Sherlock put down his mobile and groaned. The first promise of an interesting case for three weeks, and he would have given a good deal not to go, as he was fighting the early stages of 'flu, brought home from work by John.
His flatmate, his doctor's immunity no doubt hardened to mere pathogens, had sneezed, wheezed and snuffled slightly for four days, spending one of them in bed and one on the sofa, and then been perfectly well again. Sherlock, succumbing three days later, wasn't used to other people's nasty viruses, and he had the feeling he might be in for the long haul. However, effort though it was, he wouldn't be defeated by a paltry microbe, especially not if it was, as John suspected, the embarrassingly named swine flu.
He swung his long legs off the sofa, and sat up. The movement brought on a paroxysm of coughing, then sneezing. He stifled it in yet another tissue, and morosely inspected the contents. Ugh. Purulent, fluorescent green. Probably indicated bacterial superinfection. Perhaps he should have taken better care of himself. Ah well, plenty of time for that, when the case was finished.
He struggled to his feet, battling a wave of dizziness, and staggered towards the door. John appeared from the kitchen, and barred his way.
"Where are you going?"
"Lestrade. Body; some unusual features. The victim had no business being in the house. You coming?" croaked Sherlock, economically, pretending not to notice the gathering cumulonimbus in John's expression.
"For God's sake, Sherlock. You're in no fit state to be chasing around crime scenes in the cold." He fleeting lay the back of his hand on the recalcitrant patient's forehead, and Sherlock closed his eyes at the cool, tender touch. "You're burning up, mate."
"You've been washing the dishes in cold water again because you can't be bothered to run the hot water through. You'll be totally inaccur…"; Sherlock interrupted his own pedantic argument with another coughing fit. Ow. All his bones felt as if hot spikes were being driven through them, and the juddering coughs threatened to splinter them altogether. His head pounded, and he very nearly humiliated himself by vomiting over John's shoes, swallowing the bile back down again by sheer voice of will. He despised his own weakness.
"Please, Sherlock. Go to bed, and I'll fix you a hot lemon and honey; you know you actually like that", wheedled John, but Sherlock was adamant.
"Later. I promise I'll lie up and take Tamiflu and more Paracetamol and Ibuprofen very soon, and you can wait on me hand and foot if it pleases you, but the work has to come first. How do you expect me to relax in bed when I know I'm needed at a crime scene?" That last bit sounded very whiny. Come on, man, shoulders back, chin up.
John, even the long-suffering good friend, sighed. "I'll come with you then. Talking of drugs, are you up to date with everything? Lowering that temperature won't get you better any quicker, but it'll make you feel better very soon."
"It's another two hours before I really should take anything."
"I note the "really". Can I assume you've already taken twice the recommended daily amount?"
"Oh, come on, you know they're only guidelines. If a six stone little old lady can take the standard dose, I can take twice that, no problem."
"Yes, Sherlock. Right, come on then."
Sherlock's magical taxi summoning abilities obviously depended on his good health, as they failed today. They had to walk for ten minutes to the nearest rank, in the beginnings of a raw, cold drizzle. The detective, suddenly very aware of his slender frame, shivered convulsively throughout the cab ride, resting his forehead against the cool glass. He was regretting his decision, if he was honest, and was contemplating apologising to Lestrade and turning straight back around, but he must have dozed off, because they were drawing up outside their destination. May as well take a quick look.
Warily, he stood up, fumbling in his pocket for the fare, somewhat to John's surprise. Someone had let off a Catherine wheel inside his head, rendering his world hideous. Abruptly, his stomach protested the frantic whirling, and he was violently sick in the bushes of the front garden. Wordlessly, as he tried to get his breath back, John produced a bottle of water from his coat and handed it over. Sherlock smiled weakly at his preparedness.
"Doing some deduction of your own, doctor?"
"Not difficult, mate. What do you want to do, go on or go back?"
"Half-way house. Quick look only. Hope they've got a sofa. Lestrade can get a car to give us a ride home. I don't normally allow it, but I might on this occasion."
He started towards the front door, eyes on the garden path. The front door opened, and Sally Donovan stood there.
" Bloody hell, Freak, mate, you look like death warmed up. I saw you chundering in the bushes – shouldn't you be in bed? Wotcha, John."
She actually sounded almost kind. Sherlock smiled thinly. Had he been well, he would have scowled instead.
"Don't come out. I'm just examining what's left of the evidence on the path. Hm. Have you seen this doormat?" He also leaned forward to look at the doorbell, then proceeded into the house.
Lestrade looked up as the two of them entered.
"Oh my God, Sherlock! You look sick as a dog. Got flu? Anderson's got it too, hacking his guts up upstairs at the moment."
"What a lot of unoriginal 'sick' metaphors I'm getting today. Yes, Lestrade, I have flu, and I feel sick as a parrot, like ten kinds of shit, whatever you want to term it, and I would really like to go home to bed, but now I'm here, I'd rather my journey wasn't wasted, so could I please see…"; his sentence was cut of by more coughing, and he had to sit himself down on the chair in the hall.
Attempting to recover his dignity, he croaked out; "Story, Lestrade."
He quietly blessed the Inspector's tact as he made no further fuss, just commenced his narrative.
"This is an empty house; was rented furnished, but it's between tenants at the moment. Looks like the key had been under the doormat. The victim's through here. No forms of ID, no reason we know of for him to be here, quite smartly dressed guy, nasty business – you'll see what I mean. We wanted to see if you could give us any advance info, particular identifying details, while we're waiting on forensics."
He swung open the door to a dingy living room, and John gasped in disgust. A man lay on the floor, his face, to John's fanciful imagination, still betraying an expression of horror. He had been stabbed, once in the chest, and then what appeared to be multiple times in the groin. He had obviously been alive as the wounds were inflicted, as there had been copious bleeding, and he appeared to have tried to crawl towards the door before being overcome by his wounds. It was a gruesome death.
Sherlock crouched to examine the body.
"Anything been touched?"
"Been through his pockets. Nothing there but a wallet, but no ID in the wallet. Just cash."
Sherlock examined the wallet. "There have been cards in here, but they've been removed. Before death, as blood's soaked right through." He then re-searched the pockets of the man's designer jacket and jeans. "You missed this." He said, holding up a small, shiny object. "They're called condom pockets for a reason."
Lestrade looked embarrassed at this, although, to be fair to him, the pocket had been almost underneath the body, and the condoms would certainly have been found when it could have been examined more closely.
"He was called here. He stood on the doormat, shuffling about, after he rung the bell. He was the last person to ring it, look at his fingerprints - tented arches; that's quite unusual, and matches the print on the bell. He also leaned forward to look through the spy hole." He sniffed the body.
"Expensive cologne. Quite freshly applied, not long before death, but would still have been early afternoon, so likely to have been applied specially."
The first few buttons of the corpse's shirt were open. He peered down the front of it, then gave a little exclamation and opened the rest of them, somewhat to Lestrade's discomfort.
"Well well." He spoke lightly, but suddenly he was feeling sick again, and oppressed. My defences are down. I'm never at my best with these cases, but I'm really not sure I'm coping here.
Several messy fresh love bites sprawled down the man's chest, and, when the cuff was rolled back, older chafed marks were evident.
The consulting detective stood up slowly. His head was spinning miserably, and the all-over racking pain was intensifying, but for the moment, these matters seemed the least of his woes, and the body on the carpet the largest. He forced himself to speak calmly.
"These marks were probably made today, He was stabbed in the chest as it was happening. My guess is he didn't die straight away; hence the subsequent wounds. That speaks of a premedicated execution, yet where the killer, inexperienced, lost their head and panicked, but also was carrying a lot of anger around with them at this man. You don't stab someone multiple times in the groin by accident. Also, look at the height of the marks." He looked around the room, to where the blood trail started, and examined the carpet with his magnifying glass. "As I thought. Two people stood here." He returned to the body, revealing the chest again. "The first – our victim - I would guess to be five feet eleven. The second – we presume the killer – provided they marked his body at roughly mouth level, must therefore have been around four feet ten inches."
Lestrade groaned an obscenity, as he put the pieces together. At that moment, there were footsteps on the stairs, and Anderson entered the room. He took one look at Sherlock, and exploded with rage.
"What the hell do you think you're doing? You've tampered with the scene. There's procedure for this sort of thing!"
Lestrade spoke up: "He's just deduced that our corpse was probably here for a sexual assignation whilst having previously removed all identifying features from his person and wallet, although keeping copious amounts of cash on him, with a person who was significantly less than five foot tall."
They watched Anderson process the information – the deduction, like so many of Sherlock's deductions, simple to follow once the groundwork was done. Chagrin and resentment warred with the disgust at the implied motive behind the crime.
"I see you've caught up. Well, I think I can leave you now. I doubt any other people are immediately at risk from the killer, so you can wait for Anderson and his drones to lumber on with the official forensics. When you get an ID on the dental records, check out his computer. You may make a few more arrests than you bargained for."
"What? You're just going to waltz off now, without looking at the rest of the scene? Well, that shows real commitment."
"Oh, I'm sure you'll manage magnificently. Just like in the Heggarty case." This mention of one of his most spectacular fails caused the forensics officer to flush angrily.
"What's the matter, Sherlock? None of this strike you as particularly important? Or a bit too close to home?"
"Shut up, Anderson", snapped Sherlock shortly. "Go and nurse your man-flu; it's making you irrational and stupid. Remarkable really, that it should be so noticeable."
He turned aside, and a concerned John noticed that he was trembling slightly. It was as he started out of the room that the furious Anderson, disastrously disinhibited from a combination of viraemia and excessive over the counter remedies, spoke the words that shook their world to the core.
I felt we needed a bit of Sherlock and John to balance this story, but we get back to the mysterious (or not so mysterious?) Will and Mike in the next chapter, and there are scenes you may find upsetting.