in silence.
A large portion of my mind was still trying to panic. I tried to focus on reasons that Bradstreet and Lestrade might choose to drink together.
"He relieved you, then?" Lestrade asked. Bradstreet was an amiable sort of drunk, until you hit him. Then he'd tear you apart. Lestrade-
I couldn't recall ever seeing Lestrade drunk. At least not to the point that it impaired his behavior. "Yes, sir." I replied.
Lestrade signaled for something stronger than what he was currently drinking. "Something happen with Lewis?" He guessed.
My mind again tried to convince me to run for it. I nodded in answer to his question. "I may be in trouble." I admitted. Best to make a clean breast of it.
"How much trouble?" Lestrade asked sharply. I gulped, and was puzzled as he drained the rest of whatever he had been drinking when I came in and started on the new drink.
"A lot." I managed to say. Lestrade refused to listen to anything more until he had finished his second drink. I noted absently that it smelled rather stronger than even that vile stuff Jones preferred, and I knew that was fully capable of knocking most of the Yarders off their feet before they even finished the first glass. There were things a Yarder avoided: interrupting Holmes, getting between Gregson and Lestrade when they were going at it, and Jones' alcohol of choice.
He signaled for another drink and leaned back in his chair. His eyes were slightly unfocused as he studied me. "What happened?" He asked.
This time I recognized what he was drinking when it was set down on the table, and shuddered. Not even Jones would touch that stuff. It was guaranteed to set the room spinning in record time, and nobody was ever sure what they had been doing the night before if a glass of that stuff was involved.
I took a deep breath, brushing aside the question of why Lestrade was drinking something like that. "I went to question Lewis." I said, trying to sound calm. It wasn't working. "He recognized me. We swapped insults." I swallowed. "I shoved him."
Lestrade frowned, but didn't comment. He had known of our history before I had been assigned to go talk to the man. "He staggered, and fell." Both eyebrows went up, and Lestrade was rapidly emptying his glass once more. "He was dead when he hit the ground." I swallowed again. "He had a knife in his chest."
Lestrade looked confused. It was a look he usually reserved for his dealings with Holmes, and then only rarely. "I take it from your delivery that you didn't put the knife there." He finally said.
He was signaling for another drink.
"I don't know how it got there!" I sounded like a child insisting his innocence while being caught in the act of sneaking into the dessert.
Lestrade swore. I wondered if it were the alcohol or the situation that allowed that particular phrase to slip through.
"Someone's set you up." He decided. The alcohol was getting to him. Lestrade never came to conclusions this quickly, or at least never expressed such suspicions so soon. He always waited until he had some sort of evidence before uttering a word. "Someone wants you out of the way."
"But how?" I demanded weakly. "How could they set that up-?"
"Kent is nice this time of year." Lestrade interrupted speculatively. "Very nice. I have family out there, you know. A sister."
The alcohol was definitely getting to him. "Sir-" I tried to recall him to the issue at hand. He waved me off.
"Kristina, that's my older sister. Smart girl, made me look downright daft growing up. Would've been unbearable if not for how kind she was. Hated the city, though. But she met that Joey Walker fellow, and they married and moved out to Kent." Lestrade rambled. His words were starting to slur a bit. "Never met a stranger, those two. Never turned away anyone in need. They're always glad to be able to help someone."
Lestrade stood unsteadily, having finished his last glass, and I watched with some alarm as he swayed and closed his eyes for a few seconds. I wondered if not being able to see the room made him any steadier on his feet.
"I should be getting home." He informed me pleasantly. "The wife'll have a fit if I pass out before I get there."
I wondered if I should make sure he made it. I also wondered why the man seemed to have deliberately gotten this drunk. "Can I walk you home, Inspector?" I asked. Lestrade smiled and shook his head.
"I'll be fine." He assured me. "You should be getting on yourself, lad." He gave me a stern, if slightly unfocused, look. "Don't linger here. Not tonight." That said, he turned and made his way to the door, his footsteps surprisingly sure. Not surprising was the fact that although more than a few people looked up to watch him leave, no one in the building decided the drunken Inspector would make an easy target in the dark.
I shook my head and followed the Inspector's lead.
Where now? Part of me was still trying to panic. A room full of witnesses, a dead man, you'll be arrested and charged with murder for sure, Stanley.
I turned towards home and made it about a block before I stopped.
Kent is nice this time of year, Lestrade had said. Why would he say such a thing? Lestrade, even drunk, did not discuss the weather. Or his family, for that matter. I frowned and continued walking.
I have family out there. Kristina and Joey Walker. Never turned away anyone in need.
My jaw dropped.
Lestrade was telling me to run.
I didn't bother asking my husband why he had come home drunk enough to trip on the hall floor and be forced to lay there, sprawled in a heap, unable to remember how to get up. It wouldn't have done any good.
I would, however, be certain to ask him tomorrow evening, after he had begun his return to the land of the living.
I helped the poor lout up off the floor and proceeded to help him out of his coat, jacket, and shoes. This accomplished, I began to propel him up the stairs, thankful that he wasn't a large man and was therefore not very difficult to manipulate.
He noticed me at the top of the stairs, and turned and kissed me on the cheek. I nearly staggered myself as I caught a whiff of his breath.
There would be no sense in asking him why he was so drunk or what had happened tonight, then. He wouldn't remember either.
"Hello, love." He finally murmured as I put him to bed.
"You're drunk." I scolded him with a smile. My husband only ended up this drunk when he was acting with his conscious as his guide and didn't want to be able to be held accountable when it clashed with his duty later, something I had seen happen perhaps a handful of times in the years that we'd been married. His reasoning was that if he couldn't remember what he'd done, they couldn't fault him for it, I supposed.
Or at least he wouldn't have to feel guilty for going against the law.
"Of course I am." He informed me indignantly, after he had worked out what I had said. "You would be to, if you had been drinking that stuff in my place."
"Time for bed, dear." I told the man fondly.
"'Kay." He agreed obligingly. He was sound asleep in less than a minute.
"I always hate coming here on business." Bradstreet admitted. "She gets that look in her eye, just for a second, like she's going to shred you into little tiny pieces. Then she's cheerful and friendly and perfectly accepting of the fact that you're taking her husband away from her when he's not supposed to be on duty."
I knew exactly what the man meant. Elisabeth Lestrade was friendly, supportive of her husband's job, and had a way about her that suggested that she could very easily 'shred you into little tiny pieces' if she so chose.
I knocked on the door, and we were promptly shown in and led to the kitchen by the maid.
It always struck me as odd that Lestrade would have a maid. He simply didn't seem to be the type that would have any use for one, or to be able to afford one.
Mrs. Lestrade was in the kitchen, preparing breakfast. I wrinkled my nose as I caught a whiff of something that might once have been coffee.
"Is-" The woman placed a finger to her lips, and Bradstreet quieted. "Is the Inspector up?"
"Not yet." Mrs. Lestrade murmured so softly I almost didn't hear her. "He's off today, Inspectors." She reminded us.
"I didn't think your husband slept in." I nearly forgot to be quiet, and her eyebrows went up in warning.
"He had a little too much to drink last night." She said briskly. "It's a wonder he made it home." Bradstreet received a pointed glance.
"I was on duty." Bradstreet explained guiltily. "But I can't say as I've ever seen the man in need of assistance in getting home."
Mrs. Lestrade's expression softened. "Can you wait for him to be up? You can have some breakfast while you wait."
I was tempted. The woman had to be an excellent cook if Lestrade preferred her meals over his own cooking. That pot of 'coffee' had me worried, though.
"We need to speak with him as soon as possible." I said reluctantly.
Mrs. Lestrade grimaced. "You'll still have time for breakfast. Just make sure the children leave some toast for their father." She left us seated at the table across from each other, the table set and the morning meal steaming.
A moment later a boy stumbled sleepily in, shortly followed by two girls. The boy made sure his sisters were seated and had food on their plates, then tended to his own.
"If you don't take something, she'll just make you have some food when she comes back." Jackie, the oldest, had noticed our still empty plates. "Da won't eat anything more than toast anyway, if he's not already up."
Bradstreet didn't need to be told twice. "Your mother said to save him some, by the way." He informed the child as he saw to his plate.
Lestrade arrived a few minutes later, supported for the most part by his wife, who steered him to the table and an empty chair. He looked absolutely awful, and his head sank to rest on the table after he had managed to take his seat.
"Inspec-" Bradstreet broke off abruptly as Lestrade flinched and let out a low moan. I realized then that the children had suddenly become very quiet.
His wife set a cup of that foul smelling coffee down on the table beside him. He raised his head to stare at it blearily, then dragged himself up to huddle miserably in his chair. I was impressed as he downed the contents of his cup without so much as a grimace. I was horrified when his wife refilled it.
"I hope it was worth it." Mrs. Lestrade said softly.
"Me too." He drawled with as much fervor as he could manage, which was almost none, and reached again for his cup.
Bradstreet was watching in horrified fascination. So was I, for that matter.
Lestrade drained the second cup, and managed a groan. This time his wife merely placed a piece of toast on his plate.
Lestrade shuddered, but dutifully started on the toast.
"What?" This was directed at me. Lestrade was apparently in no condition to be polite today.
I didn't waste time with formalities. "Lewis is dead."
Lestrade nearly choked on his toast. "What? How?"
"A room full of Constables say they saw Hopkins kill him." I replied.
Lestrade shot a pleading glance at his wife. "I didn't drink that much last night-"
His wife almost laughed. "You heard him right." She assured her husband. Lestrade sighed and turned his attention back to me.
"Worse, Hopkins has gone missing." Bradstreet put in. "Superintendent wants a search out for him."
Lestrade was slower than usual this morning. It was interesting to watch him consider that statement for far too long before asking, "Who's in charge?"
Bradstreet gave him a funny look. I was too busy trying not to laugh to answer. "You are." Bradstreet finally told him.
"Oh." Lestrade went back to choking down his toast. He finished the first piece, and was promptly rewarded with a second. Bradstreet and I waited while he worked his way through that second piece of toast.
Lestrade froze. Then his eyes darted up to search mine. "What?" He demanded, his voice no louder than the almost whisper it had been this whole time.
"He wants Holmes called in too." I said cheerfully.
Lestrade glared at me.
Inspectors Lestrade, Gregson, and Bradstreet met us at the crime scene. Gregson and Bradstreet looked somber, and rightly so, if what we had been told was correct. Lestrade-
Lestrade looked absolutely miserable, and as if he were in considerable pain, as he waved us over.
"We had to move the body." Bradstreet informed Holmes apologetically, his voice strangely low. "It's down at the Yard. You're welcome to come down and see it."
"And the reports." Gregson added wearily, his voice strangely soft as well. "I cannot believe it." He added.
"They had a history." Holmes reminded the man, and his voice sounded loud after hearing the other two. Lestrade flinched. "There's more than enough for a motive there, Gregson." Gregson scowled at this, and Bradstreet sighed.
"I didn't think he'd run." The latter muttered. Gregson slumped. They were still keeping their voices down, and I was beginning to wonder why.
"Nobody would've thought it of him, Bradstreet. It was an honest mistake. Nobody's blaming you." Gregson tried to reassure the other Inspector.
Holmes had had enough talk. He headed for the front door. Gregson and Bradstreet were quick to follow.
Lestrade looked as if he were considering it. His normally sharp eyes followed the three men dully. I hesitated.
Again Lestrade flinched, and his attention was immediately on me. "Yes, Doctor?" He looked almost relieved at the delay, and I noticed his voice was also hushed.
I lowered my own voice. "I understand that Inspector Hopkins was witnessed committing murder, but I confess I don't understand why anyone thinks he would do such a thing."
Lestrade sighed wearily. "Hopkins had a sister." He explained. "She received Lewis' attentions for a while, but it turned out he was just trying to keep an eye on the doings of the Yard. We nearly caught him back then, but she happened to be with him at the time, and he used her as a hostage."
I was horrified. "The fiend! Did he-?"
Lestrade flinched yet again at my outburst. "He let her go, but took a knife to her face for the trouble. She was left broken hearted and scarred. Didn't even know that her gentle 'Leroy Fitzhugh' was the same Lewis we'd been hunting."
I struggled for something to say. "I can see why they said he had the motive to do it." I finally managed.
Lestrade uttered something unintelligible, and turned to look at the building our comrades had already entered. "They'll be missing us." He said, though he didn't sound much like he cared.
"Er-" Again I was hesitant. "Are you all right, Lestrade?"
He winced again. "Fine." He said with a groan. "Just fine." He started off towards the building, and after a moment, I followed.
Disclaimer: Sherlock Holmes and the boys do not belong to me.