John Watson's Blog

April 10th

Started off the morning at an ungodly hour. Sherlock did that incredibly annoying thing where he pokes me in the shoulder until I wake up, tells me to get dressed, then runs down the stairs to wait in the cab without even leaving me time to make coffee.

I didn't want to face the clock yet, but it was still dark outside. Sherlock texted me from the cab to tell me to hurry up. I resolved to beat him to death with my shoe at the nearest opportunity. I got into the cab next to him, feeling like an unmade bed. He looked well-rested and smug. He'd probably had coffee. Bastard.

"You can't keep doing this" I said. "Especially not so bloody early."

He grinned at me. "Would you rather go have a lie-in?"

"Frankly, yes."

He gave the cabbie a Soho address. We pulled away from the curb, and joined early morning traffic. "If there's going to be running, can we get coffee first?" I asked hopefully.

"The main feature of interest is a murdered corpse," he said without looking at me. He seemed very interested in the cars flanking us. "Unless by some miracle it gets up and starts dashing about, I think you're safe."

"Another dead body. Is it Tuesday already?"

"A case after six months of nothing, and all you can do is complain."

"Oh, no, I'm thrilled, I just don't like the smell of recently deceased flesh in the morning. Prefer to wait for the afternoon."

Sherlock turned, and looked at me full on. "John, have you ever heard of le syndicat uni?"

"The United Syndicate? No. Sounds like a financial outfit."

"It also goes by the name the United Nations Syndicate, but it's mostly referred to as simply the Syndicate. It's one of the most prolific drug trafficking organizations in the world, with bastions on five continents. It's strongest here in London, and in New York City."

"It's good to see diversity being embraced by the enfranchised criminal," I remarked. "I'm assuming our expired chum is somehow related."

"Not just related," he said. "Integral."

We pulled up alongside a building site that appeared to have been abandoned. The sky was getting lighter, but there were still crime scene lights blasting over the scene, throwing it into high relief. Sherlock paid the fare, and we made our way out into the bitter pre-dawn air. I huddled in my coat, wishing I'd remembered my muffler and gloves.

Lestrade met us at the police tape perimeter. "Thanks for coming on such short notice." He lifted the tape so we could duck under it.

"You know I wouldn't miss this one for the world," Sherlock said, his smile even broader. "I've been waiting for this for a long time."

"We've been working on the Syndicate for a few years, but they have excellent representation," Lestrade explained as he led us over to a black Cadillac Escalade that stood with all of its doors open. "Caleb Marcel is, or I should say, was the patriarch of the ruling family, which controlled operations here in London. French Albanian, large family. Deals mostly coke and heroin. He supplied a very wealthy clientele, many of them professionals. And it looks like he was hit last night."

"Where's Sergeant Donovan?" I asked, looking around.

"Using her vacation time," Lestrade said cooly.

Sherlock smiled. "Hope she's not burning out. I know how you'd hate to lose your best paper pusher."

Lestrade's face scrunched up in annoyance. "Something about a family reunion."

Sherlock made a noise of contempt, and turned away. He crunched through the gravel and circled the vehicle, appraising it with careful attention. I followed his gaze, tried to imagine what exactly he was thinking. He was peering through the windscreen, upon which there was a spiderweb of cracks described around a hole that was about a foot and a half wide, curved outwards as though something had exploded behind it. There was no one in the driver's seat, but I could see bloody patch. Someone had been there.

Lestrade and I watched silently as Sherlock took up a position five metres away from the vehicle, silently observing each detail, before taking several steps forward. He whipped out his little magnifying glass, and examined the surface of the bonnet closely. He then examined the gaping hole in the windscreen. Finally, he turned his attention to Lestrade and myself.

"The windscreen is bullet resistant glass. It's one-way glass, and curved. Fabricated to repel fire, but allow whoever is inside the vehicle to shoot out. Effective against small arms, but the integrity is compromised when a high-powered weapon is used, as is clearly the case here."

He backpedaled to his first point of observation, and raised his arms as though he was cradling a pump-action shotgun. ".12 gauge shotgun would cause maximum damage. The spread of the shot embedded in the window indicates the shooter was at least five metres away." He pumped an invisible round. "Bang. Fire leaves a wide spread in the glass."

He walked forward, stopping at the bumper and mimed the firing action again. "At least a metre away in order to maximize the damage to the window, but it wouldn't penetrate."

"But there's buckshot in the upholstery," Lestrade interjected. "How-?"

"Here," Sherlock bent over the bonnet. I went over to get a closer look. He pointed to small scratches in the paint. "The shooter climbed up on to the hood, kicked in the window, and fired the third time, then dragged the driver out the window, going by the fabric shreds on the glass. The scratches were left by gravel in the tread of his shoes."

I cocked my head. "Why wouldn't he just use the butt of the shotgun to smash through? Why climb up on to the bonnet?"

"Steel toed boots are faster," Sherlock said. "A well placed kick has a lot more power behind it. A single blow would penetrate the glass, but the shotgun butt would take several blows, and position the shooter in front of the door. The driver would be unharmed, time enough to react, to pull the car out of park, or deck the shooter with the door."

"Or shoot him," said Lestrade. "There were two guns in the car, one in the back seat, one in the driver's side, neither discharged."

That seemed to give Sherlock pause. A frown line appeared between his eyebrows, and he put his fingers together and pressed them against his lips. I recognized it as one of his subtle attitudes of annoyance when some piece of the puzzle doesn't fit. Then he smiled behind his hands, the light of challenge in his eyes. Whatever thought had crossed his mind, he wasn't going to divulge it until it was expedient.

He flashed me an I-know-something-you-don't-know look, and I was struck by an image of him getting the stuffing kicked out of him in primary school. There were occasions when he demonstrated all the maturity of a sixteen year old girl. Actually, I dearly hoped he'd got the stuffing kicked out of him in primary school.

Lestrade rapped his knuckles on the car roof to get our attention. "If you're done having a little moment, I'd appreciate it if you could look at Marcel."

Sherlock gave an exaggerated yawn and bent down to look at the fist size hole in the window "This is Grade One one-way glass. Also curved. Designed to withstand a 9mm shot, which is a pretty standard gang weapon because of its cheapness. This was a higher calibre bullet. Much higher."

He slid inside next to the corpse, and beckoned me. I ducked my head in and was immediately hit with the sickly coppery smell of fresh blood. The sight was gristly enough to make my stomach lurch, and I was suddenly very glad I hadn't had any coffee. Caleb Marcel may have at one time been a handsome man, but it was impossible to tell under the carnage. The only discernible physical features were that he was tall, black and bald. His head was rolled to the side, facing towards us. The right eye was intact, but the left eye was a bloody, messy hole. A little bit of gelatinous substance leaked from it.

I forced down my nausea, and moved a bit closer. Sherlock was relaxed against the seat, his head turned towards the corpse, for all the world as though he were about to strike up a conversation. He turned to look at me, an ironic tug at the corner of his mouth. "Right up your street, isn't it, doctor?"

I stared at him, uncertain of how to respond. I didn't spend time examining entrance wounds and trajectories; I was accustomed to digging bullets out as fast as possible, stitching the wounds back together, and hoping my patient would survive the chopper ride back to the base hospital. Since meeting Sherlock Holmes, I had examined my fair share of murder victims, but I was still a little thrown by patients that were beyond my help. I took a deep breath, turned off the trauma surgeon, and turned on the pathologist.

"It looks as though the bullet traveled through the left eye socket, and also damaged the zygomaticofacial foramen-"

"The what?" Lestrade interrupted.

"Cheek bone," Sherlock supplied. "Continue."

"The bullet caused major internal trauma, evidenced by the blood that leaked from the nostrils and mouth." I ducked out of the car and went around to the left side. The exit wound was gruesome, a bloody pulp of red flesh about three inches in diameter, and it was leaking gray matter. Bile rose in my throat, and I had to step back for a moment to escape the miasma of raw meat and blood. I coughed into my elbow, and took a step forward.

"The round penetrated and damaged the parietal, temporal and occipital regions of the skull. Death would have been instantaneous."

"Now we have a firm grasp on the obvious," Sherlock said, seizing the edge of the roof and swinging himself out of the car. He shot the lapels of his long coat, and quick stepped over to the left side of the vehicle.

"Oh, thanks," I said sarcastically.

"Buck up, John," he said, clapping me on the back. "The obvious is a good place to start. Now, would you like to hazard a guess at the weapon and calibre used to deliver the coup de grace?"

"Some kind of expanding bullet?" I suggested.

"Good, but you're forgetting the glass. Look at this." He held the car door out so I could see. There was, as I expected, a great deal of blood spattered on the glass, and a hole about the size of a pound coin. But slightly off to the right of it, another hole the same size. I looked up at Sherlock. "Two shots? What does that prove?"

"It doesn't prove anything. It suggests a sequence of events. Like the windscreen, the safety glass was punched in. The shot is clearly a close range, easy to tell from the powder burns on the upholstery. The glass isn't rated for .44 and above, and there are no bullet fragments in the window or the head, so not an expanding bullet.

"It would take a high calibre bullet to weaken the glass from the outside, but a shot through the glass is unlikely to inflict that kind of trauma, nor is it likely to hit its target. You'll notice the side windows are all tinted, so visibility becomes an issue."

"Could you please get to the point?" Lestrade said with exasperation.

Sherlock turned a sneer on the detective inspector. "The point is obvious, Lestrade, provided you can keep your train of thought from going into the ravine."

"Please," Lestrade said, resigned. Sherlock rolled his eyes, and continued.

"The first shot fired penetrated the glass, missed the target and traveled out through the other window. Again, one way glass, easy for the bullet to exit. The window is punched in, probably someone wearing brass knuckles. Caleb looks in the direction of the noise, and before he reacts, the shooter has reached in with the gun and fired a second time. The round enters his eye, blows out the back of his skull, and travels through the window."

"We have people out looking for the slugs," Lestrade said. "And the driver's body."

"Good. Maintain the integrity of the car. We may need to look at it later." Sherlock turned his back on the scene, and gave Lestrade a little wave over his shoulder. "Ciao."

I trailed after him and met him at the curb. He flagged down a taxi and directed us to a cafe of his choosing. It was stark and featureless, done in grays and whites, with square modern furniture. Very much Sherlock, with little to distract him. Fortunately, the coffee was good.

The chairs were wide enough so that Sherlock could sit cross-legged. He was inscribing patterns in the foam of his latte with a demitasse spoon, and he hadn't taken a sip in the ten minutes since he'd ordered it. I was into my second cup of drip coffee, and the caffeine buzz was starting to hit me.

"There was something else, wasn't there." I said, swirling the liquid in my cup.

"Isn't it obvious?" he said smugly, knowing full well I had no idea what he was talking about.

"You know it's not." I felt the familiar trepidation of being called stupid. "Tell me."

"The driver wasn't killed by a shotgun." The little crease in his brow had returned, and he dropped the demitasse spoon into his cup.

"Blood pattern and shot in the seat, seems like a shotgun to me." I said.

"It definitely wasn't the shotgun. There's no way it could have been."

"Then how?"

He took a breath, apparently trying to nail down his thought. "Neither of the weapons in the car were discharged. The man holding the shotgun fired the first shot from five metres, the second from one metre, neither of which penetrated the glass. Time enough for the driver to grab his pistol and return fire. Time enough to alert Caleb, who would do the same." He put his fingertips together and pressed them against his lower lip. "If neither weapon was discharged, they must have killed the passenger and driver simultaneously."

"But the shotgun was three blasts. Not instantaneous. So the driver must have..." I trailed off, waiting for him to complete the thought.

"Precisely. His weapon isn't discharged, neither is Caleb's, so he had to have been killed before he had a chance to react. The shotgun would have given him too much time, he'd have gotten a shot off."

Something was bothering me. "Why didn't you tell Lestrade?"

Sherlock heaved a sigh, and I wondered if it had been a dumb question. But he'd never berated me for asking questions, only for failing to observe what he'd observed. Still, he tried to be encouraging, and I appreciated that. And I tried to encourage him to grow a heart, with less success.

"Lestrade needs concrete evidence, and he's not going to get that unless he finds the body, which is highly unlikely. Not to mention, he would need a suspect, and Caleb Marcel occupied the highest level of drug trafficking, so he had a host of enemies."

"Couldn't we wait and see who takes over?"

"An act like this can spark a civil war in the family. He has four sons and a daughter, and it's possible each one will claim to be his heir apparent. It's not exactly something you can put in a will. One of them could have ordered the hit, or it could have been a rival gang."

"A supplier, maybe? Someone had to organize the meeting. Why would they meet in a building site? It seems exposed for a drug deal."

"Maybe by mutual consent, choosing an open space so that no one side has the advantage if it comes down to shooting. Implicit part of the agreement. If it was an outside party, they must have spies in Marcel's network who knew when he'd be most exposed. If it was a family member, which is more likely, they organized the meeting, and contracted the hit."

"So where do we start?"

Sherlock stood up. "The Old Bailey."


But he was already heading out the door.