Hi. So I missed my own deadline; I should have started publishing this on Friday. By way of apology, I'm publishing the whole thing at once. Today. I hope you enjoy it!
John sat in the armchair, staring at the newspaper spread open on his lap. He'd been doing this for a while when he suddenly closed the paper, flung it to the floor and sighed, loudly.
"You're right," Sherlock said, from where he was working on his computer at the desk. "You're not remotely old fashioned, not as a doctor or as a person."
"Bloody right I'm not!" John yelled. Then he frowned. "How did you know what I was thinking?"
"No, come on, that was frankly weird!"
Sherlock looked away from the computer and smiled at him. "John, you haven't turned a page for the past twenty-five minutes. It's The Guardian; it's not exactly high literature! Deduction: You're not reading the newspaper. You were, but your mind wandered. Where could it possibly have wandered to today, when your wife is due to give birth in ten days' time? Oh, you were thinking about Mary and your future daughter of course! And then your mind strayed to Mary who has gone shopping today with someone who is not you. You're available for shopping, and you're you, so unable to stop fretting and fussing about people you care about. I assume that you asked to go with her, which annoyed Mary, as she's desperate for a little respite and fun at the moment. You expressed your concern about her, which annoyed her further. She's mentioned before in my hearing that you're very old fashioned for a doctor, though only in jest. I imagine that today, when you're both thoroughly bored of the pregnancy, she used this statement again, though more seriously this time."
John glared at him for a moment. "Nobody like's a clever dick, Sherlock."
Sherlock shrugged and smiled. "You do." He was pleased when John smiled too. "To be honest, I could tell that you'd had an argument to moment you stepped through the door, but you asked for the deduction and that was it."
John shook his head and sighed. "Sherlock, what if I'm a terrible father? What if, I don't know, what if I meet my baby and fail to feel anything for it at all? What if I just can't do it? What happens then?"
Sherlock shook his head and turned back to his computer.
"What?" John demanded.
"I'm sorry, I thought your question was so ridiculous it wasn't worthy of an answer."
John pulled his duck face and folded his arms.
Sherlock smiled again. "What do you want me to say, John? I could tell you 'of course you'll be a brilliant father', but I have no more data than you do. I would remind you of something I told you years and years ago though; you display all of the main attributes of a good father, even though you're not one yet. I don't imagine they're all going to disappear suddenly when your child is born."
John smiled. "Thank you."
"Once again, I'm not sure I meant it as a compliment."
"I don't care. I'm choosing to believe that you did." They smiled at each other.
"I hate the waiting," John said. "It's far, far too long to wait."
"Mm. I hate that you're waiting too. You're extremely boring at the moment."
John laughed. "Shall I make us some tea?"
"Well I'm not going to." His phone rang. "Lestrade, how can I help you today?" He listened for a while. "That does sound… interesting. Text me the address." He hung up. "Guess what? We've got a case!"
"No, you've got a case."
"Yes, but you're coming with me."
"No, I have to stick around in case Mary needs me."
Sherlock got up and started putting on his scarf and coat. "No you have to come with me so you don't drive yourself mad wondering what's happening with Mary. It's Wandsworth, it's not Timbuktu. You can get home as quickly as you could from work. Well, nearly."
"Sherlock…" John started.
"Oh come on, John! When are we ever going to get the chance to do this again?"
"Well, I'm guessing you're just going to come and drag me off whenever you fancy it, whether I'm busy with my child or not." He smiled a challenge.
Sherlock blinked but then rallied. "A pair of ears has been mailed to someone through the post, John! I fail to accept that sitting around here in the vague hope that something happens to Mary is more exciting than ears that have been sent through the post!"
John sighed. "OK, fine, I'll come, but I might need to leave at any time. Sherlock, I will kill you if I miss the birth of my child."
"You won't miss anything. There are ten days to go, and I will make sure you're able to leave at any point if you need to. Now come on, you're wasting time."
When they reached the address in Wandsworth, they found Lestrade leaning against the garden wall. Sherlock frowned as he walked up to him.
"What are you doing out here?"
"Well, the owner of the house is a bit… overwrought. I came out here for a cigarette."
Sherlock frowned. "You're not smoking a cigarette."
"Well no. I don't smoke."
"Fine, good. Where are the ears?"
"They're here." He handed a small box and some brown paper to Sherlock.
Sherlock looked delighted as he put them down on the wall. "It's a gift box for a parker pen," he said. "It's an old style box though, from the nineties I would think." He opened it carefully. "Ears!" He grinned. "Wait a moment, Lestrade, you said they were a pair of ears."
"Yes. A pair of ears mailed through the post."
"John, what do you see in the box?"
John looked. "Ears. Two ears. Two separate ears belonging to two separate people."
Lestrade frowned. "How can you tell? I suppose they are a bit different but couldn't that be explained because they were, er, hacked off. Not neatly I mean."
"Lestrade," Sherlock said, "They are different in colour and size. One is a man's ear and one is a woman's. And John's first clue was…"
"They're both left ears," John said.
"Quite a clever trick that," Sherlock said. "Having two left ears."
"Bloody hell," Lestrade muttered. "Fine, I'm stupid, well done. Do you want to talk to Miss Susan Cushing at all? She's the woman they were mailed to."
"Not really, no. I suppose I ought to though." He stuffed the box with the ears into his coat pocket and walked up the garden path. He knocked. As a smallish, middle aged woman opened the door, he did a double take, looked at John with an incredulous look on his face, and choked back a laugh.
It was less than a second before his more professional veneer reappeared.
"Yes. Are you the investigator that he wanted to come down?" She nodded at Lestrade.
"Yes, and this is my colleague, Doctor Watson."
"I didn't want to say it all over and over. I wanted to wait and get it done at once."
"Very sensible. May we come in?"
She nodded and they followed her into a lounge. Sherlock briefly looked around at the bookshelves and the pictures on the wall before he sat down.
"Miss Cushing, can you explain to me what happened?"
"Well. I got up this morning and when I picked up the post there was a package, and I opened it, and there were… ears! Oh, you haven't brought them back in the house again have you?"
"No, no, we've already sent them to the lab," Sherlock said. "Can I ask if you have any idea where they may have come from?"
"Yes. The students sent them to me I'm sure!"
"Yes. I used to let the upstairs rooms out to students. I had three medical students here until a month or so ago, and they were noisy and rowdy and I had to ask them to leave."
"Yes, I've heard medical students can be quite undisciplined."
"Well," Lestrade said quietly, "Medical students would have access to…" he whispered, "ears, and that sort of thing."
"Oh, yeah," John said. "I spent all my time just playing with bits of dead people." He shook his head, then looked up and noticed Miss Cushing looking at him with an expression of horror on her face. "Sorry. I mean, not really." He blushed and went quiet.
"Miss Cushing," Sherlock said, "Can I ask when you last saw your sisters?"
"How did you know I had sisters?"
"You have photos of them."
"Oh, yes! I saw Sarah two weeks ago. I haven't seen Mary in a while. Why do you ask?"
"No reason. The case seems fairly straight forward, but I am interested. I like people."
"Oh. Well you wouldn't like Sarah. Nobody does." She sighed. "Look, I was probably a bit unfair to the students. Sarah needed to come home and she, well, she made me get rid of them so she could move back in with me."
Sherlock looked at her impassively.
"Well it wasn't my fault! Sarah can be quite… persuasive. She's always been the same, spoiled brat that she was. Three daughters but Daddy liked her best. She had pretty red hair you see and she always was considered the beautiful one. So she's used to getting her own way and seems to have just stopped taking no for an answer. She went off to Plymouth to live with Mary for a bit after Mary got married. She lived there a year but then they all fell out and James told her to leave. She rang me desperate and told me I had to get rid of the students. So I did. I'm so sorry. I've probably been wasting your time, haven't I?"
"I don't think so," Sherlock said.
"No," Lestrade agreed. "It is a crime to mail body parts through the post."
"Yes, contrary to popular belief, all transportation of any body parts involves strict procedures," John said. Sherlock stared at him and he went quiet again.
"Can you tell me how long your younger sister has been married? I'm assuming Mary is the youngest."
"Yes, she is. I'm the oldest and Sarah's in the middle. Let's see, James and Mary met, er, six years ago. He was besotted with her. I'm not surprised; Mary is a lovely girl."
"Yes she is," John agreed, and then blushed again. "Sorry."
"Well, they got together, and they got married five years ago…"
"That was quite quick, was it not?" Sherlock asked.
"Well, they were clearly in love and James is in the navy. He was being called away for a six-month tour. They got married just before. It was a small do. Mary stayed living here while he was away, but when he was back they moved into navy accommodation down at Plymouth. It was lovely! I visited them a few times before…" She sighed. "James was called away a second time. Sarah went to live with Mary for the time he was away. It was a longer tour; a whole year that time, and Mary got quite lonely. We'd always lived together you see, the three of us."
"But Sarah came home when James came back?" Sherlock asked.
"No, she didn't immediately. They all lived there together for nearly a year. I think things got bad though. Like I say, Sarah isn't the easiest person to live with. Eventually James had had enough of her and threw her out. She came back here for a while, but she was impossible. I'm afraid that three weeks ago I threw her out too."
"Where is she now?"
"She's gone to stay with a friend until they throw her out too. She's not easy. She's so manipulative. I'm sorry. I shouldn't talk about my sister this way, should I? But it's been a hard day."
"You said that Mary hadn't contacted you in a while."
"No. Well, she called to talk to Sarah the day after she'd moved back here, but Sarah wouldn't talk to her. Sarah called back the next day and said some…well, I don't know where she learned that language. Mary hasn't called since."
"Didn't you call her when Sarah left?"
"No. I didn't. I just didn't know what to do about it all and I thought that Mary and James ought to be left alone for a while to have a marriage."
"So you don't know if things had become better between them after Sarah left?"
"No. I'm sorry."
"Can you give us the address of the friend Sarah's staying with?"
"Oh, yes. Why? She's not going to have anything to do with any of this is she? She's unkind most of the time, but she's wouldn't do something like this!"
"No, probably not. We can always come back later if we do find we need it."
"Oh please no! Here, I'll find it for you." She went to grab a small address book from a small table. She pulled out the whole page and handed it to Sherlock. "Here. I'm not going to want to talk to her again. She knows where I am if she wants me."
"Thank you," Sherlock said. He folded the paper and put it into his pocket. "Thank you for your time, Miss Cushing. Detective Inspector Lestrade will need you to fill in a witness statement. I'll be out of you way now. Come along John."
He stood up and left and John followed him.
"Well, that was interesting," he said to Sherlock when they were back on the pavement. "No, wait, no it wasn't. It was some odd backstory about a woman's life, with a bit of bitter jealousy thrown in and some medical students pulling a stupid prank."
Sherlock smiled at him. "I thought medical students wouldn't be allowed to do that sort of thing."
"Course they would. Hell, Sherlock, you're not even a medical student and you seem to turn up with all sorts of stuff you really shouldn't have."
"Well," Sherlock turned to him with an enigmatic smile, "I think…"
John's phone rang and he answered instantly. Sherlock rolled his eyes. The sneer turned to a frown when John froze and stammered into the phone.
"What do you mean?... Well how much?... OK, OK… well, let's not panic…. No I'm not… OK… OK… Well, I guess we'd better get going then. I'll meet you at the hospital."
He hung up and turned to Sherlock.
"Mary's in labour."
"Well that's just stupid! She's got ten days yet!"
John shook his head, blinking furiously. "No, well, I couldn't tell from what she was saying. Her waters have broken, so that's one thing. I didn't ask her if contractions had started though! Oh god, I'm rubbish! She said there was… there was blood." He staggered slightly and grabbed his chest. "Oh, shit, I think I'm going to throw up!"
"No you're not," Sherlock said sounding more confident than he felt. "What might the presence of blood signify?"
"Er, um, er, I don't know."
"Well if it was another person, what would you tell them?"
John swallowed hard. "It's probably the onset of labour, but go to hospital to check. But it might be, it might be…" He rubbed his forehead. "Oh God!"
"Don't be ridiculous, John! You've fought in wars! This is less stressful than that!" Sherlock said. He took John's arm and walked him to a low wall and sat him on it.
John took a couple of long slow breaths.
"It's fine. I'll call a cab for you."
John stared into space as Sherlock called a car service. As soon as Sherlock had hung up John jumped up and started pacing back and forth.
"I'm not going to panic about the blood until I really have to."
"OK. That sounds sensible."
"Damn, I should have asked her if she could feel the baby kicking." John looked at his phone. "No, I won't bother her now."
"Oh why am I in bloody Wandsworth! I shouldn't be in Wandsworth!"
"John, the car will be here in a minute. You'll be there soon."
"I know, I know… just… This is really strange!" He stopped and sat down and stared into space again.
Sherlock was on the point of calling the car service again when the taxi came into view and pulled in. John looked immensely relieved.
"Do you have cash?" Sherlock asked.
"Here." He handed a couple of twenty-pound notes across.
"Thanks. I'll call you as soon as there's news."