Warning: Spoilers for The Reichenbach Fall, contains references to violence, drug use and suicide.
Disclaimer: Characters, situations, backstory etc all not mine, and this is not written for profit.
Anthony Watkins, a 32 year old married father-of-three, was stabbed in the leg when he intervened in a drunken argument between a group of teenagers on the top deck of the late evening number 58 bus. The flimsy-looking penknife nicked his femoral artery, though the panic on the childish acned face of the boy who wielded it suggested it had been unintentional precision. Despite attempted first aid and a quick response from paramedics, he was pronounced dead on arrival at the accident and emergency department. Anthony wasn't religious and had never discussed funeral arrangements with his wife, so she simply agreed with the suggestion of the funeral directors and took their three children to say goodbye to their father at a simple secular service at the municipal crematorium. It gave little closure. He was posthumously lauded in the press as a hero, with the police failure to locate the perpetrator held up as another example of insufficient police resources allowing justice to go undone. More than once his wife decided that she hated him for leaving them in such a stupid, pointless way.
Matthew Stevens was only 24 but already looked a decade older at the time of his death – years of rough sleeping and dedicated abuse of an eclectic range of illegal substances was unsurprisingly ageing, as the pathologist noted while trying to determine which of the cocktail of narcotics had killed him. His body was found in an abandoned squat by a casual acquaintance who frequented the same outreach programmes and charity donation stops, and who cared enough to report his discovery to a police community support officer later that day. This meant his estranged parents were able to view a haggard and track-marked shadow of their son, rather than a partially decomposed corpse that had been unmissed for several weeks of a London summer. They were torn on whether this was a blessing or a curse, as Matthew was buried in the churchyard of the village he'd grown up in and hadn't been able to run away from fast enough when he'd hit his teenage years. They hoped that maybe he'd finally become tired of running, and wouldn't mind the enforced homecoming too much.
Charlie Clark, a 29 year old electrician, appeared to have been attempting to open a bottle of vodka with his teeth while driving his car at breakneck speed along unfamiliar, twisting country roads. The traffic officers were universal in their head-shaking lack of surprise that he came to a sudden terminal stop against a tree, and openly speculated amongst their fellow officers that Mr Clark was fishing for a Darwin Award nomination. Later investigation showed that he had recently and acrimoniously split from a long-term girlfriend and had confessed to a colleague that this was due to his unfaithfulness. Suicide was the invisible question mark at the inquest, but without a note and with the physical evidence at the scene being inconclusive it was deemed an accidental death. He had no known living relatives, so the local authority cremated his body and his ashes scattered in the communal garden of remembrance. The anonymous flowers initially left at the site of the accident withered, were cleared away and not replaced.
Gabriel Jarez was a 31 year old mature student from Poland who was studying biomechanics and in the midst of a severe and prolonged depressive episode when he jumped from the eighth floor of a multi-storey car park and killed himself in the early hours of a drizzly morning in January. His housemates and the friends he'd made on his course were devastated, and searched for any signs they might have missed that he'd ever hinted at hurting himself. The university issued a statement about the importance of seeking help and tackling the stigma of mental health problems, and local councillors renewed their campaign for improved security and safety at the car park after the sixth incident since it had opened in the late nineties. His friends set up an internet memorial that was widely circulated around the university. Gabriel Jarez's parents flew his body back to Poland for burial, requesting that the funeral remain a small family affair.
Being personal assistant to the British Government meant being the holder of an unwritten and infinitely expandable job description; attending trade conferences, passing casual 'drunken gossip' to foreign diplomats over eye-wateringly expensive wine in exclusive gentleman's clubs, photocopying and a little light typing when the mood hit her, even sometimes escorting befuddled but persistently flirty former army doctors to chats with her employer in abandoned warehouses...
Still, this was a new and interestingly morbid task that she was fervently hoping would be a one-off: standing in a secure government cold storage facility with a dozen nameless corpses stacked from floor to ceiling, looking for the one she was supposed to be fetching for an urgent appointment across town.
The project we discussed last week needs to be accelerated. Please arrange for #11 to be transported to St Bartholomew's asap, c/o M Hooper. MH
She knew, in abstract terms, that places like this existed. But forwarding messages and technical reports that referred to subjects, or even 'cargo' or 'payload' or other euphemistic words that all still came down to 'dead people' – that was fine, and she could remain detached from the rather grim sight that now lay before her in the freezer. The cold and the corpses combined to be a chilly introduction to reality.
She supposed she'd just never particularly had cause to think about where the subjects (dead people) might be kept, and how they would faintly resemble any other warehoused goods – stacked and labelled neatly on the shelves, closer to their neighbours than you would choose to be with strangers. She reasoned that the dead had little need of personal space. But as she got closer to them, to read the tags that adorned their shelves, their individuality began to grow apparent; particularly in the nature of violence suffered by the cold blue-tinged flesh. Some injuries were glaringly obvious to her untrained eye – clear wounds visible, and at times horrifically deforming – while for others, the unmarked skin and peaceful expressions made her wonder what had snatched their lives away so subtly.
Who were these people? Young men in the prime of their lives, sharing a few common features – tall, spare of frame, seemingly pale skin tone (when not corpse-bluish) with hair of collar length or longer, and finally a passable facial resemblance to a man who was shortly going to be required to jump from a hospital roof due to the twisted whims of a criminal genius.
She found herself unwillingly drawn into speculation. Before they were called upon to be the potential body doubles, who were these men? Did they have families who were still grieving them? Families who might be visiting graves, unconscious of the fact that their son or husband or father was not at rest where they mourned?
If she searched she would be able to locate and read the necessary files to fill in the names, occupations and lives of these dozen men. With names and access to the sorts of archives she had at her fingertips she could find anything – newspaper reports, internet profiles, every drunken text message they had ever sent an ex or letter they had sent in to Blue Peter as a child twenty years ago. They would no longer be anonymous subjects – they would have names to go with their slackly peaceful or cruelly damaged faces.
That might be a morally laudable thing to do; bringing a bit of the dead back to life, in a way. But in this job, was that information something that she needed to carry around with her? Something she even could carry around – weighed down with the former lives of unfortunate surrogates?
With a nod at the shelf second from the floor on the left, Anthea indicated to the accompanying orderlies that they should collect subject number eleven; a tall, thin young man with an aquiline nose that would have passed for Sherlock Holmes if his hair hadn't been a gingerish red and his skull hadn't been misshapenly indented as a result of some sort of crushing blow. Dye would fix the hair colour, though she didn't envy the person at Barts who would end up with that job.
The orderlies wheeled the body away towards the private ambulance waiting outside and Anthea shut the freezer door firmly behind her, leaving the eleven anonymous corpses to their rest and carrying the chill of the storage unit with her for the rest of the day.
Author's Note: I wanted to explore this little theory I've been enjoying that Mycroft has a freezer full of Sherlock-look-a-likes for emergencies even prior to the Fall - you never know when your troublesome younger brother might annoy the wrong people and need his death faking by gunshot or stabbing or overdose so he'd need several different types of substitute, gathered by nefarious means (since there aren't that many unclaimed bodies these days, especially not of 30ish year old men who match the general physical description of Sherlock). I originally thought it might end up as crack/humour but in writing about the deaths it turned all rather tragic instead; it's quite difficult to make overdoses, murder and suicide laugh-a-minute stuff. But hopefully some people still found it interesting in its end form, and I enjoyed trying out writing Anthea for a little excursion.