A plain-clothes man, likely an Inspector, dropped the stack of papers he had been carrying as he collided with a younger man who was also not in uniform. Dark eyes did not meet the older man's as the smaller, younger fellow began apologizing and explaining that he had been in a hurry-he had a body to deal with. The two men began gathering the scattered papers and doing their best to quickly straighten them out.
They were watched by a young, fair haired, freshly promoted Inspector Gregson, who would have offered to help straighten out the mess had he not known better than to move from the bench on which he had been ordered to sit and wait for Inspector Lestrade, the man responsible for making sure Gregson was properly situated in his new position.
Gregson watched the first man retrieve his papers; the note that his companion slipped into his stack did not escape the new Inspector's notice, however smoothly the handoff had been completed.
The smaller man departed, some hidden energy keeping his pace quick and his movements brisk and focused in spite of the dark circles under his eyes and the wear on his clothing. He left the Yard, presumably to deal with a dead body somewhere. He was rather young for an Inspector, in Gregson's opinion, but then again, Gregson himself could be considered the same.
The older man, a man accustomed to laughing freely and less stress that he was currently under, stopped to 'straighten' his papers at a Constable's desk. He grumbled about the 'careless, insufferable upstart' who had allegedly ploughed into him as he read the note he had been left by the same.
A third man entered the stage, another Inspector, this one closer in age to the grumbling man and sporting a convincing casual air. He paused to lean on the Constable's desk and suggested the other man give the boy a chance.
He missed the rolled eyes he received in reply; he was busy eyeing the mysterious note. His companion grunted that he had work to do and moved on. His fellow conspirator also continued on his way.
"Poke your nose into the wrong man's business," a humorless voice buzzed in Gregson's ear, nearly startling him off the bench, "you may lose it." Two more men, neither in uniform, were seated on the bench now, one on each side of Gregson, and he was not sure how he had not seen them coming. Neither looked even remotely pleased by Gregson's presence, or by the fact that they had caught him spying on that odd trio.
"My apologies," Gregson said quickly, hoping he had not managed to land himself in serious trouble already. "I was told to wait here for Inspector Lestrade-"
The two intimidating characters exchanged a glance. "And just what do you want with the Inspector?" The man who seemed to be the spokesman of the two asked.
"I am Inspector Gregson." He explained, suddenly wary. "Just recently promoted, you see. I've been assigned to him for the week, to observe and hopefully get an idea of what will be expected of me. I had no intention of prying into anyone's affairs, I assure you."
The two men relaxed minutely. Their reaction was not entirely reassuring. They exchanged another glance, and the second man, who had been silent until now, offered Gregson a sealed envelope and an unsettling smile.
"The man who just left here, the small one." Gregson nodded to show he knew to whom the man was referring. "He's down at the docks. Take this to him."
Gregson hesitated. "Sir-"
"That's Inspector to you, Rookie." The other interrupted, annoyed. "Now run along." Something about the two men suggested Gregson not argue. Actually, nearly everything about them suggested as much.
Gregson ran along.
Upon reaching the docks, it was not difficult to find the dead body or, comparatively, the man Gregson had been sent after. Reaching him was another matter.
An audience of sorts had gathered, and Constables were trying to keep the crowd clear of corpse and Inspector. They were not having much luck.
Gregson plunged into the mass of bodies anyway, and carefully began easing his way through. When that failed he resorted to shoving and barking at people to move in his best Inspector voice, which was admittedly rather weak.
A Constable blocked his way; Gregson drew himself up to his not insubstantial height. "Inspector Gregson!" He snapped out the introduction. To his surprise, the Constable wasted no time in getting out of his way.
Gregson opened his mouth once more to call out to his quarry, and his mouth suddenly went dry as he caught sight of the Constable behind the other Inspector, armed with a blade and edging closer.
A hand on Gregson's shoulder distracted him from immediately calling a warning to the unaware Inspector.
"Don't mind him. Nothing but trouble, that one is." Someone whispered in his ear. "Just a nuisance that's rapidly becoming a liability. We take care of our own, down at the Yard. Side with him, and it's just the two of you."
Gregson wasn't entirely certain of that, but it mattered little to him any way. "And which side, sir," he asked the unidentified character behind him, careful to keep his voice low, "is the right side?" He knew the answer; the 'right' side generally did not attempt to assassinate its enemies.
"Behind you, Inspector!" He shouted. The Inspector turned and dropped to the ground as he dodged his would-be assailant's attack. He did not bother getting back up, but kicked his opponent's hand, scattering the blade and eliciting a howl of pain from the Constable.
"Idiot." Gregson heard the hiss before something hard struck him in the back of the head and he went down.
When he regained his senses, it was to discover calloused fingers checking for a pulse and intense dark eyes staring into his own.
"What did you think you were doing?" The man whose life he had saved demanded harshly. "You're lucky he didn't just kill you here so he wouldn't have to worry about you later." He glared at Gregson as he moved back to allow the other man to sit up.
"You're welcome." Gregson said in reply, irritated. "You may not have noticed, but that Constable was going to kill you." He made a note to ask why later.
The smaller man shrugged, unfazed. "Aren't you supposed to be waiting back at the Yard?" He wanted to know. "You don't need to be killed on your first day."
Gregson was almost certain he did not care for this man in the slightest. "I'm not about to stand by and watch someone murdered just because there might be potential danger in it for me if I get involved." He informed the man haughtily. "And I was sent to deliver this to you." He removed the envelope from his pocket and held it out.
The Inspector ran a hand through dark hair as he accepted the proffered envelope. Wordlessly he opened it, removed its contents, and read the enclosed letter.
Envelope and letter were shoved unceremoniously into the man's jacket pocket. "Well you're clean, at least." He grunted, getting to his feet. "Idealistic. Stubborn. We might be able to use you down at the Yard."
Gregson was not certain if he should be offended or if that had been meant as a good thing. He climbed to his feet as well. "Come on, then," the other Inspector said, "let's see what you make of this body."
It was not a request. Deciding that he definitely did not like the other man, Gregson followed him over to where the corpse lay.
The Inspector spent the rest of the day dragging Gregson around London. He followed irritably, fiercely resentful of whoever had first started the idea of the rookie being at the beck and call of those who had been around longer.
He wondered which would get him in more trouble, not meeting Inspector Lestrade or abandoning his current companion in the hopes that this Lestrade had not yet come seeking him and found him missing.
He also could not, in good conscience, desert this man who wandered so carelessly into some of the lowest and worst places in London with the apparent intention of getting his skull bashed in.
But some higher power seemed to be watching over the fool, and the Inspector he was following into these death traps, for no one attempted to injure, maim, or kill the two men.
By the time they returned to Scotland Yard, Gregson was wishing he would never have to see the other Inspector again.
Said Inspector, who Gregson had noticed was not actually much older than he himself, dragged him into the office belonging to one Inspector Lestrade without preamble.
Familiar faces awaited Gregson. "Are you mad?" The man, less his stack of papers, demanded.
Gregson's companion answered before he could even open his mouth. "We don't have time to coddle him. Someone tried to knife me again today. That's Inspector Adams." He added, addressing Gregson.
"How's your shoulder, by the way?" The other man involved in the passing of the note inquired and was waved off. "I'm Smith." He offered, and Gregson was suddenly aware that he was the odd man out in a room of five hardened Inspectors. "Your bench mates were West and Johnson."
West was older; old for an Inspector. His hair was mostly grey, and he was a tall, thin man. Something about him did not seem right to Gregson.
Johnson was worried, determined, and resisting the urge to pace. He was nonetheless one of the more intimidating people Gregson had met in his life, though how or why was something he could not identify at present.
That left just the small, dark haired, dark eyed Inspector, and Gregson had a sinking feeling he knew the man's name. "It would have been nice to know who I was trailing around London." He commented, not bothering with the 'sir.' Too many hours waiting for the man to get one of both of their skulls knocked in had eliminated any need he might earlier have felt to use the title.
Inspector Lestrade raised an eyebrow. "You figured it out just fine on your own." He pointed out. "I had other things on my mind."
Gregson bit back a less than socially appropriate response. "I take it you've decided I can be trusted." He said instead. "I don't suppose you would be so kind as to explain why a Constable would be trying to murder an Inspector while another Inspector looks on."
Gregson was not prepared for the appraising glance he received from the other Inspector, nor did he expect the man to invite him to come over for a drink after work.
He realized, as the other Inspectors filed out, that the invitation was all the answer he was going to receive for the time being.