Um... Hi! (Ducks flying fruit and chorus of people shouting 'where the hell have you been?')
Err, yeah, bit of a hiatus, real life got a bit hectic there for a while, and then I wasn't really in the mood to write about murder, what with the multiple funerals and all. Sorry.
Anyway, back now, so on with the story...
Chapter 13: Very Good
Say what you like about John Watson, Lestrade thought wryly, torn between amusement and an even stronger than usual urge to arrest Sherlock for having entirely too much fun at a crime scene. He does have a bit of a way with words.
The Doctor had helped his patient roll away from the pool of sick and was once again crouching by Ryder's side, administering water and a near-continuous soothing murmur to coax the man gently back to consciousness while keeping a sharp eye on his health.
Sherlock, meanwhile, wasn't even bothering to be subtle about the fact that he was snapping multiple pictures of Anderson's messy plight on his phone. He couldn't look happier if it was a quintuple axe murder in the front window of Hamley's half an hour before closing on Christmas Eve without a single eye witness.
The luckless Forensics officer, wearing an expression somewhere between humiliated, repulsed and homicidal, took one large, exaggerated step backwards out of the puddle and visibly cringed at the wet, sucking squelch as he put his weight back on his ruined shoes.
Probably crushed some of the chunks between his toes… happened to me a few times on a Friday night when I was still walking a beat. The general public does not appreciate just what we coppers go through to maintain law and order in this city. Especially when it happens at the start of an eight hour shift so it has time to cool and get crusty round the edges before you can properly wash it off…
Donovan, with her typical tact and diplomacy, practically snarled, "Grow up, Freak!" while she retrieved gloves and a big evidence bag out of the forensics kit for Anderson to deposit the remains of what had once been expensive footwear.
If Sherlock smirks any harder, that receding chin of his is going to drop right off.
"Bit on the not good side, Sherlock," John advised him quietly, while Ryder sipped weakly at the water bottle. "Vomit isn't that funny."
"Oh, don't be so doctorish, John," his friend replied flippantly, seemingly incapable of true annoyance for the moment. "After all, if anyone exists to serve as a sick bag for arrestees on a crime scene, who better than Anderson? It's not like he's any good at his actual job."
"At least some of us have an actual job, for an actual wage, instead of letting Daddy's money pay for everything and chasing panda cars for fun!" Keith retorted, alarmingly purple blotches beginning to form on the unbruised sections of his face. "So unless you want a puke-filled size ten to your oversized nose, I suggest you shut it!" He waved a sicky shoe threateningly in his latex-gloved hand.
"Please; the day I can't dodge a missile thrown by you is the day I shoot myself in the head…"
"And that's supposed to be a deterrent?"Anderson snapped, drawing back his arm to throw.
"Oi!" Lestrade swiftly intervened. "No throwing things at crime scenes, you two! Especially not things likely to drip puke on evidence. Or me."
"I'm not throwing anything," Sherlock replied childishly.
"No, but you are presenting an irresistible target," John informed him briskly. "Come on then, tell me how you worked out that lorry was smuggling Semtex, when not even Ryder knew."
"Couldn't be anything else," Sherlock replied smugly. "The wrapping must have split on one of the packages in transit, so when they were unloaded, traces of the contents were left behind inside the box. The reddish brown colour eliminates most nitrogen-based explosives, which leaves Semtex as the most likely candidate."
Keith looked up from peeling a saturated sock loose between thumb and forefinger, even through a double layer of latex gloves. "It could be anything!" He snarled. "Blood, fruit, rust…"
"And yet again, Anderson, you conclusively prove the continued presence of Neanderthal DNA in the modern human population," Sherlock announced derisively. "Have you even looked at the traces? The texture is too smooth and clay-like to be rust, and it hasn't oxidised or flaked like blood would have in the seventy two hours or so since the lorry was unloaded. Fruit would give off a smell, sweetness if fresh or decay if old, but this is completely scentless."
"Scentless?" John piped up. "Semtex smells of almonds."
"How in the hell d'you know what Semtex smells like?" Sally demanded.
"Even army doctors have to be trained to recognise IEDs," Watson replied mildly. "The manufacturers are legally required to mix some kind of perfumed chemical into all plastic explosives so sniffer dogs can detect them; and whatever they use smells like almonds. Put me off marzipan for life."
Sherlock grinned delightedly at John. "Absolutely correct. Since 1990, all batches of Semtex produced in the licensed factory in the Czech Republic have been mixed with detection taggants, most commonly p-mononitrotoluene; which does indeed smell similar to almonds. This sample of Semtex, however, does not, which means…?"
"It… was made before 1990?" The doctor hazarded.
"Possibly; but the shelf life of Semtex is usually only about five to ten years, depending on storage conditions."
"Then… you think it's a DIY version, not from the factory?"
"Well done, John!" Sherlock exclaimed delightedly. "To determine the answer for certain will require some reasonably stringent testing by a competent chemist…" he shot a glare at Anderson. "But that can wait for now. We have an assassin to catch."
"Wait, assassin?" Lestrade asked, trying to follow Sherlock's train of thought. "What assassin?"
"The assassin hired by Mr Ryder's employers to poison Dave Agini, obviously, before he could expose their very profitable operation. Honestly, Lestrade, haven't you been listening? I suppose I should be accustomed to your complete lack of anything even remotely resembling intelligence by now, but..."
Greg opened his mouth to protest, but the doctor beat him to it.
"Yes, we know, all us mere mortals should bow down and worship at the altar of your vastly superior intellect," John cut his flatmate off, not without a touch of wry fondness. "Give me a hand helping Mr Ryder up, would you?"
Sherlock, unbelievably, actually stopped mid insult, completely derailed by the unexpected compliment. Blimey; is that really all Sherlock needs to head off one of his ten minute monologues on the stupidity of the entire human population other than him? Just someone agreeing that he's clever, even as flippantly as that? Bloody hell; how did John manage to work that out in a couple of weeks when I haven't managed it in five sodding years? I've probably wasted a week of my life just listening to Sherlock berate me when I could've patted him on the head, said 'oo's a clever boy den?' and got a proper explanation in a quarter of the time.
The mollified Consulting Detective was actually preening slightly at the praise, his attention redirected to his crouching flatmate. "What? Why?"
"Because we need to get him inside and comfortable before he can start answering the shed-load of questions you probably have for him," John replied sensibly. "And I'm not exactly at full strength at the moment."
"Oh, I don't think that's necessary. Here will do." Sherlock crouched in front of the pale and clammy criminal, gaining eye contact before he began his interrogation. "Who is your employer? You're not nearly clever enough to think all this up on your own; who is it? Tell me!"
The already grey and shaky Mr Ryder, now sitting propped up against John's least injured side, swayed alarmingly as he sputtered in response.
"No, Sherlock." If John's voice had been commanding in Doctor mode, now it was the slamming of steel doors on a bank vault. Lestrade was left in no doubt that he was looking at Captain Watson, RAMC.
"No?" The Consulting Detective questioned, faintly nonplussed. "What do you mean 'no'?"
"I mean that I will not allow you to interrogate any patient of mine until I am satisfied that they are fit to answer you," Watson replied, spine straight as a ruler despite his awkward, half-sitting position as he glared up at his lanky flatmate.
Bloody hell, he's really going to try ordering Sherlock Holmes to be patient while he's on a case. It's like watching a spaniel trying to stare down a wolf; you know the poor sod's going to be torn apart, but you have to admire his balls for trying.
Sherlock's eyes narrowed, staring at the shorter man down the full length of his nose. "Allow? You won't allow it?" He repeated, public school arrogance dripping from every word. "I may be permitting you to tag along in my investigations, Doctor, but do not even for one moment think that entitles you to tell me how to carry them out. Don't get delusions of grandeur; you may be slightly less dense than the vast majority of the population, but you're still an idiot. You are here at my discretion; and if I decide you are in my way, I can and will have you removed."
Ouch. Wolf one, spaniel nil. Give it up, John, you've made your point; not your fault he's medically incapable of listening.
John blinked rapidly, but was otherwise outwardly unmoved. "Well, that is… that's true, isn't it," He replied, in his normal mild tones. "As your flatmate, I have no authority whatsoever on a crime scene, or over your work."
Sherlock relaxed slightly. "Good, just so long as that's clear…"
"Detective Inspector Lestrade," John cut him off loudly and firmly, without taking his eyes off Sherlock's. "As Mr Ryder's attending physician, you can consider this my official notice that he is not presently fit for questioning following his unexpected loss of consciousness and I will sign any paperwork you want to produce to that effect."
Well, well. The spaniel just turned out to be a Rottweiler in disguise. And he remembered that I'm actually the one in charge around here, no matter how often Sherlock likes to pretend otherwise. I am impressed; although Sherlock clearly isn't, considering he's looking at John like he told on him to Mummy.
"No paperwork necessary, Doctor," Greg answered with a grin. "It's not like he's going anywhere."
"What?" Sherlock blurted, turning his wounded expression on the DI now. Greg would almost have believed it, if he weren't so intimately familiar with Sherlock's formidable skills at projecting faked emotions to get his own way. "Don't be stupid, Lestrade; John's a retired surgeon, he can't sign sick notes for criminals…"
"Watch me," Watson replied assertively. "I'm a doctor treating a patient; doesn't matter if we're in Bart's A&E or a cold car park in Tilbury. He's fit to be questioned when I say so and not before."
"I'd bow to Doctor Watson's superior medical knowledge if I were you, Sherlock," Lestrade added, trying not to sound too amused and not entirely succeeding. "I'm told he's very good. Besides, I'm not sure Mr Ryder here could tell us what he had for breakfast coherently at the moment."
"Bacon baguette and a double espresso, judging from the state of Anderson's shoes," Sherlock snapped back. "I don't need coherent, Inspector, all I need is a name."
"Then you'll have to find something to amuse yourself with for half an hour 'till John's finished," Greg replied, unimpressed. "I'm certain you can manage, clever bloke like you…"
In typical drama queen fashion, Sherlock shot him a glare and flounced off, coat flapping around his knees. Ah. Apparently, that trick only works when it's coming from John. Bugger.
In the end, Lestrade and Sally between them had to help the weak and shaky Mr Ryder back to his office, closely watched by John, clearly still in Doctor mode. The miserable Anderson had to remain with the evidence vehicle to maintain the chain of custody, although he was mostly focussed on attempting to wash off his now bare feet with the remains of Ryder's water bottle while avoiding standing on anything sharp.
Watson, with his personal brand of firm but reasonable determination Greg imagined the Army were sorely missing, settled his patient into his office chair with the blanket round his shoulders, sent the secretary to make him a cup of hot sweet tea and refused point blank to allow Sherlock anywhere near until he pronounced himself satisfied that the man was recovered from his fainting fit.
The Consulting Detective spent the time pacing impatiently just outside the building, stabbing angrily at his phone with one hand as the other ruffled agitatedly through his curls in frustration. So much so, in fact, that when John finally texted him to come in after twenty five minutes, Sherlock practically exploded through the office door and nearly sent his intended victim into a relapse.
"Who was it?" He demanded, all but vibrating with impatience as he slammed his palms flat on the desktop, making even Lestrade jump. "Tell me, who approached you?"
"Sherlock," the Detective Inspector admonished exasperatedly. "Mr Ryder, can you tell us how long the smuggling has been going on?"
"Oh, god… oh, Jesus Christ…," The man stuttered, dropping his flushed forehead into shaking hands. "It wasn't my idea, any of it, I swear it wasn't."
"Of course it wasn't," Sherlock agreed, "you're quite clearly an idiot. So, who?"
"It all started a couple of years ago, when the recession first kicked in. We were going under, losing contracts hand over fist; near enough everyone we worked for was going bust and there were so many debts… I had to lay off good, loyal staff left, right and centre. We lost drivers, mechanics, half the warehouse boys, all the cleaners; even the tea girl."
"And then I got a phone call, just before I was going to call in the insolvency lawyers. An investment group called Jupiter Integrated Management wanted to buy forty nine percent of the company, for well over the market value. I'd still have control of the day to day running of the business, keep it in the family's hands, but with a massive cash injection… It was like a gift from above, the answer to all my problems."
"But in return, they wanted you to smuggle for them," John interjected calmly.
"They said they owned a lot of small businesses that they wanted to get special rates on low-volume deliveries. I knew it was too good to be true, but how could I say no? The only other option was to file for bankruptcy and let five generation's work go down the plughole. Anyway, there wasn't anything on paper that would flag up in an audit; it was just that on those deliveries, the driver would be asked to make a short detour, or stop at a certain services or lay-by at a certain time to take something… extra. That's why only my most trusted drivers got those jobs…"
"Like David Agini," Lestrade prompted.
"Yeah, like Dave. Bloody good driver; and he wasn't fussy about why he got a bonus for picking up something that might be… a bit dodgy."
Sherlock somehow managed to snort with elegance. "Yes, I'm certain wife-beating cancer-riddled alcoholics make ideal employees in the haulage business," he said derisively. "Right up until the point when Agini threatened to blow the whistle on your investors, I imagine?"
"It... It was last week, just before he went out on the Spanish job. Dave turned up in my office and said he wanted a million quid by the time he got back or he was going to the police. I tried to reason with him, but he said he'd never live long enough to see the inside of a cell if he didn't have the cash to buy a new pair of lungs from some dodgy clinic in Brazil."
"So, you picked up the phone to your masters and they promised to take care of it?"
"Not the phone; never spoke to anyone directly after that first call. Everything was arranged by email; I emailed back to ask what I should do… The reply said they were going to pay Dave off; called it 'health insurance' and said I should concentrate on running the legit side of the firm. As far as I knew, that was that. I swear, I didn't know they were going to kill him! I would never have got involved in anything like that; I just wanted to save my business!"
"And I'm certain once the Fraud squad have spent six months picking through every last invoice, they'll agree you've done a marvellous job," Sherlock drawled. "Who did the installation of the roof compartments?"
"Jupiter sent their own people. The paperwork's all in the files as a refit of all the vehicles."
"And the peppermint oil? That would need to be refreshed fairly regularly as the smell faded, who did that?"
"By the time I signed the deal, I'd had to let all non-essential staff go. Jupiter lined me up with some outside contractors to fill the gaps. Accountants, administrative staff, caterers, and…"
"Valets," Sherlock declared triumphantly. "Brilliant. They refreshed the peppermint oil while they cleaned the lorries and no one was any the wiser."
"Their girls are bloody good cleaners, I know that. They do the office space and the workshops too; ten times better than the old lot."
Anderson knocked and opened the office door. "Sorry to interrupt, Sir, but the recovery vehicle's arrived and every uniform within a ten mile radius has been called in to secure the site..."
"Right," Lestrade replied. "Donovan, go and get things organised; I don't want a single vehicle leaving this site..."
"Oh, God, no..." The sheer horror in Ryder's voice immediately drew all eyes to the small man.
"That's what I think every time I see Anderson," Sherlock remarked. "Maybe you're not quite as stupid as I thought..."
"Bozo the clown..." Ryder continued, terrified. "Oh, God, please, not the... balloon animals..."
Clown? Well... If I squint a bit... That bruising on Anderson's face is getting very colourful... And the crime scene cleanshoes he's layered on to protect his feet are very long and pointy... He does look sort of like the most pathetic circus clown in history... Especially with that expression on his face...
John limped swiftly around the desk to block Ryder's view of Anderson, reaching out to take his pulse and applying his inner wrist to the man's forehead to assess his temperature.
"Lestrade, call an ambulance, now," he said authoritatively.
Greg had his phone in hand and halfway to his ear before he remembered to ask. "What? Why?"
"Anticholergic toxidrome?" Sherlock answered for him, looking to John for confirmation.
The doctor nodded briskly, still focussed on his patient. "Looks like it."
"How long from ingestion to symptoms manifesting?" Sherlock barked.
"Half an hour? At the very most." John glanced up just in time to see Sherlock's eyes widen before he was gone in a swirl of coat, shoving past Anderson in the doorway and legging it towards the reception desk.
"Hey!" The luckless Forensics officer protested as he caught himself on the door frame. "What's got his knickers in a twist this time?"
"Ryder said his smuggling bosses supplied his administrative staff. Presumably, including the secretary who made that tea I just prescribed," John replied grimly. "She must have dosed it."
"Oh, God..." Anderson managed. "The redhead? She just rolled out a big tea urn and loads of biscuits to all the uniforms outside..."
"Jesus Christ!" Exclaimed Lestrade, already charging outside with Donovan at his heels. Fifty uniforms standing around in a lorry park on a freezing cold day presented with free hot drinks and biscuits? We should count ourselves lucky if there's crumbs left by the time we get to them!
The last thing he heard as he left the room was Watson calling after him. "We're going to need a lot more than one ambulance! And find me somewhere I can use for triage!"
You think you've got problems, Doctor, Greg thought grimly. I've got to get between members of Her Majesty's Constabulary and their tea. It had bloody well better turn out to be poisoned, or the union are going to crucify me...
Anyone worked out the acronym of Jupiter Integrated Management yet? Yes? Good. I think you can all see where this is going, although I plan to slot it into cannon just prior to The Blind Banker so the man himself won't actually be making an appearance. Probably.
Also, for non-UK readers, the thing about the British and tea? True. Frighteningly so. We drink 60 billion cups a year between us, hence why we also get through so much milk. (Contrary to Hollywood opinion, almost nobody drinks Earl Grey. PG Tips, Tetley, Twinings, or Yorkshire Tea, absolutely.)
Let me know what you thought...