A/N: Once again, I am staggered by the sheer number of people following this rarely updated, entirely non-romantic case fic. I had like forty reviews in two days for the last chapter, it was amazing!
As ever, my deepest gratitude goes out to everyone reading, alerting, favouriting and C2'ing this little story.
And, for once, it's not (much) later than I said it would be! (For which I have an excellent excuse in the form of my gorgeous new niece, who turned up slightly earlier than scheduled.)
Chapter 12: The Old Soldier
By the time Anderson got back from the car with his kit, Sherlock was just dusting himself off (well, as much as encrusted badger entrails can be dusted off) and champing at the bit to get inside the cab.
Keith's lip curled at the sight. Being that enthusiastic about searching a delivery vehicle for evidence of smuggling cannot be normal. Look at him, he's practically salivating. Its no wonder Umbrella Man's people have been monitoring the Freak; they're just waiting for him to finally snap and murder someone.
I wonder why they're letting their precious Doctor so near a head case like Holmes? Maybe they've got their own sweepstake going about how long he'll be able to stick it out in that biohazard they call a flat. Or maybe they're hoping Watson will take Holmes out for them… They did let him keep his gun, after all…
"Where has Donovan gone for those keys? Outer Mongolia?" Sherlock was demanding agitatedly of Lestrade.
"Just be patient and wait, Sherlock, for once in your life, yeah?" The DI replied in exasperation. "They've only been five minutes."
"Five minutes more for our murderer to get away, Lestrade; as usual, Scotland Yard's incompetence proves exactly why you lot can't be trusted with any halfway decent case…"
"Oi!" The older man protested. "Less of the incompetence, you, or I'll give you the boot before you can say deduction. We've got enough now to finish this up on our own, you know, thick as you seem to think we are."
"Oh, please." Sherlock replied scathingly. "Who are you going to rely on to do the brainwork? Anderson? You'd be here 'till Christmas; and you'd still have to call me in to spell the difficult words for him in the forensics report. 'The' is just so arduous for the intellectually challenged."
"I am in hearing range, you know, Freak," Keith bit out, trying hard to keep a lid on his temper.
"Well done, Anderson; at least one fragment of your deplorably undersized brain appears to be at least nominally functional. I had wondered."
"All right, enough handbags, Sherlock," John said irritatedly, his voice firm without having to be raised. "Just calm down a minute, will you?"
The great genius' forehead creased in confusion for a moment. "Handbags? What do women's accessories have to do with anything?"
"It's just an expression…" John began; and then promptly gave up. "Oh, never mind. Anderson, I don't suppose you've got a jemmy in there, have you?" He asked, nodding towards the bulky Forensics kit.
Sherlock brightened up, turning a smile on the unassuming doctor that made Keith's skin crawl. That is the single most disturbing expression I have ever seen on a human face; assuming Sherlock Holmes actually counts as human. The Freak looks like he wants to take Watson apart to find out how he works. I wouldn't be surprised if he got his magnifier out again, like he would with a corpse… and what's worse, Watson would probably let him… Oh, God; now that's a mental image I did not need…
"You are a positive cornucopia of useful skills, John," The Consulting Detective declared approvingly. "Doctor, soldier and car thief?"
"I've never stolen so much as a spare field dressing in my life, thank you very much, Sherlock," Watson replied tartly. "No, I picked up the knack on my first desert tour. The sand played merry hell with the doors on the Land Rovers before the mechanics managed to adapt them; we all had to learn how to get 'em open with a crowbar before we had to do it under fire. Came in handy a few times when I was trying to treat people who'd got trapped in damaged vehicles."
"Well, it's not going to come in handy here," Lestrade replied firmly. "The search warrant hasn't been signed off yet; if we force entry into that lorry without the owner's permission, any evidence we find will be inadmissible in court."
Sherlock snorted. "We? Feeling optimistic, Lestrade? You lot could barely find your own building without that big revolving triangle outside. And courts don't interest me."
"Yes, I'd noticed. Which is why you managed to end up in the cells for contempt within ten minutes, the one and only time I let you within a mile of a judge."
"Eight and a half; and judges are idiots."
"Lucky for us, then, Sherlock," John observed mildly. He jerked his head, indicating the direction from which Donovan and the pale and clammy Mr Ryder were approaching.
"Excellent." The lanky detective darted forward to snatch the keys from Ryder's slightly shaky hand and had scrambled up the steps and inside within seconds, magnifier reappearing in his hand with almost preternatural speed. He paused for a moment to breathe in deeply; and then buried his face in the driver's seat cushion and inhaled again. Anderson winced. Urgh; Eau Du Sweaty Lorry Driver's Arse. That cannot be even remotely sanitary.
Sherlock, with his customary contrariness, looked delighted. "Well, Mr Ryder, my compliments to your valets. They are certainly extremely through," he said gleefully.
"Um, thank you?" Ryder managed, his voice rising hopefully.
Sherlock grabbed the air-freshener that dangled from the rear-view mirror and sniffed it. "Magic Mint; newly installed, but still not quite enough to disguise the fact that every inch of upholstery in this lorry has been impregnated with peppermint oil to deter sniffer dogs. A dog's sense of smell is easily a million times more sensitive than a human's; one whiff of a powerful concentrated scent like pure peppermint oil is like setting off a flash bang grenade in their nose. Not even the best scent dogs could make out much past that; and even if they did show some unusual interest, the handlers would put it down to the meat cargo. Brilliant."
The businessman's face fell from cautious optimism to utter misery faster than a brick in a swimming pool, looking even more woebegone next to Sherlock's obvious delight.
Look at him, like a kid in a sweet shop, thought Keith bitterly. Bet he was a terrifying child; assuming he wasn't grown in a lab somewhere.
Why the hell does the Freak think the smell of everything is so important, anyway? It's not as if it's evidence you can hand over to the CPS and say, oh, he's definitely guilty, he smelled like a toothpaste factory. Maybe there's a bloodhound somewhere in the Holmes family tree. It would explain the long face and the obsession with chasing things…
Sherlock's lanky frame managed to contort itself enough for him to examine the footwells and under the seats with his magnifier; although it did at one point require him to balance on his head with his feet braced against inside of the windscreen.
"Olympic gymnast in a previous life, Sherlock?" Asked Donovan, mockingly.
"Not all of us spend all our free time on our knees, Sally," he replied absentmindedly, sticking one improbably long leg out of the door in order to right himself.
Donovan's expression turned murderous. The homicidal Homicide detective reached out one deceptively delicate hand and yanked hard on Sherlock's flailing ankle, causing him to yelp and overbalance into a tangle of excessive elbows on the floor of the cab.
"Sergeant Donovan!" Lestrade rebuked harshly.
"You can't possibly say he didn't deserve it, Sir," she replied, dark satisfaction in every syllable.
Keith shot her a look that might have been scorching if not for the colourful bruising and plaster stuck across his face. Oh, God; she's never looked better… When she's angry, Sally Donovan may well be the most desirable woman who ever lived…
An odd sort of groaning noise emanated from the lorry.
"Sherlock?" Watson asked in concern, hobbling as close as he could to the door and peering in to check on his flatmate. "Are you all right? Did you hit your head?"
"Oh, Sally; well done," Sherlock replied, somewhat muffled but almost rapturous. "You've just made your very first genuinely helpful contribution to a case."
Always reckoned Holmes as a bit of a masochist, thought Anderson sneeringly. Being knocked arse over face by Sally grabbing his ankle is probably the most action he's seen in years. Unless that mental image of him and Watson I'm trying desperately to repress actually happened.
Sherlock's uncharacteristic gratitude certainly seemed to make Watson's doctorly concern go up a notch or two. He hefted his walking stick in his good hand and hooked the handle around the doorsill to help him lever himself up the steep steps into the cab.
Keith felt a flare of panic as the damaged doctor wobbled precariously, scurrying forward to steady him before he could fall and worsen his injuries. "Careful!" He bit out, the memory of Umbrella Man's threats making his voice sharp with barely disguised terror.
"Oh… um, thanks, Anderson," John responded, sounding distinctly confused by (and slightly suspicious of) his concern. The doctor made it up into the driver's seat just as Sherlock managed to disentangle his limbs enough to scramble up from the floor.
"I can't believe I didn't see it earlier," the Consulting Detective exclaimed excitedly. "The one place normal, boring people never think to look!"
"What?" The doctor asked in confusion. "Are you sure you didn't hit your head?"
"John, shut up and pay attention," he demanded impatiently. "Look at the upholstery on the ceiling. What do you notice about it?"
Watson had to crane his neck awkwardly to accommodate his damaged shoulder, but managed to stare obediently at the utterly unremarkable greyish velour directly above him. "Um… Is it taupé?" He ventured.
"Not far off, actually, but not what I meant. Observe; how far from the top of your head would you say it is?"
"Oh, um, I dunno, eight or nine inches, maybe?"
"And the roof of the lorry? How far above you is that?"
"Depends how thick the steel is."
"Ten inches of steel? Because the roof of this lorry is a good eighteen inches above your head. The dimensions from outside to inside don't match up."
"Well, there could be, I don't know, wires or something up there…"
"That is what I assumed when I first started to examine the evidence; but there aren't any wires, are there, Mr Ryder?"
"I… um… uh… oh, God…" The beleaguered businessman dropped his head into his hands.
Sherlock smirked in satisfaction. "No; instead, there is a patch of discoloured fabric, right up here in the corner behind the driver's head, as if someone has been touching this particular area on a regular basis and leaving behind dirt and grease from their fingers. If Sally hadn't overbalanced me, even I might have taken a while to observe it."
"So there's a grubby patch on the ceiling; so what?" Keith drawled, rolling his eyes.
"So, Anderson, there must be a reason why people have been dirtying it. John, move." The doctor and the detective managed, with difficulty, to swap places in a rather… friendly… manoeuvre that resulted in Sherlock kneeling up on the driver's seat while John shuffled across to the passenger side.
"Watch the shoulder," was Watson's only protest against the thorough invasion of his personal space.
The only reason a bloke would not object to another bloke crawling all over him like that is if they were shagging each other rotten on a regular basis. Being in the army must've made Watson desperate; there's no other possible excuse for shacking up with a six-foot psychopathic cokehead with all the charm, tact and social graces of an over-caffeinated rhinoceros.
On second thoughts, that may be overly harsh on the rhino…
"What d'you see?" John asked, as his eccentric flatmate examined the ceiling carefully with his magnifier.
"There's a seam here, John, that's why this area has been so heavily handled. And the surface underneath has been disturbed; the fibres are all separated… sort of fuzzy, like… Oh. Oh!"
Here it comes; another one of Holmes's bloody eureka moments. And we're all expected to be so impressed…
"Thank you, George de Mestral," Sherlock murmured appreciatively.
"Who?" Demanded Lestrade. "Don't tell me you already know who did it…"
"Don't be an idiot, Lestrade; George de Mestral was the French engineer who invented…" Sherlock reached up to grasp the near-invisible seam in the velour and tugged sharply, producing a harsh ripping sound. "The miracle of Velcro."
"Velcro was invented by NASA, Freak," Anderson corrected smartly, delighted to get one over on Holmes for once. "Everyone knows that.
"Everyone is wrong, as per usual," Sherlock replied distractedly, still engrossed by his discovery. "Oh, brilliant! Whoever came up with this, I want to shake him by the hand; the man is a genius!"
"What? What is it?" John asked.
Sherlock, his face alight with interest, yanked again, causing yet more upholstery to peel free. "The Velcro is here to conceal the false ceiling in the cab, John! There's an airtight container up here; a good eight inches of space across the whole roof to fill with smuggled cargo."
Anderson peered in the doorway and craned his neck to see what Holmes was talking about. Sherlock had pulled away the whole sheet of velour from the back of the cab, so it now dangled in front of the windscreen like a curtain. The roof was indeed completely covered by a translucent plastic box that fit into the space like it had been moulded there. In the centre was a hatch about a foot square, sunk into the surrounding plastic so the lid sat flush with the container. Several long strips of Velcro had been glued to the surface to make the plastic adhere to the velour covering, the inner surface of which was covered with corresponding strips.
Bloody hell; it's a giant sticky lunchbox. And that's really all someone needed to invent to get drugs and guns through customs?
"Aromatherapy oil, Tupperware and Velcro?" The doctor remarked, inadvertently voicing Keith's thoughts. "I'd be more tempted to suspect someone's mum than a brilliant criminal mastermind, if that's all it takes to turn an ordinary lorry into a smuggling operation."
"Ah, but it's such a thoroughly elegant solution, John; minimal engineering, simple to install or remove, well above the detection dogs' noses and the airtight seal and peppermint oil prevent them smelling the cargo."
Sherlock reached up and unclipped the opening of the plastic container, releasing a soft hiss of air as the seal was broken. He handed the lid down to John and stuck his whole head up through the gap.
"Aha," he said, his gleeful but slightly disappointed tones muffled by the plastic. "Someone's been clumsy; and I was so impressed, too. Apparently you just can't get really goodsmugglers these days. Anderson! Evidence jar, quickly!"
"All right, all right; keep your hair on," Keith grumbled, retreating to rummage through his kit.
Sherlock retracted his head from the hole in order to fit one arm in, gloved fingertips carefully feeling their way to the scrap of evidence he'd seen by memory alone. When he retracted them, there was a smudge of reddish material clinging to the latex.
Anderson stepped up into the cab to hand over the evidence jar and found Sherlock sniffing his own fingers, rubbing them carefully together to test the texture of the substance he'd collected with a blissful expression on his usually harsh features.
Keith rolled his eyes. "D'you want this jar now, or should I give you and the evidence some alone time first?" He didn't even get so much as a dirty look in response.
"What is it, Sherlock?" John asked interestedly. "Any ideas?"
"Just one," the consulting detective replied, in satisfaction.
"One? Is that all?" Anderson sneered. "I can think of half a dozen off the top of my head."
"Yes, well, Anderson; that's just the largest of the many differences between you and I."
"Oh? And what's that?"
"I am right," Sherlock declared. Keith bristled; but before he could protest, the taller man cut across him. "Do you know exactly what it is that you are so cleverly smuggling across the continent, Mr Ryder?"
"I've never asked," Ryder replied miserably. "Some of the drivers like to try and guess what's in their packages; mostly they go for drugs, or diamonds, or Nazi gold. I've never joined in; I don't want to know."
"And maybe they were right, on previous trips. But Dave Agini's last special delivery was about, oh, ten, maybe fifteen pounds of Semtex," Sherlock announced with relish. "Military grade high explosives, the terrorist's weapon of choice. Tell me, Detective Inspector, what is the penalty for supplying terrorists with the means to blow up half of London these days?"
The three police officers simply stared at him with varying degrees of shock, horror and bewilderment. Fifteen pounds of Semtex… bloody hell, the damage that could do; 7/7 all over again… But how can Sherlock possibly know that? Unless he really is part bloodhound, there is absolutely no way he can positively identify a smudge on his gloves as a powerful explosive… Or, of course, if he's somehow involved…
"Unbelievable," said John, his voice warm with admiration. Sherlock smirked in response.
Ryder, in contrast, turned greyer than a corpse and fainted.
Anderson was still staring at the unconscious man in surprise when orders started to be barked at them from a most unexpected source.
"Right; Lestrade, call the bomb squad; Donovan, you're the fastest, run inside and grab a blanket, bottle of water, and something sugary out of the vending machine; Sherlock, help me down, and Anderson, don't let me fall on my face," Watson snapped out, sharply as any drill sergeant.
Even more surprisingly, all of them, including Sherlock, obeyed without question.
Bloody hell, Keith thought, even as he steadied John while he stepped down to the tarmac. Even if I weren't being blackmailed to keep Watson from harm under pain of bankrupcy, divorce and castration, I'd have done exactly what he said. That's a hell of a trick, getting even Holmes to follow orders without so much as shouting.
Watson knelt beside his patient with a wince and began examining him deftly with his good right hand. Sherlock leapt elegantly down after him to watch, clearly in 'creepy stalker observation' mode again.
"John?" He asked.
"No evidence to suggest he's diabetic, pulse is fast but regular and starting to come down, so not a cardiac event. Could possibly be epilepsy, but considering the shock you just gave him, I'm going to call it a plain old fashioned vasovagal syncope, unless any other symptoms develop. Should be fine in ten minutes or so; but help me get him into the recovery position in case he throws up."
"Vaso – what?" Anderson asked. "Does he need an ambulance?"
"Shouldn't think so; didn't hit his head. He's just fainted."
"Well, why didn't you just say that then?"
"He did," Sherlock shot back, almost defensively. "Syncope is the correct medical term for fainting; as you would know, if you had two brain cells to rub together."
"Oh, well, excuse me for not having the entire Oxford Medical Dictionary memorised…" Anderson gave up the sarcasm to yelp in terror as John wobbled precariously on his bad leg, the limb almost giving way beneath him. Keith reached down to grab his good shoulder before the doctor could fall.
"Are you all right?" He demanded, several octaves higher than normal.
"Um, yeah, fine, thanks," John replied, startled by his reaction.
"You're very solicitous of John's health all of a sudden, Anderson," Sherlock said suspiciously. "Ah… of course. He's got to you, hasn't he? Bribe or blackmail?"
"I… I don't know what you're talking about," he squeaked.
"Blackmail, then; I'm certain the evidence was more than sufficient, and the British Government does so like to be efficient," the consultant told him. "It saves him from having to leave his cozy office and actually doing anything."
John scrubbed an embarrassed hand across his face. "Oh, God. Anderson, please don't tell me you were abducted and lectured about yesterday by a posh, smarmy git who knew your whole life story and needs to be surgically detached from his umbrella."
Anderson's jaw dropped. "You know about him?" He gasped.
"Funnily enough, kidnappings tend to stick in my memory, yes. Look, Anderson, whatever he said, just tell him to stick it up his arse. I'll have a word, get him to back off a bit."
"You can do that? But he said… it was his job to… you know, look after you…"
"Me?" John looked amazed. "Bloody hell; I didn't think I even registered on his radar apart from as a convenient babysitter."
"Don't be flattered, John; Mycroft's control issues are older than I am," Sherlock told him, offering a hand to help his friend back to his feet.
"Now that I can believe." The doctor's brow furrowed for a moment, regarding his flatmate suspiciously even as he accepted the help and leaned heavily on his walking stick to stand upright. "Hang on… You didn't…"
"Oh, please." Sherlock rolled his eyes. "You don't honestly think that I would need to resort to asking Mycroft for help to blackmail Anderson, do you?"
"Not need, no," John replied thoughtfully, giving his flatmate the most searching look his homely features could manage. "But I wouldn't put it past you to do it for exactly that reason. Covering your tracks?"
Sherlock tilted his head, a smirk twitching at his lips. "You know, John, for you, that's actually quite perceptive," he said, sounding almost… impressed. "Completely wrong, of course, but if communicating with the Walrus were not so utterly distasteful to me as to approach physical pain, that would not be a bad deduction."
"The Walrus?" Anderson ventured, in confusion. "What, is that, like, a codename, or something?"
"Hardly," Sherlock drawled. "He once embarked on a thoroughly ill advised attempt to grow a moustache."
"A moustache? Mycroft? Mr I'm-So-Obsessive-Compulsive-I-Have-The-Creases-Starched-And-Pressed-Into-The-Brolly-Every-Morning-Mycroft?"
"The very same," Sherlock replied, grinning broadly at the description. "I've never laughed so much in my life. Unfortunately, he managed to seize and destroy all photographic evidence; a loss for the nation, I've always thought."
"How awful was it?"
"It was… oddly ginger."
John considered this image for a moment. "I think I'd pay money to see that."
"Oh, believe me, it was worth every penny," Sherlock replied with a grin.
Just then, Ryder twitched from his prone position, whimpered, and threw up on Keith's shoes just in time for Sally to reappear with the blanket and the pretty secretary in tow.
Urgh… oh, God, it's in my socks… and it's chunky… and warm…
"Bad luck, Anderson," said John cheerfully.
Did the universe always hate me, or is it just this bloody case?
Yes, I do greatly dislike Anderson; how could you tell?
"Handbags at dawn" – a minor conflict blown out of proportion, for those readers not familiar with the phrase. Comes from the old stereotypes of women fighting by hitting each other with their handbags and starting duels at dawn to settle disputes.
Please, someone out there that is better at either drawing or PhotoShop than I am – Pic of Moustache Mycroft? Pretty please? Bonus points for a little twiddly Poirot-style number. Or the one off the Go Compare man.